Tag Archives: family

Cafe Baci: 4001 S. Tamiami Trl, Sarasota, FL

Standard

From the street, Cafe Baci looks like it’s from 1960. The sign as well as the outside of the restaurant is dated and falling apart, and does nothing at all to represent the excellence that happens inside.

We were welcomed very warmly by the hostess and quickly led to our table. We saw right away that the clientele of this establishment is pretty much the over 65 crowd, and we felt slightly out of place and underdressed. The hostess assured us that people come in wearing just-off-the-beach clothes sometimes and that we were totally fine. Our waiter came over with menus and ice water and went over the specials, all of which sounded great. Shortly later, he brought over a basket of foccacia, delicious garlicy/parmesan breadsticks and some herbed olive oil. You see from my picture that we had all dived into those before I remembered to take a photo, and the basket is already partially empty.

This restaurant came very highly recommended by my friend and duo partner Mike (please visit mikesolomusic.com and careyyaruss.com com for more info ) and one of the things he mentioned to me was how accommodating they are to their patron’s requests. Knowing that, I asked if it would be possibly to add some grilled shrimp to the cappellini primavera, to which the waiter happily agreed.

When my entree came out, I was very excited for my first taste. It was loaded with huge, gorgeous, grilled shrimp, tons of fresh vegetables and homemade cappellini with a creamy, tomato sauce. It was seriously delicious, rich and indulgent. I was totally happy with it, even though I was expecting a nice, light pasta dinner and it was definitely on the heavy side. The portion was extremely generous and I happily shared it with Gabriel and my mom and step-father, who all agree that it was super tasty.

For dessert, we decided to order one tiramisu for everyone to share. When it arrived with an old looking strawberry on top, we assumed it must have been made much earlier and was just sitting in the fridge waiting for someone to order it. It was covered in a 2 inch thick layer of whipped cream on top and the espresso soaked cake was kind of overwhelmed by that. The flavor was good and if there had been less whipped cream I think we all would have really enjoyed it, but as it were, I pretty much was the only one who ended up eating it.

Overall, I was very impressed with Cafe Baci and would definitely go back. I would love to see some younger people in there, but unless they update the outside and make it look a big livelier and hipper, I doubt anyone under 40 will be going in anytime soon. With nearly full tables, it seems like their business isn’t suffering because of that, and maybe that’s really the crowd that they are aiming to attract. With it’s rustic, Italian interior, it has a classic feel that’s sure to please an older (and wealthier) clientele. The food is really top quality and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a hearty meal. Enjoy!

Advertisements

Harry’s Continental Kitchen: 525 Saint Judes Drive, Longboat Key, FL

Standard

As a ‘Welcome to Florida’ gift, my generous father sent Gabriel and I for a celebratory dinner at Harry’s. What a wonderful treat it was! Great service, a romantic setting, excellent food and a truly special place that we probably wouldn’t have come across on our own. As a favorite of my father’s, he wanted to make sure we got a chance to try it. By sending us there as a gift, he ensured that we’d be able to see what was so lovely about the experience.

When we arrived, we were asked where we wanted to sit. We chose the corner table outside, surrounded by lit-up palm trees and flowers. It is such a cute restaurant, as you can see in the pic of Gabriel. It has a casual feel outside, and the inside room is a bit more formal. This is a combo I really love. A super casual and low-key atmosphere but with a high-end, fancy menu. This is the perfect juxtaposition for someone new to the Florida lifestyle…Someone who is really not missing the ‘suit and tie’ necessity of a NYC restaurant with a similar menu.

Our waitress was excellent right from the start. She went over the specials and brought out water and some warm bread served with butter and roasted garlic cloves (YUM). The menu made for a difficult decision. Just about everything on it appealed to me and I kept changing my mind about what to order. In the end, I decided to take my father’s recommendation which was to have the caesar salad and the duck. Duck is not normally something I order, but given his very strong feelings about it, I thought it was a great opportunity to branch out from the foods I generally gravitate towards.

The salad came out  quickly. It wasn’t the lettuce, parmesan and croutons simplicity of a typical caeser and instead was enhanced with wonderful with ripe tomatoes, anchovies and crumbled blue cheese. The caesar dressing was perfect and I was very happy with this as my appetizer. It also went beautifully with my glass of Pinot Grigio. Gabriel had the macadamia-crusted scallops in a citrus sauce, which I happily had a taste of. I thought the crust and sauce were both awesome- as did Gabriel who ended up using the leftover bread to sop up the sauce after the scallops were gone. The scallops, however, were a bit overcooked. They were tougher and drier than they should have been. That said, they were full of flavor and tasted quite good anyway.

Our entrees came out and looked incredible. My duck had a super crisp and crunchy skin and the tender meat was rich and succulent. It came in a maple/berry sauce that complimented it perfectly and I polished it off. I guess I love duck now, at least the way they prepare it here. It came with a side of squash and zucchini that lighted it up a bit. The vegetables were simply steamed and I thought they went very nicely with the duck meat without competing at all with the flavor. It also came with a side of wild rice that seemed to be undercooked. It had some very crunchy pieces that were so hard I thought I might chip a tooth on it. I liked the flavor of it very much, but the under-doneness of it was rather off-putting.

Gabriel ordered the pasta with grouper, shrimp and scallops, and the seafood on it was all amazing. The perfectly cooked scallops clarified that the scallops we’d had earlier were definitely overcooked because these were tender, moist and so full of delicate flavor. The shrimp were enormous and tasted wonderful in the light sauce. The grouper was also cooked just right, tender, flakey and light. The pasta itself was cooked more than I like it- I strongly prefer my pasta al dente and this was kind of on the mushy side. That said, the highlight of the dish was clearly the seafood and the plentiful amount of pasta was almost unnecessary.

For dessert, I ordered the key lime pie with meringue topping. It was plated beautifully and tasted SO delicious after my heavy meal. The thick meringue topping was fluffy and light with it’s wonderful crisp top. The filling was limey, springy and bright and just sweet enough. I gobbled it up and was left feeling incredible satisfied with the whole meal.

The service was really exquisite. Our waitress checked on us just enough without being overbearing. She made sure we had topped off water glasses and were happy with everything we were served. The maitre d’ also came by to check on us and we felt like we were treated with respect and courtesy, and that they really cared about how we were enjoying our evening.

I would strongly recommend Harry’s to anyone looking for a special evening out. I would love to return for brunch or lunch someday since there was so much on the menu that sounded awesome. Since it’s a bit out of my normal budget, it was really such a great gift from my father and I thank him, as well as the staff at Harry’s, for such a warm welcome to Florida.

 

Columbia Restaurant: 411 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, FL

Standard

Sometimes I think atmosphere is equally important to food for a dining experience. In the case of a gorgeous day and wanting to eat outside, this was one of those times. Gabriel and I were walking around the lovely St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota when we found ourselves ravenously hungry for lunch. Having been to Columbia Restaurant before with my mother a few years ago, I remembered having a good lunch salad here and suggested we try to get a table outside for lunch.

We went to the hostess who told us it would be 5-15 minutes for a table and that they’d call our names when they were ready. 5 minutes later, a waiter came and started leading us to an indoor table. When I stopped him and told him we’d requested outside, he took us back to the hostess and informed her of the mistake. She told us that  it would be another 5 minutes or so for an outdoor table. 10 minutes later, an outside table opened up and we noticed it being cleared, presumably for us. Two women walked in, went up to the hostess and were immediately seated at that table. Confused, we went up to the hostess to ask why people who’d just waltzed in got seated before us since we’d been waiting. She was a bit nasty, explaining that she just takes the names and doesn’t choose who sits where. We made our aggravation clear and a few short moments later a waiter asked us if we wouldn’t mind one of the umbrella tables. Being that those are also outside, we answered that sure, that was just fine. Hmmmm. So far, not impressed with the service here.

A few minutes later the waiter came over with water and menus and some warm bread and butter. He was sort of gruff in his explanation of the specials and I noted his name tag, Sandor. I ordered the gazpacho to start and the Mahi Mahi with rice and plantains for my entree. When he came over with my cup of soup and the platter of chopped veggies to top it with, I opted to have a little of each added. I asked for just a few croutons and he, again rather snottily, said ‘Well, I can only fit a few anyway’. Hmmm again. Gabriel and I exchanged a look wondering what we’d done to be treated so rudely. I know it doesn’t sound so bad, but it was his tone and attitude and the way he ordered me to ‘please enjoy the food.’. I wish I could capture the sarcastic tone better in my writing.

