Monday, May 9, 2016

Escape to Cafe Dufrain

It was a balmy evening so we were very happy to be seated outside on the patio with beautiful views of Hillsborough Bay. The Tampa Bay Times Forum is just across the bay and we dined against the backdrop of thunderous roars from the fans cheering their team on.
This is an interesting part of town. Harbour Island is a little triangle of land that sits between Tampa's mainland and Davis Islands, and it has a cool vibe with its lovely townhouse type condos and rentals and trendy restaurants and shops. It's kept very clean and beautifully landscaped and has the feel of a 'walking' community, especially the promenade along the river. Cafe Dufrain is pretty and our waiter was gracious and very accommodating. It's the little things you notice, like when after having just cleared the salad plates away I dropped a bit of tomato and a few moments later he glided by and surreptitiously swiped it away without drawing attention to my sloppiness and kept moving. Clearly he keeps a keen eye on his tables. I liked that.
Since they don't offer a small side salad hubby and I shared the Greek Salad, the highlight of which was the little mound of potato salad buried under it. Hubby was so impressed with it that he ordered an additional side portion. Long a great fan of potato salad, he's taste tested it at hundreds of restaurants in the many years I know him and found most of them wanting. For him the perfect potato salad has a little drop of pickle juice in it and this one seemed to be a winner.
I ordered their "Local Shrimp Tacos" with the house-made potato chips....and it was very good with just enough heat from the jalapeno crema and pico de gallo to make my taste buds dance. The chips were well done and not at all greasy and I ate every bit of them.
Hubby opted for the Dufrain Steak Burger which also came with chips and he enjoyed it. There's not much you can say about a burger except that it was prepared as ordered as this one was and the dressing was tasty.
Ken's plate was quite impressive - deep jewel toned slices of Spicy Tuna Tartare with a Wasabi and Sriracha Aioli (the spicier the better for Ken). I'm puzzled why they called it 'Tartare' since it was sliced rather than diced up. In any case it was declared yummy and as you can see the presentation was beautiful.
The menu is a little pricy however they had some reasonably priced options and we went with those. Cafe Dufrain boasts that more than three quarters of their menu items are sustainable, organic and/or locally grown, and while this is a noble and admirable effort in keeping with the growing health conscious trend, it does come at a price. They couldn't persuade us to stay for dessert because we were headed to Kaplantown for coffee, laughter and conversation and the most gorgeous bowl of berries I'd ever seen. Look at Cheryl's fancy presentation! It definitely put a smile on my face.
We'll be heading back to Harbour Island to check out some of the other eateries soon I'm sure. We never get tired of exploring Tampa Bay and all it has to offer.
Café Dufrain
707 Harbour Post Dr., Tampa, FL 33602 | 813.275.9701
http://cafedufrain.com
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Friday, April 15, 2016

Shrimp Boat Grille

After a long hiatus where our schedules collided and kept us from getting together our gang of eight finally pinned down a Great Escape date that worked for all of us. We had some lost time to make up for and boy did we hit a winner with Shrimp Boat Grille.
Several years ago I'd been to Shrimp Boat Grille at it's original location on Lumsden and Kings and although we liked the food we didn't hurry back because the atmosphere was kind of dark and eventually it fell off our radar. But we were delighted to see their beautiful new location on Bloomingdale Avenue. The decor is lovely, warm and bright with a separate bar area that was lit with cozy blue lights meant to draw you in. Business was booming on this Friday night and the restaurant was packed. Our waitress Haley was friendly and efficient and we were treated to entertainment provided by the very talented Ron Cunningham who I learned is there every Friday evening. The music was just right for dining and thankfully not so loud that we couldn't converse.
Hubby had Shrimp Marinara over Linguini, a generous portion and one he declared very satisfying (he liked it!)
I had Grilled Mahi topped with Shrimp and Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce and switched out the Cilantro Rice for the more sensible veggie side (yes I'm dieting again). It was absolutely delicious and I would order it again.
Both Kathy and Hollie had Seared Salmon A La Meunierepan topped with Spinach over Cilantro-Lime Rice - but Hollie switched out the Salmon for Mahi. I like when restaurants are flexible enough to make these adjustments. The presentation was beautiful and I'm told very tasty indeed.
Cheryl & Ken opted for Coconut Shrimp, Panko Coated and served with Pina Colada Sauce and a side. I have to say they were the biggest shrimp I'd ever seen! The serving was so large doggie bags were needed. Yum, lunch tomorrow.
All around us I could see nothing but smiling satisfied faces.
Shrimp Boat Grille offers a Four Course Tasting Menu on Saturday Nights and I'd like to give that a try some time. Owner/Chef Al Paone Sr. and his son Al Paone Jr. are offering an exciting menu. I recommend this restaurant and can't wait to return soon.
The dessert menu was tempting but we had planned dessert and coffee at our house and after that very satisfying meal we needed the drive time to digest. We indulged in a Publix Cheesecake with Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Cream, served up with a side of laughter while we listened to Fleetwood Mac.
1020 Bloomingdale Avenue, Valrico, FL, 33596
http://shrimpboatgrille.com/
Shrimp Boat Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

