By Rebecca Cahilly
The flavors of the Caribbean and Latin America often are credited for influencing the cuisine of South Florida, but a little bit of everything — from here, there and everywhere — can be found in kitchens here. Come with us on a culinary tour of the world, and meet some of the people from far away bringing a taste of home to ours.
If you happen to catch Joe Esposito on the phone, you might be surprised that he is running anything but a truly authentic Italian restaurant. But this chef is the longtime owner of Café Seville, one of the most celebrated Spanish restaurants in town. Café Seville was founded by two brothers from Spain, whose parting of ways gave way to an opportunity that Esposito — chef at the French restaurant Sage at the time — couldn’t pass up. He bought the restaurant and hired back the majority of the staff, even reaching as far as El Salvador to persuade the original chef, Jose Fuentes, to return. “Chef Fuentes and I work as a team,” Esposito says. “It’s his kitchen, he does what he wants to do and we come up with new ideas together. I do the cooking on Wednesdays.” From the moment you set foot in Café Seville, you are treated like a guest of the family and to delightful extra touches, such as the aperitivo of sautéed shrimp and garlic while you are read the daily menu. The signature dish? Paella, of course. “We’re like a family at this restaurant,” Esposito says, “and that extends to the customers. My wife, she loves it; it’s in our blood. Even though I’m Italian I have a passion for food.” And, when you are passionate about what you are cooking, it shows.
Café Seville, 2768 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-565-1148, cafeseville.com
Chima Brazilian Steakhouse
If you’ve never experienced a Brazilian rodizio, Chima delivers the authentic experience — from flavorful, fall-off-the-bone meats and side dishes to waiters in gaucho garb carving at your table. Chima Meat Specialist Maradona Lima, in the restaurant business for 35 years, owned her own restaurant in Brazil and worked with Chima Brazil before opening Chima Fort Lauderdale in 2003. “At Chima, we cook exactly as we used to cook in Brazil,” she says. Coarse salt and special seasonings ensure authentic Brazilian flavor before the meats are grilled on a rotisserie imported from Brazil. “The meats are definitely our signature items,” she says. “If I had to pick one, it would be the melt-in-your-mouth beef ribs.” The meat is first seasoned with salt before being covered in foil and roasted in the oven for three hours. After that it goes on the rotisserie for 15 minutes, Lima says, to give it the “final touch.” “It is delicious; one of the most requested meats in the rodizio service.” In addition to the amazing array of meats, Chima boasts a gourmet salad bar with a mix of American and Brazilian favorites — such as black beans with pork, rice, farofa (toasted yucca flour), Brazilian vinaigrette and hearts of palm. The desserts are no less noteworthy, including such decadences as passion fruit mousse, walnut cream, papaya cream… in short, leave room. Executive Chef Eder Dorne, with Chima Fort Lauderdale for seven years, is definitely proud of Chima’s dessert selection, made daily. “If I had to pick only one,” he says, “I would choose the papaya cream; this is very Brazilian and refreshing. We blend vanilla ice cream with fresh papaya and top it with Cassis Liqueur just before the guest is about to enjoy. It is definitely a taste of Brazil.”
Chima Brazilian Steakhouse: 2400 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-712-0580, chima.cc
Eduardo de San Angel
Chef Eduardo Pria was born in the San Angel neighborhood of Mexico City and worked his way through a number of world-class restaurants in Spain, France and Italy before arriving in the United States in 1980. In 1993 he opened Eduardo de San Angel restaurant on Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and has been treating visitors and locals alike to high-end Mexican dishes since. The multiple award-winning Eduardo de San Angel quickly distinguishes itself from the stereotypical taco, burrito, chips and salsa fare with refined dishes highlighted by traditional sauces blended with European techniques. Chef Pria maintains the authenticity of his heritage by using native ingredients and traditional techniques, such as huitlacoche, a corn smut the Aztecs prepared for their kings. In one of his dishes, Chef Pria fills a French-style crêpe flavored with guajillo chile with huitlacoche and a squash-blossom sauce. “I think every single dish here is my favorite,” he says. “It depends on the preparation and message that comes with it.” How do you know the food is that good? Visit the hacienda-style eatery and you might notice very few people ordering from the menu, preferring to wait for Chef Pria’s recommendations. “My customers appreciate everything I do,” he says. “They order whatever I offer because they trust my choices and preparations.”
Eduardo de San Angel: 2822 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-772-4731, eduardodesanangel.com
The Field Irish Pub & Eatery
Hearty Irish-American food crafted from age-old recipes is the fare at The Field in Dania Beach. From the moment you step through the charming courtyard and patio bar under the twinkling-lit banyan tree into the main restaurant, you are transported from South Florida to an old farmhouse on the Emerald Isle. World-class musicians – including the house band, Celtic Bridge – play jigs, reels and the “real” music of Ireland. Many of the staff at The Field hail from Ireland, including part owner Hilary Joyalle, from Belfast. You’ll enjoy all of the classics here, such as fish & chips, shepherd’s pie, corned beef & cabbage and Irish stew, mixed with traditional “Americana” like meatloaf, chicken pot pie, hamburgers, steaks, chops and fresh seafood. There’s nothing quite like sitting down to a big plate of fish & chips with a pint of Guinness, live Irish music in the background and fun banter with your server. “The Irish have a great sense of humor and a self-deprecating wit that permeates everything we do,” says Jay O’Hare, The Field’s manager. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously – except when it comes to the quality of our Guinness pour.”
The Field Irish Pub & Eatery: 3281 Griffin Road, Dania Beach, 954-964-5979, thefieldfl.com
Rocksteady Jamaican Bistro
Chef/owner Duane Morgan stands each day behind his restaurant’s motto: “provide good food to our friends, make everyone we serve feel comfortable in our home and make the world a better place.” Hailing from Jamaica, Morgan takes pride serving authentic Jamaican/Caribbean cuisine. Jamaican cuisine is a fabulous mélange of influences from the generations of cultures that have inhabited the island — Chinese, African, Spanish, British and Indian — fused with the flavors of exotic herbs introduced from Southeast Asia. Morgan maintains authenticity at his Rocksteady Jamaican Bistro and Jamaican Jerk Café restaurants by using authentic Jamaican blends of ingredients, such as scotch bonnet pepper, pimento, thyme and garlic. Most traditional Jamaican cuisine is grilled, such as the signature jerk chicken (allow 30 minutes for grilling if you order the wings) and pork; while the delicious curry chicken and oxtail is braised. His favorite meal? “It’s the Chilean sea bass rundown style, which is cooked in coconut milk with curry and our herbs and spices.” We tend to agree, our only addition to that would be the Jamaican rum.
Rocksteady Jamaican Bistro: 2399 N. Federal Highway, Boca Racon, 561-465-3167, rocksteadyjamaicanbistro.com
Sultan Express Mediterranean Grill and Hookah Bar
Maher Awni Makboul has been in the restaurant business for 28 years and, after moving to South Florida with his family, opened Sultan Express in May 2012. “I’m most proud of the fact that everything I cook is what I would cook for myself or for my own family,” he says. “Whether you come to my house or to my restaurant, you’ll get the same quality and good food.” Sultan Express offers such traditional Mediterranean dishes as gyros, falafels, paninis and kabobs and chicken bento, as well as homemade hummus, mezze and manakeesh. “The fact that my place is small and everything is made or assembled in front of the customer is like having them hang in our kitchen,” Maher says. “We use fresh, high-quality ingredients, we shop almost daily ourselves, and our recipes have been handed down from generation to generation.” His favorite? The mezze falafel sampler plate. “It’s a great dish because you get a little bit of everything, from smooth, creamy hummus — we cook the beans for at least five hours — to the fresh, hand-chopped tabbouleh salad, to our perfectly smoked baba ganoush, veggie dolmas and, last but not least in my opinion, the best falafel balls west of Jerusalem.”
Sultan Express Mediterranean Grill and Hookah Bar: 891 E. Palmetto, Park Road, Boca Raton, 561-361-8355, sultanexpressboca.com
For nearly 25 years, chef and owner Michael Tatton has ensured that his restaurant, Thai Spice, consistently exceeds expectations. In an area where Thai cuisine is common, Thai Spice stands out as one of the best. The restaurant focuses on local fresh-caught fish, organic and prime meats and fresh herbs and imported specialty ingredients from Thailand, with all meat, seafood, fish and produce delivered daily. “I am a hands-on chef/owner,” Tatton says. “I do all my ordering and hand-check everything being delivered each morning to ensure quality and freshness. Daily specials are my passion. I love to create and share my creations with our customers through our daily specials.” Everything on Thai Spice’s extensive menu is made to order — even the soup. The sauces are made daily, using traditional Thai ingredients and fresh herbs, always. “We use Asian woks, ovens and even the simple mortar and pestle to blend our curry pastes from scratch,” he says. When it comes to his personal favorite dish, Tatton points to the Key West whole hog snapper, dusted with a water-chestnut powder, crisply fried and topped with a spicy chili garlic sauce and fresh cilantro. The restaurant’s signature dishes include the fresh Chilean seabass, which is pan seared, oven roasted with a coconut cream sauce with shredded kaffir and purple Thai basil; and the lobster pad thai, which includes flat rice noodles wok-sautéed with Maine lobster tail and chunks of lobster meat, scallions, bean sprouts and crushed peanut. Each dish at Thai Spice will transport you to an exotic paradise, assisted by the fantastic ambience and equally exotic cocktails.
Thai Spice, 1514 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-771-4535, thaispicefla.com