Monday, May 28, 2012

Dessert and the After Party

So your group has finished the meal and lingered as long as the waitstaff will allow. What next? It's too early to head home and so I want to share with you some of the after dinner options we've enjoyed.
We've gone from the restaurant to our community's billiard hall, stopping along the way for Dunkin' Donuts coffee and donuts to go. Pairing up in odd couples we throw down a just-for-fun pool tournament. Its always a surprise to see who's got some talent in this area and shooting pool while shooting the breeze is a nice way to end the evening.
As long as Love Bugs and Mosquitos aren't in season, this is a fun after dinner activity. Fueled by a couple glasses of wine our group can be quite competitive and I always get a laugh out of the good natured "trash talking" that goes round.
Many of us have the Nintendo Wii game and sometimes one of the couples will host dessert and coffee and a Wii tournament in their living room. Believe it or not one can get a nice workout playing Wii tennis or bowling so its a good way to 'work off a meal'.
We've all done Bern's, the famous steak house and enjoyed it immensely but its not on our regular rotation cause hey, its kind of expensive. But here's a tip for you that we keep saying we'll do. Try Bern's for Dessert Only! Go find a cheap meal in town (Bob Evans or your local hot dog eatery) and then head over to Bern's for Dessert. If you've never experienced it you'll be in for a real treat. Separate from the main restaurant, you reach Bern's Dessert via elevator from the main lobby. Upstairs you walk down darkened corridors past private booths that seat 2, 4, 6 or 8 - each is enclosed with wood paneled vertical slats that give the impression of being inside the belly of an old galleon. Our booth had an individual control panel that offered several music 'channels' including the live piano player who would take requests. Dessert was AMAZING (try the bread pudding) and the atmosphere is really unique.

Tis' The Season

Happy Memorial Day!
While flipping through the channels I discovered an old movie starring Steve McQueen that spurred me to write my latest review. The Great Escape. Like the film of the same name our group headed out this past Saturday for our monthly Escape. We didn't have to tunnel out although when our community is "in season" and overcrowded with SNOWBIRDS taking up every last available seat poolside and crowding the streets with traffic etc., that's when we really like to ESCAPE, even if it means tunneling! This month's pick was
Billy's Stonecrab, Seafood & Steaks - located in Tierra Verde, a lovely town near Fort De Soto Beach that boasts expensive 'bungalows' and waterfront properties. The restaurant is nice enough looking, very beach themed with a relaxed atmosphere. But we were seated at a long table that was rather a tight squeeze and the bench I sat on was uncomfortable. Maybe they don't want you to linger? The menu featured Stone Crab and despite the fact that signs declared Stone Crab season ends May 15th, they were still serving it on the menu. That should have been our first clue. We realized after tasting the so-so crab that it had been frozen, left over from the 'season'. The waiter even mentioned they were still serving it because they wanted to 'use it up'. It wasn't BAD but it wasn't GOOD either. So here's my basic Tip Of The Day ...duh... don't order food that's not in season, even if the restaurant still offers it! I enjoyed a fillet of grouper that was prepared well and some of us got the shrimp. However, the scallops were too small even for sea scallops (I prefer the larger bay scallops)
In Summary
Altogether an unremarkable restaurant, but hey, the company was good as usual. Most of the time we're pleasantly surprised and end up in places we'd never dream of trying. So the occasional ho-hum place doesn't bother us. There's always dessert! We enjoy jumping in our cars and traveling to a secondary location for coffee and a little treat. It extends the evening and gives us a chance to critique the meal and also catch up on our individual stories. Billy's Stone Crab Seafood on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Speakeasy - Tampa - April 28th

