It’s no secret that there’s lots of plastic surgery in South Florida, but no “facelift” has been more successful than that of Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Blvd. When it was constructed in 1917, Las Olas was just a dirt road crossing swampy wetlands. Post World War II it was developed as a commercial district and became famous in the movie “Where the Boys Are” In the 1980s, Las Olas went through a major renovation program and in the last 15 years has developed a nationwide reputation for high-end boutiques and trendy restaurants.
1032 E. Las Olas Blvd.
The latest addition to the dining options is Louie Bossi’s, a retro-Italian spot that has taken over the space formerly occupied by Solita. Patrons of the old space won’t recognize it, and the transformation is for the better. As re-imagined by the Big Time Restaurant Group, the 10,000 sq. ft. restaurant features five indoor and outdoor dining areas including a huge piazza, a salumi bar and a patio facing Las Olas. It is inspired by Italian-American neighborhood restaurants in New York and Chicago, albeit on steroids. All this would be a waste of time if the food weren’t good, and it’s not good, it’s great.
We kicked off our meal with a plate of olives and the bruschetta sampler, which seemed high-priced at $28. What we didn’t realize is that we’d be served pairs of the four different bruschetta; a lively caponata, prosciutto with peppers, mushroom conserve and finocchia fennel topped with fontina. There was more than enough for four to share, making it quite reasonably priced. I enjoyed a signature cocktail, the Cetriolo, a combination of sparkling wine, Canton ginger liquere and sweet and sour mix.
The “Arthur Ave.” antipasti salad features giardiniera, fava beans, provolone and salumi. Again, easily enough to serve four; abbodanza seems to be the theme of the menu. That is certainly the case with the bone-in 24 oz. rib-eye. Aged in house, the, huge chop sat all alone on the plate. It had great flavor, but for $42, they could have thrown on a vegetable or potato. A side of polenta, drowning in tomato sauce is not worth the $5 extra charge. Linguini Nero presented squid ink pasta with four huge, plump shrimp, perfectly prepared with chiles and rapini. Again, an oddly small portion of pasta for a $26 price tag.
If you’re a chocolate lover, order the budino, a rich thick pudding, topped with salted caramel, chopped hazelnuts and whipped cream. It is, quite possibly, the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life. A scoop of blackberry sorbetto was attractively presented with strawberry “ears,” marshmallow nose and chocolate nib eyes. The plate of cookies was less successful.
Louie Bossi’s is a bit crowded and frenetic; ask for a booth or a table on the piazza if you’d like a little elbow room and relief from the hustle and bustle. Service can be harried, but our server, Martin is a gem. Not only was he attentive, friendly and relaxed, but quite handsome. Opened less than two months, the place is consistently packed, even on off-season week-nights, so if you plan on checking it out, do so before it becomes impossible. Make no mistake, it’s a pricey place, but you get top quality fare. It’s about 20-30 percent cheaper at brunch and lunch and the bar’s happy hour features $2 off all drinks and half-priced pizzas from 4-7 p.m.
Four Other Las Olas Spots Worth Checking Out
Café De Paris
715 E. Las Olas Blvd.
Chef Louis Flematti and his wife Janine have been through Las Olas’ ups and downs for more than 40 years and have thrived because they do just one thing; prepare the best French bistro fare in town. Over the years, the restaurant has expanded, with three indoor dining areas as well as outdoor patio seating. The three course early bird (available from 5-6 p.m. and priced between $21-$28) or gourmet bird (available all night, priced between $27-$39) dinners are cheaper than a trip to Paris.
Fork & Balls
1301 E. Las Olas Blvd.
The meatball focused menu puts a fresh spin on the traditional comfort food, featuring all types of balls and combinations, including a number of vegetarian options. Examples include; traditional meatballs served with rapini, quinoa kale balls in coconut curry sauce, Southwestern pork meatballs with black beans, ground chicken meatballs with grilled romaine and pesto turkey meatballs on whole wheat spaghetti.
904 E. Las Olas Blvd.
Still going strong after 20 years, Mangos would be successful even if it only served its two signature dishes; snow crab bisque and chicken puff pie. Its menu offers a lot more though, including a damn good lobster roll and “Las Olas Shrimp,” served scampi style with artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and garlic butter over imported linguini. Happy hour specials include well drinks for $5, house wine for $6, domestic and draft beer for $3, $5 burgers and half off all appetizers with any drink purchase.
1313 East Las Olas Blvd.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that this is authentic Mexican fare, it is a good example of Mexican-American cuisine. The party-like atmosphere, no doubt enhanced by the 425 varieties of tequila, extends to tableside preparation of guacamole and margaritas prepared with house-made sour mix. The tortillas are hand-made cooked fresh on a comal, just as they are in Mexican kitchens.