Seth Warshaw has a long commute from etc. steakhouse in Teaneck to the five new restaurants he’s opening in Boca Raton, Florida, but he doesn’t mind. In Florida, the air is balmy, the palm trees sway, and there are no restrictions on indoor dining. Snowbirds are happily returning to their southern nests. Warshaw is focused on looking ahead. “COVID will end,” he said, and his restaurants will be open and humming when it does.
For 12 years, etc. steakhouse has been the destination for fine kosher dining in Teaneck. Warshaw has been changing the menu seasonally to highlight the cuisine of different regions. Greek cuisine is on the menu now, following culinary forays into foods from China, Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and France. With a trusted team in place, Warshaw has been able to expand into new ventures. “It’s not about me being in the kitchen every day,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s having great people in the right position doing great food. When I’m there I taste and go over the menu. I get daily updates with photos. They’re doing a fantastic job, especially with COVID being so challenging. We have tents and heaters, but the staff has to go in and out without winter coats.”
In Boca, Warshaw took over space in the Fountain Center, turning three restaurants into five, each with its own distinct identity and menu. The first, Roadhouse, opened on October 29. Warshaw calls Roadhouse a gastro pub, with creative cocktails and eat-with-your-hands food like chicken fingers, burgers, fries and flatbreads. Some of Warshaw’s signature dishes, like etc.’s buffalo cauliflower, can be found in this restaurant. Opening Roadhouse was a challenge for Warshaw, who was used to the etc. model of upscale dining, usually reserved for special occasions where patrons sit and enjoy long meals. Roadhouse has a faster pace, more casual atmosphere, and faster table turnover. Carmela’s, a dairy Italian style restaurant opened last month, with pastas, pizza and appetizers. Later this month, two take-out only restaurants will open, Rave Sushi and Eiden Wok chinese.
Oak and Ember, expected to open New Year’s Eve, will have what Warshaw calls Modernist cuisine. Here he will explore new ideas, flavor combinations and methods. When asked what he was excited to experiment with, Warshaw explained his concept for watermelon tartare, which will be made by putting the watermelon in a vacuum sealer to concentrate the flavors and make it look like traditional beef tartare. He will then combine orange juice with ingredients that cause it to gel and be similar in appearance to an egg yolk, the classic accompaniment to beef tartare, and it will ooze from the watermelon.
Although each restaurant has a different cuisine, the flavor pairing and cooking techniques, for which Warshaw has become known, will be evident in every restaurant. Carmela’s pizza has a sourdough crust, which he says is far superior in flavor and texture to regular dough. All the pastas, ketchup and mustard are made in house. A full-time baker is responsible for fresh brioche buns for the burgers at Roadhouse and for baking all the breads. Recipes can always benefit from a little tweaking, in Warshaw’s view, like a recipe for battered onion rings he keeps perfecting so it tastes less like batter and more like onion but with a light, crispy texture.
Warshaw’s Florida customers are a mix of snowbirds, permanent residents and tourists. There are some differences in what each group is looking for. At the end of the day, all diners want to experience good food, efficient service and a nice meal out, especially during these times. Warshaw is confident his variety of restaurants will satisfy everyone’s expectations.
The Boca restaurant group almost began six years ago. Warshaw was looking for a new business opportunity and a chance to escape the frigid northeast. “God created me to live in the heat,” he joked. He also looked into the Caribbean but realized that living there was not an option as there is no established Jewish community. When the Boca property came up for sale this time, all the details fell into place. Warshaw does not intend to move permanently, though. He still wants to be in Springfield, New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and children, and many extended family members nearby.
As if running six restaurants in New Jersey and Florida aren’t enough to keep him busy, Warshaw is hoping to offer his summer “Rustic Elegance” program again this year; COVID-19 cancelled the program last summer. Started three years ago with a partner, the program lets guests choose from a few dates and locations in national parks out west, where they have a plethora of outdoor activities, and enjoy Warshaw’s gourmet meals. “Glacier National Park is spectacular; so is Jackson Hole,” he said. “The pictures don’t do it justice. We do whitewater kayaking, rafting, boat tours and hikes. You can start out in 85-degree weather and then hike on a path that has glaciers, with the elevation change. It’s an unbelievable experience. My part of it is to do etc. style dinners every night, with five courses of fine dining and buffet breakfast. We are hopeful it can still be properly done with COVID-19 safety precautions.”
Warshaw’s road to a culinary career began in his 20s, although he always enjoyed cooking. He grew up in West Orange and graduated from TABC. He originally wanted to be in industrial and organizational psychology, designing the human/car interface, but a long-term career in this field didn’t pan out. He went to the Institute of Culinary Education when he was 27, where he had to cook with ingredients he’d never seen before, like lobster, and prepare dishes without tasting them, since he kept to a kosher diet. He was working in a restaurant after culinary school when a friend told him about an empty space on West Palisade Avenue in Teaneck. Etc. Steakhouse was born.
A culinary arts career is much more acceptable today, in the era of the Food Network and celebrity chefs and bloggers. But Warshaw cautions that a career in the restaurant business requires hard work and perseverance. “People want the glamour and bragging rights, but most people who work through the ranks are in it for a long time before putting a dish on the table,” he warned. “The most celebrated cook comes from a humble beginning. You have to know how to do everything. I’ve had to wash dishes because someone got sick. During the lockdown, it was me and two other people in there washing the floors.”
The part that matters most, creating dishes that attract customers, comes from giving of oneself in a unique way. “We all use similar ingredients; it’s what you do with those ingredients that counts,” said Warshaw. “We all have personalities and it shows in your food.” Warshaw said his style is simple and understated with punchy flavors. His pastry chef in Boca was an art major in college and her plating style is artistic and stylized. “It takes a lot of time to develop your style,” he said, “but when it doesn’t come from the heart or soul, it’s more mechanical. You have to put yourself in your food.”
Warshaw said his wife, Tzippy, was just in Florida to see the restaurants for the first time and he hopes to bring his four daughters when life becomes more normal. “I was hoping to bring each one here for an opening but it was too complicated,” he said wistfully. “Hopefully one day.”
By Bracha Schwartz