Best Chinese Restaurant 2002 | Gary Woo Asian Bistro | Food & Drink | South Florida
OK, so Gary Woo is about as Chinese as tortillas. So the place is about as much like a bistro as a convention hall. When it comes down to the fare -- which is about as Hong Kong as, well, New York City's Chinatown -- it hardly matters. This is the stuff New Yorkers' dreams are made of: an endless bowl of crisp, fried noodles with duck sauce to start off the meal, along with a stiff drink from the bistro's fully stocked bar. Plus, just the appetizer list alone, featuring nearly two dozen dumplings, deep-fried seafood rolls, and pork ribs, is the equivalent of a good dim sum buffet on Spring Street. Add in beef chow fun with black bean sauce, eggplant and chicken served braised in a hot pot, royal lobster casserole with the mysterious XO sauce and chef's suggestions such as bean curd, shrimp, and crab meat sautéed in a tiny wok and you'll be hard-put to get the snowbirds to leave the snow peas behind.
While many Chinese takeout places appear to have been built from the remains of a Denny's or Taco Bell, Henry's is an institution. Since 1959, the place has been dishing out Chinese food, from Szechuan to Mandarin to Cantonese, from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 4 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday. All of it is pretty good stuff, though they do Szechuan best of all. Nice and spicy. The reasonable asking price, typically from $5 to $10, makes Henry's a viable option for all but the most low-end budgets. Ask them to make the Szechuan beef or pork really spicy if you're in the mood for the oral version of a nuclear meltdown. But having your stomach lining dissolve from extreme spice and then screaming in agony as the acids digest your body is a pretty nasty way to go. So perhaps you should just understand that, in this instance at least, the Chinese are bigger men than you and that, to many of them, a whole bowl of super-spicy Texas chili es nada. We've had a couple of centuries to perfect our recipes. They've had millennia. Come back when you are ready, grasshopper.
Intimacy is all about eliminating distractions -- forgetting the day at work, ignoring the mass of people around you, creating a funnel of focus. The senses must remain alive to the one you're with, but the surrounding static needs to be squelched. The restaurant in a chamber just off the raucous pub at King's Head is just such an oasis of dimly lighted calm. The dark wood walls are like a black hole that suck disharmony into their very grain. The waitresses at King's Head know how to take an order, deliver it, and let you dine in peace. No "How are we doing here?" every five minutes. If you've a conspiracy to concoct, a proposition to put forward, or a confession to divulge, slip right in.
You expect good food and good service when you go out to eat, but how often do you get entertained just by reading the menu? The Try My Thai minichain not only has the most interesting variety of Thai food in South Florida; it also has the best names for its dishes. They prepare the requisite pad thai, but the menu is chock full of dishes like Evil Jungle Princess (chicken or beef in a slightly spicy coconut curry sauce), Golden Arches (baby-back ribs designed to look like the McDonald's arches), the Biggest Mermaid (a seafood stew with clear noodles in a chile and lime sauce), Kiss Me Squid (named ironically for the garlic sauce), and Lost on the Reef (no one there remembers how the name came about). You can get either Macho Gator (the hottest dish in the restaurant, seven stars on a five-star scale, the staff claims) or Foster Care Alligator (developed when the restaurant first opened ten years ago without much money -- one of the early investors owned an alligator farm, and the Foster Gator dish was born). We love Three Amigos Tofu because there's nothing Mexican about the dish; it was named for the three different tastes in the sauce: sweet, sour, and wine. The delightful menu hints at another Try My Thai strong point: customer service. Last time we were at the Fort Lauderdale location, with a party of eight adults, our reserved table was in a room that was overwhelmed by two families of screaming kids. The waiter quickly changed our reservation to the quieter room so we could enjoy our food in peace.
