Friday, August 28, 2015

Portobello On Park

Breakfast, unless it is like the one I had in Singapore (similar to pho) years ago, is not my favorite meal of the day. My bride, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard, enjoys an American style breakfast. Since I don't cook stuff like that (I am the Chef de Cuisine here abouts), I asked the Belle to breakfast this morning at a diner I was interested in trying.

The Portobello Diner at 13023 Park Blvd N, Seminole has been around since 2005 and is known for its breakfast and lunch specialties with German and Greek influence. We wandered in today rather early in the morning ... around 9:30 I think (come on - we're retired). The counter was empty and there were only two other customers, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Portobello gets slammed earlier in the day and again around lunch time, so plan your visit accordingly.

Menus were presented and coffee served by a very sweet and professional young lady. Neither of us can remember her name. It is not that she is forgettable, but we are retired (did I mention that?) and we are rarely coherent that early in the day.

My bride had been mentally drooling with the thoughts of biscuits and gravy of late. I had read a reviewer's comment that this dish at Portobello "was to die for." Personally, that is one of the dumbest comments I have ever read. To die for a food seems to be setting the bar a bit low, but I get the point and the taste I got of my bride's dish was superb.

Those two homemade biscuits were slathered with a savory sausage gravy that had my taste buds quivering with gastronomic ecstasy. Damn, but that was good eatin'. The two over-easy eggs were filled with a golden 'gravy' that just boosted the biscuits to the top of the culinary Mount Olympus. The grits were, well ... grits.

After tasting that biscuit gravy I kinda regretted not getting a plate of that goodness, but I was intrigued by the Greek Omelet stuffed with feta cheese, tomatoes, onion, and for a slight up-charge, the gyro meat.

With the first bite I realized that I too had made a wise decision. That was probably the best omelet I can remember since retirement. I did mention I am retired, didn't I? And, I got one of those delicious homemade biscuits. The only thing that could have enhanced that omelet would have been a cold glass of Greek retsina. Portobello doesn't serve alcohol, so that retsina fantasy was just that - a fantasy.

Our total bill came in under thirty dollars and we added more than 20% for our server.

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Portobello Diner

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Mill On Central

The Fab Four of Fine Food (minus one on this outing) wandered in to The Mill on Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete a bit after five this past Saturday. We were promptly greeted, guided through the forming throngs, and seated at a table looking out on Central.

On this dining adventure Sweet Polly, Underdog, and I lamented the absence of my bride who was enjoying a fine repast (I am sure) at a Kewpie Doodle in the land of the Limas, Ohio. We raised our glasses of Prosecco to the Belle and then proceeded to immerse ourselves in the over-the-top offerings on a seven item (or was it nine?) charcuterie board that was presented by our charming and professional server, Jessie.

The diner's choices of meats and cheeses was most impressive, and it was difficult trying to decide, but we persevered and narrowed our selections down to a manageable level. The Toro Pastromi was a given based upon its glowing reputation - a well deserved reputation for this moist and tender delight.

Since we appeared to be knowledgeable foodies, Jessie suggested choosing dishes we might not normally find on our gastronomic journeys, and I had to have the Octopus Bacon, a smokey delicacy for the taste receptors. That octopus was one of the most original preparations I have ever enjoyed and was my favorite, though the Lengua Rillette, Lamb Belly Bacon, Foie Gras Torchon, and assorted cheeses and accouterments made this the finest charcuterie board I can remember south of Cúrate in Asheville.

While polishing off the charcuterie board, we turned our attention to the Second Plates and Third Plates sections of the menu. The difference between the two as Jessie explained was the the Second Plates were a little smaller than the Third. Two of us ordered from the Third and one chose the Porter Glazed Quail and Wild Game Sausage from the Second Plates.

This was a hearty dish served over a bed of white bean salt pork cassoulette, with a Port cherry relish, and candied apple crisps. Underdog had high praise for this dish and especially for the savory cassoulette.

Being the well bred Southern Belle that she is, Sweet Polly could not resist the Fish and Grits, a farm raised rainbow trout, atop Anson Mills blue corn grits, with a smoked pork Bolognese.

I had a taste of that trout and it was a crunchy bite with a juicy and flaky center. I can't comment on the grits since I was not offered even a single grit. I dealt with my disappointment by diving in to my tasty and tender Aspen Ridge Flat Iron Steak prepared Pittsburgh style - seared with a perfect char on the exterior and a warm red center.

The flat iron was served with savory baked potatoes and a flavorful, al dente Swiss chard. That steak started off being tender, but toward the end I was running across tendons making the steak a bit of a chore to cut. It was still a really good flat iron.

While we didn't necessarily need dessert, we three decided we wanted dessert and damn the calories. Sweet Polly had the Walnut Pie, Underdog chose the Strawberry Lemonade Tart, and I was tempted by the Honey Pepper Cheesecake.

All three desserts were good, but I think Underdog had the best one. That was a damn fine tart, and who doesn't enjoy a good tart from time to time? I enjoyed the Strawberry Lemonade primarily because it was lighter than the other two heavy hitters, and I was stuffed.

I know I will be returning to The Mill because my bride, the missing Belle of Gulf Boulevard, will command it. Besides, I really want the frog legs, and the anchovies, and the rabbit, and the Naughty Bits, and let's not forget the Pork Tomahawk.

With all of that food and an appropriate amount of medicinal, adult beverages, our total for the evening came to about $77 a person. We also left a well deserved 20% plus gratuity for the lovely Jessie.

