Readers of a certain age will remember that when you went to the movies (you remember going to the movies, don’t you? We all used to do it before COVID changed our lives forever), there was usually what was called a double feature.
Usually, it was a big splashy blockbuster and then a second movie with a lesser budget, the “B” movie. The thing about that is that a lot of times the “B” movie was the better film. “Psycho,” “Enter the Dragon,” “Night of the Living Dead,” and “Foxy Brown,” are perfect examples.
This week I went to two restaurants: one a fancy, pricey spot, the other the B movie equivalent. As with the way movies are screened, we’ll start with the main attraction and then move on to the second feature.
1200 E. Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale
According to its website “Casa Sensei blends brilliant Pan-Asian flavors with the dynamic culinary traditions of Latin America to create a magnificent fusion eatery … Mixing and matching global flavors …”
I’ll give them points for the waterfront dining location; it is both charming and relaxing and even on a hot September night, was quite comfortable, at least climate-wise. The low-slung bench seating pitches you so far back that it is difficult to sit up straight. To get close enough to the table to eat comfortably, you must give up legroom.
Service at Casa Sensei was my main issue. Our server was eager and friendly, perhaps too eager, our behinds had no sooner plopped into the seats, and he was pushing drink orders (recommending his “favorites” which all happened to be the most expensive things on the menu).
My husband and I ordered an appetizer to split and a pair of Asian entrees, our friends Fredda and Katia passed on the appetizer course and ordered two of the Latin dishes from the menu.
Except for a bit of mixing spices (wasabi mashed potatoes with the Latin dishes, sesame seeds on a mole sauce), I didn’t see much “fusion” in the actual dishes. That’s not necessarily bad, because Sensei does do both Asian and Latin fare proud. The actual food was tasty and well prepared.
Service is where everything falls apart. Our appetizer was delivered by a different server who had no idea who had ordered it. Not less than 10 minutes later my entrée arrived, followed immediately afterward by my husband’s, leaving us to sit there with three plates while our dining companions had nothing in front of them.
The manager happened to walk by and asked if everything was all right. When I explained our issue with the food delivery, he responded in a very condescending manner, “Our food is prepared to order, we are a scratch kitchen, and is delivered as soon as it is ready, perhaps you didn’t read that on the menu. I apologize.” (Substitute “F you” for I apologize and you’ll get an idea of his tone.)
Prepared to order from scratch, isn’t that true of all restaurant service? We weren’t at a cafeteria. I went back and looked at the menu on the restaurant's website, and NO it does not state that anywhere. That’s just an excuse for poor timing in their kitchen.
The food coming out of that kitchen is delicious, though. The tuna tower presented four chips topped with chopped tuna tartar. From the Latin portion of the menu, picanha a la Parilla was mostly cooked to order and served with crispy yucca fries, fried rice, and wasabi butter. Mojo marinated pork chops were accompanied by white rice, black bean purée, maduros, and chimichurri.
From the Asian side, my hubby was satisfied by his pad thai with crispy tofu. It just wasn’t remarkable. Neither was my sesame chicken. The chicken was crispy and the blood orange caramel sauce added a nice sticky quality, but the green beans were over-cooked.
We passed on dessert, and a good thing too, as it started to rain, just as we were leaving. As the end credits started to roll, I thought for a big-budget meal (nearly $80 a couple, without drinks) there wasn’t enough bang for the buck.
Papa Duke’s Deli
1950 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
Getting second billing, but tops in taste, the long-anticipated Papa Duke’s deli opened on the Drive a few weeks ago. On my first two visits, I turned around and walked out; the lines were just too long. The third time I walked in right after lunch hour and was waited on almost immediately.
The menu is limited, with five specialty sandwiches and a build your own variety, and a couple of salads. Breakfast sandwiches and pastries are also offered. I opted for the star of the show, the sandwich that gets top billing, the Drunken Brisket. I don’t know why it’s called that, nor do I care, as long as I can order it again. A healthy, but not overwhelming, portion of slow-roasted, juicy, brisket is served atop your choice of bread or roll (and the bread is a star in its own right). The meat is topped with pickled veggies (almost like what you’d get on a Bahn mi) and spicy pepper tapenade. Barbecue sauce and provolone blanket the entire thing. It’s not cheap, at $12.75, but there’s enough there for a very hearty lunch or two smaller meals.
My veggie hubby had to “settle for” the Caprese sandwich, but after one bite the vegetarian didn’t feel as if he was settling anymore. There are also a BLT, Rueben, and an Italian cold cut classic, all priced at $12.75 and served with a small side.
Papa Duke’s is still ironing out some kinks; they’re known to run out of brisket long before the end of the day. But the food is delicious and the service is friendly and willing to please, and that makes them the main attraction in my book.