Best Dessert 2014 | White Chocolate Verona Passion Fruit Vol au Vent | Food & Drink | South Florida

Dessert used to be a special treat you had only on certain occasions. To the delight of our taste buds and the demise of our waistlines, this no longer seems to be the case. Even fast-food value meals come complete with dessert these days. So it takes a special treat that's hard to come by to delight our jaded palates. While it's not always on the menu, Ana Rivera's passionfruit Valrhona white chocolate vol au vent is the culinary equivalent of a dreamy cumulus cloud. Sweet yet slightly tart passionfruit filling is encased in lofty layers of buttery puff pastry. It's rounded out with the smooth and creamy texture of high-quality Valrhona white chocolate, which adds just a hint of fresh milk and vanilla. The mix of flavors and textures is just ethereal.

Everyone has a version of the perfect margarita. Some say it's as simple as fresh lime juice, a touch of agave, and a shot or two of good tequila. Others prefer fruit-infused simple syrups and bold flavors to make a high-end, sophisticated drink. For us, the real secret to a good margarita is balance. If the proportions are right, it can be one of the most seductively delicious cocktails you'll ever taste. And the newly opened El Camino in Delray Beach has the margarita mastered. If you're split between old-fashioned or fancy — or if you desire variety — you'll get it all here. The bar features more than 200 tequilas, everything from small-batch boutique labels to big-name favorites. When it comes to margaritas, the menu offers several takes, from the 50/50 (a smoky mescal and blanco tequila paired in one) to a spicy little chili-rubbed mango number (served with a dried chili pepper). The strawberry and guava takes are just as good, but the best remains the tried-and-true original. The classic is bar manager and co-owner Brian Albe's secret weapon, equal parts agave nectar, fresh lime juice, house lime bitters, and blanco tequila. When happy hour strikes, there's one — or three — calling your name at just $5 a pop.

A dark hole in the wall, this cavernous dive is a craft-beer geek's respite from the dude/bro-overrun area that has become Himmarshee Street. With close to 90 brews available, it's one of the largest collections around town. Anyone and everyone can find something to tickle their taste buds: The selection encompasses all areas of the beer world, with 17 on tap (14 of which are craft) and at least 65 bottles. Miller Lite, Bud, and all the mass-produced commercial brews of the U.S. and beyond? They've got 'em. Crafts from California's Stone and Michigan's Founders? Yup. Local favorites like Funky Buddha, Wynwood, and Due South? This place has it all. You'd have a hard time finding a better place to get together with your high-brow, micro-loving sister and your philistine Heineken-fan dad. Here, it's come one, come all; no one's going to judge.

Photo by Doug Fairall

Rice krispy treat, French toast, peanut butter and jelly, sweet potato casserole, blueberry cobbler, maple bacon coffee... No, this is not your dream 2 a.m. buffet list. These are real beer flavors brewed close to home at the Funky Buddha Brewery. This lineup of culinary-inspired liquid creations (ranging in price from $5 to $7) is putting South Florida's beer scene on the map — a massive feat, considering how far behind Florida has been on the craft-beer train. While the Funky Buddha name and bevs have been on the tips of hard-core beer fans' tongues for years, since the original Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery began brewing small batches in Boca Raton, this mammoth, 18,000-square-foot brewery opened just last year and immediately garnered a thirsty following. The new brewery provides the bigger space necessary for hosting bottle-release festivals and equipment big enough to crank out kegs for distribution. While the rest of the country is clamoring to get its paws on some of the famous Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, we get to sit back, relax, and take a sip.

In South Florida, ordering a frozen drink for us natives has completely lost its thrill. If you're looking to add an element of dramatic performance to your cocktail experience, then tap into Tanzy inside the iPic theater in Boca Raton. Here, mixologist and master sommelier Adam Seger — dubbed the "spirits guru" by Food & Wine magazine — offers a taste of something unique. His master creation is the Tanzy Liquid Nitrogen -189° C, a drink named for the temperature at which liquid nitrogen boils. What happens when you use this mysterious ingredient to create a cocktail? Instant. Frozen. Drink. The bartender starts by whipping liquid nitrogen into a metal bowl with a whisk, slowly adding a laundry list of liquor, including Moët & Chandon Imperial, orange and Key lime sour, Grand Marnier, and Belvedere vodka infused with Rare Tea Cellars lemon peel. As the liquid nitrogen begins to boil and smoke, it creates tiny crystals, a texture much finer than those created using a standard blender and ice. The result: a smooth, creamy cocktail delivered with show-stopping mixology performed right in front of your eyes. Forget the movie you came to see.

High-end watering holes imitating classic cocktail culture are totally in vogue these days. Nationwide, even here in South Florida, it's a return to drinking decadence, if you will. And no place does it better than HMF, the wine and cocktail bar at the Breakers in Palm Beach. Named for the Breakers' founding father, Henry Morrison Flagler, the majestic lounge is designed to capture the essence of the golden era of Palm Beach. Nestled on the site of the historic Florentine Room, where decades of socialites and Hollywood elite reigned supreme, HMF is every bit the glamorous beauty it suggests. The menu is equally glitzy, with its carefully curated list of classic cocktails that includes a truly awe-inspiring martini, the Palm Beach Lady. As the name suggests, it's a fancy drink for a fancy woman. It's also a modern take on the retro classic, the Pink Lady — the Cosmopolitan of the 1930s. A favorite of flappers and society matrons, the basic recipe calls for gin, grenadine, heavy cream, and a single egg white, shaken vigorously with ice and served in a chilled martini glass with a delicate froth at the lip. Today's version at HMF combines the seductive taste of Nolet's Silver gin, a rich and spicy liquor that highlights white pepper and lemon notes. It's given a touch of sugar with grenadine, a bit of tang from maraschino liqueur, and half-and-half for a smooth finish. Delightful and edgy at the same time, just like your favorite dame.

Last night was one of those nights. Today is one of those horrendous hungover mornings. Your head is pounding; your stomach aches; the sight of sunlight makes you want to vomit; you can barely get your brain together to figure out how to deal with it. You need some hair of the dog. You, fine friend, need a bloody mary. Sure, you can find a mixture of vodka and tomato juice at just about any place with a liquor license. And yeah, it will help you wash away your pain. But you're under the weather today; you deserve to treat yourself to something special. You deserve brunch and a bloody at Blue Moon Fish Co. The beloved waterfront restaurant offers a selection of creative bloody marys ranging from traditional with celery and olives ($8) to Fiery Maria, composed of Avion tequila, chipotle-spiked bloody mary mix, cilantro, and garlic with a garnish of lemon and lime ($12). Whichever potion you choose, it'll have you up and running (or back on the couch) in no time.

There's this idea that cocktails aren't serious unless they're served in a dimly lit bar by a bartender (or mixologist, sorry) donning suspenders and an ironic mustachio. Sure, this caricature knows how to make a mean Manhattan and some other dark-liquor drinks. But that's only one small subset of the cocktail world. It's all about options, people. And when you're melting away in the South Florida heat, a heavy winter whiskey drink is only going to add to the pain. Sometimes you need a lighter and more refreshing change. That's when you need to come to this place. With a large outdoor bar (and another dim air-conditioned indoor drinking option), Jack's Grumpy Grouper is the Florida version of the cocktail connoisseur's dream. Where most bar programs these days are focusing on bourbons and whiskeys, the staff here is mixing up classic tikis and inventive takes on pre-Prohibition drinks. The ubiquitous mojito is enlivened in the namesake Jack's Mojito with house-infused golden delicious apple rum ($8). The average Manhattan is refreshed with freshly grated ginger and George Dickel No. 12 whiskey in the Ginger in the Rye ($8.50) — it's a cool and invigorating take on a strong spirit. Uninspiring vodka is kicked up a notch in the Hibiscus Fizz ($8.50), with house-infused strawberry vodka, fresh lemon, and homemade hibiscus topped with Champagne. Drinks are just as "crafted" as at the speakeasy, but you can rock up in a pair of shorts and flip-flops without feeling out of place.

Although it's crammed into just another strip mall hugging the shores of Commercial Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale's Sheila's Conch and Wings is a welcome shelter for the weary. A grass roof slides down to glass front doors; inside, simple tables are laid out in a room painted the same bright yellow as the Bahamian flag's center stripe. And although the menu is heavy on fare from the islands — including killer conch fritters and plantains — the real business here is the wings. Sheila's has somehow figured out the sacred, magical, fabled recipe for chicken wings that are the perfect balance between succulent meat and crispy goodness. Basically this is as close as you're going to come to setting off a fireworks display on your taste buds without causing first-degree burns (note: You might get some third-degree ones, though — the "spicy" topping is a sparkler). Until last year, Sheila's operated out of a location on Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach. The 561's loss is the 954's incredible gain.

You've finally decided to jump headfirst into Asian cuisine. Rather than pick up run-of-the-mill curry paste, you're doing it on your own, from scratch. Now, you just need to pick up the ingredients. The recipe calls for lemongrass, Thai red chilies, galangal, fish sauce, shrimp paste, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves, and a bunch of other crazy ingredients. You've been to Publix — no luck. Whole Foods isn't cutting it either. You need an Asian market, like, yesterday. You need to come here. Vietnamese in orientation, the shop specializes in ingredients from around the continent, spanning from Southeast Asia to India to China and Taiwan. Whether you're looking for Japanese miso, Thai chili sauce, or fresh Chinese bitter melon, this place has it all. In addition to packaged sauces, dry goods, housewares, and frozen products, it offers exotic produce and a selection of meat and seafood. There you have it: Asian ingredient problem, solved.

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