When you’re in charge of the food at Holly Blue, you’ve got to keep the menu on point just to match the location.
The Flagler Village restaurant sits in a historic building that was once one of the city’s first churches. The interior stuns. The airy main dining room, done in white and subdued pinks, looks like a Regency London club done in mid-20th century style. A smaller side room and bar, all retro furniture and wood paneling, looks like a place where Jack Nicholson might have done an Esquire shoot in the ’70s. A two-level outdoor area looks part country club, part LA hotel poolside.
And that’s before you even go next door to the restaurant’s sister establishment, nightclub The Angeles.
So yeah, the place has a look. For Jesse Steele, who was recently brought on as the restaurant’s executive chef, that meant some dishes with flair. Take the 24K Tuna. The “deconstructed spicy tuna roll” is “flashy and pretty” with “actual gold” on the plate that you can eat. But, Steele doesn’t mind saying, it’s also delicious.
“What I’m trying to do is more express my style,” he says. “When I got there the menu to me was a little disjointed because there was a lot of chefs on it. I wanted to put my stamp on it.
“A place that’s doing the numbers we’re doing, to get that trust from the owners … and allow me to do it is great.”
Broadly speaking, Holly Blue will offer a menu of upscale comfort food – New American with influences from all over the world. There are Peruvian-inspired dishes, Steele says, as well as Asian, Italian, Greek…
“We’re keeping it fresh and exciting, and in that realm of fine dining,” he says. “But it’s very focused and you’ll see a continuity.”
He also wants to focus on seasonality to the extent that he can.
“Florida’s not super-seasonal, especially South Florida, but I do want to take a more seasonal approach to the menu,” he says. “We’re keeping it light and fresh for the summer. The dishes are very light, easy to eat in the heat. Most of our seating is outdoors, the majority of it.”
For Steele, a return to fine dining is a welcome challenge. It’s where he started, but more recently he’s been working more in gastropub-style places. The opportunity to have a big kitchen and to really try interesting, ambitious fine dining dishes? He’s been enjoying that.
He’s also enjoying his first foray into Fort Lauderdale. He’d worked before in Miami and spent most of his career in Palm Beach County. One of his first big jobs was at Thirty-Two East, the former Delray restaurant that helped put that city on the culinary map. He’s now seeing similar ambition in Fort Lauderdale.
“If you look at Delray, for years now they’ve been at the front of the culinary dining scene in South Florida. And Miami’s always been Miami,” he says. “I’m starting to see a lot more adventurous food in Fort Lauderdale.”
The Dish: 24k Tuna
For Pasta Filling
- Sushi rice 1 cup
- Water 1 cup
- Salt 1 tblsp
- Rice wine vinegar 1/2 cup
- Sugar 1/2 cup
- Avocado 1 ea
- Yuzu juice 1 oz
- Salt 2 tsp
- Chopped raw tuna 4 oz
- Spicy mayo (recipe follows) 2 oz
- Sliced raw tuna 2 oz
- Fresh truffle
- Micro cilantro
- Micro edible flowers
- 24k gold flakes
Combine rice wine vinegar and sugar and stir well.
Rinse sushi rice until water runs clear. Bring water and salt to a boil and stir in rice. Cover and turn to low. Let cook 20 minutes and remove from heat. Keep lid on and allow rice to steam for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar vinegar mixture and stir while warm (there will be leftover vinegar). Set aside to cool.
Mash avocado and add yuzu juice and season with salt to taste.
Mix chopped tuna with spicy mayo. Set aside.
Using a donut mold, make a sushi rice donut half. Put a spoonful of avocado down on the center of the plate first. Top with rice donut. Fill hole with spicy tuna. Lay tuna slices over the top and garnish with sliced truffles, caviar, flowers, micro cilantro and gold flakes.