If you ever had the chance to dine at Lippi, then you'll be in shock when visiting Tamarina, which recently opened in the same gargantuan space on Brickell Avenue. The dining room has been transformed from a gaudy palace into a swank and chic intimate space dressed with floor-to-ceiling sheer curtains, cinnamon leather wing-back chairs, and a crystal centerpiece stocked with hollow glass decanters and carafes.
The previous owners are still heading the operation, but they've brought on restaurateur and Zuma co-founder Arjun Waney as a partner in the 200-person operation. It boasts a coastal Italian menu and soon-to-come alfresco champagne bar. Short Order was invited to get a taste of Tamarina's offerings.
Chef Israel Mora has been imported from Zuma to head up the kitchen of Tamarina. The former Zuma sous chef came to Miami in 2010 from Sin City where he worked the kitchens of Aquaknox at the Venetian, the Picasso in Bellagio, and was sous chef of Encore's food & beverage program up until his departure.
At Tamarina, the menu isn't innovative or modern, but straightforward and classically Italian. Prices are less extravagant than Lippi, but still rank high with entrees starting at $25 and climbing up to $44.
A cocktail program proffers four types of negroni and fizzy cocktails, as well as a selection of handcrafted libations. Try the shrub patch ($15). Tamarina makes the balsamic beet shrub in house and mixes it with Russian standar, amaro nonino, watermelon juice and tops it with a vibrant piece of basil.
Guests are encouraged to begin with something from the crudo bar. A selection of oysters, clams, shrimp and crudo is available individually for $29 or to share for $58. For larger parties, the Tamarina platter will proffer gems of the sea for the entire table for a price tag of $87. We sampled four East Coast malpeque oysters (the selection changes daily) served with a raspberry red wine vinaigrette and chopped tomato, shallots, red pepper and balsamic vinegar glaze. While the sauces his every flavor point, the oysters could have been shucked better so that they slide from their shell into your mouth.
The crudo bar boasts everything from sea bass and yellow tail snapper to king crab meat, cured salmon and scallop. Pictured here, the wahoo ($12) was dressed with spinach and lemon.
Two carpaccio's grace the menu at Tamarina. Octopus with chili oil, lemon and parsley or tiger prawn ($14) drizzled with tomato, olive oil and black lava salt. Perhaps it was the aggressiveness of the black lava salt that overwhelmed the prawn, but a little less would have let the dish really shine.
Steak tartare ($19) is a classic Italian antipasto. Also available is ahi tuna with cucumber, capers and lemon or salmon with pickled red onions and capers.
Additional antipastos include prosciutto di parma with parmigiano reggiano, burrata with arugula and olive oil, wild mushrooms with radicchio and grilled octopus with boiled fingerling potatoes ($18).
Pastas are perhaps where Tamarina best shines. The ravioli (full portion costs $18), filled with ricotta and spinach and bathed in a sage butter sauce was nimble and flavorful.
The classic Italian spaghetti and clam dish, vongole ($19), was beautifully spiced with garlic and chili flakes.
A tender and buttery Chilean sea bass (full portion $32) with salsa verde tore at the touch of a fork. Although at first glance it seems like the fish has been burned, that's just the charring of the skin.
Another classic Italian dish, veal Milanese ($29), fell somewhat flat. The arugula and cherry tomato accompaniment, however, was delightfully dressed.
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Desserts include bombolini served with espresso, stracciatella and vanilla gelato, snickers with salted peanut caramel, peanut butter mousse and chocolate brownie, a well as the traditional tiramisu, which in Tamarina's case is served as a sphere on top of a chocolate crunch. When broken open, layers of mascarpone cream and amaretto are revealed.
A play on Florida's quintessential dessert, key lime torta di ricotta fuses ricotta cheesecake with key lime cream and mango-passion foam. All desserts at $9.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha