PB Food & Wine Festival: ticket sales strong, Coolio out, new stars join

Coolio, rapper and unexpected foodie, will not appear at December’s Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival after all, thanks to his recent arrest in Los Angeles on gun charges, organizers say. The 90s star also known as Artis Leon Ivey Jr. was charged with felony firearm possession after a gun was found in his backpack during a security check at Los Angeles International Airport last month.

But here’s an actual culinary star foodies can get excited about: Chef Lee Wolen of Chicago’s Michelin-starred Boka Restaurant recently joined the festival lineup. The James Beard Award nominee will be cooking at the “Rise and Dine” breakfast Saturday, Dec. 10.

Star chefs Marc Murphy (left) and Jeff Mauro, beneath the Palm Beach sun. (LILA PHOTO)
Star chefs Marc Murphy (left) and Jeff Mauro, beneath the Palm Beach sun. (LILA PHOTO)

Also new to the festival, which runs from Dec. 8-11, is food TV personality Adam Richman, of “Man V. Food” fame, who is scheduled to appear at two prime Saturday events.

Like Coolio, Richman is not without his own controversies. He has now regained status in the food TV world two years after a blistering Instagram rant derailed his Travel Channel “Man Finds Food” series. (The show premiered the following year with a new name.)

Before the Insta-rant: Adam Richman on set in 2008. (Cox Newspapers photo)
Before the Insta-rant: Adam Richman on set in 2008. (Cox Newspapers photo)

Wolen and Richman join a food star lineup that includes nationally acclaimed chefs like Jonathon Sawyer, Daniel Boulud, George Mendes, Ken Oringer, Mike Lata and Anita Lo, TV celebrity chefs like Jeff Mauro and Robert Irvine, and star Miami chefs like Michelle Bernstein, Jose Mendin, Brad Kilgore, Giorgio Rapicavoli and Timon Balloo.

“The festival is continuing to add new and fresh faces and exciting talent,” says festival organizer David Sabin. “We’re now finalizing the participation of other award-winning and notable chefs.”

Add to those Palm Beach stars like Clay Conley, Lindsay Autry, Tim Lipman, Zach Bell, Rick Mace and Julien Gremaud and you have the largest congregation of chefs in Florida in December.

Refined bites at the festival's "Sustain" event in 2015. (LILA PHOTO)
Refined bites at the festival’s “Sustain” event in 2015. (LILA PHOTO)

With two months still to go till its kickoff event, the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival has sold out nearly half of its events.

The four-day festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in December, also has sold out of its four offered ticket packages.

Of its 15 scheduled events, top-sellers include the festival’s “Street Food” competition, the “Kids Kitchen” cooking classes (both at the Four Seasons Resort), and the “Chef Welcome Party” at The Breakers. The fest wraps up with a “Grand Tasting” bash and chefs’ throw-down at The Gardens Mall on the night of Dec. 11, a Sunday.

Ticket sales are exceeding expectation, says Sabin.

“It’s a testimonial to the thriving dining culture in Palm Beach County,” he says. “Year to year, festival-goers are growing more familiar with the venues and our staple events. It’s obvious in the response we’ve received to our signature events.”

Snack + snap: A Four Seasons Resort cook prepares party food at the fest. (LILA PHOTO)
Snack + snap: A Four Seasons Resort cook prepares party food at the fest. (LILA PHOTO)

Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival

The festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary, runs from Dec. 8 through 11. For information and tickets, visit PBFoodWineFest.com.

The Regional Kitchen heats up CityPlace — is it worth the buzz?

The folks behind The Regional Kitchen & Public House in downtown West Palm Beach don’t believe in doomed locations. Some months ago, they invaded the cavernous space that once housed a succession of failed restaurants – from Cuban to American seafood to Brazilian spots – and raised a banner there for worldly Southern cooking.

Chef Lindsay Autry addresses the troops at The Regional Kitchen. (Contributed by The Regional)
Chef Lindsay Autry addresses the troops at The Regional Kitchen. (Contributed by The Regional)

Now, on most nights, The Regional hums with big-city ambiance as the restaurant’s various dining areas are filled with chatter and tables are laden with Executive Chef Lindsay Autry’s jazzed up pimento cheese, country ham carpaccio, fried chicken thighs and pozole verde.

