It isn’t often that I become so enchanted by a dinner as I have during my recent experience at Bianca. Located within the iconic Delano hotel on South Beach, Bianca has taken over the space formerly occupied by Blue Door and is making a name for itself as perhaps the best Italian restaurant in Miami, which is a tough claim considering that Miami has so many celebrated authentic Italian restaurants. I admit that I don’t have an absolute favorite when it comes to cucina italiana, especially noting that Miami’s many Italian eateries offer different regional styles of the cuisine ranging from Piedmontese to Sardinian. However, after sampling Bianca’s Miami Spice prix fixe menu, not only do I have a new favorite to add to my list of Italian restaurants, I also have a restaurant to add to the top of my list of Miami Spice destinations this year.
Philippe Starck’s design is present throughout the Delano hotel, and it’s advisable to spend some time before or after dinner to lounge in the whimsical lobby or relax by the pool or in the garden, perhaps enjoying a cocktail at the bistro table located a few inches inside the hotel’s swimming pool. In contrast to the rest of the hotel’s fantastical atmosphere, the décor of Bianca is elegantly understated. The dining room is covered in a chocolatey carpet that helps absorb the sound and makes for a quieter dining experience. The high ceilings, along with the brown and beige drapes, tall mirrors, and plush banquettes make for an ambiance that is both warm and cool at the same time - a look that evokes the colors and warmth of the sands of the nearby beach while retaining the elegance of an almost regal dining room. The blond wood tables are perhaps the most refreshing detail in the décor in that they provide ample space for all the accoutrements of a fine dinner - wine, water, cocktails, napkins, silverware, plates, bread baskets, condiments - without making diners feel cramped. As my dining partner put it, Bianca never lets you feel crowded or claustrophobic, even with a table of nearly twelve sitting right next to us.
We commenced our dinner with a couple of cocktails: the Tuscan Sunset and the Diavolo. The Diavolo consisted of a combination of vodka, passion fruit, and chile served in a martini glass, and it offered a tart, sweet, and ever so slightly piquant libation that had an almost creamy mouthfeel to it despite the fact that it contained no cream or creme liqueur. The Tuscan Sunset was a simply inspired cocktail containing Jack Daniels, blood orange juice, and ginger beer that offered a perfect balance of smokiness from Jack Daniels, tartness from the blood orange, and warmth from the ginger beer. The cocktail is garnished with a fresh sprig of tarragon that you smell upon each sip of this long drink thus adding a subtle herbal element to the experience. It is definitely a perfect summer cocktail, and if choosing to dine al fresco, it is a must!
Shortly after our cocktails arrived, we were served a basket containing slices of crusty rustic bread and a piece of house-made olive bread along with a pat of butter, and saucer into which a server poured a generous measure of rich extra virgin olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. We then proceeded to order our first courses: I had the a Fonduta di Tartufo, and my dining partner had the Burrata & Prosciutto. Both appetizers arrived at the table on raised wooden platforms offering a rustic backdrop to the luxurious dishes resting on top. My dining partner adores burrata and orders it whenever she sees it on a menu. She conceded that Bianca’s imported burrata is better than any she’s had anywhere else, and after sampling a bite with a piece of imported prosciutto and a drizzle of balsamic reduction, I was compelled to agree. While most burratas exhibit a clear definition between the stretchy exterior and the creamy curds within, this particular one seamlessly melded the two layers offering a very subtle resistance on the exterior that yielded a smooth and creamy interior. My fonduta was finished with a server’s tableside addition of summer truffles and was served with grilled slices of the same rustic country bread that was present in our bread basket. The fonduta offered a creamy emulsion of texture and an initial burst of savoriness, followed by the tang of fontina cheese, and rounded out by the unmistakable flavor of fresh truffles. While I am usually one to share my courses with other diners, this was one dish that I kept almost entirely to myself, and it was at this moment that I began to realize that Bianca has a particular affinity for truffles, which is something that would pique any foodie’s interest.
