Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Sparklers

Love these great holiday cocktail ideas with using Mionetto Prosecco. Yes, this is the company that actually uses crown caps on one of it's bottles of bubbles. Enore Ceola, Managing Director for Mionetto USA explains the controversial move and gives some fun, festive ways to enhance your bubbly here:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pinot In The Park

While the weather this time of year can be uncertain and even uncomfortable in many areas of the county, it is the season those of us in South Florida have longed for; lower humidity and cool breezes capped with warm sunshine.

Seizing an opportunity to sit outside without breaking a sweat, I took some time to enjoy the fresh air with a silky bottle of Pinot Noir; 2010 Robert Mondavi Reserve, Carneros ($60). 

The grapes were handpicked from 40-year-old vines; low yields, high quality. They were then nurtured during the fermentation process to get delicate, yet full flavors; a nice balance. I loved the layers of dark fruit, spice and tannins. This wine reminds me of why I like Pinot Noir so much.

Each sip got better and better, especially with picnic goodies like brie and pate. It was the perfect wine to linger over, stretched out on the cool grass; peacefully watching people who were also enjoying their day along the bay.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

50 Shades of "Gris"

50 Shades of Grey; even if you haven't read the book, in all probability you've at least heard of it.

"50 Shades of Gris" is a clever play on words for an enticing, pre-Halloween party at Blu Sushi in Fort Myers (FL).

Betting on the willingness to dress up and possibly dress up naughty, the restaurant is teaming up with Van Duzer Vineyards to give away a stay in the winery's fabulous guest house, to whoever wears the best "shade of grey" in the costume contest.

Guests will enjoy $5 glasses of Gris, Pinot Gris from Van Duzer, among other specials. When I was in Oregon a couple of months ago I drank my body weight in both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, and Van Duzer was among my favorite. The winery sits far off of 99 West in Dallas, up on a hill. It is beautiful and the staff, so much fun!

Beside the Pinot Gris, the Rose is phenomenal and the single block Pinot Noirs are a must, especially the Flagpole ($50). It's smoky, full of cherry and dark fruit. A visit to Van Duzer is not to be missed if you find yourself wondering through the valley.

And the 50 Shades of Pinot Gris party is not an event to be missed either. The hype is hot. More party info here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rum and Redheads

What does "rum" mean to you? That was one of the in depth questions I asked contestants in the Miss Panama Red contest at Hemingways Island Grille over the weekend.

Panama Red is an overproof rum made by the owners of the Bonita Springs (FL) restaurant. Overproof  rums are typically higher in alcohol and not often consumed solo. However, Panama Red is different,  this overproof is made for sipping.

One of the highlights of the contest at Hemingways was not only being able to sip Panama Red, but more than a dozen delicious, aged rums. Miss Panama Red will represent the rum company as makers move into their second year of sales and distribution. Rum is not just for fruity beach drinks, some of it has great legs and can easily stand on it's own.

Congratulations Christina, enjoy your rum reign!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Smoky Wieners

I've participated in a lot of interesting food and wine events. I've been asked to judge everything from Chili to Mango recipes and lots in between. Yesterday, I added hot dogs to that distinguished list. The Fort Myers Miracle held it's first hot dog taste test and I was there, under the picnic pavilion with a lovely breeze and a few bees. The Miracle is a minor league baseball team in Southwest Florida, affiliated with the Minnesota Twins.

Joining me were other media representatives, Fort Myers Miracle Fans and even some long time employees. We were looking for the best dogs to sell at the park when the season kicks into full gear once again.

I was hoping we would get to sample beer with the franks but only water, lemonade and iced tea were provided; we had to keep our tasting wits about us after all.

This was a bun free affair; except for the ones we were sitting on. Limited condiments were provided. We were instructed to taste the meat on it's own merits; onions and relish can cover almost anything up.

Over the course of an hour, ten trays of freshly cooked hot dogs were brought out. They were cut into small bites and since I was taking the task seriously I took two; one to eat hot, the other to keep for a second try in case I needed to revisit.

Some of the dogs were salty and smoky, others moist and mushy. Some had a nice bronze color, others were pale and sickly looking. The wiener that was a winner to me had a good balance of seasoning, moisture, a mild after taste and a good "snap" to the casing. Unfortunately the votes were not tallied before we left so we don't know what brand took home the blue ribbon, but as soon as I find out, I will pass it on.

