I don’t know why more locals don’t go to Everglades. Since it opened in late 1995 in the then-new Omni Rosen Hotel, now the Rosen Centre Hotel, it has served consistently high-quality food in a unique, if slightly odd atmosphere.
The entree I liked most was the Spanish Harbor swordfish ($25), but it was just one of the items I enjoyed here that has me wondering why Everglades isn’t on a list of local favorites.
The swordfish was a thick and flaky steak, served atop a scattering of succotash and dressed with a just-so-tangy barbecue sauce. A couple of slices of fried green tomatoes gave it a decidedly southern accent.
Although they tend not to roam in South Florida, the tenderloin of buffalo ($32) was another satisfying entree. The pan-seared meat was a juicy medium-rare, and it had just the tiniest hint of gaminess, just enough to set it apart from its beefy cousins. It was accompanied by a ragout of chunky mushrooms in a finely executed zinfandel reduction sauce.
For the lover of more traditional meats, the filet Key Largo ($29) should suffice, and then some. It featured a filet mignon, cooked a bit past the requested medium-rare, but still acceptable, topped with a heaping helping of jumbo lump crabmeat and bearnaise. A pinot noir demiglace added a darker flavor note to complement the sweetness of the crabmeat.
Only one dish, the Florida Bay bouillabaisse ($36) failed to satisfy. Here was an ample amount of clams, shrimp, scallops and lobster with linguica and potato chunks in broth tinged with saffron. But unfortunately the seafood had all been overcooked, the lobster falling apart into mush and the scallops hard little disks. Ironically, a section of corn on the cob, the item that is usually the overcooked one, was practically raw. And all of this was all the more disappointing because the broth was wonderful.
One of my favorites from the original menu, gator chowder, is still featured. Actually, it’s now called Alligator Bay chowder ($6), but it still features pebbles of ground gator meat and chunks of potatoes in a tomato laced broth.
Another good starter course was the duck confit ($9), a tender leg quarter with a perfect salty taste graced with a blackberry syrup. A preparation of Florida rock shrimp ($9) had the firm bits of shellfish prepared with roma tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms in an al dente risotto. Quite a substantial starter course.
Boca Chica mushroom ($8) was supposed to be crispy, but the portobello, served on watercress with balsamic vinaigrette, was not. Still, I enjoyed the flavors.
Any restaurant in Florida, let alone one with a South Florida landmark as its theme, should be ashamed to serve the Key lime pie ($5) that was offered here. Besides the lime filling being insufficiently tart, it was topped with a thick layer of tasteless white substance.
Two better desserts were the chocolate marquis ($7) and the pecan tuile ($7), each offering a sweet and rich finish.
I’m still not a huge fan of the decor, which features an enormous airbrushed mural of an Evergladescape. There is also a mother and calf manatee sculpture hanging from the ceiling and an alligator creeping down a banister. One nice touch was the addition of blinds in the windows at the front of the dining room, shutting out the stark and decidedly unattractive lobby area on the other side. On some nights there is a piano player in the lounge who can be heard throughout the restaurant, which helps drown out the swamp sound effects that are piped in.