J Mark’s Restaurant

J Marks- 1245 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale  http://www.jmarksrestaurant.com/

To begin with let me just say up front that I genuinely like this place and the folks who run it.   I’m going to tell you about some of the dishes I enjoy, but first a short background. I discovered J Mark’s a couple of years ago, way before I began alanEATS. My foodie friends suggested a new place that had been getting good reviews, so we drove to Pompano for dinner.  At the time, J Mark’s had only the one location.  We were seated at a table in the bar area and I could see the place had a nice friendly buzz to it.  But what instantly endeared me to this new restaurant was the involvement of the two owners who could be seen checking in frequently on the kitchen and randomly stopping by tables to introduce themselves and inquire about the food and service. One of them stopped by our table and after a short chat we were treated to tastes of some new items they were trying out. You may have experienced something like this at a restaurant before, but my sense was that this was different.  These guys really mean to please and want feedback as to how they’re doing and correct things that aren’t working. Which brings me to the one year old, J Mark’s in Fort Lauderdale.  This additional location has not dampened these guys desire to produce good food at reasonable prices. Even off-season there can be a wait at peak times.

So lets begin with appetizers you shouldn’t miss.  I really like the Jamaican Grilled Wings. They are grilled, not breaded and have a slight sweet/sour kick from the tamarind. They’re served with a tasty dipping sauce. Also not to miss is the Ahi Tuna Appetizer with Wasabi Pesto (careful…has peanuts) and the wonderful Cajun Crusted Ahi Tuna Sliders served on mini-buns. For the meat eaters, try the Prime Rib Sliders with horseradish and basil pesto. I could make a dinner of appetizers.  Actually I have!

Do you like fish? Well, surprise…I’m not a huge fish fan, but I’m warming up to it because the fish dishes here are fabulous. Every day there are at least two fresh catch specials in addition to their regular menu offerings.  When available, try the Chilean Sea Bass with Miso Glaze. It’s like seafood candy. This moderately oily fish goes well with the miso glaze. Other fish you may find on special are the Red Snapper and the Swordfish, each with special preparations of the day. You really can’t go wrong. Now for the meat! Here’s what I’ve tasted and enjoyed. Top on my list is the Hawaiian Rib Eye.  I know you’ve seen a marinated rib eye at other places, however this one is consistently tasty, less fatty and served to your doneness.  Remember, if you’re still ordering meat medium well or well done you’re missing out on some important flavor. The 12 oz slow roasted Prime Rib is also really good here. Its served with all the trimmings, but I always ask for some teriyaki sauce on the side. Yum! They make a set amount, so when they’re out…they’re out! There are two other special cuts of beef, the 20 oz. Rib Eye and the New York Strip. Unless you’re really hungry, you’re taken some home.

Finally, Sunday brunch.  J Marks does an off-the–menu brunch with no less than seven Benedict egg dishes from the Classic to one with Angus Beef tips. I haven’t tried them all, although I’m working on it, but I’ll tell you the poached eggs are done perfectly and the Hollandaise sauce is rich. If you’re several people and hungry, start out with the Smoked Fish Dip off the regular menu.

© 2011 alanEATS

Cafe Italia

Café Italia- 3471 N Federal Hwy., 
Oakland Park                                http://cafeitaliafortlauderdale.com

Recently some friends of mine introduced me to an Italian restaurant that I’ve wanted to try, but was never motivated enough to visit.  After all, to say we have a lot of Italian restaurants in the Lauderdale area is a gross understatement.  So with the further inducement of…”we’re buying”…I relented.  When I walked into the place and met owner, chef, food impresario, and wise philosopher Francesco, I was instantly hooked.  It was like when Golda Meir shook hands with Anwar Sadat for the first time and said, “ What took you so long?” Francesco is very proud to tell you that he’s from the Abruzzo region of Italy and will point to a map in the dining room to show you exactly where. He is also very proud of his food and eagerly explains about its freshness and authenticity. When the food arrives you know everything he said was true. It turns out Francesco can sometimes be the greeter, take an order and prepare the meal although on most nights his wife does the honors in the kitchen. All entrées are served with a house salad and fabulous Italian bread from Grand Forno Bakery. Try the Lamb Meatball Ragu with spaghetti, the Eggplant Parmigiana with a side of spaghetti, the Lasagne alla Bolognese and the Spaghetti Vongole.  All very reasonably priced. I’m sure I’ll have more suggestions for you after my next several visits. Until then, follow the link to a Sun Sentinel review on this restaurant that some say, is the best-kept secret in Fort Lauderdale.  http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sfl-dinecafeitalia,0,7418101.story

Christina Wan’s

Christina Wan’s – 664 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, http://www.christinawans.com/

I eat at Christina’s frequently, as those of you who follow my travels on Twitter and Facebook can attest to. However, I have made my way through many of the local Chinese restaurants from the older style Cantonese ones to the newer corporate incarnations.  Fort Lauderdale it seems, has them all. I experienced Christina’s soon after moving here seven years ago.  There is a Christina Wan and she and her family have been in the restaurant business since 1966 beginning with a restaurant in Miami. On the face of it, Christina’s appears to be just nice neighborhood restaurant…and it is if you order your standard fare of: wonton soup, egg rolls, egg foo young and etc.  But it’s when you depart from the expected and try some of Christina’s, and now my, favorites and you’ll see why folks from Miami and Hollywood take the drive to eat here. Try the Colossal Ginger Shrimp served with bok choy or the Sizzling House Wor Ba (I know you’ve had this before, but its wonderful here.) If Christina has live Lobster on hand ask her to prepare Ginger Lobster…whole Lobster in the shell chopped and cooked with Ginger and vegetables. A treat you won’t forget. The Szechwan Chicken, Singapore Rice Noodle with Curry and the Pepper Scallops with its dark peppery sauce should also not be missed. A large part of the energy of this place is Christina and her family. All can be seen greeting customers, taking orders and making frequent runs to the kitchen. Christina is always on hand to guide you through the menu options especially if you’re in an adventurous eating mood.

And finally, I’d like to tell you about the famous Christina Wan almond cookie. Those who know about this thin, delicate cookie with a sliver of almond on the top, seek it out on each visit. The recipe is a closely guarded secret known only to Christina and sources say she bakes them herself. Should you find yourself at Christina Wan’s, mention that you read this in alanEATS and one or two of these tasty treats may find their way to your table.

© 2011 alanEATS

Sushi Rock

Sushi Rock- 1515 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale

My brother enjoys good sushi. I’m not sure if it was all the lox he ate as a kid or just his love of all things fish, but eating sushi is one of his passions. In fact, it was he who introduced me to Sushi Rock.  I was there the day he asked our server if they could recreate a roll that was made for him by a sushi chef & friend in Massachusetts.  That roll is now served at the restaurant; however, it is not on the menu.  You need to ask for it by name, the “Super Larry Roll.” It is a spicy tuna with jalapeño & crunch, inside out roll, wrapped with alternating strips of tuna and white tuna with spicy mayo and spicy masago. Normally we’ll start off with the Shrimp Dumplings (Ebi Shumai) served with a creamy mustard dipping sauce or for some real fire, the Steamed Pork Dumplings infused with wasabi (Great Balls of Fire.) I also recommend the Spicy Tuna Salad with crunch, masago, seaweed and kimchee sauce. While I eat a lot of sashimi and sushi, here I tend to eat more rolls…partly because they’re so darn good.  Some that I recommend are; the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Blondie, The Mack Daddy and the Big Bopper.

© 2011 alanEATS