MIAReview

Contessa image
6.9

Contessa Miami

Italian

Design District

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Contessa is full of extravagant diversions. Not only are the walls pink, but so are the ceilings, the bathrooms, and the round bell-shaped sofas. Everything from the glassware to the floor tile and feathered crystal chandeliers is expensive.

At night, Contessa feels sultry, sophisticated, and polished. But under the Miami sun, its distractions are too obvious—the restaurant looks gaudy and overdressed. During lunch or brunch, the decor can’t misdirect away from the mediocre and overpriced food, or Contessa's detached personality. Those expensive pink bell sofas are actually uncomfortable as f*ck and likely there to maximize seating capacity. It’s like when the lights go on at the club and the tall guy in the pinstripe suit you’ve been flirting with is actually Beetlejuice. 

Does this kind of restaurant sound familiar? It might, since Contessa is a Major Food Group concept: a family of wealthy New York restaurants with over 40 locations worldwide—ten of which opened in South Florida within the last two years (with at least one more in Palm Beach on the way). At the time of this writing, South Florida is Major Food Group’s biggest market outside New York. 

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Technically, Major Food Group hasn’t opened a single new restaurant in Miami—only new locations of restaurants that existed elsewhere like Carbone, Sadelle’s, HaSalon, Dirty French, and ZZ’s, a members-only offshoot of ZZ’s Clam Bar. It’s a giant household—and multiples run in the family.

Miami’s Contessa has an identical sister in Boston too. But while the Carbones and Sadelles of the world create exclusivity and lure in celebrities, Miami’s Contessa is less cliquey. Compared to its siblings, reservations are almost shockingly easy to find and you’re usually seated on time. Demand for Contessa isn’t exorbitantly high, which is bad news for their clout but good news for diners who want a place to go when they can’t get into Carbone.

Although Contessa proves a slightly less stressful booking experience, the actual dining experience is frustratingly predictable if, like us, you’ve already visited all of Miami’s Major Food Group restaurants that are open to the public. Contessa’s fusilli genovese is made in-house with a pesto sauce prepared with stracciatella. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it—except that you’re paying $24 for fusilli in pesto sauce. The vongole pizza is slightly spicy, salty, and crunchy. But you’re charged $26 for a dinky clam pie. The $51 veal milanese is thick and juicy, but half the plate is just a heap of arugula.

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Just like the rest of its family, the numbers on Contessa’s menu correspond to the price of admission—the cost of simply being there—not the food. There’s nothing driving people to eat here other than to say they have, which is frankly easy to do, with tables sitting empty during both our visits.

That is actually the one unique thing that separates Contessa from its South Florida relatives. That cornerstone of Major Food Group’s approach—an air of exclusivity—is missing. And if Contessa is proof of anything, it’s that our underestimated city, which is often mislabeled as the kind that wants to submit to the vices Major Food Group is selling, can see that Contessa—like the whole Miami Major Food Group family—is nothing special.

Food Rundown

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Guanciale E Pepe Rice

This is supposed to be like a rice cacio e pepe. But it’s just $25 watered down cheese rice. And it’s underseasoned.

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Vongole Pizza

The vongole pizza isn't very filling but works as a shared appetizer. The thin pie comes with about a dozen clams and gets a little kick from the calabrian cream.

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Spicy Lobster Capellini

The lobster is overcooked, the sauce is not spicy, and the dish has enough wine to get a small child drunk. It’s basically slightly thicker angel hair pasta with a few lobster knuckles in red sauce for $39.

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Fusilli Genovese

These short, thick pieces of fusilli are made in-house, and the pesto sauce has fresh basil and stracciatella. A mind-blowing dish? No, but Contessa does it justice.

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