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
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
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.