From the outside, Michele’s Dining Lounge looks like another generic strip-mall restaurant, not the kind of place where you’d find crystal chandeliers, an ivory baby grand and gleaming black onyx tables flecked with gold. Owner Michele Bonarigo grew up in the restaurant business in upstate New York, and this 8-month-old Fort Lauderdale restaurant is her dream. She even subjected herself to the scrutiny of host David Adjey on the Canadian Food Network’s The Opener in an episode that should air this fall. (Some drama, she says, but not the terror of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.)
Michele’s motto is upscale dining at neighborhood prices, and though it’s more expensive than a mom-and-pop, it’s worth a visit even if it’s not in your neighborhood. The young, earnest staff is well-trained, and sommelier Giovanni is on hand to answer questions about the well-priced list of about 100 wines. First-timers usually receive a card for a free bottle of house wine on their next visit, a nice touch. Like the décor, the menu is a mix of traditional and modern. Shrimp cocktail may be a standard dish but here, it’s served atop a blue LED light. That said, the focus is on well-prepared cuisine, not gimmicks, with dishes like foie gras over toasted brioche with blackberry sauce and veal osso buco with polenta.
Ambience: Bonarigo transformed the 200-seat space on Oakland Park Boulevard into a lounge area and separate dining room with a wall of water at the entrance. Opulent accents like faux crocodile, copper placemats, velvet trim and Old World banquettes are toned down with contemporary wood furniture and soft lighting. If you dine on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday evening when there’s live music in the lounge (a pianist, vocalist or Livan the sax man), you’ll feel like you’re in another era.
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