We sent our correspondent to Italy with the Florentine founder of La Centrale to get a taste of Brickell City Centre’s upcoming Italian food hall. This article appears in the October 2017 issue of INDULGE.
It’s our last night in Tuscany, and Jacopo Giustiniani leans toward me to translate a quote on a restaurant menu by Italian journalist Indro Montanelli, dated 1980. We’re dining at the rustic Antica Locanda di Sesto, nestled at a bend in the River Serchio in the shadow of the Appenine and Alpi Apuane Mountains — or, as Giustiniani puts it, “the middle of nowhere.”
Tuscan summer days are boiling hot beneath clear blue skies, but by dusk, the heat subsides — stirring the appetite — and night-blooming jasmine and iris flowers perfume the air. The horizon turns pink, casting a chalky, gray glow on the vast pastoral landscape. The effect is a little magical, like something from an old movie or a daydream.
A native of Florence, Giustiniani, 37, grew up summering here, in Lucca, at his family’s villas and their Fattoria Sardi winery. He spent the past decade in New York as restaurateur of upscale Italian destinations Felice and Sant Ambroeus (the latter also has a location in Palm Beach). In December he and business partner Matthias Kiehm will unveil their ambitious La Centrale Food Hall, a three-story, 38,000-square-foot homage to Italian cuisine and culture, inside Miami’s Brickell City Centre.
Bringing regional Italian food to the heart of Miami
“The Italians are a country of cooks,” Giustiniani recites from the leather-bound menu in his softly lilting Italian accent. He bears a slight resemblance to a young, slender Al Pacino, only far less brooding, easier to smile and crack a joke. He says that Italian chefs initially took offense to this comment, but Montanelli defended his statement by explaining “that every Italian, in our DNA, we’re cooks,” thanks to the country’s rich ingredients.
After spending a week eating my way through Tuscany and the seaside region of Liguria guided by Giustiniani and his La Centrale creative team, I understand why this quote strikes a chord with him. On my plate, the evening’s antipasti is a thickly sliced, juicy, jewel-red heirloom tomato topped with a round of mozzarella di bufala and basil, a simple fried zucchini blossom and Angus beef carpaccio with arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano — all doused in the not-so-secret Tuscan ingredient, olive oil.
It was a week of bests, starting with our first meal in Florence on the sidewalk terrace of Caffe Cibreo beneath pink silk-shaded string lights. Over four hours, a million tiny plates crossed our table — pate, ricotta flan, salty prosciutto Toscana, an outrageously acidic beef tartare seared to a caramelized char — along with countless bottles of rosé, white, red, then a procession of delicate little desserts, and not one of us growing antsy.
The swoon-worthy highlights continued at Ristorante All’Olivo inside the medieval walled city of Lucca, where Giustiniani said he would choose the spaghetti with baby clams as his last meal. In true Italian fashion, he then prepared a version of his favorite snack for me to try: a single, briny sardine with a thick smear of butter atop crusty ciabatta. Yes, Italy has a way of romancing all of your senses.
Building a food hall that is ‘fresh, hip and cool’
So how will the experience of being in Italy translate into La Centrale, Miami’s first Italian food hall? For starters, Giustiniani enlisted Giancarlo Pietri, partner at South Beach’s Urban Robot architecture and design studio, to create spaces inside La Centrale that conjure different Italian regions.
“We never wanted to re-create or thematize,” Pietri said. “We want something to remind you of the place. It’s much more suggestive than literal, much more subtle. We also want it to be fresh, hip and cool.”
La Centrale will transport diners to Tuscany, Liguria, Sardinia, Sicily, Lombardy and Puglia beneath a single roof. The first floor is home to a caffe, mercato, pizza and pasta bar. On the second floor, you’ll find three restaurants (Carne, Pesce and Stagionale), as well as a central aperitivo bar and Italy’s own Venchi gelateria — complete with chocolate faucets. The third floor holds a wine shop and enoteca with 4,000 wines, mostly from Italy.
About an hour’s drive south of Florence, we visited Manetti, Gusmano & Figli, eighth-generation terra cotta tile producers whose work figures prominently into the design of Carne, as well as the wine shop and bar. Pietri and Giustiniani derived inspiration for Carne’s vaulted tiled ceiling after dining beneath Florence’s classic Trattoria Cammillo. Carne’s walls will be treated with white-glazed terra cotta tiles and a red racing stripe accent — “the signature of any important butcher shop in Italy,” Pietri said.
Throughout La Centrale, Pietri utilized pietra di Trani marble imported from Puglia, smoked white oak and brass in sleek, mid-century lines, and typography inspired by Italian architecture from that era. “It says we’re here to stay,” Pietri said. Of course, the harmony of authentic Italian flavors and warm hospitality is what will solidify La Centrale’s success, and Giustiniani is determined for that to be the case.
La Centrale creates Italian flavors with Florida ingredients
Going back to that Montanelli quote, Giustiniani explained that Miami’s access to high-quality ingredients will allow La Centrale’s Italian cooking to shine. “It doesn’t mean the ingredients have to be Italian. You have amazing tomatoes in Florida. Pasta brands, you can find whatever you want in America. Fish, you have excellent fish.
“It’s just the way you cook it,” he continued. “Do you want to cook the fish with a lot of garlic and kill the flavor of the fish, or do you just want to put it in the oven with a touch of rosemary and olive oil or lemon?”
Trust me — you’ll want the fish cooked by an Italian with a touch of rosemary, olive oil and lemon. Afterward, you’ll also probably want to stroll to Venchi on La Centrale’s second floor for two scoops of gelato before an afternoon of shopping at Brickell City Centre.
701 South Miami Avenue, Brickell City Centre, Miami; lacentralemiami.com.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ZEPH COLOMBATTO AND DILLON BURKE
Hungry for more?
After La Centrale, at least five other food halls are on their way to Miami, and we’ve got the scoop on each of them.