Thursday, April 19, 2007
Caffe Da Vinci: Italian Splendor
The word “homemade” is bandied about too easily on Italian menus. At Caffe Da Vinci you can really taste the difference. Fresh pasta has a certain snap to it, a bite that signals perfect al-dente execution and freshness that can not be faked. All pasta at Oggi restaurants are made daily at the restaurant's resident pasta factory, and it shows. From the minute you enter the cozy Bay Harbor Isles outpost of the famed Oggi restaurant empire you know you are in good hands.
Caffe Da Vinci's décor is striking in that it makes use of more wood and brick than typical restaurants in Miami. It gives the dining room a Northeast feel, a welcome change to the ubiquitous travertine and pastels. A regal old-school walnut bar flanks the left side of the restaurant where one wouldn't feel out of place ordering a Macallan single-malt scotch before dinner, along with the locals that pack the restaurant on any given night.
The fettuccine with salmon cream sauce (above) was chewy and hearty, the meaty chunks of salmon providing heft to the dish. Heavenly pillows of ricotta ravioli were delicate yet held their own beneath a chunky tomato sauce. The restaurant also offers a treat for carb-conscious diners in the form of seaweed spagettini from Korea, with less than 10 carbs per serving. It was fine enough, made much better with the shitake basil sauce, but it's no contest compared with the real thing.
Service is staggering in its efficiency. Plates are promptly cleared, water filled, pepper freshly ground, wine poured with an orchestral rhythm rarely observed this side of the Atlantic. Food arrives just when you wish it would, everything is timed right, the servers trade barbs with regulars with a genuine attentiveness. The wine selection is wide-ranging with plenty of choices from Chile and Argentina in addition to Italian varieties.
Caffe Da Vinci also excels at steaks and seafood, with a mahi entree that comes topped with capers and tomatoes and a side of whipped mashed potatoes. Appetizers also provide adequate company to the spotlight-stealing pasta. A handsome eggplant rollatini (above) came wrapped around warm mozzarella and topped with fresh basil. A portobello starter was a generous portion of marinated strips of mushroom. The “maestro” salad is a nice pairing of apples, Gorgonzola cheese, fennel and mixed greens. Portions are bountiful so there may not be room for dessert but one should not miss the indulgent Tiramisu (below), its mascarpone cheese whipped to an airy lightness.
Italian restaurants are not hard to find in South Florida. Spaghetti joints dot our coast like lifeguard shacks, each displaying little more individuality than the neighborhood Olive Garden. An Italian restaurant that does things well and does those things consistently and with the kind of grace and charm rarely seen in dining circles hard to find. Caffe Da Vinci is one of those places.
Caffe Da Vinci
1009 Kane Concourse, Bay Harbor Isles