Best Of :: Food & Drink
Clay Conley's 15 minutes are almost here. The successor at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental to local fave Michelle Bernstein — who parlayed her 15 minutes of fame into multiple restaurants, TV appearances, and endorsements — his first big task was to put his own stamp on the überposh Brickell Key restaurant while ensuring that Bernstein wasn't really missed. He knocked that one out of the park, so far that he got his own restaurant deal, moving north to "The Island" and opening Buccan, where he's applying the rigorous culinary technique and finely honed creative chops he displayed at Azul to food that's less expensive and less handled but even more flavorful. One taste of his lusty steak tartare with black truffle and "crispy" egg yolk or barbecued quail with creamed corn, bacon, and onion strings and you'll be celebrating his 15 minutes too.
Once solely an upscale provisioning company for yachties, the Grateful Palate in Fort Lauderdale successfully evolved into a contemporary restaurant just last year. In the newly overhauled wine lounge, you'll find both aficionados and novices sipping on global wines from family-owned vineyards. It is so serious about wine, the Grateful Palate regularly offers wine and food pairing events, classes, and tastings. Besides the 300-plus wine choices, it's the inventive, contemporary menu that lures in first-timers and keeps those from the provisioning days returning for more. The pan-seared seafood is succulent and fresh, and the duck breast with beurre noisette is mind-numbingly delicious, as is the bone-in fillet with truffled potatoes. In keeping with many other gourmet restaurants in town, Grateful Palate has made its bed in an unassuming strip mall. No matter; the liquor store and laundromat next door won't take away from this upscale dining experience.
Almost from the minute it opened in January, Clay Conley's Buccan was the hottest dining ticket in Palm Beach. Named after the wooden grill used to cook over an open fire in the Caribbean, it might not be quite the restaurant you'd expect in the playground of the obscenely rich and inexplicably famous, neatly splitting the difference between upscale sophistication and casual comfort. The space itself offers an ambiance for almost every mood, from a small bar and sofa-bedecked lounge to bustling main dining room and intimate dining area by the glassed-in wine room. The food is equally accommodating (not to mention ravishing), treating more adventurous palates to choices like sweetbread and mushroom spring roll and Korean short-rib tacos while cosseting conservative taste buds with herb-roasted chicken and ricotta gnocchi Bolognese. Prices, however, are comforting to wallets of all dimensions, with a roster of small plates ranging from $5 to $12 and many dishes available in half and full portions.
Chef and co-owner Marc Falsetto knew just what was missing in Fort Lauderdale's Himmarshee Village when he brought us Rok:Brgr. Brick walls and dark wood create a chic vibe at this small, trendy eatery. What makes Rok:Brgr such an outstanding addition to the boozy village is the fusion of comfort and gourmet foods — perfect for satisfying an alcohol-induced food craving while wearing your best shirt. Watch the nightlife unfold at an outdoor patio table while gulping a frosty-cold microbrew. Or sip on a bacon-infused Maker's Mark to wash down dishes such as Mom's meat loaf or short rib grilled cheese. And no late-night craving is void of a yearning for thick, juicy burgers. Satisfy the urge with the innovative Peggy burger — Black Angus beef and pulled short rib matched with horseradish cheddar and bourbon barbecue sauce. Or the delicious Las Olas burger with Wagyu beef and Gruyère cheese atop a buttery brioche bun. Don't forget the variety of fries, including the poutine, hand-cut and smothered with gravy and cheese curds; the Parmesan reggiano with truffle oil; and the sweet potato fries with garlic aioli. Food this good is satisfying during both p.m. and a.m. Rock on, burger dudes.
A generous half-pound beef patty charred to a crisp on the outside with a tender pink inside, smothered in melted cheese and sandwiched amid cold lettuce, fresh tomatoes, onions, mayo, and pickle spears on a hearty fresh Kaiser roll — that's the Old Fashioned Cheeseburger, and there's no reason to detour from a perfect classic. This creation — an impeccable assemblage of everything that makes a burger fucking amazing — is not for the faint of heart. Take a fork and a handful of napkins, because you'll need to hoover everything that falls out the back when you bite into whichever side you deem the front. The pickle spears and mayo make the meat slip and slide on the roll like a game of hard to get with someone you lust after madly. But, of course, that burger is yours in the end, and you'll undoubtedly be jonesing for a second date by the end of the week.
