Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Steak Night With Harold

My Belle and I had been to the Harold Seltzer's Steakhouse on north Dale Mabry in Tampa years ago. I remember the prime rib I was served was coated in a truly horrid pickling spice mixture that totally masked the flavor of the beef. I vowed never to return. It was a moot point. They shut down that restaurant not too long after.

That brings me to last night and one of those "never say never" moments. Both my bride and I were in the mood for a steak, but not one of those $50 steaks served just down the road from us on Gulf Boulevard. I suggested to the Belle that we give Harold another try at his dining den on Tyrone Boulevard. So, we went.

I called ahead and made reservations for 5:30 which turned out to be a grand idea. The place fills up quickly. We were immediately greeted and guided to a comfy booth in a wood paneled dining area. The walls were adorned with pictures of historic Tampa Bay area landmarks like the now restored Floridan Hotel in Tampa.

Hernando was our charming and efficient server for the evening. He presented us with menus and took our drink orders, a Crown Royal and Ginger Ale for my lady and a Southern Fashion Old Fashioned for me (Muddle an orange and a cherry with sugar, a shot of Southern Comfort, and add a splash of Angostura Bitters and a spritz of Club Soda).

Since we were dawdling over cocktails, taking our time making food decisions and since the dinner crowd was picking up, Hernando took a salt shaker and placed it on the edge of our table. He said when we are ready to order just move the shaker and he would be right over. Brilliant idea! When we moved the shaker, there he was.

For her entree, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard chose the six ounce Filet Mignon, medium well with a pink center, and a loaded baked potato. The steak was presented well done which was interesting considering the menu disclaimer: "Well-Done ...Broiled throughout (We do not recommend such grilling - it will be drier, less tender & less flavorful.)" No kidding! That steak was tough, dry and had little flavor. Go figure.

I decide to eschew the famous Seltzer prime rib and went with the "18 ounce Bone-in Rib Eye - Harold's Favorite Steak, Perfectly Aged, Tender, Juicy." I received that rib eye medium, as requested, but it was definitely not tender. It was light on flavor and chewed like a Publix choice. I had the creamed spinach as my side, and it was ... well, creamed spinach.

To accompany our steaks we chose an excellent bottle of Ménage à Trois, a California blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. For dessert, the spectacular Napoleon, a house specialty with a light graham cracker crust on the bottom and beneath the icing, a rich whipped custard and whipped cream center and sugar icing.

I can't claim that Harold's is our most favorite steakhouse, but the wine was good with a very reasonable price, the Napoleon was excellent as was the service. Maybe best of all, we got out of there for just $92.78. We added an 20% gratuity for Hernando.

Harold Seltzer's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Rose In Grand Central

Ever since dinner yesterday evening I have been oddly preoccupied with thoughts of cows. To help me achieve sleep last night I found myself counting cows instead of sheep. "How unusual!" you might exclaim. I'd have to agree, and then it hit me. This bizarre affliction occurred once before after lunch one day in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. On the menu was a perfectly grilled plate of huevos del toro, or eggs of the bull.

On the way to the aeropuerto after the noon time repast, we passed a herd of cattle. I spied just the cutest black and white heifer I had ever laid eyes on and ... whoops, my train just jumped the tracks. This is supposed to be a review of the simply fabulous Engine Rose restaurant that could double as a sports bar in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg. I'll get back to the bulls balls.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I skipped through the puddles to get to the Rose a little after their 5 o'clock opening this past Friday and just after the latest spring shower.

If, like us, you are wondering about the Airstream ...  well, that's the kitchen. To the right, the Rose has indoor and outdoor seating. Since there were tarps and umbrellas over the outdoor bar and seating areas, we chose to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather and springtime precipitation. Our charming server Kat invited us to sit where we pleased and presented us with menus and took our drink orders.

My beautiful bride chose a Little Paris, a light, fruity and refreshing pale ale. I requested the Tomoka Stout with chocolaty overtones that went well with our appetizer of Crispy Fried Dill Pickle Spears served with little tubs of jalapeno ranch dressing and a dark ale mustard. The pickles were dandy and enhanced by the mustard. The ranch was a little light for my taste, though the Belle seemed to prefer that dip.

