Canale Restaurant & Bar
300 Brickell Ave., Suite 100, Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-0098, CanaleRestaurant.com
Owner and chef Franco Agostino is undaunted by the ghost-town feel of the Las Olas Riverfront complex. He's convinced his simple, classical Italian cuisine will be a "home run" at his new tranquil spot overlooking the New River, named after the city's canals.
"I see hundreds of people getting off the water taxis every day here, and there's nowhere for them to go," says Agostino, a Genoa native and 37-year restaurateur in Canada and Turks and Caicos Islands. "Tourists will be the icing on the cake, but I need the locals. The whole neighborhood has been our biggest supporters."
The window-lined space sat vacant for a year and a half until Agostino reworked the layout but retained the eye-catching shattered-glass bar and columns among the stone and black walls and white tablecloths. A large screen of wood cutout waves and a copper boat divides the lounge and dining room, which is as spacious as the wraparound patio with green awnings. Umbrellas shade an orange-cushioned lounge.
Lunch hits are pizzas ($9-$12) and roasted wild-caught salmon ($15), and a business lunch features three courses for $20, which changes weekly. The raw bar offers bites such as marinated scallops with squid ragu ($10) and spicy lamb tartar with onion jam ($13). Dinner highlights are pappardelle with braised short rib ragu ($20), orata filet cooked in paper ($28) and breaded veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and fontina ($35). The rich tiramisu takes no shortcuts ($10).
Lunch and dinner are served daily, and live music is in the works.
Mandarin Oriental Miami, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami, 305-913-8358, LaMarCebicheria.com
International celebrity chef Gastón Acurio has brought his Peruvian brand to this bay front resort, only his third U.S. outpost despite being one of the world's most prolific restaurateurs.
A $7 million renovation gutted Cafe Sambal to create an earthy, yet sleek design with pops of teal to invoke the sea. Crystals drip from suspended fishing nets, and a living greenery wall greets you. Three bars circle the room: a cocktail bar fronted with teal fish-scale tiles, an anticuchos grill and a ceviche bar. But the drama looms on the two terraces overlooking the Miami skyline.
"Our restaurant's inspirations are rooted in Peru, its biodiversity, its heritage . . . with the amazing ambiance and service that Mandarin Oriental assures," Acurio says.
Cocktails ($14) center around pisco, such as the Guava Sour. The extensive menu evolves from cold appetizers from the coast, such as 14 ceviches and tiraditos ($9-$27), to hot specialties from the mountains. The range extends from upscale novo-Andean, such as grilled Wagyu with tacu-tacu and quail egg ($15), to Asian-Peruvian fusion, such as chaufa aeropuerto layered with sausage, pork, shrimp omelet, pickled salad and crunchy, chewy rice at the bottom ($25).
Other standouts are soupy seafood leche de tigre served in a glass ($9) and deconstructed fried whole fish with Peruvian-Japanese spicy sauce ($45). End with lucuma popsicles to dip in cocoa nibs and dark chocolate ($11).
Lunch and dinner are served daily, and DJs spin Friday and Saturday nights.
Talia's Tuscan Table
If you haven't been to this 13-year-old casual Italian and seafood spot in more than a year, you'll be surprised that former New York City restaurateur Frank Todisco has taken over with his Russian wife, Olga.
"Talia's great food and simple format got me hooked from the first bite," says Frank Todisco.
The kitschy green-and-red decor and $10 weekday lunch buffets are still here, but they extended dinner hours and started table service, though most customers still prefer to order at the counter for lunch.
They also ushered in old-school specials, such as beef meatballs with pasta and marinated chicken parmigiana (both $13.95), but the newest addition is 25-item dinner buffets Friday through Sunday for $12.50 with varying choices such as sausage and peppers, lasagna and fried ravioli.
"We call it Italian peasant food. Some people told us they would love to bring their families at night because they loved the food so much on our lunchtime buffet," Todisco says. "My wife kills herself on the buffets. She really puts her heart and soul into it."
Delivery is another new service, and a revamped website allows online ordering. Beginning May 1, Talia's will close Sundays until Dec. 1.
La Fonda de Aurora
222 N. Federal Highway, Suite B, Dania Beach, 305-799-7675
Attorney Maribel A. Piza named her new eatery with terra-cotta walls and porcelain roosters after her mother, Aurora, and was inspired by her grandmother, "who made the most amazing Cuban dishes," she says.
"Fonda is the Spanish version of what the French call bistro, which specializes in quick meals to go," Piza says, although there are a handful of tables, including two outside. "Before the Castro regime, family-owned fondas were very popular throughout Cuba."
The breakfast special costs $3.75 for two eggs with French fries, Cuban toast and café con leche, and rotating lunch specials include a protein with rice and beans, fried plantains and salad for $6.75. For example, expect bistec en cazuela (steak in a pot) Thursdays and Piza's grandmother's seafood soup, sopa de mariscos, Fridays.
"We hope to cater to those traveling near U.S. 1 between Stirling and Griffin with ample parking," Piza says.
Breakfast and lunch are served daily, except Sundays, but brunch is in the works. Delivery is available.