Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gastronomic Haven In South Tampa

I like to stay abreast of the culinary happenings in and around Tampa Bay. As a consequence I regularly read the scribblings of friend and fellow blogger Sweet Polly. Recently she and her mighty Underdog dined regally at the newly opened Haven, 2208 West Morrison Avenue, in the old Sideberns building.

Sweet Polly's review just set my buds of taste into spasms of raging comestible desire. Haven is home to charcuterie, craft cocktails, an extensive wine list, cheeses and so many innovative tapas style dishes that I completely lost sight of the fact that Sweet Polly was writing about a Tampa dining venue. I knew I had to visit this gastronomic haven of delectable delights.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I left our home on the beach yesterday to avail ourselves of the orgasmically promising tapas that we spied on the Haven on-line menu. We had reservations for 5:30, but with the traffic gods smiling upon us we arrived about 15 minutes early. We were still warmly welcomed and guided to our awaiting table and the affable Hugo, our server for the evening.

Hugo was very well versed in all aspects of the food and beverage menus, and he was more than happy to help us with food choices, wine pairings and suggestions to keep us from over-ordering and making gluttons of ourselves. Sad to admit, but that has occurred on past culinary adventures.

My bride and I began our journey with a couple of glasses of Domain Chandon 'Etoile', a refreshing Napa Valley sparkling wine. This was to be an excellent accompaniment to my first dish, a half dozen Rhode Island oysters on the half shell served with a galangal and red curry mignonette.

The oysters, while super tiny, appeared to be properly shucked. The mignonette was intensely flavorful and therein lies the rub. The mignonette totally overpowered the oysters. Galangal, a stronger cousin to the familiar ginger, was too energetic for those dainty little bivalves. I don't think I have ever had an oyster that could stand up to that mignonette, and at $3 a pop for premium oysters, I want to taste the oysters. If you are an oyster aficionado I would suggest ordering something else.

Up next was the Paleta de Jamon Iberico and the Blood Bologna with mustard seeds and apple. Paleta (shoulder) is smaller and rounder than the back leg. Because of that, it cures much more quickly. It has also a bigger fat concentration that determines its sweeter and more aromatic flavor.

The blood bologna had an understated flavor with maybe a hint of minerals. This bologna wasn't bad, it wasn't spectacular, it was just something I had to try.

Some years ago my bride and I enjoyed a serving of duck tongues at China Yuan on Armenia in Tampa. That was a very interesting and tasty dish that was just a bit off-putting because of the unexpected cartilage in each tongue. I was surprised and thrilled to see General Tso's Duck Tongues with peanuts, red chilies, green pepper, and scorched ketchup on the Haven menu. There was no way I could pass up this dish.

Those tongues were ever so flavorful, a tiny bit chewy and devoid of any bony cartilage. Even the Belle, who is not an adventurous diner, enjoyed these chicharrones-like ducky morsels.

Speaking of the Belle; her absolute favorite dish of the evening was the Flemish Beef Rib adorned with caramelized onions, and Chimay sour ale. The foamy topping sat on a ever-so-tender beef rib that was bursting with flavor.

One of my favorite of Poseidon's gifts from the sea is octopus, so when I spotted the Octopus with feta, dill, candied olive, ink and pepperoncini aioli I knew that I would have my way with it ... and, I did!

That octopus, swimming in its ink, with the spicy peppers and creamy feta transcended merely good. That was the highlight of the evening for my receptors of taste.

My bride and I decided to end our orgy of innovative dining with a flight of cheese as opposed to a decadent dessert.

My favorite, starting near the cornichons, was the Cana de Cabra. Moving toward the wine we had the Queso de Mano, Zamorano, and the Vintage 5 Year Gouda. All were enhanced by the cornichons, Marcona almonds, and marinated olives.

In addition to the foods and wines we were pleasantly surprised that our total for the evening came to just $214. Of course we tacked on a well deserved gratuity for Hugo's excellent service. Valet parking is three dollars, and we were promised a vehicle upgrade if the tip was sufficient. We did offer a three dollar tip, but that obviously wasn't enough for a Bentley upgrade. Even still, Haven provided us with a unique mini-vacation dining experience in Tampa. Now we can say, "Been there, done that!" and then it's back to the beach for my baby and me.

