Monday, February 27, 2012

Fresh and Fun

The restaurant at the Sandy Butler Market in Fort Myers has a new name and is debuting it's new menu with a wine dinner this week. The space has been expanded, brightened and turned into the more casual, Shoals Restaurant and Wine Bar. At first I was disappointed to see my favorite fountain has been removed from the gazebo but it does allow more room to party. And a lovely chandelier has been added for that extra touch.

I was able to sample some of the new menu items recently along with Shoal's new private label wine and want to tempt your taste-buds a little today. We began the evening in the market with the Italian Delight cheese tray ($14); Butler-made Mozzarella, Fontina, Provolone and other goodies

My favorite appetizer was the Corriander-Crusted Ahi Tuna ($14) with Wasabi Avocado Mousee and citrus glaze. It was creamy with just a hint of heat and a touch of sweet from the glaze; it went nicely with the Shoals Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was also smooth with the Seared Diver Scallops in Lemon Coconut Curry Sauce.

We tried a pasta duo of Tagliatelle and Farfalle Carbonara. The egg pasta is imported from Italy for The Butler. I particularly liked the Carbonara with the Shoals Merlot.

The meat course included a perfectly cooked Pork Tenderloin ($14) and Filet Mignon with a Keylime Bearnaise; there was a lot of tarragon in the sauce and I liked it. My favorite, however, was the Hogfish Snapper ($25); seared crisp with lemon olive oil.

Dessert was decadent with a dense and delicious Banana Fosters Cake ($4) and a Key Lime Tart ($6) with rich custard and the right amount of 'tart' for me.

You can try many of these dishes this week (Wednesday, 2/29) at the Shoal's Premier Wine Taste. The $40, three course menu pairs new dishes with Shoal's new wine.
**Click here for my review of Shoal's Wine.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

Last month I was researching wine for a story on labeling and how it effects our perception of wine and our purchasing. Steve, my handsome mate from Unfiltered Unfined Wines, showed me a beautiful photo of La Garnacha Salvaje Del Moncayo from Spain. I was drawn to the art, the image of those old vines running deep.

I imagined lots of character and flavor in this bottle so I couldn't wait to order it when I saw it on the wine list of one of my favorite Fort Myers restaurants, Yabo.

Moncayo is part of oenologist Raul Acha collection of "Garnachas of Spain". His mission is to show the different characteristics of this once very popular grape, along with the different growing regions of Spain. The wines all come from old vines.

Staring at the label, hoping the wine had as much depth as the roots, I took a sip. This garnacha is nicely balanced with flavors of tobacco, dark berry and a little cocoa.; a great value for around $15 retail. You'll find it for $50 on the wine list at Yabo, now open in their new location on Summerlin and Bass Roads in Fort Myers. More on their new space, to follow soon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Man Eating Gator

Florida's State Reptile is the creepy, cool alligator. You'll find them almost anywhere there is water; canals, lakes, golf courses and  sometimes swimming pools. I found alligator on the table at Gator Bites Tail and Ale in Fort Myers last night.

Growing up in the sunshine state, I've eaten gator meat before. However, it's been years and all I really remember is the old joke, "tastes like chicken".  The first page of Gator Bites menu is dedicated to the prehistoric looking creature.

The meat is cubed and prepared blackened, fried, buffalo style, marinated and grilled. If you haven't tried gator and have a bigger party, try the sampler platter ($19.95). Otherwise you can buy the bites in 1/3 pound servings ($7.95). Friends in my party were ordering more traditional menu items like fish and chips, burgers and seafood. The Florida Grouper Reuben looked tempting but I could not eat at a restaurant named Gator Bites, without having alligator.

I settled on the Gator Nachos ($11.95) thinking it might be a good way to get my friends into the gator game. After all, everything tastes good drenched in cheese, right? The nachos were piled high and smelled delicious. First thing I did was pick a chunk of blackened meat off the top. Forget the chicken reference; it had more of the flavor and texture of a tasty, moist pork chop.

I was keenly aware of being watched but continued digging in with enthusiasm, as the first hand tentatively reached across the table. Finally, someone broke the seal and decided to give the gator a go. Of those who followed suit, all gave the dish a thumbs up.

Gator Bites also serves creative Croc-Tails ($8) like the Florida Sunburn and Swamp Juice. Much thought has been given to this menu, decor and souvenirs. It's got great character with some Florida kitsch. Gator Bites is a "must stop" for a casual meal with your northern guests, on the way to Sanibel Island (20321 Summerlin Road, in the Publix plaza).
GatorBites on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 13, 2012

Grapes Go "Goth"

The "gothic movement" started getting a lot of media attention in the early 80's; evolving from punk. When I think of "goth" the first thing that comes to mind is bold, black, spiky hair, leather boots, etc.

