Gavin Pera notices carrots. Well, back up. Gavin Pera notices lots of things, which is an important part of the job when you run a kitchen like the one at Burlock Coast Seafare and Spirits, the restaurant in Fort Lauderdale’s oceanfront Ritz-Carlton. But carrots are a particular favorite of Pera’s – and he can tell you about the farmer who brings his into the kitchen.
Not that he’s playing favorites. He knows Jim the pork guy, Charlie who handles much of the vegetables, the people who bring the seafood out of the ocean the restaurant faces. Pera sometimes organizes staff training where the suppliers come in and set up booths, farmers market-style, so that the restaurant workers can go around and meet them.
Pera tries to source most of his ingredients from Florida, but there’s more to it than that.
“It’s easiest just to call up the produce guy and he’ll bring you everything,” he says, but that’s not how he wants to do it. “We might have to call 10 people to fill our order for the weekend.”
The resulting dishes are meant to have an earthy, accessible feel – the word “rustic” comes up more than once when Pera’s describing what he does. That puts Burlock Coast squarely in line with what modern restaurant customers say they want – the whole locally sourced, farm-to-table phenomenon. But it’s not necessarily what you’d expect from a Ritz-Carlton restaurant.
In a way though, that’s kind of the point. Burlock Coast opened two years ago next month and Pera, who’s been there from the beginning and helped set the whole thing up, says they’ve tried to do something that’s less about the Ritz, more about Fort Lauderdale.
“We wanted to build something different - something that had a come-as-you-are mentality,” he says. “A unique emphasis on community and being truly local.”
He’d always wanted to open a new restaurant, and that’s definitely what this experience was. “I got to watch them build the menu out as we wrote the menu and visited farms,” he says.
The hotel’s previous restaurant had been more of a classic Ritz-Carlton place – a fancy, white-tablecloth sort of restaurant of the kind, Pera says, that you’d go to for a birthday or an anniversary. Not necessarily a random-Tuesday place.
He got the go-ahead to change that – to create something with high standards, but also a more laid-back vibe. Something that fits on A1A.
“We want people to come here no matter whether they’re business executives staying at the hotel, families coming in from the beach or locals wanting to come in for the night,” he says. “The menu is constantly evolving. We want the food to be rustic and approachable. A lot of the dishes could be fine dining in another setting … but we try to make it approachable.”
The menu’s not overly long and offers a bit of everything – the lobster pasta’s always popular, there’s always a grouper dish, the raw bar might do ceviche tacos or tuna tartare. Both the Ritz and A1A are present – there’s filet mignon and a burger.
Having a good bar – in particular, check out the massive rum menu – also helps. “The people in the bar are super passionate about what they do and the bar we have is absolutely beautiful,” Pera says. “I work here, but if I didn’t, I would definitely come in to drink in the bar when I wasn’t working.”
Is it your typical Ritz scenario? No. But there might be similarities. That whole Ritz experience is meant to be memorable, and through different means, Pera and his staff are creating something memorable too.
“You can go get a burger anywhere,” he says. “But in 10 days, 15 days, are you going to remember that burger?”
The Dish: Pan Seared Snapper
For the Vinaigrette
• 2 cups heirloom tomatoes, peeled
• 1 shallot, minced
• 6 sprigs of mint
• 1 apple, juiced
• 1.4 cups evoo
• 2 oz chardonnay vinegar
• 1 bunch tarragon, chopped
To compress the tomatoes:
Put all ingredients in food saver bag and seal as high as possible. Remove from bag and pick out mint sprigs.
To finish vinaigrette:
Add minced shallots and tarragon and season with salt and pepper.
For the Quinoa Salad
• ½ red onion, minced
• ½ red pepper, minced
• 1 bunch chives, minced
• 2 oz chardonnay vinegar
• 1 pint red quinoa, cooked
• Add all and season with salt Method
• Cook quinoa in salted water with 2:1 ration (two times water to quinoa).
For the Snapper
• 4 skin-on gulf snappers, 7 oz portions
• 1 oz pure olive oil
• pinch of salt
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Season the snapper with salt on both sides. In a sauté pan on high heat, add 1 oz pure olive oil. Cook the snapper until the edges are golden brown and turn heat down to medium. After two minutes, place the sauté pan with snapper in the oven without flipping it over. Cook in oven until snapper is cooked through. Add remaining butter and flip fish over, basting the golden brown crust with the melted butter from the pan. Serve.