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"Without the freedom to criticize, there is no worthy praise." Beaumarchais
A terrific addition to the Fort Lauderdale dining scene, offers food that is creative and delicious, yet unpretentious, a sophisticated ambiance and outstanding service.
By Jana Soeldner Danger
It’s easy to see why Riley McDermott’s became an almost instant hit after its January opening. It has a winning combination: great food, a chic décor, sophisticated yet unstuffy ambience, and impeccable service.
The upscale steak-and-seafood restaurant on Fort Lauderdale’s tony Las Olas Boulevard specializes in American cuisine, but don’t think meatloaf, pot roast and fried chicken. Instead, the restaurant offers an eclectic menu that draws from diverse areas such as the northeast, southwest, Louisiana, and the Midwest heartland, along with Asian influences from Hawaii. Founder Anthony McDermott, a Boston native who moved to South Florida a decade ago, spent two years researching menus from fine restaurants across the US before putting together his own. Dishes are creative yet not overly complicated. There’s an extensive, well-chosen wine list.
Armando A. Galeas joined Riley McDermott’s as executive chef after serving in the same position at Food Network celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s TCHOUP-CHOP in Orlando. Galeas, who began his career as a dishwasher in Louisiana, was part of the opening team for Emeril’s South Beach location, and then was offered the position of executive sous chef at Emeril’s NOLA in the French Quarter of New Orleans. When Katrina decimated the city, Galeas moved back to TCHOUP-CHOP. Not surprisingly, the menu as Riley McDermott’s emphasizes robust flavors from Galeas’ years in Louisiana kitchens.
General Manager Jason Cottera is Lagasse’s nephew, and worked at Emeril’s Orlando, moving up the ranks from back waiter to captain server, dining room manager and assistant sommelier. His skill at orchestrating the workings of a high-volume restaurant with aplomb is apparent in the dining room at Riley McDermott’s.
At the entrance to McDermott’s, a raw bar showcasing fresh shellfish flown in daily sets your mouth watering. There are two dining levels: an L-shaped space on the main floor and a mezzanine. Wood-framed, chestnut-toned chairs with ivory upholstery flank tables topped with crisp white cloths. Hardwood floors add warmth to the sleek décor. For those who want a close-up view of the chefs working their magic, there’s a row of seats facing the open theater kitchen.
A half wall separates the first-floor dining room from a sleek lounge, which on a recent weekday evening was crowded with young professionals. In the dining room, clientele of various ages filled nearly every table. There’s also a cozy mezzanine –level wine room that seats 20.
The dining experience begins when a server offers a selection of three kinds of warm, delicious bread. Our favorite appetizer was an impeccably fresh, peeky-toe oyster on the half shell ($14), crusted lightly with toasted bread crumbs and fragrant with fresh dill. Rich, buttery hollandaise sauce and an accent of American caviar created a delightful combination of flavors and textures.
Plump, nicely-grilled beer barbecue shrimp ($11), teased by a brown abita barbecue sauce that is really more of a gumbo broth laced with dark beer, are a delicate take on BBQ. The peppery Gumbo ($9) is a robust New Orleans-style classic that could easily be a meal in itself. The menu offers a seafood version with tomatoes, okra, fresh shrimp, oysters and crabmeat simmered in shellfish stock and served over a bed of fluffy white rice. The night we dined, however, the chef had made the stew with tender, full-flavored duck meat and earthy wild mushrooms instead of seafood. The result was a dusky and delicious concoction we hope he decides to make regularly.
Other starters include blue crab cake ($12); fried calamari ($12); steamed black mussels ($11); and seared Ahi tuna ($14). There are also a dozen selections on the menu from the raw bar, (though not all of them are actually raw), including sashimi, cold poached Maine lobster, oysters on the half shell, stone crab, and boiled Creole-style shrimp.
The range of flavors and textures of the steaks at McDermott’s is varied; a result of wet- and dry-aging. Dry aging produces a tender product with concentrated flavor, while wet aging increases tenderness but does little to develop flavor.
A dry-aged, bone-in New York strip ($38) – McDermott’s brings in prime USDA beef from Allen Brothers in Chicago—was thick and tender, perfectly grilled, and rich with flavor. A buttery truffle sauce was the perfect complement.
A thick cut of sea bass ($29) tasted fresh as a shore lunch. Lightly seared and cooked just enough, the fish was firm yet flaky, full-flavored yet delicate with a side of lobster-creamed potatoes.
Other entrees include grilled salmon, grilled Ahi tuna, lemon sole, roasted scallops, crab-stuffed Maine lobster, wet-aged prime filet mignon, Wagu filet of beef and Wagyu bone-in ribeye, dry-aged porterhouse, rib roast, beef short ribs and roasted chicken.
All desserts, even the ice cream, are house-made. Classic bananas foster ($7): two thin, delicate vanilla-filled crepes, creamy cinnamon ice cream, buttery brown rum sauce and chopped pralines for crunch are a must. While the apple upside-down cake ($7) was not as good –the apples were undercooked and somewhat flavorless - the cinnamon ice cream and warm caramel drizzle did add some pizzazz. Other sweet selections include white chocolate brioche bread pudding, black forest soufflé, molten chocolate cake with chocolate toffee, crème brûlée trio, and lemon meringue cheesecake. Riley McDermott’s is a terrific addition to the Fort Lauderdale dining scene. It offers food that is creative and delicious, yet unpretentious. The sophisticated ambiance and outstanding service add to a memorable dining experience.