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

 

Critic’s pick: best waterfront restaurant this week in Delray

A waterfront view from Deck 84 in Delray Beach. (Contributed by Jerry Rabinowitz)
Boaters often bring their fresh catch to Deck 84, Delray Beach. (Contributed by Jerry Rabinowitz)

South county pick: DECK 84

Restaurateur Burt Rapoport has created more than a simple waterfront eatery at Deck 84 – he has created a kind of waterway hub, where boaters can dock and drink or bring their fresh catches to be cooked.

Boat or no boat, you’ll find a taste of the ocean at this 5-year-old restaurant in the bar bites (the popcorn shrimp are delicious!), soups, large plates, sandwiches and tacos.

Related: Best waterfront restaurants in Palm Beach County

A waterfront view from Deck 84 in Delray Beach. (Contributed by Jerry Rabinowitz)
A waterfront view from Deck 84, Delray Beach. (Contributed by Jerry Rabinowitz)

The seafood dishes share the menu with American pub classics in a setting that embraces the water view – the place is among the top 100 al fresco dining restaurants in America, according to OpenTable.com.

Open every day, Deck 84 serves lunch and dinner daily; a weekend brunch is served as well.

Deck 84: 840 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; 561-665-8484; Deck84.com

TWITTER: @LizBalmaseda

Critic’s pick: Hudson Delray hosts ‘Nauti Hallow’s Eve’

Halloween inevitably inspires spooky cocktails. (Cox Newspapers)
Halloween inevitably inspires spooky cocktails. (Cox Newspapers)

South county pick: HUDSON DELRAY

Halloween night at this seafood-centric spot in Delray Beach comes with a water view. In addition to its full menu, served in the dining room, Hudson is throwing a “Nauti Hallow’s Eve” bash Saturday night. The party starts at 6 p.m. on the newly revamped outdoor bar.

Related: The best Halloween events in Palm Beach county

For the occasion, the eatery is serving a special “Fangtastic Flatbread” ($8), made with roasted butternut squash, ricotta, sage and sunflower seeds. For the pairing, there will be appropriately spooky sips, like Pumpkin Smashed Martinis ($8), Jack O’Lantern Shots ($3) and Witches Brew ($5).

A view of Hudson at East Waterway in Delray Beach from the Intracoastal. (Contributed)
A view of Hudson at East Waterway in Delray Beach from the Intracoastal. (Contributed)

Diners and revelers are invited to dress up and take part in Hudson’s “mischievous” costume contest.

Hudson, at Waterway East: 900 E. Atlantic Ave., #22, Delray Beach; 561-303-1343; HudsonDelray.com

TWITTER: @LizBalmaseda