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Tasty and fun appetizers; outstanding entrees, creative desserts and a menu that changes daily reflect Chef Nick Morfogen’s commitment to quality, creativity, and fresh, seasonal ingredients. All good reasons to treck to Delray.
By Jana Soeldner Danger
A menu that changes daily at 32 East in Delray Beach reflects Chef Nick Morfogen’s commitment to quality, creativity, and fresh, seasonal ingredients. The food is sophisticated, yet never pretentious. Morfogen often takes familiar dishes and makes them new with innovative twists and unusual additions.
A theater-style kitchen with an oak-fired grill is a visual focal point in the street-level dining room. Even on a Wednesday night in mid-August, it was bustling with diners who were a mix of ages. Mahogany-topped tables, upholstered booths, and black and white floor tiles create a low-key, bistro-style ambiance. San Francisco-based interior designer Michael Guthrie supposedly drew inspiration for the décor from the salons of vintage Chris-Craft yachts – a fitting muse for a building that once was an antique auction house, and now is in the heart of the city’s historic district.
Serendipity brought Morfogen to 32 East. Owner Butch Johnson opened the restaurant in 1996 with Chef Wayne Alcaide in the kitchen. On the same night Alcaid broke the news to Johnson that he was relocating to Europe for awhile, Morfogen happened to be eating in the dining room – and also happened to be ready for a change in his own venue. Johnson approached him, and the match was made.
There’s an upstairs dining room where white cloths top the tables, and the ambiance is more intimate and clubby. The restaurant has a full bar, and an excellent wine list that is several pages long. This year, 32 East received an Award of Excellence from the Distinguished Restaurants of North America, an independent, anonymous restaurant inspection program in North America. We think it deserves the award, and any other honors it receives
Delicious, fun appetizers
Appetizers are tasty and fun. Lemon oil and sea salt drew out the natural flavor of impeccably fresh Hawaiian marlin ($15) served raw. Arugula and tomato and corn salsa served as a foil to add crunch and zest to the smooth, delicate fish. Braised pork gave rich, home-style flavor to plump gnocchi ($13), and yellow tomato ragu with fava beans and rosemary combined with the pasta for interesting tastes and textures.
Luscious pan-seared foie gras practically melted in my mouth. Harvest bread bruschetta formed a firm base for the dish, which also featured a dusky slice of trumpet mushroom and watercress garnish. A risotto with wild boar sausage and chanterelle mushrooms was another of my favorites.
A rack of lamb seasoned with curry-scented sea salt was nicely seared on the outside, moist and tender inside, with the distinctive, mild flavor of a very young lamb. The accompanying Greek salad made with romaine, olives, heirloom tomato salsa, and cucumbers was dressed with balsamic vinaigrette seasoned with fresh oregano, making a fresh, crunchy foil for the perfectly cooked meat. A mound of warm goat cheese added a delicious accent. Butter sauce fragrant with lemon grass accented Alaskan halibut (a fish not found on many South Florida menus) without interfering with its mild, delicate flavor. Baby peas and carrots—fried on top, sautéed in a lower layer -- added color and texture to soft Jasmine rice. Firm, fleshy diver scallops seared with thyme ($31) were very fresh. Soft polenta was a neutral backdrop for the flavorful shellfish, while a mixed grill of French horn mushrooms, asparagus and red onions added color and crunch,
Everyone serves filet mignon, but this one was outstanding. The mesquite-grilled meat was perfectly cooked, and complemented with a rich cabernet reduction.
Pastry Chef Stephanie Wong also changes her menu nightly. Black bottom banana cream pie combined the dusky taste of dark chocolate shavings and fresh bananas with the different textures of crispy crust, and smooth chantilly cream. White chocolate wafers and sweet raspberries complemented lemon chiffon bombe. Classic cherries jubilee was updated with almond crusted profiteroles, port wine sauce, and crème fraiche ice cream. Wong also makes her own ice cream in unusual flavors like ginger-plum and balsamic fig.
32 East offers excellent, sophisticated food in a comfortable, low-key atmosphere. Creativity reins here, so if you have your heart set on a particular dish, call ahead to be sure it will be on the menu that night. Or, even better, take a chance and try whatever Chef Morfogen is in the mood to make. You’ll be pleased.