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.

Statistics show that nine and seven-eighths of every ten new dining establishments go belly up within 15 minutes of opening -- or something like that. Which means that either the management team, kitchen crew, and service staff perform admirably right from the start or the signage on the restaurant marquee will be gone faster than you can say "Boy George in Taboo." The Southwestern-inspired Sol Kitchen has thus far beaten the odds -- it started out steamy and is getting hotter by the hour. Owned by the same restaurant group that opened Delray's already sizzling 32 East (located just up the block), Sol has the advantage of experience: its chef, Ryan Brown, was chef de cuisine under Nick Morfogen at 32. Perhaps it's because these two worked together on this brash and sassy menu that the food exudes a confidence not often seen in such a short time. After you taste sunny dishes like the mahi-mahi taco with shredded cabbage, grape tomatoes, and lime; golden brown burritos packed with slow-braised pork; and grilled dolphin with mojo-soaked Cherokee heirloom tomatoes, you'll know why patrons have taken a quick shine to this boisterous, dimly lit room from the get-go. Desserts have a veteran hand in the making as well: 32 East's one-time pastry chef, Robert Malone, putting out a Cuban coffee flan so coffee-intensive that it's likely to keep you as awake as the proprietor of a new restaurant the night before opening. Readers' Choice: Sol Kitchen
It is said that the same yardstick used to critique the arts can be applied to reviewing restaurants: mood, tone, theme, setting, and harmony. The Restaurant's elegant setting is defined by its sweeping arched entrance, which is flanked by palm trees, a fountain, and tropical flowers. Once indoors, you'll find a refined tone set by colored marble in shades of creamy beige, columns of textured stone, breathtaking floral arrangements, and hand-painted silk Chinese murals. A classical mood is provided by the pianist's mellifluous notes floating from the Champagne Lounge at the far end of the room. And the epicurean theme orchestrated by Hubert Des Marais is a brilliant take on Southeastern regional fare, which includes influences from the Deep South, Caribbean, and South and Central America. Marais' tendency is to start with such stirring preludes as a salad of Florida lobster with mango, avocado, plantain, and essence of truffle or seared foie gras with starfruit johnnycakes and scotch-bonnet mango caramel, then segue into larger, richer, more luxurious movements, like char-grilled veal chop with crispy foie gras potatoes and deep morel reduction or his signature guava-braised short ribs of beef with truffle-scented cress salad. A light seafood interlude of yellowtail snapper with watermelon relish, lemon thyme, and tangelo sauce shows off the maestro Marais' versatility as well as his surprising knack for being utterly original. An underlying theme is the reliance on local products like passion fruit, mangoes, goat cheese, Okeechobee frog legs, and Indian River she crabs. A big, brassy wine list hits all the right notes. The meal rises to a crescendo with the soufflé overture, soon after which the crowd offers its accolades and files out contentedly. Readers' Choice: 32 East
Don't be scared away by the Paradise Beach Resort setting. Forget the hotel-lobby furnishings. Never mind the hokey music. Focus instead on the sparkling, Hellenic-like beachside, the festive table-dancing until 5 a.m., the warm, home-baked loaf of bread that is delivered to each table, and the fish bar filled with pristine seafood on glistening ice. Choose a whole yellowtail snapper ($17.95) and the waiter will whisk it to the kitchen, then bring it back impeccably grilled and delectably dressed in lemon juice and olive oil and served with vegetable and rice or potato. Chicken souvlaki ($14) is equally impressive, juicy, and perfumed with enough aromatic spices to make Socrates swoon. Service is amiable, prices are moderate, and on Saturday and Sunday evenings, Taverna Milos turns into a music-filled bouzouili, which, loosely translated, means a big, boisterous Greek party.

Great service in a restaurant is about making you feel as though you belong. Some dining establishments have an easier time of this than others. Diners, for instance, would seem the perfect choice to make you feel at home. They are informal, unpretentious, low intensity. But at the palatially elegant L'Escalier, the wait staff manages to treat every customer like a regular -- a regular member of royalty, that is. Dining here is like having your own personal butlers for a few hours. Food is placed on the table, and removed, with the quiet precision of a Swiss -- or Japanese -- watch. A master sommelier advises on wine with the assuredness that you'd like to experience with your stockbroker. Should you retire to the restroom, your chair will be dutifully pulled, your napkin crisply refolded. Service is smooth, sweet, formal, and thoughtful. Most refreshingly, no member of the wait team will ever interrupt your dinner conversation with a chirpy "How is everything?" It is assumed that if anything is needed, you'll let them know. Amazingly, this professional and elegant service is provided without a hint of pretension. Even the best of butlers have a hard time pulling that off.

