By Rochelle Koff
When a small, intimate restaurant moves to larger quarters, devotees fret. Will the restaurant lose its charm? Can it accommodate more people and maintain its quality?
There’s good news at Sunfish Grill, which doubled its space when it moved from Pompano Beach to classier Fort Lauderdale digs. It now has a lounge area, plenty of elbow room between tables and lots of candlelight and dark woods to keep things warm and cozy.
The new Sunfish, like the old one, is decorated with fish mosaics and ocean stencils on ocher walls. Most importantly, Tony and Erika Sindaco are still cooking up incredible food served by a top-notch, professional staff.
Chef Tony is a master at cooking fish (he also does a great job with steak), and wife Erika is responsible for the restaurant’s wonderful desserts and homemade breads. The pair brings the same heart, experience and hard work to their new location, turning out fan favorites like heavenly sautéed calamari in a light tomato broth, pristine seared tuna and "not the usual" Key lime pie.
Tony Sindaco has been honing his extensive, thoughtful wine list since moving to his new location, aiming for "the best of the best." California vintages dominate, but there are also several notable imports and about two dozen choices by the glass. Dozens of bottles hit the $30-$50 mark, with about 20 in the $100-$225 range.
Sunfish impresses from the start, with homemade crackers, bread sticks and warm tomato-asiago focaccia served with a smooth eggplant purée. We breeze through two baskets, but know to save a few pieces to sop up the last drop of a wonderful shrimp bisque or rich cream of mushroom soup (choices change daily).
We also try an old favorite, the crab Charlotte — lush crab salad topped with creamy avocado, the stack encircled by ultra-sheer cucumber slices and set atop a light herbal emulsion. On the side, two hard-cooked quail eggs are garnished with American black caviar.
Entrees are just as stellar. The menu is limited but offers a good variety: a couple pasta dishes, a handful of seafood choices and a few excellent carnivore choices like filet mignon, New York strip and veal chop, all served with two or three sides. We’ve yet to find a loser on the list.
Swordfish, which fills the specials slot on two visits, is perfectly grilled, the meat supple and juicy. It’s served with asparagus in a flavorful marinade of olive oil, cumin, garlic and other spices; sautéed oyster mushrooms; cipollini onions and a delicious risotto enhanced by a cabernet reduction instead of the usual white wine.
Salmon is seared first, then topped with caramelized onions and quickly roasted, so it’s moist and flavorful with a great texture. It’s served with a lemon-chive beurre blanc sauce and artichoke-kalamata olive relish, plus sides of fluffy mashed potatoes and asparagus. Fans of sea scallops will savor these plump babies; and even ubiquitous mahi-mahi escapes boredom.
Desserts are just as delightful. If blueberry cobbler is a special, don’t miss it. Erika Sindaco’s scrumptious rendition is made with fresh blueberries, sealed with a wonderful, light crust made from a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe and a streusel topping.
Her symphony of chocolates will knock your socks off. It’s a plate of homemade chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse cake and chocolate hazelnut crème brûlée.
Another hit: a trio of blackberry, peach and raspberry sorbets (ice creams and sorbets are all house-made) — so light and refreshing, they’re a perfect way to end a wonderful meal and say hello, again, to Sunfish Grill.
Address: 2761 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Rating: **** (Exceptional).
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Prices: Starters $10-$13, pasta $25, entrees $25-$38, desserts $8-$10.
FYI: Full bar. AX, MC, VS.