Never mind that the restaurant’s façade is obscured by massive scaffolding as the larger building undergoes renovations. Even the Public House part of the establishment, also known as the bar and lounge, seems to draw its own lively scene.

Why all the buzz – and is it warranted?

Long story, short: Yes.

The Regional's Tomato Pie is a top-seller. (South Moon Photography)
The Regional’s Tomato Pie is a top-seller at the month-old restaurant. (South Moon Photography)

The reasons extend beyond concept, planning and good intention. Of course there’s a solid hospitality entity behind The Regional – restaurateur Thierry Beaud’s TITOU group, which gave us Pistache on Clematis Street and PB Catch in Palm Beach, restaurants with enduring shine.

And there’s timing: The Regional debuts as West Palm Beach rises to prominence as a new hub for indie, chef-driven restaurants. It also opens as the CityPlace area awaits the arrival of a mega Restoration Hardware showroom, which will serve as a formal entrance to downtown West Palm Beach.

But at the core, the month-old Regional runs on soul, excellent food and attention to detail, a trifecta brought to life by Chef Autry, who also serves as the restaurant’s managing partner.

She pulls these elements together with a sense of authority, culled from her eclectic fine dining experiences. Autry is not only a chef on the rise, but a chef coming into her own – and it’s an exciting thing to witness.

Pimento cheese is jazzed up, table-side. (South Moon Photography)
Pimento cheese is jazzed up, table-side. (South Moon Photography)

Her menu is part memoir: Autry borrows flavors from her North Carolina childhood (hello, country-style sausage with field pea cassoulet), her Greek grandmother’s kitchen (as in veggie Greek salad with charred chickpeas), her days working for celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein in Yucatan and Miami (hola, grilled snapper in banana leaf with salsa verde), and her culinary pop-up explorations.

The menu sparkles with flavor combos that might make no sense in the hands of another chef – and she commands it with grace. Her Berkshire pork shank ($26), perched on creamed hominy and pozole verde, is downright statuesque. Her sweet tea-brined fried chicken thighs ($9) cut to the chase of flavor, focusing on the richest part of the bird. Even a dish as seemingly simple as chicken noodle soup ($8) is exalted by a long-simmered broth (deepened in flavor by heaps of bones), chicken that’s cooked gently in its own fat and hand-cut dumplings. It’s exquisite, this soup.

As does the menu, the décor touches reflect certain soul. Autry and her team doted on table setting details, including a caddy handcrafted by a Regional bartender with woodworking skills. It holds the menus and small bottles of The Regional’s special “house sauce.”

The Regional's walls reflect the chef's North Carolina childhood. (LILA PHOTO)
The Regional’s walls reflect the chef’s North Carolina childhood. (LILA PHOTO)

The amber glassware on the table is inspired by Autry’s grandmother’s table. It was “always set with those color glasses and pretty ‘share’ plates that make you feel like you’re dining on something special,” recalls the chef.

The art on the restaurant’s walls reflects Autry’s North Carolina roots in a series of photos she took at her family’s farm, as well as some local farm images. She had a replica of her family’s farm sign made – it hangs above The Regional’s kitchen.

“These personal notes make it really feel like home to me,” says Autry.

Chef on the rise: Lindsay Autry at The Regional's "housewarming" party. (Contributed by The Regional)
Chef on the rise: Lindsay Autry at the “housewarming” party. (Contributed by The Regional)

Interesting thing: The place feels homey even to those of us not born in North Carolina. Then again, “homey” doesn’t fully cover The Regional’s vibe. The place may pay homage to Autry’s countryside roots, but it is firmly metropolitan. Retro funk beats segue to soul on the soundtrack in the bar and main dining room, while soulful jazz flows through The Regional’s private dining room. Autry’s team spent about four months developing the custom playlists with a New York sound company.

The crisp details extend to the servers, their approach and their appearance in uniforms designed by ChefWorks and, for the women, a certain matte shade of coral lipstick.

Country flavors, big-city vibe at The Regional Kitchen. (LILA PHOTO)
Country flavors, big-city vibe at The Regional Kitchen. (LILA PHOTO)

Of course, Autry knows such details can be meaningless without drive.

“It takes a lot of time and energy to open a restaurant, and it’s remarkable to see all of the small details come together to make this establishment what I hoped it could be,” she says.

