Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Mexican Bar On the Beach

I had a hard time deciding if Castaways on Gulf Boulevard is a Mexican bar on the beach or a beach bar on the road to Cobá in Mexico. There were similarities to both which is a good thing. We enjoyed the Mexican cantina and we enjoyed Castaways. Neither were particularly glamorous but the beer and wine was cold and the food very good.

Castaways TacoRita and Beach Bar can be seen from Gulf Boulevard but there is no on-street parking. I would suggest turning on 135th Street and then turn right into the first alley you come to. There is parking behind Castaways and in a couple of lots a little farther down. We parked behind the building and wandered in through the back door. We were cheerfully greeted and directed to sit where we pleased. The bar was our choice.

Castaways advertises margaritas, but these are wine based. They only serve beer and wine, so we chose a Modelo for me and a Chard for mi esposa. There is an assortment of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas on the menu in addition to flat-bread pizzas.

My bride chose the enchiladas with cheese and chicken rolled in two tortillas and topped with queso and red sauce. This was both a filling and flavorful choice.

I decided to go for the gut-bomb, what Castaways calls The Super Ty One Taco. This monster had a hard corn taco shell inside a white queso lathered flour tortilla filled with pork, chicken, ground beef, black beans, guacamole, rice, cheddar cheese, and red sauce.

Our server wisely suggested whittling this decadent delight down a bit with a fork instead of trying to pick it up right away. I took her advice. That would have been a mess otherwise. To say I was full after downing this beast would have been an understatement. That was a shame because Castaways has churros on their dessert menu. Maybe next time!

Two dinners with beer and wine came to a pocket pleasing $34.61.

Castaways TacoRita & Beach Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dinner On The Balcony

A cool evening found us on the balcony overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway with a rich and hearty soup to warm our innards.

 Spanish Garlic Soup

  10            ounces  croutons, seasoned -- two 5 ounce bags from grocery
  1/4           cup  extra virgin olive oil
  10            cloves  garlic -- very thinly sliced - use mandolin
  8              ounces  Spanish ham -- 1/4" dice
  2              teaspoons  paprika
  64            ounces  chicken stock
  1/4           teaspoon  cayenne pepper -- or to taste
                  salt and pepper -- to taste
  1/4           cup  Italian parsley -- chopped
  4              large  eggs

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Cook and stir garlic in hot oil until just golden.

Add ham; cook and stir until heated through.

Add paprika and stir to combine.

Add bread to the pot and toss to coat with hot oil mixture.

Pour chicken stock into bread mixture; add cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper and stir.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and stir in parsley.

Crack each egg into a small bowl or cup.

Make 4 depressions in the bread on top of the soup with a spoon. Slowly pour an egg into each depression.

Cover the pot with a lid and cook until egg whites are firm and yolks are thick but not hard.

Ladle soup into bowls and spoon an egg on top.

                                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 683 Calories; 38g Fat (52.1% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 249mg Cholesterol; 5690mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 3 Grain(Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 6 Fat.

NOTES : If you can't find good Spanish ham I suggest substituting Portuguese chouriço (you can find it at most Publix stores). Typical American ham just doesn't have enough flavor to enhance this soup.

I prefer store-bought croutons, but feel free to make your own if you have stale bread lying around.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Prime Dining On Gulf Boulevard

I received a notice on Facebook a few weeks ago from Aqua Prime announcing their new menu. I took a look and was hooked. While Aqua Prime bills itself as a seafood and steak venue with sea to table dining, what caught my eye and caused my buds of taste to stand at attention were several pasture to table entrées.

The Belle of the Boulevard and I booked a 5:30 table not too long after. We had the place and the servers pretty much to ourselves since we beat the dinner rush, and the hoards from the north haven't descended upon us in mass yet. We were promptly greeted and seated at a comfy booth where we had once before nestled our derrières.

Andrew was our delightful server for the evening and quickly presented us with water and menus. My bride chose a Kendall Jackson Chard to accompany her house salad while I enjoyed a mojito to accompany my appetizer of Charbroiled Oysters.

