Driving from the Keys to Orlando in one day isn’t impossible but it’s daunting. So on my recent road trip to South Florida, my companion and I decided to break up the return with a stopover in Ft. Lauderdale. Besides the respite, it gave me a chance to try Rivertail, which had opened in the final days of 2019.
Rivertail is the first Broward County project for Miami-based José Mendín, a James Beard nominated chef known for his Pubbelly restaurants. It’s situated on the New River, which runs parallel to Las Olas Boulevard. For those familiar with the Las Olas scene, Rivertail took over a space previously occupied by Briny Riverfront Pub.
It would seem that Rivertail is actually two restaurants, at least physically. The inside is lit by the cool blue neon of a sign spelling the restaurant’s name, with plenty of plants and warm woods. It’s quiet and appealing, compared to the rusticity of the patio, with wood-worn banquettes, laminate tabletops and metal chairs with the thinnest of cushions.
But I couldn’t imagine choosing to dine inside, not when you have the panorama of the riverfront next to you and a constant parade of people strolling along the Riverwalk on view from your patio table.
The restaurant is described as a seafood house and oyster bar, so we started with an appetizer of broiled oysters “concha,” four halfshells topped with chopped kimchi and horseradish, dusted with parmesan and sprinkled with crushed Cheez-its. Frankly, neither the crackers nor the kimchi added much to the taste, but the oysters themselves were plump and tasty.
For my entree I chose the Bahia-style Brazilian stew, a mix of seafood, including shrimp, mussels, scallops and a white fish fillet, in a broth of coconut milk. The broth was minimal, barely enough to dampen the rice that came with it, but it had a nice nutty taste from the dende oil that seasoned it.
My dinner guest chose the clams carbonara bucatini, thickly coated pasta made luxurient with a poached egg and parmesan cheese with clams – some in the shell, some not – and chewy bits of pancetta and house-made guanciale. When something is this rich and filling it doesn’t seem right to mention that the portion was small, so I’ll just let it go.
Mendín’s food might have a more upscale feel when eaten inside, but I don’t plan to test that theory. Dining outdoors here is just too good.