Friday, November 21, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Thanks soooo much to everyone who helped me study!! Whether it was hours of quizzing me with endless flashcards or time spent at the Wine Room to work on blind tasting, I truly appreciate it!
Friday, September 26, 2008
The sandwich was delicious but I was definitely turned off to returning by the lack of good hygiene practice. Hopefully this was an isolated incident.
The big upside is that they served the best fries I've ever had. Awesome Parsley/Rosemary seasoning!
My friends and I had early reservations on Saturday and drove out with the intention of ordering off the Magical Menu. But here’s what happened. After we sat at our table (which, for the record, was our second-our first table was located directly next to a large group of high school students on their way to Homecoming! The hostess was very nice about moving us.), our server came over and sold us on the regular menu. I mean really sold us. Don’t get in a tizzy-we still didn’t pay full price-but rather ordered off the regular seasonal prix fixe menu! Who knew that for just a few more dollars ($35) you could have a larger selection of items to choose from? We decided to splurge and pay the extra $6 each for more options.
I started with the Nori charred Yellowfin Ahi Tuna appetizer. I was immediately impressed by the plate presentation and good size of the portion. This app could have easily been shared amongst two. But then again I happily ate the entire thing. It was also served with a Wasabi Ogo Salad that paired well with the sauce. FYI, Ogo is gourmet (translation: expensive) seaweed from Hawaii. The tuna was perfectly cooked and seasoned well.
I went with one of the signature dishes for my entrée-the Tender Braised Hawaii Kai Beef Short Ribs. And you know what- there’s really something to be said about eating meat that you don’t even need a knife to cut into. This beef was soooo tender and delicious it was practically falling apart as I maneuvered it from the plate into my mouth. Along with the meat, the braising sauce was flavorful and borderline too rich. The garlic-mashed potatoes were sub-par and served luke warm, but the perfectly cooked and bright green broccoli and bok choy made up for the spuds. Overall the dish was flavorful but very rich with a hefty size serving.
So here’s a question for you:
(Whether you want to regard it as culinary or philosophical is your choice).
What is the difference between Soufflé and Lava Cake??
Here’s what I know:
Soufflés are, well, light and fluffy. A combination of some sort of base mixed with egg whites. They are served in their original baking vessel. If made correctly they rise beautifully and are often served with crème anglaise, ice cream or Chantilly cream (or all of the above). Ok, I admit it; I’ve made several hundred soufflés back in my restaurant days.
Lava Cakes are, well, mini-cakes with a lava-like filling. Think of a warm individual size chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache that comes oozing out as you break into it. They are served outside of their original baking vessel. And often served with ice cream. I have less experience making lava cakes but probably more experience eating them.
I’ve been noticing recently that restaurants are using the terms “Soufflé” and “Lava Cake” interchangeably. And I’m officially tired of it! So I asked around at work today, and I got a few insights into the dark world of rich desserts. Some say that restaurants are assuming that their guests are under-educated about the differences stated above and are just choosing to use the term Soufflé. Or maybe it’s about trends. As my fav pasty chef Victoria said, “What? Lava Cake? Hop into your Delorean and travel back to 1987!” Maybe they do this because people are more apt to buy a soufflé, or maybe they assume that the average guest simply cannot distinguish between the two.
But I can and here’s what’s bothering me: My entrée, while super tasty, was also super heavy. And I was already close to being full before dessert even got to the table. Yes, I know what you’re thinking-I could’ve stopped eating my entrée before I finished ¾ of it-but then again I thought I was getting a light and fluffy dessert-not another heavy and rich dish. Don’t get me wrong-I’m not complaining. The soufflé/lava cake was amazingly delicious with its lava-like center and ice cream. I guess I’m just tired of feeling fooled by the soufflé/lava cake forces above.
Besides the wholes dessert debacle, here’s the thing: I love this restaurant! The food was amazing and the service was impeccable (Kudos to Ryan!). They also have a great wine list with a good variety of price points (We had a $36 Pinot Noir from Australia that was perfect for all of our entrees). Plus, now that I know they offer a seasonal prix fixe menu I’m hoping to go back often.
Insider tip: Roy’s only offers reservations at or before 6pm or after 8pm. If you’re planning on being a walk in-go between those hours.
