Like your significant other, a bad cold, and that last five pounds you're always battling, restaurants come and go. In South Florida, where the summer slump after tourist season can often be a kiss of death for many establishments, this is especially true.
Each year, we wave goodbye to those that didn't make it for the long haul. And this year, there were a few concepts we'll really miss. Think Ceviche in Delray Beach, the Little House in Boynton Beach, and Canale in Fort Lauderdale.
But, lucky for us, a number of new restaurants have opened -- many within the past few months -- in anticipation of the return of season and all the tourists and snowbirds it brings with it.
From trendy barbecue eateries to Asian-inspired fare, even a hot new ramen spot, this year has already delivered a wide variety of new concepts. We're happy to welcome each and every one, but a list is a finite thing; we could pick only ten out of the dozens that sprouted up over the past 365 days.
So, here they are: the best new restaurants of 2014 -- so far.
Translating to "where the moon arrives over the water," Tsukuro has been designed to offer guests prime views of the Atlantic in a modern, comfortable setting. The two-story, glass-enclosed structure offers stacked seating and a soothing black and gray interior with bursts of red, orange, and teal, creating a comfortable, contemporary vibe. The fare is of the standard Asian-fusion variety (think oxtail spring rolls, Chinese-style roasted duck, Korean baby back ribs). The seafood, however, stands out. The sushi bar serves something for everyone, with items ranging from run-of-the-mill spicy tuna, California, and JB rolls for novices to briny sea urchin, buttery toro, and swollen ikura (salmon roe) for sushi veterans. And if you feel like throwing down some cash, there's a caviar selection: Russian osetra, Siberian sturgeon, kaluga. While it's not going to blow your mind, it's a nice change of scene for Fort Lauderdale Beach.
We've all had ramen. For most Americans, it comes from styrofoam cups in flavors like "oriental" and "seafood." We eat it when we are short on time, hungover, broke, or living in a dorm. If Cup o' Noodles instant ramen is all you've ever known, it can be hard to get excited about a bowl of soup. But the ramen at GoBistro in Hollywood is different. Open for lunch and dinner, the eatery is a collaboration by partners Andrew Gong, Joao Da Silva, and Niti Masintapan. Together, they also operate two Amazing Asian Bistro locations in Plantation and Pembroke Pines. GoBistro is their latest concept, where each could unleash his creative side. The menu is based on their favorite dishes: a Thai, Chinese, and Brazilian take on Japanese cooking. Gong prepares the ramen, Da Silva the sushi, and Masintapan contributes specialty dishes, like his version of Korean-style chicken wings. Start with hot and cold appetizers, like DaSilva's stellar jalapeño himachi or tuna poke. Or try the avocado fries, a novelty dish that sells out daily: panko-encrusted slivers of avocado fried to a golden brown. Most people come for the ramen: The broth is made from scratch, a golden-opaque kotteri packed with emulsified goodness from long-boiled pork bones, the result of a two-day cooking process. Fat-laced and fragrant, the surface is like an oil slick that leaves a gelatinous sheen on your lips as you slurp away, revealing firm, crimped noodles and succulent slices of pork belly.
8. Fork & Balls
Another concept by the Restaurant People (the folks behind YOLO, Vibe, Tarpon Bend, and S3), Las Olas' Fork & Balls focuses on -- you guessed it -- balls. It was inspired by the Meatball Shop in New York. The vintage-looking bar is usually packed, with a wide mix of people sucking down drinks and slurping up meatballs. Like its muse, the eatery offers customizable and composed dishes at reasonable price points. "Just Balls" ($8) comes with three meatballs (with options ranging from classic beef or spicy pork to veggie and the special of the day), sauce of your choice, and a side of focaccia. Composed dishes are slightly more expensive at around $14. Try the Spicy Italian, a combination of pork balls with creamy polenta, roasted tomato sauce, peppers, and dollop of ricotta on top.
