Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A New Kid On The Block - Sola Bistro

Ever on the lookout for innovative, cutting edge restaurants, my bride and I came across a new kid at 6700 Gulf Boulevard at St. Pete Beach. If that address sounds familiar it's because this was the home of Cafe Luna, a gastronomic beach fixture for many years. Alas, the owner of Luna got tired and sold the place some six months ago, but fret not my fellow gastronomes, Sola Bistro and Wine Bar has filled this culinary black hole.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I walked in to this eatery around four one recent afternoon. We had our choice of tables since the dinner crowd had yet to arrive. This was to our advantage since we had the undivided attention of owner Tigran Khachaturyan, or Tig for short. Tig gave us a much appreciated explanation of the food and wine menus along with the Sola concept.

Sola has a concise menu with fixed choices that change little over the course of time such as steaks, seafood, pork kabobs, and chicken dishes prepared with an Armenian or Russian flare. What really piqued our interest were the cheese and charcuterie, and nose to tail choices that change weekly depending on what is fresh and locally available. If you visit their website you may join their mailing list to be notified of special offers and events. Tig mentioned that a whole roasted sucking pig would be available in the future.

There is a most impressive wine list with selections by the glass and bottle from France, Spain, and California as well as a few surprises. We were surprised by a superb red from Georgia. Heavens no, not that Georgia!

This bottle came from a country that probably started producing wines some 8,000 years ago. Saperavi is Georgia's most widely grown wine grape and it enjoys the most popularity in Western markets of any native Georgian variety. The juice of these fruits also runs purple -- not clear, like most grapes -- and produces a wine so dark the Georgians call it "black wine."

As a side note, European vintners traditionally discard the grape stems when making red wine. The unique character of Georgian wine derives from its fermentation along with the stems, seeds and skins in huge clay vessels lined with beeswax, called qvevri.

Our bottle of Saperavi provided an excellent pairing for our entrees with a color that was a dark ruby with blackberry notes on the finish. We also got the last bottle in stock. What can I say - "You snooze, you lose." I am sure Tig will order more of this impressive wine.

My bride and I began our food and wine journey with a couple of glasses of Prosecco to accompany our appetizer selections. While waiting Tig presented us with an amuse bouche of figs and house made chorizo with caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, and a balsamic drizzle. Our bouches were delightfully amused.

We two piglets shared a Beef Carpaccio with arugula, Parmesan, pomegranate, black pepper, and a drizzle of EVOO, and a brined, braised, crisped Pork Belly with a sriracha, honey, and daikon salad.

What made the carpaccio a stand-out was the adornment of pomegranated seeds as opposed to the ubiquitous capers. The pork belly had a crisp bark on the bottom of the unctuous layer of flavor topped with tender, juicy pork. The salad provided the perfect foil for the richness of the pork belly.

Speaking of pork, Tig suggested the Pork Kabob for my dining partner. This tender and flavorful pork was marinated Armenian style with thinly sliced onions, pomegranate seeds, and an exquisite roasted eggplant salad.

I was torn between the Rabbit Cacciatore and Sterling's Rib Eye. I think what pushed me over to the 16 ounce  rib eye was the Maker's Mark au poivre sauce with black peppercorns. It has been said that everything is better with bacon. Well, I am here to tell you that even bacon can be bested by a good Kentucky Bourbon. The only thing that could have made that bone-less steak any better would have been a bone. I do so love gnawing on the bone.

After the appetizers, the kabob, and the steak my bride and I were done, D-U-N, done. "Not so fast," said Tig as he presented the Belle with a complimentary Honeycomb Cake in honor of her birthday. Unlike a baklava, this cake, baked by his wife, was a dichotomy in that it was moist and dense yet light and airy. This cake is based on a traditional Russian recipe and was the perfect end to a perfect dining adventure.

Our total for all food and wine, minus the honeycomb cake, came to a pleasing $154.08. We added an additional 20% gratuity for the other servers and the kitchen staff.

Sola Bistro & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Piglet Parade dines anonymously and except for my bride's birthday cake we do not accept freebies in exchange for our reviews.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spinning At Spinners

The family took a spin at Spinners Rooftop Revolving Bistro and Lounge to celebrate my bride's birthday. The draw was the revolving restaurant high above the teeming masses and the promise of a spectacular sunset.

We had reservations for 7:15 and when we checked in the hostess promptly guided us to our awaiting table. Spinners was packed with vacationers, so a reservation is a must. The 360 degree view was awesome. Our server, Yvette, brought menus and waters. Our table requested a couple bottles of wine from a limited but adequate wine menu. There are a number of bottles in the $35 to $60 range and if you have more dollars than sense there is a $275 bottle of the long-in-the-tooth Dom.

