Ever been to a restaurant where nothing on the menu tempts you to stay?
On my first visit to Wild Sea Oyster Bar & Grille, there were just two seafood choices among the entrees. There was South Carolina wreckfish with patty pan squash and heirloom tomato ($31) and Virginia striped bass with bacon, English peas and preserved Meyer lemon ($30).
Their other three choices were free range chicken, pork porterhouse and beef cheeks.
It was my understanding that Wild Sea, which opened Feb. 19, was all about Florida seafood. And the word "grille" led to me believe that if we didn't want seafood, we might find a great strip steak or a burger. Not so.
So we ordered drinks, a half dozen Beavertail and Sun Hollow oysters ($3 each) and fried oysters ($10). The Bevertails were none too fresh and there was more hard clumpy fried breading than fried oyster. Couple this with the lackluster menu and a distracted waiter and we decided to cut our losses and come back to Wild Sea another night.
Three weeks later, we're back at Wild Sea and service goes from befuddled to fawning. But the menu shows enough promise that I'm determined to stay for entrees.
First up is an asparagus salad ($12) with country ham, bacon, mustard and a quail egg. It's good, but what's with all of the pork elements? Summer salad ($11) — a kind of chef's whim creation — might combine cucumber, cherries, arugula and cherry wood smoked pecans, as it did on a recent menu. The smoked pecans take over. A similar flavor — perhaps the tartness of yuzu, an Asian citrus — permeates a dish called Red Royal shrimp ($15), citrus marinated Keys shrimp tossed with canary melon, cucumber and sweet onions. It tasted like a dish trying to be ceviche.
I order the wreckfish, which has gone from $31 to $34 in three weeks. It's a fine delicate fillet, but none of the other elements on the plate — patty pan squash, peach and blueberry — are integrated into the dish. Peach and blueberry are just dots on the plate, garnishes I suppose.
Beef tenderloin in Madeira mushroom jus ($36) is quite delicious. If only the seafood was this good.
A side of marble potatoes ($6) cooked in duck fat with thyme and garlic miss the mark. I want them to be crispy on the outside and creamy inside, but that's not to be.
I've peeked at the ever-changing menu since my last visit, and there is now much more seafood at this seafood restaurant — duh! — including salmon, swordfish and finally a species from Florida, good old grouper. The beef cheeks have been replaced with pork cheeks.
Five months should be long enough to figured out what people want to eat.
But what Wild Sea lacks in the food department, it makes up for with its decor. Blond floors, brown and orange chairs and a smashing wine cellar along one wall make for a comfortably chic dining room. If only I wanted to stay.
Thankfully, the dining room can very easily be transformed for another concept.
Wild Sea Oyster Bar & Grille
620 E. Las Olas Blvd., Riverside Hotel, Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: High chairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free garage or $4 valet
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