There was a time when a Mexican restaurant on Fort Lauderdale Beach might have made sense because neither was seen as particularly high-end. But times, you might have noticed, tend to change.
In recent years, the image of the Mexican restaurant in the United States has undergone a massive overhaul; the low-end neighborhood Tex-Mex place has been replaced by more authentic flavors and dishes. Meanwhile, it’s been tough to miss the influx of quality restaurants finding a home along A1A. So when Steve Menter was given the task of running a new El Vez in the W Fort Lauderdale hotel, the chef – who had previously worked at the creative Mexican restaurant’s New York location – thought it would be a good fit. Particularly because the W is already home to Steak 954, and this would provide something else.
“It’s something different within a steakhouse,” Menter says. “It’s more casual, it’s more fun. You can go in the middle of the afternoon and get drinks. Something inviting and open [with] lots of outdoor seating.”
There are a couple other El Vez’s, but it’s not quite what you’d call a chain.
“All the El Vezes are different,” Menter says. “They wanted to keep some of the spirit of El Vez Philly and El Vez New York [but] … we have more seafood items, first and foremost. We have more Florida products in general.”
Menter was already in South Florida working for another restaurant owned by the company that also owns El Vez. He was familiar with Fort Lauderdale Beach – and with the game-raising new restaurants going in.
“I think the more, the better,” he says. “You see a lot in tourists communities (the restaurant selection is) run of the mill. How much thought is being put into the cuisine?”
Fort Lauderdale is stepping up its game, however, and that’s making it easier to find talented staff to fill kitchens.
“More chefs are coming here,” Menter says. “It’s a nice place for chefs to work.”
Increased competition makes for learning and better restaurants. “As a chef,” Menter says, “you don’t want to work at the only spot in town.”
One goal Menter has for El Vez is for it to build up a clientele similar to that of its W Hotel neighbor, Steak 954. That restaurant, he says, could have a level of success by only bringing in tourists. But it’s also become a popular locals spot, which helps bump it up to another level of success.
“That’s something that we really, really hope to see,” he says, “and we’ve already seen lots of regulars.”
It helps that customers seem to embrace the more interesting, authentic routes US-based Mexican cuisine is taking. “People have always liked Mexican food, but now it’s just different and better,” Menter says.
“It’s fresh, it’s light but it still has those flavors you crave. You’ve seen that historically with other cuisines. If you just look at it, it makes so much sense.”
It especially makes sense, he says, on A1A.
“It’s nice to eat tacos outside and stare at a beach. It’s enjoyable. I’ll be in the kitchen and I’ll step out for a second and I think oh, there’s the ocean.”
The Dish: Whole Fried Snapper Plate
- 1 whole snapper
- 15 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 45 gm Castelventrano olives
- 12 gm yielded garlic, minced
- 12 gm yielded garlic, minced
- 15 gm yielded shallots, minced
- 75 gm yielded fennel, thinly sliced
- 15 gm anchovies in oil, chopped
- 18 gm capers, rinsed and rough chopped
- 100 ml confit tomatoes
- 25 ml pickled jalapeno
- 75 ml brown butter
- 45 ml chicken stock
- 25 ml lemon juice
- 25 mL Chardonnay vinegar
- 25 ml white wine
- 7 gm parsley, chiffonade
- 2 gm cilantro sprigs
- 2 gm fennel frawns
- 1 tbs cornstarch slurry
Dredge the snapper and fry for approximately five minutes. While fish is frying, saute olive oil, garlic and shallots; sweat them lightly. Add the capers, anchovies and fennel, then confit tomatoes. Then add olives and pickled jalapenos. Deglaze with white wine and Chardonnay vinegar. Add brown butter and chicken stock, then add cornstarch slurry. Add chopped parsley and lemon juice. Place some sauce on the bottom of the plate, reserving some for the top of the fish.
Fried Snapper Dredge
(One each, mix all ingredients)
- 250 gm cornstarch
- 250 gm rice flour
- 15 gm kosher salt