Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Flowers and Fruit

I've been drinking lots of French wine lately, not only honing my palate for an upcoming trip but also because I LIKE IT!

I also like finding great values, which is not always easy when it comes to wines from Bordeaux. Mouton Cadet is one of the regions most successful, affordable brands, offering some wines that are perfect for waiting out the summer heat.

While I like a good rose' anytime of the year, put a nice chill on the 2013 and have it with grilled seafood, stir fry or as a sipper while hanging out with friends. This one is made up of mostly merlot, with a little cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. I liked it better after it opened up a little as the raspberry notes became more clear. Nice and dry, this wine also looks beautiful in the glass.

Known mostly for its amazing red wines, Bordeaux is also the birthplace of sauvignon blanc. Mouton Cadet's The is a fresh delight with just the right touch of citrus. I noticed lots of peach and a hint of juicy nectarine. Another good choice to pair with fish or chicken off of the grill, or a fresh salad with some salty, creamy cheese.

Find both wines in the $10 range. Now that makes for another happy Wine Wednesday!

Monday, August 18, 2014

An Angry Orchard Makes For A Happy Party

Angry Orchard released a green apple hard cider this spring, and this wine lover has somehow ended up with a refrigerator full of it!

One of my favorite hard candies are the jolly ranchers; I love the bold flavors and this cider took me there. The green apple is crisp and refreshing but it also has just a hint of melon in the glass.

We did a little experimenting at my house when an afternoon cookout was chased indoors by both heat and rain. Not only did we drink the cider, but cooked with it. After sautéing some onions and adding Angry Orchard to the pan, sweet sausage was placed into the sizzling mix. Not only did it smell great but also added a nice touch of flavor to the meat.

The experimenting continued when the Fireball (cinnamon whiskey) was opened and added to the green apple cider. Another mix that worked was ginger ale and cider; effervescent and refreshing.

I will tell you, it is not fun to get off of a kitchen floor so try to keep it in your glass or in your mouth if at all possible. Angry Orchard Green Apple Cider is a great summer treat.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Betting Big On The "Bucket"

The popular Mercato Shops in Naples is full of trendy places to hangout; places that while offering good food and a cool scene aren't necessarily inviting for families or for diners in a more casual mood.

That all changed in May, when the Rusty Bucket opened its doors. A family friendly tavern, the new restaurant serves well prepared comfort food with fresh and local ingredients. The craft beer selection is quite impressive, the wine list is quite adequate and the cocktails are made with fresh squeezed juices. The dining geek in me loved the fact that the menu offers drink pairing suggestions, for appetizers as well as main courses.

Fresh and delicious grapefruit margarita
We enjoyed a hearty selection of appetizers including a tangy hummus platter and mouthwatering pork potstickers with sweet chili and ponzu sauce. But it was the fried pickles that had the entire table talking. These were not wimpy little pickle chips, but a healthy sized spear. Dipped in batter you would expect for fish and chips, the fried treats were perfectly crisp; good on their own but even better with the side of ranch dressing for dipping.

Palate pleasing pork potstickers

The main courses range from giant sandwiches and ribs, to burgers and fish. The grilled salmon with a soy glaze, stir fried green beans and sticky rice was so simple, yet simply delicious. The meaty and moist fish was seared with a pleasant crisp, and fantastic flavor.

Perfectly pan-seared salmon
This menu has a little bit of something for every diner, to please both diets and cravings. The Rusty Bucket has a kids reading program and the Blue Plate specials make eating here affordable for the family. In addition, it's a great spot to catch a game on the manyTV screens throughout the dining room and bar.

Rusty Bucket's signature 'Big Sicilian' pizza
Next time you are shopping at or passing by Mercato and want a good meal along with good service, kick it at the bucket, the Rusty Bucket.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fresh and Fabulous; Wine Wednesday

The hot summer months always have me looking for a crisp and affordable white wine to keep chilled and ready to go. Having been a fan of Spanish wines over the years, I recently read where verdejo, the signature grape of the Rueda Region, was being billed as a better version of sauvignon blanc. Also a sauv blanc fan, I figured it was time to revisit this grape and I'm so glad I did.

Some forty producers currently export verdejo to the US, I chose Verdeo Verdejo from the acclaimed Torres family. It is just as fresh on the inside as the label would suggest on the outside.

This wine had a nice balance of minerality, acidity and citrus. Something that often turns people off from many sauvignon blancs is heavy citrus, sometimes I feel like I'm sucking on a grapefruit peel. So perhaps the aforementioned comparison is good strategy to win over the disheartened sauv blanc drinkers.

