Go for great salumi, fantastic wines, good tunes and friendly staff.
What happens when talented twins open their own restaurant on Miami’s Upper East Side?
If the brothers in question are Nicola and Fabrizio Carro, who cheffed at Miami Beach’s Quattro Gastronomia and Sosta Pizzeria, that means the neighborhood is getting some affordable Northern Italian food. Add friend and co-owner Cristiano Vezzoli to the mix to bring in DJs and a lively martini bar, and there’s bound to be some fun, too.
Not everything on the menu is great; however, the quality is solid and the experience pleasant.
Servers come in two varieties: veteran and green. Fortunately, both types are friendly. And, the owners seem to be present at all times, making sure all is running smoothly.
Tables and chairs are plastic and wicker, including high-back green fabric booths. A single rose at the center of each table lends a pop of color. Try to not be distracted by the sputtering, choking sounds of buses and trucks lumbering up and down Biscayne Boulevard.
You can choose your vibe depending on where you sit. Inside, with wooden floors and colorful posters, is bright and somewhat quiet, while the brick terrace by the south wall is like a party. It’s as easy for a first date as it is for a family get-together.
Regardless of the occasion, every meal here should begin with bar snacks, a steal at $5 each or five for $23. Go for filling and delicious arancini, fried rice balls with peas and mozzarella, or crispy fried olives with a melty provolone filling. All were a bit heavily breaded but tasty.
I was just as happy to choose some lovely imported meats and cheeses to create a salumi platter with velvety slices of mortadella, the pistachio-speckled meat, along with pecorino, ricotta and ribbons of just-sliced prosciutto di Parma. Briny marinated olives and pickled vegetables create a stunning balance.
A bread basket with slices of focaccia and other crusty bits is not really worth the calories or too much ink. The wine list, on the other hand, has some obscure finds at good prices.
When it comes to appetizers, rich layers of eggplant parmigiano in a tangy and not-too-sweet tomato sauce stand out, as do grilled octopus legs gently bathed in olive oil and dotted with tiny heirloom tomatoes and an earthy purée of chickpeas. The red and golden beet salad also is a fine example of balance, with peppery leaves of tiny arugula and a smear of goat cheese. Simple ingredients, deftly handled.
An exemplary branzino is plated with the tiniest of tender clams, capers, tomatoes and plump Kalamata olives.
Indulgent rabaton al forno, a casserole of tender spinach-ricotta gnudi, is baked with a smooth tomato sauce and burrata cheese and should not be missed. All of the housemade pastas, like ravioli filled with veal prosciutto or braised beef, are a bit richer than I like, but that is Italian cooking from the north. The brothers are from Piedmont, Italy’s northwesternmost region.
Some dishes are needlessly fussed with, including an otherwise fantastic quinoa salad whose squiggles of whipped ricotta cheese and a flourish of celery leaves like a henchman’s hackle did nothing to enhance it.
Slices of pollo alla boscaiola are heavily sauced, and a side of broccolini arrived limply draped over the side of a plain white bowl without the promised garlic or oil. It gave greens a bad name.
Desserts work just fine, though they could be a bit fresher. A fridge-worn panna cotta was saved by a tangy passionfruit glaze, while bunet, a chocolate amaretti flan, was oddly garnished with twin peaks of whipped cream, the top leaves of a strawberry and a couple of dehydrated apple chips.
Once you find your favorite dish at Via Verdi — I say the baked gnudi or fantastic octopus — come often, as many loyal locals do. Or just come for great salumi plates, fantastic wines, good tunes and friendly staff. Simple and deft.
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