Bustle works just fine at Racks Fish House + Oyster Bar, restaurateur Gary Rack’s months-old eatery in the Delray dining district.
The place is bustling, as is the menu, a New England-centric concept spiced up with some Southern flavor and hip to the retro-style cocktail trend.
It’s a smallish space that seems overstuffed with furniture, personality and people, but it works. Bustle works.
But you know what works even better at Racks?
I’m still thinking about the simply grilled branzino ($34, market price) we had here on a recent night – two lightly seared fillets of Mediterranean sea bass, herb-seasoned and delicately infused with smoky grill flavors. Served with a side of diced roasted root veggies ($5 if ordered separately) and homemade tartar sauce, this simply presented dish is simply exquisite.
I wondered why this eatery, tucked just off Atlantic Avenue, seemed packed each time I drove by. The answer is found in dishes like this one.
It’s found in abundant salad specials, as the one offered on the night of my visit: a meaty Maryland crab cake served alongside a large salad of lettuces, fennel, tomatoes tossed in a lightly creamy, slightly spicy-sweet dressing ($17 for the salad special, $15 for the crab cake alone).
It’s found in the addictive Creole Style Calamari appetizer ($12), crisp squid rings tossed in a tomato and horseradish sauce.
And certainly it’s found at the oyster bar, brimming with fresh raw bar offerings and small steam kettles that serve as starters or entrees. Here, the Oyster Pan Roast ($13), a creamy stew rich with fresh-shucked oysters.
All this in a smart-casual setting worthy of a night on the town. Good service seems to be part of the package here as well, as our server proved knowledgeable on the menu and moved quickly to clear empty plates, fill glasses and check on us.
A couple of misses: The grits portion of Racks’ shrimp and grits ($24 on the nightly specials menu) could have been creamier, better seasoned and less cluttered. The shrimp, while plump and nicely cooked, were tossed into a busy chopped vegetable sauce. The dish failed to rise above its jumble of elements and make a cohesive flavor statement.
The Idaho Trout Almondine ($22) proved to be overly rich. The breaded and pan-fried fillet was flaky and fresh, and it sat atop delicious, slightly caramelized Brussels sprouts, but it was accompanied by a sauce that only compounded its richness. A brighter citrus sauce could have made all the difference here.
But our final bite at Racks, the Key Lime Pie ($8), only reinforced all that we had enjoyed about the place. Creamy, sweet and slightly tart, the pie was infused with lime zest bits, topped with fresh whipped cream and made all the more dreamy with an ever-so-light key lime simple syrup.
It’s bites like this that launch dinner reservations.
R E V I E W
Racks Fish House + Oyster Bar
ADDRESS: 5 SE Second Avenue, Delray Beach
PRICE RANGE: Moderate to expensive
HOURS: Open Sunday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday to midnight, Friday and Saturday to 2 a.m. (Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday.)
CREDIT CARDS: Visa and American Express
RESERVATIONS: Strongly suggested, available online at RacksDelray.com
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother