Bistro Mezzaluna was one of the hottest dining destinations in Fort Lauderdale in the early 1990s. Waits could be two hours or more as young professionals from nearby Rio Vista and Harbor Beach packed the place. So I was surprised when I called on a recent Friday night and was told “come on in” without a reservation (now accepted for four, rather than six or more). By the time we got to the restaurant on the 17th Street Causeway, there was a half-hour wait, but for those of us who could handle a brisk South Florida night, there were empty tables on the patio. A few bites of chef Brian Rutherford’s elegant Italian dishes and popular classics were reassuring. It turns out that while scores of new restaurants have popped up (and just as quickly faded) in nearly two decades, the Italian bistro is just as good – and possibly better – than ever. The menu offers crowd-pleasers like Maryland crab cakes, filet mignon, free-range chicken, seafood pasta, and Rutherford offers daily specials like braised short ribs or snapper topped with crab.
Ambience: Every table at the 100-seat bistro was filled at prime time over the weekend, but we didn’t have to shout to hear our friends, even when dining inside on a Saturday night. The setting is attractive with honey-toned woodwork and comfy black booths. A large arch bisects the dining room and there’s a sleek, bustling bar by the entrance. Even if you’re not of a certain age, you’ll welcome the illuminated menu, which you can easily read in the romantic, dimly lit dining room.
- A basket of warm breads
- Luxurious lobster bisque spiked with sherry and brandy, with big chunks of meat
- Two delicious, plump meatballs made of beef, pork and veal in a homey red sauce with roasted tomatoes and ricotta
- Shrimp spring rolls packed with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and shrimp sautéed in a ginger-soy sauce
- Grouper wrapped in prosciutto, served in a piquant lemon sauce offset by briny capers and plated with fried potatoes
- Nicely burnished, buttery tender grilled salmon set atop a salad of fresh sliced pears with mixed greens, a generous scattering of blue cheese and candied walnuts
- Seafood – shrimp, scallops and Whitewater clams in a garlic-scented tomato broth with a splash of white wine
- Succulent, perfectly-cooked rack of lamb accompanied by buttery mashed potatoes, goat cheese-baked tomatoes and sautéed spinach
- An extensive wine list with a varied, international selection with by-the-glass and half-bottle
- A huge serving of deep-dish apple pie
- A sinfully good flourless chocolate cake,
- A terrific rendition of tiramisu
- Comforting bread pudding