Best Of :: Food & Drink
Judging by the dearth of Vietnamese restaurants in these parts, it seems that South Florida hasn't been the first choice for emigrants from that Southeast Asian nation. At the very least, that's a culinary pity. Maybe it's the French influence, but Viet cuisine is a refreshing, light affair compared to, say, its Thai cousin, which usually comes slathered with rich sauces and big hunks o' meat. Take, for instance, Pho Nam's house specialty, the Vietnamese pancake: a thin, crispy crepe stuffed with onion, yellow beans, bean sprouts, and finely minced bits of shrimp and pork. At $7.50, it's about the most expensive thing on a menu of meals that average about $6. The spicy beef salad, a $7 specialty that won't leave you feeling bogged down after dinner, is made of thinly sliced beef, tomato, cucumber, basil, and ground peanuts over lettuce. You won't find fancy décor at Pho Nam, which lies just south of Commercial Boulevard, but you will see a steady stream of Vietnamese customers.
For Indian food regulars who want to avoid those awkward moments of ordering beef curry from a Hindu waiter, the simple way is to go vegetarian. Bombay Cafe has powerfully tasty vegetarian dishes that'll make most carnivores forget about the lack of animal flesh. The chick peas in the chole-bhatura are cooked perfectly al dente in a potent tomato-based broth, and the plain uttapam combines the simplicity of a poster-sized rice pancake with aromatic lentil soup. Everything at this simple restaurant is made on-premises, even the yogurt, which flavors the sweet lassi so well, and the roti, an oven-roasted bread. Best of all, your vegetarian feast will set you back only about $5 -- not a bad price for a clear conscience.
Q: Ever watch reality-TV shows?
A: I watch absolutely no TV. I work every night.
A: All right, Monday. My day off. On Monday, I have to watch Fear Factor because my 10-year-old daughter, Margeaux, insists on it. It's kind of fun to watch with her. She's always comparing herself to the girls on the show. She says, "I could do that."
Q: Are there parts of the show you don't like?
A: When they eat slugs and things like that. I'm not crazy about that.
Q: Is that the restaurateur talking?
A: Not really. That whole segment of the show -- I usually walk away from it. It'll definitely kill your appetite.
Q: How about your daughter?
A: She can stomach it a little better than I can.
Q: Is the show in any way real?
A: It's interesting to see what people will do for $50,000. Is that real? I don't know.
Q: Can you learn anything from Fear Factor?
A: Jeez, I don't think so. It's kind of like a strange sports game.
Q: What does your daughter get out of it?
A: Just the sensation of it, I think. She's very competitive, very athletic. A major soccer player and a junior lifeguard. I think the competition is what she enjoys, especially when the girls are competing against the guys. That's Margeaux.
If the name seems like a mouthful, well, the large servings of fresh fish and shellfish justify it. A retail seafood market on one side and an attractive, casual dining spot on the other, Waves isn't all foam and froth like some of its trendy contemporaries. Yet its preparations are still modern -- Asian shrimp-noodle soup, coconut shrimp, lump crab "fingers," shrimp scampi with roasted tomatoes. Feeling traditional? Waves also offers lobster dinners à la beach parties in Cape Cod, with a Maine steamed lobster, mussels, clams, ears of corn, and new red potatoes. Best of all, your belly may make you feel as if you won't be riding any waves too soon lest you get a cramp, and your wallet won't be much lighter -- Waves is as reasonably priced as it is filling.
It's no secret that Chinese takeout isn't always healthful. But there is hope. Wingloon's lengthy menu features all the traditional Chinese-American fare; sweet and sour chicken, moo goo gai pan, beef lo mein, among others. But this drive-through and takeout restaurant is looking out for today's health-conscious consumer. In addition to a vegetarian menu including broccoli and mushrooms with garlic sauce, and sautéed string beans, any of their chicken or beef dishes can be prepared with tofu, and they will omit salt, sugar, or cornstarch. You just have to ask.
Let's be honest. You're cheap, and you always will be. So you might as well put on the plaid pants and baby-blue blazer and go for the early-bird special at Spoto's. Between 5 and 6 p.m., the upscale raw bar in downtown West Palm Beach throws in a salad, dessert, and drink for the price of your entrée. That's a value of about $20, which, you might as well admit, is more than you spent on your mother's last birthday present. The deal includes a spicy tomato, mozzarella, and red onion salad with a well-aged vinaigrette. It's a good complement to the onion-crusted yellowtail snapper at $21.75. Or pair the house salad, with its wheat-beer vinaigrette, with the bouillabaisse, which includes a half-pound lobster, clams, mussels, and nearly still-swimming chunks of fish. Eat quick and you can be in bed by 8.
