Palm Beach is different from other tidy resort cities that line the Florida Coast. While remarkably tidy, it is also both eccentric and pretty, and I do believe it has its own wacky, elegant soul.
If indeed there is an aesthetic soul fluttering in Palm Beach it is the work and influence of a Californian artist turned architect, Addison Cairns Mizner. In 1918, Mizner moved to Florida just as resort hotels were fading in popularity and private ocean front mansions were becoming the rage. His hurricane resistant Mediterranean Revival designs set the standard in romantic opulence, making him the society architect of choice. Snubbing the cookie cutter effects of modern architecture, Mizner brought a bit of mystery to his estates and private clubs creating a rambling "add-on" quality to his spaces. Besides his famous structures, his work thrives in courtyards and narrow alleys off Worth Avenue where you can stroll, check out the small privately owned shops and "discover" your newest, secret rendezvous – Renato's.
Not that Renato's needs discovering! Renato's is old Palm Beach, the way the Bel Air Hotel is old LA: There is a charming, relaxed insider atmosphere with just the hint of indiscreet desire – the best spice for a really good dish. And, good dishes are only an order away, if you can catch your waiter's attention. Do not expect to see empty tables here.
However, let's start with the stroll along Via Mizner, the winding walkway that leads off Worth Ave past seductive boutiques such as Jackie Rogers (with their classic Palm Beach Navajo Sandals and sexy evening wear), Thomas Maier (bikinis and cool spiked bracelets), Angela Moore (sarongs) and the eccentric Barzina that sells books, antiques, jewelry and decorative objects (Glory Be, they even had my Met Opera book, In Grand Style) and finally at the end of the alley is our uber charming hideaway.
There is nothing new or hip about Renato's. It is simply romantic! Entering the French doors takes you immediately into the bungalow style restaurant with its faux Pierre Deux fabric covered walls and the nearby entrance to its patio seating – both equally inviting!
If there is an A section, it is of little importance, for there is not a spot in this restaurant that would not seem perfect for a quiet intimate dinner for two!
Let me announce with some wistfulness that the head chef is from Mexico City. I tried to entice the staff to talk him into preparing the soft sweet flavors of a Districto Federale mancha manteles, por favor.Not likely. This graceful spot is not going south of the border for anyone. Continental, per favore!
…And, forget about that delicious sounding pasta dish with fresh Lobster! The waiter informed us it was actually fresh Lobster Mushrooms, which aren't even mushrooms but parasites. Picking Nits again!
For the politically incorrect, there is Seared Foie Gras with Carmelize Figs and Cranberries in a Black Berry Brandy Sauce. Also among the Primi Piatti, Pan Seared Scallops with Grilled Polenta with a Roasted Red Pepper Truffle Sauce, and a Carmelized Pear, Candied Pistachio, Baby Greens, and Aged Goat Cheese with Champagne Vinaigrette.
Renato's is known for its fine pasta dishes, and even the one with Lobster Mushrooms is probably quite good, but at this meal our table of dieters passed on the Tagliolini alla Bolognese and went directly to Secondo.
Most of us at the table ordered the Sogliola in Padella, Sautéed Dover Sole in a Lemon White Wine and Butter Sauce – our theory being if you see an elegantly prepared Dover Sole on the menu order it! Bill, my darling husband, stuck to an incredibly tasty Rib Eye Steak perfectly prepared Pittsburg style.
Also sounding quite tasty, Pan Seared Oven Roasted, Wild Flower Honey Glazed Salmon with a delicate Crab and Corn Flan.
We passed on dessert.
When the patio is full, the service slows to unbearably long waits between courses, and as many waves to the waiters as there are to friends seated at nearby tables. I guess when they begin to wave back and throw kisses; you know it is time to order another bottle of wine….
87 Via Mizner
Palm Beach, FL 33480-4610
by Chef Mark Shoup