Friday, January 7, 2011
Johnny V - Ringing in the New Year in Style
Johnny V - 625 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale FL 33301
New Year's Eve is always a fun time for Dan and me, as we've made it our tradition to spend it with good friends Matt and Kate. And the fact that these two live in sunny Fort Lauderdale certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to ringing in the New Year. Being that our friends are foodies like us, we always look forward to the restaurant that will make it as the New Year's Eve choice for dinner. This year it was Johnny V's.
Located on the trendy and restaurant-clad, Las Olas Blvd in Fort Lauderdale, Johnny V's boasts an excellent location for locals and tourists alike. And even though there are more than a dozen great restaurants to choose from right on that street, Johnny V's stands out in location (it's at the front of the strip) and also in quality (just delicious!)
Decor-wise, the long rectangular dining room is understated, modern and carries a deep red and black color scheme. Large, dramatic light fixtures serve as the conversation pieces in this no nonsense room, and they emanate a soft, dim light that feels comfortable. Besides the main dining room, there's also a second room tucked away in the back, directly adjacent to it. This is where we sat, which was more than OK by me, as it felt more intimate, cozy and private.
Featuring a unique style of Caribbean-influenced New Florida Cuisine, Johnny V's does not fall short on variety, flavor and culinary excitement. Johnny V, who's second initial stands for "Vinczenz" has been the darling of South Florida's food scene for quite a number of years, his recognition gaining him a spot on Food Network's Iron Chef America where he competed against Chef Bobby Flay. Quite a lot to live up to, we thought as we enthusiastically selected our New Year's Eve meal:
Appetizers - As soon as I saw that they had duck meatballs on the menu, I couldn't turn them down. Trying this specialty previously at Ornella, I was curious about how they'd measure up at Johnny's. Wowza - what an impression they made! Significant in size and explosive in flavor, these hit it out of the park. The meat was juicy and succulent, boasting an earthy quality not only from the fresh spices used throughout but also from a bed of portobello mash that served as a vessel for all the meaty goodness. Crunchy pine nuts and garlicky pesto further dressed this dish and gave it sharpness and a bit of toothsomeness.
Our second app was a braised mussels dish that also surpassed expectations. A mussel is certainly not just a mussel in my book. There are mussels and there are mussels. These fell into the second category, given their hefty shell and interior meat size. We didn't feel like we had to eat a lot of them to get full, as just a few pieces certainly satisfied our craving. The broth in this dish was excellent, featuring chunks of chorizo, tomato and peas, floating in a rich saffron reduction - it was perfect to dip your bread into once you ran out of mussels, which we did.
Entrees - If the apps didn't already energize our palate, the entrees certainly did. We chose a nice variety of dishes - Kate went for the braised boneless short ribs, both guys got surf and turf and I went with the Sage Grilled Florida Dolphin.
While the only other dish I tasted besides my own was Dan's, Matt and Kate seemed very satisfied with their entrees, praising the quality of preparation and the delicious ingredients.
My dolphin fish (or mahi mahi) was delicious, but it wasn't just the protein that captivated me - it was the interesting Caribbean sides as well. Rock shrimp plantain stuffing served with a lobster pan gravy immediately won me over. Exemplifying three different flavor profiles, it comprised the perfect bite of savoriness (from the shrimp), smokiness (from pieces of chorizo) and earthiness (from the plantains). Overall, the plate was expertly put together, looking like a whimsical piece of art, rather than just a plate of food. I loved the arrangement of the baby greens and carrots, elevating the color scheme in this dish and letting the eyes do some of the tasting first.
Dan's surf and turf was also top notch, and I tried his char-grilled shrimp, which were a total treat. Seasoned with fresh herbs and dressed with lime juice, the dish popped on your palate and stood up well against the side of fragrant truffled mashed potatoes that seemed to blow everyone away. Next time around, I'm getting a special side order of just that.
Dessert - Although we technically didn't have room for dessert, we couldn't skip it, and chose the three berry creme brulee pot pie. Wow oh wow! Not only was this dish again visually beautiful, it tasted amazing. The custardy interior was zesty and fresh and didn't weigh you down. And the crust was something else, as in something out of this world. Made from macademia nuts and then laced with a thick layer of white chocolate, it represented exquisite decadence. We pretty much battled over that crust and could've polished off another portion easily.
Service and Cost:
Starting a bit shaky, the service improved as our meal progressed. We took into account the typical New Year's Eve frenzy that falls upon even the best restaurants, but overall I thought they did a nice job. Even though our waiter was a bit eccentric, he came by quite a number of times to ensure that all was OK and that we didn't feel neglected.
Costs are expensive on a regular night but were even higher on New Year's Eve (for the same menu), which was a bit of a bummer. Here are their regular dinner prices:
Appetizers - $10 - $21
Salads - $10 - $18
Entrees - $25 -$39
Desserts - $8 - $12