Initially planned as one of Dade's foremost shopping, dining, and entertainment complexes, the Bakery Centre instead has become one of the county's most notorious commercial failures. The 9.5-acre site, along U.S. 1 in the heart of downtown South Miami, was developed at a cost of $24.5 million. But its intimidating design and fierce competition from nearby Dadeland Mall conspired to ensure its failure.
First the developer, Martin Margulies, defaulted on his loan. Then the lender, Flagler Federal, began to teeter and was taken over by the government's Resolution Trust Corporation. Now the RTC wants to sell the property with the original development permits in place. Those permits allow for very intensive construction: two 24-story office towers, a 300-room hotel, more than 400,000 square feet of retail space, 3000 parking spaces, and more. All that building potential, the RTC figures, enhances the value of the property and increases the chances of a high sale price A to the benefit of U.S. taxpayers who are paying for the savings-and-loan bail-out disaster.
The problem for the RTC is that the development permits have expired, and city commissioners, heeding the wishes of their constituents, do not want to extend them and do not want traffic jams and skyscrapers ruining what charm is left in downtown South Miami.
While that dispute heads for protracted mediation and an eventual decision by the governor and his cabinet, the Bakery Centre limps along, a half-empty architectural albatross with a very shaky future.
That didn't stop Mogens "Mogul" Moller from opening Tivoli Grille, his international gourmet kitchen, on the first floor of the building. It could be he chose this location not carelessly but with a savvy eye toward the neighboring University of Miami market. And perhaps where others have seen risk, Moller has seen opportunity. The Bakery Centre site, after all, is definitely going to be transformed one way or another, and nearly any change is going to be an improvement. When that happens, Moller stands to be in on the ground floor literally.
In many ways, Tivoli Grille is eminently suitable for the Bakery Centre. The stark, geometric dining room, which opened in September, is hung selectively with contemporary art, recalling the galleries the mall was originally intended to feature. (Developer Margulies is one of the premier art collectors in South Florida.) The cuisine, such as the artful conch gazpacho with guacamole and pepper sherry, or the filet mignon stuffed with gorgonzola on a tomato buerre blanc, is also contemporary, New World amalgamations that draw on specific regional ingredients.
Those regions span the globe from Scandinavia to the subtropics, with generous emphasis on Asia and Italy. Appetizers graved laks (cured salmon with a mustard dill sauce) and Danica (matjes herring over castello cheese, fresh cucumbers, and lump caviar) share time with sauteed conch and Southern slaw. We sampled the shrimp cakes, a slightly greasy but creative variation on traditional crab cakes.
Italian influences are noticeable in the entrees. Four pastas are offered, including the pasta Tivoli, a well-dressed platter of grilled chicken, prosciutto, mushrooms, and baby peas in a Parmesan cream over fettuccine. This plate was large enough for the entire table to take a twirl, and tempting enough to do so more than once. Similarly, Eastern edges are apparent in the grouper tempura with coconut-ginger sauce and the honey-ginger chicken with black bean-ginger sauce (also available as a tempura preparation).
In fact we found the menu a bit deceiving. At first glance it appears extensive, but upon closer inspection, the aforementioned honey-ginger chicken, served with its black bean topping, fried spinach, and soba noodles, is suspiciously similar to the stove-top smoked salmon, also prepared with a Chinese black bean-ginger sauce, fried spinach, and soba noodles. Another coincidence is the tandoori marinated tuna tostada (served with a red bean relish, mango-avocado salsa, and smoked-shrimp tamale) and the tropical chicken, a carbon copy but for the welcome addition of hearts of palm, tomatoes, and a langostino.
And that's not all. The veal Oscar and the filet mignon share an affinity for tomato buerre blanc; the veal chop Caribe and lobster medallions, both marinated, are served with a Caribbean peanut sauce and crisp plantains.
The Scandinavian dishes also do double duty A on another restaurant's menu. Moller has owned Tivoli Restaurant, a Danish fine dining establishment in North Miami Beach's Eastern Shores Plaza, for the past twelve years. Between chef Lasse Borresen's culinary expertise and Moller's experience, it's only natural that some traditionally Danish dishes, such as the graved laks, should carry over to Tivoli Grille. Upon our visit to the new establishment, I tried the roast duck Danoise, a dish that appears at both Tivolis. The bird was drastically overcooked and missing the subtler touches that can make duck take wing. The accompanying mango-apple chutney added little moisture and lacked a character of its own, reminding me of those awful dried apple rings you can purchase in health-food stores.
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Another dish of Scandinavian origin, however, was excellent. The grilled salmon was handled expertly, as to be expected in a restaurant named after a famed Danish landmark. Topped with stir-fried, julienned vegetables, the fish was showcased in a garlic and vermouth sauce. Vermouth is an aromatic wine; herbs or other natural ingredients have been steeped in the wine to flavor it. The dry Noilly Prat brand served with the salmon was a well-informed choice and a wonderful complement to the moist fish.
Moller has borrowed something else from the Old World ambiance of his Tivoli Restaurant: complimentary chilled and crunchy crudite with a garlicky mustard dip. It seems out of place in a New World grill. But like the choice of location and the intentional duplication of the name, some things about Tivoli Grille don't make complete sense.
I had expected a clientele that was more university-oriented students, faculty but wasn't tremendously disappointed to find a well-heeled, older crowd that seemed to be enjoying the polite service and consistently well-prepared intercontinental cuisine. These are customers, it appears, who might also frequent Tivoli Restaurant, though manager Yvette Naranjo insists the clientele is flexible A both young and old. She also claims business hasn't been badly hurt by the Bakery Centre's missed opportunities.
But owing to the substantial student population in the area, there may be another missed opportunity here. When the weather warms, the tropical outdoor patio may be a draw. Drink or meal specials would help prices, while not astonishingly stratospheric, are too high for students. Still, whatever the future holds for the troubled Bakery Centre, it's unlikely that students figure prominently in the scenario; after all, they are a transient lot with little or no disposable income (but good prospects). With such thoughts in mind, city fathers want to tear the mother down and start all over again, this time skewing toward the neighborhood and downtown South Miami. And perhaps providing an easier fit for Tivoli Grille.