Thursday, July 30, 2015

Aloha and Mai `ai

As we wandered past a little strip mall just up the boulevard from our stately pleasure dome by the sea, I could have sworn I heard "hello, come eat" emanating from an unpretentious store front. The Belle of the Boulevard and I ventured closer and discovered Aloha to Go at 19711 Gulf Boulevard, Indian Shores.

It was a rather serendipitous discovery since we had just read about Aloha in a Tampa Bay Times article on bay area food trucks that had expanded to brick and mortar establishments. The article stated that Aloha To Go food truck owner, Jennifer Byrd, had opened this new venue and we had to give this neighborhood establishment a try. 

As we walked in we were immediately greeted by the effervescent Jennifer. She handed us menus and suggested we could eat there or take our vittles to go. Aloha is essentially a take-out or delivery venue with seating for around twenty. My bride and I opted to grab our grub and run ... back to our domicile before the skies unloaded with another rainy season deluge.

Upon arrival back home, I quickly set up the take home boxes for a Piglet Parade photo shoot. The first tasting and photo featured the savory and delicious Lomi Lomi Salmon.

  
The lomi lomi salmon is a side dish in Hawaiian cuisine. It is a fresh tomato and salmon salad, and was introduced to Hawaiians by early western sailors. This lomi lomi reminded me of a ceviche, but not as citrusy. I enjoyed it as an appetizer along with an unbelievably good Spam Musubi.


Yes, dear readers, that is a slice of Spam on top of the rice. Spam musubi is a popular snack and lunch food in Hawaii composed of a slice of grilled Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped together with nori dried seaweed. If you ever thought that the lowly Spam was not your cup of tea then you really have to give this musubi a try.

For a main dish, my bride chose the Huli Huli Chicken with rice and a macaroni salad.


Huli-huli chicken is a grilled chicken dish that sizzles with the flavors of brown sugar, ginger and soy sauce. Huli means "turn" in Hawaiian. While this juicy and flavorful chicken was superb, the macaroni salad was a bit bland. We livened it up with a sprinky dink of salt and pepper.

I could not resist the Miso Butterfish, a heavenly, buttery gift from the gods of gastronomy. Or, as they say in Hawaii, "... this fish is crazy ono!" For us mainlanders, that means crazy scrumdiliumcious.
 

There are many fishes around the world called butterfish, but in Hawaii, butterfish is a preparation not a species of fish. I neglected to ask, but this probably is miso-marinated black cod and not the  humuhumunukunukuapua‘a — the Hawaiian state fish. Whatever the species, it was moist, tender, and dare I say again, buttery.
 
The Belle and I just scratched the surface of the Aloha menu. This will have to be a new addition to our must dine places on the beach.

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Aloha Dude 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Beachy Keen Italian Cuisine

The Florida Fab Four of fine food, Sweet Polly, her Underdawg, my bride and I, wandered in to Verducci's Pizzeria and Trattoria, 7736 Blind Pass Road, St. Pete Beach, around 5-ish this past Friday. We had not made reservations but we were still promptly seated and presented with menus. Our first order of business were adult beverages to wash away the trials and tribulations of a journey on Gulf Boulevard.

The table requested a bottle of white for the ladies and a red for the manly men in our party. Along with the wine, our table was presented with a basket of freshly baked, crispy crust bread with soft warm centers and a fine olive oil for dipping.


Up next on our gastronomic radar screens were appetizers, and we four chose three to share:  Maruzzella, Antipasto Italiano, and a basket brimming with fried shrimp, calamari, and a side of marinara.


The Maruzzella was resplendent with octopus, shrimp, and calamari in a light tomato sauce. This was a heavenly treat for the buds of taste.


A treat for the eyes as well as the tongue, the Antipasto Italiano was serious art on a platter with cured meats, cheeses, roasted vegetables, and olives drizzled with a delightful balsamic reduction.


I don't normally get too excited about fried shrimps, but these tasty treats and their companion calamari were fried to perfection: moist and tender with a crispy coating that was enhanced with a marinara dipping sauce.

With our taste buds a-tingle we forged ahead to the entrees side of the menu. The Pork Osso Buco reached out and touched me with its promise of piglet paradise. This braised pork shank was more than enough for one person and it made an awesome display with that big bone sticking out. It was tender, juicy, and delicious nestled on a bed of polenta in that super rich broth.


The Belle of Gulf Boulevard decided on the Chicken Parmigiana, a moist and flavorful breast on a bed of pasta with a silky and delicious sauce. There was enough here for a left-over lunch the next day.


Underdog and Sweet Polly also chose well with Veal Roulades stuffed with cheese and prosciutto, and the special of the evening, the rich and flavorful Veal Osso Buco Ravioli with porcini mushrooms and truffle sauce.



