Yama Japanese Restaurant
Customers have been high-fiving co-owner Yong Yamamato for the dramatic expansion of her family's eatery into the former yoga studio next door, which tripled the seating and transformed it over five months from a takeout vibe.
"My customers are so happy for me," says Yamamato, who prefers this five-year-old location over their previous 12-year-old one on Atlantic Avenue because it draws more locals. "Our customers are very long time and friends. The children used to come in and learn to use chopsticks, and now they're all grown in college."
Yellow and gold walls and wood tables and floor lend a warm ambience with Japanese paintings, high ceiling, open kitchen and doubled sushi bar.
The spaciousness has ushered in Thai and Korean specialties from their Lake Worth restaurant, Yama Asian Cuisine. Yamamato is Korean, her co-owner husband is Japanese, and a longtime employee is Thai, so the variety is not surprising.
Korean best-sellers have been seafood pancake with squid and shrimp ($12), beef barbecue bulgogi ($11, lunch; $19, dinner) and thin-sliced spicy pork barbecue ($11, lunch; $18, dinner). Thai favorites are pad Thai with protein choice ($10-$11, lunch; $15-$17, dinner) and light Yama fried rice with chicken, beef, shrimp and egg ($12, lunch; $17, dinner).
Up next: Daily specials and room dividers for a cozier feel.
620 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-523-5767, ValentinosCucinaItaliana.com
Owner Giovanni Rocchio has promoted Luke Bergman to chef de cuisine to conceive the entrees and most of the appetizers at his chic, contemporary Italian jewel.
"I grew up in Fort Lauderdale and moved to New York 13 years ago," Bergman says. "I was working in Manhattan and Giovanni visited the restaurant, and we stayed in touch. Once he opened the new Valentino, I felt like it was a great opportunity to take the skills I had learned back to my hometown. My style is progressive, going more abstract."
For his roasted duck breast ($36), for instance, he cuts off the skin and fries it with black trumpet mushrooms and shallots, then spreads it where the skin used to be.
Rocchio still is focusing on his stunning pastas and invested in expensive equipment to start crafting about five breads a night, such as focaccia, olive or walnut raisin, with a crunchy crust.
"I wanted to start making my own bread because it is impossible to find good bread like I remembered in Italy," Rocchio says. "Bread is very intensive, and timing is everything."
New pastry chef Stephanie Costca, who hails from 3030 Ocean, is adding desserts such as raspberry macaroon paired with a chocolate/nut-covered foie gras ball that mirrors the Ferrero Rocher candy ($12).
"I try to put color in every plate," she says. "As soon as you see the plate, you need to salivate."
Mixologists have updates too: nearly a dozen cocktails with several showcasing whiskey, rye or bourbon, such as Bitter Michter's with rye, Jack Daniel's Honey, vermouth and bitters of orange spice and grapefruit ($14).
Rocchio plans to open a casual, industrial-look restaurant next door by the end of the year.
CityPlace, 600 S. Rosemary Ave., Suite 170, West Palm Beach, 561-659-6160, IlBellagioCityPlace.com
Managing partner Ron Del Signore says he's been getting goose bumps from the response to the nearly $2 million face-lift since reopening after five months.
"All of our old clientele are going crazy when they see it," he says of his 13-year-old Italian retreat beside the piazza fountain of the outdoor mall. "It lights up better at nighttime. When you're outside in the courtyard, you can see right into the restaurant with no obstructions."
The dining room was extended further onto the patio, but new accordion-type glass walls are opened during nice weather for a more outdoor feel. Inside are new yellow-orange Venetian plaster walls, textured marble pizza bar and columns, lighted wood tray ceiling, back-lit amber onyx bar with LED lights, and white porcelain tile floor with wood-grain inlays.
About 15 new selections from sibling Miami restaurants have been unveiled as well, including the addition of panini for lunch ($10.95-$12.95), such as prosciutto with fresh mozzarella. Other highlights are tuna tartare ($13.95), stuffed artichoke ($12.95), risotto frutti di mare loaded with seafood ($24.95) and Francese-style pollo Rosalia stuffed with shrimp and crab ($22.95). End with house-made coconut flan ($7.95).
Multiple locations, BonefishGrill.com
After testing Sunday brunch selections the past couple of years, this popular seafood chain has finalized the menu with new choices nationwide, served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"There's definitely a good variety on there now," says Boca Raton branch managing partner David Collier, pointing to favorites from dinner such as Bang Bang Shrimp ($8.90). "The feedback we were getting was people were looking or eggs Benedict and poached eggs."
In addition to popular dishes, such as creme brulee French toast with bacon ($10.50), new hits are four renditions of eggs Benedict, such as Surf + Turf with filet mignon and lobster ($13.50), as well as omelets such as the Cajun shrimp with goat cheese ($9.50). All six omelets can be prepared with egg whites upon request.
In addition to the Bloody Mary garnished with a stuffed cherry pepper ($7.50), the new Endless Bubbles offers unlimited Bellinis or mimosas for $12 with purchase of any entree, or $19.90 with an omelet, brunch favorite or eggs Benedict included.
The seasonal dessert, chocolate crème brulee, can be the last bite ($6.20). Prices vary slightly by location.