By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
One standout under the heading "New World paellas" was a soup-bowl of corn grits with lobster, shrimp, and lump crab meat. Though not as overwhelming as the restaurant's main plates -- at least in terms of size -- the combination of grain and seafood was both filling and fulfilling. Chunks of the sweet, buttery crustaceans dotted the creamy corn mixture, with a garnish of truffle oil providing an earthy splash. Slightly bitter shredded collard greens contributed color and contrast.
The roast pork Havana entree was a study in plenitude. Blackened with a piquant mixture of spices, inch-thick slices of pork were cays in a sea of sherried black beans. A tropical-tuber hash comprising chunks of boniato, sweet potato, and yuca, was dense and slightly bland, a good foil for the intense pickled red onions that topped the pork. Crisp plantain chips curled as kings of the hill.
A spice-rubbed swordfish steak, also blackened, was laid on a smoky, chunky tomato sauce. I enjoy fish that has been cooked rare, but this steak was too underdone even for my taste. Having been visited again by the flame, the fish was brought back more to our liking, the meat flaky rather than chewy, white rather than crimson. A fire-blistered corn relish, sweet with jicama and tart with vinegar, topped the steak, while cayenne-seasoned fried onion rings, thin and just a bit greasy near the bottom of the pile, rounded out the dish.
One of the elements that drew me to a Mano was its wide-ranging menu, which promoted game along with more commonly appreciated Florida fishes. Patrons at Martha's Tropical Grille can be equally adventurous, wiping out a host of Disney characters all in the same evening. The venison entree, medallions as scarlet and tender as carpaccio and as rich as filet mignon, was the evening's finest preparation. Marinated with molasses and Tabasco sauce, the pungent meat was highlighted by a glaze of ancho chilies and currants. Grilled zucchini and summer squash and roasted red potatoes provided sturdy, basic flavors to this perfect plate.
After such a satisfying meal, dessert was a challenge A not only consuming one but choosing one. Pastry chef Ann Minty (who also worked with Howard at Gus' Grille) prepared a multilayered construction of chocolate with bananas that had been soaked in rum. It left us with little room for regret, though, enhanced as it was by the fabulous view from Martha's second-story windows: boats gliding on the Intracoastal at a no-wake pace, an eerily spotlighted mangrove stand so dense that it looked like a forest. The subtropical vista, well-appointed interior, and Van Aken-influenced talents of up-and-coming chef Scott Howard combine as evidence that Martha's Tropical Grille has the old-line Hollywood restaurant scene headed in a fascinating New World direction.