Macchialina – Miami Beach, FL
This year has been so bizarre and devoid of culinary wonders (at least those wonders external to the home) that I completely forgot that it is currently the tail end of one of my most-anticipated culinary seasons––white truffle season!
White truffles from northern Italy are truly magnificent. Aromatic, flavorful… a worthy decadence during the first glimpses of winter months. I figured since I was in Miami, a poster child for decadence and opulence, I was sure to find somewhere with some truffles still floating about. The problem was it seemed that most of the restaurants participating in truffle season had the height of their season in mid-November. Not sure if the harvest was weaker this year, or what, but I could find few restaurants with truffles on offer.
Fortunately, I did stumble across the menu of a highly-regarded Italian restaurant in Miami Beach that was still proudly featuring truffles. Macchialina, a tiny storefront helmed by Iron Chef runner-up Michael Pirolo, situated in an unassuming part of Miami Beach meant to evoke a tiny traditional eatery in any small Italian town, had opened up a sprawling, if makeshift, patio out back they were calling “The Garden;” I knew I was safe to dine outdoors, and grabbed a last-minute reservation. I avoided eating anything most of the day so as to avoid another situation like the night before, where my eyes were way bigger than my stomach!
The evening didn’t all go according to plan, however. When I arrived, I informed the hostess of my reservation, but she couldn’t find it, and told me the only place she had for a party of one was at the bar. I was dismayed because the bar, while outside, was the location of a great deal of foot traffic, and the floorboards around the chair were rather bouncy, causing the stool to move quite dramatically whenever anyone passed by. Ah well; I was enjoying the perfect Miami evening weather, and ready to chow down on some truffles!
The server was delightful and recommended a refreshing combination of pink vermouth, Chiarli Vecchia Modena, and lambrusco to get started. Italian to its core, the drink was bubbly, slightly bitter, and bursting with red fruit, and I managed to down it rather quickly while attempting to make decisions about the menu. The kicker, though, was the small sprig of Baby's Breath in the drink, which added an olfactory floral component to the drink that really elevated it. Bravo!
I started with their burrata dish, served in a very traditional manner with prosciutto, tomatoes, basil, arugula, olive oil, salt and pepper, and some extra pickled things hidden among the tomatoes, such as kalamata olives and peppers. This was absolutely delicious. The cherry tomatoes were tasty on their own but under the bread was waiting a magnificent stewed tomato that was absolutely teeming with flavor. Wow!
The server, lovely as she was, spoke a bit too quickly to understand and provided me with what turned out to be rather inaccurate information. When I told her I came for truffles, she recommended either the pasta special with truffles, or adding truffles to an entrée, such as a glorious branzino dish with potatoes and leeks or a small, rustic beef tenderloin. I jumped on the tenderloin as soon as she said “they add truffle to the basting butter and then top it with truffles at the end,” only to be returned to and told that she “misspoke,” and that the beef special was actually a beef tartare. Uh, ok!
All the pasta dishes this evening were $10 (except the truffle special), so I figured I’d try a couple of pastas, take them home when I’d had enough, and then get the branzino with the truffles on it. The server twice confirmed which two pastas I wanted, but then I didn’t see her again for about a half an hour. This would prove to be an issue, because so much of what I ordered wasn’t actually correct.
First, a cavatelli pasta with a porchetta sauce and meatballs came out, which was the incorrect pasta––I definitely ordered a pomodoro-style pasta with prawns! In any event, I got the attention of a (different) server and asked for a glass of barbera to pair, thinking they’d be coursing out the pastas. Again, wrong!
I had taken only a bite of the (really really delicious) cavatelli when a plate of cacio e pepe arrived (which I did order). Not ten seconds later, the branzino, without truffles, arrived at my now-very-busy bartop, followed closely by the pasta special, tagliatelle with butter and truffles. So, I had three full pasta plates and a massive piece of fish over potatoes in front of me. AFTER an entrée-sized burrata course. People must have thought I was nuts!
Seeing the truffle pasta in front of me and knowing that is what I came for, I went to town on it first, and devoured the magnificent, buttery, umami-laden house-made pasta in short order. My goodness, how I love these wonderful fungi! I had consumed enough of the meatball cavatelli to get a sense of it (to reiterate, it was really REALLY great, so great that I somewhat suspect she just ordered it for me instead of the shrimp pasta anyway just to show it off), so I moved on the cacio e pepe, which sadly was woefully disappointing. The Maestro wrote about how to achieve excellent cacio e pepe in a recent blog––unfortunately, they didn’t follow all the rules. The pasta was way overcooked (a danger with bucatini, which has a little hole in the middle and can overcook rather easily) and the sauce was quite clumpy and over-reduced (a trick to avoid with cacio e pepe by stirring the cheese quickly and using pasta water liberally). The flavors were there, I guess, but the dish as a whole left much to be desired, and it had the visual appeal of Kraft.
The branzino was almost an afterthought at this point, but it was damn good. Crispy skin with tender lemony potatoes and leeks beneath, and cooked to flaky perfection. I can see why truffles would be an excellent choice with this dish!
When I finally saw my server again, I mentioned the order mix-up, telling her I of course didn’t intend to order that much food, but blaming myself for talking too much, and while she apologized, she made no effort to compensate for her mistake on the bill, which would have been the classy thing to do. No matter, I suppose––I was stuffed and had some pasta to chow down on for lunch. Now all I needed was some dessert!
As you might guess, I was once again incredibly full given the sheer volume of food, and was feeling like liquid dessert once again. When I mentioned the amaro flight on their menu, the server instead recommended I do a flight of their house-made dessert spirits, all in the vein of limoncello. I am not a big limoncello fan but she raved about them in a way that made it seem like I could not say “no,” and so I took her advice and got three “celli”––one with dark chocolate and Calabrian chili, one with oranges, and one with lemon. All three were delicious, though I will say I would have preferred the amaro flight.
Despite my desire to stay out, have another drink or two, and enjoy the warm night air, I found myself reminded of the fact that I had a great deal of packing to accomplish, as well as a whole bottle of Champagne in my hotel room fridge, so I took an Uber to the hotel, polished off the bubbly, and began preparation for my next destination.
Stay tuned for the next blog, in which you can find out where the Maestro ends up next!