By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Il Gabbiano, a gleaming mahogany and marble palace on the bay where glimmering gold curtains frame water views, is setting new standards in Miami for Italian food — a particularly rarefied hybrid of New York-style Italian epitomized by the Manhattan landmark Il Mulino, where owners Gino and Fernando Masci spent more than two decades before selling the name.
Terrace seats this time of year are much in demand, even if the roar of the jets taking off and landing at MIA mute a conversation.
Diners are greeted with a basket of toasty, crusty sourdough bread. Soon a pile of cold, fried and bitingly garlicky zucchini chips appears loaded with red pepper flakes and oil. Then, a well-trained waiter with an accent from The Sopranos takes a whack at a half-wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, spearing a wedge for each diner. Rounds of bruschetta loaded with more garlic and tomato hunks also find a spot on the table before menus even arrive.
A seductive, Italian-centric wine list includes many pricey trophy bottles including Super Tuscans, Angelo Gajas best bottles and some impressive Bordeaux. A helpful wine steward knows his stuff. Unfortunately, his stuff is mostly super high-end. Mark-ups are in the 300 to 400 percent range.
Judging from the enormous portions, pastas are intended as main course rather than as a first plate. Orecchiette with juicy medallions of spicy sausage and meltingly sauteed broccoli rabe; delightful signature cappellini with peas, onions and mushrooms in a smooth cheese sauce; a smoky spaghetti ala carbonara and a beefy fettuccine Bolognese are across the board fantastic.
Request half portions to have room for the excellent mains.
A hulking tower of juicy filet mignon is almost stew-like with its thick brown Barolo sauce dotted with earthy mushrooms, while a textbook osso buco over perfectly chewy, al dente risotto is swoon-worthy.
Other entrees worth considering are the pollo scarpariello — boneless chicken breast chunks and sausage smothered in savory fresh herbs, tomatoes and mushrooms; piccata di vitello al limone with Italian parsley, and a delightfully bright sauce, surrounding exquisite veal; and dentice Livornese — fresh red snapper enveloped in an herby tomato sauce with onions, basil, capers and oily black olives.
In fact, there are few disappointments at Il Gabbiano — a rubbery ball of burrata cheese with not a drop of milky curd and slices of mealy tomatoes are the only ones I caught on several visits.
How else to finish a meal like this but with a shot of inky, frothy-topped espresso with an Oh-My-God New York style cheesecake.
An ice cold shot of limoncello makes a perfect parting gift for a meal that offers a taste of the Old World in The Magic City.