The table shared two appetizers. The Seafood Trio was a delight with chilled Gulf shrimp, Cajun scallops with blood orange balsamic glaze and smoked fish dip.

As good as the Trio was, the Twin Pork Shanks trotted away with the blue ribbon for porcine goodness.

Those slow roasted petite pork shanks were finished in a honey garlic glaze and served with a tomato pepper salad. The shanks were tender, juicy, and packed with flavor. That was probably the best dish of the evening.

Spinners menu features the expected hotel restaurant selections of beef, chicken, and various types of seafood that did not appear to be locally sourced (if that matters to the diner). Our table of five all chose the Queen cut Herb Roasted Prime Rib of Beef.

It seemed a little silly to take pictures of five plates that all looked pretty much the same with a tub of au jus, and sides of mashed potatoes and mixed veggies. The prime ribs were more or less cooked as requested. The flavor was good and the prime rib cap was tender and delicious. The interior was moist though blessed with a few strands of tendon.

The dinners came with a choice of soup or salad. The house looked good, but I would eschew the Caesar Salad, a bland mess of romaine chunks that could have come from a Publix salad bag.

Dinners at Spinners are a tad on the expensive side, but the diner must consider the venue with a view situated atop a beach resort hotel in the heart of a vacation paradise. I read a couple of reviews that suggested Spinners was a great place for a romantic date. That may be true if neither of you are on speaking terms. With glass all around, the noise level reaches deafening decibel levels.

One other caveat: If you intend to arrive in the afternoon to maybe watch the setting sun, bring a pair of super duper, heavy duty sunglasses. There is nothing to shield you from that blazing afternoon sun - either that or sit with your back to the windows.

My bride and I were treated to dinner so I can't account for the total cost for five people but I would suggest $300 or so would be within the realm of possibility. But, what the hell, you are on vacation.

Spinners Bistro Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fantastic Burger At BRGR

If your buds of taste are craving a fat, juicy burger you need to treat your buds to a burger at BRGR in the Treasure Island Beach Resort. "BRGR Kitchen and Bar is an ode to a love affair for the beach and a craving for a really good, high-quality burger," and I can't find a single reason to argue. The Belle of the Boulevard and I stopped by for lunch and we were muchly impressed with the property, the restaurant, and the beautiful beach setting.

We parked our buggy in the garage and rode an elevator up to the second floor. A charming hostess directed us to the main dining area where we were invited to sit where we pleased.

The lunch crowd had not arrived yet so the place was all ours. The lovely Valerie, who was to be our delightful server, suggested outdoor seating since the day was just spectacular.

Our next agenda item was choosing an adult beverage since we convinced Valerie that we were adults, or at least one of us was. The wine list was surprisingly extensive and reasonable. Many bottles of primarily California varieties were in the $30 to $40 range. Only two hit the $90 mark. There is an impressive handcrafted cocktail menu. The Belle and I both chose a refreshing draft from the Deep Blue Brewing Company. The Blonde Ale (4.8 ABV) was a refreshing light malt with a pleasing fruity taste and aroma.

Whilst tippling we considered the Social Beginnings and were intrigued by the Blistered Shishito Peppers, lightly grilled with brown butter, lemon, and Parmesan. We had no idea what we would be getting, but once we started on those peppers we could not stop.

According to Wikipedia, "Shishito pepper is a sweet, East Asian variety of the species Capsicum annuum. The pepper is small and finger-long, slender, and thin-walled. Although it turns from green to red upon ripening, it is usually harvested while green. The name refers to the fact that the tip of the chili pepper looks like the head of a lion." I never saw anything that looked like the head of a lion, but I only had half a glass of beer at that point.

After a serving of those peppers and a few more swigs of beer I felt as though I was in need of a Nooner and Valerie was more than happy to bring me this sinfully decadent BRGR burger.

The Nooner is the signature custom blended beef grind cooked to a perfect medium rare, then topped with smoked bacon, aged cheddar, fried hen's egg cooked sunny-side up, grilled portobello mushroom, crispy onions, cultivated greens, roasted shallot-truffle aioli, and a toasted brioche bun. I have no idea what I was supposed to do with the tub of ketchup. It would have totally mucked up that delicious burger that was perfection on a plate with that golden egg yoke gravy.

My bride chose the equally decadent Backyard BBQ Burger with a side of huge Pale Ale Onion Rings.

The burger is "the all American classic" signature custom blended beef grind, with American cheese, garden greens, vine ripe tomato, onion, sweet pickles, smoked bacon, and a toasted brioche bun. Those colossal rings were about the best ever. The onions were not cooked to death and the breading adhered perfectly to the rings. A bite yielded both onion and breading without disintegrating. Excellent!

