Monty and Sara Preiser (Pictured) are veteran food and wine writers in South Florida and in Napa/Sonoma, California. Publishers, Preiser Key to Napa, Vintners, Shadowbox Cellars of Napa, Co-Founders, American Fine Wine Invitational, and Wine Judges
Monty Preiser also kindly endorsed my book “The Restaurant Diet,” How to Eat Out Every Night and Still Lose Weight (first edition in the series). Monty and Sara are good friends and are a go-to resource for spot-on restaurant and wine recommendations in South Florida, Napa, across the country, and worldwide, so I am very honored to share their latest post on dining out during the days of COVID-19 in South Florida. For more information, visit www.preiserkey.com
IT’S TIME FOR WINE AND OTHER THINGS by Monty and Sara Preiser October 20, 2020 Dining in Palm Beach and Broward Counties During the Crisis
For many of us, one of the things we missed most for many months after the March shut-downs was dining out. As we learned over the next 160 days of self-chosen home confinement (only going out to the grocery or to pick up an occasional pizza or sushi roll), it wasn’t simply the professionally prepared cuisine we longed for, but the opportunity to have someone else compose, serve, and clean. Monty has never appreciated the hours it might take to chop, dice, peel, and mix, only to consume the meal in 20 minutes and then have to clean the dishes relatively quickly so nothing stuck. For both of us, however, that truly did become old after 160 consecutive days – and 160 consecutive nights. Fortunately, though the virus is still out there (as are, sadly, tens of thousands of incredibly selfish Americans who think their freedom in not wearing a mask or distancing overrides the freedom of their fellow citizens to be safe from disease), we all have learned much about this modern plague. We are not scientists or doctors, though we can read, and Monty’s career in the law involved pharmaceuticals, epidemiology, vaccines, and the manufacturing processes thereof.
Nevertheless, our choice to finally begin to dine out on a limited basis should not be taken as a recommendation that anyone else do so. We simply decided that under certain conditions (which we will mention as part of our reviews below), and given what science seems to have concluded, we could be relatively safe in the right establishments while dining. Without being flip about it, we suppose our health in the next few months will tell us whether our decision was reasonable. At first, we only dined outdoors, as there seems to be little argument that doing so is safer than being indoors, though by what degree no one can really swear. Gradually, and only under circumstances where we felt safe, did we sometimes go inside (and, yes, Florida heat and humidity were often part of the determining equation). We have now been out about a dozen times in the last 6 weeks, and will report about seven establishments where, for the most part, and sometimes with a little insistence, we both feel comfortable.
Like most of us, we want to support our friends and the economy, but we have obligations to our families not to do it recklessly.
Arturos’s Ristorante (Federal Highway between Yamato and Linton in Boca Raton): If you enjoy elegance and New York professionalism when you dine, there is no restaurant in Boca Raton, and few in Florida, that approaches Arturo’s, owned and run by the Gismondi family. There was a time, though much rarer now, when some would say Arturo’s was more for the older crowd. We believe those people were wrong then, and are even more so today. This Italian superstar attracts a crowd of all ages, and offers a variety of strong entertainment. It can also be very romantic. While average service usually blends into the background, great service, such as here, featuring professional servers who have almost all been there for years (even the younger guys), stands out and is part of a special dining experience. Though the famous rolling antipasti cart has been, at least temporarily, retired, you can still order the mouth-watering appetizers that usually reside there. And preceding dinner, gloved back servers will set the table with incomparable fresh baked breads and authentic bruschetta. Fortunately, Arturo’s is large enough for diners to be placed far enough apart to meet most health concerns. Customers are required to wear masks when walking through the dining room. You have a couple of options as to your seating. There is a small outdoor area if that is your present comfort level. There is the garden room with various forms of music, something that is hard to find at this time, and the large main dining room. Your selection will depend on your mood and safety concerns. Don’t be afraid to ask the maître d’ of the evening to explain your options. Not surprisingly, all the staff is masked, and you may remove yours while at your table. We suggest starting your evening with one of Luke’s excellent cocktails, and then ordering from a well-conceived international wine list. For dinner, the homemade pastas are the equal of any, as is the preparation of numerous choices of fresh fish and seafood. The veal chop is wonderful. The menu has a large number of choices, and we have never had any dish we did not enjoy, nor have we ever heard anyone express disappointment. Desserts are perfectly and professionally conceived in house by one of the Gismondi daughters, who also creates some amazing cakes for special occasions. You can ask for a custom design Prepare to relax and enjoy the best of the best when you visit Arturo’s.
