Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bubbles for Breast Cancer


It's that time of the year when all things are pink, for breast cancer awareness. I've spent a lot of money on 'pink' items that I really didn't want or even know what to do with just to show support.

This year I've found ways to support the cause that also support two of my favorite habits: bubbles and coffee.

It's the second year for Mionetto's Pink Cork for the Cause. The prosecco makers have put 125 pink corks in both their brut and rose' sparklers. Find one and not only to you win a pink 5-speed hand mixer, but you are also entered into a contest for a $10,000 charity donation. Win this and Mionetto will make a $10,000 donation to the breast cancer charity of your choice, on your behalf.

The company donated $40,000 last year. Both of these proseccos are pleasing not only in flavor but also in price, $15 range. Even better, is the limited edition Speculoos Truffles created by Master Chocolatier Christophe Toury; they are fabulous with these wines. Dipped in pink and white chocolate, the confections are a decadent combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar; a kind of gingerbread truffle.

A portion of the chocolate proceeds also goes to breast cancer charities.




The truffles are not only good with the bubbles but a hot cup of coffee too.

I just got this Lulu Travel Tumbler from Trudeau, a company that has donated more than a half million dollars to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. They have an entire product line of tumblers and travel mugs, designated to the cancer cause.

I like the design of this one; its curves and artwork. I especially like the flip top. So far I've not spilled any liquids and none have leaked out either. Victory! This one is $14.99.

It's always wise to do some research before blindly buying a product or donating money to any group claiming to support a charity. While most are reputable, there are always a couple of bad apples. These are two good ones.


Friday, October 14, 2016

October Isn't Just About Beer--Rumtoberfest Is Here

Who says October celebrations have to surround beer? Bahama Breeze Island Grille is putting a tropical spin on Octoberfest with Rumtoberfest and TODAY is Rumbash Friday.

Rum Flight
Not that you need an excuse to leave work early but Rumbash Friday is a good one as Bahama Breeze turns the party up a notch with things like rum tastings, games, prizes and fortune tellers.

The Caribbean inspired  restaurant also has food specials such as rum glazed ribs and is introducing some new rum cocktails.

The flights are fun. See what the rum fuss is about by picking three from the list that includes selections such as Barbancourt 15 year estate reserve, Don Q Gran Anejo, Brugal 1888 Ron Gran Reserva and more. They're served 'neat' but you'll get some fixins on the side, like ice cubes and cola to experiment at will.

Small tastes of special rum cocktails

The menu has so many rum cocktails it's hard to pick just one so Bahama Breeze is offering three cocktail flights as well. Take for instance the Mama's Hooch & Holler, it contains smaller portions of the Bahama Mama, Bahama Sunset and Goombay Smash.

Rum cocktail samples for Rumtoberfest
Rumtober ambassadors also pan the crowd with samples of the evenings specialty rum creations.

Rumtober selfies are submitted for free trips
And if you take a selfie of your fun night out you could win a Caribbean vacation.

Rumtober runs through November 6th...spread the word and have some fun with rum before the tourists and snowbirds return.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Wine Lovers Rejoice, The 2016 California Harvest Is Looking Good

Cabernet at Jordan Vineyard
Harvest time is an exciting time in wine country. I got to witness much of the fun this year in the Santa Lucia Highlands area and throughout the Sonoma Valley. The story I wrote last week for the Fort Myers News-press tells a good bit of what we can expect from the 2016 vintage: click here.

Chardonnay at McIntyre Vineyard
The photos I took and stories I have could not possibly fit into that one column so there will be more to follow. But in the meantime, I thought I'd share a few here. The chardonnay pictured above is from McIntyre Vineyard in The Santa Lucia Highlands, the beautiful purple grapes are from Jordan Winery.


Ted Lemon, owner and winemaker at Littorai Wines checks the equipment during harvest. Here, everything is hand sorted to his specification.


Fisher Vineyards uses an optical scanner to pick the perfect grapes for each batch of wine that comes from their steep slopes.


