[REVIEW] Buccan Palm Beach (FL) Restaurant Review
-Buccan (pronounced boo-cahn) is named after the wooden grill used to cook food over an open fire in the Caribbean.
-Well regarded as one of the hottest dining options in Palm Beach, Buccan manages to book up solid every night, with some of their clients having visited over 80 times! Even the young couple sitting next to us confided that they visit 3-4 times per week. Wow!
-Before coming on to open Buccan in 2011, executive Chef Clay Conley was named StarChef’s Rising Star Chef, spent time working under Todd English and took over for Michelle Bernstein at Miami’s posh Azul.
-Buccan is a very large place with a vast variety of different dining environments. Upon entering, you first see the bustling bar with high tops and bar stools, as well as its adjacent plushy lounge area for sipping cocktails and sharing a bite. Next is the stunning high top wood communal table followed by the large main dining room with a view of the glistening open kitchen spanning the entire back wall. This is a real treat for everyone in the room, but especially those seated at one of the few chefs rail bar stools along the line. We were sat in a more intimate little pocket of booth-based seats with a nice view of the corner salad station and the glass enclosed wine room.
-Unlike its Worth Avenue neighbours, the décor in Buccan is quite minimal. White walls and pillars are illuminated by simple candlelight sat upon the alternating wood and shiny chrome tables. The brown and white suede and knit banquettes have a certain luxury “man cave” flare, which I think further illustrates the non fussy statement they’re trying to make.
-The demographic in the room is definitely mixed. There are quite a few young 30-40-something couples and groups of friends in the room, as well as a solid number of older men with their younger spouses. Sure, you’re going to see a few pairs of fake boobs, Louboutins, pastel sweater vests, and freshly pressed white trousers, but this isn’t the usual Palm Beach scene where this sort of thing is required.
-Unlike at a lot of the restaurants in the Worth Avenue area, the staff at Buccan keep things casual and conversational- a characteristic I definitely appreciate.
-Immediately upon being sat with menus, a food runner came by with filtered water. Less than a moment later, our young, attractive server introduced himself and offered us something to drink. The rest of the night followed the same efficient theme. Cocktails came at immediately after ordering, water glasses were always refilled, and the each dish came one after the other. This is my preference when dining tapas style, as it lets me fully concentrate on each dish without food getting cold.
-Winos can select from about 25 International offerings by the glass ($11-37) or a handful of pages worth of full bottle options. A quick glance through revealed the sommelier did a good job curating a well-rounded and variable list.
-Beer drinkers have about 5 International beers by the bottle ($5-6) to ponder and another 5 draft by pitcher ($15-21) , 15 oz ($5-7) or pony sample ($2.50-3).
-Cocktails are almost exclusively vodka or gin based, with one bourbon and one sparkling based offering to round things out. If you’re not a fan of fruity cocktails, then you’re probably best to go with the wine, as there is an overwhelming theme of berries, juice, elderflower and herbs going on. Thankfully, this is exactly my style, so I had a hard time choosing!
Vodka, Watermelon, Lime
Ode to Sweetwater ($13)
Bourbon, B & B, Lemon, Rhubarb Bitters, Strawberry Preserves
Basil Rathbone ($13)
Gin, OJ, Mint, Basil, Strawberry
Over the course of the night, we sampled a very easy drinking Napa’s Far Niente Chardonnay ($20) in addition to the photographed cocktails above. The watermelon was described as the restaurant’s most popular pick, though it was my personal least favourite of the bunch. It was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but a bit too sweet to be refreshing, as I found myself in need of more acid to temper the sugar down. The Basil Rathbone was a bit more balanced and refreshing, especially with the hint of basil on board, while the Sweetwater was by far the pick of the night. It had a good amount of bright fruit flavour and a refreshing burst of citrus to cut it. Later in the night, we tried a little Sauterne dessert wine, which as usual was a nice way to end the meal.
-Chef Clay Conley’s menu differs from most I’ve seen in the area in that moves away from old school Palm Beach staples to offer more contemporary techniques and playful International takes on American cuisine.