When I made the reservation I made sure to ask the usual questions... What kind of seating did they have? We always prefer a round table for 8. A long table means that people on either end won't be able to talk much. If we're stuck with a long table we make sure the 4 gals are in the center seats and two guys on each end. This ensures that the women have clear and easy talking access. The guys are less worried about this and it just makes for a more congenial atmosphere all around. Happy wife - happy life. The Speakeasy as it's name implies has a dark and private atmosphere. A bunch of little curtained rooms that seat 2 or 4 and 2 private rooms to seat either 8 (cramped) or 16 (cramped). Because I mentioned that we were a dining out group we were given the larger room. The room was movie theater dark with banquet seating on 3 sides and small cocktail table scattered around the room you could draw toward you and place your food and drink upon. It took a while for our eyes to adjust but the atmosphere was fun. Atmosphere - The Speakeasy tries real hard to make you feel like you've been transported to prohibition times. When I made the reservation I was given the password "Roosevelt" and sure enough as we arrived the valet in hushed tones asked for the password and then led us down a path that led to an unmarked door. I knocked and a little hatch door opened and a hostess asked again for the password. Cute. I had also been told the dress code was formal - dress to impress. And our group did its best to comply - the ladies laid on the bling and makeup and the fellows put their best foot forward, especially one who showed up in a white tuxedo jacket. Our waiter made a big fuss over him..."sir, I really appreciate your attire this evening". Worth some giggles. Service - for the most part it was good although there was a drink made incorrectly and a second drink forgotten. Our waiter was dressed for the period and took delight in explaining the menu and how they didn't serve anything that wasn't served during prohibition (hence no olive in your martini). Food - the menus arrived and we were delighted to open them and find them to be backlit for easy reading. We weren't so delighted with the prices. They were steep and the portions were small - little more than appetizer size. Our beef tenderloin was really delicious but for $27 you got about 5 oz. of it. Really everything we ordered was very good quality but the prices were just too much. And as for the drinks, talk about sticker shock. The single barrel Jack Daniels turned out to cost $15 and my Gin and Tonic was $9. The atmosphere is so conducive to having that second drink that it wasn't till the bill arrived that we realized we'd spent $50 just on booze. Shame on us! Summary - I'm glad we experienced it but none of us would return. And that's okay. Our group is adventurous and willing to try something new. Tip to remember---always email your group a link to the restaurant's menu so they can either plan their meal accordingly or voice an objection well in advance if they feel the prices are too exorbitant. But hey, next time it could be a hot dog stand and we'd approach it with the same gusto (sans tuxedo). If you'd like to experience it don't go for dinner - dress up fancy, go for an expensive drink and maybe one appetizer and then go to your local diner for a real meal. Billy's Stone Crab Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eight is Enough

Want to start your own "Great Escape"? Here's some tips that may help you along the way. #1 - size matters! We think the perfect number to dine out with is 8 (or 4 couples) which allows for a nice mix of conversation, personalities and opinions. #2 - ask for a round table! You want to avoid a long table where the people seated at either end feel like they're in no-mans-land, especially in a noisy crowded restaurant where your voice doesn't carry. #3 - set the date in stone! You want to pick an appointed time so you can mark your calendar and always know this is your Great Escape night. Schedule it monthly or quarterly or whatever suits your busy lives - but once you do make sure you mark your calendar and respect the date. Others are counting on you. #4 - reservations! - At least one week before your outing call for a reservation. This is very important for such a large group. And a little trick I've learned is that you should announce to the restaurant manager that you are a "Dining Group" that meets monthly. I learned this one by accident when after telling a manager that this was our first time at his restaurant and that we dine out monthly as a group...he sent a platter of dessert to our table ON THE HOUSE! Smart marketing on his part - we enjoyed every crumb and left with such good will in our hearts we're sure to go back, and that's what he's counting on. #5 - notify the group - now that you've made your reservation, email your group with a reminder to note the day and time you've reserved...the address and any driving directions available, and whenever possible a link to the restaurant's website or at least a review from a site like This will afford the group a chance to look over the menu and take their time planning what they will want to eat. Whether its a dietary or monetary issue, this step will be very appreciated by all. This should be enough to get you started. I'll get a little more detailed in a later post with options and opinions on handling waiters, tips, tabs, and in general the group dynamic. Enjoy!