Even its fine-dining restaurants are casual and family-friendly
by Karen Rubin
There may be those who are disappointed that there is no longer a formal dress code at The Breakers, that iconic Palm Beach resort, an American palace if ever there was one; that it is no longer the rule that evening clothes be worn after 7 pm. Even the fine-dining restaurants are casual and family friendly.
But The Breakers, which celebrated its 116th birthday during our stay, has survived by responding to the desires and tastes of its most discriminating clientele. These days that means offering the ultimate, most luxurious respite to those whose lifestyles (and bank accounts) demand it. Guests today want a casual, comfortable resort experience (and who wants to pack dresses and associated shoes and accessories?).
The Breakers is still the keeper of tradition and heritage, but do not expect to find tuxedos and ballgowns, let alone suit-and-tie, even in the finest dining restaurant, though you are still apt to see such finery at the special functions and charity events that practically define Palm Beach society.
“We do what guests want and over the last decade, they want to be in a majestic property, feel they are in an incredible, historic place, but the way they go through the day is a lot more modern. The hotel is what they want. The menus, programming is also what they want,” says Nicholas Velardo, Director of Food & Beverage-Restaurants.
Being director of Food and Beverage for The Breakers has got to be one of the hardest jobs in all of food & beverage industry: balancing the high expectations of dining at an iconic destination resort, catering to a clientele of “been everywhere” people, heads of state, captains of industry, debutantes and billionaires, not to mention locals who frequent the dining establishments often.
At a Five Diamond destination resort like the Breakers, a big part of the experience is dining.
The Breakers offers nine dining establishments, each a unique venue with a distinctive personality, ambiance. You can actually stay a full week and never dine in the same place twice. Two are actually off property entirely: Echo, an Asian Restaurant, and Top of the Point.
“It is food that is unusual, creative, but not over-manipulated,” Velardo says. Each of the restaurants is administered independently by its own executive chef.
The common element among them all is impeccable service that is as friendly as it is efficient, and stunning presentations.
Probably the most contemporary concept manifest at The Breakers is the devotion to local produce.
“We have always committed to local producers, partnering with farms. In last 3-4 years, getting credit for it.” Because no one farm can produce enough, The Breakers works with 30 different farms. “It makes it harder for us – the smaller farms couldn’t keep up, so we partner with many and do tomatoes from one farm for one restaurant, and tomatoes from another to another restaurant. In Florida, it would be crazy not to take advantage of locally sourced, organic, sustainably grown produce.”
Most remarkably, The Breakers has organized Locotopia – serving as a conduit between local farms and other hotels in order to sustain the farms.
The Breakers even has its own organic herb and vegetable garden; the microgreens grown here are used in salads in restaurants. The garden is also used as one of the daily hotel activities, on organic gardening.
The Breakers goes further and makes the farm fresh produce available to employees, holding a green market just for employees on Friday afternoon, where they can buy fresh herbs, vegetables, honey, goat cheese at cost.
Wonderfully family-friendly, all the restaurants have children’s menus, with a wide variety of selections, with consideration to allergies and health issues.
“If a parent wants her child to eat healthy, they can. You can get chicken fingers, baked, broiled, or fried. We all have kids – so focus on what we would want for our kids.”
Dining Around The Breakers
We start our dining experience the night we arrive, at The Seafood Bar, appropriately overlooking the ocean. It is casual, comfortable, and chic – a perfect place to unwind. Neon blue light radiates from an L-shaped bar that is actually an aquarium (you can see little fishes and coral rocks) watery bar (like an aquarium); the open kitchen is bathed in lobster-red light. There are a couple of TVs if you have a hankering to watch one of the games on TV; there is also a second neon-lighted aquarium bar. It is lovely, and pleasant, and as comfortable for a couple having a romantic rendezvous as well as a family with two children in high-chairs. (Casual attire. Bathing suits require cover-ups. Tank tops, cutoffs, and torn jeans are not permitted.
The wine list has about 50-60 selections, all available by the glass (the Breakers is some 28,000 bottles of wine in its vault; you can request the sommelier to make suggestions, or even request the unpublished list of the full inventory.)
A popular place to go for lunch and dinner, the raw bar features fresh fish, clams, oysters, lobster, shrimp and delectable chowders. Each day there are 10 to 15 types of fresh fish from the waters of South Florida to Hawaii.
We enjoy New England clam chowder, served San Francisco-style in a sourbread bowl – which has just the right consistency (not too creamy) and texture.
The grilled salmon is fresh and moist, served with Smashed Bliss Potatoes, Sea Salt Grilled Asparagus and Lemon Spring Onion Butter.
A popular item is the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, with Summer Corn, Green Beans, Tomatoes, Smashed Potatoes and Cole Slaw Rémoulade
To finish, you might try an Expresso martini and an Upside Down Walnut Banana cake.
