A space that was once a gift shop in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has become a gift for South Florida diners looking for a high-quality, Pan-Asian restaurant in Broward County.
The approximately 55-seat B¿l opened its doors in May right off the main floor of the casino, bringing a welcome, reasonably priced option to the entertainment complex. The décor features striking splashes of crimson and black, including a bright-red ceiling, Asian-inspired paintings and a gorgeous, red-paper lamp above the round table in the back where we sat. Recessed lighting and small spotlights add to the high-contrast colors. With the bustling environment, modern décor, cosmopolitan clientele and bright, multicolored lights of the casino slots in the background, you can trick yourself into thinking you've stumbled into a trendy Hong Kong eatery.
The aisles in the restaurant can seem a bit narrow, though that's not uncommon for restaurants in tourist destinations. The tables can easily be rearranged to accommodate medium-size groups. We lucked out and got the nicest spot in the restaurant. Because of the size of the place and its apparent popularity, you'd be wise to make a reservation if your party includes more than two people.
The menu at B¿l reflects the backgrounds of the two co-executive chefs: the Chinese Albert Yip and the Vietnamese Jacky Truong. Most of the entrees cost from $13 to $16, making it a relatively inexpensive option given the quality, portions and location.
As we picked through our appetizers, we began to understand an overriding theme with the B¿l: The food is packed with flavor, but avoids the face-scrunching spiciness found at many Asian restaurants. Here, the chefs ease up on the throttle just enough to let you enjoy the subtlety of the ingredients.
We most adored the pork shaomai ($7), an assortment of dumplings with juicy, flavorful interiors and a lightly fried, barely browned exterior. Also excellent was the fried shrimp, wrapped in roll form ($9). We were pleased to find that none of the rolls nor dumplings had that nasty, grease-laden exterior that stays on your fingers and is all too common. Chinese spring rolls ($5) are a solid get, about what you'd expect at a better tier of Chinese restaurant. You'll enjoy the steamed shrimp dumplings ($8) if you like your dumplings doughy rather than with a thin, firm exterior. Vietnamese spring rolls ($6) are fresh-tasting and loaded with a hearty shot of mint. The appetizer amuses the palate before the heavy noodle dishes arrive.
I always love when a restaurant takes an ordinary dish and executes it perfectly. Such is the case with the B¿l's chicken fried rice ($12), featuring high-quality diced chicken, a perfect amount of sauce and a low level of salt.
Pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, was about par among the many I've tried. While the eye round steak and brisket ($14) were not as tender as I'd like, we did enjoy the light-tasting broth with heavy doses of cilantro. More appealing was the seafood version ($15) with juicy shrimp and slices of mild whitefish.
Salt-and-pepper squid ($16) is an absolute must-have, especially as an appetizer for a group. This large plate of calamari features a spicy kick and a thin, airy batter that was a hit at our table.
The General Tso's chicken ($14) was top-notch. When it arrived heavily coated in a thick sauce, I braced myself for an overpowering kick. But as I dug in, I was pleased to find a laid-back yet delicious sauce that let me taste the moist chicken underneath.
In the coming weeks, the chefs at the B¿l are looking to add additional vegetarian options plus other tweaks to the menu, so keep an eye out.
As we mulled over our meal, our group was unanimous that the dinner we'd just enjoyed was one of the best Pan-Asian outings we'd had in a long while. The B¿l has conjured up a menu of time-tested favorites and executed them deftly. For those tired of oversalty tongue killers, this restaurant is for you. While I'm not much of a casino denizen, I'll wager that the B¿l will find a much wider audience than the nearby slots-squatters.
1 Seminole Way, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood
Cuisine: Chinese, Vietnamese
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Booster seats
Wheelchair accessible: Yes