Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Chilln' With Torrontes

I developed an affection for torrontes many years ago, the signature white wine of Argentina. I'm not sure if it was the crisp, cold wine itself or the way the word rolled off the bartenders tongue that did it for  me.

So when I went to Argentina, I was just excited to drink the torrontes as I was to consume mass amounts of malbec. Raving about the grape to my travel partner, we stopped in a swanky waterside cafe in Buenos Aires for a refresher.

My excitement turned to disappointment as the wine in my glass was more viscous and heavy than what I'd had in the past. Is this the REAL torrontes? Had I been drinking imports that appeal to the American palate?

Neither, it was just from a different region of Mendoza. Torrontes, the kind I like, is best when originating from the warmer growing areas.

It's hot in my hood this week, perfect timing for a cold glass of Trivento Torrontes Reserve! It smells a bit floral but its flavors are full of citrus and crisp tropical fruits. What a great summer sipper that also goes well with a spicy Thai soup. Even better is the price; under $15.

THIS is the torrontes I want, the only thing missing is the cute waiter to say the name with a robust accent, while looking deeply into my eyes . Happy Wine Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wine Wednesday and World Cup

On this World Cup Wine Wednesday when Argentina beat the Netherlands in a thrilling shootout, I was pulling for Argentina because I love the wine, the food and the people of that country. That is not to say I didn't have fun with the people, food and ummmm "coffee" in the Netherlands but I had to pick a side.

Plus every time Argentina played during the tournament, I turned it into an excuse to drink some Malbec (as if I needed one) and I really wanted a glass today. However, finding my Argentinian stash unavailable, I turned to a neighboring South American country for some help, Chile!

On a hot summer day, the Casas del Bosque Reserve Sauvignon Blanc was just the ticket, especially if you like a citrus bomb. It explodes with grapefruit, with lots of acidity, minerality and a touch of spice. Put a good chill on this affordable white, in the $15 range, and enjoy.

The Grand Reserva Cabernet was an even better treat (in the $20 range) with a beautiful ruby color. Just as lovely as the color were the fruity flavors of black cherry and raspberry, with a rich coffee finish. The slightly minty nose was also a fun touch. In Southwest Florida, find this one at Decanted wine store and Sunshine Cafe.

Pizza Fusion has Casas del Bosque Reserve Pinot Noir; I'll be trying that one next!


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Savoring Salvestrin

This Wine Wednesday I'm raising a glass to my friends who are California cab know who you are.

But have you tried the Salvestrin Three D Cabernet Sauvignon? Start looking for it now because this is a highly rated, small production wine. Thankfully the winery has some other goodies in their portfolio.

Highly rated, low production, high price ($125)....does it live up to the hype? Um.....yeeeeessss! It has that classic cherry taste but with other dark fruits including blackberry. Add a bit of vanilla, spice and a smooth yet full bodied finish and this wine has all that you would hope for. It's like velvet right now so I can only imagine what it will be like with a few more years in the bottle.

Happy Wine Wednesday, CHEERS!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Competition In The Kitchen

What happens when you get about a dozen Hyatt chefs from Florida and the Caribbean in the same kitchen? One heck of a culinary competition for the Good Taste event, a new addition to the hotel chain's lineup.

With the theme of 'thoughtfully sourced, carefully served,' hotel chefs from across the nation have been gathering in regional battles for a shot at competing nationally this fall at the Andaz Wailea Maui.

I attended the qualifying contest for Florida and the Caribbean, at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and it was torture. Torture because I was not a food judge, just an observer who had to wait THREE HOURS to try any food. Torture because each dish looked better than the last, with ingredients that made me salivate and quiver.

Each chef made three dishes; a breakfast item, a lunch or dinner entree and a kid's meal. The rounds were timed perfectly and the tension in the kitchen was thick.

