The Goods: Coral Gables is now home to authentic Italian cuisine at Gaetano Ristorante, the eponymous eatery opened by Naples-born chef Gaetano Ascione. You may recognize the spirited restaurateur from his short stint at Gaia Restaurant which opened last year at the Hilton Bentley in South Beach. The globetrotting chef’s background includes helming restaurants in Singapore, South Korea and South Africa. Now he’s taken his portfolio of traditional Italian dishes to the tony restaurant space at the historic Hotel St. Michel in Coral Gables, an iconic space that had been coasting for too long on its romantic reputation rather than attentive cooking.
Ambiance: The place retains its European old school charm, with an elevator attendant in the lobby and scuffed hardwood floors. Despite the formal setting, the atmosphere at Gaetano is relaxed with white tablecloths, lemon yellow walls and gathered curtains framing large windows that look out over Ponce.
The grub: Regional Italian with a focus on Neopolitan cuisine. Prices are in line with the boutique hotel setting: starters range $8-$12, pasta dishes average about $16 and mains are $26-$36. Start off by snacking on hunks of nutty parmesan doused with fruity olive oil that are presented along with a basket of crusty bread. From there you may receive a taste of anything from a toasted baguette topped with bruschetta to a mini-cup of frothy tomato “cappuccino.” The nearly dozen pasta dishes include hearty bowls of orecchiette (ear-shaped noodles) with arugula, oxtail meat and sun dried tomatoes and large tube pasta bathed in a short rib ragout. Fish dishes include a roasted black cod with gratin clams and scallops wrapped in colonnata bacon, a cut of pork that is cured and preserved in marble tubs in Carrara, Italy. Beef dishes include a veal shank with saffron risotto and Colorado rack of lamb with olives and eggplant tartar. For dessert you can’t go wrong with the molten chocolate cake, not the most innovative of desserts, but one of the lightest renditions we’ve tried.
The Verdict: Chef Gaetano Ascione revives the old St. Michel spot with simple, honest Italian cooking.