Question: What’s the latest and greatest Miami’s Sunset Harbour neighbourhood has to offer? Answer: An all-new Italian concept by chefs Jose Mendin, five-times James Beard Award semi-finalist, and Santo Agnello of Lucali, one of Brooklyn’s and Miami’s most famous pizza spots.
Jose Mendin’s stellar group of restaurants helped make Sunset Harbour the cool place that it is today. Originally he opened Pubbelly in the 1418 20th Street location and served food some of the likes we had never seen before. A combination of Latin and Asian influences, it was one of Miami’s most innovative restaurants. When he closed Pubbelly in 2019, instead of letting go of the space he decided to transform it into Casa Isola Osteria. The new design makes it completely unrecognisable from before. After a complete makeover, it now feels reminiscent of a Mediterranean seaside restaurant with candlelit tables, music playing, and a young crowd enjoying their time dining out. It’s small, cozy, and charming, designed in a calming palette of royal blue and white hues. The walls are white, accented with hanging baskets of faux flowers, and offset by trellises mounted on the ceiling with twinkle lights and green vines, and patterned tile floors (be careful, they are slippery). There is an open kitchen (where it would be wise if the chefs wore their masks over their noses and mouths, for health and appearance’s sake), and indoor seating for 50 with large windows that open out to a lovely sidewalk patio that seats an additional 24 guests. Seating is on white wooden banquets with blue and white striped cushions and under the shade of sun umbrellas, which were unfortunately little help during the five-minute flash downpour we experienced, though the staff was accommodating throughout.
The dishes are quite hearty, a Brooklyn Italian menu that grandma would serve you at home. Both chefs were in the house the evening we dined there. Agnello was in the kitchen and Mendin making sure every plate that came out was just right. There are a number of antipasti, and we tried the burrata Panzanella, which had Florida tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives, and a fine burrata, served with rustic bread alongside. The Isola Insalata is a baby wedge served with a solid house dressing, pancetta, white balsamic, tomatoes, and green pea tendrils. The chef sent out something that I didn’t see on the menu, but absolutely should be – an arancini ball made with taleggio cream, truffle oil, mortadella, salami, porcini, Parmesan, pecorino, and of course risotto, dressed in a delicious tomato sauce and topped with fresh basil. It was out of this world. The next section of the menu we sampled from was macaroni, and everything sounded good. We went for the special Sunday Sauce, which is actually served every day, and consisted of a huge meatball, sausage, pork, rigatoni, and a tomato sauce that takes all day to cook. This is a staple in many Italian homes on Sundays. From the secondi section, we were tempted by the veal chop Parmesan but opted for the chicken al marsala with wild mushrooms on a creamy polenta with a marsala jus. There is also a couple of specials and two desserts. We tried the tiramisu which was more like a coffee-flavored chocolate mousse, but good nevertheless.
They offer wine, beer, and simple cocktails. We chose the Aperol Spritz which was perfect on a steamy night.
The night we were there the place was packed and they had only been open for a few days. I think this partnership just might be a winning formula.