Still melting hearts
Exceptional chef’s dedication makes his restaurant the best in Broward
Valentino Cucina Italiana in Fort Lauderdale is the best restaurant in Broward County, and chef-owner Giovanni Rocchio has a way with pasta that should place him among the nation’s culinary elite. His housemade trofie — little twists that look like half-smiles — with chopped seafood and a broth of fish fumee ($33) is the type of dish that earns chefs in bigger cities Michelin stars and awards. Yet Rocchio is relatively unknown, an old-school cook who’d rather spend his days making fresh agnolotti and his nights working the line in his open kitchen than appearing on TV or conquering the world with a restaurant empire.
Two recent visits to Valentino after a lengthy gap reminded me why I have been a Rocchio fan since he opened Valentino in a South Federal Highway strip mall in 2006 and why I have loved the restaurant even more since it moved to a bigger location — a gastronomic temple, actually — befitting Rocchio’s talent in 2012. The 100-seat setting is sophisticated, the servers are polished pros, and Rocchio, 52, is still sweating over a hot stove and bantering with diners every night.
But I also left a bit concerned after my second visit, the week of a menu revamp that brought several new dishes including a retro veal Milanese ($48) and chicken Scarpariello ($34). Gone is Rocchio’s signature veal chop ($68). My concern wasn’t caused by any diminution in execution, but by what the change may portend. Valentino is making a push to become more accessible, with more dishes at lower prices in the hopes of attracting a wider audience more often. Thus, the addition of mussels ($16) and tagliatelle bolognese ($26). Faced with empty seats midweek and general downward trends for fine dining, it is understandable that the restaurant adjusts.
My visits came during a time of transition. I just hope Valentino doesn’t lose what makes it special. And plenty remains special, with the restaurant entering its teen years exhibiting a respect for quality, hospitality and creativity that is increasingly rare in these parts. It is the one restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that stacks up against the best of Miami, Palm Beach, New York or Chicago. If more people come (and I’m sur-
Valentino Cucina's agnolotti carbonara ($24) made with fresh pasta, pancetta, farm egg and black pepper. 620 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale 954-523-5767, or ValentinoCucinaItaliana .comExpensive to very expensive.Salads and appetizers cost $14 to $25, pastas $24-$36, mains $34-$49, sides $8-$11, desserts $12 Suggested, by phone and onlineFull liquor with craft cocktails and a good selection of wines by the glass and bottle
Chef-owner Giovanni Rocchio of Valentino Cucina Italiana in Fort Lauderdale prides himself on maintaining a constant presence at the restaurant, which opened in 2006 and moved to a bigger new location in 2012.