I recently drove off Las Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale in search of an elegant restaurant with a nightly tasting menu and I fortunately ended up at Valentino Cucina Italiana. What a romantic and captivating space it is!
The restaurant sits on a corner of S. Federal Hwy off The New River Tunnel, officially known as the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel. It is a fine dining Italian restaurant owned by Chef Giovanni Rocchio whose increasingly innovative venture took him to open One Door East, which gets its name from being literally one door east of Valentino and focuses on tapas and influences of Japanese, Spanish, and Moroccan cuisines.
I fell in love with the place while sitting at Valentino’s bar that opens into the kitchen and sipping on a citrusy herb Gia cocktail—made with Ketel One Vodka, Lemoncello and Basil.
It’s such a dream come true. The kitchen opens up to the bar in an elegant refined surrounding that includes plush velvet booths and chicly decorated tables with colossal views of US Federal Highway for both, large and small parties. There, “Chef Gio” – as chef/owner Giovanni Rocchio graciously asked to me call him – is the star of the night, preparing food nonstop, making salad combinations, talking to patrons at the bar.
Rocchio’s father, Tony, opened the original Valentino in a nearby South Florida suburb in 1974 and that is where the young Giovanni learned basic culinary skills and the dexterity needed to run a restaurant efficiently. His concept of using fresh, high quality ingredients, providing consistent plates and high quality service became ingrained to his Valentino restaurant.
Watching him and his crisply dressed crew work in the open kitchen is a lesson of high energy, high quality service. Saucepans are expertly flipped, giant prawns are treated like royalty in roasting pans, pasta dishes are delicately swirled on tongs before being plated to perfection. It’s a mad dance against time and temperature so that everything comes together just right. Chef Giovanni fusses with sauce in a mixer while keeping an eye on every plate that goes to the servers, yet finding time to chat with diners at the bar inquiring about a dish or a technique.
After my cocktail and some crusty Italian bread with olive oil, I ordered a dish of charred octopus with cranberry beans, fennel, tomatoes and chili sauce. This really is a pescatarian delight; all black and purple tentacles and fragrant aromas.
Octopus can be chewy, but this roasted burnished dish was meltingly delicious, paired with piquant sauce and the slight crunch of the beans. My companion ordered a tomato salad which was rich and tangy with chunks of fresh cut plum and yellow varieties, adorned with thin slices of toasted parmesan cheese. While we relished over a friendly talk with Chef Giovanni, a small taste of salmon mousse topped with red caviar and croutons was served, creamy and crunchy with a pleasant pop of the salty fish eggs.
Beyond the kitchen and high topped bar, the restaurant oozes luxury, with crisp white linen tables and elegant booths with slip covered chairs. It was Chef Giovanni’s suggestion to also try One Door East, a tempting new culinary experience with influences of different exotic cuisines, right next door.
Moving from Valentino Cucina Italiana to One Door East is the shortest ‘dining’ step ever as they are located adjacent to each other. There’s noticeably different crowds, different concepts, yet genuinely achieved.
Compared to the light infused luxury of Valentino, One Door East is all dark woods and edgy murals of race car drivers and abstract figures. There’s also a lively bar scene and once again you can watch the chefs at work.
While Chef Giovanni Rocchi oversees both restaurants, the nightly cooking here is done by Albert Diaz who has serious chef chops under his belt from previous gigs at Ritz Carlton and Aqualina restaurants. Chef Diaz has a particular passion for Japanese food he learned in London’s Zuma flagship restaurant, and that is infused in One Door East’s menu through an assorted variety of unique items.
Our server recommended sushi but our eyes settled on these appetizers, a Beet Salad and Burnt Ends. The salad was refreshing with nice sized chunks of red and yellow beets baked in salt then nestled in smoked goma aioli – a type of vegetable dressing – sprinkled with beet plum powder.
Burnt ends are flavorful pieces of meat cut from the “point” half of a smoked brisket. I don’t know who smokes the best barbecue burnt ends in Fort Lauderdale, but definitely One Door East did a ‘hickory’ good job with their dish, combining multiple flavors of salty and smokey charred beef tips with small side bites of 1-year old aged cheddar cheese atop Japanese pickles. With about 8 pieces of meat, it was plenty for two to share and hold a good conversation over dried Chardonnay wine and background music from the restaurant.
For the main plate we went for the priciest item on the menu – the roasted lobster. The gorgeous crustacean was served on a platter cut in two, drizzled with an herbed cilantro butter sauce.
The tail and claw meat had been removed, roasted, cut into bite-sized pieces and nestled back in the whole length of the lobster with the claw meat tucked into the emptied-out body cavity, and big caramelized lemon halves. A most unusual presentation but in line with the way the Japanese prepare their food with everything served in bite size pieces, so no knives or cutting ever necessary.
Dining at One Door East was a sensual experience and our servers made us feel fully spoiled. It was an exciting night that we capped with a savory Chocolate Bread Pudding with a generous dollop of Crème Anglaise and scoop of Blackberry Thai Basil Ice Cream. This is one seriously delicious desert with layered flavors of dense cocoa, creamy sauce and fruity cool ice cream in every bite.
A slew of restaurants in Fort Lauderdale have helped put the area’s culinary scene on the map. These two restaurants are among them. If you hadn’t heard about Valentino Cucina Italiana or One Door East and if you like trying new restaurants; then any of these two restaurants should be on the top of everyone’s dining list for a very special occasion, or a laid-back epicurious Friday night get-together with friends.
If you visit, Valentino Cucina Italiano and One Door East are located at 620 S. Federal Highway, Ft. Lauderdale. Their phone number is 954-523-5767 and more information about menu and special events is available on valentinocucinaitaliana.com and onedooreast.com.
Dining at Valentino Cucina Italiana and One Door East, Two Culinary Sensations under one roof, will make a very exceptional night for you in Fort Lauderdale. Valentino Cucina Italiana offers a modern Italian twists in its menu, while One Door East focuses on delicious small plates of Japanese and Spanish influence.