By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
"Handsome is as handsome does."
Somebody's wise old grandmother said that. Not my grandma; she was too busy pounding back snifters of cognac and channel-surfing for the latest Ronco electric food dehydrator and anyway, she was such a sucker for a pretty face. Sometimes, it takes a good many years to fully absorb the wisdom of old wives. If your Johnny Depp lookalike passes bad checks all over town and gets busy with the local floozie, you'd best rethink those marriage plans.
Dining out at a new restaurant is kind of like a blind date, isn't it? Sure, you can Google ahead of time. Maybe a friend has confided, "I've found the perfect place for you." But you're still hooking up with a stranger. You've gotta sit down with it for a couple of hours and give it your undivided. You need to plumb its dreams. You hope your new restaurant looks good (but looks aren't everything). You hope it has a pure heart. Depending on how the evening goes, it might be love. Or not.
401 E. Las Olas Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Region: Fort Lauderdale
The new Zucca Pasta 'n Grill on Las Olas is the Colin Farrell of the Broward County dining scene. It's unbelievably hot. Step through the doors into this movie-star-gorgeous space and be prepared to swoon, lucky girl the place is hard where it needs to be (that distressed concrete, those exposed air ducts!) and soft in all the right spots (the mooshy oversized chairs in the waiting area). Its two open stories are texturally fascinating, exuding charms of glass and steel; otherworldly, lime-colored lighting emanates from the bar. A second floor floats above this gargantuan space above the two pasta stations and the open kitchen. Somebody has thrown millions into this joint. In the looks department, Zucca's a perfect 10.
Even better, it's packed with beautiful people. They are young and casually fashionable. They are black and white. Whole handsome families are tucked in at long tables from the round-eyed 9-year-old to the dandy old Granddad. A raucous birthday party ("Speech! Speech!") is going on upstairs.
There were many lovely souls, of all ages, colors, shapes, and sartorial styles the Saturday night we showed up, lining the bar and filling dozens of tables certainly the richest concentration of female pulchritude since the Judgment of Paris. Zucca has been open only three months, but news has traveled here's where it's at, baby, and you can't get a midevening reservation on a weekend. We were offered a table at 6:30 or 9 p.m. We chose the 9, arrived at 9:15, were seated at 9:30, and parties continued to arrive right until the kitchen closed at 11.
Thank Bruno Silva for Zucca. He's the guy who opened the fancy Brazilian rodizio, Chima, a few years ago, and success has made him bold. But what Silva has done here is as unique in its way as Chima: Zucca looks like the kind of place to break your wallet, but for a Las Olas location with this sort of designer chic, it's a ridiculous bargain. When was the last time you saw a $9 entrée on any menu? That's what you pay for Zucca's pumpkin ravioli. Shell out $9.90 for a pass at the pasta bar. A splurge on tilapia stuffed with cream cheese and arugula will set you back $16.90. A mere $13.90 will snag you "banana-stuffed chicken breast."
Hold up Did I just say banana-stuffed chicken breast? Here's where we come to the sticking place: that invisible line that separates people who think banana-stuffed chicken breast sounds delish from those who do not. Those two groups of diners are as different from each other as, well, as bananas are from chicken.
We didn't order the banana-stuffed chicken, although I did try it a couple of days later at lunch. The recipe confounded my expectations, thanks to a light hand with the bananas, a serviceable risotto with halved, roasted cherry tomatoes and bits of arugula, and a well-seasoned bird breast. Who knew?
Sadly, the rest of the menu at Zucca is a minefield stumble across it at your peril. There are innocuous-sounding dishes like "goat cheese ravioli with cheese sauce" ($12). And more elaborate offerings: An appetizer of Zucca carpaccio with shrimp and truffle oil ($6.90) offers "chilled thin sliced squash, fillo wrapped fried shrimp, shredded pecorino and balsamic." Hmm. Maybe? The Cipolla Ripiena di Gamberi ($6.90), roasted onion stuffed with lobster and shrimp "served with its bisque," sounded kind of interesting too. We ordered those, along with the goat cheese ravioli, and filet parmigiana ($19.90), a steak that promised to be "lightly battered" and served with fettuccini in tomato sauce.
I nursed an apple martini and perused the open pasta bar while we waited. The pasta bar is the big news at Zucca, apparently a madhouse at lunch and doing hopping business at night. You tell the chef what you want, choosing your noodle, your veggies, and your sauces, and he whips it up on the spot. Instant gratification. I don't need to elaborate how I feel about this concept, do I? The pasta drying in its stainless-steel vats. The potential for weird combinations angel hair with asparagus and tomato sauce; rigatoni with peas; calamari and ziti with gasp! parmesan cheese. No one who knows her noodles would have anything to do with such an idea, not even for $9.90 (or $12.90 with seafood).