Best Of :: Food & Drink
If you grew up in Fort Lauderdale, you remember certain things. Whenever relatives came, you had to experience the kitschy Floridian joy of the Jungle Queen. You probably spent the night in the Discovery Museum back when it was in that awesomely creepy house down by the New River. And hopefully, on a special occasion, maybe after your mom had taken you to see Riverdance at the Broward Center, you ate snails at Le Cafe de Paris on Las Olas Boulevard. Opened in 1962 by Louis Flematti, Cafe de Paris is a landmark on Las Olas. There is nothing hip or trendy here, just excellently done traditional French fare served with all the white-napkined pomp it deserves. One of the joys of being a grownup in Fort Lauderdale, however, is the café's extensive wine list. Vineyards like Brunello Di Montalcino, Chateau La Garde, and Paul Bouchard make up the restaurant's standard list of about 50 wines of varying vintages. Many are, of course, French varietals, but there is a decent collection of Italian and California wines as well. If you are looking for something excellent, something suitably special for your special occasion, Le Cafe is happy to accommodate you with something like an '85 Jordan Cabernet — a wine so good, the corking of it gets noticed on social media.
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