A trip to Europe isn’t in the cards for most of us right now, but Miamians can soothe their wanderlust at Portosole, a new restaurant in Coral Gables that aims to make you feel like you’ve been transported to Italy from the moment you’re greeted with your first buongiorno.
Named for a small marina in coastal Italy where the fishing boats bring in the catch of the day, Portosole describes itself as a “really Italian” restaurant, one that offers an authentic European dining experience based on quality ingredients and Italian-style hospitality.
“I don’t mean ‘really Italian’ just because we are Italian, but of course the way of proposing the food, the way of cooking the food, the way of choosing all the products,” says owner Lucio Zanon, who was born in Venice and worked for more than 20 years at the famed Harry’s Bar (and eventually with the Cipriani Group in New York City and Buenos Aires) before coming to Florida in 2007.
The white-tablecloth restaurant opened recently on Ponce de Leon Boulevard inside the historic 1920s building that briefly housed Seek + Find Kitchen and Bar, and, before that, Son Cubano.
The day after the city issued the permits that would allow Portosole to commence operations, Miami-Dade County announced the closure of all restaurants for dine-in service owing to COVID-19.
“Very proudly, I signed the iPad of the inspector — and the next day the government closed everything,” Zanon marvels.
For two months, the elegant restaurant Zanon had envisioned operated for takeout and delivery service only.
But Zanon wasn't inclined to panic.
He recognized that his team would have ample time to train, test recipes, and prepare for their real debut. In the interim, the restaurant also launched Mercato di Portosole, offering high-quality Italian products like regional olive oils, aged prosciutto and Parmesan cheese, and imported pastas.
Now that Portosole has finally opened its dining room, guests will find an emphasis on coastal Italian cuisine with seafood that's imported from Europe, along with daily specials based on the freshest available ingredients.
“I’m proud to say there’s no ketchup in my restaurant,” Zanon quips.
Zanon says he travels to Italy at least twice a year to research wines and discover new culinary trends.
“I like to see the new approaches to Italian cuisine. I’m a lover of this business,” he says.
Amid Portosole's robust selection of fresh pastas, charcuterie, Florentine steak, and seafood, specialties include casarecce al pesto — a short homemade pasta served al dente with a Genovese basil pesto sauce that’s prepared fresh daily — and a veal chop with wild mushrooms, which at present means porcini imported from Italy that provide a burst of umami flavor.
Certain dishes give guests a chance to interact with the staff –– from the signature cacio e pepe served in a cheese wheel to whole fish deboned tableside.
There are even interactive dessert preparations. Crespelle alla crema pasticcera brings a custard-filled crèpe served with a scoop of vanilla gelato that’s flambeed in front of you. And sgroppino veneziano — a traditional Venetian dessert cocktail made from lemon sorbet, prosecco, and vodka — is whipped up tableside as a frozen after-dinner treat that comes with some after-dinner chitchat with the server.
That’s all intentional, Zanon says. “We try to have synergy with the customers. The customer is here for two hours and he wants to enjoy.”
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Portosole's wine list is Italian-forward, the product of Zanon’s many wine-tasting trips to his home country. A cocktail list combines both vintage and modern craft selections. Eventually, the restaurant plans to host wine dinners and wine tastings in a private second-floor event space.
Zanon says his goal is to make Portosole another must-try Italian restaurant for locals. (It has already received South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Schrager's stamp of approval.) For now, he's mostly looking forward to getting “back to normal" in a coronavirus world.
“Back in the day, we would finish a nice dinner with a little grappa. Now we finish with hand sanitizer,” he laughs.
Portosole. 2530 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 786-359-4275; portosolemiami.com. Open daily noon to 10 p.m.