Restaurants + Bars

Review: Madisons New York Grill and Bar is bland

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.

jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.

2006 NW Executive Center Circle, Boca Raton

561-994-0808, MadisonsNewYork.com

Cuisine: American

Cost: Moderate-expensive

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily

Reservations: Suggested

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full service

Sound level: Moderate

Outside smoking: No

For kids: Highchairs, menu

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Free lot

Copyright © 2015, South Florida
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