Darrel & Oliver’s Bistro 17

They’ve Done It Again
Textural contrasts, terrific flavors make for creative, stand-out appetizers; add impeccable service, subtract the hotel lobby, and it sums up as a meaningful dining experience.

By Jana Soeldner Danger

A group of attractive young urbanites cluster at the highly-polished onyx bar. In the casually-stylish tropical dining room – creamy walls, blond, planked wood floors and Caribbean-style artwork – a couple gaze into each other’s eyes as course after course is efficiently delivered by a server smartly attired in a formal bistro-style uniform. In another area, cozily ensconced in a forest-green-and-brick-rose upholstered banquette, two wealthy-looking charity ball circuit matrons chat leisurely over their dinners.

Chef Oliver Saucy and his partner Darrel Broek seem to have found a way to appeal to a variety of types and tastes with their latest venture, Bistro 17, located in the brand new Renaissance Fort Lauderdale Hotel on the 17th Street Causeway. It is the partners’ first foray into hotel dining; their other successful restaurants are the popular Darrel & Oliver’s Café Maxx in Pompano Beach, and East City Bistro in Delray Beach.

At Bistro 17, the menu showcases Saucy’s inventive and exuberant Florida-style cuisine, which draws from Oriental, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Cuban, Creole and Old South market baskets.

Chef de Cuisine Michael Saperstein worked for Saucy at Café Maxx in the late 1990s, before graduating from Johnson & Wales Culinary University and moving to New York. After a year and a half at Big Apple restaurants, he returned to help Broek and Saucy design the menu and open Bistro 17.

Appetizers shine
Appetizers shine at Bistro 17. It is a good place to meet friends, order several starters, and share. “Every dish is better than the last one,” raved one of the diners at our table as we sampled the outstanding pan-seared foie gras ($14), a special for the evening. The velvety foie gras contrasted with the crunchy texture of lightly parboiled string beans and sautéed walnuts, its richness tempered by the fruity acidity of blueberries, the sweetness of caramelized onions and the sherry glaze. Rich with chunky crabmeat, the lump crab cake ($12) with crunchy sweet corn and arugula was accompanied by a horseradish tomato vinaigrette and Old Bay remoulade, two perfect complements to this simple, delightful dish.

A dark red, coarsely chopped, very fresh tuna tartare ($11) contrasted nicely with crispy won tons, fresh cucumber and velvety mango, while grated wasabi added unexpected punch. The baked oysters ($9) – a take on oysters Rockefeller – were plump, melt-in-your-mouth sea-tasting shellfish gratinéed to a crispy, golden crust, over sauteed spinach leaves and a whiff of licorice from shaved fennel and a Pernod hollandaise. Just heavenly! Thick diver scallops ($13) were perfectly seared on the outside, moist and velvety inside, and served over tomato chili linguini accented with roast corn, scallions and cilantro; a tribute to chef Saperstein’s knack for delicious contrasts of color and texture.

Seared duck breast served with roast shallots and Cabernet sauce ($12) is rare, tender, moist, with the deep flavor of duck playing along the earthy mushroom risotto (“beyond description,” said one diner at our table) with crunchy pecans. Citrus salad with lobster truffle vinaigrette ($13) was a favorite. The sweet, tender lobster chunks were cooked just right, while fresh grapefruit and blood and mandarin oranges created a citrus explosion on the tongue. The bittersweet crunch of fresh asparagus tips and green endives over red watermelon coulis did wonders to show off the complexity of this dish.

Engaging entrees
Whereas all the appetizers are outstanding, the entrees, listed in a single page, offer enough variety to suit all tastes, but are uneven.

Sea bass ($27) was our favorite. A thick slab of fresh, creamy fish, lightly crusted with panko crumbs, was seared with dried porcini mushrooms. The fish, served on a flavorful bed of scallion mashed potatoes, was complemented by creamy ragoût of sautéed Portobello, oyster and shiitake mushrooms fragrant with chervil, tarragon, basil, rosemary and Italian parsley.

A crust of Dijon and whole grain mustard seeds added zing to the salmon ($27); however, the strength of the mustard overpowered the delicate fish, and clashed with the dill vinaigrette dressing of the side of cucumber and tomato salad.

Grilled rack of lamb ($39) was a delight. Rubbed with rosemary, thyme and Italian parsley, the tender meat was sweet, juicy and perfectly cooked. A provocative macaroni and goat cheese raised the traditionally pedestrian side to the status of earthly delight. The accompanying broccoli rabe was sautéed in garlic; tomato confit added color, while a mild balsamic mint sauce beautifully accented the dish.

The pan-seared veal chop ($34), an evening special, didn’t fare quite as well. Tender and nicely cooked, it was slightly dry. The best part of the dish was the accompanying Napoleon of crispy eggplant, garlicky broccoli rabe, roasted tomatoes and mozzarella.

Happy endings
Desserts ($6-$8), among which the most original is pineapple beignets –fresh chunks of fruit are batter-fried and served warm with coconut-rum caramel ice cream – are tasty and make for a happy ending to a meal at Bistro 17. Moulton chocolate cake is deep, dark and intense, its warmth and bittersweet flavor offset by vanilla ice cream. Vanilla crème brûlée rests on a refreshing blueberries cushion. Key lime cheesecake ($6) is light, refreshing and just tart enough.
Bistro 17 is bound to be another Darrel-and-Oliver success. The restaurant has plenty of panache to draw diners already familiar with Saucy’s excellent cuisine, and will doubtless keep hotel guests staying on the premises.

Darrel & Oliver’s Bistro 17
1617 Southeast 17th Street, Fort Lauderdale
Open daily for breakfast 6:30 to 10:30 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Creative, upscale seafood bistro.
WINES: An extensive, varied and carefully selected list of U.S. and French pours, with a few additions from other countries.
Appetizers $6 to $13; entrŽes $19 to $39; desserts $5 to $9.
Stylishly casual.
A short but respectable list of domestic and international labels.
Permitted in the lounge on the other side of the hotel lobby.
All Major

Jana Soeldner Danger is a freelance writer and a columnist for the Miami Herald. She lives in Hollywood, Florida.

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