We dined on Saturday in Todd English’s Da Campo in Ft. Lauderdale and had a very nice meal. The restaurant is located in Il Lugano hotel on the Intercostal (around the corner from Café Martorano), and has a view of the waterway, though you cannot really see it at night. The food was very good, service was pretty on top of things, though there were a few oddities in the experience. For instance when we arrived, we were told we could enjoy a drink at the hotel lobby bar, though we later noticed a bar (and bartender) inside the actual space. Our waiter doubled as busboy, serving us water, bringing us drinks, food, etc. He did a good job so no complaints there. The décor of the space is very nice, simple with dark woods and stone, but you cannot help but feel that its been done. It was an odd sensation I attribute to it feeling a bit formulaic perhaps, I am not sure (obviously, it is a formula).
Anyhow, back to the food. We began with the fresh mozzarella pulled tableside. As advertised this is done tableside a la guacamole, except it involved sticking your hands in steaming murky water and making cheese magically appear. A nice young man (what’s a mozzarella puller called?) came and explained the process as he made the cheese. We chose the dolce, which came with golden raisins and walnuts caramelized with honey and some spice (cloves?). It also came with peppers and a few other condiments. Yes it's gimmicky but we really enjoyed this from start to finish. Interestingly, I was not a big fan of the walnuts, but it was the kind of thing you eat on vacation that your palate is not tuned to but enjoy as part of the local scene. Other dishes included the tomato and basil pizza, penne with shrimp, arugula, and candied lemon, char roasted filet mignon, yellowtail snapper Marsala, and the pork Milanese on the bone. All these dishes were very good, though I wish the pizza were a bit crispier. The steak itself was a bit tough for a filet, but came with fried wild mushrooms (a real winner), some gorgonzola (still cold, but good quality) and an undersalted but good celery root polenta and great overall for $30. Interestingly, all dishes came with some variation of arugula. Despite my complaint about the meat, I found that all the produce (tomatoes, vegetables, mushrooms) were great quality because you could really taste them and were all very, very well cooked.
For the not so good stuff: Desserts came with arugula as well. No, not really, but we tried two and they were not good. I do not know why good restaurants cannot just have a satisfying if uninteresting dessert. We ordered the doughnuts and they were awfully salty, as was the caramel gelato accompanying it, which would have been good, if overly strong otherwise. We also ordered the mint ice cream, which was made with real mint (not peppermint) and just did not match our taste buds. The wine list was short, uninteresting (1 prosecco, La Crema PN ½ bttle for $35, Ruffino) and seemed on the high side for mark-ups. The lobby bar which just opened, to cut them some slack, also seemed out of sync with recent trends and displayed vodkas, whiskeys, and some artificial mixers. No gin, bourbon or scotch that I could see, and most people were drinking wine. We did not sample the restaurants cocktail bar.
Overall the food was good and we likely will return, but I'll want to find out about corkage, and the desserts definitely need to be worked on.