That was probably the best serving of those charbroiled delights this side of New Orleans. There was a subtle sweetness that just added to the flavor with Parmesan cheese, shallot butter, minced garlic and sriracha bacon. The only downside was the oysters had not been cut from the bottom shell. The meat had to be pried loose with the cocktail fork, mangling the mollusk in the process.

Despite that oyster debacle the Belle and I had to go back to Aqua Prime since there were more pluses than minuses. This time we invited friends from down the way to join us. I had to have those delicious oysters one more time. This time I asked Courtney, our charming server, if the kitchen would please cut the meat from that bottom shell. She said, "I'll ask," and returned a few minutes later and said that was doable. In a perfect oyster eating world, neither the diner nor server should have to ask that question. This time the oysters were dilly dilly good.

A second appetizer was ordered on this trip, the Pan Seared Scallops with coconut curry sauce, Applewood bacon, sweet potato fries and scallions. This dish looked good but I was having my way with those oysters and by the time I came up for air the scallops were gone. Oh, well ... you snooze, you lose.

On our first visit my bride had the 14 Hour Slow Smoked Roasted Brisket. I had a taste and that brisket was the best beef brisket this side of Texas. Actually, it was better than anything I had while in Texas. That mouthwatering beef was so good she had to order it again.

On the first visit the brisket had been cut with a bit more fat than the second time, so it was juicier. The second time around both diners who had ordered the brisket felt the meat was a little on the dry side. It was still good, though.

In addition to the brisket, Aqua Prime has two other beef dishes that I simply had to have. The first time out I swooned over the Smoked Certified Angus Roasted Prime Rib cooked to a requested medium rare Pittsburgh style.

As good as that prime rib was, this time my buds of taste demanded the Certified Angus Argentinean Coulotte Steak. This cut of beef is called sirloin cap in the U.S. and picanha in Brazil. In the U.S. it is little known, but referred to as the rump cover, rump cap or coulotte. I just call it good, grilled and sliced with smokey red chimichurri and au gratin potatoes.

The other dainty damsel in our party seemed pleased with her choice of the Black and Bleu Angus Beef Salad with sliced blackened beef, Gorgonzola cheese, crispy smoked Heineken battered onions crisp Romaine and Caesar dressing.

The four of us were a little too plump at that point to do much more than just consider dessert. Maybe next time.

With cocktails and a bottle of ancient vines zinfandel our dinners for two people on two separate visits averaged about $120.00.

Aqua Prime Seafood & Steaks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Late Lunch At Miller's

Few things excite me as much as shopping, so with great anticipation I joined my bride on her retail shopping adventure. After a fruitless search for whatever it became apparent to both of us that the growling sounds we were hearing were coming from within. Lunch was calling out to us, but from where?

The Belle of the Boulevard had mentioned several times that we should give Miller's Ale House in the newly completed Seminole City Center (the old Seminole Mall) a try. We were close and hungry so we decided to mosey in to this "house of football". That was an apt description since it appeared that every wall in the place had multiple TV screens.

We were getting a late start to lunch so we figured we would order just enough to keep us from starving until dinner. Our server, Phillip, brought us a couple of much needed adult beverages - a Sterling Chard for she and a Stella for me. The Belle and I chose to share an order of potstickers and an order of flatbread.

We chose well! Those pork dumplings on a bed of cabbage drizzled with a tangy plum sauce were plum delicious. The cheeseburger flatbread was spectacular. That crispy flatbread was topped with a secret sauce, ground beef, applewood smoked bacon, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes and pickles.

My bride and I barely scratched the surface of the ale house menu which pretty well demanded we make a return visit. The menu is more extensive than I would have imagined for what could be described as a sports bar.

The drinks were cold, the serve prompt and efficient, the food was really good and the prices were reasonable. Our check came to a pleasing $37.06.

Miller's Ale House - Seminole Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Going Greek In Tarpon Springs

My bride, her sister, niece, and a grumpy old guy piled into our Chevy by the levy for a road trip to Tarpon Springs. We parked the buggy in a lot on Dodecanese Boulevard and walked over to the quay along the Anclote River at the sponge docks.

