Blu Kouzina: 25 N Blvd of the Presidents. Sarasota FL.

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roll octopusgreek saladoutside  inside

When Blu Kouzina was still being renovated, my husband and I happened to walk past when the new owner was inside. He saw and heard us admiring the aesthetics and invited us in to look around. He warmly welcomed us and told us about the concept, and about the attention to detail of the quality of ingredients, and we agreed that we would absolutely be back once they opened for business.

Fast forward quite a few months and our rookie parent status meant that we were rarely taking the date nights that we needed and deserved. Well, we’ve been making a real effort to change that, and now that we’ve worked out an awesome babysitting trade deal with a close friend of ours, we are finally making time to enjoy each other and try new restaurants again.

We remembered how beautiful Blu Kouzina was, and after reading MANY 4 and 5 star reviews online, decided it would be the scene of our next date. We made a reservation for 9pm (apparently channeling our former NY life) and headed out to St. Armand’s Circle.

When we arrived, especially since it wasn’t yet ‘season’, we found very few other patrons and our choice of tables. We chose a corner table outside on the patio, and a waiter quickly came out to offer us beverages. One of my pet peeves is when a restaurant does not filter drinking water, and they leave you with the choice of disgusting Florida tap water, or ridiculously expensive bottled flat or sparkling water. This was, in retrospect, the ONE real gripe I have about our whole experience. Our bottle of water was $8. EIGHT dollars. We finished it halfway through our first course and ended up too thirsty but too cheap to do anything about it. Not cool at all. Anyway, moving on.

We decided to order 3 appetizers to share, partially because it was late for a huge meal, and also because we had a coupon for a free sundae at Ben and Jerry’s that we absolutely intended to use that night for part two of our date.

The waiter brought out a couple of rolls for us as well as a side of excellent herbed olive oil. The rolls, we discovered, were cold, and I thought maybe even a little stale. I wondered to my Hubs if that was the way they were supposed to be, or if our late dining time meant that fresh rolls just weren’t happening for us. I thought about saying something, but I was hungry enough that I didn’t really care. We didn’t find out until we asked for second rolls a bit later that those first ones *were* in fact less-than-fresh…and the next batch was hot, crusty, and really pretty darn perfect. Well, now we know for next time.

We asked for our appetizers to be brought out in whatever order they were ready, and the Xtapodi Shara (Grilled Octopus) came out first, followed shortly after by the Horiatiki (Greek Salad). The waiter told us that the Spanakopita was made to order and might be a bit longer, which was totally fine with us.

The octopus deserves it’s own paragraph. I can honestly say that this octopus has now ruined me for every other octopus I’ve ever eaten. It’s a food I’ve always loved, and was actually one of my baby girl’s first ‘real’ foods at around 7 months old, which I find pretty hilarious. Anyway, I always thought it was supposed to be slightly chewy but now that I’ve had this impeccably fresh, perfectly grilled, lightly flavored with olive oil and lemon version, I realize that NO! It does NOT have to be chewy at all. It can be melt-in-your-mouth, bursting-with-flavor, tender, sweet, amazingness. Seriously delicious and worth going back for without question. I probably could have ordered another one and easily polished it off by myself.

The Greek salad was bright and refreshing, consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives, homemade feta cheese and green pepper, topped with extra virgin olive oil and organic vinegar. It was of superb quality and dressed lightly, which contrasted so nicely with the heavier parts of our meal.

The spanakopita came out when we were about halfway done with our salad which was great timing. They were piping hot and super flaky, and the spinach/feta/herb inside was decadent and delicious. I’ve had a bunch of different versions of this dish before, but it’s doubtful that any of them were homemade-to-order, and it really showed.

Just to briefly touch on the atmosphere since it’s what made me want to try Blu Kouinza in the first place, I found it incredibly appealing. It has a Nantucket-meets-Greece feeling with a mix of blues, refinished furniture, lanterns, and candles. Throw pillows and hanging flower baskets give it a homey, comfortable feel, and the open kitchen adds a sense of dining at a friend’s place. This ambiance is a huge part of what made this experience complete for me, and I couldn’t stop commenting on what great taste the owner has. The attention to detail clearly shows in both the decor as well as the food.

This was one of my favorite meals that I’ve had in a long time, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others or to return on another date night. I’m so glad we finally made it there and hope we can get back again soon. Bravo!

