Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Groupon Feast At Cafe Ponte

The Gulf Boulevard group of four grabbed our Groupons and headed to Cafe Ponte for a fabulous foodie feast last night. With a $95 Groupon coupon each couple enjoyed a six course tasting that would have cost $195 without the coupon.

And, yes we did add the chef's wine pairing. While tacking an extra $70 to our final bill, the pairing was worth the extra cost since the wines did what they were designed to do and that was to compliment the foods.

To wash away the road dust from our trip from Indian Shores we gave considerable thought to the very interesting cocktail menu.

My libation of choice was the Shanghai Sidecar. a tasty concoction with hints of Chinese five spice. My bride had the refreshing Bliss and since food was now beginning to arrive I lost track of other cocktails requested by our table.

What follows is a photographic food journey that is in the order depicted on the menu except for the amuse bouche at the start and a palate cleanser midway through the feast.

This roasted cauliflower soup was an unexpected high point of the tasting - rich and creamy.
Speaking strictly for myself, this huge wad of shaved Brussels sprouts was the only disappointment of the evening. For one thing, it was indeed a wad that left me with a dry mouth feel.
Two of my food favorites - lamb and pasta. A filling dish similar to a savory pappardelle lamb ragu I do at home. 
Before moving on to the next course a bright and refreshing palate cleanser was delivered to the table.
While this dish was perfectly prepared and presented it just reminded me why a strip steak is not my favorite cut of beef - too lean and too chewy for my taste. But that is just me. I did get a taste of a fellow diner's choice of salmon and it was heavenly. Jim made a wise choice with the salmon (photo unavailable).

I think for the fab four of fine food that was our final splurge of 2016. There were some hits and misses with this tasting but none of us waddled out with empty tummies. We are dining in tonight with the promise of a magnificent home cooked rib roast at Chez Parker with friends Jim and Denise. I quiver in anticipation.

With all food and drink the tab for two at Cafe Ponte came to just under $300 even with the Groupon coupon.

Cafe Ponte Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Friendly Fried Chicken

Though I am not preggers I have been craving fried chicken of late. My fried chicken dreams have not included any of the fast food chains. I wanted my yard bird cooked in a locally owned dining emporium. Of course I could have made the drive up to a dandy bird vendor in Dunedin, but just the other day I saw Southern Fried Chicken on the menu at an establishment just down Gulf Boulevard from our stately pleasure dome by the sea.

Friendly Tavern at 18121 Gulf Boulevard at Redington Shores features a honey breaded, crispy brown bird on their dinner menu that had my name written all over it. Figuratively speaking, I should add. After enjoying a couple of adult beverages at the tiki bar the other day, my bride, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard, and I decide to return for dinner at our earliest opportunity. That opportunity presented itself yesterday.

The Belle and I arrived a little past five in the afternoon. The outdoor tables, while inviting and available, were blessed with a rather cool Gulf breeze. We are year-round beach folk, not visitors from the frozen north down here on vacation, so when the temperature drops below 70 degrees we put on clothes and stay out of the wind.

We aren't snow birds, but at the tavern we are newbies so when we walked in we paused to see if someone would guide us to a table. No one did, but a gentleman sitting at the end of the bar hollered over, "Just sit wherever you want ... we're all friendly here." We did as we were directed and within moments our most delightful server appeared.

Teresa presented us with menus and took our drink orders. Within a few short moments my bride and I were washing away the road dust from our arduous five minute drive down from Indian Shores. At that early evening hour we had Teresa pretty much to ourselves which was a real pleasure. Besides being a true service professional, her sardonic wit provided us with mirth and merriment to accompany our Friendly repast.

Back on the topic of food, my bride chose the Friendly's Pork Ribs, a half rack of fall-off-the-bones pork ribs with a smooth and tangy barbecue sauce. The ribs were the all-you-can-eat special that night for $18.95, but my dainty dining partner didn't think she could do justice to the all you can eat special, so she chose the regular dinner plate and was muchly happy.

The ribs were perfectly prepared, the mashed taters were creamy and delicious, the bread roll was crusty on the outside with a warm soft center and the coleslaw was fresh with a mellow citrus bite.

Teresa brought a fantastic plate of fried-to-order chicken to the table. The kitchen cooked up a juicy plate of bird for my dining enjoyment ... a thigh, wing, leg and breast accompanied by a side of mixed veggies and extra crispy fries.

Biting into that chicken released the savory juices that trickled down my hand and arm. The breading was perfect; not too much breading and just the right amount of savory goodness. The veggies were cooked to a proper al dente ... not raw and not cooked to mush.

