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The pastas are the centerpiece of the menu here, and rightfully so. Not content with the simple homemade variety of noodles manufactured by machines and found at most decent Italian eateries, Legrand and his chef de cuisine Saele Cantoni (a co-worker in Italy whom he recruited after opening Spiga two and a half years ago) create handmade works of noodle art that received unanimous accolades in every dish we sampled. The linguini con aglio, olio, e spinaci was excellent, with big slivers of garlic in a sea of tender spinach. The fresh pasta, as in all the dishes, was taken from sheets hand-turned that morning, and the attention to detail rewards the palate. Ravioli too is taken to another level here. The special version we tried, with crab stuffing, scallions, and an exquisitely light sauce, was divine.
When asked how the pappardelle al telefono got its name, our waiter replied, "There is no reason." Pappardelle is shaped like a tube, not a cellular Motorola. Even if the name is meaningless, the dish itself was flawless, with just the right amount of creaminess to the tomato-mozzarella sauce.
The main courses, though, fell somewhat short of expectations. My father, who joined us one evening, eagerly anticipated the arrival of the saltimbocca alla romana con vino bianco. As a child growing up in the United States during the Depression, he was served tasteless polenta for weeks on end by his Italian parents. The mere promise of this princely veal dish, which as the name implies is supposed to "jump into your mouth," got him salivating back then, as it still does today. But this veal was a little tough, and even the prosciutto seemed uncharacteristically chewy. Instead of jumping into the mouth, it languished on the plate.
The dentice al vino bianco, red snapper in white wine sauce, was better. Stuffed with savory rosemary and served in a light sauce, the snapper flaunted all the trappings of a top-shelf fish dish. In spite of its juices, the flesh was still a little on the dry side and was ultimately disappointing.
Wine was not poured for us consistently during dinner, perhaps because we'd ordered a carafe of the house red ($17). But that was made up for by the wine itself, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a favorite not commonly offered in a carafe.
Vegetables and side dishes, especially the spinach, were tasty, but we were truly floored by dessert. Each is homemade with as much regard as the pastas, and it shows. The mango mousse, tiramisu, and passion fruit torte were all distinctive and could hold their own on the dessert cart at any restaurant. And -- a surprise at an Italian restaurant -- Spiga serves what can only be described as the best flan on the face of the Earth. I call it caramelized bliss, and on two separate visits everyone at the table agreed with me, so much so that we had to get to the bottom of this improbable delicacy.
Although Spiga calls it Italian flan on the menu, it's not really flan but rather an Italian version of it (panna al forno), and it's worthy of an ode by Dante Alighieri. Make sure to cut crosswise into its gelatinous body so you get an even tasting of the light and dark portions. And scoop up three or four of the amaretto "cooks," as Legrand called them, sprinkled liberally on top (they look and taste like pine nuts). Add a little caramel sauce and you'll give your mouth a culinary version of its first kiss -- indescribable, and it leaves you wanting more.
As we were making our way out of the restaurant, so was Legrand, a plastic to-go bag in hand. He was making a personal delivery. "I'd do the same for you," he said, and I believed him. He truly cares about his customers, and he does indeed create a family atmosphere in a part of town not known for that particular quality. On a recent Saturday, for instance, he hosted a baby shower. The soon-to-be-born was his own first child, a daughter.
Birthplace too of 250 bruschettas, truly superb pastas, and sublime desserts, Spiga really is a family place, just a slightly offbeat one, thank God. It's a favored spot among those in the know, and with a little tweaking of the entrees, it should become even more popular. Deservedly so.
1228 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 305-534-0079. Dinner Sunday to Thursday from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday until midnight. Lunch on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Carpaccio di manzo
Pappardelle al telefono
Dentice al vino bianco