Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Best Restaurants in Boca Raton/Delray Beach, LA
All area codes are 561
“Spahn’s Prime Cut” indicates the author’s absolute top recommendations.
5159 Town Center Circle (Shops of Boca) Boca Raton 620-3754
Tucked away within the Marriott Hotel, Absinthe offers an elegant recluse from the hustle-bustle of the better-known Shops of Boca Center scene. Absinthe was one of the top “hidden gem” picks, under the talented hand of Executive Chef Esteban Arguedas. But now Chef Esteban is gone, and the menu has been downsized drastically. The brasserie-inspired food is still good, and the setting is still stunning, but unfortunately Absinthe has lost its edge. Suggested offerings include the daily fresh catch and Rotisserie offering, and the notably creative cocktails at the bar (try the Ten Thyme Smash).
21073 Powerline, Boca Raton, 483-4470
Angelo’s Kitchen (not to be confused with Cucina D’ Angelo or Café de Angelo) is a quaint Italian Trattoria with a friendly family feeling. Rely upon consistently good cuisine, although service can be spotty. Try the pastas, sausage, soup, and fish presentations. The wine list is small, but the lesser known Italian selections are surprisingly well chosen.
ANTHONY’S COAL FIRED PIZZA www.anthonyscoalfiredpizza.com
21065 Powerline Road, Boca Raton; and 115 NE 6th Avenue, Delray Beach
One of the very first Florida establishments to introduce “coal fired pizza,” Anthony’s has developed a cult-like following in Ft. Lauderdale – and has now opened new units in Delray and Boca Raton. As the name implies, Anthony’s is centered around a real, coal-fired oven, which burns (clean-burning anthracite coal, by the way) at a blazing 800 degrees. Four minutes later, out comes the signature pie, with its distinctive, slightly charred crust (hence the slogan, “Our pizza is well done”). Anthony’s other specialty are Coal Oven Roasted Chicken Wings. A world apart from the “Buffalo” style, these guys have no breading, deep frying, Buffalo sauce, or blue cheese dressing – just the charcoaled-baked wings, topped with grilled onions. Anthony’s chooses to offer a very limited menu -- but what it does do, it does right. Pizza toppings some (but not all) of the standards, plus unexpected options like prosciutto, long finger peppers, and Kalamata olives. Only one salad (Anthony’s Italian), two sandwiches, and one dessert (NY Cheesecake) are offered; but they are all excellent, and highly recommended.
ARTURO'S RISTORANTE www.ArturosRestaurant.com
6750 Federal Highway, Boca Raton 997-7373
Spahn’s Choice Picks
Considered the venerable ‘Grand Daddy’ of fine Italian restaurants in Boca Raton, Arturo’s has become a veritable institution. Here is classic Italian dining at its finest, still owned and run by Vincenzo and Rosario Gismondi, along with their ever-growing family (including daughter Elisa, a CIA-trained Pastry Chef). Service is classic old-school, with tuxedo-clad waiters who are veteran pros. Arturo’s is known for its Antipasti trolley, loaded with seasonal Italian starters far beyond the ordinary. Entrees are consistently excellent, especially the Veal dishes, fresh fish (try the Dover Sole), and homemade pastas. Arturo’s wine list is well-recognized, and has garnered numerous awards and favorable reviews.
BAJA CAFÉ (UNO) www.bajacafe.com
201 N.W. First Ave., Boca Raton, 394-5449
Here is a fun, energetic Tex-Mex eatery, with occasional hits of Cuban and Caribbean. Expect all the standard Tex-Mex creations (fajitas, burritos, combo platters, etc.), plus a few surprises, and most everything is pretty darn good. The fish taco is a winner, and a Margarita or two is practically mandatory. (Be forewarned: Some dishes are very spicy, so ask first).
BANGKOK IN BOCA www.bangkokinboca.com
500 Via De Palmas (Royal Palm Plaza), Boca Raton 394-6912
Bangkok in Boca offers traditional Thai cuisine on a par with (and probably better than) most Thai eateries around town, within a noticeably elegant setting. The entrée selection is vast, and we like the emphasis on fresh seafood. Slightly more pricey than many other Thai restaurants, but worth the difference if you want to enjoy a good, sit-down meal.
5837 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 994-2554
Basil Garden is a classic “neighborhood” Italian restaurant, which has stood the test of time. Friendly and comfortable, with consistently good cuisine, focusing more on southern Italian fare. Standouts include a splendid veal chop, traditional fresh pasta dishes (Spaghetti Bolognese, Penne Alfredo); and nightly fresh fish preparations, like the Snapper Margherita. The wine list is about average, but true wine fans may bring their own for a reasonable corkage fee.
BEN’S DELI www.bensdeli.net
9942 Clint Moore Rd., Boca Raton, 470-9963
Part of its famous New York City namesake, Ben’s offers classic NY Kosher deli. The tremendous menu lists most standard deli-style offerings (many of which reflect Ben’s eastern European roots), plus some more sophisticated entrées, ranging from London Broil to Hawaiian chicken. But the most important difference here, is that Ben’s is real Kosher, so there’s no dairy offered. (Sorry, no real cream cheese for your bagel). And being a true New York deli, complimentary pickles and coleslaw on each table is standard issue.
BIG CITY TAVERN www.bigcitytavernboca.com
5250 Town Center Road (Boca Center), Boca Raton 361-4551
This long-time popular venue in the Shops of Boca Center has recently been treated revamped by new owner and veteran restaurateur Karl Alterman (Gigi’s, MoQuila, etc.). The ‘classic American Tavern’ theme is reflected in the wood-and-leather setting, as well as the menu. The cuisine has however also been upgraded significantly, under Culinary Director Rich Garcia and Chef Mark Uffer. Chardonnay-steamed fresh Clams, Kobe Beef Sliders, and creative salads are recommended starters, along with the Spago-style Pizzas (my favorite combines Portobello mushroom, spinach, goat cheese, & pine nuts). Entrees are even better, and generously portioned. Grilled Florida Grouper, Herb-Crusted Yellowfin Tuna (with sautéed eggplant, sundried tomatoes, and Chardonnay pan jus), Twin Grilled Pork Chops, and nightly specials are among the standouts; and the fresh ground burgers are great. The Tavern is also known for its creative cocktails, lively bar scene, and outdoor patio.
BISTRO PROVENCE www.bistroprovence.com
2399 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton 368-2340
A charming French bistro, featuring authentic Provencal (southern) French cuisine, under Chef-Owner Eric Mourjan.
Servers are generally knowledgeable about the menu and the recipes, are skilled at making their customers feel relaxed, and have that good timing diners hope for. Sure winners are the chef’s North Sea Mussels dishes (when available); Slow roasted and braised lamb shanks, sautéed veal sweetbreads in port wine sauce, rack of lamb, and truffled crispy Atlantic salmon with Dijon mustard, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sesame seeds. Most entrees include fresh veggies, which rely on individual spicing and precise cooking, more than drenching them in butter. The three-course prix fixe menu is a surprising bargain, including almost any appetizer, entrée, and dessert, for a reasonable $32.50 (less during early bird).
(THE) BLUE FISH www.thebluefishsushi.com/
110 E. Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach 330-3474 (“FISH”)
This new Japanese-sushi place truly outshines most of your standard, basically-the-same sushi joints. Blue Fish just opened in December 07 in the former Sopra/Bice space, and maintained some of stunning interior that made Sopra so well known. We love the hanging valance over the long front bar, with its cool ‘industrial chic’ look, and the wall o’ fish in the back. Seating options include the main dining room, an adjacent, semi-open terrace, the front bar and surrounding lounge area, at the sushi bar, or outside along the ever-exciting Atlantic Avenue. The Blue Fish prides itself on its very fresh fish, and the fact that they buy the whole loins of fish, and actually custom-cut and prep each piece to order (how often do you see that?). Sure, you’ll find the ‘standard’ sushi, sashimi, rolls, etc. -- but what makes The Blue Fish really special, is its innovative “Japanese Fusion” offerings. My favorite starter is the Chilean Sea Bass Appetizer, treated to a subtly sweet blonde miso glaze and then pan-seared beautifully. The signature Ahi Tower is another standout, with tuna tartare atop snow crab, avocado salad, and sushi rice, then drizzled with wasabi ‘cream’ and caviar. Blue Fish Trio, Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Kobe Beef Sizzler (seared tableside on magma-hot lava stones), and Peking Duck Cigars are all good choices. Plus, you’ll find some interesting salads, dozens of sushi and sashimi cuts, and about 50 Rolls, including a thoughtfully-designated separate list of “Spicy” rolls. You could eat here a dozen times, and still not get through all the sushi offerings and other starters, so it’s easy to overlook the Entrees (but don’t!). Among the main plates, Crispy Whole Fried Yellowtail Snapper filleted tableside, Pan fried Chilean Sea Bass, garlic-infused Szechwan Beef, Tropical Scottish Salmon, Jumbo Scallops sautéed in a garlic-pepper salsa all shine – along with any special that that talented Chef Lin Xu creates on your night.
2801 N. Federal Highway Boca Raton 750-6744
The typical Greek Diner, with an expansive menu from breakfast to full dinners. You’ll find classic comfort food and expected diner fare, many of which reflect the Greek influence. Prices are reasonable, and the place always seems to do a nice steady pace.
BOCA WINGS & RIBS www.bocawingsandribs.com
2257 North Federal Highway, Boca Raton 391-9110
Here’s one of those hidden hole-in-the-walls, that proves to be a real hidden charm. It’s certainly stood the test of time, having remained a neighborhood favorite since 1987 (making it one Boca’s oldest restaurants). Nothing too fancy here, but if you’re looking for a good place where you can dress casually, enjoy some good chow and a frosty brew at a reasonable price -- this is your place. The specialty of course are the classic chicken wings done right, along with surprisingly good BBQ ribs. But there’s a lot more on the menu, including homemade chili, various salads and sandwiches, and my recommendation – one of the best burger in town! The setting is casual and the price is right, and they even deliver!
BOGART’S BAR & GRILLE www.bogartsofboca.com
3200 Airport Road (at the Premier of Muvico Palace), Boca Raton 544-3044
Situated within the upstairs Premier Level of the Muvico Palace 20 cinemas, Bogart’s offers the perfect venue for “dinner and a movie” -- although it certainly worth the visit, even if you’re not seeing a movie. The menu features many (past and present) favorites derived from other venues of Bogart’s owner Burt Rapoport. Favorite appetizers (appropriately named “Sharing Plates”) range from Asian (Wasabi Seared Tuna), to Southwestern (Chicken Quesadilla, Baja Fish Tacos, Chili Con Queso), to American favorites (Black Angus Sliders Mahogany Chicken Wings; Spago-like thin-crust Pizzas). Executive Chef Chuck Gittleman does wonders with the entrees. Onion-Crusted Snapper served atop mashed potatoes with sautéed spinach is outstanding. So are the Radiatore Pasta with roasted chicken (and broccoli, sundried tomatoes, balsamic broth, goat cheese, and pine nuts!); Maple-Ginger Salmon; and the Chef’s nightly specials. And don’t miss the homemade Blueberry Pie for dessert. Bogart’s offers a full bar and better-than-expected average wine list.
An extra bonus: You can bring any of Bogart’s food or beverage (even liquor) to the Premier movie theatre with you, and get the full experience.
BOSTON'S ON THE BEACH (and THE UPPER DECK) www.bostonsonthebeach.com
40 S. Ocean Blvd. Delray Beach 278-3364
Don’t be confused by the “Boston’s” name – this place is pure South Florida. Here you can gaze at the ocean and practically feel the ocean spray on your face, while you’re enjoying a few cold ones, watching the beach scene, and enjoy some Florida food. So have a drink, peel some shrimp, savor stone crabs in season, or order one of the excellent sandwiches. You'll feel like a Florida tourist, whether you are or not. Directly above is Boston’s sister concept, The Upper Deck. It’ a bit more sophisticated setting and cuisine, but still definitely Florida casual.
CAFÉ D’ ANGELO www.cafedangelo.com
8228 Glades Road, Boca Raton. 451-4404.
Café D’ Angelo was recently taken over by its new owner and Executive Chef, Franco Filippone. Franco’s cuisine reflects his Sicilian upbringing -- favoring wholesome, top quality ingredients and simple preparations. The opening Bruschetta is terrific, with that exact soft-hard texture, topped with very fresh (obviously vine-ripe) tomatoes, and subtle-yet-distinctive hints of garlic, EVOO, and fresh basil. Appetizer standouts include Mussels Mediterranean (in white wine-saffron broth); authentic Buratta (fresh Buffalo mozzarella, filled with ricotta-like curds), and Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio. For Pasti, I recommend the Bucatini– it’s like a thick, hollow spaghetti, which allows all that wonderful Amatriciana sauce (slow-roasted San Marzano tomatoes, pancetta, onions, Pecorino, and red wine) to permeate from within. Other Pasti range from basic Capellini Pomodoro, to substantial Linguini Frutti di Mare. We loved the flame-grilled Veal Chop with a zesty Barolo reduction, topped with creamy Gorgonzola – especially when teamed with Chef Franco’s seductive Porcini Risotto. Chicken Cacciatore stars free-range half chicken, wild mushrooms, fire-roasted peppers, & fresh oregano. You’ll also find authentic Braciola with ‘Sunday Gravy’, considered one of the four basic food groups among most New York/New Jersey Italian families -- yet surprisingly seldom offered in Florida.
CAFÉ JOLEY www.cafejoley.com
187 S.E. Mizner Blvd (Royal Palm Place), Boca Raton 361-4224
Chef/Owner John Suley cut his culinary I-teeth with the likes of Daniel Boulud, Gordon Ramsey, and Piere Gannaire, and now brings his classic training and inspired touch to this charming new bistro. Café Joley might be described as a ‘Contemporary French’ brasserie, with various Mediterranean influences. But you’ll also see some Floribean components, and even a few upscaled Southern touches (braised collard greens, truffled grits). As you might expect, the Café is an intimate, chef-driven, and personal setting (seating about 60), so don’t be surprised if there’s a wait. The menu changes often, with many daily specials, but look for the Crispy Kataffi-encrusted Prawns (with sweet potatoes and collard greens) and Seared Scallops (with beef oxtails and Parmesan coulis). Standard Entrées include Branzino (European Sea Bass), Braised Short Ribs with truffled grits; and Crispy Duck Confit with lentils and thyme, but do check out the chef’s nightly specials. A nice wine list complements the cuisine.
CAFFÉ LUNA ROSA www.caffelunarosa.com
34 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach 274-9404
With its ideal setting right along Ocean Blvd. within a breadstick’s throw of the Ocean, Caffe Luna Rosa is worth checking out – even if just for the scenery. The beautiful interior highlighted by granite, authentic artwork and magnificent woodwork, while the outdoor alfresco seating is ideal for ocean-kissed dining and people-watching. But even without the setting, this Caffe serves up some incredible Italian cuisine. Luna Rosa (the ‘Pink Moon’) prides itself on using only the finest ingredients (San Marzano tomatoes, imported Mozzarella di Bufala, authentic Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, etc.). The kitchen even roasts its own coffee beans, bakes its own breads, and prepares fresh pasta in-house daily. The selection of dishes is consistently updated while preserving customer favorites, and Chef Ernesto DiBlasi never ceases to amaze. Chilean Sea Bass Acqua Pazza (baked with plum tomatoes, red onion, garlic, asparagus, and a savory herbed butter sauce) is one of my favorites, and I can still remember the huge center cut Veal Chop we had 3 years ago! Other winners include Yellowtail snapper (filleted tableside), lamb chop "lollypops" with garlic mint aioli, and Chef Ernesto’s signature ‘Rooster Beak’ Pasta, which shines above the ocean of generic ‘pasta with vodka sauce’ dishes found everywhere. The wine list is likewise exceptional, and the bar scene is always popular, especially as the night goes on.
CANNOLI KITCHEN www.cannolikitchen.com
2001 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton 338-2929
22191 Powerline Rd., Boca Raton 955-8880
Now with two Boca locations, Cannoli Kitchen is mainly take-out & delivery joint, but does have a small window counter. The NY-style Pizzas are very good, and there’s an impressive selection of toppings and specialty pies, including Baked Ziti Pizza (That’s right – pizza, topped with pasta, so eat your hearts out, Atkins dieters!). Other prepared dishes tend toward southern Italian fare, including usual standards (veal Marsala, chicken parm, seafood frutti di mare, etc.). Be forewarned – just about everything here is very, very greasy, or at least over-saturated with oil. The Signature Salad is excellent, although also overwhelmed with dressing, so make a request of dressing on the side. Even the allegedly “healthy” cooked veggies come drowning in a pool of oil. Why Cannoli Kitchen literally ruins its otherwise-excellent food with gobs of grease is beyond our comprehension…
1332 N.W. 2nd Avenue, Boca Raton 362-0161
Don’t be fooled by the name, the Caribbean Grill is definitely a Cuban restaurant – and a pretty good one at that. It’s one of those little "holes in the wall" that turns out some authentic, homemade Cuban food, in a family setting and at affordable prices. A nice find, especially for lunch.
CARMEN'S AT THE TOP OF THE BRIDGE bocaratonbridgehotel.com/dining
999 E. Camino Real, Boca Raton 750-8354
With its majestic ocean views, Carmen’s might just have the best view in town. Food preparation is consistent and usually very good, with a better-than-average wine list, and service to match. There’s even a live pianist most nights. Carmen’s Sunday Champagne Brunch is one of the best in town. For too long, many people made a mistake and overlooked this roof top hotel restaurant. However, Carmen’s has taken its place as a popular destination in the area.
78 S. Federal Highway Boca Raton 750-2494
Take away the slew of usual Italian and Sushi/Thai/Chinese joints, and the Boca area is sadly lacking ethnic restaurants -- so I really liked seeing this little Peruvian restaurant open here, and still surviving. The menu boasts authentic South American (mainly Peruvian) cuisine that should please most local palates, along with some unfamiliar oddities (like cow’s stomach, if you can stomach it). The main attraction is, of course, the Ceviche -- make that Ceviches, as the House prepares many variations. Mixed Seafood is the most popular version, loaded with sea bass, shrimp, octopus, and conch, lightly splashing in a citrus/cilantro sauce. The menu provides many other seafood and meat dishes as well. For entrees, try fresh Tilapia (broiled, sautéed, fried, or poached), and Seco de Res (well done braised beef -- quite tasty). Don’t overlook side dishes, especially the black beans (ask for some chopped marinated onions to mix in) and the Yucca. The wine selection is sparce (mainly from Chile), but priced right and well matched for the food. Service, while not professional, is friendly and knowledgeable. Homemade Flan is delicious; So is the Inca Cola, a distinctively Peruvian soft drink that tastes sort of like liquid bubble gum.
CHOPS LOBSTER BAR http://www.chopslobsterbar.com
101 Plaza Real South Boca Raton, FL 33432 395-2675
Spahn’s Prime Cut
Chops Lobster Bar is the best restaurant in Boca, at least in my book. Legendary restaurateur Pano Karatassos of Atlanta’s Buckhead Life Restaurant, has created a new Boca landmark, comprising both steakhouse (“Chops”) and seafood restaurant (“Lobster Bar”). The ‘Chops’ dining room is classic steakhouse, with rich mahoganies and leather; while the ‘Lobster Bar’ area is more open and airy, overlooking a huge lobster bar and open kitchen. There’s also a front bar room (with live pianist), private meeting room, and outdoor patio. Service, like everything else, rates an “Excellent.” The opening homemade bread basket is worth the visit alone -- especially those amazing Caramelized Sweet Onion Pumpernickel Pockets! Steaks are selectively sourced Prime grade, custom cut, aged 40+ days, and blazed in Chops’ custom-made, high-temp oven. Of the 15+ cuts offered nightly, my favorite is the Bone-in Ribeye, a 22-oz. paradigm of steak perfection. Other sure bets include a butter-soft Bone-In Filet Mignon, prodigious Porterhouse, Petite Filet Mignon Trio, Triple-Cut Lamb Chops, and Prime Rib Veal Chop. For the “Lobster Bar” component, Chops offers about 30 fresh catches nightly, many of which are showcased in the Lobster Bar fronting the open kitchen. We’re talkin’ fresh seafood here -- In fact, it never even sees a freezer, thanks to Chops’ proprietary storage system. The signature thinly Crisped Lobster Tail Appetizer is an absolute Must Try. The velvety Lobster Bisque seems to capture the very essence of pure “lobsterness” in a cup. To truly savor the pure natural goodness of this ultra-fresh fresh fish, go for the Plancha treatment, simply sautéed Greek-style, with capers, lemon, and Greek EVOO. Other favorites include Ginger-Steamed Sea Bass, several Lobster dishes (including an entrée-sized version of the Crisped Lobster Tail appetizer), and whatever nightly specials superstar Executive Chef Holger Struett creates. And for a side, you gotta try the Fresh Corn Mash (think, ultra-decadent creamed corn). Chops’ Wine List is likewise spectacular, with about 400 labels, including many boutique wineries and rare varietals you won’t find anywhere else. Homemade Desserts (White Chocolate Banana Cream Pie!), Pano’s Private Reserve Coffee, and a top selection of after-dinner drinks are perfect endings to an already perfect meal.
