Much to love about sexy Cecconi’s

 

Soho House, the members-only British club with outposts from Berlin to New York City, arrived in Miami Beach in early October with the kind of slow, cool burn we haven’t seen since Casa T...

By Victoria Pesce Elliott | Special to The Miami Herald

Soho House, the members-only British club with outposts from Berlin to New York City, arrived in Miami Beach in early October with the kind of slow, cool burn we haven’t seen since Casa Tua debuted nearly a decade ago. To say it is the hottest spot in town is like saying that Damien Hirst (known for suspending dead animals in formaldehyde) is a provocative artist.

Miami architect Allan Shulman and Swedish designer Martin Brudnizki have carved a gorgeously patinaed and irresistibly appealing space from the faded Deco gem that was the Sovereign Hotel. The overstuffed chintz and velvet chairs, dark woods, aqua and white tiles and custom rugs all look as though they’ve been there forever.

Only hotel guests and club members are allowed on the upper floors, but happily, Cecconi’s, the Italian restaurant on the first floor, is open to the public.

The drawing-room portion of the dining area with mismatched chairs and low tables is anchored by a rather grand piano where someone was playing Billy Joel tunes one night.

The real magic is in a tropical garden furnished with cushy, ice-blue upholstered chairs and banquettes alongside a burnished oak bar. Glass-jar lanterns and pin lights laced among the silver buttonwood trees cast a glow that makes everyone look good.

The executive chef is Sergio Sigala, the Brescia native who opened the aforementioned Casa Tua. His confidence and skill are reflected in nearly every dish, and the quality of the ingredients matches his talent.

Inspired by Harry’s Bar in Venice, the menu may seem heavy for the tropics with its bean soups, cheesy raviolis and baked meatballs, but locally sourced salads and a bright carpaccio of fennel- and citrus-flecked snapper provide balance. A tartare with black truffle, quail egg and pecorino is a lighter choice for raw-beef eaters than a delicious but dense Venetian carpaccio.

Pastas (in half or whole portions) are uniformly exceptional, especially the tomato-tinged spaghetti with hunks of buttery Maine lobster. Hand-rolled agnolotti with classic sage, steaming pappardelle with a tomatoey beef ragu and whistling bucatini with eraser-size clams and frizzled lengths of zucchini are reasons enough to book here. Risottos, especially the wild mushroom, are also right on the mark.

‘Tis the season, and thinly shaved black truffles are tucked into a number of dishes, including my favorite, a delightfully homey half poulet rouge roasted until as bronzed as the well-heeled tourists who scramble for seats at the pool deck.

There are more imported than local seafood selections, but all are confidently handled. Wild Alaskan salmon, roasted branzino andflaky black cod with melting hunks of sweet butternut squash are equally satisfying. Try the gorgeously charred tangle of meaty octopus served with lots of lemon over celery, peppers and black olives for a true taste of the Mediterranean.

Settling into its second full month, Cecconi’s is still working out the kinks. On some evenings our servers were attentive and unobtrusive, but one night they stumbled badly. Shell bowl for our spaghetti vongole? Cheese for the gnocchi? Water? All went missing, as did our waiter.

A vast international wine list has notes of brilliance, flashes of obscurity and a whiff of pretension. A couple of Brazilian cabernets are among the more offbeat choices.

There’s decadent tiramisu and Key lime pie to end, but also a finely wrought yogurt and apple crostata that balances its gently tart bite against a sweet and creamy zabaglione gelato.

Miami isn’t known for playing hard to get, but Soho House founder Nick Jones has romanced the Magic City in record time. This Italian stunner is as cozy as Daddy’s old cashmere sweater yet as sexy as a pair of Christian Louboutin sandals.

Victoria Pesce Elliott reviews Miami-Dade restaurants. E-mail her at velliott@MiamiHerald.com. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.

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