By Rebecca Cahilly-Taranto
City & Shore Magazine
Of the many restaurants that have opened in the past year, our picks for the top chefs and concepts of 2016 stand out for their atmosphere, originality of concept and high-caliber cuisine
By now you may be familiar with Chef Clay Conley. If not, we suggest a visit to the Palm Beaches in the near future. The chef behind the acclaimed būccan, Imoto and The Sandwich Shop at būccan has raised the bar yet again, this time showcasing his exceptional Italian pasta and pizza-making skills. The protégé of Todd English has proven he’s more than a triple threat when it comes to being a chef, restaurateur and visionary.
Decidedly West Palm Beach-casual, Grato is packed nightly with young professionals, elegant couples, families and groups of friends catching up over pizza and a bottle of wine. A large wraparound bar is situated across the restaurant from the open kitchen with its red-brick wood-burning pizza oven and rotisserie, where patrons watch the James Beard-nominated chef and his team as they toss pizza dough and dish up plates of homemade pasta.
The experience: Reserve a table in advance. Regardless of where you’re seated, you’ll enjoy a view of the open kitchen and the bustling Grato scene. Start with the Grilled Octopus, Steak Tartare Crostini or the Roasted Florida Clams in a just-pour-it-in-a-glass-so-I-can-drink-it sauce of nduja, white wine and tomatoes. Each handmade pasta dish is superb, like the Bucatini Carbonara or Paccheri in “Sunday gravy.” Lunch is now an option in addition to dinner nightly and brunch on Sundays.
1901 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, 561-404-1334, gratowpb.com.
In the corner of a strip mall in Weston, two highly trained, world-experienced chefs oversee the kitchen of a delightful Sardinian restaurant, deli and wine bar. Zona Blu – so-named in reference to the island of Sardinia being one of the world’s five “Blue Zones,” in which the environment, cuisine and lifestyle promote long and healthy living – is the result of the creative collaboration and culinary prowess of an exceptional team.
Debbie Bautista and Sheila Marras David, sisters of Sardinian descent, did not set out to be restaurateurs, but when a conversation with their uncle and successful restaurateur Giulio Ledda inspired them to create an authentic Sardinian restaurant in South Florida, a talented team was assembled and Zona Blu was born.
Andrea Fadda, a native of Sardinia and Zona Blu’s executive chef, has worked in and overseen award-winning kitchens around the world. At his side is Chef Marco De Simone. Born in Sicily, Chef Marco’s culinary journey has taken him from Milan to Las Vegas to Miami.
Chefs Andrea and Marco source the freshest seafood and ingredients. Each dish is created from scratch, from the pasta to the pizza cooked in the wood-fired oven, which has earned Zona Blu the prestigious Ospitalità Italiana seal for authentic Italian cuisine.
The experience: Visit for lunch or dinner, where you will be greeted like family by head waiter Pasquale. Start with a glass of Cannonau di Sardegna wine and Chef Andrea’s signature appetizer, Soufflé al Pecorino, a soufflé of Sardinian pecorino cheese with roasted portobello mushrooms in a black truffle sauce. Follow this with one of the handmade pasta dishes, such as the Gnocchetti alla Campidanese with fresh tomato sauce and sausage, or the Fregola Sarda ai Frutti di Mare – Sardinian couscous with mixed seafood. Or try a pizza, lamb rack, branzino or the Sardinian-style pork. Whatever you choose, save room for the Seadas con Miele Sardo, a puff pastry filled with sweet cheese and drizzled with Sardinian honey – made daily by Debbie and Sheila’s mother.
189 Weston Road, Weston, 954-617-7999, zonablueweston.com.
West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street has seen a revival of late, and the newly opened Jardin is adding its flavor to the restoration. Jardin is the brainchild of newlywed chefs Jordan Lerman and Stephanie Cohen who have combined their talents to create a dining experience that is inventive from appetizer through dessert.
The couple met while studying at the Culinary Institute of America and honed their skills with stints at prestigious restaurants and bakeries in New York City, Israel and The Rebel House in Boca Raton, where he served as sous chef and bar manager and she as executive pastry chef.
The focus at Jardin is on reinvented dishes showcasing proteins, fresh ingredients and a bright flavor profile. Chef Stephanie’s ambitious dessert offerings are reason alone to visit the restaurant.
