Restaurant Reviews

The Drag-Queen Special

As my companions and I walked through the front door at Madame's Restaurant, three things happened in quick succession.

First, the rather stern older woman at the maitre d's desk, pointedly noting that we'd arrived at 7:45 for a 7:30 reservation, chided us discreetly yet firmly for our lateness -- making it immediately clear that the restaurant was neither a South Beach kinda place (running on gay time), nor in Coral Gables (running on Cuban time). When Mom rings the dinner bell in suburban-central Sunny Isles, the kids better come a-runnin'.

Second, the maitresse d' deftly pushed us nearly back out the front door to help us avoid a collision with a whirling waiter. Madame's has been open only a few months, and though service comes with both a smile and style, the door dominatrix clearly felt that certain more solid server skills might still be pending.

Third, I couldn't help but notice Lucille Ball across the room, getting thoroughly plastered on a bottle of Vitameatavegemin tonic. Hmm. Well, perhaps the facial bone structure was considerably wider, and the fleshy hawk nose considerably more considerable-sized, than Lucy's -- but damn, such details were virtually unnoticeable when the facial expressions were so perfect! And so was the lip-synching -- to what became clear was a 1950s TV track only by the antique audio quality and the telltale canned laughter -- as Lucy, the true Lucy, explained, staggering but catching herself with quite precise drunken dignity, that the healthful Vitameatavegemin "contains vitamins, meat, megetables, and vinerals."

As Madame's print ads (featuring a photo of an over-the-top, larger-than-life, aging Southern belle) make clear, the place is not just a restaurant. It's also a cabaret -- though describing it as "turn-of-the-century Parisian" suggests a sophistication that's not there. An early menu I saw also hinted that Miss Kitty, as in Meow, might be in-house; dishes all sported the names of South Beach's most famous drag queens. The current menu's dishes, though, seem to be named for Madame's servers, each of whom periodically disappears for twenty minutes or so to take a turn lip-synching on the stage -- and some are good. But not all servers, or even the majority, are drag queens, which can be jarring in terms of the entertainment; let's face it, a woman lip-synching Liza Minnelli just doesn't seem right. And Madame's only well-known SoBe drag queen is Electra. Fortunately Electra is Madame. S/he was also Lucille Ball, Bette Midler, and Cher during our visits -- Electra's own onstage stints seemed to run at least one per hour, with amusing audience interactions in between.

As for Madame's food, it's described as "New South Fusion" as well as "healthy and tasty, too!" And compared with the usual cuisine at dinner theaters, Madame's food wasn't bad. It just wasn't up to the level of Madame's performances. The first item that arrived, Chris's Cajun grilled shrimp cocktail, turned out to be everyone's favorite dish, due to the excellent quality of the shrimp, grilled to juicy perfection (rather than overdone, as grilled seafood often is). The smoky shrimp needed no further flavoring, which was lucky as, of two accompanying dips, the cocktail sauce tasted like pure ketchup. A remoulade (New Orleans-style ketchup-sweetened "red remoulade," rather than classic French "white remoulade," a more subtle caper/cornichon-studded homemade mustard mayo) was pleasant but hardly, as the menu claimed, tangy.

Of Madame's four salads, we tried three: Fanny's green tomato salad, Jane's country-style chicken salad, and Roberta's house salad. All were good, though all tasted oddly alike despite the fact that we deliberately ordered three different salad dressings; either the kitchen's balsamic vinaigrette, roasted red pepper dressing, and garlic/herb dressing taste exactly identical or the kitchen screwed up. Also the same on all three salads was the bed of mesclun topped with carrots, cucumbers, and a pile of very tasty thin-sliced marinated onions that were not too sour, plus, on two, some spiced pecans that were not, as feared, overly sweet. Jane's salad featured cornmeal/crumb-crusted strips of skinless chicken breast that were, as usual with poultry breast "tenders," overcooked to dry toughness. Fanny's green tomato slices came coated with a similar crunchy crust that adhered well, nice since fried green tomatoes' breading is often falling-off soggy.

But the four firm slices would have been better, in my opinion, on their own rather than served sandwiched in pairs, with melted mozzarella in the middle -- a creative touch that merely glopped up the works.

Star's chicken had a "crunchy peanut coating" as soggy as the green tomatoes' breading wasn't, drenched as it was in a very thin, not spicy Asian curry sauce -- which was the only global element apparent in the "New South Fusion" food. The chicken itself was again a skinless breast, again overdone dry. Actually all Madame's breaded chicken dishes appeared to use only skinless breasts. I'm sure they're healthier. But personally, I'd as soon chew on a cardboard carton. When ya got an itch for Southern fried chicken, austere stuff with no skin just don't scratch it.

Of two fish entrées, Kat's corn-crusted grouper, sautéed with remoulade on the side, was a good if simple preparation, though it should have been described as "cornmeal-crusted"; the friend who ordered it expected a coating that used fresh corn. Angel's Atlantic salmon, both pan-seared and roasted for some reason, had been cooked too long, but a light cucumber/dill beurre blanc restored much-needed moisture.

Eat Your Veggies Natalia was a vegetarian entrée custom-made from four of Madame's ten vegetable sides. Or, it was supposed to be four. Only three arrived, and when the baked beans finally came, right before dessert, it was obvious why they were late: They were still hard inside. Possibly they'd still been in the box when we'd mentioned their absence to our server 45 minutes before. That said, our server's unsolicited $6 reduction of the plate's price softened the blow, if not the beans, and the BBQ sauce, though very sweet, was tasty. String beans were simpler, cooked nicely crunchy and lightly buttered -- period. Mashed sweet potatoes came cutely served in a martini glass, but too heavily cinnamon-spiced to taste any of the tubers' natural flavor. Macaroni and cheese initially inspired shock from my heart-healthy friend: "Too rich!" Half an hour later, when the bowl was empty and licked clean, he sheepishly amended, "You know, this does grow on you." With just-right rich sauce and soothingly soft pasta, the mac was ideal Southern comfort food.

Since Madame's bills itself as a restaurant/lounge (some publications actually refer to the place as "Madame's Marvelous Cocktails"), trying a cocktail also seemed a good idea. I went for Daniel's mojito, described as "a light and refreshing fantasy." Light was the operative word. Virtually no rum was discernible, by either taste or effect. Ditto for citrus bite. But the wateriness did make the drink refreshing, and no doubt healthier than mojitos, like the fab elixirs at Nemo, that have a noticeable rum jolt. Anyway, a Southern Comfort-spiked pineapple bread pudding dessert had all the alcohol that the cocktail lacked -- not to mention major megetables and vinerals.

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Pamela Robin Brandt

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