She says she looks forward to seeing “our little community grow.”

It’s an heirloom seed of a wish, but one that’s sown on fertile, West Palm Beach soil. How could it not grow?

The Regional Kitchen & Public House: 651 Okeechobee Blvd. (CityPlace), West Palm Beach; 561-557-6460

Video: Ralph’s Place closes in Palm Beach Gardens

This is not where one expects to find a killer egg salad sandwich or belly-warming fish and grits. It’s a diner where you least expect to find one: in an industrial/professional block on a restaurant-free road.

But here it is, Ralph’s Place, humming more than eight years strong on this quiet corner of Palm Beach Gardens – until it closes for good on Sunday.

Ralph's Place prepares to close. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Ralph’s Place in Palm Beach Gardens prepares to close. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

And Ralph Percy, the diner’s 85-year-old owner, greeter and part-time cook, will be here till the last customer has left, the last dish is washed and the last light is turned off.

The new owners of the plaza that houses Ralph’s Place did not renew its lease, says Percy. So he will close the diner he’s operated for 26 years in three different locations.

Ralph Percy opened Ralph's Place 26 years ago. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Ralph Percy opened Ralph’s Place 26 years ago. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

“It’s the local gathering place for all the neighborhood and business people. We have regular customers every day. I know them by sight more than by name,” says Percy, who operated Ralph’s Place in one Northwood location, then another, from 1990. He reopened in Palm Beach Gardens in 2008, after his last Northwood lease was not renewed.

On Friday, as Ralph’s Place buzzes with lunchtime customers, Percy is deep into his head count for the day. “We do 200 customers a day. So far today, we’re at 103,” he says.

One of those 103 is Mabel Brinkley, a tap dance aficionado enjoying a plate of fried fish for lunch. She’s a regular here. She comes every Tuesday for lunch with her senior dance group. There’s much to love about Ralph’s Place, she says.

“I like his personality. The service is excellent. I’m going to miss it,” she says.

Her server, Bonnie Sue Fickett, is going to miss the place as well.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” says Fickett, a Maine native who has been a restaurant server for 40 years. She’s worked at Ralph’s for just eight months, but has already collected various customer appreciation letters as well as some job leads. “(Ralph) is just such a nice person. I love it here. I’m gonna cry.”

For most of the past 8 ½ years, Percy has been here at 5:30 a.m. seven days a week, opening the diner at 7 a.m. each morning and closing at 2:30 p.m. He’s done all the food shopping for the diner, and prepared “90 percent” of the lunches, too. On the plus side, it doesn’t take him too long to walk home from work – he lives one block away.

Simple diner omelet with home fries. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Simple diner omelet with home fries. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

What will he do once Ralph’s Place is gone?

“I’m up there in years and retirement is inevitable,” says Percy.

Retirement is also a fuzzy term. Percy retired nearly 40 years ago from a national shoe company. He had moved to Florida from Syracuse, NY, in 1965 and “retired” 11 years later. He opened a couple of shoe stores and operated them for nearly a decade.

ralphsmenu
A bygone menu of daily specials at Ralph’s. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

It was after his brother took over the old Albritton’s Drug Store in 1990 (and closed it a few months later) that Percy opened a diner in that 40th Street location. He ran Ralph’s Place there until he moved it to 24th Street, and finally to its final Burns Road home.

“I started out as a novice,” says Percy. “I was new and had no idea. My sister had a restaurant in upstate New York and I would pop in and out and so on.”

But he gravitated toward the kitchen at his first Ralph’s Place, where he had hired an “excellent” local cook. Percy says he would hover over the stove as she cooked, exasperating her.

“She said to me, ‘Excuse me. You can’t stand there and watch me – you’ll drive me crazy,’” he recalls. But he continued to hover until he took over the stove one day. “I’m pretty agile. I play a lot of tennis. I thought, ‘I can flip eggs.’ So I said to her one day, ‘Move over.’”

Many over-easy eggs later, Percy ponders whether the closing means he’ll hang up his spatula for good. Probably not, he says.

“I’ll get bored. I’ll look for something,” he says, referring to another location. “It would have to be around here. I wouldn’t go somewhere else where I’m not known.”

So this may not be a final good-bye to his customers, he says.