The old punch down method is still in use at Hahn Family Wines, for specific small batch fermentation. Below are videos of pinot noir coming out of the press at Hahn Vineyards and the sorting table at Fisher, amazing.

video




video


If you ever get a chance to visit wine country during harvest, do it. It can be a bit chaotic and some of the smaller tasting rooms won't entertain tours and may limit tastings as it is all hands on deck when tons of grapes start rolling in.

Make arrangements for accommodations as quickly as possible as many place fill up this time of year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Time and Italian Wine

Over the last year I've been thinking about and writing about drinking older wines; wines that I and others have been saving for that 'special occasion' or have frankly just forgotten about.

I knew I had a few older vintages Italian wines and had promised to share one with some friends from the old country next time I was at their house for dinner, happy hour, really any occasion. 

Feeling a little wine depressed after a weeklong trip to California I dug in my cellar and pulled out a twenty year old bottle of La Giola Riecine a sangiovese based Super Tuscan. This is one of several bottles I brought back from Italy when you could actually still carry liquids aboard an airplane. I put it in the overhead compartment, put it in my wine cuvee and let it sit...for nearly 20 years!

BTW, the currently release is highly rated and available in the U.S.

We carefully removed the cork and made the executive decision not to decant. In the glass, it immediately smelled like bandaids, had very little fruit and we feared it was past its prime. But patience paid off and after about 45 minutes the bandaid burned off, dark fruit and tannins emerged. For a brief moment, it hit a stride, however, it was short lived.

I have a couple more older Italian wines on the roster to open. Next time,  I may opt to decant.You never know how a wine is going to drink, that is one of so many things that makes it exciting.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

National Rum Day With Jumbie Splash

Today is National Rum Day, a perfect time to celebrate the spirit that screams party. 

With deep respect for the sanctity of such a day as today, I could not help but experiment with two flavors of Jumbie Splash; coconut and pineapple. 

The Caribbean rum is barrel-aged and infused with natural fruit creating a sweet and festive mixer or an equally good sipper, on the rocks. This was a new brand for me so I tried it both ways, in the interest of science of course.

Using Pina Colada as an inspiration, I mixed equal parts of the Coconut Splash and the Pineapple Splash, a squeeze of lime and some club soda for tropical treat. If I had had some cream and vanilla, the combination of these would be a great Pina Colada-type cocktail indeed.

Jumbie also has a mango and vanilla flavor and runs about $15 a bottle. It's a fun spirit for home mixologists who like flavors and like being creative, especially in these hot summer months. I'll be perfecting a rum punch next so stay tuned. 





Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer Grilling Specials at Brio

August is National Grilling Month and to celebrate, BRIO Tuscan Grill has created a special three course summer dining special; the Art of Grilling. I sampled the prix fixe selections at the Waterside Shops, Naples, FL location last week, leaving with a full belly and a smile.

First course choices are a soup of the day, it was Italian Wedding on our day, or salad. While there are traditional salads like Caesar, there is also a Kale Caesar with pancetta and chopped egg, and a chopped salad with feta among others.
Grilled seasonal catch
Main course options cover the range of fish, pork, beef and a tender combination of grilled beef medallions with with black pepper shrimp. The pork was tender and juicy, the steak cooked to the perfect temperature and the shrimp naturally sweet, with a good amount of heat.

Grilled strip steak with rosemary and lemon
It was hard to focus purely on the meat as the sides were flavorful and delicious. We couldn't get enough of the crisp fingerling potatoes. Opt for the creamy parmesan sauce on the side so you can taste the potatoes naked too. The Sicilian cauliflower had a pleasant spicy kick that included peperoncinis and capers.

Roasted Strawberry Shortcake
Dessert is literally the icing on the cake for this three course extravaganza. The roasted strawberry shortcake is a seasonal delight, but it was the creamy, dreamy caramel marscarpone cheesecake that put us over the edge.

