Fine Dining is Still Available in the Gables. You Just Have to Eat it at Home
In these times of the virus, one of the great pleasures of Coral Gables – dining at a fine restaurant – has been taken away. Not that we haven’t gladly made the sacrifice. What is a good risotto, aged rib eye or chocolate soufflé compared to the safety of loved ones?
Having said that, there is only so much home cooking or fast food – even fast casual – that a person can take before crying out for something gourmet. “You can only have pizza so many nights,” says Caffe Abbracci owner Nino Pernetti. “Then you need something more.”
In that light we sampled the takeout from three of our top restaurants: Caffe Abbracci, Fleming’s Steakhouse and Pascal’s on Ponce. All three also offer delivery, but we opted for pickup. With so little to do in these days of quarantine, even going for a pickup drive is something of a pleasant outing.
One thing that Nino Pernetti has mastered after 30 years of running one of Coral Gables’ most iconic restaurants is attention to detail. It is the smallest of details – remembering the name of a customer or placing flowers in the ladies’ room – that have won him a loyal clientele.
One of those details is using aluminum containers for takeout. What that means in these days of fear of contagion is that you can pop the food directly into the oven. Any sustained temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more will kill any germs. Also, Italian food – pasta especially – is not ruined by reheating.
We ordered on a Saturday night, and the pickup was seamless. Manager Eduardo Gutierrez, wearing gloves and a mask, brought our bag to us from a line of similar bags on tables inside. Once home we heated everything in the oven, and the food was excellent. We ordered a salmon carpaccio, Caesar salad, lasagna Bolognese, angel hair pasta, branzino primavera, and the torta della nonna.
We ordered mostly pasta because we thought it would travel better, but it turns out the branzino was the star, a perfectly flaky white fish in a succulent white wine sauce. The angel hair pasta was also exceptional, with a robust tomato flavor. And the torta was a tasty delight, with just the right balance between tart lemon filling and sugar-powdered crust. And, in a nod to these hard times, Abbracci is knocking 25 percent off their regular wine list – not a special list, but their best vino.
318 Aragon Ave.
Takeout daily 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse
The secret to ordering from Fleming’s is to order your steaks rare. Then when you get them home, heat them in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, and you’ll have the perfect pink inside. The rest of the dishes you’ll order – sides like chipotle cheddar mac & cheese or crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon – are equally amenable to reheating.
What makes ordering from Fleming’s extra special during the pandemic are some of their deals – the best of which is $40 off any order of more than $100. If you combine that with their three-course menu of steak plus lobster tail, you are all set. For $60 you can get a 14 oz. angus ribeye, a lobster tail, a salad and a dessert. Order two and the price of $120 drops to $80.
While the menu is limited for takeout, they still offer seven cuts of steak, five sides, three salads and two desserts. We ordered their Tuesday tomahawk, rare, along with the mac & cheese, Brussels sprouts, wedge salad, Fleming’s salad, cheesecake and chocolate gooey butter cake. The winner – besides the awesome seared hawk? The cheesecake. Incredibly light and creamy and tasty.
Even though Fleming’s is part of a national chain, each Fleming’s is made “local” via an operating partner. In this case it is the conscientious Zory Mata, who is always on hand for customers. She’ll make sure the food is taken to your car – or safely handed off if you want to step inside for a moment, just to recall what it was like to be in a restaurant.
2525 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
Takeout daily noon – 8 p.m.
Pascal’s on Ponce
Like Pernetti’s Abbracci, Pascal Oudin’s French restaurant on Ponce has been holding court for more than two decades. In many ways, it is the epitome of the chef-driven restaurant. It is a refined, intimate space for diners keen on savoring the work of Oudin, a master French chef who obsesses over his culinary creations.
Our big question was whether Pascal’s delicate cuisine could survive the indignity of becoming takeout fare. The good news: It held up very well. Even the presentation survived, with each dish artfully laid out in a clear plastic container, as though it were a work of art in a jeweler’s case.
We ordered the heirloom tomato tatin and the young mesclun salad for starters, and the crispy duck confit and beef tenderloin with red wine for entrees. For dessert, just the key lime tart (though “just” is unfair, as it comes with a raspberry sauce, baked meringue and fromage blanc mousse). All were amazing. We reheated nothing. French food does not demand to be eaten piping hot, and we didn’t want to bruise our entrees; the starters and dessert were served cold.
Like any good French cuisine, Pascal’s is a balance of exquisite flavors, and these came across admirably, either arrayed on the container (like the cubes of beet, pear and fourme d’Ambert cheese with the salad) or in tiny containers (like the reduced wine sauce with the beef). We lifted each dish from its containers with a spatula, so as to reprise the presentation on a plate, which we then savored at our leisure.
2611 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
Takeout Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Mon.-Sat. 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.