In sushi instructional videos -- how to make your own -- the sushi chef always starts by clapping his hands twice and saying "Happy sushi." Is this little ritual supposed to inspire the fish fillets to be thrilled about their forthcoming digestion? Well, actually, it's meant to remind the sushi chef to take joy in his art. And creating sushi is a fine process. The sticky rice has to be cooked, then fanned until it's cool (or it will become lumpy), and seasoned just so with sugar and vinegar. Then it should be shaped the size of two fingers (the same measurement as a shot of vodka in your tonic). But the real difficulty lies in slicing the raw salmon, tuna, yellowtail snapper, and mackerel, to name just a few of the most popular fishes. The knife has to be sharp as a genius' intellect, the cut at an angle but not unevenly, the slices thick but not chewy. Yama's sushi chefs are clearly clapping their hands, because their sushi is nothing short of art. The only difference between their sushi and works of art, in fact, is that one is meant to be eaten, the other to be framed.
There's some great fresh seafood out there in South Florida, you just have to fish for it. Most seafood shops will have a specialty of sorts. Captain Ed's Lobster Trap in Fort Lauderdale, for instance, often has fresh Florida lobster for an inexpensive $5.59 a pound. The Fish Peddler, which has stores in Sunrise and Fort Lauderdale, is the place to pick up cooked, peeled, and chilled shrimp quickly and at a good price. But when you want a little bit of everything, Captain Mike's is where it's at. It has a pool full of lobsters, and most of its fish comes on ice directly from the sea. The Captain has an incredible variety of fresh fish: grouper, salmon, tuna, snapper, Okeechobee catfish, Chilean sea bass, and many others. Just how much and what kinds of fresh fish the store stocks depends on the day and what the fishermen bring them. In this shop there are plenty of employees to help you make the right choice, and while you're deciding, you can sample some of their excellent homemade dips, including a mean smoked-fish dip and one of the best clam dips you'll ever find.

Even by providing patrons with 300 feet of dock space and a deck overlooking the Intracoastal, a restaurant still might go wrong. After all, not every diner is fooled by a show of nature. But the view of the sun-spackled water isn't the only reason why reservations are as hard to come by as snow in this South Florida establishment. Blue Moon matches its prime location with fine meats and seafare, such as the New Zealand lamb chops and South American sea bass entrées, which seem to troll the United Nations for influences. One caveat: Dining during sundown can be as blinding as headlights in a rear-view mirror. Like the wallet full of dough needed to pay for lobster empanadas and Louisiana crawfish cakes, shades are a must.
The place is far from fancy, a relic from the ugly era when décor was brown as a burger. Nor have the prices changed much -- a half-pound cheeseburger is the most expensive item on the menu at $3.95. And the service -- do-it-yourself -- is more fast-food than formal. No matter. The hamburgers are heartwarming, stomach-stuffing pleasures, especially when topped with all-beef chili and grilled peppers and onions. Customers with ulcers might want to opt for the plain hamburger, which can be doctored with fixings from the garnish bar, but even those with iron stomachs should consider soothing themselves with a vanilla shake, the best way to wash down a "Jack jumbo."
The best chocolates are rich and creamy and handcrafted by a little old man with a thinning mop of snow-white hair. The best chocolates, at least the best chocolates made by a local artisan, are the dozens of chocolate-coated pralines and truffles on display at a tiny shop in a nondescript strip mall in Boca Raton. The Mr. Roberts in question is a retired Swiss tailor named Heinz Goldschneider who has been churning out bonbons in Boca, including his award-winning white truffles, for almost 20 years.

OK, so there's really only one kind of prepared food at this little joint in downtown Hollywood. But there are more than 15 varieties of gourmet empanadas, those South American turnovers that are ideal for a light lunch or quick snack. Fillings range from traditional ground beef to vegetarian spinach, and include rich guava-cream cheese for dessert. Best of all you don't even have to stop by this 18-month-old bakery -- you can order catering and takeout services via the Internet by clicking on the Website.
When your Hawaii Regional menu is this complicated, your servers better know what they're doing. And these waiters do: They can explain what upcountry greens are, describe the Maui Blanc pineapple wine accurately, and recommend the best items, which just might be the Kahana black ribs appetizer and the honey-sake roast duck entrée. They're polite and attentive, too. Those qualities should be a prerequisite for all waitstaff, but they often aren't in South Florida restaurants, where courtesy often seems as far away, and vigilance as much of an afterthought, as Hawaii.
The most famous crabs in South Florida are the simple, unadorned stone crab claws patrons wait hours to sample at Joe's Stone Crabs in South Beach. Rustic Inn, Broward's lesser-known crustacean haven, is famous in certain circles for a less refined crab presentation. Tucked away near the rental-car lots behind Fort Lauderdale/ Hollywood International Airport, the place is nearly impossible to find but well worth the scavenger hunt. Inside the no-frills seafood restaurant, big-bellied patrons draped in plastic bibs wield wooden mallets with barbarous glee. They reach into big buckets of split blue crabs that are drenched in butter and garlic (like garlic bread in a shell), smash the shells on the newspaper-lined tables, and then suck out the meat with a decisive slurp. Roll up your sleeves and abandon all propriety for a seafood meal in a restaurant that might just as easily qualify as the "worst place for a first date."
Technically a floor show means live, cabaret-style entertainment. And we certainly enjoy the belly dancer who prances around Kasbah, shaking her groove thang along with sequins and spangles. But the real floor show at this tentlike restaurant -- draped from floor to ceiling with silken, brilliantly hued fabric -- is provided by the customers, many of whom are unfamiliar with traditional Moroccan décor and cuisine. We've never seen so many people squirm on the decorative pillows, the only cushions between them and the rugs, and eat carrot-raisin salad and Cornish hen pastry with their fingers (which, by the way, you can lick if you don't feel like wiping them on the thick, white towel the waiter has draped over your shoulder). We appreciate even more the hand-washing rituals: warm water poured from a silver pot at the beginning of the meal, rose-and-orange-blossom waters sprinkled over your digits at the conclusion. The visuals in this place are just as authentic, and some of them as aromatic, as the steaming mint tea and fish tagine.

It doesn't look like much. The décor is akin to a '70s diner, the color scheme predominantly brown. Entrées arrive unadorned on standard-issue dishes. But nothing detracts from the Cooke family recipes. Even the flavorful sauces boost, rather than bury, the meats. Oxtail is marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and ginger for an unexpected delicacy. Jerk chicken has the requisite spiciness while skirting stereotypes. The piquant tenderness of a whole snapper belies its steely stare. Complementary rice and "peas," red kidney beans, cut the spices with coconut. Plantains are sliced to poker chip-width so they plunk, not sink, in your stomach. But the pièce de résistance is the sweet-potato pudding, served in dense, sumptuous squares drizzled with Bailey's Irish Cream. Merton Cooke knows the power of his pie and plies it with charming persistence. Lingering beside the table, he speaks lovingly of his hometown, Montego Bay, where he runs another Cooke's Goose. "Have you been to Jamaica?" he inquires. Almost.

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