“The customers ask me, ‘How are we going to find you?’ I tell them, ‘You’ll have to take a break for a few months at least.’”

Ralph’s Place: Closes Sunday at 3902 Burns Rd., #20, Palm Beach Gardens; 561-625-6687

ralphssign

Avocado Grill celebrates 2nd birthday in grand, funky style party

It’s hard to imagine a weekend when there was not a celebration of some kind at Avocado Grill, Chef Julien Gremaud’s popular spot in downtown West Palm Beach. Perhaps that’s because the very air in the lively restaurant, which spills onto the sidewalk and side patio, seems to sway.

But as Avocado Grill turns 2 this weekend, the restaurant is cranking its celebratory mode to full blast.

A local pair enjoy a window seat at Avocado Grill in downtown West Palm Beach. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
A local pair enjoy a window seat at Avocado Grill in West Palm Beach. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

First, there’s a reggae brunch Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., to the live music of Spred the Dub. On the menu: island-y offerings like coconut lobster rolls, jerk shrimp tacos and dirty rice. Five hours later, the vibe turns clubby as DJ Adam Lipson kicks off his set (9 p.m).

Sunday starts with a brunch as well – a ‘70s-style disco brunch. Adding to the mood: music by Mr. Trombone (Wayne Perry), drummer Ryan Anthony and DJ German Garcia. Brunch also features a costume contest. The contestant with the best retro ‘70 attire wins a $200 Avocado Grill gift card.

Julien Gremaud is chef/owner at Avocado Grill. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Julien Gremaud is chef/owner at Avocado Grill. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Chef Gremaud is hoping guests “go all out” on their costume concepts.

“It’s almost Halloween and we want to see what everyone’s got,” he said via news release.

Of course, there are two weeks of potential celebrations to go before Halloween shadows our doors.

And Gremaud admits he “can’t resist a good party.”

Can you tell the chef used to be a DJ?

Avocado Grill's Dulce de Leche Lava Cake. (Richard Graulich/ The Palm Beach Post)
Avocado Grill’s Dulce de Leche Lava Cake. (Richard Graulich/ The Palm Beach Post)

Avocado Grill: 125 Datura St., West Palm Beach; 561-623-0822; AvocadoGrillWPB.com

SEASON PREVIEW: Five local food and drink highlights to enjoy

As season approaches, hungry minds wonder what’s on the horizon for the local food-and-drink scene. Glad you asked.

Here’s what we’re hoping to enjoy this season.

The Regional's fresh-baked Parker House Rolls are served with seasoned butter. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)
The Regional’s fresh-baked Parker House Rolls. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)

WEST PALM’S BUZZY NEW SPOTS

From The Regional Kitchen to Cholo Soy Cocina, West Palm Beach is shaping up as the county’s foodiest city.

Cholo in chief: Chef Clay Carnes. (Photo: Alissa Dragun)
Cholo in chief: Clay Carnes. (Credit: Alissa Dragun)

Drop into The Regional for some of Chef Lindsay Autry’s Southern-meets-World cooking and you’ll witness a chef rising into her prime. The space may be cavernous, but it still feels cozy, thanks to seating layout and attention to décor detail.

At the other end of the size spectrum, there’s tiny Cholo Soy, an Andean street food-inspired spot where Chef Clay Carnes offers a variety of smoked and roasted meats and hand-made tortillas.

The Regional Kitchen + Public House: 651 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-557-6460; EatRegional.com

Cholo Soy Cocina: 3715 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; @cholosoycocina on Instagram; www.cholosoycocina.com.

GREEN MARKET MARVELS

Hello, pup: The West Palm Beach GreenMarket loves the pooches. (Greg Lovett/ The Palm Beach Post)
Hello, pup: The West Palm Beach GreenMarket loves the pooches. (Greg Lovett/ The Palm Beach Post)

Forget summer. The sunniest, most delicious time of the year in Palm Beach County is the fall and winter harvest season. Just drop into any of the county’s top green markets and you’ll find a bounty of locally grown produce, freshly harvested ingredients, prepared foods and other items. We love the West Palm Beach GreenMarket (Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) not only for its great variety, but also because it’s super pooch-friendly. But chances are that no matter where you live, there’s a good green market not too far away.

