BY CHARLYNE VARKONYI SCHAUB
I was on my back getting a facial when Galia, my esthetician, started gushing about the new iPic theater in Boca’s Mizner Park. She rarely gets this excited talking about anything during skin-care treatments.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “You sit in a leather recliner and they give you your own pillow and blanket. They also bring you food and drinks. You just have to push a button. You will never go to the movies anywhere else.”
The upscale movie theater is just part of the revitalization of downtown Boca. Mizner Park and Royal Palm Place, the keystones of downtown, have matured into exciting venues for dining, movies and live entertainment.
The new iPic, along with the accompanying Tanzy restaurant, have generated a lot of buzz. They were the brainchild of Hamid Hashemi, who has a reputation for creating luxury entertainment concepts from theaters to bowling alleys. He is best known locally for opening the Muvico Palace 20, which is now the Cinemark Palace 20. His iPic borrowed some of the same elements of Muvico’s Premier, such as living room-like seating and good food, and made them even more luxurious.
“We are taking two of the most popular forms of out-of-home entertainment – going to a restaurant and a movie theater – and putting them in the same place,” said Jim Lee, iPic vice president of marketing. “We have been in the movie business a long time and we heard people say dinner ran late and they couldn’t go to a movie or it was too late after the movie to go to dinner. Our concept is designed to make it easy, to take all the stress out of going to the movies so you don’t have to rush.”
My husband and I hate rushing so we started our downtown exploration at iPic’s Tanzy, a beautifully designed restaurant by Karen Hanlon of Fort Lauderdale inspired by the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. When we entered the restaurant, we were fascinated by the cocoon lounge, a private seating area enclosed with a tangle of branches that we learned were from Malaysian trees.
Choices in the restaurant include comfortable booths, banquettes, tables and seating by the kitchen. Colorful Mexican tiles in the center of the room were surrounded by 800-year-old Chinese wood floors. “Trees” around the restaurant were wood with small petrified bonsai attached. The team of chefs preparing the food in an open kitchen was visible beyond the attractive copper-vent hood.
It was a weekday afternoon and only two other diners were in the room, and this gave us a chance to talk with the friendly staff.
The food, described as Artisanal Italian, includes dishes such as porcini crusted NY strip bistecca, whole wheat spaghetti primavera and wild mushroom risotto. When we sat down, our waiter brought us a sample from the Parma Bar, which featured items such as ricotta stuffed squash blossoms with lemon ricotta, Madeira glazed onions with balsamic reduction. Trendies will love the specialty cocktails. The vodka crowd may go for the Liquid Nitrogen Mixology – Japanese Orange-Key Lime Tangerine Sour with Rare Tea Cellars Pharaoh’s Ancient Lemon Infused Belvedere Vodka. I stuck with the classic mojito and my husband ordered a Manhattan, which turned out to be more modern than classic.
After riding the escalator up to see the movie, we were surprised to see how the hallway to the refreshment stand (now Tanzy Express) changed from the former theater. Typical movie theater posters were replaced with paintings of movie icons such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean against a fabric backdrop. Premium ticket holders ($12-$14 per seat) can pick up their food and cocktails from Tanzy Express and take it to their seats while those with Premium Plus tickets ($18-$24) can order from their seats.
We opted for the Premium Plus seats so we could experience the much-touted leather recliners with blankets and pillows. It was even more comfortable than watching a movie at home. We were full from our Tanzy lunch, but our neighbors enjoyed burgers, a salad and a flatbread pizza from Tanzy Express. Some of the other offerings included tuna wonton crisps, blackened mahi mahi trio and truffle fries.
Shop and dine
Mizner Park also is a great place to shop. Two of my favorites are Z Gallerie, a perfect destination for reasonably priced home furnishings displayed creatively to inspire your home décor, especially table settings. Another is Tommy Bahama, where we have found unique glassware as well as clothing.
Dining options range from chains such as Truluck’s and Ruby Tuesday’s to old favorites like Max’s Grill. Behind Max’s Grill is one of our favorites, Racks Downtown Eatery + Tavern. The restaurant gave off a hip vibe with its décor, also by Karen Hanlon. It featured jumbo chandeliers with glass teardrop pendants and swaged ropes, a mix of textures such as wood and stone, an open kitchen and seating by the kitchen.
