Vic & Angelo's South Beach: Coal-fired pizza and upscale Italian-American
The Hollywood name has been removed from the marquee: DeVito South Beach is now Vic & Angelo's. The former was a fine-dining Italian chop house; the latter is a fine-dining Italian-American comfort-food house. Producer of both is David Manero, whose fame rests largely north of the Broward County line. His namesake restaurant group has in its portfolio the Office, a popular gastropub in Delray Beach; BurgerFi in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; and two other Vic & Angelo's (Delray Beach and Palm Beach Gardens). So although V&A has never been on a red carpet, it has an established fan base.
A red carpet would fit right in with the "modern Mediterranean glam" décor (left over from the DeVito days) by Manero's wife Lynn. The room is still distinctively defined by reclaimed Chicago brick walls; oversize white leather banquettes and red upholstered dining chairs; marble-top tables; low-hanging, 85-bulb European light fixtures that look lifted from a Tim Burton film; ornately framed flat-screen TV sets; a chef's table; a full-service bar; an expansive open kitchen; and a patio overlooking Ocean Drive. That's the first floor.
The upper-level dining room also boasts a bar, along with many more TV sets, lounge seating, and a balcony. Somehow it all adds up to cozy dining — though the warmth of the rooms were cut with an air-conditioned chill and further sabotaged by the thumps of annoying club music that didn't match the hour (9 p.m.) or clientele (most around the age of Danny DeVito).
Chewy strips of fresh focaccia deliciously loaded with garlic are brought to the table promptly, an assurance to diners they won't go hungry during the perusal of this lengthy menu. There is surely something for everyone crammed onto the single laminated page. Before even contemplating main plates, diners will consider antipasti, "signature starters," salads, pizzas, and raw-bar options (including shrimp cocktail, yellowfin tartare, oysters, clams, and colossal lump crab). Executive chef Alain Zimmer must have lots of order forms on his clipboard.
Coal-fired pizza (touted as SoBe's first) is the presumed star of this show (the restaurant's complete moniker is Vic & Angelo's Coal Oven Enoteca). The crust of our "Originale," charred and blistered at 650 to 750 degrees, arrived topped with Grana Padano, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. One problem is that it was overbaked until the sauce was dry and the minuscule amount of mozzarella lost all moisture and substance as it nearly evaporated into the crust. An Originale brought to the table next to ours later in the evening was so much lighter, cheesier, and fresher-looking that it appeared to be an entirely different pizza.
Weirder, however, is that the rim of the pie crusts come covered in Maldon salt — as in every space totally coated. Even with a contrasting sweetness from added cane sugar, the salinity makes the crust rim inedible.
Other toppings, besides traditional meatballs, sausage, four-cheese, and so forth, include Ipswitch clams, squash blossoms, pancetta with potato, and goat cheese, pistachios, and truffle honey. The water used for the pies is said to be imported from New York, which might explain the $19.95 to $21.95 cost per pie; extra toppings are $2.95 (sausage, peppers, anchovy) to $3.95 (prosciutto di Parma, grilled chicken, rapini).
"Upscale fine dining at affordable prices" is how V&A bills itself, yet while prices are lower here than they were at the exorbitant DeVito, they still haunt the haute range. Starters and antipasti are $13 to $18, salads $12 to $18, pastas $20 to $30, and nonsteak entrées $27 to $37. Wood-grilled steaks, dry-aged for 21 days "in the famous stockyards of Chicago," run $38 to $56. A grass-fed burger with fixings is $19; a footlong Kobe hot dog with fixings is $20. The Miami Spice deal was in effect when we visited, but you wouldn't know it. Not until we were finishing our final meal did we spot diners at a nearby table being handed the prix fixe menus. Service was otherwise polite and professional.
A 20-buck frankfurter is unusual, but there aren't too many out-of-the-ordinary selections among the antipasti. Really only one: ahi tuna crudo with ginger, ponzu, and jalapeño. We understand that this is a nod to the popularity of Asian food, but it's as ill-suited here as lasagna at a sushi joint.
Otherwise it's off to old-school hits such as calamari fritti with fried peppers and basil; grilled sausage and peppers with broccoli rabe and Parmesan; and an 11-ounce meatball with San Marzano red sauce, peppers, and ricotta. We tried eggplant parmigiana, whose thin slices were baked with San Marzano sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano and topped with a scoop of whipped ricotta — traditional Italian in a hearty, full-flavored way.
Baked clams al forno was anything but. The listed ingredients are olive oil, garlic, breadcrumbs and lemon, but the octet of breaded littlenecks arrived floating in a murky lemon gravy chockablock with garlic. Sicilian chicken wings and a large antipasti plate round out the other signature starters.
"Angelo's salad" was likewise disappointing. The composition, described on the menu as "greens, eggs, cucumbers, beans, tomato, onions, red wine vinaigrette," lacked eggs and onions and contained merely a few snippets of cucumber. The romaine lettuce, giant white beans, and tomatoes were joined instead by a sprinkling of white cheese. An insipid vinaigrette only made things worse.
Bucatini all'Amatriciana boasted perfectly cooked strands of the tubular, spaghetti-like pasta. Sometimes this classic dish from Amatrice, Italy, is prepared with tomatoes, sometimes without. Here the noodles were soaked in a soup bowl of the house San Marzano sauce — this version heavy with garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese. Slivers of ham were threaded in, but there was no fatty guanciale (or pancetta) flavor to the sauce — nor the staple cracked red pepper flakes (or any spicy input).
Bucatini is one of V&A's "imported Italian" pasta picks; ricotta gnocchi comes from the "artesan house made" category. The petite knobs of tender gnocchi were bathed in a potent pesto and garnished with pine nuts and shavings of ricotta salata.
One way to cheat the high pasta prices: Side dishes ("accessories") of gnocchi alla San Marzano and penne alla San Marzano go for $9.95 and are ideally portioned for a first or second course. Asparagus al forno, one of a few vegetable sides, brought beautifully cooked spears topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings, a prosciutto crisp, and a "soft boiled egg" that was medium-cooked — and thus robbed of its role to ooze luxurious yolk over the rest.
Three moderately sized, lightly sautéed scaloppine of veal satisfied in a tomato-tinted porcini sauce rich with the mushroom's earthy flavor. Rapini alongside was a tad salty, and Parmesan risotto was very salty (beverage sales here must be through the roof). Though the grains weren't overcooked, the rice arrived in a dense, pea (and garlic)-studded clump.
Yellowtail snapper Francese, one of four seafood entrées, is plated with the same accompaniments.
An extensive bottle list lingers on Chiantis, super Tuscans, Pinot Grigios, and "classic" Italian wines (the reds categorized into five regions: Barbaresco and Barolo from Piedmont, Amarone from Venice, Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, and so forth). You can find a $479 Sassicaia super Tuscan from Tenuta San Guido, as well as a number of wines for $40 or less.
A dozen whites and a few dozen reds are offered by the sampler-friendly quartino, which equals one-and-a-half glasses. Most are $11 to $18.
Many Italian dessert favorites — brandy-spiked tiramisu, cannolis, fried zeppole, ricotta cheesecake — are onboard and prepared fresh in-house. You can't go wrong with the giant chocolate cake ($18 and large enough for four to share), but vanilla Venetian cake was the apex of our meal — both in terms of taste and tallness. The wallop of a wedge of sponge cake is layered with vanilla custard and iced on top and sides with bronzed Italian meringue, à la baked Alaska. It provided a luscious finish, and better yet, it wasn't overloaded with garlic and salt.
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