Banana Boat (Ocean Dr. in Boynton Beach on the Intercoastal): This is a very popular and energetic seafood and cocktail establishment, so if you have health concerns, we recommend going on off hours as only a few of the tables are spaced far enough away from each other for our liking. Masks are supposed to be worn when moving throughout the restaurant, but many customers don’t, and the rule is lackadaisically enforced. The servers, however, not only all wear masks consistently, they seem to be very health conscious. There are a good number of selections on the menu, but not much in the way of wine (you can bring your own). As a whole, the prices are not too high, and they reflect mostly average food. Banana Boat is reflective of hundreds of like places that sit on the coastal waters throughout the eastern United States – it can be fun for an afternoon outing, easy on your finances, and provide some nice inside or outside views. It is not geared to be a gourmet event. All cities can use a place like this.
Billy’s Stone Crabs (Ocean Avenue in Hollywood just north of Hollywood Blvd.): It takes us an hour to drive to Billy’s from our house, and few drives bring more pleasure during stone crab season (set by law in 2020 for October 15 – May 2). Billy’s offers a dining room with spaced tables, though, as always, it is best to go on off-hours. The servers are of course well trained in how to serve in light of the Virus. There is also individual seating on the water outside. As the weather breaks in Florida, that will be an enticing place to spend an afternoon. Cocktails here are well made, the staff is especially convivial, and the wine list is well conceived – you can bring your favorite, but there is little need. To aid you in making your dining choices, you will be presented with a demonstration platter consisting of King Crab legs, steaks, and different stone crab sizes up to colossal (interestingly, 2020 has seen the minimum claw size increased by 1/8 of an inch to 2.875 inches in order to help replenish the crab population that was harmed by the red tide disaster in 2018). To us, as good as everything else might be, stone crabs are the reason to be at Billy’s (at least the reason to drive an hour). They are always perfect – succulent, sweet, and fresh. In fact, one can almost ignore the famous mustard sauce that accompanies them, though Monty never does. Other regions boast their own peculiar foods that are best enjoyed while fresh (Maine lobsters, Gulf oysters, San Francisco sourdough bread, and Chesapeake crabs, for example). Yet there is no place in the world that serves stone crabs like Florida, and to us, with apologies to Joe’s, we think Billy’s sets the standard.
City Fish Market (just off the Glades Rd, Turnpike exit in Boca Raton): Home of our first venture out, City has a large porch overlooking a lake, and well-spaced tables inside. The servers and staff are masked and the back servers wear gloves when bringing the plates. We feel very comfortable here. There are many fresh fish on the menu, and you are given numerous options as to how you want your selection prepared. Our favorites are the Chilean Sea Bass and the trout. Shellfish is abundant and fresh. The oysters rival the best in the area, as does the lightly breaded crab cake. There are few places outside the New Orleans area where one can find authentic seafood gumbo, but somehow City manages it. Mondays through Thursdays the restaurant offers a 50% discount for all wines marked at $100 or less – a terrific promotion because there are some excellent choices. Though you are permitted to bring your own wine, it hardly seems necessary on those days. City has always been known for their innovative and well-prepared cocktails, and though the “bar scene” does not exist at the present time, the spirits still bring back the memories of old. Putting it all together – service, attitude, wine, food, ambiance, and safety – it is hard to rival this establishment.
