Best Of :: Food & Drink
Chef-owner Clay Conley, who last year announced he'll be opening a new Italian restaurant in West Palm Beach, recently brought life to yet another lifelong dream, offering hand-crafted baguette sandwiches for a hungry lunch crowd. Dubbed simply the Sandwich Shop at Buccan, the small eatery has become a huge hit, with lines out the door and people ready to scarf down anything coming out of Conley's modest prep area. The 300-square-foot space is nothing more than a storage closet turned four-seat lunch counter in what was once a back room at Buccan, Conley's upscale-casual Palm Beach eatery. The chef goes from wrapping sandwiches by day to prepping for the night at Buccan, all in the span of a few steps. The process begins each night, when staff preps dough for the 130 or so baguettes for the next day's orders. These are baked fresh early each morning and are gone by late afternoon. Many of the ingredients for the menu's two dozen or so hot and cold sandwiches are sourced from Buccan and Conley's other restaurant, Imoto, and are prepared especially for the sandwich shop. For instance: a whole roasted turkey for the turkey club and a homemade pork pâté for the banh mi. Service starts at 11 a.m., and by 3 p.m., they close up shop. Of all the selections, the 48-hour sous-vide short rib ranks among the best, brushed with an apple-based glaze and topped with two-year-aged cheddar and a homemade horseradish sauce. The whole thing is pressed to a melty, hot mess and wrapped in white deli paper. To. Die. For.
Just one block south of Oakland Park Boulevard and over a canal that hems the northern edge of the Island City, chef-owner Armando Vega and his wife, Yudaris, will deliver your dish as if you were family. Inside their 15-table restaurant, the Cuban-born couple dish out carefully sourced and lovingly cooked Latin and Mediterranean cuisine. Charcuterie, like the $16 ham made from Iberico pigs that feed on acorns, is presented on a wooden cutting board, with specialty cheeses if you please. (Try the manchego, a nutty sheep's cheese, cured for more than a year.) Other delights imported from Spain include medium-grain rice from Murcia; mahón, a soft cow's-milk cheese from the island of Minorca; and olive oil from Jaén, a city in the south. Entrées like grilled octopus ($16) and oxtail medallions ($21) are specialties, and the wait staff will attentively refill your water or wine while you feast. The rustic, red-walled hideaway is accented with handmade wooden wine racks and Vega's family china, and the corks of emptied wine bottles are evidence of the gastronomic merriment that's taken place over the years.
Readers' Choice: Chow Sushi BBQ
At the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's new Japanese-style restaurant, paying $24 for a tower of toro the size of a Ping-Pong ball is worth it. That pile of toro is rich and creamy, paired with a trio of sauces — salty, spicy, and sweet — and served with a basket of crispy wontons fried into pillow-shaped balloons. Kuro translates to "black" in Japanese, but that's less about having black-colored decor and more about a certain noir sexiness that permeates the place. The 9,500-square-foot restaurant has become a showpiece for the resort with a theater-style dining room where patrons can indulge in traditional multicourse Japanese dining, a series of dishes that progress from light, simple fare to heavier, more complex dishes. A private chef's bar presents a front-row seat to the restaurant's expansive open kitchen. Or take your dinner party into the private dining area, a glass-walled room. Outside, just steps from Kuro's bar, two private tables allow for a quiet alfresco dinner beside the pool. Plus, you'll find that element that's so elusive in Florida: exceptional service. A meal at Kuro plays out like a well-orchestrated performance, progressing in stanzas. It starts with chilled plates, salads, and tempura straight through to selections from a robata grill. The roller coaster of flavor peaks with the chef's most inspired dishes, filed under fish (sea) and meat (land). Finish that off with sushi — bright slices of nigiri and perhaps a wacky, Willy Wonka-inspired dessert: shaved ice or green panna cotta.
Readers' Choice: Fork & Balls
This year, one of Miami's Buzziest Restaurants, according to Condé Nast Traveler, made its way into Palm Beach County: Meat Market opened in Palm Beach. The upmarket steak house offers the same high-end cuisine, creative cocktails, and cool South Beach vibe as the original location; restaurateur David Tornek and chef/co-owner Sean Brasel know their prime cuts of beef and seafood. A stylish crudo bar offers classic raw-bar items including oysters and ceviches. Appetizers include white truffle Kobe tartare or a daily alternating charcuterie selection. But at the center stage are Meat Market's prime-cut steaks, offered in a three-tier format in which guests can customize their dish with add-ons such as lobster tail, seared foie gras, or roasted prime bone marrow. Signature house-made butters and sauces are served à la carte, like the atomic horseradish truffle sauce. Like its Lincoln Road counterpart, Meat Market Palm Beach boasts a bustling bar scene and an innovative cocktail program.
