Off Tempo

A sizable lull between courses would have been the convenient time to clear the table. But our waiter decided to take his job title literally: He waited, only to deem it more appropriate to grab dirty dishes after our main courses had been set down, lifting several of them over our heads before abandoning the gesture altogether. What started out as a spacious table quickly became cramped.

We took advantage of the late-night breakfast options and reverted to childhood with a couple of entrees. A raspberry waffle was an improvement over the blintzes -- though not hot, it was warm, and covered with fresh ripe berries. A requested dollop of whipped cream made a nice touch for the perpetually sweet-toothed. French toast (offered plain or raisin) was also sugary but not quite as sinful-sounding; the three pieces of thick bread were soaked in an egg-white mixture to cut the cholesterol. The exterior still had that fried eggy crust, just a trifle less rich than the whole-egg version. Weighed down with syrup, the toast was too heavy for my taste.

Tempo will make an egg-whites-only omelet and cook it in Pam for no extra charge. A Jamaican omelet, one of 30 available, was one of the most interesting combinations I've tried in any diner. Not the jerk-chicken-filled envelope one might expect, the three-egg concoction was only vaguely Caribbean but surely delicious, tiered with bananas, walnuts, and a beehive's worth of honey ($5.65). It was served in a skillet with "American fries" A flat discs of potato that were fried to a golden-brown, but in some cases on one side only. The pallid underbellies of the neglected home fries were at best unappealing.

French fries, on the other hand, were crisp and relatively grease-free. No gravy, but we made do with ketchup. The fries accompany all sandwiches, as does a small dish of grated cole slaw, minced fine enough to eat without your dentures. You might need those pearly whites for a burger, though. A patty melt we ordered medium arrived as well-cooked as the proverbial goose. Smothered with sauteed onions and cheese and slapped between two slices of seeded, buttery rye bread, the combination was sloppy and tasty enough to satisfy the patty-melt connoisseur despite the hockey-puck texture of the main ingredient ($5.35).

A Monte Cristo lacked the necessary crunch of pan-fried bread. Ham, turkey, and a congealed slab of Swiss cheese were encased between two slices of French toast. The airy bread was the right idea but was too sweet, and an obviously lengthy pause between preparation and arrival turned fluff into sog. A tuna club sandwich was more to our liking, onion-accented tuna salad showcased between three slices of toasted white bread. Juicy tomatoes and iceberg lettuce freshened up the filling, though bacon, that traditional club accompaniment, was conspicuously absent.

As was our server. When he finally showed, bill in hand as if ready to get rid of us, we requested dessert -- a tactical error, as it took twenty minutes for him to find his way back again. He finally reappeared with a slice of over-refrigerated chocolate layer cake (like most of the meal, it wasn't worth the calories), surveyed the messy clutter of the second course he hadn't bothered to clear, and asked, "Where do you want it?" We restrained ourselves from telling him exactly where to put it.

Another bit of diner wisdom, gleaned from years of experience: The nature of the business requires that the waitstaff be topnotch, and it generally is in these places. If Tempo wants to be about more than nostalgia, then it should do a better job of keeping the beat.

Tempo
15400 Biscayne Blvd, North Miami Beach; 944-1540. Open daily from 7:00 a.m. to midnight.

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