Best Expensive Italian Restaurant 2002 | Cafe Martorano | Foodstuff | South Florida
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.
From the get-go, the friendly hospitality typical of Mediterranean culture is evident by the way the Israeli owners greet you and make you feel part of the family. "Sit down, relax, how are you doing today? How are the kids? I hope you are hungry!" Expect to see and even talk to the chef in this down-to-earth and casual café, and definitely count on hearing some lively conversations. There are several appetizers and pita sandwiches to choose from, including Moroccan cigars, eggplant with peppers, hummus, or a pita filled with delicious falafel, which, according to our intelligence sources, is just like what's being served at Tel Aviv's falafel stands. For an entrée, try the heavenly shawarma, thinly sliced rotisserie curry turkey strip, or the schnitzel, the breaded and seasoned fried chicken breast. Boca Pita is glatt kosher as well.
Any place that calls itself "home of the kebab" pretty much tells you its intentions up-front. Problem is, not so many restaurants can make themselves into a home you'd like to live in. Ferdos succeeds not just because the décor is cozy, the dining room is clean, the wine list is reasonably priced, and the menu is extensive but because its kebabs really are that good -- juicy, marinated lamb, chicken, shrimp, beef, and even veggie skewers for the vegan. A touch of Mediterranean sophistication in the mussels poached with Pernod and the escargots nestled into puff pastry only adds to Ferdos's allure. But for all the Barazi family's success in cookery, it just might be the kibbeh -- raw lamb seasoned with cracked wheat, chopped onions, and olive oil -- that closes the deal.
Think going out for kosher means standing at a deli or crowding into a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall? Well, Baraka offers gourmet glatt and a classy milieu for the observant set -- and gastronomes of any religious bent, for that matter. Upscale kosher restaurants are a rarity in these parts, but Baraka's eclectic menu provides a variety of ethnic cuisine to hold your interest over repeated visits: seared tuna, sushi plates, Mongolian marinated veal chops, Cornish game hens, and tofutti cheese ravioli. The wine list includes whites and reds from Israel, as well as standard Italian and California vintners. Entrée prices are, as our French friends say, dear, running from $24 to $38. But hey, the Talmud never promised it would be easy. Baraka is open most of the year Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m., and by reservation on Saturday evenings. Days and hours are reduced from May to September, however, so call before making the trip.
Whether your definition of a power lunch involves discussing serious business decisions, impressing venture capitalists, or simply socializing with local politicians, Mario's is likely to fit (but not foot) the bill. The casual upscale Italian restaurant, tucked in a small off-the-beaten-path shopping plaza just east of Town Center Mall, offers either a diverse menu for à la carte dining or a reasonably priced lunch buffet featuring a salad bar, several hot pasta dishes, and a variety of handmade pizzas. Choose the indoor booth seating for meetings requiring privacy, or dine outside for the social schmooze-type lunch. The cordial and professional service makes for both a pleasant meal and a distraction-free meeting. Lunch buffet is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays. Don't miss the restaurant's heavenly garlic rolls -- but don't forget to pick up a mint or two on your way out.
A phalanx of ornate hookahs keeps a stately vigil atop the pastry display case in this spacious Middle Eastern restaurant. They're an eye-catching bunch -- blue and green glass bowls, brass and silver stems, curlicued tubes resembling spotted goat tails. Purely decorative, they add a certain je ne sais quoi to this strip-mall eatery, but the restaurant's extensive menu stands on its own. By no means pass up one of the half-dozen hummus appetizers. El-Salam whips chick peas and tahini (a crushed-sesame seed cream) into a beige delight. First-timers should order fatet hummus, which comes with a crunchy pita, lemon, and parsley.
OK, so the burger we have in mind here isn't the usual patty-on-a-bun job. It's more of a patty-on-a-salad. But that's precisely why we like it. The Fat Cat's Salad is a toss of lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, topped with mushrooms, bacon, mozzarella stick, and a quarter-pound of ground, freshly grilled beef. Creamy ranch dressing ties the whole fattening thing together the way a good mayo does on a classic sandwich. But if you're not a greens kind of guy or gal, you can always go the Original Fat Cat route and get two quarter-pound burgers on a hoagie roll. With fried cheese and waffle fries stuffed in with the condiments, this baby puts the Big Mac to shame.
If a phrase like "Gimme the Big One" sets your heart a-pounding, then you, as we did, probably had a thing for the 'boys. Direct from the classiest armpit on earth -- the Jersey shore -- Fatboys gave us double cheeseburgers that horrified our doctors and mystified our private trainers: hip-stretching, medium-rare beef slathered with melted cheddar cheese, chili, onions, and (wouldn't ya know it?) French fries. No doubt, we'll miss the quick caloric fix, though can't say we mind not trotting all those extra miles on the treadmill. And for the record: We never really did believe that "gourmet" bit.

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