Thursday, March 26, 2015

Best Italian Dining in the Fort Myers Area

It's so funny.....when I first updated this list over a year ago for 10Best, a travel and tourism division of USA TODAY, I excitedly told a restaurant owner the next time I went in, that he made the top 10. He sneered "ya, but #7!"

He obviously thought he should've been higher. I said YES #7! Out of the hundreds of Italian joints in our area YOU were in the top. Still not good enough for him. And after looking at the list a second time, he was right.....I moved him to #5. HA!

But this is new list (click to read). Yes, some of the longtime local favorites are still on there but there are some new contenders in town. MANGA!

Linguini and clams, restaurant bumped from the list ;-(

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Food Festival For Fort Myers

There is so much to do in Southwest Florida this time of year with Spring Training, Spring Break, art shows, and all kinds of outdoor activities. But what about the foodies who have to wait twice as long to get into a restaurant right now?

Finally a festival just for you (and me), the first ever Spring Training and Food Truck Craft Beer Festival, Saturday (3/21/15).

Some twenty food trucks are gathering at JetBlue Park, the Fort Myers home of the Boston Red Sox, to tickle our tastebuds with the likes of BBQ, Latin cuisine, seafood, ice cream and more.

The Sizzle Truck
The Sizzle Truck got it's start at the Shoppes at Vanderbilt Farmers Market in Naples, hoping for their jalapeƱo slaw on Saturday. You'll also get to taste from trucks like the Traveling Tomato, the Ravenous Rhino, Piled Hi, What the French, Crazydilla, Croz's Surf Shack and more.

Croz's Surf Shack creations
While you may've seen some of these trucks at various events in the area, they've never been together in one big spot like this, until now.

For several years, Food Truck Festivals of America has organized these fun food events, mostly in the New England area. So it makes sense to follow their world famous baseball team to Fort Myers for a party.

If you want to avoid the crowds and long lines, buy a VIP ticket for $20. It grants access an hour early and beer is included. Everyone else gets in at Noon for a $5 ticket.  See you Saturday!


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Saki and Sushi

Photo Credit: Gina Birch
A beautiful and delicious plate of fresh sushi at Tokyo Bay
in Bonita Springs
I'm a fan of sushi and in Southwest Florida there seems to be a competition among Asian inspired restaurants as to which can come up with the most inventive rolls.

A dear friend who now lives in NYC says she can't wait to come back every year to see what new creations she can find, as all she gets on a regular basis is the basic sashimi--and at much higher prices.

Check out the best places to find sushi and saki in Southwest Florida here, in one of my 10Best lists!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Planning Your Wine Vacation

Some of my favorite trips have been centered around food and wine.

I quite often find that people ask me for advice on where to go and how to make it happen.

Those are just a few of the reasons I was so happy that 10Best and USA TODAY TRAVEL asked me to write about "vinotourism" and  planning a wine tasting trip.

Check it out here!

Stop thinking about it and go ahead and book yours. You will be so glad you did. CHEERS!


Monday, February 23, 2015

Fab Finds: Foodies in Mind

Eggs Diablo with wasabi, crab and shrimp
The strengthening economy has so many great benefits, one being the opening of new restaurants in Southwest Florida. One rule of thumb I have with new places is a "free pass" at the beginning, while working out the kinks.

I have so many place to talk about but lets keep it simple here and start with two that I've been to several times and have had nothing but good experiences.

Cork Soakers in Cape Coral is on the ever evolving strip of 47th Terrace and it is managed by two well known restauranteurs in the area; Jeff Gately and Ralph Centalonza (two of the former owners of The Joint at Cape Harbour.)

The menu is highlighted by low end comfort foods with a high end twist. Take for example the signature deviled eggs with wasabi. Every day they include a little something different, from bacon to a crab salad topping and smelt roe. They are addicting to say the least.

