Talula

A final evening in Miami Beach was spent at Talula, a delightful restaurant just a short walk from the major hotels in South Beach. Dining alone, I had the unmitigated pleasure of having access to the kitchen bar; three separate seats set to give complete action and access to the fun-loving kitchen staff. As I arrived early, I was made to feel very welcome with a glass of Perrier Jouet Champagne while I perused the menu. Very shortly, a basket of freshly baked bread was offered with a delightful spread made with puréed beans, carrots, and a little bite of spice. Putting my hands in the hands of the chef, I opted for a tasting menu with wine accompaniments and over the next two-and-a-half hours, traveled through the following:

  • Wappo ceviche garnished with thinly sliced avocado, wasabi tobiko, and a bit of cilantro. There was a side of dressed greens and crisps. The wappo was fresh but I was shocked at the element of spice on the fish. It was not necessarily bad, but to begin a tasting menu with something that shocks the taste-buds so much is debatable. It made me wonder if my entire meal was going to be a series of conflicting flavors and unbalanced dishes.
  • A glass of 2006 Coppola’s Director’s Cut Chardonnay. I am not a huge chardonnay fan but this a lovely bouquet with a hint of floral. It was served with a seared scallop dish composed on a bed of lentils du puy, a griddle cake, creme fraiche, and micro greens. There was a drizzle of reduced port wine and that sweetness played well against the savory of the griddle cake. The scallop was perfectly seared with a crisp, golden exterior – a great combination.
  • A sweet wine glass was placed in front of me and I knew some foie gras was on its way! The wine poured was a 2002 Francis Tannahill Passito, Washington Gewurztraminer. The foie tasting was actually two. The first, a cold torchon was served on a golden triangle of toasted brioche and adorned with pickled watermelon rind and baby greens. As a torchon goes, it was on the chunky side; meaning, in its preparation, the lobe was probably just de-veined and then the smaller chunks re-assembled before poaching but just barely to hold the pieces together. It is only a slight distraction against those torchons which are perfectly smooth and creamy – not necessarily a complaint, just a different style. The other foie offering was a seared piece, served on a blue corn griddle cake with caramelized fig, a small dollop of creme fraiche, and a grizzle made from a New Mexican chili. This was a perfectly delightful concoction! The savory blue corn was a perfect base to complement the creamy foie and sweet fig. The chili sauce was hardly spicy but provided the perfect bite to contrast the sweetness in the fig. Stunning.
  • In being served a Bibo Super Tuscan, I was anticipating a hefty, savory meat dish next. I was wrong, but it was oh, so right. A hot fish course, Black Grouper was served with roasted tomatoes, wilted greens, and gnocchi. The gnocchi themselves were fairly heavy and laden, but the fish itself, with its Italian-esque preparation, stood up extremely well to the well-balanced fruit-laden, earthy wine. One of those great times when a red wine and fish really do complement each other.
  • While seemingly a step-back wine wise form the Bibo, a 2005 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir was poured for the first meat course. Seared sweetbreads were served atop an Italian version of Israeli couscous (sorry, can’t remember the indigenous name), wilted greens, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a contrasting drizzle of pumpkin seed oil and a root beer reduction. Here I take slight umbrage to the root beer glaze; I can understand the need for a slightly sweet component to contrast the earthy flavors and lovely texture components of the other ingredients, I just thought it a wrong choice for this dish. The sweetbreads were perfect and the crunchy pumpkin seed component a very interesting dichotomy to the creamy interior of the sweetbreads. I just ate around that particular glaze.
  • My last savory dish of the evening was served with a 2003 Heller Estate Cachagua Cabernet Sauvignon. The dish was pinot noir-braised shortribs served with baby turnips, wild mushrooms, wilted greens, and topped with a crumble of goat cheese. I need to add that this was dish was also served with a parsnip ravioli which I asked the chef about. Tasting it’s interior, I would have sworn it was mascarpone as it was so intensely sweet and creamy when in fact it was simply a purée of parsnip. While interesting well prepared, it was slight overkill and not necessary for the rest of the dish which was rich and well composed. The turnips especially were fresh and crisp, providing a nice brightness next to the earthiness of the mushrooms with a slight, welcome bite coming from the goat cheese.
  • A 20 Year Tawny Sandeman Port was poured in anticipation of the dessert course which was served by sous chef Kyle as this was one of his own creations. Telling me that when he goes to the movies, he buys a box of Raisinettes and pours them in his popcorn, he created a haute cuisine version of this dessert. Starting from the bottom, he has prepared a perfectly smooth popcorn flavor-infused crème brûlée. This was topped with freshly air popped popcorn which had been tossed with raisins and a touch of melted chocolate. Also on the crème brûlée was a scoop of house-made chocolate sorbet and a paper thin popcorn-studded chocolate tuille. This dessert was a revelation in originality. Too often, I order run-of-the-mill desserts which warrant only a bite or two. The last time I can recall having eaten a dessert in its entirety, was Michel Richard’s crème brûlée offering at Bin 8945. This was so innovative and well-executed.

Overall, my evening at Talula was exceptional. The staff were attentive to being a single diner, even offering me some reading material despite my exceptional view of the kitchen from my kitchen bar seat. Despite the minor complaints I had in the meal, overall it was incredibly memorable. One minor problem lies only in the lack of adequate glassware for their wines. While the Champagne and sweet wine were poured into appropriate stemware, there was no differentiation between whites wines or the pinot noir or the cabernet sauvignon. It is a pity that a restaurant with that much going for it can’t see its way to providing appropriate glasses for the appropriate wines.

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