Two years ago, every trendy watering hole had throngs of Sex and the City clones, waifish 30-somethings tottering around in babydoll minidresses and Blahnik sandals, tossing feather boas over their shoulders as they subdued their finer instincts with another round of Cosmos.
This year, everybody's a Desperate Housewife.
It's enough to make you nostalgic. Carrie Bradshaw wouldn't have been caught dead in white jeans. She never poured her tan from a bottle or frosted her hair. It's as if a certain class of ladies all over South Florida suddenly grew up, got married, and found themselves on the verge of divorce. Whether you think they're aging gracefully is a matter of opinion, but they're certainly doing their level best.
When David Manero's Shore Restaurant and Beach Bar in Delray Beach threw open its doors on the night of May 5 to a crowd of 2,000 (among them "alleged Columbo crime family operatives and car dealers John Staluppi and John Rosatti," according to the Palm Beach Post), we should have guessed a whole new era had dawned. There were a few echoes of Manero's late, lamented restaurant down the road, Sopra, but not many. There were reports, of course, of the $3 million-plus that go into launching any Manero production. And you still had to wait in line to get in, unless you happened to be a Eurotrash count with a faked title, an alleged crime-family operative, or a Mary Alice wearing something backless. Shore customers still play footsie (and more) under the tables when they can get away with it -- although the absence of tablecloths presents a bit of a challenge for the constantly ardent.
Such are the similarities. Now the differences: Manero's Sopra on Atlantic Avenue, which closed last year when debts allegedly mounted beyond what he and his partners could stomach, was elegant and romantic. With its braised-parsley sausages, salt-and-pepper jumbo shrimp, homemade lobster ravioli, sheer curtains, and candlelight, you felt like you'd lucked into a magical mystery tour. Manero's other restaurant, Gotham City in western Delray, is still drawing well-to-do foursomes, canoodling couples, and family birthday parties like so many gorgeous moths to a flame. Eating there is like being drugged with opium. You just can't help wanting to gloriously immolate yourself at Gotham, what with the hypnotic walls of candles, tapers dripping wax on your tablecloth, and the subtotal on your bill -- we dropped $325 for four. Talk about sinking gently into oblivion!
Shore, in contrast, is a zoo. There are bare-bellied servers dashing around with baskets of oyster shooters; tucked, toned, avidly microdermabrasioned broads circulating their assets; and the din of voices banking off every cavernous surface. So you're not really going to be thinking much about your food. Which is sort of a shame. The dining isn't nearly as polished at Shore as it is at Gotham, but the food is really pretty good. And the prices seem to be geared toward us regular people -- food writers, tourists, divorcées on a budget -- who slope in from the beach or stroll down from the Marriott; or toward large groups of females looking for a lively night out and an eligible bachelor or three.
Shore is in the beachfront building on the corner of A1A and Atlantic Avenue where Peter's used to be. Peter's was tricked out in frigid, space-age, George Jetson-having-a-midlife-crisis décor -- about as SoBe as Delray was likely to put up with, and Delray didn't. Peter's never really went anywhere. The food was OK, but the place was always two-thirds empty: There was an unpleasant chill in all that chrome and nothingness. Manero and his designers have heated things up, cramming tables to seat 60 onto the sidewalk patio (while you're waiting in line, you're looming over somebody's plate of meatloaf) and seats for 150 in the bilevel rooms inside. Servers wear yellow sarongs and white halter-tops; you get to ogle every pierced navel, every tattooed titty. But they've managed to turn an ice palace into something sunny, trendy, and uncomplicated.
The menu is bistro-cum-raw bar. A half-dozen oysters or clams on the shell go for $11; shrimp cocktail goes for $12; and baskets of steamers and calamari are $7 and $10. Crab cakes, tuna, and scampi on toast are all offered as appetizers for $12 and under. A fish platter of grouper, shrimp, scallops, and clams comes with fries and coleslaw for $18.
Down-home picnic food and steaks are the other half of the menu -- boneless fried chicken served with biscuits, gravy, and French fries; open-faced meatloaf sandwiches; French dip; a chicken caesar. And a slew of prime, dry-aged beef, reportedly the same stuff they serve at Gotham, at considerably lower prices. Take the 12-ounce New York strip. Our waitress told us it was dry-aged prime, but how they can afford to sell it for $25 is beyond me (a 10-ouncer at Gotham is $33.50). Either some distributor is giving them a hell of a deal or... but we won't go there. The eight-ounce garlic- and spice-crusted prime rib ($17) was certainly delicious; my partner, who could be persuaded to part with only a sliver the size of her thumbnail, recommends it highly.
Dinner is such a rush at Shore that I may have this a bit muddled -- but I believe we had a vodka gimlet, four oyster shooters, and a beach taco shortly after we arrived. Our waitress had everything under perfect control, but I think we may have been face to face with her -- or face to navel -- for a total of 30 seconds during our entire meal. It's not a place where the servers pull up a seat, plunk their elbows on the table, and share. The pace is so brisk and the noise level so boisterous that it's hard to relax, or maybe I'm an old fuddy-duddy who just needs a good liposuction.
I'm going to warn you off the oyster shooters ($12), because oysters should never be drunk from a shot glass full of tomato juice. I knew that. I just had a point to prove. What sounds like a great idea -- "spicy tomato gazpacho" topped with cilantro and an oyster down in there somewhere -- isn't. The oyster, presumably the point of the whole exercise, gets completely lost. You're so busy trying to do something with the cilantro leaves stuck halfway down your gullet that you don't give a damn about the oyster anyway. Just order some on the half shell. There's a good reason oysters have been served that way since the Mesolithic Era, and I see no reason to fix what ain't broke.
We liked our beach fish tacos ($8), tender grilled strips of mahi with lots of avocado, a "scotch bonnet salsa" (that had no heat whatsoever), and some shredded jicama on a flour tortilla that was soft on the inside and slightly dry around the edges. We gobbled them up and licked our fingers.
Our entrée special of grilled, sesame-seed-encrusted mahi ($20) was a variation on the same theme; it came with a fresh and pleasant salad of bok choy, carrots, asparagus, generous lobster meat, slivers of pickled ginger, and crunchy Asian noodles over a bed of greens. The fillet was a little on the dry side, but it was a decent piece of fish and worth the money. Our plate of prime rib, as noted, was luscious if unadventurous -- the melting slab of red meat was served with the usual baked potato, wilted spinach, and horseradish sauce. If you like prime rib, this is a hell of a deal for 17 bucks.
Nothing had been oversalted. Everything was fresh and carefully prepared. We only had to finish dessert and we'd be in and out without a scratch. Wild desserts are a Manero tradition -- like the scrumptious trio of crème brûlées they serve at Gotham City -- one coffee-flavored, one regular, one with hints of citrus. At Shore, you can order a "shake and cake" for six bucks (vanilla milkshake, kahlua-laced cupcake), coffee and homemade donuts for $8, soft chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream for $9. In my opinion, the desserts are reason enough to make a long trek up A1A some lazy afternoon... or morning, for that matter, since Shore will soon open for breakfast. We had a marvelous "individual mango key lime tart" ($8), a cheesecake-y lime mousse surrounded by a buttery, graham cracker crust with a dollop of torched meringue on top. I couldn't taste any mango, and I didn't care. It was divine.
A whole new, late-blooming crop of 40-something ladies arrived as we scraped up our last crumbs. There are certain angles of light at Shore -- i.e., directly under the spots -- that are less-than-flattering. So ladies, be sure to ask your server to seat you elsewhere, lest all that expensive facial and body work be for naught.
Season finale: In which we return to Shore, newly tanned and toned, to discuss the cost-benefit ratio of Botox injections over a basket of banana cheesecake lollipops served with cotton candy fluffs...