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Restaurant Reviews


When creating poetry, scribes often dabble in a technique called "writing off the subject." This means simply that a poet starts a piece musing about one topic and ends it philosophizing about another. But it's not deliberately misguiding; it's a way of freeing the mind. For the truest barometer of what the poem actually means, the reader must follow the writer and allow tenuous connections to lead to unexpected places.

I've read many beautiful and successful poems that employed the theory of writing off the subject -- James Wright's poem "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" springs to mind -- and I have seen this method replicated in works of prose. But I have yet to see this modus operandi have a positive effect in other, more literal forms of writing, say in a business memo or, more to the culinary point, on a menu.

Consider Miranda's European Café & Bistro, where they publish proclamations like "European desserts are our specialty," then deliver no such thing. Although this Coral Springs shopping-plaza eatery is a clear improvement upon its predecessor, Napa Valley Grill and Bar, the place is oddly un-European. You can stretch the definition a little by saying that some dishes, such as the fried mozzarella sticks, fish and chips, and the "Old Mediterranean Chopped" salad, qualify. But I fail to see just how items such as nachos, coconut shrimp, salmon BLT, or banana bread fit the bill. Yes, I've had nachos in various European countries, including England and Portugal. But it's not like they are of English or Portuguese origin.

In fact, the restaurant might be more thematically categorized as a casual global outfit, given the range of influences. But as far as subjects go, Miranda's has a main one: chicken. Of the 33 savory (as opposed to dessert) items listed, 13 of them employ poultry as the focal point. And that's not counting the soup of the day, which, on one evening, was -- say it with me -- chicken noodle.

Actually, the chicken soup was pretty good, a rich homemade broth stocked with starchy vegetables and seasoned with some sprightly herbs. I would have preferred it to be a little less fatty and salty, but in general, the gigantic bowlful was satisfying as either an introduction to a heavier meal or as a light snack.

I'm not sure if the devil made me do it or if the host who answered the phone gave me the impetus. But when I saw the prevalence of poultry on the menu, I decided to play chicken with as many bird-oriented dishes as I could, starting with a six-pack of chicken tenders. These generously proportioned, lightly fried strips were composed of real breast meat and were served with a choice of barbecue, honey mustard, or Buffalo-style sauce. Our waitress won points here for not even blinking when we requested all three on the side. Then we proceeded to order lettuce wraps with Thai-spiced chicken, a blackened chicken Philly cheese steak sandwich, a main course of Southern fried chicken, and a penne pasta dinner with chicken Parmesan. OK, so maybe the devil did have something to do with it (she usually does).

As far as we could tell, the chicken, no matter how it was prepared, was fresh. The Thai chicken strips, which were not breaded, came matched with a thick peanut dipping sauce. They were appealing, though we had a laugh over the lettuce accompaniment -- like the restaurant itself, the interpretation of this trendy dish was somewhat off. Instead of leaves from a crisp head of lettuce, which would have allowed us to envelop the chicken completely, Miranda's supplied romaine. So we shrugged and made lettuce tacos.

The blackened chicken Philly was a tasty sandwich, the poultry topped with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers. A hoagie roll and mozzarella cheese started the meal, and a double handful of crisp French fries clinched it. For $8, the dish would have been a deal, but the restaurant made it even more enticing by offering a special price of $6.99 that evening. Miranda's European Café & Bistro may not be everything it implies, but it certainly is reasonably priced.

Despite enticing price points, though, other chicken main courses were less successful. Southern fried chicken was made with a really small bird, which allowed the flesh to dry out while the batter-wrapped skin was being cooked to an appropriate golden-brown. The garlic-mashed potatoes that accompanied seemed to bear a legacy left by the previous kitchen; the redskin spuds were cooked at a positively nuclear temperature, most likely courtesy of a microwave. As for breast of chicken Parmesan, which was pleasantly tender underneath a wrapping of mozzarella cheese, a commercial-tasting marinara sauce marred the results, and the penne pasta was as mushy as the potatoes.

In the dessert category, the menu advises customers to ask for the list of daily specials. We scored a caramelized banana dish this way, which tasted like it had been made on the spot, warm with a slight crunch and good caramel flavor. A custard cup, pastel de nata, had the edge, though, with a tender, cake-like crumb and a smooth interior. For a buck each, the custard cup is a winner on all counts.

That assessment doesn't hold true for the live entertainment provided on some evenings here. We were captive to a series of some of the worst karaoke singers -- performing Christian music -- I have ever encountered. If I wanted Jesus Christ with my fried chicken, I would have gone to a church picnic. But there is a saving grace -- the DJ sets up outside, on an extensive outdoor patio area outfitted with "gliding" tables that are not a wise choice for the motion-sick. So you can always sit in the fluorescent, somewhat-sterile dining room and feel distanced from middle America, though not as far as if you were actually escaping to some part of Europe.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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