Weston freaks me out: the subdivisions, the shopping plazas, the hordes of race walkers. Pink stucco buildings notwithstanding, the unrelenting conformity gives me unwelcome flashbacks to my New Jersey childhood. The rock group Rush said it best: "The suburbs have no charm to soothe the restless dreams of youth." Insert shudder, and don't make me go back there.
But what really gives me the willies, now that I'm technically no longer a youth (though I don't mind hanging on to the adjective "youthful"), is Weston's anemic restaurant scene. At least we had Greek diners and Chinese food in New Jersey. Here you're pretty much stuck with cardboard pizza parlors and chain restaurants. As for fine dining, well, there's always Fort Lauderdale.
Of course most people don't think about the restaurant scene when they're looking for a place to live. They consider the school system (good, if overcrowded, in Weston), the streets (safe, if dull), and the commute to their jobs (bearable, if long). Restaurateurs Antonello and Rosaria Catinella, who'd sold their Tamarac eatery, L'Hostaria, after running it for fifteen years, were certainly pleased with the prospect of living in such a friendly city. They were also comfortable with their decision to get out of the restaurant business. But a couple years after they'd settled in, the lack of fine dining in Weston began to frustrate them. Their solution: Get back in the business.
Hence Antonello, an eight-month-old Italian restaurant operated by Catinella, his wife, and his mom, Gabriella. "Good thing they get along," Catinella jokes about the two women in his life. But they do more than merely get along; they're experts in preparing dishes and overseeing the kitchen and dining room, making Antonello a notable front-runner in the area and well beyond.
The 110-seat restaurant, located in a new shopping plaza on the corner of Indian Trace and State Road 84, is at once classy and homey but more formal than you might think (reservations, by the way, are a good idea). The dining room features faux Roman columns and strings of white lights, which make it look like a banquet hall dressed up for an Italian wedding reception. The impression is reinforced by a three-tiered antipasto cart and a four-tiered dessert cart, which the servers, though polite and knowledgeable to the extreme, navigate like racecars.
Between the extensive menu and the antipasto cart, the choices seemed limitless. So, rather than choose from among them, we requested all four of the cold antipasto dishes presented. The waiter suggested a mixed plate, for which we were charged only $6.95. The mixed seafood salad alone -- lemony mussels, shrimp, scallops, and calamari, accented with scallions -- would have justified the price tag. We also enjoyed a tangy caponata, or eggplant sauteed with tomatoes and onions, and a tricolored roasted-pepper salad redolent with garlic and olive oil. Slices of fresh, soft mozzarella and juicy tomatoes, garnished with basil and laced with balsamic vinegar, were a refreshingly simple complement to the robust flavors of the three other antipasti.
Despite the success of the cold appetizers, we didn't ignore the hot ones. Stracci al prezzemolo was outstanding, providing pieces of wide, flat noodles interspersed with sweet, chopped shrimp. A fragrant, balanced pesto sauce united the ingredients. The spiedino di gamberi, or shrimp on a stick, was delectable. Dipped in an egg batter and fried, the four jumbo shrimp were skewered and placed in a pool of foresty black truffle sauce, which was just a bit too salty but rich and pungent nonetheless.
A special starter that evening, clams casino, consisted of sweet little mollusks topped with bacon, bread crumbs, and bits of red pepper. Baked to a golden finish and juicy under their covering, the clams, like the other seafood, were unquestionably fresh.
Half orders of pasta are also available as appetizers or, if you have an especially healthy appetite, side dishes. But keep in mind that a house salad accompanies each meat, poultry, and fish entree. The plate of mixed lettuces and plum tomatoes, brightened by a garlicky vinaigrette, was large, but we ordered two half-portions of pasta anyway to accompany our meal. We were glad we did; the ravioli al granchio, four al dente sachets stuffed with minced stone crab, was outstanding in a delicate tomato-cream sauce. Pennette arrabbiate was also beautifully prepared, the short penne noodles coated with a piquant tomato sauce.
A pasta side order is a luxury at Antonello. Most main courses are already garnished with a starch, and fresh vegetables of the day, served alongside, are likely to include quartered white potatoes roasted with garlic. (We were also served baby carrots and sauteed kale, both overcooked.) Even the individually Lilliputian lamb chops, a special that evening, were satisfying, given that there were five. The lamb was a bit overcooked -- no trace of pink remained -- but the musky meat was fat-free and still tender. Baby potatoes, crisp as home fries, complemented the chops' tiny proportions.
Filet mignon was underdone, more rare than the medium we'd requested, but it was superb nonetheless. Sauteed in a red wine demi-glace and finished with rosemary and balsamic vinegar, the supple beef exuded aroma and hearty flavor. A square of polenta partnered the filet and also garnished a terrific veal dish, vitello ripieno all'Antonello. The pounded fillet of veal was rolled around lean prosciutto, mushrooms, provolone cheese, and spinach, then doused with a dark, Marsala-mushroom sauce. Out of the half-dozen veal scaloppine dishes Antonello offers, the waiter recommended this one, and so do I.
If your stomach doesn't stretch quite that far, you might consider a lighter meal. The restaurant carries Dover sole (always a treat when you can find it), flounder, salmon, and snapper. We appreciated the red snapper fillet, which was flaky, sweet, and gently sauteed in a buttery lemon sauce. While baby artichoke hearts and asparagus added flair, the asparagus were soggy to the point of disintegration.
Just as we were considering how full we were, the waiter tempted us with the dessert cart. We suddenly found room for a hunk of sinful chocolate mousse cake, a slice of caramel pastry laced with cream puffs, and flan so creamy it tasted like creme brulee. My guests immediately demanded that we order another one (which we did, pronto).
Not since my eat-anything-and-stay-slim teenage years have I indulged in two rounds of dessert, let alone what amounted to a seven-course meal. But then I rarely go as far west as Weston in search of outstanding Italian fare. Suburbia flashbacks notwithstanding, I guess the time had come to do both.
Antonello. 74 Indian Trace, Weston, 954-349-7110. Dinner nightly from 5 to 11 p.m.
Stracci al prezzemolo
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Ravioli al granchio (full order)
Vitello ripieno all'Antonello