The Chef-Driven Concept is Born Again at TUR Kitchen, the Latest Entry into the Gables Fine Dining
By Andrew Gayle
Just when you thought you had tasted everything, along comes Chef Nelson Fernández, most recently at the helm of Byblos restaurant on Miami Beach, with his reinvention of Mediterranean cuisine. His twists on flavor and presentation are fresh, inventive and worth trying.
The venue, TUR Kitchen, is the newest fine dining restaurant in Coral Gables, in a kind of industrial loft space on Giralda Avenue that has been impeccably designed to feel intimate. From the individual table lamps to the soothing jazz soundtrack, the environment is perfectly curated to blend cozy with cutting edge (drop-down whisk lamps? Yes, please).
What makes it more intimate is the open kitchen, directly abutting the seating area. Here Chef Fernández presides over a half dozen sous chefs, all busy with his variations on classic elements in the Mediterranean palate: eggplant, lamb, octopus, pita bread, chickpeas, branzino, etc.
One measure of any restaurant is the bread service, and here TUR gets off to a great start: Hot, puffy, crusty but thin pita bread in the shape of a baguette, served with sea salt encrusted whipped butter or crème fraîche with sweet peppers.
In the appetizer zone (called “share” on the menu) we found two standouts: the seared eggplant and the octopus. Fernández soaks the eggplant for two days in brine, fries the slices in a pan, then serves it with crisp, thin sourdough bread, topped with a tomato reduction and feta cheese. A new and delightful preparation – as is the octopus, baked with a coating of chraimeh (a deep red, garlicky sauce spiced with chile, paprika and cumin) then rolled in dukkah (a middle eastern mix of nuts, seeds, pepper and salt). Even if you are over octopus, this is a worthy redux.
TUR also serves “pides,” narrow bread rolls stuffed with different ingredients. We tried the San Marzano tomato version, with shaved garlic and Reggiano cheese. Intense tomato flavor. We also tried the forest blend mushroom, with truffle cream, lemon thyme and gorgonzola. Dark and delicious.
And then there are TUR’s three salads. The baby gem is a delightfully diminutive version of wedge salad, with baby lettuce halves laced with blue cheese, crisped prosciutto (bacon-like), and sliced quail eggs. Fresh and flavorful. The organic greens salad is a thing of beauty: cones of cucumber with watercress inside, on a bed of green goddess dressing laced with baby pea pods. Also fresh and flavorful. The most daring is the kale & squash salad; if you like either, you’ll love this, with its sweet and tart dressing enhanced by almonds and dried cranberries. Among the entrees we went right to the house specialties – the lamb dishes and the branzino. We tried both the lamb chops and the lamb leg (for two), both spectacular for different reasons. The lamb chops are large and baked with a high heat that leaves the meat cooked but looking pink, like prime rib. Tremendous flavor, radically enhanced by a pool of mint “jelly” that is more like mint pesto, subtle and superb.
The leg is a boneless chunk of roasted lamb that falls apart, which is a must, so you can eat it as a Boston lettuce wrap (or a wrap with warm bread), into which you layer thin slices of shaved roots and pickles, add pulled lamb pieces, and top with a pour of thick lamb gravy. This is a unique combination of flavors right out of Fernández’s secret recipe book.
The branzino, the Mediterranean fish, is pan seared with lemon oil and fennel pollen, and served with russet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. It feels meatier than when prepared whole, and has a mild, delicate, sophisticated flavor. A joy for fish eaters.
Also to be noted is their side of mejadra rice, a Syrian inspiration which is nutty and fluffy, with lentils, shallots and yogurt. Among desserts, the chocolate nemesis tart with crème fraîche is wonderfully, well, tart, and their kunafa is a new taste, an Arabic pastry of shredded filo dough baked with creamy sweet cheese and drenched in rosewater syrup.
Not every single thing at TUR is over the moon. We were not overly impressed by the pork loin or chicken entrees, for example (though interesting tastes, for sure). And the wait staff, in a restaurant which just opened in January, is still finding its sea legs. But if you want a different set of tastes – or if you are a hardcore fan of eggplant, pita bread or lamb – TUR is worth a turn.
TUR Kitchen | 259 Giralda Ave. | 786.483.8014 | $$$-$$$$