By Jessica Mehalic Lucas
Photography by Gary James
On any given day at Bal Harbour Shops, you’ll find a crowd dressed to kill and willing to wait for a table, preferably on the terrace, at Carpaccio. The food—and the people-watching—is that good.
Since 1995, the legendary Italian restaurant has been the heart of the luxury mall and the place to be seen. It’s frequented by athletes, politicians, socialites and celebrities; Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Pharrell Williams, Maria Sharapova, Lionel Messi and Julio Iglesias are just a few of the stars who have made Carpaccio their go-to for thin-crust margherita pizza, linguini with fresh Maine lobster, lightly breaded veal lombata and filet mignon carpaccio.
But really, it’s the atmosphere that draws the crowds. Think of a meal at Carpaccio like attending a modern-day Italian opera. The dramatics of presentation, frenzy of servers and guests and, of course, an audience of restaurant-goers craning their necks to take in the grand stage: the valet line. There, at the palm tree-lined entrance of Bal Harbour Shops, it’s a parade of exotic and vintage cars unlike any other. And there’s no better perch to capture the scene than at one of Carpaccio’s coveted patio tables.
“We didn’t realize it was going to be such a huge hit,” says Piero Filpi, who co-founded Carpaccio with veteran chef Manuel Paucar and Tom Billante, a silent third partner in the business. “We knew it was going to be a good restaurant because we know what to do.”
I love what I’m doing. I meet a lot of people
and make them happy.”—Manuel Paucar
Indeed, they have an impressive history. In 1988, the three opened Mezzanotte, another blockbuster Italian restaurant that started in South Beach and expanded to five locations (including one in Mexico City) over its 16-year existence. Filpi met the late Stanley Whitman, the visionary who built Bal Harbour Shops, in 1980 when he was a maitre d’ at former eatery Tiberio in the mall. When Whitman later called to offer Carpaccio’s now-renowned corner, the trio said yes without hesitation.
“It was an instant success because our consistency carried over from Mezzanotte,” Filpi says. “And what we do is unique because Manuel and I are both hands-on. Every single day, lunch and dinner, you’ll find at least one of us here.” Their presence is also reflected in the décor, which includes LED-lit murals of scenes from Venice hovering over cream-colored walls detailed with intricate gold leaf—all inspired by the owners’ travels through northern Italy.
Born in Palermo, Italy, Filpi moved to Brooklyn at age 12 and worked in insurance before becoming a restaurateur. Paucar left Quito, Ecuador, at a young age to move to New York and was head chef at popular Italian venues such as Trastevere, Parioli Romanissimo and Felidia. The two met in 1986 and instantly hit it off. While Paucar’s forte is in the kitchen and Filpi’s expertise is in the dining room, they both assist with all aspects of the business, from training staff to finalizing daily specials.
“Manuel and I are both hands-on. Every
single day, lunch and dinner, you’ll find at least one of us here.”
They have an incredible attention to detail—evident in the freshness of ingredients and the precision of a cappuccino—but also a customer-first mentality that pervades everything they do. For instance, the restaurant’s extensive wine list includes selections not only from Italy but also from France, Australia and California.
“Since Miami is an international hub, we’ve put together the wine list so people from all over the world can enjoy wines from all over the world,” Filpi says. “And we offer choices. We don’t start our wine list at $100 a bottle. That’s an offensive thing to do. We have wines that cost $30 and $40. We take care of our customers according to their needs.”
It’s no surprise then that Carpaccio serves about 1,500 to 3,000 guests a day, and many of those guests are repeat visitors. Think of Carpaccio as a very chic “Cheers”—where everybody knows your name. It’s a destination for consistent, palate-pleasing meals that offer plenty for all of the senses. So, what’s the best way to secure a table? To score a spot with minimal wait time, Filpi suggests arriving shortly after the restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. And always save room for dessert.
“The way Manuel makes the tiramisu, even in Italy it’s not as good,” Filpi says.
As always, the owners are content as long as customers are satiated and smiling. “I love what I’m doing,” Paucar says. “I meet a lot of people and make them happy. A lot of good people.”
Originally appeared in the Summer 2017 Issue.