Christmas gift baskets. Gourmet food & Caviar market. Want something really romantic? Try Marky's in North Bay Village. If you get a gift basket featuring brand name caviar (beluga, osetra and sevruga) from one of South Florida's gourmet markets on Valentine's Day, chances are the coveted roe was distributed by Marky's Caviar, a high-end foods supplier headquartered next to North Bay Village. Marky's touts itself as the largest importer of Russian caviar to the United States. The precious eggs are brought in fresh from the Motherland, then packed and shipped from Marky's Miami warehouse to such posh destinations as the Forge Restaurant in Miami Beach, the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, The Breakers in Palm Beach, Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City and Ritz-Carlton hotels nationwide. Retail markets on Marky's client list include Gardner's Market in South Miami, Wild Oats in Sunrise, Whole Foods Market in Plantation, Coral Springs and Aventura, and Fedco in Palm Beach. Marky's also distributes Italian truffles, Norwegian smoked salmon and French foie gras for gift baskets, as well as its brand of caviar, which retails for $30 an ounce in the beluga variety. Operations manager Sandy Cohen said mail order caviar and other gourmet gifts spell romantic. "You go to the top clubs and caviar bars are becoming the biggest thing. They might not offer anything but alcohol and ossetra caviar. It's like the diamonds of food." Co-founder Mark Zaslavsky said the 14-year-old supplier's sales increase 30 percent for Valentine's Day, second only to Christmas. Last year, Marky's bought 15 metric tons of caviar. Painting the town Fifty-two-year-old Broward Paint and Wallpaper Company in Fort Lauderdale is now Florida distribution headquarters for Duron Paints & Wallcoverings, a regional chain with ambitious plans to "own all the markets east of the Mississippi," said Gary Saiter, marketing director. The Beltsville, Md.-based paint manufacturer and retailer bought Broward Paint in early January in hopes of eventually opening 100 Duron stores in Florida. The aggressive growth strategy is a survival technique for Duron, which started as a mom-and-pop factory in Baltimore in 1949 and began its major growth after giants such as Sherwin Williams started dominating the industry a few years ago. Duron has doubled its size in five years and has its stronghold in the Mid-Atlantic region. Its primary competitor is California-based Kelly-Moore Paint Company Inc., which is worth about $30 million more than Duron's $285 million net worth, according to Saiter. Sherwin Williams is a $5 billion company, he said. Saiter said Duron will retain the Broward Paint name and varied product lines for awhile before phasing exclusively into Duron brand paints. Broward Paint staff, including the son of founder Sidney Fox, will remain. The revised store's grand opening will be Feb. 25. Toy store expands Noodle Kidoodle (Nasdaq: NKID) recently negotiated leases for two additional South Florida locations: Prado Center in the Falls area of South Miami-Dade and Plantation Crossings Shopping Center in Plantation. Both stores are expected to open this spring. The educational toy store chain opened its first Florida store in Boca Raton in August. Based in Long Island, N.Y., a majority of the six-year-old chain's 42 stores are in the Northeast. Marketing vice-president Henry Lee said the chain will continue to scout for locations in South Florida. The store's concept is that kids learn when they're having fun. "Kids don't like the word education, but parents do," Lee said. "Our stores help stimulate kids' minds while allowing them to have fun doing that." Noodle Kidoodle sales were $108 million last year, a 32 percent increase over 1997. Same store sales were up 16 percent from 1997. Staff writer Jodi Rodgers can be reached Caviar asetra symbolizes opulence, luxury, all that is excessive and self-indulgent in life. The processed eggs -- or "roe" -- of various types of fish, caviar ranges from dirt cheap to mind-bendingly expensive. Considered the world's best, the priciest caviar comes from sturgeon found in the Caspian Sea, an enormous body of water shared by