On our two visits, we thoroughly enjoyed the food. Good marks for dinner went to Yesterday’s Onion Soup, a richly reduced broth topped with cheese and tiny fried onions served in a small metal cooking pan, and the daily special, branzino with couscous, cucumber sauce and grilled shrimp. And don’t miss the s’mores for dessert, a far cry from its namesake we tasted as Girl Scouts. This one had graham crackers and dark chocolate covered with burnt marshmallows.
The large indoor/outdoor bar is perfect for the Happy Hour crowd (4 to 7 p.m. daily) and the Thursday Ladies Night (4 to 7 p.m. at the bar). During Happy Hour, all appetizers are half price – as are beer, some wines and non-premium drinks. Some of the favorite appetizers were juicy but not fatty charcoaled grilled ribs and Cajun fish tacos with peanut cilantro slaw.
Happy Hour attracted a variety of folks, from well-dressed women in designer clothes and men in suits to the casual blue-jean crowd. Many of the customers appeared to be return customers as they called the bartenders by name.
“Prices are very good and so is the food,” said Shane Wheeler of Delray Beach, who has gone to Happy Hour with his wife, Tammie, a few times. “We enjoy sitting there and bartenders are always friendly and nice.”
Mizner Park is also a good place to stroll among the fountains and vegetation. In keeping with the city’s plan to draw people downtown, the Mizner amphitheater offers everything from concerts by Procol Harum and Bonnie Raitt to a screening of the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
A few blocks south on Federal Highway is Royal Palm Place, the other prime downtown destination that has become one of South Florida’s hottest “lifestyle” downtown location.
It has evolved from the days it was a neighborhood shopping center, dubbed the “Pink Plaza,” into a 14-acre mixed-use development that includes rental units, shops and restaurants. The shopping center is anchored with an 11-foot tall statue of Addison Mizner holding his pet monkey, Johnnie Brown, atop a 65-foot monument on the southeast corner of Southeast Mizner Boulevard and Federal Highway.
Not sure what kind of food you are in the mood to eat? This is the place to decide. Diners can choose from Irish pubs, German, Italian, Asian, Greek and French cuisines. Some favorites are the coal-fired pizza at Table 42, gnocchi with clams and lobster and scallops at Ristorante Sapori. On a recent luncheon visit, we also enjoyed Casimir Bistro, a French restaurant where we ate the French onion soup and Capri Ciabatta tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, balsamic, extra virgin olive oil.
Boca Resort & Club
Just down the Camino Real is another city attraction, the Boca Raton Resort & Club. To visit the club, you either have to be a member, be invited by a member or book a room. Thanks to the Blackstone Group, which bought the property in 2004 and did $120 million in renovations in 2009, the experience is better than ever. No wonder it has been named one of Travel + Leisure’s “Greatest Hotels in the World.”
If only Addison Mizner could see what his Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn has become since it was built in 1926. His 100-room hotel, a low rambling building with red-tile roofs on the western side of Lake Boca Raton, is now a Waldorf Astoria property with 1,047 deluxe guestrooms on 356 acres. Ten years ago a 55,000-square-foot spa was added with 44 treatment rooms and a private living room and pool. It also has two 18-hole championship courses. The most elegant of the restaurants is Cielo, located on the 27th floor of the Tower with a panoramic ocean view.
Mizner’s lobby, which still exists, was designed with bright white plaster walls, a wood beamed ceiling, polished red floors and austere convent décor, according to the late Donald Curl, a Mizner expert. Details, such as the original ceiling and light fixtures, were saved through efforts of The Boca Raton Historical Society.
The New York architectural firm of Schultze and Weaver, who designed the current lobby with two sitting rooms, wouldn’t recognize it today. The wood ceilings and columns have been painted white, slate floors have been covered in color-blocked carpeting of green, gold and beige and transitional style furniture is upholstered in summery white. Behind the registration desk are contemporary paintings.
We took a short boat launch to the Boca Beach Club, which replaced the Cabana Club in 1980. Situated on one half mile of beach, it has 212 guest rooms, three outdoor pools (open for fitness, one for adults and one for families) as well as four restaurants.
The Beach Club is a great place to bring the kids because on weekends they can enjoy Hawaiian shaved ice, hair braiding, air brushing and water walkers. Some Saturdays there is even a steel band for the grownups.
If you haven’t been there in a while, take a trip to downtown Boca. And, if you drive a Lexus, there’s a bonus. Thanks to JM Lexus, Lexus owners get free valet parking at Mizner Park. λ