Guacamole and other avocado dishes star on Avocado Grill’s menu of small plates. /photo provided.
Julien Gremaud is closing in on the finishing touches of his new downtown West Palm Beach restaurant, Avocado Grill. He’s hiring in preparation for the opening tentatively set for next week.
We caught up with the former executive chef of Pistache, now opening his own concept, during construction at the 1955 building on Datura to talk about the new venture. It’s in the spot that once was home to Spoto’s Oyster Bar, Gratify Gastropub, and most recently, Barrel and Grain.
I stepped around tools, building materials and workers on ladders to meet him in the restaurant for a tour of the large room that will be divided into a bar area and dining space. Outdoor dining also is in place out front and along the west side of the building.
In lime (he said avocado) green shorts and a pink shirt, he was all smiles despite the chaos.
“We’re improving the space throughout,” he said. An open kitchen still remains from the days of Spoto’s, but the bar area, which once swooped into the bar area, is smaller to allow bigger bar tables and more dining seating.
The “casual, sophisticated” restaurant’s theme is avocados, symbolizing fresh Florida foods with a healthy profile.
“They’re a superfood, too, and I just love them – I think they are what a Florida lifestyle is about. People are getting
The location on the waterfront was perfect for his idea, he said.]
“As soon as I saw this space, we wanted to brighten it. It screams healthy food, great cocktails, wine and sharing plates of food.”
The new American menu
Julien Gremaud chose a piece of a ship’s hull from Bali as a tabletop for community dining at Avocado Grill. /photo by Jan Norris
It’s what today’s diners are beginning to seek out, he said.
“People want to eat healthier today. And lighter foods – especially in South Florida. When it’s 100 degrees outside, you want something more refreshing.
“It’s how they eat in Italy. It’s all about the climate,” he said, and in Saint-Tropez, his hometown in coastal France.
The theme also lends itself to small, shared plates.
“I think we miss that concept in America. My inspiration was how appealing it is to be able to sit down and try different things in one meal. Share sushi or oysters with friends over a glass of wine.”
He sees restaurants everywhere changing their menu formats.
“I strongly believe we will lose the traditional concept of appetizer, main dish and dessert as a meal,” he said. “Small plates are the way it is going to be in the future. The great thing about them is you get to taste different creations all in one meal and discover new flavors.”
It’s also playing off the social aspect of sharing a meal with friends and talking to one another – slowing down and actually having conversations, he said. A large table in the bar area is for communal seating.
“Everything we do comes in coquottes (small casserole containers), and individual ramekins set in the middle of the table.”
Flavors for the dishes will be drawn from other sun-drenched countries around the Mediterranean, Asia and South America, he said.
Self-designed, and sustainable build-out
Booths and tables are Gremaud’s design. /photo provided
He stops to peel back a sheet of thick plastic to show off a communal table for the bar area, made of recycled ship’s wood. Gremaud is overseeing all aspects of the décor.
“It’s part of a hulk of a Balinese ship – over 100 years old. The wood is so beautiful.” A faint layer of paint still shows through – put on to protect the wood, he said. “I love the old wood and iron,” he said. “It has history.”
It’s also a form of recycling, he figures, which fits into his theme of earth-friendly foods.
Reclaimed shutters will go on the wall in front of the kitchen. Vinyl that looks like fabric will cover the small banquettes and a local marble company will make the tabletops.
“The most complicated thing is the back bar,” he said. A shelf system suspended from the ceiling will hold the bottles.
“It is the weight of a car. We will have strong cables holding it up.”
A stainless steel raw bar will be next to the drinks area. “We’ll have fresh oysters, but we’ll shuck them in the back. It’s a beautiful open kitchen so you can see it all right there.”
A mirror behind the bar will reflect the light and brighten the room, but Grimaud is keen on the huge doors that open out to reveal the amphitheater, and Intracoastal beyond it.
“The doors will be open all the time. I think it’s a beautiful view, and we will still have seating outside on the sidewalk. We’re adding more seats to the side of the building and changing the plants, too.”
The city code won’t allow for a wall or even certain landscaping for the outside area that borders a parking lot. “We wanted a door to open out there and make it easier but they city won’t allow that, either,” he said.
Grimaud scoured antique shops, flea markets and stores to find décor and serving pieces.
He smiles broadly telling of his recent trip to his native France, where he took time off to get engaged – all while shopping for the restaurant.
“I found copper dishes for small plates at the flea market there.”
The price made him pause, he said. Not long ago, you could find inexpensive old copper kitchenware there, he said, but no longer. “It used to be thrown away – now they are all looking for it to buy it back,” he said, shrugging.
Hand-molded tile for the bar was another quest. “It’s everywhere in Europe, but you don’t find it here.”
He located only one man doing them in Miami – and he’s eight months out in orders, Gremaud said. Though he could have bought them off the Internet, he chose to go with the local artisan as part of his commitment to buying local whenever possible.
Local artisans and food producers will be a large part of the restaurant, he said.
“I’ll buy bread from a local bakery and try to support the local community. But, if you do only farm-to-table, you will have a very limited menu. You can’t get certain things here in summer and some things not at all.”
