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. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"B" Is For Burgers

The Tex-Mex Haystack Burger

I love the 'B' culture of values at the newest burger joint at Gulf Coast Town Center in Estero, FL. Employees and managers are guided by mantras like: 'B' in service, 'B' involved, 'B' knowledgeable, 'B' informed, among others.

That alone tells me I'm going to "B' in for something good. And the hand washing stand at the entrance makes me think 'B' cleanly is on the list somewhere too. Kids actually find it cool to wash up before dinner here.

There are 20 regular burgers on the menu, the 21st changes on the 21st of each month. Besides serving juicy certified Angus Beef, Burger 21 has veggie burgers, chicken burgers, and a fantastic Ahi Tuna burger with house made, pickled cucumbers and avocado. The sriracha aioli and caramel soy sauce are the perfect condiments. It's fantastic.

Ahi Tuna Burger

Be sure to get a mixed basket of fries and have fun at the sauce station; a bar with ten different dipping sauces like chipotle and thai chili, beside the typical ketchup and mustard. The big novelty here is the marshmallow and the apple cider sauces for the sweet potato fries. They have just enough sweet and tang to compliment the taters. 

One of the most impressive features of Burger 21 is the commitment to their gluten free customers. There is a Green Zone in the kitchen where specific utensils and areas are dedicated to food prep, to avoid any possibility of cross-contamination. There is a separate fryer for the gluten free fries and meals are delivered on a different tray from the rest of the table. GF bread products are not so easy to find in restaurants and lets be honest, rarely are they good. But the buns here pass the test; fluffy AND flavorful.

Banana's Foster and Keylime Shakes

Hand-spun shakes come from a proprietary blend of ice-cream and in almost a dozen flavors. They are well-worth the splurge. With seats around the shake bar, it's a popular spot to watch the action. The restaurant itself is open and retro in decor with no TV's inside, so you can actually have a conversation without distractions.

However, if you're dying to catch a game, the spacious outdoor patio has some mounted electronics. Burger 21 is community minded, holding 'Spirit Nights' for various charities and organizations, so you never know what kind of fun you may stumble in to.

Give Burger 21 a try, you'll be more than satisfied!

Burger 21 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bangin' Brunch

I'm a big fan of brunch, especially on Sundays. It's not just about the food but the company, the day of relaxation, the whole package.

I'm a new fan of Slate's, on an obscure side street, just off the busy Cape Coral Parkway in Cape Coral, FL.

We showed up toward the end of the festivities which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the crowd had subsided, a curse because in the meantime, they had consumed so much, that some of the dishes had run out.

After being seated we were told there was only one order of beignets left so we immediately scooped them up, before even looking at the rest of the menu.

Even though this is a New Orleans inspired restaurant, Beignets are a recent addition to the line-up. The delicate, powdery treats needed their very own fryer and it arrived, just in time for Fat Tuesday.

With our coffee (chicory) and sugar fix satisfied, we set our sites on things a little more substantial. I was salivating over the Champagne; Slate's signature Benedict served on a buttery croissant, topped with spinach, tomato, red onion, goat cheese and poached eggs. I just couldn't put my fork down, even though I was full. Bravo!

In addition, and to no one's surprise, I managed to put my fork in other dishes at the table. The cheese grits were rich, creamy and out of this world. The crawfish omelet had tons of flavor yet not too spicy and the pancakes were a fluffy delight. Add to that a great shrimp, Bloody Mary, live music and outstandng service. What a gem.

If you go, make a reservation as you may be turned away, especially for dinner. Don't get mad, the kitchen is small and the food is cooked to order. It doesn't come out all at once and in a big rush. They want you to savor and enjoy the food, wine and fun atmosphere here. A genuine dining experience.
Yep, that's the bathroom sink and we loved it too.

Slates on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cruising With Edison

Yesterday, I joined Thomas and Mina Edison themselves, on the inaugural boat cruise of a new Southwest Florida tourism enterprise called Partners On The River. The couple held onto their hats as we left McCarthy's Marina on Captiva, took the old mailboat route, and headed to their winter home in Fort Myers.

Every Wednesday Captiva Cruises sets sail from the barrier island, through Pine Island Sound and up the Caloosahatchee on a beautiful and educational ride to Southwest Florida's most famous tourist attraction, aside from the beach. Knowledgable guides point out the fascinating history of the waterways and tell the tales of the pirates, native Americans and entrepreneurs who made the area what it is today.

