Wild Sea Oyster Bar & Grille Sets a New Seafood Standard for Las Olas
A tuxedoed waiter places a dish upon a spotless white tablecloth. A plump filet of black bass perches atop an emerald bed. An earthy scent wafts up, overwhelming the senses. The first bite is perfect: There's the skin's light crunch, followed by the sweet, meaty bass flesh. The pea ragout -- just-shucked English peas, honey, fresh thyme, green garlic, and cream in a broth made from the fish's bones -- adds a richness that turns every bite into a guilty pleasure.
CandaceWest.com Sunburst Trout at Wild Sea Oyster Bar & Grille.
The meal quickly disappears. A touch of the sauce remains but is soon mopped up with a crust of hot, house-made foccacia bread.
You might be able to enjoy this $32 delight if you're lucky enough to stop by on an evening when Jon Sanchez deems it worthy of your plate.
The 28-year-old chef de cuisine of Wild Sea Oyster Bar & Grille inside Fort Lauderdale's historic Riverside Hotel describes himself as "crazy" about fresh fish. Sanchez, who looks like a clean-shaven Liev Schreiber, even has a fish tattooed on his right forearm. He hand-butchers up to 200 pounds of fish a day -- a Herculean undertaking that most restaurants leave to purveyors.
Sometimes a supplier will send him cut fillets, "and I send them right back," he says. "It surprises a few fish people who don't know me."
But he is particular. "I want to be able to see how red the gills are, whether the eyes are clear," Sanchez says. "The head of a fish can tell you a lot."
Buying fish whole and butchering them comes with an added bonus for a chef who knows what to do with them: the bones, heads, and all sorts of trimmings can be saved and used to embolden the flavor of stocks and soups. Some orders, Sanchez says, need to be left in the refrigerator for a day or two so that rigor mortis subsides and the fish becomes palatable.
Sanchez came to Fort Lauderdale by way of Las Vegas, where he worked at David Myers' Comme Ca and Thomas Keller's Bouchon. Before that, the Kansas City native did stints in his hometown as well as Maine and New York. His nose-to-tail focus -- using the whole animal in multiple elements of a dish -- came from his time spent at Restaurant Bradley Ogden, a now-closed Michelin-starred restaurant in Caesar's Palace.
Culinary schools "don't train that way anymore," Sanchez says. "I was put in an environment where I was able to see it firsthand. I made sure I was the first one in, last one out so I would have the time to learn how to butcher."