There are specials on wines to match these dishes as well. This portions are more than generous especially when considering the $27.95 price tag. The Art of Grilling at BRIO Tuscan Grill runs through August 21 so be sure to take advantage of it.
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Monday, August 1, 2016

Wine Down Wednesday at Matanzas on the Bay

Photo Courtesy: Matanzas on the Bay
Summer in Southwest Florida is hot! But there are so many refreshing wining and dining deals that make these months more tolerable. Wine Down Wednesday at Matanzas on the Bay on Fort Myers Beach, FL is one of them.

Every Wednesday every bottle under $70 is half off, and don't be fooled into thinking that a beach restaurant doesn't have good bottles. The new wine list is out and it has gems from Van Duzer, Swanson, Frog's Leap and more. 

Photo: Gina Birch
I particularly like all of the selections from California's Central Coast and Paso Robles. There are some fantastic early dining specials here too. Between  4:30 and 7:30 Sunday through Thursday enjoy a four-course dinner for $60 a couple and that includes a bottle of wine. 

Bay Bread, loaded with cheese, artichoke and crab
Fish is the specialty here. Its local and some of the freshest on the beach. The sauces are made in-house and even the breading for the delicious coconut shrimp is made from scratch.

The upstairs deck is famous for it's pizza and live music. But regardless of where you sit, you can't beat the view; sun up or sun down.
Photo: Gina Birch
The staff is hospitable and the outside deck is dog friendly. Check out this inviting local spot at the base of the Matanzas bridge before the winter tourists come back, and take advantage of these spectacular summer deals. 



Monday, June 27, 2016

Craving Paradise-Champagne Wine Dinner


I have a deep love for Charles Heidsieck...the man and the wine. He was the daring entrepreneur who first introduced Americans to Champagne back in 1852.

I recently went to one of the new Craving Paradise corroborations between Crave Culinaire and Paradise Wines in Naples, where the gems of Heidsieck were featured. The five course dinner was held in the private room at Paradise Wines, the food preparation lead by Chef Brian Roland and his creative team at Crave Culinaire.

You might be thinking, sure go ahead and tease us with an amazing dinner that has come and gone. Well, the tease is not meant to rub anything in but inspire you to join in the next Craving Paradise event.

Aerated Salmorejo Cordobes Veloute
The evening I attended began with the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve as both a welcome glass and with the first course: warm aerated salmorejo cordobes veloute that had Key West pink shrimp, heirloom tomato confit, savory crepe-egg "Crepe," amontillado syrup, Iberico ham and micro cilantro. I KNOW!

The aeration gave the soup a lovely velvety texture and the acidity of the wine made for a perfectly, fresh pairing.

Second course was a flaky spiced sweet vermouth glazed Florida grouper with orange polenta "Gateaux," seared ruby chard, EVOO melted leek and saffron-mussel broth; so many layers of flavors.

It was served with a favorite of mine, Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve. The bubbles spoke of raspberry, strawberry and creme brûlée with a lovely long finish.

Crispy Fennel Pollen Ris de Veau "Grenobloise
While the aforementioned pairings were superb, the next one wowed the crowd; crispy fennel pollen Ris de Veau "Grenobloise;" manchego-capellini pave, fried savoy cabbage, pickled caper berries, meyer lemon beurre noisette. This one was served with a special vintage treat;  Charles Heidsieck Vintage 05. 

Winery ambassador Jonathan Boulangeat was on hand, sharing Heidsieck history and explaining what makes each of these wines special. He reminded the crowd that 2005 was an amazing year in Champagne and we could taste it. The bubbles were creamy, butter with lemon curd and it was simply magnificent with Chef Roland's dish.

Jurgielewicz Farm Duck Breast
Proving the aging power of Heidsieck, the next bottle was a coveted Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995. Made from 100% chardonnay, it was full bodied but still fresh and bright.

This one was paired with Jurgielewicz Farm duck breast; savory cauliflower-mascarpone "Clafoutis," pistachio-vidalia onion soubise, honey braised lacing and burnt rosemary emulsion. This was a dreamy combination,  like a perfect first date.



Dessert was a fun looking and delightful tasting saffron cardamom cheesecake with caramel drizzle, toasted almond chantilly, spiced pear chips on a gingersnap crust, served with a glass of Belle de Brillet Liqueur Pear.


