Nothing in life feels quite as sweet as being on your way up. And Chef Michael Blum's star sure looks to be rising over the Hollywood skyline. Blum's new restaurant on Harrison Street is the culinary equivalent of a blockbuster or a box-office smash: the one thing everybody's gotta see and all your neighbors are talking about. Patrons brave enough, or early enough, can snag a seat at the granite counter and watch Blum and his minions perform pyrotechnics over open grills a few feet away. Come a little later and you can sink into a leather banquette and prepare to be spoiled rotten by a bevy of servers and sous chefs. Blum's larger-than-life dishes, some of which are served on Home Depot-style floor tiles, are as delicious as they are dazzling. This transcontinental menu sails from port to port -- Asian-inspired yellowfin tuna martinis in their elegant, long-stemmed glasses ($14) to American quasi-classics like candied pecan-coated grouper ($25) and specials like rich osso buco. Armchair travelers go 'round the world in 80 minutes and then find themselves safely back where they started, happier and wiser.

Cannoli Kitchen
Liz Dzuro

Maybe you've noticed the high price and low quality at the supermarket: America is currently undergoing a tomato famine. Well, not so much a famine as a shortage, which makes the sumptuous, fresh-tomato-topped slices at the Cannoli Kitchen all the more impressive. Existing in the culinary nether-region between New York thin crust, Chicago deep dish, and California gourmet, Cannoli Kitchen's slices come in 17 "signature" styles, like chicken fiorentina with ham, spinach, and mozzarella; Mexican with ground beef, salsa, lettuce, tomato (fresh!), green peppers, and cheddar cheese; chicken Alfredo; portobello; and the divine artichoke with sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, capers, and mozzarella. Takeout slices ring in at just over $3, and there are plenty of other Italian specialties -- including awesome hot and cold subs, pasta, and seafood, all at modest prices. If you like thinking in the long term, grab three fresh-frozen slices for five bucks. Now that's a cool deal.

Trina- (Now East End Brasserie)

Chef Don Pintabona comes from so many generations of Sicilian cooks that he could make ricotta cavatelli blindfolded, one-handed, and asleep. The cuisine is in his blood -- from his grandmother's simple, impeccable recipe for marinara to a witty plate of tuna, salmon, and yellowtail carpaccio with ostresta caviar. This noted cookbook author and globetrotter joined the ranks of Fort Lauderdale's most interesting chefs when he opened Trina in the Atlantic Hotel last year. Even better, this whiff of Italy delivers the sophisticated scents of New York, where Pintabona ran the kitchen at Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Grill, concocting jaw-dropping feats of culinary legerdemain for the likes of Madonna, Liza, and Shaq. Now partnered with Nick Mautone, a noted author and beveragemeister who has assembled a stunning list of martinis, world beers, and international wines, Trina is an example of how two great minds can add up to an incalculable sum. And Pintabona really riffs on his Southern Italian roots: The place is named for the Sicilian flag's medusa, which has three legs representing Sicily's trio of seas; the focus here is on the ocean, a serendipitous collaboration between Mediterranean/African influences and South Floridian bounty. Start by sitting outside with a view of the Atlantic and sip on a Trinatini, the house cocktail of vodka, pomegranate molasses, and lavender syrup. Once you've thoroughly unwound, follow with a cold almond vichyssoise decorated with sliced grapes and a looping ribbon of almond cracker. Then choose from a range of small plates -- char-grilled octopus with sherry vinegar and oregano ($11); signature entrées like tagine-baked Florida grouper with almond couscous, whitewater clams, and chermoula sauce ($26); or a Mediterranean surf and turf, a six-ounce filet mignon with a half lobster, a dollop of lobster hash, balsamic onions, and sauce Maltaise ($46). As restless and eclectic as its author, the menu is a work always in progress. Let's see if we can keep this one around for awhile.

