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"Without the freedom to criticize, there is no worthy praise." Beaumarchais
Cero, with Executive Chef Toby Joseph at the helm, is an outstanding addition to the South Florida dining scene with plenty of culinary “ wow” factors, and a fabulous view of the Atlantic.
By Jana Soeldner Danger
Understated elegance is the watchword at Cero, signature restaurant at the Ritz Carlton (formerly the St. Regis) Resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach. While local seafood and citrus are prominent, the menu also includes ingredients from around the country, prepared using contemporary French cooking styles. Executive Chef Toby Joseph also focuses on environmentally friendly ingredients such as sustainable seafood and organic poultry.
A neutral color palette of beige upholstery and chocolate woods and wickers, along with marble floors and linen tablecloths in soft ivories are the backdrop for a fabulous ocean view. Outdoor seating under a covered lanai is available, but large expanses of glass bring the view into the dining room so you feel almost as if you are outside even when you not. A small, intimate dining room adjacent to the main indoor space is available for groups of approximately 10.
Cero is one of the few places left in South Florida with a dress code. While jackets and ties for men are not required, gentlemen are expected to wear long pants, collared shirts and closed shoes. For women, tailored pants or dresses are suggested. Thus, unlike many other places in the area, Cero offers an opportunity to dress up a bit without feeling out of place, which is a refreshing change.
While Cero is elegant, it is not stuffy, with service that is both professional and friendly. The wine list is extensive and somewhat pricey. On Thursday evenings, there is live jazz in the adjacent lounge, and the soft, romantic sounds waft into the dining room.
Shortly after you sit down, a server brings a basket holding several varieties of warm, delicious bread and sweet butter. More of both are readily offered throughout the meal.
We began with a heavenly, wonderfully creamy saffron risotto ($18) laced with very fresh, perfectly cooked shrimp. The accompanying petite mache salad dressed with tangerine vinaigrette added texture and refreshing coolness. My dining partner, who has never before liked risotto, gave it high marks. Escolar ($14), or white tuna, marinated ceviche-like in ginger was paired with thinly sliced cucumbers and shaved mangos. Spicy red curry paste effectively juxtaposed the cool, refreshing crunch of the fruits and vegetables with just enough heat to add bite to the fish. Other starters include ciliegini mozzarella ($14); prawn cocktail ($16); cream of lobster and she-crab ($14); sashimi bluefin tuna and hamachi ($14); salmon and beef tartare ($16); kumamoto oysters ($18); gnocchi with heirloom tomatoes ($16); and sirloin carpaccio ($14).
A crust of pink peppercorns added crunch and heat to a filet of sockeye salmon ($34). While the rich flavored fish tasted very fresh with coriander adding a subtle duskiness, it was slightly overpowered by the peppercorns.
Perhaps the star of an altogether delectable meal was a luxuriously decadent special: pan-seared diver scallops with foie gras and caviar, dressed with beurre blanc. The melt-in-your mouth texture and earthiness of the fois gras was just short of heaven with the pop of the rich caviar a step above heaven on the perfectly seared fresh, firm and meaty scallops. The dish was incredibly good.
Other entrees include poached Maine lobster ($48); roasted yellowtail snapper ($36); swordfish ($36); seared blue fin tuna ($38); halibut with fois gras essence($38); grilled striploin ($46); pineapple-stuffed pork chop ($38) and roasted hen ($32).
We ended our culinary adventure with some of Cero’s legendary desserts, delicious and playful. Crème brûlée ($12) arrived encased in spun sugar so it appeared on the plate looking like a Christmas ornament. House-made beignets injected with chocolate cappuccino and white chocolate foam were warm, sweet and wonderful, and the accompanying chocolate sandwich cookies filled with vanilla ice cream were a cooling foil.
A key lime lollipop ($12) was tart and refreshing, while a white chocolate and graham cracker coating added sweetness and crunch. Fresh caramelized peaches bathed in a rose champagne reduction and accented with macadamias and pralines were sweetly delicious, with complementary soft and crunchy textures.
Cero, with Executive Chef Toby Joseph at the helm, is an outstanding addition to the South Florida dining scene. While somewhat pricey, it offers plenty of wow factors to make up for it, including a fabulous view of the Atlantic. If you want to visit on a budget, try ordering just hors d’oeuvres and dessert. Visit on a Thursday, and you can dine to the sultry sounds of live jazz. Summer, with its slower pace, is the perfect time.