As the chef's explained the local ingredients they used and other highlights, the judges dug in. And in the end, Noel Willhite, Sous Chef at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero was the victor. Congratulations to all the chefs and their outstanding creations.

ginab2u's Good Taste Tampa album on Photobucket

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Capone's Opens With A Bang

If I have to choose a side in the pizza tug-o-war between Chicago-vs-New York style,  I'll always
pick Naples, as in Italy. Since that doesn't always go over so well, my second answer usually is NY. However, it's kind of like that annoying paper or plastic question, both work for different occasions.

My occasion for eating Chicago-style last night was the opening of Capone's Coal Fired Pizza in downtown Fort Myers. It was a VIP opening so I didn't get the full effect of a full pizza on my table, but small slices passed out by enthusiastic new employees.

The thin crusted samples were enough to make me want to come back, that's for sure. We also tried Capone's version of shrimp Alfredo and sausage and peppers.

But the buzz about this place has been more than the food, it's been about the decor. From the Tommy Guns on the front door to the men's bathroom door that looks like a jail cell. The theme is also carried over inside, while the ladies room resembles a brothel.

Another interesting feature is the vault, in the middle of the restaurant. It was fun to watch people dance around the plexiglass, afraid to step on it but enthralled by what was beneath it; money, guns, cigars and the skeleton of a gangster.

What I found even more interesting is that Al Capone has a niece living in Southwest Florida. Deirdre Marie Capone was at the opening, signing a book she wrote about her infamous Uncle Al. In it she shares some family recipes, personal photos and reveals the human side of the Chicago mobster.

Sadly, I did not get a close enough look at the wine list but I have confidence that it is adequate at the very least since Heather Knows Wine had a hand in putting it together. Congratulations Capone's, another fun addition to the downtown dining scene.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tasting on Twitter

Marking the 40th anniversary of an iconic California cabernet, wine lovers from across the globe gathered online for the largest known, virtual wine tasting today.

It was exciting, in a geeky kind of way, to share this new wine and discuss it with thousands of fellow oenophiles, some great friends who I've never least not in person.

Tweeting, retweeting, favoring to the point that the hashtag of Caymus40th briefly topped #WorldCup2014 in trending. Now that's impressive.

People tasted the anniversary cab in conference rooms, in living rooms and at Total Wine stores across the country, where the former $4.50 bottle (in 1972), now sells for  $60.

The wine making Wagner family joined in the virtual tasting with a live webcast where they discussed the Caymus brand; its history, vineyards, varietals and the inspiration for the anniversary bottling.

To me this was a perfect cab for a mass tasting on Father's Day weekend. It tasted like my Dad's pipe used to smell when he smoked back in the day; that rich tobacco, cherry, vanilla and spice aroma. The wine is strong and masculine yet fruit driven, with lots of dark berries. It will be lovely with a little more time in the bottle, however, it is drinking nicely now.

Happy Anniversary Caymus. Bravo!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Restaurant magnate and famous chef Roy Yamaguchi made a cameo at his namesake Roy's in Bonita Springs last night for a fantastic wine dinner which goes on the road to Roy's in Tampa tonight.

The extravaganza featured special dishes from four Roy's chefs along with an Amuse Bouche of morel mushrooms, tiny greens and purple dragon carrot over a parmesan macadamia nut cracker, created by Yamaguchi himself; paired with a cold glass of Chandon Blanc de Noirs. Delicate, fresh and full of flavor, it was a pleasure to watch the line cooks assemble this small bite with precision and attention to the tiniest detail.

Spring Inspired Crudite 
Executive Chef Noah Bailey from Roy's Naples was in charge of the first course; Maine Lobster & Bacon Dim Sum with ramps, truffle and English pea. Served with Franciscan Chardonnay. The dish was nicely balanced, the bacon flavors subtle, lobster cooked perfectly and little bit of tartness in the peas.

