By John Tanasychuk, SouthFlorida.com
4:55 PM EST, November 28, 2012
Perusing the menu at Josef's Table, I couldn't help but think back to some of my first big restaurant experiences. My mother, may she rest in peace, wanted me to have a good restaurant education, never knowing where it might lead.
It was the 1970s. So this then-teenager would put on a jacket and tie to join my mother and her husband at one of their favorite temples of continental cuisine.
All of it came back as I read Josef's menu: wiener schnitzel ($28), Dover sole ($46), herb-crusted rack of lamb ($29) and pappardelle Bolognese ($24). You can order a side of spaetzle with cheese ($7). The only one missing was my mother wearing her emeralds and Shalimar. She would have adored this place. She also would have chuckled that Josef's calls what it does "Euro-Fusion."
It was probably coincidence that someone opened the front door just as we approached. The hostess seemed to be expecting us, and she led us to exactly the kind of table we'd requested — a quiet corner. With just over 100 seats in the dining room plus two private rooms — one for eight and another for 20 — it's not too big and not too small. The upholstered chairs are big and comfortable. The lighting could be a bit dimmer, but then, this mostly older crowd wouldn't be able to read their menus. Chandeliers lend a bit of old-fashioned elegance to the place. The only thing I didn't like was the pass-through into the kitchen. Save open kitchens for when you can look into one of those big, tiled, mausoleum-style workrooms, and not a steamy galley and a diner-style, stainless-exhaust hood. But I'm quibbling now.
The year-old Josef's is owned by Mel Lechner, a former CFO for a financial company with a passion for food and wine. The chef is Austrian-born Josef Schibanetz, former owner of Josef's in Plantation. Schibanetz is a master of those continental warhorses, but in his kitchen, they feel new and updated. Josef's is not some '70s flashback.
You may start, for instance, with a jumbo-lump-crabmeat tower ($14) with tomato, cucumber, avocado and mango with herb-and-lime dressing. I started with an incredible liver-duck-and-pork paté ($14), served with a jar filled with cornichons and pickled sweet vegetables. Escargots ($11) are served in a classic porcelain dish with plenty of garlic and herb butter. You'll want to sop it up with the crusty French or whole-wheat bread that's brought around by a devoted bread-handler. Caesar salad ($10) was the only low point among appetizers. Romaine leaves are always awkward.
Moroccan vegetable tagine ($24) with saffron, couscous, figs and almonds lead the entree section of the menu. There's always a seafood special, which was corvina the other night. There are short ribs ($26) and roasted buck ($30). I ordered the rightly famous wiener schnitzel and jumped at the opportunity to have it a la Holstein: topped with two sunny-side-up eggs. It's served with braised red cabbage, spaetzle and lingonberry sauce. This is incredibly tender veal.
Dover sole is also a standout — filleted table-side just like I remember. We had it with lemony caper butter. A special 16-ounce, prime rib-eye ($36) was among the most tender steaks I've had. It was served with a green peppercorn sauce our server said had a kick, but seemed mild by our tastes.
Service is near flawless. But it was off-putting when we asked for menu recommendations and were told not to order certain dishes. I'm sure he was being honest, but I can't imagine that half the menu doesn't pass muster. Servers shouldn't let their personal preferences get in the way. Asking for recommendations isn't an invitation to diss what you don't care for.
Other than that, the entire staff seemed to know most of the customers. A sommelier recommended a less-expensive bottle of torrontes than what we'd asked about.
Indeed, value is also a good part of the reason Josef's is so popular. The restaurant offers a $39.95 three-course prix-fixe menu. Order it before 6 p.m. or after 8:30 p.m., and the price goes down to $33.95. The menu includes seven appetizers, seven entrees and four desserts.
This reminds me that while Josef's apple strudel ($8.50), between layers of phyllo with whipped cream, is very good, it's the flour chocolate tart ($8.50) that I'll return for. I've had enough of molten-centered chocolate cakes. This one is cooked through.
Mom would approve.
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5030 Champion Blvd., Boca Raton
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational, but louder when full
Outside smoking: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot
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