213 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach 272-0220
One of Delray’s popular spots along The Ave, City Oyster seems to always draw a crowd of hip folks to its contemporary dark-wood bar, exposed brick wall, and pressed-tin ceiling. The outdoor patio is a popular draw, especially since it’s now dog-friendly. The menu is not large, and obviously pointed toward the ocean. But the seafood is fresh, and you’ll surely find something to entice you. We thought the Plateau was particularly good (lobster, crab claws, shrimp, clams, and oysters), and appreciated the kitchen’s willingness to accommodate some special requests.
COAL MINE PIZZA http://www.coalminepizza.com/
399 SE Mizner Bvld (Royal Palm Place) Boca Raton
“Coal fired” pizza seems to be the hottest trends hitting south Florida, and Coal Mine Pizza was one of very first such entries in the Boca market. As the name implies, the star of the show is the 3-ton, coal burning oven (using natural, clean-burning Anthracite coal, FYI). The coals fire at a blazing 850 degrees, thus creating that distinctive, slightly charred crust. You’ll find most the standard pizza toppings, plus a few upscale options. House specialty pies include the Rack Gone Mushroom (with assorted wild mushrooms, basil pesto, and silky Fontina), homemade Meatball with Ricotta, Amazing Artichoke; Shrimp Scampi; and even Fresh Truffle (upon advance notice). But there’s a lot more here than just pizza. Coal-Baked Chicken Wings, basted in a zesty balsamic glaze are a welcome change from the usual Buffalo-style. Other standouts include homemade Meatballs, which the menu quite accurately describes as “melt in your mouth;” a tropical Seared Tuna Salad (with mango, avocado and honey-lime vinaigrette); and Mussels Marinara. Besides the food itself, ‘The Mine’ also boasts a casual atmosphere, full bar, substantial wine list, and lively outdoor patio, Panini and other Lunch offerings, Desserts, and very friendly service, and a fun crowd. GM Steven Leiber (from Bocadoro) will always take good care of you.
3350 N.W. 2nd Avenue, Boca Raton 750-8860
This hidden charm is tucked away in an unassuming strip center, that seems worlds apart from the high-traffic hum of Mizner Park or Atlantic Avenue, is my favorite Cuban restaurant in the area. As the steady stream of regulars will attest, you don’t come here to ‘see and be seen,’ but rather to get the best Cuban food in Boca. The cuisine is of course mainly Cuban, with a few South American and Florida influences thrown in, and it’s all good. Dishes are prepared with authenticity, and the friendly servers are happy to explain and recommend items. Cuban Café is also surprisingly affordable – and certainly one the best deals in town. Definitely check out the nightly specials. A limited wine & beer menu is offered, and the cuisine is good enough to warrant a nice bottle.
CUCINA D'ANGELO www.cucinadangelo.com
5050 Town Center Circle (Boca Center) Boca Raton 750-2344
Spahn’s Prime Cut
Cucina D’Angelo is unquestionably one of the best Italian restaurants in town. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best restaurants of any type. Owner Angelo Morinelli is a classically trained Italian Chef, and sure knows his way around the kitchen. He’s also about the most congenial host you’ll find, and a veritable encyclopedia of culinary knowledge (so don’t get him started, if you’re in a hurry!). The setting is refined and elegant, but not stuffy, and the gregarious Angelo makes every guest feel welcome and loved. As another reviewer so accurately noted, “the energy exuded by the clientele is contagious, and whatever dish you order will knock your socks off.” Wine aficionados will love Angelo’s stellar wine collection (1,500 labels!), many of which are stored in a glass-walled Wine Room, which is also available for private dining. The menu incorporates various Italian regional cuisines, with emphasis toward Tuscany and Rome. Start with the fresh Antipasti selections, displayed in the back near the wood-burning brick oven. The oven also produces the wonderful complimentary bruschetta, topped with vine-ripe Romas and basil. Notable starters include Sautéed Wild Mushrooms (Funghi Trifolati), Pancetta-wrapped Grilled Tiger Prawns, and Jumbo Shrimp with cannelini beans, garlic, and cherry tomatoes. For entrees, Our Chilean Sea Bass -- pan-seared, then sautéed with hearts of palm, sundried tomatoes, and shallots in a luscious champagne-lemon butter sauce – was about the best we’ve had, anywhere. I also loved the huge, oak-grilled Veal Chop with a porcini-truffle oil reduction. Just about anything else on Angelos’ menu is a winner, like the signature Seafood Mare Mare (a Cioppino-like compilation of fresh seafood in a vibrant Brodetto sauce); Grilled Filet Mignon with bold Barolo wine reduction and wild mushrooms; Veal Chop Milanese, and the daily Fresh Catch and Veal specials. Homemade Pastas also shine, like the Pappardelle with porcini mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, & herbs; Lobster Ravioli, Fiocchi (pasta pockets stuffed with roasted pear) in a rich 4-cheese sauce; and daily Risottos. Desserts are, of course, incredible. Try the Apple Tarte, or ultra-rich Chocolate Velvet Cake.
(And tell Angelo I said hi…).
CUCINA MIO (f/k/a CUCINA ROSANO) www.villarosano.com
16950 Jog Road Delray Beach; 33446 499-9419
This very popular neighborhood Italian restaurant (f/k/a “Cucina Rosano”) is like a marriage between causal pizzeria and upscale Italian. Standard classics (i.e., Lasagna, Eggplant Parm, Chicken Marsala, Veal Piccata) are featured in the “Arthur Avenue Favorites,” but the house specialties are where it’s at. I’ll come back again for the Chicken Alesandro, sautéed with artichoke hearts, spinach and mushrooms in a vibrant plum tomato broth. Ditto on the Veal Cuomo, with earthy Portabellos in a savory sherry demi-glace, plus Italian pine nuts lending a subtly sweet, textural component, all served atop sautéed fresh spinach. Also try Paglio Fieno Rachel, chicken breast splashing in a garlic-white wine bath, along with sun-dried tomatoes, shitakes, and green & white Capellini pasta. The dining room features a cool building facade of a quaint Italian village, evoking images of Viktor Shvaiko’s “A Night in Verona.” You’ll note the friendly, comfortable feeling, generating from owner Wendy Rosano, down to the management and servers, and shared by the guests. No wonder so many customers are regulars.
CUGINI STEAKHOUSE (f/k/a CUGINI GRILLE) www.cuginigrilledelray.com
270 E. Atlantic Ave. Delray Beach 274-6244
Ever since it took over the former Dakota space a few years ago, “Cugini Grille” was about the only true steakhouse on the Ave. But it was so often mistaken for an Italian restaurant, that its owners recently renamed the Grille to “Cugini Steakhouse,” to emphasize its reason for being. Here you’ll find some outstanding food, top-shelf drinks, a decent wine selection, and a romantic aura that sets the stage for a lovely experience. Specializing in steaks, chops, and seafood, Cugini delights in preparing basic dishes with various Mediterranean methods, like a wonderful French artichoke dipped in sautéed egg and served over angel hair pasta with sherry wine and lemon. Beefy choices abound, including: Veal Chop Saltimbocca in an herb wine sauce with Escarole greens braised with prosciutto and olives; NY Strip with roasted garlic-herb butter; Filet Mignon under a Merlot wine demi with crispy potato chive cake and grilled seasonal vegetables; a huge 20-oz. Porterhouse; and center cut garlic rubbed Lamb Chops, with grilled asparagus and potato puree with mint pesto drizzle are excellent beefy choices. Fresh Fish offerings vary, but look for the seared Yellow Tail Snapper (with steamed asparagus and Romesco sauce); pan roasted Striped Bass (with porcinis, artichoke hearts, braised escarole, and potato puree in a white wine herb sauce); and traditional Cioppino, chock full of seafood in a light tomato broth with poached striped bass over a toasted crostini. It’s really hard to make a decision, so trust your friendly server.
DE LA TIERRA (SEE ‘SUNDY HOUSE’)
FALCON HOUSE www.thefalconhouse.com
116 N.E. 6th Ave. Delray Beach 243-9499
Here’s one of those cool, off-the-beaten-path, ‘secret’ finds, that doesn’t do much advertising or promotion, but still survives. Chances are, you probably either know and love Falcon House, or you’ve never even heard of. Falcon House bills itself as “The All American Tapas Bar,” so you’ll find a large selection of appetizers and small bites, and grazing is definitely the way to go here. The eclectic offerings of Tapas (most are $5-$12) really span the gamut, reflecting influence of Asian (Chicken Satay, Pad Thai, Tuna Poki); Mediterranean (Lamb Kebobs, Mediterranean Shells); Southwestern (Mojo Shrimp, Baja Fish Tacos, Guacomole); Italian (Caprese Salad, Risotto); and good ol’ American (Pulled Pork Sliders, Grilled Chicken Wings). More substantial offerings include Steak Diane, Yellowtail Snapper, and many daily specials. The wine list is admirable, and the long bar, creative cocktails (especially their signature ‘5-sip Martini’), and convivial atmosphere help explain why this place is so popular – at least among those who know about it!
FIFTH AVENUE GRILL www.fifthavenuegrill.net
821 S. Federal Highway Delray Beach 265-0122
A Delray Beach mainstay for nearly 20 years, Fifth Avenue Grill is basically a steak house, but a bit downscaled from the highly hyped (and highly priced) nationals. The menu is fairly predictable (NY Strip, Filet Mignon, Lamb Chops, Pork Chops, Roast Duck), which is exactly what you want in a steak house. Ditto on most of the appetizers, sides, and desserts, which are likewise priced slightly lower than the big boys. A nice selection of seafood offerings includes Lobster (whole and tails), Seared Tuna, Artichoke-crusted Dolphin, Baked Stuffed Tilapia). The wine list is average, but certainly acceptable. One interesting note: Besides the standard (rare/medium /well done) temperatures, the menu also lists ‘Pittsburgh’ style (blackened outside, cool red center), and Cajun Blackened treatments. Nice touch.