Almost immediately we were urged to purchase tickets for the sponge boat experience. The Belle and I had taken this journey down the Anclote many years ago and were less than impressed. This is an adventure geared to the tourists and only replicates the real thing. Sponges are found in the gulf, not in the river. We told the hawker that we would think about it and walked on.

After a stroll through the sponge exchange we decided to head back to the sponge boat and take the cruise. Our timing was perfect. Except for the crew and diver we were the only passengers so we had the boat and narrator to ourselves.

Jason was our designated diver for this trip. He is a professional commercial diver and not just an actor putting on a show. What Jason actually put on was a real diving suit with brass helmet, multilayered canvas boots loaded with cast iron, along with extra weights totaling 170 or more pounds.

Once Jason hit the water and submerged we could follow his bubbles as he walked toward the shore. Sponges had been prepositioned on the river bottom. After snagging one, Jason would surface briefly so we could see the results of his dive. Then it was back to the boat to haul Jason and his 170 pound load back on board.

Other than the five folks in the photo, there were only three other people on board. This is the way to travel ... a private tour along the Anclote just for us. The next trip out was loaded to the gunnels with tourists. We lucked out!

Back at the quay our party decided it was time for some retsina and char-grilled octopodi at Dimitri's On The Water.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stefano's Is Back

The Belle of the Boulevard and I frequently frequent the establishments in the Portobello Square Shopping Center on Park Boulevard in Seminole ... hair, nails, dry cleaner and sometimes food. There was a breakfast and lunch place that we went to once. It closed not long after our visit and the closing had nothing to do with us ... I swear.

That space sat empty for quite awhile but then we started to see remodeling going on and discovered that the Stefano's Restaurant on Gulf Boulevard had closed and was taking over this space in Portobello. This Park Boulevard location is more convenient for us so we waited ... and waited ... and waited for this new location to open. Finally, they did and three of us popped in for dinner this past weekend.

Since we had never been to the Gulf Boulevard location we have no comparisons to make as to food or decor, but this Stefano's exuded a warm and friendly charm. The make over from the previous tenants was most pleasant, indeed.

I had called ahead for reservations at six and we were on time. We were greeted at the door, our reservation was confirmed and then we were told our seating options were at a high-top, the bar, the outdoor patio, or we could wait for a table to open up. The patio was facing due west into the setting sun so we decided to accept seating at the high-top.

Ashley, our most charming server took our drink order; a delightful Banfi Belnero Super Tuscan with gentle aromas of vanilla, tobacco and coffee, with hints of cherry jam and prunes. Having enjoyed a full lunch earlier in the day, the three of us eschewed the appetizers and headed right to the entrees that were preceded by two house salads and one with romaine lettuce whimsically referred to as a Caesar.

While the salads were crisp and fresh, our high-top was ready to dive into our main dishes. First up was a Grilled Salmon special that was moist and delicious with an Alfredo sauce topping a mound of pasta.

My bride chose the Eggplant Parmesan sliced fresh, lightly breaded, stacked with mozzarella, fried till golden brown and served with pasta and fresh marinara sauce. The eggplant had a nice crust on the outside with a creamy center.

I am hesitant to order fish at most any restaurant along the Pinellas coast since too may places cook the fish to death. Ashley convinced me to give the Grouper Special a try. 

Gracious goodness was that grouper ever perfect. It was cooked all the way through with a luscious taste and a perfect mouth feel. This fish wasn't cooked to mush. It was, well ... perfect.

The only downside to our three entrees was the glob of pasta that came with each dish. The pasta would have benefited greatly from a splash of hot pasta water to unglue the noodles that were clumped together. The pasta was cooked al dente but the noodles refused to be separated.

The issue with the pasta is a simple fix. We were impressed with Stefano's and plan to return since we are local and they are close.

Dinners for three with a bottle of wine came to a pocket pleasing $128.40.

Stefano's Italian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Traditional Thai On Gulf Boulevard

My bride, the Belle of the Beach, and I were pleasantly surprised the other day to discover a new Thai food restaurant had opened on Gulf Boulevard at Madeira Beach. What was additionally surprising was Cafe' de Bangkok specializes in just one thing, real traditional Thai cuisine. There is no sushi or sashimi, only food prepared by a chef who for many years has been selected by the U.S. Thai Embassy to cook for dignitaries from Thailand during their trips to the United States.

