Timo Restaurant - Sunny Isles
"Timo" means "thyme" in Italian, but I believe it's also a combination of the first names of the restaurant's owners, Chef Tim Andriola and General Manager Rodrigo Martinez. Chef Andriola's resume has some of the most distinguished names in local and national kitchens - Mark Militello (exec chef at Mark's South Beach), Alan Susser (chef de cuisine at Chef Allen), stints at Chez Panisse, Charlie Trotter;[*] and Rodrigo Martinez likewise came in with some solid experience, having served for some time as the GM and beverage manager at Norman Van Aken's restaurant in Coral Gables. About 5-6 years ago they opened Timo and have been putting out great food ever since.
The restaurant is of the simple modern school of design, with lots of wood, glass and brown leather and a quietly elegant but completely unstuffy feel. There is a bar with about a dozen seats as well as about a half-dozen high-rise 2-tops, which is where we usually happily end up when showing up without reservations. (Gentlemen, and lady sports fans, a hint here: there is one flat-screen behind the bar which usually is tuned to an appropriate sporting event; pick your seat wisely and be discreet when looking over your date's shoulder). The place has a strong following among the Sunny Isles / Aventura / North Miami Beach crowd and is usually busy without being packed.
The menu has a mild but not overly pronounced Italian / Mediterranean bent and is updated fairly often (something I am convinced is key to maintaining a local following). There are usually about a half dozen salads and soups, another half dozen or so "small plates" (something they were doing before MGF&D was even a glimmer in Michael Schwartz's eye), several "gourmet" pizzas that come from a wood-burning oven, a handful of pasta dishes, and about a dozen entree choices with roughly half of those of the piscine variety. There's also a good selection of vegetable sides to choose from. Prices for starters generally range from $9-15, and almost all the entrees stay in the mid-$20s. They also offer a 4-course "tasting menu" which is a very substantial amount of food for $58. Sometimes we will do one tasting menu and add a couple additional small plates and split everything, or just order several small plates to split.
A sampling of "small plates" from a recent visit:
- Calamari, presented as four whole baby calamaris stuffed with minced Italian hot sausage, daubed with a spicy tomato sauce and served over a bed of rich polenta. The calamari were perfectly cooked, the sausage and spice added a nice dose of heat, and the polenta made for nice ballast.
- Scallops - wrapped with duck prosciutto and seared, plated with grilled artichokes and mushrooms, and sauced with a richly flavored and textured mushroom fonduta.
- Open faced raviolo of escargot, a big round of silky pasta topped with a ragout of snails and fresh tomato, all drizzled with a pungent garlic butter.
Some other favorite items (some of these long gone from the menu):
- oyster salad, with fried oysters crispy outside but still gooey within, served over a bed of frisee, white beans, and crisped pancetta;
- crispy eggplant, layered with slices of nice mozzarella and prosciutto along with fresh yellow tomato;
- short rib canneloni, super-rich and made even more so with a slather of truffle fonduta;
- a salad of lightly wilted spinach and thinly slivered red onion in a mustardy dressing topped with slices of rosy seared duck breast, with a duck-liver shmeared crouton alongside;
- calamari sauteed with chunks of salami and hot peppers;
- sweetbreads, with bacon, honey and balsamic;
- a great tripe stew served in a bubbling clay pot (haven't seen this one for years, I may have been the only person ordering it!);
- pizzas, with a thin crispy crust and done in several variations (I've liked the one with porcini and sausage, and also the "black and white" with ricotta and shaved black truffles; these are a hit with the kids too);
- fettucine with pulled chicken and mushrooms in a cream sauce was a rich treat;
- grouper with white beans and escarole;
- a nicely done simple skirt steak with a pile of thick steak fries is Frod Jr.'s usual meal.
Some of the vegetable sides are also very good, including the "Roman-style" peas with pancetta and tomato, and the roasted beets tossed lightly in a vinaigrette with a sprinkle of goat cheese. Like many places, I typically prefer the small dishes to the entrees. Given the neighborhood and clientele, I think there's some pressure to have pretty sizable portions (this can still be sort of the "The food was lousy - and the portions were too small!" crowd) and I find that often palate fatigue sets in, though this is mitigated somewhat by several fish options.
The service is worlds apart from typical South Beach incivility or incompetence. Most of the waitstaff have been there for years and are real pros. The wine list is also a real treat, with about 150+ bottles from around the globe, a strong focus on smaller producers and lesser known regions rather than the same ubiquitous names, and typically fairly reasonable prices - things like the St. Jean de Barroux from Cote de Ventoux, or Bodegas El Nido from Jumilla, or a nice reasonably priced Cotes du Rhone like the Deux Albion from St. Cosme. Indeed it's one of the few places where I'd almost never contemplate bringing a bottle, in part because their inventory looks a lot like mine.
17624 Collins Avenue
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160
[*]Here's something I didn't know. Apparently "Top Chef" Howie Kleinberg worked as a sous chef to Tim Andriola and called Andriola his "greatest inspiration in the kitchen." Make of that what you will.