I’m playing catch-up on my May trip to Florida, so hopefully this post will capture the highlights/lowlights.
I’ve already written about Naoe and Seasons 52, which came in the middle of my trip. My first meal out was at a place called Fuji, which was a family pick. Keep in mind that integral to the Boca scene is the early-bird special, but as this meal came well after that time period, the attraction was the “4-Course Recession Menu” for $15.99. Our group got a secluded dining area, and the first thing I noticed was a bookshelf of Japanese and Chinese cookbooks. Interesting—and indicative of the menu, which alternates between Chinese and Japanese offerings.
The meal was one of the most mediocre imaginable. I tasted a little of what everyone ate, which ranged from miserable to mediocre. I’ll spare you my thoughts on the soups (including the “
ckrabmeat” udon noodle soup…is it illegal to use the word “crab” if it’s imitation?), appetizers (like the “Osaka-seared” (whatever that means) tuna with mystery sauce) and desserts (fruit or ice cream). For our entrees, my partner and I got a sushi sampler (nothing special) and something called “sauteed Asian greens,” which was actually a few pieces of bok choy (which the Western waiter didn’t know) among other vegetables. All of the entrees tasted like that bad food you find in food courts at airports, where—unless you prepare ahead of time—you’re a captive audience starving to death while waiting for your connecting flight, wondering if the pack of peanuts or pretzels will hold you until your ultimate arrival. But then you have to add in time for perhaps waiting for your luggage, picking up your car rental, and driving to your destination. Suddenly that General Tso’s chicken, which isn’t even authentic Chinese food, is looking halfway decent.
Anyway…on the way out, we met the chef at the sushi bar, who turned out to be a nice Taiwanese man. Too bad he couldn’t cook some authentic Taiwanese food instead of what was on the menu. For kicks, I picked up a business card, which read “Asian Food Redefined.” I recommend re-redefining it, perhaps consulting some of those cookbooks I saw upon seating.
The next day, my partner and I took off to Key West, which warranted a detour to Little Havana for breakfast at El Palacio de los Jugos. We were anxious to return to this place, as we love the five-dollar Cuban sandwiches (with layers of ham, roasted pork, and cheese) and the juice drinks. (Guanabana’s our favorite.) What a wonderful start to our vacation-within-our-vacation! While paying for our drinks, I was struck by the unusual “sandwiches” at the counter. I asked what they were, and the two workers bantered in Spanish before one said something about cheese and guava. “Son ricos?” I wondered aloud, suddenly aware that we were the only English conversation in the whole marketplace. “Sí, sí,” she replied. And so I tried. The slight saltiness of the cotijo (is that the cheese?) mixed with the fruity sweetness of the guava was intriguing and increasingly pleasing with each bite. As we started to leave, I saw a crowd staring at the Univision broadcast on the television. Obama had just nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court; the next morning, I’d see that the New York Times interviewed people at El Palacio that day for reactions.
We spent two nights in Key West, where meals were a mixed bag. The fish sandwich at B.O.’s Fish Wagon was okay. Nice people (seems Key West is full of nice people, which is not surprising, since it’s so tourist-dependent) and welcome-to-Key-West atmosphere, but the sandwich itself didn’t live up to expectations. We wanted to go to Jose’s Cantina for dinner but found it closed after an evening cruise, so we settled on Pepe’s Cafe which many locals talked up (it’s the “eldest eating house in the Florida Keys), but after some chowder and pork chops, decided it was ordinary fare that could be found most anywhere in America.
Breakfast the next morning was at much-ballyhooed Blue Heaven, with the chickens walking around the tables in the courtyard. It was cute and comfortable, but still nothing to write home or here about. I can barely remember what we ate, which makes a restaurant rather forgettable. Even from the pictures, I can’t tell; was it a breakfast sandwich and some sort of egg plate? And then another failed attempt for dinner, this time at White Street Bistro, whose website says it opens at 5:00, but instead they open at 5:30. Luckily, just a few blocks away was Jose’s Cantina, which would be our best meal in Key West. It’s a simple Cuban restaurant where it seems friends and family members stop by for chow and conversation. Especially compared to Pepe’s, the fish soup was flavorful with lots of bits of seafood, and a whole fried yellowtail snapper was simple, well-seasoned, and perfect with just lime and onion. Oh – and loved the fried plaintains!
Heading out of town the next morning, we stopped at Hogfish Bar & Grill, but there was no hogfish to be found that day, so we meandered down the block to the Shrimp Shack (“Eat with the Fleet”) instead, knowing we could sit and look out at the water. The conch and shrimp fritters were just okay (it wasn’t conch season), as was the smoked fish dip (made with local caught mahi). What we were there for, though, were the peel-and-eat pink shrimp. It just seemed right to eat them there on the dock, being by the water before driving back to Boca. (On the way, though, we’d stop at the interesting Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, and then go on to Sunny Isles Beach for our fabulous meal at Naoe.
There’d be one more meal out to end the trip, this time my choice of Chinese food. If you’re in Boca and want a bowl of pho, Lauderdale Lakes is the closest place, about a half hour away. That was our mission last trip, and while there, I noticed a number of ethnic restaurants in the area. Among them was Silver Pond, which got great reviews in the newspaper. I took my family there, and wondered if they’d put up with the wait when I saw a line of people out the door. A promising sign to me, but it tests the patience of others. We waited.
Was it worth it? Maybe. The menu was more varied than what I find in Boca, with things like preserved vegetables, salted fish, and intestines on the menu. But we were restrained with what we ordered to suit some skittish eaters. It was nice to see winter melon soup available, but it was sadly a bit bland. The chow fun had the wide, thick noodles I like. The eggplant in the beef with eggplant was slightly overcooked, but the dish was flavorful. The scallop dish, on the other hand, was uninspiring. Overall, the meal made me more appreciative of the Sichuan food in Seattle, even though I complain that the Chinese food is worlds better just to the north, in Richmond (Vancouver).
A bit rambling, but that just about covers the meals out during my five days in Florida. I deliberately left out one place in Key West, which warrants its own post and philosophical thoughts. Stay tuned.