Stick­ing with the food it knows will never get old when it’s qual­ity

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - SPOTLIGHT - By Michael Mayo

In a tran­sient town where trend­set­ters like bright and shiny new things, it’s nice to know that some places stay the same. Eduardo de San An­gel is one of those places. Chef-owner Eduardo Pria hasn’t changed much at his cozy Fort Laud­erdale restau­rant since it opened in 1993, in­clud­ing a menu he de­scribes as “Mex­i­can-in­fused in­ter­na­tional cui­sine.” Those who have not vis­ited in years might be de­lighted, or dis­ap­pointed, to find many items from decades past. They’re all still here: but­ter­flied ten­der­loin stuffed with poblano pep­pers and cheese; ravi­oli with black beans, cheese and wal­nutcream sauce; tor­tilla soup in­fused with pasilla pep­pers and epa­zote. Whether the ag­ing stan­dards should be con­sid­ered a sign of the kitchen’s self-con­fi­dence or stal­e­ness de­pends on a diner’s per­spec­tive.

It had been awhile since I had eaten at Eduardo de San An­gel, and even longer since I had or­dered sword­fish any­where. It was a spe­cial on the night my group dined, and for a mo­ment I had flash­backs to mul­lets, “Mi­ami Vice” and the Mi­ami Sound Ma­chine. The sword­fish ($ 38), grilled and brushed with cilantro-gar­lic oil, was firm out­side and moist and meaty in­side. Sud­denly, I didn’t care what decade it was or what la­bel you slap on Pria’s food. A per­fectly cooked piece of fresh fish never gets old.

Pria is ob­vi­ously com­fort­able in his skin, and his stay­ing power is to be ad­mired in a gru­el­ing in­dus­try and in South Florida’s fickle din­ing land­scape. The restau­rant will cel­e­brate its 25th an­niver­sary early next year, and it has joined the pan­theon of Fort Laud­erdale peren­ni­als where lo­cals can con­fi­dently bring out-of-town­ers. That lineup in­cludes Canyon, Café Seville, Café Vico, Bistro Mez­za­luna and Greek Is­lands Tav­erna.

I un­der­stand how some peo­ple might find Eduardo de San An­gel dated — my pre­de­ces­sor gave it a shock­ing one-star re­view when he cri­tiqued it for the Sun-Sen­tinel in 2011 — but I still find the restau­rant com­fort­ing, de­pend­able and de­li­cious. Pria and his crew are old pros, and they have cul­ti­vated a loyal fol­low­ing that has al­lowed them to ride out the fluc­tu­a­tions of sea­sons, storms and re­ces­sions. Pria also seems to have a healthy work-life bal­ance, with the restau­rant of­fer­ing only din­ner ser­vice and closed on Sun­days.

“Just be hon­est and up­front with peo­ple and give them qual­ity food, and they’ll come back,” Pria told me in a fol­lowup in­ter­view.

Eduardo de San An­gel is on the pricey side, but when my group left we all felt sated and well-treated. The free-flow­ing san­gria ($12 a glass) helped, but I wish the restau­rant would sell it more eco­nom­i­cally, by the pitcher. I’m also sur­prised that a restau­rant of its stature and longevity does not have a full liquor li­cense.

Pria is a Mex­i­can-born, Euro­pean-trained chef who has a way with sauces and clas­sic tech­nique. The restau­rant is named for the Mex­ico City neigh­bor­hood where he grew up. He went to culi­nary school in Spain and worked in kitchens in San Se­bas­tian, Paris and Italy be­fore land­ing at the es­teemed Man­sion at Tur­tle Creek near Dal­las in the 1980s. He came to South Florida in 1985, and worked in sev­eral top restau­rants be­fore open­ing his own place.

Some­times, Pria can’t get out of his way in the kitchen. The cheesy ten­der­loin dish ($34) has too many com­pet­ing el­e­ments that over­whelm the meat, in­clud­ing a slightly sweet mole that doesn’t mesh. But sim­pler dishes shine, such as mel­low and creamy cilantro soup ($15), suc­cu­lent lamb chops ($36) and crispy Long Is­land duck ($34) with a com­posed spicy guava syrup. This is good food with a Mex­i­can ac­cent, not a mod­ernist it­er­a­tion of au­then­tic Mex­i­can food that you find com­ing from Rick Bay­less or Aaron Sanchez.

The in­ter­na­tional-Mex­i­can hy­brid con­cept at times seems a stretch, but the food tastes good just the same. Case in point: the sashimi tuna roll ap­pe­tizer ($18). Beau­ti­ful, ruby-red slices of sashimi-grade tuna are wrapped bur­rito-style in a soft flour tor­tilla with av­o­cado and veg­gies and then cut up like a sushi roll. Some­one at my ta­ble made the mis­take of eat­ing one plain, and the tuna didn’t taste like much. But when splashed with the pi­quant green tomatillo sauce, the slice came to life.

The Com­mer­cial Boule­vard strip-shop set­ting east of Fed­eral High­way isn’t chic or trendy, but the park­ing is plen­ti­ful. Once in­side, din­ers are wel­comed warmly. The two din­ing rooms have the feel and decor of a ha­cienda. The main din­ing room is dimly lit, and lights flick­ered weirdly through­out the meal. Some­one in our party guessed it was a way for the kitchen to alert servers that dishes were ready. I won­dered if it was FPL’s way of alert­ing us that a sum­mer­breeze was blow­ing. What­ever the case, it was no­tice­able and an­noy­ing.

The pasilla pep­per and chick­en­broth soup ($12), per­fumed with the Mex­i­can herb epa­zote and sprin­kled with queso fresca and a dol­lop of sour cream, was fla­vor­ful. But the corn tor­tilla strips at the bot­tom quickly got soggy, and I won­dered if it would be bet­ter to keep some dry and sep­a­rate and al­low din­ers to crum­ble in on their own. A spe­cial Gulf shrimp appe- tizer ($18), baked in a small casse­role dish with a layer of white cheese atop a tomato and pep­per sauce, was great. But the Florida blue-crab corn cakes ($18) were dense, and the crab got lost.

Our server said he was go­ing to “cre­ate some­thing spe­cial” for my per­snick­ety part­ner who couldn’t de­cide what to or­der, and we thought he would get a mix-and­match treat of grilled tuna and pork. But he ended up with a plate that just fea­tured rare grilled tuna brushed with Key lime oil. It was tasty, but hardly spe­cial. Even though the re­fried black beans that ac­com­pany most dishes are luke­warm, we still en­joyed them.

Desserts ($10) were all good, in­clud­ing a choco­late cake, and the stand­out was a house­made espresso ice cream that came with caramel crepes. It was a heav­enly end­ing to an­other solid night at Eduardo de San An­gel.

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