While Captiva passengers tour the estates, other Edison and Ford ticket holders can hop on board for brief river tours. Daily boat tours from the museum property are part of the master plan. Over the last few months, new investors have taken over an old yacht club adjacent to the historic homes and renamed it The Marina at Edison Ford, thus completing the new partnership.

The Marina not only has a large dock, but lots of party space to aid with events at the Edison & Ford Estates. Perhaps the best part is the new restaurant going in the Marina. Pincher's Crab Shack, part of a well established, local restaurant group, is scheduled to open in about a week.

A back entrance has been added to the public building just for the estate tourists, so they can rest their feet and feed their belly in between inspecting antique cars and exotic flora. Pincher's deck has seating for more than 200, with fantastic views of the water and sunsets.

The three businesses have big plans to offer more and more options to tourists on land and on sea; a winning combination for everyone.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Aw Nuts

When I posted a recent blog concerning a near fatal squirrel accident involving me and a bicycle, I was surprised at the number of crazy encounters my friends admitted to having with the spastic rodents. Seems as if everyone has a stupid squirrel story. And I have another one.

I love working from my lanai this time of year. There is a huge tree right in front of me that lost an entire side during Hurricane Charley but has managed to grow so tall that I can't see the top from where I sit. It is the playground of dozens of squirrels.

I sometimes take breaks and let them entertain me with their scurrying and chirping.  Every now and then I'll see three stacked up on top of each other, a fourth wanting to join, and wonder what kind of furry freaks they really are. But then again it's their tree and who am I to be peeping.

Today, in the calm after lunch,  I saw one fall through the branches and heard it hit the ground with a heavy umfff, as if all the air had just escaped from its little body. Once again I gasped, not wanting to look. It was obvious this one did not land on its feet, like a cat; it was a definite thud.

But before I got to my feet that lil guy had already scampered right back up the tree. They may not land on their feet like cats but they certainly seem to have nine lives.

This intrigued me so much that I googled falling, not flying, squirrels. Wikipedia says most urban squirrels don't make it past one year, not because of predators, but automobiles. I'm pretty sure I've contributed to that stat.

Apparently it's more common for squirrels to miss their mark than I thought. Check out this video, I promise it's not bad if you're animal squeamish.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Line For Wine

Having finally recovered from a great weekend of food, wine, spirits and fun at the third annual Clearwater Beach Uncorked I started thinking about a strange phenomenon that occurred.

Chilly, misty weather on Saturday greeted the two day festival on the beach. Sunday was sunny and perfect, however, most of the tickets were sold for Saturday. The weather forced attendees to cram into the food and wine tents, rather than enjoy the ample outdoor seating and standing space.

Individual lines to get food samples somehow turned into a giant que around the entire perimeter of the two giant tents. I kept thinking this would never go over in Miami, at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival. I wondered if people were just polite or did they not have a clue that the tent and tables of samples were wide open; that queuing up as they were, was actually slowing down the entire process.

There is also a kind of unspoken etiquette at events like this. After you get the taste and a brief description of what you are trying, you get out of the way for the next person. This never ending line caused the tables to be blocked by people with full glasses and plates.

Most people seemed OK with this, after all they were still drinking on the beach in February. But it was too restricting for me so I stayed in the middle of the party and when empty, kindly inquired if I could reach through for a pour, since everyone around the table was already full.

Always looking for the lesson in things, I came to this conclusion:    
At times we get so accustomed to following the crowd we don't look up to see there is a wide open tent in front of us. Cheers.

ginab2u's Uncorked 2014 album on Photobucket

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Day Five At Avenue5

Diver Sea Scallops
And on the fifth day, the media descended.

Avenue5, the newest restaurant to open on Naples' trendy 5th Avenue South, is ready for the pubic and the press. Not even open a week yet, last night I got to tour the newly renovated space and taste the creations of Chef John Welch.

Avenue5 occupies the old McCabe's Irish Pub space. As we relived stories from the party pub days, we discovered our table was in the spot where the men's restroom used to be.

The dark old pub has been completely transformed into a contemporary, light space, with glass doors opening onto the plaza and the street. The wine wall holds 3500 bottles

Chef's specialty is lobster so we had to try the lobster sliders on fried green tomatoes. The parsnip slaw they were served with helped offset the richness of the dish.

