The idea of what constitutes excellent restaurant service divides neatly along gender lines — a Hooters maid tottering over with a tray of beers and burgers might impress our male colleagues, but this year, we girls are dishing out the laurels to those dishy waiters who've caused us so many sleepless post-prandial nights — the men of Paradiso. It's not that these hunkalicious European studmuffins call us "madam," drawing out lush vowels as if they were licking anisette-flavored lollipops. And it's not that they wear $1,000 suits or that they glide through the luxe rooms at Paradiso like dark leopards bearing little crystal flutes of lemoncello and swoon-inducing Italian pastries. Nor is it that they have consistently made us feel that only ridiculous American custom prevents them from falling to their knees and kissing our toes between courses. That they all look like Roman gods born of a union between Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni is not a factor we would ever consider in our deliberations. But the fact is: These good gentlemen have never spilled so much as a drop of wine, forgotten a detail, or failed to catch our eye when we needed a refill. They have materialized behind us to pull out our chairs, they have patiently advised us on wines, and they have flawlessly recited the specials. And then they have gently placed our wraps on our shoulders before whispering "buona notte," uttering the words with such sincerity that we have never, ever, imagined for a second that in a paradise inhabited by such angels, the night they're sending us out into could be anything less than magnificent.
First of all, don't call it a food court. The 12 food outlets that cover 20,000 square feet in the Galleria Mall are collectively known as the Piazza di Giorgio Café. If it sounds like a mall trying to hide its Orange Julius and Chick-fil-A stands behind a fancy name, you haven't dined on fresh-made sushi and homemade gelato. You can watch your veggies stir-fried or your salads chopped right in front of you, then sneak your tray down the back ramp where there are a couple of rooms usually reserved for private parties. But no one bothers you, and there's even a TV in there. You'll never eat in another noisy food court again without remembering the Piazza di...whatever it's called.
Let's be honest here. Winetastings are not really about tasting wine. They're about getting wasted. In that spirit, New Times would like to take this opportunity to announce a new holiday. It's a sort of Halloween for adults, a little something we like to call Hallowine. We'd like to thank WineStyles, a new and rapidly expanding franchise of wine stores, for making Hallowine possible. Here's the deal. There are 158 WineStyles stores total, and five of them are located in Boca Raton, Coral Springs, Wellington, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach Gardens. The small but elegant stores, which categorize their wines by flavor rather than grape variety or country of origin, all offer tastings geared toward novice wine drinkers on Friday nights (the price varies by location but is usually $10 or $15). So on any given Friday, you can get in a costume, recruit a designated driver, hit as many stores as you dare, and try six wines at each. (For the mathematically impaired, that's up to 30 samples in one night — surely enough for the purposes of our holiday). Screaming "Happy Hallowine!" and holding out an empty glass at each destination is optional. Each WineStyles store has about 100 different bottles of crispy, silky, rich, bubbly, fruity, mellow, bold, and nectar wines, most of which sell for under $25. This truly lowbrow wine experience should be captured on film and submitted to New Times.
Until recently, like the common cold, there was little hope of discovering a cure for "Insufram Chocaladus," known more generally by its street name, "The Sweet Tooth." The infliction is often diagnosed through a bevy of accompanying symptoms: excessive drooling when olfaction detects sugary baked goods in near proximity, deep belly grumbling, and an insatiable desire for lots and lots of yummy chocolate. But since Chocolada opened its doors in Hollywood, the medical disorder has been kept at bay — and an uncanny number of general practitioners have now switched careers to dentistry. Gourmet cakes are saddled up on the racks of half of the shop's pastry cases. Some glisten with freshly whipped meringue, others shine from a caramelized coating of natural sugar shellac, and the rare few take on the shapes of woodland creatures — like the genteel porcupine cake playing opossum on the bottom row. His cocoa powder body has neat lines of almond slivers protruding from the nape of his neck, across his back, and down to his rump; he's dressed to the nines in a swanky top hat and is holding a cane to boot. The other pastry cases tease and tempt with dozens of freshly prepared enticements, all selling for less than $3. Plump chocolate-dipped cherries stand at attention, while thick swirley, Seuss-like purple cones infused with violet and stuffed with mousse sit patiently below. But most adorable of all are the three-inch-tall, dark- and white-chocolate penguins staring at you with their candy eyes — they're so cute actually, that you're going to want to eat 'em all up.
Of course, it's just a chicken salad, but that's like saying a Silver Shadow — the one just now pulling up at the valet station — is just a car. Or that the six-foot-six bruiser in the Armani suit sitting at the corner table is just a football player. If you're wondering what chicken salad is doing on the lunch menu of a place that carries the imprimatur of a chi-chi New York chef like Daniel Boulud, just consider its pedigree. We have Robert Cobb, who invented this salad for starlets at his L.A. eatery the Brown Derby, to thank for what amounts to the centerpiece of an unimprovable luncheon — particularly when it's served on good china in a cozy room flooded with natural, midwinter Palm Beach light. The Cobb salad has survived since 1936, a classic beloved by hotels like the Brazilian Court, because, like a Shakespeare poem or a Jackson Pollock painting, it harmoniously reconciles contradictions. And also because it's the best hangover cure a $20 bill can buy. Hence, chunks of poached chicken breast, creamy avocado, kernels of sweet corn, bits of crisp salty lardons, heirloom tomatoes, barely firm egg yolks, blue cheese tossed with buttermilk dressing and the freshest salad greens go a long way — especially on a Saturday afternoon — to help you forgive yourself for the night before. Honestly, you probably looked adorable with that lampshade on your head.