My soup was actually pretty good. I enjoyed the very garlicy flavor and the fresh vegetables. The crunchy croutons on top were a nice textural addition and I finished my cup in just a couple of minutes.

My entree arrived shortly after. The plate was half filled with rice- way too much as far as I’m concerned, but the fish in a citrusy sauce was tasty- even though it was smothered in far too many onions. My fried plantains were both greasy and mushy, and I happily gave most of them away to Gabriel. Sandor didn’t check on us once during our entree, even though we noticed him checking on the table next to us (seated with 3 attractive women) more than a few times.

When we were clearly done, he asked if we were ready for the check. Ok. I guess dessert was not an option. (even though the menu made it clear that it was).

We did not hesitate in tipping 15%. We tip 20% pretty much everywhere we eat, so that was pretty indicative of how we felt. I will not be returning. There are plenty of other options in the area for outdoor eating minus the nasty service.

 

The Waterfront Restaurant: 111 S Bay Blvd, Anna Maria, FL

Standard

My dad and I went for lunch at The Waterfront Restaurant today and had a great time. On a gorgeous day, sitting outside looking at the water, the blue sky and the Tampa bridge, it’s not difficult to feel completely at peace. Our waitress was friendly and helpful and took our orders right away.

I was trying to decide between the stuffed tomato and the fish tacos, so I asked the waitress if the shrimp salad that came inside of the tomato was very mayo-y. She told me that yes, it was, and I really appreciated her honesty about that. I decided to go for the tacos.

My father started with the lobster bisque, which I tasted and thought was excellent. Very creamy and with decent sized pieces of lobster, it was the kind of soup I’d like to eat on a chilly day. My grouper tacos for  came with a side of Texas caviar (black-eyed peas, lima beans, corn, onions etc) and fresh salsa. They were excellent. Filled with fresh blacked fish, cheddar and jack cheese, jicama and the salsa that came on the side, they were summery, flavorful, and just filling enough without being heavy. I REALLY enjoyed the Texas caviar- something I’d never heard of before, and think I’ll try to make it for myself soon.

I will definitely come back again to try some of the other options on the menu. The prices were reasonable, the service was fast, and the scenery can’t be beat.

 

Bonefish Grill: 8101 Cooper Creek Blvd. Sarasota, FL

Standard

My family and I went to Bonefish for dinner last night and I have to say that it was about as so-so as a restaurant can be. It’s basically typical wedding food, trying to be fancy- but really not quite making it there. The prices are very reasonable though- with the addition of a salad or soup to an entree for less than $3, so having super high expectations wouldn’t really be fair.

We started with the very popular appetizer, Bang Bang shrimp. Tasty, yes…but what food that’s tempura battered and then smothered in a mayo-y sauce wouldn’t taste good? It sat atop a bed of lettuce which made it appear that it had tons of shrimp, but once I realized how much lettuce was underneath the shrimp, each of us only ended up with 3 or so per person. It was supposedly so spicy that we’d need the bread to cool our mouths off, but no, not really, just a slightly kicky aftertaste.

The salads came out next and I actually really enjoyed mine. The citrus and herb house dressing was full of flavor and the mesclun lettuce were topped with pumpkin (?) seeds, heart of palm, tomatoes and olives, a nice diversion from the boring side salads that often come with entrees from other chain restaurants. With the addition of a few anchovies that came with my father’s salad, this was pretty much the highlight of my dinner. The bread was pretty good too, hot and fresh from the oven- and I enjoyed a crusty piece with the olive oil before the entrees arrived.

For my entree I shared two dishes with my boyfriend, Gabriel. One was the pecan and parmesan crusted trout with a lemon butter sauce, artichokes and basil, and the other was the grilled shrimp and scallops with chimichuri. The shrimp and scallops were the winner, fresh and not overly seasoned. The herby sauce brightened up the seafood and I ended up using it on the green beans as well. The pecan crusted fish was one small step above airplane food. Edible, but not particularly enjoyable. It was sort of bland, which was surprising given the description, and I couldn’t really detect pecans OR parmesan…just a lot of breading. The lemon butter sauce helped a bit, but not really enough to redeem the meal. The steamed veggies were cooked nicely, but the odd side of chickpeas that was the vegetable of the day seemed totally out of place to me with it’s Indian flavoring that really didn’t go with any of the main courses.

