As our good old friends from Cheers would say, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. At Luca Bella, a newly-opened Italian restaurant in Aventura, if they don’t know your name, they sure will get to know it.
As any family owned restaurant worth its salt would, the folks at Luca Bella do an incredible job of making you feel like part of the family. With more than 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry, owner Michael Maltese is brining Aventura some of the most delicious and authentic Italian food in South Florida. You can find Maltese front and center greeting patrons, engaging in conversation, serving food and speaking passionately about what they do. The restaurant, named after his son, Marcelo Luca and his daughter, Isabella, just recently opened in February, but it’s clear that these people are no noobs in the kitchen, as was evident the moment I walked in.
After being seated, we were started off with warm, crusty bread, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a roasted garlic olive oil. Tender and slightly charred cloves of garlic infused the olive oil so that it was flavorful without being overpowering. When the warm bread soaked that up, it was one of those simple pleasures that just makes you feel good inside - the perfect prelude to what was to come.
The friendly service spills onto the servers. Our server, Jose, kindly began to explain the specials for the day and then on to how the menu worked. The family style dining concept is taken very seriously here. A full portion is meant for sharing and a half portion is a regular entrée size (or at least that's what they say).
We began with a half portion of the classic fried calamari with marinara dipping sauce. I was sure they had made a mistake when I saw the size of the plate, but nope, it was in fact the half portion. This was when I was assured that these people are just as generous with their portions as they are welcoming to their guests. The calamari was fried crisp and the breading was surprisingly light. The main attraction here, however, was the marinara sauce. I realized that the reason why they provided us with so much bread in the beginning was so that we could use it to mop up the remaining marinara. I mean, obviously, right? Michael explained that it’s all about using the right ingredients when it comes to marinara; “so many people think it’s something so complex that needs to be cooked for hours, but really all you need are some San Marzano tomatoes, a good olive oil, garlic and fresh parsley” says Maltese. The combination of such simple ingredients creates a homey flavor and chunky consistency that’s addictive, to say the least.
The theme of the monstrous portions continued as our main courses were placed in front of us: for me, the wild mushroom ravioli in cream sauce, and for my date, eggplant parmigiana. The ravioli on my plate were like little pouches of love. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the mushrooms inside were not pureed as they normally are but coarsely chopped and incredibly tender. The cream sauce they were in was rich and velvety - the kind that coats your spoon ever so evenly. Its beige color, which can be attributed to the dried porcinis mixed within, added a depth of flavor that was truly distinct and brought this dish to a whole new level. The eggplant parmigiana was not your average eggplant parm; what made this dish so special was the mere simplicity of it. Unlike others, the eggplant was not fried or breaded in any way. It simply consisted of thick-cut slices of eggplant topped with more of their perfect marinara, good quality mozzarella and baked until the cheese was melted and the eggplant cooked through. A quick sprinkle of Italian parsley and it was ready to serve! Once you cut through the still-bubbling cheese and sauce, the eggplant was revealed with a texture that wasn't so soft to the point where it just breaks apart, yet not too firm, either; the classic combination of these flavors and textures is a force to be reckoned with. It was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had.
The family style theme of this restaurant lies not only in their portions, but also in the atmosphere. What better way to bring your family together for a special occasion than with the act of sharing delicious food served by genuinely good people? While there, I witnessed the guests calling their servers by name, laughing with them and even hugging them as they left. Luca Bella is a place you go to eat well and feel even better.
19088 NE 29 Avenue, Aventura, FL 33180