Things aren't what they seem at Basil Park, the airy 4-month-old bistro in Sunny Isles Beach. A dollop of sour cream atop some tacos has no dairy. It's made from cashews soaked overnight in water, puréed with yeast and live bacteria, and then fermented for 12 hours to create a tangy, rich blend.
The Parmesan sprinkled over crisp emerald kale chips is also cashew-based. The nuts are pulverized and then mixed with nutritional yeast to mimic the piquant cheese. A dash of sea salt finishes the disguise.
Vegetarians have long refashioned a cornucopia of seemingly animal-based products. Yet Tim Andriola -- who opened this healthful restaurant in May adjacent to his long-standing Mediterranean spot, Timo -- isn't a tofu evangelist. At Basil Park, fat slabs of grass-fed Uruguayan beef are salted, seared, and topped with sprigs of microbasil before being served. Inside a beaming rotisserie, nearly a dozen crisp-skinned chickens from Joyce Farms perform a slow, perpetual barrel roll behind a thick beech counter that fronts the open kitchen.
Andriola, who two years ago found himself sluggish and overweight from kitchen life, espouses a philosophy of "intact foods" that eschews processed wheat and sugar. Animals, he says, should be grazed and untainted with hormones or antibiotics. "If you look back hundreds of years to what we were meant to eat as humans, it's not what we're eating now," he says.
Buying into this theory is easy. Building a restaurant around it isn't. Andriola has lined up a patchwork of purveyors and has spent hours shuttling between markets and suppliers. Basil Park is partly stocked by owner-partner Tamer Harpke's Hollywood farm, where microgreens and wheatgrass are grown for juicing. A recently acquired 1.5 acres in Dania Beach that has been sown with Fresno chilies, arugula, mustard greens, and lacinato kale may soon supply up to 30 percent of the restaurant's produce.
But Andriola does more than source well. He turns out a vast menu that is as nuanced and hearty as it is nourishing. This makes Basil Park a convivial bistro rather that a vegan café suited for only models.
Squirts of homemade sriracha sauce are squiggled onto a number of dishes, and the stuff is as spicy, garlicky, and addictive as the original. Andriola simmers the chilies, bell peppers, garlic, and vinegar for two and a half hours before blending them into a searing orange-red blur. A small dish of it comes alongside three crunchy romaine leaves filled with strips of lean yet juicy skirt steak; a rough tumble of garlic, ginger, scallions, diced water chestnut, and soy; and a mushroom "confit." The poached-in-fat technique works wonders on shiitakes, criminis and portobellos, which are submerged in coconut oil and cooked gently for about an hour, yielding pale, buttery caps that magically hold their texture.
More sriracha is tossed with chopped coho salmon and wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed with a wedge of avocado and grassy pea tendrils from Harpke's farm. Andriola uses al dente red quinoa in place of sushi rice. After the grains are dressed with splashes of brown rice syrup and vinegar, the handheld dish approaches what you'd find in a Japanese restaurant.
Brown rice in various forms appears often, helping to replace flour. In the fish taquitos, it's ground and rolled into three chewy tortillas propped up in a corrugated steel holster and filled with meaty cigars of succulent mahi-mahi. They're topped with cashew-based sour cream and guacamole. The dish, like the lettuce cups, is called a small plate but is substantial enough for a full meal. The same goes for salads and an expansive list of sides ranging from barley to beets. Farro tabbouleh cleverly pairs the toothsome grain with diced tomato, crisp cucumber, and bits of red onion. A powerful shot of lemon juice spruces up the nutty kernels and shocks the vegetables to life.
The kitchen then pivots, showing restraint with Indian-spiced eggplant. Fat chunks of it are partially peeled, salted to extract some of their moisture, and sprinkled with just enough coriander and cumin to perfume the delicate flesh. Then they are briefly simmered in coconut milk and presented as a fragrant, pastel-green stew with a sweet, pungent aroma that's satisfying but overwhelming.
Such a nimble balance is absent from the soba noodle hot pot. The dish is presented tableside in a red-and-black clay basin that issues a cloud of steam scented with fish when the top is lifted. It's made with dashi -- a broth of seaweed and dried fish -- and an infusion of sake, soy sauce, onion, and ginger. The aromatics add too little to the bounty of seafood -- head-on Key West pink shrimp, fat sea scallops, and briny whitewater clams -- that rests atop a tangle of exceedingly chewy buckwheat noodles.
There are also elements of "intact food" that some diners might find off-putting. Grass-fed beef isn't as marbled as its corn-fed counterpart, resulting in leaner, chewier steaks that also have inedible sinewy knots. There were a few in a 12-ounce rib eye. That isn't the case with a plump, juicy breast of rotisserie chicken. After slow spit-roasting, the bird is finished one of four ways: Peruvian with ají amarillo; Mediterranean with rosemary, oregano, and olive oil; Hawaiian with pineapple, ginger, garlic, and soy; or with herbs, salt, and pepper. The Andean iteration is doused with a pale-yellow wash of sweet-spicy ají amarillo pepper paste brightened by tart lime juice and rounded out with a few shakes of coriander.
Some of the dishes were even created for children. The chocolate-banana milkshake sounds like a treat, and it is, but sweet, slightly bitter cacao nibs blended with almond milk offer an unvarnished glimpse of how chocolate ought to taste. Unfortunately, it isn't particularly kid-friendly. That same contrast is the highlight of a luscious wedge of chocolate pâté that is part ganache, part fudge.
A half-century of processed food has skewed diners' perceptions and palates. Andriola is unraveling both while making pristine flavors and techniques a priority. The hardest part of it all, it seems, is luring diners from Miami's central and southern reaches up to Sunny Isles Beach. No matter, though. The chef says he's working on a location in Coral Gables, and it can't come soon enough.
Kale chips $7
Salmon nori wraps $14
Lettuce cups $15
Soba noodle hot pot $23
Rotisserie chicken $17/$30
Grass-fed rib eye $36
Farro tabbouleh $7
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Indian-spiced eggplant $7
Chocolate-banana milkshake $7