YOLO, Fort Lauderdale
Address:333 East Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Fri. 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Sat. noon-midnight
Sun. noon-10 p.m.
Liquor: Full bar, wide variety of wines by the glass
Prices: Appetizers $4-$9.50; entrees $11.50-$30; desserts $7
Ambiance: Urban casual
Service: Professional & attentive
Credit cards: All major
Yolo, Fort Lauderdale
Stylishly festive, fun, and unpretentious, with flavorful food
simply yet creatively prepared.
By Jana Soeldner Danger
It’s a weekday evening, and even though the sky is overcast and the air is sultry, the wide, pleasant patio at YOLO in Fort Lauderdale is filling up quickly. At one table, three young women in colorful sundresses sip tall, frosty cocktails. At another, two businessmen conversing over martinis have stripped off their sport coats and draped them over the backs of their chairs. Off to one side, long, comfortable benches paired with mini tables made from chunks of unpolished stone accommodate several groups clad in shorts and tee shirts. A fire pit adds to the ambience.
Inside the restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard, the bar is buzzing and the main dining room is bustling.
Clustered branches accent a décor of red, gold, and deep brown. Comfortable, cushioned banquettes flank tables decked with white cloths topped by butcher paper, where servers stamp the nightly specials. The showpiece of the space is an open kitchen with a wood-burning, copper-hooded grill fueled from stacks of hardwood piled in front of it.
Since it opened last fall, YOLO (which stands for You Only Live Once, or, alternatively, You’re On Las Olas) has become a gathering place for Fort Lauderdale’s downtown professionals and others in search of food, drinks and fun. Its success, even in a faltering economy, is due not to trend, but to the sound combination of creatively prepared food, approachable prices, and stylish surroundings.
Chef Peter Boulukos and his partner, Tim Petrillo, worked for three years with Chef Mark Militello (Mark’s Place and Mark’s Las Olas) before striking out on their own in 1997. Their first venture was Himmarshee Bar & Grill, which served as a catalyst for the regentrification of Fort Lauderdale’s historic Himmarshee Village District. Two years later and two doors down, they launched Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle, a successful concept they eventually expanded to a location in Coral Gables. The partners also acquired the River House restaurant adjacent to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
YOLO opened in October 2008, housed in the space formerly occupied by the Las Olas Brasserie. The single-page menu features mainly contemporary American fare with Mediterranean and Asian accents. In addition to the list of bottles, more than 40 wines are available by the glass. Service is prompt and attentive.
We began with a refreshingly cool, creative seafood salad ($9). Frim, flavorful grilled shrimp, clams and mussels, lightly chewy calamari, and octopus made butter-tender by slow simmering, are paired with tomatoes, red peppers, olives, and capers, and dressed with lemon parsley oil. The varied flavors and textures, along with the impeccable freshness of the ingredients, create a dish that is light yet satisfying, perfect for a sultry summer evening.
Szechuan calamari ($9.50), on the other hand, packs a generous amount of heat. The hefty portion is fried to wonderful crispiness in a spicy garlic miso sauce that wakes your palate without leaving you breathless. Chopped peanuts add extra crunch to this addictive snack.
Other appetizers include meatball sliders ($4); tuna sashimi ($8); chorizo queso fundido ($9); and housemade potato chips ($9.50) with truffle oil and blue cheese.
On the night we visited, one of the specials was farm-raised trout. The thin, delicate filets were lightly char-grilled and dressed only with lemon and butter. The simple, unaffected preparation was just right, allowing the fresh taste of the fish to star on the plate. Fresh corn grilled with curry butter was an interesting accompaniment.
Saffron linguine ($19.50) was a colorful and delicious mix of fresh grilled shrimp, crisp-tender broccolini, roasted peppers, and chopped fresh tomatoes and onions, accented with olives and pungent feta cheese. A light golden sauce bathed the el dente pasta. The contrasting flavors of savory shrimp, sweet, fresh vegetables, tart olives, and salty feta along with the slightly bitter taste and grassy fragrance of the saffron combined beautifully, and the bright hues made the dish as appealing to look at as it was to eat.
Other entrees are grouper Provençal ($24); rotisserie chicken ($16); prime rib ($28); roasted salmon ($23); center cut filet ($30); barbecued pork ribs $24); and a vegetable plate ($12). In addition, the menu contains a section of burgers and sandwiches ($11.50-$17.50).
What lover of cream pies hasn’t wrestled with choosing between coconut and banana? Chef Boulukos eliminates the dilemma by combining them, resulting in a rich, creamy concoction of firm bananas, flaky coconut, and creamy custard made with rich coconut milk, in a crunchy crust of graham crackers and cashews.
All deserts are $7 each, and are traditional American favorites: bread pudding, carrot cake, fresh berries with key lime custard, and a chocolate cookie ice cream sandwich.
Bustling YOLO may not be the place for a quiet, romantic date, but it does offer a dining experience that is stylishly festive, fun, and unpretentious, as well as fresh, flavorful food that is simply yet creatively prepared. It is also a great place for people-watching.