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It was in 1925 that Addison Mizner's land purchases, resort developments, and fanciful Spanish Revival architecture jump-started Boca Raton's transformation from tiny, unincorporated town to sprawling land of luxury, retirees, and strip malls. The Banyan Bar & Grill at the Addison is a new moniker for the swank American restaurant housed within Mr. Mizner's former home offices on Camino Real. The property's resplendence is evident from the moment you drive through the trefoil arches of the entryway and into a lush courtyard with gurgling fountain. As you exit your car, it is hard not to look up and gape at the Paul Bunyanesque banyan trees that rise from the patio and provide a canopy for al fresco dining.
A subtle renovation has accompanied the name change -- a bit of sprucing up here and there, some booths added to the main dining room, and an enlarged 40-seat bar and lounge with new walls of glass affording a courtyard view. Taste in décor is subjective, but I was surprised at how much the redesigned area resembles the sort of tawdry cocktail lounge you'd expect to find at a Holiday Inn.
The rest of the restaurant, divided into a number of intimate dining rooms, is lovely and quite charming, but even after this most recent fix-up, it still feels like an old house that's been only minimally maintained. No doubt the owners would cite "architectural integrity," though I don't see how new drapery, tidier side rooms, or more exquisite table settings would harm Mr. Mizner's legacy.
2 E. Camino Real
Boca Raton, FL 33432
Region: Boca Raton
The main dining room, centrally located beneath a lofty atrium ceiling, exudes the most energy. The Club Room, also on the first floor, is a handsome and, as the name implies, clubby sort of space composed mostly in woods, with mustard/beige-toned, tufted leather banquettes. The Adios Room is the quaintest of upstairs dining locations, with hardwood floors, paddle fans, and a private balcony -- not to be confused with "The Balcony," a dining section defined by tables set halfway around the perimeter of the second floor. We were seated in this area on one occasion, at a table with no view of the dining room below -- no doubt the least desirable of the 200 seats in the house. At least we were able gaze out a window at the majestic banyans.
Executive Chef Jeffrey Sacks, who like General Manager Josh Kimmel is a Dennis Max protégé, has been at the Addison since its inception in November 1999. The Max influence is evident in Sacks' solid menu: a short, sensible selection of old-time American steak-house favorites spiced with more modern and global seafood treatments. New dishes have recently been unveiled, most notably pastas and "comforts," both categories offering more bang for the buck than was previously available.
One welcome appetizer addition is mussels "wok-steamed" with Thai curry, coconut milk, and kaffir lime, brought to the table in a flame-heated hot pot. The dozen mollusks were big and plump, the sauce fiery both in terms of temperature and spice. "Firecracker" shrimp with garlic and chili dipping sauce likewise set off piquant bursts of flavor; the dish included three sizable crustaceans stuffed with shrimp mousse, wrapped in nori, dipped in tempura, and cleanly fried; each came dangling at the end of a long wooden skewer protruding from a glass flower vase filled with watercress leaves and an orchid. Explosive tastes to be sure, but one of my shrimp was a dud -- raw inside. The waiter brought me a new one within minutes. Service here was as one would like it to be: professional and astute, with a no-nonsense attitude.
Soup of the day was an uncommon combo of tomato and onion, the brick-red base looking and tasting like an equal blend of each. Chunks of tomato, sautéed onions, fried leeks, and fresh basil contributed texture and complexity. Steak-house salads included whole-leaf Caesar, a stack of tomato and mozzarella, an iceberg wedge with fixings, and a sprightly mélange of numerous chopped vegetables bathed in a vivacious sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. A more generous application of aged pecorino cheese would have heightened the salad's highs and lows.
One of my dinner companions ordered Chilean sea bass, but I wouldn't suggest anyone else doing so. The fish was attractively bronzed with miso glaze, cooked to a semi-translucent succulence, almost shellfish-like in its sweet richness, and pooled in a flawlessly smooth ginger butter sauce. It was beautifully executed except for a dry and stingily portioned eggplant salad, but I withhold recommendation because the world's supply of sea bass is dangerously depleted. Let's give these fish a few years of uninterrupted procreation so our kids and grandkids can enjoy them with ginger butter sauce too. Besides, this kitchen exhibits a consistently deft touch with seafood, so there are plenty of worthy substitutes. Try maple- and mustard-glazed Atlantic salmon, which is served with the same ginger butter sauce. Or cornmeal crusted yellowtail snapper with a hot and fruity mango-jalapeño vinaigrette.
There is no shortage of cows in this world, and Banyan's signature steaks come in five cuts ranging from bone-in rib eye to 18-ounce porterhouse. Veal rib chop and dijon/herb crusted rack of lamb are the other steak-house selections, the latter comprised of four meaty, full-flavored, American-bred double chops with listless crust and juiceless center -- probably due to the rack's being sliced before the meat was allowed to rest, which causes all the blood to leak out onto the cutting board.