Check out our full green market guide for one near you.

PALM BEACH FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL

The Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival runs from Dec. 8-11. (LILA PHOTO)
The Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival runs from Dec. 8-11. (Credit: LILA PHOTO)

This festival is a little gem. Each year, it brings a constellation of food stars — and their cooking — to Palm Beach and environs. And unlike far bigger national food fests, this is one in which festival-goers get plenty of opportunity to interact with some of the nation’s top chefs. The four-day fest celebrates its 10th year this December. Tickets are on sale at pbfoodwinefest.com.

FARM-CHIC EVENTS

Swank Farm will host nine farm feasts this season. (Allen Eyestone/ The Palm Beach Post)
Swank Farm will host nine farm feasts this season. (Allen Eyestone/ The Palm Beach Post)

The now cliché “farm to table” tag takes on wider dimensions in this agriculture-heavy area. The county, which produces the most sweet corn, sugar cane and bell peppers in the country, boasts some $1.41 billion in total agriculture sales, according to Palm Beach County data. And what better place to soak up the flavors of a local harvest than on a boutique veggie farm?

Swank Farm in Loxahatchee Groves offers a series of harvest feasts throughout the growing season. These barn-chic affairs feature top chefs, locally brewed beer, sommelier-poured wine and live music. See this year’s schedule at SwankSpecialtyProduce.com.

Speaking of farm events, the Jupiter-based OBEO Society is hosting a “Boots, Brews and BBQ” event featuring a lineup of acclaimed local chefs and local beers at Jupiter Farms’ Lucky Old Sun Ranch. The cookout happens Sat., Nov. 12 from 3 to 11 p.m. For more information, visit ObeoSociety.com.

WHAT’S NEW IN BREW

David Bick of Sons and Daughters Farm and Winery pours a glass of Ginger Kombucha. His family opened their business to the public in April, making available their organic crops, wine and beverages. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)
David Bick of Sons and Daughters pours Ginger Kombucha. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)

The local brewery scene continues to expand, from Boca Raton to Tequesta, and the expansion involves more than beer. Accomplice Brewery in West Palm Beach is making some popular ciders. Sons and Daughters Farm & Winery is making fruit and flower-based wines and kombucha. The family-owned farm opened to the public for tastings in April.

And, yes, there’s beer. You’ll find the full run of local breweries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High marks for Highland Beach seafood restaurant: Latitudes gets an A

James King is executive chef at Latitudes in the Delray Sands Resort. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)
James King is executive chef at Latitudes in Highland Beach. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a good sign when a hotel restaurant is bustling, so much so that reservations are strongly suggested, if not required. And it’s an even better sign when that restaurant is busy despite heavy competition from neighboring hot spots and some of the county’s most popular dining districts.

Sandwiched between the hum of Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach and the stir of eastern Boca Raton’s dining hub, Latitudes is a local sensation. Yes, it doesn’t hurt that the seafood-centric restaurant is perched by the ocean and that daytime views are sparkling.

But I’ve seen my share of empty or half-empty oceanfront resort restaurants. Located in the Delray Sands resort in Highland Beach, Latitudes is decidedly different. And there is one culinary reason for this: Executive Chef James King.

The former Four Seasons Resort chef is well known for creating dishes that are both stunning and delicious. His attention to detail and refined hand is evident in even the simplest dishes.

King arrived at the Delray Sands shortly after the resort (a former Holiday Inn) underwent an extensive remodeling in 2014. He has given the place cuisine to match its sleek, new look. Now it not only reflects the colors of the sea but the flavors as well.

It is here that his team serves some of the best coastal cuisine in the county. It begins with a selection of chilled seafood starters that carry global flavors.

Seared scallop carpaccio is served at Latitudes. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)
Seared scallop carpaccio is served at Latitudes. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)

Find interesting local-meets-global touches in the Scallop Tiradito, a sashimi-like dish that’s scented with saffron, key lime honey, citrus, fried olives and micro cilantro. The Corvina Ceviche brims with kicky Peruvian yellow pepper. The Mini Ahi Tuna Tacos ($15) pack a punch of Asian flavors, thanks to wasabi aioli, citrus-soy vinaigrette and a tangy ginger-scallion salad.

