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Martorano loves to shop, for jewelry, cars, and clothes, and the C1 is part of the collection of luxury watches he has bought from Levinson Jewelers over the years. Levinson custom-made diamond necklaces with Martorano's trademark M for the whole family and the cross he wears on its long diamond chain. This cross is his second — he left the first necklace, worth more than $100,000, in a tanning booth. "I had it insured, but guess what? Insurance doesn't pay for something if you lose it."
We're on our way to Whole Foods. Martorano wants to buy ingredients for the night's small plates, dishes he sends out free to customers waiting at the bar or in line for hours outside on busy weekends. "I got an idea for fried rice," he says. "Italians love Chinese food. You come to Martorano's — it's like eating in my home. I serve what I like, and I'm a Chinese guy all the way."
He explains that there are no recipes at his restaurant. "I stand there and show my line cooks what we do. I let them taste to memorize the flavor. Cooking Italian food is all about flavor. It's not about technique."
3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
In the produce aisle at Whole Foods, he bites off the end of an Anaheim pepper, remarking to himself, "So much water in that." He buys three pounds of pink Key West shrimp at $13 a pound for a risotto he'll give away that night to waiting customers. Gesturing at the seafood display: "You know what you do to make octopus tender? You boil it with wine corks." He buys center-cut loin pork chops and stops in an aisle of jarred sauces. Taking a bottle of Euca Van's Pomodoro from the shelf, he studies the label. "Look at this. Here's how you know whether it'll taste any good. They're not using San Marzano tomatoes."
A couple of nights later, I show up at the restaurant and sample that fried rice while I'm waiting at the bar for a table. It's an almost-perfect fusion of Chinese and Italian — a creamy risotto-like texture in the jasmine rice, fragrant with celery, carrots, bean sprouts, olive oil, garlic, Italian peppers, touches of oyster sauce, and a spicy red chili oil, made in house, drizzled on top. I can't get enough of it. Or enough of another free tasting plate: cheese ravioli from Mimi's Ravioli in Hollywood. They're cooked with such finesse that they're like a how-it's-done demo: al dente pasta zipped around hot, smooth creamy ricotta and ladled with marinara sauce. A friend visiting from Manhattan is so hooked at this point, before we've even sat down, that he's already planning to come back; four nights later, he makes the 50-minute drive for a second meal at Martorano's, alone and in the rain.
"I've seen people drive all the way up from Miami to eat at Martorano's," Tom Angelo says. "Miami, where there are thousands of restaurants. Think about it: Fort Lauderdale is not a movie-star mecca, but Ludacris drives up, the basketball players. Peyton Manning, last time he was here, he drove up from Miami twice."
Martorano bench-presses three sets of 300 pounds and is barely breathing hard.
"Growing up in South Philadelphia, there was jealousy everywhere," he says. "People were like, 'You got. He got. Why I don't got?' When I opened Martorano's, everybody said, 'You can't do this. It won't work. It's too expensive. You won't last six months.' "
"Your muscles are gonna get cold," Angel says gently.
"Hey, Angel, who's singing right now?"
We all pause to listen to the sound system. Angel has no idea.
"That's B.J. Thomas," Martorano says. "From what movie?"
Angel has no idea.
Martorano moves to another bench while Angel sets up his weights. "My Uncle Ray had a story, about the scorpion and the — what was it? — the turtle."
"No, it was a frog," Angel says.
"Frog, turtle, whatever. They need to cross the river, and the scorpion says, hey, will you take me over on your back? The turtle or the frog says, 'No, man; you'll sting me.' 'No, I won't sting you,' says the scorpion. 'I won't because if I sting you, we'll both drown.' 'Yeah, I guess you're right,' says the frog. So the scorpion hops on his back, and they're halfway across, and the scorpion stings the frog. 'Hey! I thought you said you wouldn't do that,' the frog says, and he's drowning. 'I'm a scorpion,' the scorpion says. 'What the fuck did you think was gonna happen?'
"You are who you are. You can't ever escape that, no matter what you do." Martorano takes a deep breath and pushes up the bar.