Two Chefs to the Fore
The people of Pinecrest and South Miami don't go for a whole lot of fancy stuff. That's probably why hoity-toity eateries that open here, often to great fanfare, find themselves turned inside out as quickly as cheap umbrellas in a windstorm. Two Chefs has weathered all sorts of competition by staying true to the locals of the neighborhood, and remains, after almost seven years in its humble Dixie Point strip mall location, the best restaurant south of the Gables.
The two chefs, owners Jan Jorgensen and Soren Bredahl, pack a powerful one-two gastronomic punch. Individual past triumphs include Jan's Janjo and Soren's Food Among the Flowers, both well-respected restaurants in their day -- but like Lennon and McCartney, or Iggy and the Stooges, or America and Europe, they're even better together. In fact the food here offers proof that the old and new worlds can get along -- crabcakes, Maine lobster stew, and barbecued meat loaf peacefully coexist on the menu alongside white truffle risotto, beef carpaccio, and prosciutto-wrapped lamb loin. The wine list, too, demonstrates an affinity for both continents, along with Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America. The roughly 80 selections come mostly from boutique wineries, with some name vineyards for those to whom familiarity breeds good grapes. A fabulous back bar is stocked with exotic vodkas, gins, rums, and whatnot from even more countries. At Two Chefs, this is still a beautiful planet.
It's a beautiful restaurant, too, though admittedly in an understated, bistroish way. At a time when dining décor is devolving into cold, angular minimalism, Two Chefs is all fuzzy warmth and curves. An open hearth in the rear of the dining room, which spits out house specialties and pizza pies, adds to the homey feeling, as do framed food posters, hanging pots and pans, soft lighting, and white butcher paper atop wooden tables. The terrifically talented staff will likewise put you at ease -- friendly and loose in demeanor, tightly professional in their work, and extremely knowledgeable about the cuisine, wines, and appropriate pairings of the two.
Some of the original dishes still thrill, specifically escargot pot pie and barbecued meat loaf. The former, an appetizer, features a flaky, golden brown crust concealing succulent snails tossed with mushrooms, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes in a thin brown sauce imbued with the flavor of smoked pork; the latter finds two mammoth disks of sweet, juicy meat loaf lightened with veal and pork, wrapped in bacon, and propped on a dollop of lush mashed potatoes whipped with whispers of horseradish.
Through judicious use of a limited number of nightly specials (listed on chalkboards perched upon intermittent shelves around the room), the two chefs are able to continually pepper their plates with fresh ideas, intriguing imports, and locally seasonal ingredients. To wit: Hawaiian "opa," a smoothly textured steak-fish similar to tuna, but with a milder, lighter, more buttery flavor -- probably why it's also known as "butterfish." Here the circular cut gets matched peerlessly with seared French horn mushrooms, sweet golden beets, and a generous splash of truffle oil. While many of our dining establishments exhibit a tendency to go heavy on starch and neglect the greens, Two Chefs is almost reverential in regards to produce, many entrées (especially specials) enhanced by heady tastes and textures from the garden.
These chefs also love their pork products. Besides the aforementioned smoked pork in the escargot pot pie, and bacon-draped meat loaf, there's a "hot pot" starter of andouille sausage sizzling alongside shrimp, and a pair of hammed-up entrées: two stout cylinders of luscious lamb loin wrapped in crisped prosciutto (with a tasty tangle of wild mushrooms and yellow and green wax beans), and New York strip steak topped with a ragout of mushrooms and bacon. The steak, like all main courses, is gargantuanly portioned, and judging from both size and taste of the meat, cut freshly from a whole strip -- as opposed to the more common preportioned, wet-aged cuts that come in Cryovac packages.
Even old standbys like clam chowder and grilled salmon manage to excite, the soup containing six littleneck clams on the half shell, which protrude from a delicate milky base flecked with bacon and potatoes; the hefty hunk of salmon is cooked to succulent, coral pink perfection, surrounded by tender potato gnocchi and snippets of scallion shiny with sage-infused oil.
The only flat note comes via "flatbreads," which are really pizzas. Puffed with fresh, puckish garnishings atop a mix of fontina, mozzarella, and Asiago cheeses, the thin but flaccid crust surprisingly lacks charred, wood-burning oven flavor.
Because the signature dessert soufflés here are for one person, as opposed to the more customary two, they are smaller than one is used to seeing. This is fine in terms of portion, especially considering the heftiness of entrées, but baking a soufflé in so petite a dish makes it more difficult to obtain a properly wet center. Still after sampling Two Chefs' bittersweet chocolate soufflé, the omnipresent chocolate bombé with microwaved "molten" middle will seem like nothing more than a cheap TV-dinner mimicry. Six other types of soufflé include a standard and quite tasty Grand Marnier, as well as more modern infusions such as sour apple, deliciously subtle vanilla, and a butterscotch that burdens the light dessert with its heavy nature.
Two Chefs' prices are in line with many Dade restaurants, and less than most South Beach spots, but you get a better dining experience for the money. For a real deal, show up between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. for the $24.95 "Economy Relief" special that's way tastier than any tax cut: crabcakes, caesar salad, or escargot pot pie to start, followed by choice of four ample menu entrées, and any flavor soufflé for dessert.
The true test of a great dining establishment isn't how impressive it is when it first opens, or even a year later, but whether the quality of food and service can be kept consistently high year in and year out. The unfathomably overlooked and perennially underrated Two Chefs has never been better.
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