By Emily Codik
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No one has a problem when it comes to finding appealing ethnic joints in this town, where authentic foods are cooked with gusto and spirited to your table for only a song. Tourists or locals seeking that special night out are also in luck -- we've got plenty of fine-dining establishments, from A (Azul) to W (Wish). Mostly missing, though, are the type of serious, privately owned, chef-driven restaurants that offer professional service and compelling cuisine in neighborhoods far from the madding crowds. Most important American cities have places such as these in every precinct. We don't, which makes the arrival of North One 10 more noteworthy than it probably ought to be, but exciting nonetheless.
The restaurant is situated in a pocket of unincorporated Miami-Dade County sandwiched between Miami Shores and North Miami. Like many communities along Biscayne Boulevard, this one is enjoying a kind of slow-motion renaissance, and North One 10 represents a big step up: The area's first great contemporary restaurant.
"One 10" signifies the cross street on Biscayne where the new eatery is located -- former site of the venerable Il Tulipano Centodieci, which I suspect fell victim to the handicap of a ten-syllable name (most people are hesitant to recommend eating at a place whose pronunciation portends a potential verbal pratfall). Tulipano's multitude of mirrors have been removed, a couple of extra windows have been installed, and there is now a small back room with full-service bar. Cream-colored brick walls remain, and conspire with blond woods, amber-colored glass, potted herbs on the window sills, a very low ceiling, and little else, to form a refreshingly unpretentious, or just plain dull, ambiance, depending upon personal taste in such matters. Most would agree the overall effect is cozy.
11052 Biscayne Blvd.
North Miami, FL 33161
You'll likely pay note to the décor only as you enter, for once seated a waiter will quickly approach and offer welcome distractions such as water; grain bread crusted with oats and dotted with dried apricots, cherries, and seeds; and a user-friendly wine list of intriguing boutique labels sorted by characteristic tastes: "chocolate & leather" for cabernets, "truffles & mushrooms" for pinot noirs, and so on. Lots of interesting choices by the glass as well.
Service is smart and smooth, the well-trained staff overseen by Dale LoSasso, who has previously distinguished herself doing likewise at Mark's Place, Chef Allen's, and Carmen the Restaurant. When the top-notch wait staff misses a beat, which isn't often, Ms. LoSasso will be quick to attend to the missing detail. As she works the room, she actually works. If front-of-the-house managers were showcased like chefs, Dale LoSasso would be a star.
Alas, it's the chefs who get the glory. But in this case it stays in the family -- namely, Dale's husband Dewey, who first gained attention as chef at Miami Beach's now-defunct Foundlings Club, snared the spotlight for seven years as corporate chef for China Grill Management, cutting most of his culinary chops at Tuscan Steak in Miami and New York. Now, in this 64-seat venue of his own, Mr. LoSasso is putting out a more personal, less ostentatious menu of New American cuisine. You might think of this turnover as Tuscan's $14 white-truffled garlic bread being replaced by North One 10's $14 salmon croquettas with guava sauce. It's true that prices here are higher than your average neighborhood establishment (entrées range from $19 to $29), but this restaurant is far above average, and still cheaper than those with upscale addresses.
The menu changes often, affording Mr. LoSasso the ability to adapt rapidly to the ever-evolving nature of local and seasonal ingredients. It's summer tomatoes today, playing a supporting role in numerous dishes but starring in an incredibly inventive and gratifying take on the ubiquitous and vastly overrated tomato, mozzarella, and basil salad. In this rendition, three thick wheels of beefsteak tomato are plated with field greens, splashed with a zesty black peppercorn-shallot vinaigrette, flecked with fresh lychees (for a small, sweet spark), and accompanied by "goat cheese brùlée." I assumed the last would be a disc of oven-browned goat cheese, not three triangular slices literally sugared and torched like brùlée, and leaning upon one another in the shape of a pyramid.
This cave-ripened cheese, from Cyprus Grove, possesses a white papery rind and creamy ivory texture reminiscent of camembert or brie, but with a much milder taste. It's called "Bermuda Triangle," no doubt because of the shape, but I couldn't help but note that it was the first item to disappear from the plate. Overall this was a fantastic combination of flavors, but if it's not too presumptuous to offer tomato advice to a Jersey guy (Dewey): I think they'd have tasted better if served at room temperature as opposed to chilled.
Donut peaches are very today too, though they'll probably be yesterday by the time you read this. Too bad, because that means you'll miss them getting roasted, filled with a confit of port-roasted pearl onions, and topped with a thick, compact slab of caramelized foie gras whose velvety texture melts into the mildly dulcet embrace of the peach. A shiny pool of port wine-boosted demi glace surrounded the foie gras and fruit, as did a few grilled strawberries that were also deftly handled (meaning lightly tossed on the fiery grates; this cooking process isn't supposed to smoke the berries but merely warm, soften, and invoke a slightly acerbic flavor).
"Mushroom-stuffed mushrooms" were filled with a porcini, portobello, and *CQ shiitake duxelle, garnished with cool chayote slaw, and sauced with a potently smoked tomato vinaigrette, all of which help catapult this Continental standard (formerly known as "stuffed mushroom caps") into the 21st Century. All in all, however, I'd go with the "two way shrimp " instead, one pair of plump crustaceans boiled and chilled, the other deep-fried duo wrapped in soba-noodle-and-scallion paste. Cocktail and remoulade sauces come on the side, as does a gray mound of smoked sea salt, which is obviously smoky and salty but in perhaps unexpectedly potent manner -- a parsimonious pinch lends a puckery punch.
Dinner unfolds at a leisurely pace, partly because that's the sort of place this is, and also because the kitchen is a little slow in putting out the food, which sometimes occurs when courses are cooked to order. Peck at your bread, sip some wine. What's the rush? Soon enough your main course will appear. Maybe it will be a whole grilled *CQ branzino fish with tomato butter and leek fondue. Or roasted duck with figs, gorgonzola, and orange-lavender sauce. I didn't try either of these but it was painful not to -- each evening's eight or so entrées reads more alluringly than the next.
It almost doesn't matter what you pick, as all is cooked with confidence and seasoned with verve. A generous portion of skirt steak, red slices fanned upon an oval plate, received an invigorating splash of wild mushroom vinaigrette and scattering of lobster mushrooms, accompanied by fresh corn kernels sautéed with meaty cubes of pancetta. Another succulent success: moist and mellow white fillets of heavenly hog snapper (a local fish) topped with a quenelle of smoked eggplant purée and served in a shallow bowl of "shrimp chowder," a Manhattan-style clam-tomato-and-vegetable broth stocked with corn, potatoes, carrots, shrimp, and pancetta, which offered pleasant pork pluck but should probably be mentioned in the menu description for the sake of noncarnivores.
Mr. LoSasso and his crew flat-out know how to cook, but nobody's perfect: While a crisp bulghur crust provided an appealing crunch to Alaskan "wild ivory salmon," and a carrot-ginger vinaigrette paired in properly pungent manner, the fish exuded, well, a fishy flavor.
Homemade desserts are composed with a full cup of creativity and tablespoon of whimsy. Grilled angel-food cake certainly meets those standards, though the grill didn't do much other than attractively mark the fluffy white square, which was accompanied by a "mojito" syrup of key lime, mint, and rum, and a scoop of coconut sorbet -- fun, fatless, refreshing, and strangely satisfying, though I don't believe the cake itself would win any pastry awards. Lemon-flecked risotto rice pudding was a gem, creamy arborio grains layered with thin, delicate rounds of sugared filo dough, rum-soaked raisins clustered around the perimeter.
It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood.