The ghosts of Scott Rothstein have long been banished at his former restaurant, which has now opened in its latest incarnation, Grille 401.
The restaurant, which opened in November at the site of the former Bova Prime, is one of a handful of restaurants to open recently in the heart of Fort Lauderdale’s business district on Las Olas Boulevard.
While tourists and locals favor the plentiful restaurants on the east side of the boulevard, the west end, where the office towers are located, has been lacking in lunch spots in recent years.
Judging from the lunchtime crowds, lawyers, bankers and developers — “the suits” — appear to have welcomed Grille 401 to the area warmly.
“The location has been saddled with places that didn’t last,” said Mario Iglesias, a partner at GrayRobinson. “It’s nice to have lunch options on Las Olas if you want to reward a client and take them to a nice place. This is the best restaurant that’s been there.”
Grille 401 was opened by Jeffrey Anderson and Kevin Blair, who own the Pinon Grill at the Terrace at Town Center in Boca Raton and Brimstone Woodfire Grill in the Shops of Pembroke Gardens in Pembroke Pines.
Blair did considerable work renovating the space, which is in the lobby of a prime office building occupied by GrayRobinson, Greenberg Traurig and others. After Bova Prime closed, the spot was most recently the site of Rare Las Olas, which closed earlier this year. Other restaurants that tried and failed in that spot include Red Coral, Riley McDermott’s and Zucca Pasta & Grill.
The lounges and televisions that occupied the second floor have been replaced with tables and banquettes. The first floor seating offers guests a choice between incredibly comfortable and roomy elevated booths and tables.
The ambience speaks sleek warmth, with wood floors and walls, high ceilings, individual table lamps and glass wall partitions filled with hundreds of stacked wine bottles backlit by blue light. The amber, blue and brown color scheme creates a warm feel.
“Quite simply, we’ve changed the space,” Blair said. “The change is unbelievable dramatic. It’s night and day compared to what was there. I believe we changed the place from cold and icy and stark and built out an environment that’s warm and comfortable.”
The new owners also added a large, awning-covered patio space, a wood fire grill and valet parking on the north side.
The lunch menu is extensive, featuring sushi, sandwiches, salads, pasta and entrees like ribs, pork chops, trout and Chilean sea bass. There is also a special “light and healthy menu.”
On a recent weekday, a guest and I stopped by for lunch. I ate light, ordering a bowl of the butternut squash soup for $8 and a grilled artichoke appetizer.
The soup was creamy and well-seasoned, and went down well with a fresh roll slathered with sweet honey butter. For $11, I got three artichokes, which were served with a creamy remoulade sauce.
My guest ordered the cedar plank salmon for $26, which was cooked on a cedar plank with whole grain mustard and served with kale salad. She raved about the salmon and was surprised to enjoy the salad. “I would not have ordinarily ordered it, but now I would order it every time,” she said.
It turns out the salmon is the most popular lunch dish, according to Blair, up there with the beets and goat cheese salad and the tuna burger.
We found the service impeccable. The waiter knew the menu inside and out, plates were removed as soon as we finished and water glasses were refilled the second they dipped below the halfway mark. A staffer even insisted on escorting my guest to the ladies’ room when she inquired where it was.
Soothing music played at a comfortable level in the background.
Grille 401 appears to have been adopted by Fort Lauderdale’s power elite. The day we were there, other diners included Alan Levan, chairman and CEO of the former BankAtlantic; Eugene Pettis, president-elect of The Florida Bar; and George Burgess, former Miami-Dade County manager and chief operating officer of Becker & Poliakoff.
Randall Vitale, a senior vice president at Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust in Fort Lauderdale, said he has eaten at Grille 401 three or four times since it opened. His other favorite lunch spots are Timpano’s and YOLO, also on Las Olas.
“The atmosphere is great,” Vitale said. “I like the booths. They also have a good happy hour. The important thing for a local restaurant is they have to have a lunch crowd, and lunch is full most days. I think they’ll do well.”
Tom Loffredo, managing partner of GrayRobinson’s Fort Lauderdale office, has been to the eatery three times for lunch and once for dinner with six partners and his managing partner. Since his law firm is in the same building, the whole firm was invited for a free trial lunch before the restaurant opened.
“They did an amazing job changing the color scheme,” Loffredo said. “The food is outstanding, the menu is diverse, the service is good and the prices are decent. Everyone I have gone there with has liked it.”
Loffredo’s colleague, Iglesias, agrees. Iglesias worked in downtown Miami for 20 years before moving to GrayRobinson in downtown Fort Lauderdale and said he misses the variety of lunch choices in Miami. Unless the business crowd gets in their cars and drives farther up Las Olas, they are limited to a few restaurants within walking distance.
“Fort Lauderdale is much more relaxed than Miami, but one of the limitations is you don’t have lunch options,” Iglesias said.
The restaurants that preceded Grille 401 were too pricey for lunch, Iglesias said.
“One person could end up having spent $60,” he said. “They were pricing themselves out of the marketplace. At Grille 401, you can find reasonably priced items. I think it will do well.”