Later in her career Chef Yanee moved to Guam for an opportunity to further her culinary experience as the head-Thai Chef at the Five-Star Dusit Thani Guam Resort where she brought her love and passion for Thai cooking to another level. After a few years, she returned to the United States, and discovered the beautiful gulf shores of the Sun Coast.

Cafe' de Bangkok is a compact, no frills eatery with indoor and outdoor seating. While the surroundings may seem a tad Spartan, the food and service was spectacular. The Belle and I wandered in a little after five and were immediately greeted and seated. We chose to dine indoors as the outdoor seating area faced Gulf Boulevard and the setting sun.

Marlo, our gregarious server, took our drink orders and explained Chef Yanee's concept which is to use only the freshest, sustainable ingredients and prepare those ingredients in a traditional Thai manner. The dishes here are not dumbed down for the American taste buds. This is real Thai cooking!

We started our Thai dining adventure with an order of Roasted Duck Buns from the appetizer side of the menu. My bride and I shared this dish of Chinese influenced, boneless crispy roasted duck with cucumber, green onion and special sweet sauce served in steamed buns. Très magnifique ... so much so that I neglected to take a picture.

The Belle finds it hard to resist fried rice dishes, so she was excited to try the Traditional Fried Rice; Thai jasmine rice stir-fried with egg, onion, tomatoes, green onion, Chinese broccoli, cilantro and the diner's choice of chicken, pork, or shrimp (she chose pork). Served with fresh cucumber and lime wedges this preparation was declared a winner.

It was difficult for me to make a decision since there are so many Thai delights on the menu. I finally decided on the Pad Prik Khing, sautéed crispy pork with prik-khing curry, long bean, and kaffir lime leaves. Prik-Khing curry is a type of Thai curry that is drier than other Thai curries such as red curry as it does not contain coconut milk

None of the ingredients like red bell pepper, kaffir lime leaves, and asparagus or yard long beans were foreign to me since I have played around with Thai cuisine at home. What made this a stand-out plate of goodness was the curry sauce. That sauce is just one reason why Cafe' de Bangkok is a do-again dining venue. Besides, there are a plethora of other Chef Yanee dishes I must try.

Oh yeah, the prices: several beers and Chardonnays, plus the food came to a very pleasing $43.34.

Cafe de Bangkok Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Birthday Bash At The Villa

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I met up with our daughter and son-in-law for a birthday bash at Villa Bellini this past Sunday. We arrived on time for our 6:30 reservations in this elegant building at 2930 Gulf to Bay in Clearwater, and were graciously greeted and seated. Gigi was our charming server who presented our table with reams of reading material that included the adult beverage menu, the specials of the day menu, and the regular menu.

I had already looked at the menus on-line so I knew what I wanted to appear before me; a glass of prosecco to accompany my order of Alici Marinate. These fresh Italian anchovies with red peppers cooked in white vinegar and extra virgin olive oil were like nothing we get out of those little cans. These boneless fish were mouth watering delights with a bright flavor and texture that paired perfectly with the prosecco.

For her Antipasti Caldi my bride requested the Parmagiana di Melanzane, sliced eggplant layered with mozzarella and basil, topped with homemade tomato sauce; a rich and filling dish that could have been a main course.

Our dining partners shared a Antipasto Meriviglia with a side dish of thinly sliced and grilled eggplant.

Two at our table ordered the house Cesare Salad, a bland creation that was Cesare in name only and was unnecessary considering the amount of food yet to come. If served after the entrees, as is traditional in Italy, these salads would have been good palate cleansers and aid in digestion. Sadly, we were not in Italy.

The entrees were works of gastronomic delight. Two in our party ordered the Cannelloni Tampa filled with chopped spinach, chicken, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fontina, Parmigiano and ricotta cheeses, topped with a Parmigiano cream sauce.

The manly men at our table eschewed the creamy stuff and asked Gigi to "Bring us the meat!" We gazed in awe at the perfectly prepared Carre' d' Agnello, New Zealand rack of lamb sautéed with brandy, and Italian herbs in a garlic and demi-glace sauce.

