A recent evening at Oceans 234 in Deerfield Beach was like so many dates from our youth: a gorgeous exterior, long silences, some wonderful moments and, at the end of the night, some less-than-skillful touches.
Oceans 234 first opened in 2002 in a vibrant location along the bend between Ocean and Hillsboro boulevards, where tourists and condo residents congregate to drink, stroll the pier and play volleyball. You'd be doing yourself a disservice by not requesting an outside table, from where you can take in the view of the shore. The floor of the outdoor area runs along a colored stone path, and, while elevated from the sand, it's not too high, keeping you connected with the scene.
The interior of the restaurant is also impressive, with a beach-casual yet polished motif featuring gray-blue walls, white crown molding and high ceilings painted a reddish wood color. At nighttime, Oceans 234 turns into something of a nightclub, with occasional themed dance nights. In each of the small bathrooms, a courteous attendant squirts soap in your hands and offers you candy. While it might have been more appropriate during a late evening visit, giving a nearly unavoidable tip felt like overkill in the early dining hours. You'll also pony up $3 for valet parking, but that didn't feel unfair, given the busy, parking-sparse area.
In February, the restaurant announced the appointment of a new executive chef, Victor Franco, who retooled the menu and added a new set of in-house desserts.
Being at the beach, we started off with a few cocktails from Oceans' tropical list. We recommend the excellent mojito ($11.95), which was nicely balanced and not oversweet like those served at most touristy spots. Voodoo juice ($10), with fruit juice and three kinds of fruit-flavored rum, is one of those sweet, get-drunk-easy drinks that's perfect for a hot day.
The good spirit of the drinks began to diminish as we waited an agonizing 40 minutes for our first appetizer. Our server, who acted rushed from the beginning, apologized profusely, but inexpertly asked, "Is there anything I can do?" rather than offer a salad or some other specific item to keep our bowels from eating themselves. Later, she seemingly disappeared, and it was the hostess who finally brought our sushi roll from the bar while forgetting our twice-asked-for eel sauce. Adding to our displeasure, two separate servers accidentally whacked our pregnant guest's chair, a consequence of the tightly packed tables outside.
Arriving at last, the volcano roll with conch, masago, cucumber, avocado and "baked seafood dynamite" ($14) was a pleasant roll with a hearty taste coming from the crowd-pleasing topper. The deluxe spicy roll with tuna, crab and tempura flakes ($11) was slightly hotter than the typical spicy tuna roll, but it was enjoyable.
By quick acclimation, the highlight of our appetizers was the breaded calamari ($12), which features a honey-balsamic glaze and an exceptional roasted-red-pepper relish that puts any marinara dipping sauce to shame. However, tempura firecracker shrimp ($11) with scallions and sriracha aioli was a flop, with its unpleasant, mushy texture, small shrimp and overpowering hot-sauce flavor. While we loved the red-pepper flavor of the calamari, it didn't work at all with the jumbo lump crab cake ($14), which is an unpleasantly hair-raising concoction of corn-cucumber relish, red-pepper coulis and lemon remoulade.
As we moved on to entrees, the presentation of the lobster mac and cheese ($35) showed promise with the huge lobster tail perched atop the pasta. While the lobster was tasty on its own, the mac and cheese was a semi-watery mess, compounded by the choice of using fat rigatoni, causing the thin sauce to roll right off it.
Just as we were scowling at the mac and cheese, two outstanding entrees arrived to save the day. Shrimp and corn-crusted, locally caught snapper ($29) with mashed potatoes was tender, and coated with a lemon-butter sauce for which we would have paid good money to get the recipe. All-day short ribs ($24), a new item with mascarpone polenta, asparagus and baby carrots, fall apart in your mouth and have just the right amount of sauce to accompany but not overpower the meat. Creamy polenta was a perfect partner for these ribs.
The dessert menu here is on the touristy, straightforward side, and it's not executed in a particularly exciting way. Flan de leche ($7) was too jiggly and barely sweet. If you're in the mood for a particularly light-tasting dessert, it could work, but we didn't enjoy it. Lava cake was a decent effort, but the cake and chocolate filling were so subdued, we all agreed the vanilla ice cream took center stage. Baileys Irish Cream caramel cheesecake ($8) was a hulking piece of dessert with a nice, semi-crumbly interior, but like the other desserts, it wasn't sweet enough.
234 N. Ocean Blvd., Deerfield Beach, 33441
Cuisine: Seafood, sushi, American
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30-2 a.m. Friday, 11:30-3 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate-loud
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes