Rustic meets sophistication at Vino e Olio

 

Like a Mona Lisa smile, Vino e Olio offers seemingly simple, understated fare, but look closer and you’ll find there’s more to the picture.

By Jodi Mailander Farrell

Like a Mona Lisa smile, Vino e Olio offers seemingly simple, understated fare, but look closer and you’ll find there’s more to the picture.

The menu at this mod, 3-month-old Design District addition sticks to its Tuscan roots with almost Orthodox fervor. Beef tripe sandwich, handmade pappardelle with Bolognese ragu, house-made gelato and cannoli are satisfying dishes you’d find in any respectable trattoria in the Italian countryside.

But there is sophisticated creativity within the rustic constraints. Cold smoked eel pâté is planted in a warm puddle of creamy celeriac sauce in one appetizer; tender veal sweetbreads are stacked between savory eggplant wedges and buttery burrata cheese in another. Half-moon wedges of fresh ricotta mixed with pureed spinach and topped with a sage gratin march across the plate without their pasta shells, living up to their sexy moniker, “Naked Ravioli.”

Defiant twists on tradition extend beyond the food. The vast, handsome interior – dark wood tables, concrete floors, black walls, big art and seating for 220 – is high-gloss, not cozy farmhouse. A glass wall reveals the workings of the shiny kitchen, where you can reserve a table for a closer look. A patio with a lounge area competes with al fresco Mai Tardi across the street.

In case you forget you’re in Miami, a giant photo of a woman’s pierced nipple hangs outside the restroom doors.

If erotic body art doesn’t startle you, paying a lot for Italian peasant food may. That eggplant starter was an eyebrow-raising $17, and entrees average $30. The Italy-centric wine list, however, is reasonably priced, with by-the-glass options under $10.

Some plates are worth it. The roasted suckling pig, slow-cooked with fennel, onions and herbs, has a layer of fat that seals in succulent flavor beneath the crispy skin. Sautéed wild mushrooms and a swirl of sweet green pea puree add complexity and comfort to the plate.

The roasted lamb chops, cooked to perfection and crusted with herbs, also live up to expectations, which are high. Chef Andrea Menichetti learned his craft from his mother, Valeria Piccini, who founded a Michelin two-star restaurant, Da Caino, with his sommelier father, Maurizio Menichetti, in a remote section of Tuscany called Maremma.

Many of the ingredients used at Vino e Olio – pecorino cheese, olive oil, hand-raised lamb – come from the family’s farm or region. The menu also boasts local sourcing, but Menichetti says he has struggled to find some ingredients that meet his standards, particularly zucchini (“No flavor,” he says), which he scratched from the menu.

Menichetti’s pedigree, combined with Vino e Olio’s high prices, extravagant décor and skimpy side dishes (our lamb came with three roasted asparagus spears), means strikeouts here are that much more discouraging. Complimentary dinner rolls, some flecked with rosemary, others topped with caramelized onions, are dense and dry. The waiters, while earnest, don’t have the know-how you’d expect at a restaurant with these aspirations. Pastas don’t impress, nor do the desserts, with the exception of a stunning orange carpaccio with passion fruit sorbet that bursts with flavor and looks like a Van Gogh sunflower.

Time will tell if Miami is sufficiently recovered from the recession to support this ambitious, uneven newcomer.

If You Go

Place: Vino e Olio

Address: 139 NE 39{+t}{+h} St., Miami

Rating:★ ★  1/2 (Good)

Contact: 305-573-0707, www.vinoeolio.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 5:30-11 p.m. daily; bar open later on Friday and Saturday.

Prices: Antipasti $9-$18, pasta $12-$20, entrees $28-$34, dessert $8-$10.

FYI: Full bar. Metered street parking; valet available nearby. DN, MC, VS.

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