Another favorite appetizer was the 100% Heritage Berkshire Pork Belly. The chunk of meat was generous for an appetizer and came with a three bean salad that included celery, apple and pickled rhubarb. The flavors were bright and addicting.

The entrees we sampled included a perfectly cooked Colorado Rack of lamb that melted in your mouth. One diner said she liked it better than the New Zealand variety. The diver sea scallops were a tad bit salty but the oysters and sweet corn stew helped to off-set this and gave some nice layers of flavors.

The Sea Bass was a big hit, served in a bowl with boo chou, mushrooms and noodles; a perfect accompaniment to the creamy fish.

ginab2u's Avenue5 album on Photobucket

Prices at Avenue5 range from $9 appetizers to $56 entrees.

It never hurts to remind diners who arrive at restaurants within the first few weeks of opening, that the chef and staff are still finding their groove and working out the kinks. Try not to be too critical if things aren't  exactly what you expect, and let the managers know in a constructive way, so they can make the necessary adjustments.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cue The Quinoa

I signed up for a cooking class at a health food store (Ada's Natural Market) this week to A) learn something new B) benefit a charity (the new Golisano Children's Hospital in Fort Myers, FL). Of course as soon as I commit and send in money, ten thousand other things pop up on the same night. For instance a drive-by from a friend I haven't seen in ten years who lives 2000 miles away and just so happened to be in town on business…..for a few hours.

The text went like this:
Me: I know we can coordinate something….but I have signed up for a cooking class at 5:30
Friend: Cooking Class? You don't know how yet?
Me, trying to sound important: It's a charity thing.
Friend: Cooking for you might be considered that….so I've heard.

Someone's got jokes…..

Well I made the class and we started the night with a naked tasting…..of three different quinoa's. The white was mild with a smooth texture, the red was a  little more crunchy and nutty, the black was very crunchy and a bit bitter. 

Chef Winfield Lentz then took us through the subtleties of three dishes, from proper pans and rinsing, to how to cut onions. First recipe; Spring Rolls. I learned that it takes a delicate hand to roll the wet rice wrappers; say that fast three times, wet rice wrappers….GO!

Second dish; Brown Rice & Quinoa Pilaf. I was reminded that pilaf and I never really hit it off to begin with, so why start now. 

Third dish; Un-Meat Balls, utilizing the red quinoa and black beans for a base. They were surprisingly substantial and with homemade sauce drizzled on top, I can buy into this for sure. Or better yet, make bigger patties for meatless burgers!

I have been a fan of quinoa for a long time and happy to be inspired by these three dishes. And as for my friend, I was still able to get a couple of hours of quality time in over oysters, Mahi and delicious red wine. Who says you can't do it all!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gourmet Gifts and Party Pleasers

It seems like no matter how much you plan for the holidays, you always forget something or somebody. So wether you need to put together a last minute gift basket or stock your kitchen with goodies to last through the rest of the year. I've recently found a few fun consumables that are also new to the marketplace in general. Impress your guests and your hosts with some or all of these treats.

You can never go wrong with putting bags of gourmet chips in your gift baskets and having extra bags in your pantry, for when celebrations lasts longer than anticipated or unexpected guests arrive. When I opened a box of English chips from Tyrrells, you would've thought I had a box of gold, the way my friends reacted. Tyrrells chips have recently been launched in the US with unique flavors like Mature Cheddar and Chives, Worcestershire and Sundried Tomato or Beetroot, Parsnip and Carrot with a touch of Sea Salt. What makes them different, besides the flavors is that they are cooked by hand in small batches. We couldn't wait to open them and dig in and I couldn't get enough of the Sweet Chili and Red Pepper. They run around $10 a bag.

On the sweeter side, look for Snappers, a delicious new product from the Milk Shake Factory by Edward Marc Chocolatier. They are the perfect flavor combination of salt and sugar. And the perfect texture combo of crunchy and chewy; made with pretzels, caramel and chocolate.  Until now, you've only been able to find these in the Pittsburg market. However, Costco has picked up the tempting treat and now sells Snappers at select locations for $8.99 a bag. They are turtle-like but without the nuts and also a bit messy but soooo tasty.
 To wash down both of these treats, try something sparkling, like a lovely Cremant d'Alsace from Helfrich winery in France. The grapes in this bubbly come from the oldest documented and northernmost Grand Cru vineyard in Alsace.  A bit yeasty with lots of minerals, flavors of green apples and in the $20 range, it's one heck of a great bargain for what's in the bottle. It's tre impressive! I could drink champagne or sparkling wine every day, all day, on it's own and with almost any food. In fact one of my favorite things, because it's so yin and yang, includes bubbles and chips!