Artichokes aren’t grown in Florida, yet he wants crispy artichoke hearts on his menu.
Local foods emphasized
He’s partnering with local produce buyer Joe Scalisi to create the seasonally inspired menu and source products in season found on local farms.
“He’ll juggle the information and see who has what. I want to eventually build up relationships with the farmers,” Grenaud said.
The sources of the ingredients will be listed on the menu whenever possible.
The menu is divided into eight categories – avocado, salads, vegetables, land, sea, pasta, sushi and large plates.
Sushi will be only rolls, and not the usual, he said.
While there will be vegetable plates on the menu, and some gluten-free foods, “I will not be focused on vegan dishes,” he said. “There will be a wide list of vegetables to choose, and of course, six or seven preparations with avocados.”
Beverages get their own craft treatment – cocktails made with infusions made in-house, and fresh juices for drinks like a kiwi-basil margarita. “We’ll be using things like coconut milk and yuzu in some.”
House-made desserts round it all out.
He’s hoping it all catches quickly, though a soft opening is planned to work out any problems. But he remains confident.
“I’ve had plenty of time to prepare. It will be approachable and I think people will like it,” he said. “I hope they do.”
- 125 Datura St., West Palm Beach
- 561-506-0821; avocadogrill.com
- Opening mid-October for dinner daily, and brunch on the weekends.
Tags: The Eat Beat: Restaurant News
September 29th, 2014 · No Comments
Gold-toned interior of Palm Beach’s Meat Market is designed to be “female-friendly.” /photo by South Moon Photography.
Miami’s “Touch” team, restaurant guru David Tornek and chef Sean Brasel, are bringing their talents to Palm Beach with the opening tonight of the Meat Market.
The upscale steakhouse of the same name has held sway over Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road since 2008, opening to a buzz created by the duo’s first see-and -be-“scene” spot, Touch, now closed.
The gold-toned, 3,000-square-feet restaurant and lounge is touted as “sexy” and “female-friendly” – belying the man-cave stereotype of steakhouses.
It includes the Crudo Bar, a raw bar with shellfish, ceviches and seafood carpaccio that sports signature sauces such as yuzu truffle mignonette, atomic horseradish and habanero cocktail sauce for the fresh oysters. Charcuterie and cheese also are on the menu, exclusive to the Palm Beach branch.
Lively bar crowd expected
The team is planning for an energetic buzz at their bar, and will offer cocktails from Ezra Pattek, mixologist. Modern takes on standards – a Smoky Negroni, a Rested Manhattan – pepper the drink menu.
Bar plates are available from 4-6 p.m. and include an oyster po’ boy, buffalo cheese steak, lobster “pigs-in-a-blanket” and a fig and prosciutto flatbread.
Chef Sean Brasel /photo courtesy Meat Market.
Brasel is known for his innovative takes on traditional and modern American fare. He will be starting in the kitchen with chef de cuisine, David Valencia, who’s just come from Catch in New York and Catch, Miami Beach – both from Top Chef’s Hung Huynh. Andrew Dugard is general manager, with a background in corporate restaurants like Planet Hollywood and the Walt Disney Co. eateries.
The menu is, as its name implies, meat-friendly. Steak is at the forefront, with a three-tiered system of selection.
Kobe, Wagyu and buffalo on steaks list
Signature Steaks is an ala carte menu – New york steaks, filet mignon, prime ribeye and bone-in ribeye are on this menu. Reserved Cuts on tier two offer ultra-premium cuts such as Certified Angus prime short ribeye, a 30-0unce Australian Kobe beef Tomahawk ribeye; 32-ounce center cut dry-aged porterhouse and a Gold Label Kobe filet mignon. The final tier is a mix of chef specialty dishes, including a 12-ounce Wagyu skirt steak with lemongrass, ginger and roasted chili, a half chicken roulade with bacon-braised kale parsnip puree, roasted fall vegetables and chicken jus, and a Durham Ranch buffalo tenderloin with a chili and espresso rub, and a chocolate molé butter.
Kobe beef tartare /photo courtesy Meat Market
Fish , including cedar paper salmon, branzino and and seabass are among the non-meat selections.
For après-dinner drinks and dessert, a Pastry Bar and Lounge will have cozy club chairs and banquettes, designed by decorator Anthea Bosch-Moschini.
For now, the restaurant is serving dinner only; they’ll wait for holiday season to launch lunch.
The Meat Market is at 191 Bradley Place, Palm Beach. Phone 561-354-9800; meatmarket.net. Open for dinner beginning at 4 p.m.; reservations accepted. Lunch service will begin in December.
Tags: The Eat Beat: Restaurant News · Where to Eat in Palm Beach County
September 18th, 2014 · 1 Comment
Everything is made from scratch in Ed Conover’s SLICE of Palm Beach Gardens. /photo by Jan Norris
Don’t be something you’re not. That’s the advice Ed Conover, owner of SLICE of Palm Beach Gardens. His pizzeria has been open three months.
