We don't eat much in Broward, but family was visiting in Boynton Beach and we needed to pick some middle ground to meet for dinner. I saw recently that Chef Dean James Max (that's a lot of first names, no?) of 3030 Ocean had been nominated for a James Beard Award, and its location was geographically desirable, so we figured it would be worth a try.
The restaurant is inside the Marriott Harbor Beach resort in Fort Lauderdale, and looks pretty much like every other semi-upscale hotel restaurant, the primary distinguishing characteristic being an overloud guitarist/singer serenading the room from the bar at the restaurant's entrance. Both the bar and the restaurant were fairly well packed when we were there on a Friday night.
The menu, on the other hand, is far from generic hotel restaurant fare. The story on 3030 Ocean is that they are dedicated to using fresh seafood and produce, with a focus on local purveyors. The menu is strongly oriented toward fish and seafood, but there's a good number of mammals available for the carnivores (including several nice porky products in the apps). When we visited, there were at least a dozen different piscine options, some local like pompano, red snapper, cobia, and wahoo, others exotic like walu (a/k/a escolar, a fish that should come with a warning on possible side effects) and monchong. I found it just slightly curious that despite the proclaimed focus on local and seasonal, roughly half of the fish on the menu appeared to come from places more than a thousand miles away, though the variety was appreciated.
We were a big group and I didn't get to stick a fork into everyone else's plates, so for the most part I can only describe the dishes I had. My starter was some thinly sliced smoked Benton's ham, draped over a salad of greens accompanied by slices of avocado and melon. The ham was magical stuff, the pairing with melon being a classic while the avocado played off its richness. What really made this pop with an assertively flavored basil-vanilla vinaigrette which worked perfectly with the other components. Clearly Chef Max is a fan of Benton's products, which make appearances in a few other appetizer items as well. Frod Jr. and Little Miss F also split a salad with culatello ham, burrata and heirloom tomatoes (FJ apparently taking the ham and LMF the cheese and tomaters).
While I was tempted by several of the fish offerings, I wound up picking a wild striped bass, something I've not seen on very many South Florida menus. The fish was paired with coins of slivered potatoes dressed in a mustard-y sauce, along with baby zucchini and maitake mushrooms. The surprising star here was the mushrooms, which had an incredible intensity of flavor. The zucchini also were very brightly flavored, not the usual non-descript baby vegetables on the plate for their cuteness rather than taste. The fish itself was actually somewhat disappointing. Though the fat tranche of fish was perfectly fresh, it was a bit mealy-textured, tending to shred rather than flake and the skin not quite as crispy as could be hoped. My taste of the red snapper - served over a boniato puree with grilled green onions and a carrot sauce - was much better, a very nice spanking fresh piece of fish. It was surprising to me for a place with such a particular focus on fresh fish that there was nothing at all available whole, with all the fish served as filets.
The wine list offered some good choices, though prices were a bit high (not a surprise for a hotel restaurant). A Leth Gruner Veltliner went great with the fish; I was less impressed with a Cloudline Pinot Noir. Both were running approximately 3x average retail prices.
This is true ingredient-driven cooking, but saying that should not undermine the chef's hand in things. Despite our proximity to water, it seems that sourcing great fresh fish is perversely difficult for many local chefs. Likewise, a dedication to using fresh local produce often shows in the brightness and depth of flavor of the finished dish. But to me, "ingredient-driven" doesn't mean simply buying something and throwing it on a plate (notwithstanding stories of the Zuni Cafe "$8 nectarine" - which actually turned out to be only $4.50, if that makes it any better). It means finding the best stuff you can, and then making the most of it. It seems at 3030 Ocean they agree.
edited to add - Chef Dean James "First Names Only" Max featured in New Times' Short Order today.
Marriott Harbor Beach
3030 Holiday Drive
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
6pm - 10pm daily