Thursday, April 24, 2014

Burgers & Bubbles

I have been remiss in congratulating the winners of the first annual Burgers & Bubbles at the Promenade last week, in Bonita Springs. I was invited to be on the esteemed panel of judges and couldn't wait to sink my teeth into the juicy creations from restaurants and bars across Southwest Florida.

Then I read the rules sheet and realized this was SERIOUS business. I had to consider everything from the freshness of the buns to even grilling. Of course taste and presentation were the biggies and NO verbal discussion, eye rolling, moaning or any other form of communication that could sway fellow judges. That was particularly hard for me because I involuntarily shout things like 'oh ya' when I taste something fabulous.

Judging sheet in hand, the burgers began making their way to our table. It was hard to resist eating more than a bite or two at the beginning, we had to keep telling ourselves that this was a long haul event. About halfway through we noticed our palates needed cleansing, and what better than to cut through the layer of fat that had accumulated in our mouths than with the other headliner of the show.....BUBBLES! Ah, recharged and ready for more meat.

By the way, I think there may have been more brew than bubbles at the event, but who was counting. Both were perfect pairs to the wide array of burgers available for sampling. Besides the numerous tasting tables, participants got to join in seminars on beer, bubbles and other topics.

The dreaded discard plate, one of many
I hated to discard so much food, but then a dozen burgers in one sitting is something even a frat boy might struggle with. Congratulations to Roy's for winning both the judges vote and the coveted Peoples Choice award. The best alternative burger title went to the Sundial Beach Resort on Sanibel Island. Their tuna burger was my favorite! I'm already looking forward to next year's event.

Stay tuned for more new and exciting shopping, dining and events coming to the beautiful Promenade, now under new management. 

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!