If you need more evidence the emerging segment that's coming to be known as world casual is the place aspiring restaurateurs want to be, take a look at the new Buccan in Palm Beach, FL. Its principals — Clay Conley, Sam Slattery and Piper Quinn — know the restaurant world like few others. When it came time to open their dream restaurant last January, its menu offered an eclectic small plate lineup that could serve as the prototype for the world casual boomlet
The only question was, would this work in Palm Beach? Not to worry. Conley and Slattery know first hand how to make chef-driven casual menus work almost anywhere, thanks to their respective tours of duty in the Todd English organization.
Conley spent 10 years as culinary director and designated opener for English's Olive Group, working at 18 outlets around the country and the globe. Then he went on to a five-year stint as executive chef at fine dining standout Azul at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, where RH named him a Rising Star. It's quite a track record for a guy who's only 37.
Slattery has made the rounds, too, He's opened 40 different restaurants in his career. He spent time as chief operating officer for English, and held similar jobs at the Vinny Testa's chain and for John Harvard's Brew House.
Between them, these two had everything needed to open a restaurant — except money. That's where Quinn came in. He's a Palm Beach resident who convinced local investors to commit $750,000 in startup funds to Buccan.
Together, Conley, Slattery and Quinn came up with a concept that included wood-fire cooking (the name Buccan refers to a Caribbean device used for roasting or smoking meat over a fire), a small-plates menu, a convivial dining room and approachable price points. Factor in Conley's considerable cooking skills and Slattery's operating expertise and it's no wonder this place took off like a rocket.
Palm Beach is a famously wealthy town, but Buccan still went with modest pricing. Good thing it did. Patrons today don't want to break the bank every time they go out to eat. By way of example, at Daniel Boulud's Palm Beach fine dining spot Café Boulud, bargain pricing and deals ruled the day this summer. Guests could have a three-course prix fixe lunch for $20.11 or a three-course dinner for just $35.
Customers spend about the same to eat at Buccan, But here it gets them a more energetic setting where the up-to-the minute offerings demonstrate how wide-ranging a world casual menu can be.
That menu kicks off with five “Pinchos” (Marinated White Anchovies, $4.50; Petite Maine Lobster Roll, $7.50). “Raw” offerings include Hamachi Sashimi with Peruvian Chilies, Mojo and Crispy Lotus Root for $14; and Thai-Style Rare Beef Salad with Cucumber, Mint and Cilantro, also $14. Four salads comprise the “Green” section, while the five-item “Crispy” lineup includes best-seller Hot Dog Panini (Sauerkraut, Gruyere, Mustard, Chili, $12) and a Meatball Spring Roll (Tomato, Pesto, Mozzarella, $10.50). Four pastas make up the Flour & Water choices.
Fans of wood-fired cooking have their pick of two menu sections at Buccan. “Roasted” lists PEI Mussels with Curry and Coconut Milk, $12; and a trio of pizzas in the $14-$15 range. “Grilled” offers vegetables (Florida Corn, Aioli, Cotija, Mexican Chilies, Lime, $3 per piece), fruit (Bacon-Wrapped Florida Peaches, Orange Ginger Glaze, Blue Cheese and Greens, $8), meat (Colorado Lamb Scottadito, Harissa, Raita, $14 per piece) and seafood (U7 Shrimp Scampi, Arugula, Grilled Bread, $10 per piece).
Guests with big appetites head straight for “Large Plates” (Chicken Under a Brick, $26; Wood Grilled Skirt Steak, $30). Desserts, in the $7 range, are outsourced for now.
It all comes out of an exhibition kitchen and into a handsome 150-seat dining room. The genius of this concept is its lack of pretension, which in turn makes Conley's truly global approach to small plates something even non-foodie customers can relate to. Throw in the fact that the place runs like a clock thanks to Slattery's operational expertise and you have a template for the contemporary chef-driven restaurant. If you're looking to steal ideas to start that place of your own, start here.