By Nicole Danna
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By Candace West
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The campaign in Portugal is on: convince the wine-drinking world that natural cork is the only renewable resource appropriate to stop up a bottle of vino. Portuguese cork harvesters (yes, it really does come from trees) and cork-stopper manufacturers have banded together to enforce industrywide standards that will ensure a better, more sanitary product to prevent the spoilage of wine. The new initiative is a direct response to artificial cork producers and screw-cap makers, both of whom have made great strides in convincing vintners and consumers alike that cork alternatives, nontraditional and unsightly though they might be, are far preferable to spoiled wine.
Not everyone is convinced, of course, which is what the Portuguese are counting on. Experts ranging from wine critics to knowledgeable drinkers have weighed in on either side of the debate. I myself am of two minds. Having been the victim of far too many "corked" bottles lately, I'm all for finding a better means of preservation. But I do love the ritual of uncorking a really good bottle of wine.
Trifling though it may sound to nonwine aficionados, I'm uncomfortably reminded of the brewing controversy every time I uncork or, more rarely, unscrew a bottle of wine (an act of consumerism -- or is it alcoholism? -- I admit to committing nightly). Frankly, I don't know on whose behalf to feel empathy or experience guilt. But I think in the end, I'll deal with whatever trend the industry follows. Because as I found at Bruno's,a nine-month-old Italian restaurant in Pembroke Pines, the alternatives -- not drinking wine at all or sniffing and sipping the only option, a nonvintage, nonlabeled "house wine" that comes by the glass or by the carafe -- are worse.
2100 N. University Drive
Hollywood, FL 33024
The fact that Bruno's doesn't have a wine list is not only surprising for a family-run restaurant based on the cuisine of an internationally regarded wine-producing nation but it's downright shameful: When homemade fare is this tasty, it deserves to be matched accordingly. The way fava beans, for instance, pair with a nice Chianti (insert Silence of the Lambssound effect here). Fortunately, the lack of fine wine (corked with the real thing, a substitute, or topped by a screw cap) is the only disappointment at Bruno's, where recipes, portion sizes, prices, and hospitality are all the most authentically pleasing products I've sampled in some time.
Indeed, Bruno's claims on the menu that the eatery is "proud to celebrate the time-honored traditions of La Familia Italiano... The Italian family" and that "the family runs deep here, from our Grandmother's recipes peppered throughout our extensive menu to the photographs decorating our walls" is apparent. And not just in décor, though the black-and-white wedding pictures and other posed souvenirs from times gone by are a mildly interesting distraction. Dishes like the vitello alla vadala, tender veal medallions sautéed with mushrooms and tomatoes and topped with supple jumbo shrimp and a delectable Marsala cream sauce, are so well- executed and have so much character that they practically have a signature on them. Ditto the chicken cacciatore, a chunky stew that features chicken breast only, sliced and braised in a rich comprisal of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and green peppers.
My particular favorite, the baked sampler, tickled me right away because it included lasagna, stuffed shells, manicotti, and ravioli. In every other typical family Italian restaurant, you have to settle for just one of these baked pasta dishes. But here, the chunky lasagna made a perfect foil for a manicotti that performed like a crepe; the spinach-cheese ravioli gave green bite to the overflowing ricotta-stuffed shells. Add a side of perfectly seasoned and textured meatballs -- not too solid with ground meat, not too soft from filler -- and it's both dinner and lunch the next day.
In short, Grandmother should not only be commended but doesn't need my approval: She's apparently a "hot stove," a woman whose cooking was so much admired that she fed the entire neighborhood. Still, I doubt she's responsible for some of the more modern items that dot the menu. For instance, "Christina's California grill," a main-plate salad featuring grilled chicken, diced avocado, mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, and mixed greens, is served in baked pizza-dough shells, an homage to tostadas and taco salads. Specialty pizzas run the gamut from Greek (sausage, sautéed spinach, and feta cheese) to the very American-inspired "Bacon Cheeseburger" (ground sirloin, crumbled bacon, and cheddar cheese).
But before you make a face, allow me to assure you that these pies are far from the mere novelties that they sound. I was amused enough to order a "Buffalo Wing" pizza but cautious enough to ask for the 10-inch (as opposed to 14- or 16-inch size). No doubt I could have swallowed a bigger portion along with my skepticism. The crisp, thin crust had been lightly coated with blue cheese dressing mixed with tangy hot sauce. Melted, just-stringy mozzarella cheese and a freshly pan-fried chicken cutlet, dipped first in bread crumbs, topped the pizza. The effect was delicious, though far from traditional.
If classical standards are your norm, consider ordering a Margherita pizza or "Chef Eric's pepperoni bread" to share as an appetizer. We nibbled at an excellent stromboli, the hefty, layered interior of sausage, pepperoni, ham, salami, and mozzarella looking like the strata of earth composites revealed at an archaeological site. Do keep in mind, however, that any item made with the pizza dough is not only filling but tends toward the enormous, a size belied by prices. A large stromboli, for instance, is $12.95 and is presented like a curled Yule log on a 16-inch pizza tray.