Sunday, April 19, 2015

An Evening With Elizabeth.....

It all started at my Christmas tree trimming party when I pulled out a 2009 Elizabeth Spencer Rose. I had been saving it to share with some friends who visited the winery in Napa with me a number of years ago. Since several of us were together that night I thought it the perfect time.

However, it wasn't chilled and we had long since moved past the rose' stage of the night. Instead, we planned for an Elizabeth Spencer tasting after the holidays, with the goal of gathering as many vintages as possible--a grand tasting of sorts.

We began the evening with some bubbly and then dived in to my bottle, the oldest and proof that most roses are meant to drink, not age. As soon as we opened it, I could tell it was past its prime as it smelled like a fortified wine, sweet, nutty but not the kind you really want.

Disappointment that I let that one sit too long, then excitement we had several more bottles to go.

Next up was a 2011 pinot noir rose that was quite pleasant, with good fruit and acidity, however, it lacked the freshness we were expecting. Good thing we saved it from the perils of sitting in the cellar much longer.

The idea was to keep the tasting as close to a vertical possible but since the 2012 was a grenache rose, instead of a pinot noir, we skipped over it briefly. When it finally made the round it was full of raspberry and reminded me of a Necco Wafer Candy.

The 2013 pinot rose was the vintage that really hit the spot with bright acidity and red fruit like strawberry.

Moving right along in the Elizabeth Spencer portfolio, a 2012 Chardonnay was pulled from the ice bucket. While it smelled a touch oaky, it was crisp and tropical, with flavors of pineapple; a favorite for sure.

Up next came the reds and a 2007 Zinfandel. For a zin it was quite mellow; another one that was on its way out. The fruit was still intact but we were gentle with it in the glass, afraid it would disappear with any spirited swirling.

The 2010 Mendocino Cabernet was a beautiful color and a lovely way to end. The wine was a bit chalky, again a bit of that Necco Wafer Candy, with juicy raspberries.

If you are like many of us at this tasting, and have set aside some wine for a special occasion or to share with a special group, do some spring cleaning in your cellar. You might be surprised at what has been tucked away, forgotten about and is now in need of being uncorked. Nothing is worse than having to dump a precious bottle that was soooooo delicious and had so much promise when you bought it--because you let it rest for too long. Cheers. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What's New At Cru

Chef/Owners Bob Boye and Harold Balink
Cru, one of the most popular restaurants at The Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, recently passed it's 10-year anniversary and has celebrated with a bit of a facelift; a fresh coat of paint and other changes in the decor.

But one thing that hasn't changed is its superb food and service, along with its inviting atmosphere.

Click here for the complete story in my latest 10Best feature.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ready, Set.....Hurry and Open!!!

It's the best recipe for a new restaurant.....BUZZ. That is exactly what is happening at the soon to open Melograno Italian Gourmet Bakery and Bistro at Tarpon Point in Cape Coral. Tarpon Point houses the Westin, beautiful waterfront high-rises, a marina and shops, however, it is in need of another quality dining option.

Locals have been lighting up the phones for reservations and information. But anyone who has ever opened a business knows the harsh reality of dealing with last minute permitting, inspections, etc. That being said, all is in place and the doors should be opening any day now.
Some of the beautiful tiles you'll see at Melograno
The photos you see were taken a couple of weeks ago, plastic protecting the beautiful furniture and accessories from all of the last minute prep work. Much of the interior was brought in from the 'mother land,' including lovely tiles and the Cadillac of coffee machines.
A premiere Italian coffee machine for delicious cafe!
It's the first US location for the well established, family restaurant in Pomponesco, Italy.

Melograno is committed to serving local, fresh and healthful food. You may find it an odd combo, a bakery with a juice bar, but that is one of the many great things going on here. And speaking of the bakery, gluten free diners will be ecstatic at the offerings.
This case is soon to be filled with mouthwatering treats
Besides the bakery, fresh juices and bold coffee, there is a bistro section where you can dine on authentic Italian cuisine, with a gluten free pasta option.

I've seen the menu, met the chef (from the mother land as well) and when I actually get to taste his creations that sound so good, I'll be sure to pass on a full review. In the meantime, they are set and we are ready for Melograno to open.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crazy for Coconuts

I've tried more than my fair share of flavored vodkas over the years and a few flavored rums. Most of the experiences ended with me tossing the liquid in a nearby plant and ordering something different.

So when I heard about flavored tequila I was not exactly excited. But in the name of research (for real, I was working on a 'spirits' story) I decided to give the 1800 brand a go.

The first bottle that was sent to me somehow ended up on the wrong doorstep and the neighbor who received it must've opened up the box without checking the label. Surely if they had seen my name they would've been certain the tantalizing spirit made it to its rightful owner.....surely.

In the meantime, I waited patiently for a replacement bottle while doing my best not to blowup the shipping company's costumer service line. Alas, it arrived, just in time for Easter.

Distilled three times, made with 100% Blue Agave Tequila, it is infused with just the right amount of coconut, not so much that I feel as if I'm licking a bottle of suntan lotion. Best of all, I taste the beautiful tequila that I often forsake for vodka. Thanks for not giving up on me..... luuuuvaaa (that's 'lover' in Carrie Bradshaw speak.)

As I was sipping, I thought how lovely this would have been with the fresh water I was able to slurp directly out of a real coconut the week prior while in the Bahamas. When my housemates and I were done with the juice, we broke the giant nuts open for their gel and meat. A splash of 1800 Coconut Tequila and a slice of pineapple would've been lovely.

Digging into a fresh coconut in the Bahamas

OH! And then there was the coconut French toast! tequila with a splash of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Now we're talking. I tried it with OJ, but not quite feeling the combo. Either way, next trip to the islands I'll have to stash a bottle in my beach bag.

Coconut French Toast at Old Bahama Bay, Freeport

After doing some experimenting, I prefer this tequila on the rocks. I also like it the traditional way, with a little lime and salt.

I'm Not sure why coconut seems appropriate for Easter, maybe its the delicate sprinkles on desserts that seem like spring. Why not serve this spirit as change, with dessert. Or leave a shot for the Easter Bunny.

Now if someone can help me work the shot top without spilling.....

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


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!