The big review: Jianella ***
Skip the mall chains and head to this Lat-alian spot for maximum quaintness.
By Enrique Fernandez
Though it's a walking area, one drives to South Miami and the vibe is suburban, crowned by a big mall, the Shops at Sunset Place. Still, South Miami is full of shops, some of them among the best in their genre, and, of course, restaurants.
Jianella, a recent addition to the scene, is smallish and understated. The menu is mostly Italian with Latin American accents. Ravioli can be filled with Cuban tasajo (dried beef) and served topped with a pureed black bean sauce, an Italo-Cubano fusion that almost works. Corvina (sea bass) was so sweet and mellow it felt like a custard, served with a side of lovely champagne risotto studded with fresh grapes.
An aged short-rib risotto with arugula and burrata, topped with truffle oil, was a happy mix of flavors and aromas. Another risotto came with tasajo, shrimp and pineapple. "It sounds bad but tastes great," the waiter said. He was right, even if the tasajo tended to eclipse the other ingredients.
There is experiment here. Local Nuevo Latino and fusion dishes can degenerate into vulgarity, but here it's toned down, and even the boldest manifestations pass the test of tastiness. Chef Gabriel Martínez is playful but restrained, and it pays off. Desserts include a variety of flans and cheesecakes. The crème brulée had a homey, cornstarch-free taste that was engaging.
Jianella has a faithful clientele, some of whom even bring freshly bagged game for Martínez to prepare, and the restaurant also sponsors wine dinners for its regulars, though all one needs to do is call to join the party.
The small wine list is well chosen, with reasonably priced bottles and uncommon offerings. It's one more element in a restaurant that seems to care about making diners in this corner of South Florida happy.
Jianella, 1569 Sunset Dr., South Miami; 305-663-1159; noon-3 p.m. weekdays; 6-10 p.m. Tues-Thurs and Sun, 6-11 p.m. Fri, Sat; starters $12-$17, entrees $19-$44, desserts $6-$12.
FYI: Wine and beer only. Street parking. Valet $7 Thur-Sun. AX, DS, MC, VS.
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