Copenhagen (on the corner of Woolbright and Jog in Boynton Beach): Opened last year by the couple who owned and sold the immensely popular Andros, this larger space with outdoor dining gives owner/executive chef Adam Cardoso and his owner front-of-the-house wife Deborah Kreinces a true opportunity to shine. Both are excellent at their craft, and it shows. Though situated in a strip shopping area so common on corners in South Florida, the restaurant’s location and hours allow it to offer inside and outside dining with comfortable spacing. Naturally, the staff has been trained to keep tables and service procedures healthy, and masks are required. We have written before that Adam is one of the best, and most under-the-radar, chefs we have ever encountered. There seems to be nothing he cannot prepare, from the simple to the exotic, and make it come out beautifully. We alter between lamb, fresh fish (often stuffed with seafood), roasted duck, and fresh rainbow trout. And the menu includes “Shrimp Meritage,” composed of jumbo shrimp sauteed with shallots, exotic mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach, all flambed in a cognac sauce and finished with a dollop of goat cheese; Escargots in a light butter garlic sauce; and Veal Schnitzel. None should be missed. How Adam accomplishes all this with a minimum of salt and cream, we wish we knew. We also wish we could present the entire list of opportunities, but you get the idea. Ask Adam about his available wines, as he usually has many not on a printed list. His palate is quite marvelous and his talent at finding great wines for even better prices is a wonder. Finally – and this is good – you will never find a lower check for a gourmet meal anywhere in this country. It would be hard to spend over $35.00/person (before wine), and you often get a salad and soup included. This is a United States gem.
Paradiso Ristorante (in downtown Lake Worth on Lucerne near K St.): Owned by master chef Angelo Romano, this beautifully remodeled space and the attentive and professional serving staff set the ambiance for a dinner that surprises many people. Lake Worth is not known for fine dining, but you find it at Paradiso. An award-winning wine list and enticing cocktails serve to enhance a dinner that would still be wonderful without them. Pastas are hard to beat, and the cloud-like gnocchis are perhaps the best in the area. The triple pasta sampling plate is always a pleasant surprise. The beet pasta tortelloni filled with veal and porcini mushrooms, and a perfect veal chop (ask for grilled mushrooms and onions to accompany) are killers. We sometimes enjoy the lamb chop or whole Branzino. Just tell the accommodating staff what you want, and it will usually show up. Italian restaurants are known for their desserts, of course, and the table-side gelato for two will take you to heaven. The Tutto Pistachio is a good second choice (pistachio cake, pistachio mousse and pistachio gelato). As to virus concerns, be sure to ask for a safe table. The restaurant is large (two rooms) and a little hard to monitor, so mask offenders are sometimes not called out. All in all, we are comfortable with the staff’s concern and the distancing availability. This is gourmet dining at its best.
Prime Catch (on Woolbright just east of Federal Highway in Boynton Beach): This one presents us with a conundrum. As a rule, we will not visit restaurants that prohibit their customers from bringing their own wine for a fair corkage charge. There are a number of what we would argue are good reasons for our personal policy, but primarily we think this is a poor business decision, and if that decision is bad, what else is too? Yet Prime Catch offers many things that make it very attractive, and so we occasionally dine there. The outside, always a pretty scene since Prime Catch sits on the Intercoastal, has been remodeled and is even lovelier, especially the “Island Bar’ and its surrounding bar tables reached by a short bridge. There is plenty of space, making us feel doubly at ease since we are also outdoors. The masked servers are quite congenial, and one must be covered to move around. 4:00 begins happy hour, with excellent drinks and, on Thursdays, succulent $1.50 raw oysters, which is the successful hook to bring us in. We don’t usually order the standard 1.5 pound lobster, as the hassle to eat it isn’t worth the trouble, so we call ahead to see if 3 pounders are available. Prime Catch knows how to make them, as they do for everything we have tried over the years. As an aside, we have never sampled the meat dishes (the place is, naturally, famous for its seafood), but they look enticing, and next Thursday Monty vows to try one. As we alluded to, this is a fine and popular place to be that unfortunately adheres to one mistaken long-time family rule about its customers bringing wine. We have given you the facts as best we can, and leave the decision whether to dine there up to you. We might even see you there, though the odds of that would be increased if you could also see a bottle of wine we brought. -Wear a Mask and Stay Healthy –