Inspiration, Activity at Every Turn

Exciting new restaurants are transforming the taste trip north of Miami-Dade.

As for Belleme, he's joined up with another empire-in-the-making, run by potential king Karl Alterman. Known for crowd-inducing Boca eateries that range from GiGi's to Max's Grille to the Red Bowl Rice & Noodle Company, Alterman is working hard on two new eateries. In early spring 2004 he'll launch Mo-Quila, a downtown Boca Raton tequila lounge whose kitchen will be staffed by a family of chefs from the Los Altos Mountains (north of Guadalajara, Mexico). Meanwhile he's just revamped the Lake Avenue Grille, the Gulfstream Hotel property in Lake Worth that hasn't lived up to expectations. "When we came here last February, we thought we could make subtle changes on the fly, but we just weren't hitting the mark," he says. "As we established roots in the Lake Worth community, we updated our thinking. So we decided to close our doors and start fresh."

Hence Digs, a globally influenced, contemporary restaurant that replaces the Grille, which closed in September. Open for three meals a day, Digs offers items ranging from "shrimp song lettuce packages featuring crispy Gulf shrimp with chili-citrus vinaigrette and petite Asian salad" to "house-made five cheese ravioli with fresh tomato pan sauce and basil," along with more comfort-based dishes such as St. Louis barbecued ribs, burgers with farmhouse cheddar, and center-cut filet mignon with sautéed spinach. "We didn't want to be just a special-occasion restaurant; we wanted to be an everyday restaurant," Alterman claims. And with the versatile Belleme, whose regional work I've admired for years, at the stove, he has every reason to think that Digs will hit its mark.

Likewise the crew, a.k.a. Straub Management Inc., soon to be launching Sol Kitchen -- "all that's fresh and flavorful under the sun" -- in late December on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, is thinking positively. The restaurant development company includes widely acclaimed chef Nick Morfogen of 32 East, formerly of Nick & Max's in Boca Raton, owned by former über-restaurateur Dennis Max. If Sol Kitchen follows the established pattern, we can expect an ultra-high yum factor.

In fact the flavors, doctored by chef de cuisine Ryan Brown (another Max connection, having worked at both Prezzo and the Addison), should be on the fervent side of passionate. A conglomeration of Floridian, Latino, and Tex/Mex cuisines, the menu promises such dishes as Haitian-style conch cakes with housemade hot sauce; cerveza-steamed clams with Texas toast and chipotle mayo; and palomilla with mojo-smothered onions and Cubano rice and beans. It's enough to start my engine -- which reminds me, in turn, to get my car tuned up so it can match my appetite in performance.

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