Best French Fries 2008 | Hurricane Grill and Wings | Food & Drink | South Florida

It's doubtful the great French Fry Debate will get settled in this century, much less in a single issue of New Times. But let's throw down the gauntlet here. The finest fries on which you will ever sear your tongue are doctored fries. They're adulterated and tweaked, they're cosmetically enhanced — the spudly equivalent of Joan Rivers only not so scary, and unlike Joan, you can make them disappear. Hurricane Grill and Wings, the brainchild of Florida franchise wingman Chris Russo, offers three variations on the one and only vegetable nobody ever spit into a napkin or sneaked to Fido. The first, based on Russo's original wing sauce, douses crispy taters with gritty parmesan cheese and garlic butter; another is fashioned from sweet potatoes glazed with maple and habanero syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar. In a third, "obscenely loaded" fries, the potatoes constitute a kind of tabula rasa for the inscription of melted cheese, bacon bits, jalapeño rings, tomato salsa, and ranch dressing. Naturally the basic fry must be, and is here, of first quality, free of transfats, crisp of shell and pillowy within, served still chuffing steam from the recesses of its greasy paper cone. Pick your poison and prepare to be blissed.

Difficult as they can occasionally be to deal with, the French have contributed much to the world's storehouse of pleasure. They've given us champagne, Shalimar, Chanel handbags, chanterelles, and a cuisine quotidienne — that's everyday food at everyday prices — amazing enough to inspire truck drivers and sailors to poetry. And they've bequeathed us the bistro to eat it in, places like Pistache, in downtown West Palm Beach, where us regular folk go to worship thin, beautifully seasoned steaks with pommes frites, hearty soupe à l'oignon, folksy cheese plates and chicken pies, sautéed fish with lemony green salad, and the honest carafe of red wine drawn from the cask behind the bar. Of course there are giant mirrors, red leather banquets, and marble floors straight out of some Left Bank brasserie, but it's the perfectly executed tarte tatin that makes you gasp merci, merci.

The owners of Taverna Kyma have had plenty of practice serving skordalia, hummus, and moussaka. With a half dozen other Greek restaurants in South Florida, places synonymous with an Aegean brand of paaaaartaaay, they've cornered the market. As much fun as the other joints are, with all that smashing crockery and table dancing, Kyma has turned out to be our favorite. Let's say the vibe is a little less vibrant, the Med-club music on the sound system a little cooler, the clientele a bit more likely to be falling in love than falling into the Intracoastal. Kyma seems to have smoothed out the kinks with better service and food than its trashier sisters. And with fewer distractions, you can better focus on their four versions of saganaki (flamed with brandy, seared with tomato, served with shrimp, feta with oregano); the umpteen seafood appetizers (crabs, scallops, shrimp, mussels, octopus, sardines, smelts, squid); the whole spit-roasted lamb or pig (order in advance!); the kebabs and vegetable meze. Add a few Kyma Koukla Cosmopolitans and you'll want to hop on a table, too — but take it on home.

Gustavo Rojas

Sonny's is what you might call an institution — by the time its birthday rolls around on May 29, it will have been sitting in the same quaint spot just north of Taft Street for 50 years. It's a family joint, with papa Sonny having passed down his legacy to his sonny, John Nigro, who's continued the fine tradition of honest, blue-collar food prepared exactingly. And although Sonny's is best known for its Philadelphia-style steak hogies (not "hoagies"), cut from rib eye beef and wedged into a housemade roll, they also serve one mean hamburger. They call it a hogie burger: An oblong, griddle-cooked patty of freshly ground beef that fits nicely on one of Sonny's famous hogie rolls. And it's nearly perfect. The burger is immensely beefy and charred on an age-old griddle. When you bite into it, the thing drips with a slurry of rendered fat, most of which gets soaked up by the luscious, cornmeal-studded roll. A 6-ounce burger will set you back only $3.75, and it's a meal on its own. Slather it with sweet, pickled peppers provided at every table, or add cheese for just $.50. Either way, it's a beef sandwich worth returning for, be it tomorrow or 50 years from now.

If you've ever wondered how the other half lives — the kind of folks who vacation in beachside luxury resorts and the marketing ladies who lure them there — there's no better place to decode the riddle than the silk-, mirror-, and crystal-bedecked lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan. Here everything is bigger than life, from the Daimler-sized chandeliers hanging overhead to the Chinese lamps that wouldn't look out of place in the Giant of Nod's sitting room. For a mere $33 per person from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays through Sundays, you'll ogle young parents with more money and children than they quite know what to do with (tykes in expensive frocks zoom through these lobbies like Eloise at the Plaza); you'll thrill to the bright red soles on the PR maven's $900 Christian Louboutin pumps; you'll wonder exactly what went wrong with the plastic surgery on that one, and how this one managed to pour herself into that pair of Gucci jeans; you'll marvel over the chutzpah of the guy yakking into his diamond-encrusted Tiffany cell phone even as his toddler tips headfirst into a plate of Devonshire cream. And all the while you'll be sipping your tea, flavored with chocolate or orange essence, and nibbling on your salmon and crème fraiche sandwiches or smearing raspberry jelly on your scone — all the better to fortify yourself for your own very different existence, which is looking sweeter by the minute. A 24-hour advance reservation is required.

