New Tastes in West Palm
Il Bellagio at CityPlace
Downtown West Palm Beach doesn’t know when to quit. It’s in a state of constant change.
Make that two states of constant change, at least. The obvious one is CityPlace, one of the most successful multitasking downtown redevelopments in the state: Offices, condos, retail and restaurants upon restaurants.
The other is Clematis Street a few blocks away, tucked into the old downtown fabric of forgotten department stores and hat shops. Now it’s five blocks of restaurants, clubs and good times stretching all the way to a splashing fountain and the Intracoastal waterfront.
Just when diners think they’ve sorted out the choices in West Palm, there’s a new taste in town, often with name brand fame or star chef celebrity.
Yet one thing remains the same: The food and drink savvy of West Palm’s Big Time Restaurant Group. It runs City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill at CityPlace with thousands of bottles under glass and a classy selection by the glass from Krug Champagne to Helen Turley zinfandel with the modern staples — goat cheese salad, pad Thai, bucatini and dry-aged steaks.
Big Time has been a big player on Clematis Street, too. In its latest revisions, the group created two concepts that rock with Big Time style. The first was Rocco’s Tacos, where the namesake tortilla folds are filled with fish, meatballs, mushrooms or old-fashioned cochinitas pork and 150 tequilas and mezcal.
Their newest venture, Grease, serves two-fisted burgers, 10-ounce hefties topped with bacon, cheeses, chili, grilled onions and, for the society set, fresh mozzarella, yellow tomatoes, radicchio and pesto. Wash ’em down with handspun milkshakes or a chalkboard of 50 some craft beers.
Todd English opened Wild Olives at CityPlace.
Around them are a mall’s worth of shops and a menu that now includes 24 restaurants and clubs, from Panera Bread and Cheesecake Factory to Wet Willie’s and the Improv. Chefs Oliver Saucy and Mark Militello no longer hang their toques, but new arrivals keep coming. Now Todd English of Boston and food TV has his classic flatbreads at Wild Olives, Ruth’s Chris has opened a massive steak house, and McCormick & Schmick’s chose CityPlace as the fourth Florida location for its distinctive Northwest-fresh seafood with its daily oyster list and off-the-boat fish.
McCormick & Schmick’s signature crab cakes at CityPlace
Clematis was also reborn, more slowly, in smaller pieces of rehabbing and more indie spirit and spirits. Since 2004, it has become more grown-up with a bigger emphasis on eating. At the core is the city’s fountain and Clematis by Night, an every-Thursday night street fair.
On any night there’s dining, big and small, down to pizza, hot dogs, raw food and hookah bars. It’s the grander choices that make the difference, the new all-day French brasserie Pistache, the upscale Italian Forte Palm Beach started by a “Top Chef” star, plus Big Time’s taco and burger ventures.
Yet some investment is made with big hearts instead of big bucks. Gratify, a cozy gastropub with a view of the water was just opened by Scott Helm and Gene Playter, two Chicagoans who came to West Palm 10 years ago to open Samba Room. “We really liked the town then. And we watched how they developed the downtown and what the city did to the waterfront. It’s beautiful.”
So 2010 was the right time for them to open their dream, a small place with a small menu of sophisticated casual food, small plates and big. Steak frites, of course, house olives and mozzarella, pork on sliders and in asparagus risotto and local snapper, with a top price of $23.
On the Island
Across the Intracoastal, old Palm Beach is not immune to change or modern food fashion since Daniel Boulud opened in the Brazilian Court hotel a few years ago. Now Miami’s Michelle Bernstein has opened at the Omphoy Ocean Resort, and the Breakers, the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Season have modernized their menus. The Breakers has also reached back into downtown WPB to run the Top of the Point above the Phillips Point Club, letting the public eat, drink and eye the ocean in high style.
One can still have breakfast at Testa’s or Green’s Pharmacy, as Palm Beach does every season, but there’s something new in morning fare, too. At the new Eggsotic Bistro, two Venezuelan brothers and chefs (with Breakers training) serve an upscale line of omelets and French toast, followed by lunch and evening tapas and small plates — including foie gras. It may have a breakfast name, but this is Palm Beach.