Vita by Baoli Serves Classic Tournedos Rossini

Serious culinary students learn about tournedos Rossini the way aspiring rock 'n' rollers pick up the licks to "Johnny B. Goode." It's a classic. On the other hand, you see tournedos Rossini on contemporary menus about as often as you hear the Chuck Berry tune on contemporary radio. But these things have a way of making comebacks.

Vita by Bâoli in South Beach recently appointed Marc Debas as executive chef, and his new Mediterranean menu encompasses dishes such as artichoke and lobster salad, homemade whole-wheat spaghetti pomodoro with cherry tomatoes, whole fish du jour in champagne sauce, and a fetching rendition of tournedos Rossini: beef tenderloin topped with foie gras and truffles.

Tournedos Rossini gets its name from composer Gioacchino Antonio Rossini, who achieved fame and success in the early 19th Century through operas such as The Barber of Seville and William Tell. He loved fine cuisine, dined at the best restaurants, and would often befriend the chefs. It is speculated that chef Casimir Moisson of Maison Dorée is the one who first assembled this Escoffier-based meal for him.

According to one of my Culinary Institute of America textbooks, "Tournedos Rossini are two 4-ounce steaks cut from the filet of beef -- about 1 1/2 inches thick. They are prepared with a thin slice of larding pork or a slice of bacon tied around each steak. They are sautéed in clarified butter over a brisk fire, then set on a round piece of toast. A slice of foie gras, slightly smaller than the steak, is placed on top of each steak. This is topped with a sautéed mushroom cap and garnished with one truffle slice. This item is placed under broiler to quickly heat foie gras. Tournedos Rossini are accompanied by Madeira sauce."

The great reference book Le Répertoire de la Cuisine makes things simpler: "Cook in butter, place a foie gras collop on the tournedos and a slice of truffle, coat with Madeira half-glaze."

At Vita, Chef Debas grills a single fat tenderloin ("Chairman's Reserve beef"); seasons it with thyme, laurel, and Provençal herbs; and then tops it "with grade A foie gras from Perigord." Also on the plate are roasted portobello mushrooms and Provençal tomatoes, which, like the meat, are glazed with black truffle-flecked demi-glace. The price is $55. The experience of eating it is... classic.

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