By RICHARD DAVID CHAMBERLAIN
Walk down Sunrise Blvd. in the vicinity of NE 18th Ave. on any Friday night and prepare to marvel at the line stretching around the block from the front door of Il Mulino Cucina Italiana.
In what can only be described as a local tradition passed from one satisfied customer to another, this Italian restaurant is neither fancy nor romantic. No candlelight here, nor flowers on the tables. And while it’s not the most authentic Italian food in town, it’s really, really good and there is plenty of it at a fair price, pleasantly delivered.
Translation: the place is packed, every night of the week, but particularly on Fridays where regulars gather like swallows drawn back to Capistrano. The smell of garlic fills the air at Il Mulino the way smoke hangs thick in a British pub. It’s not that every dish is doused with the odoriferous bulb, but those that are boast of its existence in the exuberant way that a child exhibits a new toy—with great pride and no reservation. The garlic bread is one example, brought to the table, a puffed up flat-bread triangle of buttered flavor that seduces your taste buds into having “just one more bite.”
The minestrone soup ($4.95) is housemade with vegetables du jour from the kitchen, so the flavor is subtly different on different days, though always hearty. The same is true with the Chicken Marsala ($15.95), with grilled chicken tenders in a marsala wine and mushroom sauce, side of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Depending on the marsala reduction, this dish can taste overly salty some nights, so alert the chef to cut back on adding any extra sodium. Pure pleasure is the only way to describe the Eggplant Parmigiana ($14.95) topped with mozzarella and marinara sauce.
It’s a simple dish that is easy to ruin with too long a stretch in the oven. Il Mulino has perfected the timing to keep all the flavor and the consistency, breading its eggplant that is then blanketed with parmigiana and mozzarella, and a light marinara sauce. Heaven on a plate.
For lighter fare, think salads. Il Mulino offers many including a superb blackened tuna salad at $14.95. The fresh tuna is seared rare, and accented with mandarin oranges, gaeta olives, chopped onions and tomatoes. It is served over a bed of baby spinach and red oak leaf lettuce that is drizzled with a housemade red wine vinaigrette. Equally as low in calories, but for the larger appetite: Zuppa di Pesce ($21.95)—a fish soup.
The chef combines chunks of white fish with shrimp, clams, mussels and calamari in its own natural juices, served with linguine topped with a red sauce. This combination has been on the restaurant’s menu since it first opened in 1987, and with good reason. Spell it D-E-L-I-C-I-OU- S! All the pasta is housemade at Il Mulino, including the corkscrew shaped fusilli. It’s the star of our favorite entrée, Fusilli Naturale ($13.95).
Dream about a dish that combines grilled chicken breast, fresh broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts in a balsamic natural reduction sauce. It is served on a plate the size of Sicily, heaped full of flavor and substance, topped with a giant dollop of formaggio di capra (which outside of Italy is goat cheese).
If you have the room, the housemade tiramisu ($6) could be the most decadent dessert ever made, if it weren’t for the pastry chef’s cannolo ($5), pumped full of ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. As you roll out the door, tell them Florida Agenda sent you.
IL MULINO CUCINA ITALIANA 1800 E Sunrise Blvd. Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304 954-524-1800