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"Without the freedom to criticize, there is no worthy praise." Beaumarchais
By Jana Soeldner Danger
At Milk & Honey Café, you can order from the one-page, creative menu that changes weekly. Or you can do what many guests do—ask chef-owner Tim Boyd to cook for you according to what his imagination dictates.
Boyd and his staff devise the weekly menu depending on what’s fresh in the markets. “The menu gives me a framework,” the chef says. “I think of it as palate board like the sample board an interior designer might give to a client. A lot of people prefer to do tastings, and I enjoy cooking different things for different people. We don’t have written recipes.”
Boyd and his wife Lara decorated the sophisticated, understated interior of the intimate dining room themselves. Dark wood wainscoting and furnishings contrast with the crisp, snowy white cloths topping nicely spaced tables that glow with candlelight in the evenings. At the back of the room is a small bar.
The restaurant’s name comes from an Old Testament passage in Exodus about reaching the Promised Land. It seemed appropriate, Tim says, for a restaurant that fulfilled a longtime dream for him and his wife.
Tim grew up in California; Lara is a native Floridian, and the cuisine at Milk & Honey reflects elements of both regions. On the advice of the chef at his first restaurant job who recognized his creativity and love for good food, Tim attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Before coming to Florida, he worked under chefs such as Jean Francois at L’Orangerie in Los Angeles and Jeremiah Towers and Mark Fanz at Stars in San Francisco.
The cuisine at Milk & Honey is creative without being overly complicated. It is relatively light, yet full of robust flavors
The hot bread that arrives shortly after you are seated is hot, crusty and delicious. It is accompanied by high-quality sweet butter that stands out from the ordinary. (If you enjoy premium butters, you’ll like this.) A well-chosen wine list offers varied selections and fair prices.
We opted to let the chef make dinner choices for us, and we were very glad we did. Our first dish was impeccably fresh Ahi tuna, crisply crusted with coriander. The accompanying cucumbers, fresh asparagus tips and sweet-tart oranges were a cooling and colorful complement that was ideal on a steamy summer evening.
A crab salad dressed with olive oil was a delicious mix of tender shellfish barely coated with flour and sautéed to light crispiness, then mixed with fresh greens, plump tomatoes and gorgonzola. The mild crab and the more strongly flavored cheese were an interesting and successful pairing, with the vegetables adding varied textures.
Perhaps the most impressive dish of the evening was the buttery, fresh local grouper. Lightly pan-fried to perfection, the flesh was firm and flaky, with the meaty texture and mild yet rich flavor that is the hallmark of this Florida fish at its best. Accented with spicy red pepper sauce, the grouper was served with fresh, tender-crisp, bright green asparagus tips and hearty black-caviar lentils simmered with butter, chicken stock and roasted peppers. The dish was a whimsical playground of flavors and textures, and the color combinations were definitely a delight to the eye. Yet none of it detracted from the fish itself.
An earthy cabernet demi-glace reduction sauce added pizzazz to a perfectly grilled filet mignon. The tender beef, with a charred exterior and a moist, flavorful interior, was served atop of a crispy, golden potato croquette. The slightly bitter flavor and softer texture of roasted turnips provided an interesting contrast to the crunch and peppery seasoning of the croquette, while sweet-tart apple chutney was a cool, refreshing complement to all of it.
For a sweet ending, our server brought a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream encased in crispy crushed hazelnuts, then coated with deep, dark chocolate, and garnished with fresh strawberries. It was quite delicious.
Starters on a recent menu included Maryland blue crab cake ($11); crab spring roll ($10); duck quesadilla ($11); back sesame seared tuna ($13); and seared foie gras ($19), as well as a selection of interesting salads.
A sampling of the entrees: chicken and penne carbonara ($21); linguini with vegetable Espanola ($18); fontina-stuffed chicken breast ($25); duck with lavender ($29); togarachi-crusted salmon ($28); and veal scaloppini ($26).
For dessert ($7), you might choose from passion fruit pie, chocolate soufflé, vanilla crème brule, chocolate bomb, or chocolate layer cake.
Milk & Honey is a small jewel tucked away in an unassuming location. Those who seek it out will be rewarded with a memorable and adventurous dining experience.