Families will absolutely adore The Italian Restaurant. Looking like your neighborhood restaurant (the one that has a lovely ambiance), you will find Italian “comfort food” -aromatic pizzas baked in brick ovens. fresh salads, homemade pastas and classic dishes. What is remarkable here, is that it is cleverly set adjacent to The Breakers’ Family Entertainment Center, a secure, self-contained complex where your kids can play when they are tired of sitting still, leaving you to enjoy your meal, together. The toddler playroom isin full view from the restaurant; there is an arts-and-crafts area, a video room (theater-style seats), an arcade (popular with Dads, too).
The Italian Restaurant may cater to families, but, “Is a serious restaurant, with serious wine list. Italian, so kids love it, and parents do too,” Velardo says.
Located on the second floor of the resort’s old-Florida style Clubhouse, The Flagler Steakhouse features a sporty Palm Beach ambiance with rich interiors, and panoramic views of the golf course from outdoor terrace seating. It is known for the finest USDA prime-grade and dry-aged meats; as well as seafood. It also has microbrews on tap, along with a robust list of red wines. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch. Casual and sportswear are the customary attire for lunch and Sunday brunch; resortwear is the customary attire for dinner.
While you are at the beach, enjoying the pools (there are five, each one different), or visit the spa or fitness center, you can lunch at the Ocean Grill or the Beach Club Restaurant.
The Ocean Grill is a beachside bar and grill with views of the pool and beach and panoramic views of the 10th green of The Ocean Golf Course, offering casual luncheon fare in a setting reminiscent of a seaside cottage. The China color and design is pure delight. We enjoyed light fare here, a Caesar salad with grilled chicken; Florida Lobster and Shrimp Burger served on a Portuguese muffin with spicy avocado mayonnaise and roasted heirloom tomato; Open daily for lunch. Casualwear is the customary attire.
The Beach Club Restaurant is a stylishly, relaxed setting for informal, al fresco dining and drinks, this indoor/outdoor restaurant overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and welcomes guests with an aura of casual sophistication and a décor of rich wood tones and contemporary seaside hues. Serving both à la carte and buffet breakfast, and a lunch menu featuring share plates, entrée salads, sandwiches and flatbreads all inspired by the local seasonal ingredients. And when you are relaxing in one of the poolside cabanas or the new, Old-Florida style cottages that ring the two newest pools (one is a relaxation pool, the other an “activity pool” with zero-entry), you can order your lunch brought to you in the cottage if you prefer.
The Beach Club is also the place to go after enjoying a spa treatment, next door. You can find a juice menu with fresh vegetable juices, bee pollen, wheatgrass shots and health-conscious items, (though all the restaurants have health-conscious items).
Step Back into Time
The best place to feel yourself stepping back into The Breakers long and storied history and heritage is in the dining establishments in the oldest and most architecturally significant part of The Breakers and basically are where you might start and end your day:
The Circle, one of the most magnificent dining rooms in the world, evokes the ambiance of living in an Italian Renaissance palace, is used primarily for breakfast; and the Tapestry Bar, occupying a portion of what was the famed Florentine Room, The Breakers’ original dining room, is where you can lounge with an after-dinner drink and listen to live music.
Historically and architecturally a Gilded Age homage to the Italian Renaissance, both of these rooms offer a contemporary dining experience: The Circle, which was added to the 1926 structure in 1928 because the Florentine Room, though half a football field long, was not sufficient to accommodate all the guests, is mainly used for breakfast (a magnificent buffet and a chef who prepares omelettes to your request, as well as a full menu), as well as special events (an obvious enchanted venue for weddings). An enormous chandelier drops from a skylight, and sets off frescoes in the ceiling with painted scenes of Italy. You can even see the remnants of windows on a mezzanine level, which, during Prohibition, used to serve as private dining rooms where you were assured of being served hard liquor.
The Circle is also home to The Breakers renowned Sunday Brunch, a true Palm Beach tradition. Open daily. Casual and sportswear is the customary attire; resortwear is recommended for Sunday Brunch.
We finish our evening at The Tapestry Bar, like a large salon or lounge with comfortable sofas and chairs and candlelight. Named for the spectacular antique Flemish tapestries that adorn an entire wall, it features a 19th century mahogany bar from a Men’s Club in London that was destroyed during The Blitz.It serves wine, classic and specialty cocktails, appetizers and desserts; afternoon tea in season. There is live entertainment nightly. You can peek into the Wine Vault, containing some 7800 bottles. Resort wear is the customary attire here.
The Tapestry Bar is named for the utterly exquisite 16, 17 and 18th century Brussels tapestries. A historic description (there are many throughout the hotel, which is on the National Historic Register) tells an amazing story:
The tapestries were part of an art collection of Dr. Owen Kenan, first cousin to Mrs. Henry Flagler who served as hotel physician for the Royal Poinciana and The Breakers. He had a major art collection in his Paris apartment. At the outbreak of World War I, he sailed aboard the Luistania to rescue his art collection. Also aboard was Alfred Vanderbilt. When the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine, Vanderbilt’s valet gave Dr. Kenan his life jacket; both Vanderbilt and the valet perished. Dr. Kenan was saved by an Irish fishing boat and eventually made it to Paris, recovered the collection. The tapestries were in his North Carolina home until the 1960s when they were moved to the Flagler Museum, and finally to The Breakers.
