Florida on a Fork: Bice, Johnny V, and Prime 112

At the top end of Florida you have Jeb Bush shouting “yeehaw” wielding pistols on his gubernatorial tower, on the lowest tip you have gay men riding scooters near Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar; in between you have grown adults dressed in mouse costumes, suntanned tourists stepping off cruise ships in sombreros and wrinkled gray-haired senior citizens shrinking into the driver’s seats of their neon green Cadillacs as they threaten to plow into you on 1-95. Yes indeed, Florida is a cultural mishmosh. And my family adds to that mishmosh from their home in Boca Raton where, every so often, I go to visit. That’s what I did this weekend and, as you’ll soon see, we ate three culturally mishmoshed meals at:

Bice in West Palm Beach

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Johnny V on Las Olas

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and Prime 112 in South Beach.

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Those are my parents holding up a menu. They’re the ones who treated me to all these Flordarrific meals. It is their hope that I will someday see the light at the end of the orange grove and move my life back to the Sunshine State. And while that may not happen before I reach 65, at least I can join them in celebrating the cuisine of their place of residence. So onward and Florida-ward we go!

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Feeding in FLAH-rida: Ago, Cafe Boulud, Norman’s

My friends mock the way I say Florida.

“FLAH-rida,” they tease when I tell them where I’m going for the holidays.

“How do you say it?” I protest.

And then they correctly pronounce it: “Floor-IH-dah.”

After much examination, we’ve determined that mine is the case of the New York Jew pronouncing words through a Long Island filter. This make sense because I lived on Long Island until I was 11. Then we moved to FLAH-rida. There we eat ARE-enges (as opposed to ore-anges) and call the summer heat HARR-ible (as opposed to hore-ible.)

We also eat many meals when I visit and that’s the segue we need to get us to the subject of our post. I was in Florida for four nights this Thanksgiving and in my time there I ate three meals I’d like to tell you about. Meal One took place at Ago in the Shore Club:

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That’s the inside of the hotel: it’s very zen.

The other meals were at Cafe Boulud in West Palm Beach: (which I’ve written about before, but two times is a charm)

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And, finally (and most interestingly) Norman’s—called, by The New York Times, “the best restaurant in South Florida.”

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Are you ready to delve into the swampy marshes of my food writing? Press ahead!

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Ghost of Meals Eaten Past: Lunch at Cafe Boulud, West Palm Beach

And then there’s the lunch I had with mom last Wednesday at Cafe Boulud in West Palm Beach…

Culturally, West Palm Beach can be hilarious, if a bit disturbing. Take this outfit, for example:

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Hilarious, yes. And a bit disturbing, no? That’s West Palm Beach. (I snapped that picture from our table and I’m quite proud of it. I even used Photoshop just now to cut out the man’s face, in case he’s a site reader. If you are a site reader, orange looks great on you.)

Before we get to the food, there’s other hilarious and disturbing phenomena. For example, these two ladies sat at a table with their two giant poodles. They let the poodles roam around the restaurant, as you can see here:

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Hilarious? Maybe. Disturbing? Possibly.

But that’s not the end of it. Here’s the end of it: these two ladies ordered food for their dogs from the kitchen. Yes, the KITCHEN at Cafe Boulud cooked gourmet dog food for these rich ladies’ dogs. You can see it being set down here:

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To quote my law school days, “Res Ipsa Loquitur.” (The thing speaks for itself.)

And now for the food. Table settings, please:

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The food at Cafe Boulud is remarkable. It’s sophisticated and earthy—two qualities you rarely see in Florida cooking. For example, take this cold fennel soup:

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It was fresh and refreshing and seasonal and captured the mood of the day perfectly. (It was overcast and still a bit chilly.)

That soup was ordered by me, mom ordered pate and quickly regretted it because it scared her. Would this scare you?

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A few years ago, it would have scared me too. But I traded with mom–gave her my soup–and ate the pate cautiously.

WOW.

What a great fusion of flavors. You take bits of brioche toast, put grainy mustard on it (which you can see on the plate) and then cut some pate on to it. The pate had pistachios in at and bacon wrapped around it and tasted rich and savory and utterly decadent. (Yes, I just wrote “utterly decadent”–you can smack me now.) But it was insanely terrific: best thing I ate in Florida the whole week (with the exception of what I cooked.)

And then the entrees (this was a fixed price lunch, by the way, we don’t normally order this much food): (Actually, yes we do):

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This was sea bass prepared elegantly. I enjoyed it, but it’s not something that will haunt my dreams. (Imagine if sea bass DID haunt your dreams? Freud would say you were craving a return to the womb. Or something like that.)

But then dessert. Ah, dessert. I love dessert. And I LOVED the dessert I had at Cafe Boulud:

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I forget the exact details, but it was yuzu (which I’ve never had) soup and sorbet with chopped pineapple and it was UH UH UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Sorry, I just had an orgasm remembering it. It was THAT good. (And actually it taught me a valuable lesson about food: the pineapple (I think that was pineapple beneath the sorbet) was all uniformly chopped and arranged and that made all the difference. In other words, the texture component matters as much as the flavor component.)