With all of those sumptuous vittles sitting ever so smugly in our bellies we really didn't need dessert ... but, what the hell! Bring on the chocolate cannolis, per favore. The cannolis provided a sweet ending to a luxurious Italian dining adventure.

Our heart-felt thanks to our friends Sweet Polly and UD for this delicious and generous outing.


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Verducci Pizzeria & Trattoria

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Waltz In To Walt'z

The four of us waltzed in to Walt'z Fish Shak at the John's Pass Boardwalk, Madeira Beach, around five-ish this past Friday evening and we immediately claimed bar stools that put us close to the culinary action.

Sue, the high priestess of the bar and all else, dammit, poured the wine and beer to get our Key West inspired party started. She seemed to instinctively know what two regulars in our party, Sweet Polly and her super hero Underdawg, were craving - the home made fish spread with tonight's smoked mahi-mahi. "Make that a double, please Sue!"


That softball sized serving of perfectly smoked mahi with jalapeno rounds was a grand start to our John's Pass waltz at Walt'z. There was plenty of  lightly smoked fish folded together with mayo, minced red pepper, chopped onion and seasoning. That fish ball was served with Captain's Wafers, an appreciated improvement over the ubiquitous Saltines served at many establishments.

After polishing off two balls of fish, we four gourmands then proceeded to dive into other chalk board offerings. Walt, who was overseeing the operation, suggested that we try the Yellowedge Grouper, a special this evening.

The yellowedge grouper can be distinguished by its bright yellow eyes and fin margins, accounting for the common name ‘yellowedge’. This grouper is a lean, firm, white-fleshed fish with a meaty texture and large flake. Diners can request their grouper fried, blackened, or grilled. I chose grilled to not mask the flavor of this tasty denizen of the deep. Walt seemed to approve of my choice.


Included with my grouper was a zesty Beach Slaw with craisins and a sweet sour dressing, plus the requisite Island Peas and Rice. Both sides were good and made this a most filling plate of Key West style comestibles.

Other dishes presented to us included my bride's plate of Grouper Cakes served with a side of remoulade sauce.


The cakes were nice and crunchy on the outside, moist and grouper good on the inside. The fish to breading ratio had a perfect balance.

The bowl of rich and spicy Bahamian Conch Chowder was reminiscent of a bowl of Texas red and tingled the buds of taste in a pleasant manner.

This photo courtesy of Epicurean Perils of Sweet Polly
The Key West Pinks were no shrimps. These were some large and perfectly steamed shellfish, world renowned for their pink color and sweet taste.


One final delicacy was shared by this Fab Four of Food, the crispy fried Cracked Conch. These Bahamian morsels of goodness were surprisingly tender to the tooth with just the right amount of breading.


If you are craving pretension, go elsewhere. If you revel in the fresh, laid back flavors of the Florida Keys, then I highly recommend Walt'z Fish Shak.

Splitting the bill between two couples, our share for all food and adult beverages came to $77 and some change.

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Walt’z Fish Shak

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Quaint German Bistro

Pulling in to the blazing hot parking lot of a nondescript strip mall at 7115 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, I don't think I had ever felt so far away from the cool, green countryside of Germany.


As soon as we stepped inside Sandra's German Restaurant we were transported back to a quaint German bistro similar to one we enjoyed in Idar Oberstein a few years ago.



We were immediately greeted by the very charming Ella who bade us to sit where we pleased, and machen schnell, dumpfkopf. Honestly, the lovely Ella never said that, but that is the only German I remember my Grandmother saying to my Grandfather ... on a regular basis. Since they were married for over fifty years, for the longest time I thought those were words of endearment. Silly me!

Ella suggested we start our Deutschland dining adventure with a couple bottles of an unfiltered Bayreuther Aktien Zwick'l Kellerbier. This lager pours a hazy amber color with medium white long-lasting head. The aroma is subtle and balanced with malty grains, bread and some slightly floral hops.


The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I decided to share the appetizer Weisswurst mit Brez'n, two sausages with a salted German pretzel and a tub of sweet mustard. The sausages were savory and delicious with a delightful yet complicated flavor. Weisswurst is a traditional Bavarian sausage made from minced veal and pork back bacon. It is usually flavored with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger, and cardamom, although there are some variations.



Weisswurst it is very perishable, so these sausages were usually made early in the morning and prepared and eaten as a snack between breakfast and lunch - there is a saying that the sausages should not be allowed to hear the noon chime of the church bells. At Sandra's they are made to order for any time of day, so there is a twenty minute wait until service. We passed the time with another bottle of lager.

