TOP 10 NEW RESTAURANTS
Opening a new restaurant was a risky move in 2009 –
here are 10 that are safe bets.
By Jan Norris
THERE’S A RISK BEING THE FIRST DINER to check out a new restaurant. Everyone knows that first meal can be a transporting experience, a trip to nowhere – or somewhere in between.
We’ve taken the guesswork out of it for you at these 10 new-to-the-scene dining rooms that fall into the “transporting” category. Some are big, bold and high-energy; others are tiny, unassuming spots that you may have passed by without consideration. A few are spin-offs of a corporate group, while a few are one-offs – unique and privately owned.
All are worth checking out – in alphabetical order.
Bova Prime, Fort Lauderdale
Tony Bova is proving to be the ultimate restaurateur-host. “Good food, service, service, service, and value to the diner – you gotta have them all to succeed,” he says.
“We wanted to do a classy, high-end club for the young professionals to finish off their day,” he says of his new Las Olas location. The rooms, punctuated by the Swarovski crystal chandelier in the center of the dining room, turns into a dance club late-night.
The huge menu is both trendy and classic. Italian favorites – fra diavolo, grilled langostinos, and spaghetti and clams – are paired with hearty Kobe steaks, chops and a few moderns like rigatoni short ribs with broccoli rabe. A big wine list with cellar Italians (Amarone, anyone?) and domestics, along with signature cocktails, serve the high-energy bar guests.
Bova gives a complete Italian glossary on the menu – all the better to order come Italiano when you go.
Opera Restaurant and Lounge, Fort Lauderdale
The chef behind the menu, Eric Chelly, is from the south of France, but his Mediterranean dishes span the region. “We take foods from around the whole area – French, Italian, Greek – some of everything,” he says.
Of course, there are cheeses – brie, house-made mozzarella, and a variety of meats - rack of lamb, duck, filet mignon, as well as seafoods – scallops are a house specialty. A soup menu that changes with what’s fresh steals this show for many diners.
The dining room is supper-club décor - live jazz performances and other acts are on the bill. It’s also a popular before-the-show destination with pre-theater offerings as well; the wine list, with European and American selections, is a value here.
Sage Oyster Bar, Hollywood
The new outpost of this favorite Fort Lauderdale spot centers on the raw bar, where a variety of fresh-daily oysters are served. Otherwise, the menu matches its northern sibling’s by about 95 percent. (No worries: The house specialty, duck with honey-raspberry sauce, is here.)
The seafood tower stars as the cold-plate first sharing course or entrée – a riotous mix of mussels, clams, fresh Maine lobster and oysters.
More casual plates – burgers, sandwiches, and gourmet pizzas with smoked salmon or shrimp – are on hand for lighter appetites.
The SoBe-chic décor is calmed by warm woods and the raw bar display.
A big deal here: Sunday brunch with drag-cabaret show.
Steak 954, Fort Lauderdale
One of the most eye-catching new restaurants is this “boutique” steakhouse from style-setter Stephen Starr in the W Hotel on the ocean.
Cool, contemporary décor, black-etched glass and warm wood floors give it a decidedly un-steakhouse hip feel.
Dry-aged beef, including Kobe – all cooked at the 1,700-degree mark, according to the menu – rules, but a raw bar with notable lobster and crab coconut ceviche, and unusual pairings such as foie gras with big-eye tuna have diners talking seafood, too.
Boutique wines, a full bar and that ocean view team up to make it already a winner of awards.
Trattoria Bella Cibo, Margate
Bombastic chef Tommy Valdez, who says he’s trying for a spot on the Food Network, is at the helm of this value-driven Italian. “We don’t have a freezer here,” Valdez boasts. “Everything is brought in fresh.”
He describes his food as “good and honest family-style food.” The comfortable, rustic, 200-seat place, something between a ristorante and trattoria, is casual and meant for families.
He prides himself on seafood – Tuscan swordfish that’s pan-seared with roasted peppers, capers, pesto and shallots is his signature dish; it’s served with a choice of a pasta or fresh vegetables. Cappelini Bella Cibo, a housemade pasta, is another specialty – boneless chicken is topped with a boursin cheese sauce, roasted peppers and sun-dried tomatoes.
Meals end with housemade desserts, such as the white-chocolate mousse or the “chocolate tower cake” described as “chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.”
Truluck’s, Fort Lauderdale
The Austin-based fish house brings sustainable fishing to the forefront, with a menu based on fresh, ocean-friendly seafood, natural steaks and stone crab brought in from the company’s own Florida fishing fleet.
Chef Mike Rakun says he follows the company philosophy, “because it’s the right thing for me as a chef, as well as the environment.”
In the sophisticated, bustling dining room, servers offer more than 100 wines by the glass (as well as samples), along with the extensive seafood menu – such classics as shrimp cocktail and crab cakes are juxtaposed with sesame-crusted tuna or a salmon with signature jalapeno-Bearnaise sauce, and Thai chili scallops. From-scratch desserts include the Key lime cheesecake or stacked carrot cake.
The bar is lively – a full cocktail menu is available, along with a beer selection – and a piano player provides tunes for the lounge atmosphere.
Naoe Miami, Sunny Isles
At this latest from notable sushi chef Kevin Cory, the Japanese omakase style of service here is the talk of the town. Omakase is “leaving the selection up to the chef. It’s the best way to order from a skilled chef, as it would be to allow a doctor to operate,” Cory says.
He draws inspiration for the complex sushi and sashimi presentations, created fresh for each seating, from nature – part of a sushi chef’s classical training. “I aim to present its essence. In Japan, sushi chefs may start their first three to five years only cooking rice…perfecting their technique to show off the essence of nature within the rice,” he says.
Dishes are complex, but work together throughout the dinner for a balance. “Everything must harmonize for the whole meal – not just one dish,” Cory says. Don’t expect a jolt of cream cheese or mayonnaise in any of his dishes, however – as they “do not harmonize with a high quality dining experience,” he says.
The 17-seat restaurant, which has only three seatings nightly, has fans in a quandary – the space is too tiny to tout, yet they want everyone to know of this talent, often compared to major sushi chefs in New York and Japan.
PALM BEACH COUNTY
Da Francesca at 251, Palm Beach
Organic foods are part of many restaurants these days, but here, it’s the primary focus. Chef Seth Kirschbaum, most recently of Fort Lauderdale’s Sublime, latched onto the directive set out by owner Frank Cilione, of the former Tsunami fame.
“Everything is made in-house every day,” Kirschbaum says. Finding a local source for foods is key, too. “It’s important to me ecologically and as a chef,” he says.
A specialty is the house-made colazione pizza – a sunny-side-up egg is placed on the pancetta, spinach, tomato and plum tomato pie. But dishes such as swordfish over fennel salad and a three-meat, all natural meatball with spaghettini win diners as well.
His food is paired with an Italian-forward wine list featuring some organic wines and beers; all is served up in a warm-wood decorated room, which turns into a more clubby scene, with dancing, late night.
Dolce de Palma, West Palm Beach
The rustic and virtually on-the-tracks eatery near the Kravis Center is a find for those who do stumble on it. It opened quietly before season last year to a slow start, but word of mouth put it on the radar for a full-blown opening in the fall.
Chef Rene Michelena, a Charlie Trotter and Sign of the Dove alumnus, turns out “world cuisine” from the tiny kitchen for a menu that changes daily (phone in to get the day’s specials). French twists such as modern rabbit, cassoulet or sweetbreads pose next to Asian green curry, duck, venison or porcini pasta with housemade sausage and mozzarella on the same menu – it’s often “chef’s whim” as to what might appear.
“We do cook with organics, but more than that, we’re farm-to-table, so everything’s as fresh as possible and seasonal,” says Jessica Bailey, managing partner with Anthony de Palma.
The atmosphere is chic and casual, yet sophisticated, with floor-to-ceiling drapes and banquettes and a few – very few – tables. An outdoor patio eases some crowding, but this is a reservations-required restaurant for size alone.
Eggsotic Bistro, West Palm Beach
Breakfast is always a great place to start – and this little charmer is waking up the area with not-so-typical morning meals and lunches. Leonardo and Luis Espin, partners and owners, turn out crêpes, omelets and panini as well as unique lunch specials such as a grilled salmon croque monsieur in the tucked-away spot.
It occupies a former drive-through cleaners building - expect a small dining area with counter seating and tables. But diners are instantly removed from the bustling boulevard outside once indoors - the sleek warm modern décor with contemporary art on the walls has a somewhat calming effect.
A variety of eggs benedict, omelets and French toast are offered, along with the signature crêpes turned out by chef Leonard – former executive chef of Breakers West Country Club. In season, the daily special reflects what’s fresh in the markets, the chef says. A coffee bar satisfies those who are just in for a cup of joe – it’s also top quality - and the entire menu is available for take-out.
(Note: A second location that will offer dinner was still in the planning stages at press time.)
IF YOU GO:
401 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Opera Restaurant and Lounge
1025 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
Sage Oyster Bar
2000 Harrison St., Hollywood
401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Trattoria Bella Cibo
5801 Margate Blvd., Margate
Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House
2584-A E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
175 Sunny Isles Blvd., Sunny Isles Beach
305-947-6263, naoemiami.com; reservations required.
PALM BEACH COUNTY
251 Sunrise Ave., Palm Beach
Dolce de Palma
1000 Okeechobee Road, West Palm Beach
2400 Okeechobee Blvd.,
West Palm Beach, 561-478-3117