Review: Oceano Kitchen in Lantana is a dream come true | Video

 

★★★★

I arrived at Oceano Kitchen prepared to grumble. The restaurant does not take reservations for groups of fewer than six. The restaurant does not take credit cards. The restaurant is a hike for those who live in Broward or Miami-Dade, tucked on a quiet street near the Intracoastal in Lantana. None of these inconveniences matters. Oceano Kitchen is one of the best restaurants in South Florida.

The food is superb, the canopy-covered deck dining area is cozy and relaxed, and the small menu changes daily. Jeremy and Cindy Bearman, the well-traveled husband and wife chef-owners, have created the restaurant of their dreams. A meal at Oceano Kitchen is worth a wait, a trip to the bank, a drive, perhaps even a flight.

My advice: Order one of everything on the menu and enjoy. That’s what my group did — three starters, three mains, three desserts and a pizza somewhere along the way. Three pizzas are offered daily, and we stuck with the “Straight Shooter” ($18) with mozzarella, California tomatoes that tasted better and more vibrant than San Marzanos (“these [California] tomatoes are the ones [Arizona pizza guru] Chris Bianco uses,” Jeremy says) and basil grown in the restaurant’s garden. Dishes are meant to be shared. Every bite was delicious, every plate a polished jewel.

A smooth, chilled corn soup ($15) infused with lemongrass and studded with tiny, fine cubes of andouille tickled and tempted as the opener. A bright salad of delicate, locally grown Tuscan kale ($17) from Green Cay Farm in Boynton Beach was served with julienne apples, walnuts, shaved celery, a bracing cider vinaigrette and a warm surrounding blanket of housemade ricotta that was insanely delicious, with a texture somewhere between ephemeral foam and heavenly cloud. A perfectly seared fish cake ($25), made from golden tilefish and served with shaved zucchini and arugula and an addictive Calabrian chile aioli, tasted as sweet as any Maryland crab cake but without the annoying bits of cartilage or shell. There was also a whipped eggplant appetizer ($16), crisp oven-baked chicken ($26) with creamy polenta, rich bacon and thyme jus, and a spicy and soulful housemade casarecce pasta alla Amatraciana ($27) with guanciale (pork cheek).

I’ll stop now.

I knew that Jeremy Bearman was talented, because I ate his food and sang his praises last year when he opened the kitchen at One Door East in Fort Lauderdale for Giovanni Rocchio. Bearman earned a Michelin star and critical praise as executive chef of Rouge Tomate in New York and previously worked for Joel Robuchon and Daniel Boulud. At One Door East, a cacophonous room that could feel scattered, the 30-item menu and larger kitchen crew led to inconsistencies. Bearman has really found his groove at Oceano Kitchen, where he has more focus and finer control.

Cindy Bearman has an impressive résumé of her own, a pastry chef who has worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten (ABC Kitchen in New York) and Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas. She also worked as a food stylist and editor for Martha Stewart Living. The couple moved to South Florida with the goal of opening their own restaurant.

Soon after New Year’s Day 2017, they bought a shuttered pizza restaurant with a wood-burning oven on Ocean Avenue, a street that leads to Manalapan and South Palm Beach and seems poised for development. They opened Oceano Kitchen three weeks later, in February. It has been a hit with chefs and food lovers (32 East owner Butch Johnson has become a regular). Most of the 50 seats are on the patio and a handful of seats line the kitchen counter, where Jeremy, Cindy and sous chef Matt Candelaria put on an impressive display of cramped-quarters cooking.

“What I like is we get people in flip-flops and shorts, and people who drive up in Ferraris,” Bearman says when we chatted after the meal. (I positioned myself so that he didn’t see me while my group ate. After dessert, I went to the kitchen, and he recognized me. “Congratulations,” I told him. “Home run.”)

He estimates 80 percent of customers are regulars, but word is spreading, and he gets diners from Jupiter and Broward County. Last year at One Door East, Bearman told me, “In fine dining, there are all these rules. Here, we can do whatever the hell we want.”

Now, he really can do whatever he wants. Working with the pizza oven and two induction burners, the Bearmans and Candelaria make magic with fresh ingredients that arrive daily from top local farms, fishers and purveyors. There’s a barbecue out front where he occasionally makes brisket and other smoked meats. Cindy Bearman’s desserts are unfussy yet composed, including an orange and almond cream tart ($10) with buttermilk ice cream, s’more pudding ($11) with toasted meringue, fudge sauce and graham cracker crust and cookies and milk ($6), a playful take on a kids’ classic with chocolate-cherry toffee cookies and vanilla sherbet.

The Bearmans wanted to be their own bosses because they have a young son, and they have carved out a sane schedule. The restaurant serves dinner only and is closed two days a week (Sunday and Mondays in winter, Mondays and Tuesdays in summer).

Jeremy Bearman says the cash-only policy keeps costs down and the no-reservations policy keeps tables flowing and turning. In retrospect, the inconveniences at Oceano Kitchen were painless. I went to the bank and filled my wallet with strange greenish paper (like Bitcoin, only tangible.) There was free parking on the street. Every table was full when we arrived, but we put a name (not mine) on a signup sheet at the front. A server asked if we wanted beers while we waited, and he told us to relax at a stone table along the sidewalk.

The vibe felt like old Florida, a row of single-story businesses and houses stretching toward the ocean. Before too long (15 minutes), we were shown to a table. Sue Brown, the front manager, took our order and kept things moving. The pacing was a bit fast, but we never felt rushed. She brought stemless wine glasses and a bottle of 2014 Ceretto Barbaresco ($99, double markup from $49 retail) and opened it to breathe while we finished our beers.

Everyone is a pro here, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. Brown wore a specially made T-shirt that read, “Sarcasm — it’s how I hug.”

“Chef has his apron on, so you can’t see his,” Brown told us. “On the front it says, ‘Chef’s special.’ And on the back it says, ‘But we treat him just the same anyway.’ ”

Bearman is special. I’m glad he has found the perfect home.

Oceano Kitchen

201 E. Ocean Ave., Lantana

561-562-5055 or OceanoKitchen.com

Cuisine: American and global shareable dishes. Menu changes daily.

Cost: Moderate to expensive. Appetizers cost $15 to $17, pizzas $18-$26, mains $25-$30, desserts $6-$11

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (closing time varies depending on crowd). Closed Sunday-Monday

Reservations: Only for parties of 6 or more. Book 24 hours in advance.

Credit cards: Not accepted, cash only (ATM on premises)

Bar: Beer and wine only, good selection of craft brews and interesting wines

Noise level: Pleasant and conversational on patio

Wheelchair access: Ground level

Parking: Free street

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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