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Cafe Evergreen. 801 Tamiami Trail South, Nokomis FL 34275 

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It’s true. I am not posting nearly as often as I once did. There are multiple reasons for this that all stem for the same source…I have a one year old. Going out to eat doesn’t happen very often anymore…because I have a one year old. When I do get out for a treasured, rare, date night with my husband, I never seem to find the time to write about it…because I have a one year old. When we go out as a family, it’s usually to places we’ve been before, or where we know the owners…because I have a one year old.

Today was different. Today was a VERY special day. It was the first day in over a year that I took an official day off from my one year old. Now don’t get me wrong. I loooooove being a mom. I loooooooove spending time bonding with, playing with, and taking care of her, but OMG, today was glorious.

First on the agenda was to finally go for lunch at Cafe Evergreen. I’ve heard such great things about it and the menu is incredible….sooooo many pescaterian options that sound amazing.

When I sat down the friendly waitress made some suggestions at my request and they were ALL appealing. Clearly I’m going to need to make a few more visits. I told her why it was a special day for me and she was totally supportive and amused, and stayed to chat a bit before she left me to ponder the menu options.

The manager came by soon after with a complimentary edamame appetizer which was a nice touch- although I didn’t love the strong seasoning they put on it. I prefer my edamame done classically with just a pinch of sea salt.

When the waitress returned for my order I told her that I was taking her recommendation of the Roasted Beet Reuben and I chose the Arugula/apple/almond salad as my side. She had mentioned to me that she’d never had beets (?!?) before that sandwich and that she really loved it. Beets are one of my very favorite foods, and lately I’ve been on a huge sauerkraut kick, so it didn’t take much to convince me.

As I reveled in my aloneness, I let my mind wander to this blog and how I used to find such satisfaction in writing entries. I looked forward to this moment of writing and reminiscing about my meal, and vowed to make more of an effort to stick with it even with the challenges that motherhood has brought. I decided right then and there that there would be more of an  effort to take ‘me’ days, and that those days would surely include more trying restaurants by myself like I used to in the ‘old days’.

My meal came out looking delicious and I dug right in. WOW. That sandwich was shockingly good. Fresh, lightly-toasted, marble rye, warm, sweet, roasted, beets, melty Swiss cheese, tangy sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing. These are things that I wouldn’t have guessed would taste so so so good together but seriously, it was one of the best flavor combos I’ve ever had. The salad was simple and perfect with a light, creamy, dill dressing that complimented the whole meal beautifully.

When the waitress came to check on me I raved about my lunch, so happy that I’d finally gotten down to Venice to check this great cafe out. She joked with me that given my day-off-rose-colored glasses, situation, it probably wasn’t too hard to impress me.

Well, maybe she was right…but this really was an absolutely perfect meal.

Lunch with a large side of freedom.

I’ll be back for sure.

Introducing my new guest writer, Littleforkinmouth!

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 Hello! I’m Baby Q, otherwise known as Littleforkinmouth, and my mama asked me to write an entry about my special 4th of July dinner. She made me some super yummy stuff to celebrate when my neighbors tried to keep me up all night exploding stuff and putting fire in the sky. My pretty blue plate included a veggie dog with sauerkraut on a whole wheat roll, corn on the cob, grilled mushrooms and zucchini, fennel salad with apples and red onions with a lemony oil dressing and some cut up watermelon. I still don’t have any teeth but I do pretty well anyway. I have a really good appetite and surprise mama a lot with foods she wouldn’t expect me to like, such as octopus, lemons, and olives. I tried the fennel first and it was really good. I especially liked sucking the lemony oil off of it. I didn’t trust the hot dog even though mom promised it wasn’t made of real animals, but I did like the roll with the funny shredded sour stuff on it. The zucchini was kind of mushy and Figgy the dog seemed to like it a lot so I gave it to her. The mushrooms were ugly. I didn’t want those in my mouth or my hands at all so I left them where they were. The corn was heavy and too hard to hold. Mom cut it up a little more for me but by then I remembered that I love watermelon most of all and didn’t want anything else in it’s way. I got three more helpings of it once mommy and dad accepted that I didn’t want anything else.

Next year I will definitely be requesting a plate full of watermelon and nothing else. Happy 4th! 

Bye bye!

Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni: Born in Brooklyn, based in Florida, available at many fine dining establishments!

