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Owner Benjamin Wong is big into numbers. If you ask him how long his market has been around, he'll tell you 15 years. Ask how many Chinese videos he has available for rental and he'll quickly inform you, "More than 100,000." (That's including the ever-popular Kung Fu Hustle.) If you inquire about a special type of teapot, he'll invite you to choose from more than 100,000 of them. OK, so perhaps they are not all to be found in his market, but he really seems eager to help customers find whatever Asian product they have a yen for. Never tried a sweet yet salty dehydrated plum (they start at $1.25 for a small bag) or dry shredded pork ($1.65 for a four-ounce container)? Just request Wong's opinion on the product and he'll likely split a bag with you. Wondering what kind of pudding is actually stored inside the oversized plastic kitty heads? He may bust one open to show you. Of course, he can't really share some of the teas he carries -- especially since they are used to treat maladies like gall bladder and liver dysfunction -- but you would probably feel comfortable talking about PMS or erectile dysfunction with Wong, and he'd provide just the tea for the job. And since teas start at only $2.95 a box, you'll find them much cheaper than a box of Midol or a blister pack of Viagra. If you have never set foot in an Asian market, stroll into Hong Kong some evening (the market is open until 8 most nights). You'll get an instant education and possibly even some samples.
It's been an awful day. Now, it's getting dark. The rain is coming down. The exhaustion settles in. Those two rental movies on your passenger seat look awfully enticing. At times like this, the difference between good Chinese takeout and bad Chinese takeout is based on three factors: taste, price, and speed. China "A" aces the trio. Nestled in a no-frills spot in Northridge Shopping Center, China "A" serves up about 100 dishes under $10 -- from the classic General Tao's chicken ($8.50) to moo shu shrimp ($6.50). Have a bunch of mouths to feed? Try the Super Family Pack for $20.99; it includes three egg rolls, wonton soup, fried rice, and three entrée selections. Walk-in orders are filled in about ten minutes, while deliveries take about 20 minutes if you live nearby. Plus, you won't get MSG-laden dishes at China "A." Remarkably, the food is as good as any restaurant in New York's Chinatown. Hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9:30 p.m. Free delivery is available to select areas.
If the idea of sushi sounds as thrilling as another Blockbuster night or walking that nasty little mutt around the block, you need a little gastronomic counseling -- you know, something to perk up those taste buds and help you remember why you fell in love with raw fish and vinegared rice in the first place. Cast your mind back to your very first time: How silky the tuna, how scrumptious the spicy mayo; that salty, slithery bite of seaweed salad; wasabi's head-clearing heat. To help you renew your commitment to sublime Japanese specialties, get away to Sushi Jo in West Palm, where rolls are given lubricious names and tarted up in the equivalent of culinary lingerie: the Sex on the Beach roll ($12), the Release roll ($10), the South of the Border ($15). Your fish and rice comes decorated with illicit exotica like macadamia nuts, strawberries, and truffles. And there's toro -- the bodacious, pricey call girl of the fish world -- all over the menu. Still yawning? Jo's monkfish liver is aphrodesia on a plate, creamy slices of "foie gras of the sea" dusted with multicolored fish eggs and dressed in two sauces. Think of your relationship with Sushi Jo as a permanent pleasure, a kind of covenant marriage for which you don't have to travel to Arkansas. Beware, though, menus and prices differ at the two locations.
"Eat clams... Live longer!!! Eat oysters... Last longer!!!" The motto emblazoned across the menu at Tarks is as catchy as it is true. Those raw clams and littlenecks (both $8.95 a dozen) are a low-cholesterol source of minerals and protein, and the fresh-shucked gulf oysters on the half shell ($6.50 for a half dozen, $8.95 a dozen) are a wet, plump, and succulent way to get your motor running on overdrive. Served ice cold, the conch salad ($7.95) is touted on the menu as "a local favorite." Tarks has been a Dania institution since 1966, and the folks know local seafood as well as anyone. Take a seat at the counter -- that and a few tables out front are your only options -- and you're sure to go elbow-to-elbow with tattooed bikers and leather-skinned laborers, all enjoying Tarks' cheap beer and tasty bivalves. Check out their daily specials, which include ten free wings with a pitcher of beer on Wednesday after 7:30 p.m. Make sure you try their tangy key lime pie ($2.25) too. Shellfish isn't the only thing Tarks does right.
Miracle of miracles department: This gorgeous space hosted a seemingly never-ending series of restaurants that all bit the dust after a few months. Then, about four years ago, a Syrian family moved in and lifted the curse. Ferdos Grill has thrived and prospered (as it should -- it's one of very few Middle Eastern restaurants in these parts) and shows no signs of abating. The falafel here is astounding and comes in three styles. It's made from chickpeas and fava beans that must've grown up listening to classical music; first, they're ground and shaped in small, wafer-shaped patties; then they're fried in a loving, gentle, oily environment. The appetizer version comes with hummus that is perhaps the finest ever produced by man (try the version with the grilled sirloin tips), and the pita-bread sandwich and the falafel salad ($5.95 each) are both noteworthy. The place is called "home of the kebab," and the belly dancers are a big draw. But when falafel is the question, the only answer in town in Ferdos.
