Restaurant Reviews

That's Italian

After closing for more than two months, the charming and cozy Escopazzo on South Beach has reopened with a brand-new dining room, doubling its capacity from about 35 to more than 70 seats. To introduce this new "wine room," Escopazzo has announced it will host monthly winemaker dinners, beginning October 26. "The purpose," explains owner Giuseppe "Pino" Bodoni, "is to have a very affordable food check with a de gustibus of different wines, and to introduce winemakers and regions we feel are undiscovered in this area."

The expansion, completed in July, includes an intimate dining area about the same size as the original muraled and curtained storefront, which opened in 1993, and is decorated in a similar neo-Rennaissance style. The new room is connected by a narrow hallway that leads past the kitchen where Pino's wife, Giancarla, oversees the serious young chefs turning out classic and stunning dishes from northern Italy. Outfitted with shiny marble floors, cherry furnishings, a walnut bar, turn-of-the century glass lighting fixtures, Brazilian and Italian granite, and gilt mirrors, the small space exudes opulence. The centerpiece of the room is a walk-in wine "cellar" that houses more than 80 cases (approximately 1000 bottles) in a temperature-controlled setting. Perhaps even more significant than the extra seating is the kitchen, which has grown to nearly three times the size of the original.

Judging from the food on a recent visit, that expansion has improved the already excellent cooking, but not the timing of its arrival. It was a Saturday night and we were pleased to sit in the quieter back section, though the smell of cigarette smoke from the little bar in the corner was occasionally overwhelming. How very Italian! The waitstaff on this crowded Saturday night was as pleasant and professional as ever but as slow as the customs line at the Fiumicino airport. We were seated at about 9:00 p.m. and didn't bite into our first appetizers until well after 10:15. Still, the wait was worth it for delicate swordfish carpaccio accented with a touch of balsamic glaze and lemon ($11); sautéed eggplant with a sauce of tomato, Parmigiano cheese, and basil ($8); and a salad of Dungeness crabmeat with cucumbers and spicy horseradish ($12). As a main course we sampled the always superb handmade pappardelle with a ragu of buffalo meat ($16), perfect risotto with arugula and sun-dried tomatoes, and a gnocchi special with seafood that was a bit too briny for my taste, but well-liked by the rest of the table.

Desserts, too, were up to their usual irresistible status. The ubiquitous tiramisu, a cakey version with plenty of whipped mascarpone, was devoured first, though a subtle citrus aspic was a clear winner as a light and slightly tart finish to a great meal. Since growth has been so good so far, I have high hopes for the addition of the wine dinners and the recently added menu items such as pumpkin ravioli with amaretto, zuppa di pesce (Napolitano style), and braised leg of Colorado lamb.

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Victoria Pesce Elliott