The Mill has complimentary valet parking. Valet entrance is in the Bank of America parking lot off of 1st Ave. S between 2nd and 3rd Streets.

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The Mill

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cocina Aquí and Tequila Bar

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I, along with our friends Sweet Polly and Underdog, visited Aqui the first time during their soft opening. This was before the menu had been finalized and a few kinks worked out. Yesterday evening my bride and I returned to the kitchen at 17814 Gulf Boulevard, Redington Shores.

Our timing was most propitious since we beat the crowds that began in earnest around six. We found convenient parking right in front and we had the restaurant pretty much to ourselves. This afforded us the opportunity to chit chat with our lovely server Nicole, Alejandro from the kitchen, and Louie, the gregarious owner.

Cocktails were the first order of business for us and we were eager to try several, starting with the super spicy Caliente Margarita for me, and the fruity and delicious Mango Margarita for the Belle. The Caliente was spiked with jalapenos and the Mango had chunks of ... well, mango.

A diner who preceded us had written a glowing review of the Tableside Guacamole, so we knew that would have to be our appetizer choice  - and, an excellent choice it was. Alejandro was an expert guac maker and it was an added treat to watch him in action.

We were able to choose how much of each condiment we wanted included with our guac which was seasoned to perfection. It could have used a bit more jalapeno for my taste, but my bride said no to mucho mas caliente. Alejandro used the traditional molcajete with a matching tejolote.

The Tableside Guacamole was served in the molcajete with a side of fresh and crispy chips. It looked like a lot of guac, but the Belle and I emptied the bowl just short of licking it clean.

While our entrees were being prepared my bride and I sampled two more margaritas: a Strawberry for her and a more traditional for me with the Reposado. My 'rita was muy bueno with the aged tequila instead of the white tequila. I had considered another reposado until I spied the Michealada with Negra Modelo. This is now officially my favorite beverage at Cocina Aqui. This is Cocina's take on a sangrita with the liquid from pico de gallo married with the Modelo. It looked like a tall glass of iced tea, but that is where any similarity ended.

Oh, yes ... our entrees. For mi esposa the Pork Enchiladas were ever so tender and flavorful with a sauce that she described as piquant, and there was definitely plenty of it, especially with the side bowl of pintos and rice. I had a bite of this puerco enchilada and would consider ordering this dish for myself on our next visit.

For this visit, though, I was enticed by the Lobster Enchiladas, bits of lobster meat in a rich and creamy cheese sauce that might have benefited from a few more lobster bits. It was still a tasty and filling dish.

With all food and beverages consumed on this visit, I was pleasantly surprised that la cuenta was just $101.49. We had no qualms about adding a 20% plus gratuity.

Hasta la próxima vez, buen provecho.

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Cocina Aqui and Tequila Bar

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

All Smiles At Smiley's

I was surfing the Googles this morning when I came across a photo of a most decadent looking sandwich taken by a patron of Smiley's Snack Shack on St. Pete Beach. It must be stated right up front that I am not an aficionado of sandwiches, but that gooey, buttery pile of melted cheese mixed with ground beef caressed by two thick slices of toasted bread brought my salivary glands to full drool.

There was no doubt in my mind that Smiley's would be entertaining my buds of taste at lunch today, so the Belle of the Boulevard and I strapped ourselves into our sonic rocket and blasted off to the south end of Gulf Boulevard.

Smiley's is located at 3700 Gulf, but it is not too easy to see from the boulevard. Look for 37th Street and turn right if you are coming from the north. A hard right again brings you in to the Smiley parking lot. The signs for 30 minute parking are not for patrons. Park where you please and step inside through the door to the right for the sit-down dining room. The door straight ahead takes you to the take-out order area.

We were greeted by the very charming Sadie who inquired as to our culinary desires. She also directed us to the sit down room and when we walked through the correct door we were again greeted by the still charming Sadie who commented that it was really nice to see us again. My bride and I requested a couple of brewskis to wet our parched whistles and then placed our food orders.

The Smiley's menu description of the Frisco Melt was seriously understated. This humongo sandwich had two perfectly cooked beef patties slathered with cheese, grilled onions, and 1000 Island Dressing. This was a buttery delight with a thousand degrees of flavor. Sadie said that I would be stuffed if I could finish that homage to the Earl. I did finish it and I was stuffed.

For her noonday repast, my bride chose the (again) understated Grilled Club. This club was a massive mound of ham, turkey, bacon, and cheese with lettuce, tomato, and mayo nestled between two thick slices of perfectly toasted bread. Half of this monster came home with us and will be her lunch tomorrow.

We also shared a basket of fried onion rings that were crispy, flavorful, and didn't fall apart when a bite was taken.

Smiley's has a small outdoor seating area that would be nice when cooler weather arrives. There is seating for the mommies and poppies along with entertainment for the kiddies. Smiley's appears to be very family friendly even though there were no families present during our visit.

In addition to sandwiches, wings, hot dogs, and wraps, breakfast is served from 7 to 11. The food we had was wonderful and the service was friendly and efficient. Did I mention that Sadie is charming?

Food and beer came to a very nice $33.71. I can definitely envision a return to Smiley's for another sandwich and beer.

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Smiley's Snack Shack

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Just Another Stormy Day At The Beach

We interrupt this food blog for Breaking Weather News:

Our recent spate of "Holy crap Noah, hammer faster!" weather let up long enough for a brief stroll on the beach.