Since his early days at Nemo, Michael Schwartz has been Miami’s poster chef for locally sourced ingredients and no-thrills no-frills flavorful food. It makes sense then, that James Beard award winner, bona fide “cheflebrity”, and the culinary force behind The Bazaar, Jose Andres would solicit Schwartz’s simple and straightforward form of cookery to balance out Bazaar Mar’s molecular whimsy. Enter Fi’Lia, Schwartz’s first Italian venture, sort of…
Schwartz’s “entrée” into the restaurant industry — back in his hometown of Philly — was Italian. And while his career took him in a different direction, he denotes that it’s always influenced his cooking. “This was a great opportunity to go back and explore that in a more developed and different time of my career.” With a credo of less is more, Schwartz’s approach to Italian doesn’t include any of the usual suspects: veal scaloppini, spaghetti and meatballs, or overly sauced pastas and heavy meats. “It’s a brighter and lighter approach to Italian.” That means non-regional, atypical, and the opposite of authentic.
“It’s a brighter and lighter approach to Italian.”
Instead, Italian influences meet bygone American dining customs. Case in point: a spritz section to start off the meal followed by low ABV bottled cocktails, of which we particularly enjoyed the Mauri (averna, solerno blood orange, lemon, club soda) and the Spritz & Sprig (cocchi americano, parsley, lemon syrup, club soda). According to beverage director Eric Larkee, less is also more when it comes to drinks, and low ABV cocktails are having a moment.
Another forgotten custom Fi’Lia is bringing back is the quintessential tableside Caesar. On the Friday of opening week, waiters roved the dining room, jumping from table to table filling the requests of what’s already Fi’Lia’s most talked about and — as per Schwartz himself — signature dish. Indeed, there’s a sort of elegant simplicity of taking something so trivial as a salad and giving it the attention — namely cooking garlic croutons to order and whisking dressing on the fly — it deserves.
Our other favorites included small plates like the vibrant Beef Carpaccio crowned with sunchokes, green onion, and pecorino mustard vinaigrette; wood-grilled Artichokes with soft hearts and smoked paprika aioli; a velvety Pork Tonnato with pickled vegetables for contrasting acid and complexity; Butternut Squash Sformato with pungent pecorino crema; and Warm Brandade with pickled onions, preserved lemon, and toasted bread. Of course no Italian — authentic or inspired — restaurant is complete without pizza and pasta, and Fi’Lia excels on both counts, making its dough in-house and from scratch.
Unexpected pie combinations like Pistachio Pesto with housemade ricotta or trugole with leek, pancetta, and rosemary beg to be ordered, as does the Puttanesca with housemade hot sausage and gooey stracciatella. As for pasta, it simply doesn’t get much better than the archetypal spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, though the Corn Agnolotti with roasted lobster sauce comes close and fills the need for a saucier and richer variety. Pro tip: don’t overlook Sam’s Chicken Parm. Zesty tomato sauce and impeccably crusted chicken turns the Italian prototype into a must-have.
Desserts are reminiscing from Schwartz’s other restaurants, with Michael’s Genuine’s Chocolate Budino, Olive Oil cake, and Pine Nut & Honey Tart all making a double appearance at Fi’Lia. Italian Ice Cream Sandwiches, however, are novel, fitting, and feature rotating house churned gelato and house baked pizzell (think anise and ginger or double chocolate) flavors. Nothing says non-authentic Italian like gelato and Italian waffle cookie sandwiches.