Being a chef in a hotel restaurant can be an impossible feat. How do you make dinner interesting to outsiders, while still pleasing hotel guests looking for eggs in the morning and sandwiches at lunch?
At McCoy's Oceanfront, that challenge falls to Frances Deskin, who recently worked at 3800 Ocean at the Riviera Beach Marriott. She succeeds by relying on fresh seafood and produce that's simply prepared and beautifully presented.
I'm thinking of her house-made gnocchi ($22), served in an oversize pasta bowl that tastes like a rich, briny ocean. It's a yellow, gold and brown combination of Florida rock shrimp, Littleneck clams and spinach in a sauce made with white wine, saffron and shallots. Likewise, grilled New England sea scallops ($25) are served with blistered, multicolored heirloom tomatoes and pesto butter on a big, white plate. Pesto and butter don't engulf the dish.
Deskin's menu isn't overwhelming. It includes seven so-called main plates, four pasta dishes and six appetizers. Likewise, portions aren't gargantuan, which I'm delighted to see.
We started with a so-so, warm breaded-goat-cheese salad ($12), the cheese panko-crusted and served with garlic crostini on greens dressed with sherry vinaigrette. It was a delight to have fried calamari ($10) on a bed of frisee with pine nuts and lemon. Fried green tomatoes ($10) weren't quite as crispy as we'd hoped, but they were perfectly served with stone-fruit chow chow and Vermont cheddar. Lump crab cakes ($15) are accompanied by Bloody Mary gazpacho and avocado puree. Tuscan kale salad ($12) was a delight, with lemon-vinaigrette toasted pine nuts, raisins and goat's milk Garrotxa cheese.
Deskin specializes in what may be called bright flavors. Ingredients are left to shine on their own, instead of being overworked with butter or other fat. Florida pompano ($25), for instance, is accompanied by lemon, white wine and parsley-leaf salad. Pan-seared grouper ($25) gets carrot hummus and lemon nage. Even beef tenderloin ($29) stays relatively lean with red-pepper confit and not-so-rich cabernet reduction.
Broccoli rabe ($4), with plenty of garlic, is worth sharing. Cauliflower mash ($4), however, had an odd consistency.
Along with interesting ice cream ($10), McCoy's serves a very good dessert called Best of Both Worlds ($10): chocolate cake on the bottom, with chocolate mousse and a cream brulee center. It works.
McCoy's, named after Prohibition rumrunner William McCoy, is tucked just off the lobby of the brand-new Marriott. With washed wooden floors, wooden-topped tables and a combination of comfortable chairs and dining sofas, it has a modern, beachy, South Florida vibe.
The maitre d' was a seasoned pro. Service was outstanding at the bar, where we had cocktails and Florida-brewed beer. Dinner service, however, was slow and plodding. When entrees arrived, our waiter forgot who had ordered what, and what I call the entree auction commenced.
Once service catches up to Deskin's creativity, we'll have another great oceanfront dining option.
1200 N. Ocean Blvd., Marriott Pompano Beach Resort and Spa, Pompano Beach
Hours: Dinner, breakfast and lunch daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Complimentary two-hour valet