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.