9060 Kimberly Blvd. Boca Raton; 451-2021
Florentino’s offers fresh and hearty Italian (mainly southern Italian) cuisine, including noteworthy sauces, pastas, and a wonderful chicken with sausages and onions. The servers are friendly and helpful, and management generally does a good job of pleasing its customers -- many of whom are regulars. The wine list is less than applaudable (and they do not allow you to bring your own, even for a corkage fee). Be aware, though Florentino’s is located near Century Village, so it naturally attracts many seniors (especially during early bird hours).
FRAN'S CHICKEN HAVEN
1925 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton 395-0781
As the name implies, this place is all about chicken -- the best darn Fried Chicken in town, according to its many fans who have kept this little “hole in the wall” alive and well since 1964 -- making Fran’s one of the longest standing restaurants in Palm Beach County. Fran herself has retired, but its new owner Stacy Fuentes has expanded the place, and even improved upon the food selections you can find in this last bastion of independent fried chicken restaurant owners who make better food than the chains. It may not quite be on your ‘healthy’ list, but sometimes there’s just nothing better than good ol’ down-home fried chicken. Fried chicken livers and chicken wings are also popular, along with various southern sides like collard greens, candied yams, black-eyed peas, and real mashed potatoes. There are a few tables, but Fran’s is primarily meant for take-out. Either way, once you try Fran’s, and you’ll never go back to the franchised chains again.
GARY WOO ASIAN BISTRO http://garywooasianbistro.com
3400 N. Federal Highway Boca Raton 368-8803
In a market blitzed with good restaurants (and New Yorkers), it’s still amazingly hard to find excellent Chinese dining at reasonable prices. Gary Woo is not quite at the top tier, but it certainly does raise the bar – at least for the Boca area. Woo’s “Asian Bistro” is not your typical Chinese take-out joint. Note the tuxedo-clad servers, large fish tank in the back, spacious tables with lacquered chairs, and noticeable interaction between server and diner. And you can’t help but notice a strong preponderance of New York accents, which seem to fit in pretty naturally here. Like most Chinese restaurants, the menu is tremendous, with dozens of combinations and specials, including some noteworthy vegetarian options. Interestingly (and perhaps sadly), Woo will not serve roasted duck without a day’s notice, nor does it offer Peking Duck at all. Appetizers are generally good (try the roast duck spring roll), but others need some work (the deep-fried ones were oily). As with most Chinese places, the wine selection is limited, but even my wine-loving friends recognize that Chinese beer is a good match with Chinese food.
5970 S.W. 18th St. (Shoppes at Village Point) Boca Raton 393-3900
Don’t mistake Gatsby’s for just another ‘sports bar.’ Gatsby’s is truly unique, offering an eclectic menu, surprisingly good sushi bar, large drink selection, lively nightlife action, and a sleek and sophisticated setting. Up front sits the popular bar and giant screens, and Gatsby’s boasts the area’s undisputed best billiard facility, with two separate rooms of professional-grade, regulation tables. From the bar, Gatsby’s features over 40 beers from across the globe, dozens of creative martinis, an impressive selection of top-shelf scotches, cognacs, and cordials, and a comprehensive wine list. But Gatsby’s real magic is the food. In fact, Gatsby’s was one of the early pioneers to introduce an “international tapas” menu. The signature Cajun Egg Rolls (stuffed with blackened chicken, roasted corn, red onions, cilantro, goat cheese, cheddar cheese, served with mango chutney), Grilled Chicken Wings, and Gourmet Pizzas are perennial favorites, but you’ll find an evolving array of international tapas. Notable newcomers include Baby Lamb Chops with sun-dried cherry chutney, Ahi & Crab Crunch Roll, and Chipotle Glazed Shrimp; while Gatsby’s Sushi Bar easily rivals most sushi parlors around town. My suggestions: Baby Lamb Chops, Portabella Pizza, Beef Tenderloin Wrap, flame-grilled Burgers, and the Yin & Yang Mousse for dessert.
(Kathy’s) GAZEBO CAFÉ www.kathysgazebo.com
4199 N. Federal Highway Boca Raton 395-6033
If you’re looking for classic, elegant Continental dining, this is it. Kathy’s Gazebo Cafe (often called “the Gazebo”), has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Boca’s top restaurants (for food, wine, service, and setting), and it does get very busy during the crowded winter season. Gazebo was serving fresh fish long before it became trendy (its Dover sole is legendary), and continues to prepare marvelous fish and shellfish entrees. But don't let that distract you from terrific beef dishes and desserts as well. Prices are not cheap, but not the most expensive either, and the Gazebo’s semi-formality make this a good choice for an elegant night out. It’s also a great place for parties and group dinners.
GIGI'S TAVERN www.gigis.com
346 Plaza Real (Mizner Park) Boca Raton 368-4488
A practical institution within Boca’s Mizner Park, Gigi’s has seen its ups and downs. It’s gone through several chefs, but under new Executive Chef John Telles (best known for his Ft. Lauderdale Black Orchid Café), the menu has improved considerably. The restaurant itself is lovely, although a bit worn -- and the same can usually be said about the crowd. Service can be hit-or-miss, depending upon the server and the night. But the real fun of Gigi’s is the social scene, especially on weekends, when they still have about the best known (and longest lasting) live band performance.
GOLD COAST SEAFOOD GRILL www.goldcoastseafoodgrill.com
2200 Glades Rd. (Glades Plaza) Boca Raton 955-8884
Gold Coast was one of the first – and remains one of the best -- seafood places in Boca to offer a wide selection of top-quality fresh seafood, without the high price tag of the ‘fancier’ places and big chains. The fun bar area pours some excellent specialty cocktails (try the Key Lime Martini), and there’s a cool outdoor patio. Gold Coast features a good selection of fresh fish, hand-cut in house. Just about anything from the sea here is a good choice -- especially the signature Horseradish and Dijon-encrusted Salmon with fresh tomatoes and balsamic. I also like the Almond-crusted Mahi Mahi, Blackened Mango Grouper, and Cornmeal-Crusted Seared Scallops. And for the non-seafood lover in you, there’s steaks, ribs, chicken, and prime rib. The wine list is adequate, although not extensive -- but reasonably priced and certainly well-suited for the format (plus a small special reserve list). Bananas Foster Bread Pudding and Chocolate Lava Tower are worth the visit alone.
(THE) GRILLE ON CONGRESS
5101 Congress Ave. (at Yamato Rd.) Boca Raton 912-9800
This restaurant, situated on the once-remote corner of Congress and Yamato, is far better than its modest name might suggest. The setting is clubby, comfortable, and friendly -- thanks mainly to owners Peter and Suzie Donovan, who have come to know most the regulars by name. The kitchen (still lead by the original Chef Patrick Bouffard) makes everything from scratch, including all the soups, sauces, side dishes, and even dressings. Their signature drop-style buttermilk biscuits are brought out continuously hot from the oven, and practically addicting. The menu is relatively straightforward; and as the name implies, the main attraction is the oak wood grill. For starters, try the White Bean Turkey Chili, Applewood Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, and Sesame Seared Tuna. My lunchtime favorites are grilled fresh Salmon on spinach salad; and a great burger. For dinner, the Apple Maple Pork Chops, graced in apple juice and real maple syrup, and teamed with homemade smashed potatoes and cinnamon apples, is a sure winner. Other entrees include NY Strip, an appropriately named (32-oz.) “Big Ass T-Bone,” Honey-Ginger Glazed Salmon, Grilled Chicken & Bowties (with artichokes, Kalamatas, and feta), Pistachio crusted Snapper, and nightly specials.
16850 Jog Rd. (Addison Place) Delray Beach 638-1949
A reliable ‘Go To’ choice for the “Country Club Row” crowd along the Boca/Delray border, Henry’s is a friendly neighborhood bistro with an added touch of style. The brainchild of owner Burt Rapoport (Opus 5, Bogart’s, Prezzo, etc.), Henry’s features a unique mix of classic American favorites, kicked up a few culinary notches by Chef Joey Gianuzzi. Call it, “gourmet comfort food” or “upscale down-home,” but the food is consistently good, the setting is warm and familiar, and prices are fair. The signature Gourmet Pot Roast exemplifies home cookin’ elevated to new heights (with English peas, wild mushrooms, and port wine demi-glace). Ditto on Chicken Pot Pie, Roast Chicken, Split Pea Soup (fat-free!), and nightly Casseroles. Of the ‘fancier’ dishes, standouts include Dijon crusted Chicken Milano, Grilled Wild Salmon, Chopped Tuna Steak, and Roast Duck. Homemade Desserts such as the Old Fashioned Hot Fudge Sundae, Warm Apple Cobbler, and Coconut Cream Pie likewise take your taste buds back home to the good ol’ days.
8841 Glades Road, Boca Raton 451-0420
Ichiban is one of the few places in town that have real Tepanyaki tables and chefs (a la Benihana). Sushi and sashimi are offered, but this is not really known as a ‘sushi joint,’ so enjoy the Tepanyaki show, or any of its other Japanese dishes. Ichiban also has outdoor seating and a charming garden, a (surprisingly) rare treat for any Japanese restaurant. Service can be spotty, but the food is usually very good, and you can’t beat the Tepanyaki scene for a fun dining event, especially with small groups.
1911 S. Federal Highway, Delray Beach 272-3566
This low-key, 100-seat family restaurant offers classic old-time Italian food. Il Girasole has stood the test of time (20+ years), and its loyal clientele appreciate the friendly service, opportunity for quiet dining, large portions, and "homey" atmosphere. Veal dishes are always recommended, and the many pasta preparations also excel.
J & J RAW BAR
632 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach 272-3390
Among the high-falutin’ fancy bistros crowding Atlantic Avenue, it’s good to find this low-key, informal raw bar. The specialty here is, obviously, the raw bar, but the menu offers a full range of prepared seafood dishes. Among the appetizers, go for Smoked Marlin Dip, Seared Tuna, Stuffed Portabello, and Seafood Chowder all great choices (and of course the raw bar offerings). And for you carnivores, there’s Cuban style flank steak, chicken breast, ribs, and pretty good burgers. Do check out the nightly specials.
