Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Git'cher Q On At Kojak's

What's a holiday weekend without some 'Q', barbecue that is? I'm not talking about some faux Southern accent (that's just plum insulting) Sonny's Q, I'm talking about the good stuff at Kojak's House of Ribs on Gandy in Tampa. This is a true SOG City treasure. Kojak's is situated on the south side of the boulevard.

The Belle of Ballast Point and I decided to top off our glorious three day weekend with a delightful Kojak's dinner.

I was just beside myself with gastronomic delight over my Bar-B-Que Combination platter: Dark meat chicken, a couple of Kojak's famous ribs, and a link of Smoked Hot Sausage. All were perfectly smoked, and very juicy and tender. My two sides were superb accompaniments, the green beans and cole slaw.

After washing all of this yummy food down with a large draft, I was stuffed.

My bride had been craving pulled pork and that is what she got - a big plate of pork smoked for 8-10 hours in Kojak's custom smoker. Moist and tender, the Belle was in BBQ heaven. Tater salad and baked beans rounded out her meal to perfection.

Rebecca was our most charming server who catered to our every whim and deserved the better than 20% gratuity that we tacked on to our bill. We still got out there for under $60.00.

We enjoyed our meal outside on the front porch. It was a beautiful evening with great food and service.

Kojak's House of Ribs on Urbanspoon

Kojak's House Of Ribs on Foodio54

Monday, May 27, 2013

Food And Art, Part Dos

Earlier I shared our dining adventure at Sono Cafe at the Tampa Museum of Art. Part two is going to be more about the art part than the food part, but you really should pay a visit to the Sono Cafe.

Photography is not allowed in the museum's galleries, but I was able to capture a few images in and around the museum that I am pleased to be able to share with you.

From the balcony looking across the Hillsborough River.

Food And Art

The Tampa Museum of Art is featuring Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana by Michael Eastman, between now and September 15. Besides my beautiful bride I don't know what inspires me more, great food or great photography. I love both!

Yesterday, she and I journeyed downtown to the museum to view Eastman's photos. To call those works "photos" is almost a disservice. Those 6 feet by 7 pictures were grand images that seemed so real that we felt as though we could step inside the picture frame and be there. This is a "must see" exhibit.

Photo courtesy of TMA, frame from my digital darkroom.

We arrived at the museum a little before noon and decided to get a bite to eat before enjoying Eastman's work. In addition to housing several very interesting exhibits, the museum is also home to the Sono Café, embracing "the ‘Slow Food Movement,’ which counters fast food, and fast life, and invites guests to slow down and enjoy their dining experience with all the sensations that accompany the consumption of good food and quality ingredients in a comforting environment."

Sono was everything it claimed to be with light, but filling foods in a bright airy setting. There is both indoor and outdoor seating. We chose to dine indoors and were promptly seated at what could serve as a community table had there been a large crowd.

We began our lunch with a couple of glasses of Prosecco to get us in the mood for food and later an inspiring exhibit. To accompany our wine we shared a Meat and Cheese Board with several varieties of meats and cheeses, marinated olives, flat bread, and fig preserves. This was an exceptional start to our Sono introduction.

For her main dish, the Belle requested the Egg Panini with Mortadella and Provolone cheeses. When asked how she liked this panini, my bride replied, "It was excellent!"

While she was enjoying her panini, I was in swoon mode over the artistically presented House Cured Salmon with capers, pickled red onion, and mascarpone on pumpernickel.

Sono Cafe is a Mise en Place production which probably accounts for the delicious food and superior service.

A visit to the Tampa Museum of Art is highly recommended and to enhance the experience a stop at Sono should be de rigueur. Food, four glasses of Prosecco, and a 20% gratuity came to $79 and some change.

Sono Café on Urbanspoon

Sono Café on Foodio54

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Malio's Prime: Pretentious And Over-priced

I am just going to cut to the chase and start by saying that my dining experience last night at Malio's Prime Steakhouse was one of the worst I have ever had. And that is a crying shame, because we had dined many times over the years at Malio's on Dale Mabry before they shut down, and we enjoyed every visit.