The Florentine Room has since served as the fine dining restaurant, L’Escalier. That restaurant is closed while the fine dining restaurant is being totally redesigned. The Tapestry Bar will be closing in July to make way for the new concept. The new restaurant is expected to reopen in November.
Two of The Breakers fine dining restaurants are actually off property – a bold stroke.
“We thought we could do things off property that we couldn’t do here,” Velardo says. “We want restaurants where if took out of property would still be successful on their own.”
Situated only a few minutes from The Breakers in the heart of Palm Beach, Echo opened many years ago, long before Asian cuisine became a staple of sophisticated dining. The stylish, highly popular Echo features four distinct cuisines of Asia, spotlighting the aromatic and flavorful specialties of China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Its innovatively designed menu is categorized according to the Five Elements: Wind (small plates to begin the journey); Water (sushi, seafood, and shellfish); Fire (creations from the wok); Earth (meat, and poultry); and Flavor (desserts and sweets). An impressive cocktail menu and wine list, which includes numerous selections from top boutique wineries, complements Echo’s bold Asian flavors. It is open for dinner and happy hour. Resortwear is the customary attire.
You actually hop a shuttle bus from the entrance of the Breakers for the 10-minute ride across the Ochechobee Bridge to the Phillips Point East Tower in downtown West Palm Beach, and ride the elevator up to the penthouse to Top of the Point. From here, you have gorgeous views of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Atlantic Ocean and Palm Beach. Island, with The Breakers the most prominent and majestic structure in sight. At day’s end, you can relax at the bar to behold magical sunsets through floor-ceiling windows or from the observation deck, while enjoying specialty cocktails or sommelier-selected wines with distinctive appetizers; or enjoy a savory dinner of seasonal soups, salads, prime and natural meats and fresh seafood. Top of The Point is also a popular destination for after-dinner drinks and desserts. Even in this sophisticated, fine-dining setting, resortwear is the customary attire.
The restaurant is housed in what used to be the Governor’s Club, a Palm Beach tradition, and still is a club for breakfast and lunch.
Executive Chef Brian Schuyler has created a menu featuring modern American cuisine with global influences.
The menu is really intriguing. Amogn the appetizers, Octopus a la Plancha (Catalan Salad, Smoked Paprika, Piquillo Pepper Aioli & Chorizo Oil); Five Spice Seared Foie Gras (Maple Brioche, Roasted Banana & Parsnip Confiture, Mandarin and Pomegranate); Porcini and Chanterelle Mushroom Strudel (Braised Berkshire Pork Belly, Petite Herb Salad, Armagnac Beurre Fondue); Truffled Gorgonzola Fries.
We enjoy his Cream of Lobster soup with Mushroom Infusion, a delightful consistency (not too creamy) prepared with Porcini Fricassee, Micro Cabbage, and Chive.
For the main course, I can’t resist the “Prime Colossal Rib Chop” (it is “colossal”), served with twice-baked potato and asparagus, and a balsamic butter.
We also enjoy Pan Seared Diver Scallops, served with Wild Mushroom Risotto, French Beans, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Lobster Beurre Blanc.
Another intriguing selection is Hazelnut Crusted Brook Trout, served with Creamy Anson Mills Polenta, Glazed Date & Mäche Salad, Tangerine Meunière.
We are served freshly baked bread with olive oil and seasoning (all the breads and desserts are baked here).
The pricing of the menu items are actually in line with Palm Beach restaurants, and actually, the selections give value.
Finally, for a light breakfast or snack, you can go by The Breakers News & Gourmet for freshly roasted coffee and pastries, sandwiches, salads) and beverages (soft drinks, beer, wine), and a newspaper to enjoy amid the incomparable surroundings of the adjacent Palm Courtyard, or the gardens of the great lawn.
Wining along with dining is an event, as well.
With two master sommeliers on staff, 7800 bottles in its wine vault in the Tapestry Bar, and 28,000 in its wine collection (in the catacombs under the hotel), there may be a wine tasting on the activity schedule, or guests can request a wine tasting. Each of the restaurants has its own wine list, but you can also ask the sommelier to recommend a wine best suited to the meal, and connoisseurs can request to order from the unpublished wine list, Velardi says.
The Breakers started out as a full American Plan resort, but these days, guests prefer more freedom. Still, guests who prefer MAP (breakfast and dinner) or AP, or even a Dine-Around only need to ask.
It’s The Breakers way.
One South Country Road,
Palm Beach, Florida 33480,
Tuesday, 07 February, 2012
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