Fiorentina restaurant is a terrific Italian surprise

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Fiorentina restaurant is a terrific Italian surprise

Fiorentina, the restaurant and wine bar opened two months ago on downtown Lake Worth’s main drag, is a terrific little surprise. With a lively bar, outdoor dining options and open-door vibe, it seems right at home on this indie row, one of Palm Beach County’s most eclectic streets.

At first blush, the place feels like a lot of the Lake Avenue night haunts: That faint scent of beer wafts from the bar. A patron smokes a cigarette outside the front door. Sports coverage blinks on overhead TV screens.

But the plot thickens once you slip into the stylish dining area, into one of the cozy booths and order an antipasti, say, a simple Insalata Caprese ($14). Prepare to be delighted. This is no random Caprese of layered tomatoes and mozz. It’s a lush salad of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and rich, oozing burratina, the creamiest of fresh mozzarella cheeses from Italy’s Puglia region. This is a dish that not only transports the palate, but also raises expectations of flavors to come.

And those expectations were fully met in the next appetizer we ordered on a recent night, the Polpette ($10), raisin-sweet meatballs served over polenta with a bright tomato sauce. The unexpectedly sweet-savory mix of the meatballs proved simply addictive.

There were few real surprises in the Fritto Misto ($9), however. The flash-fried mix of calamari, shrimp and artichokes was tossed in lemon zest and parsley and served with two dipping sauces, a marinara and a luscious lemon aioli. The best bites of the dish: the artichokes, crispy outside and creamy-delicious inside, made even more lush with a dip into the aioli. The calamari, on the other hand, could have been more tender – and the entire dish could have been better drained. It glistened, overly so, of oil.

The evening’s pasta selections brought a delectable array. The penne with Bolognese sauce ($13) I ordered (my server graciously substituted the listed gnocchi for penne) was outstanding. The rich, meaty sauce offered a satisfying depth of flavor that was not too smoky and not too sweet. This is a sauce created by a layering of seasoned ground veal, beef, pork and pancetta, of perfect tomatoes and spices.

We also sampled a stunningly verdant Rigatoni alla Bucaiola ($13), pasta tossed in a bright-green sauce of peas and cream, with sliced Italian sausage and Grana Padano Parmesan cheese. The sauce was sweet and salty – and lovely to behold.

Equally unexpected was the Spaghetti con Aragosta ($16), a pasta tossed with chunks of fresh lobster, mint, chili flakes and cherry tomatoes. Yes, the mint may seem to be that odd ingredient of the otherwise balanced combo, but, in fact, it lifted all the other flavors beautifully, even enhancing that final kick of heat from the red pepper flakes. A light-bodied, unusual dish.

For heartier fare, I tried the Cotoletta alla Milanesa ($25) on a later visit. This was a breaded veal chop that had been pounded and pan fried and served with a lightly dressed tomato and arugula salad. The lemony greens cut the richness of the tender, robust veal. Again, I had a quibble with the fried finish – it could have been better drained. Still, it was a delicious, bone-in cutlet. And it was made all the better when our excellent server read my mind and brought a dish of fresh sliced lemons to spritz on the veal. It was the needed touch.

The simple but well-varied menu offers a range of dining options, from rustic pizzas ($10 to $12) to more formidable entrees, like the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a $35 porterhouse served with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes.

But even those who venture into the heartier options should save a little room for dessert. Particularly if the crème brûlée special ($8) is on the nightly menu. This was brûlée taken to a divine level, served on a sweet bar of chocolate, hazelnuts, apples and apricots. There was also a dreamy pumpkin mousse ($8) pie that was light, yet perfectly creamy.

The menu may not be huge, but it gave us many reasons to return to funky Fiorentina. Even though I’ve sampled its surprises, I’m pretty confident it will continue to delight my palate.

The Palm Beach Post

By: Liz Balmaseda

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