Cecconi’s: Miami’s Hottest Cool Spot

Cecconi's Garden

“I’ll have the stone crabs!” the woman sitting next to you blurts out, before the server can even take her table’s drink order. “Oh…we don’t have stone crabs tonight,” he politely, regretfully, informs her. “But I came for the stone crabs…” she pleads, with a slight threat in the lingering tone, as if to say she and her friend will take their trendy clutches from the marble tabletop and leave if stone crabs don’t somehow appear.

Surely they didn’t come for stone crabs alone. This, after all, is a scene worth savoring, even if food weren’t on the menu. Nestled in the courtyard of the exclusive Soho Beach House (an extension of those other private Soho House clubs dotting the globe), Cecconi’s is a casually elegant hotspot in Miami Beach where people seem to come even for the literal heat. Even though outdoors—and that certainly enhances its appeal—a retractable roof slides over the pergola tops above to transform the space into a covered outdoor dining room on threatening nights like this one. Add to the Miami humidity a room filled to the max, and the heat can be almost oppressive.

Then again, the heat is but one of the reminders of the cool factor here. A quick look around the room and you know there can’t be a cooler crowd anywhere in town. A gaggle of models struts to its table and almost everyone puts down their forks to look up, but then the clatter of conversation picks up again and the impossibly good-looking women go almost unnoticed. It’s just another night at Cecconi’s, and models seem comme il faut. So do Pucci bandanas, boho-chic rompers, even a floor-length eyelet-lace Cavalli dress or two, not to mention Chanel bags—a fun reminder of how fabulous that quilted companion can be. The silver-haired fox in the room looks like he’s just returned from Naples, Italy, sporting a pale blue sports coat that matches his eyes exactly. You see him sipping a Negroni from a cut-crystal rocks glass and feel transported to Italy itself. So you order one, and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it tastes better than how you remembered them to be.

DSC_0241_2The menu, in the end, reminds you why you came: to eat. Finding it hard to digest the extensive offerings—chiccetti, appetizers, salads, pizzas, carpaccio and tartare, pasta, meats and fishes, and sides—you decide to start with the fried olives wrapped with mortadella and provolone. They whet your appetite, and help round out maybe another Negroni (impossible to resist). Knowing you’ve decided upon the lobster and spaghetti as a main course, the waiter suggests sticking to something from the sea for an appetizer, and the octopus with celery, lemon capers, and olives is right on target. So is the glass of white Vermentino that pairs so nicely with it.

When it’s time for the main course, the Sangiovese blend, a delicate red that arrives slightly chilled—the right temperature for any red—proves worthy of switching to from white for the spaghetti. And those rich, meaty chunks of Maine lobster, seasoned subtly yet harmoniously with chili and basil, are an equal match for the homemade pasta itself, perfected to a delicious density all its own. Braised short ribs might have been another way to go (who doesn’t love short ribs with polenta and smoked carrots?), or perhaps the scallops with crispy kale and pancetta, or maybe even the branzino you see at the table across from you. Not to worry, you think: there will be return visits, even if you have to monitor Jet Blue specials to Miami from New York in order to make a return trip soon. (Without being able to wait that long, you actually sneak in one more dinner here before having to leave Miami, unable to stop thinking about the cavatelli with lamb ragù and artichoke, which carries you through the whole plane ride home.) This being Miami, you’d be foolish to skip the Key lime pie, however “touristy” some might call it. To hell with them: made of limes from the not-so-distant Florida Keys, you’re reminded of why this dessert is such a local specialty, and your sweet (and sour) tooth thanks you.