Lobster Dim Sum
Second course included five pieces of rich Big Eye Tuna topped with olive aioli and amazing lemon caviar that exploded in your mouth with just the right amount of fresh citrus. Prepared by home Executive Chef (Roy's Bonita) Jason Grasty, this was a crowd favorite for sure, served with Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc. I posted a photo with the caption need #alonetime.

Big Eye Tuna
The third course came with a glass of Four Graces Pinot Noir that came alive with the food. Roy's Tampa Executive Chef Adam Hyatt created a Hawaiian Style Beef Short Rib & Chili Shrimp with Okinawan potato puree, papaya pea salad and crispy yucca. The beef was cooked perfectly and the flavors married marvelously with the fruit in the pinot. I wanted to bathe in the potato puree.

Short Ribs & Chili Shrimp
Dessert was one of the few I've finished to the last spoonful. Created by Roy's Sarasota Executive Chef Carl Bertka, the dish featured coconut foam, tuple & daquoise, passion fruit cream and mint granita. The foam was light and the granita refreshing over the pudding like base, am impressive combination of flavors and textures.

Coconut, Passion Fruit & Mint
I loved that this wine dinner was not so formal. Seating times varied and courses were served when each party was ready, a steady flow for the kitchen instead of five massive rushes. I loved being treated to the best from four of Roy's Executive Chefs, working hard to impress not only the guests but the master, Roy Yamaguchi. And I loved meeting and interviewing Yamaguchi, more on that interview coming up.

If you are in Tampa tonight (6/10/14), make a reservation and enjoy a fantastic presentation with well prepared food and well paired wine. Cheers!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Best View (and renovated too) On Fort Myers Beach

The Lani Kai Island Resort is arguably the most infamous as well as famous party place on Fort Myers Beach. Above the beer bongs and bikini contests is a more peaceful restaurant on the roof with swinging chairs, live music and a great view of the sunset.

Adjacent to the rooftop tiki is the air-conditioned Island View Restaurant, once severely dated now seriously renovated. It smells fresh, looks nautically chic and has the best view of the shoreline, six floors up.

I dined here during its opening week and when I posted photos on Facebook, my foodie friends (along with longtime locals) exploded my inbox and text asking if I was REALLY eating at the Lani Kai and if it was REALLY good. I'm pleased to say it was!

A dirty martini with a sidecar and a new, signature island cocktail
There is a new raw bar with seating but pulling up a chair at the cocktail bar, you'll get a fantastic overview of the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The wine list has enough selections by the glass and bottle to satisfy most guests, the signature cocktail list is creative and I particularly enjoyed the old school way martinis are served, with a side car.
White pizza with perfectly roasted garlic and spinach 
Chicago chef Jason Smith-Agate opened the restaurant at the beginning of May with a redesigned menu to match the new space. He knows just how to work the new wood fired oven for flatbreads, appetizers and entrees; I'm told it's the only such oven on Fort Myers Beach.

Wood fired ocotpus 
The wood fired octopus has quite a spicy kick; a nice change to the standard calamari found on most beach menus. One of my favorites appetizers was the bacon wrapped shrimp over guacamole with a tequila lime butter. The flavors and textures made great friends.
Bacon wrapped shrimp over guacamole 
It is safe to say at this point of the meal, the chef had my attention. I had set my expectations low, not figuring this popular party spot would be able to pull off a quality dining experience. We tried the fish special of the evening as well as a prime rib that literally melted in my mouth. I wanted to drink the au jus it was so savory.

The trick now is to get food lovers to look past the party and the Hawaiian facade of the hotel and give the Island View a go. Owners know this and made accommodations, such as free valet service by the express elevator. The poolside lift takes you straight to the restaurant so you can avoid the board short and bikini crowd.

Be adventurous and give the Island View a try. The happy hour is from 4-7 with $5 cocktails and wood fired flatbreads. If you want more incentive and live in Southwest Florida, look for a copy of Living Local at Publx. The May issue has a BOGO offer for dinner and there is a good chance you'll find a similar one in the June publication. CHEERS!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mad About Moraga

Lamoraga Tapas Bar in Naples, FL
Lamoraga is the hot new tapas restaurant in Naples, the first US location of this high-end chain from Spain.

The building looks sleek and industrial from the outside, in fact I drove right by it twice, thinking it was an automotive related business. The inside is also sleek, masculine with lots of wood and metal; but feminine curves on the ceiling.

The dining room is wide open with lots of seating, and the tapas bar looks like a modern sushi bar, with low seating and glowing lights.

As I sat in the adjoining bar waiting for the rest of my party, the bar tender explained how crazy busy it has been since opening a couple of weeks ago. There are giant, glass sliders that can open the entire bar to the outdoors, once it cools down again.
A satisfying meat and cheese tray at Lamoraga

We tried a host of tapas from cuttlefish croquettes that looked like beautiful truffles to seared foie gras that melted in my mouth. The meat and cheese tray was delectable with manchego and goat cheeses and a host of meats that were perfectly cured. The 5J bellota ham was another table favorite and it was a generous portion.

The tomato and burrata salad was creamy and delicious; the Moorish lamb skewers were tender, flavorful and the gazpacho was refreshing, its texture smooth rather than chunky.

Prices were mostly and surprisingly affordable, ranging from $5 for soups and sides to $38 for a New York strip. The service was spot on.

This is a destination restaurant, not surrounded by overpriced nightclubs, shopping, uninspiring diners or anything else. It is on the top of my list to revisit.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Beautiful, Toxic and Delicious....

......the Lionfish
Photo: Wikimedia Commons 
The Lionfish is a truly spectacular fish to look at. Hard to imagine that hidden in those beautiful fin rays are toxins that can kill other fish, and cause great pain and harmful side effects to humans.

Aquarium owners began turning these lovely fish into the wild as they grew too big for home tanks.  Now the nonnative fish is consuming native species, damaging Florida reefs and massively growing in population, with no natural predator.

With so many species being overfished and the Lionfish population on the rise, conservationists are trying to educate the public about their flavorful meat, in hopes of creating a demand.

This was the idea behind the weekend Lionfish Fest in Fort Myers. It began with a fishing roundup on Saturday, the catch divided among eight chefs who put their culinary skills to work for a food competition on Sunday. It was the first time they had cooked Lionfish and the first time eating it for most of the attendees; everyone seemed pleased.

The chef's created some amazing dishes, showcasing the delicate seafood. No, it doesn't taste like chicken, more like a mild Hogfish.  The only downside is the amount of meat you get from each one. If you get a chance to catch, cook or eat a Lionfish, give it a shot. I think you will be pleased.

ginab2u's Lionfish Fest 2014 album on Photobucket
The Lionfish Fest was a benefit for the Heights Foundation and Lee Reefs

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Burgers & Bubbles

I have been remiss in congratulating the winners of the first annual Burgers & Bubbles at the Promenade last week, in Bonita Springs. I was invited to be on the esteemed panel of judges and couldn't wait to sink my teeth into the juicy creations from restaurants and bars across Southwest Florida.

Then I read the rules sheet and realized this was SERIOUS business. I had to consider everything from the freshness of the buns to even grilling. Of course taste and presentation were the biggies and NO verbal discussion, eye rolling, moaning or any other form of communication that could sway fellow judges. That was particularly hard for me because I involuntarily shout things like 'oh ya' when I taste something fabulous.

Judging sheet in hand, the burgers began making their way to our table. It was hard to resist eating more than a bite or two at the beginning, we had to keep telling ourselves that this was a long haul event. About halfway through we noticed our palates needed cleansing, and what better than to cut through the layer of fat that had accumulated in our mouths than with the other headliner of the show.....BUBBLES! Ah, recharged and ready for more meat.

