Robin Seger and Patrick Farnault, the couple behind Sugar Reef, have succeeded for 19 years by offering something distinct on the Hollywood Broadwalk: consistency, refinement and top-notch service.
It's almost hard to believe that Sugar Reef sits just down the street from beer buckets and live rock 'n' roll, tequila and a Latin crooner. But you leave the honky-tonk behind once you cross the threshold into Sugar Reef's mosaic-filled dining room. There's a big marlin mounted over the bar. The walls are painted turquoise and orange. I supposed you'd call the decor Key West.
For those who want to revel in the crowds, there are tables at the edge of the Broadwalk. I much prefer inside, where it was clear we were sitting with locals instead of tourists. And I'm guessing it's those locals who love the warm welcome and solicitous service rarely found these days. An automatic 18 percent gratuity is added, by the way. It's well earned, and printed in red on each check.
While the menu has a few tropical elements — jerk shrimp ($13.50), Jamaican-style pork loin ($22.50) — it veers more toward crowd-pleasing continental with a few French detours: escargot ($9.50), blackened scallops ($15.50), bouillabaisse with coconut milk and green curry ($25) , roast duck ($29.50) and pasta ($12.50-$26) in many different forms.
If I have one problem with Sugar Reef, it's the timidity shown in the kitchen. It's not that dishes need salt, it's that they need more oomph. I realize this may be personal preference, but the seasoning is so restrained that I have to believe others leave with the same feeling. Especially since we live in a world of big flavors.
Our waiter, for instance, warned me that the seafood gumbo ($25) was spicy. Spicy? It was delicious, but I didn't taste much spice at all. Filet mignon was simply grilled and a decent cut of meat, but the accompanying peppercorn sauce lacked character. Sugar Reef also offers red wine and chimichurri sauces.
A special thyme-herb-crusted grouper ($32) was beautifully executed, and here, I think the meek seasoning worked. It was all about the quality of the fillet.
We started our meal with "spicy sauteed calamari" ($12). It was tasty, but again, hardly spicy. Roasted fennel salad ($11.50) with fresh oranges and Kalamata olives is a fresh citrusy way to begin. Steamed mussels ($14) with white wine were good, but we didn't find ourselves wanting to sop up the broth with bread. Perhaps the green-curry-and-coconut-milk preparation would be more flavorsome.
The biggest flavors of the meal came with dessert. Sugar Reef makes incredible tarte tatin ($7.50) and something it simply calls banana bread ($6). Made in a cup, it's served with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and strawberry sauce.
It deserves a much fancier name.
jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him Twitter.com @FloridaEats.
600 N. Surf Road, Hollywood
Hours: Dinner daily, breakfast and lunch Saturday-Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer, wine
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, children's items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Meters or parking garage