Malio's Prime is located around back in the Beer Can Building on the Hillsborough River. Once you get to the restaurant the river view is grand. Getting from the parking lot to Malio's was a slight challenge.

One in our party suggested that if you were an attorney and could find your way in and out of Malio's you wouldn't have to prove your sobriety in any other manner. Just sayin'!

Our party of six had reservations so we were seated in a timely manner, presented with menus, and our water glasses filled. The purpose of this visit was an additional celebration of the birth of my bride, the Belle of Ballast Point.

Our daughter and son-in-law wanted to treat their Mom, so we requested one check for the three of them, a separate check for our sister and her friend, and a third check just for me. I didn't feel that someone else should pay my bill since it wasn't my birthday. We will remedy that in September.

The reason for mentioning this billing plan will be revealed in a bit.

While we were waiting for our drink orders to be filled, the table was presented with a bread basket with the cutest little rock hard butter pats wrapped in foil.

Are you freakin' kidding me? A presumably high-end restaurant serving foil wrapped butter? For the prices we were being charged, I expected better butter. Oh, well!

Moving on to appetizers, my bride chose the beef carpaccio and I, being a glutton for punishment, chose a half dozen Blue Point oysters on the half shell.

The carpaccio with little toasts, shaved cheese, and micro-greens was good, not spectacular, but not bad. Again, for the price I would have expected more than just good.

The oysters were salty and delicious, but rather poorly presented. Several were mangled and several had not been cut loose from the bottom shell. Even though I do not usually dip my oysters in any accompanying sauces, I was surprised to see nothing more than a plebeian cocktail sauce in place of an expected mignonette.

For her entree, my bride had the most darling little $28.95 filet that she said was not particularly juicy and required steak sauce (a bottle of A-1 was brought to the table) to perk up the flavor.

No, she didn't cut into the steak. That was how it was presented.

The Malio's 20 ounce bone-in rib eye seemed to be calling me by name, so that was my entree.

That steak was cooked as requested. When I took knife to meat I encountered the toughest, most devoid of flavor rib eye I have ever had. Even that fatty edge of the rib eye was tough and dry. Cutting into the center was no better. I left over half of that $46.57 steak untouched. No one seemed to care.

I picked up the tab for the two appetizers my bride and I ordered, three glasses of Prosecco, a bottle of tasty Terrazas Malbec, my steak, and a couple of after dinner coffees. My total...I repeat, MY total for the evening came to $225.48 and included a mandatory $35.51 service charge. I have no idea how much the other five in our party were charged.

I don't mind laying out big bucks for superior food and drink. There was nothing superior about the food at Malio's. There was nothing to justify that $225.48. Malio's redefined "suckatude" and elevated it to an entirely new level.

Malio's Prime Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Channel District Dining Adventure

The Belle of Ballast Point turned another year younger yesterday. I had been advised that after a certain age women actually get younger with each passing year, and I have learned over the years not to argue with female logic. Anyhoo, to celebrate, I invited my bride to dine with me at a relatively new eatery in the Grand Central building in the heart of the vibrant Channel District of Tampa.

Cena, at 1120 East Kennedy Boulevard, is a modern, fresh restaurant serving "simple Italian food" in a contemporary and stylish setting.

Let's just pause for a minute or two right here. First, Cena's gastronomic delights were anything but simple. We found our food choices to be amazing in their complexity for taste, preparation, and presentation.

We had nothing that could be considered "simple".

Before we get around to the food, let's discuss location.

If you open the "Directions" link on Cena's website all you get is a Google map. This map is only going to get you to the general location. The address on Kennedy is also misleading. Cena is actually located on Madison Street and is easier to access from Madison.

There is also free on-street parking on Madison, but lots-o-luck finding an open space. At this point getting to Cena was becoming a challenge.

So, the question became, "Where the heck do we park?" It would have been nice if Cena had provided the following information on their website, but they didn't so the Oracle will.

Turn off Kennedy between those two buildings. You will see the West parking garage on the left and the East garage on the right. I am presuming you could use either one, but we entered the one on the right and drove up the ramp to a gate, punched a button and got a ticket. Right near the top of that ramp we found a empty parking spot, so we parked.

