Caffe Da Vinci

The word “homemade” is bandied about too easily on Italian menus. Sadly, what one often receives in South Florida spaghetti joints seems no different from the store bought variety. At Caffe Da Vinci you can really taste the difference. Fresh pasta has a certain snap to it, a bite that signals perfect al-dente execution and freshness that can not be faked. All pasta at Oggi restaurants (which include its namesake Oggi and Blue Oyster Grill) are made fresh daily at the restaurant’s resident pasta factory, and it shows. From the minute you enter the cozy Bay Harbor Isles outpost of the famed Oggi restaurant empire you know you are in good hands.

Caffe Da Vinci’s décor is composed of more wood and brick than typical restaurants in Miami. It gives the dining room a Northeast feel, a welcome change to the ubiquitous travertine and pastels. A regal old-school walnut bar flanks the left side of the restaurant where one wouldn’t feel out of place ordering a Macallan single-malt scotch before dinner, along with the locals that pack the restaurant on any given night.

Service is staggering in its efficiency. Plates are promptly cleared, water filled, pepper freshly ground, wine poured with an orchestral rhythm rarely observed this side of the Atlantic. Food arrives just when you wish it would, everything timed right, while the servers trade barbs with regulars with a genuine attentiveness. The wine selection is wide-ranging with plenty of choices from Chile and Argentina in addition to Italian varieties.

The service may be great but the real reason those tables are full every night is Da Vinci’s phenomenal pasta. The fettuccine with salmon cream sauce was chewy and hearty, the meaty chunks of salmon providing heft to the dish. Heavenly pillows of ricotta ravioli were delicate yet held their own beneath a chunky tomato sauce. The restaurant also offers a treat for carb-conscious diners in the form of seaweed spagettini from Korea, with less than 10 carbs per serving. It was good enough, made much better with the shitake basil sauce, but it’s no contest compared with the real thing.

Caffe Da Vinci also excels at steaks and seafood, with a mahi entree that comes topped with capers and tomatoes and a side of whipped mashed potatoes. Appetizers also provide adequate company to the spotlight-stealing pasta. A handsome eggplant rollatini came wrapped around warm mozzarella and topped with fresh basil. A portobello starter was a generous portion of marinated strips of mushroom. The “maestro” salad is a nice pairing of apples, Gorgonzola cheese, fennel and mixed greens. Portions are bountiful so there may not be room for dessert but one should not miss the indulgent Tiramisu, its mascarpone cheese whipped to an airy lightness.

Italian restaurants are not hard to find in South Florida. An Italian restaurant that does things well and does those things consistently and with the kind of grace and charm rarely seen in dining circles is hard to find. Caffe Da Vinci is one of those places.

Caffe Da Vinci
1009 Kane Concourse, Bay Harbor Isles

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