* Soufflé Tip: When buttering your ramekins, use a pastry brush and make sure to use vertical strokes. This will cause vertical striations in the butter that will help propel the soufflé up and out of the ramekin.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp with Fried Egg Fried Rice
Saturday, September 20, 2008
In fact, I hadn’t been to Le Coq Au Vin in quite a few years. And when I say quite a few, I mean many, many years. Ok, fine, I was an angst-ridden teen last time I was there. I’ve thought often about going back, but as an adult was no longer scared by the possibility of bunny on my plate, but more by the possibility of spending an amount of money equivalent to my electricity bill.
So, with the ringing of the Magical Dining Month in my ears, I got a group of girls together to get gussied up and go eat some French food!
Considering I hadn’t been to Le Coq Au Vin in some time, I don’t think too terribly much has changed. Located in an odd location on Orange Ave. just south of Gatlin, the ambiance is quite unique and rather homey. Thoughtfully we had made reservations-the restaurant was absolutely slamming for a Sunday evening.
I started my three-course prix fixe ($29) dinner with the Tarte a L’ Oignon. (Here’s the other thing-while I even speak extensively about French wines, I often have to look up pronunciations. Growing up in Florida, I figured the key language to focus on in school was Spanish.)
Oh My Goodness. This was delicious. The Alsace style tart consisted of a bedding of puff pastry topped with caramelized onions, bacon, and goat and Boursin cheeses. When it comes to the region of Alsace (in northeast France, right on the Germany border) I feel very comfortable talking about their wines-highly regarded Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling. (Also, FYI, the Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc has become a recent fav amongst my friends and I.) Plus, both my boss and another co-chef are from the region and I never fail to see the pride in their eyes when they speak of their hometown. I digress-point being-the tart was absolutely perfect with it’s buttery crust, sweet onions and herby cheese. Honestly, I plan on having this dish again! Soon!
For my second course I choose the Tournedos-seared beef tenderloin topped with crabmeat and a Béarnaise sauce. (Yep, I decided against the signature dish-really, the best Coq Au Vin I’ve had was in Paris.) The entrée was fantastic-perfectly cooked meat with one of the best Béarnaise I’ve had. It was served with a potato pancake that was unusual and tasty with large chunks of potatoes. The two other sides were perfectly cooked carrots and haricot verts.
Lastly, for dessert, I went against my instincts and got the Tarte ala Rhubarbe. I know that I’ve mentioned my Grandmother on this site-and what a fantastic chef she is. But I think I’ve left out her Rhubarb torte. We have it every summer when I go to Ohio to visit. And, quite frankly, there’s nothing like the fresh rhubarb from Ohio. So, while I was expecting the sour/tangy/sweetness of the rhubarb torte that I’m used to, I instead tasted a very blend and boring dessert. The only saving grace was a summery and creamy coconut ice cream. I’ll give my Grandma a call in the next few days and get her recipe-it literally runs circles around the one at Le Coq Au Vin.
As far as the wine list-I have to admit I was also disappointed. I was looking forward to sampling some hard to find French wines-but rather found a mundane list that had more American wines than French.
All in all I had a perfect time. The food was absolutely fantastic. And I also have to say that I think I’ve finally broken down my preconceptions of French food. Maybe it’s the culinary and life experience, but the menu no longer intimidates me. Although, thank goodness I had a high school French teacher with me to help with pronunciations!
PS For kicks and giggles-here's a pix of me in Paris eating Coq Au Vin. Sorry it's oddly small, I had to scan it and couldn't figure out how to enlarge it....
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I’d been to Rocco’s Italian Grille a few times before for family dinner and have always had both a great time and a great meal. We got there pretty early on Saturday (yep, after a quick afternoon trip to the Wine Room on Park Ave.) and were greeted with a huge smile and plenty of open tables.
I couldn’t resist the Bruschetta of the day for my appetizer-Marscarpone and Gorgonzola cheeses with artichokes and arugula. And, for the record, they had me at Marscarpone! Hints of sweetness with tanginess from the Gorgonzola and bitterness from the arugula were a perfect match. The bread was perfectly toasted and this dish was a hit all around the table!
My entrée was the Chicken breast filled with fresh Mozzarella, roasted red peppers and prosciutto. It was served atop slightly wilted spinach and diced tomatoes with a light Marsala sauce. The entrée was good; don’t get me wrong, but nothing too special. First off, from personal experience, fresh Mozzarella never does well as a stuffing for chicken. It doesn’t hold up well in heat and really breaks down and melts out of the chicken. For the rest of the stuffing-it was pretty sparse with one sliver of red pepper and a few slices of Prosciutto. My spinach was perfectly wilted and quite fresh-but was not stemmed! (For the record, after spending many hours of my life de-stemming fresh spinach, this has become one of my biggest food pet peeves. Look how ugly it looks! Yes, it’s a pain and very time consuming, but it’s all about the details!) The Marsala sauce was very flavorful but definitely on the runny side. All in all, my entrée was tasty (the chicken was cooked perfectly) but I wouldn’t order it again. At the same time, the thought has crossed my mind that maybe the filling was skimpy because….we were ordering off the Magical menu. I hope that’s not the case, but, realistically, I’m sure it was.
Dessert all around the table was the Cannoli (plus after dinner drinks…). I’m not the biggest fan of Cannoli-I find it rather cumbersome to eat, and yes, while breaking into it I sent a piece flying across the table. But the filling was absolutely delicious with a great texture (not too mealy) and perfect hints of orange flavoring.
I had a great time at Rocco’s and am sure I’ll be back in the future. Both our server and management were very friendly and gracious. The ambience is relaxed and comfortable without the pretentiousness of some fine dining establishments. Plus, Rocco’s is now featuring in depth Italian regional tasting menus for both food and wine. Once the Magical month of September is completed, they’ll go back to focusing on one sub-region of Italy per month. Great concept! Especially for those of us that are a fan of everything Italy!
And, as usual, I fell into the Magical Dining Month trap-spend a little on food and a lot of alcohol! We had a fantastic Dolcetto D’Alba plus after dinner drinks. But, as I’ve been saying a lot these past few weeks-it’s worth it to get a chance to experience fantastic food experiences at some of our amazing Orlando restaurants! At great food prices!
Don’t forget to check out the Magical website:
And Rocco’s website for a more detailed menu:
Check back in a few days for my Le Coq Au Vin review!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I've heard (and read) a lot of not-so-great reviews of Emeril's Tchoup Chop down at Universal-but I've always had positive experiences there! Then I realized the one common denominator in my Tchoup dining experiences...I've only been for lunch. And, since they are currently offering $19 for a 3 course lunch, I went back again over the weekend.
One key thing: the restaurant has always been near empty when I've been during daytime hours. Maybe people are at the parks, or at the pool which is just a few steps away. Regardless, again I had fantastic and quick service. My entree was similar to the one I got last year (ok, I ordered the same thing and it was just as delicious as last year). In all seriousness, the Macadamia encrusted Salmon is fantastic-served with broccoli, enoki mushrooms, sticky rice and an amazing ginger beurre blanc.
For apps we got the Cruncy Shrimp (um, yep, just as yummy, see the previous Tchoup entry for more details!) and the Mongolian BBQ Chicken. The BBQ was served on a crispy wonton with a healthy dose of roasted red peppers. The sauce was rather non distinctive-my dining partner thought it need more acidity, I thought it need more sweetness and spice. But, thinking about it now, I think it needed more of an Asian influence (sesame oil, Sriracha, etc.) However, the crispiness of the wonton did bring a nice crunch to the dish.
I did try two new desserts this year (not to worry, we split them and didn't finish either. Well, we left a few bites on the plate!). My fav was the individual Pineapple Upside down Cake with Ginger Ice Cream. The cake itself was perfect and moist with a creamy ice cream that was not overly sweet but rather mild and alluring. Plus, I love any dishes that are served in an individual style!
We also got the "Sweet Chocolate Glazed Peanut Butter Cream Layered Kahlua Chocolate Cake served with Banana Foster Sauce, Pecan Praline and Sweet Cream". I'm not kidding. While all of the above are delicious on their own, the combination of flavors was just as convoluted as the name of the dish.
If you have any interest in dining at Tchoup Chop, again I would recommend going during lunch. The restaurant itself is quite beautiful and surprisingly relaxing in the sometimes overwhelming tourist area. Plus, you can park right at the hotel and get your parking validated (and avoid the Universal parking cluster).
Stay tuned for more magical experiences-now that I've left the Creole/Pacific Rim cuisine of Thcoup Chop, I see a trip for some amazing French fine dining cuisine in my future.....
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
It's that time of year again!
I know the Magical Dining Month doesn't start until September....but it's never to early to start scoping out the restaurants!!
For those new to the experience-restaurants all over Orlando are offering Prix Fixe menus at some great prices. Last year I had great meals at The Oceannaire and Emeril's Thchop Chop among a few others. So far on the list this year: Roy's and Taverna Opa. And probably Thchop Chop again ($19 for lunch!)
View the complete list here:
We started off with an order of the Meatballs as an appetizer since they were so fantastic at the Feast. And they are still fantastic. Served in marinara, the two oversized meatballs were moist and seasoned perfectly. Plus, I love the fact that they are served as an appetizer.
For my entrée I got the Tuscan Mac n Cheese. I know, it seems recently that I’ve been talking a lot about Mac n Cheese, but holy cow this one took the gold. Really, sorry Grandma, but this one beats the Mac n Mayo. It even beats the old blue box, which for the record is the ultimate hangover cure. Here’s what got me-the olives. Apparently Kalamata olives are commonly served in the dish, but this was new to me. Combined with the slightly spicy Italian Sausage and buttery breadcrumbs, it opened my eyes to a new style of Mac. So, I did what any good personal chef would do-I tried to recreate it for a client later in the week.
Here’s my recipe:
Tuscan Inspired Mac n Cheese
1 Pound Pasta*, cooked
6 Tbsp Butter
1 Pound Italian Sausage, sliced into rounds
4 Tbsp Flour
2 Cups Heavy Cream
2 Cups Assorted Italian Cheese, Shredded*
½ Cup Kalamata Olives, chopped
¼ Panko Breadcrumbs*
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Melt 1 Tbsp Butter in a saucepot. Add Sausage and cook until brown, stirring often.
Remove and reserve Sausage. Do not rinse pot.
Add 4 Tbsp Butter to pot and melt. Slowly stir in the Flour until combined. Next, slowly drizzle in the Cream, stirring constantly to incorporate the cream. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring often.
While whisking, add in the Cheese about ¼ cup at a time. Do not add more cheese until all cheese has melted. Bring mixture to a bare simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning.
Remove from heat. Add Olives and reserved Sausage. Toss with cooked Pasta and place in a 9x13 pan.
Melt remaining 1 Tbsp butter and combine with Breadcrumbs. Sprinkle mixture over the top of the Macaroni.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until crust is brown.
*Use whatever pasta you like-I used Ziti. And yes, I’m aware that this is called Mac n Cheese, but have a little fun.
*Your choice of cheeses-I used a mixture of Mozzarella, Parmesan and Asiago.
*You can find Panko at your local grocer-it’s a Japanese style breadcrumb made without the crust.
One last note about Nonna’s: I’m officially calling it my fav Italian food in Orlando. I’ve always loved the old house ambiance, and the servers were all very nice. One quick note that the meal was a “relax, have wine and eat lots of food” experience-meaning don’t go if you’re in a rush. I also wanted to mention the wine list with it’s excellent selection of those Italian favorites!
Thursday, July 31, 2008
2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
¼ Cup Red Wine Vinegar
½ tsp Sugar
¼ Cup Olive Oil
Salt to Taste
Pepper to Taste
2 Cups Cooked Couscous
½ Red Pepper, chopped
½ Cup Edamame (shelled)
½ Cup Craisins
¼ Cup Red Onion, chopped
Combine Mustard, Vinegar and Sugar in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly add the Olive Oil to combine. Add Salt and Pepper to taste.
Cook Couscous according to directions on package.
Combine remaining ingredients and add to Couscous.
Add vinaigrette to taste.
Couscous is made from Semolina wheat and coated with wheat flour. If you’ve never cooked with it before, I cannot emphasize how easy it is! Boil water, remove from heat, add the couscous, let sit for 5 minutes and you’re done! You can find it at your local grocery store near the rice.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, substitute Quinoa for the Couscous. Quinoa is a grain chock full o protein and amino acids. It tends to be on the bitter side so make sure you soak it for a bit before you cook it. You can find Quinoa at specialty grocery stores.
Also, don’t panic with the Edamame! Your local grocer will have it in the freezer section. You can also buy it fresh in the organic section but it’s a bit pricey.
PS This salad is also fantastic served cold!
Monday, July 7, 2008
This first meal is the perfect example. As my sister and I were gorging ourselves on this creamy Mac n Cheese, my grandmother informed us that the main ingredients (besides the Mac, of course) were cream of mushroom soup and (you guessed it!) mayonnaise. Oh, and it was topped with the french onions you get from a can (think green bean casserole). And yes, I went back for seconds. And I had it cold for lunch the next day!
Midwestern Mac n Cheese
2 cups Macaroni, uncooked
1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/2 can Milk
1 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 lb. Colby Cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp Onion, chopped
1 can French Onions
Preheat oven to 350F
Cook Macaroni according to package.
Combine with remaining ingredients except French Onions.
Place into a greased 9x13 pan.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and add French Onions on top.
Bake for additional 15 minutes.
The other main item of this plate is a traditional Kate's Kitchen recipe. As in from my childhood. As in I have the recipe memorized. As in we've had it at both Thanksgiving and Christmas for as long as I can remember. And yes, it involves mayo.
"The Corn Salad"
2 Can Niblets Corn
6 Eggs, hard boiled, cooled and chopped
1 Tbsp Onion, chopped
1 Cup Mayonnaise
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1/4 tsp Cumin
1/8 tsp Nutmeg
Salt to Taste
2 medium Avocados, chopped
Combine Corn, Eggs and Onion.
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except Salt and Avocados.
Combine Corn and Mayonnaise mixture. Salt to taste.
Just before service add Avocados.
I onced asked my sister what food she would pick if she had to eat the same thing everyday for the rest of her life. Her answer: The Corn Salad. The subtleness of the Chili Powder and Cumin give it just a bit of zip while the Avocado brings out the creaminess.
I have to add this last one simply for the novelty:
Looks like a beautiful salad, right? And it is, just take out the greens and add crumbled corn bread. I'm not kidding! I don't have the exact recipe, but envision a seven layer dip. Just layer corn bread, red peppers, chedder cheese, scallions and tomatoes. Top it with Ranch dressing and crumbled bacon and voila! Total yumminess. I'm almost embarassed to admit how much I liked this dish...but I really love how it is outside the box!
I had a fantastic vacation with the family! And, for the record, started the diet this morning!
PS I also ate this entire cone! (Yep, Orange Sherbet and Vanilla Soft Serve!)
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Driving over, I was excited to remember that Funky Monkey now has free valet parking. But then I realized that I’d spent my cash on my ill-fated trip to Deland earlier in the day. (It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with….but I’m still trying to figure out how someone would actually make orange Hummus.) So I went for street parking and was greeted by friends and a very friendly server as I headed inside. I already knew what I was going to order-a few months ago at a wine tasting soiree (hosted by the Lake Eola Wine Co.), FM was there dishing out free samples of their Bison Burgers. And since that day I’d wanted to full serving.
And it was worth the wait. My burger was cooked and seasoned perfectly and was better than I had been expecting. But here’s where the details start to dissolve. The bison burger is served with potato chips…Ruffles potato chips. I couldn’t help but think that this burger deserved more than just potato chips from a bag! How cool is it to serve a bison burger in Orlando-something you don’t see too often. But I would love it to be served with something along the same lines. Something unique and different. Make your own potato chips! Or how about truffle fries? Just anything besides the greasy potato chips that I didn’t even like as a kid!
One of my dining partners also had the burger….served with a severely burnt top bun. As she waited and waited for a new one, she finally decided to skip part of the bun in lieu of her burger getting cold. It came out about five minutes later-not toasted and cold. (And yes, we had fun poking it just as we would the Pillsbury Dough Boy.) Another diner at the table had the Shorvedor Subzi (veggie curry) with some serious veggie cooking issues. The carrots had a bit too much of a bite but only a baby with no teeth would have enjoyed the over cooked cauliflower. However, for the record, the seasoning was quite spicy and delicious. The last entrée at our table was the Sea Monkey Roll-a baked tuna roll with cream cheese and crab. I suppose it was good because she didn’t talk much and didn’t offer any to the table!
Again, mixed feelings about the FM. On the bright side, we had a great time; enjoying the wine, music and company. On the not so bright side, sometimes I think people need to stop worrying too much about food costs and try to find a happy medium. As I sit here writing this, I know that I’ll be back because between the Edamame and Bison Burger I had one hell of a meal. Although now all I can think about for dinner is truffle fries!
Check out their website for info on their summer prix fixe menu:
Here’s a quick and easy dessert sauce I’ve done recently for both myself and dinner parties:
Blueberry Dessert Sauce
1 Quart Blueberries, washed and checked for stems
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Pomegranate Blueberry Juice (such as POM brand)
1 Cup Acai Blueberry Juice (such as Bom Dia brand)
Combine all ingredients into a stainless steel saucepot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring often, until reduced by about ½. (Or until desired consistency.) Remember this sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
I’ve served this over ice cream and cheesecake. The last time I did this recipe I couldn’t find the POM blueberry pomegranate and subbed the Acai blueberry juice. It’s very delicious and not quite as bitter. Either way, don’t feel to bad about the calories with all those antioxidants!
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
So, yes, another year has come and gone and left the beginnings of a path around my eyes. I rang in my 32nd year with a fantastic celebratory weekend. My first choice for the family birthday dinner was Ravenous Pig but we ran in to a bit of a hiccup. Bob had called the restaurant and left a message inquiring about reserving a large table, and when that call was not returned he called again. And here’s where it gets interesting-the hostess reported that they never get their messages because they just delete all of them. Huh. I guess it’s one thing if that is common practice, and quite another to actually tell people that you do it. We ended up at my close second choice Luma….and you know that phrase “Everything happens for a reason”? Here’s where it comes into play because holy cow did I have a great meal!
We started off with two appetizers: the Pizza Margarita and the Fritto Misto. The pizza is a consummate standby in the family and really does well as an appetizer. In this case the crust is thin, the tomatoes fresh and the overall product not greasy. (Quick note, this was before the whole tomato Salmonella drama, and as far as I’ve heard, everyone is feeling well.) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here-I think the Fritto Misto is the best Calamari I’ve had. Served also with lightly fried white fish, shrimp, jalapenos and okra (my fav) it is really perfectly flavored and balanced.
For my entrée I had the Maine Diver Scallops served with Anson Mills Grits, a Pole Bean Salad and Tasso Ham Broth. The first time I went to Luma, I had an entrée that included the Anson Mills grits. And really, they haven’t left my mind ever since. The oversized grits are made from “organic heirloom grains” and are thick and creamy at the same time. A quick glance at the Anson Mills website describes an interesting story behind this South Carolina based company. Ten years ago the owner quit his job and set out to recreate what is described as one of America’s first cuisine styles-the Carolina Rice Kitchen. And he has been successful by replanting and harvesting the white Carolina mill corn that was used even prior to the Civil War.
The Tasso broth and buttery seared Scallops were balanced with barely a hint of sweetness from the pole bean salad. And yes, I cleaned my plate.
Other entrees from the table included the Pork Chop with Pearl Pasta and the American Wagyu Flank Steak. There was plenty of conversation regarding how this Japanese cattle can be described as American. But, turns out that 4 were imported to the US in 1976 and then another 40 in the early 90s. Fast forward to 2008 and American Wagyu is being served in Winter Park. It was my first time trying the beef and it was seasoned well and quite tender for flank.
Besides the modern décor and the grits, there is one more thing that really stands out for me at Luma: the wine list. The list is organized in different categories by price and can be purchase by the glass or bottle. I threw caution to the wind and tried the Txomin Etxamin Txakolina; a white wine from the Basque region of Spain. (And yes, that is spelled correctly.) After a good 45 minutes of research, here’s what I’ve learned: The wine is from the Txomin Etaxamin winery in the Getariako Txakolina region and is comprised of the Hondarrabi Zuri grape. (Really, I’m not kidding.) It was light, crisp and citrusy and could best be described as the love child of Tang and orange Crystal Light. It all sounds odd but was really refreshing in the Florida heat.
We ended the evening back at my place for the annual Publix birthday cake (hello buttercream icing!) and some cheap Sparkling Wine (hello Saturday morning headache!).
Check back in a few days for the continuation of my weekend with a trip to my favorite Sushi restaurant and a Orlando’s new Irish pub…..
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Sitting at Norman’s last weekend, I realized that I was having one of those moments.
I saw Norman Van Aken do a demo a few years ago and was not only impressed with his technique, but also his general laid back personality. The same goes for his food. It's really a subtle sort of perfection. His website describes his menus as blending "exotic ingredients and rich cultural heritage from Florida, the Caribbean, and Latin America, with touches Asia". And all of those influences are apparent during the meal.
We started the meal off with a round of Tapas:
The Salt and Sugar Cured Yellowtail with Orange Dressing and Cucumber was a light way to start the meal. It was very reminiscent of the Yellowtail Sashimi Ceviche I had up at Nobu, but could’t really compare. The dressing had a perfect tanginess but was on the oily side.
The other highlight from our first course was the Turks and Caicos Cracked Conch-a conch ceviche with pineapple and coconut all atop avocado cream. The finishing touch of the Truffle foam was a pleasant but heavy and came very close to overwhelming the entire dish. Be wary if you’re not a fan.
But, for me, it was really the second course that really began the meal:
First and foremost was the Ahi Tuna Tartare. First off, it looks beautiful, right? The tuna was formed ala sushi rolls and accompanied by a tamarind dressing and peanut crisp. But what really set this dish apart was the quenelle of coconut lime sorbet. The freshness of the tuna with the slightly sweet and slightly acidic sorbet really brought new meaning to ceviche. I’d go back for this dish alone!
The Beet Salad was also a hit and again beautiful. The perfectly roasted beets were a sweet contrast to the Maytag Blue cheese and, surprisingly, the sunflower seeds. The salad was finished with a mild Adobo crema (which I wish had a bit more of a kick) and a tangy Balsamico dressing (fancy Italian balsamic).
Not pictured but quite impressive was the Creamy Cracked Conch Chowder with hunks of conch, a subtle Saffron flavor and a Coconut Cloud (foam).
The entrees continued to impress:
The Pan cooked Filet of Key West Yellowtail (Snapper) was described as the restaurant’s signature dish. And the server sold it perfectly with a description of the fresh fish being personally brought up from the Keys a few times a week by the fisherman who caught them. And that sometimes when they filet the fish, they find the food that the fish are caught with-oatmeal and corn. It was deliciously rich with mashed potatoes, asparagus and a citrus butter (which also had hints of truffle).
I was having trouble deciding what to order for my entrée and went with my first choice-the Butter Roasted Chicken. And was amazed at how perfect it tasted. It’s not a secret that I’m a fan of the sweet/savory combo and it almost seems like this dish was created for me. The chicken was perfect cooked on served with a sweet parsnip puree, a savory corn pudding and a surprise of black olive tapanade. The corn pudding was heavy on the butter, but the saltiness of the tapanade and the sweetness of the puree provided an outstanding contrast. Also, the portion was quite large and I could only finish about half of my meal.
So in all of my foodie experiences, I’ve never actually taken the time to get a cheese course. There, I admit it. And don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of cheese, so this first time experience was definitely a treat for me. Even the whole process made me grin: the server wheeling over the marble topped cart and letting us choose among the large variety (I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store…or an adult at Total Wine). We had a Garlic and Pepper infused Camembert, a hard Pecorino, and a fancy goat cheese (forgive me, I forget the name). All were served with an assortment of jams: Fig, Strawberry Balsamic and Red Wine Apple. Really, there are some things that words cannot describe.
We finished off the evening with two desserts (sorry no pictures…both my eyes and my camera were a bit blurry at this point). First was the grown up version of Smores with a large layer of Ganache that made me going back for bite after bite. We also had a baked meringue dish with lemon pound cake and Meyer lemon ice cream. Both were delicious and a perfect ending to the meal.
So there you go-a summary of one of the best meals that I’ve had in Orlando. I’m glad the Norman’s franchise in Orlando is doing well. With its location and constant influx of wealthy tourists, I’m sure it will continue to do so. And I also hope it does, so that maybe one day I can again stop and smell the roses.
Lastly, a personal thank you to the G family for extending their gracious offer to me for this meal. I truly appreciate your constant warmth and generosity. Oh yeah, and Happy Birthday Annette!
Monday, April 14, 2008
I went to lunch this weekend over at Bikes, Beans and Bordeaux, the new cycling/coffee/wine café over on Corrine Drive near Baldwin Park. But here’s the problem: I don’t really know all that much about cycling. So that clever one-liner just wasn’t popping into my head. And to be truthful, my only working knowledge on the subject comes from Kevin Bacon’s brief stint as a bike messenger in Quicksilver. And that super sappy 1985 American Flyers (remember-with Kevin Costner? And he had the brain tumor? And he couldn’t finish the bike race with his brother??). Point being, 3B is a new cycling themed neighborhood café.
Initial impressions were quite positive, and the atmosphere lived up to the “uber-cool ambiance” promised on the website. Earthy colors with cycling inspired art cover the walls, with a few tables and couches comprising the dining area. Even the curtain rod was fashioned into handlebars, and the hook in the restroom from a bike pedal. The only other customer present when we arrived was a singe, enjoying a cup of coffee and taking advantage of the free wi-fi. We sat perusing the menu and coming up with our own personal three word themes. Running, Rooibus and Rioja. Or, for me, Walking, White Tea and Willamette.
The menu was overwhelming yet interesting with quirky sandwich names and the stories behind them. I got the SAG Stop Special-peanut butter, banana and honey served on honey wheat bread with a cup of peppermint tea. (A quick google search informed me that a Support and Gear (SAG) stop is basically a resting point with snacks and water or to apply sunscreen and first aid.) Choices for sides are either chips or carrot sticks, and every meal was served with an adorable mini bag of Jelly Bellys. I actually giggled a bit when I got my meal-a PB sandwich, carrot sticks and Jelly Bellys-talk about a flash back to being nine years old. (Hmmm, self analysis says this may have led to my association with mid-eighties cycling movies! I never should have quit being a therapist!) I don’t really know what to say about my lunch-it is what it is. But you really cannot go wrong with PB and bananas.
