I have a friend who says that Italian food is like sex: even when it’s bad, it’s good.
While I debate that (he’s never tasted my mother’s attempts at Italian cooking or slept with my first husband), I get his point. When you’re combining pasta, cheese, and sauce, how bad can it be? I don’t know if it was the cold weather snap or from watching The Godfather, but suddenly I was craving Italian food.
Di Farina Pasta
1915 E. Atlantic Ave., Pompano Beach
In the short time Di Farina Pasta has been open, it has developed a loyal following. On a recent Monday night visit not only was every table filled, but people were being turned away. The reason that they’re at Di Farina is the terrific food. The pasta and sauces are prepared in-house and impeccably made. Di Farina does a lot of daytime business with folks ordering fresh-made pasta and sauces to cook at home. At night it becomes an intimate dining room presided over by proprietor Emanuel Fernandez, who sounds and acts as if he was just assigned by Central Casting to play the charming owner of an Italian restaurant.
We began our meal with the antipasto platter featuring imported artichokes, olives, red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, grilled squash, and eggplant. Although delicious, it was a bit of a skimpy portion, barely enough for one alone, much less for a table to share. When we ordered the antipasto, Mr. Fernandez suggested we add the fresh mozzarella, which we did. We should have asked about the cost as it increased the price of the antipasto by 110%, and there was barely enough for four of us to get a sample of the admittedly delicious cheese.
The menu offers an unusual mix and match option in which you can pair your favorite pasta with any of the sauces available. Among the pasta options are, whole wheat penne, fusilli, gnocchi (the standard potato, red pepper, ricotta, or spinach), ravioli (stuffed with a choice of ricotta, spinach, chicken, or beef), sorrentina and pansotti (both with a variety of fillings), and fettuccine, linguine, pappardelle, spaghetti, or angel hair flavored with spinach, black squid ink, whole wheat, red pepper, or tricolor. The sauce pairings are just as varied including tomato, alfredo, Bolognese, lobster, puttanesca, arrabbiata, pesto, amatriciana, butter sage, olive oil and pepperoncini, and carbonara. Those lists are nowhere near complete, but I only have so much room. As if that weren’t enough variety, you can augment pasta dishes with meatballs, shrimp, tuna, chicken, meat ragu or salmon.
Additionally there are meat, chicken and fish-based entrees and pasta specials. On the night we dined there I opted for grilled octopus. Regular readers know that this is a dish that I use to judge a chef’s skills. Cooked too long, it is rubbery and chewy. Somehow the chef at Di Farina managed to make half the serving perfect, the other half until it was burnt to a crisp. The sauteed kale accompanying the dish was too salty to eat. Another diner in our party ordered the grass-fed NY strip with roasted potatoes and asparagus and all were perfectly prepared. Both pasta dishes were also cooked perfectly.
This restaurant is a family affair, and the service shows it. We had to ask numerous times for simple items such as a slice of lemon. In the evening, Farina offers an intimate ambiance for the dinner crowd, until they turn on the bright fluorescent lights in the deli display case. I kept expecting someone to come up and grill me about a crime. The only crime here is that Di Farina isn’t as good as it could be.
821 E. Las Olas
According to our server, Noodles Panini has been offering casual dining on Las Olas Blvd. for more than 20 years. And, although the rest of the history she gave us doesn’t match the story on the restaurant’s website, I don’t care. This is good Italian food, served with loving care and attention to detail.
At Noodles Panini they make their own mozzarella cheese, bake all desserts in-house, and make the soups, dressings, spreads, and sauces from scratch. Although the pasta is not made in-house, it is all imported from Italy.
We were dining with friends, including Rosalyn and Loren who had raved about the place, and at their suggestion we started with the bruschetta with warm mozzarella and tomato. You might think $18 a bit pricey for an appetizer, but it was enough for six of us to share. It is an entire loaf of bread topped with warm cheese and chopped tomatoes with balsamic dressing. The presentation was breathtaking, and we cleaned up every crumb. We also split the Caprese salad, again pricey at $19, but enough for a healthy entrée or for six to share.
Four of us ordered pasta. My hubby had the bombolotti (sort of a short rigatoni) with tomato sauce, while our friend Ed ordered the same pasta “alla Nicholas” which meant chunks of hot sausage, roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella topped by a charred chili pepper. Rosalyn and Loren shared linguine alfredo and grilled chicken. Ward and I had sandwiches, he opted for prosciutto di Parma with grilled artichokes, baby greens, and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on ciabatta and I tried vainly to finish chicken parmigiana on grilled ciabatta.
As full as we were, we still managed to try some of the desserts. The cannoli tray is easily enough for three to share and features perfect cannoli. A towering slice of carrot cake was among the best I’ve ever had, and the flourless chocolate cake was as rich and decadent as you’d expect.
Service was friendly, attentive, and efficient and even on a busy Saturday night, we never felt rushed. There’s a reason Noodles Panini has been so popular for so long.