The Paul bakery chain — which began in Lille, France, in 1889 and has since morphed into a yeasty empire that spans the globe (think Starbucks with Camembert sandwiches) — decided to test U.S. waters by sailing into Miami (2005) and Palm Beach Gardens (2006), with plans to open at Sawgrass Mills any minute now. Apparently, somebody at corporate counted up the number of half-decent bakeries in this vicinity (pick a number between one and four) and remembered the old saying that nature abhors a vacuum. Paul flies in its bread, partially prebaked in France from the original recipes and made from a rare and expensive winter wheat "grown according to principals of sustainable agriculture." Choose from country, whole wheat, rye, six cereal, white, or the fougasse (made with olive oil). It may not meet the standards of your pickiest Parisian boulanger, but for a loaf you can pick up at the mall, this bread promises to do its part in making the low-carb craze obsolete.
"Handsome is as handsome does," our wise old grandma used to say. Granny would also tell us, were she alive to critique the lemon caper pan sauce on her ruby-red trout, that you can't judge a restaurant by the number of millions used to underwrite its decorating budget. Happily, there's no disconnect between form and function at Opus 5. The menu is as playful and smart as the butter, cream, and cognac colors and the visually rhyming geometrics of the place's décor. Like the musical opus the name references, the design of Burt Rapoport's gastronomic production in Boca is composed of themes and variations, complexity within unity. The square white plates on which your wasabi-crusted petit filet mignons are served take their cue from whimsical columns that look like those same plates precariously stacked, courtesy of Miami designer Adolfo Galvez; a ceiling of wooden squares recessed in circles mirrors precisely the tables below, like an inverted reflecting pool. And the Floribbean-by-way-of-Asia comfort food is just as reassuringly unpredictable: enough to keep you interested and alert (like a mango salsa with seaweed salad and mustard-crusted tuna) without insulting your sensibilities. And there you have a working definition of harmony. UPDATE: This location is now closed.
Christina Wan's Mandarin House
Chris Bellus
The Wan family has been serving wok creations to South Florida since 1966. Its takeout service leans upscale — with prices to match — but placing an order is a breeze, and delivery is fast. Lunch specials (starting at $7.95) come with a vegetable spring roll rather than the artery-clogging pork variety that many other places hock. And health-conscious patrons can opt for brown rice at no extra charge. There are even special low-carb and dieter's menu items. Likewise, the appetizers veer away from traditional Chinese fare and lean toward Japanese (edamame and miso soup). But standard favorites like shrimp dumplings and three varieties of chicken wings are still there. And it's all prepared in a flash, so you can drive on over after placing your order and it'll be ready when you walk in the door.
The owners of the new Dubliner have already staked sole claim to the rough-and-ready after-midnight crowd. Running successful nightclubs for more than a decade has taught them exactly what the slow burn of Jägermeister in an otherwise-empty gut feels like at 3 a.m. For a contingent of folks in South Florida who rarely roll off their futons before the sun goes down (the beautiful people know evening's mood lighting erases traces of hard living), owners Rodney Mayo and Scott Freilich have been operating Dada in the south (Delray Beach) and Howley's in the middle (West Palm) for many years. Both places will serve you a char-grilled burger or a chocolate fondue at any hour. Their latest pin on the late-night map: Palm Beach Gardens, where the Dubliner dishes up swankified Irish fare like corned beef and red cabbage, beer-battered fish and chips, or Irish breakfast served day and night: a banger, roast veg, two eggs. This time, the fondue is made of cheddar-laced Guinness and served with Irish soda bread, and a live band plays retro-Earth, Wind, and Fire hits even boomers can swing to.
Southport Raw Bar
Photo by Glenn Govot, courtesy of Southport Raw Bar & Restaurant
Southport is probably the most rustic locale in South Florida to sport free wi-fi, but nobody cares: A computer would only serve to distract you from the eye-popping menu served by Jack, Pat, and Buddy — a marvel of freshness, generosity, and kinky economics. Raw-barring folks will want to start with the Raw Seafood Combo, comprised of four clams, four oysters, and four spiced (with pickling spice and beer!) shrimp, all of surpassing freshness. This comes at you for "market price," but those two words don't mean the same at Southport as they do elsewhere (where "market price" is code for "we will now rape your wallet, thanks."). From these cold and reasonably priced beginnings, you can investigate what these folks can do with heat: fried clam strips like you haven't seen since you were last in New England ($5), baked stuffed clams ($5.75), and a thing called "Oysters Southport" (read: Rockefeller) that are, no shit, the best you've ever had ($7.25). Once you've mowed your way through a few dozen pounds of shellfish (and, by the way, you must try the fried scallops), you might want to note the bacon cheeseburger for $3.75. It's not shellfish, but who cares? It goes great with shellfish. And so does Yuengling, on tap along with many other brews for a mere $2.75 a glass.
