Best Chocolate Shop 2006 | Galler | Food & Drink | South Florida
When you've been raised on Hershey's kisses, European chocolate may be an acquired taste, like graduating from applesauce to apple martinis. But Belgian candy wizard Jean Geller is betting that the American palate is educable, and his flagship store on Las Olas, opened last Thanksgiving, will test whether Geller can make Floridians googly-eyed over his little mouthfuls of bliss. Geller's products -- handmade chocolates priced at around $1 each -- have the texture of liquid silk and a way of causing very pleasurable hormonal imbalances. These candies are for mature audiences only: The meister sees sugar as an "adulterant" and uses no preservatives. Milk chocolates are 30 percent cocoa, and the darks top out at 85. Instead of gummy sweetness, you'll bite into flavors like gin, curry, mango, kirsch, gingerbread, angelica, pistachios, Arabica, Earl Grey tea, or salted butter caramel -- and it's not out of the question that someone might finish an entire 150-gram tin of chocolate-dipped candied orange peels in a single sitting (a New Times staffer holds this record). Pick your treats by the piece, the pound, or by the box -- an assortment of 24 runs around $25. The effect is rapturous, decadent, addictive.
Hong Kong City isn't the fanciest Chinese restaurant around, though the small, simple room is warm and inviting enough. With the arrival of some more ambitious and diverse Chinese eateries in the area, their Hong Kong and Cantonese cooking is no longer as exotic as it once may have seemed either. But Hong Kong City is like a river, flowing along steadily as the latest trends come and go. It's nigh impossible to have a bad meal here, with impeccably fresh seafood, perfectly cooked vegetables, a light touch with frying, and just-right sauces. You'll go back for the sublime casseroles, the pan-fried noodles, the scallops in black pepper sauce that melt in the mouth, the sautéed greens. And though they have the usual lunch combo specials, dim sum is available daily too.
No surprise that the best coffee in South Florida, with apologies to the Cubans, comes from Italy. Everything from the clean, polished design of Bacio's little shops to its kiss-inspired logo to the snowy peaks of gelato in ball-gown colors and textures of silk tulle to the dark-eyed girls and boys answering questions in halting English is as suave and sensual as a Roman holiday. But it's those fragrant roasted beans, their every gram of caffeinated goodness forced out under immense pressure, that turn regular coffee freaks into zombified groupies. Served in clear glasses (rather than mugs, or, God forbid, cardboard), the Bacio geloso (chocolate, coffee, foamed milk, and whipped cream, $3) or espresso shakerato (iced espresso frothed in a shaker, $3) or a double espresso made with foamed heavy cream and a dusting of cocoa ($3), so thick a spoon comes with it, are enough to make you believe there may be a better, richer life after Starbucks.
There are 43 varieties of crepe to dither over at La Creperie (32 dinner, 11 dessert) -- to say nothing of the duck, frog legs, fillet of sole, and pepper steak -- all of them fashioned in the traditional Breton style from buckwheat flour and served steaming from the griddle. Dinner crepes, priced from $9 to $13, are crisp and sweet as a lacy cookie at the edges and gradually move toward a melting, savory, pudding-like interior -- stuffed with ratatouille, sausage and spinach, blue cheese and apples, eggs and bacon, chicken livers, tuna fish, tomato, broccoli and mushrooms, or any combination you can dream up and ask for. An inexpensive carafe of house wine and maybe a plate of steamed mussels and you really start to get, in a concrete way, why the French are such annoying food snobs. Because they have every right to be! Make like a Bretonne farmer and order the simple ham and Swiss cheese crepe ($9.75) for a lesson in how so very much can be made from so very little.
Enough that Mario serves you the sourest, strongest mojitos, the most melting skirt steaks doused with citrusy, peppery mojo, and the sweetest, stickiest plantains you've ever tasted. Enough that he has kept pouring the wine, carting out the grilled shrimp and tamales and ham croquettes and shredded pork and red snapper and cuatro leches and coffee until you feel like you've been simultaneously petted, spoon-fed, and serenaded for an entire two hours by the handsome contingent of servers and by Mario himself, who will have called you "honey" roughly 250 times. Enough that you have been served the best possible meal in the most luscious setting, a meal probably cooked by grandmotherly elves imported directly from Havana on magical flying banana leaves, because there's gotta be some tropical pixie dust in this stuff to make you feel so good. Enough that you're lingering there at the table over the great conversation and the final sip of coffee, lingering for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and not a person in the place is making you feel like you need to move one second before you're good and damned-well ready. Enough. Enough. And then along comes the complimentary round of afterdinner liqueurs.
