Best Expensive Italian Restaurant 1999 | Antonello | Foodstuff | South Florida
Here's an oxymoron: sophisticated suburbs. Yet that's just what Weston is, and this Italian restaurant reflects residents' appreciation of fine cuisine. Antonello and Rosaria Catinella, who used to own L'Hostaria in Tamarac, gladly fill the need for superb homemade ravioli or gnocchi, shrimp laced with black truffle sauce, filet mignon in a red wine demi-glace, and breaded veal chop topped with arugula and tomatoes. Prices are upscale, certainly, but not outrageous -- only four entrées top the $20 mark. You'll wind up spending a pile anyway. That's because the fare is so fresh and good you'll have to order a five-course meal, particularly if you're tempted by the antipasto and dessert carts, which servers wheel around the dining room like so many Ferraris.
Here today, gone tomorrow. That's the fate that befalls many new restaurants, but it's one future Keè Grill is likely to avoid. The keys to its success? Well, the simple, well-executed, tropically influenced cuisine includes macadamia-nut sautéed shrimp, crab-shiitake-crusted grouper, and grilled veal chop. The waiters are courteous and well trained. And the management is thoroughly professional. But the only key that gets you through the door is this one: a reservation, usually made days -- sometimes weeks -- in advance. And don't forget to write down your assigned reservation number. Lose it, and you're locked out.
The spelling on the sign may not be so hot, but the pasta fagioli is, and at the end of the day, that's what matters: a good, hearty bowl of white bean soup for less than $3. Homemade mozzarella and roasted red peppers, along with fabulously supple gnocchi, also soothe the belly and the wallet. Perhaps the biggest treats are the chicken Marsala and fish piccata dishes, sauced -- and priced -- just so. In a county rife with Italian restaurants, there's one sure way to beat the competition: Combine deft cooking with fair billing, and receive the same in turn.
Can a steak house be judged solely by the size of its beef? You betcha. The supermodel of steak houses, Smoke offers an enormous 42-ounce porterhouse for two. That's 21 ounces each of succulent sirloin and fragrant filet mignon, separated by a monstrous bone. Dry-aged on the premises, the beef is a perfect match for the steak sauce shipped from the famous meatery Peter Luger's, which New Yorkers in the know consider the finest in the nation. The sirloin, veal chop, and pork chop impress as well. But even the best cut of meat isn't tops without the proper cigar-and-martini ambience, which Smoke has in spades. The handsome, clubby dining room even has a walk-in humidor and private vaults for folks who pay for the privilege of storing their wines. In other words, all you need to be treated like a king here is to flash cash like one.
It's hard to recommend a restaurant when you never know exactly what's going to be on the menu. Still, we have no bone to pick here, despite the fact that the seafood-of-the-night special is always a mystery, depending on what comes in from the purveyor. Fresh tuna, for instance, can top pasta or gazpacho, according to chef-proprietor Tony Sindaco's whim. Come to think of it, the only thing that isn't a surprise here is that every item is lovingly and wonderfully prepared (and that filet mignon is a staple entrée for landlubbers). The menu is small, but the variety of fish and shellfish is large; just about the only fish you'll never dine on at Sunfish Grill is, well, sunfish.
Though India and other Eastern countries extol the benefits of a meat-free diet, no single region in the world has ever held a monopoly on vegetarianism. So it should come as no surprise that the Veggie Garden, which is located deep in a community of Caribbean expatriates, boasts a menu with a distinct Jamaican twist. Check out the veggie patties or the saltfish and akee for breakfast (fish is legal tender here), or the veggie burger served with rice and peas for lunch. Yes, the rice is brown, but that's par for the health food course. You can even wash down your steamed kingfish entrée with "island drinks" such as ginger beer or peanut punch. This mammal-product-free environment isn't just refreshing, it's good for you, too.
Forget the Day-Glo alcoholic slush. Fine margaritas aren't squeezed out of plastic tubular contraptions, they are shaken fresh and served tall on ice with a delicate ring of salt. Hovering somewhere in that netherworld between tart and sweet, the perfect tequila tonic goes down like Kool Aid and knocks you off your feet with barely a whistle of warning. With more than 150 varieties of tequila, Baja Café is a veritable shrine to the fine Mexican alcohol that has been responsible for more than a few whopping headaches. We say can the Cuervo and ask Baja's margarita maven to reach for a silkier cousin, say El Tesoro Blanco or Lapiz. Those with a few extra Benjamin Franklins to spare can sample some of the finest tequilas in the world, as pricey as fine brandy at $75 to $100 a shot. Or if you're short on cash you can always pay with your Mexican credit card, explained as a big black revolver by a sign across from the bar.
Maxwell's, one of the only local steak houses open for lunch, has all the accouterments for celebrating when your online start-up goes public. Dark wood, stained glass, and plush wraparound banquettes form the backdrop for superior steaks and pillows of garlic mashed potatoes. This is power lunch at its masculine finest -- over the top, expensive, and artery-clogging. It's a great place to feel, well, powerful. After lunch admire your smug smile in the large gilded mirrors as you sip a single malt, suck on a stogy, and soak in the Sinatra that wafts from the speakers. Then pray the big payoff will cover the bill.

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.

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