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Fine dining at Miami's Tosca Restaurant

When Stephan Fortier, a restaurateur with more than 20 years of experience and 16 restaurants under his belt (including Miami Beach’s swanky, though now closed, Maison d’Azur), decided he wanted to open yet another dining room in South Florida, he drew inspiration from one of his secret passions: film. “I’m a big Fellini fan,” said Fortier, who after studying finance and international management at the University of Quebec in Montreal attended the New York Film Academy. “He’s a big influence on me, his vision of the 1950s era, the lifestyle and glamour.” With that very clear picture in his mind, Fortier opened Tosca, which “I approached in the way I thought Fellini might approach a movie, thinking about the lighting, the mood and how I could transport guests to another place and time.”

The transport begins at the door, as you walk past a bustling kitchen, past a display of the day’s fresh fish including a lobster tank, past a museum-like showcase of pristine, rare ingredients—a 100-year-old balsamic vinegar; an olive oil made of hand-picked, individually inspected olives; and a special edition Valrhona chocolate aged for one year, exclusively for Tosca. In the dining room, where there are only 20 tables, the lighting was precisely designed by a director of film photography “to make women look beautiful, like glamorous stars” said Fortier, who points out, without a shred of irony, the dining room isn’t even the point of coming here.

The point, he says, is the experience he has so carefully curated. There’s the leafy, candlelit walkway that leads to a lush garden with a cozy film nook, a wishing fountain and a telescope for stargazing. There’s the plush mini-salon where a stylist offers ladies complimentary hair and makeup touch-ups. There’s the Juliet Wall, where guests can pen a letter to Shakespeare’s most romantic heroine; the missives are pinned to a wall, collected and sent to Verona, Italy, where the fictional Juliet lived and, to this day, receives real mail from around the world. “I wanted this to be a fun and sexy experience because, frankly,” Fortier said, “fine dining can sometimes be a little boring.”

And then there’s the food, at once deceptively simple and completely over-the-top. At Tosca, it’s not just lobster you order, it’s the rare blue lobster said to occur once in every 2 million lobsters. It’s not just fresh fish on your plate, it’s fresh fish flown in daily from France and Italy. The featured salumi includes a 100 percent pure, acorn-fed pata negra ham, Spain’s ultimate delicacy. A fettuccini and mascarpone entrée is prepared table side by servers who torch the inside of a huge parmesan wheel, toss the pasta within it, then top it with delicate shavings of white alba truffles. “Our menu is the opposite of chef-driven. It’s ingredient-driven,” Fortier said. “We searched the world for the best ingredients and we serve them in the simplest way, not overly composed.” Because Tosca, he says, is ultimately about returning to the roots of good food. “No gimmicks,” Fortier said. “Just excellence.” —Betty Cortina-Weiss

Tosca: 210 23rd Street, Miami Beach, FL 33139. 786-216-7230,