The cheddar and bacon biscuits are another signature item then there are cheeky things like a fried bologna sandwich or a classic grilled cheese with tomato soup.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

I had a spectacular pork belly risotto, creamy and delicious and the tacos of the day are always a treat. Most of the dining here is alfresco, with an atmosphere that is casual and inviting.

Taco of the day: pulled pork

For those who love a hearty Italian meal, check out the new Osteria Celli in Fort Myers. Located in an obscure corner of a Publix Shopping Center on the corner of Summerlin and Winkler. This is where you'll find Chef Marco Corricelli.

grilled octopus
After working at a few notable Southwest Florida restaurants, the chef from Milano, Italy finally has his own spot.

He makes his pasta from scratch and it is cooked beautifully.  I've had it with lamb and in the heartwarming, Italian favorite; pasta fagioli.

Perhaps one of the nicest surprises to me is what chef does with octopus. On the right, you will see it grilled, over kale and garbanzo beans. The meat is tender, with a perfect char and made me feel like I was eating healtfully. The calamari is NOT breads and comes over julienned vegetables, again, cooked with great care.

The bruschetta came loaded with fresh tomatoes and basil, the bread had a nice crunch on the crust and soft in the middle. The brussels sprouts are the bomb; simply grilled with salt, pepper and speck.

Brussel sprouts with speck

For dessert, try the Tiramisu served in a large bar glass.... it is just the right ending.

Both of these restaurants can get a bit loud, something Chef Marco says he will work on....after season.

Enjoy these new additions to the culinary scene in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

There's more to come! Cheers!


Cork Soakers Deck & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon



Saturday, February 21, 2015

SOBE Food and Wine Festival Almost Over

video

One more day left for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. The event on one of the world's most famous beaches is a MUST for lovers of food, wine, spirits and a good time!

Let the games begin, the SOBEWFF Grand Entrance
Amstel Light Girls keeping us hydrated
Yes, Hard Rock set up a lounge on the the beach
FreshDiet; great concept and great food
Having coffee with Giorgio from Illy

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine Weekend Wine

With the opening of Fifty Shades of Grey movie on Valentines weekend, it set the stage for all kinds  of celebrations, parties and get togethers that will no doubt continue for weeks to come.

I can't think of a more perfect wine combo for upcoming viewing parties than these two: Fifty Shades of Grey and Casillero del Diablo Devil's Collection.

Both wines come in at under $20 so they won't break the bank for your parties.

Casillero del Diablo, means the Cellar of the Devil.....naughty. It is an award winning blend of carmenere, cabernet sauvignon and syrah from Chile, (from the well established Concha y Toro brand) with flavors of plum, cherry and chocolate, easy drinking on its own or with salty appetizers (insert joke here.)

Fifty Shades is obviously targeted to fans of the book and the movie, an obvious choice for pre or post movie parties. A blend of petite sirah and syrah, its both fruity and spicy, good for pizza and burgers for certain.

Enjoy the party. Cheers!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Return of the Phantom

The Iconic Broadway musical, Phantom Of The Opera, is on the road and has landed back in Fort Myers; this time with a few tweaks. While the show tells the same fantastic story, with the same moving songs and impressive costumes, it has a little more 'flash.' You'll literally see the flash in the added pyrotechnics and the set appears to be brighter. It's giant pieces also appear to move much better than previously.  

I got a behind the scenes peak at the show when it opened in Fort Myers, including an upclose look at the new chandelier that famously falls from the roof at the end of the first act. It weighs one ton and crews load it with pyrotechnics before each show.
Crews load the 1 ton chandelier with pyrotechnics prior to the show
I also got to see and feel many of the costumes, including the Phantom's cape. The original costume designs are still being used and they are quite spectacular, not to mention heavy, with beads, ropes and sturdy fabrics. The wardrobe for this show takes up an entire semi-truck.


But perhaps the best part of my all access pass was meeting the stars of the show. Katie Travis plays Christine, the ballet dancer who becomes the star of the opera and the center of a love triangle with the Phantom and her childhood friend, Raoul. Travis first saw this show at the age of four and told me she had longed to play the part of Christine from that day on. She auditioned nearly ten times before getting her dream roll.

