The last time I visited this spot, it was called Boston's Upper Deck. We sat on plastic chairs at plastic tables, and ate New England clam chowder and sturdy pasta and seafood dishes. That was nine years ago, when dinner and the most-amazing ocean view in Delray Beach cost about $20 per person.
The Upper Deck has been reborn as 50 Ocean. Gone are the plastic chairs and the balcony seating on Ocean Boulevard. There are now floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean, and balcony seating on the south side of the restaurant. Gone, too, are the $20 dinner tabs.
As I said when I reviewed the Upper Deck back in 2003: Put this place on your list of restaurants to take visitors. It will remind them of why you live in South Florida.
At prime time on a Friday night, the property was hopping. Along with 50 Ocean, the more-casual Boston's operates downstairs, and the adjoining Sandbar — open just a few weeks — boasts an outdoor tiki bar and a big crowd.
It took 10 minutes for the valet to park our car. Once upstairs, it took another 20 minutes before our table was ready. So much for reservations.
The delay gave us a chance to check out the renovation, handsome in dark woods with lots of contemporary touches. An area with sofas called the Hemingway Lounge is decorated with 10 black-and-white photos of the author. The bar top houses an aquarium. And if you get there before dark or on a moonlit night, the view of the ocean is incredible.
Once we were seated, the restaurant was loud. "Is it possible to put lipstick on a pig?" I asked our waitress.
She laughed, and said that after nine years on staff, she's proud to be serving "the best menu" she's ever seen.
Chef Paul Slover kept the seafoody/New England touches, but you won't find clam chowder here. It's been replaced with the more-sophisticated lobster bisque ($10). Slover does crispy, whole-belly clams ($16), but here they're served with Asian slaw, red-pepper creme and Key lime tartar.
Classic iceberg wedge salad ($9) is nicely updated with papaya ranch, citrus segments and cubes of watermelon along with toasted almonds and Gorgonzola. Crispy lobster and crab cake ($15) comes with pickled ginger remoulade and apple-and-fennel salad. The menu veers toward bar food with dishes such as fried-duck-confit egg rolls ($13) served with spicy currant jelly and crispy Asian slaw.
Daily entree specials may include a crispy-skinned pompano ($32) with citrus-beurre blanc. It's served with a wonderful "hash" of potatoes and asparagus. Roasted garlic and thyme-cream-sauced, potato-crusted grouper ($32) is also a delight. It's plated with truffled cauliflower puree and asparagus.
Surf and turf ($48) combines a grilled Maine lobster tail and a grilled fillet mignon with roasted-garlic Yukon gold puree, asparagus and grilled-corn salsa.
The restaurant offers plenty of nonseafood options, including pan-roasted chicken breast ($25), rum-glazed Berkshire pork chop ($29) and excellent Wagyu beef-skirt steak ($34). Char-grilled and tender, the beef comes with mocha demi-glace, fried onions and an interesting goat-cheese cake.
Dessert was the weakest part of the meal. The miniature flights of cake ($9) — strawberry shortcake, black forest, tiramisu and carrot — somehow all tasted the same. Banana-tarte tatin ($8) with rum sauce and vanilla ice cream tasted burnt, with hard, chewy edges.
So skip dessert and head down to the Sandbar, which was packed nearly elbow-to-elbow during our visit.
It's the place to be if you miss the old Upper Deck days.
email@example.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.
40 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach
Cuisine: Contemporary American/seafood
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 valet weekdays, $8 Friday through Sunday