As a side note, I later discovered that we had consumed the weisswurst incorrectly. These sausages are normally eaten without the casing by employing one of two traditional methods that I'll let you discover on your own. We ate it all, yet still enjoyed the experience.

Next came our included salads with iceberg lettuce, a sprinkling of corn kernels, a slice of tomato and a choice of dressing. There was nothing memorable but it served as a palate cleanser for the main event.


I chose the lumberjacks plate, the Holzfaeller Teller, with schweinsbraten, Muenchner schnitzel, bratwurst, with spaetzle and Bavarian potato salad.


This was a very hearty and tasty presentation. The potato salad was something of a cross between a German salad that I grew up with and the typical American style salad. The breaded cutlet was prepared as expected and the bratwurst was a juicy delight. The pork loin, sadly, was dry and tasteless because of its lack of fat which is typical here in America, where industrial pork production has bred all the taste out of pork.

Meine Frau fared well with her choice of Sauerbraten, sweet sour marinated Angus Beef with bread dumpling, spaetzle, and Bavarian red cabbage.


The beef was tender and juicy with just the right blending of sweet and sour. The cabbage, spaetzle, and bread dumpling were good even though the dumpling was a bit on the dry side for my bride's palate. 

We were both way too full to even consider dessert, although when Ella described the German Black Forest Cake, the Belle couldn't resist requesting an order to go for later consumption. Diners at an adjacent table commented that our lives would be totally incomplete without that cake to enrich our humble existence ... or something like that.

  
Dinner with more than two biers, and dessert came to a reasonable $89 and some change. We added a deserved 20% gratuity for Ella's excellent service.

The one thing that could have made our visit to Sandra's better would be the pork producers of America breeding in some of that flavorful fat they have been eliminating.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

It's Still Waters On Beach Drive

It is said that some days you win and some days you do something to the pooch. This weekend just past, my bride and I found ourselves in downtown St. Pete at a local hotel that had air conditioning, which is something we didn't have at our condo on the beach. The unit died a miserable death on Friday and we couldn't tolerate another ninety degree night.

This unexpected turn of events afforded us the opportunity to spend more time in this absolutely fantastic city resplendent with a myriad of excellent dining and entertaining options. We also found ourselves in close proximity to a new restaurant that we were anxious to try, Stillwaters Tavern on Beach Drive. We had heard that this was the cat's pajamas, or whatever, of new and cutting edge St. Pete dining spots.

Stillwaters doesn't take reservations for less than seven, but when we wandered in around 5:30-ish we were promptly and pleasantly greeted and guided to an awaiting booth. Our server it seems is getting quite a good reputation among the clientele - a reputation richly deserved. Marvin is charming, humorous, and well versed in the food and drink offerings.

After hearing Marvin's description of cocktail choices he thought we might like, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I chose the #1 for me and the #3 for she. The #1 was an interesting blending of Catdaddy Moonshine, grapefruit, Cruzan 9 Rum, and house bitters. This was a slightly tart but most refreshing beverage. The sissy pink #3 was a Prairie Vodka delight combining the pleasant sweet, tart taste of raspberries with the tingle of ginger. I have to assume the #3 was pleasing since the Belle requested a #2 of #3.

 
Once we had achieved a mellow-as-jello frame of mind, we moved on to the comestibles. While my bride enjoyed her #3, I had to have the oyster appetizer - chicken fried oysters, with house made pickled vegetables and a whole grain mustard aioli. This was a most filling choice that probably should be shared between two people.


The chicken fried breading was crispy, crunchy and the oysters were cooked to a perfect degree of doneness and paired extremely well with that tasty aioli. The oyster to breading ratio was not in proportion - way too much breading that did not adhere well to the oysters or the pickled veggies. A debris of breading carpeted the bottom of the serving plate before I could finish the oysters. The pickled veggies were good and cut through the fried breading. There were a couple of pickled okra pods that had to have been included for show because they resisted both tooth and knife. They were in a word - inedible.

The Belle was enticed to try the pan seared Airline Chicken with jalapeno cheddar bread pudding, baby vegetables, and ham hock jus. Airline chicken is a boneless chicken breast with the drumette attached. The skin remains on the breast with the first wing joint and tenderloin attached. The cut is also known as a frenched breast.


According to Marvin, Stillwaters brines this mostly boneless dish for well over 24 hours to achieve a juicy tenderness. The Belle was happy with the bread pudding, but said my brined and roasted chicken is better. I tried a bite of that chicken and found it to be very dry, probably due to over-cooking.

