First impression: Chef Angelo Elia built his reputation on Tuscan cuisine in white-tablecloth settings. So it's a wonderful change of pace to see Elia take on Southern Italian in a more-casual setting at D'Angelo Trattoria in Delray Beach, open since November.
Background: Elia, who started at Casa D'Angelo on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, has since expanded to Boca Raton and the Atlantic Hotel in Paradise Island. He also operates D'Angelo Pizza Wine Bar and Tapas in Fort Lauderdale. In Delray, Elia has put Rickie Piper in charge of the kitchen. Executive chef Piper studied in Italy and has worked with Elia for more than a decade at all his locations. The menu reminded me of meals I shared in the homes of Italian friends growing up in a city where more than 10 percent of the population could trace its roots to Italy, most from the south.
Ambience: The renovated 1920s cottage is gorgeous. Davie-based architect Alfredo Leon added dark wooden floors and limestone walls. While I'm not always a fan of sitting outside in South Florida heat, I was delighted with the temperature on the covered patio in back.
Starters: If it's authenticity you're after, try the roasted-veal bone marrow with caper pesto ($14), and tripe braised in tomato sauce with fresh mint and pecorino ($12). But the pan-fried meat balls ($13) have my vote. They have all the tender, meaty qualities I love, but they're also charred on the outside and served with roasted red peppers and shaved pecorino Romano. We ordered eggplant and sweet provolone timbale ($11) to spoon over wonderfully crusty Italian bread. Where can I buy this stuff? The pizza section of the menu includes a nice Regina Margherita with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil ($15). The crust is chewier than many wood-oven pizzas, and the mozzarella is heavier than many newfangled pies. On our waiter's recommendation, we tried fresh salmon carpaccio with spinach, Belgian endive and Granny Smith apples ($12). It was as good as our waiter said it would be.
Entree excellence: Wood-oven-roasted, milk-fed piglet ($24) reminded me of a perfect combination of old-fashioned pork roast and pulled pork. It's simply seasoned with black pepper and herbs, and ribboned with just the right amounts of fat and crispiness. It is among the best restaurant dishes I've had in years. Osso buco ($26) possessed all the tender qualities the dish is famous for, but this one had saffron-scented tomato sauce. A special on one night was an exquisite yellowtail snapper poached in white-wine-butter-caper sauce and served with Sicilian sauteed radicchio ($29). The 8-ounce beef filet ($29) is prepared saltimbocca-style, wrapped in prosciutto and served in a sage demi-glace. It bore the sour taste of saltimbocca, which isn't everyone's idea of filet.
Side issues: While many dishes are served with potatoes or other vegetables, we opted for the crispy baby Roman artichokes ($9) with garlic and mint. Unfortunately, they weren't the least bit crispy, and tasted mostly of the oil in which they were cooked. Spinach, simply sauteed with butter and Reggiano ($8), was much better.
Sweet!: Desserts were also excellent: classic ricotta cheesecake ($8) and tartufo pistachio ($8).
Service: Our waiter didn't miss a beat, and knew the menu inside and out.
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9 SE Seventh Ave., Delray Beach
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner daily
Credit cards: AE, DC, D, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, children's portions available upon request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free valet