Grab these for your Christmas or New Years celebrations and enjoy. Cheers.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fab Finds; Bread Pudding, Butterflies and Bennett's

If you are visiting or have friends visiting the Southwest Florida area for the holidays, I have a few new Fab Finds to help you both entertain and feed the family.

Reuben's Catering is now open to the public, only it's called Reuben's Smokehouse! Look for it on US41 in Fort Myers in the former Miami Connection location. Reuben serves up amazing comfort food like cheesy mac-n-cheese, green beans, coleslaw, homemade rolls and LOTS of flavorful meat, smoked everyday! SO good!

Chef Reuben has even bottled his own hot sauce. The beer and wine license just came in so the stash is in the process of getting stocked!

One thing you DONT want to skip is dessert and  the carmel, chocolate chip bread pudding. It's good enough to make you wanna fight over so, get your own!

The Shell Factory Nature Park in North Fort Myers opened it's new Butterfly Garden this week. It was fun tasting Lobetia wines, that appropriately enough have a butterfly on the label,  while watching awkward kids try not to squish or step on the beautiful creatures during the butterfly release.

The Nature Park is a family friendly, local find with, some amazing animals like alligators, owls, big cats, birds and lots more. Oh, and you don't have to go the middle east to ride a camel, they have one of those too!

I also checked out progress on the new Bennett's Fresh Roast on Sanibel Island. The downtown Fort Myers coffee shop has gained international attention for outstanding, made from scratch donuts and fresh roasted coffee. It's also the place to see and be seen.

Bennett's much anticipated opening on Sanibel will happen within weeks. I've seen the space and it looks great! Lots of light and lots of seating including outdoors. There is even a parking spot where you can plug in your Prius!

Lobster Lady Seafood in Cape Coral has a new chef and work is currently underway on some new menu items. I sampled this tasty tuna appetizer this week and it was fantastic. The garlic sesame peanut noodles were a delight.

I can't wait to see what new creations come out of the kitchen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wine Wednesday; Lobetia

I went to Spain for Wine Wednesday and didn't even have to buy a plane ticket. Although that would've been kind of nice.

I actually went to the grand opening of the new Butterfly Gardens at the Shell Factory Nature Park and was introduced to a "butterfly wine"; well kinda. It has a butterfly on the label.

Lobetia is a Spanish wine made from organic and biodynamic farming practices. We sampled two as we participated in the release of dozens of beautiful butterflies.

Tempranillo is Spain's signature red grape. This one was nice and light on a warm afternoon; with flavors of plums, cherry and mocha

The Chardonnay was unoaked, bright and fresh with flavors of tropical fruits and pineapples.  Both wines are in the $10 range and perfectly suited for the festivities of the day.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wine Wednesday; Tasting Violets

It's a special Wine Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve. As I sat in my living room drinking a glass of Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir (research for my next wine column for TOTI Media) My parents were thumbing through current TOTI editions, getting caught up on my stories.

My Dad, peering over the top of his glasses, looked at my mom and said, "I want you to listen to what your daughter wrote." For a split second I went into little girl mode….oh no what did I do?  Think fast; did I say something obscene, risqué ? It was published, can't be THAT bad, not like a blog or a Facebook post.

He read aloud what I wrote about the 2010 Unus from my wine tasting at Mendel in Mendoz, Argentina, "It has a toasty, creamy nose and flavors of violets." He pauses and adds, "Apparently your daughter has been grazing in a field of violets."

I suppose it does sound strange. No, I haven't been eating violets, smelling them yes. I tasted their smell, but that takes up too many words and valuable space to explain in print. Wine critiques and descriptions often sound strange and define things you might not normally want to taste, like leather and dirt. But in the big picture it works.

My story on travel to Mendoza is in the Times Of The Islands edition currently on the stands (Nov/Dec 2013, pages 34-39).

Dad finished up with, "I'm very impressed with your writing and ability to graze on flowering plants." Reading the article again, I had a deep yearning to return to Argentina. So I pulled up some photos, opened a bottle of BenMarco from winemaker Susana Balbo and Dominio del Plato, toasted an amazing trip and being with my wonderful family on Thanksgiving. Cheers!