We asked Craig McNeil, the Scottish chef who worked at top kitchens around South Florida and the Caribbean before becoming executive chef at the hotel’s Terrace Grill, about what it brings to the local food scene.
FLMag: First of all, tell us about your background in food and restaurants. Where are some places you worked before coming to The Terrace Grill? What are some favorite cuisine styles?
McNeil: Over the past two decades, I’ve worked every role in the kitchen and now specialize in designing consumer-focused menus with creative twists. Before joining The Dalmar, I was the chef de cuisine at the Fisher Island Club. I was also fortunate enough to spend time as the senior sous chef at the award-winning Scarpetta Restaurant. Most notably, a large portion of my background has roots in the Caribbean as I spent about 15 years on a culinary journey in various head chef positions throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands. Personally, I love classic French and Italian cuisine. I’m old school in the sense that I value the use of fresh ingredients, and they both really go above and beyond for freshness. When cooking for myself at home, I’m a big fan of Asian cuisine as well.
FLMag: The Terrace Grill menu isn’t massive, but it ticks a lot of boxes. How would you describe it?
McNeil: When conceptualizing this menu, we made sure to carefully curate each item by placing importance on the finest but limited ingredients while staying true to classic beloved dishes. For example, we’ve given a lot of comfort foods a healthy, mindful makeover. For inspiration, I tapped into my background as a Scotland native, combining it with Caribbean flair and hints of classic French and Italian technique.
Overall, I feel the menu offers an array of versatile, global dishes that still capture the essence of an iconic American bistro. We aimed to have something for everyone by taking classic dishes and adding our modern interpretation and twist to them. Nowadays, menus can be very confusing and over the top, and this menu sees the beauty in simplicity.
FLMag: There seems to be a real emphasis on local at The Terrace Grill. How would you define Fort Lauderdale’s cuisine style? What would you like to add to it?
McNeil: Fort Lauderdale’s dining scene has been undergoing a renaissance, and the opening of The Terrace Grill helped kick it into high gear this year. Diners in Fort Lauderdale have more options than ever, especially with new concepts sprouting every day. Whether it comes to fine-dining or fast-casual concepts, the city is clearly making its mark in culinary innovation. The Terrace Grill’s addition to the city gave it something I feel it needed – a place where diners can indulge in dishes that they once had years ago, but have trouble finding nowadays.
FLMag: The Dalmar’s quite a stylish place, and something that’s a bit different from what Fort Lauderdale’s seen before. How does the restaurant fit into that stylish, hip vibe?
McNeil: The Terrace Grill’s ambiance and design live in harmony with The Dalmar’s style thanks to its airy spaces and its variety of soothing colors and textures. Guests are welcomed with an armoire-style oak-paneled bar topped with Calcutta marble, soaring ceilings and plush navy velvet seating, adding a modern and cozy layer to the American grill experience. My favorite aspect of the restaurant’s design is the bar – it’s a beautiful centerpiece where you’ll constantly find regulars having fun.
FLMag: Are there particular dishes you’re excited about? Any that have become particular customer favorites?
McNeil: The char-grilled octopus (see recipe) is not only my favorite, but a local favorite as well. The dish offers a fresh, smoky taste coming off the gill and it has a nice kick from the Italian Calabrian chili. That combined with the Peruvian potatoes and sauce, heirloom tomatoes and caper berries make for a memorable dining experience.
FLMag: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about The Terrace Grill?
McNeil: I truly believe that The Terrace Grill has become the place to be. Whether it’s friends catching up at the bar or a celebration in the private dining room, the vibe is always remarkable and buzzing. It’s also not a surprise to see a lot of familiar faces weekly. Having an environment where everyone knows your name is a home run in my book.
The Dish: Char-grilled Octopus with Peruvian potatoes, Calabrian chili, baby heirloom tomatoes and caper berries
For the Huancaina sauce
- 50g diced onion
- 50g grapeseed oil
- 50g aji amarillo
- 5g diced garlic
- 300g ricotta cheese
- 90g evaporated milk
- 20g Saltine crackers
- 25g freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 5g hard-boiled egg yolks
- Olive oil
Sauté onions in the grapeseed oil until tender. In a blender combine the onion, aji amarillo, garlic, ricotta, evaporated milk, Saltine crackers, lemon juice and egg yolk. Puree until smooth, then drizzle in the olive oil and emulsify.
For the Aji Verde
- 200g shallots
- 40g sliced garlic
- 130g jalapenos
- 50g fresh cilantro
- 25g fresh mint
- 300g aji amarillo
- 5g fresh oregano
- 500g water
- 45g fresh squeezed lime juice
- 25g salt
- 400g grapeseed oil
Blend all ingredients until smooth and pass through a chinois.