Keeping it Classic at Renato’s in Palm Beach

 

In an age, even in tradition-bound Palm Beach, where some of the most recent entries on the dining spectrum can be categorized often as a crowded, noisy, and far-from-calming crush, there is a place that isn’t such a scene—that provides a civilized and relaxing atmosphere to savor fine cuisine and perhaps have a lunch or dinner that isn’t just for show, or for sharing on social media.

Renato’s, located in the central part of Via Mizner—the historic 1923 Worth Avenue courtyard complex featuring shops on the ground level with truly unique apartments above that might just be the seminal architectural landmark of the seaside resort town—is such a destination. Here, within the 30-plus-year-old fairly cozy establishment, or at one of its outdoor tables on a mild and sunny winter day or starlit evening, sampling a thoughtfully prepared authentic pasta dish or a fresh seafood entrée—maybe even a generous cut of prime beef—and selecting a proper wine accompaniment, is a picture-postcard Palm Beach moment. But the place isn’t the least bit stuffy, and it is refreshingly traditional, sans the sometimes annoying and tricky of-the-moment extremes that characterize “innovative” culinary ventures today. Add some romance and charm, and you’ve got the gist. The late founder’s family—his widow, Arlene Desiderio, and stepson José Luis Duran—keep the place up to date, freshening it up carefully and consistently. The far-from-formulaic concept of Renato’s has, in fact, been translated into the nearby Pizza Al Fresco and the casual Al Fresco eatery atop the town’s Par 3 Golf Course clubhouse on the southern end of the island. Both are operated by the Renato’s clan, and are conceived in the same fashion as the original Italian restaurant. That means the bulk of the seating is outdoors, with only an intimate enclosed dining room and kitchen. But the emphasis at these outposts is on much more casual cuisine: sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and the like.

But at the more formal anchor in Via Mizner, the atmosphere is much more private and celebratory. And the food is the star attraction. It’s not trendy, not nouvelle-anything…and not overdone or too fussy. Current tastes are acknowledged—there is a hearty organic vegetarian stew, Scafata Renato’s, among the menu offerings, a trace of kale, and gluten-free selections, for instance—but the emphasis is on classic Italian preparations in a decidedly luxe translation with Continental accents, served with an impressive consistency and flair.

Favorites include veal chops, Pennette alla Caprese, and Dover sole. “You can never go wrong with the classics,” says Duran. Changes to the restaurant aren’t startling, and make sense. The recent addition of a more comfortable, proper bar and waiting area fits the original profile, according to Duran, adding that his stepfather had the vision to convert what were three shops into a single space with folding glazed doors that “spill out to the courtyard.” There is a conscious effort to accommodate private parties, with two spaces, the Peruvian Room and the Wine Cellar just off the main courtyard, available for dinner and cocktail parties. And there are always the house-made Grissini breadsticks to snack on. Bellissimo. —Robert Janjigian