Behind the Line

Open Just One Week, It's Bustling At Puntino Downtown

It could be a sign of desperation for fuss-free neighborhood eats, priced right in the financial district, or merely a coincidence.  Either way, Puntino Downtown was filling to the brim quickly by noon yesterday with a power lunch crowd hungry for a taste of its new "Fine Italian Cuisine." 

In addition to the area's white collar set, Goldilocks would approve of

the menu here.  It's front-loaded with just the right amount of

antipasti, insalate and primi piati among which to choose for a

satisfying lunch from The Boot.  And each is comprised of just the

right number of ingredients. Like in Italy, the Neapolitan chefs

commanding this closet kitchen let the ingredients speak for themselves

in most dishes -- a very good sign.

Eight light but generously-portioned insalate include Tricolore, Romana alla cesare, Spinacina, Frutti Tropicali, Greca and Americana; I tried the Partenopea, a refreshing mix of frutti di mare and mesclun lettuces with corn, palmitos and juliene carrots, all held together by a light dressing of fruity, young olive oil and lemon juice.  There's also the expected bruschetta, caprese salad, antipasto all'Italiana of cured meats, carpaccio selections (fillet mignon, salmon or tuna,) and frittura di pesce.  All of these salads and starters are under $10, except for the out-of-place "Tonnarella," seared tuna over mixed lettuces with a spicy Asian vinaigrette for $11.75.  For half the price, opt for minestrone ($4.50) or the spiny lobster aragosta ($5.50) soup.

The kitchen sautees light and fluffy house-made gnocchi prepared alla Sorrentina, in a bright tomato sauce permeated with oozing, melted buffalo mozzarella and herbaceous basil, speckled with Parmigiano Reggiano.  You don't want to stop eating it and shouldn't.  It's a perfect portion for lunch at $9.25.  Other first course pastas hover in the same price range and include homemade ravioli al granchio filled with jumbo crab meat and lemon zest in a pink vodka sauce ($11.50) and pennette allo scarpariello prepared in a similar fashion to the gnocchi but with garlic ($9.25.)  Then there are the more ordinary offerings not of Naples such as fusilli al pesto Genovese ($8.99) and tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($9.)  Five panini and three pizzas round out the mix of simply-prepared but full-of-flavor choices.

A sampling from beginning (in my case, chosen by the kitchen) was no accident, as the menu loses steam towards the end.  It's to be expected, though, for a lunch-only outfit.  Fish and meat have three options each.  Tagliata di tonnarello, seared sesame tuna with spicy "mushed" potatoes (yes, it says mushed,) fresh vegetables and mango sauce sounds a little dazed and confused. The pan-seared blackened salmon with baby spinach, cucumber, tomatoes and diced potato salad in fresh dill sauce probably redeems, and there's also a crispy snapper fillet with a grape tomato caponata, capers, black olives and fresh basil.  All are under $12.50, so there isn't really much to complain about.  If one wants chicken, it will have to be breaded, in the cotoletta alla milanese, balanced with a salad of peppery arugula and zesty diced tomatoes in aged balsamic vinaigrette ($10.25.)  The most expensive of the meat dishes is a classic grilled steak served with rosemary roasted potatoes and sauteed mushrooms at $13.50.

Side dishes, a cheese selection and desserts are clearly all a lazy afterthought and should be treated as such when ordering.  You'll just find ordinary brie, gorgonzola, feta and others that are used for cooking dishes here -- as with the sides, which are just main dish accompaniments sold separately.  The restaurant does not have a full bar, but they do serve a selection of beer and wine, as well as espresso beverages, bottled waters and sodas.

What seems like a simple, borderline boring concept somehow may pleasantly fill a void in the area.  Smashing pop art lines the walls, with renaissance portraits meeting the contemporary imagery of Italian food company logos in an electric swirl of color that brings a dining room seating 50 to life.  The restaurant has a small bar up front, perfect if you're dining alone and want to pop in and out for a quick bite. We attempted to reach Owner Cristoforo Pignata via email, who is currently in Italy where he runs several hotels and restaurants.  According to the manager, he will be back in Miami in a couple of weeks to check in on this first venture state-side.  That's when Puntino will begin to try a dinner service. If there's life beyond lunch, a few menu tweaks will be needed, but they are well on their way on week two.

Puntino Downtown

(305) 371-9661
353 S.E. 2nd Street (that big curve west if you're heading south on S. Biscayne Blvd. towards Brickell)
Miami, FL 33131
Open for lunch Mon-Fri 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. 

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Jackie Sayet