Monday, February 27, 2017

Bernini's, Ybor City

A lemon drop martini and dinner at Bernini's was a great way to start off our Great Escape. As part of our "Restaurants Revisited" theme, this year we're picking out some old favorites to see if they still measure up to our first experience. Bernini's gets a somewhat mixed review not for the food which was excellent, but for the other things that can make or break an evening out. My lemon drop martini was served in a stainless steel glass which I found quite interesting - a good way to keep it cold. But I was disappointed that it had no lemon garnish so the one you see pictured here came out of my water glass. It's the little things you know?
We had made our reservation more than a week in advance knowing what a busy place this is. When our party of 8 arrived they led us to a table on the main floor that literally had 6" of room all around it with people pushing past from the bar and diners knocking knees on the other side. We politely but firmly declined and noticing a free 8 top by the door simply said we're taking that one. Once seated comfortably the service was pretty good and very friendly. Our food came in a reasonable time frame and we were all happy with our meals. I had the Arugula/Pear Salad and the Lamb Lolipops which were delicious and 'peared' beautifully (forgive me).
For traditional Italian entrees, hubby had the Eggplant Parmesan which didn't measure up to his home made, but in some perverse way he insists on ordering things he knows he can make better (sigh). Ken had the Penne and Sausage and enjoyed it. Cheryl had a simple Linguini tossed with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella - it was light and very pleasing. Having eyed a platter passing to another table nearby, Mike ordered the Lasagna and loved it.
The negatives were the noise - the location was once The Bank of Ybor and was built in grand style with lots of marble and high ceilings so it's extremely noisy. And while we could put up with that, we were less than thrilled to learn that the women's room was out of order on a Saturday night. Yikes.
We ended the evening with dessert at Jollywood where very tasty Mini Cannolis from Publix were served with Coffee and Espresso along with some Fresh Strawberries. We'll go back to Bernini's for sure, but it will be a weekday evening to avoid the crowds.
1702 E. 7th Ave, Ybor City (Tampa) Florida 33605
Reservations highly recommended
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Monday, January 30, 2017

Wheat + Water, Bradenton

The first thing that hits you when you walk into Wheat and Water is the aroma of something wonderful happening in the kitchen. The intensity of it put my taste buds on high alert and made my mouth water.
The restaurant has a nice ambiance, and they had a full house.
We settled in and ordered some classic Italian dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs or Shrimp Scampi. My Chicken Parmesan was a too generous portion of three cutlets so two came home with me for the next day. The pasta was very good and home made (hence the name Wheat & Water - what you need to make pasta from scratch). I noticed great looking pizza at nearby tables and vow to try one next time. A couple of us had the Caprino Chicken - Grilled chicken breast, goat cheese, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil with a white wine lemon butter sauce and it was declared delicious. The service was very good, and we enjoyed a lovely glass of Malbec and their crusty sour dough bread, both perfect accompaniments to the meals.
One person in our group follows a Gluten Free diet and while the menu boasts several GF options, on closer inspection I noted that at least three GF dishes were described as being lightly coated in Italian bread crumbs. Whoa, that's not Gluten Free - so make sure you read that section carefully. I'm guessing you can always ask them to 'hold the bread crumbs'.
The evening ended with coffee at Casa Martin and dessert was a Duff Camouflage Cake made by our cake expert Mike. It was quite unusual and of course quite tasty. Duff cake mixes are the brainchild of Celebrity Chef/Baker Duff Goldman who opened his cake decorating studio in West Hollywood in 2015, a place where you could have a cake decorating party and let your imagination run wild. Now my only hope is that after indulging in a slice of 'camouflage' cake the resulting calories will also be camouflaged and not end up on my hips!
7303 52nd Place East, Bradenton, Florida (941) 216-3562
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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Black Rock Bar & Grill, Brandon, FL