“I want to be a mom and pop neighborhood pizzeria,” he said. “That put off some of the customers of the old place that was here – they were doing a full-blown Italian restaurant. The customers get mad because we don’t have seafood or veal on the menu.“
What he does have is pizza – made totally from scratch. He makes the dough, grows the basil, and hand-crushes tomatoes for the sauce he also makes.
“I get up early – I’m here from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days,” he said. “I do it all. It’s hard work, but I love it.”
He’s used to hard work – the 48-year-old is a former heavy-equipment operator, and ran bulldozers and cranes at construction sites in South Florida and South Jersey. “I was working on that big airport rebuild in Fort Lauderdale,” he said.
So what drove him from pushing dirt to throwing pizza?
“When I worked in a pizza place as a kid, I had so much fun – I just wanted to have that fun again. The shop I worked at as a kid, we were all young. It was a very busy place, but we all worked together and had fun.
“I opened this place to have fun again.”
Conover, originally of Staten Island, N.Y., has no formal training in the kitchen. “I just know what tastes good and goes together.”
He’s using recipes inspired by his grandmother’s – though not her exact ones.
“My grandmother’s pizza was the best. She influenced me. My mom and grandmother are full Italian. My mom never learned to cook – my grandmother did all the cooking and wouldn’t let her in the kitchen. But I spent so much time with her – she just turned 90. I learned to cook watching her as a kid.
“I’ve begged my grandmother all these years for her dough recipe…she tells me she’ll leave it to me in her will,” he said, laughing.
The pies he makes are, for the most part, traditional. “All we had were sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms growing up. That’s what I know.”
He calls the modern pizza combinations he’s seen “designer” pizzas.
“I have requests for stuff I’d never thought to put on a pizza – I remember when ham and pineapple became popular – Hawaiian pizza they call it. Then they started getting crazy. On the boardwalk on the Jersey shore, they put baked ziti on your pizza, or French fries. A loaded baked potato pizza – you can get anything on a pizza there.
“I do a pizza with shrimp and fra diavolo sauce. And I make a roast beef one with brown gravy instead of red sauce, and provolone cheese. You wouldn’t think it would be good, but it really is. One day, I was here and made myself one and a couple of people saw it and tried it and they liked it. That’s as exotic as I know, though.”
It’s all from fresh ingredients – on that, he’s a stickler, he said. “You can’t compromise on quality. Everything here is made fresh. I make my dough from scratch, and my sauce. You can buy pre-grated cheese in the bag. I won’t do that – it’s not fresh once it’s grated. So I buy the blocks and grate my own fresh every day.”
There are pastas and salads on the menu as well, but the focus is on the pies.
He does buy rolls for his sandwiches. He tried making the breads himself, but it was too time consuming, he said.
“I tried several rolls and found a great bakery in Fort Lauderdale who delivers them fresh. They’re very good rolls.
“I buy bushels of mushrooms and slice them myself. I season them and cook them – never use mushrooms from a can. I grow my own basil in the back so I have it fresh all the time. I make a pizza with the fresh basil, mushrooms, and cheese – it’s almost like a Margharita.”
The best sellers are the traditional pizzas, but his best sandwich is a Philly cheesesteak, he said.
“I get prime rib, and slice it thin. Then I throw it on a flat-top grill, season the meat and the mushrooms – always fresh, not canned. I can put any cheese on it they want. But yeah, I have Cheez Whiz in the back. Some people ask especially for it.”
A specialty of the house is a “panzarotti,” a fried calzone – sort of. “It’s a pizza turnover, no ricotta. “There’s sauce, cheese, and whatever toppings you want. Then it’s deep fried – it gives it a whole different texture inside and out. They’re incredibly delicious.”
He says he’s not seen them anywhere else down here and believes they’re a product of the Jersey shore.
His other specialty is zeppole – fried dough sweetened with powdered sugar. His signature ones are filled with cannoli cream that he also makes himself. These are sprinkled with powdered sugar, and if the customer asks, drizzled with chocolate or caramel syrup.
“I call them fried dough sweet poppers,” he said. “Everybody loves them.”
He’s just now telling locals about the pizzeria, handing out flyers. His customers have come in through word-of-mouth, including the former owner of a popular pizzeria behind the plaza. “Albert used to own Alberto’s pizzeria behind me. He comes in a lot and has sent so many people to me – he loves my pizza.”
He thinks Slice will catch on. “It won’t be for lack of hard work. I think people will find out about my quality and integrity. I’m here from open to close – watching every sandwich, and I make every pizza myself. I’ll put my food up against anybody’s. All my customers know I stand behind my food 100 percent.”
What advice would he give to a potential restaurateur? “’Are you crazy?!’ Seriously, my advice would be to make sure that you are passionate and committed, because opening a restaurant will consume every waking minute of your time. And make sure that you have fun and love what you do, because it will help you through the stressful times.”
SLICE of Palm Beach Gardens
- 9910 Alt. A1A (Promenade Plaza), Palm Beach Gardens
- 561-360-2633; sliceofpalmbeachgardens.com
- Open daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; midnights on some weekends; delivery available.
Tags: Chefs of Note · Talking Tables