If Mario and Nadia Spina are familiar names, you've been eating in Broward County a very long time. Back in 1985, the then-19-year-old Mario Spina opened Big Apple in Pompano Beach. It was a pizzeria that morphed, over its 22-year run, into a family-friendly trattoria.
The Spinas also went on to open and sell Mediterraneo Cafe and Grill in Pompano. In July, they shuttered their Mario Ristorante Italiano in Coconut Creek. That's because they accidentally came upon the space now occupied by Sunset Catch. A chance meeting with the owner of the Sands Harbor Marina led them to a tour of an eerily abandoned restaurant that had been closed for seven years.
"When I opened the door, it was like the Titanic," Mario Spina says. "They were using it for storage."
But for this Sicily-born chef, the view of the Intracoastal from the second floor terrace was all he needed. Who wouldn't want a restaurant with a view of the Intracoastal?
He gutted the space — this chef knows how to swing a hammer — and transformed the wreck into a 220-seat restaurant that borrows heavily from schlocky nightclub design. Textured white walls and the white- and blue-tiled bar reflect the ever-changing LED lighting system. The first floor of the building houses a dive shop, but as you ascend to the second floor by elevator, the view that sold the Spinas sells you. There are 110 seats inside, as well as a private room for 40 people.
The Sunset Catch menu is a hybrid of seafood and Italian. We started, for instance, with wonderful beef carpaccio ($13), drizzled with balsamic fig glaze and topped with Parm-Reg and a bit of arugula. Chopped heirloom tomatoes and garlic top bread slices in the bruschetta basket ($6). Octopus-and-conch ceviche ($12) gets its kick from lemon, and its colorful presentation from diced red pepper and minced scallion. The ceviche is a hit.
Less successful were two dishes that would be more suited to a bar menu than to Sunset Catch. Crab bites ($9) are orbs of deep-fried crab meat served with honey-mustard sauce. Coconut shrimp ($12) are deep-fried after being encrusted with finely shredded coconut. They're served with sweet Thai chili sauce. I don't know. Maybe diners expect this kind of stuff when they have a water view.
Pasta, however, is delicious. Gambero arrabbiata ($24) combines jumbo shrimp with homemade fettuccine in a chunky, garlic-laced tomato sauce with black olives. Fettuccine Alfredo ($15) featured the lightest of cream sauces with either chicken ($4) or shrimp ($7). Black-ink fettuccine ($24) gets tossed with fra diavolo sauce, mussels, sea bass and red snapper. Even bucatini Bolognese ($16), made with veal and beef, shines.
There's lots of lobster (market price) on the menu, given, I suppose, to its current low price. You can have whole steamed lobster, fra diavolo lobster over linguine or even a lobster BLT sandwich ($16), with maple-cured bacon, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes on a sweet roll. Branzino ($24) is butterflied, deboned and then pan-seared in a light scampi sauce. It's served over broccoli rabe.
Every day brings a different cut of meat, but grilled lamb chops ($26) are always on the menu. The tender double-cut rack is served with rosemary-aged-port-wine-reduction sauce and two sides. Sides include fried zucchini with marinara, broccoli rabe, baby bella mushrooms Marsala and truffle-oil fries. They can also be ordered a la carte ($4-$8).
The dining room and the wait staff — who wear khaki pants, polo shirts and deck shoes — are overseen by Nadia Spina, who surveys the dining room and checks in with tables. Service is solid, although some staff members clearly have more experience than others. The Spinas' partner in Sunset Catch is retired physician Walter Severyn — a.k.a. the Wine Doctor — who has put together an approachable and well-priced small wine list.
For dessert ($7), chef Spina imports frozen limoncellos that arrive from Italy in their own flutes. The chef makes the creamy tiramisu and the hard-to-find sfogliatelle, small, shell-shaped, flaky, pastry filled with vanilla custard.
If you can't decide between Italian and seafood, you might consider Sunset Catch.
101 N. Riverside Drive, Sands Harbor Marina, Pompano Beach
Hours: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Sunday
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free valet or metered parking