Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bitchin' Lunch At The Beach

A recent Cooking Channel episode of Emeril's Florida had the chef on the beach at Pass-A-Grille, south of St. Pete Beach. The dining venue - the venerable Hurricane Seafood Restaurant. I didn't watch the entire episode as there seemed to be more talk about the Hurricane's world famous grouper sandwich than cooking and eating.

Seeing Emeril at the Hurricane reminded us that, for no particular reason, it has been a couple of years since we enjoyed dining at this historic restaurant. With that thought in mind, we packed ourselves into Gus the truck and headed to the beach this Sunday for a bitchin' lunch at the beach.

We asked to be seated outdoors on the first floor wooden deck so that we could enjoy some really pleasant February Florida weather - while it lasts.

I started with a One Night Stand - a very delightful draft ale, while my bride opted for a Corona Light with a wedge of lime.

On the menu presented by our server Nick, I saw...wait for it...Washington oysters on the half shell. I am a fool for raw oysters. When I asked Nick if they were freshly shucked to order, he hesitated, then said they were actually flown in frozen and already shucked. No way Jose! That did not sound appetizing, but the Belle said I really should try one before passing judgement.

I asked Nick if I could have just one, and he graciously brought me just one.

This mollusk looked pretty good. At least it wasn't mangled...and, the taste? It was awful! The texture wasn't great either. All I could think was, with so much fantastic Florida seafood, like oysters from Apalachicola, why would anyone serve an abomination such as this?

Thankfully, the rest of our dining adventure went beyond good, to excellent in a beachy sort of way. This is a beach restaurant and bar, after all, not a high end venue with haute cuisine.

My bride chose the Cuban Club sandwich framed with fresh, and locally baked, Cuban bread caressing meats that are freshly sliced each day. Her mouth dropped open in awe at the size of that sandwich, which she declared was a true winner.

She could only manage half of this monster, so she now has lunch for Monday.

I had to have that world famous grouper sandwich. Was it good? This grilled grouper with a tasty tartar sauce transcended good - it was flavorful and perfectly cooked, tender, tasty and juicy - probably one of the best I have had. Many restaurants with grouper on their menu could take lessons from the Hurricane.

The sides of coleslaw were good, too, as were the French fried onion rings. For me, the star of the show was the grouper.

I hope Emeril was able to learn a thing or two.

Our lunch with a couple of beers each along with our food came to a reasonable $56.21. We over tipped Nick a bit since he didn't charge us for that one oyster. Good customer service!

Hurricane Seafood on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Date Night At Grille One Sixteen

My bride and I are ever on the prowl for new and innovative dining venues that don't require us to pack a lunch just to survive the drive. Such places, other than run-of-the-mill, or dumps and dives, are getting scarce in the vicinity of South Tampa, so I was pleased when the Belle of Ballast Point suggested we give Grille One Sixteen, at 612 North Dale Mabry, a go.

G-116 has two locations on Dale Mabry, the other is located in Carrolwood. For that location we would have had to pack a snack, so we went to the closest one. This G-116 has taken over a space that once housed a Perkins, and this spot has been completely remodeled inside and out. I have to assume they did a really good job since I have been blessed never to have had to frequent a Perkins.

We parked in the back of the building and walked around toward the front only to be stopped in our tracks by a bank of potted plants. This shrubbery was placed so that we were guided to the main entrance located adjacent to the foliage. The decor of the Grille impressed us mightily as we walked in and were greeted warmly by the hostess - a sparkling, modern interior replaced whatever existed before.

We had reservations and we were offered our choice of table or booth - one of the perks of being early diners. We chose a really spiffy booth with super comfortable built-in back support. Grille One Sixteen gets two thumbs up for comfort alone.

 The hostess left us with the niftiest of menus with back lighting that made deciphering the cocktail, wine, and food choices a breeze. Another "thumbs up" for the Grille.

Our charming servers, Heather and Gina, took our drink orders - a couple of glasses of Stelina prosecco to calm our nerves after a harrowing trip on Dale Mabry. For some reason, traffic was backed up in all directions around Kennedy.

My bride and I considered our options for appetizers, either the ceviche or the Nueske applewood smoked bacon, or what one Urbanspoon reviewer called, bacon in a glass. And, she was right! It was just bacon in a glass, but heavens to Murgatroid, was that ever good bacon!

We decided to try the ceviche another time. That bacon was just too good to pass up, and it went well with the bottle of Pinot Noir La Crema we requested to accompany our entrees.

After pigging out on the bacon, we were presented with our house salads. They were fresh tasting with julienned carrots and beets, accented with a light touch of balsamic vinaigrette. Both had been mashed flat which suggests they had been sitting around for awhile. Presentation, people!

For her main course, the Belle chose the 8 ounce Filet Mignon prepared medium well which our servers informed us was really more like medium. My bride was very pleased with her steak - tender, juicy, and cooked to her liking.

With Heather's recommendation, I chose the bone-in 16 ounce rib-eye prepared medium, which tended toward medium rare to rare next to the bone. That works, since I don't mind a little moo with my beef. Unfortunately, the closer I got to the bone the more chewy tendon I came across. Up to that point, my rib-eye was going to get added to my list of best area cowboy steaks. That won't be happening.

Both steaks were served with really tasty, crispy French fries along with a little cup of ketchup. While the fries were good, I would have expected a bit more originality from a rather pricey restaurant. That was just a little chintzy, I think, and one of the reasons I consider the Tampa area to be close to the bottom of epicurean excellence.

Our total for the evening came to $191.53 before a well deserved 20% gratuity for Heather and Gina. Close to two hundred dollars and we get fries with ketchup? Give me a break.

We have mixed opinions on donuts for a dessert, but neither of us can argue about how good they tasted. Four crispy on the edge, cake donuts, freshly prepared and swimming in chocolate, raspberry, coconut, and caramel with a gob of whipped cream.

Oh yeah, I agree with the Urbanspoon reviewer who suggested black cloth napkins instead of just white ones. I, too, came away with white lint all over my dark blue slacks.

Grille One Sixteen on Urbanspoon

Grille One Sixteen on Foodio54

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gotta Get Outta This Place

Planning on surprising my bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, with a memorable "date night" dinner, I searched for an exciting new dining venue. My goal was to find a restaurant in the Tampa area with an innovative and inviting menu.

With a few exceptions, Edison's and Wimauma for example, my search proved what I already suspected - Tampa Bay is essentially the gastronomic armpit of the world. We are overrun with pizza joints, Mexican and Oriental dining spots that serve foods you would never see in the countries of origin.

We have a plethora of steak houses that are mirror images of each other. Our fish houses serve, well fish - fried, blackened, or broiled in massive amounts of oil. Don't even get me started on oysters on the half shell.

I am so tired of seeing fried calamari on practically every menu in the bay area, and I think I will scream when I next see the ubiquitous seared tuna coated with sesame seeds offered as an innovative appetizer.

We do have reservations for dinner tonight at one of the area's newer steak houses. We will see how that goes, but doing a copy and paste on their appetizer menu, here is some of what they offer:






Yes, I just SCREAMED!

I have gotta get my taste buds out of this place before they atrophy. Never fret, for there is light at the end of the gastronomic tunnel. Over the next several months my bride and I will be visiting both Atlanta and New Orleans, two cities that show culinary promise.

We have made advance reservations (a necessity) at The Optimist in Atlanta. I chose this spot because,

On ice they have:
  • east coast oysters, fresh horseradish, mignonette
  • west coast oysters, fresh horseradish, mignonette
The burning question is - do they know how to shuck'em? My hopes are high.

And, a few of their other "starters":
  • garlicky tiny clams & pork belly, hand-torn croutons, chili
  • mussels, crabby-coconut broth, birds eye chili, pickled herbs
  • “angels on horseback” / fried oysters, pork belly, pickled mushrooms, red wine fish bordelaise
On the seafood side:
  • seared rare tuna, charred octopus & potato salad, harissa
  • skate wing “schnitzel,” brown butter, charred lemon, capers
  • crispy day-boat flounder, early summer tomatoes, pickled herbs
  • maine sea scallops, oxtail marmalade, brown butter-chicken jus
  • whole roasted georgia trout, marcona almond, pickled celery
  • duck fat poached swordfish, pickled sweet peppers, crispy pancetta

One of their meat dishes got the slobber glands working overtime:

  • lamb belly, field peas, preserved lemon, lamb jus

While at the Hartsfield airport I plan on a return visit to One Flew South - the best airport restaurant I have ever tasted. An airport restaurant? You betcha!

For the NOLA trip, I have several spots picked out: At the Boucherie I am anxious to try the Crispy Skinned Duck Confit with a Roasted Kumquat, Sunchoke, Mustard Greens Salad & Pecan Vinaigrette followed by Smoked Wagyu Beef Brisket with Garlicky Parmesan Fries. For dessert, Thai Chili Chocolate Chess Pie sounds good.