7. Bao Las Olas
Bao Las Olas is all about high-end Asian cuisine thanks to owner Simon Bai, who was exposed to the flavorful fare of Indonesia, Java, Creole, the West Indies, and Korea early in life. Part of his goal with his new restaurant: expand South Floridians' palate for Asian cuisine. Set on a canal on Las Olas Boulevard, the restaurant offers a wide selection of from-scratch Asian fare in a casual, chic atmosphere. Its main dining room is modern with a rustic, imported, Indonesian wooden bar overlooking the open kitchen and a commanding a view of the picturesque patio and dock, which has become the perfect outdoor space to relax and enjoy. Here, the focus is on sourcing high-quality ingredients and making everything from scratch. Executive chef Mark Rivera uses a black Angus skirt steak for his Korean street tacos, which are topped with a vibrant Napa cabbage slaw. Wild sockeye salmon is used in the salmon tartare, which is finished with caviar, shallots, olives, white soy, and wasabi cream. The same natural ingredients are used to fill the namesake bao buns, including Kurobata pork belly, Ashley Farms' all-natural chicken, and local catch of the day sandwiched between the fluffy dough with fresh herbs, apple kimchi, and cucumbers. The fillings are good, but it's really about the steamed bun itself, made in-house by pastry chef Kathleen Dills. There's even a specialist to make dumplings, part of the classic American-Chinese options available. Our favorite: the blue crab rangoons, made daily with macadamia nuts and a spicy homemade sweet chili.
6. Meat Market
Palm Beach welcomed a new restaurant this year: Meat Market, a concept by restaurateur David Tornek and chef/co-owner Sean Brasel, is the third location for their popular Miami Beach restaurant. Tornek and Brasel say they won't be straying from the elements that have made the original Miami Beach restaurant a success: a high-energy bar scene, sophisticated clientele, standout culinary creations, and a Wine Spectator-award-winning wine list. The duo have been part of the Miami dining scene since the late 1990s. Both men are considered instrumental in the evolution of the South Beach culinary landscape, opening Meat Market in 2008, a contemporary steak house on Lincoln Road that has become a Miami Beach staple. The eatery sets itself apart from the average steak house by featuring a diverse menu that includes a wide array of prime meats, seafood, and raw bar offerings. To execute the menu in Palm Beach, newly appointed chef de cuisine David Valencia will be working with Brasel. Valencia will put his own stamp of creativity on the menu, which promises Meat Market's signatures as well as specialty dishes unique to Palm Beach. Additional specialty selections will include house-made charcuterie, a rotating cheese plate, wood-roasted branzino, and several new meat cuts that will be introduced as entrée specials, says Brasel.
A South Florida family-run establishment, Lynora's Restaurant has passed the torch to the next generation this month with the opening of downtown West Palm Beach's newest restaurant, Lynora's Osteria. In the early 1970s, Ralph and Maria Abbenante moved to New York from Italy, eventually relocating to South Florida to help open a restaurant. In 1976, with the help of Maria's mother, Lynora, the couple opened their own establishment: a well-known Lake Worth eatery they named Lynora's Italian Restaurant. After changing locations several times to accommodate the growth due to their success -- and more than three decades in business -- the Abbenantes retired and closed the doors to Lynora's in 2004. Today, Angelo Abbenante is following in his parents' footsteps, bringing Lynora's back to life with his own version of the family business in a new location off Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. Abbenante has partnered with former Pistache chef Sascha Bennemann to create Lynora's Osteria. The concept has farm-to-table offerings based on classic Italian favorites as well as dishes with a new-age twist. The menu is short, with an emphasis on local specialties and house-made pasta, grilled meats, and fish. The osteria also offers small plates to be shared and wood-oven pizzas prepared in a brick oven. For those looking for a taste of the old days, don't fear: The menu also features a special section for those who remember the original Lynora's menu, where you can find several of Maria's dishes built from her own recipes.
