La Strega Cucina Italiana & Steakhouse brings fine dining to Miami Lakes

Community By Erika Pesantes, reporter Thursday, May 19, 2022

    White tablecloths, red roses and a wine cellar stocked with about 1,000 bottles at La Strega Cucina Italiana & Steakhouse may suggest the upscale Miami Lakes restaurant caters to a mature crowd. 

     But owner Milena Salazar lights up as she talks about some of her more diminutive diners, and says children are welcome, too. 

     Salazar is not worried about kids marking the white table linens with crayons.

     “The child leaves with a memory [of a shared family meal],” she said. “The linens can be washed.”

     Salazar and her business partner Tulio Polo bring a taste of Italy to the former Ruby Tuesday location at 15281 NW 67th Ave. in Miami Lakes 

     Their new restaurant opened April 1 and has brought fine dining back to town. 

      It’s the second La Strega location; their original eatery is in Pembroke Pines.  

     Salazar is delighted when families gather at La Strega while enjoying specialties such as her favorite, linguine vongole, a pasta with fresh little neck clams in a red or white sauce ($25). 

    “I want [my restaurants] full of children, grandparents and families, and couples that fall more in love still,” she said.

     The menu’s more than 70 dishes include an eye-catching special: Black ink linguine seafood pasta with clams, shrimp and calamari ($32).

     There is lobster ravioli in a creamy vodka pink sauce ($25), Bistecca alla Florentina, a 32 oz. prime porterhouse steak ($86) and a prime tomahawk rib chop, also 32 oz. at $120.  

      Side dishes may arrive with roasted potatoes, baked creamed spinach, grilled asparagus or charred brussels sprouts.       

     Wines from Italy, Spain, France, Argentina and New Zealand are offered, and about a quarter of the selection may be ordered by the glass. 

     Bottles range from $35 up to $1,149 for Vega Sicilia Unico, a Spanish red tempranillo from the Castilla y Leon region.

     Ruby Tuesday’s dark interior is gone. The booths were redone in a neutral gray that contrast with striking, brightly-painted artwork of landscapes in Milan, Venice, Lake Cuomo and Naples.

     Up to 260 diners may enjoy the art and weekly deliveries of a candy-apple red rose at each table.

     La Strega is named after Italy’s most prestigious literary award which was originally funded by the manufacturer of an herbal liqueur of the same name.   

     The word strega can also mean witch in Italian, and the original owner of La Strega in Pembroke Pines kept a witch figure with a broom in the restaurant for good luck. 

     When Salazar and Polo bought the original location in Pembroke Pines in 2020, she promptly discarded it, thinking it didn’t bring luck to anyone, she said. 

    Previously the pair were general contractors in the petroleum industry in their homeland of Venezuela, and after they immigrated to the United States, they leased out heavy equipment, a business they still run.

     And now it’s restaurants.

     Salazar moved from Miramar to Miami Lakes in September. 

     She brought her personal collection of original art and garden decor to the Miami Lakes restaurant to give it her own special touch. 

     Every Sunday, she tends to enormous planters outside the restaurant that overflow with pink blossoms and green foliage. Large bubbling vase fountains at the entrance are also repurposed from Salazar’s former home.

     Both owners say they are enamored with the town. 

     Polo has lived in Miami Lakes for 17 years and says he loves how a small town can offer plenty to do. 

     For Salazar, The Graham Companies’ Holstein cows in pastures around town remind her of her childhood and her family’s ranch life. 

     The restaurant adopted the cow statue at the northeast corner of Main Street and Northwest 67th Avenue.

     It is part of a public art project, among about 12 cow statues that reflect Miami Lakes’ beginnings as the Graham dairy farm.

     Salazar nicknamed it Caterina. Artist Luis Valle gave the statue a vibrant new coat with pink hibiscus blossoms, birds and vines.

     Salazar hopes Caterina becomes a photo destination for restaurant guests.

     “I’ve always been very connected to Miami Lakes, and it feels like a family-oriented city,” she said, noting that her three children graduated from nearby Dade Christian School.

     Salazar raised her kids on pasta with ingredients from her garden instead of arepas, the traditional Venezuelan corn patty stuffed with savory fillings. 

     Her kids became accustomed to sitting before formal place settings, using fine crystal and seeing fresh flowers on the dinner table, she said. 

     Today Salazar and Polo’s adult children are now also part of the teams at both La Strega locations. 

     “I’ve seen the restaurants as an extension of my home,” Salazar said.

   “That’s all. That’s how I see it … with the only difference being that I’ve got a great team behind me.  

    “My employees are worth gold,” she said. “They are the most important thing we have.”   

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