Readers' Choice: Dada Restaurant & Lounge
Luckily, Delray's dining scene is expanding beyond the eastern downtown area. The year-old Apeiro Kitchen & Bar is one delicious example, located in the Delray Marketplace shopping plaza where Atlantic Avenue meets Lyons Road just west of Florida's Turnpike. Here, chef-owner David Blonsky has partnered with local restaurateur Burt Rapoport. Apeiro is a Mediterranean-style concept built on simple ingredients and clean flavor. Blonsky has assembled a rather large menu, featuring cheese platters, falafel served with pickled vegetables, and Moroccan-spiced lamb ribs. Stracchino, a young, creamy Italian cow's-milk cheese, is paired with a salty, thin-sliced prosciutto and a potent fig balsamic reduction; the bunuelo is a take on a Latin fritter, made with airy puffs of phyllo. Kebabs and sandwiches highlight house-roasted and shaved-to-order meats. And my God, the pastas — handmade orecchiette is a hearty dish, each tiny ear-shaped pasta tossed in an earthy saffron, fennel, and lemongrass cream sauce with cuts of spicy, house-made, lamb merguez sausage. "My goal with Apeiro is to open people's minds to a different style of cooking," says Blonsky. He is planning a Miami location next.
Readers' Choice: Avocado Grill
The "best" restaurant doesn't have to be the one with the fanciest decor, the frou-frou-est ingredients, or the Frenchest chef. It's the one you're drawn to, over and over and over again. The one where you meet friends, where you take out-of-towners, where you feel the stress ooze out of your body the moment you slide into a booth. Whenever someone suggests, "Let's go to Coconuts," the sun magically shines a little brighter and you hold off on that snack you were about to bite into, knowing that something better — way better — awaits. The food is a mix of familiar comforts (a $13 coconut shrimp appetizer, $5 mac 'n' cheese, $27 strip steak) and little surprises (pigeon peas and rice, $3; bahn mi sandwiches on special). The waterfront setting is not at all pretentious, and the service, usually lovely. (Ask and servers will often provide food to toss to the little fish who swim up to the dock.) Fridays feel like a community gathering when paella is cooked outdoors, and on Monday and Tuesdays, wines from the well-curated list are half-off (though there is blueberry soda and blackberry mojitos, if you prefer). Best of all, you just can't beat the company motto: "Be nice."
Readers' Choice: Steak 954
We joke about the foreigners who roam Hollywood. We joke about their banana hammocks, their driving habits, their funny tan lines. Long overdue, though, is a huge dose of appreciation for what they bring: the lilting sound of foreign languages, the wonderful mannerisms that make great people-watching on the Broadwalk, and some damned good food. Le Comptoir is the cozy creation from chef-owner Céline Maury and her husband, Otis, both expats from Paris, who opened Le Comptoir in 2010. The restaurant's name translates roughly as "the bar," although the drink menu consists of just a few select wines and five domestic beers. The food menu is likewise concise: just four appetizers and seven entrées, but that's enough for the intimate space. Mussels — $16.50, offered in four styles: white wine, cream, curry, or Provençal — are the stars here, imported daily from Maine or Prince Edward Island, steamed to perfection, and dropped, in a two-pound pile, on your plate, with a side of homemade fries. Duck à l'orange and chicken cordon bleu are also on offer, but don't take the traditional dishes to mean that this is a stuffy French joint. Kids are welcomed with chicken nuggets and fish sticks, and the French Canadians who've discovered this place keep it warm with their laughter. (Have you heard the one about how many Americains it takes to screw in a light bulb? One to comment on how funny-looking the light bulbs are, two to sue the light-bulb maker, and five to convert the currency.) Wash down the ambience with a banana flambé or a crepe filled with Nutella or Céline's homemade jam. Merci beaucoup for this place.
