It's a weekday lunch, and nearly every table is filled with suits from nearby office towers. There's a stark contrast between the no-nonsense, hurried faces of the business crowd and those of the restaurant's gregarious waitstaff, who dart around the room with small plates and filtered water while constantly checking on their tables.
Near the open kitchen is a scent of the things to come. Grilled hamachi collars, a cut of fish culled from right behind the gills, smells rich with its trademark pungency. Thai curried mussels offer whiffs of coconut milk and spice, while grilling bacon bread delivers hints of the breakfast that everyone wishes they had eaten.
This is the latest project from the team behind Altamare: chef Simon Stojanovic and restaurateur Claudio Giordano. It sits on the ground floor of 1450 Brickell Ave., one of the newest office high-rises in this urban corridor. Along with two other nearby monoliths, it is one of the most prominent of Miami real estate's recession babies. As the market bottomed out in 2008 and 2009, many first-floor spaces sat empty, waiting for any business — a restaurant, a convenience store — to turn them into something useful. Now those spaces are filled with eateries — of varying quality and staying power.
Stojanovic for years wanted to open a spot using the small-plates concept. The Australian-born chef earned his Miami bona fides at Nemo Restaurant on South Beach and later as one of the first cooks at Michael Schwartz's now-lauded Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. Schwartz's farm-to-table mentality stuck with Stojanovic, who applied it to Altamare, a polished, fish-centric restaurant on Lincoln Road. Now he's employing it at Tikl Raw Bar & Grill.
"We saw at Altamare the younger crowd was coming in and ordering five, six, or seven appetizers and sharing everything," Stojanovic says. "I like to cook like that. I like to eat like that."
Tikl joins a Brickell dining scene that is crowded but short on standouts. Kevin Cory's Naoe on Brickell Key, Jacob Anaya and Brad Kilgore's Azul at the Mandarin Oriental, and David Bracha's River Oyster & Seafood Bar are the highlights. But the area is choking on Irish pubs, chain sushi joints, and increasingly expensive apartments.
Stojanovic has mostly stepped out of Altamare's kitchen and now spends most of his time at Tikl, where I spotted him during two visits, one at lunch and another at dinner. And he orchestrated a steady flow of plates out of the kitchen, at least during lunch, when bites arrived at almost warp speed. At dinner, though, my dinner guest and I found ourselves waiting for some time for even the cold bites.
With the short-rib soft "taco," Tikl joins Miami's steamed-bun craze. Two clamshell bao buns came filled with butter-soft short rib topped with horseradish sour cream and shaved scallions. The buns were lukewarm upon arrival, making them denser than expected. And the amped-up sour cream didn't quite make the nasal passages tingle.
One-hour cured snapper is the strangest tiradito I have ever encountered. Snapper fillets are cured in a mixture of salt and sugar, sliced, and lined on a plate with nutty miso salt chips, flying-fish roe, and orange zest. A thin film of oil infused with orange flavor sits below. The fish is slippery but holds its meaty texture. The orange element makes each slice taste like, no joke, an orange Tootsie Pop.
The boneless chicken thighs aren't groundbreaking but are a great addition to the meal. A pair of skewers comes with grilled chunks of meat and chicken skin rubbed with tare, a Japanese barbecue sauce made of mirin, soy sauce, and chicken drippings. Though some pieces of chicken skin could have been crisped a bit more to provide contrasting crunch, they weren't chewy.
The year Stojanovic and company spent creating the concept has resulted in a distinctly urban-looking space with a cool vibe. Its manufactured urbanism seems another expression of Miami's sometimes-repressed desire to be New York City. Developers even fought to have one of the nearby streets renamed "Avenue of the Americas."
The bottom of the nearly 20-foot-tall walls are covered with wide planks of gray wood that look sanded and marred to give them a reclaimed look. Attached to them are a chalk board announcing daily specials and various photographs of buildings under construction. Opposite the entrance, an exposed brick wall adds to the urban feel and acts as a backdrop for the free-standing bar. A second floor, inaccessible to diners, brims with wine racks.
Deep-brown and black tables fill most of the loft-like first floor. Some have matching chairs with beige cushions, and others are pushed up to white banquettes. Light filters in through floor-to-ceiling windows, which at night provide a street-level view of Brickell Avenue.
The mostly Asian-inspired menu is dotted with bits of variance. Lamb zatar ($14) brought a small T-bone rubbed with sumac — a tart spice common in Middle Eastern dishes — fresh oregano, sesame seeds, and black pepper. Though our server didn't ask our preference, the portion arrived cooked to a perfect medium-rare and well rested.
Beef cheek arrived in a cast-iron casserole dish paired with whipped cauliflower and a biting yet enjoyable salad of celery leaves, flat-leaf parsley, and lemon vinaigrette. The meat was braised until fork-tender and had the proper balance of meat and fat.
Along with the raw options were tiraditos and rotating special rolls, which Stojanovic says he leaves to his roll guy, Duksum Lee. When we visited, sliced hogfish, dressed with uni sauce and enoki mushrooms, was being offered, though we didn't try it.
An unassuming grilled eggplant ($5) was one of the highlights of our evening visit. The whole fruit was peeled and roasted with the stem on. The execution, along with a generous streak of smooth romesco sauce, made for a great presentation. The creamy, garlicky flesh provided flavor to match.
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Waiters were knowledgeable about the menu and were attentive throughout the meal, an important quality when dozens of plates can pass across a table in a single sitting.
Much like the building it occupies, Tikl is something new to Brickell. But it's not a new concept to Miami, and its menu is less exciting than some other small-plate restaurants. However, dishes are thoughtful and flavorful without using too many ingredients. Tikl is certainly deserving of more than a hurried lunch with colleagues and, I hope, is a predictor of things to come for this fast-growing urban center.