Fine Dining in the Age of Social Distancing
Even before the virus shut down the restaurants of Coral Gables, dinner at Fontana was a luxurious experience, sitting outside in the great courtyard of the Biltmore Hotel. What could be more pleasant than listening to the rhythmic splash of water from the Venetian fountain in the center, while eating the Italian dishes of Chef Beppe Galazzi? Nothing, perhaps, except the ability to do it again.
Like all Coral Gables restaurants, Fontana was permitted to reopen May 20, and did so – except with fewer tables. The new spacing – both outside and inside (which is warmed by Tuscan orange walls with Spanish tile wainscoting) – creates a comfortable experience. Who doesn’t want more elbow room?
As for any trepidation about returning to the public domain to dine, everything feels a little safer sitting outside. The courtyard also has a new array of massive white umbrellas, which adds a nice ambient light and keeps things cooler during the daytime.
The drill for eating is one you are hopefully familiar with by now: Masks on the way in and out, but not required while sitting down with your meal (of course). Fontana has also designated separate entry and exit doors, for the sake of keeping people from bumping into each other. All staff is masked, and there is hand sanitizer on every table.
And then there is the food. “We try to do recipes from all over Italy, north to south,” says Chef Galazzi, who hails from the town of Ferrara, north of Bologna. “The recipes are regional and the ingredients are simple,” he says. Maybe so, but it’s the combination of those ingredients – and their quality – that makes all the difference. Such as two of his hallmark dishes, one a ravioli stuffed with veal shank, mushrooms and truffles, the other a ravioli stuffed with roast pumpkin, cheese and shrimp. The pasta for all of his noodle dishes is homemade, something that comes across in an authentic regional dish like his pappardelle Bolognese with a touch of bechamel.
Galazzi also knows his way around fish. We can’t think of anyone who does a better job preparing salmon; his is perfectly grilled and moist, with a crusty herbed skin and sun-dried tomato sauce on the side. Another regular item, kept on the menu by popular demand, is his flavorful fitto misto, a fried mix of calamari and shrimp with julienned (and fried) zucchini and onion. His wood-roasted Spanish octopus, with salsa verde and fingerling potatoes, is peasant cooking gone Hollywood. And while it wasn’t on the menu, the night’s special of grilled snapper with a topping of spinach puree and a side of coconut curry sauce was as good as it sounds.
Galazzi also hits it out of the park with two of his appetizers. The first is his baked eggplant with tomato sauce, mozzarella and aged Grana Pandano cheese. It’s like a miniature eggplant lasagna, but delightfully light and delicious. Galazzi says the secret is to first fry the eggplant in an egg and flour batter before you bake. The result is amazingly good.
The other appetizer we loved was the Burratina – a plate with four elements, which if joined together in one bite reveal the greatness of the Italian palate: a white dome of mozzarella with a soft heart (the star of the show), a pile of thin sliced Langhirano prosciutto, a small salad of arugula, fennel and onion, and a few chunks of sweet beets. Salty, sweet, tart and creamy, all at once.
As for the rest of the menu, the wine list has a very nice selection and range of reds, and the desserts offer good choices that include a selection of sorbet, key lime pie, cheesecake and tiramisu. Our take: don’t miss the tiramisu.
Overall, the experience of dining at Fontana is sublime. Its majestic setting sends you to another place in the world, where the food just happens to be authentic and well prepared.
1200 Anastasia Ave.