Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nothing Ugly About This Kitchen

Before leaving our stately pleasure dome by the Florida shore I researched unique NYC dining venues. As soon as I saw balut on the Ugly Kitchen menu I knew that I had to be there.

For the uninitiated, balut is a fertilized duck egg that is boiled and served in the shell with a side of salt or condiment of some sort. I first had balut in a little Vietnamese restaurant in Biloxi a number of years ago. I tried it and I loved it.

Unfortunately, outside of Biloxi, it is hard to find this delicacy in the South. That is certainly true in the gastronomic armpit that is Tampa Bay. My bride and I made reservations before leaving for NYC so at the appointed time we wandered in to a rather rough looking restaurant with super friendly people.

We were promptly seated and presented with menus. I immediately requested the balut that is listed under Filipino Specialties as Ugly Duck. The diner is presented with two for $5. These two duck eggs were as I remembered, although they both seemed either too old or too over cooked. They were better in Biloxi.

My dining partner went with the Beef Pares, slowly braised beef stew in a sweet star anise sauce served with garlic rice, as her entree. The beef was fork tender with a delightful savory sauce.

I requested the Sizzling Sisig, spicy minced pork belly, liver, cheek sautéed in onion and soy sauce served on a sizzling plate and topped with an egg. Our server advised that this is normally an appetizer, but it could be a main course if served over rice. So, I said to bring it on. This was a very tasty dish and even without the rice it would have been enough for at least two people.

There is nothing ugly about this neighborhood treasure. This was the least expensive meal we enjoyed in NYC. Two Red Horse beers, a mimosa, glass of prosecco, a purple ice cream dessert (taro I think) and food brought our bill to $74.03 and we added 20% for the delightful Rica.

Ugly Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Ugly Kitchen

Friday, May 29, 2015

Dandy Dining At The St. George NYC

After a harrowing two hour cab ride from JFK to our Financial District hotel we were too pooped, too hungry and too P.O.ed to spend any effort trying to secure dinner reservations. We had pre-booked three of our four nights before leaving our stately pleasure dome on the beach at Indian Shores (Florida). We left the first night open in case what happened, happened.

We checked in to the Holiday Inn on Washington knowing that the hotel had a restaurant, but we are a little hesitant to patronize hotel restaurants. Instead, we decided to wander about the neighborhood in search of a food venue that might offer something other than the ubiquitous standards found in many hotels.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I circled the block and to our great surprise we spied the St. George Tavern right next door to the hotel. My bride then pointed out that the St. George was the hotel's restaurant. Well, it did look enticing, so we went in and were greeted warmly and promptly seated.

Liz was our ever so delightful server who presented us with menus and took our order for a couple of medicinal adult beverages. My bride and I felt the trials and tribulations of travel being washed away as we looked over the menu that leaned towards Chinese-American dishes as well as some Italian and some simple American grub.

The Belle chose as her entree the Beef and Pan Fried Noodles. I was allowed a taste and the beef strips were fairly tender, the sauce was savory, and the pan fried noodles had a delightful crispy texture. I have made similar at home and this dish got my Piglet Parade seal of approval.

What grabbed the attention of my buds of taste was the Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab, a tasty and crispy gift from the sea that was perfectly prepared and served on a bed of mixed greens. This was listed as an appetizer, but with a few more bites of my bride's beef and noodles and another bottle or two of the Mermaid pilsner I was done.

While chatting with Liz we discovered that the St. George has a secret Chinese menu that we could have ordered from, which we tried to do on a subsequent visit. Some of the more exotic dishes that I simply craved were only available during exclusive dinner parties held "up stairs" by the owner. Oh, poop!

What we ate at the St. George was good, though not particularly memorable. The bill for several adult beverages and the food came to a very reasonable $39.78. We did tack on a 20% plus gratuity for Liz. In retrospect, the St. George was the least expensive and least pretentious dining spot we found in Manhattan.

We had breakfast all four mornings at the St. George compliments of the hotel. Service in the morning was a little iffy when Liz was off duty, while service at night was terrific.

St. George Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Piglets On Parade In The Big Apple

New York City had been on my bride's bucket list since buckets were first listed, so to celebrate her month of May birthday we two piglets left the Big Guava for the Big Apple. To save thousands of words our trip is documented in pictures.

If you were a house guest for dinner and your hosts bring out their vacation slides and a their projector, this is where you beat a hasty retreat for the door. I will understand, but don't let it "hitcha where th' lord splitcha".

New York was a lot more hospitable than we were led to believe. They even went so far as to name a street in our honor with our name plastered all over the buildings and subway stops.

We stayed in the financial district but between walking, the subway and gawd-awful taxi rides (traffic, not drivers) we covered a good chunk of ground in a short period of time. Some of the sights are documented in the images that follow.

The High Line Park
We had to do the usual touristy stuff...

The Flat Iron on steroids.

Armed escort for the ferry.

Well, all right's playtime in the digital darkroom:

My favorite picture of the entire trip:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Beach Bar Without A Beach

Scribbled on a chalk board inside Rumba Island Bar and Grill at 1800 Gulf to Bay is this proclamation: Voted Best Beach Bar Without A Beach. Far be it for me to argue with that statement because Rumba has all of the elements for a great beach bar: island inspired food, good drinks, and live entertainment with indoor and outdoor seating.

