By David Minsky
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The meal began with a bowl of piping-hot Tuscan bean soup, whose coarse purée of cannellini beans was garnished with herbs, a few macaroni shells, and diced pancetta. A trio of fat octopus tentacles arrived softly charred and tossed with capers, olives, juicy cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil. The starter that best showcases Sigala's let-the-food-do-the-talking approach comes via a chopped salad of "fall Swank Farms vegetables." The composition boasted a mélange of local, seasonal vegetables — including red and yellow beets, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes, and corn — and whispers of walnut oil and sherry vinegar like dabs of perfume on a beauty. Each fresh, natural bite validated all the ink spilled over the superiority of farm-to-table dining.
Other appetizers ($14 to $20) include tuna or beef tartare, snapper carpaccio, and a choice among five pizzas — including one with goat cheese and black truffle that goes for $40 (pies otherwise cost $18 to $24). I went with the simplest: warm cubes of barely melted buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves atop uncomplicated tomato sauce and a crackly, thin crust.
Pastas, made in-house, range from pappardelle Bolognese to gnocchi with Gorgonzola to the signature spaghetti with lobster. I was set to cast my lot with the last dish but also leaned toward "plin" agnolotti with butter, sage, and Parmesan. The waiter surprisingly steered me toward the agnolotti, whose $16 "small" portion was half the price of the lobster. No regrets: Each petite parcel of pasta delivered a delicately sumptuous mix of minced veal, beef, and pork.
4385 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33140
Region: Mid/North Beach
Cecconi's cuisine is based on tradition rather than any need to be inventive. That said, side dishes, at $10 a pop, are prosaic: mashed potatoes; roasted rosemary potatoes; sautéed spinach; cherry tomatoes and red onion; grilled vegetables; arugula and Parmesan; and zucchini fritti. The zucchini were nonetheless fantastic — thin sticks lightly battered and crisped, like French fries on happy gas.
Desserts are also limited in vision. The shortlist is topped by tiramisu (forgivable for an Italian restaurant) and key lime pie (barely forgivable as an obligatory nugget tossed to tourists). A cupcake-size cylinder of ricotta cheesecake was light and creamy, with blueberry compote on the side. A tasty wedge of yogurt and apple "cake" was more like an apple tart with a thin layer of cake within, sided by zabaione gelato trumpeting notes of intensely fresh vanilla. Desserts are $12 (excepting a postdinner Italian cheese course, with date-almond crackers and truffle honey, for $15).
We don't quibble with Cecconi's pricing; as implied, there are reasons. What seems missing are the usual consolatory extras, be it an amuse-bouche at the start, petits fours at the end, or notable service in between. Still, if you relish dining on flavorful Italian food in a breezily romantic setting, Cecconi's won't disappoint.
View our Cecconi's Miami Beach slide show.