The next Craving Paradise series features more French wines, (June 28). Find more information about this and upcoming dinners here.

Most of the wines served are available for purchase after the meal, many bottles are limited release and great finds. The combination of foods and wines at these events are top notched and a must for food and wine lovers who want a unique evening out in Southwest Florida.
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Friday, April 8, 2016

Food Meets Beer At Cru, Fort Myers

Congrats to Fort Myers Brewing Company for winning Best Larger Brewer in Florida and five medals at the Best Florida Beer Championship Brewers Ball in Tampa last month (March.)

When the brewery teamed up with one of my favorite Fort Myers (Florida) restaurants, Cru, to put on another amazing beer dinner, this wine lover just had to go.

Some in attendance argued that beer is even more complex than wine, therefore better with food. While I'm not convinced, Chef/Owner Bob Boye certainly made the discussion a valid one with pairings that complimented flavors and transformed textures

I was tickled that the cocktail hour featured the refreshing Gateway Gold served in Champagne flutes. Passed appetizers included hickory smoked salmon, sweet and salty blue crab wontons with truffle honey, and a decadent miniature ice cream cone filled with maitake mushrooms cornets and goat cheese--wow.

Mango IPA/Diver Scallop
Our first course was a seared diver scallop with macerated mango in an herb emulsion. It really brought out the fruit flavors in the Mango IPA. This beer has the base grains for Fort Myers Brewing's High Five, then fresh, local mangos are added.

Next was a crisp, fatty and meaty piece of pork belly, marinated and cooked for 24 hours before it reached out happy plates along with with grilled peaches and a savory graham cracker. The Half Fast IPA was fresh and aromatic, hops forward with citrus and pine. It cut through the fat nicely.

Pork Belly

The third course was the one that knocked my socks off; duck confit, duck & foie glace and the most flavorful, delightful king trumpet mushrooms from Oregon. The Red Tape Amber Ale was malty, perfect with the rich meat. It mellowed with the earthy dish to form an absolutely seamless pairing where nothing overpowered the other. A sip, a bite, it was one you did not want to end.

Eating the lamb loin in the fourth course was like having a fine New York strip. The meat was perfectly cooked and served over braised collard greens with a hint of bacon and spice. The Incognito IPA, a black IPA, was hoppy with roasted malt and that roast really came through for a nice partnership with the meat.

Churrasco style tri tip
The final meat course, a churrasco style tri tip, came with Cru's new steak sauce and the  OYA Double IPA. OYA stands for On Your Ass so you can make the appropriate assumption here. It' s citrus hop that had flavors of grapefruit and went surprisingly well with the tender steak and bacon braised Yukon potato.


The Toasted Coconut Porter almost took on an effervescent feel with the sinful dessert; smoked fruit with coconut Pot de Creme. A seasonal beer, this one tasted of coffee grounds and vanilla. It was another great transformation with the food which had everyone at my table literally licking the bowl.

If you think beer dinners are going to be too filling, too much of anything, you should book a table at the next one hosted by Cru. The staff and chef's really know how to do it right.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Yum Yum Yabba; Naples Dining

Bone-in rib eye with stone crab claws
Yabba Island Grill has been a mainstay on the trendy 5th Avenue South in Naples for its causal island cuisine and rousing nighttime scene. I remember many a nights dancing after dinner service to some of the area's best DJ's.

But over the years, the party vibe has faded and a more family friendly atmosphere embraced. The changes have continued with a recent upgrade in aesthetics and tweaks to the menu.

Seared Ahi appetizer
Gone are the bright green colors, in are comforting blue tones and dark wood in this $300,000 renovation project. Fabric still draps the ceiling of the main restaurant and bar while the front dining room has a more cozy romantic feel.

New, inventive hand crafted cocktails are teasing, tempting and pleasing; basil lemon drop, balsamic berry blast and green chile gimlet to name a few. The wine list has also been updated with mostly reasonably priced selections form around the world.


While the menu is still loaded with fresh seafood, the restaurant is branding itself as a casual, affordable steakhouse...with a bit of island flair. I recently enjoyed a meal that included juicy, salty oysters, seasonal stone crab claws and a beautiful, tasty ahi tuna appetizer.

For a main course I shared a seared wahoo served with seasonal vegetables, as well as steak medallions topped with a rich and creamy combo of crab and shrimp; one of the many new steak and seafood combo's Yabba is now offering. Both dishes were keepers.

If it's been awhile since you've been to Yabba, it's time you go back and check out the changes.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Cooper's Hawk Opens in Naples

It's official....today Southwest Florida residents can experience a Napa-style wine tasting room without traveling cross country. Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant opens its southernmost location to the public on US4 in North Naples, between Wiggins Pass and Immokalee Road.

I got a sneak peak last week and met CEO and Founder Tim McEnery who said his expansion in Naples has created more buzz than any other new location opening to date. Perhaps it's the midwest connection; the company's origins are in Illinois.



While I didn't get to try much of the food, the menu looks inviting with a range of gourmet selections such as Asian pork belly tostadas, comfort foods like spaghetti and meatballs and healthful options the likes of Mediterranean salad with shrimp. This menu was specifically designed to reach a wide range of palates and cover all demographics and it works according to McEnery.

The thing that appeals to me most is the fact that each dish is matched with a Cooper's Hawk's wine for the perfect pairing of flavors.

The wines also cover a wide range to appeal to both the average wine drinker as well as those who have more discerning palates.


The grapes are mostly domestic, shipped to the winery in Illinois for crushing, fermenting and bottling. The tastings start at $7 for eight selections. I preferred the wines in the second tier LUX tasting ($12). The LUX Pinot Noir has even won some awards.

The sparkling rose is made from syrah and chardonnay, methode champenoise, and has that bit of yeast you would expect. I also tried the sparkling Blanc de Blanc which was served at the 2008 Presidential Inauguration. It was peachy, floral and a bit more sweet.

I was most interested in trying the special barrel blend after being tempted by the tap on our tour. It was my favorite of the tasting; a bit of funk on the nose, oak, spice and a bit of perfume. If you like bolder wines be sure to try.


I did step out of my comfort zone by sampling the Rhubarb wine. I don't have much experience with rhubarb other than some hard candies I've tried over the years. As suspected, the wine was sweet, maybe good for dessert with strawberry pie or shortcake.


The stand alone tasting room and restaurant is 11,000 square feet with floor to ceiling windows designed to bring the outdoors in and if you really want to be outdoors, there is a terrace. It's not just about wine as Cooper's Hawk also has a full bar inside.

Upon entering you are greeted by a large retail shop with all kinds of cool accessories along with shelves of wine. The tasting bar is fun for both groups and individuals wanting to learn more about wine, the Cooper's Hawk brand.

And if you  like the brand, you can join the wine club where for as little as $18.99 a month you'll receive a bottle of your choosing, invites to special events and other perks.

Welcome to the hood Cooper's Hawk. Cheers.

Monday, February 22, 2016

New Offerings For The New Year: Avenue 5

Champagne glasses ready to be filled
against the wine wall
Apologies for delays in posting....this was 'saved' but never 'published'.....oppose. Info still up to date and worth taking note of.


One of my favorite things about Avenue5 in Naples (FL) is the wine wall. You know when you are out to dinner and your date keeps peering past you to see the TV's mounted around the bar? I do the same with the wine wall, casually glancing past my dining companions, taking note of the labels I recognize, dreaming about which ones I would open first.

I did indeed get to sample some good ones along with some specialties of Avenue5's new Chef, David Nelson. A former chef partner at Truluck's in Naples, Nelson was telling our table how in his new role he was wanting "to do simple things right," when a smoking, Maine lobster cocktail came out. Dry ice was used to create a pillow of soft smoke under the bowl.

Definitely not a simple presentation but it was simply delicious; light and fresh in a Champagne dressing, with grapefruit and avocado. Served with Veuve Clicquot Rich over ice, a perfectly fresh and sweet sparkling cocktail for Florida.

Lobster Cocktail
You'll find a similar dry ice presentation with shrimp on the regular appetizer menu.

Next up was a bay scallop; ceviche with ginger, lemon grass, lime, cilantro, roasted serano and avocado mousse, served with soy wonton crips. The ceviche was nicely balanced with acid and heat and was a great compliment to the wine: Domaine Fournier Les Belles Vignes Sancerre.

Bay scallop ceviche
The gnudi's and meatballs had everyone guessing what would be on our plate next and snickering as gnudi is pronounced "nudie." It's a free form mascarpone and ricotta ravioli, dredged in semolina to make a kind of pasta shell around the cheese mixture. Plated next to the meatballs that were cooked in sauce, the combo was topped with a lemon gremolata and finished with a black truffle foam that I wanted to scoop up with my hands and daintily shove in my face.

In the glass was a Chianti Classico Antinori Marchese Riserva 2011; cherry and musty to the nose, with red fruit, tobacco and oak on the palate. This was a good marriage of food and wine.

Gnudi's & meatballs
The fourth course was a surf and turf of grilled Colorado lamb chops chimichurri and butter poached lobster tail with corn-tarragon sabayon, dauphinoise potato. The lamb was stunning with the Domaine Serene, Yamhill Cuvee, Willamette Valley 2012 Pinot Noir. I began salivating over that wine the minute I saw the bottle next to the decanter.

A beautiful perfume came from the glass with great fruit and spice as it opened more. It didn't go with the lobster, but it was perfectly suited for the tender lamb.

Lamb chops and poached lobster tail
Last but not least, was a delicious tray of desserts including a six layer chocolate cake, key lime cheese cake and the favorite, chocolate pot de creme. Each small taste was served with a carefully selected port, Sauternes and riesling.

Avenue5 often has wine dinners and other events so be sure to check the website or get on their email list to join the fun, food and wine. And be sure to say hi to Chef, I'm excited to see what new things he continues to add to the menu.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Coffee Cravings

I love coffee. During the dozen or so years I worked in morning radio, I depended on it for survival, often times being forced to drink whatever swill was in the break room.

Then one day, my morning show co-host began roasting his own beans. That opened up a whole new world for me, drinking coffee from freshly roasted and ground beans. Even though I'm not on radio anymore, thank goodness I can still get that great coffee from my former partner and owner of Bennett's Fresh Roast.

That being said, I was recently sent some samples of some non-traditional coffee to review for some projects I was working on, including New Mexico Pinon Coffee.

Pinon Facebook Photo
A family owned business in Albuquerque, roasting beans for more than 20 years. You might be thinking "I didn't know coffee beans were grown in New Mexico." They're not. This coffee is make from a combination of roasted piñon nuts (grown in the local dessert) with Arabica coffee beans.

The regular blend smells a bit sweet. I kept checking the bag to see if it was flavored but it's not. The coffee is mild with low acidity while the pine nuts add a pleasant, nutty flavor.

The Biscochito is named after the New Mexico State Cookie. It has hints of sugar, cinnamon and anise. I'm not typically a fan of flavored coffee but this a nice accompaniment to sweet scones.

I was especially interested in trying Javazen, a blend of ground coffee, loose teas and super foods such as acai and goji berries. Coming in three flavors with different intentions it works in traditional brewers but it tasted best to me in a French press.

The Javazen blends are Balance (mild, my favorite), Boost (strong in flavor and caffeine) and Relax (smooth and slightly fruity). If you like the flavor of tea you will enjoy this.


I prefer the flavors to be separate. I did, however, enjoy Javazen in a new gadget that speeds the process of properly preparing iced coffee. The HyperChiller makes it possible to have a good iced brew much faster than traditional methods and without diluting the flavors.

It literally cools freshly brewed coffee in one minute, bringing the temperature to a level that when poured over ice, doesn't melt immediately. Iced coffee lovers will understand why this is important.