A dessert was not needed, but with Teresa's prodding it became a glorious finish to an outstanding dinner. This Nutty Brownie Sundae came with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and great big gobs of whipped cream.

Would I recommend the Friendly Tavern for dinner? Heavens to Murgatroid, a resounding, "Yes!" With the terrific food, more than a few drinks and super service, the price tag of $47.51 was the whipped cream on the sundae.

Friendly Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The 100 Best Steakhouses In America

OpenTable, the online restaurant-reservation service company founded by Chuck Templeton in 1998, just published their latest e-zine issue of The Insider. The lead story:

100 Best Steakhouses in America for 2016

As Voted by OpenTable Diners
The American steakhouse is the culinary intersection of class and comfort. Our #OpenTable100 Best Steakhouses list highlights restaurants that deliver a high-end dining experience that is singular and soothing all at once. We determined the list of honorees after analyzing more than five million reviews of more than 20,000 restaurants across the country — all submitted by verified diners.

As a lover of a great steak and a frequent patron (and critic) of Tampa Bay steakhouses I enthusiastically dived into the article to see how the Bay area fared in the over five million reviews of over 20,000 steakhouses.

Whoops-a-daisy! We didn't fare at all: not Bern's, not Rococo, not 1200 Chop House, nary a wink, blink, or nod. I expanded my search for the 100 best to include the entire state of Florida. Out of 100, Florida scored five. There was one independent house of steaks, Steak 954 in Ft. Lauderdale; the other four are chains and include three Capital Grills (none in the Bay area) and an Abe and Louie's in Boca Raton.

With this rather shocking revelation: I had to ask myself, "Where on earth do these 'verified' OpenTable reviewers dine?" Well, one place is Connor's Steak and Seafood in you've-got-to-be-kidding Huntsville, Alabama. Home of the Army's Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville in northern Alabama is about equidistant from Birmingham, Nashville, and Atlanta. Or to put it another way, it's in the middle of nowhere.

Oh well, casting sour grapes aside, congratulations to Huntsville. Maybe one day in the not too distant future, Tampa Bay's gastronomic endeavors might show up on someones culinary radar screen. We can only hope.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Get Booyah-Fierce Ramen At Būya Izakaya Ramen

A couple of things my bride and I discovered almost immediately upon being seated at that new ramen place in downtown St. Petersburg is the name būya, in spite of the phonetic symbol, is pronounced booyah. So, don't let the long "ū" fool ya. Oh yeah, izakaya is a type of informal Japanese gastropub.

Now that we have that grammar stuff out of the way, let's commence with the eating and drinking. Cienna, our delightful and knowledgeable server for the evening recommended a couple of Būya's signature cocktails. When she mentioned one with Angel's Envy Bourbon, I knew I had to have the Oldie But Goodie. This cocktail was made with a Japanese spiced simple syrup, Angostura Bitters, and orange bitters.

Photo taken by Cienna
Sufficiently lubed by that heavenly Oldie But Goodie, the Belle and I moved ahead to the izakaya plates where we were tempted by the Char Grilled Edamame and the Blistered Shishitso Peppers. We could blame our indecision on the Angel's Envy Bourbon I suppose, so rather than choose just one, we got them both.

There were more peppers on the platter before this picture was taken.
We both agreed that the edamame was really good, but the shishito peppers were spectacular. We have enjoyed these peppers from the west coast of Florida to the west coast of California and this Būya version was the best we have ever had.

After our flirtation with the angels the Belle and I chose a glass of Chardonnay to accompany her dinner and a Hitachino Nest White Ale for me. The white ale was vaguely reminiscent of a German Witbier style beer, but not as heavy. This was an excellent ale that complimented my dinner choice of the Pork Belly Ramen.

The pork belly was cooked to tender and juicy perfection. The veggies, mushrooms and noodles were swimming in a rich sea of flavorful goodness.

While I was swooning over my ramen, the Belle was in gastronomic ecstasy with her Gyoza, Japanese pork fried dumplings with a soy based dipping sauce.  

In case you were wondering, Japanese gyoza have some general, subtle differences from the Chinese potstickers. They are usually made from wrappers that are thinner, smaller, and more delicate, and the filling is more finely textured. Although gyoza is prepared in much the same manner as potstickers, the thinner skin crisps up more and the focus is more on the filling.