After yesterday's event, I don't think I'll ever look at a frank in the same fashion again. And I'm quite sure I wont eat another one until well into 2013. Here's to a successful year for The Miracle, not only on the field but in concessions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pumkin Pusher

I have friends who encourage me, love me, hug me and feed me....Bob Grissinger, owner of Bennett's Fresh Roast, does all of those things, then insults me; to keep me grounded. I expect it and in a strange way even look forward to it. After all, I put up with it for 15 years as his morning show partner on 969-9 WINK FM. But that's another story.

I shared that background so you will appreciate the torture I was put through today during my almost daily visit to his AMAZING coffee shop in Fort Myers, FL. I was quite proud of my early morning run, getting back into a good routine of health and fitness.

He rolled his eyes, nodded to an employee and within seconds his new Pumpkin Spice Donut was in my face, taunting me. I stared it down, but eventually gave in to it's evil temptation. The reward, a mouthful of creamy, delicious pumpkin custard. The seasonal treat is topped with vanilla icing, then a sprinkling of nutmeg.

It's only around for a limited time so be sure to stop in and give it a try. Pair it with a hot, rich cup of his freshly roasted Columbian Coffee and you will be set. Heavenly.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bottles and Boobies

We all know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink is everywhere, even on the football fields, as the push is made to raise funds for research and resources to help those fighting the disease.

ONEHOPE Winery donates to the National Breast Cancer Foundation year-round; half of all profits from the sale of its Chardonnay. This month, the winery has a goal of raising $100,000. In addition, for every eight cases of wine sold, one mammogram will be donated as part of the "1 in 8" campaign. The slogan represents the stats that 1 in 8 have a chance of developing breast cancer.

Many of you buy products simply based on the cause, not the quality. I'll vouch for both in this case. The wine by Rob Mondavi, Jr, is worth the $18.99 price tag, if you like a Chardonnay that has less oak and more acidity. It is blended with a little Chenin Blanc and Muscat to round out the flavors; citrus and honey, good for Southwest Florida cuisine and sipping. The wine is distributed in Florida through Southern Wine and Spirits.

ONEHOPE Wine not only donates to breast cancer but also autism, aids and the troops to name a few. To see all of the wines, the exact amount donated and to purchase, click here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Prettyman is Pretty Cool

After taking nearly four years off from her music, Tristan Prettyman has a new CD. She called the show and talked to me about it today.  Her on again off again love affair and broken engagement with singer Jason Mraz provided lots of inspiration for her song writing. She talks about it a little here and about being resilient, whatever challenges you are facing in life.

Tristan Prettyman Talks To Gina

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reading and Drinking

The state of Oregon has lots of personalities and I wanted to experience as many as possible during my recent trip to wine country. An excursion to the coast was a must. My travel companion and I decided to let the winds guide us to a winery stop along the way. Driving through a small town by the name of Amity, a sign reading "Coelho Winery" immediately caught my attention. Could it be that one of my favorite writers, Paulo Coelho, has a winery in Oregon?

It wasn't the first time the people at the winery had been asked that question. Both are Portuguese but apparently there are no other ties. Coelho was one of my favorite finds in OR. It didn't hurt that we were the only ones in the tasting room on that Sunday morning; we got lots of attention and the wine was superb.

One of the most interesting was the Pureza Pinot Noir Blanc ($30). It smelled like roses and tasted like peach and citrus. The 2010 Paciencia Estate Pinot Noir ($45) was silky and spicy with that typical mushroomy, earthy nose of a Pinot. Another favorite for me was the Antecipacao Petite Sirah ($40). The color was rich and I was anticipating it to knock me over. It was bursting with flavors of dark berries and do I dare say, bacon? YUM. Needs a little more time in the bottle, so I bought some to store.

I love Coelho's book, "The Alchemist", about dreams and following your own "Personal Legend". I've been looking for a new, good book to sink my teeth into. But while writing this blog, I decided to pull my old friend off of the shelf. Lets see what new nuggets of inspiration I'll discover. Sweat pants (check), glass of wine (check), "The Alchemist" in hand (check). Part One: "The boy's name was Santiago....."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Spumante Surprise

At a wine tasting this week I saw the top of what appeared to be sparkling rose, and I couldn't wait to try it. That is until the wine rep pulled it out of the ice and I saw the word "Spumante". When I hear or see the word "Spumante", I automatically make a face inside of my head. My first thought is "this is going to be really sweet." I prefer my Prosecco or any bubbles for that matter, to be dry.