By the way, I think there may have been more brew than bubbles at the event, but who was counting. Both were perfect pairs to the wide array of burgers available for sampling. Besides the numerous tasting tables, participants got to join in seminars on beer, bubbles and other topics.

The dreaded discard plate, one of many
I hated to discard so much food, but then a dozen burgers in one sitting is something even a frat boy might struggle with. Congratulations to Roy's for winning both the judges vote and the coveted Peoples Choice award. The best alternative burger title went to the Sundial Beach Resort on Sanibel Island. Their tuna burger was my favorite! I'm already looking forward to next year's event.

Stay tuned for more new and exciting shopping, dining and events coming to the beautiful Promenade, now under new management. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, No Fries At Belushi's New Bar

Jim Belushi performing at the VIP opening of his namesake bar in Fort Myers
Tonight is the much anticipated grand opening of the new Belushi's Lounge in Fort Myers. The music and comedy lounge encompasses the upstairs of the newly opened Tilted Kilt and is the brainchild of comedian/actor Jim Belushi and the restaurant owners, who are family and close friends.

When I talked to Jim at the VIP opening I asked what I've heard many locals question, "Why did he open here?" Belushi said, "It's about passion;" passion for the blues, comedy, friends and for his famous brother John.

Belushi's is filled with one-of-a-kind photos and memorabilia of the Belushi Brothers in their glory days, before the death of John. Fellow comedian and beloved friend Dan Aykroyd, not only provided some of the items but also ships in his Crystal Head Vodka. Only premium spirits are served here, no well brands. Thank you!

The only food you'll get upstairs in honor of one of John's must famous sketches; cheeseburgers and chips, no fries. The burgers were created by Jim and famous TV chef Guy Fieri; they're good!

Belushi in the upstairs 'Basement'
The second floor 'Basement' is a private room at the top of the stairs, available for parties. Belushi says, "This room's got magic." It's a replica of a room in one of his brothers movies, the faux water heater is actually a party keg.

Belushi's officially opens at 7 tonight with live music at 8 from the Wildfire Blues Band. Now that the joint is open, expect live music every Wednesday-Saturday, with comedy weekends once a month.

When I asked Belushi how often fans might be able to see him here, and onstage with the band, he replied, "As often as my wife will let me."

The Tilted Kilt is the castle-like building on US41 just south of Daniels Parkway, Fort  Myers, FL

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Evening at The Escalante

Season is almost over, meaning Southwest Floridians will soon reclaim possession of the roads and restaurants. In the midst of the winter chaos I was introduced to a gem, one that I have driven by a million times but never took the time to explore; The Escalante Hotel on the corner of 3rd Street South and 5th Avenue South in Naples.

Fashioned after the Brazilian Court in Palm Beach, this boutique hotel is the former Beach Comber, an historic property dating back to the early 1950's.

Hotelier Mary Brandt has made a number of changes since taking over, converting the high-rise part of the hotel into condos, keeping only those chic suites with private patios surrounding the pool for guests. She has also added fitness classes and yoga on the pool deck and the beach, as well as an organic garden, growing produce and herbs for the restaurant.

About the restaurant, Veranda E, Brandt recruited innovative California chef Michael Kang to help revamp the kitchen and menu. The restaurant is delightfully al fresco; the poolside trees strewn with lights for a magical setting.

Serving fish flown in from Hawaii and organic meats from North Carolina, among other specialties, the energetic Chef Kang and his staff use combinations and ingredients that 'foodies' will go mad over. The concept of each dish is so simple, it is prepared with the idea of creating that elusive, perfect bite. If you are adventurous and want an even bigger treat, don't order off the menu. Instead let the chef and the expert kitchen staff prepare something special for you. Just tell them your wishes and how many dishes; we had eight.

First up was a small portion of curry rock shrimp and scallops that I want to eat full size, for a poolside luncheon with a cold glass of viognier.

