Friday, October 31, 2014

Vote To Reject A Single Party State

It is vital that every conscientious, true patriotic American get out and vote on November 4. If you have a clue, you know what the Republicans are trying to do all across this nation. They want a single party state controlling our country.

A single-party state is a type of party system government in which a single political party forms the government and no other parties are permitted to run candidates for election. Some single party states only outlaw opposition parties, while allowing subordinate allied parties to exist as part of a permanent coalition such as a popular front. 

Regardless of your party affiliation, if you think that is a good idea you are in for a horribly rude awakening. How rude, you may ask? Why don't you ask the people in these single-party state countries:

Current single-party states:
1) People's Republic of China (Communist Party of China): 1949-present
2) Cuba (Communist Party of Cuba): 1959-present
3) Eritrea (People's Front for Democracy and Justice): 1993-present
4) North Korea (Korean Worker's Party): 1948-present
5) Laos (Lao People's Revolutionary Party): 1975-present
6) Syria (Baath Party): 1963-present
7) Turkmenistan (Democratic Party of Turkmenistan): 1991-present
8) Vietnam (Communist Party of Vietnam): 1976-present

A future single-party state:

9) United States of America (Republican Party of Oligarchs: 2014 and beyond

Before the Republican voters get their bloomers in a bunch, a single party controlled by the Democrats would be just as disastrous for America.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lauro's Will Be Missed

Talk about "a day late and a dollar short." My bride and I just recently discovered a venerable Tampa dining treasure that we somehow had missed over the years ... Lauro's Ristorante Italiano. Today in the Tampa Bay Times we read that Lauro's had permanently closed. That is horribly upsetting and very sad news. Tampa has lost another truly great, locally owned dining establishment.

Equally disheartening, in the same paper was the news that a new chain restaurant was opening up out on Chain Restaurant Boulevard (Boy Scout Road) that plans on serving pretty much the same, stuff as most every other upscale chain. Joy to the world ... just what Tampa needs, another same old, same old high dollar eating place.

Those two stories together leave the Tampa culinary scene mired in the muck of mediocrity. How sad.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Optimist: Extraordinary Food And Service

For the Belle of Ballast Point and me, one of the most memorable meals we have ever consumed was served to us at The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar, 914 Howell Mill Road in Atlanta back in March of 2013. I have been dreaming of the Optimist ever since and we finally made it back near the end of a road trip through the Carolinas, and then returning to Tampa through Georgia. Our layover in Atlanta was solely for The Optimist.

I had called a week earlier to make reservations for five o'clock on the 15th of October, and on that day the traffic gods smiled upon us and the taxi driver dropped us off at 4:45, about 15 minutes before the start of dinner hour. The door was unlocked, so we wandered in and were promptly greeted by a couple of smiling faces. We explained our early arrival and were assured this was not a problem, and we were welcome to have a seat at the bar and order whatever might wet our parched whistles. A couple of Proseccos worked their magic.

One of the managers, Scott Marsiglio, stopped by to see if all was to our liking and said if there was anything they could do to make our evening more pleasurable, just let him know. I mentioned that we had table reservations for five o'clock, but asked if we could sit at the oyster bar first, and then go to our table. I love a real oyster bar and the Optimist has a great one. Scott said he would let Kyle know we were on our way over.

I perused the oyster choices for that day and was totally amazed at the selection. One in particular caught my eye: the Belon oysters with the rubber band around them. Known more accurately as “The European Flat Oyster” (only true “Belons” come from the Belon River estuary in Brittany, France) these large oysters were transplanted to Maine decades ago. Because their abductor muscle is weaker than the American oyster, Belons are banded to help them remain closed and stored cup-down to retain their “liquor”.

In addition to six Belons, I requested a half dozen of the Wellfleets. Both varieties were properly shucked and served. My bride, who is not a lover of oysters since she found out that they are alive when opened, just watched as I consumed these gifts from the sea.

The round shelled oysters at the top are the Belons, plump and substantial, with a big, pronounced flavor and metallic, “coppery” finish – distinct but far less briny than their Eastern Oyster cousins, with a “sweet to flinty” overtone. The Wellfleet oysters are a deep cup oyster with a distinctive briny taste. I had achieved oyster nirvana.

After polishing off my dozen, the Belle of Ballast Point and I adjourned to our awaiting table where we were met by Shaun (sp?), our dining room server. Menus were presented and drink orders taken. We chose a Txakolina, a bracing, refreshing, white wine that is enjoyed throughout Basque country.

