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Dining scene: From lamb loin to marshmallows on a skewer

What's happening in food and dining around South Florida.


620 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale 954-523-5767,

Despite generating a huge buzz after opening his chic, contemporary Italian spot in August, Giovanni Rocchio still wasn't content, so he hired chef de cuisine Daniel Tackett to "bring Valentino to the next level," he says. "Different styles, same flavor profile."

Don't worry. Rocchio still is handcrafting his stunning pastas, while Tackett focuses on entrees, such as lamb loin with red quinoa, almonds, black trumpet mushrooms and pea puree ($38). It's an example of the type of molecular technique he occasionally uses to achieve unusual textures but restores the presentation so it doesn't actually look deconstructed – a balance of traditional and radical approaches.

"I want it to be familiar and comfortable," says Tackett, who worked at the likes of Alto in New York City. "I tend to use the same flavors and overlap them in different notes, building layers with subtlety that pops in your mouth."

His other highlights are black sea bass with broccoli, fregola pasta and saffron mussel emulsion and branzino with romesco puree, fiddlehead ferns and zucchini (both $38).

Tackett isn't the only chef from New York whom Rocchio recently hired. Pastry whiz Juan Espinoza is adding desserts such as vanilla yogurt panna cotta and budino of dark-chocolate mousse and hazelnut cream (both $12).

Mixologists have their own updates: Red Chill with tequila, gin, blood orange, jalapeno, St. Germain liqueur and What a Pear with pear-infused cognac, ginger extract, pear purée and Champagne (both $14).

Grateful Palate

817 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-467-1998,

A few months after acquiring its liquor license and launching a cocktail list, this cozy upscale restaurant has debuted a round of new selections.

Start with a twist on a classic — fried fresh mozzarella stuffed with artichoke pesto with balsamic glaze ($16), or perhaps Asian duck meatballs ($9) and bison sliders with crispy pancetta, pepper-jack cheese and avocado aioli ($10).

"Our menu is internationally inspired, so I'm always looking to incorporate different flavors from around the world," says executive chef Hector Lopez. "The new dishes keep in tune with this philosophy, offering a sense of adventure but still being approachable."

From the Mediterranean comes pan-seared sea bass with lemon-pepper beurre blanc and eggplant escabeche ($28), from Italy, osso buco with blue-cheese polenta and caramelized fennel ($28) and from India, tandoori veal lollipops with curry shoestring fries and pear tzatziki ($27).

Save your last bite for the Indulgence, a layered tower of mango sorbet, coconut ice cream, passion-fruit curd and brûléed meringue ($10).

Grateful Palate evolved to dinner-only after opening as a market, deli and lunch spot five years ago.

Lucille's Bad to the Bone BBQ

3011 Yamato Road, Boca Raton, 561-997-9557,

This down-home stop in Regency Court plaza has put the finishing touches on a makeover that began after the New Year.

"We are very fortunate to have many long-term customers who eat with us multiple times a week, and the feedback that we got was that after 18 years, they would like to see the interior spruced up and updated . . . and they were right," says owner Craig Larson.

The most obvious change is the barn-red walls painted over the old dark mustard, but nearly everything was revitalized down to the takeout counter and restrooms. Industrial metal light fixtures have become a focal point, and new tables and chairs spruce up inside and outdoor seating, including eight more booths. Five new TVs make a total of 11, and a new awning graces the patio. A large Shell sign blazes inside, a souvenir that Larson found discarded at a North Carolina gas station during a road trip. "We actually tied it to the roof and drove it back to Florida," he says.

Half-rack baby-back ribs for $9.99 on Saturdays has been added to the daily promotions, and tableside s'mores ($7.99) now complement bestsellers of pulled pork sandwiches ($8.99) and crispy chicken salad ($10.99).

"We actually bring a miniature grill to the table along with marshmallows on a skewer, chocolate bars and graham crackers and let the guests build their own . . . lots of fun!" says Larson.

Max's Grille

404 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton, 561-368-0080,

It's that time again.

A few months after unveiling a $250,000 face lift, this 21-year-old venerable darling of Mizner Park has brought back its weekday $10 lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the spring and summer.

The eight options, with a choice of kettle chips, a cup of soup, or a salad, consist of half sandwiches, a margherita flat bread and a BLT quesadilla with goat cheese and poblano crema.

Sandwich options are ahi tuna salad pita; shrimp salad pita with lemon-caper aioli; roast beef on multi-grain with horseradish aioli; BLT-style Santa Fe turkey wrap with chipotle ranch; and chicken salad on multi-grain bread. There's also a soup-and-Caesar salad combo.

Jumbo shrimp scampi with lemon-herb gnocchi, asparagus, leeks and roasted tomato is being introduced on the regular menu ($27). "What makes this dish different is the gnocchi — they are oversized and soft, pillow-like dumplings made from fresh ricotta cheese from Mozzarita in Pompano Beach . . . seared golden brown," says executive chef Patrick Broadhead.

The new Crancello martini blends citrus vodka, limoncello and cranberry syrup ($12). Ladies nights on Wednesdays features $8 glasses of Veuve Clicquot and $3 house cocktails.

Email news to or send to John Tanasychuk, Sun Sentinel, 500 E. Broward Blvd., Suite 900, 9th floor, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33394.

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