7860 Glades Road, Boca Raton 750-9001
With all the Chinese restaurants in Boca, Jasmine is one of the very few that actually stand out. We like the healthy, flavorful menu, and creative interpretations of classic dishes. Singapore Noodles (rice noodles with shrimp, scallions, onions, and shredded pork), Midnight Beef (beef tenderloin in black bean sauce with peppers, onions, & mushrooms), or Moo Shi Sichuan (with shredded pork, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and scallions) are notable choices. The Chicken in Lettuce Wraps is decidedly tastier than the more common rendition offered by the chains. And, perhaps the ultimate test of any Chinese restaurant, the Egg Rolls here are excellent.
47 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton 394-0007
Spahn’s Prime Cut
Johannes is unquestionably one of the most unique and memorable dining destination in the area. The intimate hideaway has no sign out front (just a clever “J” door handle) and seats only about 30. Once inside, an unspoken camaraderie seems to develop amongst the fellow diners, who’ve discovered this hidden treasure. Chef/Owner Johannes Fruhwirt’s ever-changing menu often touches the cutting edge (Johannes was the first chef in this area to introduce Kobe Beef, free range Antelope, and the celebrated Korabuto “red” Japanese pork), yet pays homage to his classic European training. The chef sources rare ingredients from across the globe, using all natural, free-range, and organic ingredients whenever possible -- including many fresh herbs and exotic fruits straight from his own garden. You may order off the menu, but the Chef’s prix fixe offerings (4, 6, or 9 courses) is the way to go. The menu changes nightly, but some memorable starters include Butternut Squash Soup touched with pure maple syrup; Belize Conch Ceviche in papaya and fresh lime juice; Lobster Raviolis in a mild curry sabayon; and Pheasant with Leeks and Wild Mushrooms. For entrees, I still remember the amazing Free Range Elk Chops, totally tender and not the least bit gamey, in a bold Barolo and veal stock demi; and the rare Grey Grouper, pan-seared with leeks, chive oil, and truffle-infused caviar. Other main dishes might include Kobe Beef Filet Mignon with enoki mushrooms; Brandied Lacquered Duck in cherry-ginger sauce; Pistachio-crusted Blue Marlin with a banana rum jus; just-caught local fresh fish; or even Szechwan-seasoned Shrimp over green tea noodles with fresh water chestnuts. The well-composed wine list is surprisingly extensive considering the diminutive space. Johannes’ is frequently booked solid (often by one party), so reservations are strongly recommended. And do give my regards to Chef Johannes.
5751 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton 988-0668
Josephine’s is classic fine Italian fare, in an elegant setting with professional servers. For starters, Josephine’s Hot Antipasto for two is probably enough for four, loaded with eggplant rollatini, baked clams oreganata, stuffed mushrooms, mozzarella in’corrozza with marinara, shrimp cocktail, and flash fried calamari. You’ll never want for Entrée choices, including house specialties like Pollo Josephine, Seafood Pollage, and Shrimp & Scallop Porcini. Other classics range from Lamb Chops; Zuppa di Pesce; Veal Osso Bucco, and Veal Chop. Plus, there’s usually five or so Jumbo Shrimp offerings (flamed in brandy, grilled, pan- sautéed); numerous veal, chicken, and fresh fish dishes, and an abundance of Pasta – and just about everything is excellent. The wine list is diverse enough to allow for different tastes, with some nice mid-priced bottles that well compliment the cuisine.
7140 Beracasa Way, Boca Raton 395-8862
In addition to all the standard sushi and sashimi offerings, Kansai also features a great selection of cooked dishes, Tepanyaki tables, and a fun bar area. Choose from a wide assortment of Tepanyaki, teriyaki, noodle dishes, and traditional Japanese entrees – plus of course the sushi, sashimi, and dozens of rolls. The fish is fresh and the staff is friendly. Kansai is a safe, reliable bet for good, solid Japanese food.
KATHY’S GAZEBO CAFÉ (see GAZEBO CAFÉ)
17940 Military Trail, Boca Raton 995-5044
With its tropical-inspired theme, consistently good cuisine (mainly seafood), and reasonable prices, Kee Grill remains one of Boca’s favorite restaurants. Kee is a bistro-style concept with a decided tropical theme, paying due homage to its namesake Ke’e, an edenic Hawaiian beach. The Pacific Rim-inspired menu focuses on fresh seafood. Perennial favorites include soy-ginger glazed Chilean sea bass, sesame-glazed swordfish, macadamia-crusted snapper, Cioppino, and the mandatory crabcake. Non-seafood options include several chicken, steak, and lamb dishes, plus a very good veal chop. Most entrees come with veggies (creamed spinach, asparagus, etc.) and/or rice or potatoes. Given the restaurant's popularity, waits are not unlikely, so plan accordingly.
KYOJIN BUFFET http://kyojinbuffet.com
21073 Powerline Rd. Boca Raton 218-1708
“All you can eat” buffets are usually not known for their quality, but Kyojin Buffet is a welcome exception to the rule. Kyojin is very popular and does tremendous volume, so everything stays fresh. You see the actual sushi chefs at work, constantly replenishing the never-ending stream of sushi, rolls, and other offerings. The best thing about a buffet is the chance to experiment and try as many dishes as you want (and at a very reasonable price!). Come hungry, as the selection is tremendous, with dozens upon dozens of sushi, sashimi, and rolls – plus assorted Japanese salads, edamame, noodles, etc. You can also enjoy two hot soups, plus a select hot foods bar, with (mainly Chinese) offerings like spring rolls, various stir-fries, dumplings, rice and noodles, sesame chicken, and even pork chops. Plus, there’s also a hibachi station, where the chefs will custom-make your choice of meats and veggies to your order. But wait – there’s more! A separate dessert bar, including fresh fruit, baked goodies, and green tea ice cream. This may not be the very best sushi you’ll ever have, nor the cheapest price; but for the price-quality ratio, Kyojin Buffet is about the best deal in town.
KYOTO SUSHI AND SAKE LOUNGE http://kyotosushisake.com
25 N.E. 2nd Ave. Delray Beach 330-2275
Certainly one of Delray’s more popular venues, Kyoto has great ambiance, a sharp crowd, and excellent cuisine. Kyoto’s sushi and sashimi is among the best in the area, and the talented chefs might create some special dishes at your request. Of course you’ll find all the standards here, along with some rare specialties like Ukki (a spicy Asian-style steak tartare with quail egg), and Toro (fatty tuna) with shallot, gold flakes, and caviar. Kyoto offers about 60 rolls (regular and hand) which are described and pictured (great idea!) on four pages in the menu. House specialties include the Delray Roll (eel, roasted garlic, steamed spinach, and grilled shiitakes), Japanese Chicken Salad Hand Roll (chopped chicken teriyaki, lettuce, cucumber, avocado, masago, and sesame mayo); and interestingly-named Ugly Roll (spicy tuna, avocado and asparagus, salmon skin, cream cheese, cucumber, scallion, seaweed powder, and masago). But don’t overlook the Hot entrees, like sweet potato-crusted Sea Bass; Miso Roast Duckling; and pepper-crusted Ahi filet with a balsamic-orange reduction. You’ll also find one of the best selections of cold sake, which goes especially well with fresh fish.
LA LUNA http://www.lalunabistro.com/
5030 Champion Boulevard (Polo Shops) Boca Raton 997-1165
When you want solid, if not spectacular, Italian fare, as well as service by friendly people in a fun atmosphere, La Luna is a good choice. La Luna is a theatrically-designed Italian “bistro and lounge” full of personality. You won’t find pizza, but it’s a charming place to enjoy a casual meal – and the friendly bar and nice wine list provide further opportunity for an enjoyable meal. Just about everything is fresh and cooked to order, and the friendly staff can help you choose or put together the meal that you want. La Luna is a nice place for a casual dinner. Standouts include the stuffed swordfish, grilled veal chop, zuppa di pesce, most pasta dishes, Tuscan-style lasagna, and some incredible garlic bread.
LA TRATTORIA http://www.fratellorestaurant.com/
6060 S.W. 18th Street (Village Corner Stores, near Howard’s Market) Boca Raton 750-1296
Unquestionably one of my favorite “neighborhood Italians,” La Trattoria is a consistent bet for excellent Italian cuisine, as witnessed by the loyal following of regulars. Chef/Owner Chef Raffaele Bassolino and his wife Francesca run their little Trattoria with genuine Italian charm. You will find white tablecloths within Rafael’s well-lit “family room,” but not the stuffiness (nor the price!) of other fine dining establishments. The menu features mixed regional specialties from across Italy. For starters, try Roasted Red Peppers with anchovies, capers, & garlic; and Calamari Giglio (pan-sautéed with garlic and fresh basil in a subtly spicy glaze). But my favorite is still the Stracciatella, traditional Italian chicken soup with fresh spinach, egg twirls, Parmigiano, and (of course) garlic. Entrees include flawless renditions of many familiar standards (Chicken Cacciatore, Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Scarpariello, many pasta dishes), plus house specialties. In particular, the signature Fettuccine alla Trattoria with five types of wild mushrooms is outstanding. Each night also sees many specials. On our recent visit, specials included a wonderful Yellowtail Snapper braised in a vibrant tomato brodetto with fresh clams; grilled jumbo scallops in a savory garlic-tomato sauce; butterflied Red Trout; and a special Veal Saltimbocca with prosciutto, spinach Florentine, and robust sherry wine reduction. The wine list is somewhat limited, but well thought out and priced right; and the homemade Tiramisu and ricotta cheesecake are about the best in town.
249 E. Palmetto Park Boca Raton 392-4568
Vietnamese cuisine is a wonderful departure from the more familiar Thai and Chinese food, but unfortunately, there is no place in town to find authentic upscale Vietnamese (aka “French Vietnamese”) cuisine – other than La Tre. Chef/Owner Toi Duong prepares Vietnamese sensations far beyond the more common ‘street’ food. Just about everything is fresh, light, and delicious. Winners include Happy Pancake filled with shrimp, pork, and veggies; peanut infused sautéed chicken with wonderful crispy onions; any type of soup (especially the Hanoi Soup); grilled beef La Lot (like a Vietnamese lettuce wrap), 5-spiced Cornish Hen, and fresh fish specials. The lunch menu offers a great deal -- half-size dinner portion, at less than half price. The servers at La Tre are very friendly and helpful, so feel free to ask questions. The wine list is better than found at most Asian restaurants.
