Best Martini 2014 | HMF | Food & Drink | South Florida

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.

In the not-too-distant past, few individuals knew the wondrous flavors of pho. The traditional Vietnamese street food bursts with flavor from a slowly simmered stock chock-full of spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, coriander, and cloves. The decadent broth is finished with noodles, meat, chilies, and fresh herbs. It's so good, CNN Travel listed it as one of the 50 Best Foods in the World. That being said, finding a decent bowl is not easy within the confines of Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the crème de la crème, you need to head to the Asian strip of State Road 7 — you'll know you're there when the shop signs are in unrecognizable languages. When you get there, look for Pho Hoa. The kind souls at this international Vietnamese chain have broken down the menu into sections for beginners, regulars, and seasoned professionals. The latter is rife with innards and off-cuts of meat (think tripe and tendon) that might turn off neophytes but will have pho-natics — pun totally intended — going pho-king crazy with delight.

The idea of ordering food from a Chinese taco truck sounds both enticing and a little scary. It's a melding of two cultures that would seem to have absolutely nothing in common. But when the late-night craving can't tell the difference between General Tso's and asada skirt steak, we're all in. The man behind this unusual East-meets-West marriage of cuisine is none other than David Peck, former chef for Tap 42 turned "chief chaco" thanks to his concept, dubbed Box of Chacos. From North Miami to Fort Lauderdale, Peck serves specialties like the Tio Tsao's five-spice pork with a spicy green salad, queso, sweet Chinese soy, and a spicy mayo or the Pink Chaco, with seared ahi tuna and sesame salad. Part of the success comes from Peck's attention to detail and an uncanny ability to fuse flavors — something he learned from Mark Militello's namesake restaurant. But it was at sushicentric Nobu in Dallas where Peck developed a palate for Asian fare, while Texas provided a wealth of topnotch Tex-Mex. And there you have it: everything to love about both cultures, wrapped into a single tortilla, priced reasonably from $3 to $6. Each Chacos taco is sold à la carte, including oddball items like the Spammers: two thick slabs of Spam fried and served with Colby Jack cheese and paired with a spicy kimchi slaw. Vegetarians, have no fear. There's also a meat-free number, the Shaolin Veg, which highlights deep-fried and breaded avocado with quinoa and spicy mayo. Go ahead and get your chaco on.

Why? If it's one thing chef Roy Villacrusis does best, it's sushi. His new restaurant is partly thanks to partner Charlie Soo, chef and owner of Talay Thai Cuisine, who had the foresight to partner with Villacrusis to create a commingling of creative sushi and sashimi alongside his own modern interpretations of traditional Thai cuisine. Here, the sushi is more a creative journey than regular roll-out. The chef-driven menu rotates often depending on what's in store at the local Asian markets. While sushi is entirely Japanese, Villacrusis doesn't stop there when deciding what he'll make, taking inspiration from dishes he's sampled across Asia from places like Hong Kong, Indonesia, and China. Although the restaurant seats 45, you'll want to nab a spot at the four-seat sushi bar where Villacrusis dishes out a five-course tasting menu for $55. Feeling adventurous? He won't stop until you say "when" if you can pony up per person for his omakase dinner; so far, he's managed to churn out as many as 24 plates in one sitting. Here, exotic ingredients take center stage but can push comfort zones. Most recently he's worked with whelk (sea snail), and one of his favorite dishes combines eel, foie gras, and banana crème brûlée. Don't be scared! Aah Loi is the Thai word for "delicious."

With the rise of veganism and ethical eating, steak houses have started getting a bad rap. Aside from the whole animal-death thing, there's a new study about the ill effects of meat-eating coming out, like, every other day of the week. But Butcher Block specializes in local and all-natural ingredients from sustainable farms in Florida and throughout the United States. The steak is from grass-fed cows, sourced directly from Creekstone Farms, which focuses on selling high-quality, pasture-raised meat to some of the best restaurants in the country. Though it's not your run-of-the-mill steak, the prices are not unreasonable. A massive 32-ounce porterhouse costs 79 bucks, while a more reasonable six-ounce filet goes for $29. Between the warm and fuzzy feelings and the damned good food, you'll be as happy as a pig in you-know-what by the time you leave.

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Some cultures take seafood more seriously than others. The Japanese are best-known for their love of fresh, raw sushi. Peruvians are all about  citric-acid-marinated ceviche. Spaniards love their paella. And Greeks are recognized for their simple grilled fish. The newest concept from Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, this high-end seafood spot on Las Olas takes cues from CEO Pano Karatassos' heritage. While it offers a wide array of composed dishes, its signature is its diverse selection of whole fish cooked in a Greek skara. Fresh local and imported fish (Buckhead Life also owns a seafood import business, so its fish is served within 48 hours of being plucked from the sea) are cooked in the traditional basket, which sits atop a charcoal grill, and are served with customary Greek ingredients: olive oil, lemon, oregano, and Santorini capers. From rarer selections like dorade royale (a Greek fish similar to red snapper) and Dover sole to local snapper, the options here are about as fresh as you can find — even if they required a flight over from the Mediterranean.

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