Tony Sindaco has left Sea and has moved out of state; so the entire reason to come here is gone. This restaurant was a little dump where Tony did his cooking. Now it's just a little dump.
They've finally taken Tony's name off of the advertising after much prodding; they're now trying to pass off Tony's assistant as some sort of international chef. Carlos is a good guy but he's no Tony Sindaco. Tony was charging too much for his food in this location towards the end; paying $44 for snapper here now is just plain stupid.
Review April 2, 2014
When you're in the mood for really good food, you'll have to drive down to Lauderdale By The Sea, which seems contradictory. No, I'm not talking about Mulligans or 101 Ocean; I'm talking "Sea" the restaurant; a place that is as hard to find in person as it is to find in Google results. jump-->
The big pull of Sea is the chef/owner Tony Sindaco, who is simply the best chef in the city.
The remake of LBTS has made things even more difficult, particularly the parking. They've widened the sidewalks and added lots of nice shrubberies; and eliminated a bunch or parking spots in the process. The ill-advised and downright delusional "update" of LBTS is a whole article in itself; for now we'll just say that there are few, if any, vendors who like the result.
While they widened the sidewalks, they won't let vendors spread out the tables without paying more. So it's just a lot of extra space for staggering.
One issue with Sea is that it's a retrofitted coffee shop; so you have to come to terms with the fact that you'll be eating Tuna Bolognese at tables meant for eating cannolis and sipping espresso.
There is zero privacy. You don't come here to discuss your divorce or to ask someone to marry you. You come here to eat.
Lunch entrees come with soup, and Tony's soups are special. I'd received the Monday menu via email and it listed a Corn and Potato chowder as the Soup of the Week.. On Tuesday the soup was Mushroom Bisque. More on this later.
The $14 lunch special also comes with bread; freshly baked foccacia. You're stuck with plain olive oil for dipping, but it's plenty good on its own.
The soup comes out right away.
Sea Mushroom Bisque
This is not the bisque you're used to at the faux chef restaurants on Las Olas. The flavors are intense; caramelized onions and garlic and a touch of sherry add sweetness that that makes this bisque stand out from other musty mushroom soups. It was a little too sweet for me, but I ended up eating most of it.
When my server put down the entree in front of me I was surprised at the portion; this is about what you get at dinner. I expected a smaller portion at the lunch price.
Sea Shrimp and Calamari Linguine
I was actually taken aback by the al-dente pasta; it's so unusual to get such a thing in the culinary wasteland that is Fort Lauderdale. Perfectly cooked shrimp and calamari; you're not getting some line cook with a ball cap cooking here, even at lunch. Personally I like it better when they throw the basil in the sauce at the end to wilt it rather than having it raw, but this was fine.
Another bonus is that a large Pellegrino was $3. You'll pay $8 on Las Olas at the ripoff restaurants.
Another lunch item I'd tried before was "Ara's Meatballs", a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs for $11.
SEA Ara's Meatballs and Spaghetti
Tony's Italian food isn't as great as some of his signature creations; the Meatballs and eggplant I've had have been good but not great.
The lunch menu leans Italian, while the dinner menu is more a selection of Tony's fancy creations; at much higher prices.
I'd describe the service here as awkward. It's a small place and there's really no separation between the kitchen and the dining room. Again, no privacy.
The big issue I have with Sea is the confusing, rotating menus that make getting a favorite dish a virtual crapshoot. I've been waiting for Tony's Chicken Scarpariello for weeks; as well as the gorgonzola wedge or escarole soup. Eventually I just came down when I had an open slot on my schedule.
Tony Sindaco is one of those legendary figures in Fort Lauderdale; critically acclaimed when he was the chef/owner of Sunfish Grill, and out of the scene for 3 years after a bitter divorce. I'd never tasted Sindaco's cooking, but in a town with a dearth of authentic chefs I found it intriguing when I heard he was opening a restaurant. Most restaurants in Fort Lauderdale feel that they can do just fine with decent recipes and a good cook. But being from New York, I know what a treat it can be when there's special talent in the kitchen.
The restaurant itself is modest; Tony took over an abandoned Italian Cafe and added some paint and a big, propane grill. The counter is a bit too high, the chairs are plastic, and there's a bit too much light from the big windows in the daylight hours. And it gets pretty loud when the place fills up.
Tony Sindaco's Sea Interior
The menu offers 3 course fixed price menus ranging from $25 to ~$40 with the entree choice setting the price for the meal. I'd heard about his Bahamian Conch Chowder, and I noticed it was on the weekend menu, so I headed down for a very late lunch.
They start you off with a basket of fresh house foccacia, which was very good. There's olive oil on each table for dipping; ask for a few grinds of pepper for the oil.
I started with the conch chowder, which comes with 3 clams.
Tony Sindaco's Conch Chowder (Sea)
The chowder is bursting with flavor, like a really good manhattan clam chowder, but this is thicker and more flavorful. There's no bacon in this; it's tomato based. With lots of conch meat and the clams, every spoonful is a treat. I usually skip the soup, but this is not to be missed.
Next came the tuna bolognese, another dish I'd never order normally. I don't usually like the pasta served in South Florida, and tuna isn't something I think about a lot. But again, I'd heard that this was special. I was surprised by the portion; Tony doesn't serve Cheesecake Factory portions, with the exception of the pasta entrees. This was a lot of food.>
Sea - Tuna Bolognese
It's hard to describe how good this was; the al dente pasta, the perfect seasoning; after every bite I couldn't wait to fill another fork full. I had to stop myself from eating; there was dessert coming. I took about 1/3 of this home.
Tony's "famous" whiskey cake was last, but not least.
Sea - Tony's Whiskey Cake
The cake was very sweet; it didn't have any real "whiskey" taste; it was just a really good sweet cake with a sugary glaze. The fluffy whipped cream matched it perfectly. I could barely finish I was so full at this point. But I did.
I don't like reviewing restaurants when I know the owners; I figured that I'd have to explain to him why I don't give out 5 star ratings. But worse, I was worried that I might not like something, in which case my obligation to my readers would take precedence. I had no intention of giving Sea a 5 star rating. But as I was driving home, I was thinking of where exactly I should set the bar. It was the best conch chowder I've ever had, and the best tuna bolognese I've ever had. And the cake was as good as could be. So what is a 5 star meal if this isn't it? So 5 stars it is.
Service however, isn't perfect. They're still training and they haven't gotten into a rhythm yet. It's to be expected in a new restaurant.
Tony Sindaco is Gone (03/25/2015)
Sea the Restaurant a la Carte (09/19/2012)
Disclosure: They know who I am here