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Simple shouldn't be confused with easy, however, and sometimes even these dishes stray from their target, if only slightly. A salad of grilled asparagus laid over lightly dressed arugula is a good starter ($8), but what it really needed was some contrast — perhaps if the spears of asparagus had been served warm instead of chilled. A special of cold-water Mediterranean anchovies ($10) called to me like a siren song, but on the plate, they were a touch bland. Fresh anchovies are lightly oceanic, while their canned cousins are salty and overpowering, but these were neither: just plainly fried and very dry. I asked our server for a few lemons to spruce them up, which did the trick nicely.
Throughout a meal here, service is neither too formal nor too casual, a mixture that mirrors the restaurant itself. The space is laid out beautifully, framed by large windows with satiny curtains and cream-colored, textured walls. A group of columns forms a sort of alcove in the center of the room, which gives the strip-mall space the impression that it's larger than it is. Although the soft-lit space is beautifully romantic, there's also the feeling of constant activity, a result of the open kitchen that faces the center of the dining room.
Lavishing in that dining room, being waited on dutifully, it's almost impossible to resist a bottle of wine from Sette Bello's modest but varied list. You'll find a decent selection of Californian and Italian wines, and many of them extend beyond the typical pinot grigio and Sangiovese varietals. On one occasion, our server suggested a bottle of Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo ($45), a crisp wine from Campania with a citrusy tang that paired flawlessly with our snapper and a bowl of creamy penne alla vodka ($16). A lot of customers truck in their own wine, and for a small corkage fee, the staff will give it the same treatment, presenting it appropriately and, if you request, setting your bottle in an ornate ice bucket placed tableside.
6241 N. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
If I did have a quibble about any part of the service, it would be that as the servers recite the house specials, they tend to leave out the prices. That wouldn't be so bad if costs were in line with the regular menu. But while most entrées run from $16 to $30, the specials top out around $44, that for fresh-caught Dover sole — not an absurd sum for the delicate fish, but it would still be nice to know before you order it. A bone-in, center-cut veal chop commands the same sum, but it's worth every bit. The chop is grilled to a luscious sheen of pink, then draped with melted Gorgonzola and a conservative dose of cremini- and shiitake-enhanced Marsala sauce. At nearly two inches thick, it practically towers on the plate. Just as visually impressive is a slab of tender osso buco. When the immense piece of braised veal was presented to a nearby table, a fork jutting from the marrow-filled bone in the center, the wispy-thin woman sitting behind the plate just about fell out of her chair. She took about two bites before caving in and taking the rest to go.
I can't blame her. After all, you'll want to save room for Sette Bello's desserts, housemade confections that rival the best of the menu. After an extravagant meal of wine, imported cheese, giant veal chops, and locally caught seafood, a ricotta and pumpkin cheesecake ($8) was just about the best ending I could ask for. An apple turnover, flaky pastry filled with sweet, baked apples and topped with tingly cinnamon ice cream, sounded equally enticing.
Our waiter informed us the turnover took about ten minutes to bake. Not a problem. We wanted to stay at Sette Bello as long as possible. As we sipped our coffee and waited for our dessert, one of my guests stepped up from the table. Immediately, our server appeared with a clean saucer and covered the lid of his coffee cup to keep it warm. Needless to say, I was impressed.