For her main course the Belle was intrigued by the Patty Melt primarily because it wasn't just like every other melt. This one was a classic melt but with prime Angus beef, fried bologna, caramelized onions, Swiss and cheddar cheeses on seeded rye. All sandwiches come with a choice of sides; in this instance, Tater Tots.

Even though my bride doesn't like any moo left in her beef, this melt was juicy and full of flavor. The bologna added a heightened level of taste. Said she, "This was one of the best patty melts ever!"

I don't recall ever seeing huevos del toro on any menu in the Tampa Bay area, and that was one of the main reasons for me to visit the Engine Rose. My taste buds quiver with excitement whenever I see a menu that doesn't look like every other menu. Ubiquity is something for which the Bay area is infamous, so the Rose's Huevos de Toro just screamed my name.

That mile high pile of bovine and porcine perfection stabbed with a dagger to hold it together was simply awesome to behold; a bit of a challenge to eat, but I mashed it down to a manageable size.

The Angus beef patty was a perfect medium rare, the pork belly had a delightful salty crispness, and the eggs of the bull added a whole new dimension. This burger was further enhanced with onion rings, Muenster cheese and an A-1 remoulade sauce. Though the balls were a little more chewy than what I remember from Honduras, that was still an amazing burger. My side of skillet corn was very good, but with the size of that burger it was a bit of an overkill for me.

Four brews, an appetizer and two sandwiches came to a pleasant $66.23. We tacked on an additional 20% for Kat. Even though you may not be an adventurous diner, you should still give the Engine Rose a try. You will probably keep returning.

Engine Rose on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 16, 2015

Serious Good Eats At Siri's

"I wants me a haambuuuger ... nay, nay," spaketh my bride, "I gotsta have me a haambuuurger ... NOW!" The Belle really doesn't speak like that, but I got the point. It would be a hamburger for her or it would be an unpleasant day for me and anyone else crossing her path. It couldn't be just any burger for the Belle, it had to be a gourmet burger.

Knowing what is good for me, I immediately went to the Googles to see where Pinellas folks go for a gourmet burger. At first it looked as though I'd have to give her the bird, but the Robin chain didn't titillate my buds of taste. Suddenly, there on my computer screen I spied Siri's. No, not the beotch on the iPhone. I'm talking about Siri's Gourmet Burgers and Pizza on Beach Boulevard in Gulfport.

Pulling into a parking spot in front of a house on Beach Boulevard, we realized we had arrived at Siri's. It looked like someones house, and at one time it probably was. A little girl was playing on a tree-lined sidewalk as we entered Siri's, which added a homey touch to this quaint setting.

There is indoor and outdoor seating. The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I chose to sit indoors in the main dining area. There are booths and tables. We chose a booth looking toward the open kitchen.

Siri's isn't one of those pretentious beach dives catering to the out-of-towners in their fancy tourist disguises. This place is serious about their food offerings. Their hamburgers are hand made fresh to order. They grind their beef from a special blend of three premium cuts. They make their rolls for the burgers, hoagies, and cheese steaks fresh daily.

This isn't your fast food burger doodle. Siri's isn't a chain. It's a true family operation with husband Byron creating taste sensations in the kitchen, wife Ting tending the tables with help from daughter Siri. Baby Byron pretty much slept through our visit.

While Siri's has wings, salads, pasta dishes, subs and hoagies, and pizza, my bride and I came for the burgers - the Burger Special with drink and fries included for her. The meat was delicious, the buns fresh and the fries were hand cut and fried to perfection.

I was totally intrigued with the What'Cha Ma Call It Burger. I saw it on-line and knew I had to have this burger with double patties, an over-easy fried egg, anchovies, cheese and topped off with a bleu cheese dressing.

Holy moly and great balls of fire, that burger wasn't just good, it was spectacular. The prime beef was prepared a perfect medium rare. When I pressed the top bun on the egg the creamy yolk drizzled over the two anchovies creating a delightful gravy for the beef patties. The anchovies added the just the right amount of salty goodness to enhance this whole bulls-eye-hittin' shootin' match. This was a six napkin burger.

A couple beers, the fries and burgers ran to a measly $25.11. We've had a lot less for a lot more across the bay. These Siri folks are serious about good eating.

Siri's Gourmet Burgers & Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sweets For The Sweet On Gulf Boulevard

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I have been to Cafe de Paris Bakery, a world class French bakery, on several occasions and each time we have scored some of the tastiest treats this side of the Seine.

