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Carmen the Restaurant

Simply, chef/owner Carmen Gonzalez's new place is the most exciting restaurant to open in South Florida in years. The eatery is actually three distinctly different experiences in one: regular restaurant, chef's dining room, and casual European-style wine bar with some unusually sophisticated bottles, 14 available by the glass, and an absolutely knockout menu of bar bites. Although strongly Latin-accented, Gonzalez's food is post New American rather than Nuevo Latino, with an insistence on fresh flavors (everything at Carmen is housemade from scratch, from the the catsup accompanying the shoestring potatoes to the pickles). It additionally reflects Latin America's increased influence over the past two decades since North America's food revolution first exploded. Highlights include a roasted duck tamale with vintage port wine sauce, sirloin and mango dumplings with a 17-ingredient AmerAsian sauce, lobster/avocado terrine with key lime mayo and plantain fritters, grilled whole pompano with nouvelle-ishly luscious takes on classic Puerto Rican mofongo and mojito, designer mini-sandwiches of adobe-rubbed roast pork, and the Ultimate chocolate soufflé.

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