The experience: Take a seat at the open kitchen to follow the culinary artists at work. Alternatively, ask for an al fresco table on Clematis Street or in the charming garden in the rear of the restaurant. Nibble from the housemade charcuterie and cheese plate before starting with the Crispy Hummus served with a shaved chorizo and lemon aioli or Crispy Cauliflower with maple yogurt, cashews and grapes. The Smoked Pulled Pork Cuban sandwich features slow-smoked pulled pork, Gruyère cheese with house mustard, house pickles and house kimchee slaw on house-baked bread. For lighter fare, the Roasted Spring Salad is comprised of beets, carrots and spring vegetables served over quinoa and housemade ricotta with slices of pumpernickel. You must save room for dessert, even if it’s just a Good Ol’ Gooey Chocolate Nutella Cookie and Milk, or a doughnut tower with café con leche, or fondue or white chocolate tarte or vanilla custard cake, or, well, you get the sweet idea.
330 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, 561-440-5273, jardinrestaurant.com.
Burlock Coast, with a large indoor/outdoor bar as its centerpiece, has been impressing patrons since it opened 10 months ago. Situated in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton on Fort Lauderdale’s Beach Boulevard, the restaurant offers a casual yet modern dining experience that celebrates local purveyors and culinary artisans. Outfitted in décor that harkens back to Fort Lauderdale’s rum-runner days, the dining area spans the hotel’s oceanfront length and includes a gourmet market, interior and exterior seating and a wine lounge area.
“Local sourcing in all things is a core component of the Burlock Coast concept,” says Chef de Cuisine Gavin Pera. “That includes fruit, vegetables, artisanal goods and proteins, especially fish.” Bread, he adds, is baked daily by Miami’s Zak the Baker.
Chef Gavin has spent more than 15 years cooking his way across Florida and the Caribbean in Ritz-Carlton resorts from South Beach to St. Thomas, where he maintained a Four-Diamond rating for six consecutive years. While at the Loews Don CeSar resort on St. Pete Beach, he received the DiRōNA Award for excellence from the Distinguished Restaurants of North America.
The experience: Peruse the market, a bit of gourmet cheese and charcuterie, then have a cocktail at the bar or on the ocean terrace before choosing your table. Start with the Squash Blossoms with goat cheese and Florida honey or Ceviche from the raw bar, or share the Seared Tuna Niçoise with frisée, quail eggs and potato confit. For the entrée, try the fish of the day, the Florida Clams with herb butter, pancetta and Zak’s sourdough bread, or the Palmetto Creek Farms Pork Belly with black truffle grits and baby kale.
One N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-302-6460, burlockcoast.com.
JWB Prime Steak & Seafood
The catch of the day was Lionfish – but this catch wasn’t caught by line or net and delivered by freezer truck. It was speared off Jupiter Inlet that morning by free-diving spearfisher John Dickinson and by evening was pan-seared in olive oil and served with a side of creamed spinach.
Working with local spearfishers and supporting sustainable fishing efforts are but two of the laudable approaches of JWB Prime Steak & Seafood, which opened at the new Margaritaville Beach Resort in Hollywood a year ago.
Tucked away in the expansive lobby of the resort, JWB Prime Steak & Seafood boasts a “laid-back luxe” dining experience. A cozy bar open to the lobby welcomes patrons, who are led past the raw/sushi bar to a dining room that is casually elegant, highlighted by soaring ceilings and an open kitchen.
Executive Chef Andres Teran oversees the food-and-beverage operations at Margaritaville Resort, which includes eight dining venues in addition to the hotel’s banquet department.
The experience: Start with a craft cocktail – after all, you are in Margaritaville – like the refreshing cucumber and watermelon “Perfect Partner” or “Tiny Bubbles,” a cherry-and-lemon blend with a brut champagne float. For starters, order from the raw bar or try the fried oysters with creamed spinach and citrus aioli.
Insiders’ tip: Ask for the chef to surprise you with something from the secret sushi menu, like the wild sockeye salmon sashimi. For entrées, it’s the 8- or 12-ounce filet or 22-ounce Prime bone-in ribeye or the fresh (spear)fish of the day. Ask for Chef de Cuisine Johnny Tucker to tell you more about the spearfishing program.
1111 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood, 954-874-4444, margaritavillehollywoodbeachresort.com.