Friday, October 30, 2009

Wonderful review!

By Charles Passy | Dining | October 30, 2009

At Zed451, in Boca Raton's Mizner Park, visitors are in for a complete dining experience, including seasonal cocktails, a large salad spread and chef-driven main-course offerings.

By now, the Brazilian concept of the churrascaria — a restaurant that serves an all-you-can-eat feast of meats sliced tableside by strolling gauchos — is common to most Americans. Here in South Florida, a number of good ones have come and gone, with Gol! in Delray Beach remaining a solid survivor.

But at this point, what the concept really begs is a degree of reinterpretation, a churrascaria that thinks outside the gorgefest box of such churrascaria staples as rump roast and giant stalks of asparagus.
Zed451 is such a restaurant. And it’s a winner in every possible way.

For starters, this Boca Raton eatery, run by a California-based operator (Tavistock) with a keen feel for dining trends, matches a bold concept with a bold design.

Situated at the southern end of Mizner Park in the gargantuan space formerly belonging to the International Museum of Cartoon Art, the restaurant has a sleek, modern feel. It’s not so much a dining room as a series of spaces for eating and meeting — slightly dark, plenty cozy (I love the throw pillows) and altogether inviting. Clever details abound, from the walls of wine bottles to the centerpiece of a “water room” with a small table-level “pond.” And natural elements — wood and stone — lend Zed451 an organic feel, too: Call it green chic.

As for the restaurant’s convoluted name, it’s meant to symbolize the complete dining experience — “451” refers to the temperature at which paper burns, meaning a fiery beginning; “Zed” refers to the last letter of the British alphabet, meaning a peaceful conclusion. Go figure.

Actually, the beginnings of my meals at Zed451 were more in a liquid vein. The restaurant has a solid and nicely varied wine list — with wine flights for those who want to sample a few selections — but it’s the cocktails that really stand out. Zed451 is one of a handful of local restaurants that truly understand the modern mixology trend in which drinks emphasize bold, unusual flavors and serve as a platform for inventiveness. As with the dining menu, cocktail selections change seasonally: The cranberry mojito ($12), a Thanksgiving-inspired tweak on the summer refresher, is a worthy pick of the moment. But one of the year-round offerings, the California Crush ($10), is a potent, all-season thirst-quencher — a sun-kissed concoction of vodka, lemons and oranges.

On to the main meal: As with most churrascarias, Zed’s menu is a study in brevity. For a single (and relatively reasonable) price of $39, you get to sample everything the restaurant has to offer, including the extensive soup, salad and charcuterie bars (dubbed the Harvest Tables) and the meats and other offerings served tableside (dubbed the Chef Selections). If you opt to go with the Harvest Tables alone — and, yes, you can easily make an immensely satisfying meal of what’s available — you’ll pay a mere $25.

Why is that such a deal? For starters, the spread is very much a spread — on any given night, you can work your way through 20 or so individually prepared salads, plus an equally impressive array of meats and cheeses, from salami to sopressata, gorgonzola to gouda. To top it off, there are two seasonal soup selections.

But it’s more about the quality: Zed451 makes an art of the salad, looking to deftly combine ingredients of the sweet and savory kinds and present them with an eye for color. Such salads as vegetable saffron cous cous (blended with black-eyed peas, roasted fennel, green onion and Belgian endive) or a sweet corn salad with a cilantro honey vinaigrette amount to imagination on a plate, tasting as good as they look. But some of the best offerings are also the simplest: Take a relatively humble plate of chili-rubbed slices of granny smith apples — a tart, spicy mouthful that almost had me rushing home to re-create the easy-to-assemble dish. Or roasted cauliflower with a toasted pecan vinaigrette — nutty and earthy all at once.

The same levels of inspiration go into the soups and charcuterie selections. A mushroom walnut bisque made me long for more of a chill in the air, so the hearty bowl of autumnal goodness could fulfill its ultimate promise. And sliced meats and cheeses are perhaps just that, but Zed451 serves them with an unmistakable visual panache — not to mention a wonderful assortment of inventive spreads (chipotle peanut butter, anyone?), roasted veggies and rustic breads.

Then, there’s the main meal of Chef Selections. Zed451 makes the point of emphasizing that these are truly chef-driven offerings, presented tableside by the actual chefs behind the dishes, rather than just grilled hunks of beef sliced willy-nilly. I’m not one to disagree with that point: When you taste a slice of four peppercorn-crusted prime New York strip, it’s like a whole steak au poivre in a single bite. Other meat selections, including a buttermilk-marinated cut of steak, similarly marry tenderness and explosive flavor.
But I’m also impressed at how the Chef Selections go beyond the usual meats. Fish is on tap — with some of the tastiest Ahi tuna I’ve had in a while, not to mention a brilliantly conceived dish of mahi mahi fried in a tempura batter (it sure beats ho-hum tempura shrimp). So is chicken — a fragrant Moroccan chicken, to be exact. Even sweet, sinfully fatty slices of Asian pork belly make it to your table.

Suffice it to say, you’ll meet your daily caloric requirements — and gleefully so — in about a hour’s worth of dining. And I’m not even mentioning some of the separately featured side dishes or desserts, including a bizarrely decadent S’more Pie, that are offered for an additional charge.

And yet, what’s key to the Zed451 experience is that you’re likely to linger for well more than an hour. This is the meal as a well-paced night on the town, full of opportunities for quiet conversation or celebration-stoked socializing (the restaurant is perfect for an “occasion” dinner). Servers recognize that fact from the start — waiters and strolling chefs aim to please at every turn, but keep the mood sophisticatedly informal. Not sure what glass of wine to order? Your waiter will let you try a couple of sips of anything on the house. Want to know what goes into a particular dish? Just ask the chef.

As I said, Zed451 is a winner in every possible way. One of Palm Beach County’s big-statement new restaurants also happens to be one of its very best. Go and indulge.





ADDRESS: 201 Plaza Real (in Mizner Park), Boca Raton

TELEPHONE: (561) 393-3451


PRICE RANGE: Moderate to expensive

HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m., Sunday. Sunday brunch is offered from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bar stays open later every night.

AmEx, Disc




A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother

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