Ask Vicki Annecca why she and her husband, Mickey, decided to buy Serafina five years ago, and she'll answer, "We went to dinner, and I fell in love with the location."
I did, too.
On a cool night a few weeks ago, I had no intention of sitting outside. Not until I arrived and saw the uninviting, 24-seat indoor dining room and — through the glass doors — the glorious, 50-seat terrace on the edge of the Middle River.
Once the propane heater was in place — it took a very long 10 minutes — we were toasty and ready to delve into Serafina's big Italian menu.
The Anneccas are originally from Chicago, where her dad owned a well-known Italian restaurant called Giannotti's. The Anneccas approached Serafina as a business proposition, but clearly know much about food and service. Mickey is a retired electrical contractor. Vicki is a real estate agent.
Unlike Chicago's Italian-American, meat-centric restaurants, Serafina leans toward traditional. One of its chefs, Fabiano Lazzari, is from Northern Italy. The other, Giovanni Filippone, is from Southern Italy. But that doesn't mean they don't know how to make meatballs ($9). The texture was almost creamy. The tomato sauce was fresh and bright.
A generous serving of imported burrata ($20) comes with lean slivers of prosciutto de Parma and sliced tomatoes served drizzled with olive oil. Tuna tartare ($14) starts with sushi-grade tuna that is marinated in sesame oil and served over a bed of thinly sliced avocados. I think it would be a better dish with the addition of some heat, maybe as simple as some chili flakes. Every table receives a complimentary serving of traditional bruschetta.
Those Italian chefs have a way with pasta. Tagliatelle with mushrooms ($22) is prepared in a simple white-wine reduction that extracts every morsel of porcini flavor into the sauce. Rigatoni all'Amatricana ($17) had good flavor, even though it was a bit oversauced. A huge serving of linguini alle Vongole ($20) with red-wine sauce was wonderfully garlicky and full of clams in their shells.
Service by a team of seasoned, white-shirted waiters is exceptional. Can I just bring these guys along with me to every restaurant?
Veal scaloppine can be had with the sauce of your choosing. The piccata ($28) was very nice. A special one night was pork milanese ($28), in which the chefs flattened the meat in a large loin chop. It was then breaded, pan-sauteed to crispy goldness and topped with simply dressed arugula. Order this if it's on the menu. Another special one night was swordfish shish kebab ($32), chunks of fish and grilled lemon served with spinach and stuffed tomatoes. The only problem with the dish was that the lemon wedges looked too much like the swordfish, making for some tart bites.
Like most everything at Serafina, dessert ($8) did not disappoint, from vanilla cream-filled profiteroles to ricotta cheesecake and tiramisu.
This summer, Serafina will undergo a remodeling. The charming slant on the terrace will get leveled out. The kitchen needs updating, and the view from the street will be improved. They're even talking about making the indoor dining room more appealing.
Serafina Waterfront Trattoria
926 NE 20th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Dinner daily, lunch weekdays
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Meters and nearby lots