Cooking Like a Rock Star

No need for nostalgia at Giovanni Rocchio's Valentino's

There were some amazing highlights. Valentino's offers the cure for boring salad. A parsley salad topped with two beautiful, sweet, grilled jumbo shrimp employed both the fresh green leaves and the slivered parsley root, shaved Parmesan and pine nuts. The presentation was gorgeous, and the play of textures — delicate leaves, muscular shellfish, crunchy root — was inspired. A warm corn salad tossed fresh kernels just shaved from the cob with arugula, gently sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, chunks of aged goat cheese, and candied walnuts for another beautiful interplay of color and texture. All the appetizers we tried, in fact, were brilliant: four zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, burrata, and basil and fried in tempura batter, served with cubes of baked squash; and ravioli sprinkled with poppy seeds and stuffed with the aromatic tang of fonduta: Gorgonzola, fontina, taleggio, and sweet diced pear — a smear of red beet reduction on the side.

Of our entrées, some were outstanding, others expensive flops. The veal medallions ($40) came out overcooked on the first try, and when we sent them back for a revision, the whole plate was returned devoid of heat, with only a paltry few of the gnocchi that were advertised with the special: meat, whipped potatoes, baby carrots, green beans. My turbot with lobster meat was dry and, in spite of an unctuous Marcona almond sauce, hadn't much flavor, and the medley of roasted beets, spinach, and figs made for a messy flavor profile. But we loved our roasted diver scallops paired with crab meat and corn on a bed of mashed potatoes ($36); and a big, sweet grouper fillet that came with rock shrimp and a sauce made from lobster coral served over cauliflower purée. Still, the entrées that I came away thinking I couldn't live without were the homemade garganelli — a delicate, small, ribbed tube — topped with luscious duck breast that had been cured with espresso, spices, and duck fat; porcini mushrooms; and oven-dried tomatoes, the flavors in this dish impossibly rich and condensed. As for the rollatini ($25): Rocchio takes the classic idea of braciole and stuffs a skirt steak with escarole and anchovies, layers in pine nuts, pecorino cheese, and parsley, drizzles it with salsa verde, and serves the whole over braised white beans with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes. The dish draws on classic flavors and textures but in the combination arrives at something unexpected. It's like hopping a high-tech bullet train for the ride to your old hometown.

The 200-plus wine list at Valentino's is beautiful, a selection ranging from Italian Barolos and Brunellos to California pinots, but none of them come cheap. You can buy half bottles like a good Truchard pinot, and one of the most moderately priced Italian bottles was a complicated and fruity Pio Cesare Barolo at $110, but they'd sold out of the latter by our second visit. From there, just about the only way to go was up.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Valentino's Cucina Italiana

1145 S. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Details

Valentino's Cucina Italiana, 1145 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Call 954-523-5767.

Two of our three desserts were real winners: I found a chocolate hazelnut torte too dry, dense, and hard to cut, but a crusty, creamy crème brûlée served in an edible waffle cookie basket topped with fresh berries, and a sliced pear "tart" in puff pastry baked in the wood oven couldn't be bettered. All the desserts were $10. And like what preceded them, they tasted like the Italy of some ideal future, a place where there's no need for yearning. The elegiac past has been incorporated and encapsulated in a perfectly modern present.

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