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Aromas of veal and sage, thyme and garlic, white truffles and porcini waft from the kitchen. All the flavors of Italy meld in dishes that are rustic in style but refined in preparation and taste.
With a warm ambiance and reasonable prices, partners Chef Tim Andriola and Rodrigo Martinez have a winner.
By Simone Zarmati Diament
TIMO stands out in the lively, sprawling Surfside strip mall that houses a number of restaurants. Not because it looks any different on the outside -- the awnings are all the same. But because the chef is Tim Andriola, who, before bringing kudos to Chef Mark in South Beach as its executive chef, worked for five years as chef de cuisine at Chef Allen's, and before that at Tra Vigne, Chez Panisse and Charlie Trotter's. His partner, Rodrigo Martinez, who runs the restaurant, was the general manager and wine director a Norman's in Coral Gables. The staff, mostly FIU School of Hospitality graduates, is professional and keen on service.
The airy, refurbished dining room with red brick walls, a high ceiling with exposed b eams, a wood-burning oven in the back and a sleek bar area is something between a top-flight Italian restaurant and a neighborhood bistro. Everything reflects the commitment of the two partners, and the remarkable food that they serve. The wines are well chosen, the portions are large, yet light, and the prices affordable: "So people feel that they can come back," says Mr. Andriola. And back they were. On a sultry summer Wednesday night, repeat visitors kept flocking in, one seating after another.
Rustic yet refined starters and small plates
Prior to the restaurant opening, a little over a year go, chef Tim Andriola traveled to Italy, spending some time in Florence, absorbing the tastes and flavors of Tuscany. Here, he creates dishes that are rustic in style but extremely refined in preparation and taste. His is not your archetypal Italian kitchen.
Aromas of veal and sage, thyme and garlic, white truffles and porcini waft from the kitchen, and the wood burning oven -- in which Mr. Andriola also cooks meats and fish -- turns out exquisite, thin-crusted pizzas great for sharing as starters. Roasted chicken with ricotta, fontina, wild mushrooms and truffle oil pizza seems robust but is as light as the tomato, basil and mozzarella.
Soups ($6 to $10) like the clear mushroom consommé with oxtail ravioli, or the truffled poultry broth in which comes the wood roasted half chicken with parmesan dumplings, and wilted spinach, are disarmingly simple but fragrant and delicious.
For a summer treat the creamy chilled asparagus soup ($7) with a citrus tomato and avocado salsa develops in the palate as pure essence of asparagus.
While seafaring oyster salad is rich with white beans and smoked pancetta, salads such as Endive and radicchio acquire a new dimension with blood orange, goat cheese and pistachio
Pasta dishes: surprising masterpieces
Handmade pastas remain true to Italy's artisanal spirit, but are surprising at every turn.
Deserving of kudos, the silky textured fresh egg Tagliatelle is rich with fork tender chunks of duck confit. Enrobed in veal demi glace it is superbly balanced with hints of sweet balsamic black fig vinegar, and topped with Parmesan shavings.
A true masterpiece in the "small plates" section: the grilled Vermont quail with soft egg yolk ravioli and truffle butter. What a delightful surprise. Never has a quail flown so high. "It is like Xmas in a plate!" commented Mr. Andriola who seemed to be as excited with his creation as he was the first time he was served egg yolk ravioli in Florence, a Christmas tradition in Tuscany. Simply marinated in rosemary, olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon and herbs, the half bird, smoky from the mesquite grill, soars with a veal demi glace and truffle beurre blanc as they meld with the golden yolk oozing out of the large raviol.
There is a surprise in every dish: Foie gras medallions are seared to caramelized perfection and set on a pat of sweet and tart orange marmalade over crunchy crostini. A sprinkling of Fleur de Sel finishes it off with panache.
Chef is a virtuoso with fish
Mr. Andriola is a virtuoso with fish. We knew that from eating at Mark's South Beach.
At TIMO, fish is a more rustic affair, but no less delicious. The creamy fleshed Alaskan Halibut is sautéed into crispy yet flaky delight and served with fresh fava beans, prosciutto and gnocchi as light as clouds. The Florida yellowtail snapper, crispy skinned from the oven but moist with its own fresh essence, is accompanied by baked lentils and artichokes.
The Mediterranean Branzino is flown in from Portugal. Prepared with white wine, tomatoes and herbs in "papillotte," a parchment paper pouch, it is baked in the wood burning oven and opens to reveal a white soft-fleshed fish layered with still crunchy asparagus. Instead of lemon, it unexpectedly comes with a little crock of lemon confit, sweet and tart, harmonizing with the fish.
Meats, chicken and game fare no less.
All the dishes have recognizable and well-balanced flavors so the taste of each ingredient transcends. . Lightly dressed in olive oil, lemon, rind, herbs and a bit of garlic, the simple skirt steak ($20) is grilled to order, and topped with roasted potato wedges, crisp on the outside, inside sweet and melt-in-your-mouth. There too, a sprinkling of kosher salt plays a major role.
Colorado spring lamb is tender, un-tampered by extraneous flavors and magnificently complemented with earthy mushroom ragoût and fluffy goat cheese gnocchi.
The menu also lists veal scaloppini with porcini and sweetbreads; pork chops stuffed with prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella; and charcoaled NY Steak with peppers, onions and olives.
Portions are abundant and complete. But one can always return for sides of creamy polenta, perfectly smooth, creamy garlicky and aromatic, or eggplant and tomatoes in a clay pot, or again roasted gnocchi, crispy on the outside, cloudy inside.
Desserts all have an Italian flair:
The blackberry cheese cake, a delicious affair, is topped with a slivered almond and sugar tuile; although its sugar crust is a bit too thick, the passion fruit crème brûlée is refreshing and served with delicious cookies; the chocolate pot de crème is thick, luscious, addictive chocolate in a crock adorned with a fresh biscotti.
From the very thin oven roasted pizza dough crisps set in wrought iron baskets to the impeccable service, everything at TIMO's is pleasurable and convivial. And with a menu as enticing and well-priced no wonder people are coming back to try all it has to offer, again, and again, and again.