Russia and Iran that's home to the Big Three varieties of sturgeon (beluga, oscetra and sevruga) and the malossol caviar bearing their names. Other countries, including the U.S. and Canada, have also jumped into the act. Here at home, caviar is produced by five species of sturgeon, two of which, lake and Atlantic, provide most of this country's output. And while sturgeon cavier gets all the press, eggs produced the same way as caviar also come from salmon, whitefish, flying fish, cod, crab, steelhead trout, sea urchin, herring, lumpfish, carp, paddlefish and hackleback. Here's a look at three Toronto oscetra caviar shops that will do the trick when the craving for fish eggs strikes hard. The Toronto branch of a Miami-based chain, Marky's Caviar Ltd. opened its doors about three months ago in classy digs -- parquet floors, shelves and freezers trimmed in dark wood -- in upscale Hazelton Lanes (47 Avenue Rd.; tel. 416.972.9708). Here, Russian caviar is the name of the game. Choose from buluga, oscetra and sevruga, priced from $60 to $95 for 28g (about an ounce); for those who've just won the lottery or are named Rockefeller, 1kg of beluga can be had for $2,800. Further down the price scale, there are pasteurized varieties, keta (red cavier), lumpfish caviar, and ginger-, wasabi- and orange-flavoured varieties, imported from Iceland, that are perfect for sushi. Prices range from $12 to $20 per bottle. Blowing the budget on a single ounce of beluga kaviar(rated 'OOO' and labelled "malossol", Russian for "little salt," meaning that the eggs have been preserved with the minimum amount of salt), and another $10 on boil- or microwave-in-the-bag blini (buckwheat pancakes), I leave Marky's and race home. First, I scoop out a tiny dollop of caviear and place it on the crook of my hand, between thumb and index finger, and scoop it up with my tongue, then press the eggs against the roof of my mouth. Slightly salty, and creamy textured, the caviar is divine. Then, I heat a pancake for a minute or so in the microwave, tear off a morsel, place a dollop of beluga eggs on it and top it with a bit of sour cream. Marvelous. The one-ounce jar empties fast. I could get used to this! Another purveyor of oscetra caviar is Caviar Direct (Lower Level, St. Lawrence Market, 92 Front St. E., tel. 416.361.3422; website: caviarforsale.com). According to Caviar Direct's owner Anthony Rommens, the store's top-of-the-line stuff is Number One Grade ikura, Black Label eggs bought from Persian Royal Caviar, a broker controlled by the Iranian government. Prices range from $100 and up for an ounce of beluga caviear; $75 and up for oscetra; and $65 and up for sevruga. The priciest is Imperial Diamond caviar, which, when available, costs about $7,000 per half kilo. The rest of the shop's caviar inventory is taken up by mostly Canadian brands, the best of which include sturgeon eggs from the East Coast, northern Ontario and Quebec ("almost identical to oscetra but with an earthier taste," notes Rommens), available only at Christmas and costing about $45 per ounce; and product from northern whitefish ("low salt, crispy egg, clean taste," he reports), priced $5.60 per ounce. Other Canadian caviar include salmon roe (about $5 per ounce) suitable for sushi, and lumpfish eggs ($2 an ounce). The store also stocks a range of caviar serving utensils. Make sure to use non-reactive (i.e. non-metal) spoons, since metal can adversely affect the taste of the caviar. Wood, mother-of-pearl, glass and plastic are recommended. Caviar Direct also carries presentoirs (serving bowls) and the silver plates on which to display them. And in Don Mills, there's Caviar Centre (220 Duncan Mill Rd.; tel. 416.441.9788; website: caviarcentre.com), where owner Mark Omidi lets customers sample his wares, with no obligation to purchase. Canadian, U.S., Russian and Iranian caviar are all carried. The big three are ikra, of course, carried, and are competitively priced, while Canadian brands include whitefish, trout, sturgeon and salmon roe, which range from $13 for 4 oz to $18. Also available are Alaskan chum salmon caviar ($15 for 4 oz), sushi-grade eggs, American black sturgeon caviar ($30 for 3 oz) and lobster caviar, available