The big review: Pesca **½

Yellowtail Snapper flambe from Caffe Blu, located at 1010 E. Las Olas Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale. Photo: Nissa Benjamin.

With 85 seats and a hip European vibe, Pesca (the sign outside still says Caffé Blu, as owner/chef Raul Navarro is still waiting for city approval to change it) is a pleasant place to graze, listen to live music and have a glass of wine. Even novices can easily navigate the reasonably priced, well-organized wine list. Navarro stocks 180 bottles, with 26 by the glass and six splits on the champagne list.

Given the new name, it’s no surprise that Pesca focuses on fruits of the sea. In fact, all the appetizers revolve around seafood. The ravioli stuffed with salmon and a hint of mint was a special offered on both our visits and deserves a permanent spot on the menu. It’s crowned with a delicious mango and red pepper sauce deglazed with white wine and chicken stock. A friend asked for more bread to sop up every last bit.

Ceviche is bracingly fresh, served in a two-piece martini glass with a mound of crushed ice on the bottom to cool the citrus- and chipotle-spiked red snapper, baby shrimp, bay scallops and grouper (if not available, tilapia).
Fried calamari and shrimp come with a trio of dips — roasted red pepper purée with mayo and cilantro, honey-mustard aioli and tartar sauce. Shareable, bite-size seafood empanadillas are stuffed with jumbo lump crab meat, sliced green olives and cream cheese and served with aioli and tartar dips. A rack of lamb special was excellent, fragrant of rosemary and garlic, juicy and tender. It was served with roasted potato wedges and asparagus with roasted red peppers and a flavorful medley of perfectly cooked zucchini, yellow squash and carrots.

The pan-seared scallops were plump and juicy, served with well-seasoned rice tucked into a wispy phyllo cup plus a tomato stuffed with Navarro’s veggie medley — all good. The chef usually flambées his whole yellowtail, but on our trip he was out of the ouzo used to ignite the flames. The presentation was lovely, nonetheless, and the baked fish well-seasoned (the kitchen will fillet it on request) but just a bit dry. Our biggest disappointment was the porterhouse special. Cooked well past the medium-rare we had requested, the chewy steak was not worth the $29 tab.

Our meal ended on a positive note with the chocolate mousse Navarro makes with Belgian milk chocolate and serves as three small rounds: One is studded with chocolate chunks, the second is flavored with banana liqueur and garnished with diced bananas and the third is flavored with Key lime juice and garnished with bits of lime zest. Sinfully good chocolate lava cake and classic Key lime pie are other options.

For now, Pesca’s starters and daily specials — and desserts — are most successful. There’s room for improvement in a few entree staples, but friendly, earnest and enthusiastic Navarro is the kind of chef you can’t help rooting for on restaurant-intensive Las Olas.

Pesca (formerly Caffé Blu), 1010 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-0093. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun-Thurs, until 12:30 a.m. Fri-Sat. Appetizers $10-$14, soups and salads $6-$12, entrees $10-$29, desserts $4-$8

FYI: Live music nightly. Wine and beer only; corkage $5. Metered street and lot parking. AX, DN, DS,
MC, VS. Oyster Bay wine dinner Sept. 18, $55; call for reservations.

Published: 9/08

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