Looking at the other wines on the table, I knew there was quality at hand so I decided to let go of my pre-judgement and give it a go. I could always dump if it was a dud. I'm so glad I didn't have to. This Zardetto Spumante Rose from Veneto, Italy, was not only a beautiful raspberry color, but had a fresh raspberry flavor with a little spice. It's easy to drink and easy on the wallet; in the $15 range.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

She's So Mean: But He's Not

Matchbox Twenty's new single "She's So Mean" may bring back bad memories of bad girlfriends (or boyfriends) but lead singer Rob Thomas says that was not the band's original intention. I talked to him yesterday, the release day of the new album "North". Smart guy, nice guy, a pleasure to interview.

Click here or listen below:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Port and Pate

Chocolate Pate that is.....

I often forget about ordering port with dessert. Seems I'm usually content to keep sipping whatever big red I typically have left in my glass. Or I go for a rich cup of espresso; keeps me going a little longer.

Bistro 41 (Fort Myers, FL) hosted a Women's Wine Dinner last night; serving a decadent Chocolate Pate, with fresh whipped cream and raspberry puree for the last course. Served with a  mild, young Nieport Tawny Port from Portugal, it was HEAVEN!

Chef Heath Higginbotham made a lot of women happy with that silky smooth pate; lite yet full of rich chocolate. The port was full of raspberry and raisins; a seamless pairing. BRAVO Bistro!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting Past The Packaging

I drank so many fabulous Pinot Noirs last week while exploring the Williamette Valley in Oregon. It's one of the most common grapes used to make Champagne and sparkling wines; so I was expecting to taste more bubbles than I did.

I asked one winemaker why more was not produced. Besides the fact that making a sparkling wine takes an entirely different effort, he confessed, in general, it is not as profitable. Bubbly takes longer to make and takes up valuable storage space.

When someone in the Eugene area suggested trying the sparkling at Domaine Meriwether, my travel partner and I were all about it. The tasting room was spacious, open and ruled by the Captain; the vineyard dog, who greeted us with a tennis ball in his mouth.

It was our last stop of the day, two sparkling wines were open along with some still wines. The NV Discovery Cuvee (blue label, $20) was acidic with flavors of pear; the Captain Clark Vintage Cuvee (green label $25) had some pleasant citrus notes and reminded me of sweet tarts. Both were enjoyable as well as affordable.

Too bad the thing we focused on while pulling away was the labeling. Yes you should buy wine based on what is inside of the bottle, but lets face it, packaging is important. Especially with the amount of good juice on store shelves. The font and text is classy, what one would expect from nice bubbly. The colored border is what my companion could not get past; wondering about the challenge of convincing someone to buy, when lined up next to other sparklers.

The point may seem petty to some, but not to those in the media, marketing, advertising, food and wine business. Looking back, if this was the only complaint of the day.....I'll take another please!

If you can get past the packaging, give Domaine Meriwether Cuvee's a try. I think you will like.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Good Morning Goodness

I woke up this morning to blustery, stormy weather from Tropical Storm Isaac. Dragging from the barometric pressure and the thought of fighting flooded roadways in to work, I willed room service to bring me a hot breakfast like the one I had at Daily Cafe in Portland, OR.

However, I'm in Southwest Florida and there is no room service.

So I found these photos closed my eyes and transported myself back a week. The Daily Cafe, in The Pearl District, was about a mile walk from my hotel downtown and well worth it.  I wish I had an entire table of people to sit with so we could each order something different and pass the plates. I wanted bites of everything on the menu but settled for the ricotta, fontina, broccolini whole grain tart, topped with an egg. A piping hot cup of Stumptown coffee in this bright, cheery space was not even an option; it was required drinking.

Daily Chef Kim Boyce is good with grains, in fact she wrote a cookbook filled with ways to incorporate them into your meals. She makes scones from buckwheat, creates her own granola and uses lots of local ingredients at the cafe. There are some regular menu items but the Daily chalkboard is where the action is. I've been told by locals that this is the best kept secret for a fabulous dinner as well. Check it out next time your in town.
(Thanks for the AWESOME tip Christopher!)