Foie Gras A La Mode
The most decadent dish came next; foie gras a la mode. The fatty meat was perfectly crisp on the outside, surrounded by a mind blowing mix of flavors including white peach, sesame, teriyaki and an aged  balsamic reduction. While this flavor combo might seem a bit outrageous, remember the concept of a the perfect bite? A little of everything all at once worked to the point that I didn't know how I could go on eating, but I managed.

Carpacio of squid
The carpacio squid was almost too pretty to eat and once again the flavors were amazing. One of my favorite Asian dishes is anything Kung Pao and at Escalante, chef expertly used calamari steaks for the protein; tender and flavorful.

Asian Pear and Humboldt Fog Cheese salad
Next dish was part salad, part cheese course with a generous slice of Humboldt Fog. Asian pear, organic greens, walnut vinaigrette and lavender honey rounded out this mouthwatering course.
Crispy, whole snapper
Chef Kang approaches food like architecture, with dimension and typically plated in a vertical fashion. The crispy snapper was a perfect example. We had a fresh, whole yellowtail that was split in the middle then prepared in a ceviche-style before being flash fried. It is one of the most popular and most impressive dishes on the menu. Some guests even share it as an appetizer.

We also had wild tiger prawns from Nigeria in a sake sauce and the most tender dry aged, bone-in ribeye with porcini hoisin sauce, a killer combination of east meets west. This is sadly when the white flag of foodie surrender was raised. So naturally a dessert course was brought out, just to make it official.

You might not be able to pronounce all of the ingredients used in the dishes at Veranda E but you won't care, your taste buds will be tickled in ways you will dream about when you go home.

If you have a special event or wedding in the future, give The Escalante a look. This historic hideaway has charm, pays attention to detail and has a restaurant that will hold you hostage with amazing meals during your stay.

Note: Dinner prices range from $14 to $55
ginab2u's Hotel Escalante album on Photobucket

ginab2u's Hotel Escalante album on Photobucket

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wine Wednesday: B Cellars

Happy Wine Wednesday! What's in your glass today? I had four little yummies in mine from B Cellars in Napa. I couldn't pick just one, so here is a quick overview of all four.

I was even more excited to taste these after learning Kirk Venge is the consulting winemaker. I'm a big fan of his wines at Venge Vineyards.

The Blend 23 is a mix of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier that smells floral but tastes a bit rich with honeysuckle and citrus. ($40)

The Blend 24 is a cab based blend made Tuscan style with sangiovese. Its a bit earthy with tobacco, cocoa and hint of blueberry. This would be consider B Cellars signature blend. ($55)

Blend 25 is also cabernet based but it is only blended with syrah to produce more robust flavors of jam and pepper. This one, smooth as it already is, definitely has good legs for aging. ($65)

The Synergy Cabernet takes grapes from three vineyards to produce this delightful wine with layers of flavor. The nose once again is a bit floral but the flavors are of cherry, spice and leather. ($65)

All of these wines are small production with intense flavors that will age well. B Cellars winery is about to move to a new location at Oakville Crossroads where there will be a daily Grand Pairing of food and wine for lunch. My reservation is in!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dark and Stormy -vs- Sunny and Bright

Dark and Stormy, Bahama Breeze Island Grille
Did you know that today is World Meteorological Day? I didn't either until I got an invitation from Bahama Breeze to try their Dark and Stormy Cocktail. Seemed a little peculiar to pull up with my top down on a sunny and bright Sunday, to order something "dark" and "stormy." 

The cocktail is made with a spicy Gosling Black Seal Rum and some tangy Ginger Beer. It tastes surprisingly like whiskey when mixed together.  If you're looking for a good happy hour, Bahama Breeze is sure to please with $4 mojitos and $2 off wines among other drink specials. 

Happy Hour also includes half-price appetizers so you can get your coconut shrimp fix for a great price. Those specials are from 4-6 Monday through Friday. 

Enjoy the outdoor patio while the weather is still nice and breezy, no pun intended.