A drive by this four-month-old restaurant, located in a Delray Beach house built in 1925 for a wealthy attorney, offers a view of typical old South Florida restoration: muted taupe colors with a brighter turquoise trim; Spanish-tile roof; tropical foliage. You might visualize décor comprising wicker furniture and art deco objets d'ugh.
A phone call placed during nonbusiness hours yields a recorded message that supplies directions and ends with a sunny "See you at the beach!" You might guess a staff dressed in Hawaiian prints and thongs, complementing a menu that highlights seafood.
A click on the Falcon House's Website (www.thefalconhouse.com) reveals a note posted on the message board that reads, "With those faces and butts, it can't possibly be the hottest gay bar between Miami and West Palm Beach." You might think the clientele is made up solely of homely homosexuals.
Yet the Falcon House fulfills none of those false expectations. The interior is visual transport into a funky, beat-driven bordello, with the series of bars, lounges and dining rooms aglow like Mars. I haven't seen so much red since the 1970s, when Cantonese restaurants were mired in design cliché -- even the woods used in the establishment are cherry and red oak. The menu features an internationally inspired selection of tapas and boutique wines by the glass, with nary an unsophisticated fish sandwich in sight. And while the Falcon House is indeed popular with gay men, the crowd is made up of pretty people who are pretty diverse: One night, I sat next to a mother dining with her teenaged daughter.
Indeed, the intentions of proprietors Tim Baur and Ted Keer, who managed the bar and wine program at 32 East for five years and have a wealth of restaurant experience in places ranging from Chicago to the Grand Cayman Islands, are made clear in a mission statement: "We are trying to provide an experience for our friends and patrons that is all at once conducive for mingling, meeting, drinking, and eating. The menu is constructed with transience in mind... Our goal is to reproduce the same casual, relaxed European concept of the 'art of hanging out' to Delray Beach."
To that end, the Falcon House succeeds. Granted, it's not for the Everydiner. The sound system prevents extensive conversation, and the limited scope of the menu (about a dozen dishes total) won't appeal to those craving a multicourse meal. Nor can you order a bottle of wine -- everything's by the glass. And the word dining itself may be something of a misnomer. Although service is highly professional -- our waiter offered us a taste of the Serra Estrella Abariño so we could see if we liked it before ordering a full glass -- the general attitude is casual: Customers seat themselves at tables that offer cups of utensils as centerpieces, walk around and visit the bustling bar while they wait for their tapas, and make new friends of the customers at neighboring tables. But for enthusiasts who like to sample a bit of this and a sip of that, the Falcon House is a pleasant adventure.
The owners' experience with wine puts the diner in good stead: Most of the vintages are from small or boutique producers, and none is priced above $11. This means you can savor the Evolution #9 Sokol Blosser with a starter-size dish of corn-crab fritters, crisp puffs of crab-spiked dough complemented with a piquant chipotle aioli and fresh avocado relish. From there, it's a short step to move on to the Erath Pinot Noir and a grilled flat-iron steak, a large portion for the $10 price, which offers tender, marinated juices to match the wine. The steak is also partnered with a mayonnaise-free potato salad, the new potatoes moistened instead with vinegar, capers, red onion, and parsley.
Meat dishes compose about half the menu and are generally the most expensive, including lamb chops with tabouleh and tzatziki or beef satay with Asian vegetable slaw. Pork ribs basted with a Mongolian barbecue sauce were too salty for our taste; though the waiter insisted the chef does not use salt, the ribs were clearly marinated in something like soy sauce that already contained it. We wished the server didn't argue with us -- nothing replicates the taste of salt but salt -- but we were pleased that he took the dish back and deleted it from the check.
Indeed, the ribs were the only misstep. For full-on aromatics, braised Moroccan chicken stewed with preserved lemon and olives and served with a supple triangle of naan was ideal, the chicken perfectly tenderized by the citrus. Tuna poki, diced tuna sashimi seasoned lightly with green onions, gave unexpected crunch with macadamia nuts; taro root chips also lent textural contrast. But it may be the two starches preparations that took blue ribbons: risotto of the day -- ours had freshly shucked corn in it -- and "Mumbo's pierogies" were both expertly cooked. Filled with potato and cheddar cheese, the hand-crimped envelopes were heightened with sour cream and a slew of caramelized onions. We could easily see why this particular tapa sells out nightly.
If there's a drawback to spending time at the Falcon House, it's that you'll also wind up spending a good quantity of cash. The tapas and glasses of vino tend to add up, especially if you're ordering top-shelf items. Even bread will run you $4. Granted, the focaccia and baguettes taste homemade, but a figurative bone thrown to the customer here and there might make for more frequent repeat visits. The very definition of tapas kind of excludes having to save up to enjoy an evening of it.