North Miami Beach's 36-seat Mazzi Cucina has the veneer of a hidden gem. It sits in a strip mall near the former location of Yakko-San that today houses favorites such as the Vietnamese spot PhoMi2Go, Filipino restaurant Lutong Pinoy, and Lettuce & Tomato, which is run by a former Epicure chef.
The place is decorated with knickknacks that describe generations of owner Stefano Mazzi's life in Italy. However, in many of Mazzi's dishes, there's barely a hint of a red-blooded Italian in the kitchen. Instead, the majority of them stumble together haphazardly.
A meal begins with an artichoke salad composed of flavorful grassy hearts that are just barely pickled. Yet things soon go awry. The olive oil seems to be the cheap variety that hardly registers. Thick coins of bland button mushrooms are raw, unseasoned, and forgettable. Mazzi says the final touch is aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, but the thin shavings of it don't offer any of the cheese's nutty flavor.
Spaghetti aglio e olio fares better. An al dente nest of semolina noodles arrives glossed with warm olive oil fortified and fragranced with a fistful of slivered garlic.
A plate of gnocchi also looks promising — the pillows of potato melded with flour indicate a handmade provenance. Yet on a recent night, the promised Gorgonzola sauce tasted like the neon-orange powder that puffs out of a blue box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. No amount of black pepper could save it.
Mazzi's lobster ravioli didn't seem to include crustacean. Some bits sat on top, but it was hard to tell whether they were shrimp, langoustine, spiny lobster, or some other sea creature mixed into a creamy pink sauce built upon lobster stock.
Chicken parmigiana was cloaked in a mound of gummy mozzarella, a painfully sweet tomato sauce, and a chicken patty with the consistency of a McNugget and the porous texture of pumice. The accompanying sautéed spinach was pooled in a liquid that smelled like an algae-choked lagoon blended with New York City hot-dog water.
Finally, an enticing-sounding limoncello cake tasted as though it had been soaked in Pine-Sol. We should've known it was coming when we saw a server pull a sky-blue box out of a refrigerator, hack off a slice in full view of the full dining room, and cover it with a mountain of whipped cream that hissed out of a can. The dessert cost 10 bucks.
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Mazzi should know better. Serving industrial-tasting food that's better suited for the cafeteria of a federal office building and charging nearly $20 a plate is shameful.
17010 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami Beach; 305-930-3991. Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Artichoke salad $14.95
Spaghetti aglio e olio $14.95
Lobster ravioli $18.95
Gnocchi Gorgonzola $16.95
Chicken parmigiana $19.95
Limoncello cake $10