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/

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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!

 

 

Derek’s: 5516 Manatee Ave W Bradenton, FL

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cheese roll thingskale, cran, goat cheese, pecans, citrus dressing   shrimp cappelini peascobia special  brusselsginger pineapple dessertsmores dessert

When Derek’s Culinary Casual announced it was closing last year, I was pretty bummed. It was my favorite restaurant in Sarasota and Gabriel and I went there to celebrate a few different occasions. My blog entry about it was one of my all-time favorites and after I posted it, a bunch of people emailed me about it requesting reviews of other favorites of mine in the area. Here’s that entry: https://bigforkinmouth.com/2012/08/05/dereks-culinary-casual-514-central-ave-sarasota-fl/

When Derek finally announced that he was opening a new venue in Bradenton, I eagerly anticipated it’s reveal- and hoped to find my all-time favorite ‘All Hat, no Cattle’ vegetarian taco on the menu as well as the deeply beloved and missed S’mores dessert. Although the menu is pretty different now (My favorite taco, I’m sad to say, is not on it.), there were some familiar favs and some fantastic new options and I’m happy to say that even though it’s completely different, it’s still excellent.

Our meal began with the same gougères that they served before, and I’m not sure why I love these cheesy, biscuit-type things because they really are pretty dry…That said, I can easily eat 2 or 3 before realizing that I’m about to ruin my appetite.

We then went on to share the kale salad. This was an outstanding course and I would happily go back just to have this one dish again…maybe topped with some grilled shrimp or salmon to make a meal out of it. It consists of cranberry, goat cheese crumbles,candied pecans, shallot, and a wonderfully citrusy lemon vinaigrette. It was the perfect mix of flavors and ratio of ingredients to each other.  YUM. I think this could probably turn a non-kale-lover into someone with a change of heart (and palette). Just soooooo good.

For my main course I had the Wild Pink Shrimp & Cortez Bottarga. It was a fairly simple but delicious combination of capellini, sweet peas, toasted garlic, basil, mint, lemon, and grated parmesan. Overall it was very good but not quite as interesting as I’d hoped.

I guess what I really wanted was those incredible mushroom tacos that he used to serve at the old restaurant but he explained that the market where he is now wouldn’t really appreciate them so that’s why he doesn’t have them on the menu. Sad face.

Gabriel ordered the special fish of the day which was fresh caught Cobia. He had it with sweet corn succotash, Cortez bottarga,
and Anson Mills stone ground grits. The fish and it’s sides were fantastic but the price was very expensive compared to the rest of the menu at $26. My entree was a very reasonable $17. We also shared a side of roasted brussels sprouts that were AMAZING. Why? What in the world did he do to these little sprouts?? Whatever it was, I could have easily eaten the whole plate of them by myself.

Since I’m pregnant, there was no fancy cocktail or wine for me, but I did really enjoy my homemade, tangy, sweet & sour, lemonade. Totally refreshing and satisfying.

Since I DO have an appetite that reflects the growing baby in my baby, we decided to really indulge and share TWO desserts. We really never do this…but hey, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. We (obviously) had to get the S’mores dessert and also wanted to take the waitress’ suggestion to try the ‘Dark & Stormy’, which she really raved about. It sounded interesting so we gave it a shot. It’s made up of ginger curd, caramelized pineapple, and coconut crumble. We didn’t love this but it was definitely different then typical desserts that we see around here. The ginger had a nice bite to it, and the sweet caramelized pineapple gave a contrasting texture and flavor. A non-chocolate obsessed person might find this a better choice, but I guess the reality is that I just simply prefer a chocolate based dessert most of the time.

As far as the Smore’s dessert goes, I’m not sure If I’d built it up so much in my memory that it set me up for disappointment, or if it really WAS different from the old recipe. Even so, when it comes to warm chocolatey creme and a caramelized marshmallow, you really can’t go too far wrong…so though it didn’t completely flip flop and rock my world, it was still pretty damn tasty.

