Din­ing un­der the palms

Palm Beach — Café Boulud and other treats

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - DESTINATIONS - SPE­CIAL FOR TC ME­DIA John and San­dra Nowlan are food and travel writ­ers based in Hal­i­fax. BY JOHN AND SAN­DRA NOWLAN

It’s called Bil­lion­aires Row and it’s easy to see why.

Along South Ocean Boule­vard in Palm Beach County, man­sions the size of the White House are tucked be­hind im­pos­si­bly high hedges. Gaps in the green­ery re­veal gothic col­umns, stone foun­tains, stat­ues, swim­ming pools and ten­nis courts. This area of South Florida, just north of the bet­ter known com­mu­ni­ties of Mi­ami and Fort Laud­erdale, has been the trop­i­cal hide-away of the rich and fa­mous ever since Henry Fla­gler ex­tended his rail­way to Florida’s east coast and built the famed Break­ers Ho­tel in the 1890s. Real es­tate prices soared and the area at­tracted fam­i­lies like the Rockefellers, Van­der­bilts, Kel­loggs, Kennedys and Trumps. Along with the mas­sive homes, that Gilded Age opu­lence is still ev­i­dent at the Break­ers (re­built af­ter a 1925 fire) with its 60 me­tre long lobby, soar­ing arched ceil­ings (painted by sev­eral dozen Ital­ian artists) and mag­nif­i­cent chan­de­liers. It’s worth the high price of a drink to re­lax at the beau­ti­ful bar.

But you don’t need a bil­lion­aire’s stock port­fo­lio to en­joy The Palm Beaches. In fact, in the words of some lo­cals, “It’s the best way to ex­pe­ri­ence Florida.”

Along 75 kilo­me­tres of pris­tine beach­front from Boca Raton in the south to Jupiter in the north, Palm Beach County con­sists of 38 dis­tinct cities and towns, most built along a sandy, bar­rier is­land. It’s an area filled with cul­tural at­trac­tions, scores of golf cour­ses, ac­com­mo­da­tion of all types and won­der­ful restau­rants. We soon dis­cov­ered it also has the warm­est salt wa­ter in Florida as the re­gion juts slightly into the At­lantic Ocean, putting it clos­est to the Gulf Stream.

Ex­cel­lent re­sorts line the soft sand of the At­lantic coast and we stayed at the 134-room Tide­line, a com­fort­able prop­erty just ac­quired by the Kimp­ton Ho­tel Group. The lo­ca­tion is fab­u­lous (on the beach, a short walk from a large fish­ing pier) and its sushi bar is world-class al­though the rooms need some ren­o­va­tions.

We en­joyed lunch our first day at a nearby ho­tel, the top rated Eau Palm Beach Re­sort and Spa. The gen­er­ous mar­gar­i­tas and fish tacos at the new Breeze Open Kitchen were the best we’ve ever tasted.

Af­ter a re­lax­ing af­ter­noon and a dip in the warm At­lantic wa­ter we headed to Salt 7 in Del­ray Beach (ac­cord­ing to USA To­day, it’s “The most fun small town in Amer­ica”), an ex­cel­lent steak­house with a freezer-less con­cept. As ex­pected, ev­ery­thing was fresh and tasty, es­pe­cially our cran­berry spinach salad, made with gor­gonzola, red onions and ap­ple­wood smoked ba­con. The well-aged beef comes from a sin­gle source in Ne­braska and was very ten­der.

Food was also our fo­cus the next day with a visit to the Satur­day Green Mar­ket. A West Palm Beach tra­di­tion for decades, it runs from Oc­to­ber through May and fea­tures fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, trop­i­cal plants and ex­otic baked goods like fresh cider donuts and 25 va­ri­eties of bis­cotti.

We kept our Green Mar­ket sam­pling to a min­i­mum be­cause we then joined the West Palm Beach Food Tour, led by its knowl­edge­able owner, Kristl Story. We’ve done city food tours be­fore but this was one of the best. We be­gan at the Blind Monk with de­lec­ta­ble tuna tosta­dos and a prosecco mo­jito.

Also ex­cel­lent were the New York style piz­zas from the Pizza Girls, the fresh co­conut milk and the de­li­cious key lime pie (a Florida spe­cialty) at Long­boards.

On our fi­nal day in Palm Beach County we ate lunch in a jun­gle set­ting at Gua­n­a­banas, a restau­rant ad­ja­cent to the In­land Wa­ter­way. Sur­rounded by banyan trees, tiki huts and a lush land­scape we savoured black­ened shrimp and grits with col­lard greens and lo­cal craft beers.

We saved the best culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence for last with a din­ner at Café Boulud in Palm Beach. Run by Daniel Boulud, the Miche­lin­starred chef best known for Daniel in New York City, Café Boulud opened in Palm Beach in 2003 and has been wow­ing vis­i­tors ever since. We en­joyed Chef Rick Mace’s won­der­ful tast­ing menu with per­fect wine pair­ings. Din­ner in­cluded Pump­kin Veloute with ginger crumbs and marsh­mal­low bits, a beet and red en­dive salad, fois gras charred baklava, as­sorted home cured meats with two kinds of paté, lo­cal sword­fish with chanterelles and, for dessert, a caramel souf­flé, pas­sion fruit panna cotta and fon­dant choco­late.

As a sur­prise at the end of this ex­quis­ite meal, Chef Boulud him­self showed up to say hello and pose for pho­tos.

Café Boulud was the per­fect end­ing for a visit to this up­scale but very at­trac­tive part of Florida. Shops on Worth Av­enue in Palm Beach are as glamourous as any on Rodeo Drive in Bev­erly Hills or Park Av­enue in New York. But mod­estly priced or free cul­tural at­trac­tions (like the Henry Fla­gler Mu­seum, the Nor­ton Mu­seum of Art, the Polo Mu­seum the South Florida Sci­ence Mu­seum or the Mounts Botan­i­cal Gar­den) are ap­peal­ing for all fam­ily mem­bers. There’s even a cage­less zoo, the Lion Coun­try Sa­fari, where you drive your own car among 900 freeroam­ing an­i­mals. Kids love it… but first you have to tear them away from the won­der­ful beaches and warm wa­ter.

PHOTO BY JOHN NOWLAN

Palm Beach - great surf; warm wa­ter pro­vides hours of en­joy­ment.

PHOTO BY JOHN NOWLAN

The Trop­i­cal Lunch Set­ting at Gua­n­a­banas.

PHOTO BY JOHN NOWLAN

San­dra Nowlan with Miche­lin Chef Daniel Boulud.

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