The first thing you need to know about Sea Watch on the Ocean is that next year, it will celebrate its 40th anniversary. That's a lot of shrimp cocktail, steamed lobster and Key lime pie.
The second thing you need to know is that the menu mostly offers what you would have found at a seafood restaurant in 1974. That's just fine by its many fans, because Sea Watch serves restaurant comfort food. It's familiar and consistent.
And then, there's the ocean view. I can't think of another restaurant with a similar vista of palm trees, grass and sand. The interior architecture is all wood-beamed ceilings and walls of glass. It's modern, but it embraces the natural environment in a way most modern architecture doesn't these days.
Just a few years ago, Sea Watch underwent a $2.5 million renovation, adding pops of orange upholstered seating; round, white, plastic pendant lights; and black-and-white photographs of old-time movie stars. The renovation accents the best aspects of a design that no doubt was looking rather dated. They kept the heavy oak front door.
Sea Watch seems particularly popular among couples. I saw one pair in their 60s eating steaks while sipping Manhattans. I saw a young couple sharing a bottle of wine over oysters and roasted salmon. A cozy bar up a flight of floating stairs has an adjoining room that would be perfect for a cocktail party.
We started with Bahamian conch fritters ($10), crisp and not oily, and served with hot mustard and cocktail sauce. A jumbo lump crab cake ($16) got a nice assist from Mandarin-peanut slaw, but the cake tasted a bit fishy. Lobster bisque ($6/$8) was divine, creamy and brilliantly orange. I can also recommend the Boston wedge salad ($6), with applewood bacon, radishes, chives and buttermilk/blue cheese dressing.
The menu features some rather retro seafood dishes, including orange roughy ($22) with dill Chardonnay sauce and blackened mahi-mahi ($21). It's that familiarity that makes Sea Watch so beloved.
I can't resist prime rib on a Sunday night, so I ordered the 16-ounce, slow-roasted rib ($32) served with creamy horseradish sauce and au jus. It was cooked medium rare, as I'd ordered it, and the meat was deliciously tender. You can order a 10-ounce portion for $25. Seared sea scallops ($24) get an updated presentation with roasted red pepper, thyme, coriander and corn relish.
But crispy fried colossal shrimp ($21) were a disappointment. It seemed like a can't-miss dish for a restaurant of this style, but the breading was undercooked and tasted of flour. The shrimp were plated with more of the Mandarin-peanut slaw we'd had with the crab cake.
Seven side dishes are available. Grilled vegetables ($4) were weak, with too many onions in the mix. Red-skillet corn bread ($3) was a nice Southern touch, and the skillet of caramelized mushrooms ($5) was be a nice accompaniment to beef.
Lobster and stone crabs are a big draw here. But you can also find plenty of entrees for under $20, including pasta, salads and sandwiches.
The Key lime pie ($7) ranks with some of the best in South Florida. It's smooth and creamy, and veers more toward tart than sweet. The pecan square ($8) was an old-fashioned bar cookie confection with shortbread crust and sticky pecan topping. Vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and a scattering of peanuts completed the dish.
After four decades, the restaurant runs like the institution it is. Good, friendly service is expected and delivered.
Sea Watch deserves to be called a classic.
6002 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: AE, DC, D, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot and valet