-The menu is broken into Raw (oysters, sashimi, tartar etc.), Greens (salads), Flour and Water (pastas), Wood-Fired (pizzas, sliders and other grilled bites), Crispy (fried goodies), Large Plates (steak, chicken and fish), Sides, and Desserts. With a menu like this, it’s super easy to tailor a meal to your appetite and your party’s eating habits. I like that with some of the less shareable items (tacos, empanadas), you are able to order per piece. This is great for those times you have a different number of diners at the table than items on the plate, which seems to always be the case with me.
Hamachi Sashimi ($14)
Peruvian Chilies, Lotus Root Salad, Yuzu Vinaigrette
Absolutely delicious. The hamachi’s freshness was perfectly complimented by the gentle sweetness and acidity from the yuzu dressing and heightened by the kick of the chilies. The contrast between the buttery sashimi and the crispy lotus root also was a delight.
Short Rib Empanada ($6 x2)
Salsa Criolla, Aji Amarillo
My favourite savoury dish of the night. The pastry was sturdy but tender, packed with so much savoury juicy meat I couldn’t believe it didn’t burst open. I also loved the addition of the bright salsa with the tangy aioli type dressing to balance out the rich beef. A must order.
Grilled Octopus ($16)
Fingerling Potatoes, Kalamata Olives, Salsa Verde
I am always so hesitant about ordering octopus as so often it’s overcooked and chewy. Thankfully, this generous serving was tender and flavourful, especially when smeared through the herbaceous green salsa and speared with a briny olive. Even the potatoes were perfectly seasoned and well cooked. A good pick!
Spicy Pork Taco ($5.50 x2)
Avocado Crema, Salsa Verde
Like the empanada, the tacos certainly didn’t skimp when it came to packin’ in the meat. The pork here was equally juicy and well seasoned, topped with a nice layer of creamy guacamole and a generous spoonful of spicy salsa to cut the fat. I also really liked the unique taco shells, which were sturdy with a nice bit of chew. Yum.
Squash Blossoms ($14)
Pine Nuts, Three Cheese, Basil, Tomato Fondue
Lordy, these were good. The blossoms were packed with so much luscious creamy cheese, you had to take great care not to lose any bit of it with each bite in. Contrast the fatty cheesy goodness with the ethereally light and crispy tempura batter and the bright and sweet tomato sauce, and you got an addictively delicious snack.
White Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding ($10)
Grand Marnier Macerated Berries
I am usually a huge lover of all things bread pudding, especially if you throw white chocolate in the mix. And while Buccan’s was no doubt a great rendition, I definitely thought it could have used a good fruit sauce. Without some added moisture and acidity on the plate, the pudding was a wee-bit dry and one note- kind of like eating French toast without any maple syrup.
Dark Chocolate Brownie ($10)
Dulce de Leche, Bruleed Bananas, Banana Ice Cream
In contrast, the brownie (our server’s recommendation) was absolutely divine. Yes. Yes. And yes. The dense chewy cake was topped with a thick gooey layer of caramelized milk, upon which sliced banana debuted their semi-sweet-semi-bitter crackling bruleed surface. I also loved the delicate banana flavour of the creamy ice cream to counteract the richness of the chocolate. Heaven.
-For 7 dishes (including 2 each of the empanadas and tacos), 3 cocktails, 3 glasses of wine and a cappuccino, the bill came to $200 including tax and tip- very reasonable in my books! Never mind the fact that Buccan is located in one of the most notoriously expensive areas of Florida, but I actually thought the bill was quite justifiable in general. The food was well prepared and playful, the drinks were fresh and fun, the service was professional, and the ambiance was hopping and comfortable, even on a Sunday night.
-Overall, I now know what all the fuss is about when it comes to dining at Buccan. While I don’t think I could dine anywhere 87 times, this restaurant certainly warrants a regular visit on my annual Florida trips. I am so glad we’ve finally found a spot that delivers a solid dining experience without pretense at a reasonable price. See you next winter, Buccan!