Happy (belated) New Year! Unbelievably, I’m on week 3 of 4 in the U.S. I feel I’ve taken every plane, train and automobile on the East Coast by now, and I’ll be spending this week in Boston before returning to London, where I hear there’s lots of snow.
Because there’s definitely no shortage of cold and snow in Boston, I’m looking back very fondly on my week of sunshine in south Florida, where Jon and I mooched off stayed with Jon’s parents for New Year’s.
Much as I appreciate warmth and sunshine in the dead of winter, Palm Beach County’s dining scene seems to leave much to be desired. For years, our restaurant experiences have tended to be expensive and mediocre, so we try to eat at home as much as we can. But sometimes you just gotta leave your gated golf community, so below are the best and worst of what we ate this December 2009, for the next time you find yourself in Palm Beach/West Palm Beach. At least you’ll know what to avoid (and if you have recs, please leave a comment below – this was our fourth year in the area and we still can’t find a consistently-yummy resto to love).
It speaks volumes that the best of our south Florida restaurant meals was at a Vegas-like chain in Sawgrass Mills (the world’s most overwhelming outlet mall). Grand Lux Cafe is owned by the Cheesecake Factory people, which tells you what to expect: enormous portions and ridiculously-lengthy diner-style menu. Still, if you keep your order simple (salads, mostly) and stick to appetizer or “lunch menu” items, the plates won’t be too big, and the ingredients will taste fresh. I greatly enjoyed my Southwest salad, which was packed with black beans, avocados, Monterey Jack and smoky bits of chicken, and Jon and I loved our fish tacos, which were hot from the fryer and accompanied by a zippy salsa. There are some scary-looking items on the menu, of course, but use your best judgment. Most lunch items were $15 or less, and the place is close to the upscale outlets of the Colonnade.
Charley’s Crab‘s primary selling points are its location overlooking the water in Palm Beach and its free valet parking. But the food is uneven. The “lobster spring rolls” highly recommended by our server had the thick, tough skin that could only have come out of a box, but the coconut shrimp was miraculously not overcooked and deliciously crispy, and my crab cake sandwich really hit the spot. Our lunch would’ve been a 100% positive experience had the starters not cost $15 and the mains upwards of $20. I know it’s Palm Beach, but I expect much fresher food at these prices.
Matteo’s Ristorante sits in a strip mall a stone’s throw from Juno Beach, and it’s typical of “family style” Italian restaurants: enormous plates of chicken- and veal-based dishes designed for sharing. Everything on the menu seemed to cost $25, but because each dish feeds about ten thousand people, a meal there can be relatively inexpensive if you don’t over-order. The fried calamari, chicken parm and planet-sized meatballs were hits. The chicken paillard, chopped salad and the spaghetti that accompanied the meatballs were extremely eh. Still, a fun place to go with your family or a large group of friends.
The worst meal this December was at Spoto’s Oyster Bar, which has served us well in years past, so I’m not sure what happened this time around. Again in a strip mall, but an upscale one. And again serving seafood, but with a nod to a mishmash of global cuisines (so American). Fried oysters were under-cooked, though Thai mussels were served in a moreish, light, coconut curry sauce. The prawns in my angel-hair pasta were severely overcooked, and everything was drowning in butter. At $20+ for pasta, you expect a lot better. And our server seemed incapable of remembering our drinks order.
And that’s the sad story of my dining out in Palm Beach County this December. Next year, I’ll stick with Cuban food: Padrino’s Cuban gets my vote based on my meal there last December, and thanks to a friend’s rec, Havana Cuban is now also on my list.
Grand Lux Cafe, 1780 Sawgrass Mills Circle, Sunrise, FL 33323; +1 (954) 838-9711
Charley’s Crab, 456 South Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL 33480; +1 (561) 659-1500
Matteo’s Ristorante, 4300 S US Highway 1, Jupiter, FL; +1 (561) 627-8515
Spoto’s Oyster Bar, 4560 PGA Boulevard, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418; +1 (561) 776-9448
Padrino’s Cuban, Mission Bay Plaza, 20455 State Rd. 7, Suite AA-1, Boca Raton, FL 33498, +1 (561) 451-1070
Havana Cuban, 6801 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405; +1 (561) 547-9799