Two BRGRs, onion rings, appetizer, and several beers set us back $65.27. We tacked on an additional $14 for Valerie's fantastic service. BRGR is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

BRGR Kitchen and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, May 6, 2016

Lunch At The Coop: Cooper's Hawk That Is

A cooper is someone in the trade of making utensils, casks, drums and barrels and other accessories, usually out of wood. A Cooper's Hawk is a national chain that includes an upscale casual dining restaurant, full-service bar, private barrel-aging room, and Napa-style tasting room. We didn't see any coopers when we walked in to the Hawk for lunch, but we did see an impressive selection of wines by the bottle for purchase.

Our party of three was greeted by the hostess and guided to an indoor table. There is a relaxing outdoor garden dining area, but we chose to dine in the main dining area. Hardly had our party settled into our comfy booth before we were greeted by the effervescent Bonita who described the wines, the dishes, and the Cooper's concept. Bonita offered suggestions for food and wine and allowed us time to leisurely peruse the many choices on the extensive menu.

On our way to the table, we passed a large wine barrel. Bonita explained that this was essentially the house wine ... but it was so much more than a simple house wine. This Cooper's Hawk Red is a delightful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah with aromas of raspberry, black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, vanilla bean, and cracked pepper. This wine had a fruity nose and great legs. After a sample for each of us, Bonita brought a carafe of this elixir along with a loaf of superb pretzel bread and a tub of creamy butter.

We decided to share an appetizer, the Asian Pork Belly Tostadas, a heavenly creation with scallions, sesame seeds, cilantro, radish, and sweet chili BBQ sauce.

This was a savory, perfectly prepared delight with crispy, yet juicy, morsels of pork belly with fresh tasting culinary accoutrements.

Each person in our party chose different entrees. We will start with the Gnocchi Carbonara with pancetta, chicken, sage, and peas languishing in a Parmesan garlic cream sauce.

Gnocchi has been a traditional type of Italian pasta probably of Middle Eastern origin since Roman times. If the ancient Romans ate like this then they were certainly well fed. The carbonara sauce was light and flavorful, the chicken was plentiful, and the dumplings were perfectly al dente.

Dana's Parmesan Crusted Chicken with tomato basil relish, lemon butter, mashed potatoes, and garlic green beans was another lunch time treasure.

The chicken was cooked to perfection and had a delightful crunch from the Parmesan, the potatoes were creamy, and the green beans were neither too hard or overcooked -  a simple yet sophisticated dish.

As good as everything was up to this point, I have saved the very best for last - the orgasmically (figuratively speaking) good The Prime, a slow roasted prime rib sandwich with seasoned mayo, house made steak jus, and a little tub of horseradish cream. The diner has a choice of a side. I requested the excellent Asian Soy Cole Slaw.

There is no doubt in my mind that this sliced beef was truly prime. It was so tender and juicy it could have been nothing else. The au jus was perfection. The horseradish cream was tangy but really not needed. Dip the sandwich in the jus and moan with pleasure. I did!

A dessert was not needed, but Bonita tempted us with the decadent Reese's Ice Cream Cookie. This warm chocolate chip cookie was baked with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and served with vanilla ice cream.

Cooper's Hawk provided the most memorable lunch time repast and, thankfully, I didn't have to go back to work after this meal - not without a two hour nap anyway. Lunch for three with food, wine, and dessert came to a little less than $125 - very reasonable for the quality of the food.

Cooper's Hawk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mike's Is More Than Just Pizza

Is a trip to NYC necessary for a great pizza? I'd give that a big fat no! Just boogie on over to Mikes Pizza and Pub, 14479 Walsingham Road in Largo for one of the best pizzas ever. We did and we loved it.

The Belle of the Boulevard and I ordered a large Supreme Pizza loaded with pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, green peppers, and onions. My dining partner is not fond of mushrooms so we asked our charming server, Chrissy, if we could get the 'shrooms only on one half of the pizza. She said that was entirely doable. Since I like anchovies on my pizza, I asked Chrissy if the kitchen could toss a few of those little fishies on the mushroom half of the pizza. "Certamente!" she said (or words to that effect). Everything about that pizza was delicious, from the toppings to the crust.

Mike's is more than just a pizza parlor. They have stromboli and calzones, wings and such; salads, hoagies and wraps, plus entree pasta and skillet dishes. In addition to wine, Mike's has an extensive and ever changing list of micro brews. I can heartily recommend the Breakfast Stout by Founders Brewing Company, a brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is a rich brew with hints of chocolate that could certainly put a kick in your breakfast. A couple of these first thing in the morning for breakfast would be a great way start to your day ... if you planned on doing nothing.

I had three small glasses of this stout (Alcohol by volume (ABV): 8.30%) and upon leaving Mike's, I handed the car keys to my bride.

