There’s no shortage of seafood restaurants in South Florida. They range from ultra-casual and relatively inexpensive, such as Southport Raw Bar, to over the top indulgence, such as Truluck’s. Gone are the days when you could snap up a great seafood meal for less than $10, even someplace downscale such as Southport or Catfish Dewey’s will cost you twice that. Technically, I guess the Mickey D’s Filet O’Fish counts as a seafood meal for less than $10, but let’s be real here.
That’s the trade-off we pay for having seafood from around the globe available daily. Advancements in fishing techniques, storage and shipping means that we can have seafood from Thailand, South America, Alaska or Africa on our plates less than a day after it’s been removed from its native waters.
Recently, I dined at two local seafood spots, one a landmark with a great view, the other a relative newcomer, but showing great promise.
Sea Watch On The Ocean
6002 N. Ocean Blvd., Lauderdale by the Sea
Sea Watch has been around for decades and is known for its stunning views as much as it is for its consistently good seafood. Perched high up on one of the few bluffs along the coast, the dining room is flanked by windows on all sides offering breathtaking views. Those views, along with the high-quality fare mean that you can expect to pay a substantial price tag for dinner.
Appetizers average $15-$20, although you can get a hefty cup of chowder (clam or conch) for only $6. The appetizers consist of the usual suspects; smoked salmon, fried calamari, crab cake, tuna tartare, assorted shellfish as well as Bahamian conch fritters. Salad options include a nicely presented bed of baby greens, Caesar salad, a Boston wedge salad with bacon and buttermilk-blue cheese dressing and a beet, pear, endive and walnut salad.
Entrees range in price from $13 for a simple pasta dish to $38 for the “Sea Watch Medley,” a combination of a fresh lobster tail, shrimp and scallops broiled with garlic butter and white wine sauce. Plain grilled fish entrees range $22-$29 and include swordfish, mahi mahi with Cajun spices, salmon, grouper, orange roughy, shrimp and scallops. Some of Sea Watch’s specialties include bouillabaisse and seafood paella (both $29) and its titular salad with charbroiled shrimp, lump crabmeat, red peppers, heart of palm, Kalamata olives, hardboiled egg, on a bed of tossed baby leaf greens with Louie dressing for $24.
The lunch menu, with similar entrees, but also sandwich and entrée salad options will set you back about half as much. Brunch runs about $15-$20 a person, with the exception of the lobster Benedict, which is $24. During off season (May 17 to Dec. 24) the Dinner at Dusk menu (served from 5 to 6 p.m. nightly) is a great bargain at $23.95 and includes a choice of clam chowder, conch chowder or a green salad, one of several entrées, including; crab tostada, filet mignon, blackened mahi, 1¼ lb. whole lobster (broiled or steamed), the “Sea Watch Medley”, or the catch of the day and a choice of either Key lime pie or ice cream for dessert.
Service is friendly (for the price point it should be little more polished) and there is an extensive, if a bit over-priced, wine list and a full cocktail menu.
Even Keel Fish & Oyster
4100 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Even Keel literally means keeping a boat’s midsection, or keel, in a level position, assuring steady sailing. It’s also used to mean that something is stable and running in a smooth manner. That can certainly be said for the Even Keel restaurant, a fairly new (in the past year), addition to the Fort Lauderdale dining scene. On a recent visit the restaurant buzzed with an energy that comes from a team working together at a top level. Even when screw-ups occur, as they did with our dinner, they were handled with such finesse that we didn’t even mind.
My husband and I celebrated our 25thwedding anniversary by treating ourselves to a nice seafood meal. My husband is a lacto-ovo-pescatarian, meaning that he eats, dairy and eggs and some fish, but is basically a vegetarian. We were impressed that Even Keel, a chef driven, farm to table restaurant, has a vegan/vegetarian menu in addition to a full menu of seafood (and some meat) offerings.
We made our reservations online and in the comments section I mentioned that we were celebrating our 26thwedding anniversary. As soon as we gave our name to the hostess, we were greeted with a big smile and wishes for a happy anniversary. Color me impressed! We chose to dine indoors and were shown to a nice corner booth in the nearly deserted restaurant (we were having an early dinner), although the veranda and bar were packed. The waiter also wished us a happy anniversary as we settled in for a nice relaxing evening. As we enjoyed our cocktail (Thank Pier!-our SFGN co-owner happened to see us as we entered and sent over drinks as an anniversary present) as we perused the menu.)
Even Keel’s menu is divided into three sections; small and large plates, as well as pizzas from the wood oven. My husband managed to find so many tempting dishes on the main menu that we barely glanced at the vegetarian menu, which consisted of a few pasta dishes and a couple of pizzas. The vegan menu offered up a couple of pizzas, a Panzanella salad and roasted cauliflower.
We began our meal with the Caesar salad, which for me, is always an indicator of the quality of the restaurant. The $12 salad, made to order, is bathed in just the right amount of the anchovy-caper dressing and was accompanied by toast points bearing white anchovy filets! My hubby’s shrimp and crab bisque was topped with a dollop of sweet corn and crab salad and a savory whipped cream. Both dishes were perfectly prepared. We also opted for the breadbasket. I’m normally peeved when a restaurant charges you for bread, but the grilled ciabatta and whipped honey made it worth every penny. Other small plate choices include crispy cauliflower with blue crab, charred octopus, crispy brussels sprouts, and panzanella and kale salads.
By the time we were finished with our appetizers and that wonderful bread, I almost asked them to pack up our entrees, I was completely sated. However, my fried fisherman’s basket arrived, chock full of oysters, scallops, calamari and shrimp, so I pressed on. My husband’s entrée arrived seconds later, a beautiful plate of grilled scallops. They looked delish. However, he had ordered the lobster roll and hates scallops. Within seconds the restaurant’s manager appeared and apologized and promised to have the lobster roll brought out immediately. He also left the scallops for us. We were baffled by the mix-up, our waiter had repeated my husband’s dish back to him and had even explained Even Keel’s lobster roll is served hot, so we know he got the order right. By the time we could even finish wondering, my husband’s dinner appeared, exactly as ordered.
Other dinner possibilities include; a Wagyu burger with cheddar and bacon, chicken and seafood paella, hanger steak, grilled black grouper, red snapper, Chilean sea bass cheek, and short rib. We finished our meal with the sticky toffee cake and vanilla bean ice cream. You might also opt for Key lime pie, ice cream, chocolate pot de crème or a combination of roasted bananas, rum caramel, coconut ice cream, toasted coconut, and walnuts. The kitchen sent out a plate decorated with chocolate spelling out “Congratulations on your 39thAnniversary,” We got a big kick out of it.
As we were leaving, we noticed a sign for the specials and suddenly the reason why the veranda was packed was clear; on Wednesday nights it’s just $5 for entry level wines on the veranda. Other specials include all you can eat mussels for $19 per person on Wednesday and 11/4 lb. lobsters for $29 on Thursday.