We noted that we were on the 3rd floor in the C-section. That sounds painful, I know, and it was a mistake. The C-section is all the way to the right of the building. We should have driven over to the A-section. This was getting to be a pain in the ass that only got worse. When we got to the ground floor there was no way to get to the restaurant other than walking all the way around the outside of the building.

See that little red arrow? That is pointing directly at Cena and across that courtyard, right next to the Pour House is the elevator that would take us to the 3rd floor, A-section after our dinner, with a short walk over to the C-section.

Holy crap, was that ever an ordeal! This had better be worth it, and it was.

The first order of business were two medicinal glasses of house white from the wine bar while we looked over the menu.

The Belle and I decided to start with a couple of appetizers - the Mussels Fra Diablo with crostini for moi, and the Italian Bacon and Eggs, pork belly, potato egg frittata, tomato vinaigrette for my bride.

There wasn't a whole lot of Diablo in those mussels which were said to be spicey. They were good, just not spectacular. The crostini and the broth were both excellent.

My dining partner fared way better with her choice. That frittata with the pork belly was absolute heaven on a plate - crispy, savory, fatty, and bursting with flavor.

She who gets younger with each passing year, also requested the Caesar Salad, with garlic, lemon, anchovy, parmesan, pecorino, and croutons that she shared with me.

I think she shared this delicious salad so that I would eat the anchovies - not one of her favorite "gifts from the sea".

To accompany our dinner, I asked our super sweet and efficient server Lucy to bring us a bottle of a Magnien Bourgogne Rose, an ideal blend of freshness and pure fruit - little Pinot Noir rosé is made in Burgundy, let alone gets shipped beyond France. This was a rare treat!

For her entree, my Lady chose the Carbonara with guanciale, peas, egg, parmesan, corn spaghetti, and black pepper.

This was a most unique carbonara, but unbelievably good with the guanciale, an Italian style of cured, dry-aged bacon made from hog jowls, and the corn spaghetti with a taste reminiscent of corn tortillas, but without the distinct taco taste.

I am still in an orgasmic quiver mode (I wouldn't dwell on that image if I were you) from my choice of an entree - Duck Confit with hen of the woods mushrooms and garganelli. Oh my!

That duck confit was cooked perfectly, tender, flavorful, juicy with a well browned, crispy skin resting in a bed of creamy polenta puree and accompanied by those divine mushrooms, micro-greens, and the garganelli - a type of egg-based pasta formed by rolling a flat, square noodle into a tubular shape.

After polishing off our entrees, we sat back in our chairs thinking that our gastronomic adventure couldn't get much better. Then, along comes Lucy with the dessert menu. She insisted that we must have the tiramisu. We both suggested that tiramisu wasn't one of our favorite desserts. Again, she insisted and we acquiesced.

Never had we experienced a tiramisu as astonishing as this to both the eyes and the receptors of taste. It was rich, creamy and adorned with ribbons of chocolate while nestled in a base of crushed chocolate and ladyfinger biscotti.

Once we got the location and parking situation worked out, our experience at Cena was memorable. Our bill for the evening came to $146.59. We added a 20% gratuity for Lucy.

One last note on parking: It is free for up to two hours.

Cena on Urbanspoon 

Cena on Foodio54

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Friday Date Night: Awesome, Simply Awesome

I asked my bride out on a dinner date last night at a new eatery in South Tampa, Copperfish Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar at 1502 South Howard Avenue. Fortunately for me, she accepted and we enjoyed a simply awesome dining experience at Copperfish.

Copperfish is in a building that we have visited a number of times over the years when it housed Bordeaux, a Ceviche, and others that I don't remember. The last tenant was the Samba Room that we meant to visit, but never did. Could that be why they closed? Hmmm!

Anyway, this new incarnation can boast a complete and spectacular re-do. The Copperfish has a much more open and airy feel, not so bricked up as before. Walking in through the rough hewn wooden door, the senses are assailed with the pleasant aroma emanating from the wood fired grill. 