Forty-four years ago, Joan and Dale Jesus parked their truck full of locally grown fruits and vegetables on Sunrise Avenue and opened for business. They soon moved to an empty lot on the west side of NW 27th Avenue, put up signs that said, "You are entering Tater Town," and watched as their brightly colored umbrellas and tarps attracted a steady stream of neighborhood shoppers in search of fresh produce. Today, Tater Town is a throwback, one of only a handful of daily outdoor farmers markets' still operating in Broward County, and fiercely proud of it. Until Wilma, an enormous Banyan tree planted by the family was the market's icon, its green bulk overshadowing everything on the small lot. The regulars, most of whom have been around as long as the market itself, are still shaken by its loss. But Tater Town is soldiering on, doing battle with Broward County code enforcers over the right to park a farm tractor-trailer while providing its flock of customers, most of whom visit daily from the surrounding neighborhood, fresh produce at remarkably cheap prices. Though Dale has passed on, Joan Jesus still counts out change despite her 71 years, and her son, Randy, plans to keep the Tater Town alive long enough for another banyan tree to grow.
It's official: French is out. South Florida is evidently still nursing a grudge over that silly Iraq thing, because good French restaurants here have become as rare as ivory-billed woodpeckers in a Louisiana swamp. You think you glimpsed a flash of a red-, white-, and blue-striped flag or heard the distant notes of the Marseillaise, but it's an illusion -- that was actually the sound of another basket of freedom fries getting dumped into hot oil. But the grand old pre of la cuisine française is still going strong in Palm Beach, proving once again that money is wasted on the rich. Still, even jaded aristocrats pause for long moments of contemplation and gratitude over plates of Normandy-born Chef Jean-Pierre Leverrier's sautéed sea scallops in brown butter, his homemade foie gras terrine, a dish of roasted duck glazed with honey and thyme, or a perfectly executed Dover sole expertly filleted at your table. With his wife, Nicole, and son David, Leverrier has perfected these dishes over more than a decade, until they're as much a part of the Palm Beach landscape as Mizner architecture and 20-foot hedges.
Turn-of-the-century foodie buzzwords: locally grown, organic, sustainable, cuisine de terroire. If you live in Santa Monica, California, you merely throw on your yoga pants and traipse down to the daily farmer's market. But eco-friendly virtue is hard to come by in South Florida, unless you happen to live near Boynton Beach. There, the tiny but thriving family-run Woolbright Farmer's Market is selling the kinds of local products that usually get shipped north before we can lay our mitts on them. Like multiple varieties of Florida oranges and grapefruits picked from local trees: You can tell you're getting the real thing because they're plumb ugly on the outside -- pitted, spotty, misshapen -- and heavenly sweet when you cut them open. You'll also want to buy a bucket of giant, locally grown beefsteak tomatoes, sweet Florida corn, organic kale, all kinds of melons, blue and fingerling and new and sweet potatoes, organic pink-lady apples, big bags of fresh basil, and locally bottled lemonades. A Boynton pastry chef provides yummy homemade cornbread, banana cake, raisin and nut loaf, lemon poppyseed pound cake; nutritious (and delicious) giant cookies made from spelt, oatmeal, carrot, and chocolate chips, plus sugar-free and wheat-free muffins. There's organic milk to wash them down with. Plus McCoy's honey from Loxahatchee, millet and flax lavash flatbread made at Tampa's Sami's Bakery, stacks of freshly baked pies from the Upper Crust in Lake Worth, and dried fruit from Nutty Brothers in Pompano Beach. Who knew the examined life was so worth living?
Liz Dzuro
For once, the best is synonymous with the most. In the form of an $8.95 lunch buffet where you can fill and refill your plate with all the spice-redolent delicacies of India: a deliciously gooey sag paneer of spinach and homemade cheese; fragrant eggplant bharta; onion bhaji doused in cream and yogurt sauce; belly-warming channa masala; and creamy spiced peas and potatoes. There's the vegetable korma with cream, tomatoes, and raisins; three kinds of chicken; sweet pickled potatoes, coleslaw, and yogurt-cucumber dahi raitha; and a katchumbar salad of spiced onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Then you can return to the buffet table and do the whole thing again, backward this time, adding fruit chutney, hot sauce, and breathtakingly salty pickled vegetables, great for mopping up with endless baskets of handmade bread hot off the griddle -- dense, smoky naan and puffballs of fried poori. Gulab jamun made from scratch comes swimming in rosewater-infused syrup. It's a meal fit for a Delhi Sultan at Untouchable prices.
Not many chefs can strike an ideal balance between simplicity and surprise -- they leave you either yawning over another plate of calamari or spooning up pig's-foot ice cream -- but Naples-born Chef Rino Balzano, well-schooled throughout Northern Italy, takes Tuscan classics and brings them up to date. Balzano, known for "miking up" to serenade his customers with Italian arias, isn't shy when it comes to employing the famous game meats of Tuscany, like rabbit and quail, that might seem exotic to American palates. But simply grilled or braised in rich stock with wine and onions, then tossed over a bit of homemade parpardelle or polenta, these dishes become instant favorites, the kind of meals to give you separation anxiety when they're finally over. Rosemary-infused pork chops ($28) and veal chops ($44) smothered with wild mushrooms and cooked over an open flame, a wild mushroom-topped oval of fresh buffalo mozzarella ($12), and a finale of zuccato cream-cake ($9) with a glass of Moscato di Asti ($10), plus a list of 500 Italian wines, are just a few of the great possibilities worth exploring.

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