Best Of :: Food & Drink
In his work "A Partial Explanation," poet Charles Simic expounds on his desire "to eavesdrop/on the conversation/of cooks." We'd sure love to hear what the chef's talking about in Casa Grande's kitchen. "Give that customer more of the ropa vieja," we can imagine him instructing his line cooks. "He could use some meat on his bones. Pile some more black beans on top of that buttered rice for the girl out there. She's too skinny. And grill her mother an extra-big palomilla. A woman her age could use the iron." OK, so maybe we're rationalizing. Maybe we're finding an excuse -- or a partial explanation -- for eating every speck of the gigantic empanadas and tamales and following up with the flan for dessert. Everyone needs something to justify gluttony, and to be honest, the well-prepared fare at Casa Grande is justification enough.
Come for lunch, stay for dinner, and don't stop eating until your belly's busting at this friendly Brazilian spot run by a Turk. First you head to the buffet table, where the beef stew, salads, soup, rice and beans, and vegetables are more than enough for the average diner. Then waiters bring long skewers of grilled chicken, sausage, and tender sirloin to the table and fill your plate as often as you want, in a style called rodizio. The buffet with chicken and sausage costs only $3.95; adding sirloin raises it to a whopping $7.95. At dinner during the week, $9.95 gets you unlimited servings from the buffet and five kinds of grilled meats. On weekends, when reservations are required, you get the rodizio feast plus a live floor show, followed by dancing to a samba band -- all for $29.95. Middle Eastern food is served in the adjoining dining room. It's an awesome deal, even if you can't match the local attorney who comes here twice a week and eats three whole skewers of meat, washed down by three pitchers of iced tea.
You want the spice? You can't handle the spice! That's how most Thai chefs feel about Americans in their restaurants. Order chili-laden fare medium strength, the food comes out mild. Ask for it extra hot, it just might verge on medium, if you're lucky. That's not enough for even the lamest endorphin rush. Well, gringos with iron palates who are tired of being the objects of discrimination can relax. Siam Gourmet makes no distinction among its customers. So if you order your tom yam kai soup -- a hot 'n' sour broth blended with lemongrass and chicken -- medium, it'll be positively murky with spices. Beef massaman curry is so powerful even the potatoes in the stew can't dumb down the blast. And zesty yam pla meuk, more commonly known as "jumping squid," is aptly named. But it's the customer who'll be doing the jumping -- through hoops, if necessary -- for a soothing, creamy Thai iced tea.
Your first indication that this will be a steep evening comes when the gargantuan doorman directs you (or, better yet, your boss) to the desk "where you can take care of the entertainment fee," which starts the evening off with a $10 per-person charge. The handsome maitre d' with the vaguely foreign accent gives you the once-over and places your party in the back row near the window while saying, "Nice sight from here, no?" Yes, this is a genuine supper club, complete with pricey food (osetra caviar: $45, linguine with clam sauce: $23) and expensive drinks ordered before and during the show. Look beyond the food to the performance, for it's the real justification to spend this kind of dough. Ms. Bishop is a talent worthy of the classic supper clubs of New York City with her incredible vocal range and spot-on delivery. This café chanteuse can also be as funny as her mood dictates, like when she made fun of the ancient retirees from Pembroke Pines in their matching powder-blue suits. But then Bishop made it all right by dedicating to them a heartfelt version of "The Man I Love." Your boss won't love the check, but it is, after all, the least he can do.
It's tough rolling out of bed in the morning, but if you can make it to your car, a piping-hot (or ice-cold) cup of coffee or espresso is within arm's reach once you pull up to the small white building that houses Expresso -- The Gourmet Drive-Thru Coffee Shop. Groggy drivers are greeted by the bracing aroma of fresh-ground, whole-bean coffee being turned into espresso and the gurgle of frothing milk. Those two main ingredients can be combined into a basic cappuccino or latte or spiced up for specialty drinks such as the cinnamon-infused Snickerdoodle or the Dizzy Mocha Delight, a combo of espresso, steamed milk, and dark chocolate. And the drinks can be ordered over ice for a cooler caffeine jolt. Freshly brewed coffee is also available, from French roast to flavored varieties tinged with vanilla, hazelnut, and numerous other enhancements. Carafes of java can be ordered to take into the office, and if you combine a pot of joe with a selection of fresh bagels, pastries, cakes, and fruit, you'll be hailed as a hero when you get to work.
The turn-of-the-century mansion and gardens, which recently underwent a dazzling renovation, set the mood before you even walk in. Once inside, you pass through a cathedral-ceilinged bar before encountering a series of lovely dining rooms, which meld seamlessly with the tropical gardens spread over three acres. The south room is the best -- intimately lit, painted with birds and foliage, one wall open to the pond below. Outside, widely spaced tables are perched on gazebos above cascading pools. The contemporary Florida cooking and the smooth, knowledgeable waitstaff live up to the setting. The reasonably priced menu, which changes weekly, includes appetizers like hearts of palm salad with jicama and passion fruit vinaigrette, and barbecued center-cut pork chop with sun-dried cherry salsa as an entrée. The wine list is excellent, the dessert selection fine. But the burbling waters and dense foliage are what help put you in the mood. And the moonlight helps, of course. Arrive early to avoid a lengthy wait, and ask for the very private two-top next to the firecracker bush. You can even spend the night in one of the cozy villas at the edge of the gardens. If this place doesn't do the trick, find yourself another mate.
