You just about need a map and some color-coded charts to keep track of all the different massive new hotels that have popped up in recent years along Fort Lauderdale Beach. But the Conrad’s easy to spot. It’s the one that sweeps back from the ocean like a sailboat and features prominent porthole-style windows running its length. That architectural choice can also act as a challenge – this is a hotel that’s not meant for just anywhere; it belongs on the beach. And it’s a challenge accepted by the hotel’s culinary team.
The hotel offers several food-and-drink options. There’s Terra Mare, the restaurant in the Conrad but run separately from it, which opened recently to no small amount of fanfare and media coverage. But the Conrad also has several of its own eating and dining spaces, including the Atlas Cocktail Lounge, Cornucopia Gourmet Market and Spinnaker Pool Grill. (That last one, next to the hotel’s sixth-floor, ocean-facing pool, isn’t open to all members of the public – yet.)
Overseeing all this is chef Jorge Ramos. He was brought in when the hotel, which had its grand opening in December, was in its embryonic stages.
“It’s been a journey,” he says. “I saw this place when it was a construction site.”
At that early point, there were photos and design boards up in the hotel’s makeshift office. Ramos looked at the inspiration for the overall hotel – photos of places like St. Tropez, or the port cities of northern Africa – and started to get ideas for Mediterranean-style menues. Ramos is Puerto Rican, and he found the Mediterranean style of cooking – lots of fresh fish, plenty of interesting spices – came naturally.
It’s a kitchen style that lends itself to a certain impromptu approach – and oddly enough, working for a big operation like the Conrad can help with that sort of ethos, particularly when it comes to small details the average customer might never consider. Take the menus.
“We’re set up so that we’re able to print menus in-house and more able to change as we see things coming in that we can play with,” Ramos says.
It’s also a kitchen style that, among other things, has to fit in several different spaces. Atlas sits near the hotel’s main lobby, but it’s tucked away down several stairs in a space that doesn’t feel like a hotel lobby bar. Under an arched ceiling accented by wood beams, the long space ends at a bar in front of a blue-lit map of the world. It’s light and lit – no smoky porthole bar here – but still manages to offer up hints of the sea.
Away from the entrance and accessible from the streets of the burgeoning North Beach Village neighborhood, Cornucopia’s a casual café and coffee shop of the sort that’s becoming prolific around downtown but can still be hard to find on the beach. In addition to the coffee, there’s gelato, sandwiches, breads and pastries from a local baker – proper coffeehouse/city café stuff, only where the air’s saltier. Up on the sixth-floor pool deck, Spinnaker’s not open to the general public yet – the only way to use it now is to have an event there, book a room or book a treatment in the hotel spa. But, hotel officials say, that will change – public access is coming soon.
They’re three unique locations, but they all share a certain luxury-yet-laid-back vibe that Ramos wanted to capture in food form.
“They intertwined,” he says of the trio. “They make sense together.”
The Dish: Bay Scallop Crudo
• 4 large bay scallops (Can substitute a firm white fish)
• 1.5 cup cure mix: 8 oz salt, 4 oz sugar, plus spices (Chef Jorge’s tip: “I love to toast spices and add to the mix such as fennel, cumin, coriander, anise, and cardamom.”)
• Juice of one lime, lemon and orange
• 1 small red beet, cooked
• Fresh ginger (very small piece)
• 2 oz EVOO
Put the cure mix in a mixing bowl. Add the scallops, ensuring that they are covered completely by the mix. Cover and refrigerate for about two hours.
For the broth, take the juice of the lime, lemon and orange, as well as the small red beet and a pinch of fresh ginger. Process in a blender. Strain, reserve and chill.
Chef Jorge’s tip: “For the garnishes, we change it as we get nice things from our local farms. I use a simple rule: The garnishes need to encompass an array of flavors and textures.
“We are currently using this: Thinly sliced watermelon radish, orange segments, micro herbs, pink peppercorn, and pickled Fresno chilies. So the combinations are truly interchangeable.”
Rinse scallops and lightly pat them dry. Allow them to sit a few minutes uncovered in the fridge; this will allow them to dry up a bit and be easier to slice. You will notice the scallops are much firmer.
Slice the scallops thinly in about four or five slices. Neatly arrange slices one next to each other on the plate, then spoon over the citrus juice. Sporadically garnish the plate with the selected garnishes and season items with pink peppercorns and EVOO. You can also add a sprinkle of sea salt to finish the plate. Ensure that the herbs go on at the very end.