Cioppino at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne took the title Best Expensive Italian Restaurant in New Times' Best of Miami 2011 issue. Though it is tricky to choose one pasta over another, after careful consideration, we present the other top contenders. Tune in next week, when we count down the top inexpensive options for those without black cards or an expense account.
5. We named Quattro Gastronomia Italiana Best New York Switcheroo this year -- a little snafu on our part because the NYC location closed shortly thereafter. We are happy to report the brothers, chefs Nicola and Fabrizio Carro, continue to man the kitchen at the most upscale Italian restuarant on Lincoln Road. They import a large percentage of ingredients from their homeland, ensuring beautiful olive oils, fatty hams, and the best seasonal truffle cart in town. The wine list is all Italian, as is the northern-bent cuisine. Piedmont is known for rich, creamy sauces (and lots of truffles), and the Carro twins do not disappoint. Exhibit A: The porcini ravioli comes dressed in a decadent porcini truffle sauce ($22). You'll find everything from shrimp to aged goat cheese in risotto of the day (rice is another Piedmontese specialty -- they grow a ton of it). From a traditional veal saltimboca ($36) to the orata steamed in white wine with olives and capers ($30), the menu is truly Italian.
4. At Cecconi's, chef Sergio Sigala serves the classics, from a thick-cut veal chop swimming in morel sauce ($42), to gnocchi with roasted tomatoes and pesto ($22). Most menu items seem a bit caloric for the models who hang at Soho Beach House, but eaters who appreciate big flavors can indulge in cheesy pizza with duck prosciutto or spicy salami ($18 to $28) and wood-oven baked meatballs ($10). We also chose Cecconi's for Best Outdoor Dining, and it made the list of runnersup for Best Décor. The beautiful garden setting is both romantic and comfortable -- perfect for lingering with a glass of Campari and soda.
3. Scarpetta fans might have started with the spaghetti, but they return for extraordinary attention to detail: the smallest flake of sea salt on raw yellowtail ($17), skinny fried slices of lemon in the fritto misto ($17), a tiny piece of baby zucchini atop spring pea raviolini ($24). We love that the pasta offerings shift along with the seasons, and the service is always stellar. Although Scarpetta is located in a huge hotel, the Fontainebleau, it doesn't give you that trapped sensation, because the resort's activities are kept at a distance. A new dining terrace, due to debut this fall, will be enclosed in glass and air conditioned.
2. It feels really good to eat at Il Gabbiano even though it's really expensive. The dining room is simple and elegant: white tablecloths, billowing white drapery, white-rose centerpieces -- very Miami meets Capri. The menu is also simple and elegant. Classic Italian dishes such as veal scaloppine al Marsala ($27.75) and risotto alla Milanese ($36.75) are presented with an above-average pedigree of cooking care. The whole branzino (market price) is a glorious remembrance of what it is like to eat along the coast of Italy. We wish it were less expensive so we could eat here more often.
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1. Escopazzo wins the top spot because of its ever-evolving menu, which has been keeping up with the Miami restaurant shuffle since 1993. Chef Giancarla Bodoni was doing organic in South Beach way before it became fashionable, and she continues to source the best ingredients from local farmers. She remains flexible in terms of her cooking style, creating plates around the freshest produce and proteins available. Bodoni is famous for her ricotta-stuffed pumpkin tortelli ($29) and veal involtino, wrapped around a creamy proscuitto and mushroom ragout filling ($32). Nevertheless, take a chance on the tasting menu (three, five, or seven courses for $50, $75, or $100) to be rewarded with an array of the chef's more innovative tastes.