As much as I enjoy oysters on the half shell, octopus comes in a close second, and the Spanish Charred Octopus with spiced yogurt, okra, and jalapeno relish reached out to me. I was in tentacle heaven with this tender and savory appetizer.

Next, we moved to the Wood Hearth Roasted Fish section of the October 15th menu. The Belle requested the Golden Tilefish with lemon, thyme, and EVOO. When I asked about taste and texture, she replied, "Like butter!" As a side dish she chose the Confit Fingerling Potatoes with scallions, chili oil, and sinfully delicious roasted pork belly cubes.

There was no way I could let the Duck Fat Poached Swordfish with pork belly, butternut squash, and sherry jus not pass my lips. That dish alone would be worth another long drive from Tampa to Atlanta.

Scott comped us two desserts as a thanks for a second visit and the drive from Tampa. I'm not much of a dessert person, so I chose a glass of sherry while the Belle requested a delicious banana cake with caramel.

Our bill for the oysters plus a gratuity for Kyle came to $43 and some change. Dinner and wine was $121.50 plus an additional 20% for superb service.

Let me add that the Oracle did not identify ourselves other than with first names. We dine anonymously and except for the dessert and dessert wine we pay full listed menu prices. I can't imagine the service and consideration we received from Scott and his staff would be any different for any other patron to this Atlanta treasure.

The Optimist on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Healing Power Of Tapas

One minute we were standing on a sidewalk in downtown Asheville, and in a flash my bride and I were transported to a tapas bar in Madrid. Our magical journey really wasn't as dramatic as that. We had simply stepped across the threshold of Cúrate Bar de Tapas. As their web site states, "If you have ever visited Spain, Cúrate’s menu will transport you back to the country of flamenco, olives, almonds, and sherry."

We were transported past the tapas bar to a cozy dining room towards the back of this once bus depot. Erin, our server for this gastronomic adventure inquired of our desire for an adult beverage. Having spied a pitcher of sangria on another table, we decided that would be an appropriate beverage.

While Erin prepared our red wine sangria at the table, she suggested that we might want to just order two or three tapas each to share. This was good advice so that we didn't order more than our bellies could hold. I should mention that there were more desirable tapas on the menu than we could possibly manage, so we stayed with just six.

The Lardo Ibérico Ahumado was placed on the menu especially for me, I am sure. This smoked lardo from acorn fed ibérico pigs was something I had heard about and had to have ... rich, creamy, and sinfully delicious. This fatty delight has a monounsaturated acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. This dish carried me to astronomical gustatory heights.

My bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, simply raved over the Crema de Calabaza a creamy soup made with butternut squash and sprinkled with smoked Spanish paprika, toasted hazelnut oil, and adorned with candied pumpkin seeds.

There are few things from the briny deep that I enjoy more than octopus, so the Pulpo a la Gallega was another tapa I could not live without. This Galician style octopus was unbelievably tender, served with sea salt, olive oil, Spanish paprika, and a Yukon gold potato puree. Even my bride, who is not a real aficionado of seafood, was impressed with the taste and texture of this dish.

Another Spanish treasure I could not go another day without was the Jamon Ibérico Fermín. The medieval village of La Alberca, perched at the top of a mountain, is the home of Jamones y Embutidos Fermín. This family company cures their Ibérico hams in the cool, dry mountain air for over two years, transforming them into a masterpieces of flavor. Fermín was the first company to be approved for export to the U.S. You don't know ham until you taste this cured ham from the famous black-footed pigs of Spain.

My bride also order a tapa of Tortilla Epanola, a flavorful blend of potatoes and onions that complimented each other very well in this Spanish omelet. I was so enraptured with the jamon that I didn't get a taste or a photo except for the upper right corner of the picture above.

We were encouraged by friends back in Tampa to not leave Cúrate without trying the Berenjenas la Taberna, fried eggplant drizzled in wild mountain honey, and garnished with rosemary. This was a unique and flavorful presentation of this garden egg that is more commonly used in a  moussaka or ratatouille. This dish was not dessert sweet but provided a very pleasant finish to a perfect meal.

For all of that superb food and wine, our total for the evening was just $88.81. Erin was very deserving of the 20% gratuity and then some.

Cúrate, which means to heal, certainly healed our empty tummies and gave us a dining experience we will long remember.

