Valentino's Cucina Italiana

When Giovanni Rocchio cooks, everybody listens: There's the slap of fresh pasta dough, the susurrations of corn being sliced from the cob and of herbs torn by hand, the crackle of sparks from a wood oven, and the harmonies the whisk makes singing in a copper bowl. Rocchio, who cooked at his parents' Plantation restaurant as a teen and then sought his fortune in New York's best kitchens — Piccholine, Fiamma — returned home a couple of years ago and opened Valentino's in a small, plain space on Federal Highway. And there he created an ingenious wine list, hung oversized antique mirrors, and put together a menu that manages to encapsulate everything you love about traditional peasant Italian cooking without ever really touching down on that rustic turf — as if what his kitchen really does, at heart, is cook up feelings. At worst, Rocchio's dishes are failed but interesting experiments. At best — like the sauces incorporating sea urchin roe or lobster coral, salads loaded with wild mushrooms and parsley root, vegetable blossoms stuffed with rare, artisanal cheeses, duck cured in coffee, or an almost absent-minded handful of warm green apples and pancetta on the side of a plate — they're purely expressive, a dinner-hour encounter with a beautiful mind.

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