LA VILLETTA http://www.lavillettaboca.com/
4351 N. Federal Highway Boca Raton 362-8403
A long-standing favorite around place is La Viletta on N. Federal. The menu is more limited than most places, but just about everything is wonderful, especially the seafood and the fish. I recommend the signature whole Yellowtail Snapper encrusted in sea salt, deboned tableside is highly recommended. La Viletta's prices are a bit steeper than their competitors, but the food quality is high. Unfortunately, however, service has slipped a bit.
LA VIOLA http://www.laviolarestaurant.com
145 S. E. Mizner Blvd. (Royal Palm Plaza) Boca Raton 392-0304
Here’s one of the few places where you can still get good solid Italian food, served family style. The portions are (obviously) huge, meant for sharing. Tables have semi-formal white tablecloths, and the staff is generally quite friendly. Pastas, chicken and beef entrees are your best bets, but some of the fish dishes do not lend themselves as well to family style preparation. La Viola is a nice choice for family gatherings and other large parties; and for anyone seeking a good value.
LEGAL SEA FOODS http://www.legalseafoods.com/
6000 W. Glades Rd. (Town Center Mall) Boca Raton 447-2112
Harry Berkowitz opened his little “Legal Market” in Boston over 100 years ago; and his family-run business still (now under grandson Roger Berkowitz) has grown to about 30 locations – including, fortunately, Boca Raton. Bostonians still swear by Legal Sea Foods – and you simply won’t find a more expansive selection of fresh seafood -- or safer, as all seafood goes through Legal’s state-of-the-art testing facility, which is second to none. I’m amazed at the sheer variety of offerings. On any given day, you might see 4 types of raw oysters, 6 soups (including its famous Clam Chowder), a full page of salads, and a dozen fresh catches – in addition to the many ‘regular’ offerings. On the same note, the wine list is incredible, with many by the glass, and several wine flights offered. Ditto on the entire bar menu, with its impressive specialty martinis, champagne cocktails, top-shelf liquors, and even Scotch flights (!). Among the many starters, favorites include the fresh raw bar offerings (including Kumumoto oysters in season), Blackened Tuna Sashimi, the signature Crab Cakes, Fried Calamari “Rhode Island” style (with banana peppers and garlic), and the aforementioned Clam Chowder. For the main course, you won’t go wrong with any of the fresh fish -- simply wood-grilled, to accentuate its natural goodness. Fish may be accompanied with your choice of homemade sauces (Cajun, blackened, tropical salsa, Shandong sauce, etc.), or (if you must), even fried. Offerings depend upon seasonality, but look for Boston scrod, Arctic char, rainbow trout, mahi-mahi, Louisiana catfish, and real Alaskan wild salmon. Plus, there’s many Chef’s specials, and of course shellfish offerings, including the signature Maine lobster (steamed, stuffed & baked, etc.). Other standbys include New England Lobster Bake, Cioppino, Baked Boston Scrod, and Pecan-crusted Snapper -- plus steak, chicken and vegetarian offerings as well. Also note, Legal is one of the few places to features a separate gluten-free and celiac-friendly menu.
451 E. Palmetto Park Rd. Boca Raton 362-0208
Here’s one of those hidden treasures, that’s practically easier to miss than to find. But those who have found Lilly’s swear by it, and have built a fiercely loyal following. They come for Lilly’s solid Italian food, in a friendly-yet-chic setting. Pastas shine here, especially the many Raviolis. Check out the Eggplant Ravioli; Butternut Squash Ravioli with a light tomato sauce, and Black Ravioli Alfredo with lobster and crab. Also recommended: Sautéed calamari fra Diavlo; Dijon mussels; Tortellini Caprese; Snapper Franchese; and Dolphin Piccata. Most entrees come with a wonderful house salad. A satisfying wine and beer list, as well as hard-to-resist desserts, will well accompany your meal. Lilly’s is open for lunch, and makes some great subs. Service is friendly, and so are the prices.
LINDA B. OF BOCA
41 E. Palmetto Park Rd. Boca Raton 367-0200
Whenever I see Paula Dean on the Food Network, I’m reminded of Linda Brandino, a/k/a “Linda B.” The gregarious owner and host is almost always on hand, welcoming guests into her “house” with genuine Southern charm. Linda’s cuisine is classic American/Continental in a gracious setting -- all harkening back to the glory days of elegant fine dining. But if you’re diet-conscious be aware, as butter, cream, and cheese are quite prominent. Standout starters include baked Marvelous Mushrooms (filled with spinach and artichokes, topped with cheese), and the Linda B Blue Cheese salad, loaded with blue cheese, and topped with gobs (and gobs) of creamy bleu cheese dressing. Among the entrees, Roasted Duckling in a unique cinnamon-pear sauce is outstanding; as is the signature Chicken Chardonnay; rack of lamb, and most nightly specials. And no visit to Linda B. is complete without her signature strawberry Napoleon.
501 E. Camino Real, in the Boca Raton Resort & Club 447-5822
If you’re a member or hotel guest of the famed Boca Raton Resort & Club (or better yet, know someone who is), definitely check out Lucca, with its gorgeous setting and Tuscan cuisine. For starters, ‘Two-minute” Calamari prepared “Tuscan lifeguard” style: lightly sautéed with caper berries, black olives, sultanas (golden raisins) and pignolias in a subtly spicy tomato brodo is outstanding; as are the Fresh Mussels Arrabiata (white wine-garlic) broth. Garganelli pasta with grilled chicken, wood-roasted mushrooms, spinach, and Marsala truly shines. Among the Entrées, the special slow-braised Veal Osso Bucco is perfectly matched with saffron risotto, and a definite winner. Other standouts include mustard & garlic-crusted Rack of Lamb; Rosemary-balsamic Roasted Chicken; wood-roasted Cedar Plank Salmon; and Mahi Mahi with a grilled tomato-black olive-caper sauce. But whatever you get, do not miss the wood-roasted Jumbo Asparagus with charcoaled wild mushroom, goat cheese and aged balsamic. Service is, of course, stellar, and the wine list (200+ labels) is impressive.
LUCILLE'S BAD TO THE BONE BBQ http://www.badtothebonebbq.com/
3011 Yamato Rd. (Regency Court) Boca Raton 997-9557
Lucille's might be the most upscale-yet-down home BBQ house in south Florida. The specialty here is of course Barbeque, with large portions of BBQ ribs (baby back and St. Louis style) and chicken; plus chopped beef brisket, rotisserie chicken, and really good pork chops. Combo platters are the way to go here, especially if you’re dining family style. There’s also plenty of seafood, salad, and sandwich offerings, plus sports-bar inspired appetizers. Try the different sauces to add your own spice and flavoring, and have a great time at a place with friendly service, nearly top of the line food, and good beer. A great place for the family too.
21090 St. Andrews Blvd.
Maggiano’s, quite simply, makes you smile. Not just while you are there, mind you, but even after you have left. It’s pure fun set in an atmosphere of elegance, hosted by friendly and highly efficient staff, and accompanied by pretty darn good food.
When you enter you will be drawn back in time to old New York, which is precisely what the designers had in mind. A gorgeous bar room with high tables, a bar, and a piano played in New York lounge style is a frenetic hub of activity. Private dining rooms and rest rooms will remind you of an old movie. And the huge main dining room gives a feeling that one is in a great hall full of smiling diners.
The cuisine here is primarily southern Italian, and the portions are huge. So you might experience the best face of Maggiano’s if you are with a group of six to eight. Service is family style, and even half portions are large enough for two to four.
What about the food quality? One has to understand that Maggiano’s seats well over 400, and rare is the place that can serve those kinds of numbers and do better than average. And while you can’t expect Maggiano’s to cater to that many people and offer “prepared to order” dishes of any complexity, what they do serve ranges from good to excellent. You just have to try as much as you can.
Because dishes are not made to order they can be served very quickly, even with 400 people in the room. This helps the restaurant’s turn over, but no one made us feel rushed in any way. We suggest you take your time and enjoy all the food.
The wine list is good, but not exceptional. You can find some very nice bottles, but our major disappointment with Maggiano’s is the almost inadequate selection by the glass - really inexcusable when they serve some 400 people.
It is hard to get reservations on weekends here except very early or very late. You might decide to eat in the bar, where tables are unreserved.
MARK'S AT THE PARK
344 Plaza Real (Mizner Park)
Don't listen to people who tell you that Mark's At The Park is not as good as Mark's Las Olas. Both are owned by the excellent entrepreneur/chef Mark Militello, and both are outstanding.
The atmosphere is romantic, the front of the house service is efficient and pleasant, and the servers are some of the best informed in town. You can select wines from a marvelous wine list which is not terribly overpriced, and choose your meal from a menu that had a variety of trendy, but outstanding, dishes of all kinds. In fact, one could even try the gourmet pizzas as an entree and be quite satisfied.
The bill will justify all of the excellence, and there are times when you want to go to one of the best. An adventure is created on each plate. Many tastes are combined, are fresh and innovative, and work together nobly. Mark calls his cuisine "contemporary Florida" and uses fresh local seafood and meats with exotic vegetables and fruit like tarot, Caribbean sweet potato, papayas, and mangoes. An example of the talent on display here? My dish. A fabulous red snapper with cumin, cardamom and coriander.
Desserts employ various flavorings (like anise), and don't miss the banana tart or the cappuccino creme brullee.
3011 Yamato Rd. (Regency Court)
Simply put - very nice people, attractive room, some unique rolls, great appetizers, and outstanding sushi.
39 S.E. 1 st Ave.
Exclude Arturo’s, which is as much about fine dining as it is about Italian cuisine, and the description of Matteo’s is easy -- along with Renzo’s and Cucina d’Angelo, it is the best Italian restaurant in Boca/Delray. There is little reason to single out any dish, because superlatives attach to each and every one. If we had any word of caution, it would be to order judiciously, as the portions are huge. We would also say that you will have to have patience to get a table, but it’s one of the few places worth the wait, in our opinion. If you like the raw energy of a New York, Chicago, or North end Boston Italian trattoria, you will love it here.
405 Plaza Real (Mizner Park)
Max's Grille continues to revel in large, smart, upscale crowds who expect, and receive, outstanding food. You can choose to sit inside or out - both are great for people watching - and start with a well made cocktail or wine. In fact, selections of California wines are a strength here, and you may bring a favorite bottle (as long as it is not on their menu) for a very reasonable corkage charge.
