Javier is behind the bar tonight, not that it would really have mattered. The stalwart drink slingers of California Café are all experts in the art of the martini. "On the rocks or straight up?" There's only one right answer to this question. Upon hearing "Straight up," he nods and flashes a smirk, suggesting that he would have scoffed at any other answer. Good answer. He then properly prepares the vodka -- ask secret agent 007 how this feat is accomplished -- and pours it into the glass. He adds the requested twist of lemon in the form of a slice of rind an inch long, cut to regulatory perfection. He wipes the rind once around the rim of the martini glass, then adds it to the drink. Finally he takes a small atomizer from a shelf near the cash register and adds a fine mist of vermouth -- one spritz only -- as the crowning touch. Javier sets the finished product down on a cocktail napkin and inquires, "Anything else?" How could there be? James Bond would weep.

You know meat loaf, right? It's greasy, dense as a brick, and forced upon you by your mother; the kind of meal that makes you want to cough, shovel everything into a napkin stashed in your lap, then head for the john. Well, when you travel to Jamaica, you can forget everything you know, or think you know, about meat loaf. In parts of the Irie Isle, it's closer to a loaf of fresh, steamy, scrumptious bread with ever-so-pleasantly spicy meat inside. And closer to home -- at the Jerk Machine in Fort Lauderdale, to be precise -- you can enjoy this flaky crust and moist filling for a mere $1.79. Though there are seven Jerk Machines in North Miami-Dade and Broward, the Fort Lauderdale store is the only one where you'll find this meat loaf. "We've been test-marketing it for the last month and a half," says manager Deanna Allen. "Sales have been really good." So next time you're in the market for something fresh, cheap, and better than a burger, stop loafing and sample what the Machine is cranking out.
Geronimo's Casual Gourmet Grill & Bar
You have to love it when a restaurant offers a special called the "10-Ounce Sauteed Lobster Tail with Fresh Muscles." We always told you those homonyms were tricky. Sea watt wee mien?

The gringo lingo of the appellation doesn't give much clue here that chef-owner David Peraza's fare is not just authentic Mexican, but haute as well. Yet one glance at the tongue-twisting menu, filled with items such as ixtapa poblano (guajillo peppers stuffed with blue crabmeat, green olives, and Chihuahua cheese) and xochimilco (an ancho chili-flavored crepe stuffed with cuitlacoche, or corn fungus, and serrano peppers), and you'll be convinced. A little cultural interference comes via American items such as chicken wings on the menu and a '70s disco pretending to be Studio 54 upstairs, but nothing short of an earthquake could interfere with the palate's pleasure here -- and that would only be if, thanks to the shaking, you accidentally bite your tongue.
Adam Fine's career began in his living room as a hobby. Then he got the idea that has propelled him to become a veritable pioneer in Broward County. The thought process worked kind of like this: South Florida is really hot. Hot climates tend to call for lighter beers, but a lot of people really love dark beers. So he came up with 11, a dark beer that is at the same time refreshing and not as heavy as, say, Guinness. He toiled over his home-brew lab, and when he came up with the right recipe, he took it to a microbrewery in Orlando and, lo and behold, he had himself a little business, which he calls Fresh Beer, Inc. Today, Fine markets four types of beer, which one can find at several bars in South Florida, the most centrally located being The Poor House in Fort Lauderdale. Swing by one night and raise your glasses to South Florida's number one braumeister.
When you go veggie, must you accept that the days of ordering a McDonald's Supreme Bacon Quadruple Chili Cheeseburger are over? Hell, no! Check out Sara's, a kosher restaurant that boasts a thick menu of vegan and vegetarian food. This location and its sister eatery in Miami serve ersatz-carnivore fare such as no-chicken quesadillas, sandwiches bulging with faux corned beef, and country-fried fake steak. Though the food is good, you could always pop a Boca Burger in the microwave at home for a similar culinary experience. No, the thrill comes from sitting on a McDonald's-style bench and ordering something sloppy. It feels so wrong -- in a good way.
If a neighborhood restaurant is all things to all people, then Gusto's is the epitome of a "won't-you-be-my-neighbor" eatery. For the "just folks," it's club sandwiches, chicken quesadillas, and calzones. For the kids, it's chicken tenders, crayons, a place mat that doubles as a coloring book, and a soda with a lid and a straw. For the late sleepers, it's Saturday and Sunday brunch from 11:30 a.m. till 3 p.m., with the added attraction of $2 bloody marys. Executives can have their salmon BLTs and blackened chicken penne catered or, if both money and time are short, have the menu faxed to the office and preorder for a quick, on-premises lunch. And ladies drink and play pool for free every Thursday night, while the hard drinkers indulge in two-for-one happy hours daily. What could be friendlier than that?
There once was a chef named Roy

Whose Hawaiianish fare was pure joy.

He opened some places

We're stuffing our faces

And now he's a happy boy.

Echo
It's rare enough when a new restaurant opens in Palm Beach that has all the elements for success: a stellar management team, plenty of money behind it, and a topnotch bill of fare. But it's even more unusual for one critic after another to crack that oyster and find a perfect pearl every time. That's the reception Echo has received, and it's worth repeating: This pan-Asian jewel, according to the experts among us, is flawless. Dishes hail from the four corners of the Far East and range from Thai shrimp soup to tempura pork tenderloin to Peking duck, carved tableside. What they all have in common is simple: purposefulness of preparation. The purpose? Culinary greatness. The result? Ditto. Or should we say "Echo"?
Pizza Girls
Girls, girls, girls: You've got a good thing going here. You set up shop with absolutely no real pizza experience and manage, in only 18 months or so, to convert everyone in the area to a PG junkie. Your competitors say it's sabotage. They say making a "lasagna" pizza is sacrilegious. They can't quite figure out what you do to make your New York-style pizza so crisp and traditional yet innovative at the same time. To tell the truth, we can't either. But we know we gotta have it. So don't, under any circumstances, blow this gig. And yes, girls, that's an order.

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