Friday, January 30, 2015

Bean To Lima

Due to a family event I once again found myself in the land of the Limas, Ohio's answer to Pennsylvania's dreary Erie. My bride's Dad turned 90, which says a lot for clean living and an occasional Bible thump. To celebrate this milestone, my bride and I, with our sister, and daughter braved the bitter cold and flew north.

One of the major downsides to a trip to Lima is finding a reasonably decent place to eat that serves medicinal alcoholic beverages and doesn't have macabre naked little dolls peering down on you from their creepy perches in the dining area. One such dining spot that we enjoyed on our last visit was the Texas Roadhouse. On this visit the place was packed and the waiting line was backed up to our wapakenetas, or some such, so we had to find an alternate gastronomic gem. Yeah, I know.

As luck would have it, just down the street we discovered the Lock Sixteen Steakhouse. Apparently we were among the few who had discovered the Lock because we wandered in without reservations and were promptly seated. Menus were presented and adult beverages were served.

The table shared an appetizer of Bacon Wrapped Shrimp. These shrimp were baked to crispy bacon perfection with a side of honey mustard sauce for dipping. I ate tails and all since the tails had a nice crunch and they have a whole lot of flavor.

The house salads were surprisingly good ... fresh, and crisp with a sprinkling of craisins.

Several at our table enjoyed the Charbroiled Prime Rib with savory au jus. Mine was prepared to a perfect medium rare and was mostly tender throughout.

My bride had the Chopped Sirloin with onion rings, and hold the 'shrooms, plus a side of Mac 'n' Cheese. There was also an included bowl of smashed taters. Said she of her meal, "I'm pleased."

The service at Lock Sixteen was efficient, the prices were reasonable, and the food was adequate. I can't say I would go all the way to Lima to dine there, but it sure was better than being weirded out at a kewpee doodle.

Lock Sixteen Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fine Dining On Park

I don't know if Bob Spoto would describe his Grill 131 at 13079 Park Boulevard in Seminole as a supper club, but upon entering this swanky joint near the Portobello Plaza that is the sense that my bride and I got last night. The ambiance, the decor, the menu, and the professional service certainly gave us that supper club feel.

Photo by The Belle of the Boulevard
 We entered around 7:30 without reservations, but we were still promptly guided to a warm, comfy booth. James, our delightful server for the evening, presented us with menus, a hot from the oven bread loaf with a small bucket of real butter, and to our great surprise, a complimentary scoop of chicken pate.

We ordered house wines by the glass though Grill 131 does have an impressive selection of wines. A couple of white Zins perfectly complimented our appetizer of Lobster-cargot. Presented in an escargot serving bowl, these superb morsels of lobster were swimming in a pool of garlic and butter.

All signature entrees include a soup or house salad. The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I both chose salads, with crispy cold mixed greens and slices of Mandarin orange.

For her signature entree, my bride chose the 8 ounce prime rib, perfectly grilled to her requested temperature and bathed in a rich au jus with a topping of fried onions. The Belle swooned over her side of a loaded baked potato.

I was seriously torn between the cioppino, pork porterhouse, or the lamb shank. All sounded wonderful, but I finally chose the roasted Australian lamb shank, with creamy mashed potatoes, and delightfully al dente vegetables. That shank was fall-off-the-bone tender and enhanced with a rich braising sauce. As an added perk there was a little tub of mint jelly to further elevate the lamb to gastronomic heights. That was a seldom experienced, but divine touch.

We had no room for dessert, but my beautiful dining partner did chose a rich carrot cake to consume later that night in our stately pleasure dome on the beach.

Dinner with more than a few glasses of wine came to a pleasant $135.44 and included the 16% service charge. We did the math and added an additional 4% to round out the gratuity to 20%.

I know that some diners have groused about the mandatory 16% tip, but it should be noted that 16% is more than a little chintzy with today's economy.

Grill 131 has a dandy bar and live entertainment Tuesday through Saturday. We will be going back.

Photo from web site
Spotos 131 Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Slyce On The Beach

After a day of travel to downtown St. Pete utilizing the simply awesome Pinellas County public transportation system, the Belle of the Boulevard and I decided that a slice or two of pizza might be a good choice for dinner this past Saturday.

We have heard nothing but good things about Slyce Pizza Bar and since Slyce is just up the road from us on Gulf Boulevard we decided to mosey in for some pizza and a few adult beverages. We were greeted at the hostess station and immediately guided to a table with a window view. Workers were scurrying about, taking orders and busing tables.

