Twenty years ago, I'm told, Bistro Mezzaluna was the hottest ticket in town. Diners waited hours for tables. They ate solid steaks and seafood and pasta and salads. It was a restaurant built for regulars who treated it as a kind of private club.
Last September, the restaurant moved from a location just down the street to a building almost four times larger, tucked off Southeast 17th Street between several large hotels. The waits aren't quite so long. It's a decent restaurant with a devoted clientele that also draws heavily on tourists and conventioneers. It won't rock your culinary world, but it will deliver dependable food and service in a dining room that seems built for a much-glitzier scene. You sense the possibility for something greater.
"It was cozier," says Brian Rutherford, Bistro Mezzaluna's chef for 10 years, of the old location. "It was more your neighborhood-type restaurant. I personally knew people because you used to see them all the time. Here, we're a little more separated from the guests. The dining room, I'd say, is probably a little beyond the food to be honest with you. Now, we have a four-star dining room with a three-star kitchen. We're working on it."
Don Davis is Bistro Mezzaluna's current owner. Rutherford says Davis has restaurants in Louisiana and Texas, and operated Café Del Rio, a Tex-Mex spot, in this same space for several years.
Everyone is beyond professional at Mezzaluna. Our evening began when a gentleman wearing a blue sports jacket in the soaring lobby led us into a gorgeous bar while we waited for the rest of our group to arrive. A pianist in the corner played at just the right decibel. A seasoned bartender wasted no time taking our drink orders.
Once we moved into the dining room, we settled into a roomy booth. The menus are those newfangled back-lit kind, so no one has to reach for their readers. Waiters and support staff worked in wonderful tandem.
While the restaurant's name may sound Italian, chef Rutherford describes his menu as "American with Italian overtones." Rigatoni Bolognese ($22) is still one of the big sellers, but pan-roasted yellowtail snapper ($36) and pine-nut-crusted sea bass ($38) are up there, too.
We started with a generous serving of very good meatballs with pomodoro sauce and herb-ricotta cheese ($12). Beef carpaccio ($16), topped with lightly dressed arugula, is served with a nice garlic aioli. Shrimp spring rolls ($13) are served with mango salsa and sweet chili-lime sauce.
Salads are quite good, from a classic Caesar with shaved Reggiano ($9) to Gorgonzola salad ($10) with toasted pecans and red onion. A special heirloom tomato salad ($12) delivers with outstanding tomatoes.
A daily special, snapper fra diavolo ($34), was spicier than you'd expect from Bistro Mezzaluna, and the fish itself was just a bit overdone. Free-range chicken breast ($26) gets rosemary butter and roasted potatoes. Goat-cheese ravioli ($25), already a rich pasta, gets an even richer sauce, dotted with pancetta, oven-dried tomatoes, basil and caramelized shallots. A 14-ounce, dry-aged New York strip steak ($45) was incredibly tender and served with interesting cheesy potatoes. You will not leave Bistro Mezzaluna hungry.
Pastry chef Matalie Galin's creations are oversized — especially the Bistro's crumb apple pie ($10), which easily could feed four. It's not quite a crumb cake and not quite an apple pie. Flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream and berry sauce was well done, as was vanilla-bean creme brulee ($8).
Feeling adventurous? Bistro Mezzaluna probably isn't the spot for you. But if you're looking to feed a group with diverse tastes, this is the place.
1821 SE 10th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot or free valet