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tortoni When the chefs behind Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni asked me if I would help them out by taste testing a few different versions of their product, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and decided that out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, that I would grant them that favor. It is precisely moments like these that remind me of that cliche, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” While there isn’t paper money involved here per se, delicious tastes of dessert are worth way more than dollars as far as I’m concerned.

I grew up in New York, where it was common to see tortoni on just about every pizza place or Italian restaurant menu. The choice was usually tortoni, spumoni, or cannoli, and given the option of dried, candied fruit and nuts in spumoni (yuck) or ricotta cheese filling of a cannoli (Um, ew. Why would I want cheese and carbs for dessert after presumably eating cheese and carbs for dinner?), the choice was always clear to me. Add a single-serve sized paper cup that meant I didn’t have to share, a maraschino cherry and almond cookie crunchies on top and well, who could pass that up?

I didn’t realize until many years later that at some point I stopped seeing these delightful treats on menus. I didn’t even realize how much I missed them until this dessert duo brought it to my attention by offering me a taste of their version of this classic.

The first sample I had was creamy, cold, sweet, and sparked so many memories for me that I simply forgot to slow down and savor each bite. It was gone before I knew it and I was clearly NOT wearing my culinary taste-tester hat that day. I would definitely require another one to be able to give helpful feedback.

The second sample was a different story. I was mentally prepared to take small bites and really let all five senses tune in. The crisp cookie crumbles on top were my favorite part. They are blended throughout the cup giving a slightly granular feel and keeping that almondy flavor consistent from top to bottom. I saved the cherry for last, as I always do with any cherry-topped dessert, and it was a wonderful last juicy bite.

The taste is very similar to ice cream, but more like frozen custard with a slightly eggier quality to it. It’s sort of like someone melted one of those yummy, toasted almond, Good Humor popsicles, re-constituted it, used better quality ingredients, and then perfected that concept in a cup version. It was *almost* the perfect tortoni, but for me, someone who has a serious sweet tooth by the way, it was actually too sweet overall. Now that did not for one second mean that I left even one drop uneaten, it just meant that I actually had something other than a full rave to come back to the creators with.

And so, that brings me to the final version. The chefs tweaked the original recipe that they used by reducing the amount of sugar and the amount of crumbled almond cookies by nearly half. They brought me my third and final sample. The moment of truth. I used a small spoon so as better to slow my bites down and to allow me to savor every delectable taste. Now this is perfection. Creamy, sweet but not-too-sweet, crispy, almondy, cold, and just the right portion size (although I could admittedly eat 2 or 3 of these easily- I really shouldn’t).

This is a memory in a paper cup. A great memory…and now one that can live on in the present instead of only a distant past. Bravo!

You can have your own “creamy, dreamy, taste embrace” too! Find them at Mozzarella Fella, Solorzano, Don Giovanni’s and MANY more restaurants coming soon! Follow their Facebook page to see where they are going to pop up next! https://www.facebook.com/brooklynbiscuittortoni

And if YOU want to carry them in your restaurant, contact the chefs via their website for wholesale information:

http://www.brooklynbiscuittortoni.com/

Mexicali: 7303 52nd Pl E Bradenton, FL

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mexicali chips:salsamexicali my meal not deep fried chimi seafood

 

On the recommendation of a friend, Gabriel and I decided to stray from our go-to Mexican place, Mi Pueblo, to try something new.

We were happy to see that chips and salsa were complimentary since Gabriel has been known, historically, to walk out of a few Mexican restaurants where they charge extra for this staple.

We told the waiter that we are pescetarian (and then explained what that means) and asked him for suggestions. It turned out there were quite a few good choices for us on the menu- and most under $12. Sounds good to me!

I ordered the seafood Chimichanga (stuffed with shrimp, lobster, crab meat, portabella mushrooms and mixed cheese.  Wrapped in a Garlic Herb Tortilla with Cilantro Sherry Cream Sauce, salsa and guacamole)  but asked that it not be deep fried as the menu described it. He said that was no problem and told us both we had 2 options for the beans, but then corrected himself and said only one was vegetarian and that he would make sure that’s what we’d both get.