John G's

As Zagat, Fodor's, or any assorted tourist map will tell you, the best breakfast around is at John G's. But the line at this place is often too much; it frequently snakes out the door and around the building. So here's a trick: Cut up to the takeout counter and bring your eggs to Lake Worth's public beach, which is just across the parking lot. G's is famous for its pancakes, with the blueberries baked inside ($5.95), but the best omelets you can find on or off the beach are also here. Their Italian is full of sausage, peppers, pepperoni, and melted cheese ($8.50), or try the Hawaiian, chock full of sautéed vegetables, a grilled pineapple slice, and cheese sauce ($7.95). G's will pack up your beach brunch, and then you can eat it blanket-style as you laugh at the poor schmucks waiting in line.

Thai Spice
Chelsea Scholler

Somehow, someone in Thailand a long, long time ago discovered that the sweet taste of coconut could be mixed with hot chili powder to create some of the most savory sauces to come out of the Southeast Asian peninsula. The taste can be exotic, uncompromising, and sometimes surprising. You can find all three at Thai Spice, an elegant restaurant filled with aquariums and Asian art and sculpture. All entrées -- from red curry chicken ($11.95) to scallops basil ($14.95) to the more expensive house specials -- can be served safe-and-sound mild to burn-a-hole-in-your-tongue spicy. Thai Spice is open weekdays for lunch and for dinner seven days a week starting at 5 p.m. Reservations are suggested for Friday and Saturday evenings. That's for good reason: This place is a first-rate restaurant that can be as busy as the streets of Bangkok.

Pizza Rustica

They call it a slice, that slab of pizza in front of you. It looks about the size of a laptop and sits on two paper plates. Cut from Pizza Rustica's signature square pans of the stuff, these are a meal cut into three-bite squares. They come with a laundry list of toppings, including imported prosciutto, yellow squash, and shiitake mushrooms. There's the campagnola -- with sweet sausage, roasted peppers, sweet onions, and plum tomato sauce. Or the pizza putanesca, covered in Sicilian anchovies, kalamata olives, jalapeños, red onions, and pepperoni. Finish them off with a pizza filled with hazelnut chocolate. The slices cost $2.75 to $3.75 and the full pies $11.50 to $29. But what makes these slices better than the competition is the fact that you don't have to leave the house: Pizza Rustica delivers any order of three slices or more. Why order so much? You don't need more than a slice for a meal. But if you order just a little, you have to leave the couch.

Ponte Vecchio (Italian for "Old Bridge") doesn't look like much from the outside. It's at the end of a strip mall on busy Commercial Boulevard, right next to an empty lot that accommodates overflow parking on busy Friday and Saturday nights. But as in Italy, the outside of the building says nothing about the food and service inside. Once you walk into Ponte Vecchio's charming dining room, made to appear like a café along one of Venice's many picturesque canals, owner and chef Michel will happily warn: "If you want a great meal, you have to give it time to cook." And he means it. This isn't a place to grab a quick bite. Ponte Vecchio offers a true dining experience, complete with a tuxedoed maitre d' and a team of accented waiters bringing drinks, meals, and the occasional surprise from the chef. "From Michel," a waiter will say as he puts a small plate on the table with an unexpected, appetizing treat the chef has prepared. Although Ponte Vecchio's extensive wine list includes reds and whites from Italy, France, and California ranging in price from $25 to $100, the restaurant's Italian and Mediterranean dinner selections change from one night to the next. Indeed, though patrons can order from a two-page menu that includes salmon, veal, chicken, and pasta dishes ranging from $20 to $30, the maitre d' will generally encourage you to try the specials. And for good reason. Michel puts extra effort and time into developing these -- generally three dishes, one fish, one meat or poultry, and the other pasta -- that range in price from about $25 to $35. Your dining experience at Ponte Vecchio could last nearly two hours, and you'll savor every minute of it.

