Eight months after returning to 3030 Ocean, chef Paula DaSilva is at the top of her game.
She is, quite simply, one of the best seafood chefs in South Florida, mixing fresh local seafood and produce in deliciously inventive ways.
DaSilva, 34, started her career at 3030 Ocean in 2000, when she was just out of the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. For a decade, she worked alongside the brilliant James Dean Max, who last year left 3030 after 14 years at the helm.
DaSilva's homecoming follows a three-year stint as top toque at a now-shuttered farm-to-table steakhouse inside Eden Roc Miami Beach. The challenge of a 3030 chef, especially one of DaSilva's talent, is to create a menu that appeals not only to Marriott vacationers, but to us year-rounders looking for the same kind of experience her predecessor established.
There's a raw bar, of course, that includes Florida stone crab claws ($8, small); wild Gulf shrimp with sea salt and lime ($7 each); and fine ceviche ($15), made with local wahoo, cilantro, jalapeno, aji amarillo, red onion and lime. The menu changes every day, so the ceviche often appears with corvina.
DaSilva focuses her attention on top-notch ingredients. Among the substantially sized starters is a roasted-beet salad ($14), gorgeously presented with avocado, parsley pesto, walnuts, the wonderfully aged Humboldt Fog goat cheese and greens lightly dressed in pineapple vinaigrette. Local burrata ($15) is served with Homestead tomatoes, olive puree and baby greens. Grilled octopus ($15) arrives with a streak of chickpea puree, olives, raw fennel, feta cheese and lemon vinaigrette.
It's a modern appetizer menu, but one that find room for such stalwarts as creamy wild mushroom soup ($9) and pasta carbonara ($15), this version made with bacon smoked in-house.
During my two visits over the past four months, the menu offered between eight and 11 appetizers and 11 entrees. There was always roasted chicken ($30), with polenta and some kind of beef (tenderloin or porterhouse). And, last week, the red-meat offerings included a wonderful Palmetto Creek farms pork chops ($39), with Brussels sprouts and potato salad, greens, carrots and ancho chili jus. Even though a tablemate ordered the chop well done, every bite was tender and moist.
DaSilva pays equal attention to every element on her plates. Simple-grilled corvina ($33), for instance, comes with a cumin aioli that tasted almost Middle Eastern, along with cranberry beans, Benton's bacon, cherry tomatoes, arugula and olives. Roasted wild striped bass ($34) sits in a circle of Parmesan-flavored grits along with mushroom ragout, celery root and saba, which is thick as maple syrup and similarly sweet, but made from grapes. All these elements magically meld. It makes me wonder why so many chefs insist on never combining cheese and seafood.
Spicy seafood paella ($35) isn't the typical too-much-rice concoction. Instead, octopus, clams, mussels, shrimp, a firm white fish, Spanish chorizo, peas and sweet peppers come together in flavorful unison.
Servers, professionals with years of experience, also work in unison. They know the menu. They know the glorious wine list. They appear when you need them and, more important, know when to disappear. I love the way they arrive as a group to deliver plates to the table, so that no one waits for theirs to arrive.
Pastry chef Huma Nagi's desserts ($10) are wonderful to my not-so-sweet tooth. She had a warm Nutella bread pudding on the menu the other night, but hitting diners over the head with all kinds of chocolate doesn't appear to be her style. It's certainly not mine. Instead, Nagi prepared an upside-down rhubarb cake with pistachios, rhubarb caramel and strawberry-pepper ice cream. There was warm coconut rice pudding with Homestead strawberry jam and cashew biscotti. Banana-cream tart comes with dulce de leche ice cream. These are my kind of sweets.
By the middle of next year, a renovation of the bland and tired room that is 3030 Ocean will begin. It's about time. I don't want to hear cheering sports fans as they watch the TVs above the bar, not when I'm eating food created with this much skillfulness. DaSilva and her crew deserve a better canvas for their hard work and creativity.
After that renovation, this could very well become a four-star restaurant.
3030 Holiday Drive, Harbor Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Can be loud when bar is full
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 valet or free garage