When I went to Lippi shortly after it opened I thought that the room itself with its soaring 23 foot ceilings, oversize windows looking out onto a tree lined plaza and just the right size space had great potential. Now with its transformation by the talented design team at Sagrada as Tamarina ,600 Brickell Avenue (T.305-579-1888), the design promise has been realized. It’s a very stylish space infused with European contemporary design sensibilities. Think a color palette of rich aubergine, and charcoal grey with white accents, strategically placed mirrors, and a semi private dining area for 10 people that’s separated by a diaphanous curtain that is in itself 22 feet high.
But enough on the décor; now for the food. The menu reminds me of what you’d find in an Italian brasserie, though with a more creative presentation thanks to the Spanish\Toledo born chef Israel Mora, formerly of Zuma. Crudos, oysters and pastas are the specialty here, with welcome twists in what is offered in other fine restaurants around town. Diners are given a card with the oyster selection of the day to indicate which ones they want and how many. The night we were there selections included Coromandel from New Zealand, Tatamagouche from Nova Scotia and Blue Points from Connecticut among others.
A separate crudo bar serves up the usual favorites as well as tiger prawn and wahoo carpaccios, the latter my hands down favorite. The wahoo was spanking fresh, a little thicker than the usual carpaccio so you can really sink your teeth into it, and made with basil oil, lemon juice that lended just the right amount of tartness, and garnished with a dollop of spinach. The not so usual treatment was in evidence again with the grilled octopus served on tasty fingerling potatoes.Traditional pastas and risottos, not surprisingly, are on stage here. We tried the linguine a la vongole and ravioli with ricotta and spinach with sage butter sauce, a favorite, and crafted so that all the individual flavors shone.
For dessert how could I resist – and I didn’t – the bombolini, warm donuts, which instead of having dipping sauces, were filled with espresso, stracciatella and vanilla gelato. A standout. Interesting entrees we’d like to try next time include the snapper in brodo – hog snapper, fregola (a small round pasta), clams, and wild mushrooms served in broth and the salmone al cartoccio wrapped in parchment paper and baked with carrots and tomatoes. There’s also a selection of meats, side dishes and of course antipasto.
Tamarina also shines with its wine and beverage selection including a section of negronis (gin, campari, sweet vermouth and house made bitters), champagnes, amaro and grappas and sweet wines. Marcel Souza, the expert sommelier, will do a custom wine pairing for as few as two people. We had him do it for us and Mr.W who has worked as a sommelier was impressed with his novel choices that always were right on the mark, such as white wines from Corsica, the Loire Valley and Germany.
Antipastos, crudo bar selections and most pastas run in the high teens; entrees from $25 to $38 and desserts $9. Paul Radu the charming General Manager said they’ve made a special effort to make the wine prices reasonable for a restaurant of this caliber (special kudos for that especially since friends and I were recently smarting from a restaurant where the minimum price for a glass of red wine was $21). Bottles start at $38 and wines by the glass range from $9 to $15.