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Chef Johnny Vinczencz, expertly lassoed the public and the press when dubbed “the Caribbean Cowboy” he made his South Florida debut in the mid-1990s at Astor Place. At his own sophisticated Johnny V’s he captivates diners with imaginative and well-prepared food, a large and interesting selection of wines, cognacs, cordials, and grappa. Oh, and wonderful cheeses…. Definitely a place to go.
By Jana Soeldner Danger
It’s the norm to be presented with a menu and a wine list when you sit down at a restaurant. At Johnny V’s on Las Olas Boulevard, you also get a separate cheese menu.
Cheese plates are one of the delights of European dining, but here in South Florida, it’s rare to find a place that offers variety as well as the opportunity to design your own combinations. The menu describes each of the cheeses, which come from around the globe, and invites you to select those you’d like to try – three for $16; five for $24; or seven for $36. Each cheese plate comes with olives, grapes, walnuts, and a seared fresh pear. Even if you’re not in the mood for dinner, one of these can be a wonderful accompaniment to a glass of wine and conversation.
The owner, Chef Johnny Vinczencz, expertly lassoed the public and the press when dubbed “the Caribbean Cowboy” he made his South Florida debut in the mid-1990s at Astor Place on Miami Beach, and captivated diners at the charming Delray
The 200-seat indoor-outdoor Johnny V’s has a sleek, urban-contemporary look. Deep red walls add warmth to sophisticated gray hues in the long, narrow dining room. White-clothed tables and banquettes accented with amber-colored cushions line on one side of the long, narrow dining room, which has an open kitchen at the back. A dark walnut bar with gray metal stools topped by red cushions runs along the other wall; a tapas menu is available for those who like to munch with their drinks.
A Las Olas address pretty much demands outdoor seating, and there are several sidewalk tables topped with crisp white cloths, candles, and fresh flowers where you can dine while watching the ever-present pedestrian traffic on the boulevard.
Billed as Caribbean-inspired New American cuisine, the menu offers variety as well as a creative approach to combinations of ingredients. Flavors are bold, and portions are satisfying. The international wine list is several pages long -- general manager Steffen Rau, a certified sommelier previously of Jean-George’s Vong restaurants in New York and Chicago, will gladly describe and offer advice on different pours.
Tuna jerk ($13) with coconut yucca cakes was outstanding. The barely-seared fish is wonderfully spicy, and accented with a tasty balsamic glaze, shallots and fresh spinach. The accompanying coconut yucca cakes are a nice foil for the fish.
A wild mushroom pancake ($11) was a delicious an unusual preparation of roasted portobellos, shiitakes, and creminis mixed into pancake batter and fried on the grill. Served with balsamic syrup and sun-dried tomato butter, this dish is rich and substantial.
On a previous visit, our favorite starter was duck confit cakes ($10). It had a texture and consistency similar to crab cakes, but instead of shellfish there was rich, earthy duck with a cool, refreshing mango cole slaw.
Calamari ($9) are crusted with blue corn, served with Spanish sherry aioli and chipotle lime vinaigrette, and grilled hot and sweet fruit salsa. Clams ($12) are roasted with garlic and sautéed with red chili corn broth.
Skillet-seared barbecue-spiked jumbo shrimps ($15) are accompanied by rock shrimp potato salad and chipotle cocktail sauce. Mussels ($11) are braised with chorizo sausage and served with tomato and saffron broth and shrimp crostini. The tapas platter ($18) with cheeses, prosciutto, olives, roasted peppers and tomatoes is big enough for at least three people.
Fresh Florida dolphin ($27) grilled with fresh sage was wonderfully smoky and moist with mango chutney providing a sweet-and-sour foil, and plantain stuffing with lobster gravy adding depth to the dish.
Duck is what “duck, duck, duck ” is all about: A trio of seared breast moist on the inside, and just-right crispy on the outside, a leg confit with a wild mushroom stuffing - a bit dry and bland, and foie gras.
For those who enjoy game, there’s a venison chop ($32) seasoned with red chilies, and served with venison sausage, baby baked potatoes, and wilted spinach. Lamb chops ($38) are marinated in chimichuri. Other selections are grilled pork tenderloin (25); barbecue-spiked filet mignon, ($36); New York strip ($38); and a shellfish stew in saffron broth ($30).
Desserts by pastry chef Malka Espinel offer innovative twists on traditional favorites. Three berry crème brûlée pot pie ($8) was a rich, thick version of the classic, with macadamia graham crumb crust and fresh raspberries, blueberries and whipped cream.
Layers of lemon pound cake, cheesecake and mousse ($8) served with rosemary cream was refreshing, yet rich and luscious. Other desserts include chocolate cake with caramel, bananas and peanut butter mousse ($9); key lime soufflé frozen pie ($8); and chocolate cake with caramel, bananas and peanut butter mousse.
Johnny V’s is sophisticated and appealing, with imaginative and well-prepared food, a large and interesting selection of wines, cognacs, cordials, and grappa. Oh, and there are also those wonderful cheeses…. Definitely a place to go.