Casual family style Italian restaurant specializing in Northern Italian cuisine.
The tiny Italian restaurant at Sunset and U.S. 1 has an entertaining history. In 1997, co-owners Maurizio Farinelli and Agustin Sanchez transformed the place from the luncheonette of Lee's Pharmacy into a backdrop for fine dining, patty melt to pappardelle in quick order.
It was an instant smash: 49 seats filled and refilled night after night, as South Miamians recognized the novelty of having a bona fide gourmet restaurant in the 'hood. And then, notoriety. Multidollared German developer Thomas Kramer, the Beach jet-setter, made a jaunt to the mainland for a meal at Sole, and allegedly ended up in a scuffle with Farinelli because management would not overlook the restaurant's no-smoking policy and let him puff on a cigar.
The parties settled out of court, and Farinelli and crew haven't looked back. Trattoria Sole is still doing a mighty business, and even opened Blú, an upscale pizza place next door, with much the same handsome style and attention to flavor found in the original.
That style includes warm yellow walls, original art, sconces, bookshelves and anything else you might find at a home-cooked meal for 49. The flavor is Northern Italian; Farinelli hails from Torino, from where he brought a twist on a classic, polenta ($9.50). This cornmeal is baked and then allowed to harden into a piece of cake, sliced into a triangle and liberally doused with a wonderfully rich and savory sauce of olive oil, red wine, demiglace, fresh chopped tomato, garlic, herbs, mushrooms and fragrant wild boar sausage, with a touch of butter added at the finish for texture. Be game for this: It's wonderful.
On the lighter side, there's carpaccio di tonno ($7.95). You likely will wonder how they manage to slice filet of tuna at a sixteenth-of-an-inch thin, nearly translucent yet filled with flavor. It's brilliant: The fresh tuna loin, rubbed with thyme and rosemary and olive oil, is frozen till firm and then sliced by machine; try it at room temperature and you'd have a mess. The plate bears 10-12 slices, plus bright and crunchy fresh-shaved fennel, a coulis of roasted red pepper and a baby greens salad. Excellent.
TOUCH OF PARIS
Italian pride is on the line and in the background with mista con caprino ($6.50). ``They make a better goat cheese than we do,'' Farinelli says of the French, and he's talking about pungent, fluffy Montrachet, smeared on a pair of crostini and matched with mixed baby greens and a balsamic dressing, with shallots, garlic, chopped herbs and olive oil and vinegar. The signature salad, though, is the aptly named Insalata del Sole ($6.50). This is baby spinach, sliced Parmesan, black olives, golden raisins and roasted pine nuts, held together by an excellent, bright dressing of (there go the French again) Dijon, lemon juice and olive oil.
Entree list is fairly priced and interesting. Indulgence comes in the form of ravioli di granchio ($14.50). These are homemade ravioli, blackened with squid ink and stuffed to brimming with crab meat, chopped carrot and onion, basil and thyme. They are dressed with a rich sauce of white wine and cream, flavored with saffron and fresh chopped tomatoes. Ravioli are all about texture, and these have it; in addition to succulent flavor.
Those watching their girlish figures might up for gemelli vegetariani ($11.50), a whimsically shaped ``spring'' pasta tossed with olive oil and garlic, portobellos, sundried tomatoes and fresh arugula. The mushrooms and tomatoes are sautéed with white wine and oil, then tossed at the end with the pasta and arugula. A refreshing dish, light but highly flavored.
Trota al guazzetto ($16.50) was ambitious and flavorful but somewhat flawed. We got a nice-size filet of trout, dusted with flour and sautéed in olive oil, then tossed with calamari, mussels and clams in a white wine and tomato broth, served with potatoes and vegetables. Trout had tenderness and good flavor but too many bones. And neither clam opened, rendering them worthless. But shellfish and tomato always make one happy. Just ask the French, and pass the bouillabaisse.
Simplicity arises with paillard di pollo ($15.50). It's a pounded double chicken breast, lovingly marinated in rosemary, garlic and oil and grilled, then laid to rest over a salad of tomatoes, capers and balsamic vinegar and olive oil. No innovation here, but well executed, served with oven roasted potatoes and julienne vegetables.
All desserts save one are made on site, and that is the sensational coconut flan ($5.50). But it's not from Sedano's: Farinelli's mother-in-law is the origin of this decadent, delicious treat, cool, sweet, complex custard with an addictive syrup whose contents the mother-in-law will not divulge, even to Farinelli. Maybe she would tell Thomas Kramer?
- Lunch, Dinner