  Daily Cafe in the Pearl on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sushi and Seminoles

One of the last places you might expect to find gourmet cuisine and fresh sushi is at a casino; at least outside of Vegas. Vegas is another story altogether.

When I was asked by TOTI Media to do a chef's profile at the Seminole Casino Immokalee, FL; I had to read the email again.

The Casino recently invested a million dollars to renovate the kitchen, hired Executive Chef Greg Rosace and contracted with Chef Jochen Morczinczyk to bring JABBA Sushi to the EE-TO-LEET-KE Grill. Rosace's food is tasty and ample. Morczinczyk sushi is delightful. Not only does he roll up the standards, like the California, but he also takes creative license with other ingredients such as crawfish and jalapenos.

I'm not a big gambler. However, when my friends want to take on the tables, now I know I can belly up to a good sushi bar and wait, while they win their mortgage payment.

Look for my review in the August issues of both RSW Living and Bonita Living, on the stands now. Or look for the digital version here. Don't delay, the September issue will be out before you know it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

If The Shoe Fits

One of my favorite charity events to help host and attend every year is a high-energy fashion soiree called Love That Dress. Based on the concept of a dress swap between girlfriends, dresses are collected at fabulous parties and events prior to the big night, then resold for a fraction of their cost; proceeds benefit PACE Center For Girls in Fort Myers, Fl.

The pre-parties are almost as fun as the actual event. I attended one over the weekend (thank you Kathleen Wolter) that had my head spinning; the fashions and the SHOES! About an hour into oooooing and ahhhhing over the parade of women and their amazing pairings, I wondered why I wasn't taking photos.

Unfortunately the only camera my chic party purse contained was that on my phone. But I know my fellow shoe lovers will still appreciate this:

Tickets sell out for Love That Dress every year. I will have some to give away on 96-9 WINK-FM but don't wait to win. Buy them and be part of this fabulous night of fun and fashion. Click here for details

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wines that "Rock", and Wines To "Roll"

While researching wines for a TOTI Media piece on famous winemakers, I was told to check out Wines That Rock. Inspired by rock legends such as Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, the winemakers also obtained the rights to use artwork from the albums, on the labels.

Being in the radio business I thought the whole idea of these wines was very cool and  found two of the five varieties to try; The Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet and Grateful Dead Red Wine Blend. As cool as they looked on the outside, it didn't translate to the inside for me. They were tight and I just didn't find a lot of depth to them. But for under $20 I would still give them to my rock-n-roll lovin' friends as gifts. 

Rock star wine that I would recommend comes from Dave Mathews. He teamed up with winemaker Steve Reeder and formed Dreaming Tree. The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay smells a lot thicker than it tastes. It was full of citrus and apricot with balanced acidity. The Dreaming Tree Cabernet is herbal and tannic with lots of blackberry and cherry. Also under $20 each, they are good bargains.

Check out more on famous winemakers in my latest wine column for TOTI Media. You can find it on the news-stands now (July/August).

As for Mathews, he is currently on tour and just passed through Florida.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sippin' the Saint

I'm having wine country withdrawals after sipping on a bottle of this delicious Sauvignon Blanc and reliving my trip to St. Supery, in Napa Valley. I was fortunate to be part of a small group, treated to a special tour of the winery's Dollarhide Ranch; to see firsthand where the grapes come from.

The property was beautiful, the weather perfect and it was one of those amazing moments in time; a place to go back to when my soul needs some rest. I also gained a new appreciation for the wine, sipping it under the shade of  lush trees, while looking out over the rolling vineyards. Just a little bit of heaven. I decided that seeing is believing for this blog. My first video edition is here:  

If you visit Napa, you need to visit St Supery! You can often find fun events on the lawn outside of the tasting room, the staff is warm and friendly and the wines are a wonderful treat.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Deal Of The Day

A nice fallout from the recent economic downturn has been the deals and gimmicks many businesses have developed to keep clients coming through the doors; restaurants specifically. 

Some offer half price bottles (wine) on certain days of the week. I went into a Bonefish Grill not too long ago and couldn't find a seat, it was Bang Bang Wednesday.; $5 Bang Bang Shrimp.

I've got another Wednesday deal for you, $3 O-Ring's at Square 1 Burgers. The burger chain now has five locations on Florida's west coast, it's newest in Fort Myers. This huge pile of hand-cut, double dipped, fried onions costs $7.99 every other day of the week. The batter is crisp and the homemade Sooner sauce on the side has a tangy kick.

