It wasn’t until I lived in New York City that I became more familiar with celebrity chefs, eager to try all of their restaurants. Locally in Palm Beach, the same holds true for Chef Clay Conley, who has three restaurants – Grato, Buccan and Imoto, and a sandwich shop. He was recognized as one of 2017’s best chefs of the South for a James Beard Award!
I dined at Grato in West Palm Beach when it first opened, and with high expectations Buccan and Imoto in Palm Beach more recently. Not only did I hold these high expectations because of his reputation, but also for their location on Palm Beach Island. Anyone who survives on the island is doing something right, for it is a small area filled with some of the most trendy, fashionable, well-traveled, critical, wealthy and famous residents.
Buccan is described as a restaurant serving “inventive American cuisine made with the freshest ingredients from the very best sources. Their signature small plate, big flavor creations are served in a warm and welcoming space.” I couldn’t agree more. The space is bright with large windows covering two sides, it smells great from to the open kitchen in the back, and the service is very friendly. It’s busy, trendy and upscale, but not the least bit stuffy. It actually surprised me how casual and approachable it felt, with little kids eating with their family at one big round table across from us. That was, until Howard Stern walked in and sat behind us! No big deal…
To drink, I ordered the Ginny Hendriks with gin, lemon juice, cucumber and basil, my favorite combination. This was a good start, but nothing I couldn’t make myself at home.
Now for the food! We decided to share a few of the most popular small plates. We ordered them all at once and our server brought them out in perfect sequence. First was the Short Rib Empanada with salsa criolla and aja amarillo. As you can tell from the picture below, it was quite generously sized and very shareable. Was it the best empanada in the world? Nope, but it was really good and worth ordering again.
To lighten things up a bit, we ordered the Octopus “Tabbouleh” with chickpeas, farro, fresno chili, mint. I love Octopus and Tabbouleh, but have never had them together oddly enough. It was noticeably fresh and full of flavor, again a generous portion.
Last but not least, their signature dish of Sweet Corn Agnolotti with ricotta, bacon and espelette butter. It was phenomenal, exceeding expectations for a corn filled pasta dish. It’s so popular that they offer it in two sizes, regardless of time of day. For reference, ours was the smaller, $15 portion. If we weren’t so full from the large empanada and portion of Octopus tabbouleh, we probably would have ordered another plate.
I’ve been raving about Buccan and recommending it to friends and family since I went. That’s pretty impressive for only trying three small plates, right? I’ll be back soon to try more, that’s for sure! They do have a happy hour on weekdays from 4-6pm but it is only at the bar/bar area. Lastly, be sure to make a reservation on OpenTable!
Located next door to Buccan, Imoto is essentially the Asian version of Buccan. Flavorful small plates, upscale sushi and sashimi, traditional to innovative Japanese cuisine and sauces, comfortable but upscale atmosphere. I was so pleased with Buccan that I went to Imoto within a few weeks later. “I’m dying to go” may have been said a few times.
To drink, I ordered the Yuzu Collins with gin, yuzu, ginger syrup, shiso and soda. Again, the Asian equivalent of a light, refreshing, Ginny Hendriks type of drink. It was easy to drink. Maybe too easy…so then I ordered sake from their large sake menu.
To eat, we ordered more than we did at Buccan because we gained one person (hi Oscar!), allowing us to try more dishes and have a sampling of each. We also were able to take advantage of their happy hour deal from a table in the dining room, unlike Buccan. We ordered the Kung Pao Cauliflower with sesame, chili and peanuts, and BBQ Spare Ribs with chipotle, apple and mustard greens from the list. Both were full of flavor and prepared in an interesting way.
Instead of going with a basic edamame on the happy hour menu, we decided to order the Green Papaya Salad from the regular menu, served with coconut, carrot and cucumber. So simple and delicious. It wasn’t recommended to us or raved about online, so we didn’t see it coming. Out of everything, it turned out to be one of my favorite dishes.
I love toro, sushi and foie gras, so when I saw it paired together, I couldn’t resist. The Seared Bluefin Toro with foie gras, momiji, scallion and ponzu was quite a splurge for one big bite, but it melted in my mouth. As tasty as it was, I probably wouldn’t order again for I would lose that exciting feeling of splurging on something indulgent.
One of our favorite plates was the Peking Duck Tacos with plum sauce, sesame and carrots. It would have been my number one if there were less julienne vegetables and it wasn’t so messy, but they were very good.
Now for my absolute favorite dish, the Tuna Tataki with pickled hon shimeji mushrooms, myoga, avocado puree and shallot rings. The unique ingredients and preparation, along with a mix of textures, sold me. I was nearly scraping the plate at the end.
Overall, you can’t compare Buccan to Imoto. They’re both serve excellent food of different cuisines.