Bistro Mezzaluna was one of the hottest dining destinations in Fort Lauderdale in the early 1990s. Waits could be two hours or more as young professionals from nearby Rio Vista and Harbor Beach packed the place. So I was surprised when I called on a recent Friday night and was told “come on in” without a reservation (now accepted for four, rather than six or more). By the time we got to the restaurant on the 17th Street Causeway, there was a half-hour wait, but for those of us who could handle a brisk South Florida night, there were empty tables on the patio. A few bites of chef Brian Rutherford’s elegant Italian dishes and popular classics were reassuring. It turns out that while scores of new restaurants have popped up (and just as quickly faded) in nearly two decades, the Italian bistro is just as good – and possibly better – than ever. The menu offers crowd-pleasers like Maryland crab cakes, filet mignon, free-range chicken, seafood pasta, and Rutherford offers daily specials like braised short ribs or snapper topped with crab.
Ambience: Every table at the 100-seat bistro was filled at prime time over the weekend, but we didn’t have to shout to hear our friends, even when dining inside on a Saturday night. The setting is attractive with honey-toned woodwork and comfy black booths. A large arch bisects the dining room and there’s a sleek, bustling bar by the entrance. Even if you’re not of a certain age, you’ll welcome the illuminated menu, which you can easily read in the romantic, dimly lit dining room.