Best Of :: Food & Drink
Not many of us think about checking out a Mexican restaurant when we feel like tucking into a stuffed crab-back and sucking the heads of prawns. Perhaps, being stone crab claw- and Key West pink shrimp-centric, we haven't had the exposure necessary to inspire such appetites. Or maybe, being offered mostly central Mexican cuisine here in South Florida, we simply haven't had opportunity enough to appreciate the fact that Mexico has a cuisine deriving from a couple of thousand miles of coastline -- and that's just on the Pacific side, where the town of Puerto Vallarta is located. Fortunately our education is at hand via El Puerto de Vallarta, and we're not just talking about the three R's of fish tacos, but the ABC's as well: avocado-garnished shrimp and snapper ceviche with pico de gallo; botana (appetizers) including shrimp quesadillas and oysters on the half-shell; and seafood caldos (soups) such as the piquant mariscos siete mares, a luxurious combination of seven different types of shellfish served with homemade corn tortillas. Finish off your secondary schooling with bacon-wrapped shrimp or garlic-sautéed lobster and a cool Tecate beer, and you'll be set to graduate with culinary horizons appropriately expanded.
Readers Choice: Joes Stone Crab
Restaurants rarely make their own bread (so much easier to source it from a good bakery), and those that do frequently limit their production to one or two specialties. Not so Bizcaya Grill. Maybe it's because, given its location in the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, it has the space and resources to do it. No doubt having an overnight baker helps as well. But whatever the reason, the results are what you can count on, or depending on your mood, count calories on: fresh-baked Danish pastries and muffins for breakfast. Pain du chocolate and croissants at Sunday brunch. Parmesan buns and lemon brioche to partner burgers and fish sandwiches, respectively, for the midday meal. And at dinner the piéce de resistance -- pretzel bread dotted with coarse salt or pumpkin seeds. The object, of course, is not to eat so much of the bread that you have no appetite for the foie gras served with a shot of vinegar or the black-and-white rabbit cannelloni. But then, we were never ones to shy away from a challenge.
Readers Choice: Don Pan
Sit in a booth, or sidle up to the counter and enjoy a massive repast with any and all combinations of the breakfast staples that make you want to go right back to bed: ham, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, eggs, biscuits, gravy, grits. Chuck Wagon breakfasts provide the caloric intake you would need for ploughing your fields or rounding up cattle (rather than sitting at your terminal, wondering if co-workers can hear your stomach gurgle through the cubicle walls). Breakfast is available all day, and specials last from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. Daily specials include a two eggs, grits, and bacon breakfast for $2, and omelet and breakfast combos that change every day, but hover around the $4-$5 price range.
A perennial favorite in the dim sum category, Tropical -- surprise -- also serves a great din-din. Traditional dishes include Hong Kong-style roast pork flavored with five-spice and then roasted; seafood-spinach soup; and always crisp, always succulent Peking duck. But innovative items are equally reliable, if unusual -- flounder pan-fried with peppercorns and jalapeños and served with bananas marinated in rice wine, for example, offers interesting counterpoints of textures, as does cherry-plum chicken wrapped with diced water chestnuts and fresh bamboo in egg-white crêpes. A healthy wine list replete with floral Rieslings adds to the fine-dining effect, giving aficionados of all kinds reason to make Tropical an evening as well as morning destination.
To borrow a line from the old ad campaign for Arnold's rye bread, you don't have to be Jewish to eat kosher chocolate. Indeed whether you follow those dietary rules or not, the ultimate issue is taste, for which Krön is an ecumenical experience of the heavenly culinary variety. Its tantalizing array of candies, truffles, and dipped fruits are all made by hand with top-notch ingredients (and prices to match). Coffee and baked goods like brownies and cookies are also for sale, though the tables set out in the middle of the mall are decidedly unatmospheric. Recent ink on the store has hinted at expansion plans. Let's hope any new outlets include a proper café.
This charming crêperie replicates the design of a classic French café: the tile floors, the long wooden benches along the walls, lots of reading material lying about, and good, strong java. If the weather were cooler, one could easily picture a professorial type in corduroys perusing Le Monde over his afternoon espresso. Locals and tourists alike flock for the delicious savory and sweet crêpes, along with other simple fare like croque monsieur (the Gallic version of grilled cheese with ham), at prices that will make you wonder whether you are really still in South Beach. To avoid a wait, come earlyish on a weekend morning with a newspaper or a book, and ease into the day over a steaming bowl of café au lait.
Readers Choice: Starbucks