For decades, Tony Mantuano has been considered one of America's best Italian chefs. He is the chef/partner of Spiaggia, Cafe Spiaggia, Terzo Piano and Bar Toma in Chicago and Lorenzo in Miami Beach. We caught up to him at the South Beach Food & Wine Fest.
1. What brings you to town?
We opened this new restaurant, Lorenzo, in November. With any new restaurant it takes time to make it exactly right. This is a great property. We're located within the Redbury Hotel. It's all part of the SBE Entertainment Group, which also owns the SLS Hotel and the Raleigh across the street from here. The restaurant is owned by Levy Family Partners, which is Larry Levy's new company and it's managed by Levy Restaurants, which is his old company. I'm a partner here and we’re making our way through a completely different market for us.
2. So, what's the idea behind Lorenzo?
Larry lives down here most of the year and he wanted something that would satisfy his love of Italian food. It's basically like the more casual Cafe Spiaggia and Bar Toma. We felt there was room for us here on the beach. It took 29 and a half years to get out of Chicago, and now we're here in South Beach in a building that was vacant for probably 15 years.
3. What is Lorenzo getting known for? Is there a signature item on the menu?
The dish that people comment on all the time is the lamb ribs. We make really good pasta and we have a wood-burning oven that makes great pizza and we use the best ingredients, but people keep talking about the ribs. They're a mega hit here.
4. That's all well and good, Tony, but you're known as one of the finest pasta chefs in the land…
We have that, too, and I'm really proud of a simple pasta dish called Spaghetti ala Nadia. So many restaurants still pre-cook their pasta, but that whole dish is based on a chef I worked with in Italy named Nadia Santini at a three-Michelin star restaurant, Del Pescatore. She taught me how to cook Spaghetti Pomodoro and when you do that dish, you cooked the pasta half the usual time in boiling water and the other half it's cooked in tomato sauce. You can’t pre-cook it ahead of time. It's so perfect because it has only four ingredients—spaghetti, tomato sauce, basil and Parmesan.
5. How are things back in Chicago?
Our landmark restaurant, Spiaggia, is being renovated. We closed the dining room in January. It's been completely gutted. This spring we will celebrate our 30th anniversary, and over the years fine dining has changed. Stuff like a jacket and linen doesn't matter anymore. We're not looking away from the past, but we're making it more relaxed because that's what customers want and we're including a lounge, which we never had before. We're excited about what's happening in Chicago, too.
Restaurant Hospitality editor Mike Sanson reported live from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach, Fla., Feb. 20-23. The event, now in its 13th year,attracted more than 60,000 attendees, 150 celebrated chefs and 250 wineries and spirits producers. A component of the festival is trade panels designed specifically for restaurant operators. Sanson's reports from South Beach focus on those talks and interviews with top chefs attending the event.