After a brief elevator ride to the top floor of the new Miami Culinary Institute, diners entering Tuyo are instantly captivated by the sweeping view afforded by dramatically framed floor-to-ceiling windows. The breathtaking vista brings the illuminated Freedom Tower and American Airlines Arena front and center, with Biscayne Bay to the right and city lights glittering in the background: Tuyo in the sky with diamonds.
Panorama aside, the 60-seat dining room is lovely. Linen-draped tables are formally set with gorgeous Rosenthal show plates, and comfortably cushioned chairs sit on a recycled wood-grain floor. Small lights recessed into a modern wave-inspired ceiling mimic the celestial dots outside.
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The star inside is executive chef Norman Van Aken, aided and abetted by Jeffrey Brana as chef de cuisine. Travis Starwalt is sous chef, Max Santiago is the pastry chef, and sommelier Sarah Brownell rounds out the team. But Norman is the foreman -- and the draw, man. After all, he is the only chef from Florida inducted into the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America, and his groundbreaking Norman's, which debuted in 1995 in Coral Gables, was arguably the most important and influential Miami restaurant of its time. Van Aken remains chef/owner of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando and director of restaurants at the Miami Culinary Institute. His last project, Norman's 180, was short-lived and his presence there even shorter, which makes Tuyo something of a comeback project. During our visits, Van Aken was in the kitchen, which right off the bat is an improvement.