Mom had bread pudding:

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I tried it. It was good. But it was no yuzu.

And that, my friends, was lunch at Cafe Boulud. If you have poodles and an orange sweater set and you live in West Palm Beach, now you know where to eat…

The Best Boca Has To Offer: Radiatore at Max’s Grille

When I think about Boca Raton, Florida, where I aged from 11 to 18–where I became the man that I am today–I don’t really think about food. I think about fancy cars, old ladies, and pink shopping centers; I think about humidity and palm trees and guard gated communities. If you forced me to think about food, I would think about oranges (particularly from Blood’s Groves, where we buy orange juice) and coconuts which we don’t buy or eat but which grow profusely on coconut trees.

When I am in Boca Raton and I am asked where I would like to eat lunch, one of my favorite answers is: “Max’s Grille.” It’s located in Mizner Park, a pink shopping center that was all the rage when it first opened but which is now shadowed by the cooler Muvico movie theater and Barnes and Noble shopping center across from FAU. I remember when Mizner first opened, there was deep controversy because the KKK was going to march. Now they’ve built an ampitheater and megastars like HEART come to play for geriatrics who sing along to “Barracuda.” But I digress…

Max’s Grille is an old war horse of Boca Raton restaurants. It still maintains quasi-popularity and still has better-than-average Boca food. Once, I saw Harold Ramis there. His wife spilled something and my mom gave him a napkin. Another time, I had the best salad of my life there. There was seafood in it and watermelon and it’s very hard to recall but I loved it and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t curse myself for not asking for the recipe… I wake up kicking in the night… but I digress.

My favorite stalwart at the old war horse is a pasta called Radiatore with Roasted Chicken. It has sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts and broccoli and a scoop of goat cheese on top. It’s delicious. Take a look:

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I love it because the sauce is chickeny and tomatoey—I think they use the bits from the roasted chicken that are left over. It tastes great. I’ve been eating it for years. And I mean that LITERALLY–one bowl lasts years.

I am not sure how to end this post so let’s pass the buck to Heart, who will sing of the sadness I experience when recalling the salad I’ll never eat again: “These GREENS go on when I close my eyes…every second of the night…I take another bite!”

New York Prime (Boca Raton, Florida)

“Don’t write anything bad about New York Prime,” my mother warns. “I’m serious, Adam. Don’t.”

New York Prime is my parents haunt; it is their Cheers, their Casablanca. We go there every time I come home and we are treated like royalty.

“Mrs. Roberts!”

“Dr. Roberts!”

The entire room shifts with excitement. New York Prime is a scene, and my parents are a vital part of the scenery.

Tonight, though, began in our house. Grandma and grandpa came over for drinks and to hear me play the piano.

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After a rousing rendition of “I, Don Quixote” from “Man of La Mancha” we piled into the car and journeyed to that eternal beacon of my parents’ gastronomical gratification: New York Prime.

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A young bombshell opened the door for us and eager hosts and hostesses led us to our table.

“Right this way, Mrs. Roberts.”

We stopped to chat with the regulars: a judge, a publisher, a supermarket baron.

Here is a look at the scene:

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Finally, we sat, and were treated with one of the many perks of being a regular: a plate of olives and orange slices.

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Mo–my parents’ regular waiter–came with their usual drinks. After several minutes of menu perusal, he returned to take our order.

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Several interesting things happened while we waited.

A lobster was wheeled around the restaurant in a wagon:

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A lounge singer sang a Neil Diamond medley:

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Grandma and I traded glasses:

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Soon, the appetizers arrived. I had baked shrimp with garlic, parmesan and breadcrumbs:

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Then, the entrees came. I had a petit filet:

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Grandpa had the sea bass:

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Dad had a stone crab claw:

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We all had sides of mashed sweet potatoes, creamed spinach and onion rings:

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After consuming enough calories for the next several years of my life, I made my way to the bathroom. I thought this sign on the inside door was worth taking a picture of:

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[For those who can’t read it, it says: “If you have any problems with our restaurant, ask for our customer service representative: Luca Brasi.”] [For those who don’t get it, that’s Godfather humor.]

Finally, for dessert, the table was treated to a surprise celebration for my grandparents’ anniversary. A gigantic chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and berries. Here’s Moe lighting the candles:

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And here’s the cake itself:

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And that’s it. Three gigantic meals consumed in 36 hours. Tomorrow morning I’ll be on a plane back to Atlanta, where normal calorie intake will resume. The weekend of gluttony is officially over.

Carpaccio (South Florida)

Today the Roberts Family decided to get fit, choosing sensible foods and exercise in lieu of heavy and rich concoctions.

We drove down to Bal Harbor in Miami—a scenic trip that provided the following views:

The back of my mom’s head:

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Pretty water:

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Once we got there it was exercise, exercise, exercise! We immediately stepped into Gucci for heavy pocketbook lifting:

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After working up a heavy sweat, we made our way over to Carpaccio for a light lunch.

