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South of Fifth (SoFi) in South Beach is becoming quite the dining destination and not just because of hot spots Joe’s Stone Crab and “The Primes” (112, Italian and Fish).  There are other top spots as you probably know – Red the Steakhouse, Milos, Cavalli, Il Mulino, but most are high end and pricey for frequent dining.  Now there’s a newcomer, Cibo Wine Bar South Beach, that will likely become the spot for regular dining for residents of  the multi-million dollar condos in the neighborhood who don’t want to cook.

Why? Though the restaurant is large, they turn out quality ingredients and cooking, very good service, and a value priced Italian menu overseen by Executive Chef Massimo Giannattasio of Salerno, that offers much that appeals.  Plus, it’s buzzy and fun, attractive, comfortable,  good for couples, small groups of friends, families and solos.

They have the three P’s down pat – pizzas, pastas and prosciutto, all made in full diner view in the open kitchen. In the case of prosciutto, we’re talking hand carved with an antique Italian machine known as the Ferrari of meat-slicers”. They explained that the results in taste are superior to the electric machine because the blade is hand-driven, producing a slower rotation to avoid cooking the product, enhancing its subtlety and savour.  We skipped the antipasto which featured Italian favorites like the meat balls in tomato sauce, eggplant and zucchini made all matter of ways, and calamari, and went straight for the pesce crudo and a house specialty, the housemade cured Atlantic salmon with blood orange, red peppercorn and fennel.  It  tasted sparkling fresh, and the combo was perfectly matched with the sweetness of the orange and the zip from the peppercorns. Next up, an arugula salad with prosciutto and parmigiano. The prosciutto was among the better ones I’ve had of late, not the insipid variety one finds all too often.  A perfect lunch would be the salmon crudo and the salad.

We were glad we had saved our calories in the antipasto so we could go for two varieties of pasta made in house. I chose the gnocchi with gorgonozola cream sauce and parmigiano reggiano, a house specialty. Mr. W opted for the pappardelle, slow cooked lamb ragu with pecorino shavings. Both were delicious, the former rich but not overly creamy, the latter al dente, meaty, and the flavors shined. There are 21 different kinds, from “lunga” such as spaghetti and linguine to “corta’, penne, fusilli, rigatoni and farfalle as well as gluten-free and whole wheat. If you’re getting entrees as well as pastas, be sure to share, or count on taking the rest home. We did that with both pasta and entrees and had a wonderful “heat and serve” meal the next day.

For the “secondi” we were encouraged to order the chianti braised short ribs and we’re really glad we did.  The 16 ounce porcini crusted beef short ribs were meltingly tender and flavorful, accompanied by gorgonzola polenta and crispy onions (could have eaten a bowl of those onions — they should package these and sell them for snacks). My choice was the branzino which was served deboned, with the head and tail intact, unusual here in Miami. It came with rapini.

Desserts include pannacotta, cheesecake, cannoli and chocolate hazelnut baci bombe. We had a sampler plate which was good, but I missed my bombolini, Italian donuts.

Wine here is literally a focal point, with a floor to ceiling wine cellar stocked with over 300 selections from all the regions of Italy. The higher up you go, the pricier the wines.  The priciest being a 1966 Chateau Lafite Rothschild from Bordeaux. A “wine angel” in a harness is lifted by a rope to reach the bottles at the top, a clever twist.

There’s also a rooftop restaurant which we didn’t see as it was very windy and cold the day we went. Next time ,and there will definitely be a next time.

Most antipasto are in the teens, pastas from $16 to $20 , pizzas in the mid to high teens and secondi from $25 to $39 for a 20 ounce bone in rib eye with sides. Bottles of wine start at $28 and single glasses at $9.

Cibo Wine Bar South Beach, 200 S.Pointe Drive (T.305-987-6060).

Photography by William Oberheiser

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