Ft. Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard shares certain traits with Winter Park’s Park Avenue. They both have a sort of mini Rodeo Drive vibe of trendy – and pricy – shops, and both tend to attract an upscale crowd.
They both feature plenty of restaurants, and they seem to both have up and down periods of good and not so good restaurants. Las Olas appears to be on one of those downturns. The restaurant scene hasn’t been as vibrant lately as it was in the heydays of Mark’s on Las Olas and the copycat restaurants it attracted. Oh, there are still plenty of restaurants, but they don’t have the same allure and sureness of quality.
At least not on the main stretch of the boulevard. But if you go farther down the road, across the intersection where Federal Highway dips under Las Olas and continues under the river, you’ll find a group of newer restaurants that attract the young and exuberant crowd. But you’ll find that most of them are congregating at one restaurant in particular: YOLO, whose acronymic name stands for You Only Live Once. And if that’s true, this is certainly the way to live.
On a recent Saturday, YOLO had the sort of standing-room-only crowd that makes you say “what recession?” out loud. The cobblestoned valet drive out front, where a Mercedes looks puny next to a Lamborghini, merges with a bamboo-lined patio with a roaring fire pit. The outdoor bar looks through a cinema-sized window to a row of matching stools on the other side, and just beyond, a crimson colored dining room with wood and stone accents, and an open kitchen with a hard-working fire pit.
My companion and I ordered an appetizer of artichokes that were grilled over the wood fire. There were three sections of baby chokes, grilled just right and with a delightful charred flavor. It would have been perfect if the artichokes hadn’t cooled so much before they could be delivered.
My friend had the prime rib sandwich as an entrée while I went with special of the evening, a braised short rib served over potato “risotto.” (More about that in a moment.)
The sandwich was just wonderful. The French roll was soft and crusty, and the meat was tender and plentiful. Jus was served with the sandwich for dipping. All quite nice.
The short rib was good, too. Sufficiently tender and with a fatty mouthfeel. The risotto turned out to be cubed potatoes, and just as with attempts to do jambalaya with pasta, this spuds version rice dish just didn’t work, mainly because the potatoes had a waxy texture that didn’t play well with the short rib. But it was such a minor part of the dish that it didn’t matter.
Service was first-rate. We sat at the bar – the only seats available to us as walk-ins, but a favorite place to sit anyway. Our server was attentive and intuitive and never left us wanting for anything. One problem that I kept observing throughout the meal: food runners consistently brought appetizers and entrees to the area with apparently no clue as to where they should go. Pretty sure that’s why our artichoke was cool. By the way, when we mentioned in passing that the appetizer wasn’t warm, our server had it removed from the check. Totally unnecessary, seeing as how we had devoured it regardless. But a very nice thing to do.
That’s why it was overall such a pleasant experience, even with the blip or two. When you leave a place, as we did, thoroughly satisfied and happy, you can be sure the restaurant is doing something right.
YOLO is at 333 E. Las Olas Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Here’s a link to yolorestarant.com. The phone number is 954-523-1000.