My editor told me about a dinner he'd had at Talula and noted the lack of customers. He thinks it deserves better, while my take is that there is a reason for those empty seats. He wrote down his thoughts, and I responded:
Miami New Times editor Chuck Strouse: I love Talula. The 23rd Street joint just up from the Bass Museum on Miami Beach is creative, fun, and... empty. I was there Saturday night and enjoyed a fantastic cavatelli dish, super clams in a broth that I slurped up with the excellent bread, and a fine, reasonably priced DeLoach Pinot Noir. Owners Frank Randazzo and Andrea Curto-Randazzo have run this joint for six-plus years outside the usual South Beach whirlwind, and that in itself is an achievement. So I was disappointed to see a largely empty dining room when I left at 9 p.m. for a nearby show at the new Little Stage Theater that's within walking distance.
Sure, the lamb we had was a tad underdone, and some of the fish was a little dry, but I love this place... the outdoor seating in back has the mellow feel of the Keys. I could spend my life there. So I hope to hell the place comes back into the popular eye. It deserves better.
My response: When Talula opened in 2003, it was one of very few
worthwhile dining destinations on South Beach -- and there weren't many
other decent places to eat outside of South Beach. Talula is arguably
as good now as it was back then -- although I have found it to be
inconsistent (as in your lamb and fish) and not especially impressive
during the occasions I've dined there. But it doesn't matter what you
or I think. As some folkie once sang: The first one now will later be
last, for the times they are a-changin'.
Change in this case is
a huge increase in competition. The Gansevoort and W, both within a
couple of blocks, have recently introduced Philippe, STK, Mr. Chow, and
Solea. The Fontainebleau's numerous restaurants aren't that far away
either, nor are all of the South Beach spots that have popped up over
the years. Then there is the Design District, where the fame of chefs
such as Michelle Bernstein, Michael Schwartz, and Jonathan Eismann overshadow that of Frank
Randazzo or Andrea Curto-Randazzo in a way that wasn't true some time
ago. Name recognition brings the tourists; Talula is too pricey
for locals-only to sustain.
Another problem is that while the
cuisine of the three cited chefs has grown quite a bit since 2003,
Talula hasn't seen a similar gastronomic progression. That would be
fine if the room was still getting packed -- after all, there's nothing wrong
with chefs sticking to their vision. But in the face of Talula charging
similarly high prices as the competition, and in light of those empty
seats you espied, one might expect Curto-Randazzo to acquiesce a bit
more to the times. But much, much more important: They should be
making sure that not only is the pasta impeccable, but also the lamb and
fish entrées. With intense competition and a shaken economy,
this sort of inconsistency doesn't cut it.