The Grand Banyan
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 tawdrycocktail 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.
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.
Seafood and steaks come à la carte, but there are plenty of side vegetables and starches to choose from, each $6.95 and large enough for two to share. If you and your dinner companion were to split creamed spinach, which is stimulatingly studded with nutmeg, and a biting blue-cheese potato gratin, your seafood entrée would jump to more than $30 in price, your steak topping $40. That's more than Addison Mizner could have afforded after he went broke in the 1927 land bust. (This might have been the time when he uttered his semifamous quotation: "Misery loves company, but company does not reciprocate.")
Then again, Mizner might've been able to scrape together enough coinage to partake of one of Banyan's "comforts," which are complete meals unto themselves -- and very good ones at that. In fact, a double pork chop, just $21.95, proved far superior to the lamb. I was taken aback a bit when, after requesting the chop medium rare, the waiter replied that he'd have to check to see if the kitchen would prepare it that way -- he claimed they didn't like to cook pork less than medium. The big bopper of a chop arrived even rarer than ordered, but the luscious pork was tender and pretty in pink, the exterior darkly seared with caramelized maple-cider glaze. Sweet confit of red cabbage, a mound of subtly cheesy cheddar mashed potatoes, slightly sweetened brown sauce, and a dollop of apple chutney harmoniously rounded out the substantial and delicious plate of food.
Other comforts include fried chicken with tasso gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, and cole slaw; meatloaf "Napoleon style" (whatever that means); and über-rich lobster shepherd's pie, a two-inch high cylinder of spinach, corn, shiitake mushrooms, leeks, a lobster tail, and two claws, the whole shebang capped with truffled mashed potatoes and a hollandaise glaçage, which means cream is added and the sauce browned on top. Notwithstanding the lobster tail's being overcooked, the stack of flavors was splendid, though at $33, it was one expensive home-style meal. For just over half that price, you can comfort yourself with one of the pastas, like a pierogi-ish potato-and-cheese ravioli with brown butter, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, and sage.
Banyan Bar & Grill is the type of special-occasion restaurant where complementing your dinner with a bottle of fine wine is de rigueur. The selection of bottles is up to task, an exceptional international assortment sure to satisfy the whims of even the whiniest oenophile.
Dessert options are less comprehensive: tarte tatin, triple-layer chocolate cake, fried beignets, an underwhelming ice cream sundae with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and a gratifying Callebaut chocolate soufflé. If you wish to shorten the wait time for the soufflé, seize the initiative and order it in advance; waiters neglect to offer this option.
The Banyan Bar & Grill's former incarnation, the Addison at Mizner, teamed professional service with big, fine American cuisine. Whatever slight changes have occurred along with the new name only improve upon adining experience that was already as grand as the banyan trees that hover above. I just can't help but wonder how many similarly grand banyans had to be cut down to build this and all of old Addison's other developments.
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