Highland Beach sits on a tiny stretch of A1A between Delray Beach and Boca Raton. It’s a speck of a town that encompasses a little more than 1 square mile. Blink, and you may miss the beachfront Delray Sands Resort, which was transformed in 2014 from a Holiday Inn. Now part of the Opal Collection of luxury hotels serving markets in Florida, New York and Maine, the boutique resort boasts 115 updated rooms and a notable restaurant to round out the experience. Helmed by executive chef James King, the oceanfront Latitudes is inspired by the sea at every turn, from decor to menus.
Modern touches of nautical blue and crisp white decorate the chic dining room, which is accentuated by a repetitive, effervescent pattern throughout. The restaurant’s attention to detail is apparent from the circular glass-cut doors to the ceramic tabletop candleholders. But the crown jewel, by far, is the spectacular, panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Just when I thought bread service had become a thing of the past, warm slices of black-olive baguettes, squishy leavened loaves topped with Vermont white cheddar and spreadable whipped butter, appeared while we were contemplating the menu. From the Chef’s Seafood Bar section, we ordered Crab Louis stuffed avocado ($21), to which King adds subtle twists. A generous mound of jumbo lump crab meat, boiled egg and just enough mayonnaise to hold its shape was hidden under a sliced half avocado. Palm hearts, asparagus, olives and baby tomatoes added freshness, while acidic tomato jam balanced and painted the plate. The dish disappeared all too quickly.
Ahi amarillo peppers added a Peruvian punch to the flavorful Grouper Ceviche Traditionale ($17). Kernels of boiled Peruvian corn, toasted corn nuts, or cancha, and balls of aromatic spiced sweet potatoes lay on a puddle of leche de tigre, a citrusy marinade.
My tablemates and I were a tad thrown off by the “scampi-style” description of the Maine lobster and shrimp ($17) under the Social Beginnings header. Another generous amount of crustaceans floated alongside English peas in a pool of garlicky lemon broth. Of course, it didn’t stop us from savoring the enriched stock by sopping it up with ciabatta toast. It just was not what we expected. Coupled with a salad, this could easily be a satisfying meal.
Alaskan king crab (market price), shrimp ($16) or lobster cocktail ($21), oysters ($17), tuna poke ($16) and tacos ($15) are also available from the seafood bar. From the warm appetizer side of the menu, you may want to dig in to the grilled octopus ($17), Point Judith calamari ($14), baked oysters ($17) or jumbo lump crab cakes ($17).
An extensive selection of main courses speaks to every taste, starting with “simply prepared fish.” Choose from six varieties — tuna, grouper, branzino, snapper, salmon, mahi — prepared with olive oil, lemon and salt. “Enhancements” include five relish and sauce offerings. Kudos to the chef for delivering perfectly cooked fish. A moist, sauteed Florida snapper ($30) enhanced with lemon-caper sauce left me fishing for more capers in the ramekin, but it was a tasty choice, nonetheless. Sides on this night included potato royale, which combined shredded potatoes, garlic and cream in a rich, baked cake; and an al dente vegetable mix of carrots, asparagus and broccoli rabe. My dining partner went with the other starch option, buttermilk mash, to pair with grilled mahi mahi ($29) and grilled sweet-corn fresca, another winner for its clean profile.
“Main Events” satisfy those in search of entrees closer to land, such as the Tanglewood all-natural chicken ($17) with sour orange and honey glaze; beef tenderloin ($39) with red-onion marmalade; or the pappardelle Bolognese ($24) with short rib, veal and Italian sausage gravy. A paper pouch breaks open to flaky, steamed branzino ($30) atop Israeli couscous, kalamata olives, roasted fennel, confit tomatoes and Meyer lemon. I forgot how much I enjoy this cooking method. Grateful for the reminder, I made a mental note to restock my pantry with parchment paper.
When it came time for desserts, the ship ran off course. Mini blueberry donuts ($7) were heavy with grease. The accompanying pistachio gelato had great nutty taste and smooth-as-silk texture, but a curdled lemon curd soured it. It was difficult to get past the overcooked, eggy espresso, vanilla and chocolate trio of crème brulee ($9), which was covered with a wimpy layer of burnt sugar. The summer berry tart ($9), vanilla custard in a graham crust topped with mixed berries and dehydrated pomegranate seeds, won best in show. I’m attributing the dessert snafu to an off night, change of staff or some sort of malfunction.
Latitudes remains a rare Palm Beach County oceanfront treasure that provides great food, reasonable prices and attentive service in a stylish yet comfortable setting. It’s an all-around great catch.
Delray Sands Resort
2809 S. Ocean Blvd., Highland Beach
561-278-2008 or LatitudesDelray.com
Cuisine: Emphasis on coastal cuisine, plus steaks, chops and pasta
Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; Sunday brunch
Credit cards: All major
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Valet $5
Kids: Kids’ menu, highchairs, booster seats