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Crispy pig’s ears lettuce wraps with Florida oranges and salted peanuts

No Kidding

by Jen Karetnick | Photography by Michael Pisarri | Miami magazine | August 28, 2013

As I do every year after the endurance test that is our July/August Restaurant Issue, I planned to go on a diet. But when I realized I’d be reviewing the South of Fifth eatery Tongue & Cheek, I knew in my gut, quite literally, that it was the wrong time to give up the good life.

Born this past April under co-proprietor and Executive Chef Jamie DeRosa and business partner Michael Reginbogin, Tongue & Cheek is tucked firmly into place on Washington Avenue, the space that most memorably housed Tuscan Steak. This is notable not just for the rustic décor of wood, wood and more wood that mirrors the earthy, pastoral nature of the fare, but because T&C General Manager Dale LoSasso worked here when it was Tuscan, as did her husband, chef Dewey LoSasso (now at The Forge). For those of us who have been knocking around the beach for a while, that full circle of fine staffing feels very nearly like a homecoming. And that’s precisely how diners new to both SoFi and T&C should feel as well. The restaurant, named in reference (wink, wink) for the figure of speech coined by Sir Walter Scott, is meant to evoke a sense of whimsy, a notion that diners shouldn’t be taking their food—or themselves—too seriously.

Thus the menu is filled with delicacies that are playful elements in dishes that turn trends on their tails, such as fried pig ears cradled in lettuce, moistened with Florida oranges and accented with salted peanuts. Beef tartare is actually veal, with a “cured” egg yolk, made béarnaise-style. Pork belly is abandoned here in favor of lamb belly, partnered with barbecued octopus and a smoky eggplant caponata. No matter how they sound, these dishes are worldly, not weird, drawing inspiration from products that are local and seasonal as well as the international, and allowing just a hint of molecular gastronomy to flavor the chef’s Johnson & Wales-informed methodology.

In fact, it’s clear that DeRosa, who has worked with everyone from Allen Susser to Wolfgang Puck, has allowed his culinary imagination to take flight. But he does so subtly, underscored by a technique that exudes a classical background. For example, his beef cheek burger nods to the restaurant’s moniker as well as the current trend of using the whole animal—tongue, cheek and all. But unlike a restaurant such as Barton G., where amusement is paramount, DeRosa refrains from serving the beef cheek with a side of tongue on a plate shaped like a cow. In other words, Tongue & Cheek is a cozy gastropub where you can respect the fare, but don’t need to revere it. The cheese on that burger, by the way, is also available as a starter with rye crackers to spread it on and ham to complement it, a nod to the relish trays of old. But it’s anything but your grandmother’s card table centerpiece.

The menu is arranged in categories that include Snacks, Mids, and Mains. I’ve found that even the snack portions can be pretty filling, by virtue of both composition and portion size. A hearty pile of chicharrónes of chicken skins, for instance, is poultry’s answer to the pork rind, but doesn’t leave a layer of grease on your fingers the way that pork can. Plus, the Japanese mustard served alongside is a perfect counterpoint.

DeRosa and his chef de cuisine, Lisa Odom, have a way of providing just the right garnish or dip to counteract too much perceived richness. The chicken liver pâté, for example, is a ramekin filled with opulence that could tire the palate, but for the sweet addition of local honey and the tart cut of pickled vegetables. Peaches ’n’ Cream, the restaurant’s best-selling salad, is a masterpiece of opposing flavors and textures. It features both raw and marinated peaches anchored by creamy French feta cheese and the buttery crunch of the dish’s candied hazelnuts is underscored by a dollop of peach sorbet.

Main courses like potpie and fried chicken have less capricious touches, at least descriptively. But here’s where the kitchen truly shines. The potpie is composed with crème fraîche and a flaky biscuit crust, and the fried chicken seals the deal with a similar-tasting biscuit and a Tabasco hollandaise sauce that makes you think twice about ever having Buffalo-style wings again. DeRosa and company won’t reveal all their secrets about that fried chicken, but suffice to say that the golden-fried batter lifts off and crackles into your mouth almost separately from the juice-slicked poultry. It’s masterful, and Joe’s Stone Crab, whose fried chicken is often noted as both a hidden secret and the best on the beach, should be watchful.

Indeed, speaking about “bests,” every meal at T&C inspires me to give it some kind of honor. After also indulging in side dishes such as a version of French-Canadian poutine—made here with pulled brisket and cheddar over pastrami-spiced french fries—and desserts by Pastry Chef Ricardo Torres, who is responsible for such delights as a Cracker Jack milkshake, I’m tempted to bestow T&C with “Best Place to Gain 5 Pounds in a Single Meal.” I mean that in a good way, of course, as in “I Couldn’t Stop Eating Even If I’d Tried.” Which, I confess, I didn’t.

Tongue & Cheek
431 Washington Ave.,
Miami Beach, 305.704.2900,
tandcmiami.com

Dinner: Sun.-Mon., 6-10pm; Tues.-Thu., 6-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 6pm-midnight | Brunch: Sat.-Sun.,10:30am-3pm 

Snacks, $6-$14; Mids, $2-$12; Mains, $17-$30; Sides, $7-$12; Endings, $7-$10

Hanging Out
The restaurant features a marble 15-seat snack bar where guests can enjoy handcrafted cocktails with auspicious names such as Cucomfortably Numb and The Walking Dead.

Brunch is On
Hangover cures on Saturday and Sunday afternoons range from king crab eggs Benedict with Tabasco hollandaise to a basket of doughnut holes (hey, no one’s judging).

Weekend Wonders
During Saturday and Sunday brunches, valet is only $10, and the restaurant is happy to keep your car in their care all day while you hit the beach to work off the caloric excess.

Local Flavor
You don’t have much to fear from the red-faced, sandals-with-socks crowd here—yet. On the other hand, you’ll surely run into someone you know, so dress accordingly.

Social Media Extras
Become a Facebook friend of chef Jamie DeRosa and you’ll get treated to professionally composed food shots of your next meal. And be on the lookout for notices of events at the resto.