Redemption isn't something you read about in restaurant reviews.
But it's the word that comes to mind after returning to the restaurant once known as Bimini Boatyard. Rechristened Boatyard and reopened in October after a 3 1/2-month renovation, this is the restaurant that best represents the city of Fort Lauderdale.
For most of its first 25 years, it wasn't much more than a tourist trap, a layover for cruise passengers checking into nearby hotels. They offered honey-sweetened Bimini bread and food I described as abysmal when I reviewed the place in 2014. The biggest sin? Frozen seafood.
The new Boatyard has new owners. Hudson Capital Group, which operated the restaurant for the past seven years, has been joined by the Restaurant People. As the company's name suggests, restaurants and hospitality is all they do at such spots as YOLO, S3, Fork and Balls, and Tarpon Bend Food and Tackle.
Boatyard, however, seems more important than the company's other places. That's because Tim Petrillo, Peter Boulukos and Alan Hooper set out to create a restaurant that honors Fort Lauderdale as the yachting capital of the world and the Venice of America. Just take a look at the collection of vintage portholes near the front door or the 70 wooden oars that hang from a 35-foot chandelier in the bar.
Boatyard is a large, 280-seat restaurant made intimate with the creation of almost separate dining spaces. High-top tables are perfect for groups near a new indoor bar. A mature gumbo limbo tree was shipped in from Cape Coral and used as a centerpiece for one section of the patio. An outdoor bar invites cocktailing.
But it also finally has a menu that matches its setting on a yacht-filled canal just off the Intracoastal Waterway. The bottom of the menu even lists the East Coast fisherman responsible for the day's seafood.
The menu opens with such shareable items as tuna tacos ($14), yellowfin stuffed inside crunchy wonton wrappers with a distinct hot and sour sauce. Charred octopus ($16) is served with wilted kale, garbanzo beans, fingerling potatoes and a pleasant chorizo vinaigrette. The octopus is so tender, it's difficult at first to tell it apart from the potato. If you think you don't like kale salad ($11), try the version offered here, with quinoa, red grapes, spiced pecans and lemon-Parmesan vinaigrette. It will turn around the kale-averse.
Executive chef Doug Riess does a daily seacuterie offering (market price), which the other night included cured salmon, octopus and snapper. Order this dish, which is served sushi-style atop an amber-colored salt block.
A rolling shellfish cart features oysters, shrimp, ceviche and stone crabs (market price). The cart may need some rethinking, however, since it's awkwardly large and the dining room lighting makes it difficult to see the offerings. Three servers with CSI-style flashlights help. The ceviche is outstanding.
The entree side of the menu looks an awful lot like one found at an updated seafood and steak house. There are seven so-called "favorites," or composed dishes, including outstanding miso-honey-sake-glazed Scottish salmon with wilted kale and warm, farro-vegetable salad ($27). Grouper piccata ($34) is a sauteed fillet with wilted spinach, cured tomato, caper berries and lemon Chardonnay butter. It's boldly flavored, yet delicate and creamy with nice salty caper blasts. Dare I call this Boatyard's signature dish?
Yellowfin tuna ($30) is crusted with Thai rice and plated with baby bok choy, nori rice balls and kimchi coconut, which manages to be neither too hot or too sweet. The tuna was perfectly cooked to rare.
Beyond the composed dishes is a section featuring five simply grilled seafood choices (salmon, $21; mahi-mahi, $23; yellowfin tuna, $26; swordfish, $26; grouper, $28), which can be had with a choice of five sauces ($3): citrus butter, shitake lemongrass, lemon-herb vinaigrette, cape basil tomato brown butter and saffron nage.
Among the four steaks is an 6-ounce center-cut filet ($32); an 18-ounce, dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye ($42); an 8-ounce flat iron ($24); and a 14-ounce New York strip ($42). Judging by the filet, the kitchen has mastered the art of wood-fired steaks with a nicely charred exterior and tender interior. Like the seafood sauces, there are five steak sauces ($3): housemade steak sauce that's more Heinz 57 than A.1.; bearnaise; chimichurri; au plover; and Maytag blue butter.
There are also some very good sides ($8), from fried broccoli with a decidedly sweet and nutty flavor to Brussels sprouts hash with sweet potatoes. Both are a particularly great accompaniments to beef.
For dessert, Key lime doughnut holes ($9) ought to be the best combination of two great desserts, but they don't qualify as either great Key lime pie or doughnuts. We could barely taste the Key lime custard filling. Exceptional, however, is warm apple crisp ($9), with caramelized green apples and classic frangipane.
Boatyard is the restaurant that its location deserves. You no longer have to be dragging a wheeled suitcase to dine at the restaurant now known as Boatyard. Although, I suspect the suitcase crowd will still come, we locals no longer have to be embarrassed. The Restaurant People have created a restaurant for everyone.
1555 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch
Reservations: Strongly suggested
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Complimentary valet or self parking