Best Steak House 1999 | Smoke | Foodstuff | South Florida
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.
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.

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