Stephen Fries: Summer a perfect and delicious time to visit Florida
A vacation in Boca Raton, Fla. in the summer…why not? My previous columns about a spring and/or summer trip to Florida drew unprecedented interest, especially for those who would like to experience an upscale resort without emptying their wallet. This is the time of year that a trip to this oasis will be easier on the pocketbook, since airfare and luxury resort rates are a fraction of in-season cost; traffic is minimal, and you won’t have to wait to be seated in restaurants. You will find the pace of life calmer as a visitor to the Sunshine state during the supposed “off-season.” It is the optimal time to soak it all in.
Located upon Lake Boca, at the crossroads of downtown cosmopolitan Boca Raton (with its Mizner Park lifestyle center, world-class shopping, dining and entertainment options), and the crystalline waters of the Atlantic Ocean, its stunning beaches, and the South Inlet Intracoastal Canal, The Waterstone Resort and Marina is a perfectly located retreat. The “water centric” resort-in-the-city is quite a unique discovery. Stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and wave runners are available to rent at the marina or just lay back and soak in the sunshine and go for a swim at the waterfront pool — or relax in a cabana with TV, fan, and fridge. The beach is minutes away.
Upon arrival, lunch was enjoyed at the resort’s poolside Rum Bar & Grill, overlooking surrounding idyllic bodies of water. Boca’s Cobb is refreshing with grilled hearts of palm, mango, hardboiled egg, Vermont cheddar, and Applewood smoked bacon. The Rum Bar Signature arepas (traditional Mexican-style street food in the form of sweet corn cakes with savory toppings) made with gluten-free ingredients were tempting, however dinner reservations were in a few hours so I took a “rain check” for a return visit to try the marinated shrimp arepas (Mojo marinated shrimp, Cotija cheese, pico de gallo, cilantro-lime crema).
Boca Landing at the resort offers the city’s only waterside dining experience, with unprecedented views. Seafood lovers will enjoy fish caught off of Florida’s coast. Executive Chef Matt Mixon’s French and Italian heritage can be detected in some of the dishes. Instead of serving bread, the server brought house-smoked fish dip and house-made potato chips to the table; a delectable way to begin dinner. New Age Beets (roasted beets, Blue Hill Farm goat cheese, candied pistachios, rum soaked raisins, field greens, 30-year old sherry vinaigrette) was a creative take on beet salad. The flavors and textures were well-orchestrated. The handcrafted Burrata, is smooth and refreshing, served with juicy beefsteak tomatoes, arugula, truffle oil, sea salt, and balsamic glaze. Of course, fresh Florida fish had to be the main dish. The pan-seared, line-caught grouper was perfectly cooked and Chef Matt even shared the recipe. Watch him prepare the dish at https://bit.ly/2J0lfQN. It’s served with a delicate cauliflower puree, sautéed spicy broccolini, and lemon-caper beurre blanc. The red velvet cake was served as a “mini-cake” with such attention to detail in its plating. The perfect balance of cream and cake, and not too sweet. It pairs beautifully with Inniskillin Icewine, Riesling. Wine aficionados will enjoy the well-curated wine list featuring boutique wines from vineyards around the world.
If you are into a leisurely breakfast, the resort’s European breakfast buffet offers made-to-order omelets and eggs and all the fixings, smoked salmon, fresh fruit, yogurts, cereals, freshly squeezed orange juice and of course, mouth-watering pastry. A continental breakfast and a la carte menu are available as well.