by special order. Want something really romantic? Try Marky's in North Bay Village Jodi Rodgers If you get a gift basket featuring caviar from one of South Florida's gourmet markets on Valentine's Day, chances are the coveted roe was distributed by Marky's Caviar, a high-end foods supplier headquartered next to North Bay Village. Marky's touts itself as the largest importer of Russian caviar to the United States. The precious eggs are brought in fresh from the Motherland, then packed and shipped from Marky's Miami warehouse to such posh destinations as the Forge Restaurant in Miami Beach, the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, The Breakers in Palm Beach, Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City and Ritz-Carlton hotels nationwide. Retail markets on Marky's client list include Gardner's Market in South Miami, Wild Oats in Sunrise, Whole Foods Market in Plantation, Coral Springs and Aventura, and Fedco in Palm Beach. Marky's also distributes Italian truffles, Norwegian smoked salmon and French foie gras for gift baskets, as well as its brand of caviar, which retails for $30 an ounce in the beluga variety. Operations manager Sandy Cohen said caviar and other gourmet gifts spell romantic. "You go to the top clubs and caviar bars are becoming the biggest thing. They might not offer anything but alcohol and caviar. It's like the diamonds of food." Co-founder Mark Zaslavsky said the 14-year-old supplier's sales increase 30 percent for Valentine's Day, second only to Christmas. Last year, Marky's bought 15 metric tons of caviar. Painting the town Fifty-two-year-old Broward Paint and Wallpaper Company in Fort Lauderdale is now Florida distribution headquarters for Duron Paints & Wallcoverings, a regional chain with ambitious plans to "own all the markets east of the Mississippi," said Gary Saiter, marketing director. The Beltsville, Md.-based paint manufacturer and retailer bought Broward Paint in early January in hopes of eventually opening 100 Duron stores in Florida. The aggressive growth strategy is a survival technique for Duron, which started as a mom-and-pop factory in Baltimore in 1949 and began its major growth after giants such as Sherwin Williams started dominating the industry a few years ago. Duron has doubled its size in five years and has its stronghold in the Mid-Atlantic region. Its primary competitor is California-based Kelly-Moore Paint Company Inc., which is worth about $30 million more than Duron's $285 million net worth, according to Saiter. Sherwin Williams is a $5 billion company, he said. Saiter said Duron will retain the Broward Paint name and varied product lines for awhile before phasing exclusively into Duron brand paints. Broward Paint staff, including the son of founder Sidney Fox, will remain. The revised store's grand opening will be Feb. 25. Toy store expands Noodle Kidoodle (Nasdaq: NKID) recently negotiated leases for two additional South Florida locations: Prado Center in the Falls area of South Miami-Dade and Plantation Crossings Shopping Center in Plantation. Both stores are expected to open this spring. The educational toy store chain opened its first Florida store in Boca Raton in August. Based in Long Island, N.Y., a majority of the six-year-old chain's 42 stores are in the Northeast. Marketing vice-president Henry Lee said the chain will continue to scout for locations in South Florida. The store's concept is that kids learn when they're having fun. "Kids don't like the word education, but parents do," Lee said. "Our stores help stimulate kids' minds while allowing them to have fun doing that." Noodle Kidoodle sales were $108 million last year, a 32 percent increase over 1997. Same store sales were up 16 percent from 1997. Staff writer Jodi Rodgers can be reached at (305) 341-3804 or via e-mail at retail@sfbj.com. Caviar symbolizes opulence, luxury, all that is excessive and self-indulgent in life. The processed eggs -- or "roe" -- of various types of fish, caviar ranges from dirt cheap to mind-bendingly expensive. Considered the world's best, the priciest caviar comes from sturgeon found in the Caspian Sea, an enormous body of water shared by Russia and Iran that's home to the