Once upon a time, there was an itty-bitty sushi bar. At its busiest, it could accommodate maybe 30 people, even with every stool at the bar taken. Regulars who adored the stern and dignified chef swore by the locally caught grouper, triggerfish, pompano, wahoo, and snapper that were magically turned into divine rolls and sashimi platters, sometimes served with true grated wasabi root. They tended not to tell their friends about Sushi Bon, fearing that they'd never get a table once the place got too popular. Local chefs made daily pilgrimages, and so did regular people who loved the real Japanese deal — like the amazing beef miso soup or the special tamago the chef sometimes made if he was in a happy and relaxed mood. Then a fantastic thing happened: The ice cream store right next door moved away. And before we could say "Hai!" the itty-bitty sushi bar was completely made over. It acquired a new room full of palm trees and prints of crashing waves, with lots of tables and polished tile floors. There was a whole new staff of waitresses rushing around and three or four new guys helping behind the bar. You no longer had to bring your own pinot in a paper bag because they now sold beer and wine. Everything had changed. But still, there was the same list of specials markered on the white board, with the same very fresh grouper, teriyaki scallop rolls, imported uni, and our favorite spicy wahoo. The hungry chefs, the Lantana fishermen, the picky sushi lovers, and the Japanese families came back and stretched their legs out under the new tables. And they saw that it was good.
South Florida's fish markets can't compete with Seattle's Pike Place or San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, but they can be just as inviting. Inside the Cape Cod-style building known as Pop's, the friendly folks behind the counter aren't showmen, but they are more than willing to help you find the exact type of sea-dweller you need. Looking to broil some fillets? Try some orange roughy or fresh Florida pompano with a bit of butter and lemon. Cooking clam chowder too? In that case, skip those expensive littlenecks and go for these large, meaty guys right here. Taking the easy route? Mom's famous chowder is darned good too — it's right there next to the steamed crab legs, shrimp and artichoke spread, and her homemade smoked fish dip. Whatever your fancy, be it glistening golden crabs, sushi-grade tuna, lobster tails as big as your head, cowboy steaks, alligator tail, or fresh local produce, Pop's will point you to it. They'll even give you a bag of ice to keep things fresh before they send you on your merry way to do a little seafood show of your own.
She must have days, like the rest of us, that are less-than-optimal. Her house hasn't fared well through the past couple of hurricanes, and she sometimes talks about picking up and moving to Atlanta. Still, she can't stop herself from ending every sentence with the word honey — as in, "We haven't seen you guys for a while, honey. Do you want a glass of chardonnay, honey, and let me tell you, honey, it's been crazy around here, and, honey, you look really pretty — I love that shirt." The honeys, and what falls between them, are delivered in a breathless, lightly accented rush through an ironic and tender smile, punctuated with soft drumbeats as she pats your arm or shoulder. And then her compact little figure — full steam ahead — will be off with a whoosh to get your soup or to honey another table into abject submission. Sushi Jazz would be a nice enough sushi bar without her — all those blond woods, the private booths, the raised platform where you can kick off your shoes and sit on the floor, tucked in next to screens of curly bamboo. The rolls and sashimi here have always been good, and it's right across the street from the best movie theater in Delray. But if it weren't for Maggie and her encyclopedic knowledge of your preferences, phobias, and personal histories, you might not be drawn back quite so often. As it is, this feels like just the right place to be.
The foods of Asia are as varied as the languages spoken among Asians themselves, and when it comes to culinary delights, the best local markets are often bona fide ethnic enclaves that cater to specific cultures and nationalities. At Phuong Nam, a Vietnamese-owned market in Plantation, all products specific to Vietnam are here — from pho noodles and lychee drinks imported directly from Hanoi — while food from neighboring Laos and Thailand is on display as well. Entire rows are devoted to the various styles of Mama noodles common in Southeast Asian households (they put Top Ramen to shame) as well as obscure items (like dehydrated fungus). True purveyors of Vietnamese/Laotian cuisine should love the jackfruit and khanom buang (crispy stuffed pancake), and since Vietnam is renowned for its coffee, it's refreshing to find a local venue with a genuine selection of Vietnamese brands like Trung Nguyen and Café Demonte. The staff at the family-owned market is friendly, but English isn't their strong suit, so you'll have to let your eyes and nose be your guide.
We're not alone on this one: The Food Network has anointed the Cornell Café one of the top three museum dining experiences in the country. The open-air terrace restaurant that overlooks the Morikami's expansive lakeside gardens draws museumgoers and local diners alike. After running Chinese restaurants in southern Palm Beach County, owners Christy and Fu Chen settled on a menu of a pan-Asian mix of traditional (sushi, salmon teriyaki) and nontraditional dishes (almond-crusted grouper in a citrus and coconut sauce). Their all-Japanese staff bustles to serve a packed house on weekends with prompt yet not-too-pushy service. And they smartly stock plenty of beat-the-heat fare like chilled sake and cool sushi that goes down perfectly after strolling around the gardens under the hot sun.
