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Joia report -- nice Italian meal on South Beach

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The SO and I had an interesting problem last night -- where could we find Italian after 10 pm on a Sunday? I had wanted to try Spiga, but they were closed. The answer we found was Joia, 150 Ocean Drive (btw. 1st and 2nd streets, across from the Marriott).

Be warned: the people-watching factor is zero; even if there WERE people around that far south, big hedges would keep them from view. And the carefully cultivated romantic decor was sabotaged by bizarre techno music. But other than that, we had a very enjoyable meal.

We sat "outside" -- in quotes because they had lowered clear plastic screens to shield us from the very breezy night. The tables were large with comfy couches and different style chairs, whith with dark wood (the inside looked oppressively dark, so we skipped it). We started with lobster cake appetizer, which even my shellfish-hating man loved. Dark in color, with a white wine sauce and generous chunks of lobster meat.

There were upwards of 25 different pasta dishes on the menu, many with three different sauce choices (I liked having the choice -- though it made things harder). He had homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, with a four-cheese sauce that wasn't too thick. (I would have opted for the butter-sage sauce, but as there were only two of us we couldn't have everything!) I had perfectly al dente penne with a light tomato sauce, small chunks of eggplant and dry salted ricotta sprinkled on top. Different, but excellent.

The best part -- the most amazing tiramisu I've ever tasted. Lately, whenever I have it, it tastes so processed. I chose this over the ricotta cheesecake because the waitress (very friendly, attentive yet unobtrusive staff) told me it was homemade. This was divine in its simplicity. I could almost see the guy in the back. . .dunking the ladyfingers, layering them with the mascarpone, sprinkling with the chocolate powder, sticking it in the fridge. That simple, that perfect. The mascarpone was very very soft, like it hadn't been refrigerated long, and the lady fingers were just tough enough so I knew they were real (I can't explain this. . .just work with me here). This was amazing. I'd recommend a trip just for that, if the place is consistent.

Not a big crowd, but it was late. . .and I picked up my fellow diners speaking Italian to each other, so I guess that's a good sign. :-)

The place wasn't earth-shattering (except for the dessert) but it was nice and not too overpriced, and if they lost the music it would be a perfect date spot. If nothing else, it's a good meal on Ocean Drive, without droves of people pushing past your table. (Unless you LIKE the News Cafe. . .)

Chow!

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