Hard-to-find Northern Italian dishes make dinner at La Perla di Pompano one to remember

La Perla di Pompano on Federal Highway between Centennial Bank and an auto dealership.

This intimate eatery on Federal Highway in Pompano Beach offers a wonderful taste of northern Italy with such rare dishes as Vitello al Tonnato and Risotto Porcini. There are dishes from southern Italy, too. 

By Alan J. Wax

As we sat at our table just steps from the kitchen door at La Perla di Pompano, I turned my head up to the powder blue ceiling and pondered for a moment if our just-finished dinner there on a recent evening might have been among the best I’d ever eaten in South Florida.

Based on many considerations, it certainly ranked up there.

The service, provided by waiters attired in black slacks and black vests, long-sleeved white shirts, and ties, was professional – spotless, attentive, unrushed, and friendly. Our waiter and two others working the room never skipped a beat.

The food – at least what I dined upon – was unbeatable as I enjoyed flavorful dishes rarely available elsewhere in South Florida.

La Perla’s dining room.

The atmosphere was simple, a storefront dining room with 12 white-table clothed tables with seating for just 45, sconce lighting along the brown and yellow painted walls that are adorned with paintings and mirrors, and there’s just a bit of a buzz in the air from other diners savoring their meals.

We were dining with old friends, whom we had turned on to La Perla di Pompano four years ago and who had since become regulars.

La Perla di Pompano is located on the east side of Federal Highway, north of Atlantic Boulevard, in an older building that it shares with a collectibles store squeezed between Centennial Bank and an exotic car dealership. Without its neighbors, it would be easy to miss.  Small neons proclaiming “We bake our own bread” and one that says “Open” are the only illuminated signs, except for the small painted one above the entrance with the name of the restaurant that’s illuminated by overhead incandescents. 

Vitello al Tonnato.

Risotta al Porcini.

Alas, on our most recent visit, there was no complimentary bruschetta or eggplant caponata, but we did receive a basket overflowing with fresh-baked bread and crisp, garlicky crostini, along with some soft butter. It kept our appetites in check until our appetizers arrived.

I started with an off-menu special, Vitello al tonnato. ($18), a dish originally from Italy’s Piedmont region that I have longed to have for what seems like ages and rarely found in Italian restaurants anywhere. Here, it was a dinner plate-sized portion of razor-thin slices of cold veal ribeye topped with what many would consider an unlikely combination, a sauce of pureed tuna, anchovies, and capers. My friend Gerry, after giving it a taste, quipped that he would bring the entire plate to his face and lick it clean. Yes, that good!

For an entrée, I opted for a true Italian classic, Risotto al Porcini ($28), a huge bowl of silky, nutty arborio rice simply flavored with porcini mushrooms, shaved black truffles and Parmesan cheese, all simmered in beef stock. Calling it heavenly would be an understatement.

My spouse, whose go-to dish in an Italian restaurant is chicken française, chose pan-roasted chicken in lemon sauce. While the chicken was good, she said, the sauce was not akin to what she preferred. Not surprisingly, she left over the accompanying mixed vegetable, but she also enjoyed her salad.

Limoncello cake.

Pan roasted chicken breast.

She did, however, devour a slice of the decadent chocolate mousse cake, when it was time for dessert.

To finish, I had to have La Perla’s justly popular Torta di Limoncello ($8), a yellow cake with layers of fluffy, white, limoncello-flavored icing, and coated in grated coconut with bits of white chocolate. Alas, I was so stuffed, I took half of it home – along with half of my risotto.

Delivered alongside the cakes was a handful of crunchy house-baked biscotti.

The wine list amazingly is all Italian (even the Riesling) and diverse with a variety of by-the-glass selections. I enjoyed a glass of one of the Campagna region’s famous crisp whites, Falanghina from Terredora.

Husband and wife, Lino Canzio, who is from Puglia, and Manuela Maffezzoli, who is from Milan, started the restaurant in 2018 after selling another eatery, il Posto, in Hollywood, more than a year earlier. The two met at a hospitality school in Italy, according to a 2019 review in the Sun-Sentinel by Mike Mayo, the former restaurant critic.

On a previous visit, I enjoyed pasta e fagioli soup ($8), a steaming bowl of hefty soup filled with cannellini and red kidney beans along with small ditalini pasta – a meal in itself. My entrée on that visit, Filetto di Platessa Amalfi ($27), was a large slab of perfectly sautéed flounder napped with a light wine sauce with hints of garlic, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes.

To be sure, La Perla di Pompano is a bit of a schlep from West Delray Beach, but so worth the drive. Reservations are recommended.

La Perla di Pompano

420 N. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach,  FL. 33062


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