January 21, 2020

Award-winning seafood restaurant to debut Delray location

By Openings: Award-winning seafood restaurant to debut Delray location

The nationally acclaimed Lionfish restaurant was founded in San Diego and committed to sustainable seafood. The concept expands into Palm Beach County soon.

A sustainably minded seafood restaurant with some James Beard shine is on track to open in Delray Beach’s dining district this spring.

Lionfish, a modern coastal concept that’s a stylish spinoff of an award-winning San Diego restaurant, is expected to debut in March or April, owners say. But unlike the original west-coast location, which earned a spot on the James Beard Foundation’s “Smart Catch” list of restaurants committed to sustainable seafood, the Delray restaurant will be able to offer local lionfish on its menu.

That’s because the focus of both restaurants is on local and regional waters -- and, unlike southern California, South Florida waters are swimming with the invasive species.

So expect dishes like lionfish ceviche and whole fried lionfish at the new spot, says Andy Masi, a veteran restaurant and nightclub developer who owns Clique Hospitality, the group behind Lionfish.

The culinary focus, he says, is “fish that you would find in the Atlantic, caught by local fishermen.” The larger focus: “Respecting what we get from the ocean.”

The Lionfish concept came to life three years ago at San Diego’s Pendry boutique hotel after Masi enlisted rising-star local chef JoJo Ruiz.

“JoJo and I thought, ’Let’s create this awesome seafood restaurant really focused on sustainable food first and foremost. It would be a fun restaurant and would have a fun menu made for sharing,” Masi said by phone last week. “It was very successful and we’re happy with it.”

Menu-wise, the concept is easily adaptable in Delray, says Ruiz, who creates dishes that range from crudos to creative sushi bites to handsomely presented main plates.

“The food style is going to be very similar, but with a lot of Florida influence,” says Ruiz, who is executive chef/partner for the Clique group’s restaurants. He and his team have been researching and developing the menu for the past few months, he said.

The idea to expand to Delray Beach came when Masi met Craig Menin, the Delray Beach developer behind The Ray hotel coming to Pineapple Grove and the planned Delray Beach Market food hall.

“Craig invited me to come look at Delray and I did. I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” said Masi, referring to the city’s construction boom and possibilities.

Having grown up in New York, he was familiar with south county’s charms as a holiday destination for northerners and snowbirds. But he says he found what is happening now, particularly in the city’s downtown hospitality hub, particularly exciting.

“I walked around Delray, this awesome, local, beach-oriented community, and thought it was a perfect fit for Lionfish,” he said. “What an incredible place to live. I want to know how we can make it better.”

Lionfish joins a wave of new and upcoming seafood-centric restaurants in Palm Beach County. They include Chef Jeremy Bearman’s High Dive, which is on deck to open Friday, Jan. 31, in Rosemary Square, and FireFin Grill, a two-month-old Palm Beach Gardens restaurant that’s also inspired by the delicious predator.

Lionfish: Coming this spring to 307 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach

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