BY REBECCA CAHILLY
We are looking for some place special.
A place for the annual corporate holiday party, or the significant anniversary, or the family reunion which must satisfy both your out-of-town sibling’s discerning culinary tastes AND your Uncle Fred’s urge to stage his annual hula dance.
Whatever the occasion, here are a few recommendations for great places in Broward and Palm Beach counties that will ensure that your special occasion or event exceeds expectations. (Note: Not all will facilitate space for hula exhibitions. Call ahead to be sure.)
Japanese cooking artistry meets French cuisine
When celebrating a special occasion, I’d like to have a private chef cook a private meal just for the two of us. The closest thing I’ve found to that is at Café Sharaku, one of Fort Lauderdale’s hidden gems.
Tucked between a Futon store and a newly renovated McDonald’s, Café Sharaku shares that one common theme that seems to befall many of the best restaurants: a location that could easily deter the uninformed diner.
I recommend the chef’s tasting menu. You might need to call ahead to reserve this – in fact, reservations are encouraged for this 18-seat establishment, and are mandatory for parties of five or more. Unless you are a master chef savvy in the ways of “fusion, eclectic Asian” cuisine, the tasting course is the best way to go. Each dish is prepared by Chef Jin Kaita and combines exotic ingredients that take you on a delightful sensory expedition. The sautéed Japanese yam in a creamy blue-cheese sauce may not look like much, but it has a delightful texture and a lovely savory flavor. From the daily soups (the cold corn soup sounds questionable but tastes divine) to the roasted Chilean sea bass with yuzu miso, to the highly rated chocolate soufflé with homemade vanilla-bean ice cream, Chef Kaita’s culinary genius will add that something special to your already special occasion.
Café Sharaku, 2736 N. Federal Highway,Fort Lauderdale, 954-563-2888
Valentino’s Cucina Italiana
Editor’s note: Valentino’s will be open for just a few more weeks in their current location (1145 S. Federal Highway) before reopening around June 1 in a new, larger location in the 600 block of South Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale (southeast corner of South Federal Highway and Southeast Sixth Court, see photo below).
Someone recommended Valentino’s when I first moved to Florida and it’s been one of my favorite special occasion spots since. Location? Strip mall. Size? Intimate. Notice a pattern?
Through the twinkling, vine-enlaced archway abutting your parking space you’ll soon forget the South Florida heat and bustle as you enter and are ushered to your table. It’s rather dark and the tables are quite close together here, but as we never ask for a menu and are generally su
rrounded by jovial groups or celebrating couples, it only adds to the atmosphere.
Once seated the journey begins: guided by our animated waiter who suggests the evening’s creations by Chef Giovanni Rocchio, we agree to his recommendations of appetizer, salad, pasta and entrée, and then we sit back to wait for the Brunello to arrive. The award-winning ham and egg ravioli is a must-try for your appetizer or pasta dish, and any fish served puttanesca-style (the seared tuna complements the heat of the peppers and spicy olives nicely) is a draw for me. The signature chicken dish – Pollo alla Valentino – is actually something I’d like to make at home: stuffed with spinach, white raisins, goat cheese, pine nuts and Portobello mushrooms; it’s simple yet delicious.
Valentino’s Cucina Italiana, 1145 S. Federal Highway,Fort Lauderdale, 954-523-5767
Elegant cuisine in old world luxury
Café L’Europe exudes an elegant, old-world charm; the kind of place that encourages your lady to don that extra special little black dress and spring for the darker shade of lipstick. Catering to the Palm Beach elite and Worth Avenue clientele for over 30 years, Café L’Europe could be described as the sophisticate’s place to see and be seen in a luxurious, romantic atmosphere.
We especially enjoy the live piano music (dancing to a live jazz quartet is available on the weekends) and the atmosphere of the caviar bar and wine room. Private rooms can be reserved for special functions.
On a recent visit we were treated to appetizers of goat cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates served in a piquillo pepper purée with smoked honey. Our entrées of jumbo Canadian scallops over a saffron risotto and the almond-crusted Scottish salmon were satisfying, while a trio of crème brûlée creations completed the elegance of the evening.
Café L’Europe, 331 South County Road, Palm Beach, 561-655-4020
Tuscany in our back yard
When time, money or the lack of a private jet does not permit a quick trip to Tuscany for a gourmet Italian dinner to celebrate your special occasion, Casa d’Angelo is the best alternative. We frequent the original location in Fort Lauderdale, where you can still find head chef/owner Angelo Elia in the kitchen, despite that he keeps very busy with his other locations in Boca Raton and at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
The place is usually packed, so reservations are recommended. Whether you dine outside or in, you won’t be disappointed with the meal or the service, as both are top notch. At Casa d’Angelo, not only are the menu items delightfully authentic, all of the ingredients are fresh and anything that can be made from scratch, is.
For Valentine’s Day, hubby and I booked a late table and were thrilled to find ourselves seated in the cozy wine room in the back of the restaurant. The wine list itself is extensive – divided by region, with a chef’s selection noted in the Cruvinet list. Our 2007 Antinori Super Red set the evening off right, and we enthusiastically accepted the server’s appetizer recommendation of carpaccio highlighted by white truffle. It was so delightful that when mention of a white truffle element in the evening’s veal chop special hit our ears we immediately ordered it (when in doubt, always have more truffle!) When the veal chop came, we were notified that we had ordered – and would be served – the very last white truffle of the season. We held our breath as our server slowly opened the glass jar containing the precious truffle, gingerly lifted it out and somberly shaved it over the veal chop until there was nothing left. He then respectfully backed away, leaving us to admire and enjoy.
Note: It is once again white truffle season, should you wish to try one of Casa d’Angelo’s truffle creations; but be warned: that fungus ain’t cheap.
Private dining rooms for up to 35 patrons are available.
Casa d’Angelo, 1201 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-1234
Farm-to-table with flair(or no flare)
Have you heard of the Dine in the Dark trend? This twist on eating out guides diners through an exploration of taste, touch and smell – because the sense of sight is limited. Market 17 next to the 17th Street Causeway bridge offers such an option, in its private dark-dining room. After a consultation (in the light) about your likes, dislikes, food allergies, etc., you are seated in the dark where your adventure begins. Dishes are created nightly by Chef Dan Ramos and the diner is in the dark, literally, about what he/she is about to be served. The goal is to guess the dish and let your sense of taste – and touch – dominate. Diners have the option of a four- to eight-course meal at a fixed price, with blind wine pairing also available. It’s definitely a fun way to spice up an evening out with friends.
The less adventurous can sit in Market 17’s main (illuminated) dining room and enjoy delicious farm-to-table creations from its daily menu. The Key West shrimp salad is both beautiful to behold (OK, I’m not as adventurous as I would like to think) and refreshing, rolled in thinly shaved jicama and avocado and served with thai chili and a hint of lime.
Private dining for up to 20 and semi-private dining for up to 40 guests is available. Special events also have the option of reserving the entire restaurant.
Market 17, 1850 SE 17th Street, Fort Lauderdale, 954-399-0017
Globally inspired in ahistoric setting
Whenever the family comes to town we have to do a big breakfast out, and the Sundy House in Delray Beach is hands-down one of the best brunch spots in South Florida. This charming Victorian home is a boutique inn, listed in the National Register of Historic Places; but it’s the globally inspired fare and superb ambience that makes the restaurant a winner in my book. Brunch generally consists of refreshing salads and antipasti for starters, with the requisite carving station and omelets made to order. The children love the fresh waffles with whipped cream and strawberries, while the adults enjoy unlimited mimosas or bloody Marys with their juice or coffee. Enjoy the garden when the weather permits and you’ll feel like you’re back in old Florida.
Sundy House also caters to extra special events and functions for up to 140 guests.
Sundy House, 106 S. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach, 561-272-5678
Passion for food meets passion for ice
If there is one thing South Florida was lacking, it was an al fresco dining space surrounded by exquisite ice creations. Not anymore. The vision of longtime chef and ice sculptor David Berman, the new Tundra combines his passion for the two in a unique way. Chef Bryan Lamblin, formerly of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, creates innovative but down-to-earth, globally influenced American cuisine. The focus is on small plates; a Tundra Tour offers a 14-course, petite plate tasting tour, each dramatically presented and served on unique dishes – some even made of ice. Whether you dine inside or out, the beauty of the nightly ice creations will not leave your or your guests cold.
Tundra, 1017 E. Las Olas Blvd.,Fort Lauderdale, 954-761-2122
Other Special Venues For A Fun Evening Out
Philippe Chow, Boca Raton: Don’t miss the nightly noodle show at this haute Chinese cuisine hot spot. Many private dining options for your high-end events.
32 East: Award-winning cuisine and private dining rooms overlooking Delray’s bustling Atlantic Avenue for up to 75 guests. www.32east.com
BB King Blues Bar: Enjoy some blues or jazz with your soul food. A fun spot in West Palm Beach
for a night out with friends.
Tatiana Restaurant and Night Club, Hallandale Beach: Who wouldn’t want to have their event highlighted by a Russian cabaret?