The Phantom is also a dream roll for Chris Mann, he grew up during musicals. You may recognize his face and/or name from the hit TV show The Voice, as one of coach Christina Aguilera's finalist. While Mann is on the road, he is working even in his down time, releasing new music. 

Me hanging out with the Phantom, Chris Mann
Fans of this classic show will be impressed with the updates, first timers will fall in love like the rest of us. Don't miss it. See Phantom at Barbara B Mann Performing Arts Hall through February 1, 2015. Or if you happen to see it touring in a city while you are vacationing, be sure to check it out. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year, New CPK

If you are like most people, you are going into January cutting back a bit, on calories, on spending, on...well you name it. So you'll be happy to know one of your most beloved pizza chains is going the extra mile to help you out, to give you more delicious yet healthful options when dining with them.

California Pizza Kitchen is making some sweeping changes both on the menu and with the decor. But fans will be glad to know many of the favorites such as the original BBQ Chicken and Thai Chicken pizzas, are staying. Some new additions to the pizza lineup include the Bianco, surprisingly light considering it has whipped truffle cream, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella and fresh sage. To get in a serving of veggies, try the brussels and bacon with caramelized onions, goat cheese, romano and cracked pepper....DA BOMB. All of the dough is hand tossed.

Roasted Garlic Chicken
So you would expect a pizza kitchen to crank out some good pies and CPK delivers. However, they are also delivering more local, seasonal vegetables. I noticed lots of kale, brussel sprouts, quinoa and farro on the new menu. Give the Harvest Kale Salad a try. It is full of great flavors and a nice bit of spice. Or take on the new roasted garlic chicken, again full of flavors with a nice crisp skin served over vegetables with bold mediterranean seasoning.

What I was must surprised at during a recent menu sampling was the Halibut and the Salmon, both roasted on a cedar plank and served with perfectly cooked veggies; your trainer would be pleased.

I should stop there and not tempt you with the new desserts like the Salted Caramel Puddig or the mouthwatering Butter Cake, I'll just keep that news to myself. (photos below)

CPK has been at Waterside Shops in Naples for more than 20-years. Not only has the restaurant undergone a change in menu but a change in design as well. It's one of the first in the nation to sport both the new look and the new menu of the new CPK.

The seating is more open, there is a new bar and a chefs table giving a birds eye view of the skillful pizza makers who toss the dough high into the air. But the biggest draw is the spacious outdoor patio. The new decor keeps the California vibe, using recycled materials, wood and metal.

You'll love the fresh look and the fresh food of CPK at Waterside Shops.

ginab2u's CPK album on Photobucket

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bubbles And Ice Make A "Sparkling" Holiday

More wineries around the world are getting more creative, not only with their packaging of fermented spirits but also with what is in the bottle. This season I have been introduced to a number of new sparkling wines that make the perfect base for a bubbly cocktail.

French winery J.P. Chenet, has released a new Ice Edition ($38), packaged in an elegant white bottle, but suggested to be served over ice. Yes ice.

For wine lovers who like theirs on the sweeter side, this is perfect. I brought a bottle to a holiday party where it was well received and there happened to be a a pitcher of  pink lemonade on the counter. The combination made for an enjoyable spritzer. The wine on it's own was sweet, with a bit of almond on the finish.


A new bubbly from Italy, also marketed for serving over ice, is the "iL" Spr!tz from Mionetto ($12). This sparkling wine is mixed with blood orange and spice before bottled. The spice is prevalent and so is the fruit, citrus with a hint of pomegranate.

A traditional Venetian cocktail now bottled and sold in the US, also try it with a splash of vodka. I opened this one at another party where once again it was well received; both on its own as well as over ice with a slice of orange.

