Seminole Reef Grill debuted in March, creating a new boat-to-table category in local seafood restaurants. The key to the restaurant’s mission is a commercial fishing license that allows staff to buy directly from fishermen. This gives them access to the freshest possible daily catch, while most restaurants are required to deal with middlemen. Every item on the fishing boats is dated and stamped via a tracking system that enables the fish to be audited. As a result, the restaurant offers up to 10 different varieties of fresh catch daily.
“We have the most experienced and knowledgeable team of restaurant people I’ve ever seen in one place,” says General Manager Shelly Kolar. That group includes owner Jerry Hansen, a veteran restaurateur who owns Johnny Longboats on Singer Island, as well as managing partner Bruce Caprara, who managed Jupiter Ale House and Carmine’s in Palm Beach Gardens. (Kolar also owned several restaurants in her home state of Iowa.) Chef Andy Diep is a sushi master who forgoes expected sauces like spicy mayo and relies on the flavors and integrity of his ingredients instead.
Standout dishes include the maple jack salmon, lobster thermidor, and chef’s signature French onion soup and swordfish au poivre. Caprara is partial to the house-made smoked fish dip and macadamia nut–crusted grouper, while Kolar enjoys shrimp scampi and the flatbread garnished with shrimp and marinated goat cheese, served with a mango barbecue sauce. There are nine different salads to choose from. Raw bar selections vary from day to day, depending on what shellfish are available in the market. Highlights from the non-seafood side of the menu include slow-braised short ribs, double-thick bourbon-glazed pork chops, and chicken giardiniera (free-range breasts with hot pickled Italian vegetables, served over buttered rigatoni).
The well-rounded wine list features whites that range from the light and crisp end of the scale (Albariño and Vinho Verde) to profound bottles such as Kistler’s Les Noisetiers Chardonnay or the Puligny Montrachet from Domaine Alain Chavy in Burgundy. Stellar reds include Pinot Noir from Beaux Freres and Kosta Browne, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Schrader, Plumpjack, and Hundred Acre. Several carefully chosen examples of Japanese sake complement the sushi bar selections.
The restaurant’s boat-to-table theme is enhanced by the artwork of Carey Chen, the renowned local marine artist whose work has gained national and international fame. Chen executed the vivid 30-foot mural of sea life behind the sushi bar, and more than a dozen of his prints are on view at the restaurant. Some of his nautical-themed clothing and merchandise are offered for sale as well.
Seminole Reef Grill seats slightly more than 200 diners inside, with space for an additional 50 on the terrace. The restaurant’s motto is “Key West casual meets Palm Beach elegance,” and the principals are confident they have a winning formula. “This is a challenging time to be opening a restaurant,” says Kolar. “But we’re fearless with what we’ve created, and we think it will be exciting for the area.”