In thematically seamless style, Café Chef Marc Benoit has whipped up a little something to pair with the Norton's excellent impressionism and Matisse exhibits this year, not to mention its stellar permanent collection of impressionists -- a menu of French-accented small plates, soups, and salads as varied as the many faces and moods of Monsieur Matisse's favorite model, Laurette. Nibble on paper-thin slices of smoked salmon brushed with crme fra”che and flecked with capers, explore a palette of assorted French cheeses with crusty bread, or apply a thick impasto of sinfully rich chicken liver mousse and port jelly to crostini. More substantial are a classic croque monsieur; a niçoise sandwich of tuna, olive tapenade, and roasted peppers; or full luncheon entrées including snapper á la Provençale, steak minuit, and omelette du jour filled with Comte cheese, French ham, and spinach. Add final varnish to a lovely meal with French roast coffee, a pear tarte amandine, or fallen chocolate soufflé cake in an atmosphere utterly conducive to the contemplation of beauty.
Don't second-guess the old man -- he hates early-bird specials. And as long as his teeth and his nether parts are still in working order, he'd much rather eat grilled steak and ogle booty, thank you very much. There's hardly a better place to do both than Brazilian Tropicana, the oldest churrascaria in town, where the meats -- lamb, chicken, pork, sirloin tip, sausage -- are marinated and spit-roasted over a wood fire, then dished out by roaming gauchos who travel the semicircle of tables set up around the stage, slicing dripping meat off their "swords." It'll take Grandpa back to the days when men were men, damn it! And women weren't afraid to be girly girls! That's the second part of the equation: A post-dinner floor show begins with one slinky torch singer crooning Carmen Miranda favorites, progresses through semi-naked couples dancing romantic and body-contorting bossa novas, to a finale where the ladies come out wearing nothing more than G-strings, pasties, platform shoes, and ten-foot headdresses. Believe it, an hour of watching the most perfectly proportioned and muscled bodies in Lauderdale will make Big Daddy feel like a colt again.
The gravitational force exerted by this big pink moon upon the ocean waters directly opposite its outdoor terraces is roughly equal to the forces of attraction exerted between a plate of Luna Rosa's ricotta-stuffed ravioli and your mouth. Or between your giant South African double lobster tails and your dining partner's fork. Which is to say that, scientifically speaking, if you look hard enough for a good family-style Italian restaurant -- serving homemade pastas, sea bass with olives and tomatoes, and Super Tuscan vino by the glass -- that also happens to provide the sound of breaking waves and the smell of salt spray as a side dish, you'll eventually find it.
Feeling that hollow sense of emptiness deep inside? Are you alienated, cut off, isolated, disconnected from all meaningful human contact? Can't get a date because you're too (paralyzed/terrified/stoned) to pick up the phone? Got the post-Cartesian metaphysical blues? Well, here's a little pill to make you larger, friend: It's shaped like the homemade chicken wonton in a jewel-colored bowl of soup at Lemongrass Asian Bistro. We defy you to swallow this mouthful of nirvana and cling to your insecurity complex simultaneously. It can't happen. And after you're warmed up and relaxed a little, after you've maybe worked your way through a plate of tiny whole marinated octopus or Vietnamese summer rolls and you're starting to feel just a mite less misunderstood and rejected by the entire family of man, we suggest you take a look around and notice that there's stuff happening beyond the horizon line of your own damned navel -- like, f'rinstance, that trio of babes at the next table sucking on flash-fried, soft-shell crab legs.
If the late Edward Hopper were around to re-create Night Hawks -- his celebrity-filled ode to late-night dining -- he'd probably put his four famous faces at the Floridian (AKA, the Flo'). With the sort of retro diner look that befits a 24-hour joint, the Floridian takes on a surreal, time-in-reverse quality during the wee after hours. And yet, the menu is extensive enough to quell any peculiar cravings (whether it's a burger or a banana split, this is some good eatin'). Try finding a western wrap at Denny's or one of the Flo's tasty veggie burgers. Granted, at 3 a.m., you're probably not too concerned with counting your carbs and calories. The first priority is to stay awake for the drive home, and yes, the Flo' has the joe. Unlike the watered-down coffee at most diners, you don't have to suffer through cup after cup just to get a little buzz. One cup of the Flo's espresso ($2.95), Americano, ($1.95), or latte ($3.25) is enough to stave off those visions of dancing sugarplums -- and dining Night Hawks -- until you hit the sack.
Joining Wine Living's Wine of the Month Club is like hiring a personal organizer at a fraction of the cost. Owners Giancarlo and Mary de Falco will let you keep the junk in your closets and file cabinets, but they'll streamline your wine profile into something chic and sophisticated, clear your head of unnecessary wine factoids, and help you focus on the good stuff. For $35 a month, members get two bottles of far-ranging, interesting vino -- some of it downright eccentric -- a red and a white from boutique wineries across the globe: like a fizzy, celebratory Giacomo Vico Birbet, or a dignified Cabernet Merlot blend from West Cape Howe. Plus a couple of descriptive paragraphs detailing grape, region, and vinification -- down to descriptions of the boxes your precious grapes were transported in. Because the de Falcos are ordering for members in bulk, you'll inhale the bouquet of some excellent bargains. And never drink Mad Dog again.
Jesse's bills itself as "a fine soul food restaurant." No argument here. This spacious strip-mall café cooks up soul food with a twist of Caribbean and a dash of Haitian. There are, of course, the hardcore dishes: fried chicken livers and gizzards with fries for $4.99 and side dishes, such as collards, speckled butter beans, and okra/tomato, for $1.50 each. Breakfast includes the usual fare along with the soul standards of catfish, grits, and pork chops. Weekday lunch specials cost $4.99, with a revolving menu of catfish, meatloaf, turkey wings, and stewed chicken, along with two sides. You can get the works for dinner with $10.99 Jesse's Plates, which come with a choice of smothered or fried pork chops or fried chicken, along with five sides. But it's the dinners of oxtail stew, curried chicken or goat, and jerk pork that really prove Jesse's is a step above the average soul food eatery. And those dinners come in two sizes at nice prices: small for $7.59 and large for $8.99.
Tabatha Mudra
Truly transcendent deli, the ultimate comfort food, is all about trust. Some will quibble over details -- the altitude of the sandwich, the sourness of the pickle, the correct brand of house mustard. Those elements are important; at the deli altar of Pomperdale, they're implicit. Step inside the Lauderdale landmark and take a look at the grinning, crinkled mugs working the counter, and you simply trust the 60-something grandpa with your corned beef on rye. He's made it a thousand times before today, and, God willing, will make it a thousand times after. Blessedly nonkosher, Pomperdale will gladly slap a slab of Swiss on top of your house-cured pastrami, but they also excel in the more esoteric selections of Jewish culinary tradition: the sublime knish, the curative chicken soup, and the enigmatic kugel. Their smoked fish selection swims with the stuff bubbeh adores, nova and lox and whitefish and even pickled herring. Owned by Larry and Joyce Vogel for more than 25 years, Pomperdale has the kind of relaxed, homey atmosphere perfect for a leisurely Sunday brunch (including free refills of homemade iced tea), which of course is the best possible prelude to the inevitable Sunday nap. Trust us on that.
Ben's has seven locations, and six of them are in an area bounded by Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. The seventh has trailed a flock of hungry, kvetching snowbirds down to Boca Raton and set up a palace big enough to hold anybody who happens to be looking for whole rotisserie-roasted empire kosher chickens, beef-tongue Polonaise with raisin gravy, homemade stuffed derma, noodle pudding, kasha varnishkas, spinach logs, potato knishes, braised beef brisket, chicken in a pot, or Hungarian goulash. As it happens, quite a few people are looking for all of the above. Those same folks are also mighty happy to find homemade pickles and cole slaw to pile on top of their house-pickled corned beef sandwiches on dense, chewy rye; or tongue, salami, and pastrami sandwiches slathered with Russian dressing. Not to forget the chopped liver and gefilte fish platters. The Ben's "hush puppie" (no relation at all to the Southern version) rolls a Hebrew National frank inside a potato knish and then rolls that inside an egg-roll wrapper. Like the sign on the wall says, "Eat, Eat. You need your strength to worry."
If we're going to sin, let's sin extravagantly. By all means, let's precede the sin with a boat trip down the New River past the glittering manses of even fatter and richer sinners. Let's indulge our sin -- an "All You Wish to Eat" barbecue of ribs, chicken, and shrimp ($32.95 per person!) including piles of potatoes, cole slaw, bread, and chocolate cake -- on a "private tropical island" with a 360-degree view of the water. And could we just follow up our sin with an All New Hilarious Variety Revue, including some magic tricks, perhaps? If we're going to be sentenced to an eternity of eating rats, snakes, and toads, we'd like to condemn ourselves during four hours afloat with a bit of "humorous commentary" from the captain, and, of course, a pleasantly plump tropical moon rising in the background.

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