Home Improvement

I love summer projects, and this year I've taken on a doozy: overhauling our restaurant capsules. Revisiting restaurants I haven't been to lately, checking out places that have undergone alterations in chef, menu, or management. I can't rewrite the capsule on every restaurant -- that would take years -- but I can make sure everything is absolutely up to date.

About once each month, as the renovation progresses (and my waistline expands), I'll share my findings. This time around, in recognition of the fact that I'll be spending a whole lot of the summer away from my house, I'm offering a roundup of establishments whose names refer to a dwelling, structure, or part thereof.

I'm pleased to report that in many of them, I felt right at home.

Siam Lotus Room
6388 S. Dixie Hwy., South Miami; 666-8134. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m.

Everyone knows this place, at least by sight -- it's painted a blue-green so bright it makes your eyes ache. But the food at this pleasant, popular spot is as attention grabbing as the exterior.

A sauteed pork starter, nam sod, was delicious. Served warm over iceberg lettuce, the minced meat was tangy with lime juice, shredded fresh ginger, and sliced onion, with whole roasted peanuts scattered throughout. Crusty porpia tod (Thai egg rolls) were not as well balanced, filled with ground pork, celery, bean sprouts, and dried mushrooms, but tasting mostly of the chopped white cabbage that made up the bulk of the interior.

Pad Thai was a tasty, mild version, ground peanuts garnishing one side and crisp bean sprouts the other, as if the diner were expected to mix everything up at the table. Egg, pork, and whole shrimp finished the dish, which was plentiful. A curry called gang featured a thin, coconut milk-based sauce perfectly spiced with ginger, and suffered only from too-chewy beef that had been sauteed rather than stewed.

Royal Thai omelet, a main course, was deserving of its appellation. A delicate egg shell burst with a sweet-sour tomato sauce containing ground pork, onions, green peas, and ground peanuts. Over fragrant steamed white rice, this was a beautiful combination.

Harried service and a long pause between courses were marks against, but I wouldn't mind being sent to this room more often.

Shula's Steak House
1541 Miami Lakes Dr., Miami Lakes; 820-8102. Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

While rumors of a downtown Miami eatery haven't yet materialized, success has led the retired Dolphins coach to open a second steak house in Tampa. Meanwhile, the original restaurant at Don Shula's Golf Club in Miami Lakes remains, chilly as a mansion despite the warm wood trim and gleaming Dolphins souvenirs, plaques, and trophies.

The menu is a kick -- a football propped on each table bears a list of meat and fish dishes. But the real menu is a wheeled tea cart filled with ice, the vegetables of the day (broccoli and asparagus with hollandaise sauce on my most recent visit), lobster ($16.95 a pound, starting at three and a half pounds), and various cuts of meat wrapped in plastic, which the waitress recited in a fast monotone that left me breathless by the time she was done.

In general, the service was awful. We ate two baskets of warm sourdough bread before we were even greeted, and our waitress's "I'll be right with you" became a veritable mantra. The whole staff suffered from a lack of focus -- the gentleman grinding pepper on my salad while talking to a waitress had to be asked three times to please stop twisting his mill. Given the prices commanded here, the real question becomes, Is the food worth it?

Absolutely.
Caesar salad was fabulous, sweet pale-green romaine draped with a creamy blend of garlic, anchovies, and Parmesan cheese. The house mix, too, was a gorgeous presentation: chopped romaine topped with crumbled Gorgonzola, red onions, four beefy tomato slices, and a potent scallion-oregano vinaigrette reminiscent of a Greek dressing.

Cuts of beef range from cowboy (a flat-bone sirloin steak ) to Kansas City (a boneless sirloin) to filet mignon. I opted for "Don Shula's favorite," a 24-ounce porterhouse. The loin end of this steak was a bit chewy, but the filet portion was perfection, the overall flavor unbeatable.

Ordered medium rare, lamb chops came raw in the middle before reappearing as requested. Still, they were succulent and juicy, the two double-thick chops composing a huge, musky portion. Both dishes were accompanied by oversalted sauteed whole button mushrooms and more sensitively seasoned slices of sauteed red onion and red, yellow, and green peppers.

A la carte hash browns provided beef relief, the fried, shredded potato pancake big as a Frisbee. (The waitress may sneer when you ask for ketchup, but who cares?) Creamed spinach was not exactly healthy greenery, especially on top of all the red meat, but when the famous steak house vegetable is this tasty, underscored by a double blast of garlic and Parmesan, it's hard to be good.

Ditto the chocolate-fudge layer cake, a slice almost as rich as the spinach and just slightly smaller than a steak.

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