It wasn't until I got up from the table and peeked behind a wall that I saw how impossibly small the kitchen is at Twenty Twenty Grille. Wait staff crowded the pass through. Kitchen staff looked overheated.
The restaurant gets its name and diminutive charm from its size and seating capacity: 20 inside and 20 outside. On a busy Saturday night — the busiest in its 2-month-old life, I was later told — the inside dining room was a tumult of chattering diners, sprinting waiters and swelling kitchen noise.
There was a 35-minute wait between appetizers and entrees, with no word from our waiter as to why. You expect a restaurant with such high aspirations to know the importance of timing and rhythm in service. When our entrees finally arrived, some food was hot, some was cold — sometimes on the same plate. More on that later.
I hope owners Ron and Rhonda Weisheit can make a go of what is clearly a very personal proposition. Weston artist Ruben Ubiera was commissioned to create a sculpture made from cutting boards and an old refrigerator door that speaks to the Weisheit's relationship. It hangs on one wall of the restaurant.
For eight years, the couple operated an award-winning bakery in Newburyport, Mass., before deciding to move to Florida, Ron Weisheit's birthplace. Their restaurant is tucked in a narrow walkway between a jewelry store and a sushi restaurant inside Royal Palm Place. I'm not superstitious, but I've known at least three other restaurants in this spot.
That said, the Weisheits are both trained chefs. It shows. She works the front of the house. He's in the kitchen, and many of the dishes are incredible. I loved that he started our meal with a slightly sweet amuse-bouche of peach and marshmallow with balsamic glaze.
Twenty Twenty Grille is an old-fashioned restaurant with gorgeously plated food in sizes meant to satisfy, and not stuff, diners. The Duo of Duck "Taco" ($14) combines tender duck and a crispy tortilla shell with orange margarita gastrique and roasted tomato pico de gallo. An oyster BLT ($14) combines bacon, pulled pork, tomato jam and breadcrumbs on top of said oyster. It's as much about flavor as texture. I wish the roasted three-beet salad ($13) with baby greens and Tasmanian blue cheese had a little more of the Champagne vinaigrette.
Those hot and cold entrees I spoke of earlier included a greasy and lukewarm fried game hen ($25) that hadn't spent enough time in the hot oil. Even worse, the anemic bird was ringed with refrigerator-cold tomato coulis. I wasn't sure why. The green bean and ginger "slaw" was more decorative garnish than side vegetable.
While my tablemate thought her rack of New Zealand lamb ($30) was undercooked for the temperature she'd ordered — even after sending it back once — it was tender and flavorful. The dish was plated with rosemary gnocchi galette and balsamic tomatoes.
My favorite entrees, however, were the seafood dishes. Plantain-crusted grouper ($33) had a ginger-coconut-infused fumet and espresso gastrique, which may be one too many fancy French words for humble grouper. The fish was also served with a tiny Maine lobster cake and jicama ceviche. Chile-ginger-rubbed Florida snapper ($31) had a mango-horseradish chutney as its sauce. Spicy green beans and a conch beignet shared space on the plate. The grouper, by the way, arrived hot from the kitchen. Snapper was warm.
After our 35-minute wait and nearly two hours in the restaurant, we asked if there was any way we could get dessert within 10 minutes. Our waiter said it would take 15. With that, we walked a few doors down for frozen yogurt.
Give Twenty Twenty some time. Maybe the Weisheits need to simplify the menu, or learn how to recover from a blunder with a simple apology. It would have helped.
141 Via Naranjas, Royal Palm Place, Boca Raton
Cuisine: New American
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner nightly
Reservations: Strongly suggested
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Noisy inside when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lots and $5 valet