I was down in the Ft. Lauderdale area for a conference just last week and had some hit and miss experiences. Since I was coming down from New York, I wanted food that was more representative of the area and that was not as easy to come by in NYC (i.e. no french bistros).
On the first night, I had dinner at Evangelines in Ft. Lauderdale. It was pouring that night and the place was near empty. The food however was very good. We shared a plate of stone crab claws. It was near the end of the season so they were a little bit on the small side and a little steep at $26 for 4 claws. The meat was sweet though and served with a mild horseradish cream sauce. My entree of aligator in meunier sauce was excellent. The sauce was superb and the aligator meat was very good. This was my first time trying gator so I can't comment on how tender it was. It was very edible though. My friends ordered jambalaya (which looked like it was enough to feed 2), and grilled swordfish. We were quite for the first 5 minutes after the entrees arrived--too busy eating to bother with conversation.
The next day, I had lunch at Mark's Cityplace in Palm beach. The place looked like one of those "gimmicky-fancy" restaruants that you would find in Caesar's Palace in Vegas, but the food was actually quite impressive. Sushi was very fresh, albiet a little expensive at $3.50 for hamachi and white tuna. I'm glad I was on an expense account. My entree of blackened seabass was very good. It was served with a light wasabe sauce and a miso-soba salad. My only beef with the seabass is that it was cooked medium rare, which is fine for some fish, but with seabass, the meat is actually tougher and more stringy when raw.
That night, I tried dinner at Hot Chocolates. This was recommended on the boards and it was also on Zagat's top 15 list but it was one of the worst meals that I had there. None of the entrees jumped out at me so I decided to do a flight of appetizers. I started with the crab cake appetizer. It had a little heat and was robustly seasoned so it wasn't at all bad. The meal deteriorated from there. The lobster bisque consisted of miniscule flecks of lobsters sitting in a way too salty broth. I only finished 1/2 of the soup and I'm not known to be a light eater. Next was pate with truffles. First of all, I searched high and low and failed to see any evidence of truffle. Second, it was served with toasted wonder-bread instead of the alleged baguette. On the positive side, it was a huge slab of pate. My side dish of spaetzel was greasy and flavorless. All in all, the worst $50 meal I've spent in my life. The only good thing about Hot Chocolates was that I was entertained the entire evening. Every 45 minutes or so, a 45 year-old man dressed in all black and decked in several gold chains would walk in with 1 or sometimes 2 21-year old buxom blondes in tow. The man would say, "Go Knicks!" and the girls would start jumping up and down in classic high-school cheerleader fashion screaming, "Yea! Go Knicks! You can do it..."
Lunch the next day in Miami was great. It was a little Cuban diner near the Art Deco area (sorry, don't remember the name), but for $10, I feasted on roja viejas, a great plate of rice and garlic yuca, and a wonderful beef empanada. It far surpassed the Hot Chocolates fiasco.
Dinner that night at Cafe Maxx was exactly what I was looking for. It was a formal yet relaxed atmosphere without a trace of attitude. Supposedly, Cafe Maxx specialized in New Floridian cusine so I decided to give things a whirl. I started with a appetixer of sesame crusted soft shell crab which was served with a miso-soba summer roll. The miso-soba summer roll seemed excessive, but it was good so I didn't complain too much. The soft-shelled crab had nice crust/batter that didn't separate from the crab when I cut into it. It beat the pants off of the soft-shelled crabs that I had in Baltimore. It was also one of the LARGEST soft-shelled crabs I seen in a while--as big as both my hands put together. Again, no complaints from me. My entree was a knock out. It was jerked grouper served with purple mashed potatoes, and an intriguing sauce that tasted for all the world like banana bread pudding with ice-cream. I tried to figure things out on my own but eventually gave in and asked the waiter. He didn't know either, but went into the kitchen and came out with the answer: a puree or rice, plantains, rum, and vanilla. That explains everything. The grouper was topped with a mango and strawberry relish that went very well with the perfectly cooked, dynamic jerked grouper. I left Ft. Lauderdale the next day with some very pleasant memories.