In the sprawling dining room, white tablecloths drape over square and circular tables. Atop these tables are platters of the Mandarin, Szechuan, and Cantonese cuisine that fills Christina Wan's menu. Favorites such as general tso's chicken and sesame beef share space with less-known dishes such as saigon steak kew (filet mignon with snow peas) and lemongrass-marinated rack of lamb.
Bright spotlights shine down as the doors swing open. Grinning faces look up in recognition. Dishes emerge from the kitchen at Panda Buffet like celebrities, draped in boas of steam and mantles of honey-garlic or bourbon glaze beneath the lemongrass-hued walls and wood paneling. Waiters toting traditional concoctions such as General Tso’s chicken scoot past mirrors painted with bucolic Eastern scenes that let diners experience exotic locales without hiding in a shipment of pith helmets.
Dragon Pearl Tea is grown organically in a fashion similar to techniques used for thousands of years, sustaining the ancient traditions of tea farming and culture in the Fujian Mountians. No chemicals are ever used in growing and processesing the tea.
As the sun dips below North Lake, strings of lights bordering Taverna Opa’s patio flicker on, casting a warm glow on the water below. The crepuscular calm lasts only a few moments at Taverna Opa: once night falls, live DJs take to the stage, furnishing belly dancers with a throbbing beat by which to shimmy and undulate. Waiters often lock arms and break into traditional zorba dancing. And, if the night reaches a fever pitch, patrons may smash their plates and toss their napkins in the air. This raucous atmosphere has earned Taverna Opa the spotlight in a slew of media publications. But though revelry is paramount, Taverna Opa doesn’t shirk cuisine: chefs marinate fresh seafood and lamb in fresh herbs and roast them on a wood-fired grill, and bartenders pour Greek wines well-suited for the succulent meats or postmeal Trojan horse christenings.
Mongolian-style hot-pot dining originated centuries ago, when embattled horsemen repurposed their shields and helmets into pots for preparing meaty stews over open flames. Over time, this modality of cooking has been adopted and remixed as a communal dining event throughout Asia, and the chefs at The Hot Pot put their own spin on it with their family-oriented dinners. Servers first lay out tables banquet-style, arranging plates of raw meat, seafood, veggies, rice, and noodles around centerpiece boiling pots of homemade broth, which comes in flavors ranging from Thai-influenced hot and spicy to a chicken and vegetable house broth. Tablemates joust for morsels of flank steak, mussels, and tofu and then settle the pieces in the simmering broth until they’re tender. But the bubbling cauldron doesn't have to be the focal point of the proceedings; The Hot Pot also prepares a fresh seafood boil and Vietnamese entrees.
A native of La Mure, France, Chef Laurent Tasic's culinary passion began in his grandmother's farm kitchen, where the young Laurent helped her put together homemade country dishes. After honing his cooking and restaurateur skills in Europe, the French Antilles, and the Cayman Islands, Chef Laurent relocated to Fort Lauderdale, where he draws on his homeland's flavors at two Sage Oyster Bar & Restaurant locations. At his Fort Lauderdale eatery, he expands upon the traditional French countryside dishes of his youth by stuffing onions with veal and provolone, coating roasted duck with honey-raspberry sauce, and filling crepes with wilted spinach and goat cheese. Meals take place on a covered outdoor sidewalk or inside a dining area modeled after a romantic European bistro, where tastings of the restaurant's extensive wine collection and flavored floorboards occur every first and third Tuesday of the month. At his Hollywood location, meanwhile, Chef Laurent focuses on French-seafood preparation, serving oysters baked with roquefort cheese and pizza topped with Maine lobster from the kitchen's brick oven. The ambiance draws upon a similarly romantic aura, with soothing, dramatic lighting that illuminates the artfully arranged plates emerging from the kitchen.