Most steak houses are mausoleums of meat, boneyards of beef, retirement homes for carnivores. There's the obligatory dark wood and brass rail décor, which was really, really hip... in 1920. There's the pretentious, stultifying ambiance — half snobby suburban country club, half pompous dillweed. There's the usual roster of side dishes — shrimp cocktail, creamed spinach, hash browns, and the like — that have been around since the invention of food. Even if the steaks are good, everything else is so dull and dated that you feel like you've been dropped into an old black-and-white episode of Leave It to Beaver. Then there's Cut 432. The beef is pedigreed and killer — wet- and dry-aged, USDA Prime, Wagyu, Niman Ranch. The sides are actually interesting — beet and pistachio salad, blue cheese tater tots, pancetta-roasted Brussels sprouts. And the sleek, modern dining room and rollicking good-timey atmosphere are anything but old and tired. You don't go to Cut to retire; you go to live.
The prickly pear margarita at Canyon is pink enough to give you advance visual warning that this is not your average tequila cocktail. But worry not: The bright color does not mean it's going to be sickeningly sugary like most festively hued drinks. It's perfect: sweet in a way that's complementary to the sour of lime and sour in a way that delivers a gentle pucker without curling your tongue into submission. The fruit of the prickly pear cactus is subtly pleasing like fresh watermelon and pairs with tequila better than meatballs with spaghetti. Balance is key to the margarita, and this specimen walks a tightrope of secret ingredients without faltering one bit. Canyon bartenders serve up the drink to a usually full bar of well-dressed locals, so arrive early if you want a seat to enjoy the most delicious pink drink in town — a Fort Lauderdale fixture as much as the adjacent Gateway Theater marquee.
The elusive best poured Guinness: a chilled, ruby-colored brew buried deep in a pint glass and crowned with a creamy, frothy head that coats your throat on the way down. Maybe the Irish have fire in their blood because, west of Ireland, finding this heady, alcohol-filled treasure done right is rarer than finding gold at the end of a rainbow. But at the Field, a dollhouse-like Irish pub, you can settle on the outdoor patio (under the shade of an enormous banyan tree) and have a pretty bartender pour you a pint of pure perfection. The Field may not be close to Ireland, but it's certainly close to heaven.
A swanky, sultry hotel lounge with an ambiance that inspires sex and a view that stares straight out at the sparkling sea? Adding awesome martinis — a perfect classic and a unique collection of specialties, including the award-winning Cubeltini — can only make that better.
Rosie's bloody mary is a drink most blessed and revered: It's spicy enough to wake you up, tangy enough to please your taste buds, and filling enough to combat even the nastiest of hangovers. It's like a big, welcoming bowl of (alcoholic) tomato soup and even perfectly acceptable by most social standards to consume before noon — lavish brunch not required. But should you opt for it, Rosie has you covered: "Sunday Funday Brunch" takes place every Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and during this very special time, you can procure $2 Ultimate Bloody Marys. They're cheap enough to down a lot of 'em and good enough to guarantee you'll never get a mary elsewhere again.
Da Big Kahuna's Jungle Juice is an intoxicating, tropical-themed elixir that deserves this award if for no other reason than because there is no category for "Best Drink With Which to Knock an Entire Sorority on Its Collective Ass." The Juice is served in a giant plastic seashell with multiple straws and partially submerged pieces of fruit, all of which have spent adequate time floating in this magic potion to become potent themselves. Whether you're dosing out-of-towners or downing the whole thing yourself, the Jungle Juice is novel, fun, and delicious, and it will totally fuck you up.
The Tequesta Brewing Co. is a perfect mixture of old and new. The always-packed tap room sports modern flourishes like exposed metal rafters and dark-blue lighting that makes the stainless-steel brewing vessels visible from the bar look like UFOs about to take flight. Complementing that is vintage-style black-and-white photography and a 100-year-old bar that looks like it was taken straight out of a German bier garden. TBC's beers are all topnotch, from the smooth and drinkable Gnarly Barley to the heavy-hitting Double IPA injected with nitrogen. But the one that best represents owner Matt Webster's ability to toe that contemporary/classical divide is Der Chancellor, a German-style Kölsch that pours a beautiful shade of pale gold. In authentic fashion, this light-bodied lager is well-carbonated, with an almost champagne-like finish. But where Webster introduces a bit of good ol' American ingenuity is in the hops, a heady dose that's slightly bitter but extremely aromatic. The result is a brew that demands another round — and one you can appreciate no matter how old- (or new-)school a beer drinker you are.