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Restaurants & Bars 3

Fort Lauderdale area quickies

s.m. koppelman | Sep 13, 200412:24 AM

Galanga, on Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors. Finally got there a couple of weeks ago. Nice, refined upscale Thai/Sushi in a beautiful room. The menu veers a bit into pan-Asian territory (a Malaysian appetizer here, a Vietnamese soup there). They use top-notch ingredients and presentation is wonderful. Our roti canai (they called it something else) and tamarind duck were impeccably prepared: the chickeny coconut curry dip on the former tasted bright and fresh, and the latter's duck breast was rich, meaty and butter-soft, trimmed of all excess fat, and encased in a sweetly crisp skin. Seasoning, though, was timid across the board, even though we requested the duck spicy when asked. Not a good choice if you're looking for full-flavored authenticity, but very good on its own terms.

Taqueria Dona Raquel, S. 900 block of southbound Dixie Hwy., Pompano. Again. The more I go the more I'm in love with the place, far and away the best low-end Mexican I've had in South Florida. This time I had their mole rojo, half of a fork-tender chicken cut up and blanketed in a perfectly balanced (cocolatey, nutty, spicy, sweet) mole, easily one of the best I've ever had. My partner in crime, a first-timer there, got steak fajitas, which bore as much resemblance to a typical margarita-mill's version as Anthony's Coal Fired pizzas do to Domino's. Tender, intensely flavored meat (how do they do it? an acidic marinade? salt-curing? surely they're not aging it..), handmade fresh tortillas, crisp veggies. Lordy. And of course the scrumptious, lardtastic rice and beans, the roasted-poblano red salsa and the bright, creamy green salsa with so much avocado in it that it's practically guacamole. With a beer and an enormous styrofoam cup of fresh-squeezed-to-order orange juice, the tab for two came to $22. A bargain at twice the price. As always, staff speaks essentially no English, and on this Sunday night there was a steady 30-minute wait. No burritos, no margaritas. If any of this bothers you, go elsewhere. If it doesn't, go. Go. Get anything.

Nirala Sweets & BBQ (NW corner of Pine Island and Oakland Park, Sunrise): Contender for Broward County's strangest restaurant right now, the area's best Indo-Pak sweet shop jumped at the chance to take over the space formerly occupied by a short-lived terrible barbecue place. They left the tacky Old-West-motif shellacked booths in place (with "Slim's" still imprinted on the tabletops with a woodburning tool). They even left the jars of barbecue sauce and ketchup and Tabasco on the tables. (Why? Said one of the owners, "to put on the kebabs".) Instead of spending even a penny on new signage, they moved the lettering from "Nirala Sweets" over two doors, and left the previous tenant's "BBQ" in place, making it "NIRALA SWEETS BBQ", which they even silkscreened on some pleasingly odd staff T-shirts.

So we went at lunchtime on a Saturday, when it turns out they serve no lunch food at all. Instead, until 3 PM on weekends, they only serve a limited Pakistani breakfast menu. Since they had no nan ready, the menu was doubly limited as this pretty much ruled out their three other dishes it would have accompanied, like paaya (cow foot in aromatic broth, documented in an earlier post). So with a plate of their swell aloo chat we had the one real item they had available: halwa puri. Which is deep-fried flatbread (think begniets or zeppole the size of Frisbees) freshly made to order accompaned by two fillings: a thick, spreadable paste of honey-sweetened farina (the "halwa"), and a bowl of cooked chickpeas in a lightly sweet curry tasting of almonds and honey that was reminscent of -- yes -- Honey-Nut Cheerios. Put both on a slab of the fried dough, roll it up and enjoy. Very, very good, and one of the most unusual and sublime weekend brunch options around. Weird, weird restaurant, though. I can't wait to get back there for dinner. The menu looks great, expanded from what the sweet shop offered as takeout. At least a half dozen types of kebabs, various fish curries, the same number of biriyanis and palaws (I can vouch for their goat biriyani), etc. And don't leave without getting a pound of their sweets to go, all made fresh on the premises and out of this world. You haven't had jalebi until you've had them so fresh the centers are still liquid. And those halvahs!

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