CHOPS LOBSTER BAR – Still ‘The Best’
By Kenny Spahn
When I first reviewed the new Chops Lobster Bar back in 2007, I prefaced my article by stating, “… despite the plethora of upscale establishments around town, there’s never been a single, clear-cut “Best” restaurant. But now that Chops Lobster Bar has arrived, we have an undisputed champion.” That conclusion was derived from a multitude of factors, including quality, service, attention to detail, wine program, ambiance, bar, overall vibe, customer rapport, and of course – the food. Now, a dozen years later, I recently revisited Chops. There’s a new Chef and a new GM in charge, but my evaluation remains the same: Chops Lobster Bar is still “The Best Restaurant in Boca.” The very fact that this high-end establishment has not only survived, but flourished all these years under the same ownership further buttresses this conclusion.
Chops Lobster Bar was the first out-of-state venture for Atlanta’s renowned Buckhead Life Restaurant Group (BLRG), which has since brought us City Fish Market in Boca, as well as Lobster Bar Sea Grill in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Chops Lobster Bar combines the best of two worlds, steakhouse and seafood, into one singular sensation, and represents the crowning achievement of its founder and legendary restaurateur, Chef Pano Karatassos. The gorgeous setting seamlessly fuses the rich elegance of the mahogany-coffered ‘Chops’ room with the airy, contemporary ‘Lobster Bar’ area, sporting high-arched ceilings of herringbone mosaic tile and distinctive ‘inverse pyramid’ dangling light structures. Up front lies the convivial front lounge, which always seems to be hoppin’ — especially during Happy Hour, or whenever the live jazz musicians are playing. There’s also a cool outdoor covered patio area, plus an intimate ‘Board Room’ for private gatherings.
Wherever you sit, service here is par excellence, under the assiduous guidance of restaurant veteran and GM Moe Ahmed, who maintains an unfaltering eye for detail while pampering his guests with a genuine sense of warm hospitality, along with excellent food & wine knowledge. Moe confided to me that the real key to Chops’ continuous success is the people who work there, and the company’s philosophy of caring for its team. As he further explained, “When you surround yourself with good people and treat them well, you get good results.” Moe’s hospitality is matched only by the culinary artistry of Executive Sean Thompson, who runs the obviously well-trained kitchen team with consistency and precision. So sit back, relax, and prepare to embark upon a culinary adventure of incomparable excellence.
The opening basket of homemade breads (still hot!) is worth the visit alone — especially those irresistible Caramelized Sweet Onion Pumpernickel Pockets. But exercise restraint, as your gustatory journey has just begun. Chef Sean gives familiar appetizers an upscale twist, to create familiar, truly memorable delights. Grilled Octopus (reflecting Pano’s Greek heritage), All Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes (real Maryland-style), NY Strip Carpaccio (with smoked Vidalia aioli and crisped capers), Wild Burgundy Escargot teaming with buttery garlicy succulence, the Chops Chopped Salad, and sushi-grade Ahi Tuna Tartar with Haas avocado and lemon foam are a few shining examples ($12-$20). But the one specialty here you just gotta try is Chops’ signature Lobster Tail Morsels. Tender morels of sweet, succulent lobster tail are quickly flash-fried to a delicate crispy-thin crunch, creating a magical sensation that will have your taste buds thanking you for bringing them to the party. Maine Lobster Bisque is another sure winner, enhanced with a subtle hit of Cognac to capture the very essence of pure “lobsterness” with each rich, velvety slurp.
But hey, we’re at Chops, so bring on the steak! The steaks here are second to none. We’re talking fresh (never frozen) USDA Prime beef, meticulously sourced from hand-selected purveyors, and carefully aged at least 30 – 40 days. Executive Chef Sean Thompson then takes over, treating the steaks only to a hit of his house-made seasoned salt blend before flaming them in Chops’ 1,800-degree oven, imparting that distinctive steakhouse crust that you just simply can’t get at home. My recommendation? Go for the Bone-in Ribeye, a proud paradigm of steak perfection. The bone actually caramelizes under the intense heat, imbuing its rich sweetness and intense flavor. Ditto on the Bone-In Filet Mignon, butter-soft and beautiful. Of course with a name like “Chops,” you’d expect to see some serious chops here – and you’d be right. The free-range bone-in Prime Veal Ribeye takes the standard ‘veal chop’ to new heights, while the Triple-Cut Lamb Chops are simply stellar. Prime Black Angus Filet Mignon, real Kobe Beef filet (genuine A-5 (the highest grade) Miyazaki Wagyu beef (the “Champion Breed”) from Kobe, Japan), Dry-aged Tomahawk Longbone Ribeye, and a prodigious (40-ounce) Dry Aged Porterhouse For Two are among the many other beefy options ($46 – $58), along with a wonderful mushroom-stuffed Roasted Chicken Breast. Any dish may be augmented with one of Chops homemade sauces, from chimichurri to Hollandaise to white truffle butter. But personally, I wouldn’t bastardize meat of this quality with any sauce, so I’ll enjoy my Chops steak au naturale, thank you.
