Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Can Understand Why The Fish Was Mad

"MadFish is a casual, upscale (?) St. Pete Beach retrofit diner" at 5200 Gulf Boulevard. That is about the best I can report about MadFish except for our server Andre. He was terrific! He tried his best to promote the restaurant while not alluding to the fact that the food was far less than stellar. I can't remember when the Piglet Parade has been so disappointed with any restaurant.

The four of us walked in and were promptly seated. Let me say right now that the staff was great. We had our menus, the specials were described, and our drink orders were taken - various wines for the table. We expressed our desires for appetizers.

First up were the Doughnut O-Rings; onions coated with doughnut dough and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The concept may have seemed inspired but the result was a complete disaster. The onions were greasy and coated with a dough that fell away from the limp onions at the first touch. Even the accompanying ketchup couldn't save this attempt at originality from itself.

We foolishly ordered more from the appetizer menu. Miss Dee thought the Oysters Rockefeller would be pleasing.

The oysters by themselves were not bad but were buried under gooey globs of something. Though the original recipe is a secret, the sauce is known to be a puree of a number of green vegetables other than spinach. It consists of oysters on the half-shell topped with the sauce and bread crumbs and then baked. I think back on this culinary jiggery-pokery (yes, that is a valid expression) and I am at a loss for words.

I had hoped for the Tuna Poke, but they were out of poke. I settled for the Chef's Mussels of the Day.

There were a lot of mussels but not a lot of flavor, and no bread to sop up the flavorless broth. Then we had salads - house and for a $1 up charge, a Caesar.

I had the Caesar and had to ask what the up charge was for. That was a blah salad that can easily be recreated with a bag of chopped romaine and bottled Caesar dressing from Publix. The same for the shredded Parm and bagged croutons.

The table had one entree that was deemed good, or at least adequate. I think it was Oscar the Grouper or some such. Our photographer was so bummed out I could not even click the shutter at this point.

One in our party ordered the Prime Rib. It was so over cooked, tough and dry, it was removed from the bill.

My bride had the Filet Mignon. She likes her beef a little more done, but what she was served was too done even for her. It was discounted on the bill.

I had some shrimp scampi thing on angel hair pasta. The few shrimp were good, the pasta was al dente, but somebody neglected to add anything remotely resembling flavor.

We were all presented with included desserts - the MadFish interpretation of Key Lime Pie.

I am not sure of our food total with wine ... probably $110 or so for two people. That is what we based our gratuity upon, not the discounted prices. What MadFish billed us was less, but it wasn't Andre's fault that the food ... how should I phrase this? ... SUCKED!

Even those tourists with taste buds that have been surgically removed should stay away from this fish of madness. And, do not confuse MadFish with the Mad Beach Fish House. The fish house is located at Madeira Beach and is far superior.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Coffee And More At Indian Shores

Just down the road from our stately pleasure dome by the sea is a dandy spot to get your morning caffeine fix. The Belle and I stopped in to the Indian Shores Coffee Co. for the first time this morning and we had to wonder why we haven't done this before now.

The coffee company is a little hole-in-the-wall place nestled behind some shrubbery at 19221 Gulf Boulevard. It is easier to access around back than through the bushes in front, but once you are in just walk up to the counter and place your order.

We ordered a couple French Press coffees that were listed on the chalk board, and then two white chocolate muffins from the pastry display.

The Belle and I chose to enjoy our coffee and muffins outdoors in the front yard garden where we could get full benefit of a steamy Florida morning. Admittedly, it was cooler inside, but from our vantage point we were reminded of Old Town in Key West - one of our favorite places on this planet.

In addition to the Old Town ambiance, we got to commune with nature and a few of the local inhabitants. 

The Indian Shores Coffee Co. serves beer and wine, and features live music from time to time. For the Belle and I this is a perfect spot to enjoy an excellent cup of coffee, muffin or croissant while relaxing and letting the day come to us.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cask: A Tampa Bay Dining Destination

As I pass by chain restaurant after chain restaurant and read on-line reviews that suggest Wawa and Five Guys is gourmet dining, and Publix delis are the Katz pajamas of delis, I have to shake my head in despair that Tampa Bay will never become a gastronomic destination.

