By David Minsky
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By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
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By Laine Doss
Charley's serves very good quality seafood across the board. I've eaten so many sub-par scallops and shrimp at other restaurants lately that bad fish is starting to feel like the latest groovy South Florida trend -- but you don't have to fret about bleach-infused scallops or freezer-burned shrimp here. Our hot appetizer sampler ($25) included two small but tasty scallops in the shell smothered with dynamite sauce -- a mixture of creamy crab and basil drizzle; two mini crab cakes decorated with a swirl of mustard sauce; and a half dozen juicy, flavorful king crab legs cooked in a gingery Szechwan broth. The crab legs were delicious, spicy, and sweet. The scallops in their creamy sauce were rich but fairly undistinguished -- you can't taste any basil in that "drizzle." The crab cakes didn't really rise above the welter currently crowding the menus of most seafood houses. For $25, we each had one scallop, one small crab cake, and three crab legs -- no bargain for us, but surely a whopping boost for Landry's profit margin.
Our waiter arrived with our Martha's Vineyard salad. Composed of red onion, pine nuts, blue cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette, what could have been a rainbow-hued salad looked like wet, gray felt. As a conceptual art object by Joseph Beuys it would have been pure genius; as a plate of something to eat it fell short of edible. Maybe somebody'd tossed that blue cheese and raspberry dressing into the lettuce many hours ago... the thought didn't bear examination.
I don't know, am I getting too picky? I don't even pay for my own meals, but I'm still finding the prices at restaurants these days outrageous. If you're going to charge $28 bucks for a plate of halibut with asparagus spears and rice, I want it to be damned near perfect. I'm not going to make allowances just because the fish is pretty good -- I want everything to be fricking delicious. And as far as I'm concerned, it should come out looking and smelling great, too. I figure at least ten of those 28 dollars ought to go for a bit of artistry on the plate, a squiggle or a swoop of sauce. Something! My halibut tasted fine. But the entire plate of food was almost all one color, from the wishy-washy overcooked asparagus to the greyish rice to the paleish fish with its pinkish sauce. Served on a white plate, it was practically an exercise in camouflage. I'd paid an extra $6 for the dynamite sauce, and I'd be willing to bet there wasn't a full tablespoon of the stuff lobbed on top of my fish. Come on, man!
1755 SE Third Court
Deerfield Beach, FL 33441
Region: Deerfield Beach
Ms. A's mahi mahi ($22) wasn't as insulting, if only because she hadn't paid the price of a movie ticket for a thimbleful of sauce. She had hers sautéed with butter, and it was really very good, a luscious, thick fillet cooked perfectly -- with a squeeze of lemon, it was divine. Still, she had the same color- and taste-free asparagus and rice as I did.
We finished up with molten chocolate truffle cake ($7.95), a head-clearing rush composed of gooey cake and semi-sweet chocolate sauce in a pool of crème Anglaise accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The waiter informed us apologetically that the presentation had collapsed on its way from the kitchen, so it came to the table looking like it had already had a rough night. What a shame. For eight bucks I would have liked to have seen what it was really supposed to look like, in all its teetering, towering glory. Total bill before tip: $121.50 with two glasses of wine.
OK, I'm a bitch! Hurricane Katrina has left me in a terrible mood. My two favorite restaurants in the world may be closed forever, and I'm completely helpless to do anything. I'm left scarfing down mushy asparagus and gray salad at a waterfront restaurant in Deerfield Beach, remembering the now-vanished deliciousness of a flaming plate of bananas Foster at Brennan's in the French Quarter or the incredible fried apple pie at Camellia Grill and wondering whether those handsome, honey-tongued waiters in their snazzy white chef's jackets ended up somewhere safe and dry. Then across my desk comes this saving grace from Spoto's Oyster Bar. I can go order their spicy Cajun-style shrimp étoufée topping on any fish in the house, and for each topping I buy, Spoto's will donate $7 directly toward the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Effort. Spoto's is located in downtown West Palm on Datura Street or at 4560 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. They're clearly more generous with their sauce than Landry's. Now I can ease a little long-distance suffering even while weeping into my gumbo.