Best Mexican Restaurant 2006 | Silvana | Food & Drink | South Florida
If you've run through the menu at your local taqueria a few dozen times and think your burrito tour has made you an expert in Mexican food, it's time to get cozy with Silvana. The focus here is seafood, and we don't mean fish tacos: Chef Antonio Brodziak takes his classical Mexican culinary training and gussies it up in contemporary trappings via New York, where he worked with Richard Sandoval at Tamayo. Specials from Brodziak's rotating menu, like sea bass with roasted corn and tamarind, tuna with tomatillo and mango chutney, adobo-marinated yellowtail, and salmon served with warm pico de gallo and black bean sauce, are priced between $17 and $22.95 and served by big, raven-haired Mexican boys whose smiles could melt a block of queso fresco. It's all buttery, beautiful, and sensually revelatory, but Brodziak's camarones Silvana ($18.95), grilled shrimp drizzled with pitch-black calamari ink and arranged around a sigh-inducing masa cake stuffed with black bean paste, is enough to make serious diners consider permanent relocation to West Boca. And you know, that's high praise.

When it comes to the staff of life, Europe rocks. If you're looking for something awesome with which to mop up your gravy, go straight to the Italians, the French, and the Germans. While the first two favor a crusty, airy loaf, the German version is typically too heavy to carry one-handed. It's also lugubrious in mood, slightly sour in flavor, and best when heavily buttered -- much, come to think of it, like the national character. Deiter and Norma Dauer, who've owned the German Bread Haus for 20 years -- that tiny gingerbread-looking concoction you've passed a thousand times on Commercial Boulevard -- import some of their flours from Germany and offer several entirely organic loaves studded with seeds and nuts (like their popular Jogger's Loaf, Survival Power, and other multigrains also sold at Whole Foods) in addition to classic German wheat-rye mixes, sourdough, sweet raisin-inflected stuten, Christmas stollen, and a cornucopia of rolls to fill Little Red Ridinghood's basket. They'll let you stand and taste (heavily buttered) samples for as long as it takes you to make up your mind. And by that time, you'll be packing up cherry strudels and bags of ginger and pepper nut cookies too.

Open the front door to Horizon and it'll look like a tiny Asian food mart. But follow the murmur of voices and clanging of pans coming from the back and you'll discover a busy little kitchen with seating for about 20 and lunchtime fare that'll snap you out of your burger complacency. Come here during the weekend and you'll likely stand in line with a cadre of Filipino workers from the cruise ships docked at nearby Port Everglades. Horizon is home-away-from-home for many of them, serving up the mainstay dishes of their homeland. Philippine food has been influenced by Malaysian, Chinese, and Spanish cultures, but it retains an identity all its own. Your best bet is choosing among the pork dishes, most of which cost $3.99. Adobo, considered the national dish, is pork marinated and sautéed in cider vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, and peppercorns. Pata tim is pork hock sautéed in a dark, sweet-vinegary sauce. Lechon kawale, or pan-roasted pork, is bite-sized pieces of belly that are fried in a wok to a golden, crispy brown. Some of the vegetable dishes use bitter melon, a squash that's too strong for most America palates, so it's best to ask if it's in a dish before ordering.
Somehow during each year's Best Of search, we find ourselves inexorably drawn by the scents of baking brioche, cardamom coffee cakes, and fruit tartelettes, the mixed berry custard strips, the lovingly handmade baguettes and loaves of country and Vienna and dark sourdough, the chocolate mousse cakes and the cream horns -- as we were saying, we're drawn by a mysterious, magnetic force back to Le Petit Pain, as if someone (perhaps the movie-star-gorgeous, 30-something proprietress, her equally delicious husband, and their adorable baby) had cast a spell on us. And the main ingredient of that wicked spell is quite evidently... butter. There is butter in the soft, rolled crepes, stacked like expensive Cuban cigars and filled with chocolate and raspberry sauce. There's yet more butter in the brioche, which begs to be taken home and dipped in egg, grilled, and showered with powdered sugar. There's butter in the butter cookies. As for the butter croissants, and even the chocolate croissants, which traditionally are composed by rolling a big block of butter between layers of pastry dough, let's just say that they're made in the grand old French tradition -- with lots and lots of butter. The rugalach and the biscottis, the brownies and the Dutch apple pies are also full of it, and so is the princess cake, the Swedish pizza, and the cheesecake. As you slide out the door, don't say we didn't warn you.
