With friends and readers in Fort Lauderdale, and the fact that I often go to the NSU Museum (the Frank Stella show is well worth a visit) and sometimes to the Broward Performing Arts Center, I’m always on the lookout for really good restaurants. When told about two restaurants in one, my interest was piqued, especially since one is Italian and the other Asian fusion. Walk in the front door to the hostess stand and to the right, find Valentino Fort Lauderdale, and to the left, One Door East. These are places I’ll return many times. Since you have to see the dishes in their glory, I’ve made this into a two part series. Day one is Valentino.
Both were founded by chef-owner Giovanni Rocchio (described as a “genius” in Zagat), a second generation restaurateur from New York, and Elke Quintana.The beauty of the concept is that you can go for Asian appetizers and then have an Italian entree and dessert, vice versa, just do all small plates or choose to dine at one or the other. We decided to go for small plates at each, ending with pasta.
The décor at Valentina Cucina Italiana is contemporary classic, attractive, and very well designed to include a cocktail bar, table seating, and our favorite – seats that are so up close and personal with the open kitchen that you’re able to speak with Rocchio himself as he’s cooking away. We loved that. The restaurant is well lit and the noise level is moderate.
The one page menu is well curated, divided into appetizers, pasta, pesce and carne, with a separate dessert menu. Our appetizers included the tender charred octopus, uniquely teamed with chick peas ( being called the new super food), chorizo, cippolini onions and salsa verde. The Spanish chorizo gave it a welcome kick. We also opted for the exceptional burrata – rich and luscious, and again a novel combo with black garlic, salsa verde, arugula and white anchovies.
Pasta picks were so appealing, it was tough to choose. They’re what Giovanni is most proud of, and it shows. The pasta shapes and combinations are not what you’d find in most Italian restaurants. We had the casoncelli which was like a veal dumpling, combined with crispy panceltta, spinach, raisins and brown butter. We ate it all (and that’s saying something considering all that proceeded this course). The other one which is a crowd favorite is the Trofie – scallop, rock shrimp and sepia ragu with peas and pecorino.
For those still with capacity, there’s a selection of fish and seafood, and meat including the prized Colorado lamb rack, venison loin, bone in short rib. The lamb and venison loin in particular looked scrumptious. There are also daily specials.
Of course, we had to have dessert and that we did — banana bread pudding with cream cheese anglaise and peanut butter ice cream. It all worked together in what was a novel taste sensation.
Appetizers range from $15 To $24; pastas from $27 to $40; and fish and meat from $34 to $48. A glass of wine starts at $10 for a 6 ounce pour; bottles from $40.
Both offer drinking and dining special events which vary by restaurant, including ladies night, happy hour and a jazz night every second Thursday of the month at One Door East.
The restaurants are located at 620 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale (T. 954-368-6902).