Pulcinella's Marketplace & Café is a large, bright, white gourmet marketplace, a purveyor of fine foods, as they put it. It also is a café, which, if you come in from the front as opposed to the side entrance, is what you'll encounter first. The décor is casual: green marble tabletops and about 50 sleek wooden chairs in a small space with lots of windows and light. Two television sets, images moving without sound, are suspended from the ceiling in opposing corners of the room. This is not unusual to see in restaurants, and I'm sure the TVs come in handy for Dolphins games and assassinations, but why keep them on the rest of the time? Then again I suppose the silent screens are no more disturbing to look at than the parking lot, which is what the outdoor tables face.
The café is open for lunch and dinner, and the food is very good. Perhaps the best part of the meal comes first: a basket of Parmesan-topped focaccia squares and slices of sourdough baguette, two of the superior old-world-style breads put out by the on-premises bakery. Antipasti mostly are cold and include carpaccios of tuna, salmon, and beef -- the last aromatic with shaved Parmesan and white truffle vinaigrette. Salads such as caesar or mixed baby greens with balsamic vinaigrette are pleasant enough, but those that come from the prepared-food section -- like tuna, seafood, or chicken salad -- are far less impressive. We'll get to those when we visit the market.
Pizzas and pastas are the strong suits at lunch, the latter made on the premises and unfussily dressed. Sometimes too unfussily, as in the impeccably cooked linguini with spicy clams in a white wine and garlic sauce that contained more than a dozen saline littlenecks but no spice and little, if any, garlic. Pizzas are of thin, crisp crust and take on a mildly charred flavor from the wood-burning oven. At dinnertime that same wood roasting enhances fish specials and meats, such as rack of lamb, veal chops, and Tuscan steaks. The store's pâtisserie supplies desserts in the form of excellent French and Italian pastries.
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3207 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach; 305-948-6166
Caf open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday 11:30 a.m. till 11:00 p.m.; market open Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Catering available.
The aisles of the marketplace are breezy and wide enough to walk through, which goes hand in hand with the limited range of upscale items that are stocked; in other words you won't be able to choose from twenty types of ice cream, but the brand they carry will likely be top of the line. So, as I've mentioned, are the breads and pastries, and plenty of other foods, too, like a fairly extensive choice of sheep, goat, and cow cheeses; numerous types of fresh pasta; and prime meats that have been cut and Cryovac packed, which may not look as appealing as unwrapped beef but retain moisture better.
Hot prepared take-out foods are fine, especially the pollo mattone, a semiboned chicken flattened and roasted with fresh herbs. Salads, though, leave a lot to be desired, not the least of which is flavor. Separate platters of eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash are deftly grilled and brightly colored, pencil asparagus spears are green and crunchy, seafood and pasta salads are fresh. But nary a hint of salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, or any other taste booster. And the pale tomatoes seem to have been run through a deflavorizing machine, puzzling since the produce section features nice ripe red ones. For that matter the store also sells exotic vegetables and fresh herbs, but none are used in the cold foods, which, as a result, reflect only a Publix deli interpretation of gourmet. So I guess if you're in the mood to dine at home on salads, you should prepare them yourself. You might consider buying your ingredients here, though, because Pulcinella's is a lovely marketplace with quality products. Or maybe forget about take-out altogether and give the café a try.