Ke'e Grill: Where the well-heeled get underspiced

Ke'e Grill

The Ke'e Grill in Boca Raton enjoys a prime location at the center of an agglomeration that includes the Polo Club, and the Bocaire, Boca, Addison Reserve and St. Andrews country clubs. As such, it draws from a clientele base that is predominantly elderly and well-heeled. On a packed Saturday night, the only young faces in the room were the greeters and a few grandchildren being taken out to dinner. From this, one can draw three basic conclusions about the food: A certain level of quality is expected of the cuisine (which is delivered). It is not intended for an adventuresome palate. It is going to be expensive.

One can almost hear the voices in the nearby communities as cocktail hour reaches its maturity: "So where should we eat tonight?"

"What the heck, let's just head over to the Ke'e. The food's good, and it's convenient."


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The interior is elegant, with a vaguely Polynesian feel. It's not intimate. In fact, the dining room is loud and sprawling. A cozy bar is tucked into one end of the room, a semi-open kitchen spans the other, and the delivery counter is topped with a row of heat lamps, which tends to distinguish a high-volume eatery from a small outfit where the meals are custom-prepared.

As for the food, if you are in a party of more than two (and the overwhelming number of diners appeared to be in such an arrangement), simply cut to the chase and order the Super Pu Pu Platter appetizer ($24.95), which is a representative selection of surprisingly succulent spring rolls, volcano shrimp (grilled, sweet and vaguely barbecue-y), fried calamari (somewhat greasy) and crab cake (plenty of crabmeat, mild and juicy). It's served with a standard cocktail sauce on the side, as well as a couple of creamy savory sauces, which tend not to kill the fish flavor. This dish isn't very good for you, but it's fun to share.

On this particular evening, one of the specials offered was a grilled bone-in veal cutlet, which we overcame the sticker-shock price of $38.95 to sample. It was crisscross-grilled and quite thick, and salt and pepper was the only seasoning. We were told the double-cut lamb chops were prepared the same way. Clearly, the chef has learned that, with this clientele, any interesting sauce or spice additive could be a deal-breaker. The same philosophy extends to the side dishes, from which one is allowed a choice of two. In this case, the sauteed mushrooms were just that — a large pile of sliced, cooked mushrooms, period. The spinach Maria showed some imagination: It had been creamed and baked into a crock with browned breadcrumbs on top, and was a worthy reward for the diner who dared to order spinach in a restaurant.

Grilled sea scallops ($25.95) were fat, rich and buttery. The accompanying baked potato, unfortunately, tasted as if it had sojourned a bit too long under the battery of heat lamps.

The maple-mustard-glazed salmon ($24.95) was what you would expect: sweet. The salmon was well-cooked, and perfect if you like syrupy sauces on your fish. The roasted-garlic-mashed potatoes were creamy and soul satisfying.

The waiter, who was attentive but in charge of too many tables, rattled off the dessert list, from which we chose an apple tart that was basically a lot of apple-pie filling baked into in a deep cup of pastry covered by an enormous mound of vanilla ice cream and praline sauce ($7.95). Like many of the other offerings at Ke'e, it more than clears the adequacy bar but does not rise to the level of "gourmet," which one would expect at these prices. Another example: Ke'e offers coffee but not cappuccino.

At Ke'e, the diner cannot escape the feeling that he is being "managed," rather than served. It's a subtle point, but nowhere is it better illustrated than when the waiter breezes by while dessert is still being shared and slaps the bill tray down on the table, unbidden. It could be that long experience has taught management that the regular customers prefer it this way, but it's a curiously incongruous dinerlike touch to what is supposed to be a high-end experience.

Ke'e Grill

17940 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton

561-995-5044, Wix.com/keegrillboca/keegrillboca

Cuisine: American with Polynesian accents

Cost: Expensive

Hours: Dinner nightly

Reservations: Recommended

Credit cards: MC, V, AE, Discover

Bar: Full service

Sound level: Can be noisy at busy times

Outside smoking: No

Kids: Children's items listed on request, booster seats, highchairs

Deals: Half off all drinks from 5 to 6 p.m. at the bar only (excluding champagne)