The crown cap on iL Spr!tz is convenient while the wine is promoted as being lower in calories than many holiday cocktails at less than 100 per four ounce serving.



Recently introduced to the Florida market and new from Chandon, is a delightful cuvee that means delicious in French; Delice ($22).

This semi-sweet California sparkler is easy to drink on it's own, but still billed as delicious over ice. This is the more dry of the three and in a cocktail, try it with grapefruit or cucumber for a fresh and refreshing blend.

When it comes to sparkling wines and Champagnes, I'm first and foremost a fan of the dry ones. The bubbles with a taste of so-called 'biscuit' and nuts, I could drink all day everyday.

But I LOVE BUBBLES, something about watching them travel up a glass is mesmerizing. AND these sweeter ones are great for adding an effervescent kick to a cocktail, a nice accompaniment to a salty dish or a tasty treat for dessert. Bottom line, you can't go wrong with anything that sparkles during the holidays.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Jolly Traveler

The Jolly Traveler, the name alone makes me happy.

I think of a of smiling European man with a big belly, mustache and rosy cheeks; hiking the countryside, stopping at pubs along the way and laughing heartily with strangers who become friends by the end of the night.

Besides the obvious play on a holiday word, maybe that is one of the visions the brewmasters at Traveler Beer Co. had in mind when both creating and naming their new winter shandy.

A traditional shandy is a glass of ale mixed with lemonade or lemon-lime soda. However the wheat ale in THIS shandy is brewed with the fruit. The orange, pomegranate and spice make this a perfect holiday libation. I typically don't like sweet flavors in my beer, but this has just the right amount and it screams "holiday" to my taste buds.

Forget those dark, heavy seasonal beers, especially in Florida where the mercury is still in the 80's and where  something refreshing to drink is almost always appreciated. This shandy from Vermont is in most major retailers and on tap at lots of local restaurants for the Christmas and winter season. Try it and let me know if you become a "Jolly Traveler." CHEERS!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bubbles and the Bird

If it has bubbles, I want to drink it; prosecco, cava, Champagne and/or sparkling wine. And since bubbles are great with birds, consider serving them this Thanksgiving.

Just returning from a trip to France, I admit to being partial to Champagne, however, I DO enjoy a good prosecco....Italian sparkling wine made from a grape also known as glera.

Prosecco has become wildly popular not just in the US but around the world, because of its low cost and good quality. Just two of several reasons to consider this wine for this weeks Thanksgiving celebrations.

I took the difficult challenge of trying a couple of selections prior to the big day and want to pass on my observations for consideration.

I have to admit I was a little taken aback by the packaging of the of Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero, as the cork was one typically found in a still wine; no wire cage, no twisting until the pressure forced the cork out. I had to use a standard wine key to pop this cork.

A bit fruity, citrusy and slightly sweet, this wine would be a great aperitif or good with any spicy dish you may be serving.

For something with a bit more body and acidity, try the Astoria "Lounge" Prosecco. It has the most beautiful, fine bubbles, a bit of apple, pear and would go well with anything salty or creamy.

Even better, after dinner, make a palate cleansing Sgroppino with the prosecco; fill your flute with about 3 oz of prosecco,  1 oz of vodka and a third a cup of lemon sorbet for a light and refreshing finisher.

Find both wines for under $15. For that price buy a couple.




Friday, November 21, 2014

Lingering at LaMotta's

It always makes me feel good when I'm feeling bad.....Italian food. There is something about tomatoes and basil and garlic and cheese and pasta and.....well, you know!

Not only does LaMotta's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria (Fort Myers, FL) have the Italian classics you know and love (including delicious pizza), Chef Carmelo has a few tricks up his sleeve, like shrimp and grits ($12). The seared shrimp are drizzled in a spicy bada bing sauce, and the grit cakes are full of the shellfish; pleasing presentation and taste.
Shrimp and Grits 
For more seafood specialties, LaMottas makes a decadent lobster ravioli full of claw meat, and a creamy, delicious lobster risotto too.

