Fine Dining Review
Thursday, March 1st, 2007
by Rochelle Koff
ON THE MIDDLE RIVER: Chef Michele Viscosi, left, and his co-owner, Roberto Gioiosa, show off Serafina’s waterfront terrace.
Candace Barbot/miami Herald Staff
Serafina: A Gem In New and Masterful Hands
Here's a treasure map: Take Sunrise Boulevard east, as if heading toward Fort Lauderdale Beach. Just after the Gateway Shopping Center, take a right on Northeast 20th Avenue. Now, park along the little strip of businesses.
You'll see the large window of a kitchen bustling with staffers washing dishes, manning stoves, stirring sauces. Follow the adjacent path and you'll find the entrance to a gem worth all the navigating: Serafina.
At night, the dining room glimmers with candlelight and white tablecloths, melodies by Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble and Il Divo playing softly in the background. Glass doors open onto a rustic terrace twinkling with little white lights and a lovely view of Middle River and million-dollar yachts. It may well be the most romantic spot in Fort Lauderdale.
For years, this was La Tavernetta, then Serafina. New owners Michele Viscosi (chef) and Roberto Gioiosa (host) took over in January, bringing authentic Mediterranean flavors, warm, professional service and, as the name Serafina promises, a 'fine night.'
A fine day as well. The restaurant is open for lunch, serving dishes like grilled, house-made Italian sausage on ciabatta and pear poached in marsala wine.
Serafina is most enchanting after dark. It's fun to sit under the stars, but on a recent chilly evening we retreated to the warmth and intimacy of the 30-seat dining room. When it gets busy, Gioiosa pours prosecco for customers, keeping everyone in good spirits.
Italian wines dominate Serafina's limited but thoughtful list, most of them in the $35-$50 range with a few at $100-$125 and five choices by the glass for $8-$10.
Sip a barolo or barbaresco with the complimentary bruschetta -- ciabatta topped with chopped fresh tomatoes and garlic or marinated eggplant. You also get a basket of warm ciabatta to dip in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Serafina's page of starters offers many temptations. Slices of fried eggplant in tomato sauce are quite good. There's imported burrata cheese (for sharing) with Parma prosciutto, drizzled with olive oil, and portobello mushrooms sprinkled with Gorgonzola.
If it's available, don't miss the delicate roasted red pepper soup, served with a dollop of crème frache. We were also impressed by a bracing salad of chopped endive in a radicchio shell with a light Compari-based dressing.
Viscosi, who was born in Napoli, offers dishes from both northern and southern Italy. His risotto, often overcooked in restaurants, is done just right. Our risotto special with saffron was delicious, though kind of lonely on the plate. Mushroom and seafood varieties are on the menu.
The house-made gnocchi, tagliatelle, rigatoni, lasagne and ravioli are so light and silky they seem to slide down your throat.
You'll also enjoy entrees like tender veal scaloppine and chicken breast stuffed with chicken and goat cheese (served with sautéed vegetables), but don't miss the whole red snapper. It's encased in sea salt, baked about 20 minutes and carefully filleted at the table so none of the salt gets on the moist flesh. Delicious.
Viscosi makes cheesecake the way his mother and grandmother did -- with an almond crust and whipped ricotta. Lighter and less sweet than New York-style, it didn't please everyone at our table, but I thought it was great. Cannolis are served with a classic whipped ricotta filling with chocolate chips. Other desserts include tartufo, crème brlée and a refreshing lemon sorbet.
With much flourish at meal's end, a waiter brought a large bottle of house-made limoncello to our table, poured shots for everyone (himself included), and toasted us. Friends said it was better than the limoncello they enjoyed in Italy -- a lovely ending to a very fine night, indeed.