Photo by Ben Rusnak courtesy of El Tamarindo Cafe.
Two days after Wilma hit, the power was out everywhere. The streets were a mess. The airport was dark and silent. Taking a walk before curfew as twilight set in, we smelled carne asada. A policeman in a parking lot radioed another patrol: "I'm at Tamarindo. They're open. Come on over." A powerline repair crew sat at a table outside. A waitress came out. They were salvaging what they could from the freezer and cooking with propane: "We've only got carne asada and churrasco with rice and beans." Inside the dark restaurant, flashlights ricocheted around the kitchen. Candles flickered at a few tables and at the counter. Food came out in styrofoam. Even before their stint as the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, El Tamarindo won us over with its nicely charred grilled shrimp and beef, its pupusas encased in handmade-to-order tortillas, its sweet corn tamales and Sunday-morning huevos rancheros, and its "Exotica" salad with apples, queso blanco, and hearts of palm. All served on real plates, in an appealing space, with prices that will make you smile.
When a wealthy Palm Beach matron throws a party -- which she does pretty often -- you can bet you won't find her in her kitchen six hours before the big night rolling hundreds of tiny pigs into hundreds of tiny blankets. More likely, she'll be perusing the flats of refrigerated finger foods in the cooler at C'est Si Bon (mini quiches, fig and cheese flatbreads, Palm Beach cheese balls, bite-sized beef Wellingtons). And when it's the cook's day off and Milady wants a no-fuss lunch -- something like roast tenderloin of beef with horseradish Dijon sauce and potatoes boulangre -- she isn't going to Albertson's deli for her prepared foods. That's why this tiny gourmet shop in the Bradley House Hotel has triumphed through many decades, several changes of management, and the vicissitudes of fortune -- the owners have learned to satisfy a clientele a bit on the demanding (they'd call it "discerning") side. Well, there's no law saying we all can't take picky advantage of lunch specials like jumbo lump crab cakes with remoulade sauce; or red pepper meatloaf with mushrooms, or braised lamb shanks, curried new potatoes, and pea salad; or roulade of turkey, peppers, spinach, and mushrooms. In fact, a trip to C'est Si Bon on a Saturday morning to fill the picnic hamper with cream of watercress soup, maple Dijon-glazed corn beef, dilled chicken salad, and orzo primavera is an ideal first step for a trip to the beach, a pleasantly strollable three blocks up the street.
Now that even Wal-Mart is selling raw fish, you might say the sushi craze has jumped the shark -- or maybe jumped the maguro. But about a year ago, Yoshi Sakata closed the dual sushi place/fish market he'd owned for more than 20 years and moved across the street to reopen as a small Japanese restaurant. That's a loss for locals who needed a good fish market, but it's a boon for the Fort Lauderdale sushi scene, because Sakata is now focused entirely on dishing up the tastiest Japanese delicacies in this vicinity. Drawing on two decades' worth of relationships with fishmongers, Sakata knows how to get his hands on the most interesting seafood from here and abroad. At Wasabi, sushi is always presented in pairs, since the Japanese words for one slice and three slices are puns on the words to kill (obviously unlucky when you're feeding people). At this tiny restaurant, which holds fewer than a dozen tables and a small sushi bar, Sakata might offer flounder usuzukuri, deeply flavorful slabs of yellowtail, exotic thinly sliced swordfish, tangerine-hued mackerel, tuna so fresh it seems to be breathing, uni imported from Japan, a soft, chewy, red clam from Canada, or a beautifully presented dish of tamago, a sweet egg custard as individual as the chef who creates it. Sakata's sushi is beautifully textured, complexly flavored, and elegant enough to restore your faith in the art.
