This month Ember Grill is celebrating its one-year anniversary. The Ray Hotel’s modern bistro opened with grand fanfare—a beacon of growth for a quaint seaside town evolving into a cool, bohemian destination.
Helming the kitchen is Joe Zanelli, who has worked with renowned chefs like Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck and Laurent Tourondel. He has nearly three decades of experience, and relocated from Las Vegas to Delray to launch both Ember Grill and Rosewater Rooftop, the hotel’s second dining concept. Like many others, he faced staffing challenges when the restaurant first opened, garnering harsh comments from patrons that he frankly didn’t deserve. His food at Ember Grill is varied to appeal to a variety of palates and has a few delightful twists.
Pick your favorite spirit and you’ll find an interesting cocktail on the menu. I sipped on the Garden of Eden ($14), a gin-forward drink well balanced with basil, mint syrup and lime juice that was tart and refreshing. (The cocktail menu does change, as one of my favorite cocktails was no longer on the menu when I dined, but I’m sure the bartender would have been gracious enough to re-create it had I asked.)
We started with the Duck Pancakes ($42) and the Flaming Crab Dip ($26). While a $42 appetizer may seem steep, it’s a generous portion that’s shareable or could even double as an entrée. I was intrigued to find Peking duck on the menu and wasn’t disappointed. It comes with a stack of airy, crepe-like pancakes, hoisin sauce and sliced scallions. You can tell the kitchen takes pride and patience to prepare this classic dish that comes out crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. The crab dip adds excitement to the evening when it’s lit on fire tableside. I’ve had plenty of crab dips that were more cheese and mayo than crab, but this one was crab-centric, and we slathered it on fluffy naan bread.
For entrées, the Maine Lobster & Sweet Corn Ravioli ($28) is an Ember Grill staple. The decadent dish is made with corn pudding stuffed into house-made pasta and topped with a saucy, citrusy beurre blanc. I rarely order chicken out, but our waitress sold us on the Josper Oven Roasted Chicken ($34), touting that its preparation in the wood-burning oven imported from Spain would not disappoint. The chicken did come out crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, but it wasn’t necessarily a standout. However, the aji verde that complemented it was something I’d happily pour over many other dishes. Also, don’t skip the Loaded Potato Pave ($12) that combines the best of a baked potato and scalloped potatoes into one side dish of paper-thin slices baked and topped with béchamel and bacon.
To end the evening, flash back to yesteryear with an iconic baked Alaska that blazes on your table and smells of marshmallows. Make sure to get all the flavors in one bite—the white chocolate and strawberry ice cream, cake and gooey warm meringue.
IF YOU GO
233 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach; 561/739-1705; embergrilldelray.com
PARKING: Valet and street parking
HOURS: Daily 5 – 10/11 p.m.