Overall, the service was good and the prices were very fair, but the food was totally unexciting and uninspired. I may go back again since the fish is all fresh and not frozen, but I’ll probably stick to the salads and the very basic grilled choices. I was surprised to find out that they aren’t open for lunch which is a bummer because I think going in for a salad with grilled shrimp on top would actually be a pretty good mid-day meal. Oh well.

 

Nino’s: 1354 First Ave. New York, NY

Standard

Last night marked two days before I run the NYC half marathon for my second time, and what better reason is there than to go feast on 3 courses of rich Italian food at Nino’s? I’ve walked past Nino’s many time, being that I live less than 10 blocks away, and it always looks fairly empty from the front. What I did not realize is that the back is totally packed and hopping with a well-dressed Upper East Side crowd. Mixed ages, some on dates, some with family, and even a couple of birthday celebrations, this restaurant is clearly a favorite of locals. Judging by the many signed photographs and books, it’s also a celebrity hotspot.

Nino, the dapper gentleman who owns the restaurant,  warmly welcomed Gabriel and I and led us to our table. It was a good thing we had made a reservation because there were only a few free tables that evening, and I again wondered how I’d never been in before. A grand piano in the corner was played by a musician with a lovely voice, and his tasteful mix of standards and show tunes made for a pleasant mood. He showed beautiful restraint and control with his voice, and I really enjoyed the old school flavor of listening to live music while we dined.

Our waiter came out for our drink order and brought us crusty bread, bean/garlic/herb dip (YUM!) and water along with our menus. He went over the specials for us and gave us a few minutes to decide. I should definitely take this time to mention that the service was the standout at Nino’s. As much as my personal preference tends to be more contemporary, innovative, creative foods, the impeccable formality of the service at Nino’s is very special. The menu is traditional Northern Italian, and it is very comfortable with that fact. No crazy foams and strange flavor combinations here, just classic, time-tested favorites. The dishes are served with the flair of restaurants that have been around forever and cater to a crowd who will accept nothing but premier treatment. We were checked on frequently during and between courses but it was done in a way that didn’t feel over-bearing at all, just attentive and wanting to make sure we had a great experience.

Now, on to the food. The dishes we ordered were as follows: For our starters, I had the Pera e Prosciutto: Charred pear wrapped with san daniele prosciutto, reggiano chunks and truffled honey. The combination of flavors and textures on the plate were absolutely wonderful. The slight crunch of the pear wrapped in salty prosciutto went so perfectly with the crumbly reggiano and the drizzle of truffle honey tied it all together in such a luxurious way. This was my favorite dish of the evening. Gabriel had the Carpaccio Alla Romana: Thinly sliced filet mignon served with arugula, shaved artichokes, reggiano, basil and lemon drops. The meat was sliced beautifully and was incredibly tender. It was slightly lacking in flavor, but the reggiano and lemon helped to brighten it up a bit. A bit of black pepper really made it come alive for me.

For my entree I had the Capesante: Seared diver scallops with onion marmalade, english peas, diced pancetta and almond browned butter. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with this one. I felt that the scallops were over-cooked, the sauce they sat in was too strong for such a delicate mollusk and that the peas it came with did not taste like they were fresh- or maybe they were also just a bit over-cooked. The flavor was excellent and I love scallops, so I was happy to eat them anyway, but I think this dish could use a bit of re-working in general. Gabriel’s entree was the Ravioli Fatti in Casa Homemade ravioli: stuffed with ricotta and prosciutto cotto, sautéed with butter and vegetable broth with a hint of pesto. I preferred his entree choice to mine. I felt that the vegetables on top (a mix of thinly sliced squash, peppers etc) were a lovely assortment for the beginning of spring. The thin dough of the ravioli was delicate, but strong enough to hold a delicious interior filled with prosciutto and ricotta. The buttery sauce was light and complemented the ravioli beautifully. Judging from these two entrees, I would imagine that sticking to the more traditional Italian pastas is the way to go when ordering from Nino’s menu. If I return, I plan to try the Spaghetti Carbonara or the Gnocchi.

