You've got the music factor -- live blues, funk, groove, tribal, rock, and jazz bands nearly every night of the week. Not teeny-bopper local acts either but nationally acclaimed artists such as Pat Travers and Rosco Martinez, who no doubt agree to play here in exchange for bowls of the award-winning gumbo. 'Cause that's the other part of the equation for a sum of popular outcome -- the truly high-end bar food like Kilmo's killer chili, oyster po' boys, and sautéed or deep-fried gator bites. But then AA goes a step further toward customer satisfaction by also purveying a wide range of microbrewed beers, and damn if that doesn't help lubricate the awards process as smoothly as a warm hand on a trombone slide.
"Shake your booty" takes on a whole new meaning here. Namely, wiggle those hips, gyrate that middle, raise some arms, snap your fingers, and love that jiggle. The belly dancer who performs nightly in this North African restaurant-nightclub is neither shy nor modest, as befits a woman who is an expert with the navel maneuver -- and we're not talking the armed forces here. And after she's done performing, it's your turn. Who cares if you look like a scene from Aladdin gone wrong? Not the old ladies playing their finger cymbals in the corner. But don't worry -- if anyone does jeer, the music is simply too loud for you to hear them.
Yes, it's a chain, and of course, this publication often takes shots at such bastions of the Establishment. But sometimes you just have to acknowledge that, to do things right, one needs a certain amount of money and booze. See, it takes the right number of dead presidents to hire a food-and-beverage director or sommelier who has trained his or her palate for years, teetering on the edge of poverty, just to be able to tell us if that Bordeaux has aromatics of glove leather or tobacco and flavors of menthol or tar. It behooves a corporation to court, by sponsoring winemakers' events and fundraisers, the savviest purveyors and distributors, who can maybe come up with that last case of limited-production cult Cabernet that was purportedly sold out. Most of all, an excellent wine list requires the capital that is needed to lay down an extensive cellar, a good third of which needs to bottle-age before it is even sellable to the dining public. Judging by its 175-bottle list, ranging from New World Sauvignon Blancs to Old World Burgundies, Morton's got not just the bucks but the props.

If your two key words when it comes to steak houses are cheap and good, then Beef Eater is for you. This Argentine meatery distinguishes itself in a variety of traditional ways, from steak empanadas to steak Milanesa to sirloin, all of which console the carnivore's palate with terrific beef flavors and textures. But if you're a skirt-steak cheapskate, then you're just as pleased with the price: No dish over ten dollars. Even the specials, "tango's sirloin" (a strip draped with a pair of fried eggs) and the assorted "gaucho's grill," come in at $9.95. Which is why we're happy to provide Beef Eater with a new slogan, free of charge: "Beef Eater, the Short Rib Stop for a Ten Spot -- Not Including Tax and Tip."
Yup, it's true. We're biased. We've been fans of the Gourmet Diner since it was located in a wooden shack in North Miami so close to the railroad tracks that it shook every time a train roared by. We followed it across the street to a shinier outfit, then stayed with it when the original owner sold it to Sia and Nicole Hemmati, and we started frequenting the Gourmet sibling when it opened in Weston. And still we dine. That's because they took the Gallic diner concept and kept it alive and so far haven't renamed anything to include the word freedom. Which means we can still get classic Dijon vinaigrette for the vine-ripe tomatoes and shallots; onion soup gratinée, snapper française, and steak au poivre, among other items, just the way we like them -- à la française.