It's a minefield, buying fish these days. Almost daily, headline news trumpets that the seafood we thought we were virtuously buying (our morally incorrupt, farm-raised, Omega 3-loaded friends) is actually radioactive Godzillas simultaneously decimating the entire food chain and wrecking our immune systems, giving our unborn babies brain damage, and, yes -- killing dolphins! And all you wanted to do was put together a simple little fish stew -- maybe with a crusty loaf of bread. That's good reason to put yourself between the capable fins of the owners of Fish Peddler East (long since severed from Fish Peddler West). Because even if every single fish they carry isn't entirely baggage-free (the swordfish, the grouper, the sea bass), it looks so vibrantly, glisteningly fresh, you simply can't believe it could possibly be bad for you. As for the beautiful pink Key West shrimp in all different sizes, the fresh Florida blue, stone, king, snow, and dungeness crab in season, the fist-sized to fingernail-sized clams, the Florida and Maine lobsters, the flounder, lemon and gray sole, hybrid striped bass and rainbow trout from North Carolina, you can stuff yourself silly and still get to heaven. Fish Peddler also carries a fantastic array of bottled, frozen, and prepared foods, including yummy pickled vegetables, frozen squid rings, conch, tobiko, crawfish, smoked eel and salmon, fish dips, and jumbo squid steaks -- enough to keep that fish-eating grin on your face for a long, long time.
Scruffy single types, guys in suits, and a local chef or two are bellied up to the bar here at odd hours, like old barflies with the DTs. But it's the wahoo, not the whiskey, they're hankering for, and they'll have it straight, no chaser. Sushi Bon is a secret we'd really rather not share; this place tucked into a corner on sleepy Ocean Avenue has a total of four tables inside and a handful out -- it can't handle the masses. So if it's California and J.B. rolls you're after, please, go elsewhere. Serious sushi junkies turn up almost exclusively for the blackboard specials, fresh locally caught stuff and the pricey imports. You might find triggerfish sashimi, wild salmon roll, fresh toro, tilefish grilled with miso, grilled hog snapper, or that same hog stuffed into a fried tempura roll with mayonnaise -- the Japanese take on the Florida fish sandwich, priced from $7.50 to $13.95. The chef here also makes a beautiful tamago, a big, sweet slab of dense egg custard, and, occasionally, a hearty beef miso soup laden with exotic vegetables. Keep your eye on the board as you stake out your personal stool. This is going to be a tough habit to shake.
Yeah, yeah, the only way to buy fresh fish is to get it whole, take it home, and fillet it yourself. Or better yet, put a worm on a hook, cast the hook in the water, blah blah blah. Here's another idea: Find a fishmonger you trust and let him deal with the smelly fish guts. Then you won't have to mess up your pretty party dress. At Palm Beach Fish Market, the pompano and the dolphin have likely been made decent before you get there, the mussels debearded, the shrimp peeled and deveined. But because you trust that big burly hunk behind the counter (he's one of the owners) and because this market is attached to a hopping local seafood restaurant, no fish ever gets past its prime. The selection isn't vast, but it's convincing: enough Florida and local catch, like Florida hog, spiny lobster, stone crabs, and Key West shrimp, to keep home cooks happy. Also bay and sea scallops, clams, oysters, triple tail, flounder, and daily specials. If your recipe calls for something hard to find or you need your fish whole, just call in your order ahead of time -- you can manage that, can't you, Princess? PB Fish Market also makes entertaining easy with a selection of good wines, condiments, caviar, homemade crab cakes, conch salad, remoulade sauce, and a cheese-crumb crust for pan frying.

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