Guess who is back? In a huge show of Fort Lauderdale’s culinary muscle, chef Giovanni Rocchio will reopen his celebrated modern Italian restaurant, Valentino Cucina Italiana, in its former location south of the New River with a new name, menu and renovation: Val+Tino.
When it debuts sometime in December, the 3,500-square-foot restaurant will neighbor the 620 S. Federal Highway building with another Fort Lauderdale icon, Canyon.
Val+Tino is a partnership between Rocchio and restaurateur Mike Linder (South Bar & Kitchen, Jet Runway Café), whose SFL Food Group has quietly taken over a major restaurant empire throughout Broward County, including Canyon. Val+Tino’s arrival cuts Canyon’s existing dining room, which remained open during the transformation, in half.
In Val+Tino’s kitchen there will be a sight familiar to veteran Fort Lauderdale diners: Rocchio, an old-school pasta master, presiding over a team of polished professionals, folding and filling tagliatelle, strozzapretti andcasoncelli by hand. Even the staff should be familiar: About 75 percent of the original Valentino staff will return to Val+Tino, Linder says.
He is careful not to call Val+Tino a revival of Valentino Cucina Italiana, which closed in 2020 after 13 years, but rather as fine dining “taken to the next level” with fresh Mediterranean touches.
“It’s Valentino 2.0,” says Linder, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale and also reinvented Canyon’s menu and atmosphere in 2022. “Giovanni won’t have to worry about anything other than being in the kitchen, doing the best he can.”
Rocchio prefers a different metaphor to describe the imminent return of Val+Tino. “It’s like Michael Jordan retired to play baseball and then came back to the NBA,” he says. “We still have something to prove and the reason for coming back is to do better. And I think without the added stress on my shoulders, the food will be better.”
The “stress” Rocchio refers to comes from being a chef and at the same time owning Valentino, which he ran from 2006 to 2019 until exhaustion and fatigue set in, leading him to resign. (Valentino carried on without Rocchio for about nine more months before his eventual demise.)
Under the new Val+Tino partnership, Rocchio will not be the owner, but will run the kitchen alongside new chef de cuisine Jake Abbott, former sous chef at New York’s two-star Michelin restaurant Gabriel Kreuther, and pastry chef Carlos Salgado. Diners have a good chance of seeing Rocchio, Abbott and Salgado frolicking in the kitchen until opening day next month.
During the pandemic, Rocchio, 57, had begun planning an unrelated members-only restaurant, and proposed the idea to other big Fort Lauderdale restaurateurs. When a mutual friend connected the chef with Linder this summer, the latter broached the idea of a new Valentino in his old location, he recalls.
At first, Rocchio objected: “It was like going back to an old girlfriend.” But Linder was persuasive, as well as “young and motivated, and he was impressive,” Rocchio says. “He is a smart businessman. He hires well and takes care of his people.
“And it was always a little sad what happened to [the old Valentino]”, he adds. “His disappearance was not expected. That name was in my family since my dad had his restaurant.”
His father, Tony Rocchio, opened the first Valentino in Lauderhill in 1972 before moving it to Plantation in the ’80s, and Giovanni Rocchio worked there until his father’s retirement in 2000. After beginning work in New York (at Fiamma, Picholine), He returned to South Florida and opened Valentino Cucina Italiana in 2006 in a used tire store in South Federal, where he racked up accolades, including a rare four-star review from the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2019.
The new Val+Tino, Linder adds, represents a major facelift for the temple of fine dining, with new Art Deco trim, around 110 seats and an abstract color palette of sage green, light pink and white painted on the exterior. by muralist Orla Ananda. . The reconfigured layout now includes a smaller 3,500-square-foot Canyon and Tequila Bar Rio on the east side, and a 3,500-square-foot Val+Tino to the west.
Along with a simplified name comes a slimmer six-course pasta menu (price range: $24-$36), including cavatelli osso buco with porcini and ricotta salata; pumpkin tortelli with brown butter and sage; and old favorites like tagliatelle bolognese with parsley. Of course, the most acclaimed dishes, such as agnolotti carbonara with fresh pasta, pancetta, free-range egg and black pepper, would return later in the season, Rocchio says, as would the Sunday dinners.
“People just have to be patient,” he says. “We didn’t show all the tricks in the first month. We will slowly take out the rabbit.”
It’s not that there aren’t spectacular shows on opening day. These include Iberian shoulder (ham shoulder) with fried dough (gnocco fritto), pecorino and olive oil, along with Royal Osetra caviar and homemade stracciatella. For appetizers ($18-$28), there will be amberjack dipped with hearts of palm, gooseberry and kohlrabi, along with blueberry foie gras, scallops with black truffle and beef tartare with capers.
Entrees ($36-$65) include a New York strip dry-aged in-house (there are new refrigerators); aged duck breast with carrots, aged soybeans and turnips; and snapper with artichokes, clams and garlic. Many of those dishes reappear on a five-course tasting menu ($129) that a table can share along with cheese, preserved fruit, raw honey and mignardises, or bite-sized desserts.
“The five-course tasting menu, which changes regularly, highlights seasonal ingredients and will give guests the opportunity to try something new each time they visit,” Abbott says in a statement.
Stefan Cole, a veteran sommelier who worked on the original Valentino, will oversee an extensive list of rare wines. And for dessert, gianduja ice cream with hazelnuts, dark chocolate and caramel, as well as a dish called Chartreuse, a puff pastry with mascarpone ice cream and milk chocolate; and pecan pie with poached pear sorbet.
“It’s not easy or accessible, but it’s an opportunity for people to try foods they’ve never tried before,” Linder says. “It’s a real old-school New York style of cooking, not just lasagna or chicken parmigiana, although we’ll have those on specials, too.”
For spring food, Rocchio is already experimenting with a “seven-meat ragu of venison and wild boar that will be even better than my bolognese,” he says.
Rocchio is not ruling out the idea of a Valentino expansion and is in talks for future locations in California and Washington, DC. However, for now he is happy in his old territory of Rio Vista.
“To me, we are right where we belong,” Rocchio says. “I always liked being there outside of Las Olas, but not in Las Olas, separated from everyone. “It is a destination, not a tourist place.”
Val+Tino is expected to open in December at 620 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-451-1200 or visit ValandTino.com.