Wednesday, May 20, 2015

More Than Meat At Ted's

Ted's new Farmhouse Salad
With Memorial Day weekend just days away, and the beginning of the summer season, many restaurants are shifting their menu's to reflect seasonal items and dishes that are suited for warmer weather.

I recently got to try a sampling of the new summer menu at Ted's Montana Grill at Coconut Point Mall in Estero. A little bit of trivia, this was the very first restaurant to open with the mall and nearly nine years later, it is still thriving.

The new salads with kale should be keepers! The Farmhouse was my favorite, kale and romaine, with chicken, cucumber, tomato, Gruyere, bacon, roasted corn and pecans tossed in a fresh lemon vinaigrette that had a nice kick. The dressings are made in house each day and they are delightful.
Ted's new Smoked Trout Dip
The new smoked trout dip for an appetizer is perfect for sharing. With a touch of paprika, this is not a dip where the smoke overpowers the fish, it has a nice balance.

As for drinks, all of them are made with fresh squeezed fruit juices, not bottled. What IS bottled is Ted's own label of wine. Bison Ridge comes in a chardonnay that is citrusy and fresh, with a sightly creamy finish. The merlot smells like chocolate and plum and tastes of cherry and herbs. And the cabernet sauvignon is full of cherry and red fruit, very pleasant with the bison burgers.

Bison Ridge wine is exclusive to Ted's
Bison is the big draw here but if you aren't interested in it, all burgers also come with the more traditional Angus Beef. Another plus for alternative burger connoisseurs, Ted's veggie burger is moist, flavorful and delicious, no hockey pucks here.

Of course there are lots of lighter items for the summer that involve fish and chicken, all made fresh everyday, nothing here is frozen. The atmosphere is always welcoming and chef Juan Rangel has a great story. Check out more on the Ted's Montana Grill location at Coconut Point in my latest 10Best article: Click here.

Don't forget dessert: strawberry shortcake on homemade biscuts 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hangin' With The Vanderbilts.

I'm at the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC to celebrate the legendary property's 30th anniversary. And what better way than to hang out on the farm with a "real" Vanderbilt.

Chase Pickering is a fifth generation Vanderbilt (George's great great grandson) and recently returned to the estate as a marketing manager. Such a lovely person to spend the morning with.

As we took a behind the scenes tour of the land and learned its farming history, he regaled us with tales of growing up on the grounds of "America's most beautiful mansion." We heard lots of great stories, like how he and his friends would jump on the feed bales until the split open, how fun it was to watch the filming of the many famous movies shot here, traveling the world on projects to protect the environment and animals, working at Walt Disney World, pointing out his favorite trees including the one he proposed to his wife under, and most importantly how excited he was to be home and promote the beloved family estate.

He was truly excited to share with us his love of the field to farm green house and hydroponics, growing canola for fuel, the excellent care given to the animals here, the land conservation and all of the attention to details most people don't get to see on a simple tour of the estate.

What an amazing place full of amazing people. More to come......

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Virgin Flight.....

I was commiserating with some friends recently about how flying just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

During a flight I took this week, I was particularly observant of fellow flyers, like the lady in security who put her bags on the belt then stood in front of a metal detector that was roped off. No matter how long she stood there, no one was going to open it up and let her through, but there she stood. Maybe she was hung-over?

Then the passengers in front of me (and behind), who loaded up the belt with goods to be scanned but never pushed them through, just walked away to the metal detector. Why sure, I’ll do that for you. Maybe you are hung-over too?

Then there was the wading through a throng of people who decided to wait for boarding in the busy concourse walkway, leaving barely enough room for the rest of us to pass (including the flight attendant who has carrying FOUR bags). I doubt they are ALL hung-over, just unaware perhaps.

And so was the girl waiting right by the boarding door (pictured by wardrobe only below), even though she was in zone FIVE.....the last one. 

