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Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Broward-Palm Beach® 2012 online.
Hotel restaurants; they're the bane of any food lover's existence, no? Uninspired food, lame decor, high prices, and lack of ambience do not a fine dining experience make. So why would any local with a functioning automobile (not to mention palate) willingly stroll into a hotel looking for a meal? Because there happen to be a few here South Florida that buck the trend, that's why. The fact that most of them take up prime ocean real estate only sweetens the deal. Read on for Clean Plate Charlie's list of the ten best hotel restaurants in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Don't see your favorite on the list? Sound off in the comments.
10. Via Luna (at The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale)
While the menu isn't breaking any new culinary ground -- familiar dishes like spaghetti pomodoro, mozzarella salad, and beef tenderloin dominate the dinner hour -- the dishes tend to be well executed examples of classic Italian comfort food. The setting is gorgeous and serene (this being the Ritz, after all) and the quiet atmosphere is more "romantic getaway weekend" versus "wild playground for unattended minors." Outdoor seating provides a clear view of the ocean across the way, while the well-adorned dining room will keep you comfy on those few days when the weather is less than optimal.
9. China Grill (at Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Marina)
Hidden away in a spot overlooking the Intracoastal, the Fort Lauderdale branch of this long-standing chain positions itself as a "special occasion" (read: pricy) dining option. But get there for happy hour, and you might be able to score drinks and apps at a steep discount. Things have quieted a bit since the glitzy restaurant first opened and won New Times' 2009 award for "Best Restaurant for Hotties," but service remains attentive and congenial and the menu is dotted with enough left-of-center items (lobster pancakes, spiced crispy pork belly, sake-marinated chicken) to break free of the boring-as-all-get-out hotel formula.
8. Sundy House Restaurant (at the Sundy House)
A favorite among locals, the Sundy House Restaurant lives in an utterly charming turn-of-the-century mansion surrounded by lush gardens and secluded paths. Sunday morning brunch is a staple, with hangover-fighting bonuses like unlimited champagne and a bloody mary bar. Lunch and dinner come with simple, straight-forward menus of well-prepared dishes and Florida-inspired desserts like key lime tartlets and mango mousse. This is a popular spot for wedding parties and bridal showers, but the intimate atmosphere and nature-saturated setting make it a good choice for a little quality one-on-one time as well.
7. Martorano's Italian-American Kitchen (at the Seminole Paradise at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino)
In case the larger-than-life image of Steve Martorano towering above the doorway to his namesake restaurant isn't a tip-off, subtlety is not this restaurateur's strong suit. But Fort Lauderdale's favorite musclebound Philly transplant knows how to fashion an experience. Here, he's created a glittery, loud, and lively restaurant that stands in direct opposition to the standard staid hotel eatery. At 7,400-square-feet, there's plenty of room to bring the entire gang and settle in for plates of fist-sized meatballs or the signature Sunday gravy. Just be certain that you've got plenty of plastic on hand; the check will be as outsized as your surroundings.
6. Steak 954 (at W Hotel, Fort Lauderdale)
There is little about Steak 954 that screams "hotel restaurant" and that is very a good thing. The dining room is outfitted in a nonchalant, hip style that draws inspiration from the oceanic view out the front door. The space is awash in soothing greens and blues, and a giant black-lit jellyfish tank (far out, man) greets you as you walk in the door. Service is on point and the steaks are among the most highly-rated in the city. If dinner prices are a deal-breaker, the Sunday brunch -- with small bites like bigeye tuna tacos and American kobe sliders and a full raw bar -- is easier on the wallet.
5. The Circle (at The Breakers Resorts)
If you've ever fantasized about starting the day off by stuffing your face with handfuls of caviar and washing it down with ever-flowing glasses of champagne whilst sashaying around a ridiculously opulent dining room, the Circle at the legendary Breakers should be on your bucket list. And at $90 a pop, Sunday brunch at this destination dining room will remain a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity for most non-one-percenters. For that price, you'll get a taste of the good life, both literally and metaphorically as you nosh on lobster tail while overlooking the Atlantic and temporarily enjoying some of the luxe trappings that money can buy.
4. 3800 Ocean (at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa)
Giant windows encircle the dining room and offer the kind of oceanside view that elicits multiple breaks to Instagram the scene with hashtagged declarations like "#paradise!", "#staycation," and "#ballin'." The food is no less picturesque and worthy of a social share. Following a major culinary and personnel revamp in early 2012, the "collective" kitchen uses local ingredients whenever possible and have formed partnerships with a variety of Florida producers. Adventurous diners should try the "kitchen table" experience, where five guests sit at a kitchenside table and are treated to a menu that's constantly changing and never repeated.
3. Hollywood Prime (at The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa)
Put on your fancy pants for dinner at this ultra-swank beachside steakhouse where entrees can top out at $125. In addition to colossal cuts of meat ferried in from all around the world, Hollywood Prime sports a mighty impressive wine list. So impressive, in fact, that the selection of more than 550 varietals won a 2012 Wine Spectator Best Of Award of Excellence. Red meat is the culinary focal point -- not a huge surprise -- with a focus on the 21-day-aged beef that's used for all prime steaks. A smattering of seafood choices and a few salads will satisfy the less hearty eaters in the bunch.
2. da Campo Osteria (at il Lugano)
Guacamole prepared table-side is a well-worn gimmick, but the novelty hasn't yet worn off for da Campo's fresh-pulled mozzarella which is prepared in front of your eyes in an array of styles, from the classic caprese to the $28 "super mozzarella" with a smorgasbord of pickled and salted ingredients. There are other offerings on the menu, of course, but it's this mozzarella that acts as the star of the show, now that celeb chef Todd English has left the building. Despite his absence, the panoramic watery views, hospitable service, and caliber of cuisine keep things on target at this cozy hub.
1. 3030 Ocean (at Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa)
Chef Dean Max hits all the right notes at his much-celebrated oceanside haunt. Though he's been in charge of the kitchen since 2002 -- which, in this industry counts as an eternity -- Max still shows a fair amount of imagination and finesse with the menu creations; no resting on his laurels, here. New Times has showered 3030 Ocean with plenty of praise over the years, naming it everything from "Best Fine Dining That Offers a Highchair" to best restaurant in Ft. Laudy, with multiple kudos for Max as best chef; consider this another notch on its decorated belt.
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