Readers' Choice: The Tipsy Boar
Finding the latest foodie hole in the wall can be a point of pride; the more rustic the location, the more accomplished you feel for having found it. Fish Shack in Pompano Beach is well-hidden in a strip of shops just one block east of Federal Highway. The tiny spot is owned and operated by a local family that has been in the seafood business for more than 20 years. This 600-square-foot eatery seats no more than 30, and on a busy afternoon, patrons will cram in elbow to elbow. The drink menu is simple: only iced tea, lemonade, soda, house wines by the glass, Budweiser, and Bud Light. Walls are adorned with fishing net, buoys, and a giant marlin hung between a mahi and a mackerel. The menu will have you salivating: conch fritters and smoked fish dip, cracked conch, oysters, and middleneck clams on the half-shell. Larger plates include First Mate sandwiches that come on soft, oversized kaiser rolls. Choose from grouper and mahi, both of which can be ordered grilled, blackened, or with Cajun spice. The fish and chips entrée is the most popular dish here, but you may never go back after discovering the conch salad, hidden on the back of the menu alongside the caesar and garden salad selections: a large serving chock-full of bite-sized diced conch, pepper, and onion dressed in a sugar-sweetened lime bath that gives it an appealing zing.
When you were a kid, you longed for adventure, novelty, and mango ice cream. Mai-Kai Restaurant serves all of that. Built in 1956 and now listed on the National Register of Historical Places, Mai-Kai is like visiting our very own Jungle Island without having to pay its exorbitant prices. This Polynesian restaurant prides itself on waterfalls and tiki sculptures that reflect regions of Polynesia. A kids' menu comes with a lei and a coloring book, most of the fruity drinks can be made virgin, and kids 12 and under even get to watch the twice-nightly dance and fire-spinning show for free.
This upscale Italian ristorante, with dual locations in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, has been described as "the closest to dining in Florence anyone will get in Florida." And with more than 30 pages of Italian and American wines, this Wine Spectator-award-winning restaurant is sure to get your lover's juices flowing. Although wine is the aphrodisiac, the food is just as seductive. Beautifully prepared dishes include bistecca alla fiorentina (oak-grilled, dry-aged New York strip steak marinated in olive oil, rosemary, and garlic with sweet Vidalia onions and wild mushrooms) and tuna carpaccio (with arugula, lemon, and olive oil). Chef-owner Angelo Elia offers an array of classy dishes, with courteous service offered in a dimly lit, white-tablecloth setting.
The Breakers is a legendary beachfront resort in Palm Beach. Also legendary is its Sunday brunch at the onsite restaurant the Circle — an opulent affair that's been wowing guests for a quarter of a century. The brunch is less of a meal than a glimpse into what was likely a Wednesday snack for, oh, say France's Sun King. There are mountains of stone crabs, a bounty of pastries still warm from the oven, and rows of carving stations with chefs serving turkey, lamb, and tender pink slices of beef. Salads, pâtés, waffles, omelets — they're all here. This brunch, though, offers refinement to go with your eggs Benedict. Look outward to see the gleaming ocean in all her splendor. Look up and admire the hand-painted ceilings. Listen to the heavenly tones of a harpist as you sip on your fourth mimosa. Of course, nirvana comes at a price: 100 bucks, to be exact. Luckily, the Breakers is special enough that when Mumsy and Pupsy come down for their visit, it's the perfect place to take them for a quintessential taste of elegance. They'll think you're thoughtful... when you're just being really, really clever.
Sure, there are a lot of restaurants that are dog-friendly. Sit on a terrace and your dog will get a pat on the head, a dish of water, maybe even a Milk Bone. But the Nauti Dawg Café is truly dog-obsessed. The restaurant, located at the Lighthouse Point Marina, goes above and beyond to treat Muffy and Chopper like the furry royalty they are. Dogs have their own menu filled with delights — much healthier than having you sneak people food to your pooch. Offerings are grilled without spices, cut into bite-sized pieces, and served tableside in a doggy bowl. Fido can choose four strips of bacon ($3), a six-ounce skirt steak ($6), a chicken breast ($7), or a hot dawg ($4). Take Binky out on the town for Monday's Yappy Hour, when all K9 entrées are half-priced all day. As you and Fido bond over burgers at the quaint waterfront café, know that the only drawback to interspecies dining is the fact that when the check comes, Rover always seems to have left his money in his other collar.