The building at 2006 NW Executive Center Circle in Boca Raton once housed an outpost of the iconic Sunny Isles Beach restaurant called the Rascal House. I still remember the cholent and chicken in a pot. Five years ago, a place called Copper Canyon opened here with $17 rotisserie chicken as its specialty. It didn't make it. In 2012, a French enterprise specializing in mussels came and went in a flash.
I hate to say so, but history may be about to repeat itself.
Just after Christmas, Madisons New York Grill and Bar, a Canadian-owned chain out of Montreal, opened its doors in this highly visible location just down the street from Town Center mall. The dining room got a few updates, but it really didn't need much work. It's an old-fashioned, celebratory-style space with great sightlines that allow you to look from one end to other. The big, amber-lit bar invites lingering. Big, comfy booths invite big parties. The patio is a quiet retreat from the sometimes noisy interior.
As much as I love its design, I loathe Madisons' menu. This week, the restaurant added 17 menu items. Perhaps they can make a difference.
But take a look online and tell me if there's anything here you have to rush out and eat. Caesar salad with grilled chicken ($15)? Rigatoni Bolognese ($22)? Grilled salmon ($24)?
Is this 1994 or 2014? When I go to a restaurant, I want to be surprised. Madisons does anything but.
Our meal started with a generous serving of predictable creamed spinach, artichoke and Reggiano cheese dip ($13), served with tortilla chips, sour cream and salsa. I've had more inspiring versions of spinach artichoke dip at Super Bowl parties. Then, there was the obligatory fried calamari ($13), with hot peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and chili-pepper sauce. It was OK, but is this why anyone goes out to dinner? My favorite appetizer — jumbo shrimp cocktail with cocktail sauce ($16) — took me right back to restaurants of the 1970s. The shrimp were oversized, ice-cold and perfectly cooked. But shrimp cocktail does not a restaurant make.
Catch of the day was snapper ($30), simply grilled but overcooked until it was mushy and served with an old-fashioned medley of steamed vegetables. Speaking of old-fashioned, I can't remember the last time I saw a restaurant offer steamed Brussels sprouts. In these days of roasted and flash-fried sprouts, why would anyone return to the wretched steamed preparation that made us all hate them? These were topped with goat cheese and candied nuts.
I like baby-back ribs ($25) when they're tender but still need to be chewed off the bone. These were barely attached to the bone, and coated in a sticky, humdrum barbecue sauce.
If you don't order a sandwich, burger or "meal salad" at Madisons, you're eating steak, seafood or chicken breast. The restaurant serves Angus beef, but the 12-ounce New York strip ($35) that came to our table was underseasoned and well-done instead of medium-rare. The 14-ounce rib eye ($34) was ordered Pittsburgh-medium-rare, but came with very little char and was rare inside. It was also underseasoned. Our waiter advised me against ordering the 14-ounce prime rib ($33) Pittsburgh-style, because he feared it would be overcooked. What I received was a rare slice of bland beef without any char.
Grilled marinated chicken breast ($16-$19) is offered in three styles: classic Mediterranean; Madisons with cheddar and Monterey Jack; and Soho topped with grilled zucchini, red pepper and goat cheese. The classic preparation was overcooked, dry and virtually free of flavor. Pork chops ($25), with an apple cider glaze, were good and only slightly overcooked.
The crème brulee cheesecake ($7) may be one of the best things on the menu. It combines the sweet-and-sour flavor of classic cheesecake, with a bit of crispy caramel. Madisons' Key lime pie ($7) also has its charms, with a lovely, pecan-accented graham-cracker crust.
But at 8 p.m. on a Friday during the height of tourist season, Madisons doesn't have the crowd you'd expect for a 3-month-old restaurant. Has Boca already sampled the blandness that is Madisons and moved on?
While some folks might say Madisons offers a menu of American classics, I call it boring.
2006 NW Executive Center Circle, Boca Raton
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot