By Mitchell Nover
Macchialina (820 Alton Rd, Miami Beach) is a true South Beach success story. Holding its own for years now in a light traffic area of Alton Road (well, light foot traffic anyway), the restaurant is the kind of place you’d expect to stumble into walking the streets of New York. It’s small and intimate, dark and stylish. The decor gives off vibes of a cozy hole-in-the-wall type of spot that reads more neighborhood Italian joint than trendy trattoria.
Menu highlights: Similar to the ambiance, the food is best described as simple and approachable Italian fare that is also modern and bold in its own right. Chef Michael Pirolo’s menu is highlighted by seasonal, clean flavors, fresh ingredients and rustic accents that, in my mind, are best enjoyed as part of his tasting menu.
Macchaliana’s Chef’s Tasting Menu consists of five courses at the very affordable cost of $55 per person. The tasting menu changes on a seasonal basis, which could be daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the available ingredients. My visit was on a late fall evening, and while you probably won’t get to eat exactly what I recap below, that’s kind of the fun of it, right? No matter what, you can be damn sure it will be delicious.
After a bruschetta-inspired tartine as an amuse bouche to get the party going, my meal kicked into high gear right away with a couple of the restaurant’s antipasti favorites: Creamy Polenta with a Proper Sausages “Macchialina blend” sausage ragu, and Broccolini al Cesare with toasted garlic, poached egg, and parmigiano. Both dishes are elegant, modern takes on homestyle Italian classics. They may sound heavy, but they are surprisingly light and set the tone for even more greatness to come.
Speaking of greatness, the Mediterranean Branzino was perhaps one of the best fish dishes I’ve eaten all year. Served with yukon gold potatoes, brown butter, and capers, there are no frills and nowhere to hide. If it weren’t cook perfectly, it might be just another generic branzino entree. But fear not, Chef Pirolo knows how to make the seemingly mundane into something magical.
The desserts, just like the rest of the menu, might seem standard on paper. But in practice, they’re nothing short of top-notch. Not traditionally a fan of Tiramisu, the Macchialina version might just have me converted thanks to its non-traditional presentation and incorporation of espresso-flavored shaved ice instead of the regular coffee-soaked cake. Additionally, the Banana Bread Pudding with its big chunks of warm banana and drizzled caramel, provided a truly sweet end to a memorable meal.
Standout dish: Did you really think I was gonna get through the post without some pasta? No signore, I was just saving the best for last. As we all know, at the heart of Italian cuisine is the magic of beautiful, handmade pasta, and at Macchialina, all of the pastas served are made by hand. As is the rest of the menu, their award-winning pastas are inspired by fresh, local ingredients and combined in seasonal and imaginative ways by the deft hand of Chef Pirolo.
As such, the third course of the tasting menu brought a three-for-one punch of pasta perfection: Cavatelli Macchialina with baby meatballs, porchetta, and pecorino; Beet Mezzaluna with hazelnuts, brown butter, and ricotta salata; and Tagliolini ai Funghi with abalone mushrooms, parmigiano, and parsley.
Pro tip: if you’re craving some pasta, but aren’t up for the full tasting menu experience, check out Macchialina’s Pasta Thursdays, which offers $10 pastas all night long. #YoureWelcome
Are we boozing? Considering those five courses come in at a shocking $55 per person, there’s no reason not to splurge for the wine pairings for an additional $28. From Prosecco to Chianti and Müller Thurgau to Vin Santo, the wines range from refreshing to bold to tart to sweet. They’re interesting and unique and serve as the perfect accompaniments to Chef Pirolo’s food. From antipasti to dessert, you really can’t go wrong.
Mitch’s take: In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m a huge fan of Macchialina. If I lived closer to the Beach, I could see this being a regular hangout of mine. Did I mention $10 Pasta Thursdays? Yeah, I thought so. But anyway, since it’s not, I’m happy to check in every now and again to see with Chef Pirolo is up to via his amazing tasting menu. You should consider doing the same.