Too Will Do
Eleven years ago, a pair of Danish chefs, Jan Jorgensen and Soren Bredahl, opened Two Chefs restaurant in South Miami. Bredahl returned to his homeland quite awhile back, but Two Chefs' popularity has never waned — in part because Jorgensen has been a fixture there, making sure food and service standards are being met. The new Two Chefs Too in North Miami is relying on the same formula of quality comfort cuisine and a wide scope of wines served professionally in a friendly setting. Unfortunately one chef can't be in two Two Chefs at once.
The new Two is a simple, soft-hued space that's more stripped-down and clean-lined than the flagship. The walls are minimally adorned with mirrors and sconces; a full bar is situated at one end of the rectangular room, a semi-open kitchen at the other. Lighting, music, and mood are set to "pleasant." There is also outdoor seating in front.
Although Jorgensen hails from Denmark, his cooking comes from a place where New American meets Old World, where sprightly iceberg wedges and radish sprouts prance on the same dance floor with slow-footed spätzle and galantines. Two Chefs Too's menu, like that of Two Chefs, brings a mix of something old (coq au vin), something new (salmon with fennel gnocchi and asparagus slivers), something borrowed (Caprese of tomato, mozzarella, and basil), and something blue (Gorgonzola cremificato, one of a plethora of postdinner cheeses).
We started with caesar salad featuring long, crisp leaves of romaine visually obscured underneath large triangular wisps of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the whole dressed in zesty lemon-garlic-anchovy vinaigrette. Two slices of hard toasted croutons on the side didn't mix in with the salad as well as they do when cut into smaller cubes.
Another light bite came via a trio of thin asparagus stalks steamed bright green and tastily topped with a poached farm egg and "polonaise streusel" of minced hard-boiled eggs, bread crumbs, butter, and herbs. We also liked an appetizer special of rock shrimp stew, whose plump crustaceans were crunchy-fresh and served in a casserole with artichokes, leeks, fennel gnocchi, and stewed tomatoes. Nubs of sumptuously tender escargots came blanketed in veal-based sauce modestly imbued with garlic but overloaded with Pernod, and tasted too salty even before getting flecked with bits of smoked duck and sun-dried tomatoes.
Within the general map of Old World cooking, Jorgensen has in recent times been exploring the particular region of country French. His coq au vin is prepared in classic fashion: chicken braised with thick button mushrooms, pearl onions, and bacon in a rich brown demi-glace tinted with white wine. A pair of ethereally soft cheddar cheese croquettes on the side was terrific. Veal sweetbreads, nearly as tender as the airy croquettes, were smartly dressed in a lively "puttanesca" sauce and plated with black truffle risotto pungent with Parmesan, though the rice was a trifle overcooked and devoid of any truffle taste. Grilled mahi-mahi with peas, roast fingerling potatoes, and goat cheese aioli was fresh but unexpectedly flat.
The meat of a roast duck arrived splendidly succulent and sensibly spiked with green peppercorn sauce. Yellow wax beans, which were supposed to accompany the bird, were silently substituted by a slab of potato galette (thin slices of potato layered with butter and baked until the top is crisp and dark, the interior soft). The waiter might have mentioned this switch when we were ordering a side dish of ... potato galette. Not that it was bad, but one portion would have been enough. We also requested side dishes of bacon-flecked Brussels sprouts as well as fennel gnocchi, which outside the context of the shrimp casserole proved gummy and off-tasting.
Jorgensen's signature entrée is good old-fashioned barbecue meat loaf and mashed potatoes — albeit nuanced in New American ways. The fat, juicy wedges of ground beef get wrapped in bacon and updated with a brash, sweet Chinese black bean barbecue sauce; the mash is splashed with horseradish. This one still works fine, and at $19 is one of the best bang-for-the-buck dinners around. Two Chefs Too's entrées are almost all $26 and under, which is more than fair. Starters ($12 to $15 ) and desserts ($9 to $10) are less of a bargain.
Service was amiable but sad. Our first trip brought a befuddled but pleasant waiter who hardly knew what food he was serving. Our second trip brought a different befuddled but pleasant waiter who hardly knew what food he was serving. It was as if neither had received so much as a briefing on the menu — or any of his job responsibilities. On one occasion, we waited an annoyingly long time for the check; the next time, the check was placed upon the table, while we were eating dessert, without our having requested it.
The South Miami Two Chefs, like any capable restaurant, employs experienced workers and time-tested systems that allow it to run smoothly almost by rote. The North Miami branch, like any restaurant with only a dozen weeks under its belt, needs to be nurtured and worked on — hard — until the kinks (in the dining room and the kitchen) have been ironed out. So how come Jorgensen wasn't there during our three trips? For that matter, where was any management?
There is a full bar offering cordials and after-dinner drinks, but Two Chefs Too doesn't exactly boast the best single-malt collection in the Southeast; that distinction belongs to Two Chefs, which houses approximately 1,000 bottles of spirits. Still, the wine menu here is extensive and diverse, if a bit short on bottles under $50. And a peerless beer selection features 16 samplings from small American breweries, considerately categorized from lightest (Native Lager, "a light-tasting golden lager" from Melbourne, Florida) to richest (Dogfish Head Minute with "malt backbone; raisiny, citrusy").
The cheese listing, too, is as user-friendly as you'll find. Each of the dozen selections is described in some detail ("Purple Haze: goat's milk; soft; Cypress Grove, California; flavored with fennel and lavender; serves two; 9 oz.; $15."). Two cheeses go for $15, three for $21, a quartet for $26, and diners get to choose one of a dozen highly creative condiments per each cheese ordered. These include buttermilk biscuits, brioche French fries, brandied peaches, celery escabeche, and pickled baby vegetables. There is simply no better restaurant venue in town for indulging in wine and cheese.
Nor, perhaps, for soufflés, which have always been a Two Chefs specialty thanks to textbook texture and a wide array of flavors — such as Granny Smith apple, wild berry, and brandied Georgia peach. The last was a blast, even if the crème anglaise and caramel sauce poured through the poked hole on top was too much for the subtle attributes of the fruit. After the saucing, our waiter divvied up the dessert and placed portions on each plate — but left all of the peach slices at the bottom of the serving dish. I had ordered a scoop of cinnamon ice cream to go along with the soufflé, but it never came; by the time I got the waiter's attention, the soufflé had been devoured.
With its wide array of distinctive food, wine, beer, and cheese, the new Two Chefs Too can do. But it can also do better.
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