By Rochelle Koff
Scotty Williams was just a guppy when he began learning the seafood business by his parents’ side in New England. He was still pitching in years later when they opened The Whale’s Rib in Deerfield Beach. So when they sold the Deerfield Beach institution (to Flanagan’s) after more than two decades, there was only one thing left for him to do: Open his own place.
Three months ago, Williams and his wife, Danielle, welcomed their first customer at The Whale Raw Bar & Fish House in Parkland, one of the first businesses in the tony Waterway Shoppes. Done in bold red hues with a model of a killer whale suspended from the industrial ceiling, it’s a happening place. We were told there was a 50-minute wait on a Saturday night, though it wound up being 30.
Once inside, we liked the lively atmosphere and the young, energetic and helpful staff. On the downside, it can get pretty noisy, especially on Friday or Saturday, when there’s live music after 8 p.m. On another visit, we escaped to the pleasant patio out back, overlooking a small lake and a gushing fountain.
Many customers come to graze at the raw bar on treats like the sweet, gently briny Ipswich clams. It’s not pretty watching folks chow down on these babies — a fave of New Englanders. Hanging out the side of each clam — known for its plump, luscious belly — is a dark feeder foot. You pull the outer skin off, take out the clam, dunk it into broth to remove any sand, and then dip it into drawn butter. Even at $23.95 a pound, it’s mollusk mania. (Hint: Don’t order these on a first date.)
Our shucked oysters, from Texas waters, weren’t as memorable — fresh, but a bit bland. Same for the stone crabs, though we only had a half-pound of medium claws ($16; a pound of large claws is $42.95).
Maybe we hit a lackluster batch, because stone crabs are very popular here. The Whale sold out of large claws last week on its all-you-can-eat crab night (Tuesday), even with a prix-fixe tab of $69. Other crab-night feasts are less costly: $16.95 for snow crabs, $23.95 for Dungeness, $28.95 for king crabs — all served with Whale "fries" (actually homemade potato chips).
Go for starters of steamed peel-and-eat shrimp (also served cold) — flavorful, firm and perfectly cooked — and a delicious baked artichoke-crab dip served with light, toasty crisps.
Dinners include a choice of sides like rice and beans, veggies and baked potato (salads are extra). Most fish or seafood can be ordered grilled, blackened, fried or baked.
The Whale also offers a New England-style stuffing of Ritz crackers, crabmeat and lots of butter. We tried the stuffed dolphin, also dusted with Parmesan, and thought all the ingredients masked the simple goodness of the fish.
We preferred the wahoo, a flavorful fish with flaky, white meat, baked quickly in the pizza oven. Scallops were tender and moist, but needed some oomph. A medley of clams, shrimp, mussels and scallops in a tomato sauce over linguine was a good, basic dish.
Surprisingly, one of our favorite entrees was our landlubber choice: a big slab of Cajun prime rib.
Desserts include standards like Key lime pie, chocolate layer cake and cheesecake. The family-friendly spot also welcomes pooches (sitting outside). No wonder the locals are hooked.
Address: Waterways Shoppes, 7619 N. State Road 7, Parkland.
Rating: **½ (Good)
Contact: 954-345-9190, thewhalerawbar.com.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday (bar open to midnight).
Prices: Soups, salads $3.95-$14.95; appetizers $6.95-$14.95 (some raw-bar items market price); sandwiches $7.95-$10.95; dinners $16.95-$21.95; desserts $5.95.
FYI: Kids’ menu available. Discounts like three-for-one appetizers during Monday night football. Full bar; corkage fee $15. AX, DS, MC, VS