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Miami Spice at Scarpetta: Full of Pleasant Surprises

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In 2008 something happened at Miami's most iconic resort property. LIV opened its doors at the Fontainebleau, changing the club scene in Miami forever. Girls in stiletto heels and spaghetti straps began to flood the lobby multiple times a week, making the ancient hotel coveted for many reasons. Beyond the superficial though, and through the corridor at the other end, one could find a different form of spaghetti. One with substance, and a whole lotta fat -- the good kind.

Scott Conant opened two Scarpetta's - New York and Miami - in 2008. Both achieved equally outstanding reviews. Five years later, the restaurant in the subtropics remains strong, with many of the traditional staples and classic Italian dishes still predominant on the menu. And what's impressive to us is that most of these dishes are on to the restaurant's Miami Spice menu and on our list as well. Haven't been to Scarpetta before? You might not want to see the pictures that follow then, at least until you make a reservation.

See also: Italian Soul Food Simmers at Scarpetta

You can only expect the best from a restaurant of this stature from the moment you walk in till the moment you leave. It starts with the decor, extends to the service, personal sommelier, and food that tastes like it was made specifically for you. And it ends with a discounted valet.

The promotion costs $39 a person and begins with endless bread baskets of house-made strombol filled with smoked salami and cheese, served alongside a trio of decadent spreads -- mascarpone butter, eggplant caponata, and extra virgin olive oil.

Stankovik Zarko, the sommelier at Scarpetta, has round 20 years in experience. That's a lot of wine drinking. He tells us he samples about 45 different wines a day. Seems like a lot, right? Not really, at least for a restaurant that has a 600-count selection of grape varietals. For Spice, Zarko has put together two flights - one classic or "classico" and one reserve or "reserve" for fancy. Each features three 3 ounce wines, intended to completely compliment your meal. We personally preferred the classic flight over the reserve. Not only is it more inexpensive (classic is a $20 surcharge per person while reserve is $30), but it's less dry and a bit fruitier.

Three-hour braised short ribs sit on a bed of vegetable and farro risotto. Also available is a pancetta spiced mackerel with fennel and citrus or seared scallops ($5 surcharge) with corn, morcilla and shaved radishes. Or ....

Scarpetta's signature creamy polenta is a must-try among the Spice offerings. It made our list of best of in 2011, and with good reason, other than the fricasee of truffled mushrooms that includes not one, not two, but three kinds of magical tasting shrooms. You might even see stars after a few bites.

What comes next is a surprise from the chef. A very pleasant surprise. An intermezzi -- or middle course -- between the appetizers and entrees -- of pasta. Not just any pasta though ...

Scott Conant's famed spaghetti served up by Nina Compton comes at a surcharge ($12), but is reason enough to visit the restaurant, spice or not. Drenched in the most basic of red sauce - tomato and basil - it's understated elegance is proof Scarpetta isn't overrated. It also doesn't hurt that even at a surcharge, it's still half off its regular dinner menu equivalent ($24). Our suggestion: both you and whomever you dine with ought to get the extra offering. While it's romantic to do the whole lady and the tramp thing, this spaghetti is just not worth it - sharing that is.

Had enough pasta? Entrees range from an olive oil poached swordfish with eggplant, panissa and ceci beans to a sirloin of beef with potato creme and oxtail sumo ($10 surcharge) and oven roasted chicken that although wouldn't be the typical exciting choice, our server recommended to be the best of the three. Paired with fregola, pancetta and baby squash, this is the least scary chicken we've encountered.

And in case you didn't get your pasta fix with the spaghetti, you're in luck. The lamb aglonotti also made the Spice menu, and our 2012 best of. Although it wasn't conceptualized by Conant himself, it is a new addition to the menu that showcases how Scarpetta is still at the forefront of doing innovative and exciting things with old and classic ingredients. A cheesy lamb filling almost melts in your mouth after biting the al dente pasta and finishing off with the minty bread crumbs.

In case you're too full, or simply think it can't get any better, think again. End your night with the chocolatey chocolate cake and toasted almond ice cream. As if you already didn't have enough carbs. Good thing then you'll have all of Saturday to make up for it, as it's the only night Miami Spice isn't available.

Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha

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