Major Food Group (MFG)—the booming hospitality giant behind Wine Spectator Grand Award winner the Grill, Carbone, Dirty French and more—has opened a location of Contessa in Miami’s glitzy Design District. A swanky 2021 addition to Boston’s Back Bay, Contessa draws diners with traditional takes on Northern Italian cuisine; as MFG corporate wine director John Slover told Wine Spectator, “Contessa was [MFG’s] first Italian Italian restaurant,” as opposed to the Italian-American Carbone.
Dishes include classics such as Chianina beef carpaccio alla Piemontese, rigatoni carbonara and veal Milanese, plus pizzas and glamorous steak options. (Don’t forget the homemade gelato!)
Slover says the Miami location will retain a focus on the wines of Northern Italy, especially Alto Piemonte and Valtellina. He notes that the cuisine—influenced by Switzerland, Austria, France and beyond—requires wines with a particular kind of food-friendliness; he finds that fruit-driven Italian whites and reds with high-toned acidity and modest alcohol do best. While diners won’t be disappointed by the “gigantic” selection of Barolo and Barbaresco, fans of off-the-beaten-path Nebbiolo will swoon for the deep selections in Gattinara, Ghemme and beyond, including horizontals and verticals of producers such as Nervi Conterno, ArPePe, Antoniolo and more.
Slover is passionate about these overlooked, if not obscure, wines—which, he points out, offer the opportunity to taste Nebbiolo (one of his favorite grapes) with significant bottle age without breaking the bank. The list at Contessa’s Boston outpost contains some 10 pages of Nebbiolo; Slover hopes to match that in Miami.
Beyond Nebbiolo, Slover plans a smattering of whites from Trentino–Alto Adige, Friuli, Valle d’Aosta and elsewhere; Wachau and Jura bottlings will also make an appearance. He acknowledges that these aren’t the most requested wines on the list, but he says, “they add a slightly different color to the wine selections ... a little bit more esoterica ... without being super esoteric.”
While the full list is still rolling out, Slover expects it to be similar in size to the Boston location’s: around 425 selections, approximately half Italian, with the balance mostly divided between California and France. Champagne, at a variety of price points, and from growers and grandes marques alike, will also be a focus of the growing list: “Somms will be recommending Champagne with pizza.”
North of Miami, MFG has also debuted the Japanese Bocce Club (JBC), a signature restaurant at the Boca Raton. This collaboration is the final of four joint projects between the restaurant group and the historic luxury resort/private club; JBC joins Principessa Ristorante, The Flamingo Grill and Sadelle’s in a lineup of new culinary and beverage destinations that rolled out from late 2021 through spring 2022.
JBC, which is open only to resort guests and members of the Boca Raton club, overlooks the Boca Raton’s original bocce courts, where guests can play a game before or after dinner. The courts “served as the inspiration to re-envision the space and infuse elements of my Italian heritage, showcasing modern Japanese cuisine that is precise and flavorful, fresh and exciting,” MFG managing partner Mario Carbone said in a statement.
Chef de cuisine Takao Soejima, who spent many years working closely with Masaharu Morimoto, oversees a menu focused on sushi, plus a range of Wagyu beef options, crispy rice dishes and other Japanese classics. Beverage director John De Leo’s focused wine list spotlights reliable producers and popular styles, with an eye toward versatile pairings: Trimbach and Kistler mingle with Calera, Domaine Faury and other standbys. The Champagne offerings and sake selection are also strong.
Though Florida has been its major market for growth recently, MFG isn’t neglecting the city where it began. This week, MFG is opening a new iteration of Torrisi, inside Manhattan’s historic Puck Building, in Nolita, replacing Chefs Club. Overseen by MFG co-founder Rich Torrisi, the Torrisi Bar and Restaurant is grander than the original, which started as a sandwich shop, and puts a New York City melting pot spin on Italian-American dishes.
Like the location on Mulberry Street, Torrisi’s menu is a partial throwback to Torrisi Italian Specialities. Beloved dishes getting an updated reprise include lamb alla Judea and cucumbers New Yorkese. Other highlights include linguine with Manhattan clams, tortellini pomodoro and pastrami-spiced short rib scottadito. In a MFG first, an open kitchen gives guests a view of the culinary action.
The wine program, headed by Slover and MFG beverage director Brad Nugent, will spotlight Italian classics, especially from Piedmont and Tuscany, plus a range of options from France and Napa Valley. In addition to bottles and by-the-glass offerings, diners can order many wines (including the super Tuscan Sassicaia) by the quartino.
Plans are also in the works to expand the members-only ZZ’s Club concept, which debuted in Miami, with a second location at Hudson Yards, which will be home to the first private Carbone venue.