The food came out quickly and looked awesome. We each started with a taste of the beans which were a little on the salty side, but pretty tasty anyway. Gabriel offered a taste of his beans to me- and I said, we got the same ones, didn’t we? I then noticed that his looked totally different and called it to the attention of the waiter. He immediately looked embarrassed and said they looked different because apparently someone in the kitchen didn’t get his message that we both wanted the vegetarian option. Gee thanks…Gabriel was pretty pissed that he’d just had a bite of beans cooked with pork. The waiter apologized- sort of, but really just blamed the kitchen staff instead of taking responsibility for it.

Other than that, the meal was really quite good. My chimichanga had tons of flavor from all of the different types of seafood and big pieces of portabellas. The rice was not cold or overcooked (one of the only things I don’t like about Mi Pueblo) and the salsa and sauce that I asked for on the side was fresh, full of fresh, pureed cilantro (which I LOVE) and very flavorful.

Overall, I thought this was a great lunch with plenty of options for us non-meat-eaters and I will definitely be happy to go back.

 

 

 

Breakfast House: 1817 Fruitville Rd, Sarasota, FL

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shrimp and grits breakfast house omelette with articoke mushroom and swiss

This adorable downtown restaurant is a favorite of some members of my family but somehow took me 2+ years of living in the area to actually try.

A morning meeting nearby finally led Gabriel and I to the opportunity and we arrived to find a sweet, homey, atmosphere with colorful chairs, flowers and decor, and a great mix of other patrons.

A friendly waitress brought us menus and ice water and a fresh orange juice at my request. The special omelette was too tempting to pass up and I made my choice right after hearing it’s description. Gabriel was happy to see one of his favorites on the menu- and easily decided to order the shrimp and grits after the waitress’s rave review.

Everything arrived quickly, and was perfect. My omelette with artichokes, gruyere and mushrooms hit the spot, and the toast with jam was just right on the side. Gabriel’s shrimp and grits really was fantastic- quite possibly the best we’ve had, and a sure thing to be ordered again when we go back.

It shouldn’t have taken us this long to eat here…we will definitely go again. If it’s a little cooler outside we will probably sit in the garden in back- it’s all rather sweet and welcoming. Maybe we’ll see you there!

S’macks: 2407 Bee Ridge Rd, Sarasota, FL

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s'macks

Arghhhh. TOTALLY unacceptable! I ate an awesome lunch here and completely forgot to take photos. Darn pregnancy brain. I will definitely need to go back asap to have the same meal again so I can provide the lovely, mouth-watering pics that should go with this entry. Please forgive me!

Anyway, It was a GREAT meal! My father had recently stopped in and raved about the custard. He is like me in that when he finds a noteworthy meal or food, he basically insists that you take him seriously and go try it for yourself. Luckily, I am not one to deny the man the pleasure of passing on a new and delicious discovery to someone else.

I stopped in and was pleased to find plenty of vegetarian options on the menu. I was also really pleased to see that almost all of the ingredients on the menu are locally sourced from farmers in the area. Very cool- and especially cool to see the map on the wall showing where each ingredient comes from.

I easily decided on a portobello mushroom with a slice of provolone, pickles, ‘S’macks’ sauce (which is basically a kicked up mayo), lettuce, and tomatoes all on a yummy potato bun. I also ordered a side of fries and a lemonade.

As I went to sit down to wait for my order, the owner was walking around passing out samples of their coconut custard and I couldn’t possibly turn that down. WOW. Super creamy with that hint of coconut threaded texture, just the right amount of sweet, the perfect temperature and consistency. Dad was right, it’s sooooooo good. If I hadn’t already told myself that the fries were the indulgence I was allowing myself today, I would totally have ordered a cup of the custard after I ate lunch.

So then my meal arrived at my table looking amazing. The portobello sandwich was perfect- juicy mushroom, not drowning in cheese and sauce, topped with pickles and the fresh veggies that I requested. The fries were crispy and hot, crinkle cut, and super fresh. I was going to have this with my lemonade, but the owner brought me some peach iced tea that was refreshing and ice cold and it went really well with my meal..so I alternated between the two drinks.

Even though I was stuffed at this point, how could I turn down the incredible coconut/chocolate shake he also brought over when I was done eating lunch?? I was only going to have a sip to taste it but….Well, the end of that story goes as predictably as you’d imagine.

Overall, I am DEFINITELY a fan of S’macks and will surely be back soon. Actually, today is my day off from work and writing this entry up has sparked a craving…so I may just make it over there later today. Give it a try!