Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bubbly By Moonlight

Did you see the lunar eclipse this week? Spectacular! Since an event like this hasn't happened in nearly 500 years it was cause for celebration in my neighborhood and around the world. What does one drink at 2am, outside under the stars, watching an historic full moon lunar eclipse? Bubbles of course!!!

Snuggled under blankets next to my favorite neighbors, I popped the cork of a French Veuve du Vernay and watched Mother Nature put on a spectacular show. The bubbly was light with lots of pear. Other than watching an eclipse in the middle of the night it would be perfect poolside, for a girl's weekend or mimosa's. Consider it for your New Year's Party.  It's not gonna knock you over with complexity but it's a fantastic value at around $10 a bottle!!

I'll never forget drinking it under the stars, making wishes on the shooting ones and watching the moon turn red with my dear friends! That's what bubbly is all about!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Southwest Florida Loses A Gem

Sad week for wine lovers in Southwest Florida, Austin’s Wine Cellar is closing after 24 years in business at the same location. Frank Pulice has owned the store for the past 7 years and made the difficult decision to shut the doors due mostly to increasing competition from corporate stores and the Internet.

I hate to see any small business close but especially one with a purveyor that has expertise like Frank. He has an impeccable pallet and superb knowledge of wine. Sometimes I would walk in and say "give me something I've never had before" and he somehow knew exactly what I wanted even though I had no idea. I loved watching the wheels turn in his head when I would come to him with a menu or dish and ask for help finding a great bottle (or two) that would go with crazy combinations of flavors!” He never failed me!

Over the years Frank has exposed me to red wines from Israel, sparkling wine from Tanzania, little known grapes from Italy, small production wines in the US and everything in between. I’ve met wine-makers, wine-distributors, wine-lovers and made lots of friends around the wine racks in his cozy shop!

Thank you Frank for educating me, for entertaining me and for being a friend to me! I’ll raise a glass to your new endeavors and look forward to uncorking more treasures with you, just in a different venue! Cheers!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hotspot for 2011???

Iblinked my eyes for a moment last night and thought I was in Manhattan. People were standing outside of La Trattoria Café Napoli in their jackets and scarves, smoking. Inside it was a dark and cozy with all 10 tables filled. On the other side of a new dividing wall: fresh paint, trendy lighting and a live Cuban band

The long awaited expansion of Café Napoli opened last night for a private party. Yes, I crashed it! By the end of the night my belly was filled with phenomenal food and tasty wine. My soul was filled with the fellowship of good friends, great music and even a little dancing on a Monday night!

The tiny restaurant is tucked in the barely visible Villas Plaza on US41 in Fort Myers just south of Crystal Dr. It used to be owned by a lovely Italian couple that made you feel like you were eating in their home. Now it’s owned by a feisty Cuban woman, Gloria Jordan, who still makes you feel like you are in her home. The menu is a fabulous fusion of Italian, Cuban and Spanish food.

Gloria has taken over the space next door to double her capacity. Don’t worry, the charm of the restaurant has not been comprised. The new space is a Tapas Bar separated by a low dividing wall. It’s like old world meets new world.

Right now the Tapas Bar is only open for special events. It will be ready for the public after the holidays and I predict it will be a HOT spot in 2011! Keep the live music Gloria!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Best Idea Ever!!!

Here's a question. Would you spend $25 to taste over 80 wines and sample gourmet appetizers? No brainer right?? Cru at The Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers had one of the most productive and fun wine events I've been to in a long time. Productive because they sampled EVERY bottle on their wine list with the distributors on hand to give invaluable information about the wine, vitner, etc.

Sometimes a girl just feels bubbly and wants a glass of it. There is nothing worse than cheap, by the glass champagne. Cru now has a Graham Beck Brut Rose by the glass that is very nice. Here's a surprise, it's from South Africa!

Some of the best bargains by the bottle were: NXNW Cabernet Sauvignon ($38), Belle Glos Pinot Noir ($38) and the Puro Uno Quattro Limitado ($65). The Forman Cab is on the list for $135 and now I know why! It is amazing!

What a great tool for any restaurant! Invite your patrons, open your bottles and let the tasting do the selling for you. I found great bargains by the bottle that I may never have even given a second look at until last night.

I wish it would be SOP for all fine dining establishments to have an event like this. Educate your clientele and your staff at the same time, talk about a win/win!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Sassy At Sasses

Italian wine can be tricky. There are over a thousand varietals so it's not uncommon to come across something you may never have heard of before, like the Aglianico. It's an ancient grape from southern Italy that doesn't get much attention.

I gave it lots of attention during a fabulous dinner at Sasse's in Fort Myers. Its color was rich, the nose complex and it tasted plumy, juicy with tannins that developed nicely throughout the evening. What a great pairing with the Veal Scallopini (topped with sun dried tomatoes and fresh sage).

When I first moved to Fort Myers we nicknamed Sasse's the "Pasta Nazi" after the famous Soup Nazi from the TV show Seinfeld. The original owner would close when he wanted, served who he wanted and didn't give a damn what you thought about any of it! The stories are too numerous and infamous to even begin to mention.

Times have changed and gracious owners Jerry and Barbara Snyderman sip wine while wandering from table to table as if hosting a dinner party in their private home. The food is full of flavor, the portions are more than generous, the wine list is adventurous and affordable making it one of the best culinary finds in town!

The restaurant isn't much to look at from the outside. It's in a strip mall off the beaten path on Evans Avenue. You will probably drive by it the first time. My favorite part of the interior is the barrel room. It used to house a wine-making operation and now serves as a private dinning area perfect for parties and special events. Leave your credit cards at home, cash is king at Sasse's and you'll feel like one when you leave!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Expectations Too High???

A work event took me to Punta Gorda last Friday night so I decided to explore the downtown area while I was there. My co-worker and I stumbled upon a small parade and bringing up the rear was Santa in a convertible. “Cool”, I thought, “I get to see the city’s tree lighting!” Perfect timing!

The downtown area was so quaint and the streets were crowded with young, old, white-collar and blue-collar types. It was a little chilly for Southwest Florida so we thought a nice dirty martini would warm us up.

Jack’s Restaurant looked impressive on the corner of West Marion and Taylor and I was familiar with the Caribbean duo entertaining customers on the patio so we weaved our way inside to a bistro table in the bar.

I know it was a busy Friday night, however: we waited so long for the server to come back with menu’s that I finally got up to get them; we could see our glasses sitting at the end of the bar as server after server picked up their orders (perhaps it seemed so long because we were thirsty?) my dirty martini came with no olives; my co-workers Corona did not have a lime (I thought these were standard accoutrements); our server was buzzing around so many different places we had to wave her down to place an order.

We had the Tuna Poke and a delicious goat cheese appetizer with warm macadamia nuts and Apricot Coulis. The food was great, we may’ve stayed longer and ordered more but thought it would take all night. I checked reviews online and all were consistently good about the food with just a few digs at the service. I talked to some locals later who said Jack’s was not necessarily known for service but for a decent food and a good time. OK, I’m always up for a good time! I guess I was expecting all of the above.

I’m not trashing the place! I would go back! I bring this up because of the conversation on the drive home. What are reasonable expectations for good service? How long is acceptable for a customer to wait for a menu if they seat themselves in the bar? If a server knows they are over their head should they ask someone else to take a table (our server admitted she was also taking care of some regulars who asked for her). Is it reasonable to expect a dirty martini to have olives and a Corona to have a lime?

OK, discuss……