Photo by Eric Barton

There are few rules in gastronomy as immutable as this: Everything tastes better wrapped in bacon. It's a fact that has not eluded the fine folks who flip, fry, dunk, and top the huge array of tubular beef under the yellow awning of Big City Dogs. Their signature frank, the ripper, is a testament to the beauty of excess: An all-beef dog dressed with a drape of fatty bacon and tossed in the fryer to cook till crisp. To finish it, Big City loads the puppy onto an airy bun and spoons on an orange blanket of nacho cheese sauce. The dog is actually an intersection of New Jersey's classic deep-fried ripper and a bacon-covered Los Angeles dog that's griddle-fried. The result is a crunchy, juicy, creamy mess — a meal with the prime objective of befriending your inner fatty. If that's not enough to entice you, Big City also makes about a dozen other regional dogs, including authentically topped Chicago dogs and spicy Polish franks split down the middle; Philly and Chicago-style steak sammiches, and some very capable, fresh-ground burgers.

In the bestselling children's book Madeline, our dear protagonist lived in a Paris boarding house covered in vines. In her world — full of adventures and classmates and nuns — nothing was ever really so bad, although she might encounter a case of appendicitis here, a roving band of gypsies there, and perhaps have a standoff with a misbehaving tiger at the zoo. We like to think — nay, we are certain — that if Madeline lived in West Palm Beach circa 2008, Sloan's Ice Cream is the place she would eat. It's mint-green on the outside, pink on the in, and packed with feather boas, toys, and an operational choo-choo train. The pink brick walls and polka-dotted booths are whimsical; the bathroom, legendary. (Featuring see-through doors which fog up when you enter, the loo's been the subject of a Travel Channel show.) Since opening about a decade ago, Sloan's has spawned three satellite locations. Decadent flavors on tap have included Apple Pie and Circus (cotton candy flavor with gummy bears), and the last time we popped in, our sundae was served in a flower pot with crumbled-up Oreo "soil." Honestly, though, Sloan's could make its ice cream out of cod liver oil and we're sure it would taste delicious. Nothing could ever be bad here.

A memorable New Yorker cartoon: Couple sitting at a restaurant table. Woman says to her companion, "If I go for the bread, stab my hand." There's no denying the stuff at India Palace — it comes straight out of the tandoor, steaming and fragrant with ginger, cumin, and coriander, or as puffs of warm air bounded by gossamer crusts, and goes into a "mixed basket" ($5.99) — puri, roti, chapati, naan, all glistening with ghee. Or as aloo paratha, a pillow stuffed with potatoes, as if one heavenly starch alone would be too stingy. Hello, and welcome to Carb-land! Given enough of such bread, you'd be hard-pressed not to mop up every smear of creamy lamb korma or palak paneer, served in beautiful copper chafing dishes. It's enough to make you forget that spinach is good for you — but then, anything doused in cream, loaded with cashews and almonds, and finished with clarified butter would have to be, wouldn't it? At this family-run restaurant, a pleasant, long room filled with Indian families divvying up the dosas, you'll find yourself eating across a menu that ranges from coast to coast of the Indian subcontinent: flaky samosas, idlis and vadas, potato croquettes, skillets of tandoori shrimp with vegetables emitting clouds of sizzle, fish moli, and much more at very bearable prices.

Longevity isn't always a test of quality, but in a locale where so many restaurants have tried and failed to cash in on the mysterious allure of CityPlace, Il Bellagio has hunkered down, guarding its fountain view in the central plaza and sucking up customers who stroll over to watch jazz singers, acrobats, and boy bands on the main stage. What those customers find, as they drift inevitably toward the breezy outdoor tables, the other 250 or so happy diners, and the phalanxes of servers calling for wine, water, and bread, is that not only can you get an excellent plate of homemade pasta for around 15 bucks (agnolotti, tortellini stuffed with veal, spaghetti Bolognese), but a full dinner can be had for under $40 — say, a bowl of fantastic lentil soup, a fine, tart salad of mixed greens with pear and honey dressing, and a bone-in double pork chop cooked perfectly pink in the center. Owner Tom Billante has pulled off an economy of scale (plus a level of culinary talent) that any Milanese mama cooking Sunday supper for an extended family would appreciate.

The unassuming Takeyama, hidden behind a plain door in a Plantation strip mall like one of those exclusive New York clubs that deliberately fly under the radar, has retained its sense of mystery and drama for almost 30 years. This is the semi-private purview of a regular group of sushi fanatics willing to put themselves in chef Kenny's hands and pay the price. You'll find them arrayed on stools at the sushi bar, moaning gently as Kenny passes them plate after plate. With its sallow lighting, ancient carpet, and worn woods, the place has the underground feel of a seedy spot for fetishists. Indeed, this isn't sushi for lightweights: You've got to take a few risks with your palate, to be willing to consume things that squish, ooze, and crackle in ways not at all familiar, to allow tastes and textures you've never experienced settle into your mind and find a niche. Try the syrupy-dry, high-octane sake imported from Kenny's hometown, or the braised black cod just arrived by plane that day with all the pomp of a celebrity. Oily mackerel, fluke, three varieties of toro, kingfish, halibut, sea eel, stone crab — you're never sure exactly what you'll find on the slightly dingy specials board at the entrance, depending on the season and Kenny's resources. Keep going back and you'll develop a dangerous hankering for giant orange clam, live sea scallop, sweet jellylike shrimp, raw quail egg, strange pudding-like uni, and other bizarre delicacies the chef and his enthusiastic waitress will inevitably foist on you.

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