A local favorite is King’s Tuna Poke, a raw yellowfin tuna dish he calls “a hot, hot seller.” His rendition of the Hawaiian classic takes its sweetness from mango, its crunch from macadamia nuts, its deeper hits from fish sauce and rounder flavors from sesame seed butter. (That’s the gray swoosh on the plate.) He adds crispy wonton chips to help scoop up all the goodness.

Tempting tuna: Ahi poke is popular at Latitudes in Highland Beach. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)
Tempting tuna: Ahi poke is a popular starter at Latitudes. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)

Those craving a warm starter will find yummy comfort in Latitudes’ Lobster Bisque ($10), a version that’s not overly rich. Deepened by a touch of smoked paprika oil, the bisque is swimming with lobster chunks.

Not all good bites here are seafood-centric, as evidenced by the Braised Short Rib Empanadas (two for $15), fried hand-pies overstuffed with ancho chile-spiced beef and served with pickled red onions, a swirl of chipotle aioli and a thimble of herb-y, garlicky chimichurri dipping sauce. One empanada – or even half of one – is large enough for an appetizer.

An appetizer that’s large enough to be an entrée is the Scampi Style Maine Lobster and Shrimp ($16), a large soup bowl filled with shrimp, lobster chunks, peas and slivered garlic in rich, saucy scampi goodness. The dish is served with toasted ciabatta slices and a large wedge of lemon for brightening the bite (not that it needs any adjustments). This might have been my favorite bite of the night.

Entrée options are well varied, ranging from “simply prepared” fresh fish served with a choice of flavorful butter, sauce or relishes. For those who want something more than simple fish, there’s a simply Grilled Seafood Trio ($32) that combines a fillet of local fish with tiger prawns and jumbo scallops. A light citrus beurre blanc is offered for dipping along with fresh veggies and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. The entire combo, a popular dish on the menu, is pristine and perfectly cooked.

Not so simply prepared but just as delicious: the Crab Crusted Florida Grouper ($35), a moist fillet made even more flavorful by a layer of toasty-golden crab. It’s served atop a creamy white polenta with a toss of sweet corn and smoked bacon, braised baby spinach and whole carrots. A pool of Florida citrus butter deepens and pulls together the flavors.

Branzino in parchment is a specialty dish at Latitudes. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)
Branzino in parchment is a specialty dish at Latitudes. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)

And there’s a Branzino in Paper ($30) that takes the moist, flaky factor to another level. Because it’s roasted in parchment, the fillet’s delicate flavors are amped. It’s given a Mediterranean treatment with Israeli couscous, Kalamata olives, roasted fennel, confit tomatoes and Meyer lemon tanginess.

It was this dish that became our vehicle to learning about the quality of service at Latitudes. When it was first presented to our table, the paper seemed slightly burned. When the server opened the package, parts of the fillet appeared to be overcooked. A taste of the edges proved our hunch. But before we could say much, our server spirited the fish away.

“I can’t leave it here,” he told us. “This is not an example of who we are or what we do.”

Moments later, he returned with a perfect dish.

Amid the weekend night bustle, this server made sure our glasses were filled, our table was cleared of empty dishes and our whims were met.

All this in a setting of soothing lines and leisurely chatter. The dining room was filled with a mix of diners, a crowd that skewed more Boomer than young hipster. It’s a sexy spot, nice for date night or special occasions, particularly when it’s early enough to catch the last of the day’s sunlight.

It’s a good place for lingering over dessert. At our table that dessert was a batch of hot, puffy beignets ($7) with a blueberry compote and a bourbon creme anglaise, and a dense, sinful praline tart ($9) that made the feast complete.

Ocean view all day: patio seating at Latitudes in Highland Beach. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)
Ocean view all day: patio seating at Latitudes. (Bruce R. Bennett/ The Palm Beach Post)

REVIEW

Latitudes

FOOD: A

SERVICE: A

ADDRESS: At the Delray Sands Resort, 2809 S. Ocean Blvd., Highland Beach

TELEPHONE: 561-278-2008

WEBSITE: LatitudesDelray.com

PRICE RANGE: Moderate to expensive

NOISE LEVEL: Lively, but conversation is possible.

FULL BAR: Yes, a full liquor bar; separate bar area. Happy Hour is served Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., with drink and small plate specials.