The menu at Būya is abbreviated, but everything we tried was fantastic. The service was friendly and helpful, and one of the owners, Bryan, stopped by to see how we were doing. The decor at Būya is a little Spartan but there is some interesting art on the walls.

There is a full bar with more Japanese whiskys than I thought even existed. Apparently the Japanese have been distilling for more than a day or two. They are producing some world class whisky.

All food and beverage set us back $103.79. My bride thought that a bit much for soup, but that was some damn fine soup ... and, the Angel's Envy is the nectar of the gods, or angels.

Kanpai, y'all!

Photo taken by Lydia Rector
Būya Izakaya Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

There Is Something Fishy Going On Here

My aquatic journey from Punta Bete, Mexico to the Honduras Bay Islands of Guanaja and Roatan; have camera, will travel.

Main concourse, Guanaja Airport - Photo by Lydia Rector
The two aquatic monsters were captured on camera in Mexico south of Playa del Carmen.

The rest of this series comes from the Caribbean waters off the coasts of Mexico and Honduras.

Photo by Lydia Rector

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Reminiscing About The Alsace: Choucroute Garni

Alsace is a lovely and fascinating region of eastern France; with impressive cities such as Strasbourg and Colmar, the Alsace wine route, historical castles set on isolated hilltops, pretty villages sitting quietly in the vineyards and forests of the region, and large areas of protected and scenic countryside.

It is also where I first experienced the German-Franco dish of Choucroute Garni. I have been experimenting with this dish for several years and I think I have finally come close to what I was served in Kaysersberg, or was it Saint-Hippolyte? This was 26 years ago so my memory might be a little hazy on the place, but my taste buds remember the dining experience.

                             Choucroute Garni

  1/4         pound  bacon -- lardons
  2            pounds  pork roast -- cut in 2" cubes
  1            medium  onion -- peeled and coarsely chopped
  1            large  carrot -- pared and sliced
  1/4         cup  chopped parsley
  1             each  bay leaf, whole
  4             each  black peppercorns
  4             each  juniper berries
  1             cup  Riesling wine
  1             cup  chicken broth
  1             pound  smoked sausage -- sliced 1/2" thick
  1             pound  bratwurst -- sliced 1/2" thick
  2             pounds  sauerkraut -- rinsed well and drained
  1             cup  green apple -- cored and coarsely chopped

In a large Dutch oven, over medium-low heat, render bacon fat.

Add pork cubes, onion, and carrots and sauté slowly; stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.

Place parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns, and juniper berries in cheesecloth bag.

Add to pot along with wine and broth.

Bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Add sausage and sauerkraut to pot, stir, cover, and simmer another hour.

Add apples and simmer an additional 20 minutes.

Start to Finish Time: 2:30
                                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 1318 Calories; 97g Fat (69.0% calories from fat); 76g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 281mg Cholesterol; 4181mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 10 Lean Meat; 2 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 13 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

It should be noted that this isn't diet food.

Bon Appétit and Guten Appetit, y'all.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Obviously there was no plan in place for the 2016 elections. This Morning After To-Do List lays out a five step plan that needs to be implemented starting today. We liberal progressives have had a full day to piss and moan. It's now time to do something ... fast! Mid-terms are two years away. We need to start now.
And, you must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: "HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!" This election was not a Republican mandate.

Michael Moore's Morning After To-Do List:

1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.
2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn't let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must "heal the divide" and "come together." They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.
3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn't wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that's about to begin.
4. Everyone must stop saying they are "stunned" and "shocked". What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren't paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all "You're fired!" Trump's victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.
5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: "HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!" The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. (My emphasis)

If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don't. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he's president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we'll continue to have presidents we didn't elect and didn't want. 

You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there's climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don't want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the "liberal" position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Idiocracy Is The New Normal

I had high hopes of waking up this morning with a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that our President elect would continue on the path of repairing the eight years of damage caused by the George W. Bush administration. Instead I awakened with the ominous sense that the purple shaft with the barbed wire cluster had been painfully applied.

With Hilary Clinton I felt confident that the sane and carefully planned agenda set out by President Obama would continue and flourish. There is a certain comfort in knowing what lies ahead or at least feeling confident that our President would guide the United States with a steady, competent hand.

What we are now faced with are four years of complete uncertainty. Trump has repeatedly stated that he intends to be totally unpredictable, leaving our nation in an unending cycle of instability. It is hard to plan your day when the future is in such a depressing state of flux.

