By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
By Sara Ventiera
On another visit, some friends and I ate small plates at a table by the front door, next to a large wooden pig that was balancing a tray of green and red apples. Every so often, people walking by would stop a waiter and ask, "Are those apples for free?" To which the waiter would reply, "Yes, please take one." Nobody did.
We followed suit and instead took the pig: baby back ribs, braised with honey and laced with fennel pollen ($15). The ribs were tender and smoky but tasted slightly odd unless you got a bite of the scattered fennel dust and sea salt, which in turn launched them into the stratosphere. Alongside it, we shared an oval bowl of creamy, truffle-oil-infused mac and cheese topped with bacon and bread crumbs ($8), crunchy and salty all at once. And all the while, we sipped draft beers from the restaurant's craft selection, including a stellar pint of Oskar Blues Gordon Imperial Red ($6) that was malty enough to quiet the salty bacon and hoppy enough to balance out nicely.
The small plates we ordered came out in staggered procession, and while most were executed well, some were of significantly lower value than others. A plate of nachos with a dollop of smoky Kingfish dip and avocado crema tasted just fine but at $12 for five chips was headed into pricey and pretentious territory. Two à la carte side items, deviled eggs and "grown-up" tater tots ($6), shared a nearly equally poor 1:1 bite-to-dollar ratio.
201 E. Atlantic Ave.
Delray Beach, FL 33444
Region: Delray Beach
2701 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33140
Region: South Beach
A better deal was an order of corn bread delivered in a tin can ($4). Our waiter carefully removed the jalapeño- and cheddar-infused bread from the can, and we slathered crumbly pieces of it in sweet maple butter and some of the finest pimento cheese spread you're likely to find outside of a Texas Tupperware party.
It was widely talked about that the combination of business-minded David Manero and princely chef Mark Militello wouldn't work for the Office in the long run, and it didn't. Militello left in February, and since then, two of his protégés, Larry LaValley and Frances Connor Deskin, have been put in charge of the kitchen. Luckily, not much has changed in the transition. In fact, the restaurant may have gotten more focused since.
I took a few more friends to the Office a few Sundays ago to see if that was still the case. One of them, a beer fanatic named Joe who never turns down a good pint, was in heaven from the get-go. "I can really respect the whole three-pages-of-drinks-to-one-page-of-food thing," he said, thumbing over the extensive wine, beer, and cocktail list. That, we determined, was one perfectly appropriate ratio.
We ordered a couple of pints of bitter Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewery and apricot-scented Magic Hat #9 and turned our attention to some Serrano-wrapped dates nestled in crusty phyllo ($9). Some chili-braised pork tacos dressed with creamy avocado and a mince of grilled pineapple ($12) had a pleasant, spicy burn that, along with the sweet fruit, created a balance that could compete with the best al pastor at any authentic taco joint. A bigger surprise was a bowl of black-kernel truffled popcorn. What I thought would be an $8 profit-margin-buffering dish was actually highly addictive, flecked with soft bits of pungent black truffle and a dusting of sharp Parmesan.
"I'm stoned off this food," said Joe, glowing with pork and booze (or maybe it was the truffle oil?). Either way, I could dig it. We were seated amid a pack of tables buzzing on their own, sinking into a background of '70s rock tunes that were perhaps a bit too loud. By the time our entrées arrived — a fillet of beef tenderloin stuffed with roasted garlic ($35), a special of fried chicken with collards and black-eyed peas ($17), and a CEO burger for Joe — we were deep in the groove.
Joe could barely look up from his burger, ordered and received a vibrant red rare. When he did, all he could manage was, "This is a 'Dear Diary' burger right here." I was busy enjoying my rustic plate of fried chicken that was almost completely covered in bacon (it constituted at least 50 percent of the collards and beans, anyway). I ate the whole plate and even saved room for a maple-bacon doughnut for dessert, lovingly nicknamed "Miss Piggy Goes to Vermont" ($9).
In the end, we did just what Manero asked of us: We indulged. Was it consequence-free? Absolutely not. This is America at its best and most perverse. It's living as if there's no tomorrow — and if we keep up this way, there certainly won't be. As we split our final helping of bacon doughnut, served with both a coffee crème anglaise and a rich chocolate ganache, I asked the table which sauce to enjoy with the last bite.
"Why not do both?" my friend Rachel suggested.
Sure. Why not. You can't always have it both ways. But tonight, at least, we can.