Oh Cyrille, Cyrille, how we adore you, you big rouille-making brute you, with your leek tarts, your duck confits, your chicken pot pies, your soufflés au fromage! Our hearts simply break in two over your mystical lentil soups ($4.50) and surreal espresso milkshakes, your plates of assorted cheeses ($15.50), not to mention the BLT that is like a reinvention of the BLT ($11.50), a sandwich that somehow both confounds and enchants. It's as if you dreamed of mayonnaise, awoke, went to your kitchen, and in a moment of tortured genius conceived a sauce so tender and sad that it would suffice as the last meal -- with a simple boiled egg, perhaps -- for your dying beloved. All this we divine in you, Cyrille, and yet -- we are less than nothing to you, and you once told us (admittedly, you were a bit in your cups at the time, and we had been perhaps overlavish with our praise, embarrassing you) that you "didn't give a damn" whether we liked your cooking. You are so French in that slightly haughty but magnetic way that it makes us swoon, Cyrille. But most of all, how thrilled we are that this bright and lovely little café is now yours entirely, since you have bought it outright, and that you serve a prix fixe dinner (which is very expensive but no doubt worth every blesséd franc) from Thursday to Saturday, but only for four persons or more, and only for two tables per night, and only if reserved in advance. We wouldn't expect any less, Cyrille, from a man of your qualities.

Oy! Murray! Take a look at those stoy-gen! Congrat-u-lations, Murray, you and your lovely wife have found smoked fish paradise, and, believe it or not, you aren't in New York anymore. Sure, it looks a little like a Manhattan deli, what with the Hebrew National salamis hanging and the signs announcing a sale on chicken cutlets, but this place is truly a Florida-style testament to the fish that sacrificed themselves. Granted, all the swimmers had to travel a distance to get here -- the whitefish and chub are from Lake Michigan, the salmon is from Norway, and others arrived from Chile -- but the flavors are so rich that you'd think they had jumped out of the tank and into the smokers mere moments before they were served. If you've never tried smoked fish, take a taste of nova (nonsalty salmon) or sable for starters. If you are a connoisseur of the stuff, be adventurous and go for the smoked butterfish. Bet you can't find that in your local deli.

Mr. Fish Seafood
You can eat fish in a train,

You will like fish in the rain,

You will like it from a box,

You will eat it with a fox

(if you're lucky enough to be dining with one).

Owner Mike Montella, who started out as a charter-boat captain and is now nearly three decades into running this gourmet seafood market, knows a thing or two about our scaly and shell-covered friends. His fish is delivered fresh from Florida's West Coast, and he even has a local lobster diver who has been going down for about seven years to catch those local, clawless langostas. This squeaky-clean, stacked-to-the-gills place has just about every type of local fish you can imagine (pompano, snapper, grouper, mahi, stone crab claws, shrimp, lobster); it also carries cooked meals, spreads, sauces, soups, and even desserts. Rich butters are also available for dipping, flavored with everything from champagne to wasabi, and the prices are competitive. But here's the best part: You can have everything shipped overnight via the "Fish-in-a-Flash" program. Hah! Flying fish! That's something Dr. Seuss would appreciate.

Zona Fresca

Somehow, the folks who own Zona Fresca, a clean, bright little taqueria serving Cal-Mex style burritos, chiles relleños, and quesadillas, have managed to achieve a feat that has stumped many a local superchef: How to turn out a delicious piece of fish, consistently, honestly, and cheaply. For their fish taco, a fresh white filet is dipped in beer batter, deep fried in canola oil, then wrapped in a double corn tortilla stuffed with marinated cabbage and sour cream dressing. You pay $2.50 for this perfect minimeal, carry it over to Zona Fresca's salsa bar, which offers an array of mild to fiery sauces (we're partial to the tart, green tomatillo), squeeze on a bit of lime, eat your taco in a half-dozen bites, then head back to the counter for round two. You can spend the good part of a day engaged in this ritual, several times a week, for months or even years before you'll think of looking elsewhere for your fish sandwich. Crunchy on the outside, moist, light, and steaming inside, the fish is perfectly foiled by the bright salsa and crunchy cabbage. Zona Fresca looks like a fast-food joint with its walk-up counter and plastic utensils. It also acts like a fast-food joint -- you can get in and out in a quarter of an hour if you have to. But the strong flavors and freshness of their vegetables, lean meats, and beans cooked without lard are healthy enough to make lunch a guilt-free zone.

Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop

When a restaurant makes it to 32 years old, it has to be something more than a stroke of luck and a good location. It's the food, damn it -- or, in this case, the bagels. Indeed, after three decades, Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop is still reeling in the same loyal bagel lovers week after week. The menu covers all the standard bagel types (plain, poppy, pumpernickel), specials (jalapeño, bran), and the extra-special (bialy). The cost for a single bagel is 75 cents; make that $1.95 with regular cream cheese, $2.35 for chive or vegetable, and $5.99 for lox. If you dine in, be sure you're ready to eat, 'cause the food comes fast. The menu includes far more than bagels. There's all manner of breakfast bites, full dinners, and desserts. If you plan to do some shopping for the week, a dozen bagels costs eight bucks, and a quarter-pound of cream cheese goes for $1.59. Make sure that alarm clock's set for bright and early; Sage opens at 6:30 a.m. every day.

Totoritas Restaurant
Gustavo Rojas
Lord, what foods these morsels be! Now that sushi is a staple of public school lunches and sashimi has been accepted by the apple pie/Chevrolet contingent, let's not forget the other raw fish. Spelled differently depending on where in South America you happen to visit, Las Totoritas' version is among the most traditional. Cebiche mixto ($8) is the familiar staple; fish, scallops, and shrimp are soaked in lime juice and topped with onion. A black scallops-only version, cebiche de conchas negras ($7) is a variation you won't encounter often, and the family-sized cebiche platters ($14 to $18) are large enough for the soccer team of your choice -- provided you can all fit in the tiny dining room. The combination of fish and lime juice that collects at the bottom of the bowl -- leche de tigre -- can be served with a shot of vodka as a hangover cure. Or so the folks at Las Totoritas tell us. We'll take their word for it.
Hong Kong Market

Owner Benjamin Wong is big into numbers. If you ask him how long his market has been around, he'll tell you 15 years. Ask how many Chinese videos he has available for rental and he'll quickly inform you, "More than 100,000." (That's including the ever-popular Kung Fu Hustle.) If you inquire about a special type of teapot, he'll invite you to choose from more than 100,000 of them. OK, so perhaps they are not all to be found in his market, but he really seems eager to help customers find whatever Asian product they have a yen for. Never tried a sweet yet salty dehydrated plum (they start at $1.25 for a small bag) or dry shredded pork ($1.65 for a four-ounce container)? Just request Wong's opinion on the product and he'll likely split a bag with you. Wondering what kind of pudding is actually stored inside the oversized plastic kitty heads? He may bust one open to show you. Of course, he can't really share some of the teas he carries -- especially since they are used to treat maladies like gall bladder and liver dysfunction -- but you would probably feel comfortable talking about PMS or erectile dysfunction with Wong, and he'd provide just the tea for the job. And since teas start at only $2.95 a box, you'll find them much cheaper than a box of Midol or a blister pack of Viagra. If you have never set foot in an Asian market, stroll into Hong Kong some evening (the market is open until 8 most nights). You'll get an instant education and possibly even some samples.

China A

It's been an awful day. Now, it's getting dark. The rain is coming down. The exhaustion settles in. Those two rental movies on your passenger seat look awfully enticing. At times like this, the difference between good Chinese takeout and bad Chinese takeout is based on three factors: taste, price, and speed. China "A" aces the trio. Nestled in a no-frills spot in Northridge Shopping Center, China "A" serves up about 100 dishes under $10 -- from the classic General Tao's chicken ($8.50) to moo shu shrimp ($6.50). Have a bunch of mouths to feed? Try the Super Family Pack for $20.99; it includes three egg rolls, wonton soup, fried rice, and three entrée selections. Walk-in orders are filled in about ten minutes, while deliveries take about 20 minutes if you live nearby. Plus, you won't get MSG-laden dishes at China "A." Remarkably, the food is as good as any restaurant in New York's Chinatown. Hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9:30 p.m. Free delivery is available to select areas.

Sushi Jo

If the idea of sushi sounds as thrilling as another Blockbuster night or walking that nasty little mutt around the block, you need a little gastronomic counseling -- you know, something to perk up those taste buds and help you remember why you fell in love with raw fish and vinegared rice in the first place. Cast your mind back to your very first time: How silky the tuna, how scrumptious the spicy mayo; that salty, slithery bite of seaweed salad; wasabi's head-clearing heat. To help you renew your commitment to sublime Japanese specialties, get away to Sushi Jo in West Palm, where rolls are given lubricious names and tarted up in the equivalent of culinary lingerie: the Sex on the Beach roll ($12), the Release roll ($10), the South of the Border ($15). Your fish and rice comes decorated with illicit exotica like macadamia nuts, strawberries, and truffles. And there's toro -- the bodacious, pricey call girl of the fish world -- all over the menu. Still yawning? Jo's monkfish liver is aphrodesia on a plate, creamy slices of "foie gras of the sea" dusted with multicolored fish eggs and dressed in two sauces. Think of your relationship with Sushi Jo as a permanent pleasure, a kind of covenant marriage for which you don't have to travel to Arkansas. Beware, though, menus and prices differ at the two locations.

Tarks of Dania Beach
Photo courtesy of Tarks of Dania Beach.

"Eat clams... Live longer!!! Eat oysters... Last longer!!!" The motto emblazoned across the menu at Tarks is as catchy as it is true. Those raw clams and littlenecks (both $8.95 a dozen) are a low-cholesterol source of minerals and protein, and the fresh-shucked gulf oysters on the half shell ($6.50 for a half dozen, $8.95 a dozen) are a wet, plump, and succulent way to get your motor running on overdrive. Served ice cold, the conch salad ($7.95) is touted on the menu as "a local favorite." Tarks has been a Dania institution since 1966, and the folks know local seafood as well as anyone. Take a seat at the counter -- that and a few tables out front are your only options -- and you're sure to go elbow-to-elbow with tattooed bikers and leather-skinned laborers, all enjoying Tarks' cheap beer and tasty bivalves. Check out their daily specials, which include ten free wings with a pitcher of beer on Wednesday after 7:30 p.m. Make sure you try their tangy key lime pie ($2.25) too. Shellfish isn't the only thing Tarks does right.

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