I did a hit and run at Square 1, unable to stay for more goodness but I'm looking forward to trying one of their juicy burgers. The selection is quite impressive with everything from Kobe and Buffalo, to Lamb and Veggie, with dozens of combinations of toppings. Let me know which is your fav!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Brunch of Champions

One year ago today I was on an AirGreenland flight from Copenhagen, Denmark to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland for one of the most significant adventures of my life. I love the Danes. Shortly after take-off we were given a Tuborg and smoked nuts. The flight attendant laughed when we added Airborne to the mix; one last boost for the immune system before hitting the ground. Quite the combination.

You never know what kind of food you're going to get on planes these days, especially European airlines. Yes, we actually got food and good food at that. Our brunch was a lovely tray of dense, dark, delicious brown bread, cheese, cured meat, eggs, veggies, a meat patty, a decadent chocolate brownie and bite sized Tuberlones!

Once on the ground at Greenland's busiest airport in Kangerlussuaq, we set out to explore the meager offerings of  the small village. The chance we took on a bottle of Shiraz at the grocery store didn't turn out so well, it would've made a nice vinegar though. Good thing we also bought some Greenland Pale Ale as a back-up, it was quite tasty.

The small pizzeria,  across from the airport, had limited space, even more limited hours but numerous selections. We had a lot of fun chatting up the owners and a couple from Switzerland before taking another chance, Musk Ox Pizza. This one paid off big great story here.

When the grocery store, museum and pizza shop closes there isn't too much else to do but hike. It was 10:00 but that wasn't a problem since the summer sun doesn't set in Greenland. While finishing our dinner, we picked a mountain and set out for a "short" trek. The views of the country side were stunning. If you look closely at the following two photos you can just see Russel Glaciers. Our first glimpse of the "big ice" was exhilarating. I was filled with anticipation knowing that in the morning I would not only venture to see the great ice-caps up close and personal, but sleep at their base for the next six days. I dream of many things but I had never dreamed about plane food, until then. While the meals in camp were great (more on that later), I found myself thinking back to that last plane meal more than once. One of many firsts for me on this amazing trip.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

You Want Me To Cook WHAT???

On the phone with my Mom and Dad last night, I heard their door bell ring. Then this:

M: Oh geez, who is that? George you better go and see.

D: (SFX: grumbling, rustling, door opening) Hey, oh thanks. Has it been frozen?

M: I bet it's more fish. (pauses to hear the door close) Was it the neighbors? What she give you, more fish.

D: No, turtle.

M: What?

D: Turtle, turtle.

M: TURTLE? What I'm suppose to do with turtle?

D: Yes Judy turtle, you COOK IT!

M: I'm not cooking turtle, I'm not eating it, you must be crazy, how do you even cook turtle? etc etc

They continue talking to each other over the phone, even though they are only a room apart. I can just see my Mom walking into the living room with her hand on her, hip still talking to him in the phone. I decided to join in by suggesting turtle soup? That set off another round. OK, I suggested, maybe fry them up as turtle-nuggets? Well you can imagine the rest of the discussion.

All joking aside, it is an interesting question. Turtle was obviously not something on the menu in my house growing up, but it is considered to be gourmet food in many countries; camp cuisine in the south.

The first thing I wondered was what wine would go well with turtle? Of course it depends on how you cook it. But I thought it would be fun to find a brand with "turtle" on the label and send it to them. After a quick search, none looked even slightly appealing.

So I turn to you for help. Recipe and/or wine suggestions?

***COMMENTS:  Many people tell me they posted and it never showed up. Disappointing for us both. So click comment, type your comment, check the box that says "comment as" then hit post. If a word verification box does not appear next (a scrambled word to retype) your comment did not post. Thanks!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Welcome- BOND

Congratulations BOND Restaurant and Lounge! It's officially open for business today in Naples. At the helm of BOND, three men who've been in the hospitality, restaurant and bar business in Southwest Florida for decades: Larry "Smokey" Genta, Adriano Pucci and Scott D'Antuono.

I went to a sneak preview party last week and had a blast checking out the lovely space, seeing old friends and sampling cocktails. I also enjoyed sampling delicious flat breads, juicy sliders, flavorful wings and tasty shrimp. Looking forward to actually sitting down and dining on some of the other fabulous menu items soon.

BOND begins as casual place to have a good lunch, then transforms to a hot party spot with live entertainment and/or hot DJ's each night. The happy hour goes until 8pm and the kitchen stays open late.

BOND is at Airport Pulling and Vanderbilt Beach Roads. Beverage Underground has more here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

B is for Bubbles and Boys

My Dad asked me yesterday what was going on with my blog. I haven't posted anything in TWO WEEKS! I have tasted some amazing wines, ingested great meals, had a fun weekend roadtrip but have failed to document any. Why? I've been consumed with the birth of my first nephew. I know, that should've given me even more inspiration to write.

But I celebrated pretty hard (above photo was the beginning) and frankly the celebration hasn't waned much. I'm not just celebrating a new life, a new legacy, the man who will carry on the family name, but also relief; relief of pressure to give my parents their first grandchild. Thank you my dear brother. I owe you one. I suppose you will cash in when it comes diaper changing time. Welcome to the world Baby George, I already love you  more than I could have ever imagined!

***COMMENTS: Thanks to all my Facebook friends for posting so many great comments. If you be so kind to also post your comments here on this blog site. Many people tell me they posted and it never showed up. Disappointing for us both. So click comment, type your comment, check the box that says "comment as" then hit post. If a word verification box does not appear next (a scrambled word to retype) your comment did not post. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

G is for Joy

When I first saw this Sake' I knew I would like it. Especially since the makers were so kind as to name it after me! My friends often call me G because Gina is such a long name and so hard to pronounce.

I also knew it would bring me joy, I mean that's what the label says right? The label delivered.

The makers of g use traditional sake' brewing methods from Japan, then add some American flare to give this sake layers of flavor. It is smooth and clean with flavors of melon and cinnamon.

It's made in Oregon, I tried it at Blu Sushi in Fort Myers, Fl. It's my new favorite to pair with sushi and other Asian cuisine.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Not Much Bump in "Goosebump"

I do a live broadcast every Wednesday night at The Edison Restaurant and Bar in Fort Myers, FL. It's a wildly popular Ladies Night where the girls drink free vodka and get all kinds of cool freebies. Last night we also got to taste a wine new to our area, Goosebump.

It's a curious blend of Nero d'Avola, Syrah and Merlot. I smelled lots of dark fruit and a little cocoa in the glass. It was pretty jammy; no bump in the Goosebump, just smooth fruit. I was hoping for a little punch from the Syrah but it was more like a poke. Nothing wrong with a poke. :-)

I can see putting a little chill on it and drinking with BBQ chicken at a summer cook-out. I also think it is a good entry into the world of red wines for those friends who can't seem to get passed the whites. Cheers!

***COMMENTS: Thanks to all my Facebook friends for posting so many great comments. Post your comments here as well. Many people tell me they posted and it never showed up. Disappointing for us both. So click comment, type your comment, check the box that says "comment as" then hit post. If a word verification box does not appear next (a scrambled word to retype) your comment did not post. Thanks! 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Margarita's At Tina's

I really enjoy a GOOD Margarita but have nearly sworn them off after getting one too many that tasted like lime-aid. I know it is a delicate balance to get the sweet and the tart and still enjoy the Tequila. But there aren't great Tequila Bars like Agave on every corner. Some of the best Margarita's I've had, have been in Austin, TX. And that's exactly what I was reminded of at Casa Tina in downtown Dunedin, FL.

There were several on the menu but I ordered the Tina Rita made with fresh lime, agave honey and Partida Reposado Tequila ($10). It came in a short bar glass with a fresh slice of lime on the rim.  After the first sip I put the glass down without a word, took a photo with my iPhone and sent it to my brother, a former Austinite. My lunch partner said, "Well?" All I could do was smile and nod. Nothing pre-made here. I could taste the fresh squeezed juice, I could taste the tequila, I could taste deliciousness.

I was very grateful for the petite basket of chips that proceeded our lunch. My weakness for the crunchy treat often spoils my appetite for the real meal. I started with Cerviche ($9.95) made from fresh Tilapia. There were a couple of different flavors and textures so I was surprised when the server told me it consisted only of the white fish. Some of the pieces were mild, others tasted a bit woody, all of it was good.