For a county virtually dripping with money, Palm Beach has surprisingly few world-class restaurants. Even the new restaurants feel like they've been around for decades. Janeiro, for instance, a much-hyped Palm Beach hot spot, is a stodgy throwback that might well merit the award "best place to dine like it's 1956." Galaxy Grille, down the road from Janeiro, is the exception to the rule in Palm Beach (which may explain why it's so difficult to get a table there). The lush casual restaurant serves fresh and lively fare with hints of Asia and the Mediterranean. Crisp seafood spring rolls are light and exotic. A portobello mushroom appetizer is simple but satisfying. Fish is fresh and perfectly cooked. The service is attentive but unobtrusive. A lobster special offered last summer -- a whole grilled lobster, served swimming in champagne sauce and balanced on top of shrimp-and-spinach risotto -- was the best seafood dish we had all year.
It's been four years since Mark Militello immigrated north from Miami Beach, bringing his stratospherically priced New World cuisine to the doorsteps of Broward's doctors and lawyers -- and the young men and women who love them. (The restaurant is a great place to spot nubile young model-types on the arms of big-bankroll-wielding, gray-haired yuppies.) The same flashy fare that once wowed them in Miami-Dade County has put Mark's cozy spot at the top of the culinary heap in Broward. Militello's large menu includes many classically refined items -- potato fritters with smoked salmon tartare and osetra caviar, yellowfin tuna with French beans and foie gras veal jus -- but the chef's skills are most apparent when he's toying with the exuberant tropical flavors that are the hallmark of New World cuisine. Dishes like cracked conch with black bean-mango salsa and vanilla rum butter sauce and banana leaf-wrapped dolphin with black beans, pickled onions, yuca, avocado, and charcoaled tomato salsa are among the finest in South Florida.
If your notion of a good submarine sandwich is one you can't fit your mouth around, then Laspada's is the place to exercise your jaw muscles. The sandwiches are built on fresh-baked bread, which is spread with mayonnaise or mustard. Then the staff piles on the fresh, succulent deli meats and cheeses, sliced before your big, hungry eyes. Make your preferences for salad garnishes, including sweet and hot peppers, known beforehand, 'cause these folks' hands are faster than blackjack dealers'. A sprinkle of oregano, salt and pepper, and vinegar and oil finishes off the masterpiece -- almost. The difference between this place and other sandwich shops is the "little extra," an additional slab or two of meat to seal the top and prevent the filling from dripping out. 'Course, it doesn't really work that way. One bite and you're pretty much wearing what you ordered. Which means that if you're on your lunch break, you'd better bring back enough for your colleagues. One whiff of the Laspada's perfume is enough to start everyone's juices a-flowing.
Well, there's roti here, and then there's roti. And then, if you're still hungry, there's more roti. The large, spiced pancake, used as a wrap for savory beef (or chicken or goat) stew and a side dish of potatoes and chickpeas, is just about the only entrée. Curried goat, a variation on the theme, and fried rice, which speaks to the Chinese-Caribbean community, are also delicious main courses, but it's pretty hard to get past you got it, the roti. That's why it's a good idea to start with a pepper pot with homemade dumplings, or the spongy potato balls, both of which reflect the owners' respective Trinidadian and Guyanese backgrounds. The 100-seat restaurant may not actually be a palace, but if you like spicy fare -- and roti -- it's pretty easy to eat like royalty.
At some chain bagel shops, you're more likely to find a smoked gouda and blackened chicken wrap topped with jalapeno mayonnaise than a decent bagel. And the same is true at most other homegrown bagel joints in town. We have some advice for you: If you want a banana-strawberry concoction, order a muffin. If you want charred bread, order toast. And if you're looking for blueberry cream cheese, buy yogurt. But if you want a decent bagel, simplicity is the key. Give us a fresh-baked garlic bagel with whipped cream cheese, and you won't get any kvetching. At Bagel Bar West, about the sexiest creation you'll find is an everything bagel -- or maybe a bagel chip. Other than that it's the standards: onion, sesame, poppy, salt, et cetera. Which is just fine by us.
They're fluffy. They're flaky. They're phat -- and fattening. But who's looking for health food donuts, anyway? The fried blobs of sugar-coated dough at Dandee Donut Factory are enough to make the strictest dieter give up, if only long enough to devour a succulent French cruller, down a delightfully dense Boston cream, or sample one of the shop's specialties, such as blueberry chip, a plain cake donut flecked with berry chunks. Berries of other varieties are also infused in dough, and including all of the regular suspects from glazed to maple bars, Dandee offers nearly 20 donut choices. And if you're in need of a donut fix but your companions desire something more nutritious (what are you doing with such losers?), the 24-hour establishment offers breakfast and lunch specials around the clock, which start at just $1.99. Donuts cost 64 cents each, a little more than other places, but well worth the few extra pennies. A half-dozen go for $3.09, a full dozen for just a dollar more. This place is so hip to your donut needs, they even use double-waxed paper bags for carryout in order to keep the oil off your car upholstery.