Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mediterranean is Calling

Close your eyes. Think back to your last vacation. Perhaps it was locals you met that told stories of the destination, or indigenous, flavors that created the most enduring memories. If you yearn to replicate that feeling and are thinking about the warmth of the Mediterranean, its convivial conversation and authentic cui-sine, make your way to Panarea Mediterranean Sea Grilon Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard.


Intimate, cozy and worth the drive, this new restaurant is named after the second-smallest island of Italy’s Aeolian chain of picturesque volcanic islands. Notably famous for its large capers, the flavorful mor-sels are served as a welcome, perched on a glass of refreshing gazpacho to dinner guests every night. It’s a way for owner and trained sommelier Luca Delogu to welcome people into his “home” of 110 indoor seats, 15 of them outdoors on a beautifully lit garden patio and a charming, villa-like private room that seats 46 people (with its own audio-visual, in case you’re thinking of a good excuse for an off-site meeting).


Delogu, who was born in Rome, grew up in the sea, diving for octopus and plucking sea urchin off the rocks in Sardinia. He nearly died diving for octopus when the tentacled creature wrapped itself around his neck and face mask, but a Sardinian cousin saved him with a quick maneuver. Yes, octopus is on the menu, no doubt recalling adventurous childhood pursuits. Delogu and Italia master


OCTOBER 2017, chef Claudio Sandri (who with 40 years of culinary experience beat Chef Morimoto in an Iron Chef rematch) spent months formulating the menu, which covers 15 of 20 Mediterranean countries from southern Spain to France, Italy, Turkey, Israel and Northern Africa. “We want to take diners on a journey that covers the true flavors of the diverse and vast coastlines of the Mediterra-nean,” says Delogu.   The voyage on which Delogu and Chef Sandri lead guests is flavorful and reminis-cent of a personal invitation into a local home, with rustic wood décor, framed art and hanging lights adding to the charming ambience. For dinner, it might be tempting fresh vegetables, tomatoes and olive oil to allow the spirulina flavor to shine through. Other noteworthy entrées include Ravioli Di Cernia (Italy), three large, housemade ravioli filled with fresh grouper and eggplant in a light, flavorful tomato sauce. Served on delicate floral plates from Spain, the presentation adds to the mood of being in the private home of a great local chef. From Morocco, Chef Sandri serves a hearty khroufe, an authentic lamb stew with a subtle mixture of apricots, chickpeas, potatoes, carrots, cinnamon and herbs. The authentic Pinsa Romana (Roman-style pizza) is a must to share and comes in myriad combinations, while the fresh fish (caught locally and flown in from the Mediterranean) can be served Italian- or Moroccan-style or simply with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.


The dessert presentation is, in a word, charming, and comes as a treasure trove of individual postcards with authentic stamps, descrip-tions and wine pairings, and a “note” from the sender to the chef, as though Nonna were sharing her family recipe with the world. While they are all exquisite, our hands-down favorite was Moroccan Ma’ancha—meaning “snake”—made with rolled phyllo pastry and filled with dates, figs, walnuts and honey.


The wine list deserves special attention and mention for its uncom-mon selection, as Delogu, who is both owner and sommelier, has scoured the Mediterranean to offer some of the most exceptional under-the-radar boutique wines grown and bottled at the source, many available by the glass, and all presented on a colorful map, allowing guests to pinpoint their origins. “Our wine program is about original-ity,” explains Delogu. “We want to ensure that customers discover new gems and find a perfect match for their meal that will further enhance the flavor profiles from that region.”


The wine is so extraordinary, we recommend ordering a different glass with each course.  La Cattura, which we had with the grouper-stuffed pasta, is made from the only Teroldego grape that grows in Tuscany and is blended with 15 percent Syrah. At $11 a glass, it is a steal for such a rare find, and this is reportedly the only Miami restau-rant that offers it by the glass. The Grillo from Sardinia and Raboso Rosé from Venice are new to the Miami market; the Manto Negro only grows on Mallorca. A treat for any oenophile, 80 percent of Panarea’s wine selection is small-production and bio-organic.


As if all this weren’t enough, grab a friend and learn how to make Chef Sandri’s house-made mozzarella the last Wednesday of every month. The convivial gathering is more than just cheese-making. It’s an evening with family.