Despite the weirdness, things were looking good during boarding. The six wheelchairs loaded with ease, there was plenty of overhead space and clean, polite passengers were seated next to me. Then I heard it …yip yip yip. The dog on this flight far outweighed the annoyance of a crying child; constant, yipping and yowling. I’m sure all of my friends reading this who fly with little dogs, have well behaved pets, or ones that are slightly drugged for relaxation.

It was so bad that the little boy behind me said rather loudly, “That dog is annoying.” He caught my ear. Usually I have ear buds in by this time but I left them behind and had been lamenting the oversight until this moment.

It was the boy’s first flight and I got a play by play, along with the rest of the plane, as his exuberant voice carried. When the flaps on the wings first moved he yelled WOAH! Then, “MOM WE’RE MOVING.” He also let us know we were turning, moving a little too slowly, and passing other planes, among other things.

While I was amused, the joy for me came in hearing his laughter, squeal and shout as we gained speed and took off. It was the best take off I’ve had in a long time, smiling laughing with every loud exclamation I heard from him.

And it continued through the flight with him questioning the “dings” heard over the intercom, asking his mom if we were going into space, if we had enough fuel, swearing he could see his house from the air and gasping when his view was suddenly erased by a bank of clouds.

Suddenly I didn’t hear the grating cries of that dog anymore, or the lady in front complaining because she would really like someone to take her middle seat so she could have an aisle (good luck sister). I actually enjoyed flying again because I saw the wonderment of it through the virgin flight of a little boy.

Thank you lil man.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

An Artful Weekend

Artists tents surround the warm shores of Lake Morton
For more than 35 years, Lake Morton (Lakeland, FL) has been overtaken on Mother's Day Weekend by artists and art enthusiasts from all over the country for the MIDFLORIDA Mayfair by the Lake.

This is widely considered the last major art show of the season in Florida. Many artists are quick to announce, they are ready to get home and often times, this translates into deals for buyers....  don't want to load up that big metal sculpture of a ballerina? I'll take if off of your hands.

Not only is the last of the season, this art show has become one of the most respected on the circuit. More than 150 artists from across the nation are here with everything from painting, mixed media art, jewelry, metal work, pottery and so much more.

Black swans, white swans, ducks, egrets and all kinds of birds also attend the show
Set on the shores of the lovely Lake Morton (downtown), spectators also get a show by Mother Nature. This area is known for its swan population and is a hot spot for migratory birds.

The art stretches around more than 3/4 of the lake, however, the center of activity is at the Polk Museum of Art, where shady oak trees keep festival goers cool while watching musicians, dancers and other entertainment on the outdoor stage.

Fun for the entire family and good for finding that perfect gift for mom this year.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

An Evening With Elizabeth.....

It all started at my Christmas tree trimming party when I pulled out a 2009 Elizabeth Spencer Rose. I had been saving it to share with some friends who visited the winery in Napa with me a number of years ago. Since several of us were together that night I thought it the perfect time.

However, it wasn't chilled and we had long since moved past the rose' stage of the night. Instead, we planned for an Elizabeth Spencer tasting after the holidays, with the goal of gathering as many vintages as possible--a grand tasting of sorts.

We began the evening with some bubbly and then dived in to my bottle, the oldest and proof that most roses are meant to drink, not age. As soon as we opened it, I could tell it was past its prime as it smelled like a fortified wine, sweet, nutty but not the kind you really want.

Disappointment that I let that one sit too long, then excitement we had several more bottles to go.

Next up was a 2011 pinot noir rose that was quite pleasant, with good fruit and acidity, however, it lacked the freshness we were expecting. Good thing we saved it from the perils of sitting in the cellar much longer.

The idea was to keep the tasting as close to a vertical possible but since the 2012 was a grenache rose, instead of a pinot noir, we skipped over it briefly. When it finally made the round it was full of raspberry and reminded me of a Necco Wafer Candy.

The 2013 pinot rose was the vintage that really hit the spot with bright acidity and red fruit like strawberry.

Moving right along in the Elizabeth Spencer portfolio, a 2012 Chardonnay was pulled from the ice bucket. While it smelled a touch oaky, it was crisp and tropical, with flavors of pineapple; a favorite for sure.

Up next came the reds and a 2007 Zinfandel. For a zin it was quite mellow; another one that was on its way out. The fruit was still intact but we were gentle with it in the glass, afraid it would disappear with any spirited swirling.

The 2010 Mendocino Cabernet was a beautiful color and a lovely way to end. The wine was a bit chalky, again a bit of that Necco Wafer Candy, with juicy raspberries.

If you are like many of us at this tasting, and have set aside some wine for a special occasion or to share with a special group, do some spring cleaning in your cellar. You might be surprised at what has been tucked away, forgotten about and is now in need of being uncorked. Nothing is worse than having to dump a precious bottle that was soooooo delicious and had so much promise when you bought it--because you let it rest for too long. Cheers. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What's New At Cru

Chef/Owners Bob Boye and Harold Balink
Cru, one of the most popular restaurants at The Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, recently passed it's 10-year anniversary and has celebrated with a bit of a facelift; a fresh coat of paint and other changes in the decor.

But one thing that hasn't changed is its superb food and service, along with its inviting atmosphere.

Click here for the complete story in my latest 10Best feature.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ready, Set.....Hurry and Open!!!

It's the best recipe for a new restaurant.....BUZZ. That is exactly what is happening at the soon to open Melograno Italian Gourmet Bakery and Bistro at Tarpon Point in Cape Coral. Tarpon Point houses the Westin, beautiful waterfront high-rises, a marina and shops, however, it is in need of another quality dining option.

Locals have been lighting up the phones for reservations and information. But anyone who has ever opened a business knows the harsh reality of dealing with last minute permitting, inspections, etc. That being said, all is in place and the doors should be opening any day now.
Some of the beautiful tiles you'll see at Melograno
The photos you see were taken a couple of weeks ago, plastic protecting the beautiful furniture and accessories from all of the last minute prep work. Much of the interior was brought in from the 'mother land,' including lovely tiles and the Cadillac of coffee machines.
A premiere Italian coffee machine for delicious cafe!
It's the first US location for the well established, family restaurant in Pomponesco, Italy.

Melograno is committed to serving local, fresh and healthful food. You may find it an odd combo, a bakery with a juice bar, but that is one of the many great things going on here. And speaking of the bakery, gluten free diners will be ecstatic at the offerings.
This case is soon to be filled with mouthwatering treats
Besides the bakery, fresh juices and bold coffee, there is a bistro section where you can dine on authentic Italian cuisine, with a gluten free pasta option.

I've seen the menu, met the chef (from the mother land as well) and when I actually get to taste his creations that sound so good, I'll be sure to pass on a full review. In the meantime, they are set and we are ready for Melograno to open.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crazy for Coconuts

I've tried more than my fair share of flavored vodkas over the years and a few flavored rums. Most of the experiences ended with me tossing the liquid in a nearby plant and ordering something different.

So when I heard about flavored tequila I was not exactly excited. But in the name of research (for real, I was working on a 'spirits' story) I decided to give the 1800 brand a go.

The first bottle that was sent to me somehow ended up on the wrong doorstep and the neighbor who received it must've opened up the box without checking the label. Surely if they had seen my name they would've been certain the tantalizing spirit made it to its rightful owner.....surely.

In the meantime, I waited patiently for a replacement bottle while doing my best not to blowup the shipping company's costumer service line. Alas, it arrived, just in time for Easter.

Distilled three times, made with 100% Blue Agave Tequila, it is infused with just the right amount of coconut, not so much that I feel as if I'm licking a bottle of suntan lotion. Best of all, I taste the beautiful tequila that I often forsake for vodka. Thanks for not giving up on me..... luuuuvaaa (that's 'lover' in Carrie Bradshaw speak.)

