It is hard not to miss Chef Giovanni – he’s the handsome, charming guy in chef whites working a mile a minute behind the open kitchen at Valentino Cucina Italiana on Ft. Lauderdale’s busy North Federal Highway. Rocchio isn’t just charismatic, he is extremely talented as well.
“I don’t eat much,” he laughs, distracting listeners with his dimpled smile as he places the finishing touches on a breathtaking foie gras with whipped cream appetizer dish. The bar accommodates 16 and is the coveted spot for diners to enjoy front row seats to the magic of Valentino. For those seeking to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy a standout Italian meal there is plenty of comfy, intimate seating throughout the expansive restaurant as well.
It takes a lot to keep one restaurant running smoothly and garnering success, but Rocchio, whose unruly curls betray the strict discipline he evokes in the kitchen, decided to double up by opening another completely different eatery, One Door East, right next door to his modern Italian hit.
“We used to play ping-pong in that empty space,” he confides while serving a shrimp fusilli with controne beans. “But ping pong doesn’t pay the rent.” And there’s that smile again.
The friendliness that exudes from Rocchio crosses over to his cooking. Valentino Cucina Italiana opened in 2006 as an ode to his father’s Plantation restaurant young Rocchio grew up in by the same name. The menu showcases his thorough training, both in revered New York establishments and kitchens in Italy, where he spent time honing his skills as a chef. Featured dishes include veal osso buco with porcini mushrooms, bone marrow, and tomato, house-made Tortelli with butternut squash and pumpkin seeds, and diver scallops with cauliflower, fregola Sarda (a type of pasta typical to Sardinia), preserved lemon, and nigella seed.
“I use only the freshest of ingredients when cooking. Fresh vegetables and herbs provide an authentic taste that nothing else can deliver,” Rocchio says.
One Door East became the restaurant that would replace Rocchio’s table tennis tournaments and space where he used to bake Valentino’s bread, when it opened in February 2016. The industrial-style, global tapas eatery recently welcomed Chef Oliver Lustaro, formerly of Zuma in London, to oversee the kitchen. Dishes include hamachi ceviche with royal red prawn and aji-passion fruit leche Tigre, lobster toast with saffron sabayon, and burnt ends with homemade barbeque, pickles and aged cheddar cheese. Lustaro works closely with Rocchio to create the menu and Rocchio frequently pops by to chat with diners of One Door East as well.
At first glance one would be hard-pressed to find similarities between the two restaurants, save that they are owned by Rocchio, driven by passion and creativity, and share the same front entrance: make a left, and you’ll get a boisterous, Asian fusion experience or turn right for a classy, intimate Italian with a modern twist. Both offer scrumptious cocktails, wines, and beers to pair with the meal. Of course, the most important thing they share is the end result: regardless of which you choose, you’re sure to leave satisfied in the end.