I loved how the Filet Florentine ($23) was presented. Served over spinach, the eight ounce filet was topped with melted mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and prosciutto, wrapped to look like a flower.

Filet Florentine

Another super dish for carnivores is the New York strip ($21), smothered in a savory mushroom demi-glace. Get some bread to sop up all of the delicious juice.

New York strip in a mushroom demi-glace
But my favorite was the Sicilian Osso Bucco with meat so tender it fell right off of the bone. The slow roasted pork was served over pasta with hearty red sauce; talk about comfort food on a dreary day.

If this wasn't enough, the table also sampled a plate of crisp, Italian fried chicken; flavor and texture fantastic. And the pasta sachette ($17); pasta purses stuffed with cheese and served in a mushroom demi-glace cream sauce. The garlic rolls were particularly nice when dipped in the sauce.

As we lingered and lamented at full we were, the desserts came out and the lemoncello was poured. You will leave LaMotta's full, satisfied, and maybe with a slight touch of guilt. Not because of all the calories you consumed but because you paid so little for so much goodness!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Raise Your Glass! It's Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Everyone has something that signifies the beginning of the holiday season to them. For me, it is the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, the brightly colored wine bottles you'll now see in grocery and liquor stores, full of the newest release of wine from Beaujolais in France.

It has become a much anticipated celebration around the world on the third Thursday of November, the time designated by French law for this wine to be unveiled. Just like New Years, once midnight hits, corks are popped and the new vintage is consumed.


Thanks to my friends from Georges Duboeuf, I received a bottle in advance and was trusted to wait until midnight to open. Well, since midnight in France was 6pm US time yesterday......just kidding, I waited until midnight to pop the cork....really.

Georges Duboeuf is called the King of Beaujolais Nouveau and 2014 is being called a good year for Beaujolais. The winery's new release is full of red fruit, raspberry and it's a bit acidic.

Many wine aficionados turn their backs on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, saying this wine does not represent the true quality of Beaujolais. Since Beaujolais Nouveau (made from100% gamay grapes) is bottled 6-8 weeks after harvest, it has no time to age and does not have much depth of flavor. It is best with a little chill on it.

Beaujolais Nouveau may not be the best wine served at your holiday gathering but it's tradition, the labels are fun and festive and it is super affordable, in the $10 range. The holidays are officially here! CHEERS!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rose Everyday- Wine Wednesday

Tasting in the world's rose' capital: Tavel

While spending time in France this autumn, my friends and I adopted a fabulous mantra "Rose' Everyday." When I finally made it back to the states, the first lunch date I had was at a small kabob place that only served fountain drinks and bottled water. I got a little fidgety, like an addict I whimpered to my friends....."No rose'? We might have to go somewhere else."

I've always liked this beautiful, dry, pink wine but I learned to LOVE it in France. It was hard not to after drinking it in the rose' capital of the world, Tavel. In fact, the only wine produced in this small village is rose'.

One of our many stops in Tavel was at Domaine Lafond, the winery also had some delicious reds, grown in neighboring villages, but the rose's were on our radar. Lafond Domaine Tavel (made mostly from grenache grapes) was a rich wine, spicy yet floral and one that would stand up nicely to food. It is exported to the US and you can find it for under $20.

Another good rose' for Wine Wednesday is Notorious Pink, from the neighboring region of Provence. This one is 100% grenache, with a little more fruit, a nice blend of citrus, berries, gentle acidity and a crisp finish. A great sipper, also in the $20 range.

Are you afraid of pink wine? Still judging it as that sweet, white zinfandel? It's time to move on my lovelies! In France, the pink stuff is revered. It is standard operating procedure to have it for lunch, and in the Rhone Valley where it is done so well, it is even considered appropriate to buy it in a box. I won't tell you how many we went through....boxes or bottles.

Think about adding rose' to your Thanksgiving shopping list. Not only is it a good starter, it also plays well with turkey.