If there's anything good that can be said about the past year or so in our economy-blighted restaurant industry, it's that we're beginning to loosen the bonds of the mall-and-chain dining megaliths that have for so long dominated the scene in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Here's a sample of fairly new, notable, local restaurants.
If New Yorker Jeffrey Chodorow has a Philadelphia counterpart, it's Stephen Starr, the former concert promoter and nightclub owner turned mega-restaurateur, who achieved his own 15 minutes of fame by partnering with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Surprisingly, at Steak 954, Starr subbed out his trademark high-concept glitz for a coolly elegant look in soft earth and water tones. The menu doesn't reinvent the culinary wheel but tricks out off-the-rack dishes like Kobe beef sliders and crab cakes with spiffy designer duds. There's also a $245 Kobe porterhouse, if you really want to strip-mine your wallet.
401 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-765-1131, or visit bovaprime.com.
Tony Bova may not stand astride the local restaurant world like a colossus, but he has certainly climbed high enough for a pretty good view. His latest venture is this strikingly contemporary Italian-esque purveyor of haute seafood and designer
beef in the former home of the late, unlamented Riley McDermott's. Though the cost of dinner can make your MasterCard go limp, dishes like the glorious langostinos -- which could be the bastard child of a preying mantis and a lobster, split down the middle and simply grilled -- can make your taste buds go limp with pleasure.
2625 N.E. Sixth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-533-4350, or visit bravosandwich.com.
This is the David among these restaurant Goliaths, but the flavor packed into one of Bravo's Peruvian sandwiches can compete with any prix fixe spread. The star here is the butifarra -- country ham and red onions that come stuffed on a flaky bun that's almost pastry-good. The lomo saltado sandwich is a portable version of the Peruvian national dish, and the gravy that soaks into the bun will make you forget you're eating in a nondescript strip mall. Wash it down with a glass of chica, a drink made from red corn that tastes something like spiced cider, and make sure to walk out with an alfajores, two flaky cookies stuffed with dulce du leche.
Todd English is a genuine culinary superstar; if not quite in the same orbit as Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray, he also never approaches their stratospheric capacity for annoyance. Though da Campo bills itself as an osteria, its look is really more ristorante and its menu more trattoria. Italian etymology aside, the restaurant perks up a menu of pasta, pizza, and simple entrées with the gimmicky-but-fun show of mozzarella pulled tableside and presented in a half-dozen guises. And although it may have a few bugs to work out, at least there's nobody pounding on the table yelling "Bam!"
She's restaurant royalty in Miami, with a face and personality that take to the camera like a l'orange to duck, plus a unique ability to assimilate her own and South Florida's cultural and culinary influences and turn them into something really good to eat. At her stylish new restaurant in the impossibly tony Omphoy resort in equally impossible Palm Beach, Michelle Bernstein reprises favorites from Michy's and Sra. Martinez (sweetbreads and ultratender short ribs, poached egg with asparagus and jamon Serrano) while adding simple but satisfying dishes like salt-crusted dorade. There's a new queen on "the island."
If Anthony de Palma's tiny, quirky, ravishing restaurant were in New York or San Francisco, it would be celebrated as one of the abundance of chef- and ingredient-driven eateries. In West Palm Beach -- beside the railroad tracks amid a desolate industrial moonscape -- it's as rare as the local politician who hasn't taken a perp walk. The daily-changing menu is a primer on what's best in the market, whether sea urchin over tagliarini with tangerine hollandaise or game hen stuffed with the lusciousness of foie gras.
"It was a brave man who first ate an oyster," spoke Jonathan Swift, though anyone who's downed their first, second, third, and more oysters at the raw bar in Laurent Tasic's marvelous little Hollywood bistro would almost certainly replace brave with smart, even giddy. Tasic, who also owns the more countrified Sage in Fort Lauderdale, cooks rustic with the same skill he sources bivalves, whether it's lacy crepes filled with everything from beef tenderloin and mushrooms to goat cheese and spinach or such French country classics as coq au vin, cassoulet, and steak frites.
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You only live once, they say, so why not live it up in a room the size of an airplane hangar with a plate of housemade potato chips crowned by truffle oil, blue cheese, and bacon bits; a slab of blood-rare prime rib; and a nouveau ice cream sandwich, all washed down with a boozy, kitchen-sink concoction called the Devil's Hammer? Why not indeed, ask Peter Boulukos and Tim Petrillo, the team behind Himmarshee Grill and the Tarpon Bend chain. Comfort food given an upscale gloss may not set foodie hearts to fluttering, but it keeps the airplane hangar packed like carry-ons in an overhead bin.