Prosciutto grilled cheese

Prosciutto grilled cheese with fig jam and Stilton at Patio Delray. (Courtesy / Nelson Karakunnel / July 5, 2012)

Overall impression: Patio Delray already had a head start by occupying the location of the old Pineapple Grill in Delray Beach. It's lush and secluded, with a welcoming, covered outdoor patio area and a light, airy ambience to create the basis for a relaxed dining experience. With such a venue, all that was needed was the addition of top-quality, imaginative cuisine and impeccable service. Patio Delray more than delivers.

You pass through the densely enclosed, tropical patio to the front door, where the elegant owner and manager, Lily Buchheit, offers you a choice -- to the left is a large, comfortable bar, perfect for sharing a cocktail with friends (or eating an entire meal, if you prefer), and to the right is the dining room, painted in cheerful colors and decorated with art photography.

While perusing the menu, you can enjoy one of Patio Delray's signature cocktails. The lychee martini ($14) is redolent with exotic fruit and is ephemeral on the tongue. The French 75 ($19, a concoction of prosecco and cognac) is named for an artillery piece but packs a much subtler punch. A complimentary plate of warm, seasoned pita with a dollop of sun-dried tomato tapenade appears, and you find yourself settling into a soul-restoring tranquillity.


PHOTOS: 2013 Billboard Latin Music Awards

Starters: The offerings at Patio Delray are not cheap, but you get your money's worth. The emphasis is on freshness and locally produced ingredients. The dishes are artfully presented, and they reflect some truly creative thinking on the part of the chef, Charles Schlienger. We strongly suggest the home-made seasonal pate ($12), slices of which arrive on a narrow, oblong plate with Dijon mustard and sweet, hot relish condiments, along with toasted slabs of baguette. The flavor is complex and dense. The tuna avocado tartare ($14) is a generous portion of cubed, raw tuna intermixed with chopped cilantro, then presented with a large smear of avocado lime creme. The key to the success of this dish is the use of very fresh, sushi-grade tuna. The Florida blue-crab cake ($14) soft-pedals the flavor, but that keeps it from overpowering the bed of sweet pickle remoulade, which is an equal player in this performance.

Entrée excellence: The seared ahi tuna ($28) is a must for fish lovers. The waiter properly asks how you wish the interior to be cooked. If rare, you'll enjoy the full drama of the sweet fish contrasted with the coriander-and-cilantro-herbed crust. The slabs of tuna rest against a mound of fig tabbouleh, which is the kind of combination you would never dream of trying at home, but which works, fabulously, in combination with the tuna and the tartness of the mandarin aioli sauce accompaniment. The chicken or shrimp Alfredo ($19 and $24, respectively) is not thick and cloying as Alfredo sauces can be, and incorporates imaginative ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus in crumbled bleu cheese. If you've always loved Alfredo sauce, but are tired of it, this is a fresh look at an old tradition. For beef lovers, we recommend the braised short rib ($30), which is a big success at every level. The juicy rib, as it should be, has been slow-prepared to practically dissolve in your mouth. But it's the accompaniment that is truly exceptional -- a wild mushroom risotto infused with blue cheese, which delivers the insistence of flavor needed to counter the heavy sauce of the braised meat. The whole dish comes together like a well-crafted orchestration.

Sweet! All the desserts are home-made. Don't miss the white-chocolate-chunk brownie ($9), an outcropping of rich, dark chocolate with a warm center that oozes forth to slowly invade the pile of whipped cream off to the side. It's large and can be shared by four. The Nutella crème brulee ($8) is billed as Patio Delray's signature dessert. It's expertly crafted, but if you are a connoisseur of crème brulee, you will find the inclusion of the hazelnut Nutella intriguing, while not necessarily an improvement on the classic.

Service: Friendly, unobtrusive and attentive. Lily Buchheit stops by your table several times during the evening to make sure your experience is flawless. This personal treatment is an important component of the entire dining experience at Patio Delray.

 

Patio Delray

800 Palm Trail, Delray Beach

561-279-0880, Patiodelray.com

Cuisine: Eclectic

Cost: Expensive

Hours: Dinner nightly, lunch weekdays, brunch on weekends

Reservations: Preferred, particularly for large parties

Credit cards: All

Bar: Full service

Sound level: Can be loud in the dining room.

Outside smoking: Yes

Parking: Lot immediately adjacent

Kids: Booster seats, highchairs, and a children's menu available

Deals: Happy hour 5-7 weekdays, with reduced-price drinks and small plates starting at $5

Insider tip: The patio is pet-friendly.