The quest for a bona fide New York pickle will take connoisseurs to the Festival Marketplace, but that's not all they'll find in the 30,000-square-foot farmers' market. Bins overflow with fresh artichokes and asparagus. Apples and bananas look freshly picked, their colors brighter even than they appear under the fluorescent lights of Whole Foods. By the time shoppers have finished raiding this treasure-trove of produce, they've worked up a powerful appetite — which makes the nearby international food court a godsend. The Festival Marketplace has one of the few Broward County farmers' markets that's open daily — so when a recipe calls for rare, fresh legumes, this can be a one-stop shopping destination.
American-style tapas seems like an imperialistic usurpation of a Spanish tradition, which involved mostly cold appetizers that accompanied a drink before lunch and dinner. Tapas bars in the States "improved" that tradition and made tapas a meal unto itself. The Falcon House does the standard American thing: You order as you go, the small plates of shrimp mojo and semolina-crusted squid emerging from the kitchen as you order a round of, say, steak Diane and tender scallops. But it's the hip acid techno music and sophisticated blood-orange walls inside and the comfy wrought-iron outside, as well as an excellent wine list, that separates the Falcon from its competition (which is growing as tapas enjoy a second renaissance). Best of all, it's open till 2.a.m., which means you can grab a bite on your way home — or your way to the next destination.
If you can navigate the crush inside these tiny aisles — where cans of Italian tomatoes and olive oil from Sicily and red wine vinegar are balanced acrobat-style, ascending to the ceiling — and if you can get past the cheese counter — with its hundreds of pounds of brie and cheddar and asiago and huntsman and smoked gouda from France, Italy, Switzerland, Vermont, Spain, Denmark, and England — you'll still inevitably have to stop cold at the wall of parmesan. This is Parmegiano Reggiano, about 25 or 30 full-sized wheels of the stuff — arguably the most beautiful and delicious cheese the world has ever produced. The Boys Farmers' Market is like a permanent proposition, standing right there on Military Trail, that thou shalt never go hungry for all that thou most craves. At least if you're craving boxes of panettone, locally made honey, bitter chocolate, 26 kinds of flavored hors d'oeuvre spreads, mozzarella and basil salad, whole sopressatas, grilled vegetables, golden delicious apples, slabs of grouper, piles of shrimp, 12 kinds of sardines, sprats, baby octopi packed in olive oil, bags of bagels, bunches of fresh flowers, olive oil crackers, freshly baked blueberry pies, bulbs of fennel, dried apricots, and loaves of semolina bread. But don't even think about dropping by on a weekend, because you won't get within 300 yards of the place. The Boys is open 8:30 a.m. till 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 to 5 on Sunday. Watch out for the guys hawking daily specials, they're hard sellers — at $3.99 for a wheel of brie, you'll end up carting home half a dozen ("An amazing deal! You can freeze them!")
We Americans, it turns out, aren't really as fat as we thought we were. Apparently, the hysteria over obesity was yet another plot generated by media types to sell books and score interviews on Oprah. Now the news is that we're just pleasingly plump. The best place to celebrate the demise of the blubber brewhaha is over a calorically dense house-made microbrew and a few ha-has at Brewzzi, a locally owned pair of restaurants that has never been accused of skimping on portion sizes. You'd think the guys who own this place had grown up on some distant gravity-free planet, so blissfully ignorant are they of the bad things sour cream and mayo can do to your waistline. With "appetizers" like gorgonzola chips, spinach and artichoke hearts dip, and Brewzzi primo nachos swimming in refried beans, who needs entrées? Well, you do, because few ways of spending an afternoon are as pleasurable as parking your ample butt at the Brewzzi bar under one of the flat screens to work your way with great deliberation through fried fish sandwiches the size of your head and Brewzzi's generous margarita pizzas.
Midmorning on Sundays, you'll find them in clean uniforms (white shirts, red aprons, green hats) brandishing cleavers and shears over hard surfaces — a universe composed of sharp, shining edges and vulnerable flesh. They're the dozen or so men and women of La Reina Carniceria, and they're doing serious work for customers lined four deep at the counters, holding numbered tickets and frowning thoughtfully over racks of ribs. These butchers face reality square and stare it down — no mirrored glass windows slide closed to protect anybody's delicate sensibilities here. If you want your side of beef carved into identical slivers, you're going to find out fast what it looks like to cut up a cow. Or a chicken. Or a pig. They heft dripping cuts above their heads to get a customer's nod of approval. They wrap 20 pounds of muscle in white paper — enough to feed a family of 45. You tuck your haul into a cart and off you go to the refrigerated aisles of more esoteric specialties: pigs' trotters and cow hooves, oxtail and jars of pickled pork skin, tubes of tenderloin and plastic containers in which chicken hearts float in murky broth. There are smoked turkey wings and chinchulines, chorizo and beef tongue. There are nine-pound hens, pork necks, and bulls' testicles. Need some real cock for your coq au vin? Wondering where to score pig liver for a persnickety pate? A rack of beef ribs — on sale for $1.59 a pound — makes an impressive impromptu barbecue (hickory wood charcoal sold here too). Hit the bakery for loaves of hot pan cubano on your way out — it tastes just fine with all of the above.

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