La Cucina Veneziana is owner Fabio Cracco's small piece of Venice in South Florida. The nondescript 35-seat cafe looks like a place to grab a quick salad or sandwich, but inside, Cracco is turning out bold Northern Italian cuisine, inspired by his family and the food he grew up eating. The 40-ish chef, who originally came to Florida to cook on private yachts, not only coaxes basic ingredients into a variety of bold, satisfying plates but does so with a gusto that's uncommon in South Florida. He's the chef but also the lead server, and he explains the menu and the day's specials to each table. He'll cook basic pasta carbonara or more complicated duck ragout, perfectly bronzed in its own fat. A refrigerated case displays an assortment of fine Italian salumis and berry-covered tarts dusted with powdered sugar. The lunch crowd, mostly men from nearby offices in button-up shirts and slacks, call him by name. At night, Fabio doles out kisses to old ladies as they leave the restaurant. He says he enjoys a small space where he can develop a reliable clientele for whom he will cook anything, so long as he has the ingredients.
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