3 stars for Fort Lauderdale's d.b.a./cafe gastropub

The new restaurant d.b.a./cafe is tucked into such an unassuming spot in a Fort Lauderdale strip mall that you wouldn’t expect to find a top-notch former New York chef in the kitchen. But you won’t hear Steve Zobel complaining. After years of cooking in corporate-run restaurants, he says he likes the freedom of working for independent owners Michael Lynch, a sommelier formerly of Il Mercato in Hallandale Beach, and Tom Moynihan, an artist. Essentially, d.b.a (formerly Cafe Jamm) serves “the kind of food we like to eat,” Zobel says.

He left Manhattan’s Triomphe after 10 years to became executive chef at oceanfront East End Brasserie at the Atlantic Resort & Spa on Fort Lauderdale beach in 2011, but says the job wasn’t what he envisioned. At 7-week-old d.b.a. (“doing business as”), Zobel isn’t preparing fancy French food, but his talents still shine in dishes like onion-crusted snapper with saffron vanilla beurre blanc and grilled salmon with shrimp Béarnaise sauce.

Ambience: The chef and owners’ New York roots are evident in the 65-seat gastropub’s laid-back, urban vibe. Wine crates help form the bar and figure in a wooden cityscape by Moynihan displayed above the kitchen entrance. Blackboards, brick-facade walls and stacks of books made our twentysomethings nostalgic for college pubs. Curtains to shut out the view of the other shops would make the place even cozier.

What Worked

  • Ability to order half or full portions at mostly moderate prices
  • Several generous entrees, including the fresh catch and game hen
  • Tender & flavorful crisped chicken livers paired with sherry-braised onions atop crostini,
  • Lightly battered calamari served with a Thai chile dipping sauce and wasabi mayo
  • A standout, simple spinach salad with Nueske apple-smoked bacon, poached pears and a red wine vinaigrette spiked with Gorgonzola
  • Deliciously rich & perfectly pan-seared scallops in a porcini mushroom butter sauce
  • Gnocchi with ricotta and Gorgonzola cream sauce
  • Hearty house-made pappardelle with sautéed chicken and cremini mushrooms in a demi-glace
  • Ultra-tender braised short ribs (four ounces for a half order, eight for a full) complemented with gremolata (lemon zest, garlic and parsley)
  • Aromatic truffle potato purée
  • Sautéed spinach
  • Fresh, expertly sautéed grouper was fresh; the fishermen who supplied it were sitting at the bar, having a beer.
  • An expanding, moderately priced wine list
  • Panna cotta
  • Bread pudding
  • Chocolate mousse
  • Lovely crème caramel