Our latest visit to this magnificent boulangerie / patisserie was this past Saturday morning, and as was the case on our other visits, the place was packed. We are looking forward to planting our derrieres at either an indoor or outdoor table one of these days, just as we did on our last trip to Paris, to enjoy the Cafe de Paris coffees and pastries.

Alas, we again were forced to order their decadent delights at the counter and cart our treasures back to our stately pleasure dome. Upon arriving at our palace overlooking the Intracoastal and the Gulf we brewed a pot of freshly ground coffee and whipped up a couple of mimosas. That brings to mind the only negative we could find with the Cafe. They don't serve alcohol which means no mimosas.  


We made do with a superb cheese and bacon quiche that was big enough for two to share.

In addition to the quiche, we brought home three delightful eclairs: a chocolate, a vanilla, and a mocha. We could not resist an encore with the creamy, fruity little tarts we devoured a week or so ago.

Sunday morning with my Baby, the paper, sweet treats, and robust coffee on our balcony was as close to heaven as I may ever get. I'm good with that.

Cafe de Paris Bakery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Just A Little Tongue Thai-ed

This past Saturday my bride and I stopped by the Cafe de Paris French bakery (boulangerie / patisserie) to pick up some breakfast staples to go with our Sunday morning mimosas. It was there in the same building that we discovered Thai Pan Alley, an unassuming Thai themed restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating trimmed with bamboo.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I had plans for the weekend but "we vowed to endeavor to persevere" in returning to the Alley at a later time. [My thanks to Lone Watie - The Outlaw Josey Wales - for that line.] The time to return arrived in a timely manner yesterday evening when we came to the startling realization that we had not made it to the grocery and our stately pleasure dome was devoid of food.

My heavenly honey and I wandered in to the Alley around 5:30-ish, before the hordes descended, and we were offered a choice of seating. We chose the inside with AC. Our server Heather inquired as to whether we would like an ice tea or a soft drink. We both gave her what was probably seen as a startled look and she amended her query to, "...or, maybe a beer?" "Nrk chı̀!" spaketh I in Thai. [That loosely translates to "Hell, yes!" and yes I did go to Google Translate.]

After presenting us with a Miller Lite for my bride and a Thai water (Singha beer) for me, Heather brought our shared appetizer, a plate of Thai Steamed Dumplings.

These steamed morsels were packed with something. I am not sure if it was ground pork or ground chicken. They weren't bad, but I really didn't detect any Thai flavors; actually more Japanese with what tasted like a ponzu dipping sauce. As we soon discovered, those dumplings set the flavor tone for the evening.

As the appetizer plates were cleared, the Belle forked into her Kiss Me Beef, really tender sliced sirloin seared in garlic pepper sauce with water chestnuts, scallions, carrots and topped with fried garlic. I should mention that she knows how to use chop sticks but, like the Thais, we both prefer forks and spoons.

This dish is served with white rice but the Belle chose the $1.75 up-charge to fried rice, a decision she was not thrilled with since it looked and tasted more like brown rice. She did emphasize that the beef was tender and tasty.

I am beyond just fond of crispy duck so I had to have the Ginger Duck: crispy duck topped with fresh ginger, onion, mushroom, green pepper, scallions, celery, and carrots in a ginger glaze.

A couple of points here: there was nothing crispy about that duck, the mushrooms had the taste and texture of canned, but most importantly there was nothing particularly Thai about either entree. Both were on the sweet side, but without the complex interplay of at least three and up to four or five fundamental taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy.

I did request four stars on the heat-o-meter but I did not experience "raging fire with the exotic flavors of Thai." It was more akin to an amusing tingle with the blandness of Americanized Chinese.

I certainly am not suggesting that Thai Pan Alley is horrible. It isn't! The prices are reasonable, the service was adequate, they have Thai beer, and we got full. It just isn't Thai enough for us.

Several beers, the food and our choice of a 20% gratuity brought our total for the evening to $55.28.

Thai-Pan Alley on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Steam and Chill

As the Suncoast Beach Trolley neared St. Pete Beach I could definitely feel a chill coming on, and suddenly there it was: Steam and Chill Food Haven and Lounge. Our dear friends, Sweet Polly and her Underdog hubby, had suggested that our lives would forever be incomplete if we didn't Chill with them, so the Belle and I did just that last evening.

