Valentine's Day 2013 in South Florida: From Pricey Prix Fixe to DIY Dates

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via Cupcake Couture's Facebook page
Do something sweet for your sweet.

Whatever your budget or personality, chances are good that your Valentine's Day plans will incorporate food and/or drink at some point in the game. There's no one-size-fits-all definition of romance, so the New Times' 2013 guide to V-Day in Broward and Palm Beach counties covers the bases with everything from over-the-top, high-end dinners in fancy-pants restaurants to a sweet, low-key picnic on the beach. Hell, there's even something in it for the Cupid haters.

See Also:
- Valentine's Day in Palm Beach County: Restaurant Prix Fixe Options
- Foods Not to Order on a Valentine's Day Date
- Romance Your Sweetie With Riverwalk's "Love in the Park" Valentine's Dinner in Downtown Fort Lauderdale


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On Becoming a South Florida Regular

Categories: Review Debut
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Is there a chair here with your name on it?
There are three types of regulars, though they're not mutually exclusive. There are those who patronize a place because their friends own it and hang out there. Take the crew that's often at Laser Wolf, who dated/went to high school with/are in the same social circle as the people on both sides of the bar.

The second type of regular has found a menu, cooking style, and price point that resonates.They've honed in on the chef or a bartender who takes care of them. They might bring their friends here. They might have parties here. Or they might come here three times a week after work and sit in the same chair. Yet this regular is more remote from the staff and other customers than the first.

The third type is the one who lives a stone's throw from a place. These are the most fair-weather regulars if they move quite a bit. Or else they're not, if they're rooted to a home for a long time. This is a relationship of convenience.

I was reminded of this when I ate at the Checkers Old-Munchen pop-up over the weekend, the place that's staged at Diner by-the-Sea as the original Pompano location is rehabbed after a March fire.

While talking with Old-Munchen owner Matt Moore, a white-haired guy in a black shirt blazed into the shop, kind of flustered and out of breath.

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Talking About Thai On A New York Visit

Categories: Review Debut
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When I was in New York a couple weeks ago, Robert Sietsema took me to Zabb Elee, a Thai restaurant in the East Village. The slip on the basement level offers Thai-hot dishes from the Isaan region of Thailand, near Laos. 

Decked in white, the restaurant's decor is apparently a Northern Thai translation of Bangkok cool for a New York clientele. It's a busy spot. We were concerned about whether we'd get a table at 6:30 on a Saturday, since the place doesn't take reservations.

Once fueled with a round of beers, we ordered with abandon: five dishes for three people, among them, a savory curry fish custard, and a plate of spicy morning glory greens. The catfish larb was a favorite --essentially a finely chopped fish salad-- tossed with shallots, mint, cilantro, scallions, chile, lime, and toasted rice powder. 

When our server asked how hot we'd like our larb, Robert settled on 4, with 1 being mild. "A four actually is fairly spicy here," he said. And it was. Chilis offered fair heat while pungent herbs paired with tart lime. Sweet from rice and onions complemented savory fish with some crispy bits. It was among the most compelling larb dishes I've had so far.


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Tasting Menu Talk: Why Eat a Dozen Courses?

Categories: Review Debut
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Multicourse meals in which the diner signs on for a food journey determined by the chef, tasting menus are less prevalent here in the casual burbs, where dining out often means elevated bar food or soaking up booze with food as fuel.

Yet they can be found if you look: predominantly in fancied-up hotel dining rooms or in ambitious places such as Market 17, the subject of this week's review.

They're also found in restaurants a stone's throw away in Miami, where many feature courses of four, eight, 12 rounds. Even the underground dining club Cobaya hosts semiregular gatherings, the purpose of which is to lasso "talented chefs to cook great, interesting, creative meals for an audience of adventurous, open-minded diners." Sometimes it's for family-style dinners. Often it's for tasting menus.

Tasting menus are still a thing outside of Miami too, in restaurants such as Michelin-starred Brooklyn Fare and at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C., which recently hosted a six-week stint of chefs from all over the country who visited town to cook up 24-course tasting menus for whoever was willing to plunk down the cash.

They're a form of entertainment, an indulgence that costs more than your average dinner and less than a weekend travel jaunt. They allow for us to learn about intricate dishes, high-level skills, a chef's personality, or esoteric ingredients that perhaps we haven't yet tasted.

Read on for an experience at Market 17 here.


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Chasing Down The Blues

Categories: Review Debut
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"You should call it 'Chasing Down the Blues,' said Vinnie. It's the name of my column for the print edition for this week's review of Mickey's Bar. After a night of telling me his life's story,  he half-joking suggested it for his memoirs.

