Escopazzo

The main dining room at Escopazzo in Miami Beach. (Escopazzo / Courtesy / October 25, 2012)

Overall impression: Escopazzo will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, which ought to count double in restaurant years, especially when you do business in South Beach. The Miami Beach restaurant scene exploded in the past two decades, with much of the action taking place behind the high walls of the city's resorts and hotels. But loyal customers keep coming back to chef Giancarla Bodoni's modest storefront restaurant that sits between an adult bookstore and a surf shop. That's because Bodoni uses top-quality, organic ingredients and offers plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans.

Ambience: Last renovated 16 years ago, the dining room is in desperate need of freshening up. While the front room has a view of the street, the back room feels very much like an afterthought, with its oversize, nonworking fountain and dusty, rustic "windows" that will remind you of a stage set.

The food: Escopazzo built its reputation on modern Italian cuisine. So instead of classic pasta all'Amatriciana, for instance, the chef serves ravioli ($29) filled with ingredients normally found in the sauce: cured pork cheek, pecorino cheese and tomato, which she tops with a Tuscan pecorino sauce.


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Why organic? "We were raised eating a different way," Bodoni says. "When we had our kids [now 11, 14 and 17], we had to take responsibility as to how to educate and feed them. We discovered horrible things, unethical things that were going on. We decided to change who we were supporting as a family and trying to source better food for our family. It doesn't make any sense to do it at home and not do it here. I know I'm very small, but my conscience felt better knowing I was providing the best product I could for my customers."

Starters: I hadn't been to Escopazzo for almost a decade, but I've never forgotten the asparagus flan with fontina and provola cheese and white-truffle-infused oil ($20). Why don't more chefs put savory flan on their menus? This decadent eggy, cheesy starter was just as remarkable as I remember. We also shared a plate of what were called crunchy spiced chick peas ($9). But there was no crunch and very little spice. The salami plater ($9) was delightful, with glasses of a well-priced Super Tuscan. I'm told the meat selection changes frequently but often includes simple Genoa or more-exotic wild boar. An eggplant timbale ($19), baked with lots of tomato and basil, was served with both tomato sauce and pesto, which we mopped up with fresh bread.

Entree excellence: Pasta is house-made at Escopazzo. Ravioli alla Gallurese ($29) are filled with ricotta, honey and lemon zest and served with a sauce of stewed tomatoes, basil and fresh ricotta. Grass-fed beef tenderloin ($46) is cooked to perfect temperature and plated with roasted porcini and potatoes with Asiago-cheese sauce. Herb-rubbed, deboned, roasted chicken ($38) came with rosemary roasted potatoes and leeks with crumbled Gorgonzola. I love the combination of meat or poultry with cheese. In fact, one night, Gorgonzola-stuffed skirt steak was the special.

Sweet!: Like the asparagus flan, tiramisu ($14) has also been on the menu since opening day, and with very good reason. The other desserts, both specials, were much less satisfying. Lemon-thyme ice cream ($10) was topped with tart cherries. It was too tart. Chocolate squares ($12) were overbaked and couldn't be helped with the white creme Anglaise or chocolate ganache.

Service: OK, but perfunctory at times, which is often how service is in South Beach, where tourists are surely never coming back. Bus staff were unable to answer simple questions, such as "What are they eating at the next table that looks so good?" And Escopazzo can't seem to decide if it wants to be the kind of place that refills your wine glass or expects you to do it yourself.

Insider tip: Tell your server your preferences, and the chef will prepare a tasting menu: three courses ($60), five courses ($80) or seven courses ($100.) Wine pairings cost $25.

— John Tanasychuk

jtanasychuk@tribune.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.

1311 Washington Ave., Miami Beach

305-674-9450, Escopazzo.com

Cuisine: Italian

Cost: Expensive-very expensive

Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday

Reservations: Required on weekends

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Beer and wine

Sound level: Conversational

Outside smoking: No

For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: $10 valet or street parking