As an entree, baked ziti also showed proper balance. A huge amount of firm ziti had been mixed with ground beef, ricotta, and tomato sauce, then layered with mozzarella and baked. The result was a terrific casserole, rather than the typical soupy mess. Bits of meat and sauce clung to the noodles, coating them without being overwhelming.
I was certainly taken aback by the size of my main course, linguine with spinach and mushrooms. The enormous bowl of pasta, generously laced with sauteed spinach and mushrooms, was intensely flavored with chopped garlic. Oil was apparent but it served as a sauce, keeping the linguine moist and flavorful.
The latest trend in Italian dining -- small 35-seat eateries such as Oggi Cafe and Cafe Prima Pasta, serving homemade pasta and fresh-baked bread at startlingly reasonable prices -- might seem to apply to 32-seat Il Piccolo. But several things preclude categorizing Il Piccolo as a trendy cafe. While the pasta dishes are among the best around, the noodles are the dried variety, not homemade, and the baguette-style bread is purchased, not baked. A meal here is inexpensive, but not quite as cheap as at the aforementioned places. And Il Piccolo, until a few months ago known as Andre's Diner, has existed in the same location for six years (Andre, a departed partner, took his name with him. Andre's Diner is due to reopen in North Miami on Biscayne Boulevard.) The biggest difference, however, is in the speedy and competent service we found at Il Piccolo, as compared to the gracious but always slow service in the cafes. Despite my initial reservations, I agree with the owners: Il Piccolo is a diner of the highest order. Next time I eat there, I'll probably recognize some of the locals. I might even wear Spandex.