Meanwhile, the “Lobster Bar” showcases the pristine daily seafood offerings. We’re talkin’ fresh seafood here – so fresh, in fact, that it never sees a freezer. It’s held in Chops’ proprietary storage system, designed by Chef Pano himself. The spectacular Iced Shellfish Tower makes a glorious starter for the table — a spectacular display of fresh Maine lobster, jumbo shrimp, cold water oysters, and more. Colossal Lump Crab Cocktail, Key West Stone Crab Claws (when in season), Fresh Oysters (east and west coast), and daily Caviar samplings are other noteworthy starters from the sea – plus, of course, the aforementioned Lobster Morsels and Lobster Bisque.
Seafood entrees are even more amazing. Fresh fish is treated Greek-style with Chef Pano’s family-inspired “Plancha” treatment, simply sautéed with capers, lemon, select herbs, and Greek EVOO to accentuate its pure natural goodness. Our Chilean Sea Bass was spot-on perfect – moist and tender, with a seductive, almost buttery taste and mouthfeel, highlighted by the subtle sweetness of the sesame soy ginger broth. Fresh Maine Lobster dishes do justice to the “Lobster Bar” moniker, served steamed & cracked, broiled & stuffed with even more lobster, or lightly crisped Lobster Tails (a larger version of the Lobster Morsels appetizer).
Other Aquarian offerings ($34 – $60) include Horseradish-crusted Black Grouper with sautéed Tuscan kale, Fresh Genuine Holland Dover Sole (filleted tableside), Sesame-Crusted Ahi Tuna with a port wine glaze, Alaskan Red King Crab Legs, and Chef Sean’s nightly specials (always a good bet).
Whether you opt for surf or turf (or both), made-for sharing Side Dishes ($12) are a must. Pure Creamless Corn Mash, Maine Lobster Mac & Cheese, and Roasted Garlic Whipped Potatoes evoke fond memories of childhood comfort food, but takes them on an exotic luxury cruise. Other notable sides include honey roasted rainbow carrots with mint yogurt, jumbo asparagus, Brussels sprout leaves & mushrooms, and some of the best damn sautéed mushrooms (organic) you’ve ever tasted.
To accompany such fine fare, Chops’ Wine List boasts nearly 500 labels ($36-$2,900, with many priced under $100), including many boutique wineries and rare varietals, and over 40 wines by the glass. Fortunately, Moe and/or Beverage Manager Marcell Keys are always happy to guide you to the right wine for your food, personal preferences, and budget. Moe suggested a Modus Operandi “Vicarious” 2012, which proved to be an excellent choice. This unique blend from Napa Valley incorporates Cabernet Sauv for steak-worthy structure, with Merlot for soft texture, and Petit Sirah with its opulent fruit and power. It’s a soft and voluptuous wine, showing dark-red color and up-front notes of dark berry and plum, followed by hints of cocoa and cedar and a subtle nuance of brown bread; with rounded dusty tannins and a long, pleasing finish. This very drinkable wine paired perfectly with the savory steak — but with its well-integrated alcohol and palette-pleasing balance, would be equally enjoyable all by itself. No wonder this wine won a Gold Medal at the recent American Fine Wine Competition.
Meanwhile, the full bar serves all the standards, along with its signature Specialty Cocktails and craft beers, plus a whole separate menu of the Big Boy scotches, bourbons, cognacs, and premium cordials and liqueurs. House-made desserts are equally worthy of the Chops banner, and perfectly matched with a cup of Pano’s Private Reserve Coffee, custom-blended & roasted exclusively for Chops and its sister BLRG restaurants.
And so, after reviewing hundreds of restaurants, and seeing a thousand-or-so more come and go, I can once again unequivocally designate “The Best restaurant in Boca Raton” is Chops Lobster Bar!
Chops Lobster Bar serves dinner nightly, with Happy Hour specials at the Lounge and Patio every night; plus a 3-course $54 dinner special. Private parties available. Reservations are highly recommended.
101 Plaza Real South, Boca Raton. (561) 395-2675. www.chopslobsterbar.com
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