By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
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By Laine Doss
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If we all go now and drink their lovely Antinori Chiantis and single-aged malts, if we spoon up their truffle butter and lemon-thyme jus and shrimp grits with the enthusiasm they deserve, maybe Christine's will remain one of Broward's best restaurants indefinitely. Valentine's Day is upon us, gentlemen. Might I suggest...?
Being very good, even great, of course, isn't enough in the restaurant business; sometimes, it's no asset at all. But in a fair world, the service alone at Christine's would guarantee its fortunes. Our waiter was handsome, though not handsome enough to distract us. He appeared and receded as necessary, neither nervous nor intrusive, replacing silver and pouring water. He was so graceful that we barely noticed him except as a sort of reassuring background presence, and when we asked dumb questions about the food — What was the green stuff on our kampachi? These round blue things with our foie gras? — he didn't puff up or condescend or fumble: He knew what the hell he was talking about. Have I ever had service that made me this comfortable?
Excellent service converges with familiar dishes that are in fact wildly imaginative. A Creole crab cake ($15) of hefty lump crab is made strange with applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onion, and wilted escarole in a pool of tasso gravy. You may have eaten 10,000 crab cakes, and God knows you'll find one on every menu from Key West to Seattle, but you've never tasted one like this, with its Deep South registers. I'd forgotten that pig and crab loved each other so devotedly; I thought of soft-shell crab and bacon sandwiches and was glad for the memory.
2671 E. Park Oakland Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Wilton Manors
Our silky, fatty, farm-raised Hawaiian kampachi (the appetizer is $13, entrée $28) had been quickly pan-seared, then sliced nearly transparent, arranged around a hot-sweet, pleasantly musty spinach and shiitake salad in a bisque-colored kimchee sauce, like Korea-inflected sashimi. Shockey takes a different route with his kampachi entrée, tossing the grilled fillet with shiitake mushrooms, sea beans, and soy broth. An appetizer of seared Hudson Valley foie gras ($18) came perched over a sour green apple slaw on brioche toast, surrounded by a candied pool of purple berry gastrique; this goose got loose in the forest and force-fed itself huckleberries. Our server recommended a honeyed French sauterne to drink with it.
I had what must have been the pork chop of a lifetime, courtesy of Niman Ranch ($25) — a couple of inches thick on the bone, grilled medium rare. It came crosshatched, beautifully seasoned, and oozing smoky juices alongside a timbale of tiny cubed sweet potatoes, wilted Swiss chard, and sautéed onion. We ate a wahoo fillet ($25), a long, fast-swimming local fish that was paired with celery root purée — halfway between sweet and tart and wonderfully earthy — and drizzled with truffle apple brown butter. I'd thought wahoo was good for nothing but sashimi because it dries out so easily when cooked; this one was moist and flaked gently. A beef tenderloin fillet ($31) from Harris Ranch, a single-source beef company that processes meat on its own feed lots, turned out to be yet another menu standby that Shockey had turned on its head: a thick fillet doused in Maytag blue-cheese butter and served with fluffy roast garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.
Shockey's bittersweet, excessively rich chocolate soufflé ($8) dissolves on the tongue the way you hope your darling's heart will melt in your hands on February 14 — if you aren't much of a poet, I suggest you let dessert speak for you. A banana-layered cheesecake ($8) with a cookie-crumb crust is romantic in a homier vein, but its essence is all American. "New American" cuisine is the slipperiest of culinary monikers: A chef can translate as he pleases, but often he's just mouthing a gibberish of international methods and ingredients. Shockey focuses himself by drawing on Southern and Southwest traditions and buying from respectable American farms and fisheries — goose liver from New York; Florida wahoo, shrimp, snapper, and clams; farm-raised pork, chicken, and veal. He drizzles these basics in sauces, butters, gravies, reductions, essences, and broths that read as fun, improvisational, and wide-ranging within our borders: tomatoes, corn, beans, berries, peppers, potatoes. The results are as smooth as the jazz playing on the mezzanine. And love's got everything to do with it.