Cafe Del Rio

Here's a little story about the fajita that could. One day, the fajita looked at his peers with their white, flaky tortillas, boring veggie mixes, and dry, flavorless meats and said, "There's got to be more than this." So he left his tiny taco stand in Nowhere, Idaho, and headed for Florida, Land of the Unique and Daring. Here, he encountered the folks at Cafe del Rio, who promised a makeover that would make him unrecognizable to those stale fajita friends he left back home. So the Del Rio people tossed chicken, steak, and shrimp into a tumbler with seasonings and marinades to make them flavorful and exquisitely tender. Then they added some yellow squash and zucchini to the standard veggie mix of onions and green and red peppers and adorned the sizzling skillet with a shiny, jade-colored pepper and a little silver cup of butter touched with cilantro and jalapeño. Why butter, you ask? Well, my child, butter makes the flavor of the meats richer (just ask someone at Ruth's Chris), and it adds a nice flavor to the golden and puffy tortillas that Del Rio makes fresh to blanket the whole affair. Of course, the guacamole, sour cream, diced tomatoes, Tex-Mex rice, and refried beans topped with melted shredded cheese were thrilled with the results, and they agreed that the prices asked were more than fair (just under $12 for beef or chicken, a little shy of $14 for shrimp, and nearly $15 for a combo of the three). And they all lived happily ever after in my stomach. The End.

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Maybe it's baby-boomer nostalgia that makes Maison Carlos seem so comforting. The place is decidedly old-fashioned in its tastes, exuding a worldly, early-'60s-era charm that was always more mirage than reality (Dean Martin really was a bastard, and those Playtex girdles were freaking uncomfortable). The lavishly gilt-framed marine paintings by Nantucket artist Robert Stark say it all: You're as far from the cutting edge as you're likely to get, at least on this side of the bridge. At Maison Carlos, somebody still believes in romantic, windswept seascapes; in vichyssoise (this faultlessly executed classic, $6.50, is prepared without the faintest whisper of innovation); in waiters who do not speak unless spoken to; in smoky-voiced jazz singers. That the owners, cast, and crew of Maison Carlos are all in their 30s or younger makes the experience of dining here even weirder. What's up with these cats? Oysters Rockefeller, for god's sake? Somehow, though, it all works beautifully. Settled back with your plate of crispy fried zucchini, sliced white bread with a dish of sweet butter, and a cold martini, you could be 8 years old again, having dinner with Mummy at the club (yes, our Mummy let us drink martinis). Start with the oysters ($11.50), follow with caesar salad ($7.50), and a plate of steak au poivre ($25.95) or spaghetti with jumbo lump crabmeat ($19.95). Then give Tippi Hedren a call and see if she'd like to join you for a stinger. They won't have to ask you how to make one.

It takes guts to open a restaurant in a place where even the hardiest eateries have succumbed to the deadly Clematis Street pox. There isn't a restaurant on West Palm Beach's Main Street that has survived into adulthood; recent road construction, a late-night club crowd, parking horrors, and the apotheosis of CityPlace have apparently made it impossible to operate a profitable food-related business there. But Roy Assad and his wife, Evelyn, who also own the popular and acclaimed Leila Mediterranean Restaurant around the corner on Dixie Highway, love an underdog. Along with partner Cosmo Dishino and undeterred by last fall's hurricanes, which mangled the front of the building, they've taken the old Big City Tavern and turned the space into an open-air French bistro. With those pressed tin ceilings and velveteen crimsons, the place really looks the part; what's more, the food is astonishing. Nostalgic dishes like escargots in the shell ($12 dinner, $9 lunch), bouillabaisse ($26, dinner only), and duck a l'orange ($25 dinner, $15 lunch) are served alongside bistro standards like New York steak pommes frites ($26 dinner, $16 lunch). Chef Laurent Loupiac, who comes to West Palm via Daniel in New York and Alain Ducasse in Paris, is a real catch for our gold-digging little burg. The guy knows how to put together a brochette of sea scallops with crushed rosemary Yukon gold potatoes better than just about anybody. The service is as crisp as the starched linens on the tables, and with that wall of doors thrown open on a warm evening, a cold cocktail in hand, and a perfect little goat cheese tart on the plate in front of you, you might almost start to believe in downtown revitalization.

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