Monday, September 24, 2007

The Oceanaire

Nostalgia can be a very powerful thing.
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.

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.

"For Improved Regularity, Add Brine to Your Diet"

Oceanaire Seafood Room on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Magical Weekend

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.

Emeril's Tchoup Chop on Urbanspoon

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
2 eggs
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

The Beacon

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

I (Heart) NYC (Part Deux)

Hope you all like the new format….I found the old one a bit hard to read and, well, I’m not exactly the fuchsia type of girl anyway! Also, if anyone knows where to get a decent slideshow, let me know. Thanks for your patience!

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!

Nobu on Urbanspoon