As I was sipping, I thought how lovely this would have been with the fresh water I was able to slurp directly out of a real coconut the week prior while in the Bahamas. When my housemates and I were done with the juice, we broke the giant nuts open for their gel and meat. A splash of 1800 Coconut Tequila and a slice of pineapple would've been lovely.

Digging into a fresh coconut in the Bahamas

OH! And then there was the coconut French toast! tequila with a splash of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Now we're talking. I tried it with OJ, but not quite feeling the combo. Either way, next trip to the islands I'll have to stash a bottle in my beach bag.

Coconut French Toast at Old Bahama Bay, Freeport

After doing some experimenting, I prefer this tequila on the rocks. I also like it the traditional way, with a little lime and salt.

I'm Not sure why coconut seems appropriate for Easter, maybe its the delicate sprinkles on desserts that seem like spring. Why not serve this spirit as change, with dessert. Or leave a shot for the Easter Bunny.

Now if someone can help me work the shot top without spilling.....

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Best Italian Dining in the Fort Myers Area

It's so funny.....when I first updated this list over a year ago for 10Best, a travel and tourism division of USA TODAY, I excitedly told a restaurant owner the next time I went in, that he made the top 10. He sneered "ya, but #7!"

He obviously thought he should've been higher. I said YES #7! Out of the hundreds of Italian joints in our area YOU were in the top. Still not good enough for him. And after looking at the list a second time, he was right.....I moved him to #5. HA!

But this is new list (click to read). Yes, some of the longtime local favorites are still on there but there are some new contenders in town. MANGA!

Linguini and clams, restaurant bumped from the list ;-(

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Food Festival For Fort Myers

There is so much to do in Southwest Florida this time of year with Spring Training, Spring Break, art shows, and all kinds of outdoor activities. But what about the foodies who have to wait twice as long to get into a restaurant right now?

Finally a festival just for you (and me), the first ever Spring Training and Food Truck Craft Beer Festival, Saturday (3/21/15).

Some twenty food trucks are gathering at JetBlue Park, the Fort Myers home of the Boston Red Sox, to tickle our tastebuds with the likes of BBQ, Latin cuisine, seafood, ice cream and more.

The Sizzle Truck
The Sizzle Truck got it's start at the Shoppes at Vanderbilt Farmers Market in Naples, hoping for their jalapeƱo slaw on Saturday. You'll also get to taste from trucks like the Traveling Tomato, the Ravenous Rhino, Piled Hi, What the French, Crazydilla, Croz's Surf Shack and more.

Croz's Surf Shack creations
While you may've seen some of these trucks at various events in the area, they've never been together in one big spot like this, until now.

For several years, Food Truck Festivals of America has organized these fun food events, mostly in the New England area. So it makes sense to follow their world famous baseball team to Fort Myers for a party.

If you want to avoid the crowds and long lines, buy a VIP ticket for $20. It grants access an hour early and beer is included. Everyone else gets in at Noon for a $5 ticket.  See you Saturday!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Saki and Sushi

Photo Credit: Gina Birch
A beautiful and delicious plate of fresh sushi at Tokyo Bay
in Bonita Springs
I'm a fan of sushi and in Southwest Florida there seems to be a competition among Asian inspired restaurants as to which can come up with the most inventive rolls.

A dear friend who now lives in NYC says she can't wait to come back every year to see what new creations she can find, as all she gets on a regular basis is the basic sashimi--and at much higher prices.

Check out the best places to find sushi and saki in Southwest Florida here, in one of my 10Best lists!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Planning Your Wine Vacation

Some of my favorite trips have been centered around food and wine.

I quite often find that people ask me for advice on where to go and how to make it happen.

Those are just a few of the reasons I was so happy that 10Best and USA TODAY TRAVEL asked me to write about "vinotourism" and  planning a wine tasting trip.

