Six South Florida restaurants that understand the wine list is as important as the menu.
By Bob Hosmon
Not so long ago, ordering wine in a restaurant in South Florida was not very common. You could order a glass of “red” or a “white,” if you wanted; but most people opted for cocktails, iced tea, cola, hot coffee. I suspect the aversion to choosing a bottle of wine could be attributed to several factors: people weren’t accustomed to or familiar with wine as a complement to a meal; and most wine lists featured French wines which were often outrageously over-priced or difficult for many to pronounce.
But thanks to some pioneering efforts in the 1980s by restaurants like The Down Under in Fort Lauderdale and La Vieille Maison in Boca Raton, South Florida dining and wining culture began to change. Restaurants today, if they want to be noticed and patronized, have to pay as much attention to their wine offerings as they do food and service. They know it doesn’t take a 50-page wine list to make a great restaurant, but they know they do need to select wines that complement their menus and are offered in a range of fair prices.
Each of these South Florida restaurants abides by those principles and has been recognized for doing so. Each, in their own way, deserves recognition not only for the wine list but their cuisine and service, too.
Steakhouses were once the only chain restaurants I knew that had great wine lists. Then along came the upscale Seasons 52 on the Intracoastal in Palm Beach Gardens. Named because the menu changes seasonally to reflect fresh ingredients, Seasons 52 is one of my all-time favorites for lunch or dinner. The handsomely appointed dining room offers a comfortable ambience, and I have never experienced better staff in any restaurant, chain or no chain. Favorite offerings from the eclectic menu here include the grilled asparagus, Sonoma goat cheese ravioli with roasted garlic with a glass of Brampton Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa; caramelized sea scallops with Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling from Washington State, and grilled lamb T-bone chops with Sinskey organic Pinot Noir from California’s Carneros district.
11611 Ellison Wilson Road, Palm Beach Gardens, 561-625-5852, www.seasons52.com. Other locations in South Florida include Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton
and Coral Gables.
Coco Asian Bistro & Bar
I’m a big fan of Asian cuisine but, let’s face it, Asian restaurants with decent wine lists are hard to find. How glad I am that I found Coca Asian – and what a treat it is! Chef Mike Ponluang makes killer sushi rolls and prepares superior Asian fusion cuisine, like Vietnamese-style Kurobuta pork chops, Pad Thai and spicy ahi tuna. The design of the sophisticated restaurant is a handsome tribute to the five elements of earth, metal, fire, wood and water, service is inviting and the wine list leaves nothing to be desired. Consider sushi with one of the two dozen sakes proffered, duck breast in a spicy tamarind sauce with Terrazas Malbec from Argentina, or vegetarian emerald (spinach) noodles with tofu, mushrooms, tomatoes and bean sprouts and the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. You won’t be disappointed in whatever you order at this unique Asian winner.
In Harbor Shops, 1841 Cordova Road, Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-3541, www.cocoasianbistro.com
City Oyster & Sushi Bar
Looking for something in a comfy restaurant that specializes in seafood and has an attractive wine list (with more than two dozen offerings by the glass)? Then head to City Oyster for lunch or dinner. Located in downtown Delray Beach, this welcoming dining spot with its antique brick walls and high tin ceilings has a well-deserved reputation for satisfying its patrons. They come here for the fresh seafood, the newly arrived oysters of the day, and the wine. It’s a combination that yields a good time guaranteed for all. The oysters on the half shell pair nicely with Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Meridian Chardonnay from California. Match the yellowtail snapper (Florida’s best) with La Crema Chardonnay from California’s Russian River Valley (the chardonnays and pinot noirs from that region are the best) and the grilled blackened grouper with Trimbach Gewürztraminer from the Alsace region of France (it’s the perfect white to serve with spicy seafood).
213 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, 561-272-0220, www.cityoysterdelray.com.
There’s something as comforting as an old friend about Village Tavern. You’re attracted to the friendly and efficient service, the easy ambience, the eclectic menu — and the amazing collection of 76 wines offered by the glass. This place is a winner in anyone’s book. There’s something here for the whole family: meat, poultry, seafood, pasta, pizza, burgers and sandwiches. Many familiar offerings are presented with a fresh spin (like 10-spice glazed salmon with curried couscous and homemade potato chips with Ranch dressing). Wines also can be ordered in “tasting portions” (a perfect opportunity to sample and find out which wine you like best). I’d start the evening with teriyaki glazed scallops wrapped in bacon (with a glass of Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc from California) or hot backfin crab dip (with the organic Bonterra California Chardonnay). Then I’d move on to the prime rib with the Rosenblum California Zinfandel or the maple-cured pork chop with homemade apple chutney and the Innocent Bystander Shiraz from Australia.
The Shops at Pembroke Gardens, 14555 SW Second St., Pembroke Pines, 954-874-1001, www.villagetavern.com
Da Campo Osteria
Located in a hotel on the Intracoastal Waterway near Oakland Park Boulevard and A1A, this casual – yet elegant – Italian restaurant is a real winner. A classy space that is well appointed with eye-catching décor and panoramic views, this is definitely one of South Florida’s most romantic spots for dining. It has all the ingredients to guarantee a memorable evening experience. Not to be missed is the starter mozzarella course, made fresh at tableside; you’ll enjoy the show and the taste. Da Campo Osteria’s wine list includes 32 wines by the glass, and I’d opt for the Fontanafredda Barolo (it’s not every day you can order Barolo by the glass, so indulge yourself). As main courses here I’m partial to the osso buco (have another glass of Barolo), the chicken Milanese (with the Ruffino Ducale Sangiovese), and the shrimp pappardelle in a creamy basil sauce (pair this pasta delight with the Brancott Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand). The polenta fries also are an unusual and delightful side dish for the table to share.
Il Lugano Luxury Suite Hotel, 3333 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-226-5002, www.dacamporestaurant.com.
While it might be tempting for some to call this comfortable and roomy restaurant a “steak house,” it’s so much more than that. Of course, there is steak — and great steak — to be had here, but more than half of the menu is devoted to fresh seafood from the restaurant’s own fisheries and the chef updates the seafood menu every week. So while the carnivore can indulge in an outstanding Harris Ranch rib-eye the seafood lover can opt for the not-to-be-ignored chilled seafood “tower,” with shrimp, oysters, Jonah crab claws from Maine and blue-crab cocktail. The temptation to have both — and so many other dishes — is enough to encourage frequent return visits. Other options include a tuna tartare “tower” as a starter course to share, blackened Florida grouper and ruby trout. And to enhance the dining experience, every wine on Truluck’s extensive wine list is available by the glass or the bottle, giving diners the opportunity to enjoy Domaine Drouhin Arthur from Oregon, Davis Bynum Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, and Pesquera from the Ribera del Duero in Spain. The experience at Truluck’s doesn’t come cheaply — but it’s always worth it.
351 Plaza Real, Boca Raton, 561-391-0755. Other Florida locations include Fort Lauderdale and Miami, www.trulucks.com.