Saturday, October 14, 2017

Making Dough at MidiCi

The pizza stretching station is one of the first things you see when you walk into the new MidiCi, The Neapolitan Pizza Company, at the Coconut Point Mall in Estero.

Based out of Los Angeles, MidiCi is one of the newest concepts from the brains behind one of the most successful fro-yo franchises, Menchies.

Fort Myers residents Dina and John Wysseier fell in love with the restaurant's mission of bringing friends--and strangers--together. So they brought the restaurant to Southwest Florida, along with much enthusiasm.

The Wysseier's were inspired by the dining experiences they had while living in Europe, where food brought people together, even strangers. The have a board by the entrance (another on wall space by the bathrooms) intended to make it easier to meet fellow diners, or at least open their minds to the concept. 

Polaroid cameras are kept at the counter to document your dining experience. Take the photos with or leave them in a frame by the door.

The most notable signature of MidiCi restaurants is a live olive tree, the tree in Estero is in the center of the restaurant, Yes it is real.

The concept is fast/fine dining. You order at the counter, but it's not like any pizza counter you've likely seen. The line starts where the dough is stretched and tossed; the flour imported from Italy. Order one of the classics, a specialty pizza, or pick from the ingredients in the condiment station.

Gluten free diners will be glad to know MidiCi has it, GF crust...and it's GOOD. I sampled it along with a pesto pizza, a meat pizza, the double pepperoni and the devil's pizza. The crust snob in me was very happy; it was light, crisp where it was suppose to be.

The two pizza ovens weigh some 3 tons each, they were shipped from Italy and seasoned over several days. You can see the flames from almost any seat in the house. They are like pieces of art.

Other special equipment includes a fly wheel prosciutto cutter that cuts the meat in perfect ribbons. Aged for 18 months, the prosciutto is then used on beautiful cheese plates, in salads and on pizzas. The ingredients here are top quality.

For diners looking for something green, the salads are fresh, big, plentiful and numerous.

Be sure to save room for dessert, the signature dish being the Nutella calzone with fresh berries. You'll need a nap after this one. Gelato and sorbetto are good if you're looking for a lighter option.

The coffee bar has almost everything you could want; they even offer gourmet teas. The Italian cream sodas are to die for and the beer and wine selection is on point, better than most pizza joints for sure. But then again, you might expect this after stepping through the door and seeing the kind of attention to detail that goes into making MidiCi special.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BRAVO Cucina Amps It Up For Fall

It's fall, hurricane Irma recovery is making progress, Bravo Cecina is not only open, the menu is full of new happy hour, brunch and seasonal menu items.

I love brunch and was hoping to make it for the new crepes (chef Raul Rodriguez loves them) but it was happy hour that got me first, one of my favorite times of the day. From 3:30-6:30 you can enjoy $5 cocktails (like the midnight mojito with strawberry and blackberry) and new, chef inspired bar bites.

Stuffed Banana Peppers
One of my faves was the stuffed banana peppers ($7.99). Halved and roasted, they are stuffed with mild sausage and cheese mix of mozzarella and provolone mixture; creamy, spicy, and hard to eat just one.

The table as a whole could not get enough of the shrimp bruschetta appetizer (13.99) on ciabatta bread with a borsin cheese spread. It's substantial and the creamy, herbal cheese adds an extra special touch.

Pepperoni Cheese Dip
Pizza is an American favorite and I could eat it everyday, in fact we had one here. It had burrata, mozzarella, provolone, garlic roasted pesto, prosciutto, and arugula with fennel seed. It had a touch of sweetness to balance the salty meat.

Not all pizza crusts are as good as this, therefore I have been known to mutilate a slice by taking the toppings off and eating them solo; the dough left behind in a sad heap. So  the new pepperoni cheese dip sounded like a dream. It's hot and deliciously gooey with cream cheese, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan and pepperoni; pizza toppings.

Cod Fresca
New seasonal entrees include balsamic chicken with orzo, farro, zucchini, red peppers, feta and asparagus. and also the harissa grilled shrimp. This shrimp dish also has orzo, farro, zucchini, red peppers, feta, but with the addition of arugula and red pepper aioli; a more than pleasing combo

The cod fresca ($18.49) completely won me over. I felt healthy just by looking at it. Things that look good for you don't always taste so good but that is definitely not the case here. The 6-ounce piece of fish is pan seared then placed over green beans, zucchini, tomato, orzo and faro in a lemon butter sauce, then topped with cucumber relish.

Chef Rodriguez was so enthusiastic about the new caramel mascarpone cheese cake (6.99), how could we say no? Dense and delicious it was a delightful finish.

