First impression: The message is unspoken, yet consistently communicated — from the location off the lobby of a high-end Delray Beach hotel to the enormous built-in aquariums filled with silently gliding marine life, to the muted decor and intimate semi-circular booths, and lighting so subdued you send a prayer of thanks for the flashlight feature on a smart phone that enables you to read the menu. That message: "We're quiet and elegant. We're confident, competent professionals. Put yourselves in our hands, and we'll deliver a top-notch restaurant experience without drama or intrusion."
It's not that the Atlantic Grille, located in the Seagate Hotel just a block from the ocean, doesn't provide a little reasonable spice, if that's what you're searching for. A large, convivial bar occupies one corner, with a comfortably furnished terrace overlooking bustling Atlantic Avenue, and the piano-lounge singer gives way, at later hours, to a low-volume band that presides over a postage-stamp dance floor.
As for the food, it's freshly and innovatively prepared. The service is friendly, helpful, observant and unobtrusive. The Atlantic Grille is as conducive to a romantic dinner as it is to a party of six. The evening belongs to the diners, and the restaurant's sole purpose is to make it a smashing success.
All this comes at a hefty price, but we would be remiss at the outset not to mention an excellent prix-fixe three-course menu ($35 per person Fridays and Saturdays, and $60 for two the rest of the week that includes a bottle of wine). Its components can also be ordered a la carte. From it, we chose a grilled cold-asparagus salad appetizer with Vidalia onions, cherry tomatoes and Gorgonzola cheese. It was ample, flavorful and artfully presented in a long, narrow plate positioned perpendicularly to the diner. One of the entrees, a shrimp-and-three-cheese polenta with bacon, chives and broccoli rabe, was particularly notable for the polenta base: It was saturated with cheddar, Parmesan and cream cheese, and the generous amount of shrimp was sweet and tender. From the dessert section, we chose chocolate "tiramisu," which is in quotes because it had very little to do with classic tiramisu except the name. It was a perfectly adequate chocolate mousse, nonetheless. Considering the venue and the quality of the cuisine, this special menu is one of the best values to be had anywhere in the area.
Starters: If you're a connoisseur of crispy fried calamari, this is one not to miss ($10). Somehow, the chef managed to keep the calamari plump and moist without sacrificing the requisite crunchiness. It's served, imaginatively, with an Asian plum sauce. The Mediterranean hummus plate ($8) is great for sharing, and beautifully presented. A huge sheet of Asiago flatbread rears vertically from a dollop of homemade hummus, accompanied by roasted sweet red and yellow pepper slices and Kalamata olives, as well as a small salad. Dice-size chunks of feta cheese festoon the plate. The flawless Caesar salad ($9) is classically prepared (though not at the table … why intrude?)
Entrée excellence: Here's a representative menu description: "Crispy snapper on warm panzanella salad of olive-oil-toasted croutons, roasted red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, tomato and arugula in red-wine vinaigrette ($28)." It's quite a mouthful, and so is the food. We discovered that the secret to the incredibly succulent snapper is that it is pan-seared, and then finished in the oven to retain its juices. It's a delight for seafood lovers. If red meat is what you crave, go for the 8-ounce filet mignon ($36). It's melt-in-your-mouth, and comes with a grilled portobello mushroom, creamed spinach and steak fries.
The sea scallops ($29) were also pan-seared to retain juiciness and rich flavor, and shared the plate with a drizzle of sweet dipping sauce, grilled artichoke hearts, a celery-root onion puree and mushrooms — all of which balanced the delicacy of the scallops without overpowering them.
Sweet! We recommend the apple tart ($9), which is the perfect ending for a rich meal because of its understated simplicity. It consists of a minuscule amount of pastry and a lot of warm apple slices with almost none of the syrupy binding filler you'd expect. The burden of sweetness is carried by a large scoop of vanilla ice cream to one side, which enables the diner or sharer to control its intensity. It's a clever counterpoint of a dessert that, like everything else about the Atlantic Grille, never intrudes.
1000 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach
Summer hours: Dinner daily. Brunch on weekends
Reservations: Recommended, especially for large parties
Credit cards: All except Discover
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: The terrace offers full service, but smoking is not allowed.
For kids: Children's menu, highchairs and booster seatsCopyright © 2015, South Florida