At 5:30 or so, the outside bar area and the dining room were pretty much devoid of patrons. By the time we finished our meal, the place was packed. Hopefully, this level of business continues and grows so that Copperfish hangs around for a long while because this place is...what's the word? Oh yeah, awesome!

We had made reservations so when we were greeted at the hostess station we were immediately guided to our table by one of three charming ladies who really seemed happy to see us. Steve was our server for the evening and he provided us with superior service. 

Looking over the menu presented us with a conundrum. Copperfish bills itself as a seafood grill and oyster bar. Well, I got the oyster bar part and knew that I'd be having some of those. In addition to a myriad of interesting seafood choices, Copperfish offers some really tempting hand cut steaks and chops. One steak in particular really stimulated my trusty parotid glands (spit glands if you must know), the 20 ounce bone-in rib eye. I tend to drool at the mention.

I have made it a practice not to order seafood at a steak house, and not to order steak at a seafood restaurant. I came close to violating that principle last night, though. That rib eye still has my name on it and on my next visit it shall be mine.

The Belle and I started our evening with a couple of glasses of wine, a Ste. Michelle Chardonnay for her and a Dry Creek Chenin Blanc to accompany my oysters.

Starting at the 1 o'clock position and slurping clockwise to about 8 o'clock were the Pemaquids, a brilliant oyster from the deepest holes of the Damariscotta River in Maine. Pemaquids very firm, deliciously lemony and light, with a rock-hard brown-and-white shell.

The other half dozen were Kumamoto. These oysters originated in Japan and grow in suspended floats feeding with large amounts of fresh natural plankton from cold Pacific waters. They are plump and succulent. Harvest is by hand at low tide which probably explains their hefty price tag - six for $22.

The oysters were fairly well shucked, but a little more care should have been taken to ensure the liquor was not drained off of some. A really nice touch was the addition of caper berries adorning the dish. I really like caper berries. I never touched the sauces. Really good oysters don't need them and for what they cost I want to taste oysters, not sauces. But, that's just me.

After the oysters we were ready to move on to the main event that was enhanced with a bottle of Conundrum (are you sensing a trend?) White Meritage. Both my glamorous dinner date and I chose a seafood entree.

For her, the absolute best grouper since a visit some months ago to the Middle Grounds Grill on Treasure Island, the Black Grouper. This dish can be prepared either simply grilled with fresh herbs and lemon or with one of the special chef preparations. My bride chose the special preparation with the grouper resting on a potato cake and sprinkled with corn and green beans.

Last night at Copperfish I had the best lobster I could ever image consuming, The Pissed Off Lobster...sorry, my mistake. That should be Angry Lobster.

That lobster transcended just good and moved all the way to awesome. This whole lobster was cooked to perfection, not under done or over done. It was dusted with herbs and garlic and spices that upped the flavor without burning the tongue. This was sheer perfection.

We ordered a couple of side dishes to share, neither of which we really needed, nor could we finish: a savory Sesame Lime Slaw and a sublime basket of Sea Salt and Vinegar Potato Planks.

Neither my bride nor myself felt like we could manage eating a dessert. But then...but then we realized we didn't have to eat a dessert, we could drink it! So, Steve, two Death By Bartenders, please, with Van Gogh Espresso and Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur. If you are going to be done in by a bartender, what a way to go!

What with the oysters, unnecessary sides, and wines this was not an inexpensive evening - including a deserved 20% gratuity, $282.19. But everything was so good - especially that lobster with an attitude.

Reviewer's Update: My bride and I returned to Copperfish last night (Friday 5/17/2013). As I mentioned earlier, Copperfish has a bone-in rib eye on their menu that had my name on it. Well, last night it was mine...mine...mine...mine! It and my bride's filet were simply flawless. Perfection on a plate, if you will. Tender, juicy, and loaded with flavor.

Copperfish is a true double threat - great steak and seafood.

On both visits we dined anonymously and paid full price for all that we consumed. I thought about doing a separate review of our dinner last night, but repetitive reviews of the same restaurant gets a touch ridiculous.

Copperfish on Urbanspoon CopperFish Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar on Foodio54