Amazing little restaurant near me has the best pasta dishes and sauces around. I stopped in to see what the place looked like since it has been there for over 20 years and never went in! It was a small cozy romantic restaurant with italian music playing. I liked the round chandeliers and asked where he got them. I ordered the bucatini amatriciana and it was the best pasta I ever had in Fort Lauderdale.
5/10/2018 Found this place last week while doing an Internet search. I lucked out because it turned out to be excellent. Very friendly staff. Wonderful food. Great service.
I was a little sad that they happened to be out of the swordfish that night but my second choice of the Gnocchi turned out to be excellent. Probably the best I have had. My friend had the salmon and she found it delicious.
Beautiful Italian Restaurant Decor & Romantic Space
Miami Diner Restaurant Review
“I would like to thank you for a great evening experience, me and my other had a very nice and romantic time. The wine is excellent for the price and we will be seeing you again. I always like to visit different restaurants, to taste their gourmet food, cuisine, especially Italian is my favorite. Me and my friend have visited many restaurants in fort lauderdale and miami, tri-county area restaurants and bars, cafes and much more.
We walked by a small restaurant one day as we were going to the beach and grabbed a menu, so that we could return for some dinner on the way back.
It was excellent! The service was great and friendly people all around, the food was cooked with passion and this small romantic restaurant in fort lauderdale, was trendy, relaxed, kick-back kinda feel.
The music they played was italian lyrics and older italian songs, like Mina and Eros Ramazzotti, which went really good with the decor of the restaurant and the fine italian cuisine.”
“On a dark overcast day, I was on my way to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, when I spotted a small ‘hole in the wall’ type restaurant as I was sitting in traffic. I thought to my self, I might as well pull in since I am close to the entrance to satisfy my craving for food.
Soon I realized it was a cozy atmosphere with friendly people. I told them about my small trip to England regarding my work as a computer tech and business owner of dedicated server hosting company, and I thought to myself thought nobody would ever reproduce what I’ve eaten in Italy.
I was wrong, as soon as I brought the fork up to my mouth I tasted the flavor which had brought me back memories of when I was in Italy. As far as I was concerned, I was in Italy for a day!”
The spaghetti carbonara is the BEST I’ve ever had!
_ Albert James,President and CEO Synchronized Dynamics, Inc.
It seems as if I spend my life in Italian restaurants picking apart menus, dining rooms and meals, trying to discern the relative value of a dining experience. But the truth is that I believe the best restaurants, Italian or otherwise, are not necessarily the ones with the finest Riedel glasses, French- trained waiters and the oldest balsamic vinegar — though that certainly can help — but rather those that give diners a good feeling of welcoming and home. The ones that convey a feeling of conviviality, that entice the appetite not only with fine food but with fine hospitality.
Café Italia is just such a place. Though the decor is strictly generic strip mall and the tableware equally unimpressive, owner Francesco Lapi is such an omnipresent source of warmth that it is hard to find much fault with the place.
On a recent Wednesday, my husband and a friend visiting from Alabama stopped for a late dinner. Lapi greeted us literally with open arms, seating us and asking how we knew about his 8- year-old storefront.
He immediately dispatched a waiter to bring us bread and take our drink orders, but Lapi came back to describe his wine-by-the-bottle collection, lacking a list. With some slight prompting he was happy to tell us the prices, which ranged from about $20 for a simple Chianti to more than $100. We chose a velvety Amarone that was perfect for sipping with the crusty peasant bread. As for the bread, it would have been better warmed and accompanied by olive oil instead of butter, which, incidentally, is served in fast-food-style foil blocks.
We took some time to look over the simple and compact menu with dishes mostly from central Italy but with some representative favorites from all over the boot. It turns out Lapi is from the Abruzzo.
For appetizers we chose eggplant rollatini ($5.99), two evenly breaded and gently fried fillets rolled around a warm filling of ricotta cheese and an untraditional flower of broccoli. It was covered in a sauce of crushed tomatoes that was tangy and fresh if not exciting.
We also sampled the rappini, known in my family as broccoli di rabe ($6.99) and found it to be just fine. The tender and pleasantly bitter leaves were bathed in olive oil and accompanied by half a dozen garlic cloves sauté ed to a perfect golden brown.
