Review: Banyan Restaurant and Bar offers a knotty dining experience

Correspondent

 

★★

We grabbed our cocktails and moved from the LED, fuchsia-glowing, raucous bar and adjoining dining room to our patio table on a recent Friday night at Banyan Restaurant and Bar. As soon as we walked through the folding-glass doorway leading to the dimly lit terrace, the decibels dropped significantly. An employee indicated they were working on the acoustics, though I’m not sure how framed mirrors on the ceiling will help.

Adding to the interesting decor is a mix of busy, black-and-white, patterned wallpaper, red leather banquettes, Victorian-period acrylic chairs and crystal chandeliers channeling the Moulin Rouge more than the Pineapple Grove Arts District. I’m curious how this relates to the restaurant’s “new American eclectic” menu concept.

Cellphone flashlights hovering over menus illuminated patio tables. Squinting, we joined the crowd’s lead as our harried server informed us that the selection of mac trios ($14) was not available. “The chef didn’t like how it turned out,” he explained.

This accounted for an entire menu section of four items — truffle Parm, crab, classic Cheddar and lobster — and an entree. We were baffled as to why the kitchen wouldn’t remake it on a busy Friday night?

Relegated to the slider ($14) and taco ($14) trios, we started with an order of pollo, pescado and barbacoa tacos. Despite the mix of flavors from the accompanying teriyaki, cucumber-mango salsa, cabbage, yum yum sauce, cusabi and Asian noodles, it wasn’t enough to mask the overcooked chicken. Pescado combined a citrus mahi with pineapple salsa, lettuce, chipotle aioli and cojita. But the fish got lost in a sea of smokiness from the chipotle. The barbacoa with short rib, cilantro, rosada, cotija and crispy onion, was by far the best of the three. Other taco fillings include pork and shrimp.

Of the five slider trio offerings ($14), we opted for the Maryland crab cake, served with a remoulade, that could have benefited from a crisp, golden-brown crust to differentiate the texture of the cake’s soft center. Pulled pork got a lift from bittersweet slaw, crispy onion and jalapeno marmalade garnishes, but lacked salt. An easy fix, and a rather basic oversight.

Wrapping up the slider selection was a Kobe foie gras (a $12 supplement to the $14 trio) with Gruyere, arugula and white-truffle aioli. Truffle dominated the mini burger, overwhelming the delicate foie and beef. I’m not sure what was harder to swallow: the stale bun it was served on or the hefty upcharge. Meatball Parm and smoked portobello sliders are also options.

A pale, garlic-cauliflower flatbread ($12) with mozzarella and Parmesan lacked oomph. It needed a crispier crust and something as simple as a fresh herb or roasted garlic to bring it to life. Mango chutney served with blackened scallops ($16) wasn’t enough to balance the heavy-handed salt. Using fresh, tropical fruit would seem a natural South Florida choice for this condiment, although a mushiness hinted otherwise.

While our table was still filled with half-eaten appetizers, food runners appeared with our entrees. They stood tableside and wide-eyed as if we were to make space for them. Our server caught on, shooed them away and said, “It’s all a mess back there.” That’s not particularly how you want to envision the kitchen that is preparing your food. The server later blamed a faulty printer for the disorder, but we weren’t interested in excuses.

My fear of our entrees being held hostage under a heat lamp or flashed in a hot oven became a reality. Citrus-marinade mahi ($28) served with “wild rice,” seasonal vegetable and charred pineapple salsa arrived with mashed potatoes, which along with the fish, were dry and overcooked. The seasonal vegetable was asparagus. You can’t go wrong with a nice char on grilled veggies, but these black spears were lifeless.

Stout-braised short rib ($32) was rich and tasty, but sat in a broken puddle of stout reduction, likely from the excessive, indirect reheating. The texture of the boneless ribs was relatively unscathed, saved only by the dish’s fatty nature standing up to the heat. Also on the plate were garlic mashed potatoes, protected from the ribs that sat atop them, and the same asparagus noir.

Brick chicken ($26) suffered similar dehydrating, while the herb jus lié succumbed to the broken sauce syndrome. Typically known for its crispy browned skin and flattened appearance, this pale, plump bird didn’t appear to have touched a brick or any other form of weight.

I can turn a blind eye to white wine being served in balloon stemware or even empty water glasses on a busy night, but when dirty tables are left uncleared for extended periods of time, after the dinner rush, while management and wait staff chat it up in the middle of the dining room, I start to get a little antsy. As did my gracious dining partners, who collectively have over a half century of restaurant business experience in their Italian bloodlines.

We capped off the night with one of each of the verbal dessert menu ($7) offerings. The creme brulee cheesecake and the triple chocolate layer cake were overly sweet, and looked and tasted as if they had rolled off a mass-production line.

Prior to Banyan’s December opening, business partners and Delray Beach residents Joe LoRe and Miles Moriarty spent a year remodeling the space. LoRe, a native of North Jersey, garnered previous experience in restaurant operations and management in New York before relocating to South Florida. Moriarty grew up in his family’s restaurant business in New York. He went on to dabble in other professions before returning to the food industry in Delray Beach, where he met LoRe. The pair became friends while working at the Atlantic Grille in the Seagate Hotel and turned their mutual passion into their first solo venture. A banyan tree rooted at the front of the property stands strong and tall. Based on the restaurant’s managerial experience and infancy, I remain optimistic that they will take heed and the food and service will grow into itself and eventually anchor the restaurant.

Banyan Restaurant and Bar

189 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach

561-563-8871, BanyanDelray.com

Cuisine: New American

Cost: Expensive

Hours: Lunch and dinner

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full

Sound level: Loud

Outside smoking: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Street and garage across the street

Kids: Boosters and highchairs, kid-friendly items, no specific children’s menu

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