The crab-cake tower

The crab-cake tower with avocado relish offers a twist with Spanish gazpacho at the new Piccolo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale. (Benjamin Rusnak/Courtesy / October 9, 2013)

Piccolo Ristorante

2826 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-776-8066,

It's a family affair at this new Italian nook in the former Pasta E Vino beside Eduardo de San Angel.

Owners Andres and Alison Avayu exude the feeling of hosting in their old-world home, along with her brother, the general manager. Expect a European leisurely pace in their 30-seat dining room with white tablecloths and sepia photographs of Italy on deep-red and faux-stone walls.

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The menu encompasses all of Italy and suggests wine pairings, such as Sandeman dry sherry with the eye-catching crab-cake tower with avocado relish ($12). The tower's pool of Spanish gazpacho is an example of chef Andres' twists on classics.

"We're trying to take it a step further and fortify the flavors," he says. Born in Chile, he has worked at several Italian restaurants in South Florida.

Best-sellers are the pear salad with brie and spiced pecans ($12) and house-made potato gnocchi with poached pears in four-cheese sauce ($18), along with specials such as duck breast and sweet-potato ravioli in cranberry-sage brown-butter sauce ($22). Don't miss the outstanding crab-crusted mahi-mahi with sauteed spinach and roasted tomatoes in a white-wine lemon-butter sauce ($24).

"We didn't want to do the traditional American-Italian dishes. We wanted to do authentic dishes that Americans will still enjoy," Alison says.

Dinner is served daily, except Sundays.

Southern Swank Kitchen

4196 S. University Drive, Davie, 954-727-5497,

No, the name is not related to the farm in Loxahatchee, but this new restaurant and bar proclaiming "haute low-country" Southern cuisine does fit Davie's western theme with its barrel-lined outside lounge, where you can enjoy concoctions from its bourbon and whiskey collections.

"I like to look at it as a modern-day saloon, like if you flashed forward 150 years," says co-owner Alex Malagon, who aims to offer an alternative to chains.

The four head chefs, who hail from Miami favorites such as Yardbird and Pubbelly, prioritize fresh ingredients and are smoking, brining and pickling for the compact menu. They're even brewing two beers each season, such as pumpkin ale ($6 a pint).

Highlights are corn bread with melted sweet butter ($5), gator chili ($7, $9), moist crab hush puppies ($8), pulled pork sliders marinated in blood-orange mojo for 18 hours ($10) and fried chicken & waffles with fragrant marshmallow-sage sauce ($16). Snickers pudding is a must ($5).

An oversize streaked mural of John Wayne eyes the bar room with chalkboard walls, a photo booth and vintage Wanted posters plastered on tables. The dining room beckons with white tablecloths and an elaborate multi-layered mural.

Dinner is served nightly, and musicians play classic rock and country Friday and Saturday nights.

POC Modern American Cuisine

600 Silks Run, Suite 1210, Hallandale Beach, 954-391-7229,

The local Ports of Call Restaurant Group has debuted its third restaurant in South Florida — its first one as a la carte instead of buffet — in the Village at Gulfstream Park.