Caramel Mascarpone Cheesecake 
Chef Rodriguez runs the kitchen with skill, he has been with the company for 10 years and likes the family atmosphere. About the new additions, he is a fan of the cod fresca as well, and likes how the menu has been simplified. He says, "Now there are lots of light choices and I'm happy about that."

The restaurant decor has also been freshened. It is still Tuscan but with a modern touch.

The staff is welcoming and the servers know the dishes well, helping diners navigate with ease. Whatever you do, try the new menu items at BRAVO Cucina before they go out of season.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sanibel Travels to the Fort, Summer Wine Dinner

Now that season is over, and things on Sanibel Island are slowing down a bit, chef and restauranteur Melissa Talmage of Sweet Melissa's fame, is able to cross the causeway and hang out in Fort Myers for a night.

But she won't exactly be taking time off. Talmage is hosting a pop up dinner at Harold's. The talented chef is not only pairing her creative dishes with wine but specialty cocktails for an evening of food, fun and friends ($88). The four course meal without beverage pairings is $56.

Each course has several choices rather than just one. The second course consists of NOLA style shrimp and grits, steamed mussels or beef tartare. Course number three; fish stew in tomato saffron broth, roasted lamb chop, grilled smoked beef tenderloin or pan seared cobia with banana lentils. The only bad thing about this dinner is having to choose just one item in each course.

Seatings are at 5:30 and 8:00. Harold's is a small place and there are only a a few seats left, so make a reservation ASAP for the June 25 soiree. 239-472-1956

In other summer wine dinner news, the TasteMaker Dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouses nationwide last week featured some beautiful wines from the award winning Chateau Montelena. I attended one in Bonita Springs.

At this dinner, some of the wines poured were those that most of us would never have had access to unless physically visited the winery. A Potter Valley Riesling (slightly viscous but crisp with the food) for the first course was paired with a sesame grilled chicken and udon noodle salad. Thumbs up around the table.

Above is the second course; seared scallops in citrus bacon buerre blanc--I wanted to lick the plate. It was artfully and perfectly served with a 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay; a Burgundian style wine, kissed with oak not drowning in it.

The zinfandel below was served with a hearty, Portuguese white bean and chorizo stew. The wine comes from 120 year old vines and pays homage to the chateau's labels from the 1920's. The combination of old vine zin and newly planted primitivo creates a velvety wine with dark fruit, tobacco and chocolate.

No dinner at Ruth's Chris would be complete without a succulent piece of meat. Ours was a petite filet mignon with cipollini ragout and a cauliflower mash. Pulled out of the vault and shipped special for this event, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon had wild berries, soft tannins and opened nicely the more it sat in the glass...I wish I had more.

Dessert was indeed a treat. A teeth staining, winery release only, the Napa Valley Petite Sirah was lovely with the chocolate dacquoise torte, with praline crunch.

Manager Peter Hyzak, Gina Birch and General Manger Aleks Kunov
The staff at Ruth's Chris is known for professionalism and this dinner was a great example. Peter and Aleks (above) are not only professional, but also fun. The next nationwide TasteMaker Dinners are in August (Champagne) and October (Marchesi Antinori). Cheers.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Reserve a Seat for the TasteMaker Dinner with Chateau Montelena

Pan seared scallops, bacon citrus beurre blanc and chardonnay
Summer in Southwest Florida is a gold mine for wine dinners and special events. That may seem counterintuitive since our population drops drastically with the flight of our winter residents and visitors.

However, this is when local restaurants put out the welcome mat for local diners, with incentives on both food and wine. It's also when chefs have a little more time in the kitchen to prepare special meals to pair with the many special wines that are distributed on our area.

There's one this week at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse featuring a name most food and wine aficionados know quite well, Chateau Montelena. If you'll remember the 1973 chardonnay from this winery is widely credited with putting California on the world wine map in the so-called Judgement of Paris.

This special TasteMaker Dinner is taking place at restaurants across the country this Thursday (06/15/17) so if you're not in Southwest Florida, you can still enjoy the spoils of this event. As you might expect the chardonnay will be poured along with the well-known cabernet sauvignon (2006).

Petite filet mignon, cipolinni ragout, roasted wild mushroom,
cauliflower mash and estate cabernet
Even those familiar with the Chateau Montelena brand may not have tried the others being served: Potter Valley Riesling, Calistoga Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The menu is impressive.

Sesame grilled chicken and udon noodle salad in Thai peanut dressing with riesling
This is the fourth in a series of TasteMaker dinners by Ruth's Chris. Future events feature Moet Hennessy and Marchesi Antinorri.

Throughout the summer I'll be featuring these special food and wine events hoping to see you at some.

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.



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.

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.

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.