Cúrate on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Decadent Delights In The Corner Kitchen

Never in my wildest gastronomic dreams would I have thought of Asheville, North Carolina as a culinary destination. Well, let me tell you a thing or three, that mountain city set me to being right in the head during our visit last week, and one of the best dining venues in this "Land of the Sky" is the Corner Kitchen in the historic Biltmore Village.

The Corner Kitchen is housed in one of those beautifully restored 1890s Victorian homes built for staff members working at the Biltmore Estate back in the day. Stepping across the threshold is like walking into the family home and being greeted by a warm and friendly young lady who immediately guides you to an awaiting table.

Moments later Mackenzie, our lovely server for the evening, appeared with menus and a desire to take our drink orders: a couple of glasses of Prosecco, s'il vous plaît. We also requested a bottle of Westrey Williamette Valley Pinot Noir with red current, red-raspberry, white pepper and white chocolate character to accompany our entree selections.

Our glasses of Prosecco were presented along with a savory bite of food to amuse the mouth and invigorate the palette, chicken with a hint of the Southwest on a tortilla chip.

My bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, chose the soup of the day to start her gastronomic journey. This was a creamy bowl of broccoli soup with a Parmesan cheese accent.

I am an oyster aficionado, so I was drawn to the Corn Fried Oysters with arugula, tomatoes, and a mustard drizzle. Crispy, crunchy on the outside and creamy in the center, this was a beautiful prelude to my entree.

And, my entree would be the Lobster Claws with Andouille Sausage in a Creamy Fettucini with Tomato Fondue and Fried Basil. There were so many elements to this dish that I simply adore, even now my taste buds are throbbing with desire.

Oops! It would appear that my mind jumped the tracks for a moment there, but it should be mentioned that there is something sensuous about food ... especially decadently good food.

Speaking of decadent and good, let's consider my bride's choice for an entree. Her Sweet Mustard Glazed Three Meat Meatloaf with Collards, Cheddar Grits, and Three Sauces was not only a work of art, but a dish that is probably illegal in many states that simply don't allow that much gastronomic goodness.

The Belle of Ballast Point and I shared our last dish of the evening; a bread pudding with a custard base and a ball of caramel drizzled ice cream. I am not a dessert person, so while the Belle enjoyed the pudding I just drifted off in a food induced coma.

All food and adult beverages came to a very pleasant $150.87, and we had no problem tacking on an additional 20% for Mackenzie.

Corner Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bouchon est Magnifique

High on our list of things to do, or should I say places to dine, while in Asheville was dinner at Bouchon. This restaurant was one of the reasons that my bride and I were prompted to drive all the way up from Tampa. And, let me say right up front that Bouchon and it's sister restaurant Crêperie Bouchon were so worth the drive.

We arrived at Bouchon a good thirty minutes before the restaurant opened so we decided to indulge ourselves with a couple of glasses of wine at the Creperie. Emilie was our delightful server who was thrilled to hear that we intended to dine at Bouchon. After serving our wine on the outdoor patio, Emilie kindly said that she would go next door and let them know we were coming at five. Emilie could give a few other restaurants that we visited a lesson on customer service. Bouchon, by the way, does not take reservations. It is first come, first served.

The Belle of Ballast Point and I arrived at five and were promptly escorted to a table. Alexandra, our lovely and professional server for the evening, quickly followed with menus. While perusing the menus, we finished our two glasses of wine from the Creperie, then requested a bottle of Mas Carlot "Les Enfants Terribles" Costieres de Nimes from the south of France. This is a blend of old vine Mourvedre and Syrah; full-bodied with fruity notes of blackberries, blueberries and tobacco.

From there we chose the Roasted Garlic Rouille with toasted baguette while we decided on our next courses. This rouille was a creamy delight and not so garlic heavy as to deter any vampires lurking about on Lexington.

As soon as my eyes spied L’Os à Moëlle Braisé with a sherry, mushroom, balsamic reduction I knew this heavenly bone marrow gift from the gods would be mine. I swoon at the very memory.

My petite bride chose the Salade du Grand Père as her diet-conscience appetizer; fresh greens dressed with a Dijon vinaigrette, sprinkled with lardons and walnuts. I am certain that the lardons were heart-healthy. It's bacon for gosh sakes and anything with bacon is good for you. Right?