Even though it’s a trek for us to get there, we liked the atmosphere better than before. It’s cozy, has cool art, rustic barn doors, and comfortable seating. It’s kind of a weird setting amongst Dunkin’ Donuts and various fast food joints, but I’m assuming it’s really a pre-decided destination for diners not something you just happen upon for dinner. It might be a tough neighborhood for a quirky and creative chef, but I’m sure we will go back on certain occasions and I’m sure lots of other loyal Derek fans will too…we shall see.

 

Rice Bowl Asian House: 7305 52nd Pl E Bradenton, FL

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edamamesaladrice bowl veg rolltropical seafood (shrimp and salmon) bowl

After seeing 4 stars on Yelp for Rice Bowl, Gabriel and I decided to give it a shot for dinner since it’s pretty close to our house.

When we arrived, we found a sort of diner-looking restaurant with nondescript booths,  and dim lighting…but hey, what can you really expect in a strip mall asian restaurant?

We decided to each order an entree- they both came with salads and rice, and to share an order of edamame and an order of Japanese vegetable rolls. When we asked for the vegetable rolls, the waiter was clearly very confused and had not heard of that before. Huh? Really? Isn’t that a totally common sushi item? I guess not. He asked what should go in it and we told him that it’s usually a combination of cucumber, pickled vegetables and avocado. It was eh…the sushi rice was kind of old tasting and the ginger was icky…the veggies were alright, but nothing special. The edamame was fine- but it’s pretty tough to mess that up unless you really over cook it. The salad was pretty bad. Waaaaay too much mayo-y dressing over iceburg. Lame.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised when it came to my entree. I had the Tropical seafood rice bowl which was shrimp, salmon and fresh veggies in a sweet and sour type sauce. The seafood was much fresher than I expected, and the veggies were cooked perfectly. It was a generous portion and really quite good overall.

Although I wasn’t impressed with the apps, or the atmosphere, I liked my entree a lot and the price was super reasonable. I don’t think I’d go eat there again, but I would definitely do take out.

 

Ok, this has nothing to do with food…but everything to do with good taste.

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quinny stroller Prezi car seat

I realize my readers are generally the type (like me) who want to hear about delicious things to eat…It’s a very rare occasion when I totally stray from the topic and use my big mouth for something else. This is one of those times.

I am so excited to be expecting my first baby July 31st and a dear friend of mine who designs for some top-of-the-line baby companies was kind and generous enough to email me asking, “So, what do you need for the baby?” Being that we had only just begun choosing products to put on a registry, and we were up to our elbows in boxes getting ready to move from a rental to our new home, my husband and I kind of laughed and said, “ummm, everything”. I figured she was going to send us some receiving blankets, cool printed bibs or the like. When she got back to me and asked if we needed a car seat and a stroller, I was completely floored.

Fast forward a few weeks and we were finally in our new house. To add to the seemingly endless pile, two more BIG boxes arrived at our front door. Still facing the daunting task of unpacking about 55 boxes, the 2 boxes got added to the pile for a few days until my curiosity took over and I stopped unpacking the zillions of boxes of kitchen utensils to open something FAR more exciting.

Inside of these 2 mystery boxes were the most gorgeous stroller and car seat I’ve ever seen. The stroller is Quinny Moodd and the car seat is Maxi-Cosi Prezi. The colors are a tasteful neutral sand and a vibrant dark blueish/purple- one of my favorite colors in the world incidentally. I pretty much squealed as we put the pieces together and took it for a spin around the house with our dog eagerly following. The stroller glides as smoothly as is possible and the car seat clicks easily into it’s base or the stroller as needed.

I seriously feel like I just won the lottery.

We would NEVER have dreamed that our baby would be so lucky as to ride in such high-style, high-quality and luxury.

A MILLION thank yous to Quinny USA, Maxi-Cosi and of course, our amazing friend Alison Stomberg Campion. Your generosity is so appreciated…words do not even begin to explain how happy we are and how lucky we feel.