HOURS: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday brunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

CREDIT CARDS: Major cards accepted

RESERVATIONS: Dinner reservations are strongly suggested.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:

A — Excellent

B — Good

C — Average

D — Poor

F — Don’t bother

 

ICYMI: Cholo Soy Cocina restaurant to open this week on West Palm Beach’s Antique Row

Cholo Soy Cocina, a tiny space with epic dreams, is set to open next week on West Palm Beach’s Antique Row, says its chef/owner Clay Carnes.

Carnes, who left his spacious Wellington restaurant, The Grille, to pursue his street-food-joint goals, expects to open Friday, Sept. 23.

He describes the concept as “neo-Andean, Ecuadorean,” inspired by his years working as a hotel chef in Cuenca, Ecuador. On the menu: interesting snacks, small dishes, handmade tortillas crafted of organic, non-GMO white corn grown in Alachua County.

“The thing I’m most excited about is that I can finally start making these tortillas,” says Carnes, who also will be smoking and braising meats and frying tempura fish for taco fillings.

Chef Clay Carnes: Michigan by birth, "cholo" by soul. (Alissa Dragun/ South Moon Photography)
Carnes: Michigan by birth, “cholo” by soul. (Alissa Dragun/ South Moon Photography)

He has designed a menu that’s varied enough to please a range of tastes and diets.

“We will have food options for everybody. We’ll be able to accommodate dietary preferences naturally because our menu is for everybody. If you’re vegan, we have you covered naturally. Whatever crazy trend you’re doing, you’ll be able to do it here,” says Carnes, who will also offer a selection of beer and wine as well as locally brewed kombucha on draft and locally roasted coffee.

Carnes, a Food Network “Cutthroat Kitchen” winner, plans to grow his own herbs, peppers and other veggies on Cholo’s patio, which will likely hold the spillover crowd from the 600-square-foot indoor space. Inside, there will be four tables seating eight to ten guests, plus limited room at the stand-up counter. Patio benches can accommodate another 25.

The cozy, communal factor is all part of Cholo’s street-stand vibe.

Cholo Soy translates to “I am cholo,” Latin American slang for mixed race or mestizo.

CHOLO SOY COCINA

Located at 3715 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; @cholosoycocina on Instagram; www.cholosoycocina.com.

Hours: Opens Sept. 23 and will keep the following hours: Open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays.

 

Golf star Ernie Els to open ‘Big Easy’ wine bar in Miami

Beyond golf: Hall of Famer Ernie Els is also a winemaker. (Courtesy: Ernie Els Hospitality)
Beyond golf: Hall of Famer Ernie Els is also a winemaker. (Courtesy: Ernie Els Hospitality)

Golf star Ernie Els is taking his culinary interests to Miami. The Jupiter resident known as “The Big Easy” is set to open a downtown area restaurant inspired by his South African roots and passion for wine.

The Big Easy Winebar & Grill by Ernie Els is expected to open Nov. 3 at the upcoming Brickell City Centre complex.

The announcement came this week from the Miami-based Grove Bay Hospitality Group, which partnered with the Hall of Famer and plans a 200-seat restaurant inspired by Els’ “lifestyle and spirit.”

The upscale-casual grill restaurant will carry the flavors (and wines) of the Western Cape region of Els’ native South Africa. A South African native chef with extensive experience in American restaurants will command the kitchen, creating comfort dishes from Els’ motherland.

On Chef Maryna Frederiksen’s menu: unusual meats like sprinkbok (gazelle) loin and ostrich filet, “bobotie” spring rolls (stuffed with traditionally spiced ground beef curry), “sosatie” mini skewers and grilled boerewors (a sausage that is said to be Els’ favorite).

Yes, there will be burgers, as well as Florida seafood and fish, and universal dishes like lobster risotto.

Ernie Els in action at this year's Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. (Daniel Owen/ The Palm Beach Post)
Els in action at this year’s Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. (Daniel Owen/ The Palm Beach Post)

For the pairing, there will be a variety of Ernie Els Wines, which the golfer produces with winemaker Louis Strydom. Perhaps this is what Els is most excited about.

“One of the really wonderful things about Big Easy Winebar & Grill is the opportunity it gives Louis and me to share our passion for wine and to introduce our portfolio of wines, of which we’re extremely proud, to a wider audience,” Els said via news release.

