Chef Clay Carnes is a passionate pragmatist when it comes to his cuisine: He believes in well-executed, no-nonsense food.
You may have picked up on this if you watched the Wellington chef emerge victorious in a recently aired “Cutthroat Kitchen” episode in which he was tasked with making Eggs Benedict. From the start, Carnes, executive chef and co-owner of The Grille Fashion Cuisine, declared he would be making no “bourgeois schmourgeois” rendition: “I’m here to make Eggs Benedict and that’s it.”
To do this, Carnes had to buy the privilege, bidding $4,500 to avoid getting stuck with a toaster oven or coffeemaker as cooking tools. But he could not escape having to dive into a coop of stuffed toy chickens and tear them apart to find hidden eggs.
No problem: Carnes whisked some scavenged quail eggs into a winning hollandaise sauce for his Benedict.
The show, as Barnumesque as it may be, offered a glimpse into the food philosophy of Clayton Carnes, a chef who lavishes his skills and focus on making classic dishes the best they can be. Lucky are Carnes’ regulars, many of them members of Wellington’s equestrian set.
Armed with locally grown produce, first-rate meats and other quality ingredients, Carnes delivers a menu that’s diverse enough to keep a foodie interested (with pops of Asian, Latin and Mediterranean flavors) and classic enough to keep more mainstream diners coming back.
Carnes’ meat dishes are particularly strong – and I guess that’s to be expected from someone whose name means “meats” in Spanish. In any case, meat lovers won’t be disappointed with a starter such as The Grille’s short rib tacos ($9.50), which are loaded with a kicky tiger-style salad of shaved cucumbers and feta cheese, and drizzled with spicy mayo. That same short rib filling, heady and robust, stars in a starter quesadilla ($10).
On a recent visit, we also sampled one of The Grille’s three ceviche offerings, this one an ahi tuna and jalapeño ceviche ($15). It was fresh and tasty, though far more subtle in flavor than a traditional ceviche. Those seeking a rendition of a more authentic Peruvian ceviche may be surprised to find Carnes’ tuna-jalapeño take to be excessive in its ingredient list. It is tossed together with avocado, fresh grilled corn, hearts of palm, orange, lime and spicy mayo to achieve a loose-yet-creamy finish. The result was a fresh-tasting toss of ingredients, but not a ceviche.
Those starters share the menu with a good range of options, from crab cakes to sweet and sour shrimp. The appetizers, inventive enough but rooted in classics, set the tone for a dining experience that is accessible, inspiring and hospitable, as service at The Grille – sister eatery to Oli’s Fashion Cuisine and The Seahorse Fashion Cuisine, also in Wellington – matches its excellent food.
Among the entrée list we spotted a dish that promised to fix our craving for comfort food: the free-range roasted chicken with pesto ($28). And it did. This skin-on chicken breast was roasted to a tender and juicy finish, gorgeously seared on the outside and served glistening in its juices with a heaping spoonful of pesto swooshed alongside. It was simple and perfect in presentation and taste, as were the crispy, truffled skinny fries we requested on the side.
Also spot-on: the Blackened Wagyu Sirloin ($30), a 7-ounce filet that proved tender and hot pink beneath its lovely char. This steak was served with a flavorful, gorgonzola-sprinkled portion of grilled onions and roasted tomatoes. Adding yet another layer of flavor, Carnes outlined the entire composition with homemade pickled shallot ranch sauce. This is a dish of bold and beautifully contrasting flavors. (And the hefty steak fries served on the side are outstanding.)
A risotto dish ($48 with lobster) proved less dramatic in flavor and presentation. A creamy, truffle-scented mound of rice is tossed with shaved asparagus, wild mushrooms and a bit of goat cheese. Our requested lobster upgrade (there are chicken and shrimp upgrade options as well) added a luxurious touch to this rich, balanced dish.
Dessert did not disappoint. Then again, how could homemade gelato ($7) that’s crafted of fresh, sometimes local ingredients disappoint? On the night of our visit, we sampled several flavors, from a rich bourbon barrel vanilla to a sublime Florida strawberry to stellar dulce de leche.
Like the rest of The Grille’s offerings, gelato is fresh, earnestly prepared and delicious.
The Grille Fashion Cuisine
ADDRESS: 12300 South Shore Blvd., Wellington
PRICE RANGE: Moderate to expensive
HOURS: Open daily at 11 a.m. for lunch and dinner; starting May, closed on Sundays
CREDIT CARDS: Major credit cards
RESERVATIONS: Accepted, but walk-ins welcome
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, including restrooms.
NOISE LEVEL: Manageable
FULL BAR: Yes, and there’s a separate bar area
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother