Like some of the sirens you see on Las Olas Boulevard on any Saturday night, the 2-month-old Voodka begs you to turn your head and notice.
Maybe it's the crystal chandeliers or the blazing candelabra set with red candles. Maybe it's the Corinthian columns or the navy-blue, tufted chesterfields with Union Jack pillows. From the Norman Rockwell prints to the airplane propeller above the fireplace, no design idea was left unexpressed.
Still, there's something about this bordello-chic restaurant that I love. Voodka calls itself a "transcontinental brasserie." Really.
While its name and logo suggest the Soviet Union, the only thing Russian about the menu is the caviar on the raw bar and the vodka flights priced between $27 and $55. Borscht is nowhere to be found. But the disconnect between branding and reality is of no consequence.
Voodka mostly serves very good steak and seafood — celebratory food — and a few nicely chosen eccentricities I'd like to see more of.
Where else can you find, for instance, "Sardines Just Like at Home" ($6), a tin of oil-packed sardines with sliced onions and black bread? I occasionally love nothing more than sardines and toast for dinner. Among the five burgers is a "Bollywood Burger" ($16), an Indian-spiced chicken patty with Gorgonzola and yogurt sauce served on naan. At lunch one day, the chimichurri salmon burger ($13) was just as intriguing, topped with spinach and a side of sauce. The crispy fries served in a miniature fryer basket alongside burgers couldn't be better.
Those fries appeared again alongside mussels mariniere ($14 appetizer/$19 entree) served in a very good, Chablis-based garlicky sauce with tarragon and chives. Heirloom-tomato trio ($10) and tomato-mozzarella salad ($11) were oversized and incredibly fresh. But the menu ought to include a warning that the tomatoes come cold from the fridge. I can't abide refrigerated tomatoes, especially when they're as good as those served at Voodka.
Four of us split an order of black truffle pappardelle ($39), perfect al dente pasta in a truffle-cream sauce with a few fresh shavings. Very nice. While the risotto with asparagus, Parmesan and veal jus ($27) was overcooked, the grilled shrimp were not.
The menu describes the beef as "prime choice," a confusing amalgam of two grades of meat. Tender chimichurri steak ($23) was served with truffled mashed potatoes and Tabasco-fried onions. There's also an espresso-crusted rib-eye ($29) and a 10-ounce filet ($36). A 9-ounce Scottish salmon ($24) got a nice dill-caper cream sauce along with red quinoa, pattypan squash, baby carrots and zucchini.
Watch out for pastry chef Vanessa Beltran. Her tres leches($8) redefines this classic. Similarly, old-fashioned baklava ($9) gets a Beltran makeover with very little phyllo and two dense inches of nutty goodness.
Service, by a crew of handsome waiters in black vests, white shirts and blue jeans, was very good and very friendly. Even on a busy Saturday night with a DJ in the corner and the room overflowing with guests, our waiter was in control.
Voodka is going to have to decide if it wants to be a restaurant or one of those Las Olas lounges where happy hour and ladies' night take precedence. It has 240 seats to fill. And those fabulous sofas are much more comfortable for drinking than they are for eating.
I hope Voodka can do both. Because Las Olas Boulevard needs more restaurants with such big personalities.
817 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy with DJ or singer
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Meters and nearby lots