[Miami Beach] Sardinia
Thanks, as always, to the generous Miami-area hounds who helped me find good places to eat on my recent trip! I always appreciate your detailed reviews and advice, so here's my contribution. (I'll eventually be writig up Pubbelly, The Dutch and Chalan on the Beach, as well. Didn't make it to Sushi Deli, sadly.) Please find accompanying photos here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2012/05/s...
It's a cuisine that counts casu marzu (aka "maggot cheese") among its specialties, but Sardinian food also boasts some of the most accessible comfort food on the planet. The homey yet elegant Sardinia in Miami Beach reflects both these sensibilities well. Preparations are consciously rustic, with many appealing options for picky eaters, but the food is far from dumbed down. The menu is sometimes quietly edgy and interesting enough to lure us back.
Not surprisingly, the restaurant offers quite a few Sardinian specialties, beginning with the bread basket brought to the table at the beginning of the meal. Crisp pane carasau (Sardinian flatbread) came alongside rosemary studded focaccia and a chewy, glutinous bread with a thick, sturdy crust.
A first course of fregoletta / Sardinian couscous with baby clams in a vermentino broth with thyme featured plump, juicy bivalves nestled in a richly flavored, complex broth. If I hadn't been dining in polite company, I would've brought the bowl to my lips to drink every last drop of it.
Moscardini / baby octopus with celery, black olives, and tomatoes was another lovely first course of whole, tender octopi cooked in a straightforward, but unquestionably delicious sauce, made for dipping good bread. Tomatoes and garlic had been cooked to sweetness over a length of time, with a slight kick from pungent, vegetal celery.
The animelle / veal sweetbreads with brown butter, aged pancetta, sage & brussels sprouts first course was clearly the best dish of the night, though. Sweetbreads were juicy, melty and perfectly browned on the outside, with a just-barely-there gaminess -- everything I look for in a good sweetbreads preparation. Pancetta was gorgeously crispy, probably double fried. Fried, crispy sage and buttery Brussels sprouts offset the tender sweetbreads delightfully. I loved the contrast of soft and crisp.
The olive verdi di Castelvetrano (not pictured), ordered off the small plates portion of the menu, were also surprisingly good -- much better than any Castelvetrano olives I've purchased in the past. These were very fresh and juicy (not oxidized), their sweetness highlighted by fennel seeds, which, interestingly, imparted an almost vanilla- or chocolate-like flavor.
The Baronia / salad of braised cauliflower, pear, sweet gorgonzola and golden beets was less successful, however. Despite the promising roster of ingredients, all of which I adore, it was a bit bland. The green pear used in the salad was slightly underripe. The cauliflower and beets were undersalted and flavorless (they would've been better roasted to sweetness). The salad may have been more memorable had there been an acidic component to offset the sweet and salty.
A classic Sardinian specialty of malloreddos / Sardinian teardrop pasta with ragu of braised Colorado baby lamb (pictured at the top of this post) was another winner, bursting with good, earthy flavors. Lamb was slow cooked to perfection with a moderate amount of tomatoes, carrots and onion and the resulting broth / sauce was left beautifully clean, unadulterated by thickeners.
Wild game, including wild boar and rabbit, is an important part of Sardinian cuisine, traditionally more important to the island than even seafood, since Sardinians lived mostly inland for centuries to avoid seafaring marauders. The restaurant's nod to these culinary traditions is a main course of coniglio / braised rabbit with leeks and sautéed spinach. This pleasantly chewy rib cut of rabbit came smothered under a liberal layer of rustic, unevenly cut leeks, onions and carrots, cooked until creamy. I loved the flavors, though the dining companion who ordered this dish found the portion size to be quite small when he took into account the small amount of meat on the ribs.
I was less excited about the polpo alla griglia / grilled octopus over grilled vegetable salad. The octopus had been boiled for a good, long time, leaving it tender and moist, but that gelatinous layer of skin had not been grilled off. (I know this is a subjective matter and that some people like that gelatinous layer. I personally don't.) Elements of the grilled vegetable salad were good: Medallions of grilled eggplant were meaty, not at all bitter. Cherry tomatoes were juicy and sweet, grilled just enough to break the skin. But the slabs of carrot were nearly raw and not fresh and sweet enough to prepare this way. (Fresh, sweet, whole baby carrots would have been lovely and they are in season at the moment.)
The desserts we tried came in huge portions and they tended to be homey rather than elegant. The black and white mousse was thick and very rich, with some unexplained (but delicious) crispy bits.
We drank a bottle of Serralunga D'Alba Fontanafredda 2007 with our food, a low tannin, almost jammy wine with lots and lots of cherry and plum. It was pleasant with the braised rabbit and malloreddos, less pleasant with the grilled octopus.
I really ought to give this restaurant a shout out for being so accommodating of the Little One. We brought him in his stroller and our lovely waitress found us a table where he could be parked next to us while we ate. At our early meal, around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, the restaurant was nearly empty, though it was nearly full and noisy by the time we left. Wait staff didn't bat an eye in either circumstance when he let out a few mild squawks. The only downside: The bathroom doesn't have a changing table or room to change a diaper on the floor (and of course nowhere quiet to breastfeed), but this isn't exactly unusual.
Overall, very good food and service. I wouldn't hesitate to return.
Thanks for all your recs on this board, tpigeon. I relied on your suggestions a great deal when picking places to try. Even though I was staying in the W Hotel, I don't think I would've tried this location of The Dutch had it not been for your endorsement. (More on that later. For the record, we loved it.)