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.
LaSpada's Original Hoagies
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.
You've heard about that '60s fad, stuffing as many people as you can into phone booths and Volkswagens. Well, the '90s take happens right here with the Florito -- your choice of filling (grilled chicken, grilled steak, shredded roast beef, roast pork, or snow crabcakes) is stuffed into a flour tortilla along with black beans and rice, Monterey Jack cheese, lettuce, corn, and homemade salsa. The Florito, that so-catchy subtropical version of the burrito, also comes with low-fat sour cream and the option of ordering double meat; hey, saving a coupla calories on the dairy entitles you to more flesh, don'tcha think? As if. Actually, calories are just about the only thing you need to count the cost of here -- Floritos run from less than $4 (the 12-inch bean-and-cheese combo) to almost $9 (for a 14-inch with double crabcake), and a side of freshly squashed guac is only a buck.
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.

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