Restaurant ownership can be a fly-by-night industry. It’s “Here today, gone today” in many cases, with the most promising of chefs packing their knives and owners counting their losses.
So when we heard about d.b.a./café opening up in the location of two former restaurants, we were hopeful this new venture would work out since it was being helmed by Executive Chef Steve Zobel.
Formerly of East End Brasserie, located in the Atlantic Resort & Spa, Zobel’s food never disappointed. His departure was evident the first time we dined at East End under a different chef and menu. Although we didn’t know that was the situation at the time, we all noticed that something was off. Nothing we had that evening compared to what we had previously from Zobel’s kitchen.
He is doing things a little more down tempo with his all-new d.b.a./café. The restaurant is located between ABC Liquors and Dick’s Sporting Goods in a non-descript shopping center located on North Federal Highway in Ft. Lauderdale. The location was once home to Asahi City, a Thai cuisine and sushi restaurant. Then, when that folded, Café Jamm opened their doors. We moderately enjoyed both but neither stood out among other restaurants in the area.
Their loss is d.b.a./café’s gain. It’s easy to walk past this non-descript location, but it would be a shame, because the food is outstanding. Inside it looks more Bohemian than five star, with unfinished wood plank tables; napkins that look more like dish towels and a laid-back staff whose service was more off-the-cuff than urbane, which we appreciated. There are bookshelves stocked with an odd array of paperbacks, toys (one in particular, a small plastic “device” looked more suited for an adult than a child, no comment)…plus we noticed several guitars hanging on the wall. If you didn’t smell the delicious food being prepared in the back you’d expect to see people with laptop computers hanging out, taking advantage of free Wi Fi and drinking coffee.
The menu is an eclectic blend of comfort food and haute cuisine. There are a number of appetizers and entrees to satisfy most palates: from chicken and seafood to hearty meat and pasta dishes. We decided on a bowl of oyster stew to start that was savory, delicious and most importantly, didn’t lack its star ingredient. The wine menu isn’t lacking either, offering a number of choices—depending on one’s taste and budget—in whites and reds, and even sparkling wine. We ordered the Y3 Red Blend from Napa Valley, which was quite drinkable and would pair well with our dinner choices. Strangely enough our original wine choice was out of stock, so the Y3, at about the same price, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Our entrees not only sounded delicious as described on the menu, they were nothing short of spectacular (note: entrée items are served half and full sizes; a nice option for those who like to order multiple small dishes to share). The entrees our table chose included the apricot glazed duck confit served over an acorn squash crepe and brussel sprouts. The duck was cooked and seasoned to perfection. Another stellar choice was the “Carnival Chicken”, buttermilk-battered fried chicken and maple-glazed funnel cake (a whimsical take on fries chicken and waffles) which was flavorful and delicious. Next up were the braised short ribs, which came with a truffle potato puree and sautéed spinach. Our group’s short rib aficionado said it was one of the best he’s ever had. Lastly, but most certainly not least, was the pecan-crusted grouper with a buerre blanc, served over mushroom risotto and sautéed spinach. The grouper was flaky and delicious, and the pecan crust gave it a nice crunch. The risotto was also well prepared.
All in all, d.b.a./café has all the ingredients to be a success. So, ditch the coat and tie, forget all the hard and fast rules regarding fine dining, and just enjoy it for what it should be known for: great food in a comfortable, laid-back setting.