Todd English’s Da Campo Ft. Lauderdale, first impressions.
We dined on Saturday in Todd English’s Da Campo in Ft. Lauderdale and had a very nice meal. The restaurant is located in Il Lugano hotel on the Intercostal (around the corner from Café Martorano), and has a view of the waterway, though you cannot really see it at night. The food was very good, service was pretty on top of things, though there were a few oddities in the experience. For instance when we arrived, we were told we could enjoy a drink at the hotel lobby bar, though we later noticed a bar (and bartender) inside the actual space. Our waiter doubled as busboy, serving us water, bringing us drinks, food, etc. He did a good job so no complaints there. The décor of the space is very nice, simple with dark woods and stone, but you cannot help but feel that its been done. It was an odd sensation I attribute to it feeling a bit formulaic perhaps, I am not sure (obviously, it is a formula).
Anyhow, back to the food. We began with the fresh mozzarella pulled tableside. As advertised this is done tableside a la guacamole, except it involved sticking your hands in steaming murky water and making cheese magically appear. A nice young man (what’s a mozzarella puller called?) came and explained the process as he made the cheese. We chose the dolce, which came with golden raisins and walnuts caramelized with honey and some spice (cloves?). It also came with peppers and a few other condiments. Yes it's gimmicky but we really enjoyed this from start to finish. Interestingly, I was not a big fan of the walnuts, but it was the kind of thing you eat on vacation that your palate is not tuned to but enjoy as part of the local scene. Other dishes included the tomato and basil pizza, penne with shrimp, arugula, and candied lemon, char roasted filet mignon, yellowtail snapper Marsala, and the pork Milanese on the bone. All these dishes were very good, though I wish the pizza were a bit crispier. The steak itself was a bit tough for a filet, but came with fried wild mushrooms (a real winner), some gorgonzola (still cold, but good quality) and an undersalted but good celery root polenta and great overall for $30. Interestingly, all dishes came with some variation of arugula. Despite my complaint about the meat, I found that all the produce (tomatoes, vegetables, mushrooms) were great quality because you could really taste them and were all very, very well cooked.
For the not so good stuff: Desserts came with arugula as well. No, not really, but we tried two and they were not good. I do not know why good restaurants cannot just have a satisfying if uninteresting dessert. We ordered the doughnuts and they were awfully salty, as was the caramel gelato accompanying it, which would have been good, if overly strong otherwise. We also ordered the mint ice cream, which was made with real mint (not peppermint) and just did not match our taste buds. The wine list was short, uninteresting (1 prosecco, La Crema PN ½ bttle for $35, Ruffino) and seemed on the high side for mark-ups. The lobby bar which just opened, to cut them some slack, also seemed out of sync with recent trends and displayed vodkas, whiskeys, and some artificial mixers. No gin, bourbon or scotch that I could see, and most people were drinking wine. We did not sample the restaurants cocktail bar.
Overall the food was good and we likely will return, but I'll want to find out about corkage, and the desserts definitely need to be worked on.
I ate there also on the 23rd. It was my second time there. Agree about the wine list, but I wanted to comment that the bar inside the restaurant is almost as uninspiring as the bar in the lobby.
We started with the mozzarella also - the one with the balsamico figs and prosciutto. I loved this though it is relatively simple. We also had the charcuterie plate which included more prosciutto, breasola (very good), salamis (yum), mortadella and some very good spicy olives. We really enjoyed this, along with the bread basket. Our entrees were not as successful. The snapper marsala, which my friend had on the previous visit, was overcooked and the sauce had probably cooked down so long that there was nothing left. Too bad, because it was much better on the first visit. I didn't complain because it was a business dinner that I wanted to end earlier, rather than later... My dining companions had the filet (ordered medium well - yuk - I can't even comment on what that must have been like) and the half chicken with sausage bread pudding. I tried the chicken and it was very good and the bread pudding was delicious. A side of polenta fries was very good.
Dessert was those lousy doughnuts. I thought the lemon "pudding" they were sitting in was not complementary at all.
Service could have been a little bit sharper.
All in all, if I'm going out for an expensive Italian meal, I'll probably be heading to Valentino's.
Valentino's is easy to miss. It's in a small strip mall on the west side of Federal Hwy. near Davie Blvd. There's no sign on the restaurant, but the name is on the strip center sign. A Jimmie John's sandwich place is opening in the former XXX convenience store in the same strip (thankfully). I'm looking forward to hearing what you think after you get there.
I agree with the wine list. Just to rant a little about restaurant wine lists. It bothers me that an Italian restaurant serving very good food will have a wine list that does not match the quality of the food, especially an Italian restaurant. These restaurants are looking for the cheapest wines to mark up the most to maximize profit. If they would only pick great wines and charge a little less they would sell more.
The other problem is that most restaurants do not train the staff on the wines nearly as much as they do on the food. There are alot of great Italian wines that are not expensive that can make up a great list. It is a shame that a restaurant would choose to have the same wines on there wine lsit that you can buy in Publix or for that matter most grocery stores. I would never buy a wine in a restaurant that is in a grocery store. This tells me that the distributor does not care where the wines go, they just want to sell the wines. The restaurant should also know that the wines on there list are in Publix and not want to have it on there list.
I wish that Italian restaurants would have a little guts to put the wines from Italy on there lists to go with the food and not have wine from France, Australia, South America....
All restaurants have to do is ask the distributor to come and do training for the staff and then the staff will know what they are selling instead of just being order takers.
Dining at Todd's newest was supposed to be a special celebration. What a disaster.
No one in our party would ever give the restaurant a second chance: to begin with, our reservation was lost, the waiter brought us the wrong wine by the glass. Wrong or right, the wine was nothing wow, nor was the food. And noisy, noisy, noisy. Terrible accoustics.