Restaurant Reviews

The All New Same Old

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Now to the apps. We ordered a couple of Pintabona originals on a recent visit: the lamb flatbread ($16) and the grilled octopus ($13); a special of hot bluepoint oysters served in their shell with wilted leeks, champagne, and cream ($30); and a starter from the Dine Out menu, heirloom tomato napoleon with Manchego cheese. That lamb flatbread, a square, thinly crusted pizza topped with roasted tomatoes, feta, and onions sautéed with balsamic vinegar and ground lamb, is as vibrant as it ever was: the tomatoes sugary as candy, the feta full of bite and salt. There's sweet 'n' sour in the wilted onions, and the lamb is forcefully barnyardy; it's all held together by a wheaty cracker of a crust. This is one of a quartet of flatbreads offered at lunch and dinner — the rock shrimp, chorizo, and rapini I once loved is no longer with us, but the new alternatives are shrimp and clam; tomato, basil, and mozzarella; or chorizo, tomato, and Manchego. And though the half-dozen oysters were very dear at $30, they were delicious too — big bluepoint shells each holding a good slurp of what tasted like a fancy oyster stew, a creamy, luxurious, liquored-up broth, like well-seasoned satin, with the prize of a voluptuous oyster at the end of it — we tipped them right from shell to mouth, and they were terrific. Of all the new regime's revisions, this dish showed the most flair and imagination.

I have no idea what awful thing has happened to Pintabona's original recipe for grilled octopus. It's been three years since I had this dish, but I remember it as light and lemony, with a slightly charrish flavor from the grill and grassy with flecks of fresh oregano. Kay's version has exactly the same ingredients: fingerling potatoes, oregano, and sherry vinegar — but it's heavy and flat and ill-willed, reeking of dried oregano and garlic, the octopus overpowered by its mushy sauce. Blech. As for the heirloom tomato "napoleon," it looked nice enough but was really just a salad made vertical — onions, ripe tomatoes, Manchego. Tasty enough, nothing special. And the best thing about it, the layered presentation, fell apart at the first forkful.

Our entrées were uneven too. The Dine Out offering, duck confit with white beans, registered no more than a two on the flavor meter. This mild, soft duck meat needed something sharp, crisp, or salty to set it off — and although the beans had picked up some flavoring from the stock they'd been cooked in, they needed more oomph. None of the Dine Out offerings are taken from the regular menu — Trina has developed an entirely new set of dishes with an eye on costs (those short ribs, as so many restaurants have discovered, are real penny pinchers), and I think that's a mistake — the idea is to give folks a taste so they'll come back for more. Nothing I tried on the Flavor menu would bring me back for a second helping.

Our roasted black grouper ($29) too was ultrabland — overcooked in some spots, underseasoned, and with an almost watery texture, as if it had spent better days in the freezer. A bed of spinach and mashed potatoes beneath it felt pretty standard, although a silky pinot grigio sauce added a sophisticated note. Only the lobster and sea-scallop "risotto" ($34; the risotto is made of orzo) felt like it was up to the task of fine dining — butter-poached lobster tail and some seriously delicious sautéed scallops, rich and juicy, melded into the sweet, slightly gaseous flavors of truffle oil and asparagus and tuned up with a drizzling of blood-orange beurre blanc.

Of all the kvetching I've heard about Trina, the most vituperative has been aimed at the service. Even Pintabona confided when I interviewed him in the early days that finding good servers in South Florida was his biggest challenge. I've had service there that was OK, service that was hapless, and once enjoyed the attentions of a waiter working at the top of his game. On our last visit, service was nearly faultless, delayed cocktails and a missing appetizer only small blips in an otherwise excellent performance, and these gaffes were alleviated by an extra pour of rosé in an empty glass, gratis. Our waiter was beautifully poised, listing ingredients and reciting specials, offering enthusiastic recommendations and gracefully orchestrating the movement and flow of dishes. It was a slow, midweek night, so he and the general manager had plenty of time to lavish on us — but if they can keep it up in season and during busy weekends, they'll have the problem licked.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd