Thursday, November 29, 2007
Ventured out this rainy Thursday evening to Ceviche, the new transplanted from Tampa/St. Petersburg authentic Spanish tapas addition to Orlando. Located on the precarious in-the-midst of remodeling Church Street in downtown, Ceviche is in the historic Rosie O’Grady’s prime location. Three words to describe this restaurant: I Loved It!
I was a bit hesitant to try this new place that I have read about from the foodies on Chow.com. For a middle of the week meal, I was thinking of something a little more on the light side, but curiosity got the best of me, so my dining companion and I set out on the short trek. I haven’t been to this location for a while, maybe even a year, and while I love the whole revitalization of downtown thing, the parking was definitely a pain in the ass. But it was worth it. I’d go back to Ceviche for the ambiance and décor alone. I felt transformed while taking in the high ceilings, mosaic tables and fine details. Not to mention the highlight of the atmosphere: the tapas bar complete with legs of ham and wreaths of garlic.
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself because we’re not even at our table yet. I first took in the wine list that, in all honesty, is a fantastic compilation of Spanish and Portuguese wines. We started off with a bottle of Monastrell (2006 Bodegas Hijos De Juan Gil “Wrongo Dongo”). Mark my words, with it’s creamy chocolate undertones, the Monastrell varietal is on the verge of an upward popular trend. (And, as my dinner companion pointed out, how can you go “Wrongo with the Dongo?”)
Being a tapas restaurant, we ordered two dishes each and dove right into our first two choices: Espinacas and Queso de Cabra. The Espinacas (which we both agreed was our first choice of dishes) was out of this world! Sautéed spinach and garlic mixed with honey, strips of roasted red peppers and figs. Enough said, right? I was surprised by the complexity of such a simple dish and the figs really put me over the edge. This is a must have!
The Queso de Cabra was a simple baked Goat cheese and tomato dish lightly seasoned with dried herbs. Don’t get me wrong; it was good, but probably nothing that I would order again. I love Goat cheese, but would’ve liked to have something more to enjoy it with besides the unimaginative bread that was served.
My veggie dinner companion then enjoyed the Portobello Relleno. I don’t sit well with Portobellos, but I couldn’t resist a taste when this came out to the table. The large mushroom was stuffed with wilted spinach and Manchego cheese. It was delicious! But what the menu failed to mention was the fantastic Béchamel sauce that was served on the side. It was quite tasty and unique to have on an all veg dish.
I then thoroughly enjoyed the Filetito (just like it sounds, a petit Filet). Served with authentic Cabrales bleu cheese, I was over the top with this dish. The sautéed onion, bell peppers and baguette slices completed the Filetito that was tasty and very satisfying.
Lastly we shared the Pudin de Pan. (You guys know how I love Bread Pudding!) With raisins, vanilla ice cream and a creamy Brandy sauce, the chunk of hot bread pudding was really in all of it’s glory. I’d order this again in a heartbeat (but of course sharing; the serving size was huge!). At this point we also had some more wine: a 2001 Tempranillo/Mazuelo blend (Faustino V. Reserva) that captivated me with its leathery and licorice undertones.
The staff was not only friendly but also sincere. Our server exuberated friendly enthusiasm and the manager was knowledgeable and passionate about his wine list (he even gave me a copy for my students!) On the way out we peeked into the bar where they featured live music. Again the atmosphere entranced me: a tall cathedral ceiling with beautiful and detailed lighting. I can definitely see myself enjoying a drink there in the future.
All things said, I really hope this place catches on. With the Dessert Lady opening a new location across the street and (hopefully soon) the completion of construction, I can see Ceviche having a promising future that they deserve in their new Orlando location!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I won't bore you with the details, so here are a couple of recipes from the week:
Cranberry Port Compote
½ cup Port, Tawny
1 tsp Orange zest
½ cup Orange Juice
1 12 oz bag Cranberries
¾ cup Sugar
In a medium non-reactive heavy saucepan combine all ingredients.
Bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Simmer until desired jam like consistency, approximately 25 minutes.
Serve warm or cold.
Will keep in refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Makes approximately 2 cups.
Ciabatta Stuffing with Chestnuts and Pancetta
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
8 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 (7.4-ounce) jars roasted peeled whole chestnuts, coarsely broken
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 pound day-old ciabatta bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten to blend
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 15 by 10 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a large bowl.
Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, and garlic. Sauté until the onions are very tender, about 12 minutes. Gently stir in the chestnuts and parsley. Transfer the onion mixture to the large bowl with the pancetta. Add the bread and Parmesan and toss to coat. Add enough broth to the stuffing mixture to moisten. Season the stuffing, to taste, with salt and pepper. Mix in the eggs.
Transfer the stuffing to the prepared dish. Cover with buttered foil, buttered side down, and bake until the stuffing is heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top is crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Last Thursday night I went to the Feast of Fonzo over at Nonna’s, Chef Kevin’s new Italian place in College Park. We weren’t really sure what to expect-I had read about the event online and was thrilled that they still had some openings. The dinner was served family style and we were seated in tables of 10 (unfortunately we were at the annoying people table…why couldn’t we be seated with Wendy Chioji? And why do I see her everywhere? Is she following me?)
We started the evening with a nice cocktail: Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti (aka liquid crack) and OJ. Great drink in theory, but I lost the taste of the liquid crack amongst the OJ. The first course was your typical Antipasto plate: cold meats, cheese, marinated olives and artichokes, and grilled squash with roasted red peppers. Not that I’m complaining, I could make this my dinner any night of the week! The standouts were a fantastic salami and a lightly marinated artichoke. Wine for this course was a Chianti from Umbria that was smooth and blended with the Malvasia grape.
The fish course really stands out in my mind for various reasons. First off, I had probably the best Calamari I’ve ever had! Served fresh and with (surprise!) green peas, it was tender and flavorful and I’d go back just for this. The other standout for this course was the wine-a 2005 Benevolio Pinot Grigio from Friuli. It’s rare that I find a Pinot Grigio that I enjoy-mostly they taste like cheap metallic water to me. But this wine had a surprising softness and complexity not often seen. Also part of the fish course: Mussels in a white wine sauce and Clams with a tomato sauce.
Next up: the pasta course! (Here’s when I start to get really really full.) First was one my all time favs: the Eggplant Parmesan. It was good, but not a good as mine (their was a bit too soft). Also in this course was a big plate of Linguini topped with tomato sauce, Meatballs, spicy Italian Sausage (way too spicy for my taste as well as those around me) and hunks of Veal shank. The Meatballs were the size of a small child and oh so yummy! We also had a big slab of one of the best cheese Lasagnas that I’ve ever had. I think I was moaning something through my mouth full of mozzarella, but at that point no one noticed because they were all enthralled also. The wine for this course was a Barbera D’Alba from Piedmont called Tre Donne (translating to 3 Women-sisters who inherited the winery from their father).
At this point of the evening I could barely take a deep breath not to mention a bite of food. But I forced myself to take one bite of all the items of the meat course: Chicken Cacciatore (not good) and roasted Lamb with a Parmesan Fennel. This was another part of the evening in which I was delightfully surprised-the sweet and savory combination of the Fennel made for an interesting and unforgettable dish. For this course they brought out the big guns-we had a super Tuscan called Arcena Prima Voce from Toscany.
We capped off the evening with a grand dessert buffet and a choice of either Limoncello or Sambuca (hooray for Del a Note!) The desserts included a Bread Pudding, Ricotta Cheesecake, Cannoli and fresh Figs. Again there was one stand out-an out of this world Bread Pudding. Cheers to all who worked hard on this evening-it was a great success and I’d go back and do it all over again anytime! But hopefully next time at a better table!
Friday night I went to the Festival of Trees (yet another year I didn’t win anything!) and out to Ruth’s Chris for dinner with my step mom. We had a fantastic time and as usual the food and service were impeccable. We each had Petite Filets with Broccoli and the Sweet Potato Casserole. I had never had the Sweet Potatoes there and was pleasantly surprised at the light Vanilla scented dish. It was delicious. We also had a bottle of the 2005 Caymus Cabernet. It was really fantastic but reminded me of all the good stuff that I miss when I’m on a budget.
Next up in the line of events is what I am now referring to as the “Great McCormack and Schmidts Debacle of 2007”. First off, never go to the Millenia Mall or the surrounding area on a Saturday evening (even if you have ressies). The traffic is bad. The parking is bad. And apparently the fish is bad. (I know, who ever thought Boursin stuffed Grouper was going to be good for your intestines anyway?) Good points of the evening: great company, surprisingly good Calamari, a $75 gift certificate, and free Martinis at the Blue Martini.
All in all not a bad weekend.
PS Just for the record, Wendy Chioji has never had anything for me except a bright smile! One day I'll work up the nerve to say hello!
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Met up with a friend late Friday night after work and decided to try the new wine bar in Thornton Park called Aroma. We arrived a bit after 11pm to a moderate crowd and some very drunk people. I’d been waiting to try this place for a few weeks; apparently they have an Amarone that is out of this world. But I was in dire need of a snack, and their kitchen was closed, so we decided to pop on over to Midnight Blue for a quick bite.
I’ve been to Midnight Blue a handful of times with pretty much average results each visit. It’s great to sit outside and the food is decent, but the fact that their kitchen is open till midnight is really a great draw (although we were the only ones dining). My companion got an order of Crispy Shitake Mushroom Spring Rolls, I got the Petit Smoked Gouda Grilled Cheese with Cream of Tomato Soup, and we decided to share an order of the Tempura Hericot Vert with Truffle Aioli (translation=fried green beans).
There really is nothing like the ultimate comfort food of a grilled cheese sandwich. It was of course delicious with the smoky gouda and crispy bread. It even had the crust cut off. I was surprised at the soup however. I figured I’d get the end of the night bottom of the barrel serving, but it was fantastic. Smooth and creamy with not to much acidity, it really hit the spot.
I’d had the green beans before and was amazed with the lightly fried and truffle flavorings. This time was no exception with the perfectly al dente veggies. But the aioli was a bit off, and, quite honestly, we both got stomachaches about an hour later. (Even the thought of it now, days later, makes me curse the fried/truffle combo.)
I also had a glass of Airlie 7, a white Meritage from Willamette Valley. As much as I love Conundrum, this could be my new official favorite white. Check out the grapes:
My bro came over on Saturday night to help me hang some new pictures in my kitchen so I decided to pay him back with a home cooked meal. We had seared Sea Bass (I know, not exactly politically correct, but so yummy), Butternut Squash Risotto and steamed Asparagus. Um, it’s hard to review this meal because I made it, but it was pretty damn good.
Capped off the weekend with a quick brunch at HUE (I even brought the new camera but realized about half way through the meal I forgot to take a picture). It was good; I had one of the scrambles and a couple of mimosas.
Here's to all of our friends up north who, during the summmer months, ask us how we can possible stand the weather in Florida!
Monday, October 29, 2007
After reading and hearing about the hoards of people waiting hours for a table, I went ahead and called for ressies. I was ecstatic for my 6pm time (the other choice being 9pm); I figured we would beat the crowds and avoid the wait. The restaurant is located in WP where Za Bella (and then Popollo-but who ever went there?) was located. They’ve done some nice renovations on the inside-the atmosphere was very comfy and inviting.
We started with a bottle of Adami “Garbel” Prosecco just to celebrate, well, life I guess. My dinner companions and I decided to start the meal with a carb overload, so along with the house biscuits (super yummy with a hint of sweetness) we ordered the homemade pretzels from the bar menu. They were quite good, served with a grainy mustard and a taleggio-porter “fondue”.
My veg-friendly friend ordered the Forager and the Gatherer salads for her main course (as usual the only veg option being pasta. Or pretzels). The other meat eater and myself both got the Harris Ranch Ribeye, which is now offered as a single entrée. Unfortunately my entrée was a bit on the done side, so while another portion was being prepared I enjoyed my sides: a tomato tart, roasted fingerling potatoes, and fresh arugula. The tart was absolutely delicious. Large roasted tomatoes covered the savory tart and I quickly ate the entire thing.
I often have people (ok, usually students) ask where the best desserts are in Orlando. I’m thinking they may actually be in WP. To continue with the theme of overindulgence, we ordered three desserts: the tart, the pudding and the cake and ice cream. Oh, and a bottle of the Schloss Wallhausen “Two Princes” 2006 Riesling from Nahe. The desserts immediately impressed me before I even tried them. It’s nice to see the thoughtfulness of multiple elements on a dessert plate. The pear tart was accompanied by a honey tuile (which held up well in the humidity), cinnamon ice cream, and a spoonful of Riesling granita. All were fantastic.
The chocolate-hazelnut bread pudding was a bit dry, but the with accompanying caramel ice cream (my personal fav) it was delicious. Lastly we had three mini chocolate cakes topped with a caramel buttercream and served with a mini coffee milkshake. It even had a mini straw!
I had a fantastic time at The Ravenous Pig. There was one glitch that was quickly fixed by the professional manager and our server was very amiable. I even liked the semi loud music. (Classic rock. I love eating to Queen.) The masses were certainly not there-why we were forced to such an early ressie is anyone’s guess. But I’m thrilled to have a new and imaginative menu being offered in town.
Friday, October 26, 2007
With the abundance of squash in the stores I thought I'd throw this one up! I love risotto and like to remind everyone that it's a lot easier than you think!
Butternut Squash Risotto
1 Butternut squash (small)
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
½ cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dried cranberries
1 ½ tsp dried sage
2 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
gorgonzola to taste
Preheat oven to 400F.
Carefully, peel and cube squash. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on a foil lined baking sheet for 30-45 minutes until tender.
Heat chicken broth on stove and keep warm .
Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add rice and stir for about 10 seconds to coat the rice in oil.
Add white wine. When wine is absorbed, add the broth ½ cup at a time, repeating when broth is absorbed into the rice. Keep heat low and stir often to prevent sticking.
After adding the last portion of broth, add the dried cranberries. When all the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat and add sage, butter and squash.
Add gorgonzola to taste, or use as garnish.
*When facing gigantic squash in the store (I bought one last week that was 61/2 lbs!) utilize that extra yumminess and make some butternut squash soup. It freezes perfectly!
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Two issues have been hindering my updates. The first being that I still do not have a working camera. I know, I could go buy one. But apparently I’m waiting for a free one to fall out of the sky and into my lap. Plus I’ve been relying on other people to send me their pictures. Which sometimes takes a bit (hint hint Bob!).
My other excuse is that I am taking the CMS course and intro exam later this week. Meaning I’ve been curled up on my couch for the better part of the past few weeks, reviewing and learning. And doing “market research” to better expand my repertoire and palette. I’d like to take a minute to thank all of my friends who have so unselfishly helped me in this quest to try as many wines as possible. It’s been a tough ride.
That being said, I’ve actually eaten out quite a bit this past week. Tuesday we had a family dinner (to celebrate my step bro and his family being in town) at Adriatico Trattoria in College Park. My dad and step mom have been there numerous times with good reports, so I was excited for some authentic cuisine. I didn’t get the whole story but apparently the owner was the Chef at Antonio’s Upstairs for a number of years. The restaurant is small but cozy and quite comfortable. The wine list had a great variety of Italians (and a few random Californians) but Bob jumped the gun (one day he will let me order the vino!) and ordered the Zeneto Ripassa that turned out to be delicious but a bit rich and sweet. I ordered the Veal Rack (I don’t know what got into me, I haven’t had veal in years). Needless to say, it was perfect. Rich and tender, I ate the whole thing. And polished the meal off with a glass of Moscato d’Asti (aka Liquid Crack). Everyone enjoyed the food and company-I’d go back in a heartbeat. One quick note: bring your appetite! The servings were quite large.
Stopped for lunch on my way home from work on Friday at the new Drunken Monkey on Bumby. I’ve been waiting for them to open after seeing the progress over the past few months. Granted they’ve only been open for a few weeks, but it was, um, really really bad. The ordering system was confusing-do I pick sandwiches out of the cooler or off the board? And, I would have preferred to know that my Pumpkin Spiced Iced Tea was going to be flavored with a sickenly sweet syrup. That’s all I want to say, it’s not even worth my energy. Although I will add that if anyone has ever wondered how a cumin spiced black bean burger would taste on a rosemary focaccia, I’ll save you the curiosity. It’s not good.
Friday night we celebrated my step bro’s birthday at Harvey’s Bistro. I haven’t been in quite a few years, and well, have never experienced anything like our server Rocky. Really, it was a dinner show. I’m not exactly sure how to describe it, but I’ll just tell you that not only did he come out in a variety of costumes (my fav was the Brokeback cowboy with the stuffed sheep) but actually had props hidden in the plants (I’m not kidding, he spanked the birthday boy with a spatula). Quite the opposite of a stuffy fine dining experience, I haven’t laughed that hard since lunch when I tried that black bean panini. Seriously, I was falling off my chair. I don’t know if I was mortified at the inappropriateness of some of the comments or completely amused. But I’m certainly booking my birthday there this year.
Oh, and the food was pretty food too! I don’t think the menu has changed in the past decade, but the pot roast was still fork tender and delicious. In lieu of birthday cake we sampled every dessert of the menu and I was quite impressed. My fav was the berry (ménage a trios) crumble and their version of bananas foster. Being so close to my place, I’m officially adding Harvey’s to my list of regular haunts, if anything for the pure entertainment value.
That’s it for me for now. It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’m enjoying a glass of CA Viognier (market research). I would like to leave you with a wine book recommendation. I just finished Mark Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine, which was a smart and quirky take on the subject.
Just for kicks here's a pix of me doing market research at Halloween Horror Nights with the (story of my life) gas clown.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the beach. And how loyal I am to certain restaurants in the New Smyrna area. Two of them I’ve been going to as long as I can remember. The most recent newcomer to my fav beach restaurants category is Chases, which is where we went on Friday night. I know not to expect impressive cuisine there, but usually the fish is pretty good and the view is fantastic (it’s right on the beach). Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard that night, so grimy plastic roll-down covers obstructed the view, and the food was really the worst I’ve had in awhile. I got the Mahi sandwich (sans bread) and veggies. My Mahi tasted pretty good, but arrived to the table in about 5 pieces. It was almost like the cook was trying to put the puzzle back together. Like Humpty Dumpty. I hope he was wearing gloves. My frozen veggies were served cold and flavorless. But after all of that, the ocean breeze did make its way to us, and they had Blue Moon, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
Saturday night was definitely a treat. One of the restaurants that really sticks out in my childhood is Norwood’s. I remember being a child and my parents would let me order the King Crab. I only got it once a year, and I have vivid recollections of all that hard work for the sweet crabmeat. So off we went, with me fully intent on crab legs for the evening. I quickly changed my mind when I heard about one of their specials for the evening: Surf N Turf for $19.46 (to celebrate the year that they opened). Granted it was a 4 oz Filet and a little bitty Lobster tail, but this meal was delicious.
My filet was cooked a perfect medium rare, barely covered in a thick and sweet Demi Glaze, and served over a thinly slice garlic Crostini. The lobster was tender and sweet with great seasoning. The rest of my plate consisted of fresh steamed veggies (again with great seasoning) and two of the best damn Hush Puppies I’ve ever had. My dinner companion had the Seafood Alfredo that he reported as delicious but the seafood was a bit overcooked.
Over the years Norwood’s has come to have the second largest wine collection in the state (I believe Burns is the first). I was thrilled to flip through all 51 pages and dream about those wines that I’m afraid I’ll never be able to try (because they cost more than my rent). But the steward was amiable, and we ordered a 2006 Meritage from Moon Mountain in Sonoma Valley. It was the perfect accompaniment to our meal. After dinner we enjoyed a light and honey scented 2005 Riesling from Mosel.
Check out their extensive wine list:
For me, no trip to New Smyrna would be complete without a giant portion of Coconut Shrimp. So while it was raining early Sunday, we headed over to JB’s Fishcamp for my all time favorite beach dish. The Jumbo Butterfly Coconut Shrimp are crispy and fried to perfection. I don’t really know what else to say about this lunch. It’s the best Coconut Shrimp. End of story. Simplicity at it’s best. Kinda like the restaurant itself. If you’ve ever been to JB’s you understand the experience. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip!
Looks like their site is still under construction and really doesn’t do the place justice. But it’s a good reference for directions if you’ve never been:
Lastly, Dr. Southbeach would be very proud of me for driving right by Tasty Treat on my way back to Orlando! It's on SR44, just east of I-95, and it has the best homemade peanut butter ice cream!
Monday, October 1, 2007
I think I overdid it on the Magical Dining Month - both in food (I really don’t find it necessary to always have my own app and dessert) and money (if the food is cheap then you know where my money went). So, in an effort to conserve both money and calories, I stayed in on Friday and cooked up a quick seared Salmon and steamed veggies.
Saturday night I went for a (supposed-to-be) quick bite at Dexter’s in Thornton Park. I wouldn’t quite say that I’m a regular, but I do go often. It’s close to me, choc full of comfort food, and relatively cheap. I prefer this location to Winter Park; it’s less pretentious and has better artwork (although I’ve never been to the Lake Mary location).
We started with the Baked Artichoke, Asiago and Crab Dip. It was pretty good-served piping hot and very cheesy. I think that I’ve had it before, but neither time has it been very memorable. (Except for the random black bean I found in the middle of our dip. Or at least I keep telling myself it was a black bean.)
My entrée was my ultimate dream of comfort: Eggplant Napoleon. Thinly sliced breaded eggplant swimming in a sweet marinara and layered with spinach and ricotta. And topped with thinly sliced raw scallions for a bit of savory tanginess. It’s my favorite dinner at Dexter’s, and I only allow myself to order it every so often or on special occasions. This was just an every so often moment.
My dinner companion got a cheeseburger (which had to be sent back for doneness) and we shared a bottle of Marquis Shiraz from Australia. Luckily they were not overly busy (and hence the restaurant not to loud), so we lingered and decided to go with a liquid dessert and some conversation with our server.
I won’t bore you with the rest of the details from the evening, but I will say that it involved a trip to Total Wine (alright, fine, we sampled Navan and Beefeater Wet) and a viewing of an ultimate 80s flick (alright, fine, we watched Red Dawn).
Trust me, I’m the first to stand up and proclaim my inner geek.
Check back next week for details on restaurants on the East Coast…..(alright, fine, I'm going to New Symrna!)
Monday, September 24, 2007
A whiff of perfume that reminds you of your mother. A song that transports you back to high school. The sound of tires crunching on gravel that takes you back to a favorite summertime vacation spot. And on a rare and special occasion, there’s the nostalgia for a place that you have never visited and a time when you weren’t yet born.
I’d been told that the atmosphere at the Oceanaire Seafood Room is reminiscent of a luxury cruise ship, but I wasn’t prepared to be taken back in time. My first few steps into the restaurant were to the bar area (yeah, I know, ha ha, big surprise) and I was agasp at the sight of the twenty foot high bar back drop lit with ethereal blue lights. The Oyster Bar was large and an invitingly round shape. But it was on the walk to the table when I first realized the music in the background. I always have an emotional response to Big Band music; it reminds me of my grandfather and the story of him meeting my grandmother at a swing dance in Seattle in the early forties. Glancing around I saw that the occasional stuffed fish and the beautiful deep red and overstuffed booths broke up the stark white walls. We settled at our table, the best in the house, in the middle of all the hustle.
We were immediately greeted with a relish tray of olives, pickles, cherry peppers and some sort of pickled fish. We gleefully dug into the tray while we pondered the full menu and then decided to order off of the Magical Dining Month menu (again, big surprise). Swept up with the restaurant theme, I started the night off with a Sidecar, which was absolutely delicious but horribly overpriced for a ¾ martini glass pour ($13.95). AG ordered a Singapore Sling, which arrived in a large hurricane glass and topped with a paper umbrella. I was jealous.
I had checked out the menu online and was excited to try the Rock Shrimp and Grits appetizer. I was in no way disappointed. Loaded with shrimp, the grits were creamy and delicious. The dish was finished with a peach BBQ sauce, which was tangy, spicy and sweet.
My entrée was the “Black and Bleu”, a huge portion of Wahoo encrusted with Cajun seasoning and topped with Bleu cheese. I’m always thrilled to see Wahoo on the menu; I caught one in Bermuda a few years ago. (And when I say I caught one I mean that I watched the guys catch one while I was trying not to get seasick on my Dark ‘n Stormies.) Anyhoo, I’ve never forgotten my enjoyment of that fish (which we ate later that night), so I tend to order it whenever I see it. Unfortunately my serving was overcooked and dry, but flavorful nonetheless.
As usual I was struck with order envy. M Lu got the “Katsu”, sushi grade Blue Marlin wrapped in Nori. Seared to perfection, the Nori provided the perfect crunchy contrast to the cool and sweet fish. It was served with a sweet ginger sauce and fresh watercress.
Having heard about their fabulous and generous sides, we tried the Fried Green Tomatoes. Crunchy and perfectly soft in the middle, they were served with a Sriracha Aioli that pretty much knocked my socks off.
Three desserts were offered on the Magical menu so we got one of each. Served with a homemade vanilla wafer, the Crème Brulee was creamy with a great crunch. The Cheesecake was served with a fresh and flavorful strawberry sauce, but I was disappointed with the whole sans crust thing. So it was a good thing I got the Key Lime Pie. The crust was unbelievable; buttery graham cracker crumbs stacked half an inch high. The filling was tangy, sweet and firm. Served with a touch of a barely sweetened Chantilly cream, it was the perfect ending for my meal. I even emailed my dad (the Key Lime connoisseur) that it’s worth the trip to I-Drive for this pie alone.
It’s pretty obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at the Oceanaire. I was transfixed with the details, the food and the happiness I felt just sitting there. It reminded me of a time that I had missed, when things may have been more simple. When people thought smoking was good for you. When people went to swing dances. When people sailed in luxury and sipped simple cocktails. When people dressed for dinner.
"For Improved Regularity, Add Brine to Your Diet"
Check out the website for a fun fish tutorial. And make sure your speakers are on.
Oh, and make sure you take a trip to the restrooms.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
They say you’re supposed to feed a cold, right? I decided to take their advice and pretty much ate myself through the entire weekend.
Friday night my bro and I took advantage of the Magical Dining Month and went to Baldwin Steak House for a quick (and cheap) dinner.
I really like the idea of Baldwin Park, a seemingly tight knit community where you can walk to dinner and drink as much as you want only to walk home amidst the outdoor musicians with their acoustic guitars and computerized beats. But at the same time the cookie cutter atmosphere kinda freaks me out, so I’m glad that I live near it, but not in it.
Back to the food, we each ordered Caesar salads, Filets and dessert. Oh, FYI, the Magical Dining Month, or whatever you call it, is (participating) Orlando restaurants doing prix fixe 3 course menus for $29 for the month of Sept. It’s worth it, if only to try out some new places without really laying down too much cash.
Anyway, the Caesars were Caesars, but the Filets were pretty impressive. Perfectly cooked and topped with a delicious herb butter, I ordered mine with sautéed veggies and my bro got his with a baked potato. For dessert we shared a Hazelnut gelato (it was really ice cream topped with a walnut) and Apple Fritters (which were fried and dusted with cinnamon and quite yummy).
My bro summed up Baldwin Steakhouse when he mentioned it’s probably a great place to go for a quick bite, order a burger, and watch a game. We polished the evening off with “million dollar” coffee, basically decaf spiked with Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, Kahlua and Amaretto. Now that was good.
Saturday night I met M Lu for dinner at Jeffery’s on Sand Lake to continue on my Magical Dining tour of the City Beautiful. I rarely make the trip down to restaurant row, but I had heard good things and was curious about Jeffery’s. Plus, what else was I going to do on a Saturday night besides go for a nice meal with good company, right?
The atmosphere and décor were muted, understated and extremely comfortable, thankfully missing the pretentiousness of the infamous Sand Lake row. The fantastic lounge singer added to the comfort, and we settled down for our meal. We both ordered the House Salad, very petite with strawberries, julienne bacon and a sweet balsamic glaze. I had the Artichoke Stuffed Chicken served with Israeli couscous and baby carrots. The presentation was a la Bettlejuice (envision the shrimp hands) and juvenile. While the couscous was delicious and buttery, my chicken was stuffed with frozen spinach (with no artichokes to be seen) and dry. And I really didn’t get the zucchini/squash circular cutouts, but that’s a whole different story. M Lu ordered the Short Ribs, which were tender and served with a flavorful Syrah reduction.
We both finished our meals with the Crème Brulee (although the other choice was vanilla ice cream, so which would you pick?). After our post dinner drinks we popped our heads into the (“slammed”) kitchen to say Hi to old students, none of whom I recognized. The evening was capped off with a quick glass of wine at Timpano, where I have never dined, but after that visit it is certainly on my list (for décor only….how cool!).
Sunday I spent the day doing something I rarely do….I played tourist! A(my) G and I made ressies for lunch out at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop (yep, you guessed it, part of my Magical Tour with three courses at $19!!). We went out early and rode The Mummy and then took the boat over to the Royal Pacific Hotel. I have to admit I’ve never been to Tchoup Chop before, the last time I went to one of Emeril’s places (in NOLA) I got food poisoning, so I’ve really avoided them. Tchoup Chop was really a breath of fresh air, focusing on the element of water and quite relaxing. Yet hip and modern at the same time.
We shared apps: the Crunchy Shrimp and Homemade Dumpling Box. The shrimp, lightly fried and served in Bibb lettuce, was bland and unimaginative. It tasted like shrimp and nothing else. The pork and ginger dumplings were fantastic. Fresh and gooey, they were served with a sweet Sake-soy sauce that pulled all the flavors together in one of those “magical” kind of ways. With a larger serving I could have easily called the dumplings an entrée.
My luncheon companion had the Clay Pot with Corvina for a main dish. With hints of a tomato broth, the fish, shrimp and mussels were flavorful and cooked perfectly. I was delightfully surprised with the Salmon. Covered in a fine dusting of toasted macadamia nuts, the salmon was served with a ginger beurre blanc, sticky white rice, enoki mushrooms and a sprig of broccolini. I was really floored by the flavor combinations, but then again we all know how I feel about the sweet and savory combo. The small serving of salmon was perfectly cooked and served skin on for an extra boost of flavor. I literally ate every single bite of my entrée, even the sweet white sticky rice that set me up for my extreme dessert.
They were out of the Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake that I really had my heart set on….so they forced me to eat the infamous Banana Cream Pie. Wow. To start with, it was huge and my one piece looked like it contained an entire banana. Needless to say, it was a perfect not-too-sweet custard like pie with a sweet graham cracker crust. We also had a Coconut Crème Brulee that was served free form and really was on the verge of being a flan. It was ok, really too much of an eggy custard for my taste.
We had a couple of great martinis along the way, and a beer (or two) at Margaritaville. It’s funny, but it really is days like this one when I’m reminded how much I enjoy living in Orlando. Yes, I know, the tourists can often be a pain in the ass, but if you think about it, how cool is it that we can just hop in the car and be in a place where people all over the country dream of being? People plan years and save loads of money to come spend it in our city. Yet at the drop of a hat we can be there, even if it is just for one day. So, yep, cheers to Universal and my mini-vaca, I really had a great time.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
About 3:30am this morning, I had a significant realization. I really really feel for people that have insomnia. In some odd mixture of cold medicine and switching back to mornings, sleep was nowhere to be seen. I finally gave up and watched reruns of Roseanne. After I called into work, I managed to get a few hours and then cooked for a client later in the afternoon. That being said, I’m not up for too much of an entry tonight but here’s a little something:
This is my great-grandmother’s recipe for a cooked salad dressing. Add it to peanuts and it’s my childhood peanut butter. Add it to potato salad fixings and you have a lovely salad. My brother brought up the recipe during our day of drinking last Saturday (and you wonder why I have a head cold). But more on that later.
Cooked Salad Dressing
½ tsp salt
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup water
½ cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp mustard
12 oz crushed peanuts (or potatoes)
Combine eggs through mustard in a sauce pan. Cook on medium heat until thick (coats the back of a spoon), stirring constantly.
Add to peanuts or potato salad goodies.
I know this seems odd, but trust me on this one!
Friday, September 7, 2007
I knew the day that I started writing this blog that I would eventually have to do something that I really don’t want to do: Write negative things. About a restaurant.
Anyone who knows me or has at least read a few of these entries probably already knows how much I enjoy the experience of eating out. I love the surprise of the food. The anticipation of what it is going to taste like, to look like. Choosing the perfect wine. Or the cheapest one. Partaking in overindulgence. Or restraint. I think I also view it as a sort of continuing education. Following trends, getting inspired. Discovering new tastes and rediscovering familiar ones.
So when I walked into The Beacon last Saturday night, I was ready for anything. I expected inspiration and creativity, sophistication and innovation. Instead I got a meal that, at it’s best, could be described as mediocre.
First off, points definitely go to The Beacon for unique décor. Hip, modern and semi-pretentious are words that all come to mind. Walking through the doors and glancing around I felt transformed to a big city girl. Low, sensuous lighting and eclectic furnishings added to the opulence. The distinctive and spacious flow of the restaurant offered the feeling of private dining, and of importance.
I was thrilled when we were seated with other tables at least three or four feet away. It felt kinda like our own private island. But, my chair was very short leaving me feeling like a kid, and the sexy dark lighting just made it hard to read the menu. I made a comment that it would be great if Dad and Mary were with us, they always have those key chain flashlight thingies. (The one you gave me for Christmas a few years ago broke, hint hint!)
On the advice of my dinner companion, I had already checked out the menu online and was set for the evening. My first drink of choice was not being offered, so I went with my second choice off their “summer drinks” menu: strawberry. Strawberry lemonade with Chopin Vodka, it was delicious and I had two (gimme a break, we took a cab).
My entrée choice for the evening was the chicken Francaise. Described in the menu as “traditional”, I certainly missed the white wine butter sauce that is “traditionally” served with this dish. My chicken was heavily breaded, over cooked and dry. I think they may have even deep-fried it. The only saving grace was the accompanying salad: greens, yellow tomatoes, applewood bacon, gorgonzola, avocado and quail egg in a thyme crème fraiche dressing. After a long consultation with our server, my vegetarian dinner companion had come up with a great dinner of parmesan orzo and fresh veggies. It was perfect on the second try, but you really can’t complain when you are ordering off menu. We each ordered wine, but, quite honestly, after the “summer drinks” I don’t remember what we got.
I do, however, remember our desserts and post dinner drinks. We shared the Petit Chocolate Cakes, a snifter of Navan, and each had a decaf. At this point you’re probably asking yourself the same thing I asked our server after he offered it: What is this Navan? The honestly answer is: The perfect liquor for Kate. I’m not kidding! It’s the new product from Grand Marnier: a Madagascar vanilla infused cognac. It was smooth and sweet, absolutely delicious. (Although I’m trying not to hold the Navan website description against it: “Navan mirrors the borderless state of mind and disparate cultural influences of transculturals.” Who writes this stuff?)
Our dessert was the highlight of the meal, decadent chocolate cakes each with it’s own scoop: coffee, dark chocolate and cherry. Even though I missed the Chamboard that was promised on the menu, the huge fresh berries were a perfect match. The “house” ice cream was smooth and delicious. When I asked the server about the fantastic ice cream, she replied with the appropriate ending to the meal, and well, a perfect summary of The Beacon: “Oh, we don’t make it here…it’s from Publix!”
Saturday, September 1, 2007
So, here’s part two of the NYC reunion. We last left off at lunch on Friday amidst a day of shopping. Friday night pre-dinner drinks were at some ultra hip bar that was the size of my living room and reminded me of postmodern Paris in it’s odd simplicity. We cooked dinner at the apartment and all enjoyed SR’s lentil salad and my white chocolate mousse. Then we went to meet friends at some random bar. It was very bright and quiet, but the company was great as usual.
Saturday was another day of wandering and shopping. We had lunch at Spring Street Natural Restaurant. It was very busy and loud, and quite honestly I think we were all just tired and hungover. I had a turkey sandwich with blueberry jam. It was good but very massive. We then went home and rested before the 9:30pm ressies at Nobu.
I was a bit hesitant about Nobu when it was first suggested due to its extreme popularity and fame. Really, Nobu Matsuhisa? I saw him on Regis and Kelly! He’s even been in a Gap ad for crying out loud! But…my curiosity for the food and freak fixation for Robert DeNiro got the best of me, so I put on the fancy dress and went with open arms and the camera ready.
For the second time on this trip, my immediate impressions of a restaurant were of total comfort. The muted colors and warm lighting highlighted the un-pretentiousness of the decor. We were seated at a round table near the front by the windows and immediately started on the task of ordering for six ladies. We choose to go the appetizers for the table route and then decide on sushi. So grab a drink and get comfortable….here’s the meal:
We started off with the Sashimi Salad. Seared tuna swimming in a “Matsuhisa” dressing and covered with greens and somen noodles, it was a great start to the meal. The fish was flawlessly cooked and the dressing with hints of soy and mirin (rice vinegar) was fantastic. We fought over the last piece of fish; I won.
Next we had my personal favorite: Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno. A “tiradito style” of ceviche (a prime example of Nobu’s Japanese and South American fusion), the combination of pepper and lime brought a unique freshness that I’ve never tasted before. And as much as I’m not a fan of ceviche, this dish really knocked my socks off.
The mushroom salad was light and refreshing, but I honestly would never order it again. The only flavors that I remember are of mushrooms. (Alright, which might be the point).
The Rock Shrimp Tempura with creamy Ponzu sauce was another of my favorites. It was light on the tempura and the sauce had a perfect hint of tangy spice. I could’ve easily had this for an entrée.
Next we had the famous Squid “Pasta” with Garlic Sauce. Combined with asparagus and a light sauce, the squid eerily resembled penne pasta. It was quite light and tender.
The Eggplant with Miso was a hit at the table; I only really got one bite. It was beautifully presented, tender, and sweet.
Next was Nobu’s “signature dish”: Broiled Black Cod in Miso. Topped with a Hajikami (pickled ginger shoot), the dramatic presentation was a precursor to its flavor. I was absolutely floored at the flavor and simplicity of this dish. The fish, marinated in miso, mirin, sake and sugar was fall apart in your mouth delicious. I can easily understand why the Black Cod has stood the test of time and impressed many over the past thirteen years.
Yeah, I know this is kinda gross, but I forgot to take a picture of the sushi before we attacked it. The variety of sushi offered was not that impressive, really only basic rolls. We got a California, Spicy Tuna and Soft Shell Crab. And it was, well, sushi. The only highlight was the soft shell crab that was hot and crispy and was double wrapped in nori and rice paper.
We finished with the “Boku Box” dessert. The soufflé was made with Valrhona chocolate (fancy and French), served with white chocolate sauce, green tea ice cream and a shiso syrup. I had never heard of it either, so a quick google check provided that shiso is the Japanese term for perilla, an herb that is a member of the mint family. (Also, just in case your curiosity was getting the best of you, “boku” translates to wood or tree.)
Overall opinion of the restaurant? Let’s just put it this way: if there was a Nobu here in Orlando, I’d probably go often. Beyond the fame and all the fancy food, there was a strong professionalism that we don’t see often here. The meal was perfectly timed and there was never an interruption or hiccup in the flow. I left the restaurant with a feeling of excitement and my head spinning (the latter most likely aided by sake and white wine). If you’re taking a trip to the big apple anytime soon, I’d go ahead and fit Nobu into your schedule.
We capped off the night going to a party in Brooklyn to see some old friends from college, and again I was brought back to earth at the reminder of my un-hipness among the locals.
As much as I love going to the big city and sometimes even envy those who live there, I always love coming home to the familiar humidity and big blue sky!
PS. Thanks to AG for taking me to and fro the airport. Also for buying me a couple of gynormous margaritas to quell my post plane anxiety!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I arrived late on Thursday night after sitting on the runway in Orlando for about two hours. After fighting car sickness on my bumpy cab ride, I met up with the girls at the apartment in Tribecca, and following a glass of wine we went for a quick dinner at one of the neighborhood eateries: Viet Café.
My first impressions of the ambiance were of immediate sophistication and comfort. Hence I was not surprised to learn on their website that the Chef/Owner focused on fung shui principles with the furnishings, all of which were imported from Viet Nam. Between the amazing real life photographs, bistro-open style kitchen, and Elliot Smith in the background, I felt right at home. I was also thrilled to read about Chef Lan Tran Cao who is originally from Viet Nam but studied in Australia. She became a restaurateur while receiving her Masters in commerce, and opened Viet Café while working on Wall Street.
On the recommendation of our hostess for the weekend, I got the Pan Seared Snapper for dinner. (At this point in the day we didn’t bother with apps). Served in a creamy lime tomato sauce, it was accompanied with small chunks of pineapple and strips of crispy tofu. I’m glad I took the recommendation because I was absolutely thrilled with my meal! The fish itself was perfectly cooked, tender and moist. I found the sauce to be delicious, light and tangy. The pairing of the crisp 2005 Trout Valley Sauvignon Blanc made for a perfect meal.
If you are ever in the area, I would definitely check this place out: www.viet-cafe.com
On Friday, we basically just wandered and shopped. We did stop for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien (the daily bread) to enjoy a meal at the communal table. Literally, communal tables. Again I was transfixed with the atmosphere: tall ceilings, bright light and absolutely beautiful large wooden tables. With a quick glance at the website, I was shocked to see all of the locations of Le Pain Quotidien: Belgium (where it originated), France, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, and locations in NYC and LA.
We started the meal with some yummy breads and spreads. (Sorry Dr. South Beach, but when in Rome…) The Brunette Belgium Praline Spread was highly recommended, but it was a bit too sugar grainy for me. We did have an excellent sliced baguette and a fantastic raisin bread. I then had a cup of the gazpacho (it was really really hot out) that was pretty much the antithesis of the Infusion gazpacho from last week. Over pureed, it was nothing to write home about. My tartine (a fancy word for an open face sandwich) however, was decent. Grilled chicken with smoked fresh mozzarella and arugula; it was served on thinly sliced wheat bread. The cheese was out of this world and really put the sandwich over the top for me.
Overall this was a great meal experience and I wish I could do it again. I think the main problem was that I just didn’t order correctly. Other tartines I was considering were: roasted peaches/prosciutto/asparagus and ricotta/fig. I know better than to ignore my gut instinct! I would recommend this place if anything for the originality of the experience. Check them out: www.lepainquotidien.com
That’s it for now! Check back in a few days and I’ll have the rest of the trip….including my big night at Nobu!!