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Posts Tagged ‘Palm Beach’

quality time somewhere in Palm Beach County

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).

fish tacos at Grand Lux Cafe at Sawgrass Mills

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.

Grand Lux Cafe on Urbanspoon

good enough crab cake sandwich at Charley's Crab in Palm Beach, FL

Two more (small) chains tie for the title of “OK-but-not-great” dining in the area: Charley’s Crab in Palm Beach and Matteo’s Ristorante in Jupiter.

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.

Charley's Crab on Urbanspoon

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.
Matteo's Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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.

Spoto's Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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.

I’ll be back in London next week, and with my luggage full of Ziploc, tortillas, Goya products and Skippy, I can’t wait to get home and back to business as usual.

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

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Pool View

The pool photo above is taken during a break from my rigorous morning of reading and dozing off in a chaise. When you need a break from the gloom and rain of London, you could do worse than find a pool in Florida in 80-degree sunshine.

During Phase 2 of our trip back to the US, Jon and I spent a relaxing, sunny five days with Jon’s family near Palm Beach.

From what we could tell, everyone in the area either stays in a hotel or has a home in one of several newly-built, sprawling, gated country club communities. The community in which Jon’s parents bought their house gleams with newness and bustles with community members walking, running, playing tennis, going to the gym, and, of course, riding golf carts.  You can even have a golf cart garage in your home.  We would have loved it if the community had been named Del Boca Vista, but of course we aren’t talking about old retirees, as Jon’s parents would have you know.

The Palm Beach area in a nutshell: sunshine, swimming pools, routine and retail.

I think to anyone but a Jersey girl comme moi, Palm Beach County can only be described as an environmental disaster. Palm Beach County MapBut if you like to shop (and have a car – this is America!), then here is where you’d want to retire, too. Everywhere you look, there’s a shiny new shopping mall or big-box strip to suit every style and wallet.

The day after Christmas, I went to three different malls if you include Worth Avenue in Palm Beach as a(n) (outdoor) mall. At a quick glance, Worth Avenue looks like it’s going to be another cheesy Florida faux-Mediterranean mishmash of a strip with its pastels, tile roofing and stucco-looking exteriors, but then you walk down the Avenue, and the stores are just too expensive for you to write the street off as total kitsch. Closest to the beach, there’s a large Neiman Marcus and Saks, and then all the “small” stores run along Worth Avenue away from the beach: Bonpoint for all your luxe kiddie needs; Jimmy Choo for that must-have footwear; jewelry stores specializing in golf-ball diamonds; and art galleries to decorate that nice, big home. I’d always pictured Palm Beach as an old-school wasp stronghold (i.e., not so big into bling), but I guess for all its talk about “tastefulness” and restraint, high-end shopping appeals to that demographic, too.

Jon and I easily slipped into the routine that seems to define snowbird life in Florida. For example, we quickly became obsessed with getting free bagels offered for breakfast at the community clubhouse, which disappear at 10 am, sharp. So, every day, we woke up in time to be part of the last-minute 9:45 rush of people at the clubhouse.

Because this part of Florida is the Tristate area getaway of choice, the bagels were outstanding – crispy crust, chewy center. No rolls with holes here!

Following bagel breakfast every day, there’d be some exercise time, followed by lunch. Given the generally expensive and mediocre food at area restaurants we tried, I’d say the best lunch we had “out” was at the clubhouse buffet, where you could make your own salad or have custom-made sandwiches.  And so I began to see how easy it is to be sucked into spending the whole day in a gated community.  After lunch, we’d spend some part of the afternoon alternately shopping and sitting by the house pool.   Then we’d eat dinner at either a variety of nearby restaurants or at home and close out the night with time in the hot tub.  And that, you see, is the Florida Routine. God bless America!

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