Palm Beach County’s best new dining experience happens in a cozy space, where wood-fired steaks and seafood are as stellar as the service and twinkly ambiance.
Chef James Muir didn’t set out to open a restaurant when he took over the historic Ruth Jones cottage in Boynton Beach last year. He wanted to bring a high-end butcher shop to the 900-square-foot space.
When he first debuted Nicholson Muir Distinguished Meats in February 2022, he added fewer than 20 seats for customers who might want to enjoy their casual bites — the gourmet sandwiches, empanadas, quiche and such — in the space he intended to use for special events, not a restaurant.
But as it happens in the food world, customers clamored for something more.
“Very quickly, we had to change the concept,” says Muir, a 46-year-old chef who brings a wide range of experience to his Boynton Beach kitchen.
The most dramatic change happened this summer, when Muir shut down for six weeks and revamped the place. The redo added fine-dining touches not only to the menu but also to the intimate space: tables dressed in white linens, a communal table dotted with candles and orchids, a dining room that appears to twinkle as its windows frame the deepening hues of the sky at dusk.
The renovation, which was revealed Sept. 15, ushered in a modern menu that includes globally inspired starters, fresh local fish, house-made pastas and meats that are dry-aged on premises.
The result: a great little steakhouse that’s the best new restaurant in Palm Beach County. Inside this cozy spot, wood-fired steaks and seafood are as stellar as the service and ambiance.
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Muir, who named the restaurant after his Scottish-born great-grandfather James Nicholson Muir, describes the place as “more of a modern coastal steakhouse.”
“It’s not like a corporate restaurant. We wanted to do something different,” says Muir, who still offers a selection of gourmet meats and Argentine products onsite and online.
Menu highlights at Nicholson Muir Distinguished Meats
His restaurant menu achieves a balance of innovative touches and classics. With only the necessary intervention of all-natural charcoal and wood fire, Muir allows ingredients to shine, and he recognizes that a dish’s success often begins with quality ingredients.
His menu, in fact, declares that the restaurant uses products that are ethically sourced and humanely raised on sustainable farms, “farms that we know personally.”
A French-trained chef who has worked with culinary stars such as Alain Ducasse, Rocco DiSpirito and Roberto Santibañez, Muir hails from Argentina, land of excellent steaks and communal asados (cookouts). Many of his dishes at Nicholson Muir tell this story.
Meats are cooked on a Japanese konro grill that’s “adjusted for Argentine grilling”, says Muir, who uses all-natural Argentine charcoal and Argentine quebracho wood.
“It’s very dense and burns for a long time,” he says of the quebracho wood.
The results are exquisite steaks — a range of prime Angus, American wagyu and Japanese wagyu cuts, priced from $39 to $115 — that are tender and lightly smoky.
Also lightly smoky is the restaurant’s simply grilled red snapper fillet Muir prepares with herbs, black pepper and lime and presents with grilled asparagus ($40). Muir offers dry-aged duck as well. It is roasted, given a Peking glaze and served with bao buns (half-duck, $42).
Perhaps the menu’s most creative items are the appetizers. The Me-So-Crispy starter pairs a buttery American wagyu steak tartare with a spicy tuna tartare ($18). The foie gras served between crisp wafers with macerated figs on the side ($24). Dry-aged American wagyu beef carpaccio is offered with scallion, crispy ginger and garlic, spiced red oil and matchstick fries ($22).
Then there’s Nicholson Muir’s Argentine empanadas, filled with either hand-cut beef or creamed spinach and served three to a batch ($14). Muir, who ran his own catering company in New York for 12 years and continues to offer catering services, developed his empanada recipe with inspiration from one of his favorite pizzerias in his native San Isidro, Buenos Aires.
Muir fills the hand-pies with tender, hand-cut teres major beef that comes from the upper shoulder (chuck) part of the cow. The empanadas are served with homemade chimichurri.
Muir offers two house-made pastas, a standout fettuccine with seared shrimp, Parmigiano and crushed red pepper ($36) and potato gnocchi with vodka sauce and ricotta ($32).
For dessert ($9 each), there are warm crepes filled with authentic Argentine-style dulce de leche, a flourless chocolate cake and, perhaps the most shareable and addictive of all, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies served with a glass of créme Anglaise, milk-and-cookies style.
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What’s not on the menu but ever-present at the restaurant is a sense that Muir is building a community of food lovers. He hosts “omakase” nights featuring a range of chef-selected bites and football nights that offer more casual fare.
Sometimes he sets up an Argentinian-style outdoor grill that’s equipped with hooks for hanging vegetables, fruit and chicken over fire, and hosts an asado. Muir says he hopes to do that more often, especially when his plans for a dining patio become reality. His goal is to complete the patio by early next year.
“It’s my passion to serve people,” says Muir. “The biggest compliment that I’ve received here is when a customer says, ‘It doesn’t feel like a restaurant. It feels like dinner at your house.’”
It may be a tiny house, but Muir’s restaurant has made his city larger in delicious ways.
Nicholson Muir Distinguished Meats
Location: 480 E. Ocean Ave., Boynton Beach, 561-336-3977, NicholsonMuir.com
Hours: Open for lunch Wednesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Open for dinner Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. Open Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Liz Balmaseda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network. She covers the local food and dining beat. Follow her on Instagram and Post on Food Facebook. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.