My dining companions both had sandwiches also. The Lance-wich, named after the infamous Armstrong, is a double-decker with turkey and ham and served in yellow deli paper ala yellow jersey for the Tour de France champion.
The Caprese Panini was also a big hit. Styled after the traditional salad, it was served barely warm on a too crispy Ciabatta bread (it seemed to be more baked then the preferred pressed).
For the second time in recent months, I had a cordial interaction with owners of new cafes around Orlando. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to Ethos-both restaurants encouraging the hopefully long lasting trend of healthy eating. And both restaurants really seeming to have all their ducks lined up in a row with planning and organization. (Even down to the super size coffee mugs.)
One of the owners came to our table after our meal and told us the Hollywood like story behind 3B. Boy who likes cycling meets girl who likes cycling and together the open a restaurant for people who like cycling. And here’s the thing: I don’t even cycle! But I found myself very comfortable, relaxed and happy to have a new place in the neighborhood.
No, I haven’t forgotten the third B in the name. 3B also offers a nice selection of wines and beers. And to go with the theme, they focus on regions where there are current cycling races. Right now I guess there is some racing in Belgium, hence the focus on Belgium beer. Soon the races are going to Spain and we’ll see a good selection of Spanish wines. They also have a nice variety of Orlando Brewing Company beers (which, for the record are seriously starting to grow on me). Future plans involve contests for sandwich recipes to be featured as a monthly special.
My only real (and probably important) issue is the menu. A bit overwhelming and too hard to read, it doesn’t actually feature a large variety of items. (Although the kids section appropriately titled “Training Wheels” is quite adorable.) But, it’s a small establishment so I can kinda see where that would make sense. I'm sure I'll be back-it really seems like a great place to grab a quick bit and a drink without any preteniousness. And by the time we left, numerous customers had poured in and seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Check out their website:
Thursday, April 3, 2008
I’ve had the week off from teaching for spring break, but ended up cooking for clients on Monday and Tuesday. I would have loved to take the entire week of, but, they’re depending on me, and quite honestly I’m depending on the money. So that’s how my week started, but on Wednesday it started to get interesting.
I have a cousin who is currently interning at White Oak Conservation Center just outside of Jacksonville. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either. White Oak is a wildlife research facility focusing on endangered and at risk animals.
I’m sure it’s not a secret that I’m not exactly, well, a nature type of person. I think I went camping once as a child when I was in Indian Princesses. In both high school and college, I had friends that loooved to camp. But I think their idea of roughing it was to get as drunk and stoned as possible and pass out by the campfire. Regardless, and point being, I don’t exactly run towards forests (especially after seeing Blair Witch Project!). But after a fantastic report from my grandmother, I decided to head on up towards Georgia and see what all the hoopla was about. And I’m really glad that I did.
My fears were soon head on as we drove on the dirt/clay road for a few miles, my Matrix creaking and groaning the whole time. But as we pulled up to my cousin’s housing (after passing through strict security), I was literally amazed to see the Rhinos just a few feet away from the building. My cousin lives above the hospital unit in an African inspired dorm unit and we settled in for a few minutes while she went to collect semen from a crane. Yeah, I’m not kidding. I remember pushing her around in a stroller and now look at her.
After the unsuccessful collection, we hit the road for a tour. Here are the highlights:
Currently suffering from habitat destruction and being killed as livestock predators in Africa.
Scary Cheetah on his way.
But it turns out he is Max, hand raised and quite sweet. His purr was very very lound!
My cousin and I with the baby Cheetah she has been raising.
Really, how cute is this?
Aggressive with long dagger like claws (hello Jurassic Park!). The bird that which “the most human fatalities have been attributed”. It also made scary noises!
The Maned Wolf:
Described as looking like a tall fox, these wolves have a distinct skunk like odor.
This one in particular was quite aggressive and apparently does not like blondes.
A native of the Republic of Congo, this animal is in the Giraffe family. Quite skiddish, it’s kick can decapitate a human. It’s velvety fur is quite oily leaving a dark brown shine on finger tips. (And apparently, after petting it, we also heard that it tends to head butt people).
My favorite part of the day!
I hoped you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. White Oak is not open to the public, but continues to be a leading center for research and reproduction of endangered species.
Check out their website:
And since this is a hodgepodge entry, here's me and my buddy Anthony: