There's a perception that the vegan diet, which excludes all animal products, is incompatible with fine dining. In this new series, the Beet Reporter aims to see whether Miami's tastiest restaurants are prepared to feed vegans with something more than boring garden salads.
Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian's Tudor House, which opened less than five months ago in the lobby of the Dream Hotel in South Beach, has already gotten rave reviews from many a satisfied foodie. But if you take all the animal products out of the kitchen, can executive chef Jamie DeRosa still put together a five-star plate?
The answer: hell to the yeah. Read on to find out what he whipped up to steal my herbivorous little heart.
There's nothing barring a vegan from munching on the fresh and toasty pretzel bites and red wine dijon sauce that typically precede a meal at Tudor House. Even the amuse-bouche happened to be vegan: an elegant little shot of tangy gazpacho topped with creamy bits of avocado and laced with just enough jalapeno to give it a subtle kick.
Then came our English pea soup ($9). The servers brought out beaming white shallow bowls strewn with organic pea greens and pink peppercorns. They poured small carafes of vivid green liquid slowly into the terrines, resulting in a simply beautiful presentation. The flavor was vibrant, clean, and salty (I liked the saltiness). Biting into the peppercorns gave certain mouthfuls a spicy twist.
In crafting the soup, the chef modified the restaurant's "normal" pea soup only by doing away with the lime marshmallows that usually accent the dish. I was somewhat impressed that the chefs were so well versed in veganism as to know that the innocuous seeming fluffy little candies contain animal bone-derived gelatin.
For the main course, I selected the vegan lasagne ($18): delicate flat noodles layered with pungent fresh garden vegetables, such as baby zucchini, spinach, asparagus, yellow squash, garlic, sweet peas, and zesty, juicy chunks of tomato, all topped with crushed toasted almonds. The rich nutty breadcrumb-like topping served to pull the natural flavors from the fresh veggies in every bite. The dish actually got better-tasting as it cooled closer to room temperature.
My friend ordered the vegan "calamari" ($12), an adaptation of the regular calamari dish, subbing shiitake mushrooms and lemon slices for the tentacled little sea creatures, and using soda water in place of buttermilk in the batter. He graciously allowed me to Bogart a few mouthfuls of his meal, which I did in the pure interest of vegan awareness, of course.
Who would have thought a fried slice of sour citrus could set off fireworks in my mouth? Each piece of "calamari" seemed lovingly crafted; crisp on the outside with little "meaty" mushrooms hiding on the inside. The lemon mustard dipping sauce and slivers of mildly pickled cucumbers and hot peppercorns made great flavor accents, while a garnish of lemongrass ribbons gave an artistic presentation. My friend paired his food with a glass of sweet Riesling from an Oregon vineyard; he said the sweetness, citrus, and spice made a good combination.
Once I was done hijacking my friend's plate and my own, we were ready for our final course.
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SHOW ME HOW
House-made or not, sorbet ($9) is not exactly innovative as a vegan dessert, but the plump, flawless fresh raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries atop the coconut, mango, and strawberry ices silenced any complaints. The rich creamy coconut was by far the favorite of the frozen trio, but the jewel-like fruits were the true stars of the dish.
Prior to this review, I'd walked past Tudor House many times, but dismissed it for its tourist trap location and on the hunch that the menu would offer me little. I admit it; I made a mistake. Between the outrageously fresh and decadent vegan menu they were able to come up with on an hour's notice, the thoughtful and attentive service, and the feel-good Bill Withers music and candlelit ambiance to brighten up a rainy day, Tudor House is a new South Beach spot I'm eager to visit again soon.