Cheers to you next cup-o-joe.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Latin Food in Lehigh Acres

Most people who go on "stay-cations" in the Fort Myers area end up at the beach. I ended up in  Lehigh Acres, a small inland community east of Fort Myers. There for not quite 24 hours helping a friend, I decided to call it a "stay-cation" to make it sound more glamorous and relaxing than it really was.

All jobs require sustenance, so my goal while there, was to check out the Latin dining options in between my sworn duties.

I had heard decent things about the somewhat new Mexican restaurant El Tarasco, but my experience was a bit of a disappointment. It was a Sunday night so maybe the A-team was home with family instead of in the kitchen and maybe because it was a pick-up order, details were overlooked in the packing. That being said, my expectations were much higher than what was delivered, both in flavor and value. Maybe next time I'll dine in and see if the experience is better?

Thank goodness for the breakfast sandwiches Monday morning from Los Amigos Grocery & Lechonera. The small spot features Puerto Rican fare for take out. The roasted meats smell divine and food served until it runs out; it always runs out.


My sandwich was massive, on pressed bread and loaded with ham, eggs, cheese and fresh cut vegetables. I can't wait to go back and try more from this spot.

The place I was really craving and perhaps looking forward to trying the most was Azucar. Serving traditional Cuban food, it was everything I hoped it would be. The Cuban sandwich was generous, the empanadas were flavorful and filling, and the tostones with garlic sauce had us fighting for the last one.

Another MUST try in Lehigh.

My circumstances required that all of the food was takeout and the photos just didn't do them justice so I opted not to share most. Instead I'll sacrifice, go back for more with a proper camera and update this blog at that time. I'm going to need an assistant, or two.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A New Chef For The New Year At Twisted Vine

For years, Twisted Vine Bistro has been a top spot to dine in downtown Fort Myers for it's cool vibe, extensive wine list and creative food, among other things, and it's status as a premiere dining destination is climbing yet another rung on the ladder going into 2016.

For starters, Chef Airon Adams has arrived from Chicago. European trained, with experience under top chefs from the around the U.S., he is all about approaching food "in a new and unique way." He says, "I want someone from Chicago to come here and say I got the best meal of my life in Fort Myers."
Seared scallop over truffled porridge
Take for instance Twisted Vine's new seared scallop dish. It is served over an irresistible truffled porridge with beach mushrooms, fennel jam, parsley vinegar, olive jus and pea tendrils. Beautifully presented, every element plays together with great finesse on the plate and palate.

Crab Cake
The substantial crab cake is all crab rather than filler with a delectable, black garlic emulsion and preserved lemon and chive.

The Lobster parfait is perhaps one of my favorite new appetizers. Butter poached, the crustacean is served over a rich and creamy parsnip puree and red wine demi.....this will knock your socks off. Don't share, get one of your own.
Duck Breast
The duck breast is simply amazing, cooked perfectly and paired spot on with spaghetti squash, baby turnips, soy chestnut and red watercress. It's one of the hot new items creating a buzz and delighting diners with comforting flavors that work well together.

The hanger steak is one of those menu items that upon reading the description, you might think twice about ordering; crispy fingerlings, salsify, sprout leaves, sechuan pepper, blueberry demi and kumquat gremolata. Don't think about it, don't try to imagine it, just order it. I promise it not only works, it will be a dish you talk about the rest of the week.

Candied Beef Short Ribs over polenta
You'll notice the new menu has a clean look, using more of the proper culinary terms for pestos and sauces rather than a lot of fancy adjectives to describe how delicious the dishes are. So this is where you need to put your "foodie" pride aside and ask your server to help interpret.

Too many times people don't order something that will blow them away, because they don't understand the methods mentioned on the menu and are embarrassed to ask.

Long time fans of Twisted Vine will find the menu listing different indeed, but you'll also find it to be extraordinary once you take a chance on some of the additions. I'm excited to see what else the chef and owners come up with for 2016.

Of special interest is the expansion next door. The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine will soon become downtown's hot new bourbon and blues venue, with a delicious gastropub menu serving late.

Congrats Steve and Denise Hollister on the fantastic changes at Twisted Vine and for always striving to give Southwest Florida a memorable dining experience.