Pull up a seat at Fi’liaToss your preconcepts of Italian fare and embrace Chef Michael Schwartz’s honest, straightforward Italian cuisine
Take what Italian food was to you and toss it out. Clear your mind to embrace Chef Michael Schwartz’s honest, straightforward Italian cuisine at Fi’lia in the casino at Baha Mar.
Now the restaurant has been open for a minute, but it’s taken me awhile to actually pull up a seat to a table — but when I did, I had to take into account that the Italian fare being served is not what I was accustomed to. There’s fettuccine to be had, but it’s not a shrimp or chicken fettuccine. It’s good for you whole-wheat fettucine with crushed walnuts, raisins, fried sage and pecorino. And don’t be shocked by the squid ink campanelle with mussels and clams, nduja (spicy, spreadable pork salumi from Italy), breadcrumbs and fennel pollen. Spaghetti is also on the menu, but it’s not the spaghetti and meatballs you’re used to seeing, but rather a spaghetti caccio e pepe — “cheese and pepper” spaghetti.
But I’m always game for anything. Having had a conversation with Chef Michael Schwartz when he was in town for the official opening, late last year, when he spoke to the beautiful items on the menu, and what he termed as honest, straightforward Italian cuisine featuring fresh ingredients from the hearth, and the simplicity of handmade artisanal breads and housemade pasta, pulling up a seat at a table at Fi’lia was something I eagerly anticipated.
Disappointed I was not.
The meal began with the wait staff pouring olive oil into a plate in the center of the table into which she snipped fresh oregano from a potted plant tableside. Talk about a zing to the sense of smell. That was the ideal preparation for what was to come.
I opted for the conch arancini with spicy tomato puree, because I love arancini, which are simply delicious risotto balls stuffed with oozy cheese and meat, and fried, and served with a kickin’ sauce for dunking. I wanted to see the Fi’lia spin with conch.
Three pieces came to the conch arancini order, and they were the largest I had ever seen, but whose complaining about size. They weren’t as creamy as I’m used to, but they were delicious all the same, and the taste of the conch really came through. Fi’lia wins with this appetizer, and it will introduce many Bahamians to this popular epitome of Italian street food that has been Bahamianized.
The tableside Caesar is a signature item of the restaurant, so it’s a must-have — no matter what else you order. It’s prepared from scratch before you — from the dressing to the grated parmigiano finish on a roaming cart, with the delicious smells of toasted garlic croutons in the air. In the art of simplicity, it’s a handful of ingredients, and if executed perfectly, it’s the best thing ever with the balance and flavors.
A Fi’lia Caesar salad (with extra anchovies) is on the cards whenever I darken their doors.
And while so many other meny items caught my eye for my entrée, I went with Sam’s chicken parm, for no other reason than I hadn’t had a good chicken parmigiana in a long time, and well … I wanted it.
With a number of enticing options for dessert, I decided to go outside the box because I’d never had basil ice cream, and they were offering an Italian basil ice cream sandwich.
Basil may be an unusual ice cream flavor, but you know what — everything tastes great with a little cream and sugar. My first taste of the basil ice cream was a punch of herb flavor that mellowed as I continued eating, and was further tempered with bites of the crunchy cookie it was sandwiched between. It wasn’t too sweet, which is just my forte. I would definitely order it again.
Ordering a meal proved to be no easy task at Fi’lia — there were just so many interesting things that caught my eye as far as the chef’s take on Italian, waiting for me to explore. From the snacks and small plates menu I was tempted by the warm olives with fennel seed and orange zest; meatballs with whipped ricotta and garlic bread; beef carpaccio with sunchoke, green onion, pecorino and mustard vinaigrette; grilled octopus with roasted tomato, peppers, green olives, gigande beans, torn herbs and red onions; grilled giant prawn with garlic butter, parsley and grilled lemon; snapper tartare with celery, radish, smoked trout roe, parsley sauce and potato chips.
I was intrigued by the pistachio pesto from the pizza menu, and of course I love a good truffle pizza, and at Fi’lia it comes with porcini crema, mozzarella, mushrooms and arugula.
Their fettuccine offering as well as their braised short rib crespelle (paper-thin pancakes) with béchamel, taleggio and fontina sounds delightful from the pasta offerings. And on the large side of that offering the fish stew with shrimp, octopus, mussels, clams, fish, fennel, tomato, ‘nduja, garlic toast, aioli has my name written all over it. And to be honest for the first time in a long time, a burger has caught my attention. Fi’lia’s burger comes with truffled pecorino cream, fontina, arugula, crunchy onions on brioche. The grilled 42-ounce bisteca fiorentiono; and braised short rib on the bone with anson mills polenta, crispy onions, truffles, and thyme, are all goodies on the menu waiting for me to explore. I can’t wait to explore the rest of Chef Schwartz’s honest, straightforward Italian cuisine featuring fresh ingredients from the hearth.
And what I won’t forget anytime soon are the smells that assailed my nostrils as soon as I walked into the door … that cheesy smell that lets you know that Italian cooking is going down, and envelops you in a warming hug.
Fi’lia features 202 seats of indoor and outdoor seating. It is Fi’lia’s first international outpost and second location overall after opening at SLS Brickell in Miami last year.
Fi’lia is open Monday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., serving lunch and dinner. For reservations and menus, visit www.filiarestaurant.com or call 788-8212.