For our desserts we shared two; the delicious, creamy, rich, tiramisu and the strawberries with custard (I’m not sure of the exact name of this dish but it is one of their specialties) I’m always amazing by tiramisu in general, that something so incredibly rich can also taste so light. This was a wonderful dessert, and beautifully presented. The strawberry dessert was prepared table-side in a dramatic presentation. Our waiter whisked together egg yolk, cream, amaretto and champagne into a warm custard and poured it over a glass full of ripe strawberries. Next, he dusted a coating of biscotti crumbs over the top before he served it to us. This was not something I’d normally order (no chocolate!) but It was a refreshing way to end a lavish meal. The custard was creamy and almond-y and not the liquor was not over-powering like it sometimes can be. We decided to each order a cappuccino and were delighted when they were brought out with an impressive tower of fresh fruit and fresh homemade biscotti. Just when I think I’m totally full, it’s amazing to me that I can always find just a little more room for the extras.

Overall, Nino’s restaurant is a real class act. It’s clear to see why it’s a celebrity in it’s own right, and why it attracts people with a taste for the traditional to dine here time and time again. Bravo Nino’s and thank you for a wonderful evening.

 

Centolire: 1167 Madison ave. NY NY

Standard

My aunt chose Centolire as the restaurant to celebrate my beloved Grandmother’s 96th birthday in, and what a perfect choice it was. There was an elevator to get to the upstairs dining area, and we were seated at a comfortable table near the windows. The decor is tasteful and cheery with fresh flowers, lots of sunlight streaming in, and orange and gold banquets. The service which was slightly on the formal side, was incredible knowledgable and attentive, save for some empty water glasses towards the end of our meal.

A $25 3 course prix fix was a very reasonable cost for a fine quality meal and the menu was full of so many appealing dishes that we all had a tough time choosing. Luckily for me, my boyfriend and I have very similar taste in food and were happy to share everything, so we were each able to try 6 dishes instead of just 3.

The fresh Italian bread that arrived in a basket alongside delicious olive oil was a good indication of the food to follow. Wonderfully fresh and high quality, the excellent olive oil was clearly carefully selected.

We began with our appetizers: a risotto topped with a bacon wrapped scallop and a baby artichoke, arugula salad with parmesan. Both were fantastic, and even though the one lonely scallop looked like not quite enough to share, it really was. Cooked to perfection and wrapped with a thick slice of bacon, this was amazing on top of the creamy, cheesy risotto and had we opted for the entree sized portion of it, it would have been too much. The salad was simple but fresh and delicious, and the thick slices of parmesan on top were again clearly of high quality.

For one of our entrees we chose the grilled salmon with broccoli rabe, which turned out to be good- but pretty boring. The fish was very fresh and cooked perfectly with a crisp crust. The broccoli rabe had large sliced of roasted garlic and was not at all bitter as it sometimes is. That said, the dish lacked anything exciting or original about it and we were a little disappointed with it’s simplicity.

The ‘strangled priest’ pasta with chicken ragout was a total hit. I’d never had this oddly named pasta before- they were almost like little twisted dumplings and had a great sort of springy consistency to them. The creamy, tomato-y chicken ragout had a similar texture to pulled pork and was something quite different than I’ve had before. I throughly enjoyed this dish and pretty much licked the bowl clean.

Alongside of a delicious cappuccino we shared our 2 desserts. The 2 scoops of gelato were incredible, on one side was pistacho and the other was amaretto flavor. I LOVED the amaretto one and really would have like a giant container of that one to take home. It had little ribbons of the almond cookies going through it and I was pretty much in heaven except that it was gone too quickly. The blueberry and vanilla creme tart turned out to be much more cake-y than tart-y but very good no matter what it was called. It was not too sweet but had a lovely crumbly texture and large fresh blueberries inside.

Overall, I was very pleased with Centolire, especially since the reviews online are kind of mixed and I didn’t go in with terribly high expectations. I would absolutely recommend a visit and think it’s a great choice for a date, a group or even dining alone. When we went, it was a fairly mixed clientele, centering around what seemed to be families and I got the feeling that it’s generally a local Upper East Side crowd. Bravo Centolire!