So when I came across the Gothic Maresh Pinot Noir, I was expecting an "in your face" kind of wine; even though I learned a long time ago not to judge a book by its cover.

Gothic is a limited edition Pinot Noir Cuvee ($65 retail) from Oregon. Only 1200 bottles were made, so that alone makes this bottle special.

Adding to my list of high expectations; the grapes come from an historic vineyard in the Williamette Valley. Anytime I see a Pinot Noir from this area, my basic assumption is "good". The wine was slow to open but when it did it was full of plum, strawberry and spice. I found myself, pouting, wanting more after the last drop was poured. If only I had let it sit my glass a little longer.

Now comes the quest to find another bottle.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Every now and then we need to reinvent ourselves, personally and professionally. The Sandy Butler Gourmet Market and Restaurant (on the way to Fort Myers Beach, FL) has just gone through their own reinvention.The restaurant now has a name, Shoals Restaurant and Wine Bar, and a private label wine to match.

I got to try all five varietals this week. The Sauvignon Blanc was acidic, with citrus and pineapple flavors. Maybe some caramel apple on the finish. Thumbs up!

The Chardonnay from Mendocino had a little oak and smoke on the finish but was much brighter than I was expecting. The Pinot Noir was light and easy to drink with red cherry notes.

The Merlot was not as jammy as I was anticipating. I got some smoke and bacon flavors along with currant and black fruit. The Cabernet Sauvignon also comes from the North Coast and it was easy drinking with mild tannins, cherry and toast.

All are great values at $7 a glass in the restaurant and under $20  a bottle in both the restaurant AND the market. In fact, Shoals has an entire list of wines in the restaurant, at retail pricing. Anyone who has had a dinner bill where the wine costs outweigh the food will greatly appreciate this. Shoals's still has a reserve list with specialty wines such as Trilogy and Silver Oak Alexander Valley, with a more typical restaurant mark-up. But that mark-up is still less than most establishments in Southwest Florida. The wine pricing along with the great new dishes at Shoals put this restaurant on top of the list of great values in the area!

There will be a three-course wine dinner ($40) to introduce the new wines and menu items on February 29th. Make reservations at 482-6765. I'll have more on the new menu soon.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Music: Jon McLaughlin

Jon McLaughlin likes to write songs about heartbreak which is funny since he is happily married. He stopped by 96-9 WINK FM yesterday to play some new music for us.

Coming from Indiana, he loved our warm Southwest Florida February and said the humidity made his hair look better. I immediately liked him, and as soon as his hands hit the keyboard so did everyone else in the room. He mesmerized us with his smooth voice and his skilled playing. I didn't want him to stop. I love it when music transforms a room, takes you away. Sadly, not all artists can do that.

McLaughlin's new album is out in May. He duets with another super song writer and musician, Sara Bareilles, for the first single,"Summer Is Over". Listen to it below and watch a great video of another song I like, "Beautiful Disaster".

***COMMENTS: Thanks to all my Facebook friends for posting so many great comments. I would LOVE it if you could also post 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!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wine: Its In His Blood

California winemaker Kirk Venge's family has been in the wine business in some form or fashion since the early 1900's. His father was the first American winemaker to receive a 100 point rating from esteemed wine critic Robert Parker. So it makes perfect sense that Venge (Kirk) is now at the helm of  the vineyard  producing highly acclaimed, hard to find wines.

Venge made a rare appearance in Southwest Florida last week at a winemaker's dinner at Bistro 41 in The Bell Tower Shops. I've had Venge wines before so I was really looking forward to the meal and to meeting the man behind the vines. Venge was gracious, hospitable and handsome; and Bistro 41 served up a spectacular meal, as usual.

We began with a white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. It was paired with conch and crab ceviche, a warm and creamy combo on the palate.

Next up was the 2010 Scout's Honor which, to me, still needs some time in the bottle compared to last vintage. But it is still a delicious blend of mostly Zinfandel with some Petite Syrah, Charbono and Syrah. This wine and food pairing was my favorite of the night. Chef Heath Higginbotham made a Pan-roasted Mallard Duck Breast on top of green pea puree, with baklava and Scout's Honor plum sauce. When I put all three flavors on the fork for the perfect bite (the fatty salty duck, sweet baklava, nuts and vegetable) it was a musical match to the wine.

Third course was a 2009 Silencieux Cabernet, full dark chocolate, cherry and smoke. Only 100 cases were made. The wine was a bit overpowered by the smoke of the Osso Bucco it was served with, however, it was superb with the marrow inside of the bone.

We finished the night with a chocolate parfait, each layer contained a new, delicious surprise. It was a rich treat with the Late Harvest Zinfandel.. Only three barrels of the Zin were made and it typically only leaves CA if you pack it in your luggage. So next trip to wine country, make an appointment to visit Venge's winery.  It will be well worth the effort.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ingredients Matter...

....That's the theme at the newest burger joint to open in Southwest Florida. Elevation Burger, based in Virginia, is billed as the nations first organic burger chain. Open this week at Gulf Coast Town Center in Estero, this Elevation Burger is only the second in the nation to use a new cast-iron griddle for cooking each burger to order.

Elevation Burger is also among the first several hundred restaurants nationwide to have a Free-Style Coke machine. The touch screen allows you to pick a specific beverage, which is further broken down by individual flavors. For instance, when you hit coke a second screen gives you all the possible sub variations like Cherry, Lime, Vanilla, etc. for a total of 130 different drink options. And coming soon; I Pad stations and apps to order at the door and on the way.

OK, enough about the cool technology. Let's get to the meat! The beef is organic and ground fresh, on site. It comes from cows that are grass-fed and free range. Build your own burger with both the number of patties (10) and toppings (15)!

I love a good burger and had a hard time deciding what to try. I settled on a Half The Guilt Burger ($6.19), with one beef patty and one veggie patty. As for toppings, I got the basics; mustard, ketchup lettuce tomato and caramelized onions. Next time, I'll order extra of all of the toppings, I like a messy burger. My co-worked noted that the beef did taste different. I said, "Yes, the way it is suppose to taste." No hormones, preservatives or things you can't pronounce.

There are two Veggie Burgers on the menu. The Veggie Burger #1 tastes like, veggies. It's consistency is a bit creamy. I like the Veggie Burger #2 better. Its vegan and actually tastes and looks more like a real burger. Both are good, just different. If you are watching your carbs or gluten you can bypass the potato bun for a lettuce wrap.

Its a five step process, making Elevation Burger's hand cut fries ($2.79). They are cooked in Bertolli Olive Oil. It's a bit tricky to get olive oil hot enough for frying potatoes while not adversely effecting it's flavor. The potatoes are blanched before fried.

A good burger joint should have good shakes. These are hand scooped and the ingredients are all organic. I tried the coffee ice cream ($4.29) without any toppings. It was light, creamy and delicious. The fresh baked organic cookies tasted pretty good alongside it. The oatmeal cookie was moist and full of flavor; rich chocolate chips and a bit of pecans

It's obvious that Elevation Burger would appeal to people who are conscious about the food they put in their mouths. So why not list the calories of each item after the ingredients. Patrons are not only aware of their food source but how that food fits into their daily goals. I looked at the board, thought about it, and went for it; a 900 calorie lunch and an hour on the treadmill for an afternoon snack.

A second Southwest Florida Elevation Burger is opening on Airport Pulling Road in Naples this spring.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Small Plates, Big Flavor

The concept of "small plates" is a great marketing tool for restaurants. I thought it was so great to be eating "small" amounts that I ordered seven of them with a co-worker last night at a media sampling hosted by Bahama Breeze Island Grille.

While I bought into the "small plate" idea a long time ago, I have to confess I never really bought into the skinny cocktail craze until last night. I sampled the Skinny Margarita, Skinny Mojito and Skinny Paloma. The Margarita's pucker was deliciously evened out with a little fresh OJ. I enjoy Mojito's but sometimes find them to be a little sweet, this one was just right. However, the Paloma was a little too sweet for me with passion fruit, grapefruit, Fresca and Tequila.

New on Bahama Breeze's small plate menu: Mojo-Marinated Pulled Pork on top of plantains with a smokey BBQ sauce. The sweet plantain, salty pork and tangy sauce formed a nicely balanced trio.

The new Citrus Shrimp was like ceviche. A good portion of shrimp in a fresh, light citrus marinade, accompanied by avocado, cilantro and tomato; my new favorite. An old favorite, the warm goat cheese stuffed in a roasted red pepper. The sweet pepper and spicy creamy cheese mix is a comforting combo.

My least favorite new menu item was the Parmesan Stuffed Zucchini with sauteed veggies. It just didn't have the same great bold flavor of the other dishes, although I suspect it was the most healthful. So for that option, I'm thankful.

The Chicken Adobo Empanadas were a perfect small plate; three handmade pastires stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and onion, served with a black bean and corn salsa and a creamy sauce to cut the heat.

As the table next to us raved about  the Jerk Chicken Pasta, it magically appeared in front of us. I thought I was going to explode but the cream sauce was light, the spice just hot enough and the aspargus was al dente; just perfect. The marathon dining felt more like a sporting event, I could imagine the wait staff saying things like, "$5 the girls can put away one more dish."

Sadly, we had to pass on dessert but they looked fabulous. So make sure you leave some room after trying the new small plates at Bahama Breeze.
Bahama Breeze on Urbanspoon

***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, 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!