A refreshing sipper, this wine also had a nice touch of the tropics, as in fruit. Good with grilled shrimp and a fresh salad, it's one of the best bargains of the summer for me, in the $10 range.

You'll want more than one bottle so do yourself a favor and just buy a case.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Affordable French

Know what I love about French wine? Everything! I've been pleasing my palate with lots of it lately, getting ready for an upcoming 'European vacation.'

But just because the word France is on the label does not guarantee goodness, and definitely not value. So I was happy to try the latest bottlings from famed French winemaker Michel Chapoutier as they have both.

These wines come from vines that are on the border with Spain, grown on harsh terrain with hot summers and cool winters. The stress on the vines produces some great flavors.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rose' d'Oc is a beautiful salmon color and it smells both floral and mineral. After my mother's first sip she said, "Wow, peppery." (She wanted to be quoted in my blog.) I too got some spice and lots of minerals with a bit of citrus on the finish. A lovely, affordable rose'.

I tried the Blanc Cotes du Roussillon with an Italian bean soup, some grilled vegetables and some citrus shrimp; it worked well with all. The interesting blend of grenache blanc, grenache gris, vermentino and macabeo produces a wine that has a bit of grapefruit and melon; a crisp wine perfect for Florida.

The Rouge Cotes du Roussillion Villages is a tasty red blend of syrah, grenache and carignan.  A good food wine, this is bold; full of menthol and blueberry, blackberry and juicy plums.

All three of these French wines come in around $13 a bottle. Now that's a bargain. Thank you Michel Chapoutier.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Chilln' With Torrontes

I developed an affection for torrontes many years ago, the signature white wine of Argentina. I'm not sure if it was the crisp, cold wine itself or the way the word rolled off the bartenders tongue that did it for  me.

So when I went to Argentina, I was just excited to drink the torrontes as I was to consume mass amounts of malbec. Raving about the grape to my travel partner, we stopped in a swanky waterside cafe in Buenos Aires for a refresher.

My excitement turned to disappointment as the wine in my glass was more viscous and heavy than what I'd had in the past. Is this the REAL torrontes? Had I been drinking imports that appeal to the American palate?

Neither, it was just from a different region of Mendoza. Torrontes, the kind I like, is best when originating from the warmer growing areas.

It's hot in my hood this week, perfect timing for a cold glass of Trivento Torrontes Reserve! It smells a bit floral but its flavors are full of citrus and crisp tropical fruits. What a great summer sipper that also goes well with a spicy Thai soup. Even better is the price; under $15.

THIS is the torrontes I want, the only thing missing is the cute waiter to say the name with a robust accent, while looking deeply into my eyes . Happy Wine Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wine Wednesday and World Cup

On this World Cup Wine Wednesday when Argentina beat the Netherlands in a thrilling shootout, I was pulling for Argentina because I love the wine, the food and the people of that country. That is not to say I didn't have fun with the people, food and ummmm "coffee" in the Netherlands but I had to pick a side.

Plus every time Argentina played during the tournament, I turned it into an excuse to drink some Malbec (as if I needed one) and I really wanted a glass today. However, finding my Argentinian stash unavailable, I turned to a neighboring South American country for some help, Chile!

On a hot summer day, the Casas del Bosque Reserve Sauvignon Blanc was just the ticket, especially if you like a citrus bomb. It explodes with grapefruit, with lots of acidity, minerality and a touch of spice. Put a good chill on this affordable white, in the $15 range, and enjoy.

The Grand Reserva Cabernet was an even better treat (in the $20 range) with a beautiful ruby color. Just as lovely as the color were the fruity flavors of black cherry and raspberry, with a rich coffee finish. The slightly minty nose was also a fun touch. In Southwest Florida, find this one at Decanted wine store and Sunshine Cafe.

Pizza Fusion has Casas del Bosque Reserve Pinot Noir; I'll be trying that one next!


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Savoring Salvestrin

This Wine Wednesday I'm raising a glass to my friends who are California cab know who you are.

But have you tried the Salvestrin Three D Cabernet Sauvignon? Start looking for it now because this is a highly rated, small production wine. Thankfully the winery has some other goodies in their portfolio.

Highly rated, low production, high price ($125)....does it live up to the hype? Um.....yeeeeessss! It has that classic cherry taste but with other dark fruits including blackberry. Add a bit of vanilla, spice and a smooth yet full bodied finish and this wine has all that you would hope for. It's like velvet right now so I can only imagine what it will be like with a few more years in the bottle.

Happy Wine Wednesday, CHEERS!

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!

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