Clay Conley Opens Buccan in Palm Beach

January isn’t even over yet but already what promises to be one of the year’s hottest restaurants has made its debut in Palm Beach.

Buccan (350 S. County Road, 561/833-3450), named for the wooden grill used in the Caribbean to cook over an open fire, opened its doors a few days back, bringing the casual, eclectic fare of top toque Clay Conley to hungry denizens of the Island and beyond.

Conley, former corporate chef for the Todd English empire and successor to Michelle Bernstein at Miami’s uber-swank Mandarin Oriental, partnered with friends and one-time Todd English colleagues Piper Quinn and Sam Slattery to open the 150-seat eatery, which takes over the restaurant-eating space once home to Beach House Bistro and Galaxy Grille.
Inside, the restaurant is done in soothing earth tone with a look that might be described as elegant Caribbean casual. It features an exhibition kitchen with wood-fired grill and oven, a stylish bar that wraps around a corner to a pub-like counter, a comfy lounge with overstuffed chairs and sofas at the entrance, and a glassed-in wine room. The two hottest seats in the house should be a pair of high tables connected to the counter fronting the kitchen, offering a saute pan’s view of the chefs at work.

The mostly small-plates menu is divided into various categories (Pinchos, Raw, Green, Crispy, Flour + Water, Wood-Fire Roasted and Wood-Fire Grilled). Among its highlights are sweetbread and mushroom spring rolls, steak tartare with black truffle and crispy egg yolk, braised oxtail empanadas, squid ink orrechiette with sausage and conch, shellfish paella and Korean-style shortribs.

The wine list isn’t encyclopedic but it is quite thoughtfully chosen, hitting a full range of price points ($22 to $375) and offering many off the drinkin’ path bottles like the Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rouge, Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir and Quintessa “llumination” Sauvignon Blanc.

Prices are surprisingly moderate, with most dishes ranging from $8 to $14 for half-portions and topping out at $38 for full-size plates (perfect for sharing). The menu will change with the seasons and availability of ingredients, so look for new dishes to go on as old dishes go off.