Snuggled into the quiet, southern end of Brickell, TIKL Raw Bar & Grill has the look and feel of an après-ski spot in a sophisticated mountain town. Wide planks of pickled wood and exposed brick warm the walls. A laid-back but attentive wait staff works the polished, concrete floor. The loft ceiling stretches above dark wood tables, some hugged by cozy, white banquettes.
You can almost imagine snow falling gently outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, but theres nothing chilly about the flavors chef Simon Stojanovic rubs together to set the places small plates on fire.
Crowded bowls of Thai curried mussels, gently steamed open in a broth of tom ka gai, release aromatic clouds of lime, coconut milk and lemon grass. A deep-fried sushi rice cake in the center serves as a tasty sponge.
Crispy pork belly chunks, their interior rich and warm, are tarted up with pickled fennel and chili sauce.
Wisps of sliced, smoked scallops from the raw menu trail across the platter with pickled chanterelles on the side, each salty medallion topped with a thread of dried chili.
Stojanovic, who can be seen intently hunched over dishes in the open kitchen, favors Asian simplicity. Some raw dishes are dressed with little more than lime, fruity soy sauce and salt. Selections draw inspiration from and sometimes mimic the menu he created at AltaMar, the ocean-to-table Miami Beach restaurant he helped veteran restaurateur Claudio Giordano revive on Lincoln Road.
With TIKL, the pair lend their talents to Brickells makeover as a fun-and-dining scene. Despite its name (pronounced tickle), the restaurant in the base of a high-rise office building brings much-needed maturity to an area with too many unmemorable pizza and sushi joints.
The Australian Stojanovic worked in England and the French Alps before arriving for the new millennium in Miami, where he honed his talents at Nemo and Michaels Genuine Food & Drink.
At the 4-month-old TIKL, the fresh-and-local ethos contributes to a somewhat confusing menu. Fortunately, waiters are knowledgeable and not hesitant to make recommendations. Categories include steam buns (soft tacos), raw sushi, snacks (spring rolls to rock shrimp) and small plates such as roasted, boneless short rib and fried squid.
Stojanovics skills are most evident on the robata (Japanese coal grill), where he fires up protein and vegetables, contrasting the smokiness with touches of miso truffle butter, pickled red onions or butternut dashi. One standout: Korean hanger steak, marinated in a citrus-soy sauce and topped with kimchi and scallions.
We also like the way he manhandles his bread. Bacon toast is rubbed in lard. For the bloody mary bruschetta, thick slices of French bread are grilled and topped with a crunchy tomato-celery combination that makes taste buds jump.
Dishes come out rapid-fire, allowing diners to keep ordering until sated. For those who are over the small-plate craze, there are five substantial entrees including pan-seared fish of the day with cauliflower puree and red shiso pesto and ponzu-glazed pork chop with sautéed mustard greens and caramelized onions.
A generous happy hour lasts until 8 p.m. with half-price bottles of wines as well as drinks, keeping tabs affordable. The stand-alone bar has its own lively scene.
Stojanovic shows the Australian flag with a delicious, deconstructed lamington, a sponge cake gussied up with lemon marmalade, coconut foam and thyme ice cream. Its an ending as fresh and sweet as this Brickell addition.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspapers expense.