Later, a trip to Cochon Butcher for lunch - Pork Belly with Mint + Cucumber on White - and the sister, Cochon, for dinner. I'm thinking cane syrup glazed pork cheeks with mushrooms & roasted corn grits followed by either smoked ham hock with baked peanuts & charred radishes, catfish courtbouillon, or Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled peaches & cracklins.

Tonight, back in Tampa, one of the listed appetizers is...wait for it...bacon in a glass for $8. I can't wait! I will have it, though. I mean, it is bacon, after all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Saddle Up Your Manatees Boys - Let's Ride!

Yepper, the Tea Party Patriots are getting ready to ride for our freedoms. This time though it won't be like Paul Revere riding his horse through the streets. These Teabilly F**ksticks have a different animal in mind.

And, you thought these TeaBaggers couldn't get any farther out in the 'zone - silly you.

Breaking News - This just came in to the Oracle news desk: "A great big Teabilly thank you goes out to TECO for coralling our rides at Apollo Beach," says Dr. Michael (Butt Plug) Coffman. "Just in time for this weekend's Teabagger Manatee Freedom Ride."

I stole this photo from Sweet Polly

 Holy crap! These idiots want a say in how this country is run. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Monday, February 18, 2013

End The War In Afghanistan

From CREDO Action:

We invaded Afghanistan almost 12 years ago to pursue the terrorists behind the September 11 attacks, and we succeeded in that objective long ago.

It's been almost two years since Osama bin Laden was killed deep within the borders of Pakistan during a covert operation carried out by a few dozen elite soldiers.

And during his State of the Union address last week, President Obama said Al Qaeda is a "shadow of its former self," continuing:

"Different Al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged ... The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don't need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations."

Yet the large-scale, military occupation of Afghanistan continues at a tremendous human and monetary cost. Just hours after the State of the Union speech, an American airstrike killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan.

Last week, President Obama announced that, despite a substantial drawdown, there will still be over 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan a year from now.

Most of the remaining troops are not scheduled to be removed until the end of 2014, and even then thousands of them will remain.

The Obama administration might hope to reach a political solution to the unrest in Afghanistan before bringing our troops home.

Tragically, it is incredibly unlikely that our partnership with Hamid Karzai's current regime — which is riddled with corruption, hostile to women, and resistant to notions of democracy — will end well.

And while we can and must continue to help Afghanistan establish a civil society that is peaceful and safe for everyone, especially women and girls, we can't accomplish this through military means.

Tell President Obama: It's well past time to end the war in Afghanistan. Click here to automatically sign the petition.

A large majority of Americans think we need to bring a swift and responsible end to the occupation of Afghanistan.

But we cannot afford to be a silent majority.

"War would end if the dead could return." ~ Stanley Baldwin

Sunday, February 17, 2013


William Watts Biggers, the co-creator of superhero Underdog, the mild-mannered canine shoeshine boy who donned a cape to rescue Sweet Polly Purebred,  passed away February 10, 2013.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mittagessen Zu Schiller's German Delicatessen

In the mood for German food (i.e., Deutsche bier), I suggested to the Belle of Ballast Point that we try Schiller's Delicatessen at 4327 West El Prado in South Tampa for our noonday repast.

I hadn't been to Schiller's in an embarassingly long time, but I was anxious to pay them a visit after discovering that they have a few tables for sit-down dining and they serve beer - really good German beer - a Spaten for her and a Einbeck for me.

We stepped up to the counter to place our orders, and after a few minutes trying to decide what I wanted, I asked the charming lady behind the counter what she considered Schiller's signature dish to be. She humbly stated that most all of their dishes should be considered signature, but she recommended the sausage plate with German potato salad.

The sausages were tasty and delicious, and after a couple of Einbecks I have no idea what they were - besides good. My side was as good, if not better than my Grandmother's German potato salad. And yes, my Grandmother was German. The mustard was ever so slightly sweet and was a perfect accompaniment to the sausage.

Let's not forget that roll - it was crunchy on the exterior with a soft, tasty center.

Mien Frau decided on a sandwich - the Schiller's Deli Sandwich with Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayo on pumpernickel bread. As a side, she requested the macaroni salad. I have no translation for YUMMO, but that pretty much covers my bride's assessment of lunch. And, that bier? Sehr gute!

We were truly impressed with the food, the beer, and most especially the friendly folks at Schiller's deli. I imagine that if you planned a German dinner at home you would find most everything needed at Schiller's.