After ten minutes of inactivity at our table I turned to my bride and asked, "Did we neglect to lower our Romulan cloaking devices?" "What?" she responded. "Are we invisible?" A lady busing an adjacent table responded with a vigorous, "You haven't been waited on yet?" For Margo, whom we discovered was the manager (busing tables?), that was simply unacceptable.

Erin, our very efficient server for the evening, promptly appeared and so did menus, our drink orders, along with a profusion of apologies. Margo is the epitome of a great manager. She has 14 years experience in food service, her customer care skills were beyond amazing, and I have no doubt that this episode would be discussed at the next Slyce management meeting.

The Belle and I were intrigued by the Slyce Italian Sushi Roll. "Sushi roll, you say?" Well, we are adventurous so, "Bring it on!"

Never would we have imagined eating with chopsticks in an Italian restaurant, but there we were practically inhaling these delights made with fresh organic arugula, cucumber, fresh mozzarella, and roasted peppers wrapped in thinly sliced Prosciutto and drizzled with balsamic glaze and Cusabi dressing. Heavens to Murgatroid were those sushi rolls ever good. I'd go back to Slyce just for those.

But, it was pizza my bride was craving, so pizza it would be.

We ripped into that Chicago Deep Dish pizza with a gusto that belied the fact that we are actually well fed piglets. This orgasmically good pizza was adorned with mozzarella on the bottom, and enhanced with ham, sausage, meatballs, bacon, more cheese and topped with sauce.

Other than being born in Chicago, I have never been to Chicago so I have nothing with which to compare this pizza, but I can't envision that them folks up north can do it any better.

A couple glasses of wine and a couple beers along with the sushi and pizza set us back $66.28. We tacked on an additional 20% for Erin. It may have been a rocky start, but Margo and Erin definitely set things right, and all it took was a polite, understanding attitude from us.

Slyce Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

Slyce Pizza Bar

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I Have Found A Solution

Looking for adventure, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I availed ourselves of the fantastic Pinellas County public transportation system yesterday. This turned out to be a most enjoyable frolic, especially since public transportation in our old home of Tampa simply sucks.

With day passes in hand, we boarded the Suncoast Beach Trolley just steps from our door, rode down to St. Pete Beach where we transferred immediately to the Central Avenue Trolley (CAT) which took us to the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. What used to be called The City of the Newly Wed and Nearly Dead has transformed itself into a vibrant mecca of food and entertainment.

Instead of seeing drunks and bums pissing on car bumpers (Morgan Street, Tampa), we found ourselves in the midst of happy revelers, entertaining sidewalk musicians, and the delightful aromas of tasty foods emanating from a myriad of Central Avenue restaurants. We even discovered a solution for life's many trials and tribulations.

(Click on any picture to enlarge)

We were amazed upon spying a beautiful, yet wild, chandelier. I have to assume it was wild and uncontrollable since it had to be caged.

While enjoying the solutions to our woes and miseries, out of nowhere, up springs a protest demonstration. The Belle was simply a-twitter, since she had never been this close to anything resembling a protest march or demonstration.

Fifty or so people marched to spread a message about race. The marchers paused near us and for 4 1/2 minutes they lay down in the street to represent the 4 1/2 hours Michael Brown lay in the street after being shot in Ferguson, Missouri.


It is my sincere hope that demonstrations such as this and others around the country have a positive impact on race relations. Contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court, racial bigotry is alive and well in these United States. It is long past time for a change ... for the better.

To wrap up our most exciting day in downtown St. Pete, my bride and I hopped aboard a convenient CAT bus for our return trip to the paradise that is Indian Shores.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Key West Frame Of Mind On Gulf Boulevard

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I have visited the Conch Republic more times than we can count. Key West has amused and entertained us many times over the years, but that 16 or so hour round trip from Tampa and back has worn us out. We have flown down a time or two, but that air fare can be ridiculous.

This past December we solved the travel issues. We sold our house in Tampa and moved to the beach where we have found a Key West frame of mind with great food venues, live entertainment, and friendly local beach folks. The tourists can be just as annoying here as the ones on Duval, but that is part of the charm.

Speaking of the Conch Republic, one of our favorite haunts for good grub and cold brews is the Conch Republic Grill, at 16699 Gulf Boulevard, North Redington Beach. We have darkened their doorstep on several occasions and each time we piglets have waddled out stuffed and thoroughly sated.

