Sundy House is floundering.
Its biggest strength — a setting in the 1902 clapboard home of the first mayor of Delray Beach and its surrounding gardens — doesn't begin to make up for its weaknesses.
When you dine at Sundy House, you want to sit at the back of the house in what is known as the garden patio. You get the best view of the garden. The interior kind of glows. Idyllic bests describe the setting.
So we thought it would be nice to sit there, and called the day of our reservation to firm that up. Unfortunately, Sundy House won't promise an outdoor table. In fact, it wasn't until after we'd arrived that we were told the entire garden patio was closed for a private party. Had we known, we wouldn't have made the reservation.
So a hostess toured us around the restaurant — we were waiting for friends to arrive — and we chose a table on the side patio. Once our friends arrived, we made our way to the patio, where we discovered the hostess had seated another party at our table. That's called poor hospitality.
We forgave the slight when we were approached by a waiter with a confident demeanor and an air of competence. Then, the food started to arrive.
Rather, two thickheaded food runners stood at our table asking who ordered what. It happened with every course. In many restaurants, this is a fireable offense. Not so at Sundy House. Our shock at their lack of skill was met with smug self-satisfaction. At times, we were without proper cutlery. At the end of the meal, the check included a $120 error — in the restaurant's favor. When three instead of four entrees arrived, our waiter was nowhere to be found. Twenty minutes later, when the cobia ($26) was finally delivered, it turned out to be the only entree that came to the table at the correct temperature: hot.
Yellowtail snapper ($28) with coconut jasmine rice, sofrito sauce and grilled broccolini was overcooked and barely warm. Grilled salmon ($28) with tomato-and-herb vinaigrette was so bland that the person who ordered it couldn't eat it. The blandness translated as old. She replaced it with a very good butter lettuce salad ($9), tossed with avocado, radish, tomatoes and crispy, battered sweet onions in buttermilk dressing. Hardly my idea of an entree.
A generously portioned, Dijon-crusted rack of lamb ($36) had great flavor, but again, the temperature was a problem. That cobia, however, was hot, and served with faro cooked fried rice-style with soy and ginger. We also shared a couple of good side dishes: broccolini with Parmesan and gremolata ($7) and sauteed Brussels sprouts with bacon and caramelized shallots ($7).
Our starter of Thai steamed mussels ($12) in a lightly spicy red curry coconut broth was fine. So, too, was Florida shrimp on toasted ciabatta with roasted tomato and scampi butter ($14). Conch chowder ($9) was delicious but lukewarm.
When we asked for plates to share desserts, one of those food runners brought side plates, and his thumb touched the center of each plate. I'm all for hiring inexperienced servers, but if you don't train them, they remain inexperienced servers left to wander what once was one of South Florida's restaurant gems.
Desserts ($9 each) were good, although underwhelming: blueberry almond clafoutis had a day-old quality; vanilla-bean cheesecake with roasted pears, salted caramel and chantilly cream; and devil's food cake with coconut-caramel filling and sour cherry coulis ($9). That last one was a favorite.
A representative of Sundy House told me they know things aren't perfect at the restaurant. Chef Lindsay Autry, a "Top Chef" runner-up, left the restaurant on Dec. 8. They are revamping the menu and concept and studying what's going on over on nearby Atlantic Avenue to see what Sundy House should be doing. A new chef will be announced soon. New management is on the way.
I hope the new manager gets rid of the paintings of the bare-chested women in the Star Bar. I remember, years ago, when the same room was hung with Warhols. Times change.
I suspect the staff here is more accustomed to weddings and private parties in which everyone gets the chicken or the beef. When I reviewed Sundy House's famous brunch earlier this year, I found the food to be acceptable but the service lacking. There seemed to be plenty of uniformed people standing around, waiting for the 20 percent gratuity added to every check. It's a self-serve buffet brunch, by the way.
Sundy House needs to press the reset button and rethink what it means to be in the hospitality business. Because soon, it won't have any laurels, historical or otherwise, to rest on.
106 S. Swinton Ave, Delray Beach, FL 33444
Cuisine: New American
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, brunch Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 valet