Midtown is a funny place. Anchored by Target and WalMart, it seems to be unclear as to whether or not it wants to be a mall or a walk able neighborhood for the many condo and rental residents who live there.
As far as food goes, it is equally confusing with some top restaurants, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, Salumeria 104 , Bocce and BlackBrick on one side, and Five Guys, Hurricane Wings and 100 Mondaditos and many popular Sports bars cropping up almost daily one block over.
Parking is great, $2- for 2 hours in the garages and Midtown is pretty accessible to I-95/195 and both downtown and the beach.
So it was with some trepidation that I strolled into Riviera Foccaceria one evening at the glowing recommendations of GourmandJ, Wokstar and Sara Liss among others. Sandwiched between a busy sports bar and Giraffas, it seemed an unlikely spot for good food.
It was early, but Riviera was already well staffed and the open kitchen was buzzing for the handful of diners seeking fresh and authentic Ligurian cuisine.
I love Italian food... Northern Italy with its cream based meat dishes, Southern Italy with its red sauce heavy items, but Liguria? Never knew it had it’s own cuisine, much less even where Liguria was.
Liguria is a narrow, mountainous coastal strip of northwestern Italy that includes the famed Italian Riviera resort towns of San Remo and Portofino as well as the iconic Cinque Terre, a collection of five small villages situated in one of the most beautiful stretches of the Mediterranean coastline. Liguria's main city is Genoa, the hometown of Christopher Columbus and a melting pot of Southern French and Northern Italian culture, history, and architecture…and cuisine.
Ligurian cuisine is all about the Focaccia. And not the doughy thick focaccia offered as Panini sandwich bread, but a very light and airy mix of flour, olive oil and water stretched thinly into a pan and topped with a number of delicious toppings. This is not a pizza, repeat not a pizza. It is a flavorful, light dish perfect as a starter or main course.
After consuming almost singlehandedly, Focaccia di Recco “Pizzata”, with homemade tomato sauce, imported stracchino cheese and capers, I did not feel full or like I had eaten an entire pizza.
Our server encouraged us to also try the simple focaccia, lightly dusted with olive oil, and the thinly sliced zucchini and Parmesan cheese focaccia and basic tomato topped. All were flavorful and light and easily consumed in a matter of minutes.
Next we decided to try to fresh daily-homemade pastas. These are made daily with all imported ingredients by Chef and Mastro Focaccere, Massimo Travaglini. Again, no angel hair, bow ties or linguini here, but, Spaghettini al Pomodoro, authentic thick spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce, Taglierini Neri al Ragu di Mare, black ink taglierini with Ligurian mussels, red snapper, octopus and tomato ragu, and our favorite, Mandilli di Seta al Pesto, homemade handkerchief style pasta with a fresh basil pesto like one I had never had before.
Everyone beamed with pride when I asked about the pesto. While the basic recipe is straightforward, basil, pine nuts, parmigiano cheese, EVOO and garlic, he explained that it was the quality of the basil that made the difference. Riviera’s owner had sampled basil from all over the country and Florida and had selected a special organic basil from a “secret” ( wink wink ) location. Order this dish and see for yourself.
Other dining options include La Superba, named after Genova’s nickname, a grand selection of Italian imported salami, cheeses, olives and focaccia. And main dishes with an emphasis on the coastal fishing off Liguria. Polpo Riviera, a poached octopus with cherry tomatoes and olives, and Baccala “Vegia Zena”, a pan-seared Mediterranean cod with tomato sauce, olives, capers and potatoes.
Wine and beer are available and the best news of all is that Riviera’s focaccia, pasta and sauces can be also be purchased to take home for enjoyment with your family and friends.
After paying my $2- to park, I drove home having thoroughly enjoyed my unexpected visit to Liguria.
3252 NE Buena Vista Blvd/ The Shops at Midtown
Miami, FL 33127
786 220 6251