If the rack of lamb didn't blast the buds of taste into orbit, then the fall off the bone Osso Buco Old Style did the deed. This veal shank on the bone smothered in rich demi-glace based brown sauce, served over fettuccini was superb.

Our table shared a couple bottles of an excellent super Tuscan wine, Luce della vite Montalcino, to accompany dinner.

The renovated Villa Bellini Restaurant and Lounge is located on a piece of property in existence since 1929. The building, inside and out, is a treasure. The food is good and the prices are reasonable for an up scale Italian eatery. My bride and I waddled out the door $171.20 lighter in the wallet, but the evening was a most pleasant family dining adventure.

Villa Bellini Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wasn't Broke And Wasn't Bored

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I stopped by the Broke N Bored Grill, 35 182nd Avenue West, Redington Shores the other day to see if it was finally open for business ... and, it was. We had just eaten lunch at home so we weren't hungry, but since the B N B serves beer and wine we decided to sit at the bar and chat with Renee, the delightful lass manning the bar and tables.

We were also pleased to meet chef and owner Jim who explained the B N B concept: "We believe in truth, quality & teaching the youth for a better future. You'll see recycled silverware, local foods & environmentally conscious packaging as well as culinary students learning. We believe in family and family dinners." We vowed to return and immerse ourselves in the culinary delights prepared by Jim and his staff.

That return visit occurred yesterday evening a little past five. Our party of four wandered in to a mostly empty dining room. Renee greeted us and invited us to sit where we pleased, so we did. Drink orders were taken and soon we four were washing away the road dust after our five minute drive from Indian Shores.

While looking over the menus and deciding on appetizers it became apparent that we arrived at just the right time because the relatively small indoor dining room soon began filling to capacity.

Speaking of appetizers, our table chose to share three dandy dishes: Drunken Shrimp, Totally Tuna, and House Smoked Fish Spread.

My favorite was the Drunken Shrimp prepared in a rich wine and garlic sauce and served with toasted bread slices for dipping in that amazing sauce. This dish reminded me of a New Orleans BBQ shrimp recipe I enjoyed a few years ago in the Faubourg Marigny district.

The Totally Tuna was totally awesome! The tuna had a perfect sear on the edges and was served over sliced Napa cabbage with a sweet soy drizzle.

The House Smoked Fish Spread can hold its own with other versions found up and down Gulf Boulevard, and the fresh tomatoes served with this spread are definitely not from Publix (where shopping is an adventure). These tomatoes were deep red and had ... give me a moment ... oh, yeah - flavor.

Next on our gastronomic horizons were the main courses: Hogfish, Ribeye, Pulled Pork, and Smoked Chicken Salad.

The blackened hogfish was roasted in corn husks with a sweet Thai pineapple glaze. This was an interesting preparation and presentation with sides of black beans and yellow rice. While the hogfish was a little over-done for my taste, my bride said she was happy with both the flavor and texture.

The simple listing of "Ribeye" on the menu was a little underwhelming until Chef Jim described the preparation. Jim puts this boneless 14 ounce ribeye in the smoker as the coals are starting to go out. After 15 minutes or so more fuel is added to the smoker to bring the heat back up and the steak is then seared on both sides. This heavenly hunk of beef is then placed in the freezer until you place your order. Your steak is then finished in a blazing hot cast iron skillet to your preferred temperature. Heavens to Murgatroid was that steak ever good!

My bride chose the Pulled Pork Sandwich sans brioche bun so that her girlish figure was not compromised. The pulled pork was served with a pineapple slaw and a chipotle BBQ sauce. I had a taste of that pork and it was one of the best ever. North Carolina could learn a thing or two from Jim.

Also on the lighter side was the Smoked Chicken Salad, again sans bread, with celery, grapes, and pecans along with a side of the pineapple slaw and those meaty, not from Publix, tomatoes.

Since we had two separate checks I am not sure of the total for the evening, but for me and my lady we got out of there for about $75. Bottom line - we were neither broke nor bored. The prices are reasonable and the food was very good. I have got to go back for the shrimp, tuna, and that ribeye.

Broke N Bored Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato