Hardy Park Bistro's chef-owner Philip Darmon, an Australian native, has charted a unique course through the culinary world, guided in no small part by coincidence and fate. About 11 years ago, he was working as a chef in high-end Sydney restaurants when he lost a close friend to suicide. The traumatic event led Darmon to question life and the meaning of it. While he was mourning and talking with mates and the family of his deceased friend at the parents' home, he received a call from another friend, a captain, offering him a job cooking on a motor yacht.
Three weeks later, he packed up his knives -- as well as his entire life -- and ended up cooking in the galley of a yacht moored in Saint Thomas.
"My friend had been trying to get me to get into the industry for ages," said Darmon. "I was resistant; I had worked my way up in restaurants and was making what I thought was great money, but I never felt like the timing was right. There I was talking about life and I got this phone call. Making that switch was the best thing I ever did."
A few years into his travels and newfound career, Darmon ran into an attractive brunette serving beer, his future wife Jessica Rossitto. But it wasn't until a second coincidental meeting that Rossitto agreed to dinner. They've been together for more than eight years.
Darmon and Rossitto always planned on getting married and opening a restaurant in town, but it was all about timing.
"Three months ago, I was in Tahiti working on a nine-month rotation," Darmon says. "I was sick for a week, and it was absolutely terrible. I rang Jessica and said, 'I think we're ready to go.' She agreed, and I put in my notice."
Three weeks after signing the lease on the space near Florence C. Hardy Park in Fort Lauderdale, Darmon unlocked the doors to Hardy Park Bistro for a soft opening November 29.
His goal is to serve upscale food in a casual neighborhood environment. Though Darmon has an affinity for the Mediterranean and its cuisine because of his travels throughout the region, his food also reflects a rich Southeast Asian influence because of its proximity to Australia.
Coconut risotto with a green bean, asparagus, and cilantro salad incorporates traditional Italian technique and produce with the sweet, nutty flavors of coconut and zesty citrus notes of cilantro.
Beef short ribs are braised in classic red wine with palm sugar -- an ingredient frequently found in Thai cuisine that has a mild caramel or honey flavor -- and herbal thyme served with soft polenta, spinach, roasted carrots, and beets.
The menu changes weekly, with two daily appetizer and entrée specials, as well as a constantly rotating array of desserts.
Along with sous-chef Laura Hall, a Florida native who worked in the kitchen at Café Boulud in Palm Beach before doing her own stint in the galley of a yacht, Darmon makes everything in-house from scratch. Sorbets and ice creams are made daily, the signature chocolate mousse is prepared with some of the highest-quality chocolate, and even the pastry dough is made by hand on the premises.
With help from celebrity chef Angelo Elia of Casa D'Angelo -- Rossitto works as an accountant for the company -- and old friend Robert Pastura, owner of International Market and Wine, Darmon has been developing a quality wine list. Many of the selections will be available by the glass, courtesy of an airtight, temperature-controlled Cruvinet dispensing system.
Domestic and craft beers, along with ciders, are already offered.
Darmon plans to expand with a bar and more outdoor seating, but for now he's excited to be up and running.
"When I quit yachting, I had to stand up and get going with what I always wanted to do," Darmon says. "The great thing about the yachting industry was that I got to rub shoulders with some of the most successful people in the world, and I had a great education of how those people run their lives. You've got to believe in yourself, be proactive, and grab stuff instead of waiting for it to come to you."
With Hardy Park Bistro, Darmon has taken his chance.
Hardy Park Bistro is located at 21 SW Seventh St. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-652-1475, or visit facebook.com/HardyParkBistro.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.