Travel Tip: Palm Beach Dining

Dec 19, 2011

Note: This is an excerpt of an article, "Hiding in Plain Sight," by Mitch Frank, that appears in the Dec. 31, 2011 - Jan. 15, 2012 issue of Wine Spectator.

Driftwood Plaza, 2133 S. U.S. 1 (at Olympus Circle), Jupiter
Telephone: (561) 744-5054
Open: Dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $15-$39
Award of Excellence

Declan and Maria Hoctor opened their bistro a decade ago, not long after moving to the U.S. from Dublin. Their goal was to create a neighborhood place with good food, and they've succeeded. It feels like a second home-not easy when there are four large dining rooms and a spacious bar area. Declan is usually up front and sets the stage with friendly but crisp service. Aside from the Kerry lamb pie, the cuisine is upscale American. An appetizer of ahi tuna crusted in sesame seeds was perfectly seared. Entrées included a lovely baked fillet of yellowtail snapper covered in crabmeat. The solid wine list, winner of a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, focuses on California, particularly Cabernets and Chardonnays, but there's variety too, from Oregon Pinot Noir to collectible Bordeaux.

Driftwood Plaza, 2145 U.S. 1 (at Olympus Circle), Jupiter
Telephone: (561) 744-0543
Open: Lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday, October to May; Tuesday to Saturday, June to September
Cost: Entrées $16-$48

Somehow Buonasera owner Antonio Tasca has created a slice of the Amalfi Coast in Florida. In this oasis of a restaurant, chef Leonardo Cuomo doesn't cook Italian-American food; he cooks pure Italian. A recent menu included a very fresh alici marinate, or marinated white anchovies wrapped in roasted peppers, with artichoke hearts on the side. There's seafood on the menu, but it's not snapper—it's grilled branzino. A bowl of trofie, housemade short pasta, comes with a beef-and-mushroom ragù that is warm, filling and refined. Tasca has also imported plenty of wine from Italy. The impressive, lengthy list has hundreds of Italian choices, from Piedmont to Sicily, including Sassicaia 2004 ($385), Romano Dal Forno Amarone 1998 ($850) and Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi 2003 ($125). Oh, and the espresso is authentic, too.

4533 PGA Blvd. (at Military Trail), Palm Beach Gardens
Telephone: (561) 627-2662
Open: Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $30-$45

When Frank and Gigi Eucalitto opened Café Chardonnay in a shopping center in 1986, the Palm Beach Gardens neighborhood was sleepy. Today it's packed with golf courses, real estate developments and chain restaurants, but Café Chardonnay remains a homegrown favorite. The bar is lively and the dining room is warm. In the kitchen, Frank has created a New American menu, with plenty of French and Italian flourishes. The brandied lobster bisque is a perennial favorite, while the escargot scampi-style is rich but offset by fresh tomatoes and a white wine sauce. For entrées, try the macadamia-crusted yellowtail snapper or a roast veal chop with mushroom risotto. The wine list offers selections from all over the globe. The St.-Urbans-Hof Riesling Spätlese Mosel Piesporter Goldtröpfchen 2009 ($57) is food-friendly, while the Ramey Napa Cabernet Larkmead 2006 ($90) partners nicely with that veal chop.

12846 U.S. 1 (between Juno Isles Blvd. and Packwood Road), Juno Beach
Telephone: (561) 624-9924
Open: Lunch, Monday to Saturday; dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $18-$22
Award of Excellence

This is South Florida at its best. The Reef Grill and its sister lunch venue three doors down both have a hand-me-down decor, friendly staff and a fantastic menu. Ross Matheson and his team offer inventive dishes like coconut tempura snapper and whole Bahamian-style yellowtail snapper. The Cuban crab cake is a good start to a meal. Often the best option is to see what fresh fish are listed and order them grilled. Fries and coleslaw are a must, and save room for the coconut-banana rum cake with homemade ice cream or the Key lime pie. The 150-selection wine list, an Award of Excellence winner, is well-crafted, affordable and offers everything by the glass. You can start with a glass of Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer Alsace ($8) and then have a glass of Col Solare Columbia Valley Cabernet ($12).

14020 U.S. 1 (at Donald Ross Road), Juno Beach
Telephone: (561) 776-1167
Open: Dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $24-$32

Reservations are a good idea at this polished Polynesian restaurant, which is packed during the high season. The place adds a bit of excess to almost everything, from the bamboo and tiki torch decor to the generously sized cocktails, wines by the glass and large plates of food. The cuisine mixes Hawaiian influences, some local ingredients and plenty of eclectic touches. Volcano shrimp come grilled with peanut sauce, while the Cajun spring roll is made from andouille and chicken. An entrée of grilled grouper comes topped with rich crabmeat béarnaise. The wine list includes about 120 solid selections. The best part is that almost everything comes by the glass, including Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon for $12 a glass or $50 a bottle, as well as Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for $18 or $70. There's also a Ke'e Grill farther south, in Boca Raton.

6316 U.S. 1 (between Franklin and Nathan Hale roads), West Palm Beach
Telephone: (561) 585-3128
Open: Dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $30-$50
Best of Award of Excellence

Located on a quiet old strip of South Dixie Highway (U.S. 1) just a few minutes from Palm Beach, Marcello's is a gem of Italian-American cuisine. Chef Marcello Fiorentino is the second-generation owner; his wife, Diane, runs the front of the house, and together they oversee the wine program. The moment you step into the crowded dining room, with its whitewashed stone walls and old-school charm, you'll feel you've been here before. But Marcello's cuisine is not stuck in spaghetti-and-meatballs territory. Try the softshell crab to start, breaded and seared in white wine, then baked. Entrées include the colatella vitello zingara, a veal cutlet served with artichokes, prosciutto and morels. The wine list, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner, is a tour of Italy, with numerous options by the glass, quartino or half-bottle. A quartino of Jermann Pinot Grigio Venezia-Giulia 2008 is a perfect starter, while the Costanti Brunello di Montalcino 2004 is complex and elegant. The depth is impressive as well, with two pages of Fontodi and a page of Sassicaia.

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