'Burbs and Spices

The latest developers' concoction to come our way -- upscale, all-in-one living, -- is a lifestyle some Floridians have embraced passionately, almost automatically. The Waterways -- homes, shops, and entertainment chained together in a mall-like sprawl -- is a turn-on for those tempted by "instant community."

Many couples whose children are grown no longer require the privacy or isolation of a large, single-family home, though they can well afford it. Some, especially younger couples, can only rent, not mortgage, a key location. And others appreciate the trouble-free amenities that a planned living area extends, from the beautifully designed landscape they're not responsible for maintaining to the soothing conformity of housing. The Waterways is a classic example, featuring town-center options without the town, and urban possibilities without the disadvantages: no roaches, no noise, no seedy housing, and no crime (except perhaps the domestic variety).

Diversity is not emphasized. It's not meant to be. In this commune of privilege, the baby-boomers' comeback to Sixties revivalism, is the comforting opportunity to know your neighbors, even if you don't know their names. Everyone cants the same lingo: the make and model of the car to drive, the jewelry to wear, how to keep your husband.

Tonight there's a party in the 207th Street Shoppes at the Waterways and it's called Bruzzi, billed as a "California-style" trattoria. Guideline #1: Bring your glitz, your best hair. You have an image to maintain.

Pull up behind the Ferrari and have the valet park your car. Ignore the wide-open lot. Distance means everything when walking must be done.

Follow the sounds of the keyboard jazz, easy-listening with a tempting bar-mitzvah flair. You can hang at the bar with the thirtysomething crowd or rock to a ballroom beat with the Middle Ages. Either way, on Wednesday night, ladies drink free until closing.

Or sit on the veranda fronting the water, in Miami a viable October option. You might miss out on the high-ceilinged showroom (cold enough to exhibit ice sculptures) that serves as a bar, but glamour likes to sit outside too, if enough of the pack is heading that way.

The gentleman in the corner is attractive. Though it's 10:00 p.m., he still wears his I-just-came-from-work suit, sleeves pushed up over his gold Rolex. He discreetly picks his teeth; you notice his initial ring set with a stone -- his sole finger ornament -- and wonder if he lives around here.

Perhaps the menu deserves some attention. After all, your mother recommended this place, and you know how hard she is to please. She believes she could make everything better at home (and yet she eats out all the time). "Try the kugel," you hear her saying in your mind. You can't believe a tony stand like Bruzzi serves a delicatessen delicacy. But there it is on the menu, accompanying the rotisserie garlic rosemary chicken ($9.95).

But a friend also recommended Bruzzi, and she's from California. In fact, she's eaten in the original Bruzzi, out in the Springs -- Palm Springs. (Can you imagine?) And Al from the gym, he said the portions were as big as his biceps. Fortunately the prices aren't quite as inflated as Al's ego. Gourmet pizzas and pastas range from $7.95 for the plainer marinara versions to $12.95 for the richer, seafood choices. You haven't had a really satisfying shank of veal since Florence, so consider the upper end of the menu, which includes carnivore teasers such as New York steak with fried onions and wild mushrooms ($17.95) and osso bucco ($14.95). Who cares if payroll doesn't come in until Friday?

A little Chianti might be in order. Chat with the waitress, she's friendly and well informed. She'll try to steer you toward the gold label Ruffino, but there are plenty of inexpensive reds on this Cali-Italia list, also sold by the glass, as well as a satisfactory variety of vino bianco and champagne. She commends your choice of the Castello d'Albola Classico ($18). For the price, it's refreshing and drinkable, not as tannic as you had feared.

You reach for the basket of bread, the natural accompaniment to wine, having recently recovered from a bout of garlic-roll syndrome. (Symptoms include a disdain for the cheap, oil-soaked buttons of dough that pass for garlic bread on the Beach.) These garlicky loaves twist gracefully in your hands, and you admire them. But what's this? Pumpernickel? A bouquet of diversity is never displeasing, but nevertheless you are amused by the apparent attempt to invite the neighborhood, as if they couldn't possibly appreciate a cuisine other than that of their own heritage. The same could be said for the mushroom and vegetable barley soup included on the menu as a specialty, and the old-fashioned chicken salad ($8.95).

You order an appetizer -- the spicy fried calamari ($6.95) with red tartar sauce. Unfortunately the calamari isn't spicy and the tartar isn't red.

As you continue with the wonderfully tender steamed mussels marinara ($6.95), you notice that most of the sea fare -- smoked salmon, clams, tuna steak -- isn't typically South Florida. Perhaps because the origin of Bruzzi is West Coast desert. But that's fine -- you've eaten enough grouper and dolphin to be a shark. And the marinara packs so much flavor you feel compelled to rudeness, and dip your garlic-cheese bread ($3.95) directly into the serving bowl. Your friends, busy fighting over the last New Zealand morsel, don't mind.

For dinner you choose the lasagna of the day ($9.95), a grilled-chicken version. This is a satisfactory compromise to noodle kugel, and a good nutritional selection. Four out of the five food groups are represented; some, such as the dairy, in abundance. The chunky plum-tomato sauce and smoky poultry are delightful in their contrast. You look forward to bringing the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

You won't be bringing the caramelized onion and mixed sausage pizza ($8.95); none is left. This white pizza is clearly the victor of this round. Fontina cheese is a mellow complement to a Dijon mustard spread. It's topped with caramelized onions, leeks, and three kinds of precisely seasoned sausages -- chicken, Andouille, and Italian. If taste buds had tails, yours would wag. You suspect, too, that any one of the fifteen-plus pizzas on the menu could be the prima donna of pies -- the Beverly Hills, for example, with smoked salmon, sour cream, dill, and caviar ($11.95), or the white mushroom pizza, with oyster, shiitake, button mushrooms, roasted garlic, and alfredo sauce ($8.95). Wolfgang Puck of Spago fame, the originator, some contend, of the California gourmet pizza, couldn't bake it better.

Your friend is disappointed by the fish of the day ($16.95), sole stuffed with Florentine rice and brushed with a port wine butter sauce. A Florida boy, he was groomed, naturally, to the grouper school. He admits he prefers a fish with a stronger flavor. But the sole is flaky and fine, a good if not inspired choice for a trattoria.

There is some misguidance here, however. Bruzzi is advertised as "incredibly healthy" Italian cuisine. This is a dangerous assertion for a restaurant situated directly across from Unicorn Village, that other poser's palace. In one meal, you've seen more cheese than Wisconsin. Two-thirds of the pasta sauces list cream or cheese as a main ingredient. Perhaps Bruzzi's "healthy" refers to the appetite it expertly satisfies, and not the fat content of the recipes.

You didn't believe dessert was within the realm of possibility until the tray was presented. Trust your waitress and order the banana and chocolate mousse pie ($4.50). You worship daily on the altar of chocolate, but this is an overwhelming religious experience. For days visions of bananas and chocolate will intrude on your thoughts.

You do the postgraduate honors and recommend Bruzzi as ben trovato, well found. You will return; there is no choice. You promised your mother you'd eat well.

BRUZZI 3599 NE 207 St, Shoppes at the Waterways, North Dade, 937-2400. Open Sunday-Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:00 p.m. to midnight.


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