Just when my culinary world appears the darkest, up pops dandy dining destinations such as Patanegra and Sea Salt in downtown St. Pete. Then, before I could recover from my latest feeding frenzy, I read that a new and nifty dining spot opened in Hyde Park just up the road from Haven.

Cask Social Kitchen, 208 South Howard Avenue, is a product of The Social Kitchen Company, comprised of partners Adam Itzkowitz, Vincent Jackson, and TJ Miller.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I immediately decided to take that long road trip from our stately pleasure dome by the sea, and cross the bay to our old South Tampa stomping grounds. We arrived a little before noon on a sunny Tuesday and were immediately greeted by a charming hostess and guided to an awaiting table past the casks in the lobby.

The stairs lead to the the Loft Lounge.There are several dining areas indoors and out. We were seated inside at a table looking toward the kitchen where we received menus and a complimentary bucket of savory Jamaican Jerk Popcorn.

Our first order of business after that long haul across the bridge was a couple of adult beverages. James, the most gregarious of servers, made a couple of suggestions for a Cask craft beer or specialty cocktail. I chose the Bold City Killer Whale, Cream Ale from Jacksonville. This was a light and refreshing ale - one of the best I have had in awhile.

My bride decided on Black Bubbles; Ketel One Vodka, fresh blackberries, St. George Raspberry Liqueur, fresh lemon juice, topped with champagne. One look at those berries and you knew what inspired the name of this berry lemony delicious liquid treat.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I decided on two appetizers to start our luncheon adventure. For the Belle, the somewhat ubiquitous Deviled Eggs. Even though they were adorned with maple Bourbon candied bacon and jalapeño salt they were not memorable.

Those eggs were good, just not great ... but, heavens to Murgatroid, just look at them there black bubbles.

The Duck Wings with orange Sriracha glaze, scallions, and toasted sesame whispered in my ear, "Come fly with me." Yes, oh yes, spaketh I. What James brought to me was not quite what I envisioned, but what I tasted was crunchy, juicy, perfectly cooked ambrosial aquatic fowl goodness.

As James confirmed, if those really were duck wings then that would have been a hell of a big duck. This appetizer consisted of six leg sized "wings" that could easily be shared, if one was inclined to share. My bride did take a bite and thought it to be very good, but she was saving herself for things to come.

We both requested sandwiches from the Fingers Not Forks menu. The Belle decided to hamburger herself up with Cask Cow, an Angus blend with bourbon bacon onion jam, fried egg, arugula, provolone, spiced mayo, on a brioche bun.

The only negative to this amazingly delicious burger was somebody forgot to add the egg. She brought half of the burger home and we checked it for egg. There was no egg. That was the only thing that kept this meaty sandwich from perfection.

I have only moans of orgasmic gastronomic delight to describe the Belly Up. The pork belly was smoked to unequable excellence, enhanced with Gruyere cheese, handcrafted sauerkraut, red onion and Cask island dressing. That tangy kraut was the perfect foil for the smokey belly.

After that pork belly and the wings of duck, I was pretty well done, D-U-N done. The Belle, on the other side of the table, had saved herself for the gift from the gods of dessert - Red Velvet Bread Pudding.

The pudding had a pleasant crispy crust with a nice warm, moist center and a spiked cream cheese and caramel topping. While this was a tasty dessert it could have been even better with either more of the caramel topping or a couple of scoops of ice cream. By itself the pudding came up a little short in my bride's opinion. I'm not a dessert person so I shall refrain from commenting.

I do have a couple of thoughts to wrap up this review. One of the owners, T.J. Miller, came to see how we were doing and if everything was to our satisfaction. In my opinion, that is a really nice touch.