I'd been wanting to write about biker bars since I moved here, since I'm drawn to the stories of those who hang out in them.

On the heels of an exploration of two technical columns on why Floridians don't eat Florida seafood, I wanted to write something more impressionistic and expressive.

I wavered between a Sunday at Flossie's and Mickey's Bar (and visited both). After learning more about the owners, I leaned toward a portrayal of owners Lisa and Dave, particularly since Dave loves the bar so much and can't be there, as he recovers from a bike accident.

Vinnie and Rebecca were the clinchers. The two were among the most open, kind, and interesting characters I've met in my work here so far.

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How to Increase Your Chances of Eating Locally Caught Seafood

Categories: Review Debut
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National Public Radio reported today that fish and spices are most often the culprits that make people sick. "It's not that imported foods are any nastier than homegrown, according to a presentation today from researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's that we're eating a lot more of them."

Since the 1990s, the amount of food imported by the U.S. has doubled. Such is the case with fish, as we reported in this week's review.

More than three-quarters of the 5 billion pounds of fish eaten in the U.S. each year -- less-valued species such as farmed shrimp and catfish -- is imported. Meanwhile, the U.S. exports 2.7 billion pounds of higher-valued fish like ahi tuna to overseas markets for a higher price.

Since there's hardly a penalty in place for importers, vendors, or chefs who misrepresent fish, it's up to consumers to be more attentive if they're interested in eating locally caught fish.

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Florida Backs Away From Shark Fin Ban

Categories: Review Debut
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While researching for this week's review, I found resources at Oceana.org, a non-profit international organization that strives to help protect the ocean and its creatures. On its blog, I found this piece, following a Fort Lauderdale event:
On a more serious note, the evening focused on sharks and the need for Floridians to fight for their protection. Legislation in Florida to stop the shark fin trade has stalled, putting a kink in Oceana's efforts to stop the practice of shark finning and the trade of fins, which still legally feeds the high demand in many states.
Readers expressed dismay following a shark fin soup debacle at Silver Pond, in which I reported guilt over eating a dish that's harvested at such a high cost. To harvest fins, ships trolling Central and South America, Taiwan, Indonesia, or Spain catch sharks, slice off fins and toss bodies back -- to the tune of 73 million a year.

"It is time Florida joined the Pacific movement to protect sharks form finning by stopping the trade," wrote Dave McGuire in the comments, a member of Sea Stewards.

While Florida briefly considered joining California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii in banning the sale of shark fins in this state, More »

Fresh Catch From Water to Waiter: But Where Is It From?

Categories: Review Debut
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Candace West
Fisherman Al Rodriguez' reel around his neck.
Today's Huffington Post reports a New Zealand man in a 20-foot tin boat caught a big fish. A really big fish, in fact: His bluefin tuna weighed in at nearly 150 pounds heavier than the one that sold for $736,000, the most expensive fish ever caught.

Local fisherman Al Rodriguez says fish this big are a rarity in local waters. Having moved from Long Island to South Florida to fish year-round, he says he's not snagging fish as big as those he caught several years ago.

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How Much Can You Earn in the Restaurant Industry?

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One of the top three questions I get comes from chefs, line cooks, bartenders, and servers has to be, "Who's hiring?" 

"We're always looking for great help," said manager Christie Ajakie, of G&B Oyster Bar, the subject of this week's review. "Even if we're fully staffed, if someone is a great fit, we'll either find a spot for them or make them a first priority." Including sibling Coconuts, the restaurant employs 40 servers and about 20 cooks.

It's not just restaurants on the lookout for new employees. The South Florida job market continues to grow, reported The Atlantic Cities, seeding tenth in metropolitan regions that have added the most new jobs between July 2010 and July 2011.

What's the earning potential for chefs and managers?

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Where Are the Women in the Kitchen?

Categories: Review Debut
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Back in 2008, I started spending almost as much time in restaurant kitchens as in restaurant dining rooms. What struck me was how few women work the hot line. The reasons are apparent: The hours are insane. The pay is middling. The work is grueling. Cooking in a competitive, cutthroat environment has to be a place in which one is groomed to thrive. Plenty of men and women don't make the cut.

I later went on to write this article on how the restaurant workplace is becoming more hospitable for women, through such restaurateurs as Jamie Leeds of Hank's Oyster Bar, who hires employees with kids and encourages a work/life balance. Other chefs such as my former employer, Cathal Armstrong from Restaurant Eve, nurture the careers of women by acting as a mentor to people like Shannon Overmiller, who now helms sister restaurant the Majestic Cafe.

Here in South Florida,More »

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