The special of the evening was a fresh caught Mangrove Snapper topped with  a crab and cream sauce then nestled on a bed of farro -- an ancient grain, that originated in the Fertile Crescent, where it has been found in the tombs of Egyptian kings and is said to have fed the Roman Legions. Italians have dined on farro for centuries, and now I can say I too have dined on farro.



Putting fork to fish I was surprised to realize that this fish would yield more readily to a knife. The snapper wasn't flaky, tender or juicy. It had the same over-cooked dryness that was apparent in the Airline Chicken. The white sauce with a tablespoon of crab meat was good but could not save the fish. While the fish was hot from the kitchen, the farro was chilled to an off-putting temperature more suited for a salad. Based upon this presentation, I think the Italians can keep their farro.

What is most surprising about our experience at Stillwaters was the diametrically opposite dining adventures of a very talented fellow food writer, Tina and her daughter Olivia. This dining duo from Notyourmomma had several of the same dishes my bride and I had. I trust Tina's tastes and reviews, so I can only conclude that there is a serious case of kitchen inconsistency going on at Stillwaters. Correct me if I am wrong.

Dinner with cocktails, a couple of glasses of dinner wine, appetizers, and entrees came to $157.72. Of course we tacked on a well deserved 20% for Marvin's excellent service. I doubt that I or my bride or the pooch will be returning any time in the near future.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Steak House Of Note

On our road trips from the Gulf beaches to St. Pete and back we pass the Pasadena Steak House. Often we have mused whether this is a steak house of note or one that we should continue bypassing. Their web site and on-line menu looked interesting enough, so we decided to give them a try.

My bride and I entered this strangely familiar building at 1530 Pasadena Avenue South in South Pasadena yesterday a little after five and just ahead of the afternoon thunder-boomers. Montez, who would be our server, greeted us at the door and guided us to a booth in a strangely familiar dining room.

The Pasadena Steak House has a full bar and Montez informed us that we had arrived during happy hour. That made us happy, so we ordered a couple of cocktails. The Belle of Gulf Boulevard requested a whiskey sour that she called "good" with a lot of pucker power. I had the classic Old Fashioned. We wound up with four drinks on our table which reminds me why I don't like two for one drinks unless each person orders the same drink.


Like a true professional, I sucked down that first Old Fashioned before the second one became diluted with melted ice. The second drink was enjoyed at leisure.

The steak house is reminiscent of steak houses of old, the ones with character and charm, so with that thought in mind I just had to order the Shrimp Cocktail as my appetizer.


The presentation is just like I remembered from the old movies filmed in a supper club setting. The shrimp were perfectly prepared and the cocktail sauce was just as I imagined. This was an excellent start to our dining adventure. The Belle refrained from an appetizer, preferring to save herself for dessert at the end of the meal.


Sandy, a frequent guest at an adjacent table, volunteered to take our picture since she thought we looked like a happy couple enjoying our dinner. Many patrons of the steak house are regulars and everyone seems to know everyone else. We were accepted as regulars and that contributed to making this visit one that we are inclined to do again.

Our dinners included salads and we had a choice of Caesar, a romaine, or the house salad. My bride chose the house with fresh, crisp greens, onions, cukes, and garden ripened tomatoes. The ranch dressing was drizzled sparingly so the greens weren't swimming.


I chose the romaine with garden fresh tomatoes and an oil and vinegar dressing. This salad was deceptively simple, but so good I ate every last leaf. I rarely finish the salad course.


We both requested steak as our dinner entrees since we were at a steak house. The Belle chose the Black Angus Filet with the ingredients to fully load a baked potato, and a side of mixed vegetables.



The steak was prepared as requested, it was tender and juicy with great flavor. The mixed veggies were also a hit, cooked just al dente, and not reduced to a mushy mess.

I have been craving a steak lately, so that was an obvious choice for me. Normally though, my steak of choice is a rib eye, but on this visit I decided to step out of the proverbial box and go with the 13-ounce specially-aged flavorful Black Angus N.Y. Strip served with a side of sautéed mushrooms, steak fries, and mixed veg.


Just like the Belle's Filet, this strip was prepared as requested, had great flavor, and was tender and juicy.

As I mentioned earlier, my bride likes to save herself for dessert and to that end she chose the heavenly French Silk Pie. I'm not a dessert person, but with a taste of that pie I have to say it was one of the best end of meal treats I have ever had.

 In addition to the cocktails, appetizer, and entrees, we had a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany our steaks. Our total for the evening was a very pleasant $107.60. Of course, we added 20% for Montez.

The Pasadena Steak House sits where a pizza place burned down some 25 years ago. As the steak house rose from the ashes, the owner's wife decreed that the restaurant be built in the style and design of the once prevalent Steak and Ale restaurants. And, so it came to pass. That also explains why the place looked so familiar.

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