As the sun dips below North Lake, strings of lights bordering Taverna Opa?s patio flicker on, casting a warm glow on the water below. The crepuscular calm lasts only a few moments at Taverna Opa: once night falls, live DJs take to the stage, furnishing belly dancers with a throbbing beat by which to shimmy and undulate. Waiters often lock arms and break into traditional zorba dancing. And, if the night reaches a fever pitch, patrons may smash their plates and toss their napkins in the air. This raucous atmosphere has earned Taverna Opa the spotlight in a slew of media publications. But though revelry is paramount, Taverna Opa doesn?t shirk cuisine: chefs marinate fresh seafood and lamb in fresh herbs and roast them on a wood-fired grill, and bartenders pour Greek wines well-suited for the succulent meats or postmeal Trojan horse christenings.
A native of La Mure, France, Chef Laurent Tasic's culinary passion began in his grandmother's farm kitchen, where the young Laurent helped her put together homemade country dishes. After honing his cooking and restaurateur skills in Europe, the French Antilles, and the Cayman Islands, Chef Laurent relocated to Fort Lauderdale, where he draws on his homeland's flavors at two Sage Oyster Bar & Restaurant locations. At his Fort Lauderdale eatery, he expands upon the traditional French countryside dishes of his youth by stuffing onions with veal and provolone, coating roasted duck with honey-raspberry sauce, and filling crepes with wilted spinach and goat cheese. Meals take place on a covered outdoor sidewalk or inside a dining area modeled after a romantic European bistro, where tastings of the restaurant's extensive wine collection and flavored floorboards occur every first and third Tuesday of the month. At his Hollywood location, meanwhile, Chef Laurent focuses on French-seafood preparation, serving oysters baked with roquefort cheese and pizza topped with Maine lobster from the kitchen's brick oven. The ambiance draws upon a similarly romantic aura, with soothing, dramatic lighting that illuminates the artfully arranged plates emerging from the kitchen.
For nearly 30 years, guests have filled The SeaWatch's dining room for the fresh seafood and serene views from a bluff just 50 yards away from the ocean. Massive windows tilt open to let in the sound of waves crashing on the beach and gentle breezes that blow through the palm trees and shake coconuts loose to knock out loud passersby. A recently renovated interior enhances the timeless setting with bright red booths around wooden tables and oak beams overhead in the dining areas, special-event spaces, and on the patio.
The menus reflect the seaside location and modern aesthetic, with dry ice billowing out of the king crab, shrimp, oysters, and clams that make up the chilled seafood tower. Chefs sculpt crab cakes with jumbo lump crabmeat and bake yorkshire puddings to absorb the juices of slow-roasted prime rib. The SeaWatch's wine list collects bottles from France, Argentina, California, and Italy.
Since 1998, the family-owned-and-operated Sunfish Grill has been loading its white-draped tables with new American cuisine crafted from seasonal ingredients. Though the focus is on seafood, which the restaurant brings in fresh daily, their chefs prepare a selection of pastas, salads and flatbread. In addition to searing diver scallops and other catches, chefs also craft a selection of pasta dishes. Whether diners are in for a weekday dinner or a special occasion, they should save room for dessert from the pastry chef, such as the "Not the Usual" key lime pie with plumes of meringue and housemade sorbet.
Flickering candles illuminate the warm-colored dining space, and airy white ceiling drapes billow overhead as diners sip espresso or clink glasses of handpicked wines over their lavish desserts. The elegant ambiance and fresh, imaginative food have earned the spot a good reputation: City & Shore Magazine praised Sunfish Grill for "the sheer simplicity of ingredients, served in an unpretentious atmosphere that is so rare, yet so delicious."
Though you can always drive up to the Historic Downtowner Saloon, that's not the recommended way to arrive. Instead, customers might want to take the water taxi right up to the downtown stop to get a preview of the river views granted by the restaurant's riverfront patio. Here, guests can enhance their waterside experience with expertly prepared American fare and 20 new craft beers waiting to quench to the most discerning drinker.
While new owners now helm Historic Downtowner Saloon, its chefs tend to their culinary labors, be it slow-roasting prime rib or turning out seafood specials, sandwiches, and appetizers. In the kitchen, they grill slabs of sizzling sirloins and pair them crab cakes drizzled in a Cajun remoulade. Once delivered to guests, ancho shrimp tacos do flavorful dances across palates, while a raw bar, stocked with bowls of littleneck clams and Caribbean jerk shrimp, puts appetites on ice. Most nights of the week, a live band serenades guests with tunes as relaxing as surfing on a waterbed—unless there are sharks inside the waterbed.