Check it out here!

Stop thinking about it and go ahead and book yours. You will be so glad you did. CHEERS!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fab Finds: Foodies in Mind

Eggs Diablo with wasabi, crab and shrimp
The strengthening economy has so many great benefits, one being the opening of new restaurants in Southwest Florida. One rule of thumb I have with new places is a "free pass" at the beginning, while working out the kinks.

I have so many place to talk about but lets keep it simple here and start with two that I've been to several times and have had nothing but good experiences.

Cork Soakers in Cape Coral is on the ever evolving strip of 47th Terrace and it is managed by two well known restauranteurs in the area; Jeff Gately and Ralph Centalonza (two of the former owners of The Joint at Cape Harbour.)

The menu is highlighted by low end comfort foods with a high end twist. Take for example the signature deviled eggs with wasabi. Every day they include a little something different, from bacon to a crab salad topping and smelt roe. They are addicting to say the least.

The cheddar and bacon biscuits are another signature item then there are cheeky things like a fried bologna sandwich or a classic grilled cheese with tomato soup.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

I had a spectacular pork belly risotto, creamy and delicious and the tacos of the day are always a treat. Most of the dining here is alfresco, with an atmosphere that is casual and inviting.

Taco of the day: pulled pork

For those who love a hearty Italian meal, check out the new Osteria Celli in Fort Myers. Located in an obscure corner of a Publix Shopping Center on the corner of Summerlin and Winkler. This is where you'll find Chef Marco Corricelli.

grilled octopus
After working at a few notable Southwest Florida restaurants, the chef from Milano, Italy finally has his own spot.

He makes his pasta from scratch and it is cooked beautifully.  I've had it with lamb and in the heartwarming, Italian favorite; pasta fagioli.

Perhaps one of the nicest surprises to me is what chef does with octopus. On the right, you will see it grilled, over kale and garbanzo beans. The meat is tender, with a perfect char and made me feel like I was eating healtfully. The calamari is NOT breads and comes over julienned vegetables, again, cooked with great care.

The bruschetta came loaded with fresh tomatoes and basil, the bread had a nice crunch on the crust and soft in the middle. The brussels sprouts are the bomb; simply grilled with salt, pepper and speck.

Brussel sprouts with speck

For dessert, try the Tiramisu served in a large bar glass.... it is just the right ending.

Both of these restaurants can get a bit loud, something Chef Marco says he will work on....after season.

Enjoy these new additions to the culinary scene in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

There's more to come! Cheers!

Cork Soakers Deck & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 21, 2015

SOBE Food and Wine Festival Almost Over


One more day left for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. The event on one of the world's most famous beaches is a MUST for lovers of food, wine, spirits and a good time!

Let the games begin, the SOBEWFF Grand Entrance
Amstel Light Girls keeping us hydrated
Yes, Hard Rock set up a lounge on the the beach
FreshDiet; great concept and great food
Having coffee with Giorgio from Illy

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine Weekend Wine

With the opening of Fifty Shades of Grey movie on Valentines weekend, it set the stage for all kinds  of celebrations, parties and get togethers that will no doubt continue for weeks to come.

I can't think of a more perfect wine combo for upcoming viewing parties than these two: Fifty Shades of Grey and Casillero del Diablo Devil's Collection.

Both wines come in at under $20 so they won't break the bank for your parties.

Casillero del Diablo, means the Cellar of the Devil.....naughty. It is an award winning blend of carmenere, cabernet sauvignon and syrah from Chile, (from the well established Concha y Toro brand) with flavors of plum, cherry and chocolate, easy drinking on its own or with salty appetizers (insert joke here.)

Fifty Shades is obviously targeted to fans of the book and the movie, an obvious choice for pre or post movie parties. A blend of petite sirah and syrah, its both fruity and spicy, good for pizza and burgers for certain.

Enjoy the party. Cheers!