In this series, the Beet Reporter aims to see whether Miami's tastiest restaurants are prepared to feed vegans something more than boring garden salads.
Escopazzo, chef Giancarla Bodoni's elegant little organic Italian nook, has a solid rep. There are high-quality ingredients and prices to match. Less discussed is the extensive selection of raw and vegan foods.
This past weekend, I tried the raw tomato and avocado soup with lime and basil sorbet, which usually goes for $18.
On first bite, I was put off by the bitter and acidic flavors of the thick soup. Then I wised up and stirred the softened spoonfuls of sorbet at the center into the corners of the bowl. The icy sweetness offered an exotic balance to the earthy arugula and bold vinegar tastes of the room-temperature living-foods soup. Little slivers of avocado floated in the purée, adding even more textural variety to the nutrient-dense dish.
The next course was by far my favorite of the night: a mix of nutty, salty, and tangy, combined with layers of chewy, crunchy, and tender textures.
The sprouted legume panzanella ($19 for a full portion) is a mix of crumbly olive-oil-dipped croutons, tomatoes, olives, celery, kidney beans, and sprouted raw lentils, topped with oregano and apple cider vinaigrette. The interaction of flavors culminates in a taste I would compare to a multidimensional bruschetta.
The creamy, rich sun-dried tomato and pesto risotto had me looking for Fabio so that we could cry in unison: "I can't believe it's not butter!"
The rice was flawlessly tender and the flavors meshed perfectly; neither the tomato nor the pesto overpowered (which is difficult when you're dealing with such potent flavors), but both were detectable in every warm, comforting bite. I would describe the dish as gourmet vegan mac 'n' cheese meets rice pudding.
The next plate is the only one I would not recommend.
The meatless spaghetti and meatballs ($20 for a full portion) came with perfectly cooked tendrils of fat spaghetti and a delicious tangy tomato sauce. The faux meatball, though, composed of mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, was overwhelmingly salty. When taken in small chunks buried inside forkfuls of pasta, it was bearable, but otherwise no. And trust me, as a vegan who occasionally has to use excessive amounts of condiments to make otherwise bland foods palatable, I have a high tolerance for salt.
And then came dessert: dairy-free orange chocolate ganache.
My taste buds, more attuned to tonguing carafes of kale juice and cups of soy yogurt infused with dirt-flavored spirulina powder, went on an astral vacation.The orange glow of the candlelit room, the soft buzz of conversation, and even the sight of my handsome companion faded away as the cocoa- and marmalade-flavored confection melted in my mouth. Then I bit into a rock of sea salt, which elevated the taste a notch. Heaven in a sparkly martini glass.
Meanwhile, my nonvegan date had the pleasure of indulging in asparagus flan with white truffle oil and fontina cheese, followed by handmade pear and cheese ravioli he described as akin to "sex in your mouth." Though not a huge fan of mussels, he conceded that Bodoni's were quite good. The tiramisu, though, took the proverbial cake.
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Fans of thoughtful, well-designed food regardless of dietary leanings would be wise to pay Escopazzo a long, leisurely visit. Be prepared to spend a lot, and remember every bite taken.