My bride and I decided to give Rumba a try yesterday evening, so we left Gulf Boulevard and made our way to Gulf to Bay. Getting in to the Rumba parking lot from the direction of Clearwater was a bit of a challenge, especially with afternoon rush hour traffic. Coming from the Courtney Campbell Causeway would present no problem. I'm not complaining, this is just a heads-up.

There is valet parking, but we were able to park ourselves and headed for the hostess station. We were immediately greeted and given our choice of inside or outside. We chose to sit inside to avoid the afternoon heat and rush hour traffic fumes.

Joanna was our server who presented us with menus and took our drink orders. For sangria and select cocktails it was two for one happy hour, so Joanna proceeded to make us happy. I chose the rummy Rumba Libation while the Belle of Gulf Boulevard went with the red wine Sangria.

The only downside to Rumba's happy hour is the two drinks must be served at the same time. This means sucking down the first one pronto before the second gets watery. The Belle and I are experienced so we dealt with this situation in a professional manner.

We also decided that an appetizer might be a good idea so we requested an order of the Caribbean Skinny Onions with a jerk aioli. The onions were crispy and were enhanced with that amazingly flavorful aioli.

Our included house salads immediately followed, which was a bit of an annoyance since we had barely started on the appetizer. We made do by using the onions as a salad topping in lieu of croutons, and we had finished both by the time our entrees arrived.

For her it just had to be her most favorite fish in the whole world. The hog fish was crispy fried with a panko coating that elicited moans of delight from my dining partner.

Dinners come with two sides and my bride chose the garlic mashed potatoes and coleslaw. I tried a chunk of that hog fish and it was excellent.

Earlier I had seen the Rumba Trio while surfing on-line. I knew that the jerk wings, Barbados tender pork rib, and crispy fried shrimp would have to be mine...mine...mine.

The shrimp. rib, and wings were good, though the wings and rib stayed a little too long on the fire. For my sides I chose the Jamaican greens (collards) and the braised cabbage. While this plate of food was hardly real Jamaican jerk or veg, it was flavorful in an Americanized sort of way and very filling.

Rumba Island Bar and Grill is not a favorite of ours, but the food and drinks were adequate and the prices were reasonable: $61.67, and we tacked on an additional 20% for Joanna.

Rumba Island Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Speak To Me Of Pork Belly

Speak to me of pork belly and you have my ear. Patanegra at 200 Central in downtown St. Pete had not only my ear but my buds of taste. We will get back to that delicious belly, but first let me mention that Patanegra is a relatively new dining venue (in the former land of the newly wed and nearly dead) serving Spanish cuisine with an emphasis on tapas.

Downtown St. Pete and especially Central Avenue is awash with exciting food and entertainment options. This vibrant district is enhanced by the presence of Patanegra. The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I journeyed from our home on the beach to treat our gastronomic senses to as many of their tapas as our tummies could hold. Sadly our tummies could not hold as much as our eyes could behold. There is so much on the menu that must be tried.

Vincent, our server for the evening, guided us through the menu. We started with a Sandeman Dry Sherry for me and a glass of white sangria for my bride to accompany our first tapas, the Tabla Sampler.

The sampler combined the meat and cheese samplers with Valdeon Cheese, Manchego Cheese, Rosemary Goat Cheese and Jamón Serrano, Lomo Curado, Cantimpalo Chorizo. A word of warning: if you eat all of those bread slices you will probably be through for the evening, and that would be a shame. We nibbled the bread judiciously. These samplers were a great start to our culinary journey.

The next palate pleaser that was presented to the table was the Ropa Vieja (trans: old clothes) Toston, three thinly pounded plantain chips topped with tender shredded beef, Manchego cheese and drizzled with garlic mojo. The tostons were crispy, crunchy good, and the beef a savory delicious delight.

Next up for both of us were two gifts from the sea that we shared con mucho gusto, Green Ceviche and Tuna Tartare.

That mouth-watering ceviche with fish marinated with poblano pepper, tomatillo, avocado and passion fruit and adorned with strips of fried plaintain was one of the very best ceviches I have ever consumed. The ceviche was enhanced with a glass of sparkling wine to replace the sherry.

The tuna tartare was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. The tuna tartare was marinated with soy ponzu, Thai coconut, ginger and presented over potato causa, topped with a palate cleansing mango sorbet. The name causa comes from the Incan Quechuan word ‘Kausaq,’ meaning “that which gives life.”

It was here when I should have waved the white flag of gastronomic surrender, but there was one more treat for my receptors of taste, and that was the simply listed Pork Belly. There was nothing simple about that delicious, fatty gift from the gods rubbed with Spanish paprika and coffee, served with corn arepa, smoked tomato purée and topped with jicama slaw.

Vincent inquired as to our desire for dessert and there were several interesting choices on the menu, and a stand out for me was the Sweet Shooters, a sampling of four dessert choices: tres leches, cuatro leches, suspiro limeño and panna cotta.

To top off our fantastic dining adventure at Patanegra our total for all food and drink came to a very wallet pleasing $116.10. Vincent was definitely deserving of our 20% plus gratuity. 

Patanegra serves breakfast, brunch, lunch as well as dinner. They have much that is gluten free, and the diner has a choice of indoor or outdoor seating.

 The Belle of Gulf Boulevard said Patanegra is definitely a do again dining spot, so in the words of Arnold, "We'll be back."

Patanegra on Urbanspoon