Schiller's German Delicatessan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shoulda Gone To Luigi's

Some months ago, my bride and I decided to "do Italian" at a South Tampa dining venue, Osteria Natalina. We had read a number of very positive reviews on Urbanspoon, and after visiting the Osteria web site, we decided to stop in for dinner. We arrived a bit after their advertised opening time but we were met by a locked door. It seems that we arrived during vacation closing, or some such.

Undeterred, we changed plans, and dined at a different Italian eatery that night, but made a mental note to try Osteria Natalina some time in the future. The future arrived last night.

After checking the restaurant's hours, we pulled in to the parking lot a little after 5:30 with appetites that were raring to dine.


We were again met with a locked door. We could see a couple of people inside, but a locked door is, well, a locked door. We began walking away, but just then we heard the rattle of a door being unlocked. Well, alrighty then!

A head poked out and a gruff voice bellowed, "We open in five minutes." The door slammed shut. What we should have done, and did consider doing, was just to keep walking.

While waiting for this special door to re-open we struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was also waiting. That helped pass the time until the "holiest" of food doors opened again...fifteen minutes later.

Mr. Grumpy, apparently the owner and gate keeper, inquired how many. We said just two, and our new friend said he was one of a party of six. Were were told to enter. The gentleman was denied entry until all six in the party showed up. There would be no waiting at a table until the others arrived, and that was final!

My bride and I were guided to a small table for two and presented with menus and water. We had our server's undivided attention since we were the only customers who were allowed in up to that point, so service was good.

We ordered a wine by the glass - a tasty Sangiovese. In addition, we chose to start with two appetizers. For the Belle of Ballast Point, Il Carpaccio Fresco di Tonno, a yellowfin tuna carpaccio.

My, oh, my, was that carpaccio ever...awful! It was drowning in a sea of lemon juice that totally masked any flavor that tuna may have had. To add insult to injury, the onions hadn't been completely peeled, and still retained some papery skin.

I fared much better with my ubiquitous appetizer of Le Cozze All A Cappa Style, black mussels in a red sauce. This dish was good, just nothing to gush over.

For our entrées we chose the Four Cheese Pear Pasta Purses (Sacatini) with Walnuts and Gorgonzola Cream Sauce for her, and the Mixed Grill for me. The Mixed Grill consisted of a couple of slices of filet mignon, veal, and a couple of Italian sausage patties.

I'd love to wax poetic about our food and experience at Osteria Natalina, but that won't be happening. This was the most disconcerting dining experience we have ever had. There was no warmth or friendliness. There were no smiles or friendly greetings. There just seemed to be an air of negativity that was very off-putting - starting with the Guardian at the Gate...

Our bill for food and drink came to $135. We tacked on 20% for our server. We won't be back.

Osteria Natalina on Urbanspoon Osteria Natalina on Foodio54

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Guns And VD

That headline might have garnered some attention, but it's probably not what you think. Guns is guns, but the VD stands for - Valentine's Day, and it is my intent to combine topics in this one Oracle post.

Here's the gun part: Mayors Against Illegal Guns is flying more than 100 gun violence survivors and family members of victims to Washington, D.C. to meet with their members of Congress next Tuesday and Wednesday.

More than 100 people whose lives have been changed forever by gun violence are going to be heard by Congress at a crucial moment.

Survivors and family members from mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson, and Virginia Tech. And those who have lived with the cost of the 33 Americans who are murdered with guns every day.

There's no one better to share the message that we need to fix our broken gun laws [and, just before a national day of love].

Now for the VD part. Nadia G, the hostess of the bitchinest kitchen, has this advice for a spectacular Valentine's DayContrary to popular belief, being single on Valentine’s Day will not lead to spontaneous combustion. Yes, you have to put up with couples sucking face left, right and center, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of this hallmark holiday.

 Celebrate on February 15!

This one is a no-brainer. Not only should you hermit indoors to avoid the above average rate of desperate men scrambling around in public, but you’ll have the opportunity to buy up all the fancy chocolates you can handle – and at half-price at that!

Nadia's advice makes sense for long wedded folks like my Baby and me - celebrate on the 15th.

I was contemplating reservations at a couple of spiffy dining venues, but their VD menu specials were crapola compared to the regular menus which were intriguing; but you can't order from the regular menu if the restaurant is running a VD special.

I also noted that reservations at some really super duper dining spots were not hard to come by on the 15th. What, I ask you, could be more romantic than a dinner with your sweetie in a dining room that appears to have been reserved for just the two of you - just as you planned (wink, wink)?

So what if you get laid a day late!