Tulipano Cientodieci

Same Place, Same Good Food
Nothing has changed. Honest, very well made, traditional Italian dishes with a few contemporary touches are back in the old Tulipano.

By Mark Goldberg

You may find it a bit confusing when searching for Tulipano. The restaurant, a delightful North Miami Beach fixture since 1982, which had changed ownership but had kept the same name and the same chef, has become Tulipano Centodieci – after its 110th Street location. Il Tulipano’s original owner, Filippo II Grande, has returned, and so has its original chef, Sandrino, with a menu very similar to the original. All of this shuffling resulting in a brighter room, and a smooth transition to yesteryear, with enticing dishes influenced by all twenty regions of Italy.

Grande, who took five years off to cultivate olive trees in his native Italy, is a wine expert whose former list rivals all others except for The Forge, he said as he proudly showed off the Wine Spectator Award for one of the ten best wine lists in restaurants. While Centodieci’s current list is modest in choices, those offered are quality labels and vintages, and the selections are expanding rapidly.

Centodieci’s menu is traditional with contemporary touches. Should you desire the more elaborate Old World dishes, such as ravioli stuffed with a runny egg, call ahead, and chef Sandrino will prepare them. Incidentally, Sandrino’s real name is Jesús Benitez. He’s a Salvadoran who spends working vacations in Italy, where he is welcomed as a fellow statesman, due to his cooking skills.

Tradition as good as ever
Those skills shone in an evening’s special of mussels vino bianco ($12) – one dozen plump, sweet mussels steamed in white wine and clam juice, and finished with a topping of chopped olives, fresh herbs, a fragrant virgin olive oil, a bit of lemon, and gratinéed breadcrumbs. The chef excels in seafood: a Ligurian seafood salad ($10) filled with succulent scallops, mussels, baby octopus, calamari, and shrimp, served over mixed greens and drizzled with fresh extra virgin olive oil, lemon and garlic, is a real treat when you can find octopus this tender, and such fresh ingredients.

Both Sandrino and his boss believe in quality ingredients. It shows in every bite of a rustic yet heavenly dish like pepperoni con acciughe ($9). Silky roasted red, yellow and green peppers are bathed in a fragrant olive oil – from a cousin’s estate in Calabria, said Mr. Il Grande – with just a bit of salt and pepper, fresh garlic, herbs and topped with anchovy fillets. Sandrino uses only baby octopus in the unassuming yet deliciously rich polipetti ($10); the shellfish are boiled in lemon and red wine until soft, sliced, roasted and stewed with chopped onions, fresh tomatoes and more red wine, and served over a soft polenta for a distinct contrast in textures.

There are plenty of pastas, including a homemade agnolotti tritico ($14) stuffed with spinach, ricotta, pistachios and prosciutto, and topped with pesto, light cream and tomato sauces, honoring the green, white and red of the Italian flag. Gnocchetti ($12) in a creamy four cheese sauce are simple potato gnocchi, but how could they be better? For those who like strong flavors, candele ($14) – two-foot-long candlestick pasta typically used in Naples – are coated with a fiery sauce made of tomato, garlic, white wine, and olive oil, kicked up with Andouille sausage.

Well-executed classics
Entrees are well executed classics, almost all accompanied by the same sides, which change daily. The pan-seared snapper ($19) is a light, moist fillet that melts like butter on the tongue, presented over a bed of capers, olives, onions and shallots. A tender roasted duck ($21), cooked for hours so it’s properly crisped, forgoes the typical sweetness of fruit toppings in favor of a spicy mélange of sausage, pancetta, fresh herbs and veal stock.

Lamb shank ($18), prepared with a fine mirepoix, fresh herbs, red wine and crushed tomatoes is slowly roasted to perfection, taste and consistency. Osso buco ($29), on a bed of creamy al dente saffron risotto Milanese, is Centodieci’s signature dish. The oversized portion of veal shank is lovingly roasted for two hours with red wine, tomatoes and a variety of vegetables, to a moist and silken bite. The meat is tender enough to fall away from the bone. And don’t forget the marrow.

Cult desserts
Desserts are something to look forward to, especially Sandrino’s legendary ricotta cheesecake ($7), which is a cult dessert. What appears to be a tall, sturdy cake with a toasted slivered almond crust, is actually a light and fragile delight studded with candied fruit. We couldn’t have enough of it. Another cult dessert is the inimitable whole caramelized orange or grapefruit ($7) sitting on a thick pineapple ring macerated in a light sauce of honey, Kahlúa and apricots. The sweet acidity of the sectioned fruit bursts on the tongue, in contrast to the hard caramel on the strips of caramelized citrus peel.

Mr. Il Grande calls the new Tulipano Centodieci. But don’t be confused – nothing has changed in the same old place. And you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Tulipano Cientodieci
11052 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami.
6 to 11 p.m. weekdays, till midnight on Saturday, closed Sunday.
From the 20 regions of Italy.
Experienced, gracious staff.
Appetizers $7-$12, entrees from $10-$31.
WINES: A growing list of quality domestic and international labels.
Elegant, continental.
A choice selection of domestic and international labels at respectable prices.
Suggested on weekends.
In the back room.
All Major
PARKING: Complimentary valet.

Mark Goldberg is a dining critic and a freelance copywriter.

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