One thing guaranteed to get the human male all hot and bothered is a juicy piece of USDA prime. Give him that slab of meat in a room decorated like an upscale bordello, complete with coy glamour shots of turn-of-the-century lovelies in various stages of deshabille, and you've got yourself one of the most successful steak-house chains in the country. Live from New York, Strip House has landed in Palm Beach Gardens to satisfy our every lust, and even the sour old feminists among us are glad: Those mashed potatoes cooked in a truffle-oil-laced crust, that pale and unctuous foie gras steamed in herbs, the tiers of crustaceans on their fresh seafood plateau, and most of all, those thick, fat-larded, char-grilled rib eyes — coupled with stellar service, dry martinis, and a wine list vast enough to bring a Bordeaux-flavored grin to the lips of the pickiest oenophile — are reason enough to throw any lingering principles out of the window and dig in.
It should be a crime to draw attention to such a serene spot, but were gonna do it. The Atlantic Coast line just north of Boca Raton has an odd mix of condo villages, luxury beachfront homes, and public parks with seemingly no beachfront commerce in sight. But hidden behind the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach is Latitudes, an unpretentious little restaurant that looks out onto grass-covered sand dunes. There's breezy outdoor seating shaded by huge umbrellas, as well as tables behind a glass-walled dining area. The stretch of beach ahead is usually empty, so diners can tuck into breakfast while contemplating the ocean and sea birds rather than staring at the bathing hordes. There are no lines to get in. No obnoxious young valet or packed parking lot to contend with. Just lots of hot coffee, a relaxed wait staff, and budget prices. The cheese blintzes with blueberries and heaping veggie egg skillets both go for $9.95.
Cafe Emunah
If you can navigate through the clouds of New Agey blather that blanket Cafe Emunah like a swarm of Old Testament locusts — just ignore any invitations to take a spiritual journey and concentrate on your exploration of the specialty rolls — you'll find that this little Internet café, co-owned by a rabbi and a psychologist, offers plenty to get your creative juices flowing. The sushi chef is doing extraordinary things with fish (raw and cooked), oddly and deliciously paired with Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Floridian flavors. Though the range of seafood offered is fairly conventional — salmon, blue fin, hamachi, white tuna, escolar, mahi — it's all melt-on-the-tongue fresh. It's also kosher, organic, and imaginatively dressed — with everything from pineapple and coconut to miso aioli. A "peaceful roll" ($10) combines salmon with crisp carrot, golden raisins, walnuts, and Asian pear and dusts the plate with ground green tea. The Emunah ($12) wraps yellowtail with fried plantain and shredded coconut, drizzles it in sweet chili sauce, and dots the top with chopped cilantro and candied ginger. A "smile roll" mixes tropical pineapple and papaya with three kinds of fish, cilantro oil, and shredded coconut. The cradle-of-civilization-inspired "Moses roll" (the biblical symbology is nonstop) tops tempura salmon with taramasalata, avocado, chives, and crunchy shallots. And when was the last time you saw chickpea paste and eggplant spread at a sushi bar? Cooked seafood dishes are excellent here too. Settle in with your laptop and a pot of organic lemongrass mate and let the "inspire roll" (tuna, Asian pear, cilantro, masago, salmon) call down your muse.
Bucky's doesn't purvey the cheapest eats in the county, but the ratio of pennies out to pounds of pork in is a fine one. Were Bucky's take-out window a slot machine, any gambler who moseyed up would be an instant winner — at least between 4:30 and 10:30 p.m. A Texas beef brisket sandwich, for example, is an overgenerous pile of smoky, thin-sliced beef that makes you wonder how management ever figured they were gonna make a profit. This $10 heap of meat, like all of Bucky's sandwiches, includes a side of something equally messy, caloric, and bottomless — by the time you and your tightwad family have polished off the last of the "loaded up" baked potato and chipotle mayo-slathered hoagie roll, you'll feel like your miserly soul and the universe have come mysteriously into alignment. A plate of Kansas City baby backs ($21) with, say, an assortment of $3 sides — mac and cheese, creamed spinach, smokehouse baked beans, garlic mashed potatoes, and sweet potato fries — is a movable feast clearly meant to be shared with neighbors, strangers, and lovers. Think of it as a sort of potato-powered pay-it-forward.
Fah Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar
Last year, the government in Tokyo, fed up with the proliferation of faux sushi spreading its evil tentacles across the globe, announced that it would offer official seals of recognition for restaurants around the world that served "pure Japanese" cuisine. But we South Floridians don't give a blowfish's fart for authenticity. We'd rather chow down on our beloved deep-fried, mayo-drenched, libidinously named familiars. And truth be told, a well-made American-style roll is a precious thing, whether or not it's accompanied by real grated wasabi root or the green stuff that comes out of a tube. Fah's Japamerican sushi has evolved from its skewed fusion crossbreedings into something adorable and unique — like a labradoodle or a puggle, only it doesn't attract fleas or run up vet's bills. Take the Volcano roll, a calorically magnificent hybrid working at peak performance: cream cheese and baked seafood (in mayo, natch) poured over a California roll. Or Sex on the Moon: fried shrimp with eel, asparagus, avocado, and masago, inside out and topped with tuna and tempura flakes. Eat a plate of these babies, and believe it, you won't be defying gravity for quite a while. That the specialty rolls at Fah are beautiful, delicious, satisfying, and relatively inexpensive probably wouldn't convince the Japanese food police to bestow their coveted stamp of approval. But we're sure enough giving them ours.

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