Our server, James, shared with us a rather fascinating little factoid. The executive chef who prepared or at least oversaw the preparation of that excellent Angus beef burger and that heavenly pork belly, is actually a vegetarian. Now, that was impressive! Kinda like the almost deaf Beethoven composing the masterpiece, 9th Symphony 'Choral'.

Lunch at Cask wasn't cheap, $97.37 - but, hot damn, was it ever good. Cask serves brunch, lunch and dinner. We are thinking about booking a room somewhere and going back for dinner. It's on our bucket list.

Editor's Update: My bride, who is a rabid (and, I do emphasize, rabid) Tampa Bay Bucs fan, insisted I mention that Vincent Jackson is a receiver on the team.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Downtown St. Pete Gourmet Groceries

We have been hearing and reading good things about that new gourmet farm to table market in downtown St. Pete, so yesterday we saddled up our trusty steed and trotted our happy selves over to the Locale Market. Siri directed us to 179 2nd Avenue North and there we were with nary a parking spot in sight. But, there was a valet parking attendant right at the Locale. Free parking? Alrighty dude, here be the keys. Free is great but a $5 gratuity on pick up ain't gonna kill anybody. Just sayin'.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I wandered in and wandered around while wading past the huddled masses ... tourists and downtown office workers waiting for their food to be prepared and served in Styrofoam boxes with plastic utensils.

As we meandered, we kept wondering where to sit and eat. The indoor and outdoor tables were pretty much ocupado. We kept walking ... and walking, past the fish monger, the butcher, and the condiments.

A couple of thoughts came to mind whilst sashaying through the market: that was a mighty anemic seafood selection, and holy cow was that beef beautiful. It has been like forever since I have seen such beautifully marbled meat. Locale had an amazing selection of cooking and drizzling oils I have looked for and never seen before in the Bay area.

On a subsequent visit we were a bit underwhelmed as we shopped the produce department. Several of the leafy green choices were rather wilted, and some of the other veggies appeared a little dried out. We walked on.

Upstairs at the Locale were hints that we might find gastronomic nirvana or at least sit-down dining with table service. So, up we went and there in the distance I spied the culinary pot of Sea Salt gold at the end of the rainbow. The Belle and I had a leisurely two hour lunch at this unrelated eatery and then returned to the market for a bit of shopping.

We came away with coffee beans, a French aperitif and some damn fine root beer.

We haven't tried the coffee or Bonal yet but that 5.9% alc/vol root beer can kick some booty. It's as good tasting as the Barq's I remember from my youth, but I never got a mellow buzz from Barq's.

After several trips to Locale I was a little surprised to see that Travel+Leisure magazine had already included Locale in its article, The World's Best New Food Halls

You may access Locale from 2nd Avenue or through the Sundial complex.

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Sea Salt For Lunch, Brunch Or Dinner

Sundial St. Pete, formerly known as BayWalk, is a shopping, dining and entertainment complex in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I wandered into the main plaza yesterday a little past noon with the intent of visiting the much talked about Locale Market. Hardly had we made it past the almost three story center piece, a huge ... whatchamacallit ... um, sundial? ...  before I spied my gastronomic heart's desire.

I had heard that chef Fabrizio Aielli was planning to open a fine-dining restaurant, featuring an 80-foot long raw bar, a 20-foot-tall wine tower, and Florida's freshest seafood with 130 different salts from around the world. Sea Salt was immediately placed at the top of my culinary bucket list so it was a most pleasant surprise to stumble upon Sea Salt and find it open.

My bride and I raced upstairs (okay, trudged slowly) and entered the Sea Salt outdoor dining area. We were promptly greeted and asked about our seating preferences. It was a most pleasant day, so we chose to sit outdoors.

David, our engaging server, took our drink orders ... a couple of glasses of Zardetto Brut Prosecco. Along with the wine, we received a sample of three of the 130 salts used by the chef. One was a pink Himalayan, then an earthy brown Hawaiian, and a salt from India with hints of sulfur.

David suggested taking a slice of bread from the basket, spooning a little olive oil on top, and then a few sprinkles of salt. Each salt had its own distinctive flavor, and none of them reminded me of the Mortons I grew up with.

