Last time I was in the building that houses Boca Landing, it was the rundown Boca Raton Bridge Hotel. It was built in 1976, and new owners took it over last year and spent $10 million on a renovation that has succeeded in bringing a classic hotel back to very stylish life. The building had great Miami Modern-style bones, and is now called Waterstone Resort and Marina. Every room has a water view.
As hotel restaurants go, Boca Landing is small, tucked in a corner on the first floor with 60 seats inside and another 52 seats on Lake Boca Raton. There isn't a restaurant in the city with a better view, especially if you sit outside. There's nothing I like better than a restaurant that defines itself by its location.
The seafood-centric menu is overseen by chef Steven Zobel, who wowed me at the much more casual small-plates Fort Lauderdale gastropub called D.B.A. Café. He came to Florida from New York to open the now-closed East End Brasserie in the Atlantic Resort and Spa on Fort Lauderdale beach.
Some of the menu works. Some of it needs work. It's what happens to a restaurant that has to serve the many tastes of the many people visiting a resort hotel. The food has to be familiar, but not too foreign, reflective of Florida, but not too experimental. The result isn't always very sophisticated, despite the snazzy surroundings. My Boca friends will want more.
The raw bar section of the menu includes oysters, clams, stone crabs and caviar. But the 16 small plates at the center of the menu are the most compelling items. Otherwise, you choose from 10 "simply prepared" forms of animal protein, including mahi mahi, swordfish, rack of lamb and filet mignon. The descriptions of the small plates are much more interesting.
Black kale salad ($10), for instance, is essentially a Caesar salad made with kale and a delicious creamy dressing made with Parmesan, anchovy and black pepper. But short-rib sliders ($16), three to an order, come with an oddly textured gravy that could have come from a can. Skewers of filet mignon and lobster in the surf and turf ($8) have a similarly problematic sauce. It's supposed to be green peppercorn, but it has the same gelatinous quality of the short-rib sauce. The lobster is overcooked.
Grilled harissa-rubbed shrimp ($15) are excellent, but the naan they're served on is awkwardly unnecessary. They would be better if the accompanying mango chutney and yogurt mint sauce were served in ramekins instead of dolloped onto the bread. Blue-crab toast ($15) is better — with its guacamole, lime and pepper relish garnishes — but the bread didn't appear to be toasted.
Korean-style chicken wings ($12) were the special one night: big, three-jointed wings with a sauce that was neither too sweet nor too hot. They ought to find a place on the regular menu.
Baked snapper ($24) doesn't get much simpler than the version prepared here, which has great flavor but a somewhat mushy texture. Meat preparations are so much better, including incredible coriander-crusted rack of lamb ($32) and a perfectly tender 12-ounce Akaushi rib-eye.
If you eat one thing at Boca Landing, make it the buttermilk-battered green beans ($7). They're good hot or cold, and remain crispy even when they've sat for a half hour. I suggest eating them with cocktails. Other side dishes include shaved Brussels sprouts ($6) and a medley of wild mushrooms ($7) with sage and garlic. They go very nicely with the red meat.
Service, like the menu, can be a little too unsophisticated. When three people don't eat for 20 minutes, it's a clue that the dirty dishes should be removed.
For dessert ($9 all), there's a nice sour-and-sweet-tasting creme fraiche cheesecake and an interesting crème brulee with candied orange and cream. Carrot pudding cake, however, was topped with just a little too much cream-cheese frosting
Open since June 1, Boca Landing will no doubt find a balance that suits resort guests and locals looking for a restaurant with an incredible view.
999 E. Camino Real, Waterstone Resort and Marina, Boca Raton
Cuisine: Seafood-centric American
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Clanky inside
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 valet