We might suggest you begin with a perfectly fresh chopped salad filled with fresh veggies, followed by a unique and wonderful portabello mushroom, onion, and goat cheese quesidilla. For entrees Max's offers a wide variety of selections (choose from light bistro fare to beef to garlic chicken to a fine selection of fish dishes). We loved the meatloaf (simply outstanding with a touch of cumin), the pork chop (with honey marinade), and the light Asian style Chilean sea bass, a real delicacy.
Our only complaint is sometimes slow service by the bus staff. But mention this to the server and all will be well. You will have a nice evening with a reasonable tab at the end. You can't ask for much more, and in trendy Mizner Park to boot.
MORTON'S OF CHICAGO
5050 Town Center Circle (Boca Center)
Practically identical to other Mortons restaurants' nationwide, the Boca restaurant can boast perhaps the best prepared food in the chain. I can't tell you why, but each dish (from the salads to the fresh crab to the veal chop to the filet to the New York strip) was absolutely perfect. Of course, while Mortons offers its famous lobsters, vegetables, and potato dishes as well, I was most surprised to taste a lemon souffle that could have come from the finest French chef.
Drawbacks? The usual -- an always overpriced wine list, though it does include some excellent selections, and, as is still the case in most large steakhouses, the sides are a la carte, making for a very expensive evening. So make your own call.
897 S.W. 18th Street (Wharfside)
This is a real find in Boca Raton. Reminiscent of a Greek Bistro, and now quite popular with the locals, Mykonos is owned by chef Georgio Vogiatzi, who was trained in both Greece and Germany before moving to south Florida. Georgio (pronounced “Yorgo,” but feel free to call him “George”) oversees the menu and trains the chefs, so whether one orders magnificent seafood entrees, more traditional Greek dishes, the planet's best bruchette, or simply partakes of the outstanding breads, the dining experience will be memorable. It is always nice to try lesser known wines that may go well with your food, and you can sample some Greek bottles here (a wine industry that is improving all the time).
Mykonos is a fun place to be (celebrate a happy affair by breaking some plates) and is open a bit later than most other Boca Raton restaurants. The prices are some of the gentlest around for the overall quality. And what a view if the evening is pleasant enough to sit on the patio (bonus view -- on some nights entertainment by a truly gorgeous dancer). For a casual dinner with great food, you can't beat this experience.
NEW YORK PRIME
2350 Executive Center Dr,
Cost aside, to many (especially regular customers) this may be the perfect steak house with one of the area's best red wine lists. However, others, contradictorily, may admit the excellence of the food and wine, but find the haughtiness of the hosting staff, as well as the price, to be off putting. We find that both positions are correct -- New York Prime is expensive and the attitude is totally affected by who is at the door. Some staff can in fact be rude. Perhaps it is just best to say that at least the quality of the establishment somewhat justifies the prices, and, further, that there isn’t any way to know who will be running front of the house. You have to take your chances just like we do.
As for the room, it emits an ambiance that is both warm (from the woods and colors) and cool (from the use of the space), and with well prepared beef and fish (try the gigantic lobster). New York Prime remains a difficult place to obtain reservations for very good reason.
7120 Beracasa Way
13900 S. Jog Rd.
Excellent southern Italian dishes with no pretense is the rule at both of Nino’s incredibly popular establishments. Pastas are well prepared and served with your choice of sauce, and the veal is always a treat. But Nino’s may have no peer when it comes to traditional Italian sandwiches and pizza.
900 E. Atlantic Ave.
This is your typical crowded bar/restaurant in a seaside resort area. It is mostly frequented by a younger crowd looking for hot Caribbean music, large drinks at value prices, and food that is good enough not to be off-putting while looking at the people meandering through. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, it can be. As long as you know what you are getting here, which is fair to good self described Caribbean (and sometimes Cajun) cuisine, all will be fine. Don’t expect authenticity in the meals, however, or professional service. Just go, hear some engaging music, have a beer or a rum concoction, and enjoy.
9168 Glades Rd.
To experience an intimate and authentic experience with a superb chef, we recommend Osaka Sushi. It may well provide not only the best Japanese food in town, but rival the best we have tasted anywhere. This outstanding dining experience revolves around Master Sushi Chef/Owner Jamie Yan, who makes a science out of studying the palates and preferences of his clientele, and then creating interesting and delicious dishes.
This is not to say that the standard dishes one finds in most sushi restaurants are not there -- they certainly are -- and they, too, are excellent. In fact, the prices for individual a la carte sushi may best any other establishment in town, while the quality never misses a beat. Popular rolls are available, but Osaka takes pride in offering other rolls that are more traditionally Japanese and have been custom created [hint: don’t look for cream cheese except on the JB Roll - it’s virtually unknown in Japan].
Notwithstanding the excellent sushi dishes, we highly suggest that you try some special non sushi creations, such as crispy duck (trust us - no Chinese restaurant in this area comes close to matching the moistness of the meat and the taste of the skin); seaweed salad (not always our favorite, but a true delicacy in Jamie’s hands); seared tuna (singed perfectly around the edges); baby lobster (three baby tails covered with a homemade Asian influenced sauce); and a truly refreshing sashimi salad (ultra fresh raw fish and tropical fruit over greens - all in a soy sauce mixture).
The friendly aura and laid back service are appreciated, as is the policy toward wine. Since the list here is quite limited, Jamie understands the desire of some to bring a bottle of their favorite grape to accompany his finely prepared meal. If wine isn’t your usual preference, or if you simply prefer something else with Asian food (as many do), Osaka carries good beer and cold Ozeki sake (made in California, actually), which are wonderful accompaniment to the chef’s preparations.
Though Osaka Sushi doesn’t feature table cloths or expensive furniture, it has the superb food we have described, is set in an intimate room with attractive lighting, and even has eclectic music in the background. It just seems that everything works here.
1400 Glades Rd.
We don’t usually rate chains, but when the chain offers the best of its type of food in the area, it deserves to be mentioned. We have long lamented the lack of a truly great Chinese restaurant between Miami and Orlando, and while Chang’s can’t quite qualify as exceptional, it at least provides and opportunity to enjoy quality Chinese cuisine.
Most of the items on the menu are quite good, though we feel some are exceptional. The latter includes spiced chicken in lettuce wraps; salt and pepper calamari; Cantonese roasted duck; crispy fish in a Szechwan sauce; wild Alaskan salmon with ginger; wok seared lamb; and noodles with garlic and chili peppers. An interesting concept is the “Training Table Menu,” which has been designed by athletes to aid in muscle and soft tissue enhancement. The dishes are not low calorie, but balanced, and descriptions of calories, carbs, protein, , fat, and saturated fat are included.
P.J. Changs offers good beer, fresh food, a fair wine list for the price with every selection being available by the glass, and friendly service. It’s nice to have it in town.
20455 Highway 441
Given that restaurant rich Miami, and its Cuban influence, is only 45 miles away, one would think there would be a multitude of top flight Spanish/Cuban restaurants in Boca/Delray. Well, they would be wrong. That’s why we appreciate Padrino’s, which not only offers a semblance of authenticity, but prepares food that is a pleasure to taste. Located in a shopping center in West Boca, Padrino’s doesn’t look like much, but the staff knows what’s what with the food, and there are some tasty south of the Equator wines.
We don’t usually order chicken when dining out, but the pollo asado seasoned with garlic and onions is hard to put down, as are all the beef dishes, especially the Churrasco steak. The white bean soup with ham and collard greens is a special treat, and the usual sides of plantains and black beans are as good as any around. If you want to be totally informal and enjoy good food at almost unbelievably low prices, this is the place.
PETER’S STONE CRAB
411 E. Atlantic Ave.
Peter’s is no doubt the best place in Delray Beach to dine on stone crabs, and a wide range of dishes are available as well. Nothing spectacular or special here, but not to be avoided either.
22191 Powerline Rd.
In a town where the landscape used to be covered with Thai restaurants, only a few remain. We are happy that one of them is Phuket Thai, a nice little establishment that prepares good food, and offers most of the traditional Thai dishes. The menu is huge, and we recommend the shellfish dishes, Nam Sod, and Panang curry. The staff at Phuket Thai makes everyone feel at home -- one of the reasons it is such a popular restaurant.
4900 Linton Blvd.
Impossibly crowded, this may well be the best all around Deli in the Boca/Delray area. Excellent soups, meats, fish, and bagels, are served by seasoned veterans who stay a long time at what has become an Institution. So go on off hours if you can, or use the take out counter. Poppies is what a Deli is supposed to be.
402 Plaza Real (Mizner Park)
Pranzo enjoys a prime location in Mizner Park, yet, despite the crowds that frequent the restaurant, it really has not distinguished itself. We had an average experience there, and appreciated the friendliness of the staff. Some of the cuisine (such as the paella type risotto and Osso buco) was in fact a draw, and while we found it to be good, it was not unique. A plus is a well thought out wine list.
1801 N. Federal Highway
With Indian food being this writer's favorite cuisine, it is sad to have to report that Punjab is not one of our recommended dining experiences. The service is indifferent, the wine inventory shows little concern, and some of the dishes are not properly prepared. All of this is made even sadder by the fact that other dishes can be exhilarating, though they are not always served at the same time to everyone at the table.
This writers believes that the atmosphere is also a hindrance. The restaurant is located in the corner of what can best be described as a strip motel, and the inside of the restaurant is large, yet there was little thought to the design of the spacing of the tables, what is on the walls, or on the tables themselves. And now, the only competition in town no longer exists so we don’t expect much improvement.
RENZO'S OF BOCA
5999 N. Federal Highway
Renzo’s vies (with Matteo’s) for the city’s best informal family run Italian restaurant. The food here is not only always good, it can often rise to the level of authentically excellent. No surprise, since Renzo himself if usually around, and he has trained his family well. Trust the servers to select a good wine for you, and feel free to challenge the kitchen. You'll have a great time all around. Recently, we spent an evening dining (in the best sense of the word) at Renzo’s and felt as if we had been dropped into the middle of a film set in a New York Italian trattoria.
Prices are nice for dinner, and the lunch specials are almost a steal.
