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What to Order at Buccan in Palm Beach, Florida

Service and style merge to provide one of the best dining experiences in South Florida

Buccan / Photo: Courtesy of Buccan

Seven-time James Beard Award nominee Clay Conley and his restaurants have been recognized in national and international media, and there is a reason why. When Buccan opened more than a dozen years ago in Palm Beach, it created a frenzy for its progressive seasonally inspired American cuisine and comfortably casual yet sophisticated setting, something new for the neighborhood. On a recent Tuesday visit, the place was buzzing and I had to call in a favor to get a reservation. Upon entering I noticed how guests had taken over the bar—it’s a perfect spot for solo diners and people who like to make new friends. A cozy lounge area delivers an intimacy with the same menu and attention as the grander dining area, where service and style merge to provide one of the best experiences in South Florida.

Exterior / Photo: Courtesy of Buccan

Clay, along with his partners, the Ember Group, have filled a niche with other concepts such as Buccan Sandwich Shops, Grato, an Italian joint, and Imoto, an Asian restaurant adjacent to Buccan. An exceptional server took us swiftly through the menu and though we wanted it all, we settled for the stellar choices.

For starters, the tuna crisp, a homemade wonton, was more like a cracker, with a smear of avocado and prime red tuna morsels drenched in what Clay calls “fish vin,” the most vibrant lime dressing I have ever had. The hamachi tiradito, with onion mojo, Peruvian chilies and fresh yuzu vinaigrette, benefited from the crisp bite of lotus root. We left yearning for the Florida grouper ceviche, another crudo worth having. An interesting vegetarian dish, the grilled carrot salad—colorful with dried plums, farro, arugula, Sicilian pistachio and balsamic vinaigrette—was a whole meal in itself, while the cauliflower gratin elevated the caramelized onion and fontina melt with shaved black truffles.

Short-rib empanadas / Photo: Courtesy of Buccan

We were seduced by the grilled octopus with charred cabbage and forbidden-rice salad, the short-rib empanadas, and the famous prime-beef burger, but we won the lottery with two amazing appetizer-size pastas, big enough to share. A light and ethereal sweet corn agnolotti was filled with ricotta and bathed in espelette butter with bacon and kernels of corn. And the hand-rolled fusilli in a balanced and delicious Maine lobster arrabbiata sauce had just the right touch of Calabrese chili needed to say, Wow! Perfectly cooked was the grilled local swordfish with an earthy walnut romesco sauce and an artichoke-bottoms vinaigrette with bacon jus, while the Florida grouper scaloppine in a bright tomatillo broth with a confetti of Belle Glade corn and radish tasted fresh from the water. While we had no room for dessert, we were tempted by the petite chocolate chip cookies and the bananas Foster butter cake. We are going back next month to bring our best friends—like us, they deserve to enjoy the best we have in Florida.