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It was no easy feat narrowing down the considerable list of restaurants from Jupiter to Boca Raton, but the New Times has assembled a list of ten of our favorite restaurants in Palm Beach County for 2012. With a few up-and-comers making waves in the scene (Imoto, Rebel House, Coolinary Cafe, to name a few) it will be interesting to see who wears the crown next year.
For now, this list represents a cross-section of high-brow and mid-brow, covering a range of budgets and tastes. There are a few "Yeah, we saw that coming a mile way" names in there, but you'll also find a few renegades thrown in the mix. As always, share your love/air your grievances in the comments.
1. Max's Harvest
Dennis Max's ode to farm-to-fork dining is a chef-driven venture, with Chris Miracolo -- who was named New Times' Best Palm Beach County Chef in 2012 -- steering the kitchen. Locally sourced produce and meats are the rule, not the exception, and the menu frequently morphs to suit the season and availability of fresh ingredients. The space's design lets diners experience a variety of settings. The front dining room is a flurry of activity, with a full view of the open kitchen and Second Avenue, while a more intimate back room is all mood lighting and hushed tones. The back patio, with its waterfall and abundance of flora, is the Zen choice. Across the board, the service is focused and attentive, but never stuffy.
2. Café Boulud
Luxury is the word of choice to describe the Café Boulud experience. A finely appointed dining room is tended to by a team of servers trained to read each table and match their mannerisms to suit the clientele. The kitchen, under the direction of executive chef Jim Leiken, serves a mix of classic French and American fare (found in "Le Tradition" portion of the menu) and more adventurous "world" cuisine (listed under "Le Voyage") with upscale fusions. Regardless of the genre, the prep and presentation is meticulous, and local ingredients -- including meats -- are used whenever possible.
Clay Conley's Palm Beach enclave offers a "progressive American" fusion that draws from the flavors and culinary styles of Asia, Latin America, and the Mediterranean, with a dash of his native New England thrown in the mix. There is a focus on small plates, though larger entrees -- like grilled trout with pancetta and fried egg, or seared scallops with a potato cake -- also make the cut. The restaurant toes the line between hoity-toity elegance and casual comfort. The crowd is, predictably, well heeled, but the experience isn't stuffy. The interior can suit a number of moods, from the high energy of the main dining room to the quieter environs found in an intimate seating area near a glassed-in wine room.
4. Little Moir's Food Shack
Food Shack, as its known by locals, is easily one of the most popular joints in Jupiter. Folks queue up for creative takes on classic seafood dishes and a menu that changes on the reg, not to mention a pretty stellar wine list and cool, friendly vibes, to boot. You'll find familiar favorites like coconut shrimp and flatbreads, but the menu also is home to off-beat finds like the homemade tandoori seasoned potato chips and grilled avocado stuffed with Mexican street corn salsa. The Shack's sister restaurant, Leftovers Cafe (also in Jupiter) is worth a look, as well.
5. 32 East
In the restaurant world, sixteen years may as well be a century, and that's how long this Delray Beach institution has been on the locals' radar as a can't miss. No stranger to praise, executive chef/partner Nick Morfogen's kitchen has nabbed top honors in several New Times' Best Of awards throughout its run, including Best Restaurant and Best Fusion. Seasonal ingredients play a key role, so the menu is apt to change on a frequent enough basis to keep things from getting stale. But what really keeps the crowds coming back for more is a trifecta of sucesses: high-quality food, solid service, and a comfortable atmosphere.
6. The Office
New Times' readers identified this downtown Delray fixture as Best Palm Beach County Restaurant for 2012. The restaurant's star ingredient -- aside from a killer cocktail list and an expansive beer selection -- would have to be bacon. The porky product shows up in salads, on the mac 'n' cheese, beside the tater tots, atop dessert; it's everywhere. With its 1950s atmosphere, perhaps it's only appropriate that the restaurant's menu matches an era where a two martini lunch and platefuls of pig fat were the norm.
7. Darbster Waterside Bistro
One needn't be a card-carrying member of the vegetarian elite to enjoy the meat-free dishes at this bunny-hugger's paradise. Even die-hard carnis (as in carnivores, not circus folk) can find something to sink their incisors into. The creative menu highlights light fare that's still bold and hearty enough to satiate the appetite. As the name suggests this pup-friendly, open-air restaurant offers a canal-side view of the water. With an emphasis on local, organic, and sustainable fare, the servers are at-the-ready with info on the background and pedigree of the dishes.
8. Ristorante Sapori
Grabbing a table at this overlooked dinner spot is a lot like sitting down for a meal in chef-owner Marco Pindo's home. The chef dotes on his customers, circling the dining room to give warm greetings and meal suggestions to each table; that is, when he's not in front of the stove, working on a fresh piece of fish or traditional Italian pasta. Thursday nights, the staff rolls out a special table set-up where handmade pasta is rolled out and finessed into a variety of shapes. On these nights, be certain to order the nightly pasta special and go with the chef's recommendation. A mini garden of potted plants -- mostly herbs and a few vegetables and greens -- on the restaurant's patio supplies the kitchen with some of its ingredients.
9. Pizzeria Oceano
Stubborn diners -- defined here as those who need to know what they're in store for each and every visit -- will probably be driven up the wall by Pizzeria Oceano's devil-may-care approach to menu-building. The daily offerings are a flexible bunch, changing based on whatever catches the kitchen's fancy. The ingredients are the muse, whether that means a particularly fresh catch from local waters or an interesting imported salami. Voted as New Times' choice for Best Pizza in 2011, this tiny spot has demonstrated that they've got skills far beyond their pies (though those pizzas can still kick plenty of ass).
10. Casa D'Angelo
This Boca restaurant's wine list has earned praise from none other than Wine Spectator, but that's no surprise given owner chef Angelo Elia has a real talent for scouting out the best vinos in the biz. Though Italian restos in south Palm Beach County are a dime a dozen, Elia's version beats out much of the competition with service that is consistently good, a warm and inviting atmosphere, and dishes that continue to hit the mark. You don't have to be an oenophile to have fun with the wine list, but rest assured that it wouldn't hurt.
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