A comfortable, safe Italian revival
Prezzo in Boca Raton relaunches a popular spot
Reboots are all the rage on television, so why not with restaurants? Take a comfortable old formula, sprinkle in a few modern twists and voila — success should be assured so long as the previous fan base is still alive, a few fresh faces check it out and nobody mucks up things too badly along the way. A pinch of drama doesn’t hurt, provided it all works out in the end, and everyone goes home happy.
That pretty much sums up the revival of Prezzo in Boca Raton by veteran restaurateur Burt Rapoport. The new Prezzo, which opened Christmas week 2017, is a safe and comforting journey to the past that also stacks up well in the present. Prezzo was a popular Italian restaurant that had legions of fans and multiple South Florida locations in the 1990s. A meal at the relaunched version begins with a complimentary bulb of fresh-roasted garlic with sweet cloves baked to golden creaminess, which can then be smeared on fresh-baked focaccia breadsticks, just like the old days. Ameal can end with the signature dessert of apple tart, crisped golden in the wood-burning oven, just like the old days. In between comes a variety of Italian standards — pizzas, pastas, meats, seafood — that are not particularly innovative but nevertheless satisfying.
The pan-roasted clams ($16) were perfectly cooked in a spicy, garlicky tomato broth that we wouldn’t let the staff clear until all the juice was properly sopped and soaked with bread. The fried calamari ($14) could have been a bit crisper and blotted a bit better to remove excess oil, but the fresh squid was tender and tasty. A simple salad of seasonal greens ($10) had light and vibrant vinaigrette and sweet slices of apple with toasted walnuts.
The appetizers allayed my worst fears. It turns out the new location of Prezzo was not jinxed after all. Walking into the Park Place shopping plaza on a recent Saturday night, I was filled with trepidation. Prezzo opened in the same site where two Rapoport delicatessen concepts flopped last year, first Rappy’s (an ode to his late father,
KThe Fruitti de mare with shrimp calamari, mussels, clams, linguine, olive oil and tomato.
JThe grilled pork chop scottodito is spice and herb rubbed and served with sweet and hot peppers. who ran a kosher dairy restaurant in New York) and then Park Place Deli, which featured lower prices and more traditional menu items after the locals rebelled against Rappy’s modern twists such as vegetarian chopped liver made from lentils and alcohol-spiked milkshakes.
From the deli debacle came the Prezzo rebirth, including the flashy hiring of James Beard Award-winning chef Mark Militello. But Militello was already gone by the time I had made it in for a meal. Militello left in March after just three months, returning to Josie’s Ristorante in Boynton Beach as a consultant. “We’re both restaurant veterans. He liked to do things his way, and I like to do things my way,” Rapoport said in an interview after my meal. “It just didn’t work out.”
Patrick Broadhead, executive chef for Burt & Max’s in west Delray Beach and a longtime Rapoport Restaurant Group employee, was brought in to helm the Prezzo kitchen. Rapoport says he and Broadhead are revamping and tweaking ingredients and menu items. An all-day menu for both lunch and dinner will soon be unveiled, along with a dozen lunch specials that will be available for $12.
Knowing what I know about Rapoport (a pragmatic businessman who wants to offer product that tastes good but doesn’t break the bank) and Militello (a creative kitchen auteur who likes to play with the finest ingredients and sometimes labor-intense technique), I could see how there was a clash. The dishes I had at Prezzo were all good but a bit underwhelming for these artisanal, made-from-scratch times. Dry pasta was used in pasta dishes, and those dishes were fine, although Rapoport says the kitchen will start experimenting with fresh pastas later this summer. A disappointing margherita pizza ($14) was the weakest link of the meal, underdone and bearing no flavor nor singed marks from the woodfired oven. The pizza was made with shredded prepared mozzarella, not slices of fresh mozzarella. Rapoport says the pizza will soon feature both types.
If I had known the pizza would be so mediocre, I would have