Miamians are accustomed to searching out luxury restaurants in the depths of endless hotel lobbies, in the mazes of high-end malls, and among the morass of streets in South Beach, Wynwood, the Design District and Coconut Grove. But in a shopping plaza in Sunny Isles Beach? That’s a hard sell, even for determined foodies on the hunt for truffles, smoked salmon and caviar.
Yet that’s the challenge Biella Ristorante, owned by Gonzalo Carnevalli and named for a town in the northern part of Piedmont, has taken upon itself. Nestled in the back of the RK Center, which is fronted by other dining establishments, Biella may be easy to overlook. Don’t. Charming and contemporary, with artisanal wood floors, white shelf room dividers, modern white-glass accent pieces and a black-and-white mural backing the dining room, the restaurant offers Italian cuisine with plenty of innovative, urbane touches.
That means that, yes, meatballs are available in this 151-seat eatery, made cozy with a variety of white linen-covered tables and perches, ranging from bistro-style on the patio to armchairs and banquettes in the well-lighted dining room to low-slung cocktail tables in the lounge. But instead of minced veal and red sauce, chef Jorge Cabrera makes those meatballs with chicken and serves them in a row of four on dollops of creamy, whipped white polenta with accents of Reggiano-Parmigiano. And of course there’s the requisite prosciutto di Parma, but here it’s turned into a quartet of round, crisp croquettes that diners can dip into a tangy guava marmalade. It’s also sliced thinly to generously top the house’s signature pizza, which features a crunchy crust that also carries a thin layer of cream, melted mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and a fluff of microgreens.
Other antipasti, sourced from either the bar menu or the regular dinner menu—both of which are handed to diners—include a trio of precisely grilled prawns, brushed with a pistachio-based aioli, and two styles of WiAnno oysters, on the half shell with cocktail sauce and horseradish or reinvented Rockefeller. Sustainably raised and clean-tasting with a high salinity, the oysters hold up well to Biella’s interpretation of Rockefeller, which includes cream sauce to cut the additional salty flavors of pancetta and salmon roe. Edible flowers on top aren’t just decorative; they provide a touch of bitter contrast to alleviate the richness.
If you don’t feel like a pizza—although they’re difficult to ignore, especially the one with an activated charcoal crust, smoked salmon and cream cheese—start with avocado crostini. Miami’s menus haven’t reflected the nationwide obsession with this dish, so if you feel like you’ve been missing out, you can indulge in a perfect example here. The toast is spread with goat cheese, smothered with mashed, ripe avocado, then garnished with char-roasted corn kernels, dollops of rainbow trout roe and various leaves of herbs, microgreens and edible flowers. It’s a pretty as well as texturally pleasing dish. Alternatively, seared foie gras crostini is a muskier, heartier version of the antipasto. Gone gluten free? A lovely timbale of tartare di tonno offers the avocado diced on a layer of citrus-marinated eggplant with cubes of ruby tuna crowning the ring.
Pastas present different kinds of decision dilemmas. All are made fresh in house, and they, too, can stray from the traditional. Perhaps the closest to classic is the mushroom-filled ravioli dressed in a luscious mushroom cream sauce heightened with Reggiano-Parmigiano. On the outer edge, duck confit-filled ravioli also rests in a cream sauce that has a touch of citrus zest and black truffle that leads it toward decadence. In between, a heap of spaghetti tossed with an outstanding vodka sauce is garnished with caviar and ringed with a dozen nearly translucent shrimp.
Trying to finish any of these portions is a Sisyphean task; the more you eat, the more there appears to be. Even if you split a pasta or risotto (choose between squid ink or black truffle) to enjoy before a meat or fish course, it’s plenty of food—which, we’re just saying, is food for thought, because you don’t want to miss out on the whole branzino, a masterpiece of skin-on fish cookery plated with mussels, clams, shrimp and cherry tomatoes. In fact, this portion is so large we were surprised it wasn’t being offered for two people. Ditto the cowboy steak with cipollini onions and asparagus. The tender, aged beef comes out to the table still sizzling on a hot stone, and it’s a gargantuan serving that could easily feed a few.
Even after endless mouthfuls of prosciutto di Parma, black truffle, smoked salmon and caviar in various guises, you still shouldn’t skip the crespelle di Nutella for dessert. The light crepes filled with the chocolate-hazelnut spread are accented with strawberries and partnered with more Nutella in the form of gelato. Or go for the crumble di mele, caramelized apple torrejas served with cinnamon ice cream. You might require a digestif of sambuca to ease your stomach afterward. But we understand. It’s hard to show restraint when you make a discovery like Biella in a location where you least expect it.
17082 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach, 305.974.0174
Dinner: Nightly, 3-11pm
Antipasti, $3-$26; salads, $12-$16; pizzas, $15-$19; risottos and homemade pastas, $22-$32; meat, fish and seafood dishes, $40-$70; sides, $10; desserts, $10-$14; cocktails, $12-$16; wines by the glass, $10-$24; wines by the bottle, $36-$320