Florida

palmbeachflorida.jpgJust for fun, close your eyes. Picture Zsa Zsa dining at Bistro Garden or Liz at Chasen’s – bejeweled and pleasing to the eyes. Imagine charming George Hamilton tanned and natty in his double- breasted blazer table-hopping his way around the room. Now open your eyes. If the vision remains, then you must be in Palm Beach! And, guess what! You’ll still see charming George tanned and natty in his double-breasted blazer table-hopping his way around the room – along with Jimmy Buffet, Rod Stewart, Donald Trump, Vic Damone, Dina Merrill, Susan Lucci, the indomitable Dame Celia Lipton Ferris, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.

Surely, you understand the delight for a Left Coast Malibu Beach Bum time-warping on the "Right” Shore. For someone who actually remembers the bridal trail down Sunset Blvd and a laid back Rodeo Drive of local businesses, Palm Beach and Worth Avenue is the old Beverly Hills I most cherish.  Here in Palm Beach most of the upscale restaurants recall those old glamour days, and their menus cater to the pre-foodie crowd who like their food simple and well prepared.

Café L'Europe most exemplifies Beverly Hills posh dining from the eighties. The interiors, with décor reminiscent of the Belle Epoch – sparkle like champagne. Gaiety seems part of the menu with its varied list of Iranian, Russian, Italian and domestic caviar, Sliced Scottish Smoked Salmon, Escargot Bourguignonne, (any one who ever lived in the Colony knows an excellent snail when they see one!), and a ninety-eight page wine list.

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pistacheoutside.jpgThere used to be wonderful French bistros in my neighborhood in New York City, but one by one they are disappearing, leaving me drowning in pasta sauce and nearly Moules Mariniere deprived! But, in West Palm Beach (of all places) there is a delicious Palm Beach Season alternative – Pistache. And, it has the grace to actually look the part.

The first clue that you are in the land of the French is that there dogs sitting politely by their masters on the terrace as you walk in.  So civilized dining with dogs! And, so cozy; everything is exactly as one would expect from a Bordeaux native managed Bistro – except for the waiters, who insist on being friendly!

The menu has a few surprises such as the Lobster Mac and Cheese – a dish I would normally cherish – but I had an agenda:  Burgundy Escargots in Garlic Butter. They arrived juicy and fine textured. Other appetizers ordered were an elegant and freshly made beet salad with small bits of chevre on arugula and a traditional beef based Onion Soup Gratinee with Gruyere Cheese.  We were off to the perfect culinary memory experience.  

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ImageOutside, the roosters crow. I look at the time display on my cell phone within reach. 4:30. A.M. As hard as I try, I cannot fall back to sleep. The continuous crying sounds of the roosters are foreign to me and grate on my nerves.

Finally, I pull myself out of bed, throw on some workout clothes and softly pad down the stairs outside my room.

I sit in the dark, the only light coming from the screen of my laptop computer. As my fingers move quickly across the keys, the light of day appears, surprising me with its sudden takeover of the night.

The sound of cars in the street join the constant noise of roosters calling to one another. My nose picks up the familiar aroma of yeast dough wafting from the kitchen.

Early each morning, an employee of the Angelina Guesthouse, where I'm staying in Key West, Florida, opens the kitchen in the early morning hours of darkness, while most of the guests are still deep in their slumber. On this morning, Nodira, a beautiful woman originally from Uzbekictan, pulls two batches of plump unbaked cinnamon rolls from the refrigerator and slides them into the oven.

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roccossign.jpgThere is the neighborhood Mexican Restaurant – good solid simple Mexican food with waiters who are kind to children and ask all women under 50 for their ID when they order beer. (I used to LOVE that!) There is the tourist Mexican Restaurant Emporium that sells T-shirts, sombreros and disappointing but familiar fare. And then, there is the vaguely upscale hip and you-definitely-have-a-chance-of-getting-laid joint that is a great bar first – Mexican food second kinda place.  Rocco's Tacos in West Palm Beach is that kinda place!

So lets start with the bar. It is a glorious bar extending the length of the restaurant. With chair back stools, oak paneling and extensive menu of Tequila, Mezcal and other south of the border spirits, one could happily spend the night sitting at this bar drinking Tequila shots and holding it all together with Jalapeno Poppers and freshly made Guacamole. Should one's eyes start to roll about, one might even notice the wondrous chandeliers and tin (or faux-tine) ceiling that give the place such a warm air of pre-coital romance. Far be it of me to break the mood by suggesting their food only pretends to be marvelous. (And, for that matter if one's eyes are indeed rolling about, who cares!)

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floridagrill.jpg On the second day of our Florida trip, we dined at one of our favorite, always good, “coming home” restaurants in Apalachicola: The Apalachicola Seafood Grill. Located in the heart of “downtown” Apalachicola (within spitting distance of the town’s solitary traffic light) , The Grill offers a simple menu, The World’s Largest Fried Grouper Sandwich, an impressive assortment of beer (you get your own bottle) and the motto “No Whining.” We have been eating at The Grill at least once a trip since Sam was two and threw a sippy cup at the front window. We’ve not been disappointed.  I have had everything on the menu that I want to try, and the Grill is not the kind of restaurant that changes it’s menu. There are fresh shrimp, oysters and fishes fried, baked, broiled, in soups, stews and chowders, in sandwiches and/or in baskets. City folk can have a salad with seafood in it, if they insist. If I arrived at The Grill to discover that they were offering a terrine of langoustine on a bed of microgreens with a Guiness reduction, I would burst into tears.

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