So I’ll be here in Florida for most of the rest of March, but rather than posting a leviathan piece at the end of the month, here’s a rundown of the non-chain places I’ve hit since I got down here on the 14th.
The first find of the trip was a little café in the City Place mall in Palm Beach called Bacio. The appeal is that they serve gelato – real gelato, without the grainy or icy texture that most American gelaterias dish out. It was pricey – $4.50 for a medium dish – but the chocolate gelato was excellent, not too sweet with a good cocoa flavor. The crème caramel was a little too sugary and not caramelly enough, but was still good, while the strawberry tasted like real strawberries and (most impressively, since the extra moisture from the fruit can screw things up) had no icy texture at all.
On my two trips down to see the University of Miami play, I hit two restaurants along the Dixie Highway (US-1) for dinner. The first was a Colombian place called Las Culebrinas, just down SW 27th street a few hundred yards off US-1. I had gotten the impression from something I read online that it was a casual place, but it’s not – it’s a somewhat upscale, sit-down restaurant, although they told me I was fine in my rather casual scouting outfit. The menu was standard Colombian, with all the hits, but with one twist – about a dozen dishes are available in tapas-sized portions, in addition to the large menu of entrÃ©es. I went for the fried pork, which was served on a bed of pureed avocado, with sides of black beans and rice and steamed (I think) yucca. I also ordered a side of maduros, fried sweet plantains, and one of my favorite foods in the world. The waitress/bartender warned me “It’s a lot of food,” and she didn’t lie – three huge chunks of pork, fried perfectly with a nice salty crust, plus almost a whole yucca (in spears), and separate dishes with the black beans and rice and the plantains. The yucca was undercooked, which I don’t like and don’t trust (raw yucca contains cyanide, which breaks down through the cooking process), and since it’s carb-laden anyway, I figured it would take up real estate in my stomach better reserved for the plantains, which were delicious – moderately sweet, cooked to still have a little tooth to them. The black beans and rice were good, very simple without any other obvious ingredients. Total cost was about $18 plus tip, and I did leave so full that I didn’t eat anything the rest of the night.
Moon is a Thai/Japanese place right next to a Starbucks on the northbound side of US-1. I generally avoid combo restaurants, but this one had several good reviews, and Asian joints are usually good for getting in and out quickly. It turned out to be a stroke of luck, as they had my favorite Thai dish and general bellwether, pad thai, available in an appetizer portion ($7.95, I believe), allowing me to also order a little sushi and try both sides of the menu. The pad thai was very good, tangy, spicy, just a hint of peanut, and not American-sweet. The sushi was a mixed bag; the salmon was definitely fresh, but didn’t have a lot of taste, and was probably Atlantic or even farm-raised, while the freshwater eel (unagi) was delicious and butter-soft. The size of the nigiri is worth mentioning – everything was huge, to the point where I couldn’t fit an entire piece of eel into my mouth. The sushi isn’t cheap – $2.50-$3 per piece for most fish – and the total bill came to about $20 before tip including a green tea.
Amigos Mexican-Spanish Restaurant in West Palm Beach was a real find, a little bit of dumb luck. I came across this list of Latin American restaurants in the area, drove past Amigoes one night, and thought it was worth a shot. It was – turns out they have a huge menu with dishes from all over the Spanish-speaking world, including Spain, Argentina, Colombia, and Cuba, which is where my choice was from – picadillo criollo. The meal ($8.95) included shredded beef that had been sautéed with olives and some mild spices, rice, black beans (served separately as a soup), and maduros. Everything was outstanding; the plantains were particularly so, super-sweet with great caramelization on the crust, while the beef had a nice flavor from the olive oil and the spices. My wife ordered a chili verde burrito ($10.95), which was huge and which she also liked, saying just that it needed more salsa verde on the outside. The guacamole ($3.95 for a side order) was fresh but needed more lime juice. We’ll go back there again before we leave.