A new Italian restaurant, Scalina, just opened in Prime Blue’s old spot in downtown Miami. An Italian restaurant opening on top of (literally) Il Gabbiano, a serious Italian establishment, better walk the walk. Scalina’s walk was more reminiscent of a DUI line test: on point at times, yet so clearly off at others. Walking up the stairs, the first thing that caught my eye was a table filled with a Jeroboam of Champagne, an array of balsamic vinegars, and a half-carved wheel of Parmesan. My first instinct was to hug the giant Parmesan, but I quickly restrained myself in case I wanted to show my face there again. While I understand the table represented all of the treasured Italian ingredients, I was slightly confused why they were there. It seemed slightly tacky. Moving on. We ordered drinks at the bar. I had a French Martini, my friend got a Cosmo, and the guys, of course, Whiskey. The drinks were strong and tasty, and the strawberry in mine was perfectly ripe. It’s the little things that impress me. The restaurant is huge and beautiful; however, it was a rare non-humid Miami night so they appropriately sat us on the balcony.
First, they started us off with balsamic-marinated zucchini, bruschetta, and bread. I never eat tomatoes. Sometimes I tell restaurants I’m allergic so there are no remnants of tomato juice touching my plate. Nonetheless, the bruschetta looked appetizing and I took a bite. Pretty good. The toasted ciabatta was a nice contrast to the soft tomatoes and garlic. The zucchini was also really delicious. Sweet, tart, salty, everything a good balsamic should be. I’m a tough critic, and this chef turned two veggies I despise into delicious little morsels. Nice work. Second, the waiter presented us with an amuse bouche of a spinach ravioli in a truffled cream sauce. Welcome to 2011. Just because something contains truffles doesn’t make it as fancy and breathtaking as it did in 1999. You need to jazz it up, at least toss a spring of parsley on top to brighten up the bland color palette (see photo). It was tasty, but typically an amuse bouche emphasizes smaller, more intensely flavored courses and presents the chef with an opportunity to showcase his artistry and showmanship. I was even more unimpressed when the same little ravioli made a guest appearance as my friend’s entrée.
Next, my friends ordered an overpriced tuna tower and an off-the-menu grilled calamari dish. I didn’t taste the tuna, but I can deduce it tasted like all other tuna towers. The calamari was good, but the sauce was the star: white wine and lemon juice, emulsified with enough butter to think the chef was French. I dipped the crusty bread in the buttery goodness and would have been perfectly content with that as my meal. Especially had I known what my meal would be like. Apparently the chef removed the calamari appetizer off the menu, which is a shame considering it was the best thing I tasted all evening. I ordered the Pollo Pistachio. The pisachios were MIA. When I order something with a particular item featured in the name, I like to see it on the plate. What I got were mushy pieces from god knows where on the chicken coated in a slimy Marsala-esque sauce. The best part were the buttery green beans. Presentation was seriously lacking (see photo): two sad little potatoes rolling around next to the green beans and chicken.
The bf enjoyed his pounded, breaded chicken breast. Boring. My friend liked her Pasta Tri Color: pesto tagliatelle, truffled ravioli, and rigatoni in a red sauce. It was strange, but good. I longingly watched her eat the pesto pasta while I poked at my chicken. I told the manager I thought they gave me the wrong dish and, after blaming the chef, proceeded to bring me a gravy boat filled with the (right) pistachio sauce. The sauce was actually quite good (yet still no pistachios in sight). Now I was just confused. Was he dangling the pistachio sauce in my face, while the slimy, faux Marsala mocked me? I wasn’t about to pour the sauce over the bad chicken. So I kind of dipped bread in it and nodded that everything was now perfect. Regardless, the weather was so beautiful and company so great that I didn’t mention anything further to the waiter.
For dessert, we got the ricotta cheesecake and lemon torta. The lemon cake not very memorable, but the cheesecake was outstanding. Room temperature, not overly sweet, and velvety. They also brought out complimentary limoncello that almost knocked me off my chair. I’ve had limoncello many, many times but this one was seriously strong. I alternated sips between the lemon liquor and my espresso. Overall, the meal was good, but the location was the highlight. I felt like Scalina was the kids-table version of Il Gabbiano and I kept wanting to peek downstairs to see what the adults were eating. Once the disconnect between management and chef is resolved, Scalina could be a good date-night spot, something downtown Miami desperately needs.
To our surprise, my entrée wasn’t taken off the bill. Dinner was $250 for 7 drinks, 2 apps, 4 entrées, 2 espresso, and 2 desserts.