Mangiare Bene

Eleven ways of looking at Italian

Like Ruggero's, Frankie's Pier 5 in Hallandale Beach (124 S. Federal Hwy.; 954-454-2410) serves a discerning clientele of Jersey Italians and visitors from Brindisi who know what a baked clam is supposed to taste like and who all have mamas competing for the title of Best Sunday Gravy. The baked clams (oreganata or casino) certainly rock, and so does all their pasta, but my favorite dish is a pork chop scarpiello that tosses black olives, mushrooms, onions, and pepperoncini with spicy Italian sausage and drapes it all over and around a thick, seared chop. For dessert, the crème brûlée leaves competitors floundering in caramelized sugar. An angel-voiced Adonis plays live piano. Moderate to expensive.

Another couple, the Tascas, owns Capri Blu, one of the oldest Italian restaurants in Palm Beach County, recently moved to the island of Palm Beach (where Deco used to be: 251 Sunrise Ave.; 561-832-4300). I recommend with great enthusiasm their tagliolini limoncello — homemade thin fettuccini tossed with butter, cream, and limoncello liqueur — and also their homemade potato gnocchi alla Sorrentina, decadent as eating heavenly clouds draped in waves of mozzarella and fresh tomato sauce. Both dishes are deliciously complemented by live opera music presented on Monday nights and are best followed by a luscious and very individual tiramisu, made with kahlua. The chef and the splendid maitre d' grew up and earned their chops in the Roman kitchens of Alfredo di Lelio (of fettuccini fame).

New York chef and restaurateur Don Pintabona opened Trina (601 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-567-8070) in the Atlantic Hotel overlooking the ocean a couple of years ago, specializing in the cross-cultural foodways of Sicily, which incorporate many influences, notably from Spain, North Africa, and Greece. Pintabona's menu, which leans toward the sea, changes seasonally, but the brick oven flatbreads — rectangular thin-crust pizzas topped with anything from eggs and cheese for breakfast to prosciutto or rock shrimp for lunch or dinner — are available around the clock and are worth every mouthful. Soups are always superb — a velouté of oysters with black truffle crème fraiche or a cold marcona almond vichyssoise. Fire-roasted Chilean sea bass is served with white beans and garlic spinach in a tomato-basil broth; grouper is cooked and served in a Moroccan tagine with almond couscous and whitewater clams. Cocktails here are glitzy delights: I love the Trinatini made with pomegranate molasses and lavender syrup. Oceanfront, sophisticated, and expensive.

Josef's(9763 W. Broward Blvd., 954-473-0000), a funky/elegant Plantation restaurant specializing in the Northern Italian fare of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region, is run by an Austrian chef and his American wife. This region of Italy was dominated by the Austrian Hapsburgs for years, and its cuisine incorporates Greek and Turkish elements too. Shrimp casserole is laced with grappa and Edam; homemade spaetzle is tossed with speck ham, sage, and caramelized onions. A generous pounded and butterflied veal chop coated with bread crumbs, egg, and parmesan and served with a simple, perfectly dressed green salad is quite simply one of the best veal dishes I have ever tasted. This is certainly one of the finest restaurants in Broward County. Romantic and expensive.

A few more names that should be on everybody's shortlist: Rino's Tuscan Grill on Las Olas serves a terrific pumpkin- and amaretto-filled tortelli and a divine tagliatelle with a very light tomato- and rosemary-infused rabbit sauce; the wood-burning oven also turns out perfectly grilled cuts of pork and veal chops. And three excellent cafés: Sapori in West Palm (upscale, elegant: I recommend the osso buco and the roast chicken); Martorano (delicious family style, swamped with celebrities, necessitating a long wait for a table) on Oakland Park Boulevard near the beach; and Vico on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale (the décor is exquisite).

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