A good bloody mary requires top-shelf vodka (we like Ketel One), homemade mix spiked with plenty of horseradish, and a vast, unobstructed, ocean view. Peter's serves a topnotch bloody mary lulled by an Atlantic breeze. We like to sip ours hunched under the enormous white alligator that hangs over the big stone bar while single yuppies supping on soup make eye contact and a waiter named Ralph drools over buxom clientele.

Mais oui, c'est vrai. Most French restaurants do carry a distinct air of pretension about them, acting as if you are fortunate to be allowed through the door. And for many the superior attitude is undeserved, as the cuisine doesn't earn it. La Reserve is just the opposite: all warmth and charm, with some very good fare to back up the niceties of service. With its slanted, beamed roof, multitiered seating, and Intracoastal view, the restaurant could be on the Seine, and the garlicky escargot, justifiably pricey foie gras, Dover sole meunière, and veal au basilic compare favorably to the fare in Paris eateries. But we're glad the restaurant is here; South Florida does weather so much better.
The Food Lover's Companion notes that the caesar salad was invented in Tijuana, Mexico, by a man named Caesar Cardini in 1926. Cardini would toss in his grave like the acclaimed salad were he to sample some versions of his masterpiece. But he'd just as surely relax after trying Moran's caesar, made tableside. First the server rubs a wooden bowl with a clove of garlic, seasoning it. Then he minces anchovies in the base, adding plenty of Parmesan, lemon juice, and olive oil, and coats freshly washed romaine with the mixture. Simply outstanding. And perhaps more noteworthy than some of Tijuana's other contributions to culinary culture.
The secret's in the sauce, of course, but Mrs. Smokey (born Elisa Caplan Hight) ain't telling. That's OK with us as long as she keeps serving her succulent baby-back ribs, coated with one of her three piquant sauces. And as long as she smokes her pork and beef just the way she's been doing it, over oak, hickory, and mesquite. And stewing her baked beans with bacon. And baking that candied pecan pie. And simmering that steak-rich chili. But beware the hottest of the sauces -- a veritable brew of blazing chili peppers -- or it won't be just the quality of the food or the amount of smoke in the dining room that makes you think this place is on fire.
The Bensidoun family operates dozens of farmers' markets in France, including the one at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where 600 vendors serve 35,000 shoppers every market morning. And since February the U.S. arm of the family business, Bensidoun Group U.S.A., has been running similar green markets in Hollywood and Miami. The Hollywood market, which is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday and Wednesday, pales in comparison to the Parisian megamarket in terms of size but makes up for that lack with its variety of fresh specialty and imported products. You can go to any corner fruit stand for fresh produce, but under the block-long row of blue striped canopies that lines the south end of Young Circle Park, crusty loaves of French bread, imported French chocolates, paté de foie gras, fresh poultry roasting on a rotisserie, French designer clothing, crafts, and flowers are all for sale here. Miami specialty shop Epicure has a booth from which it vends caviar and French cheeses, and another Miami purveyor of French culture, Crêpe Express, cooks up the super-thin pancakes on the spot and fills them with a variety of sweet fruit preserves or combinations of meat and veggies. The only drawback: The market is only open two days a week.

Bigger doesn't always mean better, but in this case the granddaddy of Palm Beach County green markets takes the cake… and the organic foods and tropical plants. The market began in 1995, and at the more than 60 vendor stalls -- set under rows of umbrellas near the revitalized Clematis Street section of West Palm Beach -- patrons can start the day with a full-course breakfast offering from Testa's of Palm Beach; the tony restaurant serves up eggs, hash browns, and the works from a market booth. And sure, you'll find some of the freshest fruit and vegetables at market prices, but the specialty vendors provide the uniqueness here. One woman sells only fresh sunflowers, another only tea, and other purveyors have cornered the market -- at least at this market -- on organic tomatoes, goat cheese, and Mediterranean olives and cheeses. Scandia Bakery is on site serving up nothing but Scandinavian breads and sweets. (Leftsa, anyone?) And the Fong family, the third largest Chinese green grower in the United States, is represented at a stall selling Chinese peppers and greens, napa (Chinese cabbage), and bok choy. The market is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday from October through April, and admission and parking are free.

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.
The conveyor belt and waitron robots aren't exactly Zen, but the feeling you get after consuming the pan-Asian specialties certainly is. Various dumplings, satays, rolls, wok dishes, and noodle combos incorporate elements from just about every country on the Asian continent, to everyone's satisfaction. Check out the pork-and-cabbage gyoza for a Japanese feel or the Singapore curry noodles with smoked chicken, or the grilled skirt steak with Mandarin orange sauce. Not only are items like the lettuce tacos of Thai chicken delicious, they're priced on the low side so that once you finish Zen, you can have Sum more.

Upscale, home-style cuisine combined with friendly, charming service is exactly what this neighborhood ordered. Wilton Manors has long suffered from a dearth of decent restaurants, particularly the kind that caters to sophisticated urbanites who eat out nearly as often as they eat at home. Filet mignon, fresh plump shrimp, stuffed pork chops, fried calamari -- nothing is too exotic but everything is well prepared, and the menu is extensive enough to draw the same customers more than once a week. And proprietors John Costello and John Lombardo are continually working to improve their space and prolong their restaurant's life in the community. With an attitude like that, it sure is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
There are plenty of good reasons to head to the Floridian in the wee hours of the morning, not the least of which is that it's the best time to actually get in the door. Lunchtime and weekend mornings find the eclectically decorated eatery with a line out the door and onto the sidewalk. This is a good sign that the food is, if not gourmet, at least well thought of by legions of locals. So when those postparty hunger pangs hit, grab a table in the dining room decorated with plenty of Marilyn Monroe and Beatles memorabilia, and order up. The sandwiches are stacked with meat and condiments; the milkshakes are thick; and the breakfasts are home-cooking good. And at 4 a.m., shakes and eggs always hit the spot.

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