By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Consider: the gnocchi I sampled in the West, though unexpectedly large, were boiled dumplings, appealing in their disregard for gravity. Here in Miami, they were pan-fried like arepas, those corn-and-cheese novelties with which you nauseate yourself at state fairs. Though this could have been a stimulating innovation, they tasted like undercooked, gluey lumps of fried potato flour. And this was only a side dish!
To be fair, the grilled marinated chicken ($12.50) that accompanied the gnocchi alla Romano was made palatable with garlic and oregano. The antipasto misto ($5.50) was a refreshing starter of cold salads, including fava beans, chick peas, marinated mushrooms, marinated artichokes, and eggplant, as well as the typical assortment of meats. And the homemade focaccia ($3.50), served fresh and warm from the oven, complemented this plate enormously with its seasonings of rosemary, olive oil, and Parmesan.
The rest of the meal deserves not quite so much credit. Our pizza of eggplant caponata and mozzarella ($8.50) had little, aside from its thin crust, to make it recommendable. Caponata, usually a delicate mixture of eggplant, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and pine nuts, is overwhelmed at Lombardi's by the capers, an unpleasant vinegar flavor when used indiscriminately. The mozzarella, covering the pizza like a pie top, is too dense for the proper balance. A smoother, creamier cheese, perhaps a fontina, would better complement this dish.
Several of our problems stemmed from the inept service. Our waitress was completely unprepared with menu knowledge. She knew so little about the wine list she didn't recognize which one we ordered and therefore couldn't write it down. She had neglected to discover the risotto of the day (an uninteresting arabiata, as it turned out) as well as the fish of the day. Crime of all crimes, she served me the wrong meal, even after I repeated my order twice and pointed it out on the menu (she was constantly reading over our shoulders, a habit I despise even as I contributed to it).
Despite our difficulty in ordering, I was eventually served tagliolini al limone con pollo ($10.50). Though the menu lists cream in its description, I had been looking forward to a wine-and-lemon-reduced sauce hardly touched with it, the way I've had good limone in the past. I pictured wrapping myself in long noodles of luxury after twisting in a few grinds of fresh black pepper (white pepper would have been a rare pleasure). I was therefore unpleasantly surprised by the small mound of pasta rising like an island above a lake of cream, which begged rather desperately for salt.
Salt was not lacking in the plate of smoked marlin mixed with vegetables ($13.50) that a companion ordered, although this was because of the nature of smoked fish and not the nature of the chef. Still, billing smoked marlin as a "fresh fish of the day" selection is a misnomer. Even if Lombardi's had a smokehouse on premises, I doubt very much smoked anything can be considered fresh. The chunks of marlin were generous, but this dish also floated in cream, an ingredient not included in our server's description. It seems the only way to avoid such calcium deposits is to order an unequivocal pomodoro.
A full eclipse of the moon attracted us more than the Italian ice cream for dessert, although we could have shared both on the outdoor terrace. The smart insistence on sidewalk dining, plus a photo on the wall of the Las Vegas restaurant, confirm that these eateries are indeed linked by more than a name. But I'm still not convinced, because of the disparity of our experiences, that Lombardi's Bayside isn't a sloppily executed franchise that will ultimately insult the tourist population with its preparations, just as the whole of Lombardi's offends the resident population with its chain-restaurant mentality.
LOMBARDI'S Bayside Marketplace, 401 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 125; 381-9580. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until midnight.