Fourteen years after opening, Timpano Italian Chophouse has charmed itself into the restaurant lexicon of South Floridians.
At lunchtime, it attracts business contacts and office mates looking for familiar food that won't upset anyone's sensibilities. At dinner on Saturday night, it's packed with large groups celebrating birthdays, families gathering for a restaurant meal and couples out for date night.
It's a much better nighttime restaurant than daytime restaurant. Maybe it's the harsh Florida sunshine, because at night you can almost believe you're dining in a decades old Chicago joint, complete with wide-planked wooden floors, comfy booths and aproned wait staff. The singer in the Starlight Lounge only adds to the feeling.
And, Timpano is a better chophouse than Italian restaurant.
At lunch one day, we ordered Shrimp fra diavolo ($14), fettuccine with asparagus, goat cheese, pine nuts and spinach in a spicy tomato sauce. There were far too few shrimp and the sauce had an institutional quality. Spaghettini ($12) with fresh herbs, oregano-flavored butter and Littleneck clams likewise had a distinctive prepared quality. Prime top sirloin ($17) — slices of tender, char-grilled beef served with pepperonata — was much better. But it was presented like sliced ahi tuna — not steak.
We started that lunch meal with overdone calamari fritto misto ($10) served with sweet basil pomodoro sauce and fired roasted meatballs ($10), nicely textured, tender and served with simple marinara and fresh basil. Service was good, but bordering on fawning.
When I returned for dinner a few nights later, Timpano was felt transformed. The dining room practically buzzed with happy diners. The female singer could be heard in the lounge. No wonder Timpano expanded a few years ago to accommodate more guests. Open since 1999, it now seats close to 300.
We started with something called a Tuscan egg ($8), a medium boiled egg covered with a thin layer of crispy chicken sausage, then served with spicy tomato sauce. It worked. So did chopped salad ($9), Romaine hearts, roasted red peppers, olive, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, blue cheese and caper berries in vinaigrette. We didn't even have to ask that it be divided into two portions.
I wasn't surprised that the lasagna ($17) didn't bowl me over. There were too many sheets of pasta and too little Bolognese and bechamel.
Steaks, however, were another story. Both the New York strip ($34) and bone-in rib eye ($38) were outstanding. This is why you come to Timpano. There are seven different kinds of aged beef and chops on the menu, from aged filets ($30-$35) to a prime pork porterhouse ($24).
The so-called Chef's Toppings include Crab Oscar ($10), blue cheese demi-glace ($3) and brandy peppercorn sauce ($3). Sauteed broccolini ($6) was very good. Among the other vegetable sides are fire-grilled asparagus ($7), veal glazed cremini mushrooms with herbs ($6) and herbed wedge potatoes ($6).
Chicken and veal can be had in piccata ($18, $23) and Marsala ($18, $23) sauces. There's also pork osso bucco ($21), and several seafood offerings.
Timpano is just one of many owned by California-based Tavistock Restaurants, including Abe & Louie's in Boca Raton and more than 100 other restaurants across the country.
In a region full of corporate restaurants, Timpano stands out.
jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him Twitter.com @FloridaEats.
Timpano Italian Chophouse
450 Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy in some rooms when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: High chairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $7 valet