The four of us wandered in at seven and were immediately guided to a four person chef's table overlooking the chefing action with Chef Steve manning the burners. Steve is a very gregarious chef who was happy to address all questions and concerns voiced by my loving bride.

Ruthie, one of the Chill owners, stopped by to share with us the dinner menu concept. It is similar to a tapas menu, but unlike tapas the plates are a little bigger and are meant to be shared. So, let the sharing commence!

The four of us began our gastronomic adventure with plates of Roasted Cauliflower, Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, Roasted Stuffed Dates, and Escargot.

While all of these starters were good, I have to say that the dates were my favorites; stuffed with Gorgonzola, wrapped with prosciutto, served on fresh spinach leaves and enhanced with a soy balsamic glaze. The mushrooms and escargot seemed to get a little lost in the cream sauces.

Our next round of plates came from the Seafood and Steak side of the menu and included the Espresso Rubbed Beef, Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola and Whiskey Glazed Shrooms and the New Orleans Style Surf and Turf.

All three plates were good with interesting presentations. It is hard to pick a favorite, but I do like whiskey.

The four of us split two sinfully delicious desserts, the Signature Red and a special of the evening, the Strawberry Brownie.

All of the plates that we tried were artfully prepared and very pleasing to the buds of taste. There was live entertainment provided by a guitarist. The prices were reasonable for all the food and several bottles of wine. We split the bill in half and our share came to $151.94 including our 20% gratuity.

Chill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Aqua Prime: So Good We Did It Again

Yesterday my bride, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard, had a hankering, and I mean a raging hankering for a slab of beef. She was thinking of Longhorn's beef, so we saddled up our trusty steed and galloped off in search of a steak. After a long frustrating journey compounded by a hosed up Google map we finally found a steakhouse ... with a one hour wait. The Belle was too hungry to wait that long so we headed off to another nearby steakhouse and another hour or more wait. My beautiful bride was now starting to get a serious grump on.

Since plans A and B didn't work out, I switched to plan C and we headed back toward Gulf Boulevard. I thought that Spoto's might be a good alternative since we have dined there before and really enjoyed the experience. Holy crap, a 30 or more minute wait! "What the hell's a girl gotta do to get some food around here?" growled my dainty darling. Thinking fast, before she resorted to violence, I suggested we head on over to Indian Rocks and give Aqua Prime a shot.

We had dined at Aqua right after we first moved to the beach and we very much enjoyed the experience. As we pulled up it appeared the parking lot was pretty full but I asked the valet parking attendant if the place was slammed. He said not yet, so we quickly hit the door. Valet parking is free, but a $5 gratuity is a much appreciate touch when you retrieve your vehicle.

The hostess greeted us and even though we didn't have reservations she immediately escorted us to a two-top in the main dining room. Our charming server for the evening, the delightful Amanda, presented us with menus and took our much needed drink orders; a medicinal Sunset Mojito for the Belle and a Reel Runner (like a rum runner) for moi. Both drinks were super yummy and quieted the raging beast within.

Along with our beverages, Amanda brought a tasty bowl of hummus with pita triangles to tide us over until our appetizer appeared. To assuage her hunger for beef we decided to split a serving of Beef Carpaccio. The thinly sliced tenderloin was adorned with shaved cheese, arugula, and capers, then a basil oil with spiced onions completed the dish.

Next up were the house salads; a colorful seasonal vegetable salad with Ranch on the side for her, and the House Caesar with anchovies for me. I had asked Amanda if I could get anchovies for my salad and she replied that I could get as many of those little fishies as my heart desired.

For our main dishes, both the Belle of the Boulevard and I chose the Filet Mignon, a 5 ounce for her and an 8 ounce for me. Both steaks were cooked exactly as requested and were tender and juicy. Just what my bride was craving or rather had a hankering for. With the steaks came a seasonal vegetable and a choice of potatoes, roasted or mashed.

Since the women folk are blessed with two stomachs (scientific fact), a stomach for regular stuff and a special dessert stomach, my bride chose the Coconut Cake with cream cheese frosting to round out her dining adventure at Aqua Prime.

After several adult beverages, a bottle of superb Ancient Vines Zinfandel, and all of that food our bill came to a very pleasant $147.13. Amanda was definitely deserving of a 20% plus gratuity.