By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Tom Billante has done it again, this time at the 260-seat indoor-outdoor restaurant behind Coconut Grove’s beloved old Taurus. His casual, Italian-themed seafood spot with its large, well-priced menu is a crowd pleaser. Calamari’s selection of carpacci, pastas, salads, soups, pizzas and entrees is nearly identical to the ones at his other successful venues such as Il Villagio, Carpaccio, Bella Luna and Rosalia. But here, as the name indicates, he has added a bit more from the sea.
Though the sprawling space is largely unchanged from its stint as Cefalo’s Wine Cellar, it suddenly seems to work. Perhaps it’s because of the friendly staff, capably supervised by New York and South Beach veteran Salvatore Catania. The space has many personalities. There is the lively bar, a cozy row of tables near the open kitchen and a romantic (but buggy) terrace surrounding a fountain. Tables are set with white cloths over red and white checked cloths, evoking a seaside picnic.
- Complimentary baskets of warm bruschetta/focaccia triangles seasoned with lots of fresh herbs, garlic and oil and heaped with a fresh tomato salad
- Tender calamair ringlets with filament-thin wisps of zucchini in a see-through batter, fried until golden and dunked in a not-too-sweet marinara sauce
- Handsome yet watery zuppa de pesce loaded with calamari, salmon, mussels and clams and flavored with basil, sage, slabs of aromatic garlic and fresh tomatoes
- Satisfying and authentic signature lobster ravioli
- Admirably garlicky shrimp scampi over al dente linguine
- Classic, crowd-pleasing tiramisu, molten chocolate cake and coconut flan
What Didn’t Work
- Unwieldy and tough stuffed calamari
- Flabby pizzas heavy on cheesy and underdone in the center
- Mammoth, bread-crumby meatballs with an off-putting dab of ricotta
Calamari: 3540 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove; 305-441-0219; Hours: 11:30 am-11:30pm daily. Prices: Appetizers $5-$13, entrees $16-$21, dessert $6-$8. Monday lobster night special $19.95.
FYI: Reservations suggested only for groups of six or more. Full bar; corkage $10. Free valet and plentiful metered street parking. AX, DS, MC, Primecard, VS.