Louie Bossi’s www.louiebossi.com, 100 East Palmetto Park Road, about a mile from the hotel was my first food venture. If you choose not to drive, the resort will shuttle you to and from. I chose to walk off the meal for my return to the hotel. Growing up in New York and having lived in New Haven for almost 35 years, I have enjoyed old-school Italian food. Well, this Florida restaurant does Italian right. Steaks are dry-aged in-house, a variety of pasta are made in-house as is the charcuterie, bread and pizza dough. The menu is extensive, so be prepared to be overwhelmed. I started with the Arrancini Con Tartufo (crispy rice balls filled with fior di latte sitting on top of truffle aioli. From pizza selections, I chose Vongole Fresche (fresh clams, pancetta, fresno peppers, Pecorino) This pie held up to my high New Haven standards. Always on the lookout for great meatballs, I tried one and it is up there in my rankings. The Rigatoni alla Bolognese is a signature dish. The house-made pasta had just the right amount of sauce that is prepared with ground beef and veal, chunks of beef and a touch of cream. This is your nonna’s sauce! The mozzarella tasting includes Fior di Latte, Burrata, and mozzarella di Bufala. The dessert was over the top: the beautifully presented platter had a sampling of the desserts (all made in-house) on the menu (canoli, budino choccolata, tiramisu, Italian cookies, ice cream and gelato, olive oil cake, Louie’s Nonna’s cheesecake made with a combination of ricotta and cream cheese, fresh strawberries) And to put the “icing on the dessert” it was brought out with a large sparkling sparkler; oh how heads in the restaurant turned to see this extravagant sweet ending.
Royal Palm Place, a mile away, is a “culinary destination” with more than 20 restaurants and nightspots. Along with eating, check out myriad boutiques and shops. On my departure day I stopped off at Biergarten Boca Raton www.biergartenboca.com for lunch. The giant soft pretzel is served with dipping sauces and bier cheese. The schnitzel, your choice of chicken, pork or veal is served with braised red cabbage and herbed spätzle. Monday nights are $1 brats and Tuesdays 2-for-1 schnitzels. The apple strudel served warm is a must…top it off with a scoop of ice cream. Beer drinkers enjoy 24 different draft beers and more than 50 bottled beers.
For more about Boca Raton visit https://bit.ly/2x8kwbJ.
Season both sides of grouper filet with salt and pepper. Heat oil in medium oven-proof saute pan. Place fish in pan and get a nice sear on one side. Flip, and place pan in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or until desired doneness.
Optional: before flipping, deglaze pan by adding a splash of white wine and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, being careful of the flames.
To make the cauliflower puree, simmer the cauliflower with potato in a half quart of cream and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, until tender. Place all the contents in blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (cauliflower recipe makes 2 servings)
To prepare the broccolini, place a saute pan on medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, chopped garlic and red pepper flakes and slowly warm up, then place the broccolini in the pan and warm all the way through. Set aside. (broccolini recipe makes 2 servings)
To make the sauce add white wine, shallots, and juice of lemons to a saucepan and reduce by 3 quarters. Then add remaining ½ quart of cream, and reduce that by half. Remove from heat, swirl in remaining butter, and season to taste and strain. Add the capers. To plate, place some cauliflower puree on plate, place broccolini on top and then place fish on the broccolini. Spoon sauce on top of fish. (sauce recipe makes 2 servings)
What chef would you like me to interview? Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products are you having difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. (Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.)
New Haven Food Truck Festival, June 2, noon to 7 p.m., Long Wharf Park, New Haven. Event includes a bicycle wheelie competition, a dragon boat regatta and live music. Festival is free. Food, beverage, and some activities are an additional cost. Parking at the Long Wharf Maritime Center Garage. 555 Long Wharf Drive, Cost is $5 per car. newhavenfoodtruckfestival.com.
Mohegan Sun annual Sun BBQFest, June 2 and 3, Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard Uncasville.888-226-7711, $5 a day per person (does not include food & beverage) Kids 6 & under: free. $1 food & beverage tickets available at the event. Barbecue battles, food vendors, beverages, live music and cooking demonstrations. Saturday's events feature a wing contest and a rib challenge, with an evening fireworks display. Complete schedule at https://bit.ly/2nECs8D.
Worth Tasting Culinary Walking Tour: 10:45 a.m. June 9, four-hour culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven. 8-9 stops at some of New Haven’s favorites. You won’t be hungry after this tour. Reservations required, tickets at https://bit.ly/2FjiwMP 203-415-3519, 203-777-8550, $64.
Shoreline Clam Bake, June 9, 1:00-4:00 pm, Black Hall Grille, 100 Shore Road, Old Lyme. 860-434-1414 www.blackhallgrille.com Live action oyster and clam shucking station.