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