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Terra Fiamma - Feel the Fire!

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When it comes to Italian restaurants, we all have our own neighborhood favorite. In the Boca / Delray area, fans of Italian food (and who isn’t?) may fondly remember the beloved Cucina Mio, which stood proudly on Jog Road just north of the Boca/Delray border under the loving guidance of owner Wendy Rosano for many years. The Cucina unfortunately has closed, but now Wendy has discovered a new element, with the launch of Terra Fiamma in the Delray Marketplace. The bigger, bolder locale offers even more than the Cucina, including a larger, hipper venue, expanded menu, full bar, a lively outdoor patio (with live jazz on Sundays). But what hasn’t changed is Wendy’s commitment to excellence, using only the highest quality ingredients and a sharp eye on details, while GM David Demos ensure fast and friendly service.

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Terra Fiamma means “Earth and Fire” (actually, “Earth and Flame”) in Italian. This theme is reflected in the ristorante’s earthy tones and natural approach to Italian cuisine. The “Fire” comes via the authentic wood-burning oven. Sure, coal ovens may be trendy nowadays -- but as the Italians know, no petroleum-based coal (nor gas or electricity) can ever produce the distinctive flavoring and earthy, smoky magic of real natural wood. That magic is best witnessed with the signature Pizzas. The wood oven burns at a high temp, yielding a softer body and telltale browned (but not burnt) gently blistered crust in true Napolitano style. But the kitchen also contains a “regular” deck oven, for those who prefer the more familiar ‘New York’ style (hence, “Dueling Ovens”). Call your own pie, or go for a house specialty, like the Tre Funghi, with a seductive hit of truffle oil enhancing the fragrant wild shrooms; the Rustico (a Margherita with Kalamata olives, Feta, prosciutto, and arugula); or my recommendation, the Organic Roasted Vegetables with goat cheese and aged balsamic glaze drizzle.

An inviting array of “Italian Tapas” are made-for-sharing starters -- but you gotta try the signature Chicken Parmigiana Dumplings, a Terra Fiamma original. Seasoned chicken breast morsels come enveloped within a fresh pasta purse (think “Italian Dim Sum”), topped with mozzarella, then baked to cheesy deliciousness. They’re served with Terra Fiamma’s, insanely tasty homemade tomato sauce (“More rolls, please?”). Other starters ($9-$16) include Baby Artichokes pan-seared with garlic and rosemary, Wood Oven Roasted Organic Vegetables, and housemade Meatballs (4 kinds). Roasted Beet Salad also shines brightly, a harmonious compilation of sweet roasted beets, creamy goat cheese, and zippy baby arugula. Mandarin oranges provides a light, vibrant counterbalance to creamy goat cheese and peppery arugula, while roasted pistachios lend subtle nutty sweetness and textural crunch to this delightful symphony. Of course no trip to Italy would be complete without some Pasta, and here again Terra Fiamma excels. Options range from a healthful Whole Wheat Harvest (whole wheat spaghetti and fresh veggies), to a light Capellini Caprese, to hearty meals like Lobster Ravioli and old-school Rigatoni Bolognese.

But the chef really gets to flex some culinary muscle with the Entrees (most $18 - $25). Fans of the former Cucina Mio can joyfully revisit their old friends, like Chicken Allesandro, a silky symphony of tender chicken breast, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and spinach tossed in a light plum tomato sauce (Yum!). Another returning all star is Veal (or Chicken) Cuomo, sautéed in a sherry demi-glaze with portabellas and pine nuts, set atop a bed of sautéed spinach. A thundering bowl of shellfish swims with pasta in a flavorful seafood-tomato brodo to form the Seafood Laguna. But look mainly to the nightly specials for fresh seafood, like our night’s local Yellowtail Snapper Livornese; and a pristine Chilean Sea Bass, pan-seared with artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers in a light white wine-garlic broth. Both dishes came deftly seared to precise firm-yet-flaky perfection and were absolutely delicious, artistically plated with fresh sides, and finished with a plate-licking light sauce which accentuated, but never overwhelmed the delicate fish. Less adventurous palates may take comfort with a visit to Little Italy, where the old-school Marsalas, Picattas, and Parmigianas conduct their 'family business.'

While the kitchen provides the ‘Fire’ and ‘Earth’, the convivial bar takes care of the ‘Water,’ with its killer specialty cocktails like the Fiamma-Tini featuring Stoli Ras and cranberry with a Prosecco floater; plus a well-constructed wine list featuring over 40 wines by the glass. Finish with an ethereal homemade Tiramisu and a frothy cappuccino, take in some ‘Air’ on the outside patio, and truly savor all the elements of the new Terra Fiamma. Mangia!

9169 West Atlantic Ave (Delray Marketplace), Delray Beach. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Now featuring a daily Happy Hour, and live music on the patio Sunday evenings. Call (561) 495-5570, or visit: www.TerraFiamma.com

TAGS: Italian, Delray, Reviews, Restaurant Placement Group, www.RestaurantPlacement.com; Terra Fiamma, Pizza, Wine

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