A com­fort­able, safe Ital­ian re­vival

Prezzo in Boca Ra­ton re­launches a pop­u­lar spot

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - DINING - By Michael Mayo

Re­boots are all the rage on tele­vi­sion, so why not with restau­rants? Take a com­fort­able old for­mula, sprin­kle in a few mod­ern twists and voila — suc­cess should be as­sured so long as the pre­vi­ous fan base is still alive, a few fresh faces check it out and no­body mucks up things too badly along the way. A pinch of drama doesn’t hurt, pro­vided it all works out in the end, and ev­ery­one goes home happy.

That pretty much sums up the re­vival of Prezzo in Boca Ra­ton by vet­eran restau­ra­teur Burt Rapoport. The new Prezzo, which opened Christ­mas week 2017, is a safe and com­fort­ing jour­ney to the past that also stacks up well in the present. Prezzo was a pop­u­lar Ital­ian restau­rant that had le­gions of fans and mul­ti­ple South Florida lo­ca­tions in the 1990s. A meal at the re­launched ver­sion be­gins with a com­pli­men­tary bulb of fresh-roasted gar­lic with sweet cloves baked to golden creami­ness, which can then be smeared on fresh-baked fo­cac­cia bread­sticks, just like the old days. Ameal can end with the sig­na­ture dessert of ap­ple tart, crisped golden in the wood-burn­ing oven, just like the old days. In be­tween comes a va­ri­ety of Ital­ian stan­dards — piz­zas, pas­tas, meats, seafood — that are not par­tic­u­larly in­no­va­tive but nev­er­the­less sat­is­fy­ing.

The pan-roasted clams ($16) were per­fectly cooked in a spicy, gar­licky tomato broth that we wouldn’t let the staff clear un­til all the juice was prop­erly sopped and soaked with bread. The fried cala­mari ($14) could have been a bit crisper and blot­ted a bit bet­ter to re­move ex­cess oil, but the fresh squid was ten­der and tasty. A sim­ple salad of sea­sonal greens ($10) had light and vi­brant vi­nai­grette and sweet slices of ap­ple with toasted wal­nuts.

The ap­pe­tiz­ers al­layed my worst fears. It turns out the new lo­ca­tion of Prezzo was not jinxed af­ter all. Walk­ing into the Park Place shop­ping plaza on a re­cent Satur­day night, I was filled with trep­i­da­tion. Prezzo opened in the same site where two Rapoport del­i­catessen con­cepts flopped last year, first Rappy’s (an ode to his late fa­ther,

KThe Fruitti de mare with shrimp cala­mari, mus­sels, clams, lin­guine, olive oil and tomato.

JThe grilled pork chop scot­todito is spice and herb rubbed and served with sweet and hot pep­pers. who ran a kosher dairy restau­rant in New York) and then Park Place Deli, which fea­tured lower prices and more tra­di­tional menu items af­ter the lo­cals re­belled against Rappy’s mod­ern twists such as veg­e­tar­ian chopped liver made from lentils and al­co­hol-spiked milk­shakes.

From the deli de­ba­cle came the Prezzo re­birth, in­clud­ing the flashy hir­ing of James Beard Award-win­ning chef Mark Militello. But Militello was al­ready gone by the time I had made it in for a meal. Militello left in March af­ter just three months, re­turn­ing to Josie’s Ris­torante in Boyn­ton Beach as a con­sul­tant. “We’re both restau­rant vet­er­ans. He liked to do things his way, and I like to do things my way,” Rapoport said in an in­ter­view af­ter my meal. “It just didn’t work out.”

Patrick Broad­head, ex­ec­u­tive chef for Burt & Max’s in west Del­ray Beach and a long­time Rapoport Restau­rant Group em­ployee, was brought in to helm the Prezzo kitchen. Rapoport says he and Broad­head are re­vamp­ing and tweak­ing in­gre­di­ents and menu items. An all-day menu for both lunch and din­ner will soon be un­veiled, along with a dozen lunch spe­cials that will be avail­able for $12.

Know­ing what I know about Rapoport (a prag­matic busi­ness­man who wants to of­fer prod­uct that tastes good but doesn’t break the bank) and Militello (a cre­ative kitchen au­teur who likes to play with the finest in­gre­di­ents and some­times la­bor-in­tense tech­nique), I could see how there was a clash. The dishes I had at Prezzo were all good but a bit un­der­whelm­ing for these ar­ti­sanal, made-from-scratch times. Dry pasta was used in pasta dishes, and those dishes were fine, although Rapoport says the kitchen will start ex­per­i­ment­ing with fresh pas­tas later this sum­mer. A dis­ap­point­ing margherita pizza ($14) was the weak­est link of the meal, un­der­done and bear­ing no fla­vor nor singed marks from the wood­fired oven. The pizza was made with shred­ded pre­pared moz­zarella, not slices of fresh moz­zarella. Rapoport says the pizza will soon fea­ture both types.

If I had known the pizza would be so mediocre, I would have

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