By David Minsky
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On another visit, shortly after sunset, the food arrived in proper sequence but was still delayed. It was about this time that I noticed an interesting phenomenon similar to the "changing of the guard." It appears that toned and tanned female servers handle the lunch crowd and handsome, heavily Italian-accented male servers do the night shift. Regardless, neither team delivered expedient service on my visits, so one can only hope that watching the pizza-making will serve as ample distraction while patrons patiently wait for their selections.
Chef Michael Smith, formerly of Indigo and the Grill Room at Fort Lauderdale's Riverside Hotel, aimed to create a menu that combined tastes from each of Italy's 22 regions, including Calabria, a beach resort on the southwest tip and the owner's homeland. Padula claims that this influence from various regions and the unique décor set Spiaggia apart. "We are not the typical Italian restaurant," he said. "There are no pictures of the Vatican on the walls, no white and red tablecloths. We are the younger generation in décor and cuisine."
For dinner, my guest and I bypassed the pizzas (which, in retrospect, was probably a mistake) and instead shared an Assagini appetizer sampler ($10.95 per person) consisting of crispy calamari offering just the right crunch and a hearty breading, a shrimp scampi on bruschetta, and a few oysters Spiaggia, which were topped in spinach, shrimp, and Hollandaise. We were tempted to try the seafood pesto minestrone with mussels, shrimp, and "fish" ($5.95), but we simply didn't have the room.
239 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
Region: Fort Lauderdale
The tagliatelle mare e monti (noodles with seafood) was a beautiful sight to behold, and it seemed reasonably priced at $18.95. But it tragically turned out to be an oversalted and oily pasta dish with various bivalve mollusks (clams and mussels) and shrimp drowning in a pool of pinot Grigio, porcini, and tomato sauce.
A fish sampler consisting of shrimp, salmon, and sea bass was the other special du jour. Set atop risotto and decorated with large asparagus and a sprig of dill, the seafood was mediocre at best. This is true especially regarding the sea bass, which was not the sweet, flaky fish I expected. Unfortunately, the seafood offerings tested on a second visit fared poorly as well. The pan-roasted little-neck clam appetizer ($8.95) left behind a watery legacy and was so laden with garlic that I burped my way out the door.
The same held true for the zuppa di mussels ($7.95), the selection chosen by my guest. He theorized that perhaps the little guys were previously frozen, and for the record, we both questioned the use of croutons in the clam and mussel dishes. Aren't those carbohydrate demons reserved for caesar salads?
Spiaggia's saving graces, until it gets its kitchen, raw bar, and décor up to par, will probably be the pizzas, appetizers, drinks, and desserts. Various granitas and sorbets ($5.95 and $6.95) provide refreshment from the warm ocean breezes, and standards like key lime pie ($6.95) and warm molten chocolate truffle cake ($6.95) will not disappoint. If you are more daring, try "The Abiss" -- a lacy almond cup oozing with Grand Marnier-touched zabaglione and fresh seasonal berries ($6.95).
But be advised: Overeating is not recommended if you plan to party it up afterward in South Beach style. The owner plans to shutter the sidewalk eating area nightly to seclude the barflies from the "outside elements" (one wonders if he is referring to tourists, blue collar locals, or rainshowers). Hmm, just when you thought the VIP scene was limited to nightclubs, it seems the trend has begun to make its way to your local restaurants. Perhaps that pretty hostess is a bouncer in disguise.