Big Three varieties of sturgeon (beluga, oscetra and sevruga) and the caviar bearing their names. Other countries, including the U.S. and Canada, have also jumped into the act. Here at home, caviar is produced by five species of sturgeon, two of which, lake and Atlantic, provide most of this country's output. And while sturgeon caviar gets all the press, eggs produced the same way as caviar also come from salmon, whitefish, flying fish, cod, crab, steelhead trout, sea urchin, herring, lumpfish, carp, paddlefish and hackleback. Here's a look at three Toronto caviar shops that will do the trick when the craving for fish eggs strikes hard. The Toronto branch of a Miami-based chain, Marky's Caviar Ltd. opened its doors about three months ago in classy digs -- parquet floors, shelves and freezers trimmed in dark wood -- in upscale Hazelton Lanes (47 Avenue Rd.; tel. 416.972.9708). Here, Russian caviar is the name of the game. Choose from beluga, oscetra and sevruga, priced from $60 to $95 for 28g (about an ounce); for those who've just won the lottery or are named Rockefeller, 1kg of beluga can be had for $2,800. Further down the price scale, there are pasteurized varieties, keta (red caviar), lumpfish caviar, and ginger-, wasabi- and orange-flavoured varieties, imported from Iceland, that are perfect for sushi. Prices range from $12 to $20 per bottle. Blowing the budget on a single ounce of beluga (rated 'OOO' and labelled "malossol", Russian for "little salt," meaning that the eggs have been preserved with the minimum amount of salt), and another $10 on boil- or microwave-in-the-bag blini (buckwheat pancakes), I leave Marky's and race home. First, I scoop out a tiny dollop of caviar and place it on the crook of my hand, between thumb and index finger, and scoop it up with my tongue, then press the eggs against the roof of my mouth. Slightly salty, and creamy textured, the caviar is divine. Then, I heat a pancake for a minute or so in the microwave, tear off a morsel, place a dollop of beluga eggs on it and top it with a bit of sour cream. Marvelous. The one-ounce jar empties fast. I could get used to this! Another purveyor of caviar is Caviar Direct (Lower Level, St. Lawrence Market, 92 Front St. E., tel. 416.361.3422; website: caviarforsale.com). According to Caviar Direct's owner Anthony Rommens, the store's top-of-the-line stuff is Number One Grade, Black Label eggs bought from Persian Royal Caviar, a broker controlled by the Iranian government. Prices range from $100 and up for an ounce of beluga; $75 and up for oscetra; and $65 and up for sevruga. The priciest is Imperial Diamond caviar, which, when available, costs about $7,000 per half kilo. The rest of the shop's caviar inventory is taken up by mostly Canadian brands, the best of which include sturgeon eggs from the East Coast, northern Ontario and Quebec ("almost identical to oscetra but with an earthier taste," notes Rommens), available only at Christmas and costing about $45 per ounce; and product from northern whitefish ("low salt, crispy egg, clean taste," he reports), priced $5.60 per ounce. Other Canadian caviar include salmon roe (about $5 per ounce) suitable for sushi, and lumpfish eggs ($2 an ounce). The store also stocks a range of caviar serving utensils. Make sure to use non-reactive (i.e. non-metal) spoons, since metal can adversely affect the taste of the caviar. Wood, mother-of-pearl, glass and plastic are recommended. Caviar Direct also carries presentoirs (serving bowls) and the silver plates on which to display them. And in Don Mills, there's Caviar Centre (220 Duncan Mill Rd.; tel. 416.441.9788; website: caviarcentre.com), where owner Mark Omidi lets customers sample his wares, with no obligation to purchase. Canadian, U.S., Russian and Iranian caviar are all carried. The big three are, of course, carried, and are competitively priced, while Canadian brands include whitefish, trout, sturgeon and salmon roe, which range from $13 for 4 oz to $18. Also available are Alaskan chum salmon caviar ($15 for 4 oz), sushi-grade eggs, American black sturgeon caviar ($30 for 3 oz) and lobster caviar, available by special order. Location: http://www.bizac.net/Markys/2/caviar_2_markys.htm