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 cafĂ© 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.
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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Monday, November 9, 2015

Woody's River Roo, Ellenton

After a hectic day of shopping at Ellenton’s Prime Outlet Mall hubby and I escape the frenzied crowds and head over to Woody’s River Roo. It's a hidden gem on a small bay that runs adjacent to US301 and it affords a view of I75 as it crosses the Manatee River. It’s our favorite outdoor dining spot here in the Tampa Bay area perhaps because on our very first visit to Woody’s ten years ago we turned to each other and at the same time said “Rockaway”. To prove my point, the first is a photo of a waterside restaurant we frequented in Rockaway New York and the second is a photo of Woody’s Ellenton.
I have to say the food at Woody’s is hands down ten times better than the Rockaway restaurant whose name I can’t even remember. We went there for the view and a drink. Happily we go to Woody’s for the food AND the view – a win win.
The first thing you’ll notice is a jam packed parking lot and at least 20% are motorcycles. There’s a large patio with umbrella shaded tables, a narrow deck with some high tops, and a sand bar you see pictured with lots more seating and charming thatched umbrellas. The atmosphere is casual and tropical and lovely. Woody’s offers live music most every day of the week and while we’ve seen some terrific talent there it can get so loud you can’t talk and be heard. We prefer to go for lunch to enjoy the view and avoid the noise.
The food is always good. The Grouper Bites are delicious as is the Salmon BLT (Grilled Salmon Topped with Crisp Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato on Toasted Sourdough Bread – it is perfection. Their burgers are terrific too and I often get the salad topped with shrimp. And for heaven’s sake, do yourself a favor and order the home made potato chips – they’re to die for. Everything is always fresh and tasty and the service is friendly and attentive.
With the holidays just around the corner I'd strongly recommend you hit the Outlet Mall, shop till you drop and then relax and recover at Woody's River Roo.
Woody's River Roo Pub & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato View my food journey on Zomato!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ava (AH-va) which roughly translates from Italian as "Breath of Life"

This month’s pick for our dining out group began as an enigma to me but like any other ‘pick’ our group designates, the mandate is to give it a try and keep an open mind. My problem was in figuring out the online menu, the first thing we all do when an ‘escape’ is announced. The menu offered a challenge to my culinary vocabulary. But our waitress was not only adorably costumed in a skeleton leotard for Halloween, she was professional, attentive and very knowledgeable about the menu. So here’s what I learned. Nduja is a spicy pork sausage. Sugo is any type of tomato sauce. And fregola is pasta that is a close relative to couscous.
A few of us ordered the diet friendly special Grouper over seasonal vegetables and it was quite delicious. I paired mine with a lovely glass of Chianti. Cheryl indulged in a Veal Chop served over celery root puree and declared it to be top notch. It should be noted that the bone went home in a doggie bag with an eye toward making some fabulous soup. I loved that idea! Ray’s Pasta tasted as good as it looked. And Hollie’s Scallops were big and tender and perfect. Hubby opted for the Sirloin over seasonal vegetables and he quite enjoyed it. .
It figures that on a night when I was resolved not to eat any bread I was faced with this incredibly tempting sight. This custom made Acunto -brand wood burning pizza oven was imported from Italy to churn out the magnificent loaves you see here. It's a beautiful element in the dining room, a hearth that welcomes you into their home.
Principal owner Michael Stewart, who grew up in South Tampa also owns the restaurant 717 South directly across the street from Ava on S. Howard Avenue. One of his partners is former Tampa Bay Rays player Joe Maddon who has always had a passion for restaurants and wines, and had a hand in developing the wine list and some very interesting cocktails. While the interior is lovely, I must say we had a bit of a problem finding the restaurant because there is only a little sign above the corner entry that you could easily miss if you were traveling south from Swann. We were seated in a back room that featured an awesome barn door that could close it off for a private party.
And just for fun, check out these nifty one handed salt and pepper shakers. We gals were so taken by them that we immediately whipped out our iPhones to find where to buy them. I got mine via for about $26 and they’re due to arrive this week…can’t wait. We all left the restaurant satisfied with the total experience and headed over to Kathy & Ray's for dessert and coffee, the nicest way to end the evening with good friends.
Ava Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato View my food journey on Zomato!