Enough foolin' around. Let's get serious and move on to the entrees. For her the Steak au Poivre, a
superbly prepared sautéed beef shoulder tenderloin steak with classic black pepper-Cognac sauce, vegetables, and pommes frites.

That steak was tender, juicy, and delicious. The fries were crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and perfectly seasoned. A sauce was included, but the Belle said the fries needed nothing. They were perfect as they were.

I have tried preparing a cassoulet in our home kitchen and it never seems to come out as good as I would like, so any chance I get to indulge myself with a professionally prepared version of this classic, I am there. The Cassoulet Bouchon is probably the very best I have ever had. The Languedoc region’s classic dish of baked white beans got a Tarheel twist. Bouchon included confit of NC-raised poulet rouge leg quarter, with a house-made garlic-lamb sausage, and pork belly.

Oh mon Dieu! A duck quarter, garlic-lamb sausage, and pork belly. Three major food groups. I quiver at the mere thought.

Dessert? We needed that like we needed an extra stomach. Actually, we could have used a couple of those to hold the sinfully wonderful Crêpe aux Fruits Chocolat; a gluten-free crêpe filled with fresh seasonal fruit, homemade chocolate sauce, served warm, and topped with whipped cream.

I hesitated posting the following photo thinking it might be cruel and unusual punishment for anyone reading this review, but ... Oh, well!

Bouchon provided us with one of the most fantastic dinning experiences that we have ever had, and all for a measly $130.54. That would have been a $200 or more dinner back in the Big Guava.

FYI for our Doctor Kathie back in Tampa: most everything on the Bouchon menu is gluten free. So there!

Bouchon French Bistro on Urbanspoon

Bouchon French Bistro on Foodio54

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not So Ordinary

After dining at a couple of way too ordinary oyster bars in Charleston we were on the lookout for something out of the ordinary so we went to The Ordinary. The Ordinary is a fantastic seafood hall and oyster bar on the outskirts of the old town in a refurbished former bank building.

I have no qualms about saying that The Ordinary provided an extraordinarily superb dining experience for my bride and me ... once we got past the door-Nazi chicks.

Our taxi dropped us off at the front door at 4:45 or so. Our dinner reservations were at five and we knew that The Ordinary didn't open until five, but we were at the mercy of the taxi driver and the door was unlocked. We stepped inside and were greeted with a terse, "We don't open until five."

We acknowledged that, but since the taxi dumped us at the door and there was nothing of consequence in that nondescript neighborhood, we asked if we could just sit off to the side out of the heat. "No you can't. We don't open until five." It was ten to five as we stepped outside and if there had been a passing taxi we were inclined to tell the door-Nazis what they could do with themselves at five.

But at five, since we had not seen a passing taxi, we went back to see if we could get past these two paragons of parallel universe customer service. We succeeded and were led to a table near the oyster bar.

Adam, our friendly and professional server for the evening brought menus and inquired of our desire for an adult beverage. "Yes, yes, a thousands times yes," we croaked through parched lips and dry throats. We ogled the menu whist sipping a couple of glasses of ice cold Val de Mar French sparkling Chardonnay.

Since the oyster bar was so close, I walked over to see what was available that evening. The Wellfleets looked and sounded the best, so I ordered a  half dozen. The gentleman manning the bar and the knife did a spectacular job of shucking and presenting these salty, creamy, gifts from Neptune with subtle hints of seaweed.

I have no idea what condiments were provide since those Wellfleets needed absolutely nothing to enhance their briny goodness. My bride, meanwhile, was enjoying her house salad that was included in the $35 Prix Fixe Saturday menu. The protein on that menu was a tender, juicy New York Strip Steak with a savory sauce sprinkled with farm-to-table cherry tomatoes.

I was content to stay with small plates, so from the oysters I moved on to more oysters. This time it was the Crispy Oysters with Beef Tartare, an ambitious pairing that worked perfectly. The oysters had a creamy center with a nice crunch from the breading and created an exciting juxtaposition with the beef tartare.

Next came the Capers Inlet Clams, Fregola, Soffrito, Fennel.  Fregola is a bead-shaped pasta from Sardinia; it's nicely chewy and was used as a phenomenal base for the clams and soffrito. I swoon over pasta and clams, so this dish was definitely swoon-worthy.

I am starting to think that I should have invested in a pair of stretch pants, but my eyes said to ignore the stomach and get that Squid a la Plancha, Olive, Paprika dish. A la plancha is a Spanish term that refers to a method of searing food over a very hot metal plate. This is a rather simple dish that is loaded with flavor.

