Earning Its Stripes

The menu seems a bit limited: ten first courses, nine entrees. The main courses do cover a wide range, however, including a choice for vegetarians. "It's not nice to punish people who want to eat just vegetables," Murray explains, "so I try to make even the plainest dishes interesting." Thus his Moroccan vegetable couscous was spiced to entice. Chunks of carrot, turnip, fennel, zucchini, and tomato were slow-cooked with cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, cilantro, and parsley. Murray even adds a bit of blue cheese to the dish's sauce, which lends it an authentically sour taste -- achieved in Morocco with fermented yogurt (unavailable in the United States). The vegetable stew was served separate from the couscous, so you could spoon as much as you like over the grain.

With the exception of the couscous, the entrees tend to be small in size. Seared sea scallops with seafood dumplings were especially unsatisfying given that the four scallops, though beautifully cooked, were oddly bitter. The dumplings improved our opinion of the dish. The minced seafood, steaming inside their doughy shells, soaked up the scallops' masterful herb-green Thai curry broth. Monkfish was a slightly bigger potion. The thick, flaky fillet was covered with an oven-dried, tomato/black olive mixture, hearty and immensely flavorful. A scoop of mashed potatoes, flecked with basil, propped up the roasted fish.

A filet mignon rivaled the monkfish for vibrancy. Murray labels this dish a staple, meaning that it will remain on the menu, which he changes every six weeks or so. The succulent beef was topped with broiled blue cheese and bottomed by crisp triangles of hash browns. Piles of caramelized onions gleamed on the edges of the plate like galleon gold.

Delicate portions left us plenty of room for dessert, notably the warm Venezuelan chocolate cake covered with chocolate sauce, composed by pastry chef James Thegenus. As one of my guests gushed, "Damn, that's a good brownie." Don't expect to enjoy a glass of port with your sweet, though. We asked our waiter to recommend one, at which point he disappeared to the bar. Returning, he said, "Well, we've got Grand Marnier."

Service in general could use some improvement. The waiter didn't know the menu, and water and bread refills were as difficult to come by as free parking. The Raleigh charges ten bucks to put your car in its lot, located about ten feet from the valet stand. Given the ridiculous distance and the fee, we were a little miffed to find that our front seats -- both of them -- had been moved and the radio station changed.

Restaurants such as the Tiger Oak Room prove that the South Beach dining scene has begun to mature. Now if only we can get the valets to do the same.

Tiger Oak Room (in the Raleigh Hotel)
1775 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 534-1775. Breakfast and lunch daily from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dinner Wednesday -- Sunday from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until midnight.

Spinach salad
$9.00

Vietnamese grilled quail
$9.00

Roasted monkfish
$21.00

Filet mignon
$26.00

Venezuelan chocolate cake
$7.00

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