Where: 307 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach
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The recipe that put Lionfish on the culinary map in San Diego—coastal casual vibe; socially conscious approach; and eclectic, chef-driven menu—also has diners buzzing in Delray. Since opening this fall, the concept developed by Clique Hospitality, with Johnny Demartini handling executive chef duties at this second location, has emerged as the hottest reservation on Atlantic Avenue.
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The space next to Johnnie Brown’s has been re-imagined with soft-wood tones, whitewashed brick, a reclaimed antique bar from the 1800s, and a dramatic ceiling cove that runs the length of the space. But Craig O’Keefe, managing partner of Clique, says there’s more here than meets the eye. “We want a whole experience for diners. Where is the food is coming from? Who pulled the fish out of the water? Where did those microgreens come from? Is your server engaged? Is the lighting right? Is the music right? That’s the [commitment] we’re bringing to this emerging climate in Delray.”
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The fish for which it’s named doesn’t have nearly the same reputation as the restaurant. The lionfish, an invasive species, is a ravenous predator that affects coral reef recovery off our coast. With an average of 18 venomous spines, and a meat yield (mostly in the head) of about 40 percent, it’s also no picnic for chefs. But the kitchen team does its part for ocean conservation, creating show-stopping dishes like the popular lionfish ceviche appetizer. After tedious preparation to remove the spines, fins and scales, the fish is marinated in brine with coconut juice, lemon juice and Key lime juice—and served with diced avocado, cucumber, and scallion bottoms, along with serrano chiles pickled in a brine with agave nectar.
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Expect the unexpected on Lionfish’s intriguing and diverse menu, including an array of sushi/sashimi offerings, as well as four specialty rolls; the All Star, with spicy tuna, striped bass and hiramasa (yellowtail kingfish), is drawing raves, along with the Surf & Turf roll with seared Wagyu. On the beef side, the bone-in, 30-ounce rib eye is the perfect shared dish for meat lovers; it’s served with smashed fingerling potatoes and crispy onions. Fresh catches include roasted ora king salmon and pan-seared St. George scallops—along with, yes, whole crispy lionfish, with lemon capers and charred greens.
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The communal dining aspect of Lionfish comes to life in a dazzling variety of cold plates (think lobster carpaccio, and yellowfin tuna pizza) and hot plates. The latter offerings include crispy rock shrimp, butter-poached crab leg—and spicy grilled octopus cooked in a core bouillon with white wine, lemon juice, celery, salt and peppercorn; the octopus is then grilled, tossed in a vinaigrette, and served with fingerling potatoes on cilantro aioli sauce with serrano chilies.
Did You Know?
- Clique Hospitality isn’t finished leaving its mark on the area. Delray Beach Market—a four-story, 150,000-square-foot project by Menin Development billed as the largest food hall in the state—is slated to open this spring. Expect an eclectic mix of more than 25 vendors, curated by Clique, as well as cooking demonstrations and a central bar. Clique and Menin are also involved with the Ray Hotel, scheduled to debut this summer in Delray’s Pineapple Grove district.
- According to Jo Jo Ruiz, corporate chef at Lionfish, South Florida is providing a Pandora’s box of fresh, sustainable seafood—a hallmark of the San Diego restaurant. “We’re getting beautiful pompanos from a local fishery, some local swordfish, and beautiful giant local spiny lobsters,” he says.
- The eco-friendly vibe at Lionfish extends to its use of biodegradable straws—and cutlery for to-go orders made out of avocado pits, O’Keefe says.