Due Baci makes for a perfect immigrant story: It’s made in Miami from Italian parts.
Call this 5-month-old restaurant in Sunset Harbour an example of the way cultures evolve and blossom when they take root in new, fertile soil. It’s just as Mamma Rosinella would have wanted.
It was she, the late matriarch Rosa Cirone, who brought her family recipes with her from Rome when she and her children opened what is now the longest-running Italian restaurant on Lincoln Road, Rosinella. Only family was ever allowed to be near them in the kitchen.
Whenever they opened a new restaurant, they sent for another sibling from Italy.
That kind of attention to tradition, simplicity and care is clear in every aspect — from the food to the service — of the family’s newest endeavor, Due Baci, where Cirone’s son Tonino Doino is both the chef and owner.
There is no massive reinvention happening with the cuisine. The recipes are old-world Roman. The key is fresh ingredients, many imported from Italy (by one of Doino’s brothers), treated with respect and expertly transformed by Doino in ways that easily makes Due Baci one of South Florida’s best.
All of which made it a bit puzzling when on several visits the dining room was all but empty.
Perhaps it’s because of the ongoing construction in Sunset Harbour that diners have not easily discovered this Alton Road-facing restaurant wedged between 19th and 20th streets on Sunset Drive. The family took over and renovated the entire corner, opening a juice bar and a 3,000-square-foot market, where they sell the housemade pasta they use in the restaurant.
Just next door is the stark white facade of Due Baci, uplit in revolving LED lights that give it a clubby feel that works in South Beach. Past an outdoor seating area (another South Beach requisite) and into the dining room, the restaurant is a departure from the homey trattoria that is the family’s signature at Rosinella.
Instead, here there are 20-foot ceilings, sheer white curtains, an opulent chandelier in the center of the room and cream-colored marble floors to match leather banquets. Large pieces of artwork highlight all of the walls but for the one behind the bar, where columns of wine bottles climb a red brick accent wall.
All of it gives Due Baci an elegance that separates it from its more downscale Lincoln Road progenitor.
The menu, however, is classic Mamma Rosinella.
It’s clear from even unpretentious dishes such as the papardelle bolognese that Doino was in the kitchen with her all these years, learning at her side to make pasta and bread dough from scratch. A whirl of papardelle pasta is cooked perfectly al dente and mated to the meat sauce without swimming in it. It’s a delight to eat well-executed simple Italian.
Antipasti appetizers shine. The Clams Guazzeto come bathed in a light white wine broth and plenty of homemade bread perfect for soaking up bite after bite. But for a bit of a departure, try the grilled octopus salad, simple and tender pieces of octopus served alongside grilled celery spears that retain their crunch to bring a balanced crunch. You’ll find many versions of grilled octopus in Miami, but few this simply conceived and expertly executed.
There’s power in that straightforward execution. Nowhere is it clearer than in their version of cacio e pepe. The spaghetti-like tonnarelli pasta carefully tossed in creamy Pecorino Romano cheese (again, imported) and cracked pepper — and nothing more. The flavor is pure and Roman, the kind of dish that would make Mamma Rosinella proud.
The same can be said for the mushroom risotto. The risotto is creamy but the rice firm, every bite bursting with pure flavors from the imported porcini mushrooms and white wine. You’ll want more of that homemade bread, crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, for the last bits of sauce.
A lobster sweet potato ravioli was a special but showed more of what Doino does well. Each pillow of ravioli was packed with lobster meat and highlighted by the sweetness in the sweet potato sauce. The man knows how to pair flavors.
The menu wants to separate itself from Rosinella by offering more seafood dishes, such as the octopus, clams and several fish options. All it has to do is keep making the zuppa di pesce. Abundant in clams, mussels and fish and with a zesty tomato broth, this is a dish you’ll want to have again and again with plenty of crusty bread.
The restaurant also has a wood-burning oven for 10-inch thin-crust pizzas, again, usually with one ingredient the focus: prosciutto, mushrooms or vegetables with tomato sauce and cheese. Unfortunately, they share a menu heading with the too-simple focaccia flatbreads — no sauce, no cheese beneath their toppings — which were a disappointment. Being a bit more clear with the diner about what to expect would have helped.
What Due Baci does well with its savory courses, it does well with dessert, as well. The one to order is the fried focaccia with chestnut honey, a pair of simple beignet-like triangles with the flavor profile of baklava (honey, almonds, powdered sugar) served alongside homemade vanilla ice cream with more honey drizzled over the top.
Like any good immigrant child, Due Baci wants to do right by Mamma, cutting its own path while respecting its deep Italian roots.
With every bite, it succeeds.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
If you go
Place: Due Baci
Address: 1920 Alton Rd., Miami Beach
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2 (Excellent)
Contact: 305-763-8926, DueBaci.com
Hours: 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; till midnight Friday-Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers, $9-$13; pizzas, $9-$16; entrees, $12-$39
FYI: Organic whole wheat or gluten-free pasta is available at a small upcharge. Noise level low. Full bar available. Free parking lot or metered street parking. AX, DS, MC, VS.
What the stars mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)