No Dane, No Gain

You can never be too rich or too thin or spend too much of your money on pricey (but pretty) morsels at chichi Miami restaurants, right?

Wrong. Enough Mediterranean delicacies from seaside, Eurostyle bistros. We hankered for something different. Ethiopian or Moroccan or Polish would have cured our epicurean malaise, but Miami is far from replete with restaurants specializing in such cuisines. Then we came across a phone-book listing for Tivoli, a restaurant named for the famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark. Visions of twinkling lights and open potato-and-salami sandwiches danced in our heads. But they remained only visions - Tivoli did not provide exactly the ethnic experience we had in mind.

Maybe it was the strip-mall location (Eastern Shores Plaza) that poked the first hole in our bubble. Or the tables placed so close to one another we learned the outcome of several films we were planning to see. Not to mention the ill-placed light fixture hovering over our table, ready (and able) to knock our heads every time we we stood up, sat down, or even nodded. And the ponytailed waiters who looked as though they belonged in the pages of GQ (or the cafes of South Beach). And the dearth of Danish dishes and elixirs on the menu. Epcot does a better job of re-creating a European ambiance than the Tivoli restaurant. Save for a few prints of Danish scenes on the wall, we felt we could have been in a hotel dining room in any number of cities, European or otherwise. But Denmark? No way.

We were consoled, however, by the bowl of complimentary crudites placed before us. This generous (not to mention healthful) freebie boasted cold, crisp chunks of cucumber, carrot, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, and radishes, along with a yogurt-based garlic and mustard dip. Appetizer choices included pasta dishes, snails in garlic butter, soups, mushroom caps stuffed with crab meat and Parmesan, and - my companion's eyes lit up - gravlax, cured Norwegian salmon with dill-and-mustard sauce. Alas, the only starter with a whiff of Scandinavia was unavailable.

Hoping to hear about an exciting Danish sailor's stew, I inquired about the soup of the day. It was lobster bisque - not quite the concoction I was hoping for, but I ordered it anyway. The rich, smooth soup certainly deserved the bisque label, but the tepid mixture had been overpureed until nary a morsel of lobster was discernible.

The house salad served with each entree was a bit of overkill after the wonderful crudites, but the waiter only brought one salad for the two of us, so we managed to do some justice to the romaine and croutons in a creamy herb dressing. Although my companion, who tends to eschew vegetables, liked it, I thought the salad plain - what's a caesar without the Parmesan and anchovies?

Appetizers range in price from $3.50 (for French onion soup) to $5.95 (for the snails or shrimp cocktail), while entrees, which consist of seafood, beef, chicken, pasta, and even a roast duck Danoise thrown in for good measure, cost between $10.95 and $19.95. At the low end of the fiscal spectrum, fettuccine a la Tivoli combines thin, flat noodles with cream, Parmesan, mushrooms, and garlic; and at the high end is a bouillabaisse Tivoli, which sounded like the classic Provencal version - fish broth flavored with garlic, saffron, leeks, and tomatoes, served with shrimp, lobster tail, scallops, mussels, and fish. My companion tried the fish of the day, dolphin en croute, cooked in a puff pastry with spinach and nutmeg and served in a bearnaise sauce. The rest of the continental menu leans south, toward Germany (Wiener schnitzel) and France (veal cordon bleu), but I wanted a little northern exposure. I ordered the roast duck, if for no other reason than the Danoise.

Both the fish and the duck were good, if a bit on the paltry side in terms of portions. The duck, in particular, consisted of one drumstick with a bit of thigh and breast meat attached. Though it was neither fat nor juicy, the bird was surprisingly moist, with a golden and crunchy skin and a thin layer of meat. An unfortunate addition was the apple-and-chutney sauce, which tasted like a few shards of apple in lukewarm apple juice. I expected the chutney to have a thicker texture and much more pizzazz, perhaps even a little heat. The chef was more ambitious - and successfully - with the dolphin. Again the portion was small, but the fish was layered generously with chopped, cooked spinach and enrobed in a beautiful, bronzed shell. The pastry was light and flaky while the dolphin retained its perfectly cooked succulence. The bearnaise seemed superfluous, yet the sauce was so tasty we sopped it up with warm loaves of light bread that had the texture and sweet buttery flavor of croissants.

Although we drank French wine with our meal, the restaurant does offer some Danish beverage options. There is one sparkling water from Sweden (Ramlosa); and beer lovers are in luck, with Carlsberg, Carlsberg Light, and Carlsberg Elephant Malt offered in addition to German, Dutch, and American brews.

Desserts appear to be making a comeback in Miami, and Tivoli gives diners plenty of options. According to the waiter, the array changes from day to day, and he immediately rattled off more than a dozen sweets. Scandinavians are known for some fabulous, exotic desserts, such as red-fruit pudding - a cold fruit soup served with cream - and the Danes, in particular, are noted for apple confections. At Tivoli, however, we heard mostly about chocolate - chocolate ecstasy, chocolate chip cheesecake, a chocolate-pecan concoction - and thanks to the large crudites before the meal, we were too full for such heavy treats. (The menu does mention a crepe dessert served gratis, Monday through Thursday, except during holiday weeks.)

While I was disappointed that Tivoli does little in the way of Danish cuisine, I must credit them with well-prepared continental food and some of the most outstanding hospitality - not one but two complimentary dishes - between here and Copenhagen.

3439 NE 163rd St, N Miami Beach, 945-7080. Hours: Sunday - Thursday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.


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