For an entrée, I ordered the ossubucco on the manager’s recommendation, which I am glad I took. Ossobucco is one of those dishes that teeters on the edge of a knife between being underdone or overdone, and being too rich or too lean, yet Bianca’s version manages to remain perfectly balanced. The nearly four inch high shank arrived at the table on a bed of goat cheese-infused polenta drizzled with jus and melted in my mouth with just the right formula of meat, gelatin, and fat. The bone marrow was thoughtfully impaled with a demitasse spoon and crowned with a small mound of pine nut gremolata that offered just the right amount of textural contrast to the rest of the dish. The marrow was pure velvet in my mouth, and I was gleefully dipping my spoon into the bone like a child enjoying a sundae.
My dining partner had ordered the veal ravioli dressed with smoked ricotta and guanciale breadcrumbs. Although my ossobucco was magnificent, being a pasta lover I found myself having covetous thoughts about my dining partner’s entrée, which is what I will definitely be ordering on my next visit to Bianca. The smokiness of the ricotta reaches your palate before you even take a bite of the ravioli, creating a backdrop for the the layers of flavors and textures that are to come. Once a piece of the ravioli is in your mouth, you instantly feel the texture of the breadcrumbs and tiny bits of guanciale before biting into the slightly elastic pasta and finishing with the smooth and subtly meaty veal filling. As with my fonduta, this pasta dish was also topped with a shaving of fresh summer truffles at the table, along with a whisper of parmesan, which both enhance a dish that was already perfect.
I had seen truffles mentioned throughout the menu at Bianca but was a little skeptical about their use. I am a truffle aficionado. It is a glorious ingredient, but it is one that has been so often misused and abused in restaurants to the point of almost being cheapened. It seems as if any restaurant can make something luxe (and charge accordingly) by adding a few shavings of truffle or a drizzle of truffle oil. While the rest of our dinner at Bianca was nothing short of amazing, and I did appreciate the use of truffles throughout, I was skeptical about the use of truffles in their dessert and was asking myself whether this was just a overly decadent gimmick. Our waitress explained to us that the dessert offered during Miami Spice is something very different and new to the menu, and definitely unique, but the tone in her voice suggested that this was something that she felt very proud about. With that said, we were brought two trays each holding three miniature cake cones containing a swirl of truffle infused homemade ice cream topped with candied truffle bits that gave the effect of sprinkles. This was no gimmick! This was divinely inspired and demonstrated a respect for the fungus, as well as mastery of the ingredient. The chef doesn’t just know the truffle, he is intimately acquainted with it.
Having mentioned my love of truffles to our waitress and having seen how much we enjoyed our dessert, she offered us a new cocktail that they had just premiered that day called the Tartufo. Again I found myself thinking that now this has to be too much, and this is when things start to get out of hand. As with dessert at Bianca, I was more than pleasantly surprised at this concoction of truffle-infused vodka and a touch of cream with a rim of dark chocolate and salt. It was surprisingly light, not too sweet, and the bitterness of the chocolate along with the salt really brought out the complexity of truffle in this drink. It appears as if the kitchen isn’t the only place that has mastered the truffle!
Whether you are a lover of truffles or not, all of the cuisine at Bianca is impeccably prepared and demonstrates such a perfect balance of flavors and textures that play in varied layers and harmonies in your mouth. The chef not only commands an understanding of the truffle, but a mastery of the art of fine Italian cuisine. Bianca is a true gem in South Florida’s dining scene and a requirement for any serious gourmand during Miami Spice.
(ADVICE: Valet is $24 at the Delano and $15 when validated at the restaurant, and there is a minimum 15 minute wait to get your car when you’re ready to leave. It’s advisable to find street or garage parking if you wish to avoid a steep valet fee and long wait times)
Miami Spice prix fixe dinner is $39 per person at Bianca. Certain dishes have supplemental surcharges. For more information and to see the complete Miami Spice Menu for Bianca, please visit http://ilovemiamispice.com/participants/bianca.html.
Tomorrow, August 7th, from 8:00 to 11:00 PM guests can enjoy a complimentary Bianca Bellini with their meals while listening to live music on the terrace courtesy of The Alex Fox Trio
Bianca at Delano
1685 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 3313