For her lunch entree, my bride chose the superb Wagyu Beef Burger with fontina cheese, sliced avocado, tomato and grilled onion. To further enhance this decadently delicious burger, a sunny side up egg was placed on top. When the Belle broke the yoke a yellow gravy brought this burger to an even higher level.

While the fries may have seemed like a rather trite accompaniment, this was not the case. Those fries were crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, but what set them apart is they actually tasted like potatoes.

I decided to stick with small plates since Sea Salt had several menu items never or rarely seen in the Tampa Bay area. To begin my Sea Salt adventure I chose the chef's selection of oysters. I tend to judge a restaurant serving oysters with how well they are shucked and presented. These northern mollusks were shucked and presented well.

As soon as I saw Sugar Cane Tuna Lollipops on the appetizer menu I knew they would be mine. Unfortunately, the kitchen couldn't find the sugar cane, but the chef did plate the tuna adorned with buttery buratta, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and then topped off with black truffle. I have had really good tuna, but never this good. Those two tuna chunks verily melted in my mouth. I did not miss the cane.

My second small plate was the Wahoo and Peekytoe Crab. Small cubes of succulent wahoo nestled under a topping of shredded peekytoe, orange pickled carrot, and a balsamic tamari sauce. The wahoo and peekytoe was a match made in ... well, the kitchen by a chef who obviously knows seafood.

At this juncture, we needed a dessert like we needed an extra stomach ... which we did, but we ordered dessert anyway. We received the Chocolate Dome, a light, airy, and rich mousse with a hearty drizzle of caramel and the cutest little white chocolate balls.

That was the finest two hour lunch we have enjoyed in quite awhile and Sea Salt demands another visit from us. All food and more than a couple refills on the prosecco came to $145.52. David was deserving of a 20% + gratuity.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Tasty Fountain Of Gastronomic Delights

Suddenly, it appears near to our stately pleasure dome by the Intracoastal way of water where Gulf, the asphalt ribbon, runs through condo canyons measureless by man. T'is from this chasm, with ceaseless tourists seething, as if this earth in plaid short pants were breathing, a tasty fountain of gastronomic delights was forced: Original Pizza and Restaurant (OPR), 19525 Gulf Boulevard on the Shores of Indian. (My heartfelt apologies to Coleridge for vandalizing his great poem, Kubla Khan)

OPR opened shortly after we moved to the beach and we have been steady customers ever since. I could say that is because OPR is convenient, especially when we are desperate for food due to laziness or failure to grocery shop. That would be a misstatement but with a grain of truth. OPR has some dandy dishes on their menu and some super friendly staff members.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I can recommend, among other delights, the Beef Tacos, the hot Steak and Cheese sandwich on crusty house baked bread, the Burgers and Fries, and of course, the heavenly pizzas that makes those NYC pies in the Big A hang their heads in shame.

Having heard good things about OPR's Linguine with White Clam Sauce, I knew I had to have that dish last night. Fresh clams swimming in olive oil and garlic with perfectly prepared linguine had my taste buds in an orgasmic tizzy of culinary delight.

My bride's buds of taste drifted over to the Homemade Lasagna: meaty, cheesy (in a good way) with a savory marinara sauce. Said she, "... that ranks up there with one of the better lasagnas I have ever had." What wasn't consumed last night will be lunch for her today.

To accompany our entrees we shared a basket of fresh from the oven bread knots with a side tub of marinara. All OPR breads are baked fresh daily on the premises, and like the pizzas they are fresh and good.

All entrees come with a house salad and a choice of dressing. There was nothing particularly special about those salads beyond the fact that the greens were fresh and crispy.

The OPR dining room is bright and airy although a bit Spartan, and there is outdoor dining in front of the building. The OPR serves beer and wine. The prices are very reasonable. For several adult beverages and our dinner choices the bill came to a measly $31.54. We added a 20% + gratuity for efficient service.

Stop in for lunch or dinner ... you'll be glad you did.

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