Chef Julien Gremaud is opening his first solo restaurant, Avocado Grill, in West Palm Beach this fall. The chef named the restaurant after one of Florida's most prolific fruits because "they are a healthy, South Florida staple that complement the menu's coastal, farm-to-table cuisine." The restaurant, located at the former Barrel & Grain space at 125 Datura St., will focus on small plates with an artisanal slant, sushi, and a full raw bar. Gremaud chose the West Palm Beach location after looking at spots as far south as Miami, but the city's fast-growing locavore movement drew him in. As part of that commitment to locavore dining, the chef has enlisted a cadre of local farmers, fishermen, and vegetable growers to supply the kitchen with fresh fare. Gremaud is no stranger to the South Florida dining scene. The former executive chef at Pistache French Bistro was also a partner at PB Catch. Now, the chef is taking his talents on his own with a menu divided into eight specific sections, including one that's appropriately avocado-specific. Other sections include salads, veggies, land, sea, pasta, sushi rolls, and large plates. Entrées include crispy artichoke hearts, short rib stiffed jumbo shells, beet gnocchi, and crab-stuffed zucchini blossoms. Avocado Grill will also feature an extensive wine selection, with a strong focus on French vintages.
3. Smoke BBQ
Good news for fans of authentic barbecue. Smoke BBQ is now open in Delray Beach.
The restaurant, which quietly opened in September, features authentic Kansas City-style smokehouse barbecue and Carolina pulled pork as well as a large craft-beer selection to wash your meat down with. In addition, Smoke will offer cocktails made with quality purées and house-made simple syrups. What makes this barbecue authentic in a sea of semi-authenticity? The fact that executive chef and pitmaster Bryal Tyrell is a two-time American Royal Grand Champion Pitmaster (basically the Academy Awards of BBQ). Smoke BBQ co-owners Stephen Chin and Scott Kennedy brought in the big guns with Tyrell. The chef is formerly of Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City, Missouri, named "one of the 13 places to eat before you die" by Anthony Bourdain. Enough said.
Tucker Duke's Lunchbox is the brainchild of Brian Cartenuto, a two-time winner on the reality cook-off competition Cutthroat Kitchen. A Niceville, Florida, native, Cartenuto chose Deerfield for the second location of his casual eatery, what began as nothing more than a dive in an old parson's building in his hometown in the Panhandle. Armed with just a panini press, a home fryer, and two toasters, Cartenunto hypnotized locals with a short menu of sandwiches, Southern-style blue-plate specials, and burgers from his eight-seat lunch counter. His master creation is a half-pound patty of Florida Seminole Pride beef arranged in a multilayered Jenga pile of fried onion rings, melted American cheese, mixed baby greens, and celery-salted tomato on a toasted, onion-encrusted bun. Pink Tucker sauce (Cartenuto's insanely addictive version of a Louisiana remoulade, or Comeback sauce) is the glue that attempts to hold it all together. It can make it easy to overlook the menu's other highlights, a short list of whimsical "snacks" like fried pickles, mini corn dogs, and a heart-attack-inducing take on popcorn drenched in maple syrup, butter, and bacon. Evoke childhood memories with his PB&J bonbons, a lunchtime treat fashioned into hush puppies with a molten peanut butter center. They're served on a dollop of fresh blackberry jam with a shot glass of milk.
1. Gabose Pocha
Broward County's Koreantown (around University and Commercial boulevards in Lauderhill) has its latest addition: Fred and Susan Kim, owners of critically acclaimed Gabose, this year's pick as New Times' Best Restaurant in Broward County, have opened the doors to an authentic Korean pub, Gabose Pocha (or Gabocha). Roughly translating to pub or drinking place, the focus here is on Korean-style small plates and, well, drinking. With a focus on seasonal fare, the eatery aims to expose South Floridians to Korean food not typically found in the area. Live seafood is flown in straight from Korea. Currently, live abalone is being offered for $25 per piece. When the time for live octopus hits, expect to see it on the menu. In addition to seafood, the menu incorporates a wide range of Korean pub grub. Korean-styled fried chicken is served crispy, flavored with a mix of spices, soy, and garlic. Singapore-style chicken shake takes pieces of dark-meat chicken, fries it, and finally shakes it tableside in a proprietary blend of herbs, salt, pepper, and lemon pepper. Pork ear wraps are the Kims' unique creation (not as traditional as the rest of the menu). It's comprised of braised pig's ear, cut into strips, flash-fried, and served in crisp Boston lettuce leaves.
Nicole Danna is a food blogger covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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