This two-country restaurant has a double-sided menu big enough to hide behind. Three oversized laminated panels feature more than 200 dishes: Chinese on one side and Japanese on the flip. With plates almost as big as the pages that describe the dishes, you won't need more than fortune cookies to end the meal with. Seating options are tables, booths, and the sushi bar, where you can watch the chefs work. The five dozen sushi choices include dancing eel roll, crazy roll, spider roll, and birthday roll. You're warned twice about spicy food noted with red ink and stars; obvious choices like dynamite roll, spicy tuna roll, and red dragon will kick-start your palate. China-Tokyo will add flying fish eggs to any sushi roll for a buck. The list of Chinese offerings is long, but it's mostly standard fare: moo shu pork, broccoli with garlic sauce, kung pao beef, lemon chicken, happy family, fried rice, chow mein, and chop suey. That said, the food is fresh, well-seasoned, and served in large enough portions to guarantee a doggy bag for tomorrow's lunch. If you read the Chinese section all the way to the end, you'll find the one unusual section: lamb with broccoli, lamb with scallions, spicy lamb, and basil lamb. Most of the dishes are under ten bucks; you'll pay a little more for teriyaki and the sushi and sashimi combinations.
If what Thucydides writes is true, then the Greeks certainly do "cultivate the mind without loss of manliness." But men of Broward and Palm Beach, take heart: There's also no question, as proven by Taverna Milos, that the Greeks cultivate the stomach without loss of appetite -- manly or otherwise. Indeed, no shame exists in pointing to a fish, laid out on ice, rather than catching it yourself. No harm lies in requesting the kitchen sear it quickly with lemon and thyme rather than starting up the ol' grill back home. No embarrassment could possibly appear in eating the whole damn thing with undisguised gusto and then ordering a skewer of chicken served over rice pilaf or a lamb gyro to wash it down. We understand. After all, what's the mind without brain food?
Do a little dance, make a little tzatziki, get down tonight. That's the motto at this risqué Greek eatery, where the staff clambers onto tables to dance and the crowd, usually the worse for wear on ouzo, follows suit. Too bad the clientele isn't as talented as the hired help. While some of the waiters are a pleasure to watch serve up the moves, the patrons often provide more photo ops -- and subsequent bribery attempts -- than not. Still, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye to the snooze factor, a.k.a. bedtime.
Cafe Martorano
Chef-owner Steve Martorano likes it when his establishment is compared to a place you might see on The Sopranos or spot in a Godfather film. In fact, he even plays gangster movies and runs modern mob episodes on the multiple televisions posted throughout this South Philly-style trattoria and turns up the volume when a particularly, er, juicy part comes on. Despite the plethora of F-bombs bursting in air, both fare and service are far from coarse. Indeed, the place is so popular that you can count on a one-to-two-hour wait, but Martorano makes sure his clients are taken care of while they tap toes -- he sends out his hometown Philly cheese steaks as amuse-bouches. Like any true artist, Martorano doesn't care much for convention and won't accept reservations -- or even phone calls, for that matter. But he has been known to send out his signature meatballs, veal Parmesan, or fettuccine Alfredo to celebrities like Dan Marino, who has been spotted lounging in his car rather than at the bar. Like a starting lineup, the dishes might change daily, but the talent that went into preparing the game plan never fails to win praise.
Granted, dishes like the shrimp Mona Lisa, a plethora of jumbo crustaceans sautéed with wine and mushrooms and dressed with a creamy pink sauce, can run you -- gasp! -- up to $15. But that's about the limit, and if you consider that the salad, garlic rolls, and pasta all come with it, you've got yourself a full-course meal for less than the cost of a tank of gas. But the beauty of the place, besides its clean-line décor and refreshingly polite service, is that not only do most pasta dishes hover around $8 and a large Sicilian pizza (16 inches) goes for just a dozen bucks but that the ziti with broccoli sauce and baked stuffed shells is actually savory and generously portioned. A good selection of starters (hey, who can argue with homemade fried mozzarella?) and a kids menu offering manicotti seal the deal. Unless you're in the mood for dessert, whereupon it's the cannoli that quickly clinches.
Thanks to Moulin Rouge, the general public's interest in French dining has been remarkably renewed. This year, restaurateurs scrambled to take advantage. But the most successful eateries are usually the ones that precede the trend, and Oh La La is no exception. Open a couple of years now, Oh La La is oh-so-good with a blackboard menu that one evening might offer vichyssoise and on another might feature pheasant paté. Inspired regional cooking ranges from north to south with entrées such as roast duck breast with green peppercorns and a bouillabaisse so light and flavorful that the competitions' versions seem like fish-scrap soup. The only drawback is that dishes have a finite shelf life -- once they're gone, they're erased from the blackboard. So if you're a late diner, you might find your choices somewhat limited. But never fear. Regardless of your reservation time, your palate and stomach will still be stretched to satiated capacity.

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