A simple bowl of pasta e fagioli ($3.99) was hearty and satisfying with lots of beans and enough ditalini that was perhaps a bit too mushy, some celery and tomatoes, and the requisite herbs.
Like the other dishes it could have used salt and maybe crushed red pepper to liven it up a bit.
With such generous portions it was hard to think about main courses but they arrived quickly.
The yellowtail snapper, ($17.99) the restaurant’s signature dish, was fantastic. The fish was light and moist and served with the tail rakishly draped off the plate. It was accented with a lovely sauce of tomatoes, garlic and button mushrooms, with a slight hint of white wine. A bowl of al dente pasta was a competent accompaniment.
But the pasta that would bring me back was the spaghetti carbonara ($13.99), which my husband ordered. I don’t know how he always ends up ordering the best thing on the menu. But that is another story!
The perfectly al dente strands of dense pasta were coated with a rich sauce that brought to mind a perfectly poached egg with a vibrant flavor and color of the golden egg yolk enhanced by delicate strips of smoky pancetta and a good dose of black pepper.
We decided to skip dessert since the waiter fessed up that they were shipped in by a commercial producer. Nonetheless, coffees, espresso and American, were uniformly good on their own.
I’d go back to Café Italia if not for the spectacular food, then for the pleasant and personable service, moderate prices, the relaxed setting and a pasta that inspires cravings just thinking about it.
Warm welcome makes Cafe Italia special
_ Critic Victoria Pesce Elliott The Herald Dining Section
Spend just five minutes in Francesco Lapi’s Cafe Italia, and there’s little doubt that this professional lives his passion. An evening in this restaurant on the ground floor of an office building begins with a warm welcome followed by seating at one of 14 or so linen-covered tables. The unpretentious decor — walls painted a soothing fresco of deeply vibrant hues, each color playing nicely off the other — dovetails with the simplicity of the food.
It’s a subtle itailan menu, with moderate pricing and Italian standards, prepared Abruzzi style — sometimes excelling well beyond regional confines. Look for lasagna ala Bolognese; eggplant parmigiana; chicken cacciatore; zuppa di pesce; veal saltimbocca; and roast leg of lamb.
The perfect little italian restaurant near me
Best of all, every table receives Lapi’s personal service and attention, in a one-man show supported by a small wait staff. He keeps the wine list in his head, so give him a rough idea of what you like and he’ll deliver appropriate selections.
Ask a few questions about the food and watch him shine. Don’t be surprised if he returns from the kitchen with bags of durum semolina pasta, or some other ingredient he thinks might interest you, to show his quality wares first hand. And, if you seem to be over-ordering, expect a gentle warning. Most portion sizes are large and there’s a quick caution about too many appetizers spoiling your entrees. It’s sort of like eating at your mother’s house — and I say that in the most loving sort of way.
Start with eggplant rollatini — unbreaded eggplant wrapped around bits of broccoli, topped with melted cheese and a delicate tomato sauce. Or, savor pleasing interpretations of refreshing salad caprese or prosciutto with melon.
I like risotto as a first course, so it wasn’t long before we reveled in Lapi’s risotto con porcini. This rice has the perfect bite and texture. The flavors of porcini mushrooms and onions marry beautifully.
Ditto on a richly luscious spaghetti carbonara — pasta cooked al dente, tossed with crispy pancetta, egg yolk, parmigiana and black pepper.
There was no leg of lamb prepared when we visited, so we took solace in the four gorgeous seared lamb chops Lapi recommended instead. Bathed in oil and garlic, the meat was nearly soft enough to cut with a fork.
Chicken marsala brought a plateful of boneless breasts with plenty of mushrooms in a sauce edging to the sweet and oily side, but the flavors were terrific.
The osso buco aficionado at our table thought was reasonable for the quality and quantity of tender veal slow-cooked in tomato sauce with celery, onions, carrots and red wine — and so did everyone who sampled it.
If you want an exquisite fresh fish experience, there’s no better choice than the signature yellowtail snapper. This stunning whole fish presentation (minus the head), arrives with its tail rising off the plate like a phoenix poised for flight. Mushrooms, diced tomatoes, wine and garlic delicately perfume the snow-white meat.
