The Ritz-Carlton's Burlock Coast Aims to Make Tourists Out of Locals

Heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes
Photo by CandaceWest.com

There's a lobster pasta on the menu at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale's new restaurant, Burlock Coast, that you should become intimately familiar with. It's as if bisque, a lobster roll, and some homemade pappardelle decided to sleep together and you caught them in the act, tangled up under a thin veil of melted, grated cheese.

Lobster is decadent enough on its own, but when it's butter-poached and paired with chewy sheets of chef-de-cuisine Gavin Pera's homemade pappardelle smothered in a twice-reduced cream sauce steeped with Brie and white truffle, it's gratuitous.

South Florida is in the midst of a hotel restaurant revolution. In the past year, several new establishments have opened across the tricounty area, from kitschy spots like Hyde Kitchen & Cocktails in Hallandale Beach to those that stick to the original format of success a la Fort Lauderdale's 3030 Ocean.

Just over 1 month old, Burlock Coast is a reinvention of the typical hotel restaurant. In fact, its creators don't want you to think of the Ritz at all, says Burlock Coast general manager Jimmy Choo.

Forget the hotel exists.

"In the past few years the industry has seen a shift. Hotel dining has evolved from a culture of fine dining to embrace a more casual approach," says Choo. "From the start we knew we wanted this to be a locals' spot, so we branded and operate Burlock Coast as an independent concept. So many people have a skewed notion that dining at the Ritz-Carlton is simply a celebratory occasion, so our goal was to create a place where anyone would want to come, any day of the week, day or night."

Executive Chef Gavin Pera
Executive Chef Gavin Pera
Photo by CandaceWest.com

After the Ritz-Carlton's Italian-inspired eatery Via Luna closed in June, the hotel restaurant space underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in preparation for Burlock Coast's winter debut. The theme and décor are inspired by Prohibition-era rum smugglers, specifically the American sea captain and bootlegger William McCoy, who would travel the stretch of water reaching from Nassau and Bimini across the Atlantic to the East Coast, dealing spirits from Long Island south to Fort Lauderdale.

An easygoing vibe begins outside with a covered bar steps from the Atlantic Ocean. Inside, a roaming 13,000-square-foot space has been completely reimagined into a South Florida maritime-inspired marketplace. It's meant to be a casual spot, but it still bears the high-class swag of a Ritz restaurant.

The newly renovated oceanfront establishment is a restaurant-café-market-bar concept all rolled into one, a first-time fusion for any Ritz establishment, adds Choo. Designed to attract the locals, it is many things at once: a marketplace for artisanal goods; a grab-and-go lunch spot; a small-batch rum retail shop; a cigar bar; and – of course – a formal restaurant.

The emphasis here is on locally sourced ingredients, from raw bar offerings like Cedar Key clams and stone crab, to mains like veal cheek ravioli, whole snapper, or fish and chips. Imbibers can even build their own cocktail using a selection of Caribbean, French, and Spanish selections from the bar's rolling rum cart.

Lobster pasta
Lobster pasta
Photo by CandaceWest.com

At just 33, Pera is at the helm of your experience at Burlock Coast. With a career that's spanned 15 years and several luxury hotels, he has just one goal in mind: Let nature create the menu.

While the concept of using local purveyors and artisans to spotlight the abundance of South Florida-sourced fare is not new, Pera has a way of making you believe in it all over again.

"To cook this way, it's something I have always done in the past," says Pera. "Building a menu around what's available. It's really mother nature that's writing this menu, not me."

To say Pera relies heavily on the bounty of local farmers and fishermen is an understatement; he might as well be married to the menagerie of purveyors he works with daily. Right now he's partnered with several from across the state, relationships he's cultivated over the years as tenderly as the Little Pond Farm owner who delivers his heirloom tomatoes cares for his crop.

The concept even crosses into the restaurant's carefully curated marketplace where guests and visitors can find breads made by revered Miami baker Zak Stern (aka Zak the Baker), a hot cup of Panther Coffee, and charcuterie from Dade-based Miami Smokers.

Niman Ranch NY steak
Niman Ranch NY steak
Photo by CandaceWest.com

At the restaurant, however, Pera's dishes are artful with an unwavering attention to detail, a far cry from the casual ambiance of the marketplace. They begin with "snacks" like goat-cheese-stuffed squash blossoms or honey and salt-roasted Marcona almonds. Sharing plates are good for groups large and small. And main plates deliver the best of land and sea.

A raw bar highlights Pera's extensive seafood sourcing and features seasonal stone crabs, oysters and ceviche of the day, and the ever-popular tuna tartare. It's a dish so many menus do, it can be hard to "wow" you with it anymore.

At Burlock Coast, Pera turns the dish into an exercise in arts and crafts, an interactive eating experience filed under the menu's "Shares for Sure" section. The flesh of the tuna is diced into fine cubes, served in a ceramic jar with a delicate spoon the length of your pinky, and beside a basket of fried plantain chips. The extra touch here is the artist's paint tube of lime and cilantro aioli that you're meant to squeeze across each dollop of fish. It's an interactive dish meant to encourage communal dining.

You may not want to share the heirloom tomatoes. Pera gets up to 50 pints of them each week from Bushnell's Little Pond – one of the chef's favorite purveyors – and they disappear fast. What appears to be nothing more than a simple tomato salad is actually a time-consuming labor of love, says Pera. Yellow, red, and orange cherry tomatoes are peeled and poached in a bag with a sweet sherry vinegar and apple juice flavored with mint, shallot, and tarragon, and spiked with vinegar, soaking up the juices for a sort of quick pickle. They're plated with a homemade whole milk cheese curd, drizzled with a 9-year barrel-aged vinegar maple syrup, and finished with a few shavings of salty cured pork and crispy shaved radishes and root vegetables.

Key lime pie
Key lime pie
Photo by CandaceWest.com

If fish isn't your favorite, the Niman Ranch NY steak attempts to make up for it. Rubbed in salt and pepper and marinated in a cabernet jus, it's grilled beneath a torchon of bone marrow fat that leaches its earthy, pungent juices onto the meat before it's flash-fried and served. The same bone marrow baste is used to flavor the roasted root vegetables the meat is plated with, right now turnips and carrots.

A meal here can end with a rum drink at the bar, but don't be afraid to order dessert. Most come from the kitchen in servings large enough to satisfy the entire table's sweet tooth. Whole Key lime pies the size of a small dinner plate arrive in antique serving baskets, while a buttery-rich cheesecake is served on an intricately carved metal cake stand. You serve yourself, so the indulging is up to you.

For some time now Fort Lauderdale beach has been famished, starving for anything like the city's downtown restaurants. More than any other neighborhood, this one – the epicenter of the tourism scene – has been neglected badly in the past several years. Burlock Coast could change that.

Burlock Coast Seafare & Spirits
1 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Hours are Sunday through Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Call 954-302-6460, or visit ritzcarlton.com.

  • Heirloom tomatoes $13
  • Tuna tartare $14
  • Lobster pasta $24
  • Niman Ranch NY steak $32

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