All this in a setting reminiscent of the Western Cape, with imported wood touches, clay pottery, white brick walls and leather seating.

Miami will be the first U.S. location for the Big Easy concept, which has three locations in South Africa and Dubai.

Big Easy Winebar & Grill:

The restaurant is expected to open Nov. 3 at the upcoming Brickell City Centre in Miami’s financial district, near downtown. It will serve a weekday lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., dinner nightly from 4 to 11 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Boca Raton makeover: Max’s Grille shuts for renovations on its 25th year

Grilled jumbo artichokes at Max's Grille, Boca Raton. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)
Grilled jumbo artichokes at Max’s Grille, Boca Raton. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE: Due to looming Hurricane Matthew, Max’s Grille’s official birthday party has been postponed until Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m.

 

ORIGINAL POST: Call it a millennial makeover. Just in time for its big 25th birthday, Boca Raton’s iconic Max’s Grille has closed for renovations.

The Dennis Max-owned restaurant, which closed after dinner Sunday, will debut its refreshed look on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 5 p.m.

Workers will replace the kitchen floor, replace ceiling soffits, reupholster banquettes in deep-red tufted leather, and add a white granite top to the outside bar and new wicker seating to the patio. Updates will continue later (while the restaurant is fully functioning) and, in a stroke of nostalgia, the bar overhang will be restored to its original state.

Patio will be further pretty-fied at Max's Grille. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)
Patio will be further pretty-fied at Max’s Grille. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)

The updates, which come nearly six months after area flooding damaged the restaurant, have forced the delay of the second annual “Bar Brawls,” a local bartender competition.

However, the restaurant is on track to celebrate its 25th birthday on Oct. 6 Oct.18, when it hosts a bash for its designated VIPs and its former and current staff.

Said Max via new release: “We are excited to celebrate our 25th anniversary this year by revitalizing the restaurant, inside and out.”

Serving modernized American classics to packed houses daily, Max’s Grille is the only of the original Mizner Park restaurants that remains.

Max’s Grille: 404 Plaza Real (Mizner Park), Boca Raton; 561-368-0080; MaxsGrille.com

 

A place to sip Pappy: Okeechobee Steakhouse unveils Bourbon Room

Twice the bourbon: Okeechobee Steakhouse owner Ralph Lewis says bourbon demand has increased. (Contributed by Okeechobee Steakhouse)
Owner Ralph Lewis has doubled the bourbon list. (Contributed by Okeechobee Steakhouse)

West Palm Beach’s most iconic steakhouse has unveiled a Bourbon Room for private dining and special functions.

The Okeechobee Steakhouse will break in its new bourbon-themed space at a special six-course, bourbon-pairing dinner next month that includes rare pours of Pappy Van Winkle.

The room, constructed on one side of the restaurant, can seat 28 people by day or night. It will accommodate parties of 10 to 28, says owner Ralph Lewis, whose family has owned and operated the steakhouse for nearly 69 years.

Palm Beach Post file.
Palm Beach Post file.

The designated bourbon space is a direct response to growing customer demand, says Lewis, who calls the space “a beautiful room.”

“Bourbon sales went back up again and we have a large, large variety of bourbon. We’ve always had a relatively good variety, but now we’ve doubled it,” he says, noting an increased demand on vintage drinks, such as the Old Fashioned.

Okeechobee’s expanded bourbon list includes intriguing and in-demand selections such as Angel’s Envy, Buffalo Trace, Hirsch Reserve, Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea and Willett Pot Still Reserve.

As for the bourbon pairing dinner, here are the details:

Six-Course Bourbon Dinner

When: Tuesday, Oct. 18, 6 p.m. to close

Where: Okeechobee Steakhouse, 2854 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-683-5151; OkeeSteakhouse.com

Cost: $150 per person

Menu: Six courses paired with various bourbons and bourbon cocktails. Dishes include poached pear salad, carrot ginger soup, smoked salmon crostini, prosciutto-wrapped lobster tail, all matched with drinks. The feast continues with a prime ribeye spinalis-wrapped tenderloin paired with an Eagle Rare Manhattan, and bacon-wrapped Bananas Foster matched with Prichard’s Double Chocolate and root beer float. As grand finale, attendees will toast with Pappy Van Winkle.