Valentino Italian Cucina: Ft. Lauderdale
I always tend to drive south for dinner and I have many of my followers ask me for recommendations for restaurants north of Miami, so I decided to venture to Fort Lauderdale for a change. I’ve always heard great things about Valentino Cucina Italiana, at 620 South Federal Highway. It was originally at another location that opened in 2006, and five years ago they moved to the new and larger location. I was surprised how pretty and chic the restaurant was (no disrespect to my neighbors to the north).
The room was whitewashed with a huge, open stainless steel kitchen, where I had a perfect view of the handsome Chef/Owner, Giovanni Rocchio, creating his silky sauces, his creative preparations and his wonderful nouveau Italian food. The room was bright, with large windows and soft yellow, blue and beige upholstery. There is a large oak bar, with a couple of television screens to catch up on your latest sports team.
Ft. Lauderdale has never been known as a mecca for fine dining; it’s always had a shortage of sophisticated restaurants. Well, now it has Valentino where the chef is creating some expertly prepared Italian dishes with a modern twist. The service is also excellent. Our server Valentino (yes the same name as the restaurant), who hailed originally from Capri, was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. He reviewed the menu with us, along with the daily specials. He was really devoted to hospitality with personal service, and our restaurants in Miami should take a note or two from how they do it right at Valentino’s. Who doesn’t like to be made to feel special?
The menu is not large but everything sounded appealing. After receiving an amuse bouche from chef, we tried one of the daily specials, a large ravioli stuffed with spinach, ricotta cheese, and an egg. We also ordered the charred octopus, which looked like artwork on our plate. The octopus is tender and the shishito and caper purée is a creative and interesting choice. For our entrees I selected another special, a handmade pasta with chunks of tender Maine lobster, and wild trumpet and oyster mushrooms. It was finished off with a touch of truffle butter. I am often disappointed when I order lobster pasta, as the lobster meat is often tough, or the sauce is too dry or acidic. But Chef Giovanni serves a beautifully balanced dish. Our other pasta dish was a chitarra, served with Alaskan king crab, sea urchin, zucchini and tomato. It is also a great dish, but pales in comparison to the lobster dish. There are selections of duck, veal, lamb, beef and short rib on the menu too. And of course, seafood and fish selections. Chef Giovanni uses fresh, high-quality ingredients in all that he prepares.
He has a nice wine list and a creative cocktail list where he features syrups made from herbs and produce. I do wish his wines by the glass had a larger selection.
There were about 5 or 6 choices for dessert. Nothing really grabbed me, there was a ricotta cheesecake, a flourless chocolate cake, a tiramisu, and I am sure they were all good, but we tried a pistachio and chocolate olive oil cake that was nice.
They opened an attractive adjoining restaurant (which used to be extra storage space) called One Door East where they serve globally inspired tapas, creative cocktails and craft beers. It is their more casual restaurant, and the menu looked great. I actually asked if I could try something from that menu in Valentino’s restaurant and they graciously allowed it. It was a wonderful pretzel bread served with butter and truffle honey in a cast iron skillet. So glad they could fulfill my craving.
They are open every day except Sunday for dinner. I recommend it!
I may not be a professional writer, but I consider myself a professional eater. I love to eat, read about food, travel, shop, take in the arts, and explore new places. Focusing mostly on Toronto, my home base, Miami, my second home and New York and Italy where I travel to the most, while also featuring other places I’m fortunate enough to visit, I’ll share with you my most savoury tidbits along the way. Happy Dining!