After Major Food Group landed in Magic City in early 2021, it wasted no time making a mark on the Miami culinary scene. Under the leadership of chef Mario Carbone and partners Jeff Zalaznik and Rich Torrisi, the company has opened hit after hit: classic red sauce celeb haunt Carbone, Mediterranean-inspired HaSalon, steakhouse Dirty French, private members club ZZ’s, and bagel and schmear spot Sadelle’s among others. Now comes Contessa, a two-story Northern Italian-style “grand trattoria,” a term Carbone points out “is an oxymoron and subcategory we somewhat invented.”
So, what can guests really expect from this new edition to the super buzzy Design District? “Contessa is a great neighborhood restaurant – a place you want to hang out all day, experience multiple meal periods, people watch, and eat through the menu in different ways,” Carbone explains.
The Design District is lined with street after street of luxury boutiques and art installations and has a lively pedestrian vibe, making it an obvious choice for Contessa, where guests are meant to linger over Aperol Spritzes. “From the moment we arrived, I fell in love with the Miami Design District and the most iconic corner inevitably made for our beloved Italian restaurant,” MFG co-founder Zalaznik says.
Drawing inspiration from classic eateries in famed cities like Portofino and Lake Como, Carbone notes Contessa is an “aristocratic” restaurant with a “deceptively simple menu.” Guests, however, shouldn’t expect the same experience they get at his other beloved restaurants. “A meatball at Contessa has nothing to do with a meatball at Carbone,” he says, explaining this Italian staple at Contessa is “off center of what you assume that dish would be” since it’s served in a mustard cream sauce that’s almost like sauerkraut.”
Other standout menu selections include antipasti, such as the Chianina beef or squash carpaccio and the octopus agrodolce with peppers. There is a selection of pizza that Carbone describes as “thinner and crispier” than standard Southern Italian-style pies as well as a primi section filled with mouthwatering pastas, like lobster capellini, tortellini en brodo, rigatoni carbonara, fusilli Genovese, and garganelli verdi bolognese. For secondi, the menu includes dishes sure to become perennial favorites: gamberoni al forno con fagioli, classic veal Milanese, braised veal osso buco Carbone calls “very quintessential” and a celebratory 40-ounce dry-aged bistecca Fiorentin. The dessert menu boasts gelatos that are made in-house.
The wine list is curated by MFG’s Wine Director John Slover, with a focus on Nebbiolo- based varieties from Barolo, Barbaresco, Alte Piedmont and Lombardy. The cocktail program, crafted by Nathan McCarley O’Neill, former bar star at The NoMad Hotel Group and the iconic Claridge’s in London, focuses on classics with a twist (think updated spritzes, bellinis, vespers, negronis and perfectly chilled martinis).
With over 40 restaurants, bars, private clubs and hotels around the globe, Major Food Group is thrilled to be involved in elevating the local dining scene. “You’d be hard pressed to find a more exciting place in the world right now than South Florida and Miami specifically,” Carbone says. “The city is booming post-pandemic, and everything is rising collectively; it’s an exciting time for dining and for all industries and categories.”
For Carbone, the driving force behind Contessa is the overall dining experience and his aim is to convey an authentic Italian dolce vita feeling through the restaurant’s food and atmosphere. “I don’t care about a Michelin star,” he insists. “I want to have a great trattoria.”
Visit Contessa; 111 NE 40th Street, Miami.
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