Vergina Restaurant, which has long been a staple of the Fifth Avenue South dining scene, has someone new at the helm in the kitchen.
Italian Chef Marco Corricelli, a graduate of the Amerigo Vespucci Culinary Institute of Milan, Italy, cooked around the world in places such as Greece, Holland and Spain, before he arrived here in Naples. He was part of several American kitchens, including Canaletto Ristorante at the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Chef Corricelli’s most recent project was Sanibel’s Il Cielo before arriving at Vergina this winter.
Vergina has a following of regulars, but Chef Corricelli is expected to introduce many new dishes, so be sure to check out the specials list when you go. Vergina’s menu still reflects the many signature dishes the restaurant’s repeat diners love, but Corricelli’s favorites from his northern Mediterranean cuisine portfolio also make appearances.
There are several notable appetizers on the menu starting with the super crispy calamari and zucchini, served with pomodoro sauce ($13). Many places do a great calamari dish in Naples, but this is one is crispy but not greasy, perfectly salty, and the little strips of zucchini are a nice bonus.
An old favorite that Vergina regulars love is the butternut squash ravioli with a hazelnut brown butter sauce ($13). What makes this dish special is the sprinkling of Amaretto crumbs and scrumptious fresh sage. Fans of mussels at Vergina dine on a Mediterranean preparation of garlic, olive oil, white wine and the crostini which makes for the best dipping ($14).
If you go
Where: 700 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
When: Lunch hours, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner
5 p.m. to close Monday-Sunday.
Prices: $9-$15 starters; $14-$21 lunch entrees; $24-40 dinner entrees
Information: 239-659-7008; www.VerginaRestaurant.com
On the salad front, the most refreshing is the citrus salad of arugula, oranges, fennel, celery, red onion and Kalamata olives with oregano, lemon olive oil emulsion. The spinach salad is served with strawberries, goat cheese crumbles, caramelized walnuts and served with a honey mustard vinaigrette (both $13). The restaurant’s signature seafood salad of marinated shrimp, octopus, calamari, shallots and vegetables in lemon garlic emulsion, scallions is $16.
On the seafood side of the entree menu, of particular mention is the Vergina signature Branzino dish. It’s served with oven-roasted tomatoes, but it’s the addition of Castelvetrano olives and green grapes in combination with the Sardinian Vernaccia wine that makes it well worth the $32. The flavors in this dish just leap off the plate and the fish was perfectly cooked.
For salmon lovers, there is a Scottish salmon filet wrapped in parchment with vegetables and hints of thyme and white wine ($27). Chef Corricelli’s seafood paella smacks of savory saffron and is laden with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, red peppers, onion and peas ($34) while he serves his scallops with porcini mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, chorizo and arugula ($40).
The delicious protein surprise on the menu was also the simplest and most unassuming — the pork Milanese composed of a lightly panko-breaded Brookshire pork loin ($29) is super flavorful. It’s served with arugula, pear tomatoes, red onion and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese.
The portions at Vergina are enormous — plenty for sharing — but if you don’t finish it, my advice is to take home the remaining portion. The dish makes for a delicious sandwich the next day. On the veal scaloppini sautéed with speck and asparagus, the soft polenta is reason enough to order this dish ($34).
For diners with a hankering for pasta, there is the pear and cacio cheese stuffed ravioli ($24), a delicious gnocchi with Fontina cheese and shaved black winter truffle — a steal at $25 — and the lamb ragu served over pasta ($26). And while it may seem trite, for those of us who adore Brussels sprouts, it’s wonderful to be able to get a side order of caramelized Brussels sprouts, prepared at Vergina with pancetta ($8).
At lunch, Vergina’s more popular items include the beef carpaccio ($15), Vergina bruschetta, which includes feta cheese crumbles ($9), and several sandwiches, such as the Moroccan chicken kebab ($16) and the Mediterranean crabcake which is made in house ($17). Try the pineapple slaw with your sandwich for a welcome alternative to fries or fruit compote. Solid lunch entrees include the chicken breast served over a Brussels sprouts salad with anchovies and Focaccia croutons ($19) and the rigatoni with eggplant, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella ($21).
On the sweeter side of Vergina, the dessert that garnered the most spoons at our table was on the specials list, so call ahead if you’re interested in the refreshing lemon cake. Sadly, the lackluster pistachio crème brulee left us wanting a crunchy surface that just wasn’t there. You can’t go wrong with tiramisu or lava cake, both $9.
Vergina also has a stellar wine list — and don’t discount the “other reds” section of the by-the-glass section of the menu. The Antinori Tuscan red ($12) is divine and the Layer Cake Malbec ($12) is a lovely light favorite with many of the dishes featured on the menu. By the bottle, there are several great wines ranging in price from as low as $34.