At Mike's you will find both indoor and outdoor seating. You may dine in or take out and they have free delivery: Call: 727-724-4100. Packaged wine and beer is also available for delivery - a valid ID required at delivery with credit purchases only.

There are boo-coo TVs in the bar and dining areas so Mike's would probably be a dandy venue on game day. The prices are reasonable: five brews, a side salad, the large Supreme pizza with extra cheese gave us a bill of $50.39. We added a 20% plus gratuity as thanks for Chrissy's excellent service.

Mike's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Another Ho Hum Day At The Beach

After a grueling morning at the gym my bride and I decided to walk over to the beach, soak up some rays, and just chill.

While sitting on a beach bench communing with nature our reverie was interrupted by a couple of members of the indigenous population who seemed very intent on communing with us.

We chatted for a bit and then bid our new friends adieu. We explained that we didn't live right here on the beach and that we were going to our home across the street.

"No problem," they said, "We take a dip in your pool from time to time, so we will waddle over with you."

My bride, who says she is not an animal person but attracts critters regularly, suggested that this wasn't a real good idea.

"Well that settles that!" my love said to me as our new friend turned away. We continued walking toward the road. We looked back once and there they were following us on the hot sandy pathway. The only reason we don't have ducks here in our stately pleasure dome by the sea is because the sand was too hot for their little web feet and they had to squat down to lift their feet from the sand. We boogied quickly to the road and sadly left our new friends behind.

I am sure we will see them in the swimming pool in the morning.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Quirky Fish In Gulfport

The one-time fishing village of Gulfport, Florida over the years has become an eclectic and quirky haven for artists, free thinkers, and innovative restaurateurs. It is the latter that intrigues me the most and every time I visit this burg I am thrilled to see new dining venues that seem to cry out to me.

Fish Bar and Grille at 3038 Beach Boulevard is housed in a 1930's vintage bungalow that fits in perfectly on this beautiful tree-lined street. There is indoor and outdoor seating with a fabulously kitschy decor with a nautical bent.

Our party of four wandered in around two in the afternoon for a late lunch or an early dinner. We were greeted by Angelique who guided us to our requested table. We chose to sit indoors to avoid the sultry afternoon that was devoid of anything resembling a breeze.

Fish has a full bar but our table chose to wash away the road dust with beers and an Angry Orchard. As we sipped our beverages we discussed appetizers and entrees that we could share.

The Crispy Spring Rolls with ground turkey, cabbage, carrots, beans sprouts, and scallions come with the diner's choice of a spicy garlic vinaigrette or sweet chili sauce. The spring rolls were very good with a bit of a bite from the chili sauce. For the smaller appetite this was a very filling dish.

The Joe Island Clams from the Raw Bar are locally grown and harvested steamers swimming in a savory white lemon garlic sauce. That broth simply demanded a hunk of toasty bread for sopping.

The New England Clam Chowder served in sourdough bowl was a flavorful dish with a thicker than expected consistency - more like a porridge. Also, Fish was out of sourdough bowls so a regular bowl was substituted.

The Local Style Ahi Poke consists of cubed sushi grade tuna with sweet onions and scallions with a citrus ponzu sauce served with a seaweed salad and jasmine rice. This presentation strays from the traditional Hawaiian style, but even in the islands chefs are incorporating a wide array of styles and ingredients. Poke (meaning to slice or cut) is normally served chilled. The warm tuna in this dish was a bit off-putting.

In keeping with the aloha spirit the Loco Moco was a must-have. This is a great dish to order if you can't decide if a greasy American breakfast or salty Asian lunch would help your hangover the most after a night of one lama pa'ipa'i too many. Quite often SPAM is the protein, but in this version jasmine rice was topped with a juicy hamburger patty and a fried egg in a pool of mushroom brown gravy.

Another island favorite is the Huli Huli Chicken, grilled shoyo white meat chicken topped with pineapple slices over jasmine rice. Shoyu, a soy sauce, is the foundation of Japanese cuisine, it is the essential ingredient. In this dish the flavor was there, but the chicken leaned towards dry.

The Seafood Basket with fried shrimp served with fries and coleslaw was the least favorite dish of this visit. There was no gastronomic WOW! factor. The shrimp gave no hint of their Key West origin and the fries did not present as fresh cut.

One in our party decided that after the spring rolls there was little room for another large dish so a wedgie was ordered. This Wedge Salad with tomatoes (a few were a little wrinkled), applewood bacon, blue cheese crumbles, and ranch dressing was a monster and delicious.

There were hits and misses on this visit to Fish Bar and Grille but it would be gauche to complain about the prices. For all of the food and several beverage re-orders the total bill for four came to a pleasing $114. The Fish is relatively new so it is not inconceivable that there may be several kinks to be worked out. I would recommend giving them a try.

Fish Bar and Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato