Saturday, October 14, 2017

Making Dough at MidiCi

The pizza stretching station is one of the first things you see when you walk into the new MidiCi, The Neapolitan Pizza Company, at the Coconut Point Mall in Estero.

Based out of Los Angeles, MidiCi is one of the newest concepts from the brains behind one of the most successful fro-yo franchises, Menchies.

Fort Myers residents Dina and John Wysseier fell in love with the restaurant's mission of bringing friends--and strangers--together. So they brought the restaurant to Southwest Florida, along with much enthusiasm.

The Wysseier's were inspired by the dining experiences they had while living in Europe, where food brought people together, even strangers. The have a board by the entrance (another on wall space by the bathrooms) intended to make it easier to meet fellow diners, or at least open their minds to the concept. 

Polaroid cameras are kept at the counter to document your dining experience. Take the photos with or leave them in a frame by the door.

The most notable signature of MidiCi restaurants is a live olive tree, the tree in Estero is in the center of the restaurant, Yes it is real.

The concept is fast/fine dining. You order at the counter, but it's not like any pizza counter you've likely seen. The line starts where the dough is stretched and tossed; the flour imported from Italy. Order one of the classics, a specialty pizza, or pick from the ingredients in the condiment station.

Gluten free diners will be glad to know MidiCi has it, GF crust...and it's GOOD. I sampled it along with a pesto pizza, a meat pizza, the double pepperoni and the devil's pizza. The crust snob in me was very happy; it was light, crisp where it was suppose to be.

The two pizza ovens weigh some 3 tons each, they were shipped from Italy and seasoned over several days. You can see the flames from almost any seat in the house. They are like pieces of art.

Other special equipment includes a fly wheel prosciutto cutter that cuts the meat in perfect ribbons. Aged for 18 months, the prosciutto is then used on beautiful cheese plates, in salads and on pizzas. The ingredients here are top quality.

For diners looking for something green, the salads are fresh, big, plentiful and numerous.

Be sure to save room for dessert, the signature dish being the Nutella calzone with fresh berries. You'll need a nap after this one. Gelato and sorbetto are good if you're looking for a lighter option.

The coffee bar has almost everything you could want; they even offer gourmet teas. The Italian cream sodas are to die for and the beer and wine selection is on point, better than most pizza joints for sure. But then again, you might expect this after stepping through the door and seeing the kind of attention to detail that goes into making MidiCi special.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BRAVO Cucina Amps It Up For Fall

It's fall, hurricane Irma recovery is making progress, Bravo Cecina is not only open, the menu is full of new happy hour, brunch and seasonal menu items.

I love brunch and was hoping to make it for the new crepes (chef Raul Rodriguez loves them) but it was happy hour that got me first, one of my favorite times of the day. From 3:30-6:30 you can enjoy $5 cocktails (like the midnight mojito with strawberry and blackberry) and new, chef inspired bar bites.

Stuffed Banana Peppers
One of my faves was the stuffed banana peppers ($7.99). Halved and roasted, they are stuffed with mild sausage and cheese mix of mozzarella and provolone mixture; creamy, spicy, and hard to eat just one.

The table as a whole could not get enough of the shrimp bruschetta appetizer (13.99) on ciabatta bread with a borsin cheese spread. It's substantial and the creamy, herbal cheese adds an extra special touch.

Pepperoni Cheese Dip
Pizza is an American favorite and I could eat it everyday, in fact we had one here. It had burrata, mozzarella, provolone, garlic roasted pesto, prosciutto, and arugula with fennel seed. It had a touch of sweetness to balance the salty meat.

Not all pizza crusts are as good as this, therefore I have been known to mutilate a slice by taking the toppings off and eating them solo; the dough left behind in a sad heap. So  the new pepperoni cheese dip sounded like a dream. It's hot and deliciously gooey with cream cheese, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan and pepperoni; pizza toppings.

Cod Fresca
New seasonal entrees include balsamic chicken with orzo, farro, zucchini, red peppers, feta and asparagus. and also the harissa grilled shrimp. This shrimp dish also has orzo, farro, zucchini, red peppers, feta, but with the addition of arugula and red pepper aioli; a more than pleasing combo

The cod fresca ($18.49) completely won me over. I felt healthy just by looking at it. Things that look good for you don't always taste so good but that is definitely not the case here. The 6-ounce piece of fish is pan seared then placed over green beans, zucchini, tomato, orzo and faro in a lemon butter sauce, then topped with cucumber relish.

Chef Rodriguez was so enthusiastic about the new caramel mascarpone cheese cake (6.99), how could we say no? Dense and delicious it was a delightful finish.

Caramel Mascarpone Cheesecake 
Chef Rodriguez runs the kitchen with skill, he has been with the company for 10 years and likes the family atmosphere. About the new additions, he is a fan of the cod fresca as well, and likes how the menu has been simplified. He says, "Now there are lots of light choices and I'm happy about that."

The restaurant decor has also been freshened. It is still Tuscan but with a modern touch.

The staff is welcoming and the servers know the dishes well, helping diners navigate with ease. Whatever you do, try the new menu items at BRAVO Cucina before they go out of season.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sanibel Travels to the Fort, Summer Wine Dinner

Now that season is over, and things on Sanibel Island are slowing down a bit, chef and restauranteur Melissa Talmage of Sweet Melissa's fame, is able to cross the causeway and hang out in Fort Myers for a night.

But she won't exactly be taking time off. Talmage is hosting a pop up dinner at Harold's. The talented chef is not only pairing her creative dishes with wine but specialty cocktails for an evening of food, fun and friends ($88). The four course meal without beverage pairings is $56.

Each course has several choices rather than just one. The second course consists of NOLA style shrimp and grits, steamed mussels or beef tartare. Course number three; fish stew in tomato saffron broth, roasted lamb chop, grilled smoked beef tenderloin or pan seared cobia with banana lentils. The only bad thing about this dinner is having to choose just one item in each course.

Seatings are at 5:30 and 8:00. Harold's is a small place and there are only a a few seats left, so make a reservation ASAP for the June 25 soiree. 239-472-1956

In other summer wine dinner news, the TasteMaker Dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouses nationwide last week featured some beautiful wines from the award winning Chateau Montelena. I attended one in Bonita Springs.

At this dinner, some of the wines poured were those that most of us would never have had access to unless physically visited the winery. A Potter Valley Riesling (slightly viscous but crisp with the food) for the first course was paired with a sesame grilled chicken and udon noodle salad. Thumbs up around the table.

Above is the second course; seared scallops in citrus bacon buerre blanc--I wanted to lick the plate. It was artfully and perfectly served with a 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay; a Burgundian style wine, kissed with oak not drowning in it.

The zinfandel below was served with a hearty, Portuguese white bean and chorizo stew. The wine comes from 120 year old vines and pays homage to the chateau's labels from the 1920's. The combination of old vine zin and newly planted primitivo creates a velvety wine with dark fruit, tobacco and chocolate.

No dinner at Ruth's Chris would be complete without a succulent piece of meat. Ours was a petite filet mignon with cipollini ragout and a cauliflower mash. Pulled out of the vault and shipped special for this event, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon had wild berries, soft tannins and opened nicely the more it sat in the glass...I wish I had more.

Dessert was indeed a treat. A teeth staining, winery release only, the Napa Valley Petite Sirah was lovely with the chocolate dacquoise torte, with praline crunch.

Manager Peter Hyzak, Gina Birch and General Manger Aleks Kunov
The staff at Ruth's Chris is known for professionalism and this dinner was a great example. Peter and Aleks (above) are not only professional, but also fun. The next nationwide TasteMaker Dinners are in August (Champagne) and October (Marchesi Antinori). Cheers.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Reserve a Seat for the TasteMaker Dinner with Chateau Montelena

Pan seared scallops, bacon citrus beurre blanc and chardonnay
Summer in Southwest Florida is a gold mine for wine dinners and special events. That may seem counterintuitive since our population drops drastically with the flight of our winter residents and visitors.

However, this is when local restaurants put out the welcome mat for local diners, with incentives on both food and wine. It's also when chefs have a little more time in the kitchen to prepare special meals to pair with the many special wines that are distributed on our area.

There's one this week at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse featuring a name most food and wine aficionados know quite well, Chateau Montelena. If you'll remember the 1973 chardonnay from this winery is widely credited with putting California on the world wine map in the so-called Judgement of Paris.

This special TasteMaker Dinner is taking place at restaurants across the country this Thursday (06/15/17) so if you're not in Southwest Florida, you can still enjoy the spoils of this event. As you might expect the chardonnay will be poured along with the well-known cabernet sauvignon (2006).

Petite filet mignon, cipolinni ragout, roasted wild mushroom,
cauliflower mash and estate cabernet
Even those familiar with the Chateau Montelena brand may not have tried the others being served: Potter Valley Riesling, Calistoga Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The menu is impressive.

Sesame grilled chicken and udon noodle salad in Thai peanut dressing with riesling
This is the fourth in a series of TasteMaker dinners by Ruth's Chris. Future events feature Moet Hennessy and Marchesi Antinorri.

Throughout the summer I'll be featuring these special food and wine events hoping to see you at some.