The Floridian's popularity could be due to the free Tootsie Rolls at the cashier's counter. Or the politicos and wannabe politicos strutting around as if they own the place. Or maybe it's the establishment's willingness to give the back room and a highly experienced waiter to nonprofit groups for their meetings. Or it could even be the after-club boys mixing with the men in suits early in the a.m. Or maybe what fills the restaurant's seats is the fact that one can order breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert 24 hours a day in a room with a whole lot more atmosphere than any Denny's. While the rest of Las Olas is filled with high-priced haute cuisine and your waiter may have more attitude than the haughtiest diva, the Floridian is basic food, without too much grease, and a comfortable atmosphere where no one will rush you to vacate your table. Customers know to tip well; the servers treat them accordingly. You won't find anything with kiwi on the menu; instead, you'll recognize every item: omelets, hamburgers, sandwiches, salads made with iceberg lettuce, though you can also get a veggie burger on a toasted bun. No one will try to take the French out of the fries in this establishment, but if you listen carefully, you'll hear about the next crazy idea some local politician is hatching weeks before you read about it in the Sun-Sentinel.
You might not think so come summer, but for at least three seasons of the year, this venue has the fresh, sea-air edge. Or, at least, the dock. Located just a tad northeast of the Swimming Hall of Fame, Forté couldn't be set more in the Atlantic than Atlantis. Though elegant and ritzy enough inside to appeal during 95 percent humidity, it's the oceanside tables and generous tiki hut-style bar that attract customers for a night of eavesdropping on lapping waves and fish thumping against unyielding hulls. It doesn't hurt, naturally, that there are also plenty of martini-lapping and fish-thumping-against-plate options. After all, there's more to outdoor dining than sweating. There's being tremendously satisfied by all four measures -- location, fare, service, and price -- whether you want a vibrant, loud experience for a group or a pianissimo night for two.
You've got the music factor -- live blues, funk, groove, tribal, rock, and jazz bands nearly every night of the week. Not teeny-bopper local acts either but nationally acclaimed artists such as Pat Travers and Rosco Martinez, who no doubt agree to play here in exchange for bowls of the award-winning gumbo. 'Cause that's the other part of the equation for a sum of popular outcome -- the truly high-end bar food like Kilmo's killer chili, oyster po' boys, and sautéed or deep-fried gator bites. But then AA goes a step further toward customer satisfaction by also purveying a wide range of microbrewed beers, and damn if that doesn't help lubricate the awards process as smoothly as a warm hand on a trombone slide. UPDATED: This location is now closed.
"Shake your booty" takes on a whole new meaning here. Namely, wiggle those hips, gyrate that middle, raise some arms, snap your fingers, and love that jiggle. The belly dancer who performs nightly in this North African restaurant-nightclub is neither shy nor modest, as befits a woman who is an expert with the navel maneuver -- and we're not talking the armed forces here. And after she's done performing, it's your turn. Who cares if you look like a scene from Aladdin gone wrong? Not the old ladies playing their finger cymbals in the corner. But don't worry -- if anyone does jeer, the music is simply too loud for you to hear them.
Yes, it's a chain, and of course, this publication often takes shots at such bastions of the Establishment. But sometimes you just have to acknowledge that, to do things right, one needs a certain amount of money and booze. See, it takes the right number of dead presidents to hire a food-and-beverage director or sommelier who has trained his or her palate for years, teetering on the edge of poverty, just to be able to tell us if that Bordeaux has aromatics of glove leather or tobacco and flavors of menthol or tar. It behooves a corporation to court, by sponsoring winemakers' events and fundraisers, the savviest purveyors and distributors, who can maybe come up with that last case of limited-production cult Cabernet that was purportedly sold out. Most of all, an excellent wine list requires the capital that is needed to lay down an extensive cellar, a good third of which needs to bottle-age before it is even sellable to the dining public. Judging by its 175-bottle list, ranging from New World Sauvignon Blancs to Old World Burgundies, Morton's got not just the bucks but the props.
If your two key words when it comes to steak houses are cheap and good, then Beef Eater is for you. This Argentine meatery distinguishes itself in a variety of traditional ways, from steak empanadas to steak Milanesa to sirloin, all of which console the carnivore's palate with terrific beef flavors and textures. But if you're a skirt-steak cheapskate, then you're just as pleased with the price: No dish over ten dollars. Even the specials, "tango's sirloin" (a strip draped with a pair of fried eggs) and the assorted "gaucho's grill," come in at $9.95. Which is why we're happy to provide Beef Eater with a new slogan, free of charge: "Beef Eater, the Short Rib Stop for a Ten Spot -- Not Including Tax and Tip."