Haven Wine Bar on Urbanspoon


A final comment: When I was just a tad of a lad, my mother bought me a finger painting kit. I musta enjoyed it because the urge to finger paint is still with me. Now instead of paint, I have graduated to octopus ink. Mas vino, Hugo.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

JD's Family Owned Gem At Indian Rocks

We have been beach bums ... well I'm the bum while my bride is the bumette ... for a little over four months now and today was our first visit to JD's Restaurant and Lounge at 125 Gulf Boulevard at Indian Rocks. The Belle and I have driven past dozens of times and we really have no plausible excuse for not stopping in to enjoy this absolutely delightful family owned eating, drinking, and partying palace of pleasure.

Thinking that we might be hard pressed to get in a little after noon on an Easter weekend, we were thrilled to luck out with a parking spot right in front. The outdoor patio area was pretty full, but the hostess found us a table on the inside. We were presented with menus by the jewel of JD's, the effervescent Julie.

JD's has a full bar so we decided to take advantage and ordered a Bloody Mary for my bride and a Rum Runner for me. The food menu is not particularly cutting edge, but the choices were many; oysters on the half shell, crab, crab and more crab, burgers, steaks, pasta and more. And then, and then ... I saw Liver and Onions.

Let me just say this about that. When I was but a tad of a lad my mother made me eat that crap at least once a week. It was cooked to death and chewed like shoe leather. I hated it! Some years later I saw a TV program that featured calves liver cooked and served almost raw. I had to try that and I loved it.

I asked Julie if the kitchen could just barely sear the liver, she said yes, and they did. That liver and onion dish was delicious served with a side of garlicky pasta. You may eschew beef liver, but that was a mighty fine dish.

My bride chose the Ground Sirloin with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. When asked if she was enjoying this platter of goodness, she said, "It's fabulous!"

JD's is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they have live entertainment with a piano bar and dance floor. I can definitely envision JD's being our beach home away from our home on the beach.

Did I mention that their prices are way more than just reasonable? Our bill for food and drink came to a measly $36.85. Julie was very deserving of a 20% gratuity and then some.

J D's Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

We came across a couple of new friends at the front door:

Through the eye of the Octopus
Squeeze JD's nose for luck ... or something.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Save The World ... Eat An Octopus

In a world with ever increasing amounts of pollution entering our oceans, just imagine a mutant species of octopuses (octopi is incorrect) coming to life. This chilling scenario makes it imperative that we consume as many octopuses as possible, and one of the best places I have recently discovered is the Greektown Grille at 1230 Cleveland Street in Clearwater.

Why should we be a-feared you might ask? As it is in our world today, most octopuses live a mere three to five years. Most scientists believe that if these uber intelligent creatures had a life span similar to ours that they would become the dominant intelligence on Earth; possibly ruling the world, or at least getting something accomplished in Washington. But I digress.

Walking in to the Grille a bit past noon yesterday we were greeted with a decor that was accented with Santorini blues. A gentleman escorted us to a booth where the delightful Ashley presented us with menus and inquired of our desires for a beverage. "Why, yes," spaketh I, "A bottle of retsina, parakaló̱." Ashley obviously did not speak Greek since she gave me a funny look when I said please, but we got a chilled bottle of this delectable resin infused wine anyway.

Two of my most favorite Greek munchables were on the Greektown appetizer menu. I delighted in the Fresh Water Fried Smelts adorned with Greek spices. These smelts were served with a small ramekin of a delicious peperoncini aoli. Of course, I had to order the superb Char-grilled Octopus drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. Both of these perfectly prepared dishes brought back fond memories of a trip to Greece a few years ago.

My bride was not inclined to save the world from the mutant octopus scourge and chose the less adventurous Gyro Platter piled to Mount Olympus heights with savory lamb and beef slices served on grilled pita with onions, tomatoes, a ramekin of tzatziki and a side of fresh hand cut fries. There was enough goodness there to take some home for a later snack.

In addition to my favorite Greek dishes, the Greektown Grille has all of the typical foods for which Greece is famous, not to fail mentioning a full bar in a cool and pleasant setting.

I am pleased as ouzo to say that the Greektown Grille is my new favorite Greek restaurant. Food was excellent, service was friendly and professional, and the prices were reasonable; all food and wine came to $56.70. We added a 20% gratuity for Ashley. Ef̱charistó̱!

Greektown Grille on Urbanspoon