Before opening Cecci, a small 36-seat eatery on Washington Avenue at 15th Street, Daniela and Octavio Salerno launched a pasta and pizza restaurant 30 minutes outside of Lima, in Chaclacayo. They also operate a traditional Peruvian restaurant in a yacht club on Peru's coast from January through April. The restaurant in Chaclacayo is also called Cecci, which is short for Cesare, the names of Daniela's dad and son.
Twelve years ago, the Salernos opened their home and kitchen to others. At first, patrons came and occupied the downstairs area to eat, drink, and be hosted by the lovely Italian-Peruvian family. It was a place of family union for customers as much as for the proprietors. Eventually, word spread about the home-cooked meals, and the downstairs part of the Salernos' home simply wasn't enough. So they turned the upstairs bedrooms and outside patio into additional eating space. And just like that, Cecci grew into a restaurant with a bar, a wood-burning oven, and a large outdoor area that everybody (250 people at a time) could call home. And its owners, after closing up every night, went nowhere. They were already home.
That same idea inspired Daniela and Octavio to open a place in sunny Miami. After all, it's already home to their son Cesare. He wanted to give his parents and younger brother, Angelo, who has Down syndrome, the same sense of family union that exists in rural Peru. His main concern was a location that would engender a sense of neighborhood and also be a tourist hot spot. SoBe seemed perfect. So the family put in an offer on what would be a new restaurant to call home.
Cecci is Italo-Peruvian fusion, inspired by the family's successful restaurants in Peru. The senior Cesare and his wife lead the operations and management of the restaurant, dealing with all the marketing and PR and anything else that isn't the food. Daniela and Octavio take care of the edibles and menu concept, flying back and forth between Miami and Peru to run the original Cecci.
This is a couple who makes your heart melt. Wearing a backward bandanna on his head and talking nothing but food and Peruvian culture, Octavio has the look of a chef and restaurant owner. "People in Peru don't eat ceviche for dinner because the temperatures drop. Ceviche is typically had during the day. It's a dish meant to refresh. Miami is hot year-round. And South Beach is even hotter, so ceviche is always in season. I can't wait to feed all the hot tourists and locals," Octavio says.
Daniela is more concerned about her plants and the décor, which is simple, casual, and rustic, much like the food offered here. She's a charming woman who wants to overfeed and spoil anyone who walks into her kitchen.
Check out the traditional Peruvian dish of lomo saltado, which comes sans the rice and French fries. Also try lomo saltado pizza -- a perfect example of Italian-Peruvian fusion. Or maybe a ceviche and aji de gallina pizza, which we didn't get to try. "You're just going to have to come back," said Mama Cecci.
They also serve traditional pizza pies, sandwiches (also a lomo saltado version), pastas, chaufas, tiraditos, ceviches, soups, salads, and causitas. There's something for the whole family or town.
Prices range from a low $1.50 for the causitas (choice of chicken, shrimp, or octopus) to $14.95 for main dishes, which include fettuccine huancaína -- with tender pieces of grilled churrasco steak drenched in a sauce of yellow hot peppers and fresh cheese -- or ravioli aji de gallina, ravioli stuffed with shredded chicken spiced with yellow hot-pepper sauce. Pasta at the original Cecci is handmade. Miami's Cecci uses freshly made pasta from a downtown vendor that the Palernos found by coincidence while looking for a location. A beer-and-wine license is in the works. In the meantime, Cecci invites its clients to bring their own booze for no corkage fee.
Cecci opens daily at 11 a.m. and closes Monday through Thursday at 11:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at midnight. Plans to remain open later with limited late-night food items are in the works. Take-out is available, as is delivery to all of South Beach -- from South Pointe to around 23rd Street. They also plan on catering in the future, but everything with time.
Check out what we saw and tasted:
Shrimp and chicken causita appetizers (also offered with Octopus) $1.50 each.
Ceviche tres ajies (aji amarillo, rocoto, aji limo), $12.95. Junior portion also available for $7.95, and for vegetarians they offer a mushroom ceviche.
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Tiradito three flavors (aji amarillo, rocoto, pulpo al olivo) $12.95.
Lomo saltado pizza (steak, onions, tomatoes, yellow hot peppers, and soy sauce), $12.95.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha.