Duck confit, a specialty of southwestern France, is one of the world's oldest preserved foods and, because of the technique involved in its preparation, serves as the ultimate litmus test for judging the skills of a French kitchen. First, the duck gets dry-rubbed in herbs, spices, and coarse salt. Next, it is soaked in brine, drained, dried, cooked slowly in fat, covered in fat, packed tightly in a jar, and tucked away in a cool dry place. Finally, the duck gets removed from storage and placed in a hot pan until the skin is crisped and the meat warmed (don't worry about this being bad for your diet -- no carbohydrates!). Chef-owner Claude Pottier's duck leg confit is, quite simply, the finest around. But those who want to duck the confit can find equal comfort in duck pâté, escargots drenched in garlic butter, and all manner of fresh seafood. Cafe Claude also boasts a heady wine selection, friendly service, moderate prices, and a dessert cart so complete that it resembles a patisserie on wheels. Last, and least, Claude's early-bird special is Deerfield Beach's finest.
Hoffman's Chocolates
More than 30 years after Hoffman's Chocolates started in a dinky Lake Worth storefront, the place is now one of the country's premier candy makers. Sure, it's long been a favorite of Palm Beach County sweet tooths. They've flocked to Hoffman's for years, if simply for the coconut cashew crunch, a heavenly sweet and sugary concoction that goes for $6.95 a pound. But now the secret's out. Bon Appetit magazine has named Hoffman's one of the country's best chocolate makers, and the Wall Street Journal has claimed it has the best Easter baskets anywhere. The $75 wicker basket comes stuffed with toys and candy, including a six-ounce bunny and an eight-ounce fudge egg. Working out of a one-acre headquarters in Greenacres, Hoffman's employees claim the secret is in the chocolate recipe, made from a blend of beans, mostly from Africa, that are specifically roasted for the company. Hoffman's claims to have a cocoa powder and cocoa butter content that rivals any of the big-name candy makers. That's the secret, apparently, to the well-known chocolate-covered strawberries; Hoffman's are cell-phone sized and covered in so much dark, white, and milk chocolate that it pools beneath them. They're available only on Friday for $19.95 a pound. There's talk at the company of expanding outside Palm Beach County, but with five stores and an airport location, you won't need to make a long drive for some of the country's best chocolate.

Results from a recent government survey on diet and health show that the average person gained three pounds from just perusing the menu at European Deli & Restaurant. A breakdown of the numbers reveals that those who read only the menu sections regarding Friday and Saturday specials put on only a pound; these include Wiener schnitzel, schnitzel à la Holstein (with egg, capers, and anchovies), sauerbraten (marinated beef in sweet and sour gravy), and roulden (beef rolled around bacon, onions, and pickles). A glimpse at the descriptions of homemade smoked kielbasa, stuffed cabbage with boiled potato, fried leberkase, and pig knuckle with sauerkraut added a pound and a half. The final half-pound was tacked on by combining the knowledge that all dinners come with dumplings or spaetzle and the understanding that you can't really eat here without indulging in at least one tall, iced pilsener glass of Erdinger draft. The conclusions of this survey didn't take into account the European Deli's numerous imports or prepared foods, and further experiments are under way to gauge the possible poundage put on by reading about the numerous thick and succulent sausages. The wurst is yet to come!

Americans will consume more than 3 billion pounds of fish this year, but some of us know so little of piscine matters that we buy our seafood at the supermarket, where "catch of the day" should more accurately be referred to as "catch of the week." At Delray Seafood, the creatures are delivered to the back door daily, and fishmongers clean them so quickly that, to paraphrase Satchel Paige, they can put a knife to a snapper as you turn out the light and there'll be two clean filets on the table before the bulb goes off. Freshness is the whole game when it comes to seafood, but variety is still the spice of life, and Delray hauls in lesser-known species such as Spanish mackerel, butterfish, sea trout, and mullet -- all shining atop glittery crushed ice. Prices generally range from $4.95 a pound (flounder) to $13.95 a pound (Chilean sea bass), which is slightly higher than the supermarket, but the difference in quality is quantifiable. Delray Seafood has taken pride in its products since 1960, when Nicholas and Nellie Griek opened the shop. Their son and his family run things now and are knowledgeable enough ichthyophiles that they can help you choose wisely for dinner and perhaps also tell you what piscine and ichthyophile mean. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

No matter how amazing Charlize Theron might be in her next role, it's money in the bank that she won't win another Oscar in 2005. Why not? Same reason that Mark's Las Olas hasn't copped a New Times Best Of restaurant award since 1999: Panels don't like to repeat themselves. Still, Mark Militello remains one of Broward's very elite chefs, and though his South Beach, Mizner Park, and City Place restaurants have their strengths, after ten years, this Las Olas branch remains the true Mark of excellence. Cozy booths, luxuriously rich mahogany tables, and a bustling open kitchen set the stage for Militello's cutting-edge cuisine, a magical mix of classical cooking techniques, the freshest of ingredients, and a menu that changes daily to accommodate what's in season. Whether it be the simple pairing of chilled Washington state Kumomoto oysters with green apple mignonette, the inspired glazing of duck with mango honey, or the hearty, homestyle plating of pork tenderloin with braised cabbage, chestnuts, and apple jus spiked with Southern Comfort, Militello hits the mark every time. Desserts such as Dutch Forreli pear and blueberry caramel tart with made-on-the-premises white chocolate almond-crush ice cream, seriously attentive service, and a faultless wine list seal the deal for Militello's flagship establishment. Enjoy this accolade, Mark -- like Charlize, next year you'll likely relinquish the crown. Readers' Choice: Chez Laurent
Johnny V Restaurant
Michele Sandberg
Over the past decade, chef Johnny Vinczencz, formerly known as "The Caribbean Cowboy," has traveled from town to town or, more specifically, from Astor Place in South Beach to De La Tierra at Sundy House in Delray Beach, titillating diners with robust American cuisine dashed with Spanish and Caribbean additions and a healthy dose of gastronomic ingenuity. Now, he's settling home on the range or, more specifically, on Las Olas Boulevard, with an eponymous place all his own. A great restaurant, however, relies on more than just a respected name. It begins with distinctively delectable food, like Vinczencz's signature "short stack" starter of buttermilk pancakes, grilled portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomato butter, and sweet balsamic syrup and on daring, unexpected gestures like a special of Tibetan yak. A great restaurant has a certified sommelier to help navigate a first-class wine list -- or, more specifically, someone like Steffan Rau, who previously served this function at Jean George's Vong restaurant. It features waiters who, like those at Johnny V's, are amiable, accommodating, and above all professionally trained. It isn't necessary for a top eatery to offer 30 exotic cheeses and a lounge where tasty tapas tantalize between cocktails in order to qualify for greatness, but it doesn't hurt. Nor do desserts like a tall wedge of dark, dense chocolate cake layered with bananas, caramel, and peanut butter mousse, with a scoop of malted milk ball ice cream on the side. Johnny V is the new kid in town -- or, more specifically, the premier new kid. Readers' Choice: Sublime
15th Street Fisheries
If you haven't taken a boat on the Intracoastal, you don't know Fort Lauderdale. Seeing the multimillion-dollar mansions gives you an idea of why there's so much corruption here. These people need to steal just to pay their damn property taxes. But if you're looking for a good place to drop your own hard-earned coin, get to the Fisheries. Climb on the water taxi at Riverwalk, fork over five bucks, and motor there in style. The two-story restaurant is really two establishments: downstairs is casual, with live music and $8 baskets of fried food. Upstairs is all about fine dining and great service. It's expensive -- expect to spend about $30 for an entrée -- but the ambience and waterfront view are enough to justify the price. Built in the 1970s, it's not that old, but the late, legendary architect Bill Bigoney gave it the feel of an old packing house. Even the urinals are cool; they're wooden with old-fashioned water closets over them for flushing. And the food is wonderful, from the little shrimp salad to the sunflower wheat bread to the audaciously thick tuna filet mignon. If you're in an adventurous mood, go for the alligator and kangaroo, though we'd recommend prawns, lobster, or the Asian-sautéed snapper. The service is great too. All you have to do is kick back and enjoy the ride.

Sushi One Take Out
Tabatha Mudra
To win this category, you must be located in an interesting neighborhood, serve top-drawer chow, and be reasonably priced. That is indubitably the case with Sushi 1. The ambiance is nothing. Zero. But the sushi is some of the freshest that we have ever eaten, and daily specials, which generally cost less than $5, are knockouts (and come with three courses). Then there're those rolls. Try the dancing eel and spicy tuna. There are also bento boxes, salads, and soups. It's all family-made and can be enjoyed at one of the few tables inside or in the parking lot. The best thing about this place, though, is its convenience to the new downtown Fort Lauderdale. If you are moving into one of the panoply of condos under construction down there, this should be your regular joint. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Meal in a Pie
South Africans call them just "pies," their fast-food equivalent of the American hamburger. But there's nothing plain about the meat and vegetable pastries served by Rod and Tracey Wiggill, the SoAf ex-pats who run this storefront charmer. Service is deli-style, but two cozy tables await if you want to eat in. The pies, most under $4, are thick, bingo-card-sized delights, the kind of layered decadence crabby nutritionists campaign against. Stuffed inside are blends of meat, veggies, and gravies. The most popular among South Africans is the bobotie, which is crammed with Cape Malay curried ground beef and raisins. The Wiggills have modified one traditional favorite, chicken and mushroom, by tossing out the 'shrooms and adding peas and carrots. "It's more like the chicken pot pies everyone's used to here," the missus says. Not into meat? Try the spinach and feta cheese or the vegetable thai. The Wiggills also offer frozen pies, which you can bake yourself for a hot-pastry meal in about 20 minutes. South African groceries are also available.

Cuoco Pazzo Cafe
This place has two lives. In the winter, snowbirds inundate Cuoco Pazzo Café, making the wait on weekends often longer than two hours. The café is actually a sister establishment to the Cuoco Pazzo restaurant next door, and the old codgers know you can eat cheaper, and just as well, in the café. But the real time to go is summer, when Cuoco Pazzo becomes just a quiet Italian joint with the best pizza and pasta in downtown Lake Worth. What's special about Cuoco Pazzo is its simplicity. You won't find those fat guys from Carrabba's messing up lasagna here. The veal saltimbocca ($17) is as traditional as you'd get in Roma. The chicken paillard ($14) seems straight from a grandmother's kitchen, with roasted peppers and a delicate lemon chardonnay sauce. The place gets more creative with its cioppino ($18), a saffron stew of clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, and shrimp over black linguine. They say cioppino comes from California, but after eating it here, you'll swear it's Italian.

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