Beyond packing his administration with the political dregs of yesterday, Trump has pledged to immediately get the Keystone pipeline debacle back on track as well as quashing U.S. involvement in the Paris climate change accord. Clean air, clean water, and a planet capable of producing food to feed all of us is trumped by the demands to put wealth and power above the welfare of planet Earth.

Several years ago I was entertained by the sci-fi movie Idiocracy where natural selection is indifferent to intelligence, so that in a society in which intelligence is consistently debased, stupid, irresponsible people easily out-breed the intelligent, creating, over the course of five centuries, an irremediably dim and sexually motivated dystopia. Demographic superiority favors those least likely to advance society. Consequently, the children of the educated élites are drowned in a sea of promiscuous, illiterate, proletarian peers.

On Friday, January 20 2017 we won't be watching the movie Idiocracy, we will begin living the movie.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

We Have Staked Out A Spot At E & E

Wednesday was another date night with my bride, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard. It was also half price wine Wednesday at the E & E Stakeout Grill. We did date night at the E & E last Wednesday and enjoyed it so much we had to go back.

This time we made reservations a day ahead so we got the time we wanted. At the hostess station we requested the services of Keleigh, our spectacular server last time. The hostess seated us at a little cramped booth and when Keleigh arrived with menus she indicated that this seating arrangement just wouldn't do, so she got us a roomier circular booth with more table space and elbow room.

The E & E specials apparently change frequently so the octopus and pork belly appetizer I had last week would not be happening this week. In its place were Blue Point oysters on the half shell. I am always hesitant to order raw oysters in the Tampa Bay area since so few establishments have a clue as to how oysters should be shucked and presented. Keleigh assured me that I would be pleased with my dozen. She was right, I was very pleased. The E & E shucker had his shucking down to a shucking science.

For her entree, the Belle had the 10 ounce Prime Rib that was cooked to perfection including tossing it on the grill for a moment to give that succulent piece of heavenly beef a little char.

I was a teensy bit hesitant to order the venison special since the thought of chowing down on Bambi didn't seem like a Disney thing to do. I cowboyed myself up and did it anyway and heavens to Murgatroid  was Bamb ... er, those Venison Chops ever good. They were tender, juicy, and had none of the gaminess I have been led to believe existed in wild creatures.

The crispy potato puffs were an excellent side and the au jus was divine. A Gin Refresher before dinner and a $61 bottle of Etude Pinot Noir at half price washed away some of the guilt over that Bambi thing.

We didn't need a dessert but we had to have the decadent Raspberries and Cream.

I wasn't planning to document this dinning adventure, but thanks to my bride's cell phone camera I was able to memorialize those Bambi chops.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Photo Journey: A Trip Through Wine Country

My bride, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard, and I along with friends Jim and Denise departed from our island paradise by the Gulf of Mexico to the grape growing capital of America, California wine country.

We ate, we drank, and we marveled at the beauty of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. It has been said that, “Napa Valley is a Wine Disneyland, while Sonoma Valley is a Wine Region.” – Tom C. Wark, Fermentation: The Daily Blog. Our crew chose Sonoma as our base for exploratory operations.

Visitors to the region can hit the high road to Napa while the scenery explodes with Michelin stars and 95+-point ratings, or chose the slower drive down a dirt road in Sonoma to a casual outdoor patio with inexpensive tastings. We did both.

While I enjoy a glass of wine or two, or even more, my thrill is recording photographic images of my journeys, so that will be my thrust for this piece.

Domaine Carneros rendered in classic oil style

Tasting the bubbly with a snack at Domaine Carneros

Bubbles and Bites at Gloria Ferrer

After the Bubbles and Bites we four take a tour of Gloria's winery.

The old technology ...

And, the new ...

This machine was the forklift powerloader Ripley used to fight the alien queen in Aliens - it has been re-purposed as a bottle stacker at the Ferrer Winery
Grape vines in rendered in classic oil style
Grapes and olives coexisting in perfect harmony.

Buena Vista Winery

This beautiful bird purloined one grape too many resulting in its demise and a visit to the taxidermist

The St. Francis food and wine pairing is that-a-way
I said the food and wine pairing is over yonder and get your hand off my belly!
Over there, dammit! Do you Florida folks not speak English?

Home of happy, contented California cows

Stompin' dem grapes at Grgich Hills Estate.

Stomped them grapes and all she got was purple feet and a T-shirt

One of the most scenic of the wineries - Nicholsons.

Classic Napa garden sculptures.

And, finally we come to the end of the Sonoma pictures and the end to our journey to wine country.

Smeared palette knife in oil