On the other hand, be sure you like porcinis before you order paparadelle mare e monti, a pasta and shrimp dish too intense with porcini flavors that also carried some unfortunately overcooked shrimp.
Have semifreddo cafe for dessert; it’s like chocolate mocha ice cream, or good American-style cheesecake with a crisp chocolate crust. While savoring the extra-creamy qualities, ponder this: What better way to experience a service business than with a man who works from his heart?
Critic Judith Stock Sun Sentinel Dining Correspondent
You could visit an Italian restaurant every night of the year and still not exhaust all the choices in South Florida. But while dining recently at Cafe Italia in Fort Lauderdale, something hit us: “Hey,” we thought, “we’re eating real Italian food.” And what’s more, virtually everyone dining at this small, unpretentious cafe was speaking Italian, a sign there’s authenticity coming out of la cucina.
Owner Francesco Lapi grew up in Abruzzo by the Adriatic Sea. His early memories stretch back to days spent on the beach and dinners of fresh fish cooked simply with the best ingredients — no compromises. It is these recipes, prepared by his mother and grandmother, a former professor at Villa Santa Maria, the famed Italian cooking school where Lapi learned much about his trade, that he now serves in his cafe.
Cafe Italia, open two and a half years, is easy to miss in the Roselli Office Building on North Federal Highway, a few doors from the exotic dancing action at Pure Platinum. Nobody’s dancing on these tables, draped with white tablecloths and cloth napkins. But if Cafe Italia lacks exotic excitement or the glamour of a pricier joint, it does commit to good food that won’t empty your wallet —
Allure of Italy
There’s a quirky, but Old-World charm. Inside the homey dining area, which seats 50 (another 16 seats are outside), shelves are lined with Italian wines; opera plays in the background. Lapi makes the rounds, teasing kids and giving you advice about what you should order. “You don’t need an appetizer — portions are big; you’ll take it all home. . . . Forget soup; it’s summer.” And he’s right. There’s much to eat without the extras, but you don’t have to overdo Italian. The misconception is that Italian food is heavy and reeking with garlic, but well- prepared Italian food is made with light sauces and enhanced, not overwhelmed, by garlic and onion.
So no garlicky rolls dripping with oil at Cafe Italia. You get Italian bread, not heated, but very fresh and quickly replenished. After first advising us against an appetizer, Lapi sensed we wanted to try something and told the server to bring Caprese. The slices of mozzarella (we learned they often have imported buffalo mozzarella, so ask for it) are of fine quality, sprinkled with oil and basil, atop tomatoes.
Complimentary salads are often a tiny bowl of iceberg, but here you get a big plate with firm ruby tomato wedges, served atop four types of lettuce, shredded carrots and sliced cucumbers, all garden fresh, served with oil and vinegar and Parmesan cheese on the side. You can also request a homemade Balsamic vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil, oregano and Parmesan.
Along with the regular menu, which offers 15 plus entrees, there’s a list of nightly specials.
Yellowtail snapper, a fresh catch this night, was excellent. Finding fish of this quality at this price in South Florida is a rare catch indeed. Presentation was terrific: The fish was butterflied, tail intact, the succulent white meat exposed. The fish was sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil (Lapi always stresses this point) and wine — a good Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, not cooking wine — with chopped tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and garnished with black olives. The fish was cooked not a moment too long, oozing juices, each bite worth savoring.
It made us wish we had ordered other seafood dishes, like Trio Adriatica, with shrimp, scallops and clams, or slow-cooked salmon. But Cafe Italia also does a good job with meat. You can get items like filet mignon in a light cream sauce or osso buco, but we chose chicken. The classic Marsala was buttery tender, thin slices of chicken sauteed with garlic and Marsala, with sliced mushrooms. The sauce is fragrant, slightly sweet from the wine. Entrees come with your choice of spaghetti, linguine, penne or rigatoni, properly al dente and with a light tomato sauce.
Chicken cacciatore is a simple dish elevated, but not dominated, by a wonderful sauce of mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, garlic, wine and green peppers. You can actually taste the chicken, seasoned with rosemary.
Cannoli was the only item remaining for dessert this eve. The cafe was out of the large pastry shells, so we were given two small ones, light and crisp, not at all greasy, filled with a light, whipped ricotta. It’s a sweet way to end your meal. Top it off with a cup of cappuccino or a glass of wine and you’ll want to say Bravo, Cafe Italia Fort Lauderdale!
When people recommend restaurants, I always listen, then take their suggestions with a grain of salt. But a friend called recently, and when he calls, I pay close attention, because he rarely raves about restaurants.
Said friend first learned to cook at his Italian grandmother’s knee before going to professional cooking schools in the Northeast and Europe. He is also the owner and chef of one of South Florida’s finest seafood restaurants.
So when he said the nine-year-old Cafe Italia serves the finest Italian food this side of the Old Country, his recommendation, hyperbole aside, did not go unheeded.
The Cafe occupies the ground floor of an office building on Federal Highway midway between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Plate glass windows form two exterior walls, and the side facing the building’s lobby is covered with large, colorful posters.
Wall sections are painted lime green, butterscotch or a light cranberry, and a dark-wood bar sits in front of the wall opposite the posters. Tablecloths and napkins are starched white linen. Decor is unpretentious at best, but here the food’s the thing.
Francesco Lapi is the owner and chef of the cafe. He is a short, relatively quiet man but becomes quite animated when discussing his food, and the pride in his voice is clearly discernible.
He is proud of the food he buys, which is always first-quality and mostly Italian, and he will bring some of his ingredients to your table even without your asking — not to show off but to reinforce the notion that he does things his way.
His menu contains nothing you wouldn’t find in many other Italian restaurants, but everything he cooks just tastes different than anything you’ve had elsewhere. Ingredients are uncommonly fresh, pastas are strictly Italian, and his sublime sauces are rich with flavor but ethereally light.
Take his eggplant rollatini, for example. Despite the melted cheese, bits of bright-green broccoli stuffed within and very tomatoey and exceptionally light sauce, the taste of just-picked eggplant remained the mainstay of the dish. This is one dish you won’t quickly forget.
Other appetizers are simple affairs but as good as they get. Broccoli raab and Caprese salad, thick tomato slices with smoky mozzarella, made outstanding starters. And Mediterranean flat bread and prosciutto with melon were equally delicious.
The pasta dishes we tried were sublime. Spaghetti alla carbonara combines pasta with pancetta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper and an egg yolk for a mingling of flavors that will linger long after the end of the meal.
Lapi marries wide pappardelle noodles with thick, strongly aromatic and earthy porcini mushrooms. He then adds large, succulent shrimp that are perfectly cooked, tosses in garlic and wine and finishes the mixture in a heady but light cream sauce that is also unforgettable.
The lusty aromas from the dish reach your table long before the food does — a clear indication of just how wonderful it is. The cafe also serves porcini mushrooms with wine and perfectly cooked risotto.
Exceptionally firm penne mixes well in a cream sauce garnished with olives, crisp broccoli florets and mushrooms. And if you like lasagna, Lapi layers the noodles with a light bechamel sauce and mozzarella that melts like lava, then tops it all with his exceptional Bolognese sauce.
The usual chicken and veal dishes — cacciatore, Milanese, Livornese and Marsala — are available, and every one is several steps ahead of the competition.
Osso buco and roasted leg of lamb are also served. Seafood offerings include dolphin, salmon, tuna, sole and snapper.
Yellowtail snapper is Lapi’s signature dish, and it was extraordinary in its simplicity. Half a snapper, with its yellow tail perched at the end of the plate, was so fresh it had probably been caught the afternoon of our visit.
It sat in a wine-and- garlic sauce and was garnished with button mushrooms and diced tomatoes — so simple, yet so delectable. Snapper never tasted like this.
Given the flavors of previous courses, we could never expect desserts to measure up. They were very good but below the standards set by the rest of the meal.
Tiramisu was soaked with liquor, and the top layer of custard quivered when we touched it. Ricotta cheesecake was nice and not too sweet, but the chocolate mousse was served nearly frozen. Still, Cafe Italia does Italian food like no other restaurant, and will forever change your thinking on Italian cooking.