By Victoria Pesce Elliott
The menu at Brazilian-Italian restaraunt Maino Churrascaría on the northern edge of the Performing Arts District is a cozy marriage of classic Italian dishes by chef Gaetano Alberto Pesce (no relation to the famed artist-architect or to me, as far as I can tell). The native of Genoa and veteran of South Beach’s Paesanos produces pastas, including gnocchi blanketed with Gorgonzola sauce, that are satisfyingly rich and homey if a bit heavy.
It’s worth a trip for his exquisite baby black mussels in a rich, wine-splashed sauce with a garlicky onion and red pepper bite. Ours disappeared in the time it took our waiter to uncork the wine. Still, I am stumped as to why every dish is garnished with piles of curry powder, cayenne and flecks of an indeterminate, once-green herb. Fresher greens can be found at the extensive salad bar, along with abundant platters of egg salad, chicken salad, olives, roasted peppers, cheeses, brasaela, fresh mozzarella over tomatoes and loads more. It’s best at lunch when the salads have just been laid out, but there are good options throughout the day. Ask for a sliver of the beautiful half-wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano full of creamy-crystally intensity — great with the basket of hot, puffy bread. Both are super with a glass of red wine from the young but respectable list, from a $26 Brazilian Assemblage to a $245 2005 Far Niente Cab. Nearly 100 bottles are well selected but unfortunately marked up three to four times retail in most cases. The temperature runs high, too, so ask them to ice down your bottle for a few minutes.
You’ll want plenty of wine to go with the abundance of meat. As Maino searches for a regular customer base, it seems to be playing with pricing. One evening we were offered a mini rodizio with five cuts of meat plus fish for a mere $29.98. Another time, a larger selection was $45. Either version offers tableside carnage until you holler tio! The meat parade commences with the cheaper cuts, including chubby fingers of pork sausage and bacon-wrapped chicken. Then come stubs of somewhat dry but flavorful pork loin, juicy beef tenderloin still pink in the center and crusty, charred curls of picahna (a luscious rump cut) rimmed with a sliver of fat. Aggressively seasoned salmon cubes were overcooked for my taste. Just ask, though, and the obliging if novice staff will convey your preference to the chef.
The waiters are uniformly well-intentioned and courteous. One offered the kids a taste of Guarana soda and happily made conversation with my usually shy 6-year-old as she munched on puffy cheese breads. We were surprised and impressed to learn that kids under 12 eat for half price — even more so on another visit when a waiter clarified that those under 7 dined on the house.
The dinner experience has its ups and downs, but desserts are smooth as can be. Our favorite is the delightfully refreshing papaya cream served with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of cassis. It’s enough for two or more to share. But then you might miss the tangy passion fruit mousse flecked with fruit seeds and planted with a jaunty mint leaf.
Maino Churrascaría, 2211 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-571-9044, mainochurrascaria.com; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. Appetizers $11-$16, pastas $19-$21, entrees $22-$45, desserts $8-$14. Rodizio $29-$45 depending on time of day and size of offerings. Lunch specials beginning at $10
FYI: Full bar; corkage $15. Free private parking lot. AX, DS, DN, MC, VS.
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