In the spirit of full disclosure, the number 3800 comes with a bit of baggage for me. It’s the street number of my boyhood home in Dayton, Ohio, a three-bedroom brick oven that probably compares in overall square footage to some of Boca’s over-the-top shoe closets. The closest thing to gourmet dining at 3800 Jason Ave. was when my mom actually cooked the hot dogs instead of letting my brother and I eat them raw (which, for some reason, we enjoyed).
So it was with equal parts of anticipation and trepidation that I recently dined at 3800 Ocean inside the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa (3800 N. Ocean Drive, 561/340-1795). Anticipation in that I’d heard raves about the kitchen prowess of chef Larry LaValley and his talented team, fresh off last summer’s prized invite to cook at the James Beard House; trepidation in that, in order to finally confront my repressed memories, the menu might be filled with various spins on cold hot dogs.
As it turned out, an evening inside this chic seaside gem brought new meaning to the number 3800—for all the right reasons.
The vibe inside 3800 Ocean is upscale contemporary without the fuss—white furniture and chairs set against dark-wood tables, an open and airy floor plan, and an eyeful of the Atlantic through the windows overlooking the beach. That part of the experience is even more meaningful given the dearth of oceanfront dining in and around Boca.
But the star here is the new menu that 3800 Ocean recently unveiled.
First some background on the chef: LaValley, first in his class at The Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park back in 2000, enjoyed a post-graduation stagiaire (think internship) in Chambery, France under master chef and farm-to-table enthusiast Jean-Michel Bouvier. Back in the states, he worked for Mark Militello as executive chef at Mark’s in South Beach. Prior to 3800 Ocean, he served as culinary director of operations for the DMR restaurant group.
All of that experience has LaValley at the top of his game as part of a “collaborative kitchen” (five other out-of-state chefs work the restaurant) at 3800 Ocean, which delights in using seasonal ingredients for its self-described Modern American menu. Appetizers include Peekytoe “Crab Louie” with tomato, cucumber, asparagus, egg and tarragon dressing and, my favorite, steamed Maine bouchet mussels in red curry broth. It’s not always easy to elevate mussel meat beyond its bland, rubbery texture, but the broth here was so flavorful that we nearly poured its remains into our cocktail glasses.
Entrées here all come with some kind of tasty twist—from the pan-roasted duck breast with kabocha squash puree to the cracker-crusted halibut plated with braised leeks, fingerling potatoes and lobster nage. Our New England day boat scallops—cooked to perfection and served with root veggie mash, haricot verts, almonds and cranberries—stole the show. As for dessert, anything emanating from the world of executive pastry chef Deana Lezcano is bound to be heavenly—but the red-velvet cheesecake is an especially wicked slice of decadence.
It might take more than one meal to entirely erase the numerical demons from my past, but that’s fine. It turns out 3800 Ocean is just what the doctor ordered.