Bimini Boatyard gets a facelift, new chef
Submitted Thursday, October 29, 2009
AS SEEN IN THE MIAMI HERALD – October 29, 2009
When it opened in 1989, Bimini Boatyard became the hot place to go on Fort Lauderdale’s 17th Street Causeway. Fancy cars filled the parking lots, mega yachts docked out back and people-watching was over the top.
As it began showing its age, Bimini dropped off the radar screen, but new owner Steve Hudson aims to put the waterfront restaurant back in the spotlight. He bought Bimini 18 months ago, hired chef Michael Bennett (Left Bank, Epicure), and this summer closed for a few weeks for a major nip-tuck.
Hudson reopened with a big bash in September to celebrate Bimini’s rejuvenation. And it does look fresher and younger. Royal blue couches in the lounge and roomy booths in the 369-seat dining room add coziness to a big, airy space.
The overall design is unchanged — despite the name, the exterior resembles a New England boathouse with dormers, a flag-topped cupola and lots of windows — but just about everything else has been updated, from the bathrooms to the gleaming oak floors and expanded patio (with a new bar), which seats 120. With its lovely marina view and breezy ambience, Bimini is again a destination you show off to out-of-towners.
Bennett, who lived in the Virgin Islands four years and self-published a cookbook called In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks in June, has updated the menu. Expect more Caribbean-style dishes and a focus on fish along with crowd-pleasers like steaks, pasta and burgers. Signature items like sweet Bimini bread (almost like a cinnamon roll without the cinnamon), crispy calamari and popular Diane salad also remain.
At lunchtime, the young, friendly staff was accommodating and efficient, but on a busier Saturday night, our server was harried and our starters arrived before the silverware.
A popular starter of Diane salad is a hit, big enough to share, with diced chicken, toasted almonds, crisp rice noodles, orange wedges, sesame seeds and lots of chilled greens dressed in a light Asian-style vinaigrette.
Tangy Jamaican jerk-spiced chicken wings have plenty of kick, but most impressive was the exquisite calabaza bisque, served on Saturdays. We could have sipped bowlfuls of the sweet, creamy West Indian pumpkin purée. A garnish of baby shrimp adds a hint of the sea.
The chef’s Caribbean choices are laden with sauces and complex tropical accents, from a “bronzing’ caramel mop to a “western Caribbean margarita derivation.’ Some are more appealing than others. Our favorite was the Martinique black grouper, the fish perfectly grilled, with a mango glaze and a topping of crabmeat. In the Snapper Viequez, plated with tomato salsa and a flavorful melange of spinach and yuca, the fish itself was fresh and moist but the buerre blanc sauce was a little rich. The puffy diver scallops were wood-fired yet didn’t have much flavor.
If you don’t like all the fuss, turn to the simply grilled fish (blackened and Jamaican jerk glaze also options). The angler at our table was happy with his swordfish (see below), grilled over a wood fire, supple and well-seasoned, served with a choice of two sides like baked potato, mac and cheese, grilled vegetables and broccolini.
Meats include wood-fired steaks, prime rib, baby backs and our choice, San Juan pork tenderloin. Served with a tasty black bean, corn and mango salsa, it gets plenty of flavor from a chipotle-mango marinade but was a bit overcooked.
Desserts include standards like Key lime pie, tiramisu and “Death by Chocolate.’ We didn’t detect the sweet-tartness of the advertised passion fruit in an infused creme brlée, but the mango cheesecake brought a smile.