Few restaurant empires have as unique a story as that of Serafina. Two best friends, Vittorio Assaf and Fabio Granato, were stranded in Hampton Bay one day during a horrific storm and made a pact to each other if they came out of it alive: to open a restaurant serving the best pizza and pasta in the world. Nine restaurants later, including one in São Paulo, the have finally reached the Sunshine State and have continued to make South Beach one of the most delicious concentrations of authentic Italian cuisine. Occupying the space attached to the Dream South Beach Hotel that formerly housed Tudor House, Serafina’s Miami Beach location is in the heart of all the action, making it the perfect stop to savor exquisitely prepared northern Italian cuisine before enjoying an evening of SoBe’s legendary nightlife. A recent dinner at Serafina demonstrated that besides an unwavering dedication to quality, the driving force behind Serafina’s success throughout the world is a love and passion for food that can be felt and tasted everywhere at this restaurant
Serafina offers over twenty four varieties of pizza that range from the original Neapolitan style to the more luxurious truffle pizza that my dining partner and I sampled during our visit. Truffles seem to be more popular than ever, and while we have historically associated this alluring fungus to the French haute cuisine, the simple, almost zen-like approach that Italian cuisine takes in promoting its unique flavors can now be found all over Miami. While other restaurants consider a drizzle of truffle oil enough to call a pizza a “truffle pizza,” Serafina features the truffle in multiple ways on their elegant pizza: truffle cheese, shaved black truffles, and a drizzle of truffle oil in addition to the combination of robiola and fontina cheeses. While other truffle pizzas in Miami can be overpowering, Serafina’s version is elegant and subtle, and the selection of cheeses, as well as the burnished and slightly chewy crust, elevate the truffle without distracting from it. Truffles are featured again on Serafina’s menu in an appetizer that my dining partner likened to a sophisticated take on meat and potatoes - a beef carpaccio with a warm potato and truffle sauce. A large plate is covered in a thin veil of sliced filet with a centerpiece of toothsome cubes of warm potato with shaved black truffles - a welcome and unique change from the usual arugula and vinaigrette. The carpaccio, potatoes, and truffle sauce seemed to melt into each other and offered a velvety mouthfeel.
Another generous appetizer of prosciutto di Parma with imported buffalo mozzarella proved how quality ingredients can stand alone and make a dish beyond memorable. While other restaurants are keen on drizzling their mozzarella with olive oil or a vinaigrette, the staff at Serafina that such embellishments would only distract from the nuanced flavors of such a high quality mozzarella. Upon savoring the creamy and tangy notes of the cheese, I have to agree with the staff’s expert opinion. Such a delicious buffalo mozzarella needs absolutely nothing else but a fork! A few appetizer salads demonstrated Chef Marco Zuccala’s ability to incorporate international elements into his cuisine, such as the very South Florida-inspired branzino ceviche with mango, papaya, and finely diced avocado that was a pleasant nod to our local food culture while still remaining true to the subtle flavors of Italian cuisine. A very Eastern Mediterranean-inspired watermelon salad with crumbled feta and mint was equally elegant, refreshing, and would make a perfect post beach repast.
Keeping in mind that Vittorio and Fabio made a pact to serve the best pasta in the world, a meal at Serafina could not possibly be complete without sampling one of their beautifully conceived pasta dishes. On this occasion, my dining partner and I sampled a very traditional - but perfectly prepared - paglia e fieno with a simple tomato and basil sauce finished with a touch of cream and parmesan. The house-made flat pasta, a combination of spinach and plain noodles, is said to resemble straw and hay (hence the meaning of the name) and offered that perfect progression of a toothsome bite leading to tenderness. The sauce was light enough to accentuate the pasta and flavorful enough to require absolutely nothing else! The other pasta dish that we sampled was farfalle al limoncello, perhaps one of the more vibrant and interesting pasta dishes that I have tried. As the name implies, this dish of bowtie pasta with baby shrimp in a cream sauce is spiked with good measure of the lemon liqueur from Capri, along with a squeeze of lemon juice and a few grates of zest. It is truly one of the more unique pasta dishes on the menu and manages to be satisfyingly rich and light at the same time.
In following with Italian dining tradition, we followed our pasta dishes with our secondi piatti and were both treated to two delicious fish dishes. A branzino filet baked on lemon slices topped a flavorful pepperonata and was accompanied by roasted brussels sprout halves. The dish was finished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, poured tableside, that really brought the fish to life. Another entrée of sea bass wrapped in shaved potatoes on a bed of braised leeks and fennel with a pinot grigio reduction is definitely a dish to order. The crispy potato encased tender seabass, and the leeks and fennel seemed to melt in my mouth, while the pinot grigio reduction was simply addictive!
I sometimes pass on dessert at most Italian restaurants, especially if it consists of tiramisù, which I’ve always found to be heavy, cloyingly sweet, and possessing an off-putting acidity from too much espresso at most restaurants. The staff at Serafina insisted that I try their version, and judging from their recommendations throughout the rest of the evening, who was I to refuse? We sampled a trio of tiramisù - a first in my experience - that consisted of the traditional variety paired with a strawberry and a green tea version. The green tea tiramisù was perhaps my favorite with the astringency of the matcha, as well as its vibrant green color - offering a counterbalance to the richness of the mascarpone and lady fingers. The strawberry rendition, topped with crumbled dehydrated strawberries, was delicious, but I was most surprised at how much I enjoyed Serafina’s traditional tiramisù. Light as air, subtly sweet, and offering a hint of espresso flavor, Serafina’s interpretation of this Italian classic makes one wonder if Vittorio and Fabio didn’t also make a pact to serve the world’s best tiramisù along with the best pizza and pasta.
The other dessert we sampled is also a must at Serafina but is, fortunately, light enough to have in addition to any other dessert...in fact, it can almost be seen as an after dinner cocktail but in solid form. Serafina’s alcohol-infused popsicles make for perhaps one of the most ideal endings to a meal when the temperatures soar on SoBe. We sampled an assortment that included a classic combination of champagne and strawberries, as well as tequila and passion fruit, and vodka and watermelon. Each of them offered a refreshing fruit flavor, as well as enough liquor to provide a slight buzz. The playful nature of this dessert truly declared what Serafina is all about: reminding us that a good meal is meant to be enjoyable and bring a smile to your face. With a winning combination of excellent ingredients, perfect preparation, warm hospitality, and a touch of playfulness, Serafina certainly brought a smile to my face and is sure to bring me many more enjoyable meals.
Serafina Dream South Beach
111 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139