2200 W. Glades Rd.
Sushi Masa is no mere sushi bar, despite the name. What you will find here is a bustling restaurant specializing in wonderfully prepared Thai and Japanese cuisine, including fresh sushi and creative rolls. Your choices at Sushi Masa are vast. Of course, the usual sushi and roll selections are available, and you won’t find any fresher fish in town. But the special rolls (some without rice, some tempuraed, some stuffed) are a real find. Feel free as well to ask the sushi chefs to create something special.
If you have a yen (oh, what a pun) for more traditional Japanese lunches or dinners, feel confident with everything on the menu. Excellence is the standard here.
The Thai menu is most impressive. Highly recommended is one of our favorite dishes of any ethnicity, the Pad Thai, a delicious mix of stir fried rice noodles with egg, bean sprouts, ground roasted peanuts, and your choice of chicken, shrimp, beef, veggies, or a combination of your liking. But, again, anything offered is well prepared. A nice touch is the restaurant’s sautees (where you choose what meats or veggies you desire, as well as your base sauce, which could be garlic, ginger, sweet and sour, spicy basil, etc.). As in most establishments, look carefully at the specialties of the house. Duck curry, seafood garlic, seafood curry, and fried fish with sauce choice are all included under this category, and, as with all the prices at Sushi Masa, are a nice bargain.
5250 Town Center Circle (Boca Center)
There is no more genial restaurant owner in Boca than Ray, who greets many of his upscale customers by name. He made his reputation saying "hi" from behind the sushi bar where he not only created beautiful dishes, but oversaw a professional staff. Now, the establishment has added a lovely bar and Tepanyaki tables, and Ray is just as likely to be roaming the dining room checking up on the happenings.
Ray’s offers comparable fare to other top tier Japanese establishments, but everything seems a bit better than most. I think it is due to swift service, nice people, fresh food, a lovely presentation, and a bright restaurant that just makes you feel good. We also like the terrific sake selections. It is one of our top five choices for Japanese cuisine in a city that has Japanese food at almost every corner. You can't miss with this one.
20423 State Road 7 (Mission Bay Plaza)
This Japanese restaurant offers one of the best dining deals in Boca Raton. For one price ($13.99 at lunch and $14.99 at dinner) you may order (with some small exceptions and restrictions) all the sushi, rolls, hand rolls, and tempura you can eat. And a pleasant finding is that the sushi is top quality (in fact, the salmon may be the best in town). We also enjoy the ginger dressing for an always fresh salad, the flavorful tempura, and this particular sushi rice, which adds uncommonly good flavor.
If you prefer more traditional Japanese cuisine or smaller portions of sushi, Taisho offers that as well. The Tepanyaki dishes are uniformly outstanding. But the unlimited sushi is the draw, and it's a good one.
9858 Clint Moore Rd.
The newest of the area’s Japanese restaurants, Tempura House is probably the most attractive. It also offers a wide array of well prepared food with over 150 items from which to choose (not including all the various fresh sushi that can be prepared in a dozen different ways). The special rolls here are things of beauty. Try the Summer Snow (fresh dolphin mixed with garlic sauce baked on a California roll); Love Star (half lobster tail, spicy mayo, crab, scallions, masago); or Earthquake (fried salmon, tuna, cucumber, avocado, scallion, may, and kimchee sauce).
The Teriyaki dishes and the Donburi entries are also delicious, as is the steamed or fried whole fish. Oh yes, Tepanyaki tables are in constant use, and Tempura dishes dot the restaurant. One interesting aspect of this restaurant is that it will make just a few Chinese dishes if you dine in, but offers a full Chinese menu for delivery.
The only problem is confused service from some of the staff. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else for help if you can’t find your server, and be persistent if need be.
8903 Glades Rd. (Somerset Shops)
In south Florida, diners don’t often have the opportunity to choose a Thai restaurant with great ambiance and elegance, but fortunately that is not a necessary criterion to enjoy this wonderful and unique cuisine. Witness one of our favorites -- Thai Country.
Seating less than fifty, we can’t write that you will be overwhelmed by the ambiance at lunch, but in the evening, after the sun sets, the management illuminates the small room with tall candles on your table, which causes a soft glow throughout, and enhances the flowers which are also on each table. We found it to be a nice setting.
Servers are pleasant and timely, and while the wine selections are very limited, some good Asian beers are available, along with a choice of hot or cold sake. Prices are amazingly low, and it would be hard to spend more than $15.00 - $20.00, even if you ordered (and filled up on) the most expensive items offered.
As a guide, we like the chicken satay; the fried won ton (with chicken and shrimp); the light Asian influenced vegetable soup; the terrific Tom Yam Koong soup; the Pad Thai; the Phad see U; the sweet and sour entrees; and the curries. However, our favorite is any dish with their sauce made of fresh ginger, onion, bell peppers, and shiitake mushrooms.
You don’t go to Thai restaurants for dessert, though the fried banana we tried was a nice end to the meal. This is a nice place with nice people.
THIRTY TWO EAST
32 E. Atlantic Ave.
This is the area's favorite restaurant for many knowledgeable diners, and this writer may go as far as to say it is the best all around restaurant in south county. Why? Valet parking on crowded Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, a charming establishment with a bit of retro feel, well informed servers, a wine list the equal of any in the area, a menu with unique uses of herbs and spices, and an outstanding chef, Nick Morforgen, who prides himself on innovation and perfection (and who usually succeeds). Who needs more?
Sometimes we order enough starters to almost satisfy the entire meal. The roasted peppers stuffed with goat cheese, pine nuts, and raisins are outstanding; a sauteed soft-shell crab was uniquely enhanced with grilled mango; and cumin encrusted tuna with avocado salsa was a new and wonderful combination.
For entrees, we have sampled sauteed hog snapper with brown caper butter; spaghetti squash had that "up-a-notch" taste; the oak roasted cobia (a meaty white fish) in a basil aioli sauce was fresh and light; temperature correct filets and lambs; and a pasta with shellfish that reminded me of the French/Italian Riviera.
If you only have one place to dine in the area, don’t hesitate to choose Butch Johnson’s Thirty Two East.
855 S. Federal Highway
Not that you won’t enjoy dinner, but in season Tiramisu is one of our favorite hideaways for lunch. In Boca Raton, because so many restaurants that permit you time to really dine are only open in the evening, it is hard to find an intimate place to relax when you decide to finish your day at noon and enjoy a stylish meal. So we found this little up scale bistro. Tiramisu is intimate (made all the more so by the soft background music - though maybe there is too much Andrea Bocelli), friendly, and unpretentious. And oh yes, the food, which leans toward the north of Italy, is well made.
We like a place with enough informality that it seems there is always something off the menu to try. That especially applies to the wine selection, since the owners keep their bottles separate. However, they are more than willing to share if there is something you want. So be sure to ask what might be in the house.
As we said above, all the food is uniformly appetizing, but if we had to pick a favorite, it would probably be one of the veal preparations.
Regency Court on Yamato
Polo Shops on Champion
The most famous deli in the Boca Raton area, Toojay's aspires to be like the old New York delis, but doesn't quite reach that goal. This is not to say that the food at Toojay's is not good, it is. However, with the exception of very few items (such as the rye bread, corned beef or brisket), its meats and meals are without distinction. Toojay's does a better job with its salads, such as whitefish or hummus, and they have delicious desserts, offering the famous "killer cake", a sinful chocolate creation.
The service at most Toojay's restaurants is not up to par, not because the servers don't care, but because Toojay's is lacking in management on the floor of its restaurants. Whether there is an actual manager out there or not, this writer can never tell.
Finally, what would a review of a deli be without talking about the bagels? There are some who believe Toojay's bagels to be excellent. This writer thinks they are too soft.
Nevertheless, for a nice breakfast or lunch, or for corned beef on rye and dessert, all agree that Toojay's might be the ticket.
499 E. Palmetto Park Rd.
How can you stay away from an Italian restaurant that will happily prepare anything you like? Fortunately Boca Raton has a few of these, but none do it with any more pleasure than does Trattoria Romana (if peppers and onions are not on the menu - ask them to make it. Wow).
Romana is crowded with gourmands and young parent with children, with true wine lovers and beer drinkers, and with people in various states of dress. In other words, this universal Italian menu and global wine list appeal to almost everyone. Against our usual custom, we won’t recommend specific dishes, as they are all (in a phrase) quite good.
If we have any problem, it is only that the crowd here sometimes leads to slow service. The restaurant management knows they are crowded and should have a few extra servers in our opinion. So don’t go with the intent to hurry. You won’t want to anyway.
5250 Town Center Circle (Boca Center)
Don't be fooled into thinking Uncle Tai's is a Thai restaurant - for it is Chinese, and a different sort of Chinese. By that we mean that this establishment is quite beautiful inside, prides itself on French style service (much like New York’s Tse Yang or Washington’s David K’s), and is self anointed as one of the finest Chinese restaurant’s in the country. Well, even though we concede the beauty, we opine that the food is neither imaginative or exceptional, and the service is good but not exceptional.
Ten years ago, Uncle Tai’s was indeed one of Boca’s premier rooms, but very little has changed. The menu and the style of preparation have remained static, which really means to fall behind in a city where fine restaurants (granted, there are no fine Chinese establishments, though) have exploded onto the scene.
To be fair, there is certainly nothing wrong with the food here, especially the venison, special Uncle Tai shrimp, and minced squab dishes. The problem is that the food borders on ordinary and unbalanced (needing sauces to flavor or heat). And when you consider that this is one of the most expensive restaurants in town, it just is not a place that draws us.
3013 Yamato Rd. (Regency Court)
Vito's offers dependable food with some excellent dishes (most of their pizzas, fresh fish, sinful Fettuccini Alfredo, and a great bread basket), and some very good ones (salmon tartare, chopped Gorgonzola salad, Risotto clams and mussels, and seafood fra Diavlo). Prices are reasonable and the selection is excellent. And while the actual wait staff is fine, a true downside to this establishment is the indifference of the staff at the front of the house, many of whom are family members. They have been known to not honor reservations (and show little remorse), and are not too involved in overseeing what is happening behind them.
But once you get past the front and make your seating selection known, you can have a very nice dining experience with a friendly waiter, accompanied by a good Italian wine. The pizza vies for the best around.
Kenneth E. Spahn is a Food and Restaurant columnist in South Florida. He is also the President of RESTAURANT PLACMENT GROUP, the exclusive recruiting and placement service for the restaurant, hospitality, and food service industry. For more information, you may contact Ken at (561) 869-4796; or by e-mail: Ken@Restaurantplacement.com, or visit: www.Restaurantplacement.com