Touché Takes Italian Up a Notch
by bill kearney
After a global upbringing and culinary career, Vegas standout Carla Pellegrino brings her classic Italian cuisine to a downtown rooftop, with Touché.
Touché chef Carla Pellegrino finishes a dish of pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and white truffle oil.
What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, and when it comes to Carla Pellegrino, that’s a good thing. In fact, she didn’t stay put in Brazil, Italy, or New York, either, but she did pick up culinary gems along the way. Pellegrino was born in Rio, where she helped at her mother’s catering business, but she also grew up in Italy, giving daily cooking demonstrations before moving to Manhattan and studying at the French Culinary Institute. After a stint running New York’s Baldoria Restaurant, Pellegrino became the executive chef responsible for opening Rao’s Las Vegas, an outpost of the city’s famed family Italian joint. She’s also been a contestant on Top Chef and won her episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. And it’s all led to Miami, where she’s the powerhouse chef behind Touché.
The restaurant is a cool glass cube perched on the rooftop of the new and opulently renovated E11even club downtown, which, depending on what room you’re in, is either a lounge, a cabaret, or a gentlemen’s club. That, and the fact that it’s walking distance from the Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena, makes Touché a prime spot for a steak joint, but Pellegrino took the menu in a different direction, instead, opting for fare with heritage in both Italy and Japan. “I’m not a steakhouse chef,” she says. “I’m known for good Italian food. It’s something I’ve been cooking since I was a kid. Why change the game plan if I’m winning? I wanted to give this [place] a little feminine feeling.” A yin to the yang, if you will.
Colorado lamb lollipops are served with haricot vert, Parma prosciutto, and caramelized-onion mashed potatoes.
Pellegrino made her name with classic Italian cuisine, and Touché falls in line. (Her chef de cuisine, Diego Pasqualicchio, is Italian from the Piedmont region.) Here she covers a rustic, thick pappardelle with porcini mushrooms, cream, and white truffle oil; there’s classic lobster fra diavolo over spaghetti with a spicy tomato sauce, white pizza from a wood oven, and meatballs made with pork, veal, and beef.
Entrées include a pan-seared Florida red snapper with skin crisp, as it should be, but with a light red sauce that gracefully gets out of the way, its acidity seeping into sautéed spinach, and plump caper berries. It’s not your typical Florida presentation and brings in just the right amount of Italian. If you want to go in the steakhouse direction, there are more opulent choices, such as Colorado lamb lollipops served with Parma prosciutto, caramelized onions, and a house-made mint sauce, or the unapologetic filet Chateaubriand—filet mignon medallion wrapped in pancetta and topped with melted Gorgonzola.
The rooftop lounge offers sweeping views of Miami.
Why add a Japanese section of the menu? “It was personal,” says Pellegrino. “I’m a chef, but I want to keep skinny, and every time I go out I end up eating Japanese. I don’t want to go dancing with four bowls of pasta in my belly.” The Japanese section is creatively non-classic—halibut usuzukuri comes with a zingy yet almost creamy citrus sauce on the plate, and the ceviche roll uses Japanese structure but has a South American influence via mango and cilantro, and surprise appearances by both tarragon and an ultrathin slice of lime with the skin on (yes, you eat the skin). “It’s pretty,” she says of the lime skin. “It has a nice bite.” Just the kind of outside-the-box thinking you might expect from a woman bold enough to open a restaurant perched where this one is. 15 NE 11th St., Miami, 305-538-9848
photography by gary james
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.