Next up, the Tacos Estillo Guadalajara ($12.95); two soft corn tortilla's filled with onion and cilantro and your choice of chicken, rajas, pork, asada, carne, chorizo and panella. The dish comes with three yummy sauces on the side, all hot but not blistering.

It's no secret I love a good Mexican Brunch and the one at Casa Tina's looks so inviting that I see a Sunday drive and day of indulgence in the very near future.

Casa Tina on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 1, 2012

Those Eyes......

Those eyes, I just can't stop staring into them. I wonder what they've seen over decades of working in the fields, harvesting grapes in Spain.

The wine is El Viejo; 100% Tempranillo from 100 year old vines in Toro, Spain. Matsu makes three different Tempranillo's, each bottle depicting the face of a viticulturalist, to honor the work they put into nurturing vines and growing grapes. The youngest face, is obviously the youngest wine. El Viejo to the left, the oldest.

I learned about this wine while writing a piece on labels for Times Of The Islands magazine (currently on newsstands). I didn't review the wine, just told it's story. But from the time I saw this particular bottle I've been wanting to see what was in it. Last night, I finally got the chance.

I immediately smelled cocoa in the glass, I tasted it also. The wine was a delicious blend of  dark fruit, smoke and spice. It had the body and substance that had hoped for and expected. Sipping the juice, staring at the bottle, I felt a great sense of gratitude for the work of the man on the label and others like him, who make it possible for me to enjoy the "drink of the Gods"! Salud!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unplugged and Uncorked

I've tasted his wines, listened to his CD's but finally got to hear Paul Cullen perform live last night at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers, FL

Cullen, the former bassist for Bad Company, not only makes great music but delicious wine. I reviewed his Sonata Bianco and Sonata Rosso here, for an upcoming article in Times Of The Islands magazine and was really looking forward to trying his Rose' and the yet to be released Jazz Freak.

Cullen has combined his love of wine and music into a venture called "Unplugged And Uncorked". He travels the country selling his wine and playing his music at various wine events. The new tunes are perfectly suited for sipping.

Cullen is long-time friends with the new owners of Twisted Vine, so it was an obvious choice for a wine dinner. We began with passed appetizers and a crisp, Sparkling Rose'. The first seated course featured succulent PEI Mussels in a garlic sauce with Sonata Bianco; a Sauvignon Blanc blended with a bit of Chardonnay to, as Cullen says, "give it a nice round bottom."  His hand gestures suggested grabbing one. The wine was acidic with apricots and when tasted after the mussels, had a nice spice.

I could hardly wait to try the beautiful, pink Sonata Rose', served with Pasta Pomodoro. The pasta was fresh and dressed with basil picked from Twisted Vine's new herb garden. The Rose' is a blend of Petit Syrah and Fiano. I got a bit of mint in the nose but not much else. It was dry and delicious with a some spice, cardamom and strawberry. Enjoyable pairing!

However, my favorite pairing of the night was the Sonata Rosso with a Pork Osso Bucco. The wine is a balanced blend of Syrah, Zinfnadel and Cabernet Franc with flavors of clove and red fruit. It was beautiful with the salt and fat of the pork. The Osso Bucco was cooked in a savory broth with fennel, artichoke rustica and plum tomatoes. The flavors exploded, the meat fell off of the bone. BRAVO!

Jazz Freak is Cullen's latest wine, a Barbera from the Sierra Foothills. It was juicy and tart, yet smooth. I was happy with it on it's own but wasn't about to turn down the dessert that came with it; Tiramisu in thin lovely layers. It was a creamy and delicious finale.

Cullen will be back at the Twisted Vine, performing live, Saturday night (5/26). Ask for his wines when sit down to dine!

Check out some some of my interview with Cullen here:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Music and Wine at Twisted Vine

Former Bad Company Bassist, turned wine maker and guitar player, Paul Cullen, is making a swing through his old stomping grounds in Southwest Florida this week.

I was fortunate enough to taste Cullen's wine and interview him for Times Of The Islands, the issue will be on news-stands in July. I also blogged about Sonata wines here, all but the Rose' which I'm hoping to taste this week. In addition, Cullen is debuting a brand new wine on his visit; Jazz Freak, a Barbera from the Sierra Foothills.

Cullen and his wine will be featured at a special dinner Wednesday (5/23) at Twisted Vine in downtown Fort Myers. Thursday (5/24) he'll be performing at Yabo, on the way to the islands and back at Twisted Vine Saturday (6/26) night.

