Best Steak House 2007 | Strip House | Food & Drink | South Florida
One thing guaranteed to get the human male all hot and bothered is a juicy piece of USDA prime. Give him that slab of meat in a room decorated like an upscale bordello, complete with coy glamour shots of turn-of-the-century lovelies in various stages of deshabille, and you've got yourself one of the most successful steak-house chains in the country. Live from New York, Strip House has landed in Palm Beach Gardens to satisfy our every lust, and even the sour old feminists among us are glad: Those mashed potatoes cooked in a truffle-oil-laced crust, that pale and unctuous foie gras steamed in herbs, the tiers of crustaceans on their fresh seafood plateau, and most of all, those thick, fat-larded, char-grilled rib eyes — coupled with stellar service, dry martinis, and a wine list vast enough to bring a Bordeaux-flavored grin to the lips of the pickiest oenophile — are reason enough to throw any lingering principles out of the window and dig in.
It should be a crime to draw attention to such a serene spot, but were gonna do it. The Atlantic Coast line just north of Boca Raton has an odd mix of condo villages, luxury beachfront homes, and public parks with seemingly no beachfront commerce in sight. But hidden behind the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach is Latitudes, an unpretentious little restaurant that looks out onto grass-covered sand dunes. There's breezy outdoor seating shaded by huge umbrellas, as well as tables behind a glass-walled dining area. The stretch of beach ahead is usually empty, so diners can tuck into breakfast while contemplating the ocean and sea birds rather than staring at the bathing hordes. There are no lines to get in. No obnoxious young valet or packed parking lot to contend with. Just lots of hot coffee, a relaxed wait staff, and budget prices. The cheese blintzes with blueberries and heaping veggie egg skillets both go for $9.95.
If you can navigate through the clouds of New Agey blather that blanket Cafe Emunah like a swarm of Old Testament locusts — just ignore any invitations to take a spiritual journey and concentrate on your exploration of the specialty rolls — you'll find that this little Internet café, co-owned by a rabbi and a psychologist, offers plenty to get your creative juices flowing. The sushi chef is doing extraordinary things with fish (raw and cooked), oddly and deliciously paired with Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Floridian flavors. Though the range of seafood offered is fairly conventional — salmon, blue fin, hamachi, white tuna, escolar, mahi — it's all melt-on-the-tongue fresh. It's also kosher, organic, and imaginatively dressed — with everything from pineapple and coconut to miso aioli. A "peaceful roll" ($10) combines salmon with crisp carrot, golden raisins, walnuts, and Asian pear and dusts the plate with ground green tea. The Emunah ($12) wraps yellowtail with fried plantain and shredded coconut, drizzles it in sweet chili sauce, and dots the top with chopped cilantro and candied ginger. A "smile roll" mixes tropical pineapple and papaya with three kinds of fish, cilantro oil, and shredded coconut. The cradle-of-civilization-inspired "Moses roll" (the biblical symbology is nonstop) tops tempura salmon with taramasalata, avocado, chives, and crunchy shallots. And when was the last time you saw chickpea paste and eggplant spread at a sushi bar? Cooked seafood dishes are excellent here too. Settle in with your laptop and a pot of organic lemongrass mate and let the "inspire roll" (tuna, Asian pear, cilantro, masago, salmon) call down your muse.
Bucky's doesn't purvey the cheapest eats in the county, but the ratio of pennies out to pounds of pork in is a fine one. Were Bucky's take-out window a slot machine, any gambler who moseyed up would be an instant winner — at least between 4:30 and 10:30 p.m. A Texas beef brisket sandwich, for example, is an overgenerous pile of smoky, thin-sliced beef that makes you wonder how management ever figured they were gonna make a profit. This $10 heap of meat, like all of Bucky's sandwiches, includes a side of something equally messy, caloric, and bottomless — by the time you and your tightwad family have polished off the last of the "loaded up" baked potato and chipotle mayo-slathered hoagie roll, you'll feel like your miserly soul and the universe have come mysteriously into alignment. A plate of Kansas City baby backs ($21) with, say, an assortment of $3 sides — mac and cheese, creamed spinach, smokehouse baked beans, garlic mashed potatoes, and sweet potato fries — is a movable feast clearly meant to be shared with neighbors, strangers, and lovers. Think of it as a sort of potato-powered pay-it-forward.
Last year, the government in Tokyo, fed up with the proliferation of faux sushi spreading its evil tentacles across the globe, announced that it would offer official seals of recognition for restaurants around the world that served "pure Japanese" cuisine. But we South Floridians don't give a blowfish's fart for authenticity. We'd rather chow down on our beloved deep-fried, mayo-drenched, libidinously named familiars. And truth be told, a well-made American-style roll is a precious thing, whether or not it's accompanied by real grated wasabi root or the green stuff that comes out of a tube. Fah's Japamerican sushi has evolved from its skewed fusion crossbreedings into something adorable and unique — like a labradoodle or a puggle, only it doesn't attract fleas or run up vet's bills. Take the Volcano roll, a calorically magnificent hybrid working at peak performance: cream cheese and baked seafood (in mayo, natch) poured over a California roll. Or Sex on the Moon: fried shrimp with eel, asparagus, avocado, and masago, inside out and topped with tuna and tempura flakes. Eat a plate of these babies, and believe it, you won't be defying gravity for quite a while. That the specialty rolls at Fah are beautiful, delicious, satisfying, and relatively inexpensive probably wouldn't convince the Japanese food police to bestow their coveted stamp of approval. But we're sure enough giving them ours.
Being a vegetarian is so, well, 2005, isn't it? Your prissy, eco-friendly diet has lost a bit of its luster in the past year or so — what with the poisoned spinach, tainted onions, and deadly peanut butter. Isn't it time you started rockin' with the rest of us? The party's in full swing at Gol!, an all-you-can-scarf rodizio opened this year by an American couple who learned their stuff in Brazil. There are no finicky illusions at work here.You know what you're eating and where it comes from: big bloody chunks of meat impaled on swords tendered by gauchos, who roam these rooms like victorious bullfighters proffering grilled sirloin, hot sausages, bottom round, lamb loin, and breast of chicken — as long as you keep turning that little chip on your table green side up. This is a hunter's feast in celebration of the carnal. (There's a terrific salad bar too, but that's hardly the point.) For $39.95, you can participate in an ancient ritual that's been going on as long as we great apes have been skulking around: Kill it, throw it on a fire, eat it. Even better with a cold caipirinha cocktail (on the rocks, lots of lime). Come on, isn't this how the food chain is supposed to work?
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.

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