But Planet Krypton, owned by longtime Pembroke Pines residents Clara and Habib Haydari, would also require a few write-ins on the form. Hand-painted tables done in primary colors and geometric designs? Check. Bottles of Sam Adams and Clos du Bois chardonnay? Yes and yes. Homemade fare, with recipes developed by Clara Haydari? Yup. Decent prices all the time, even for the fresh seafood breaded in-house? Uh-huh.
In short the 88-seat Planet K ain't your husband's sports bar, which was a great relief to someone like me, who loves Buffalo chicken wings and beer-battered French fries but could do without flashing neon beer signs ad nauseam. Hence the name: With textured walls and funky furnishings, Planet Krypton is pretty much like nothing we've seen in the known galaxy of hot sauce, celery sticks, and blue cheese dressing.
Clara Haydari credits both idleness and creativity for the resultant Planet K. Haydari ran the Hollywood Mineo's for eight years, and slinging wings was such habit, she actually missed it when she left. (Mineo's has since gone out of business.) So she developed the idea for her own restaurant in the newly built Shops at Stirling Place. Artistic by nature she plastered the walls and painted the furniture herself. "It's not really a hobby," she explains. "It's more like I had a lot of time on my hands and lost my mind for a few months." But unlike some of the proprietor-provided décor I've seen, this place isn't a testimony to the budget of an amateur. Rather, it emanates casual, contemporary sophistication, a design that could front for more than just burgers and brewski.
Which is not to disrespect this particular brand of finger food; once it's in hand, it's actually hard to put down. An appetizer of fried ravioli, for instance, included tender pasta pillows stuffed with fluffy ricotta, gently dipped in bread crumbs and deep-fried. The accompanying marinara sauce, a tangy, herb-flecked house version, was another pleasant surprise.
I find good fried food especially comforting, but I like it even more when the bread crumb or batter part doesn't obscure the quality of the original material. To wit: The fried clams, which you can get as a dinner or as a starter, were a dozen freshly shucked, meaty specimens. Indeed Haydari has such faith in her fry cook's ability that she offers a large assortment of flash-fried fare: oysters, shrimp, scallops, mahi-mahi, catfish, and chicken breast. You can even order the signature wings with batter on them à la Hooters, though we preferred ours nearly naked, wearing only a splash of hot sauce.
If your tastes run to seafood but you want it dressed up a little, the pasta options include such staples as linguine with white clam sauce and shrimp over linguine with herb-garlic-butter sauce. We forked up a generous serving of seafood fra diavolo (called "Seafood Diavolo" here) that featured a lovely, succulent assortment of shrimp, clams, scallops, and squid, all smothered in a rich marinara that had just a hint of bite.
Main courses come with a crisp dinner salad, bread, and a choice of seasoned fries, sweet and mild onion rings, or gigantic baked potato, so you know you're in for a hearty meal at the outset. Still, if your taste buds call for baby-back ribs, you'll want to order the full rack -- as opposed to the half-rack for $4 less -- which had an appealing smoky flavor and a touch of vinegar in the marinated, grilled meat. Think of it as your bag lunch for the next day, something that's becoming more of a necessity in this testudinate economy. You can also make two meals out of the "whopping Italian cold cut" sandwich, a nine-inch hoagie roll stuffed with Genoa salami, ham, capicola, pepperoni, and Provolone. Like a muffuletta, the sandwich had been garnished with onions, tomato, and black olives, moistened with vinaigrette, and slid into the oven for a crunchy exterior. The average linebacker may be able to polish this one off, but the typical diner may want to exhibit a bit more reserve.
Restraint won't be required on some of the less-successful items, like the crab bisque served in a boule. The soup was more like stew, with little liquid moistening the bits of crab, which, regrettably, was the fake stuff. The bread bowl itself seemed as if it had been microwaved, since it arrived at the table soft and then hardened as time passed. The dish was covered in cheddar cheese, and although it wasn't exactly inedible, it didn't measure up to the winners garnered from other sections of the menu. Ditto a gourmet pizza topped with blue cheese, sliced almonds, and black olives. Though it sounds like a pungently good idea in theory, the crust on the pizza tasted pre-made, and the blanched almonds could have used a little toasting first to bring out their flavor.
Desserts are the only items that Haydari doesn't make on the premises, but given the rich, tart key lime cheesecake that she purveys from Sweet Street Desserts, in Reading, Pennsylvania, I'm all for bringing the stuff in. But then Haydari knows she has a good product there, because prior to opening, "I sampled tons of cakes," she stresses. "Many cakes."
But even the residual sugar rush from her tastings can't comfort Haydari, who, like many other restaurateurs, is worried about business. "I think the attitude is one of fear and that this anthrax thing is killing us," she sighs. "We have spurts of madness, but then we have spurts of morgueness." Well, pessimism has its place. But not so fast, I think. Given Haydari's well-done American fare, which is not only tastefully prepared but priced right for both the current climate and market, the only one who really has anything to fear from Planet Krypton is Superman.