Best Of :: Food & Drink
It doesn't advertise. It doesn't have an outside phone number. Its entrance is literally hidden at the back of the gifts department on the second floor of the Neiman Marcus store in the Galleria Mall. And yet, every day at lunchtime, every seat at the twin curved counters of the Little Mermaid is occupied, and more eager patrons are queuing up in front of the cash register, waiting to pounce on any vacancy in this cramped, wood-paneled nook. How to describe these patrons? Well, to overgeneralize, they are mostly women of a certain age (50s and up -- sometimes way up), a certain income level (likely big, big fans of eliminating dividend and estate taxes), and a certain social station (their day planners are full of words like foundation, fundraiser, and gala). Their fashion sense can best be described as expensive casual: Yes, many are wearing slacks or even jeans, but the crisp blouses, tailored jackets, gleaming purses, and the glint of a brooch make it clear that these ladies like to shop at... well, Neiman Marcus. And what could be better to fuel yourself for an intense afternoon of shopping than a smoked turkey Reuben with homemade Thousand Island dressing? Or a ham-and-hogwash sandwich (hogwash being a tangy-sweet, horseradishy sauce) on grilled egg bread? Or perhaps one of the Mermaid's salads: Niçoise, cobb, or caesar -- the latter available with grilled chicken or shrimp? The homemade soups are always excellent, so one can't go wrong with the Mermaid Sampler: a cup of soup, half a sandwich, and fresh fruit. Ladies who really know their lunch always order a side of the orange soufflé; it may look like a Jell-O mold, but trust us, it's much, much more. And if a lady just wants tea -- including a warm scone with crème fraîche and those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off -- does she have to wait until 4 p.m.? Hell, no! Says right there on the menu: "Tea Time Anytime." The cakes certainly look tempting, but a full slice is huge. That's why these ladies almost always travel in pairs: the better to split a slice of deliciously moist carrot cake, my dear! Now, let's have a look at those new hats that just came in.
For Indian food regulars who want to avoid those awkward moments of ordering beef curry from a Hindu waiter, the simple way is to go vegetarian. Bombay Cafe has powerfully tasty vegetarian dishes that'll make most carnivores forget about the lack of animal flesh. The chick peas in the chole-bhatura are cooked perfectly al dente in a potent tomato-based broth, and the plain uttapam combines the simplicity of a poster-sized rice pancake with aromatic lentil soup. Everything at this simple restaurant is made on-premises, even the yogurt, which flavors the sweet lassi so well, and the roti, an oven-roasted bread. Best of all, your vegetarian feast will set you back only about $5 -- not a bad price for a clear conscience.
Q: Ever watch reality-TV shows?
A: I watch absolutely no TV. I work every night.
A: All right, Monday. My day off. On Monday, I have to watch Fear Factor because my 10-year-old daughter, Margeaux, insists on it. It's kind of fun to watch with her. She's always comparing herself to the girls on the show. She says, "I could do that."
Q: Are there parts of the show you don't like?
A: When they eat slugs and things like that. I'm not crazy about that.
Q: Is that the restaurateur talking?
A: Not really. That whole segment of the show -- I usually walk away from it. It'll definitely kill your appetite.
Q: How about your daughter?
A: She can stomach it a little better than I can.
Q: Is the show in any way real?
A: It's interesting to see what people will do for $50,000. Is that real? I don't know.
Q: Can you learn anything from Fear Factor?
A: Jeez, I don't think so. It's kind of like a strange sports game.
Q: What does your daughter get out of it?
A: Just the sensation of it, I think. She's very competitive, very athletic. A major soccer player and a junior lifeguard. I think the competition is what she enjoys, especially when the girls are competing against the guys. That's Margeaux.
If the name seems like a mouthful, well, the large servings of fresh fish and shellfish justify it. A retail seafood market on one side and an attractive, casual dining spot on the other, Waves isn't all foam and froth like some of its trendy contemporaries. Yet its preparations are still modern -- Asian shrimp-noodle soup, coconut shrimp, lump crab "fingers," shrimp scampi with roasted tomatoes. Feeling traditional? Waves also offers lobster dinners à la beach parties in Cape Cod, with a Maine steamed lobster, mussels, clams, ears of corn, and new red potatoes. Best of all, your belly may make you feel as if you won't be riding any waves too soon lest you get a cramp, and your wallet won't be much lighter -- Waves is as reasonably priced as it is filling.
It's no secret that Chinese takeout isn't always healthful. But there is hope. Wingloon's lengthy menu features all the traditional Chinese-American fare; sweet and sour chicken, moo goo gai pan, beef lo mein, among others. But this drive-through and takeout restaurant is looking out for today's health-conscious consumer. In addition to a vegetarian menu including broccoli and mushrooms with garlic sauce, and sautéed string beans, any of their chicken or beef dishes can be prepared with tofu, and they will omit salt, sugar, or cornstarch. You just have to ask.
Let's be honest. You're cheap, and you always will be. So you might as well put on the plaid pants and baby-blue blazer and go for the early-bird special at Spoto's. Between 5 and 6 p.m., the upscale raw bar in downtown West Palm Beach throws in a salad, dessert, and drink for the price of your entrée. That's a value of about $20, which, you might as well admit, is more than you spent on your mother's last birthday present. The deal includes a spicy tomato, mozzarella, and red onion salad with a well-aged vinaigrette. It's a good complement to the onion-crusted yellowtail snapper at $21.75. Or pair the house salad, with its wheat-beer vinaigrette, with the bouillabaisse, which includes a half-pound lobster, clams, mussels, and nearly still-swimming chunks of fish. Eat quick and you can be in bed by 8.