Support live music, local restaurants and great wine!
Click here for more info on Cullen's appearances this summer.

You can find a review of the wine dinner here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spreading the "Love"

One of the great things about being an adult is being able to eat dessert for dinner. (Thanks Sharon Arnold). That's exactly what I did last night at the media reception for Artisan Gelato by Norman Love.

The world-famous chocolatier now has a gelato  shop next to his Chocolate Salon and Artisan Bread shop in Fort Myers, FL. Love confessed last night, out of all of the sweet treats he is surrounded by, ice cream is his weakness.

I always knew that gelato had less fat than ice cream but since it was so much more creamy, I never really knew why. First of all, gelato is made from milk not cream, so it has half the butter fat. If it has half the fat, why is gelato so much more creamy and packed with flavor than ice cream? The later is whipped and filled with air in the churning process to make it feel and taste lighter; that also dilutes the flavors.

Love is picky about his ingredients, importing his pistachios and hazelnuts from Italy. He makes gelato in the Italian tradition, fresh everyday. He even brought in special equipment like a pasteurizer and the only Irinox flash freezer in the state; taking the gelato to 40 degrees below zero.

The gelato at Norman Love's has a 48 hour life span; its meant to be eatten as soon as it's made. Feeling the pressure I tried as many flavors as I could in an attempt to save the frozen decadence from meeting an uncivilized demise down the drain; Coconut, Peanut Butter Crunch, Hazelnut, Pistachio, Tiramisu, Mango Sorbetto, Mint Chocolate, Almond Mocha. Please don't ask me to pick a favorite.

The Gelato bowls start at $4.50, the cones at $5. You can also indulge in shakes, sorbetto frizzantes, coffees sundaes, cakes and crepes and waffles OH MY. Now that the gelato shop is running, Love says look for ice cream cakes full of gourmet goodness, grab and go pints and jarred toppings.

It's a must stop for a cool indulgence this summer!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tasting Tequila

Agave Southwestern Grill in Naples has some serious tequila bragging rights. With more than 200 tequilas on the menu, owners claim its the largest selection in the state.

Just recently, Agave debuted their new signature tequila, Herradura Double Reposado Tequila and I was among the first to try it. I could taste the wood from the barrel (both barrels) that the spirit was aged in, along with some vanilla. It was warm, spicy and delicious.

Restaurant owners and beverage distributors traveled to Herradura's distillery in Mexico where they sampled tequila from three different barrels before picking the one, exclusive to Agave. The 100% Blue Weber Agave Tequila was "rested" in toasted oak barrels for 11 months, then aged an additional month in new oak to round out the flavors.

Only one barrel of this tequila was bottled for Agave. Once it's gone, it's gone. So get in there fast to try it out. By the way, the food at Agave is great too. More on that later!

***COMMENTS: Thanks to all my Facebook friends for posting so many great comments. I would LOVE it if you could also post your comments here on this blog site. Many people tell me they posted and it never showed up. Disappointing for us both. So click comment, type your comment, be sure to fill in the box that says "comment as" then hit post. If a word verification box does not appear next (a scrambled word to retype) your comment did not post. Thanks! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A BLT With A Twist

There are a handful of restaurants/bars in my city that not only serve up great food, drinks and a good time, but that also give me great comfort. I can go in at any time, with anyone or by myself, with or without makeup and feel good. I'm hearing the theme song from the TV show Cheers,  "Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came." We all have those places. Although I don't frequent it as much as I used to, University Grill in Fort Myers has always been there for me.

There's something almost soothing about sitting down at the bar after a long day, having someone know your drink and put it in front of you almost before you have a chance to ask. I needed that on a particular night last week. I also needed an appetizer.

Chef Eddie Vozzella happened to peak out of the kitchen at the right time; first to give me a bear hug, second to suggest his special BLT Scallops. They are a regular special that I seem to have missed out on over the years. The scallops are perfectly grilled, delicately cut in half, then filled with bacon, lettuce and tomato. The perfect bites are then placed on an herb mayo and balsamic glaze.

This dish may not always be on the menu but if you find yourself at the University Grill, perhaps before a show at the Barbara B Mann Performing Arts Hall, ask if chef can whip one up for you.

As you can see by the before and after shot on my iPhone, I didn't like this dish at all. Now if you'll excuse me while I finish licking the plate.....