C. Stiles
It's midnight, you're half-drunk, and your similarly half-drunk friends have decided they absolutely must have some dark chocolate with wasabi right now. For such half-drunk people, there's To the Moon. Its exhaustive array of gourmet chocolate bars, oddities (the original Dentyne! Skybars! Valo Milk!), novelties (chocolate penises!), and a bunch of unclassifiables (rosemary chocolates?) bulge from the small shop's densely packed shelves. Even a cursory examination of the shop reveals a few things too weird to be believed (Venezuelan white chocolate with Kalamata olives?), but most important, you can buy them up until closing time at 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and the only slightly less impressive 11 p.m. the rest of the week. Even at those late hours, proprietor Antonio Dumas will rattle off a story about each of the 60 varieties of licorice on his shelves. He's obviously an insomniac (or a vampire), but that's a godsend for late-night sweet tooths.
Any human life passes through certain immutable stages, and the transitions are marked by a corresponding change of preference in semolina. A 7-year-old abandons his infantile dependency on Cream of Wheat in favor of Spaghetti-O's. The adolescent develops her personal recipe for macaroni and cheese. The ever-voracious college freshman finds himself irresistibly drawn to rustic plates of lasagna or tortelloni stuffed with sausage. In later years, as our palates refine and our pocketbooks expand, we crave those very exotics we once spurned in youth: dark roast French coffee, English gin, black squid ink taglioline. This is food for grownups who have embraced their shadow selves and don't mind peering, occasionally, into the void: homemade al dente noodles the color of the sea at midnight, dusky clams still in the shell, grilled shrimp tossed in butter and wine — a dish at once mysterious, aphrodisiacal, and powerful. Il Cioppino, a glittering, seafood-centric Italian café recently opened by Gregorio and Rosa Filipo on Ocean Avenue, puts together a plate of it for those of us in the prime of our pasta-loving lives.
Remember the term CSA. If Florida goes the way of green energy and sustainable agriculture, instead of offshore drilling and corporate pig farms, the sort of Community Supported Agriculture practiced at Green Cay Produce promises a future of better health, a cleaner environment, and most important, less-tortured children. Farmers Charlie and Nancy Roe are developing "sustainable vegetable production appropriate for small, diversified growers in South Florida." The lucky families and local chefs who've managed to get on Green Cay's list of subscribers (they take applications for their waiting list beginning August 1) have learned that if you want your picky kids to eat spinach, chard, beets, turnips, and other normally disgusting things, the best place to get vegetables that don't taste yucky is from Green Cay. The sweetest peppers, the greenest onions, striped tomatoes and purple cauliflower, the smoothest eggplants, the sassiest French breakfast radishes, and the biggest squash blossoms are grown on their Boynton Beach farm, along with corn, lettuce, broccoli, cutting celery, fennel, green beans, and black-eyed peas — then boxed up once a week and delivered to subscribers' doors within a day of being harvested. Much of the produce is experimental: Green Cay partners in research projects with the University of Florida and seed-and-produce companies testing veggies for the Florida climate. What you get each week depends on season, rainfall, temperature, and bugs — but the mystery box that appears on your front porch Monday afternoons is part of the appeal.
Kids sure are growing up fast these days. The Internet, cell phones, and video games are all morphing like Power Rangers into a wall of technology that separates the little ones from their desperately lost 'rents. But there's still hope: Nothing makes a better segue into serious kid-to-parent dish sessions like tossing around the pigskin or shooting some hoops, and dinner at Wilt C's is just the right venue for that. You can teach the kids a little bit of the razzle-dazzle on Wilt's basketball court while you wait for your food to arrive, or head to the game room to tell them how you learned everything you needed to know about life by playing skee-ball. Back at the table, they'll school you on a little thing called convergence and help you surf the NBA league-pass on your tableside LCD screen. You'll also learn something about economics: "Mommy, if you get me a Wilt Chamberlain MVP card, I get free food on Thursdays." Score. Best of all, you'll be getting quality face time with the rugrats — opening the door for serious discussions about homework, boyfriends, and, if they're ready, Wilt's off-court record too.
A cheap lunch is almost never a filling lunch; La Granja is the exception. For $5, this Peruvian chain serves a tender, seasoned breast of chicken, hot off the rotisserie, covered by a heap of thick-cut fries. To get authentic South American taste, ask for the ceviche, a seafood salad with hints of lemon and lime. There's even something distinctive about the décor: booths along the sides, with free-standing, rectangular dinner tables in the middle, so there's room for every animal in your cubicle farm. A word to the wise, though: Consider a carpool. The popular prices make for a crowded parking lot on both sides of the noon hour.

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