Italian and smoke on the water in South Florida.
While I've often had great meals in Miami, I had never been fully satisfied with the city's Italian food. Part of that, no doubt, is that I work in New York City, where great Italian food is easily found. But on my last visit to the city I was introduced to a new Italian restaurant that may rank as one of Miami's best—Il Gabbiano.
Opened last year by a team from New York's famed Il Mulino, Il Gabbiano follows the Mulino tradition of convivial service and hearty fare. Before you are presented with menus, you eat. Within moments of your taking your seat, several waiters visit in waves, one bearing a small plate of salami, another with chunks of salty, scrumptious parmaggiano reggiano, another with two types of bread. Garlic is used with gusto here—if you're a fan of the stinking rose, you're in the right place.
The menu is full of Italian-American classics, from appetizers such as vongole origanate (clams baked with oregano and bread crumbs), to bufala mozzerela, tortellini in brodo and shrimp scampi. For entrées, there's veal done Saltimbocca style (with sage and proscuitto), al limone (with lemon butter and white wine), chicken scarpariello (with sausage, garlic and wine) and parmagiana (sauce and cheese), plus myriad other dishes. This is no place for the meek of appetite.
We ordered off the menu to start—going bespoke doesn't seem to faze the waitstaff—and started with some sausage in ragú, a simple, homey dish with quality meat cooked with just the right kick of spice. For our main courses, we had osso bucco served with risotto, two staples that are easily ruined if not prepared with care. Each was lovely, the veal shank tender, moist and succulent, the rice tender and creamy.
One place where Il Gabbiano breaks away from the Il Mulino mold is in the pace of the meal. On my last visit to Il Mulino, around the Christmas holidays, my fellow diners and I were crammed in to a too-small table, the food came at a blistering pace, and the bottled water and wine even more so. The restaurant seemed a victim of its huge success, the room just too small for the crowd hoping to dine there. Il Gabbiano has more space, from the white dining room (a Miami staple) to my preferred place to eat, the spacious back patio overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Let's talk about the patio. Fewer and fewer places in America have areas where one can light a cigar right at the table. The patio at Il Gabbiano allows smoking, and one would be hard pressed to find a more lovely place to enjoy a cigar after a big meal. I enjoyed both a pre-dinner and post-meal cigar, the latter smoke paired with some limoncello, the Italian post-prandial liqueur. Here the sweet, lemony drink is brought to the table in dramatic fashion, encapsulated in a massive block of ice.
335 South Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, Florida 33131
Lunch: 12 to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday
Dinner: 5 to 11:30 p.m, Monday through Saturday Closed Sunday