Strada in the Grove is a new, Northern Italian restaurant located across the street from the former Christabelle's Quarter. The entrance is a little tricky to find, in a narrow alleyway with window boxes filled with fresh herbs. When diners walk in, there is that "wow" factor, with a classy and elegant décor meets rustic chic.
On a recent afternoon, the Miami Dining Examiner ate at Strada for lunch. There's a bar at the entrance, with wine bottles stacked in a center column. Inside the dining room, there are tufted grey leather booths, driftwood-like chairs and tables with marble tops. The rustic part comes in with wood floors, butcher block paper covering the table tops and exposed light bulbs hanging overhead.
Mellow music (Beatles and jazz) plays in the background; the place has a European, relaxed vibe. That's the good part. The bad part is the service is perhaps a bit too relaxed. While Europeans are used to long, leisurely lunches, most Yanks want to get in and out for lunch.
After being seated, it took a while to get waited on. The menu is divided into salads, antipasti, sandwiches, pastas and entrees. There are also specials listed on a chalkboard on the wall.
Chalkboards (trend alert!) seem to be everywhere these days, as well as dishcloths that double as napkin. The Miami Dining Examiner thinks this is a genius idea. What better fabric for cleaning dirty digits and mouths than a cotton dishrag?
The bread served in a metal basket was excellent. The olive bread was fragrant, warm and rustic, with a salty, crunchy crust and soft interior. Unfortunately, it came on its own. Olive oil was offered after most of the basket was gone.
Water is presented in a serve-yourself carafe, but the first glass was poured by our friendly, but frequently absent, waiter. The restaurant was busy, but not packed, so the scareness of servers wasn't due to over taxation.
When the server did arrive to take the orders, the Miami Dining Examiner enquired about the specials, as he didn't mention them. He recommended the barbarietola e pomodoro ($9.5) for a salad. She ordered that, along with the potato and leek soup, one of the two soups of the day.
Other dishes ordered included the linguine alle vongole ($18) and the paillard di pollo ($16), an entrée. Prices seemed a little high, but probably about normal for Coconut Grove.
The soup was caramel colored, thick and had good taste, but lacked a depth of flavor and needed salt. It was, however, smooth and hearty. Truffle oil was drizzled over the top and green flecks of parsley garnished the soup.
The salad ordered had beets, slice tomatoes, hearts of palm, haricot verts and hunks of blue cheese. A pile of perfectly dressed arugula, splashed with walnut oil vinaigrette, was mounded in the center of the salad. It was a good salad, however, the sliced tomatoes were tasteless and the blue cheese chunks a little cumbersome to tackle. The tomatoes added nothing to the dish and would be better replaced with something crunchy, like toasted walnuts, to add texture. Fresh pepper wasn't offered, although the Miami Dining Examiner observed another server visiting a nearby table, pepper mill in hand.
The linguine sautéed with little neck clams, parsley and tomato was a generous portion. The tangled of pasta was served in a white bowl, with in-the-shell clams and chopped tomato on top. The pasta was cooked truly al dente; the broth that lingered in the bowl was ripe for sopping up with a slice of bread. The dish was assertively salted and flavorful.
The chicken entrée featured a chicken breast, beaten thin and pan seared, served with sautéed red cabbage (although the menu said endive), creamy lyonaisse potatoes and a little green salad on the side. A lemon wedge, added even extra color to this dish. The chicken was flavorful, the side well cooked; it was a successful, well rounded dish worth the $16 price tag.
Overall this Northern Italian restaurant in the Grove offers an elegant, chic dining experience with fun, relaxed vibe. The one thing lacking seems to be better training of the part of the servers, along with more attentive service. If these things are accomplished, Strada will be playing to a full house. Outdoor seating is also available.
Strada in the Grove
3176 Commodore Plaza
Miami, FL 33143