By David Minsky
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By Laine Doss
Good pizza is something that's easier to come by in South Florida, thanks to the spread of coal-fired joints cooking their crusts thinner and more thoroughly. So I was a little disappointed by our primi of wood-fired broccoli rabe, ricotta, and sausage pizza ($13), which was certainly thin enough but was so burnt that the whole thing became a bitter mess. No thanks to the broccoli rabe either, which was blasted to complete nothingness — its tiny flecks of green almost indistinguishable next to the bold sausage. The quattro formaggio or fig and prosciutto pies might fare better, as long as the delicate line between charred and burnt is better towed.
By now we had finished with our antipasti and primi and I'd drained an $11 glass of Capezzana "Barco Reale" (just one of the varietals of Italian wines served by the glass). We would probably have been content to stop, but if we had, we would've missed out on the superb filet mignon ($30). The mid-sized medallion of beef comes paired with a veritable grab bag of "steak-and" combos: quartered wild mushrooms lightly draped in a rich Marsala sauce, creamy Gorgonzola cheese, and a mash of starchy celery root that had the satisfying, grainy texture of polenta. A little standard, yes, but forgivable when a dish is this perfectly seasoned and cooked.
Another secondi we tried was a Milano pork chop ($36) pounded flat with bone intact, coated with a crunchy crust of bread sticks, and served with an olive and caper tapenade. The tender chop was as good as you might expect a Milano preparation to be, though in place of the tapenade I'd have preferred something wetter to cut through the fried flavor. Yellowtail snapper Marsala ($32) was another similar dish in that it was a ubiquitous style done well. The sauce was never too sweet, nor did it quash the fish's oceanic flavor or crispy, crosshatched skin.
After the meal, I was left with plenty of nagging questions that never seemed to get answered. Like, "Why can't the wait staff tell me a single thing about the menu without running back to the kitchen?" Or better yet, "Does hand-pulling mozzarella tableside really make it taste better?" And though most of what's served at da Campo is cooked competently, you also have to question whether it's reasonable to charge nearly $40 for entrees that can be done just as well at the corner bistro for a fraction of the cost.
All these little snippets burrow into your brain, conspiring to form one clear message: What's holding da Campo back is the details. Maybe it sounds like nitpicking to complain that the manager never came by our table once despite lingering at others all night. Or that none of the staff bothered to address us as we walked out the door. Or no one we asked seemed to know the executive chef's full name (it's Seth High, a guy who's previously cooked for English at three other restaurants). But English is a veteran restaurateur — shouldn't someone with his skill know how to iron out the most basic of kinks in food and service? If not him then who? Someone has to catch things like the abysmal honey and ricotta doughnuts ($9), looking and tasting as if they'd been eaten before.
If da Campo Osteria itself were a movie, it would be a remake of one of those classic Hollywood capers: a slightly shallow homage packed with just enough familiar faces and whodunits to keep you preoccupied until the credits roll.