It’s not always just about the food; the beverage that complements a meal can sometimes make or break it. A sublime pre-dinner cocktail can set the evening off right, while wine expertly paired with your dish makes for a memorable dining experience. These restaurants take their wine and cocktail offerings seriously, with certified sommeliers and mixologists on staff dedicated to the professional side of drinking.
BY REBECCA CAHILLY
Café Boulud Palm Beach
A fine French restaurant that is the namesake of one of the most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs in the industry would not be complete without an equally noteworthy selection of fine wine. Advanced sommelier Mariya Kovacheva manages Café Boulud’s 500+-bottle wine cellar and its award-winning wine list. Kovacheva also oversees educational classes and collaborates with the chef on monthly tasting events at Café Boulud’s Palm Beach location. “Through enhancing the guests’ dining experience and improving my peers’ wine and service performance,” Mariya says, “I am able to practice what I like the best: wine.”
Café Boulud Palm Beach
301 Australian Ave.
Cielo at the
Boca Raton Resort & Club
From its vantage point on the 27th floor of the Boca Raton Resort & Club, Cielo pairs an ever-changing menu of fine coastal Mediterranean flavors with a modest but refined 200-bottle wine selection. “It’s not a big wine list,” says sommelier and beverage director Roberto Colombi, “but it makes me happy because I’m free to change it often and stay up to date with new wines.” Hailing from Italy, Colombi joined Cielo after serving as the Assistant Head Sommelier for Gordon Ramsey’s Connaught Hotel in London. “I have a little bit of everything from the main wine regions around the world,” he says, “But I also like to have bottles from boutique wineries that are more difficult to find.” While Colombi has a limited wine-by-the-glass menu, he is always willing to open any bottle for a taste or glass. “Most of the time the customer might not want just one bottle with their courses; they want to have pairings with the food as well,” he says, “so I can open something for them. This brings the dining experience to another level.”
Cielo at the Boca Raton Resort & Club
501 East Camino Real
Chops Lobster Bar
A great steak requires an equally fine wine, and pairing the two is the daily focus of Timothy Eagan, advanced sommelier at Chops Lobster Bar. “With our menu predominately being steak,” he says, “I tend to focus on more robust and bigger style wines from California, Bordeaux and Italy, with a strong emphasis on small production Cabernets, Syrahs, Pinot Noirs and Meritage/proprietary blends.” The menu also includes fish and shellfish, to which Eagan pairs lighter style Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings and white blends. Eagan says he enjoys discovering small, little-known producers and holds training sessions with his staff several times a month to expose them to the “hidden gems” he’s found. When asked of his personal favorite wine, Eagan says, “That is a tough one, but for white, a nice Sauvignon Blanc from California or Sancerre from France. For red, if I am eating a steak, a California Syrah or a nice Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills.”
Chops Lobster Bar
101 Plaza Real South
Jose Cruz swears by the adage, “What grows together, goes together” – and he keeps this in mind when selecting fine wines. “Pairing wine and food from the same area just makes sense, especially with Old World wines,” he says. The native Argentinean and newly appointed sommelier for The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale prides himself on his ability to interpret guests’ preferences and offer a personalized journey in wine sampling for each individual palate. “I always make sure that I work in unison with the kitchen and understand the chef’s perspective of flavors and profiles in order to enhance the food and wine experience,” he says. What can we expect of the wine offerings at The Ritz-Carlton’s Via Luna Italian Grill, Via Luna Bar, Poolside Café and 5,000-bottle wine cellar? Cruz says the emphasis is on New World wines, particularly California Meritage and South American varietals, but the extensive selection features wines from most wine-producing countries.
The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale
One N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
SoLita Italian Restaurant
& The Parlor Lounge
Under the slogan, “This ain’t dinner at Grandma’s house,” executive chef Anthony “Radar” Risoli crafts classic and inventive Italian dishes from hand-picked ingredients for SoLita Italian Restaurant & The Parlor Lounge locations in Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale. But Risoli is also a sommelier, overseeing the restaurant’s “Violetta Enoteca” wine bar and the restaurants’ unique “culinary cocktails.” “Our culinary cocktails are conceived using only the freshest and most exotic fruits and vegetables currently in season,” says Steve Lyon, head bartender at SoLita Las Olas. “Chef Risoli and I collaborate to blend premium liquors with the freshest produce to create sexy and exotic drinks that are smooth and crisp, with different layers of flavor that are strikingly appealing to the eye.” “Sexy Grape” and “SoLita Sunrise” are two current highlights, the former being a mixture of red grapes, premium vodka, simple syrup, sweet & sour mix, lemon lime and an added twist of lemon; the latter is a blend of premium tequila, cucumber, lemons, limes, sweet & sour mix, simple syrup and lemon lime described as a “culinary explosion that provocatively tickles your palate.” With the changing of the seasons and availability of fruits and vegetables, Lyon and Risoli plan to continue to add new cocktails to the innovative list.
SoLita Las Olas
1032 E. Las Olas Blvd.
25 NE Second Ave.
Tanzy has made a splash with its “farm-to-glass” mixology program, the vision of award-winning mixologist and master sommelier Adam Seger. Seger draws from his international experience working with world-renowned restaurants – such as TRU and The French Laundry – to pair fine wines with the artisanal Italian menu items; but the cocktails steal the show at Tanzy, with unique offerings that include the signature Italian Mojitos — crafted with an in-house blend of sweet basil, mint and coriander. For the full entertainment factor, Tanzy’s Liquid Nitrogen Mixology serves up a delicious citrus concoction whose ingredients have been frozen with liquid nitrogen. Why liquid nitrogen? For the drama, of course, but also because freezing the drink elements yields a much smoother texture than ice crushed in a blender.
301 Plaza Real
III Fork’s attitude toward fine wines is immediately apparent to patrons of its Hallandale Beach location at the Villages of Gulfstream Park. A climate-controlled wine room showcases a selection of the 1,500 bottles from around the world, each sourced by wine manager John Nocera. A sommelier in South Florida for nearly 25 years, Nocera says the biggest lesson he’s learned is that the sommelier’s job is to give the guest value. With III Fork’s menu emphasizing steak, Nocera focuses on many domestic red wine offerings. “But, since we sell a good amount of seafood,” he says, “we have a balance and diversity to satisfy everyone.” Nocera enjoys meeting the winemakers and vineyard representatives to get to know each wine he selects, because, he says, “people want the experience and the story; that is where you build the value – through the passion and the quality of the wine and its story.”
III Forks Hallandale
The Villages of Gulfstream Park
501 Silks Run, Suite 1130