Local heirloom tomato salad with herbes de Provence: $13.

Sirloin burger with foie gras and black truffles on parmesan bun: $29.

Truffle-braised snapper with Vichy carrots, pea shoots, and pommes croustillantes: $36.

Bottle of DeLille Cellars' Chaleur Estate Meritage, 2000: $140.

Warm upside-down chocolate soufflé with pistachio ice cream: $13.

Dinner at Cafe Boulud when somebody else is picking up the tab: Priceless.

One of Delray Beach's most distinctive dining venues has hooted, tooted, and whistled for the final time. Built to take advantage of a location adjacent to railroad tracks, Hoot offered the Orient Express, an old-fashioned wood-and-tile "dining car" with large, comfy booths, life-sized picture "train windows," and a few choo-choos outside for added ambiance. The menu was a throwback of sorts as well, the juicy Delmonico steak and thick grilled pork chops a welcome antidote to the fussy Florribean fusions of today. Sadly, just as all things must pass, nostalgic replicas of all things must pass too.

After a late night out on the town, it's hard to just say good-bye and go home -- especially when the sun's already well ahead of you. Plus, all that partying creates quite an appetite, and all that alcohol needs something to absorb it -- that is, unless you enjoy a hangover. You could go to Taco Bell; but remember, you're trying to avoid being stuck in the bathroom. You're better off heading over to Sande's Restaurant for a quick bite before you lie down for the day. Open at 6 a.m., Sande's has several breakfast combinations like the number one (two eggs, bacon or sausage, and hotcakes or toast, $3.50), number two (two eggs; bacon, ham or sausage; potatoes or grits; and toast; $4), or the number three (Western omelet with toast, $5.50). For groups, there's the Family Breakfast ($19.50), which includes eight scrambled eggs; home fries, hash browns, or grits; four bacon strips; two sausage patties; two sausage links; two orders of toast; two biscuits; four hotcakes; two French toast slices; and a bowl of sausage gravy. It's sure to soak up whatever alcohol lingers in your beer-drenched belly. While time may be the best cure for a hangover, a little greasy food ain't bad either.
You know you're getting an inferior diner breakfast when you get the toast. It's dry and almost cold. Next to it on the plate are a couple of fresh-from-the-fridge butter patties. At Las Colinas, the bread comes straight from the iron sandwich grill -- la plancha -- with the butter melted inside the crusty Cuban bread. Hot enough to sting your fingers. Then comes the breakfast, an array of egg dishes served with fried potatoes and, the South Florida kickstarter of choice, Cuban café con leche. You can have straight-ahead ham and eggs ($3.50) or a variety of Caribbean-style concoctions. Our favorite is the Desayuno Las Colinas ($4.99, the most expensive item on the breakfast menu), a couple of fried eggs on a thin slice of steak, with a ladle of Creole sauce. The coffee is always piping hot, a little syrupy, and -- watch out -- highly addictive. (Just the coffee and the toast? $1.90.) Las Colinas ("the hills") is owned by Michael Park and his Nicaraguan-born wife, Maria. Opened three years ago, it's Latin-style, with nearly a dozen ceiling fans, wooden chairs and tables, and a stand-alone sandwich station that turns out all those iron-flattened Cuban delights.
Forget the usual mega-brunches, with their prix fixe prices, "whatever"-service, and trips back to the empty salvers. Here in this two-room corner cafe that throbs with highly caffeinated conversation, major hallooing, and some of the wisecrackingest service this side of Rosie on a roll is yet more proof that the gay gene extends to the concept of brunch. On a late Sunday morning, it seems that wise straights have discovered this reasonably priced (average $8 per meal) little secret too. It all works thanks to the sensible kitchen, which turns the usual brunchly ducklings -- taffy-pull pancakes and omelets Firestone could patent -- into swans. The cook even gets the temperature of the food right, dish after dish turning up neither retro-warmed nor colder than winter in Murmansk. Helping it all go down is coffee as fresh as a slap. While eavesdropping on dialogue worthy of Carson on Queer Eye (tables are that close), admire the Liberace-meets-Auntie Mame décor. Rarely has more been better. Typical of brunch, timing is everything, and during peak hours, lines can form faster than a face-lift on Joan Rivers, but be patient -- the waiting ones disappear just as quickly, sucked into this happily spinning vortex of the well-toned and quick-tongued.

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