Date night movie and dinner found us in Brandon looking for something new. You know that feeling when you are just tired of the same old thing. So we took a chance on Black Rock, a restaurant on Providence in the former Mimi's location.
They succeeded in transforming Mimi's warm cozy atmosphere into a rather cool dark club with lots of televisions that I rather object to. Multiple TV's are for a sports bar and I think they set the wrong tone here.
They're pushing a new concept of cooking your meat at the table on a 755 degree hot rock. We didn't feel that adventurous so we stuck to the traditional menu, starting with an order of Mussels that was very good. It was kept hot in its dish sitting atop a hot rock so we did get a bit of the trendy experience.
I ordered a potato encrusted Red Snapper served over mashed potatoes with green beans. It was delicious however they were too heavy handed with the topping of fire roasted tomatoes and I just pushed them off to the side. Something else I had to push off to the side was a rather large shrub of sage that adorned the top of my fish. As an avid fan of cooking shows like Top Chef and Chopped, I have learned that if you can't eat it, don't put it on the plate. Here is the offending plant and as you can see I am not exaggerating.
Hubby had a Shrimp Po Boy that was disappointing. I watched nearby tables as waiters ceremoniously rolled a cart and delivered their hot 'rock' and a slab of beef that looked like a filet mignon. Diners were instructed to carve bits of meat from the huge slab so they could cook quickly. To tell you the truth I wasn't impressed. It looked like a gimmick that I felt risked getting an uneven cook on your meal. For the rather high priced menu I would expect the chef to cook it for me. What would one do if the meat didn't come out right? Complain to oneself?
On the bright side, I enjoyed a fabulous glass of Malbec "Terrazas Alto de Plato" and I vow to hunt it down and stock my wine rack at home.
804 Providence Rd, Brandon, FL 33511 813) 445-4111
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Black Rock Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, December 12, 2016

Riverhouse Reef & Grill, Palmetto, FL

With a view of the marina on the water's edge, Riverhouse was the perfect spot for my book club to enjoy getting together for lunch. The Book Ends have been reading together for ten years and although several years ago we put a ban on bringing food to meetings, we make sure to dine out a few times a year.
I indulged in a delicious Bloody Mary to pair with my AHI Tuna BLT - crisp bacon topped with a very generous portion of Ahi Tuna slices, with Lettuce & Tomato on a Brioche bun, and served with their home made chips. We all tried something different....Crab Cake Sliders, Lobster Pot Pie, Coconut Shrimp, Chicken Salad. The only complaint we had was that the Lobster Pot Pie wasn't quite as expected, just okay.
I give River House high marks for food, service and ambiance. A nice touch is the trolley they provide that carries you from the parking lot to the restaurant across the marina's boardwalk. You might want to ride it on the way in but walk back to burn off some calories and enjoy the views.
I'll be back soon and often.
995 Riverside Drive, Palmetto FL 34221
Riverhouse Reef & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sunday Brunch at Bonefish Grill, Brandon

My cousin Grace threw herself a birthday brunch bash at Bonefish Grill in Brandon - our very favorite restaurant. The family gathered around and celebrated her while we indulged in some delicious food. This was our first time trying their Sunday Brunch and it was fabulous. Especially the Unlimited Bubbles - I chose the Bellini which was so tasty I was smacking my lips. I had three! (Don't judge me) Bonefish Grill Brandon has recently undergone a major overhaul and transformed their already lovely restaurant by kicking it up a notch. New kitchen, new furnishings, newly defined areas with some really lovely architectural details. A bar that emits a warm glow of welcome and a new outdoor dining space. Robert Hayman, their resident concierge has become a friend. He is gracious, cares about the customer experience, and does his best to make you feel welcome. Perhaps it's his butler training that makes him eminently qualified to excel at his job.
The brunch menu offers a wide array of luscious meals. Mike and I had the Surf & Turf Eggs Benedict (Filet Mignon Tips topped with a generous amount of Lobster meat and then topped with a perfectly cooked egg and Hollandaise Sauce). The Kobe Burgers were declared 'best I ever ate' by Martha & Rick. Hubby went for the Scallops and ate every scrap. The Fish N Chips Aida ordered was a massive dish and half went home to enjoy later. Howard opted for the Creme Brulee French Toast and enjoyed it very much. Of course there was dessert! Creme Brulee, Jamaican Rum Coconut Custard Pie, and Brownie with Ice Cream.
Bonefish Grill has everything we want. Great food, impeccable service, beautiful ambiance. Managing Partner Emin Hadziosmanovic also stopped by to greet us and make sure we were being well taken care of. We assured him all was very well. It's become "Our Place" and we'll be back often. Thanks again to our gracious birthday girl for this special treat.
1015 Providence Road, Brandon, FL 33511
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Ciccio Cali, Riverview

Ciccio Cali - Bowl Culture
It was Girls Night Out and we headed over to Ciccio Cali thinking that it would be like the Ciccio Water we tried a couple years ago in Tampa. But they are different in many ways. Ciccio Cali is light and airy, almost cafeteria like but a cool and modern cafeteria with a European flair for the minimal. It took us a while to study the menu but once we figured it out we all decided to immerse ourselves in BOWL CULTURE and it was terrific.
I had the Tuna Poke, Seared rare ahi tuna with fresh minced ginger, cilantro, jicama and cucumber topped with yuzu tobikko, sesame seeds and spicy rayu ponzu sauce. I wisely asked for the ponzu sauce on the side cause I'm a lightweight when it comes to spicy and the dish had just enough heat without it.
HOT & CRUNCHY TUNA Seared rare ahi tuna, scallions, jicama, avocado and cucumber topped with tempura battered onions, sesame seeds and sriracha aioli.
BOWL CULTURE - Choose between rice (yellow, sticky, brown), Kale Blend, Spaghetti Squash (+2), Chilled Asian Noodles (+2) / Add more protein (chicken +2, steak +3, tuna +3) OR Go Vegetarian! Sub veggie and broccoli mix (no charge)
Pictured here is the Fajita Bowl and the 'Phelps' which featured roasted eggplant, broccoli, chicken, goat cheese over Napa mix and quinoa salad. It was very tasty!
All in all a pleasant experience with excellent service. We capped off the night by taking a short walk through the plaza to Starbucks where we sipped decaf cappucino's and watched the fabulous evening sky (Photo credit to Cheryl). We'll definitely be back. 11230 Sullivan St, Riverview, FL 33578 Ciccio Cali Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato View my food journey on Zomato!

Sunday, September 4, 2016


My original pick PLAN A this week was Stillwaters Tavern in Downtown St. Pete. After watching Hurricane Weather reports for days we somehow got it into our heads that driving to that neck of the woods was probably not a good idea - wind, rain, flooding, no parking, holiday weekend, etc.
So I selected PLAN B the newly opened Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen in Brandon. Reviews of their other locations were favorable so I had high hopes and gave them a call. They don't take reservations or call aheads "yet" but maybe in the future. So we took a chance and upon arrival we were told it would be a one hour and forty minute wait (GASP) for a table. Naturally we decided not to stay. The place was jumping with enthusiasm and we felt disappointed to be turned away. I have only myself to blame, for what was I thinking trying out a restaurant open only FOUR DAYS in the middle of a holiday weekend!? We'll plan on going back for a late lunch and see what all the fuss is about. Last minute changes are awkward with a large group but we salvaged the night by going to the nearby Miller's Brandon Ale House PLAN C . There we were greeted warmly and seated quickly (I guess everyone else in Brandon was standing on line at Tibby's!).
Brandon Ale House offers typical pub food with some surprising twists on their menu like Cajun Chicken and Jambalaya (I'm guessing these would likely pale in comparison to the new place down the block). We settled in for burgers or ribs or cobb salads and hubby bravely went for the Osso Buco - something else you wouldn't expect on a pub menu (pictured here with some disturbing plating techniques don't you think?) It was all okay but nothing exciting. A safe port in the storm.
Dessert at our house was also a PLAN B in that I'd asked hubby to pick up a Pecan Pie to go along with the Cajun theme but Publix didn't have any so he selected one of their very yummy apple pies. Still, it wasn't Cajun - but then again, neither was our meal. It just shows you that you need to remain flexible and go with the flow and keep a sense of humor - especially when the sun had come out to mock me and my original concerns to avoid St. Pete. Stay tuned for reviews of PLANS A & B because I'm determined to go sometime soon.
Brandon Ale House 1817 W. Brandon Blvd., Brandon, FL 33511 / 813-643-0511
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