The Undersea World of Toby Joseph | Dish | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Restaurant Reviews

The Undersea World of Toby Joseph

I'm not the kind of customer — being half-blind and chronically underdressed — that the St. Regis Resort would cultivate if it had a choice. The new Starwood Hotels enterprise has been open for business a couple of months now on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, a monument of swank that from the outside, even with those undulant white canopies over the dining terrace, manages to camouflage itself so completely, smack dab on the busiest beach road in South Florida, that you'll likely find yourself driving in circles and peering up through late-afternoon beach glare in search of a perversely tiny signature. It's like those stories you hear about elephants that can hide eight tons of bulk behind a scrawny shrub — in their perfect stillness, you don't notice anything amiss until you realize foliage shouldn't have dust-colored eyelashes. But if you do manage to find the subtle St. Regis without running over a clueless tourist or two, you're going to conclude after a meal at the resort's restaurant, Cero, that your trouble was probably worth a few crumpled Minnesotans.

Don some decent duds for the occasion. We almost couldn't get seated, even with a reservation, when one of us showed up wearing jeans (and dark-blue, well-pressed jeans they were too.) But my face must have said it all — the rolling-eyed, frothing panic of a food critic with her new boss in tow. Clearly, we weren't the sort of people who'd ever pay $1,759 a night for a suite on Fort Lauderdale Beach. But I've found that when somebody tells you "no," if you just stand there, speechless and quivering, the lady in charge may relent. She did and found us a table on the terrace overlooking the beach. We hid our Levis under a linen napkin, and nobody was the worse for it.

I don't blame the St. Regis for straining to uphold standards in our flabby, it's-all-good age; the please-dress-for-dinner rule is a fine old practice. Why bother to offer the most pristine service, refulgent flatware, the tallest desserts, the most delectable whiskeys, if the beneficiaries of all this pomp are slouching around in "I'm With Stupid" T-shirts? Still, they could have told us when we called.

Finding Cero and getting in were the first, second, and only hitches in what was otherwise a blissful evening. And I use the term evening loosely, because we showed up around 8 p.m. and sat until midnight. We ordered drinks and appetizers and consumed them at a pace that would have tested the patience of a glacier. Then we sat some more as the wind came up and the rain came down — watching as palms shook their glittering hair and sheets of water turned everything a fogged, oceanic silver. It was beautiful, and the canopies kept us dry. Then we lingered over our entrées, trading plates and stories, for another couple of hours. And never, as the long, slow minutes unfurled, did our impeccable server so much as drum a fingernail — the night was ours to waste.

Toby Joseph is chef here; he comes by way of the St. Regis in Houston toting a long list of accolades, including a James Beard Award as one of the Top Hotel Chefs in America. Joseph has focused Cero's menu on seafood, and he draws on French technique (polished, in part, during a stint at Café L'Europe in Palm Beach). He's obsessed with sourcing quality ingredients, insisting, for example, on real dry-pack scallops from New Bedford and on organically raised farmed salmon. The night's special may be sea bass meunière, but you can bet the bass won't have been hauled in from Chile. "I won't buy Chilean sea bass," Joseph told me. "I wouldn't offer anything to my customers I wouldn't feed my own family. The average person just has no idea the kinds of preservatives used on supposedly 'fresh' fish that's been stored on a boat for a month."

That insistence on quality ingredients yields revelations like Joseph's piquant sashimis (a complimentary swordfish amuse bouche in a bath of citrus; a tuna and yellowtail sashimi with habanero jelly, lime, fleur de sel, and a sunken pool of wasabi rice foam, $16) and silky tartares. A surf and turf ($16) of jewel-toned organic salmon paired with lush, shiny raw prime beef is state-of-the-art, like heaps of fruity, peppery crushed velvet: the salmon laced with ginger and tiny rounds of green onion, the beef with pepper and what tastes like mild Worcestershire (and served with the longest, thinnest flute of grilled garlic toast imaginable). There's enough lump crab meat on the menu to sate a pod of ravenous seals, along with lovely limpid fillets of pan-seared bronzini, divers scallops, giant prawns paired with kumquats, squid, fire-roasted yellowtail with saffron, and bowls of grouper, shrimp, and scallop nage. Having grown up on Cape Cod, the guy knows from seafood.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd

Latest Stories