OUR FINE DINING WRITER CAREFULLY PARED DOWN OVER 30 NEW RESTAURANTS THAT HAVE OPENED WITHIN THE PAST 12 MONTHS, AND SELECTED THESE FIVE TO REPRESENT THE YEAR’S BEST
BY REBECCA CAHILLY
Over the past 12 months, a flavorful buzz has been in the air in Broward and Palm Beach counties. While the tenuous economic climate of the past few years has forced many South Florida restaurants to quietly close their doors, 2011 saw the launch of some very exciting eateries. Notably, the trend is towards farm-to-table, organic, local and sustainable fare, served within the high-end ambience expected of restaurants here. Top chefs also have entered the ring, no longer simply lending their name but stepping behind the line to create menus and wow clientele. With so much competition, new restaurants know that they need to stand out; it’s no longer an option to open a flashy spot to much fanfare and serve outrageously priced (but mediocre) food to the seasonal crowd. South Floridians are savvy and well traveled — and they aren’t afraid to pay — but they want their food to be exceptional and the ambiance to be noteworthy.
Congratulations to the five that make this list and to the accompanying list of honorable mentions. Rated for their food quality, menu diversity, ambience and staying power, these restaurants are poised to elevate the gastronomic experience in South Florida to the next level.
“Modern American Seafood”
A concept of Chef Dean Max — known for his successful 3030 Ocean at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale — the Singer Island-based 3800 Ocean is all that and more. You can’t help but feel as if you’re on vacation here; after all, 3800 Ocean is located within the oceanfront Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa. The décor is chic and understated, with a wall of floor-to-ceiling ocean-view windows beckoning you to a candlelit table.
The staff is exceptionally professional and knowledgeable, and our waiter was spot on with his recommendations. An open kitchen adds to the energy, but it is the seafood — appropriately served with a view of the sea — that makes 3800 Ocean exceptional. Chef Max makes a point to offer farm-to-table dishes, working alongside local hydroponic farmers to source many of his ingredients. Based on cuisine described as “Modern American Seafood,” the daily-changing menu is well rounded and moderately priced.
We must recommend the Ahi Coconut Tuna Ceviche, a play on traditional ceviche that, upon first bite, instantly transports the lucky diner to an exotic island paradise: fresh ahi tuna in a delicate coconut milk sauce with serrano peppers and a touch of cilantro. Served in a coconut and topped with cool watercress, this appetizer is, simply, a happy-maker.
Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island
Beach Resort & Spa
3800 Ocean Drive, Singer Island
Riviera Beach, 33404
6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily
“Progressive American Grill”
This place is shaking up the quiet city of Palm Beach, with its great location, hip atmosphere and small plates…of amazingly flavorful creations. Chef/co-owner Clay Conley is quickly becoming something of a celebrity chef; his impressive culinary experience and travels having influenced the menu offerings at this “Progressive American Grill.”
The menu emphasizes seasonal ingredients and changes regularly, but the tapas-style options allow you to choose as many small plates as you can handle and nibble until your heart’s content. The short rib empanadas receive rave reviews, as does the steak tartare with black truffle; the mushroom and gruyère flatbread pizza; the squid-ink orrechiette; the BBQ quail with corn and bacon served over a cheddar biscuit…
It’s probably best to allow yourself some time to digest the menu when you arrive. We were so dazzled by the array of choices that we were talking over each other, ordering this and that and let’s-try-some-of-that! And then came the cheese: cheddar infused with porter from Ireland’s Cahill’s Farm. Chef Conley selects artisanal cheeses daily, and this evening’s selection impressed even us—I, especially, was convinced that my distant ancestors were speaking to me through the fromage. Suffice it to say that the remainder of the meal was a sensory blur. The last time I ordered a hot dog at a restaurant was in 1981, but we were feeling so inspired, so adventurous, that we had to try the hot dog panini, simply prepared panini-style with gruyère cheese and sauerkraut. It did not disappoint, and, pleasantly, neither did the bill.
350 S. County Road, Palm Beach, 33480
Monday – Thursday 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.
(bar 1 a.m.)
Friday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m. (bar 1 am)
Saturday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m. (bar 1 a.m.)
Sunday 5 p.m.– 10 p.m. (bar 12 a.m.)
Happy Hour Monday – Friday 4 p.m.– 7 p.m.
Michele’s Dining Lounge
“Friendly, Neighborhood Destination”
The realization of a lifelong dream for owner Michele Bonarigo, Michele’s Dining Lounge is uniquely…unique. The family owned and operated restaurant’s strip-mall location on Fort Lauderdale’s Oakland Park Boulevard — and its unassuming signage — bear no hint to the glamour and, dare I say, luxurious experience that awaits within.
Once inside you are greeted by, yes, the friendliest of staffs, as well as a décor that easily can be described as Hollywood chic. Giovanni, our impeccably dressed Italian waiter, attended to our every need, and, while there were plenty of Italian menu items from which to choose, assured us that he was the only 100 percent Italian thing in the restaurant. Michele’s menu is fabulous; a creative combination of classic dinner items suitably prepared and lacking in pretension.
We recommend the grilled Caesar salad, a contemporary twist on the traditional Caesar, served as a roasted heart of Romaine and drizzled with a garlic lemon aioli and topped with grated parmesan. Served sautéed or fried, the calamari is easily the best we’ve tasted in a long time, and a light and simple arugula salad with proscuitto hit the spot. The entrées are given the same attention to detail: simple yet impeccable. The menu itself is très chic, euipped with a light for easy reading in romantic lighting. The light also allows you to clearly see the entrée prices, which will not spoil your appetite.
Michele’s Dining Lounge
2761 E. Oakland Park Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, 33306
Lunch Tuesday – Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Dinner Tuesday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
“Haute Chinese Cuisine”
There is restaurant hype, and then there is hype Philippe-style. I mean, how many other restaurants out there can claim to be mentioned in over 30 rap song lyrics?! Hence, we considered the selection of the new Boca Raton location of this haute Chinese cuisine hot spot quite carefully, knowing all too well that reputation often implies success, but that secondary locations can suffer from improperly trained staff and eventually lose the wow factor that garnered success in the first place.
So we went—three times. The first was to see the build-out of Philippe’s prominent Palmetto Park Road location. CEO Stratis Morfogen himself was there, overseeing the entire process that was carried out by Philippe’s own interior craftsmen. While we were chatting, it quickly became apparent that the management ethic behind this establishment is solid—almost familial.
On opening night we were greeted with friendly smiles from the valet through to the bar, and quickly ushered to our private table, where nearly flawless, five-star service preceeded delightfully delicious menu tastings of chicken and beef satay, Beijing chicken, light and crispy spring rolls and a decadent array of desserts. Impressive food, we thought, just before finding ourselves face-to-face with Executive Chef Philippe Chow himself, who stepped out of the kitchen to say hello and ensure our enjoyment of the meal.
Two nights later the scene was more of the same: extremely friendly, professional, and knowledgeable staff, delightful food, and wonderful service. Philippe focuses on the Beijing-style of Chinese cooking, which tends to be lighter, deeply flavorful, and of course, MSG-free. The Peking Duck is a must, carved tableside and absolutely delicious, flavored beautifully with just the right amount of crispiness. Also, don’t miss the nightly noodle show, performed by Chef Wei Ming Cheng.
In short, we are delighted to add Philippe-Boca to our list of the Best Five Restaurants of 2011. Book your table now, because Chef Philippe, Chef Cheng, and most of the original staff will be based at the Boca location, at least until the new Philippe opens in Miami in November.
Philippe – Boca
200 E. Palmetto Park Road
Boca Raton, FL 33432
Open Daily 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
“American Gourmet Inspiration”
While this restaurant technically opened to the public a tad before 2011, the Boca Raton-based Piñon Grill makes our list for its wide-ranging menu that encourages clientele to join in on an exploration of flavor. The earth-tone décor and Piñon tree accents hint at a cuisine one might describe as largely meat-and-potatoes-based but touched with a taste of the southwest, southeast and even Asia, for the heck of it. Menu items range from traditional New York strip steak and filet mignon with béarnaise sauce to the more daring roasted chicken with Key lime sauce and pecan-crusted trout. The homemade Santa Fe chicken soup is my personal favorite, but you also can’t go wrong with any of the amazing burgers — especially the Kobe beef sliders.
6000 Glades Road, Suite 1390
Boca Raton, 33431
Sunday – Thursday 11:30 a.m.– 10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m.– 11 p.m.
Gran Forno Pronto
Absolutely delicious sandwiches, pizzas and light fare in an outdoor bistro setting.
Charming farm-to-table eatery serving delicious, fresh dishes of excellent quality. A Dennis
Chef Glen Manfra’s newest creation, in the site of his temporary Pop-Up restaurant on bustling Atlantic Avenue. Expect more locally sourced fare and amazing Italian-inspired creations with Caribbean flair.
Texas de Brazil
Successful chain of Brazilian churrascarias catering to our inner carnivore; this location on Sunrise Boulevard inFort Lauderdale.
Nick’s New Haven-Style Pizzeria & Bar
Authentic New Haven, Connecticut-style pizza and Italian/American creations conceived by CT/NY transplants Nick Laudano and Anthony Giovanneillo and served in a “New York swank” atmosphere. 561-368-2900