When Michael di Bella took over Romantico from his mentor, Tonino Tizzano, a few years ago, he didn't hire an interior designer from Miami to hang glittery curtains and space-age uplighting or take on a bevy of PR ladies to spin his "concept" or set up a website with thumping house music and graphic close-ups of dewy basil leaves; he didn't even retrofit his kitchen with subzero coolers. He just went merrily along doing what Tizzano had taught him to do: a simple and silky fettuccini mixed in a parmesan wheel; veal Marsala textured like suede; pristinely fresh poached snapper with olives and tomatoes. And because he hadn't installed those subzero coolers and had so little storage space, di Bella had to keep running out every day to buy each night's ingredients -- which meant, by default, that he was always picking out the freshest fish and the prettiest vegetables. And then too, he'd kept in touch with Tizzano, who'd gone back to Italy (Tizzano was always sending him new ideas, so the menu at Romantico stayed as fresh as the fish). At length, this put him in a place he'd probably never expected to be, as chef-owner of the best restaurant in North Lauderdale. But to look at this tiny place with its handful of tables and to judge from the warm, friendly, and unpretentious way these lovely dishes are served -- from the Sicilian caponata right down to the blissful furls of cannoli -- you'd almost think the idea of di Bella's culinary superiority had never entered his mind.

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