Monday, May 26, 2014

Best View (and renovated too) On Fort Myers Beach

The Lani Kai Island Resort is arguably the most infamous as well as famous party place on Fort Myers Beach. Above the beer bongs and bikini contests is a more peaceful restaurant on the roof with swinging chairs, live music and a great view of the sunset.

Adjacent to the rooftop tiki is the air-conditioned Island View Restaurant, once severely dated now seriously renovated. It smells fresh, looks nautically chic and has the best view of the shoreline, six floors up.

I dined here during its opening week and when I posted photos on Facebook, my foodie friends (along with longtime locals) exploded my inbox and text asking if I was REALLY eating at the Lani Kai and if it was REALLY good. I'm pleased to say it was!

A dirty martini with a sidecar and a new, signature island cocktail
There is a new raw bar with seating but pulling up a chair at the cocktail bar, you'll get a fantastic overview of the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The wine list has enough selections by the glass and bottle to satisfy most guests, the signature cocktail list is creative and I particularly enjoyed the old school way martinis are served, with a side car.
White pizza with perfectly roasted garlic and spinach 
Chicago chef Jason Smith-Agate opened the restaurant at the beginning of May with a redesigned menu to match the new space. He knows just how to work the new wood fired oven for flatbreads, appetizers and entrees; I'm told it's the only such oven on Fort Myers Beach.

Wood fired ocotpus 
The wood fired octopus has quite a spicy kick; a nice change to the standard calamari found on most beach menus. One of my favorites appetizers was the bacon wrapped shrimp over guacamole with a tequila lime butter. The flavors and textures made great friends.
Bacon wrapped shrimp over guacamole 
It is safe to say at this point of the meal, the chef had my attention. I had set my expectations low, not figuring this popular party spot would be able to pull off a quality dining experience. We tried the fish special of the evening as well as a prime rib that literally melted in my mouth. I wanted to drink the au jus it was so savory.

The trick now is to get food lovers to look past the party and the Hawaiian facade of the hotel and give the Island View a go. Owners know this and made accommodations, such as free valet service by the express elevator. The poolside lift takes you straight to the restaurant so you can avoid the board short and bikini crowd.

Be adventurous and give the Island View a try. The happy hour is from 4-7 with $5 cocktails and wood fired flatbreads. If you want more incentive and live in Southwest Florida, look for a copy of Living Local at Publx. The May issue has a BOGO offer for dinner and there is a good chance you'll find a similar one in the June publication. CHEERS!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mad About Moraga

Lamoraga Tapas Bar in Naples, FL
Lamoraga is the hot new tapas restaurant in Naples, the first US location of this high-end chain from Spain.

The building looks sleek and industrial from the outside, in fact I drove right by it twice, thinking it was an automotive related business. The inside is also sleek, masculine with lots of wood and metal; but feminine curves on the ceiling.

The dining room is wide open with lots of seating, and the tapas bar looks like a modern sushi bar, with low seating and glowing lights.

As I sat in the adjoining bar waiting for the rest of my party, the bar tender explained how crazy busy it has been since opening a couple of weeks ago. There are giant, glass sliders that can open the entire bar to the outdoors, once it cools down again.
A satisfying meat and cheese tray at Lamoraga

We tried a host of tapas from cuttlefish croquettes that looked like beautiful truffles to seared foie gras that melted in my mouth. The meat and cheese tray was delectable with manchego and goat cheeses and a host of meats that were perfectly cured. The 5J bellota ham was another table favorite and it was a generous portion.

The tomato and burrata salad was creamy and delicious; the Moorish lamb skewers were tender, flavorful and the gazpacho was refreshing, its texture smooth rather than chunky.

Prices were mostly and surprisingly affordable, ranging from $5 for soups and sides to $38 for a New York strip. The service was spot on.

This is a destination restaurant, not surrounded by overpriced nightclubs, shopping, uninspiring diners or anything else. It is on the top of my list to revisit.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Beautiful, Toxic and Delicious....

......the Lionfish
Photo: Wikimedia Commons 
The Lionfish is a truly spectacular fish to look at. Hard to imagine that hidden in those beautiful fin rays are toxins that can kill other fish, and cause great pain and harmful side effects to humans.

Aquarium owners began turning these lovely fish into the wild as they grew too big for home tanks.  Now the nonnative fish is consuming native species, damaging Florida reefs and massively growing in population, with no natural predator.

With so many species being overfished and the Lionfish population on the rise, conservationists are trying to educate the public about their flavorful meat, in hopes of creating a demand.

This was the idea behind the weekend Lionfish Fest in Fort Myers. It began with a fishing roundup on Saturday, the catch divided among eight chefs who put their culinary skills to work for a food competition on Sunday. It was the first time they had cooked Lionfish and the first time eating it for most of the attendees; everyone seemed pleased.

The chef's created some amazing dishes, showcasing the delicate seafood. No, it doesn't taste like chicken, more like a mild Hogfish.  The only downside is the amount of meat you get from each one. If you get a chance to catch, cook or eat a Lionfish, give it a shot. I think you will be pleased.

ginab2u's Lionfish Fest 2014 album on Photobucket
The Lionfish Fest was a benefit for the Heights Foundation and Lee Reefs