Well, I am done ... d-u-n done. My bride, though, had a dessert coming; a Chocolate Vanilla Bread Pudding served warm with a caramel sauce and a dollop of ice cream. It looked good, but I chose to sip on a very pleasing Moscatel.

Suddenly, another dessert appeared. I had to ask my bride, "Did I order that?" She said I did, and I had to ask, "Why?" I was thinking maybe we should eschew a cab back to the hotel and just walk, but then a voice commanded that I just eat that delicious Posset, a cold dessert made from thickened cream similar to a creme brulee and topped with berries and chocolate.

Our dining experience at The Ordinary wasn't cheap, but we weren't driving and a fair amount of alcohol consumption possibly occurred. Our bill came to $219.20. We added 20% for Adam.

I might mention that a few days later we arrived a bit before opening at The Optimist in Atlanta and were greeted warmly and invited to sit at the bar and enjoy a beverage until our table was ready.

The Ordinary on Urbanspoon

The Ordinary on Foodio54

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Oysters Weren't Particularly Noisy

For the longest time I had been hearing that the city to visit for superior oysters was Charleston. With that in mind my bride and I saddled up our trusty steed (actually a PT Cruiser) and set off on a road trip.

One of the recommended oyster bars was the Noisy Oyster at 24 Market Street. We wandered about for awhile listening for the sounds of noisy oysters. Finally we heard their calls and arrived at their door step. We were promptly guided to an open air booth overlooking a busy thoroughfare.

Let me just cut to the chase here and say that the absolute highlight of our visit was Shealy, our cheerful, helpful, and effervescent server. The food choices were geared more to the tourist crowd, not to people looking for a memorable dining experience.

While placing our orders for adult beverages, Shealy gave us a real tour guide rundown on what to do and where to go while in Charleston. Did I mention that she is a real treasure?

We sipped our suds and decided on our choices for lunch. The Raw Bar Trio with steamed shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and seared tuna called my name.

This was an interesting though uninspired dish. What was disappointing is the recurring practice of not cutting the oysters loose from the bottom shell forcing the diner to pry the mollusks loose with a cocktail fork. This is the second Charleston "oyster bar" that did this. Shealy said that's what they do. Oh well!

The Belle of Ballast Point fared better with a chopped salad accompanied by a superb Parmesan crisp and a delicious side of fried green tomatoes floating on a bed of creamy grits.

That tomato dish was enhanced with a light, but toasty breading and a delightful lemony after taste. Now that was memorable!

Our total for food and beverages came to a reasonable $61.02. We tacked on an additional 20% + for Shealy's exceptional service.

I am glad that we went, but I do not envision a return.

Noisy Oyster Seafood on Urbanspoon

Noisy Oyster on Foodio54

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Aw, Shucks

Before departing Tampa for our trip up country, I did some Googlin' to find some outstanding oyster venues in Charleston. One that was recommended was A.W. Shucks at 35 South Market Street. We wandered in to a mostly empty restaurant around 7:30 Friday evening and were promptly shown to a booth.

Our server soon appeared with menus and with a rather glum expression she took our drink orders, a Palmetto pint for me and a Miller Lite for my bride.

Since Shucks promotes themselves as an oyster bar I knew I had to get a dozen raw on the half shell.

These James River oysters were shucked pretty well, but they had very little flavor. I couldn't decide if they had been washed off (a real no-no in my opinion) or if they were just bland. They also had not been cut loose from the bottom shell, an annoying practice I discovered was common while at other oyster bars in Charleston.

While I slurped the oysters, my bride nibbled on her chicken tenders. I didn't include a photo because if you've seen one tender, you've pretty much seen them all.

I was still trying to get into a Charleston oyster frame of mind, so after the dozen raw I decided to try a bucket of the steamed Local Clusters.

This cluster bucket was filled with u-shuckum oysters. They were pretty good dipped in the little tub of perfectly clarified butter. Oh yeah, that's a little chicken tender there in the background.

To round out her meal, the Belle of Ballast Point requested the bread pudding. She said it was good, I just stayed with a beer for my dessert.

Food and beverages came to $80.06. We did add 20% for our server who, as I recall, never cracked a smile during our entire visit.

I'm kinda thinking that Shucks is more for the tourist crowd. We weren't very impressed.

A. W. Shucks on Urbanspoon

Aw Shucks on Foodio54