Every trip back to the States is a food pilgrimage. It’s the chance to fill up on old favorites and discover new flavors, to dine out in style and veg out with guilty pleasures. This year I had traded in New York City and its promise of cronuts and ramen burgers — both of which are now available in Moscow — for the sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was eager to try all the local, Caribbean-influenced cuisine, to break out of my culinary comfort zone and escape to the world of tropical cocktails and so-fresh-it’s-still-swimming seafood. But, to the dismay of my stomach, my first impulse upon landing in Miami carried me straight to the nearest convenience store where I stocked up on Bud Light and over-the-counter spicy chicken wings.
For the next week I alternated between seeking out one nice, somewhat fancy place for either lunch or dinner (because my lazy butt was enjoying the lounge chair by the ocean far too much to get up twice a day, though my wallet was grateful), and stuffing my face with questionable pizza, Marshmallow Peeps and pita chips by night. With somewhat…interesting…results.
Kids, getting old sucks. I might still be 18 at heart but somewhere between that age and …now, my body lost the ability to consume inordinate amounts of deep-fried, sodium-and-MSG-filled crap, chase it with half a gallon of cheap light beer, and feel fine afterwards. I loathe to even think it, but I found myself craving something healthy and sensible, some lean proteins and veggies washed down with a light, quality-vodka cocktail and plenty of actual hydration afterwards. Somewhere along the way water became more essential to my organism than Bud Light.
Alas, this is a lesson learned for the next foreign adventure. I do wish that I had done more epicurean exploration on this trip, perhaps planning out a tasting tour of the area’s best spots, be they street carts or hotel restaurants. But there is always the next time.
Best Thing I Ate: Miso Honey Tuna at Blue Moon Fish Co.
Raw tuna with miso-honey sriracha, avocado, cilantro and cucumbers. Bear in mind that I generally dislike honey, avocado in any form other than guacamole, and cilantro in any form, period. And yet this combination was melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
Stoli Bluberi vodka, ginger, simple syrup, blueberries, champagne. I could drink this by the bottle. Might be my favorite cocktail now.
Best Overall: Shooters Waterfront
The food was fun and creative, the space was fancy without being stuffy, the service was friendly and attentive, and the location — right on the Intercoastal Canal — could not be beat.
Great Food, Bad Service: Blue Moon Fish Co.
The hostesses were super-snooty and pretentious, the wait staff — rushed and dismissive, scurrying off to tend to what I guess they saw as more moneyed clientele, which was ridiculous because I spent more than $100 on a dinner for one, and that was BEFORE the dinner rush actually started, and the place got really busy. That was enough to ruin the experience that otherwise included some of the best seafood and martinis I had ever had.
Fun and Funky Drafts: Sandbar and World Famous Parrot
When not lounging by the pool or on the beach with a glass of Bud Light, I was sampling more interesting libations, from Lemon Shandy to apple cider to the Funky Buddha Floridian wheat ale. I especially enjoyed all the funky tap levers!
Most Out of My Comfort Zone: Key Lime Tart
I am not a fan of citrus in desserts, and of lime in anything except for guacamole (guacamole is, apparently, a dish of exceptions). I always ask for water or vodka with lemon and if limes are brought out instead I usually ask for a do-over. But Florida is famous for its Key limes, and Key lime pie has been the state’s trademark dish for decades, synonymous with the place as pizza is with New York. I would have been remiss not to try it, and even if I hated it, at least nobody could accuse me of lime prejudice. So I did. It wasn’t bad; not my thing, really, but the small portion and creative execution — with dollops of meringue, raspberry and kiwi coulis, vanilla sorbet and toasted coconut — made for a pretty interesting and refreshing end to a great dinner. If you want a much more thorough take on this regional classic from a dessert aficionado, you absolutely must peruse the Key West Chronicles archive of Lady of the Cakes.
I started my trip with some deep-fried Mahi-Mahi and ended it with a super-delectable mix of mixed leafy greens, vine ripe tomatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, sweet, caramelized onions and sliced strawberries topped with candied walnuts and citrus vinaigrette dressing.