The Tao of Timó
Few things are as dismaying as returning to a favorite restaurant and discovering it has slipped. Worse is when you recommend the place to a friend — a needless squandering of their money and your credibility. It occurs with large, corporate-owned ventures that possess the capital to overstaff the kitchen and dining room in order to make solid first impressions, and then downsize once the tables get filled. It occurs with smaller eateries when they study grim first-quarter operating expenses and feel an urgent need to tweak. There are countless cost-cutting measures that can lead to lowering quality, the two most popular being to purchase lesser brand products, and to ax the big-salaried chef and trust lackluster cooks to replicate the recipes. But such short-term tactics rarely work. Positive word-of-mouth is like a battery that can provide enough energy to sustain an establishment for the first six months; consistency is the electric cord that allows it to plug in with the public for the long haul. Timó, whose 2003 debut broke the shashlik/latke lock on Sunny Isles, is the same as it ever was: a great restaurant.
It helps that owners Tim Andriola and Rodrigo Martinez are, respectively, chef and general manager. They were both working on premises when I reviewed Timó shortly after it opened; they were doing likewise during my recent visits. That right there is your reason for consistency. Another big factor in their success is that by the time they started their own place, they knew exactly what needed to be done. Andriola had grabbed top honors at the Culinary Institute of America, followed by apprenticeships at esteemed establishments and, locally, five years as chef de cuisine at Chef Allen's, then top toque at Mark's South Beach. Martinez had served a lengthy stint as general manager and wine director at Norman's. Together these resumés represented as pure a modern Miami culinary bloodline as is possible. Now, with almost four years under their belts, the seasoned proprietors operate Timó in a smooth, seemingly effortless fashion.
I use the word seemingly because we know a tremendous amount of work is involved, but patrons aren't reminded of it — no stressed-out managers, no verbal recitals of items the kitchen has run out of, no harried waiters apologizing for neglect. The dining room staff, natty in muted monochrome shirts and ties, operates with a serene confidence only experience can bring. We were barely conscious of their presence yet were never left wanting. To dine at Timó is to marvel at marionettes while mindless of the strings.
The casually upscale 120-seat room looks just as it did opening day; all of the warm, contemporary urban design elements having been impeccably maintained. A long full-service bar takes up the restaurant's right side; a hearth oven set in stone occupies the rear left. The rest of the intimate space is a neat arrangement of brick, wood, glass, mirrors, modern art, subtle curves, light earth tones, white linen cloths, and high ceilings with exposed beams.
The food, too, conveys an accessible coupling of homespun and high-end. Almost all the original menu items have changed, but the mettlesome Mediterranean means of cooking has not. Andriola has a knack for melding just a few elemental ingredients into a clean, light, yet heartily satisfying meal. His cuisine is less about wow than Tao: It adheres to a belief in the simple, natural, and honest.
Appetizers comprise soups, salads, and "small plates," the last including lasagnette laden with lumps of crab meat, homemade ricotta cheese, and lobster sauce; and luscious nubs of sweetbread with sautéed spinach and bits of applewood-smoked bacon in a honey-balsamic gastrique. Numerous customers start by sharing wispy-crusted pizzas that come to the table steamy-hot from the hearth. There are five designer toppings to choose from, including a potpourri of porcini, Italian sausage and fontina, and a simpler mesh of salami with shaved garlic. We went with basic tomato, basil, and mozzarella, and it was pretty much a perfect pie.
A few favorites remain from the original bill of fare. Sampling one such dish, a salad of fried oysters atop frizzy frisée leaves, was like visiting a town after a multiyear absence and finding the old doughnut shop still standing. The oysters were soft and plush as cream puffs — dunked in a bowl of greens, white beans, tomatoes, red onion, and bits of smoky pancetta that acted as savory sprinkles.
Another case of delightful déjà vu occurred via a plate of tagliatelle, mushrooms, and pulled morsels of unimaginably moist Bell & Evans chicken from the wood-burning oven. The original rendition framed these savories in truffled broth; this time the liquid was a luxuriously rich fontina cream sauce speckled with black truffles.
Fine ingredients all, but equally integral is the stellar execution by Andriola's kitchen crew. A leg of confit duck and fanned slices of succulent breast were cooked just right, as was an apt accompaniment of braised napa cabbage with borlotti beans and Italian sausage. Same goes for a juicy square of yellowtail snapper wrapped in spinach, dappled with ripe tomatoes, and surrounded by tender littleneck clams.
Side dishes are compelling enough to make a meal by themselves — an especially viable option for vegetarians, who could pair wild mushroom and truffle risotto with roasted beets and goat cheese; or with warmed mushrooms and artichokes; or braised endive with balsamic and Parmesan (which proved a bit too tangy for our table's tastes).
Prices have remained a little less steadfast than everything else but are still reasonable: appetizers $9 to $17, pastas around $20, 11 of 13 main courses under $30. And Timó touts a distinctive wine list, although admittedly I base this judgment on it being composed mostly of labels I've never heard of. Seriously, it's a distinguished list, including about two dozen dessert wines by the glass.
There are a dozen smartly chosen cheeses to match with the wines, but if it's sweets you desire, desserts deliver the goods as well — although I am not nearly as enthusiastic about current choices as before (my wife still talks about the long-gone coffee granita of many, many condos ago). Maybe it's a matter of too much fruit, what with mango tarte tatin, apple strudel, pineapple cobbler, berries with zabaglione.... Having said that, I admit even mundane molten chocolate cake is plated with artistry — and also with caramelized banana ice cream and dulce de leche. Champagne crème brûlée tasted pretty much the same as any other crème brûlée, even if sided by "braised" blueberries; the topping should have been more darkly caramelized to create a bitter foil for the sweet custard. None impressed as much as an exemplary white chocolate soufflé with creamy Chambord sauce poured into the poked center. Unlike soufflés, which can reach glorious heights only to fall, Timó consistently rises to the occasion.
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