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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tudor House: This is what Dreams are made of...

As a previous South Beach resident, I would spend countless meals in search of the rare, high quality restaurant.  Like an animal stalking some elusive prey, I would try numerous disappointing tourist traps, hoping that each would somehow have that indescribable "wow" factor that actually made me want to return.  Yet with each attempt along the main drag, I would find that behind the glitz and glamor so many offered, few provided any decent substance in return.  Yes, it is another art-deco style hotel-linked restaurant, but unlike the rest, Tudor House will not serve up a mediocre meal.
     Located in the Dream hotel, the Miami outpost of Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and co-helmed by Executive Chef Jamie DeRosa is a fantastic find on the corner of 11th and Collins.  Without even trying, it exudes classic charm and elegance.  The outdoor seating area is open and airy, with a nice breeze from the nearby ocean gently teasing the long linen curtains.  Opulent marble floors, unique wood furnishings and a classic interior that feels like what you would picture South Beach to look like during the jazz age.  Since my first visit for their weekend Rosé brunch, I've managed to continue to find myself inextricably drawn back, as I slowly manage a vain attempt to try as much as possible from the menu.  Brunch, breakfast, lunch and dinner, they're open for all meals and new dishes are constantly being added.
    Since they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the deal, it only seems fitting to start there.  Please note though that there is a lot of overlap between the courses, and the weekend brunch menu often encompasses items from both breakfast and lunch.
     A steal at $11, the Huevos Ranchos is the savory breakfast lovers dream.  Black beans, spicy chorizo, piquant salsa, creamy avocado, runny eggs and soft cheese atop a crisp corn tortilla, it's a phenomenal balance of flavors and textures.  Zesty and crunchy, I enjoy trying to get as many different components as possible in each mouthful.
   Both the stone crab claws and the Alaskan King crab are served with a large piece of meat in/on the shell, a tiny cup chock full of sweet, tender flesh abreast a mound of snow.  Sprinkled with fresh seaweed, it makes you believe it's so fresh it just came from the ocean and then somehow lovingly landed on your plate.  The dipping sauce for it is creamy and delectable, enhancing the flavor of the seafood (although never quite being on par with Joe's for me).
 If you're looking for something a bit sweeter, then the lemon ricotta pancakes are a must try!  Golden and fluffy, they're the ideal balance of sweet and tart and come served with a light misting of powdered sugar.  While you have your choice of lemon curd or cherry preserve toppings (depending on the season I've also seen strawberry), I've personally found that the curd is just enough to bring out the original lemon taste without being overkill.  I don't even end up using syrup!
During the brunch they also have a dessert cart from which you might be tempted by some of their sinful selections.  If you tend to have a sweet tooth this might be a good time to turn away, as practically everything is so tantalizing it's hard to resist!  Literally like having a moving bakery crammed in front of your eyes.  Personally, I'm completely addicted to anything with popcorn so I couldn't restrain myself from trying the caramel popcorn donut holes.  For a mere $3 per plate (each of which comes with 3 donuts) it was practically a steal!  The come piped with some kind of a cream and each bite-size morsel is adorned with a single piece of caramel popcorn.  Despite the creativity though, I have to confess I didn't really think they tasted much like popcorn.  In spite of this teensy niggle, they were still a tasty little treat and they do offer a few other flavors.
Caribbean Bloody Mary
    As for the drinks, Peggy's punch (vodka, watermelon puree and fresh basil) was incredibly refreshing and surprisingly strong, without the taste of drinking an alcoholic beverage!  The watermelon puree added a refreshing and crisp sweetness, while the basil made the perfect companion.  Furthermore, while I'm not much of a Bloody Mary fan, even I couldn't deny that the Caribbean Bloody Mary (with pineapple and coconut rum) was truly a work of art.  During brunch, the Bloody Mary cart will come table-side so the drink can be prepared in front of you, painstakingly adding each ingredient.  A great hangover cure for sure!
     While I could wax poetic about the cocktails, I'd like to note the beer list is a bit of a misstep for me.  On more than one occasion they've been out of the paltry options they have, and let me just say that the creativity in the beer selection is severely lacking.  I hope this changes, but in the meantime their other drink options are plenty satisfying!
      Straddling the boundary between brunch and lunch is the Cuban sandwich.  Unlike the bland or dry choices I've been unfortunate enough to encounter at the "authentic" cafes along Calle Ocho, TH hits it out of the park.  Drippy, gooey, melty, tangy, the tender and juicy pulled pork is offset with slivers of their homemade pickles, possibly some kind of cheese and then the whole thing is sandwiched panini-style between two slices of thin, buttered bread.  If I could try to pinpoint the dominant flavor it would be tricky as with this sandwich the combination of ingredients really meshes together to create a sum that is greater than any individual part.  Every time I've ordered it, it's been shared as part of a desire to be able to try greater variety of their delicious dishes, but this is easily sufficient as a filling meal for one.  As a sandwich lover, it might actually pain you to have to give part of it away!  Served along with the sandwich, are some crisp, spiced potato chips, that can be dipped into a very strong mustard.  Despite that they are obviously fried, they are not as greasy as you would expect either.  One complaint my dining partner had though was that he would have liked the accompanying pickle to be a bit more sour.
   Come dinner time they've got a robust offering.  While waiting for your food they bring you bite-sized pretzel rounds to snack on that come with a seriously mouth-puckering mustard dipping sauce.  Since truffle anything is another of my Achilles' Heels, I most recently tried the truffle agnolotti.  Much to my everlasting chagrin the waiter returned after placing our order to inform us they were out of truffles, but instead they had an asparagus and chanterelle agnolotti.  My slight disappointment turning to utter jubilation once the dish actually arrived.  The agnolotti were perfect light, little rectangular pillows in a flavorful sauce only enhanced by the perfectly caramelized chanterelles.  The rich whole egg (I think it was duck, but I was honestly so excited to dig in I wasn't really listening to the explanation as well as I should have), was a surprising addition for a dinner plate that worked incredibly well. 
I don't know quite what they did, or how they did it but the brussel sprouts side dish was the kind of thing that would actually make kids want to eat their vegetables.  A nice char and the addition of apples gave the side an extra crisp.  Unlike the places that need to drown them in sauce to mute the potentially pungent flavor, they really let the veggies shine!  I could order three of these, consider it a complete meal and still be incredibly satisfied.
Finally, for those looking for something different the popcorn milkshake is not to be missed.  Yes you read that right, they have magically managed to capture the flavor of hot buttered popcorn in a drink!  I actually first tried a sample of this during Fashion Night Out and it was the determining factor that ensured I could not under any circumstances, not try this restaurant.  I'm still not quite sure how they manage to make it so thick, luscious, and creamy, but whatever genius they use to produce such an authetntic taste it is truly incredible.  Possibly the best dessert, hands down, of any restaurant ever.  It's also served with some side snackables that play off the sweet and salty dichotomy (a candy bar sprinkled with sea salt and some homemade caramel corn), but honestly I was so enamored with the shake that they barely registered.  There is a bit of stratification in the drink itself, and while the bottom boasts a rich, velvety consistency that reminds me of eggnog, the frothy foam on top is gossamer bliss.
Overall, Tudor House is sure to surprise you with their innovative concepts and robust flavors.  I've yet to leave even slightly dissatisfied, as pretty much every time I return I find a new dish to fall in love with.  If you'd like to visit for yourself (and I highly recommend you do), you can find Tudor House at:

1111 Collins Avenue Miami Beach, FL 33139. 
Tudor House on Urbanspoon

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