Monday, June 23, 2014

Competition In The Kitchen

What happens when you get about a dozen Hyatt chefs from Florida and the Caribbean in the same kitchen? One heck of a culinary competition for the Good Taste event, a new addition to the hotel chain's lineup.

With the theme of 'thoughtfully sourced, carefully served,' hotel chefs from across the nation have been gathering in regional battles for a shot at competing nationally this fall at the Andaz Wailea Maui.

I attended the qualifying contest for Florida and the Caribbean, at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and it was torture. Torture because I was not a food judge, just an observer who had to wait THREE HOURS to try any food. Torture because each dish looked better than the last, with ingredients that made me salivate and quiver.

Each chef made three dishes; a breakfast item, a lunch or dinner entree and a kid's meal. The rounds were timed perfectly and the tension in the kitchen was thick.

As the chef's explained the local ingredients they used and other highlights, the judges dug in. And in the end, Noel Willhite, Sous Chef at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero was the victor. Congratulations to all the chefs and their outstanding creations.

ginab2u's Good Taste Tampa album on Photobucket

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Capone's Opens With A Bang

If I have to choose a side in the pizza tug-o-war between Chicago-vs-New York style,  I'll always
pick Naples, as in Italy. Since that doesn't always go over so well, my second answer usually is NY. However, it's kind of like that annoying paper or plastic question, both work for different occasions.

My occasion for eating Chicago-style last night was the opening of Capone's Coal Fired Pizza in downtown Fort Myers. It was a VIP opening so I didn't get the full effect of a full pizza on my table, but small slices passed out by enthusiastic new employees.

The thin crusted samples were enough to make me want to come back, that's for sure. We also tried Capone's version of shrimp Alfredo and sausage and peppers.

But the buzz about this place has been more than the food, it's been about the decor. From the Tommy Guns on the front door to the men's bathroom door that looks like a jail cell. The theme is also carried over inside, while the ladies room resembles a brothel.

Another interesting feature is the vault, in the middle of the restaurant. It was fun to watch people dance around the plexiglass, afraid to step on it but enthralled by what was beneath it; money, guns, cigars and the skeleton of a gangster.

What I found even more interesting is that Al Capone has a niece living in Southwest Florida. Deirdre Marie Capone was at the opening, signing a book she wrote about her infamous Uncle Al. In it she shares some family recipes, personal photos and reveals the human side of the Chicago mobster.

Sadly, I did not get a close enough look at the wine list but I have confidence that it is adequate at the very least since Heather Knows Wine had a hand in putting it together. Congratulations Capone's, another fun addition to the downtown dining scene.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tasting on Twitter

Marking the 40th anniversary of an iconic California cabernet, wine lovers from across the globe gathered online for the largest known, virtual wine tasting today.

It was exciting, in a geeky kind of way, to share this new wine and discuss it with thousands of fellow oenophiles, some great friends who I've never least not in person.

Tweeting, retweeting, favoring to the point that the hashtag of Caymus40th briefly topped #WorldCup2014 in trending. Now that's impressive.

People tasted the anniversary cab in conference rooms, in living rooms and at Total Wine stores across the country, where the former $4.50 bottle (in 1972), now sells for  $60.

The wine making Wagner family joined in the virtual tasting with a live webcast where they discussed the Caymus brand; its history, vineyards, varietals and the inspiration for the anniversary bottling.

To me this was a perfect cab for a mass tasting on Father's Day weekend. It tasted like my Dad's pipe used to smell when he smoked back in the day; that rich tobacco, cherry, vanilla and spice aroma. The wine is strong and masculine yet fruit driven, with lots of dark berries. It will be lovely with a little more time in the bottle, however, it is drinking nicely now.

Happy Anniversary Caymus. Bravo!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Restaurant magnate and famous chef Roy Yamaguchi made a cameo at his namesake Roy's in Bonita Springs last night for a fantastic wine dinner which goes on the road to Roy's in Tampa tonight.

The extravaganza featured special dishes from four Roy's chefs along with an Amuse Bouche of morel mushrooms, tiny greens and purple dragon carrot over a parmesan macadamia nut cracker, created by Yamaguchi himself; paired with a cold glass of Chandon Blanc de Noirs. Delicate, fresh and full of flavor, it was a pleasure to watch the line cooks assemble this small bite with precision and attention to the tiniest detail.

Spring Inspired Crudite 
Executive Chef Noah Bailey from Roy's Naples was in charge of the first course; Maine Lobster & Bacon Dim Sum with ramps, truffle and English pea. Served with Franciscan Chardonnay. The dish was nicely balanced, the bacon flavors subtle, lobster cooked perfectly and little bit of tartness in the peas.

Lobster Dim Sum
Second course included five pieces of rich Big Eye Tuna topped with olive aioli and amazing lemon caviar that exploded in your mouth with just the right amount of fresh citrus. Prepared by home Executive Chef (Roy's Bonita) Jason Grasty, this was a crowd favorite for sure, served with Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc. I posted a photo with the caption need #alonetime.

Big Eye Tuna
The third course came with a glass of Four Graces Pinot Noir that came alive with the food. Roy's Tampa Executive Chef Adam Hyatt created a Hawaiian Style Beef Short Rib & Chili Shrimp with Okinawan potato puree, papaya pea salad and crispy yucca. The beef was cooked perfectly and the flavors married marvelously with the fruit in the pinot. I wanted to bathe in the potato puree.

Short Ribs & Chili Shrimp
Dessert was one of the few I've finished to the last spoonful. Created by Roy's Sarasota Executive Chef Carl Bertka, the dish featured coconut foam, tuple & daquoise, passion fruit cream and mint granita. The foam was light and the granita refreshing over the pudding like base, am impressive combination of flavors and textures.

Coconut, Passion Fruit & Mint
I loved that this wine dinner was not so formal. Seating times varied and courses were served when each party was ready, a steady flow for the kitchen instead of five massive rushes. I loved being treated to the best from four of Roy's Executive Chefs, working hard to impress not only the guests but the master, Roy Yamaguchi. And I loved meeting and interviewing Yamaguchi, more on that interview coming up.

If you are in Tampa tonight (6/10/14), make a reservation and enjoy a fantastic presentation with well prepared food and well paired wine. Cheers!