You need to know the background with this restaurant to gain some perspective. This location was the long-time home of Valentino's. In 2012, Valentino's decided to move down the road. During the transition, they shut down Valentino's and opened Acqua & Farina, and then sold it, hook line and sinker, to someone who wanted to own an Italian restaurant. Pretty entrepreneurial, except that all of the initial reviews for the restaurant touted Valentino's as the operators.
I couldn't do a 2 hour lunch today, so I had to stay local. They only seat until 2:30; I got here at 2pm sharp. There was a pretty sparse crowd; what was odd is that it was mostly dudes. 3 guys by themselves, a table of 2 dudes and an older couple. I grabbed a table; it's a small room and there's no privacy anywhere in the place.
There's 3 booths in the back; nothing has changed; same tomato painting in the rear. They showed them how to make the recipes and they took over.
They push the pelligrino; the big bottle that they probably charge $9 for. I passed and initially asked for regular water. Then I decided to fall back to iced tea; I usually drink water or wine with Italian food. I did without extra lemon as the servers here always seemed to be 2 tasks behind where they should be, and I didn't want to bother them.
There's a guy and a girl working; there's a hostess stand pushed against the wall but everyone just sat down when they walked in. The girl dropped off some oil dispensers and asked if I wanted bread; it took her more than 10 minutes to actually bring it to the table.
Very good bread. Not warm, but it was soft and good for dipping. The Land O' Lakes was surprising, but butter is butter and I wasn't offended by it. As least it was soft.
The "spicy" oil tasted like someone mixed some oil with Frank's Hot Sauce; I'm not a hot chili oil kind of guy anyway, but c'mon now.
There's pop music playing at low volume: Beth Hart, Cheryl Crow. Servers need to be more observant; I shouldn't have to point at my empty glass to get a refill in a room with 6 customers.
The pasta was served at 2:32; I'd ordered the Bucatini Amatriciana; thick spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce.
Acqua & Farina Bucatini Amatriciana
By Fort Lauderdale standards, this was surprisingly good, in that the sauce was sweet and the pasta was cooked just right. I can see someone who is used to local food saying that this is as good as they've ever had. By NYC standards, it was over-sauced and not spicy enough; in fact the only spice I encountered was when I bit into a peppercorn. The classic dish combines guanciale (similar to pancetta), pecorino cheese and tomatoes; most versions add garlic, red and black pepper and onions. I'm not sure there was any pecorino romano or garlic or red pepper in here. They offered grated parmigiana, clearly not understanding the dish.
NYC standards aside, I enjoyed the dish. I'm often frustrated by food down here, because with very minor adjustments, this could have been elevated from good to fantastic.
I'm not one of those chef snobs who thinks that every chef simply must create his own recipes. Good food can be recreated from the ideas of others. In fact, I'd rather have a good reproduction of Mario Batali's recipe than the creation of some recent Culinary Institute graduate. The menu here seems to be a lot of simplified recipes; but what I had today was well done. It's not a particularly comfortable restaurant; it's a place to eat and leave. I wouldn't be against coming here again sometime.
Valentino's has closed their restaurant at this location and will be opening down the road shortly. They've re-opened this location as a more wallet-friendly Pizzeria, where all menu items are from $9 to $16, with specialty pizza as the main attraction. Why do you close down a place with an average ticket of over $50 to open a place where a couple shares a $14 pizza? It's called chef arrogance. Every Italian chef wants to open a pizzeria, to prove he can do it better, without concern of whether it can be a profitable business.
The place looks about the same inside. Apparently they don't have an office, or room behind the counter, as they have a table up front set up as an office and the "register" is accessed from the dining room rather than from behind the counter.
There's nothing wrong with a nice pizzeria, but to me, pizza is a take out food. This is one of those places that only has fancy Italian pizza, like Panaretto and Rossopomodoro. The only one on the menu I would consider is the plain margherita, and I can't get excited about a plain margherita pizza. They have a Diavola, which they call "spicy salami" or pepperoni to us American folk. I noticed that they have a sausage and brocolli rabe white pizza, so I figured I'd ask if they's sub out the salami for sausage. It wasn't easy; apparently the chef here is pretty finicky about changing recipes. But they said they'd make it.
When I got there it was ready; I wasn't sure what size I was getting, but I saw the small box and I knew is was just a 12 incher. The gave me the bill, and I noticed that they charged me an extra dollar for the sausage. I was surprised, as usually pepperoni and sausage topping cost the same. Maybe it was an administrative charge.
Acqua Farina Pizza
You can tell that the pizza maker wasn't really into making this pie; as the sausage was roughly chopped and tossed on top. I had to take it off, slice it appropriately, and put it back on. As you can see, this is a magherita pizza with sausage on it. So it effectively cost $3 for the sausage.
It was a pretty good pizza with a good crust. A very light tomato sauce. Nothing crazy good or bad about it.
To be fair, I often argue with a friend that paying $15 for a 12 inch sausage pizza at Big City Tavern is ridiculous, which is just about the cost here. While it's a little bit better, it's still not worth $14 to me. A 12" pie is just over 3 slices of a large pie. As an ex NYer, I'm used to getting top notch pizza for under $3 a slice.