On a recent segment of WLRN's radio show Restaurant Roundabout, food writer Jen Karetnick mentioned that Michael Schwartz's new restaurant, Fi'lia, was so hot you could actually see the reservations flying away on OpenTable.
Though that sounds like an exaggeration, it's quite true. This past Saturday evening, the restaurant, located at the newly minted SLS Brickell, was abuzz with patrons. Not a seat in the dining room or at the bar was available. It seems everyone in Miami was there to try the James Beard Award-winning chef's take on Italian.
Schwartz, best known for his Design District eatery Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, started his career cooking Italian cuisine. He told New Times this past June: "I've been really lucky in my career, and I was thinking about things I want to cook and eat and environments I want to be in. Those ideas resonated with people."
Fi'lia's menu contains no real surprises. The offerings are standard red-sauce restaurant fare, broken down into pastas, pizzas, large plates, small plates, and extra-large plates.
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What sets Fi'lia apart is Schwartz's attention to detail. At bread service, your server pours a generous amount of olive oil, personally selected by the chef, into a dish. Then he takes out a petite pair of scissors and delicately cuts leaves from the small potted thyme at your table to make a dip.
Schwartz also wants to bring back that old-school restaurant chestnut — the caesar salad, prepared tableside. A cart rolls around the dining room, squeezing into tight spaces, stopping at nearly every table.
The scent of garlic bread grilling wafts through the room, enticing diners to order a salad for the table. At $20, it's worth it for the show. As a chef's deft hands mash anchovies, swirl mustard, and break eggs, the whole room looks on in awe.
The salad itself is delicious. It's tangy, acidic, and fresh. If you're used to eating caesar salad only at weddings and catered dinners, you owe it to yourself to reacquaint yourself with the real thing.
Pastas include a rare-to-Miami cacio e pepe ($19), a hearty rigatoni Bolognese ($20), and bucatini ($21) with Calabrian chili flake breadcrumbs. The bucatini had enough heat to tingle the lips, but it's fine for almost any palate.
The restaurant takes advantage of its wood-fired oven and grill. A hangar steak ($34), served medium-rare, is offered with wood-fired vegetables and slathered in a fine sun-dried tomato tapanade. It's large enough for sharing, especially with an order of pasta.
If you're a fan of red sauce (or homesick for Brooklyn), order the chicken parm. The sauce is perfectly tangy, the chicken savory, and the cheese bubbly. At $23, it's generous enough for two — possibly four —to chow down on.
Leave room for gelato. The flavors rotate frequently, and last weekend featured seasonal flavors such as pumpkin and apple, along with a flowery olive oil.
The only distraction was the din in the room. Not much was done to buffer the sound of a full house of chatter and clinking glasses. Management did address this issue, saying the restaurant's sound system was being tweaked. If that's the only problem with Fi'lia, it's easy to see why reservations are dear.