Here’s the awning:

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Here’s the scene:

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The service at Carpaccio was outstanding. It reminded me of that SNL skit where Kirstie Alley goes to that Italian restaurant with her husband, and the waiters are so attentive they start making out with her. Well, it didn’t go quite that far, but it was nice to be doted on.

We told our waiter we were on a Roberts Family health kick and the waiter nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes, yes!” he said. “A light lunch for you all!’

The first course, a light and airy Insalade Inglese with mozarella, smoked salmon, tomatoes and olive oil:

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Then on to our reasonable, and incredibly healthy main courses.

My dad had a lobster pasta:

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Mom had a pasta vongole (with clams and shrimp):

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And I had Harry’s Bar pasta, which was noodles with sundried tomatoes, arugala, and olive oil:

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The noodles were actually a little undercooked but a fit person isn’t a complainer, so I ate what was on my plate.

Here’s the three of us at the table:

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Finally, like any good dieters, we accepted our waiter’s offer of dessert. How else can you lose those calories?

Here’s our Atkins’ friendly, carb-free Tiramasu:

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Boy, it really does feel great to make a positive change in your life. I suggest you all try the Roberts Family diet and lose a few pounds. As a reward, tonight we’re going out for steak. Photos and commentary to follow!

Cafe Maxx (South Florida)

Yes, I have arrived safely and soundly in South Florida; my plane touching ground at 2 pm, and my parents arriving at the airport slightly late, but–in their defense–the plane landed early.

One brief note about Airtran. For the money you save, Airtran is worth the small discrepancies: the shopworn flight attendants, the buslike wear-and-tear of the seats. My problem is with the terminal. Granted, airports are airports–transitional spaces of little consequence. Yet, whereas Terminal A (the Delta terminal) has a benign, inoffensive quality, Terminal C (the Airtran terminal) is like the bathroom in a McDonalds. The grease in the air–from the bustling Popeye’s in the terminal’s center–takes on a physical presence. I felt my nostrils saturate with cholesterol and my skin begin to crisp like chicken. As if that weren’t enough, there were two Airtran hawkers pushing some sort of promotion to unsuspecting, uninterested passersby. Their annoying routine–“Excuse me, ma’am, but you know you want to save money on your next round trip ticket”–created a circuslike, fleamarket atmosphere in what should have been a quiet place to sit calmly reading my Bon Apetit and talking on my cell phone. Mr. Hartsfield shall be hearing from me shortly.

But, I digress. You’re not here for airport talk. You’re here for food.

Tonight my parents took me to Cafe Maxx which I incorrectly (in my previous post) declared to be a West Palm Beach establishment. It is, in fact, in Pompano (just North of Ft. Lauderdale).

One thing about eating with my parents is that often my body isn’t ready for it. If my calorie intake in Atlanta is a 4 on a scale from 1 to 10, dining with my parents pushes my body to its outer reaches: 9, 10, 11 and counting. I feel so full right now that the prospect of describing my dinner fills me with an existential dread.

Yet, I must press on for you, my vicarious eaters.

I was surprised, when we reached the restaurant, to see that it was across the street from a ramshackle shopping center with a Walgreen’s and a discount fashion store. The whole area had a very average, Florida-ish beaten down quality to it. No place, in other words, for a glamorous restaurant. I shot a picture of the awning before we went inside:

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The space was somewhat inviting, with a nice vase of flowers in the front. My dad would later liken the interior to that of a Ruby Tuesday’s but my mom smacked his arm and said: “Oh, Brad, shut up.”

Our waitress was sunny but intelligent; she guided us through the menu, and only once tried to upsell us. (She tried to push another bottle of wine after we finished our entrees). In terms of wine, my parents chose a bottle of ZD Chardonnay.

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The Chardonnay was nice, properly cool and woodier than some sweeter ones I’ve had. Admittedly, my wine knowledge is usually limited to “it was white” “it was red” so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

We started with an appetizer of duck ravioli which sounds scarier than it was. In fact, it was really wonderful: a really interesting blend of flavors—notably a peppery olive oil, sundried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.

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Next, my mom and I split a lobster bisque:

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While my dad stared down his unusual caviar pie with toast tips:

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“What’s wrong Brad?” my mother beckoned.

“Nothing,” he said, scraping some caviar pie on to a toast tip.

“Here dad,” I said bravely, “I’ll trade with you.”

He agreed. The caviar pie was actually good. It was a layer of egg, a layer of onions, a layer of sour cream and a layer of caviar.

“Mmm,” I said to show how good deeds have good rewards.

My dad was too busy slurping soup.

Finally, our entrees arrived. I had the signature dish, an onion glazed snapper:

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My mother had lamb chops with a feta crust:

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And dad had a veal chop:

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We chomped away and soon we were done.

“I’m so full,” I moaned.

“Ah ah ah,” mom chided, “let’s not forget dessert.”

Dessert menus were brought. I ordered banana coconut crepes:

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I could barely touch them. They rolled me out of the restaurant, into the car, and carried me up to my desk where I write to you now. Only two more days of this and then my body will return to normal. I just hope my plane takes off.