If your DNA contains XX chromosomes and you have a pulse, it's impossible to strut the streets of Italy without learning how to handle constant harassment from cliques of brazen young Italian stallions.
"Grazie a la mama!!"
"Ragazza, perche non fare un giro con me?!?"
Hey, I'm not shy. I fended off such enthusiastic fellows and their compliments, expressions of gratitude for my existence (thanks to the mother!) and requests for a walk about town during a Florentine semester abroad. So right back at 'em. In this case, I'll be tossing a cat call or two Cioppino's way, specifically at executive chef George Fistrovich. He may not be Italian, but don't let that fool you. He's been keeping things fresh at, let's face it, what could very well fall into the trap of the formulaic luxury hotel flagship fine dining restaurant: perfectly executed -- and equally as boring -- food.
Italians let the ingredients do the talking, and so does Fistrovich. He and his team, including sommelier Jorge Mendoza, make multiple trips each year to the mother country to scout the finest local product to be translated without fuss to the Cioppino table. The current menu is clean and classic Italian with a modern twist and was just launched in February. But this kitchen is not resting on its laurels; it's constantly engaged in an ongoing education on the latest trends abroad -- without the benefit (or perhaps, constraint) of a boot-based Ritz property.
Right now, Fistrovich's passion is developing the finest olive oil selection for Cioppino. A real treat was Giuseppe Cagnoni's rich and nuanced Etruria from Umbria. It's strictly organic, a trend that has been long embraced by the Italian agriculture industry before it gained fad status here in the States. He's also experimenting with the '07 and '08 harvests from Terrasole's 1,000 tree grove in Montalcino (the land of the famed Tuscan red, Brunello) and hopes to introduce the restaurant's first custom blend in the fall. Even the table extra virgin olive oil from Villa Manodori is something to write home about. Its tasty, mild flavor equally warrants a crusty slab of Tuscan bread or a saute pan. I indeed confirm that it's used in the back of the house, as well.
Every day is special risotto day at Cioppino, with new varieties constantly in development like eggplant and Sicilian tomato married with the highly-prized Riso di Baraggia, Italy's first and only DOP rice. Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) denotes the government-protected geographical status of Italian products to ensure their authenticity, similar to the DOC appellation controls for Italian wines. Trust me, with or without the label, you can taste the difference. The result is a creamy consistency that stands up to the acid from the tomato with ease whilst the individual grains maintain their bite. Also a credit to the skill of the cook at the stove, of course...
Since no Italian meal is complete without wine, sommelier Mendoza can expertly arrange a flight of pairings from his extensive collection, which I hear also contains a host of very rare bottles. Mendoza recommends the following wines that match in order with the aforementioned items, and I enthusiastically concur:
"Anthilia", Donnafugata, IGT Sicilia, 2005
Dolcetto D'Alba DOC, Sandrone, 2006
Villa Antinori, Bianco, IGT Toscana, 2006
Barbera D'Alba DOC, "Tre Vigne", Vietti, 2006
Moscato di Montalcino DOC, "Florus" Late Harvest, Banfi, 2006
Now you know a man's got some skills if he can manage, after an afternoon of living la dolce vita in Venice, to extract the coveted and secret bellini recipe from a practically mum-by-contract bartender at the famed Harry's Bar... and live to tell the story! Thus the Cioppino Bellini was born, a refreshing start to a viticultural tour of Italy. The storied recipe simply combines white peach puree and prosecco, mixed with ice in a jar and served strained. That is, if you dare attempt it at home.
|Ice Cubes of Panacotta with Consommé of Berries|
Pastry chef Patrick Lassaque will make sure you don't leave without several somethings sweet to choose from, my favorite being a playful deconstruction of traditional panacotta above. You'll have to wait for that one though... it's in the running for the new dessert menu to come late June.
So after my decadent visit to Cioppino, I needed a few days to recover. Maybe even comtemplated wheelchair assistance to the valet to retrieve my car. But I'd let its delightful staff spoil me any day. And I recommend you do, too.
455 Grand Bay Dr.
Key Biscayne, FL 33149
Breakfast: 7 - 11:30 a.m. daily
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily
Dinner: 6 - 10:30 p.m. daily
Sunday Brunch: Noon - 3 p.m.
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