The Rebel House in Boca Raton Is Open: Patience Pays Off
No bread basket on the table. But don't worry -- you can still get plenty of carbs.
All photos, Tricia Woolfenden
When I met with Mike Saperstein and Evan David last month for a "sneak peek" tour of Rebel House -- which debuted to the public for dinner service on Friday -- the conversation inevitably turned to the restaurant's opening timeline. The deadline had seemed to have been pushed back at least half a dozen times, with little teases of "coming soon" and "making final tweaks to the menu" trickling out of the restaurant's Facebook page for months.
The pair observed that although they would've liked (in theory) to have been up and running earlier in the year, they weren't going to open the doors until they were absolutely certain the space, staff, and menu were ready for public consumption. It's a pragmatic and safe approach to operating a business in a climate in which restaurants come and go like city buses, but at the same time, I thought; Gah; Just open already. If the opening weekend's performance was an accurate indication, Saperstein, David, and crew made the right decision.
In an age of Yelp, Foursquare, and countless internet critics, a weak "soft" opening can dog an otherwise decent restaurant long after the initial kinks have been ironed out. A bad first impression is difficult to shake (though, not impossible; see Tap 42, winner of the 2012 Best New Broward County Restaurant for reference). This is why newspapers typically wait six weeks or so after a restaurant opens to come out with a full-fledged review.
By taking a methodical (some might say slow) approach, the folks behind the Rebel House were able to provide diners with an opening-weekend experience that didn't play out like amateur hour. On Sunday night, service was breezy and accommodating, with nary a look of uncertainty from the servers or a misstep from the kitchen, and it only seems fair to point this out, even if the restaurant is quite early in its career.
Edna; I don't think we're in Boca anymore.
The dining style at Rebel House is what the restaurant refers to as "renegade," but anyone who favors the small plate trend will be familiar with the approach. Diners share a few small or large plates, and the dishes arrive as they are completed instead of all at once. The idea is to consume each dish at the optimal temperature and at a progressive pace. For this reason, it's best to work as a team and choose mostly items that everyone in the party wants to eat. A complimentary bowl of the "popcorn of the day" is served at every seating, so there's always something to munch on, even if it's not the customary bread basket.
The meal felt more like hanging out on the periphery of a cool dinner party thrown at an artsy friend's loft rather than "dinner out on the town." The warehouse art gallery atmosphere comes via exposed wooden ceiling beams, an open floor plan, and cheeky, one-of-a-kind art covering nearly every surface. If this sounds like a hipster magnet, that's because it will be. Between the refurbished/reclaimed chairs and edgy tabletops and a menu sprinkled with pork belly and craft cocktails, there's much to attract a young, on-trend crowd. The food, however, speaks for itself. The work coming out of the kitchen should appeal to a cross section of ages and styles, uniting those with varying interest levels in ironic facial hair in one common bond.
Tomatoes that taste like they came from the backyard.
An heirloom tomato platter ($8) is a reminder of how the fruit can taste when you skip the bin of shiny red baseballs available in the grocery store produce aisle and zero in on farm-fresh varieties. The dicey-sounding but entirely well-thought-out 'shroom, asparagus, and Gouda spring rolls ($6) are earthy and creamy while hand-cut fries ($5) are the ideal delivery method for the plate's real star: smoked ketchup that tastes precisely how a campfire smells. The mac 'n' cheese pancake topped with a stalk of charred broccoli looks thoroughly Midwestern, but one bite of that green plant and it's clear Saperstein isn't full of it when he says, "I told you I love vegetables." Serve this to your kiddies and I swear, you won't have to pull a Jessica Seinfeld and surreptitiously blend the stuff into their brownies.
This is what an $11 cocktail looks like.
The drink menu includes a few versions of the old fashioned, plus a few signature cocktails. I tried the "cukumber persuasion" (sic) ($11), a minty beverage with gin and a hint of cucumber. My fiancé ordered a Stone IPA, which was out for the night (Stone IPA running out seems to be a trend in Boca). Our waiter suggested Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel, a Belgian ale, in its stead. At the same price with a higher alcohol content and a smoother taste, it was a good substitute. As a former Michigan girl, I was pleased to see that in addition to a few other craft brews, the bar carries Bell's Two Hearted Ale. The wine list carries smaller "boutique" labels.
Dessert features include lavish-sounding milk shakes -- including a daily special infused with booze -- and tiny pies, like the apple ginger variety we took home for later. All told, four small plates, two drinks, and dessert came to $50.88 after tax and before tip. Lunch and brunch service will be added down the line, but not until the team feels the restaurant is ready for it.
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