On one visit my bride, who is not a true seafood aficionado, was in the throes of gastronomic orgasm over the buttery grilled Hogfish special. Hogfish is also known as Hog Snapper due to its head resembling a pig's snout. Hogfish is lean, has a delicate texture, very fine white meat with mild flavor and subtle sweet undertones. The Belle said that was the very best fish she has ever had. Hog Snapper sells out quickly because of the traditional fishing practices with spears as opposed to hook and line, so if it is on the Conch menu - get it!

It wasn't on the menu last night, so my bride chose the Margarita Chicken dinner with a side of loaded mashed potatoes. It was good, it was filling, and there was enough to take home for a chicken sandwich the next day.

I don't remember what species of fish I had on my previous visit, but it was in the Sicilian Oak Grilled style and very tasty. Last night though, I had one of the absolutely best bone-in grilled pork chops imaginable. That chop was so tender, so juicy, and so perfectly prepared that it almost brought tears of joy to my eyes. I had asked Lauren, our lovely server, to ask that the chop not be cooked to death. Instead of gray, I asked that the center be a warm pink and it was ... perfection on a platter.

That picture does not do the chop justice. It was slathered with a spicy Jamaican jerk rub and served with a side of garlic butter linguine.

All of that food, a couple of Bloody Marys, and several Sweetwater 420s only set us back $47.25. We were more than happy to leave a 20% gratuity for Lauren's excellent service.

Editor's Update: I returned (6/20/2015) to the Conch for another one of their Jerk Pork Chops that was so heavenly some months ago. Again I requested that warm pink center. I received it well done, gray and dry, and sent it back. The second chop arrived well done with the admonition that the restaurant refuses to cook pork any other way.

Well, excuse the hell out of me but: Anything north of 137 degrees F is safe to eat. After that the degree of doneness is a personal preference. At home I cook  to 140 to 145 and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. As knowledgeable chefs are aware, that will give you a slight pink, moist center and I have yet to keel over sick or dead. Conch Republic has now been removed from my go-to list of Gulf Blvd restaurants. I want the damn thing My Way! After all, it's my money.

And again, there was no hog fish. Apparently the Seabreeze got it all.

Conch Republic Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Bistro On The Beach

My bride and I quietly celebrated the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new year with masks and tooters that we received with dinner at the Gulf Bistro on Gulf Boulevard a few miles south of our new home on the beach.

We had dined at the bistro back in 2012 and were more than a little impressed with the food, service, and ambiance. It seemed like a dandy idea to go back to the bistro for our last meal of 2014.

We had made reservations a few days in advance and were advised that the New Year's menu would be "fixed price". In restaurant terminology a table d'hôte menu is a menu where multi-course meals with only a few choices are charged at a fixed total price. Such a menu may also be called prix fixe.

The prix fixe menu we found was essentially a scaled down version of the bistro's regular offerings leaving off the really good stuff, like frog legs or the sauteed calf liver.

I had tasted the duck liver pate during the 2012 visit so that was my appetizer choice on this visit. The pate was good, but might have benefited from sitting out of the refrigerator for a few minutes before service.

Warm dinner rolls had already been brought to the table, and while pleasantly crusty on the outside with warm, soft centers they were definitely not enhanced by the rock hard, tiny tubs of accompanying butter. I would have been accepting of butter pats or butter tubs at a Waffle House, but not a pricey French bistro.

My dining companion was intrigued by the appetizer, Lobstetr Bisque, since she had never had a lobstetr before. We had a chuckle or two over that spell-checker malfunction, but that lobster bisque with the salmon quenelles was silky smooth and delicious, although the Belle of the Boulevard said she didn't detect lobster, just the tasty salmon.

After the appetizers we were presented with the salad which served more or less as a palate cleanser.

We debated the beef Wellington, but both of us decided on the rack of lamb. Mine was a perfect medium rare, the Belle's requested medium was under done and had to be sent back. Her dish was returned after a short few minutes and was presented again at the requested temperature.

The dessert of Opera Raspberry Pistache was probably the highlight of our dining adventure at the Gulf Bistro.

To accompany dinner we chose an excellent red from Provence, the Mas de Gourgonnier. With a dark garnet, and mixed fresh berry aromas, black raspberry and strawberry and just a hint of grilled meat, the wine paired well with our chops of lamb.

Our total for the evening came to a little over $200 and that included the 20% gratuity that we added. This visit to the Gulf Bistro was pricier than 2012 and less satisfying, but we enjoyed our masks and tooters.

Gulf Bistro on Urbanspoon