Some of the most exciting dishes in Palm Beach County are being served in the airy, glass-paneled dining room of Cielo, the 27th floor restaurant of the posh Boca Raton Resort & Club.
It isn’t often like that. Many such way-upscale resorts play it way-safe, not wanting to challenge the taste buds of their mostly conservative clientele, turning out food that may be technically perfect but stays well within the culinary envelope. Not that the resort has abandoned the conservative diner, but Cielo is certainly giving more adventurous eaters something pretty tasty to chew on.
Props go to the resort folks and Cielo culinary director Michaela Larson for installing Nader Jaouhar as chef de cuisine, a native of Senegal who’s drawing on his heritage to infuse the restaurant’s Mediterranean-esque menu with the bold, vibrant flavors of the Middle East and North Africa.
Three dishes in particular grabbed my tastebuds and wouldn’t let go.
First was one of the best things that has passed my lips all year, a truly ravishing starter featuring perfectly al dente tendrils of lightly smoked octopus over a barigoule of baby artichokes, gigante beans, chickpeas, and red and yellow tomatoes, with paper-thin slices of savory Turkish sujuk sausage and shreds of dusky-tangy preserved lemon. The seasonings, the combination of ingredients, the way they played off each other yet seamlessly melded together was positively inspired. It’s worth one night’s stay at the resort just for this dish.
The other two knockouts were crab-avocado strata and duck fatayer, the latter a play on a sort of Middle Eastern empanada. The crab dish was layered round of sea-sweet crab alternating with mashed avocado, wrapped in thin sheets of cucumber and set in a pool of tahini-preserved lemon sauce. What was even better, though, were a trio of edamame-crab falafels, thick little coins that were golden and crispy on the outside, creamy and crabby inside, and thoroughly delicious every place else.
The duck was a study in duckyness, cinnamon-scented, duck-filled filo packets with hazelnuts and pine nuts, a decadent foie gras butter sauce, house-cured duck “prosciutto” and tangy spinach and cucumber tzatziki.
Remember the name, Nader Jaouhar. This guy’s the real deal.