If you believe in reincarnation, you probably think you'll come back in the next life as a sky princess or a space wizard. But odds are just as good you'll eke out your latter days as a skink. Dramatic transformations are the stuff of the afterlife. Hell, even restaurants undergo major shape-shifting in their reincarnations. Thus did the Armadillo Café, a gargantuan and popular Southwestern food palace, bite the dust in the summer of 2004 and reappear six months later as KM at the Grapevine. The new place is a tiny neighborhood fooderie wedged into a gourmet shop, open on Wednesday through Saturday nights only and offering a drastically pared-down menu. But there's no net loss of flavor, imagination, and personality in these scaled-back digs. Among our favorites were a $27 lobster quesadilla and a special: the "wild" Tasmanian salmon, which went for $26 and was simply poached in white wine and butter, nestled in a bed of sautéed spinach, and served with slim, crunchy green beans and broccolini. Kevin McCarthy, one of the partners from the old Armadillo, now has breathing space to come out of the kitchen and gab with customers, to change the menu weekly, and to experiment with exotic fish from around the globe. Favorite 'dillo standbys join new creations, the atmosphere is cozy and congenial, and the plain-Jane looks of the place can't conceal a heart of purest gastronomic gold.

Brush up on your American Sign Language before heading to this stylish Fort Lauderdale eatery... because the torturous clamor prevents any meaningful conversation. What with the metal chairs and concrete floors, the tables on rollers, and the exposed ceilings, you can hear every barked order, every dropped spoon, resonate. Still, you're in sublime South Florida, darling, and you'll know it from the gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce ($14), the flat-screen TV, and the hot -- if sometimes unpunctilious -- waiters. Who needs talk, anyway, when you can just make goo-goo eyes and blow kisses across the table? Sometimes what's left unsaid is what really counts in matters of the heart... and, perhaps, of the stomach.

The best way to find great Chinese food -- unless you happen to live in San Francisco, where it rains jasmine tea -- is to disguise yourself, Inspector Clouseau-style, and trail a Chinese family at a safe distance. A little careful sleuthing and you'll end up at Silver Pond in Lauderdale Lakes. Getting a table might be another matter, since Hong Kong families, and New York families, and Vancouver families will have gotten there well ahead of you. But the few minutes you'll have to cool your heels will allow time to inhale the scents wafting from passing trays, to pick the exact lobster/crab/flounder you want from the wall of fish tanks, and to peruse the 200 dishes on the menu. Some of these inevitably may be new to you (braised sea cucumber); some may be old friends (pork fried rice). But it's the in-betweens that will take your breath away: a whole sea bass steamed in ginger and filleted tableside (market price); a whole barbecued Peking duck for two ($35) served in two courses: the honey-sweet, oleaginous skin wrapped in a pancake with hoisin sauce first and the cut-up duck with vegetables to follow. A bamboo basket of scallops with homemade bean curd ($11.50) is as delicate and creamy as the inside of a courtesan's thigh; salted, chopped, and flash-fried crabs ($9.50) are as rich and steamy as that same courtesan's pillow book. And if you've been feeling a little slow on the uptake, shark's fin soup ($10) is an ancient -- and delicious -- remedy for what ails you.

"Language of Love Spoken" reads the sign in the window. Not really, but where better for a sotto voce discussion of the nice and naughty things you'd like to do with that plate of shrimp maison au beurre blanc ($14.25 lunch, $25.95 dinner) than at the French Quarter? In this centrally located spot, Paris, the city of amour, meets the Big Easy, city of sin. Nestled at a table under glass skylights, partially hidden by tropical plant fronds that are becomingly lit by gas lamps, you'll almost certainly get something going here. But if you fail -- or things are looking grim -- impress your dinner companion with your savoir faire. Just casually mention that the duck à l'orange ($22.95) was Grace Kelly's favorite dish and that the baked Alaska ($12 for two) was invented by master cooks of the Chinese Celestial Empire. It won't hurt your case to choose a bottle from one of the best wine lists in the city either. Here's a hint, you big lug: There's no romantic problem that a double magnum of bubbly won't solve.

Good help is so hard to find these days. Sure, you'll be well-attended at the Captain's Table on the QE2 or in the grand dining room of the Ritz, but the servers at most neighborhood cafés might as well have been trained at Fawlty Towers. Consider it a lucky break if you don't end up with another table's crab cakes when you ordered steak Diane. Unlike so many of its brethren, Herban Kitchen has a service system choreographed like a Balanchine ballet: You're taken care of by a half-dozen pleasant and unruffled dudes who know how to maintain a precise balance of friendliness and distance. They come and go, filling glasses and removing plates. They don't share their first names or interrupt you mid-brilliant dissertation. And you won't find yourself stuck in that dead zone between dessert and the check when the entire staff disappears outside for a smoke.

Someone forgot to tell the guys who serve sandwiches, salads, and smoothies at this bustling downtown Fort Lauderdale lunch spot that they have every right to behave as über-efficient Soup Nazis -- Get 'em in! Push 'em out! Instead, just for walking in the door here, you're likely to be handed a paper cup of freshly blended strawberry juice. Sandwiches (e.g., salmon salad, turkey breast, grilled chicken, natural peanut butter) are fresh, quick, painless, $4 to $6. The orders are accurate, the smoothies ($3.50) whirled while you wait. Cashiers say thanks. Upon asking for a takeout telephone number, a customer received not only an employee's cell phone but a chocolate-chip cookie. ("Best cookie you'll ever eat," it was said.) The capper came when an employee took time to rebound a customer's errant, wadded-napkin jump shot into a trash can. "Try again," he said, and when the second shot missed even worse than the first, he scooped it up and threw it away. No need to pad the stats, nor belabor the misses.

Anthony DiCarlo must have spotted an unfilled niche in South Florida: There are maybe two natural food restaurants operating between Palm Beach and North Miami -- if you don't count the chain cafés like Whole Foods -- to feed thousands of hungry health nuts. Sure, there are plenty of fruit smoothies and bean burgers, but when dinnertime rolls around, the organically minded diner is reduced to unwrapping another frozen Ethnic Gourmet. Life sucks for vegetarians too; the best we can hope for is a job offer in Santa Monica. But DiCarlo's Low Fat No Fat Café is winning converts even among slobs who thrive on regular doses of animal fat. The sophisticated décor -- polished wood floors, stainless steel and bamboo accents, 30-foot ceilings -- is a deliberate snub to the dowdy Birkenstock-beleaguered health food restaurants of yore. Organic fruits and veggies, lean beef and chicken, fresh fish, organic eggs, and whole-grain baked goods, carefully handled and lovingly cooked, deliver a flavor punch that happens to be healthy. DiCarlo, who's spent ten years in the fitness industry, doesn't believe in additives or preservatives, so pregnant ladies and nursing mothers can chow down on a dish of spicy jambalaya, a "tofu club" layered with grilled vegetables and brown rice, or a plate of seared sea scallops without guilt (dinner entrées run $8.95 to $18.95). And DiCarlo believes in dessert: A roasted pear or a sesame-coated banana may make you swear off Mom's cupcakes with buttercream icing forever.

Faced with a menu of full entrées, some diners find it hard to pick just one. Dim sum is the Chinese solution to indecision -- the ultimate sampler plate. And this bright and airy restaurant offers about 60 items from which to assemble a unique, tailored-to-your-tastes meal. Your best bet is to pile up on the numerous and savory items that cost only $2.45. There's turnip pudding, shrimp-stuffed eggplant, baked BBQ pork bun, beef tripe, and the exotic chicken feet in black bean sauce. Each amounts to a small appetizer. There are other selections that range from $3.50 to $10.95, such as shredded pork pan fried noodle and roast duck on rice, but your best bet is to stick to the numerous and less costly fare. If there's one don't-miss item -- and you'll certainly develop your own list after a few visits -- it's sticky rice with lotus leaf for $3.50. Rice is heaped over saucy diced pork and duck, wrapped in a massive lotus leaf, then steamed to perfection. Dim sum is served daily until 4 p.m.

Though Nikki Marina claims it is "knot just a place to dock your yacht," it wouldn't hurt to arrive in one. Granted, you can pull into a slip with whatever showy marine vessel you managed to inherit from Daddy, be it a catamaran or a Cigarette, but don't dare pull up in a Boston Whaler and expect the staff to run to you with martinis and oysters on the half shell. Come here when you want to be seen relaxing with the leisure class, lounging in linen accouterments, sipping mojitos, and noshing on Nikki's Delight of the Sea; this $200 platter is stocked with Alaskan crab legs, Maine lobster, poached shrimp, oysters, crab claws, Volcano coconut tiger shrimp, and sushi. Polish it off with a tres leches meringue ($8), if you still have room available in your belly. No doubt you'll wish to linger a while, mesmerized by the rhythmic lapping of the Intracoastal waters and the soothing crash of a large fountain. On a sunny Sunday, take in the brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with its sushi, salads, pasta bar, fresh-made waffles, and omelets ($37.95 per person). There's nothing more Florida-chic than eating right near the boat slips without a bothersome umbrella or a drunken bunch of catfish-feeders around.

This place takes its seafood seriously. Though the menu is merely two pages long, there are so many succulent selections that it may take you and your lovey some time to decide. Choices include delicately steamed Prince Edward Island mussels marinière ($7), shrimp cocktail served with a nontraditional zesty mustard sauce ($8.75), Maryland lump crab cake kicked up with black bean/tomato/corn salsa ($8.75), and Atlantic salmon served cold smoked with crème fraiche and a small, light, buckwheat pancake ($8.75). You can also get the salmon sautéed with cucumbers, dill, capers, and lemon ($22). Plus, you can add a broiled, stuffed Florida lobster tail with drawn butter to any entrée (four ounces, $9; eight ounces, $18). Pure marine mayhem for the taste buds. A real treat is the tuna lovers' tasting menu, which includes the moist, ruby red slices starring as sashimi, tartare, and spring roll filling with wakame ($8.50). Not into the raw stuff? Take heart. The basil risotto with shiitake mushrooms and grilled shrimp, scallops, and mussels is simply heavenly ($24). Regardless of what you choose, Brooks will get it right. After all, the place has been serving seafood to South Floridians for nearly a quarter of a century.

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