Gourmet Deli House will make you feel like Henny Youngman smack in the middle of Del Boca Vista. Come in the late fall, especially, when you'll hear an old folk's reunion in the line. As you wait to order the signature corned beef ($10.95 a pound) or the lox ($24.50 a pound) or chicken salad ($8.95 a pound), you'll always overhear a couple of codgers talking about Ohio and Pennsylvania and New Yawwwk. Diners in this joint -- and we love this -- sometimes need to be reminded that they'll be charged for the buckets of free pickles and rye bread if they don't order an entrée. Make no mistake, these folks know a bargain. And so do the deli owners, who upon request will even split a loaf of bread in half for frugal deli customers. Just remember to drive slowly in the parking lot.
Home cooks, foodies, wine aficionados, sandwich lovers, party-throwers, vegetarians, marooned Manhattanites, and second-generation Italians far from Mama's kitchen all know where to find the magic missing from their lives: Fernanda's. To purchase a slice of mascarpone torta ($29.99 a pound -- bliss doesn't come cheap) and eat it right from the box in your car, without ever leaving the parking lot, is as close to pig heaven as most gluttons are ever likely to get. If the torta's too rich for your belly and your pocketbook, an array of sautéed vegetables like caponata Pietro ($9.99 a pound), Italian roasted peppers ($9.99), broccoli rabe with lemon ($8.99 a pound), roasted eggplant ($12.99 a pound), marinated mushrooms ($6.99 a pound), garlic mashed potatoes ($4.99 a pound), and macaroni and cheese casserole ($4.99 a pound) make for more wholesome chow. Fish lovers can sink a line and reel in Pietro's seafood salad ($12.99 a pound), Maryland lump crab cakes ($4.99 each), grilled swordfish pistachio ($16.99 a pound), or a tin of beluga caviar (market price). And culinarily challenged bachelors or bachelorettes can put together a multiculti party of Fernanda's breaded veal cutlets, sausage and peppers, meatballs, fried tortellini, proscuitto pasta salad, stuffed grape leaves, mushroom pirogues, spicy chicken wings, and fresh foie gras (24 hours' notice on the goose liver). If you're planning a picnic, Fernanda's dozen varieties of black, green, and stuffed olives, plus their selection of 18 sandwiches (all $7.99, from the Muffeletto to the "Don Quixote" with thin-sliced Serrano ham) sure beat that standard loaf of bread and jug of wine.
You're kicking yourself for not investing in Whole Foods five years ago -- you could be retiring to your villa in Provence right about now. Here's a tip: A little independent operation called Village Marketplace is the dark horse that's going to give Whole Foods a run for its money. Owner Joseph Macchione is making his mark in the grocery biz in South Florida with a midsized market -- smaller than Publix, bigger than the corner deli -- that sells gourmet chocolates, organic half and half ($3.29), Guatemalan coffee ($8.99 a pound), fresh produce, prepared foods, specialty cheeses ($3.77 for a wedge of ricotta salata), imported wines, tuna (a can of Ortiz is $4.99), and olive oils. But that ain't all. Bathroom tissue, frozen pizza, muffin mix, tomato sauce, and strawberry jelly are for sale too. It's one stop for your ravishing bouquet of lilies, your Gardenburger, and your Bounty paper towels. Macchione cut his teeth on jobs with Wild Oats and Fresh Fields; he's clearly taken the best ideas of both. The original Marketplace in Plantation closed this year, but only to retool; Macchione says they'll reopen in Lauderdale, possibly in another location, at a more manageable size. They're steadily adding organics as they see what sells and what rots on the shelves; they're already selling free-range chickens from Ashley Farms. A small café turns out wholesome lunches. The cheese and charcuterie sections offer enough variety for a year's worth of antipasti; a yummy, whole-grain bread ($3.49 for a loaf) comes from their bakery; and bottles of wine and sake boast Wine Spectator ratings. Macchione says he's committed to keeping prices fair. Sounds like a great marketing concept.
Don't be stupid enough to jump on the mechanical bull at Tequila Ranch after polishing off oak-smoked ribs at Renegade Barbeque Co., chili fries at Johnny Rockets, sushi at Tatu, oysters at Bluepoint Ocean Grill, and a pretzel from Wetzel's ($2.55). What may spring from deep inside you will make others run into Hooters for the distraction of surgically enhanced bustlines. Instead of bull riding, enjoy all those delicacies on successive nights of the week and follow them up with some java from Bad Ass Coffee Co., Chunky Monkey ice cream ($2.78, cup or cone) at 2 a.m. from Ben & Jerry's, and some Pepto from CVS on your way home. You'll be OK. We promise.
Red wine is full of reservatrol -- a potent fighter of cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, and bad cholesterol. This is one reason the French can smoke packs of unfiltered Gauloises, eat two pounds of butter daily, and stay thin and mean as minks. For optimal cardiovascular health, ignore the puritanical U.S. recommendations (One glass of red wine a day for women? Puuleeeze!) -- European doctors prescribe a moderate three glasses daily for the ladies and four for the guys. Drinking alone isn't good for you, however, so a place like 3-year-old Harrison's Wine Bar, very European in style and sensibility, is an excellent locale for a good workout. There's a wine list of more than 100 bottles here. The Santa Emma merlot from Chile is $8 a glass; Silver Oak cabernet is $150 a bottle (presumably spiked with extra reservatrol at that price). So you won't ever have to stick your tongue in the same bottle twice, owner Richard Duncan is committed to mixing things up: Lately, he's hot on the Stonehedge zin, a Mont Gras cab, and a Bearboat pinot. Harrison's tapas and cheese menu will give all that wine something to work with.