The upside to our modern-day obsession with food is the increase in availability of all things culinary, from greenmarkets to green-apple martinis to green restaurateurs. The downside is that it is an obsession, and obsessions nearly always turn ugly. We are already dealing with consequences such as rampant obesity, the scarring of our cultural and environmental landscape by fast-food chains, and, more subtly, a trend toward restaurant ownerships that are less concerned with providing rewarding dining options for the public than with luring that public toward providing restaurant ownerships with rewarding profits. This in turn has led to American cities getting drowned in a sea of superfluous, superficial food-service entities -- and we're not just talking fast foods, either.
Which brings us to Lincoln Road on South Beach, where a moderately priced Italian restaurant, Locanda Sibilla 1730, has opened amid the moderately priced Italian restaurants Limoncello, Tiramisu, Spris, Da Leo, Pizza e Via, Rosinella, Il Sole, Soprano Café, and Carnevale. In case you were wondering, "1730" doesn't refer to Locanda's address or to the year it first opened, but rather, I suspect, to this being the 1730th moderately priced Italian restaurant on Miami Beach.
Not that Locanda is without its charms. The interior is dark and cozy, and outdoor seating affords opportunities for compelling people-watching. The manager is as personable as can be, visiting each table before dinner with complimentary miniglasses of peach Bellini (each table but ours, that is, though he brought us a round on subsequent trips). The waiters, while woefully inexperienced and untrained, are warmly accommodating those times they remember what you ask them for. The teeny wine list is affordable, the chairs reasonably comfortable, the menu a minicompendium of home-style Italian fare.
Locanda Sibilla 1730
833 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach, FL
Open for dinner daily, 5:30 p.m. to midnight. Brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Call 305-695-1654.
Diners are started with a small tray of olives -- though on our second visit, while they recalled the Bellinis, they forgot the olives. On that second trip they also neglected to tell us the specials, which, in the midst of dinner, we overheard recited to the next table. We did get a basket of focaccia strips both times -- once warm, once cold.
We began with a salad of mixed greens lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, and adorned with thin semicircles of green apple, clumps of goat cheese, and walnut pieces apparently shelled sometime during the Clinton years. Slightly gristly slices of tuna carpaccio came next, capped in cool fashion with a refreshing blend of julienned celery; diced, ripe red tomatoes; and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Two heartier starters proved more gratifying: three Belgian endives, thick as Cuban cigars, wrapped in prosciutto and roasted with Gorgonzola cheese; and delicate slices of eggplant parmigiana with mozzarella cheese and a pleasantly mild tomato sauce that lacked only the fresh basil it was supposed to contain.
An appetizer of fried calamari and zucchini sticks arrived crisply cooked, though became slightly less so after our server leaned across it with a dripping pitcher of water. At least, on this occasion, our water was getting refreshed. It has been my observation, both during subsequent visits to Locanda as well as at other establishments, that each time I take a sip of bottled water a waiter will appear and refill the glass instantly, but when drinking tap water an empty glass will remain so for unquenchably long periods of time. A more cynical person than I might suggest this occurs because waiters want to sell as many bottles of water as possible to up their tip percentage, but service was so all-around neglectful at Locanda that our empty glasses could just as credibly be attributed to the staff not noticing.
Pasta dishes are the strong suit here. House specialties include cannelloni with chopped beef and béchamel, veal and spinach-filled ravioli with creamed mushroom sauce, and tagliatelle with prosciutto, peas, and Pecorino cheese, which was mistakenly brought to our table and looked mighty enticing. We were supposed to have gotten tagliolini Bolognese, which we had ordered twice -- the second time because minutes after taking our order the waiter returned to inquire what it was we had ordered. We repeated the dishes, but the waiter evidently didn't know that tagliolini Bolognese was on the menu, so we pointed it out. The late-arriving Bolognese was excellent, a thick, meaty, robust ragout staunchly clinging to fabulously firm ribbon noodles.
Roast suckling pig is a specialty of the Italian town Sibilla, and a specialty of Locanda every Wednesday evening. The moist, generously portioned pork, served with unseasoned roasted potatoes, came cut into wedges, on the bone. Had the waiter's claim of it being infused with rosemary and garlic been true, the meat would have been livened up considerably. Had he been knowledgeable enough about the $21 price, instead of telling us it was $17, I might have been shocked -- except that on a prior occasion a different waiter had insisted the $4 glass of house wine could be either a merlot or chianti. I chose the former, and was billed $7.
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Three seafood entrées don't cover a whole lot of ground in terms of accompaniments: tilapia with tomato, shrimp and tomato skewer with spinach, and grilled salmon with tomato and spinach. We tried the latter as part of a $17.95 pretheater dinner special that runs nightly from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The deal includes choice of three appetizers; a main course of pasta, grilled chicken breast, or the aforementioned salmon fillet (which was overcooked); dessert (gelato or tiramisu, a side dish of fresh, espresso-spiked mascarpone with morsels of ladyfinger inside); and a big, strong cup of coffee.
Other entrées include pounded veal scaloppine, "pounded grilled New York steak," and a very thinly pounded and blandly breaded chicken Milanese, served with a salad of olive oily arugula and cherry tomatoes. In a real Italian neighborhod restaurant, chicken Milanese would likely be accompanied by a side dish of spaghetti marinara -- which to most diners is more satisfying than arugula (especially those who've already eaten a salad).
Don't know why we bothered, but we asked the waiter if the chocolate soufflé was really a soufflé, and were assured it was. Naturally it turned out to be the chocolate bombé served all over town -- an impressive frozen product, but no soufflé. We passed on the gelato, whose flavors run the gamut from A to C: chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry. You'd think Locanda could have at least introduced a new flavor of gelato to the block.