TWO LEAVES IN THE TABLE

AN EASTER STORY.....
Hubby and I escape every chance we get - it's good for us to get away from our daily routine, to explore new cities, new restaurants, new cultures. But this time I AM THE ESCAPE! That's right....my dear sister and brother-in-law were in town for a few days to celebrate Easter Sunday....just like the good old days.
We left New York City twelve years ago to "sort of" retire and enjoy warmer climes. And we do love it here in Florida. But unfortunately we left behind family - son, daughter, granddaughter, sister and of course dear old friends. It's a trade off really, and not an easy decision. We miss them all the time and eagerly await their yearly visits. But this visit was special because it was Easter, and we hadn't celebrated that holiday together in a very, very long time. So we pulled out all the stops.
There were ten of us at the table including our cousins who live here in Florida and it was just like old times. The five of us sister/cousins have been celebrating holidays together since we were babies - and it's a blessing to have our families that close throughout our lives. So it was a chance to be silly and wear some outlandish Easter Hats (expertly made by Aida). And of course there was all that food.
Hubby and I decided to go Spanish to pay homage to my roots, and despite his Italian roots he has a real talent for cooking like my mama used to. Here was the menu...and let me give a shout out to Angelo's kitchen bible, a book we bought in Puerto Rico many years ago "Rice & Beans & Tasty Things" by Dora Romano. It is well thumbed and covered with food spills and we love it. (I seriously think he was switched at birth and is really a Puerto Rican disguised as an Italian)
THE MENU
Roast Pork (Pernil)- Angelo's recipe, tender, flavorful
White Rice (the perfect vehicle to complement the beans)and of course, The Red Beans (wow)
Grilled Asparagus Spears (my contribution - yes I took the easy way out but I have many other fine qualities - I don't have to cook too!)
Sweet Plantains (Maduros) (Goya, Oh Boya)
Salads - Martha made a Fabulous Garden Salad and Green Bean Salad
Flan - perfectly executed by Grace, the Queen of Flan
Family gatherings are precious and the older we get the more we treasure our times together. Here's hoping we have many more years to celebrate - together! A La Familia!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

SAKURA JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE, RIVERVIEW

At the last minute we decided neither of us wanted to cook so we settled on trying this restaurant. We love Asian food of most any variety and friends had spoken highly of Sakura. We were smart enough to call early for a reservation (highly recommended) and so it was with smug satisfaction that we elbowed our way through diners lined up two deep trying to get a table. It being Valentine’s weekend may have explained the crush but I would still call for a reservation as it’s a real reservation with a sign on your table…not one of those where you still have a half hour wait. We had asked for a table in the small dining room this time and left the Hibachi room for our next visit.
I ordered the Chicken Teriyaki which had a delicious but subtle sauce. The serving was plentiful and came with a bowl of white rice, a beautifully composed side of colorful vegetables (al dente) and also a fresh, crisp salad topped with Carrot Ginger dressing that was very good. The rest of our group went for the Shrimp Tempura and were wide eyed as the plates were set before them displaying a dramatic assortment of Shrimp and Vegetables. A very big portion especially considering the delicately crisp Tempura Batter was filling. Two people can share it. I find Tempura a little bland, but the texture was lovely and a bit of salt brought it to perfection.
Two things should be noted: I ate my entire meal with Chop Sticks - Bravo for me. And next time I'm determined to try the Sushi that I spied at a table we passed on the way out as it looked like bejeweled works of art.
Sakura Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar
10722 Big Bend Rd, Riverview, FL 33579
(813) 671-2388
www.sakurajapanesesteakhousefl.com
Sakura Japanese Steak House & Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Monday, February 15, 2016

CONNECTION CAFE & BRADENTON FARMER'S MARKET

CONNECTION CAFÉ, 1207 3rd Ave W, Bradenton, FL 34205 | (941) 251-4954
A friend of mine introduced me to this charming café tucked away on a side street off Old Main Street in Bradenton. Connection Café is a quiet, unassuming little place with quirky decor and just a few tables. But this family run café offers some very tasty food prepared and served with welcoming charm.
We decided to split two entrees so as to enjoy the best of both. And certainly the portions were more than enough to accommodate our appetites. The Roasted Beet Salad with Brie and Orange was dressed with a Balsamic reduction…very fresh and tasty. The Mushroom Crepe was delicious and while I found both dishes to be very satisfying, my friend admitted that both were better the last time she dined there. I'll have to visit often and in the interest of further 'research' try some of their other offerings and get back to you.
DOWNTOWN BRADENTON FARMER'S MARKET
Perhaps the big plus of the day was enjoying the Bradenton Farmer’s Market. Open every Saturday from October through May, the hours are 9AM to 2PM. Located on Old Main Street in downtown Bradenton, the market covers about three blocks and offers fresh fruits and vegetables, Organic Honey, homemade Italian specialties, amazing freshly baked breads, Red Gulf Shrimp, Olive Tapenade, fresh baked goodies, Vegan specialties, arts and crafts…..and much more to feast your eyes (and your taste buds) upon.
The atmosphere is made even more pleasant by live music – mostly local bands and performers who delight the crowds.
On my second visit here I brought hubby who was delighted with all the free food tastings like...... Shrimp with Panzanella Salad; Olive Tapenade; Crusty Bread with a variety of flavored dipping oils; Pretzels and a variety of Creamy Dips; Italian Chocolate…..oh my it was wonderful. We plan on visiting this market often and bringing our friends. I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning. Check out the Realize Bradenton website to learn more about the Market, the Riverwalk and surrounding neighborhood attractions.
http://www.realizebradenton.com/farmers_market

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

ESCAPE TO DAYTONA BEACH

Hubby and I recently celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary and decided to escape to Daytona Beach for a few days. The weather was brilliant and we spent our time visiting the boardwalk, checking out curiosities, and relaxing on our ocean front beach front balcony. And of course we sampled the local cuisine. Here’s a recap of our favorites.
CHARLIE HORSE 810 S. Atlantic Avenue, Ormond Beach, FL 32176 | 386-672-4347 http://www.charliehorserestaurant.com/
For a quick casual meal on our first night in town we headed over to Charlie Horse Restaurant on the recommendation of the hotel’s concierge. The place was lively and a dozen or so people were lounging on the front porch waiting for their tables. We couldn’t find parking so I popped in to ask the hostess where we should park and she directed us to enter the next door Bone Fish driveway and pull around back to park there. That was a little odd but we figured it out. The wait for a table wasn’t too long and made pleasant by chatting with other touristy folks comparing notes on Daytona Beach in general.
Hubby ordered Sirloin Steak with a side of Garlic Mashed and brown gravy and declared it good. I opted for a Salad topped with Sliced Grilled Sirloin and it was very good. Honestly we were so tired this first night that we just ate quickly and headed to the hotel to call it a night. The place was noisy and we just weren’t in the mood – but I’d definitely go back and maybe try their all you can eat crab legs since that seemed to be the hot menu item.
Rossellini’s Restaurant & Lounge 136 S Atlantic Ave, Daytona Beach, FL 32118 | Phone: 3862538333 http://www.rossellinisrestaurant.com/
We were in the mood for elegant Italian food and Rossellini’s seemed the perfect choice for dinner. The restaurant has a charming atmosphere and it was a quiet Monday evening midway between Christmas and New Year’s. Next time we’d like to return on a night when they have live music on the patio deck.
We started with an appetizer of Seafood Saute that featured clams & mussels in a garlic and white wine sauce. Delicioso! Way too much of their good crusty bread was employed to sop up the savory juices.
I indulged in Veal Scallopini Marsala and it was tender and tasty, a good portion size, and came with a mushroom risotto and vegetables. I ate every morsel. Hubby had Veal Parmigiana with Spaghetti and he was quite satisfied. Our waitress fussed over us with a celebratory glass of champagne and a slice of their amazing Lemoncello Cake to mark our special occasion 25th Wedding Anniversary. Here’s to the next 25 years!
Hubby is obsessed with Raw Clams on the Half Shell. This craving harkens back to his NYC upbringing where he was known to indulge in eating 2-4 dozen on his own, heaped with cocktail sauce, horse radish and lemon juice. As a matter of fact it was hubby that introduced me to raw clams, something I’d never had any desire to try. Well he got me hooked as well and I especially like when he prepares my clams just so to make sure they’re dressed correctly. With this in mind we set out to find a restaurant for lunch that served Raw Clams and well that turned into somewhat of a fiasco. We’ve noticed since moving to Florida that most restaurants with a Raw Bar serve Oysters, not Clams. Yes we’ve found a few but they’re rare. On this day we finally got a tip where to go – Boondocks, an outdoorsy place right on the marina. I wouldn’t even mention them now since they had no clams that day, but the hostess was so very nice and referred us to one of their competing restaurants she was sure would have what we were after. That makes me determined to try Boondocks next time we’re in town! BOONDOCKS | 3948 S. Peninsula Drive, Wilbur By The Sea, FL 32 127 | 386-760-9001 | http://www.boondocks-restaurant.com
And here at last we found our Raw Bar – We ordered two dozen Littleneck Clams on the Half Shell and slurped them up in no time. I followed that up with a salad topped with grilled tilapia, and hubby got a Shrimp Po Boy. The weather was brilliant and we enjoyed sitting on the open deck – a most pleasant experience. Our Deck Down Under is a terrific casual place that families will enjoy. We sure did!
It was the perfect way to celebrate our big day and we were so enchanted by all that Daytona Beach has to offer that we will be returning later this year and bringing some friends with us.....the more the Jollier! OUR DECK DOWN UNDER , 78 Dunlawton Ave., Daytona Beach, FL | http://www.ourdeckdu.com/
Charlie Horse Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, November 15, 2015

La Septima Cafe, Brandon

It’s possible that I have a soft spot for this restaurant because it’s owned and operated by the Fernandez family and hey - my maiden name is Fernandez! Alas there’s no familial connection so I can’t claim the family discount. What I can do is enjoy food reminiscent of that prepared by my mother. Cuban food and Puerto Rican food are very much alike. So when I order the chicken and rice I can almost hear my mother calling me to the table. Foolish little girl that I was I never did partake in mama’s black beans. It wasn’t until I was 40 years old that my Italian husband convinced me to try his black beans and wowza I fell in love with them. These days I am in charge of black beans at our house as I have perfected them through the years, and every now and then I look up into the sky and say “sorry mama I should have eaten your beans when I had the chance”. La Septima’s black beans and yellow rice are great.
Salad is served on a vintage wrought aluminum plate – these are lovely and I’m reminded of similar serving pieces laid out on my family table. I still own three pieces inherited from a favorite aunt and employ them for special family dinners. They make me smile.
Although I usually order one of the traditional menu items, tonight we both decided to go for the special: Bacon wrapped sirloin with a skewer of four large shrimp served with La Septima’s awesome yellow rice. For $12.99 it was a terrific value and better yet, it was delicious. My one disappointment was that the bacon wasn’t crisp and we set it aside. However, it had served to impart its flavor into the meat and so I forgave the lack of crispness. I resisted the temptation to order flan for dessert but if you're so inclined do give it a try when you go. It's very good with a cup of café con leche. Of course its no where near as good as my beloved Tia Graciela's legendary flan. Thankfully her recipe lives on with her namesake daughter Grace and if the family asks/begs/pleads with her enough she will make it for us. La Septima's is a close second.
The service here is very good. Our waitress Desire was attentive and efficient, quick to refill hubby’s soda or my wine and even mama Dahlia swooped in to bus our table as soon as our last bite was taken. If I have one complaint it’s that we were sitting on the end aisle along the servers’ station and it felt a little obtrusive for the owner and six servers to be standing two feet behind hubby’s back having a mini meeting about how to lay out tables for a big party. I feel they should have moved to the back for that meeting.
We were treated to some beautiful Spanish guitar music by a talented young man sitting near the front bar and that just added to the atmosphere. All in all it was a great dining experience and we will definitely be back soon.
www.laseptimacafe.com
702 West Lumsden Road, Brandon FL 33511 Phone: (813) 685-0502
La Septima Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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