By Miami Herald
The Place: No need to hop a flight to Florence — you can find a taste of Tuscany in Mary Brickell Village at Toscana Divino. The space is dimly lit and hip, with a central round glass wine cellar and outdoor tables on the pavement for those willing to brave the al fresco heat in downtown. The menu is divided into traditional dishes and modern takes on evolving Italian cuisine.
The History: Owners Stefano Cavinato and Tommaso Morelato have known each other since high school in Padova, the capital of Padua Province in northern Italy and the setting for Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Cavinato came to Miami first and then invited Morelato to come up with the idea for a restaurant; that is how Toscana was born 4 1/2 years ago. They hired as chef de cuisine Andrea Marchesin, who had worked a year in the Haute-Savoie region of eastern France. There, he worked with local farmers and saw how dedicated they were to the food they grew. Executive chef Jeff Maxfield, of Hillsdale, Michigan, was influenced by cooking with his grandmother. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduation, he got an offer from a restaurant in Miami and moved here six years ago, then met Julian Baker, the British founder of Toscana. He spent six months in Italy, staying with co-owner Morelato’s parents to perfect his Italian culinary skills.
The Food: Start with house-made ricotta drizzled with Tuscan olive oil and flatbread or Pecorino cheese with local Paradise Farm honey. Ribollita is a Tuscan vegetable and bread stew that is layered with stale bread, cannellini beans, Swiss chard, black kale, carrots, celery, onions and green beans; this hearty potage is seasoned with sage and thyme and finished with olive oil and salt. There’s also a baby artichoke and arugula salad with lemon dressing and shaved Parmesan. The best seller is tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta in butter sauce with sage. Risotto is made tableside with the rice stirred in a pan over a small burner with Parmesan whey, grated Pecorino and black pepper creating a simple creamy dish. The essence of the ocean is chittara (guitar string pasta) tossed with the roe of salmon, whitefish, trout and sturgeon. Roasted duck breast comes rare with pickled berries on date puree with grilled endive. End with moist pistachio and olive oil cake with raspberry puree. Truly divine.