It doesn't advertise. It doesn't have an outside phone number. Its entrance is literally hidden at the back of the gifts department on the second floor of the Neiman Marcus store in the Galleria Mall. And yet, every day at lunchtime, every seat at the twin curved counters of the Little Mermaid is occupied, and more eager patrons are queuing up in front of the cash register, waiting to pounce on any vacancy in this cramped, wood-paneled nook. How to describe these patrons? Well, to overgeneralize, they are mostly women of a certain age (50s and up -- sometimes way up), a certain income level (likely big, big fans of eliminating dividend and estate taxes), and a certain social station (their day planners are full of words like foundation, fundraiser, and gala). Their fashion sense can best be described as expensive casual: Yes, many are wearing slacks or even jeans, but the crisp blouses, tailored jackets, gleaming purses, and the glint of a brooch make it clear that these ladies like to shop at... well, Neiman Marcus. And what could be better to fuel yourself for an intense afternoon of shopping than a smoked turkey Reuben with homemade Thousand Island dressing? Or a ham-and-hogwash sandwich (hogwash being a tangy-sweet, horseradishy sauce) on grilled egg bread? Or perhaps one of the Mermaid's salads: Niçoise, cobb, or caesar -- the latter available with grilled chicken or shrimp? The homemade soups are always excellent, so one can't go wrong with the Mermaid Sampler: a cup of soup, half a sandwich, and fresh fruit. Ladies who really know their lunch always order a side of the orange soufflé; it may look like a Jell-O mold, but trust us, it's much, much more. And if a lady just wants tea -- including a warm scone with crème fraîche and those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off -- does she have to wait until 4 p.m.? Hell, no! Says right there on the menu: "Tea Time Anytime." The cakes certainly look tempting, but a full slice is huge. That's why these ladies almost always travel in pairs: the better to split a slice of deliciously moist carrot cake, my dear! Now, let's have a look at those new hats that just came in.
Although Ferdos bills itself as "the home of the kabob," the restaurant could crow about nearly anything else on the menu, plus a few side items that aren't. Everything from the hummus to those aforementioned kabobs is cooked up just like Mom used to make -- assuming your mom hails from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Plus, Ferdos is one of the only places north of Tantra in South Beach where you can get a hookah delivered to your table. Nothing beats a nice, long drag off a hookah after a hearty Middle Eastern meal. Choose from a variety of fruity flavors -- rather like smoking a pack of Skittles.
Il Mulino has great food, good prices, and terrific service, but it's not well-known outside of the Victoria Park/Middle River Terrace/Coral Ridge area, so you can get a table in less than 30 minutes during season. Our bottom line for an Italian restaurant is garlic rolls that would kill a vampire, and Il Mulino is definitely unsafe for any of Anne Rice's creations. With pasta dishes all in the $9 to $11 range, pizzas under $10, and only three specialties that will cost you more than $15, you can still afford a movie at the neighboring Gateway Cinema after the meal. Some of our favorite dishes are a Caprese salad with more fresh mozzarella cheese than most pizzas, an appetizer called fagottino we like just because the name makes us laugh, and six versions of anelli, a concoction of anything from artichoke hearts, asparagus, and sun-dried cranberries to chunks of filet mignon with mushrooms, roasted peppers, and mozzarella inside a crusty baked dough. Traditionalists can get eggplant parmigiana, veal marsala, or linguine with clams, but don't expect the fish-flavored broth they serve in lesser establishments. Here, your linguine will be prepared with Little Neck clams, basil, wine, and, of course, the garlic.

Game for game? Serious about service? And awash in alliteration? Clearly, Black Orchid Café fulfills all implied requirements. This elegant restaurant has produced consistently for the past six years, thanks to chef-proprietor George Telles' know-how and experience. Classic technique dominates the preparations -- the au poivre sauce deserves an award of its own -- and allows the conservative culinarian to remember those days when an exacting Hollandaise sauce wasn't all that unusual. And the back page of the menu, which lists exotic sustenance ranging from wild African pheasant to buffalo carpaccio to lobster tails from crustaceans raised in rice paddies, offers adventurous gastronomes the chance to expand their collective subconscious. Sure, you'll pay for such pleasures, and both your scale and your wallet may require some penitential time via diet and budget. But dinner here is still a worthy lark of crime.
Call it Florida French if you'd like. It bears only a passing resemblance to fares you'd find on Paris' Left Bank. Likewise, the Caribbean-inspired décor at Sugar Reef does not evoke scenes from snooty bistros and pretentious cafés. But the food... ah, the food. Oui, it is decidedly French -- French-Caribbean, that is. Open for nearly ten years and run by husband-and-wife team Patrick Farnault and Robin Seger, Sugar Reef takes the best of France, dusts it with island and Asian accents, and serves it all in a tropical dining room where nearly every table has an unobstructed view of Hollywood's beautiful beach. The beachfront casual atmosphere is perfectly offset by the elegant and inventive menu, and Parisian native Farnault has no reservations about reconstructing Continental classics with New World spices. The food selections are accompanied by Sugar Reef's substantial wine list, which features a number of selections from Farnault's homeland, offering ample ways to wet a dry palate.

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