Tag Archives: restaurant week

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

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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!

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Pho Cali: 1578 Main St. Sarasota, FL

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WOW! What a totally pleasant surprise! As a newly transplanted New Yorker, one of the things I was worried about when deciding to move to Florida was that I’d really miss the amazing ethnic food that’s so easy to find in NY. After trying Pho Cali, I realize that is not so at all. This was absolutely outstanding and I can already tell I’ll be back frequently.

Gabriel and I went in for lunch and ordered 2 dishes and a bubble tea to share. The bubble tea was lychee slush, made with real fruit. It was icy and sweet and totally refreshing and we slurped it down very happily after being outside in 85 degree weather.

Our dishes were the grilled shrimp vermicelli with peanuts and the shrimp and pork lotus stem salad. Both were light and healthy, with a sweet vinegary sauce on the side. I loved the lotus stems which were new to me- I’d only had lotus flower roots before, and the crunchy fried shallots on top added to the interesting combination of textures. The shrimp were incredibly fresh, cooked perfectly and lightly grilled. The thin strips of pork were full of flavor, but very lean and not at all overpowering to the delicate dish.

We left feeling satisfied but not stuffed, exactly what we were hoping for. All of this for a check of around $25 including tip. Oh yes, we will certainly be back soon. Hooray Pho Cali!

Neo Sushi Studio: 1410 1st Ave, NY

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For our final dinner in NYC before the big move to Florida, Gabriel and I were VERY lucky to have our dear friend Betsy take us to Neo Sushi to celebrate. I’d never been, but recently read some reviews claiming that it’s a new UES treasure, even better than Gari or Sasabune (Sasabune, though it’s ridiculously expensive and I have only been once is what I think of as the best sushi I’ve ever had) and at much more reasonable prices.

We were seated right away and the very friendly waiter came to chat with us about what we were in the mood for. We decided to let him choose for us, and I’m very glad we did. He sent over the hamachi sashimi to start. Thinly sliced pieces of exquisite fish topped with cilantro and yuzu black pepper. WOW. This was so incredible and I already felt that this was indeed a special restaurant with a very talented chef. Next we had the Spicy Tuna Rice Crisp. These were little fried rice balls, somewhat reminiscent of tater tots if they were made of rice instead of potato. We were told to top them with the spicy tuna and then dip them in the sauce. Delicious. The mix of hot and cold, spicy and salty, crunchy and squishy was so enjoyable and whimsical. Then the main sushi spread arrived. We had a beautiful assortment of sushi including; salmon with tomato, tuna with soy cream, and hamachi with garlic. We also had a spicy tuna roll and another roll that was filled with asparagus and scallop (If I’m remembering right) and topped with a hot pepper sauce and a special black salt. The salt was a little too much for me, but I enjoyed the crunchy texture of it.

This whole meal was such a wonderful treat and I’m sorry that I didn’t find out about it sooner. Being that it was just a few blocks away from my apartment, I would have gone much more frequently had I known that It was so wonderful. This was such a perfect last meal in NY and exactly the way that I want to remember the NYC dining scene: amazing food, great people, friendly service and reasonable prices. I hope you’ll go check it out.

3E Taste of Thai. 34-16 Broadway, Queens, NY

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I have always heard that the best Thai food in NY is in Queens. It took me a very long time to go check it out- and actually this was only a week before moving out of the city to Florida. Well, better late than never. 3E Thai was indeed some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had and at prices that are FAR below my previous favorite (Land, on the Upper East Side)

Gabriel and I were in the area to pack up his apartment for our big move and when we finished our long day filled with boxes and packing paper, we were excited to replenish our lost calories with some great food. We arrived at 3E Thai and were seated right away in the fairly full restaurant. We looked over the menu and, after realizing that the prices were so awesome, decided to share a bunch of things.

We started with a spicy Tom Yum soup, one of my favorites, that came with a few large shrimp. The broth was full of lemongrass flavor with a little kick and we finished it quickly. Next, out came an awesome papaya salad, wonderful shrimp dumplings and an order of chicken satay. We shared the Pad Thai entree as well and it proved to be a bit less peanuty and heavy than it sometimes is. The whole meal was so fresh, light, and healthy and I’m a bit bummed that I won’t get a chance to repeat this whole meal. Oh well- at least I got to try it once! Go check it out…for half of the cost of a meal on the UES, you can eat twice as well.

La Mela: 167 Mulberry st. New York, NY

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Last Thursday, Gabriel and I threw a going-away party for ourselves. We had an absolute blast doing karaoke and enjoying cocktails with about 35 friends at 2nd on 2nd in the East Village. When the party ended, we found ourselves starving and rather buzzed (well, okay I was plumb drunk) and everything around was already closed. We decided to wander over to Little Italy to see if we could luck out with finding somewhere open to get big, satisfying plates of pasta. Lo and behold, we found La Mela. Open, mostly empty, pretty inexpensive and with great reviews online.

We were seated right away and quickly scanned the menu. Water and bread were brought out and our orders were taken. I chose the traditional spaghetti and meatballs which came out just a few moments later. Perfect. It totally hit the spot (from what I can remember) and left me with 2 extra meals worth for the following day. The meatballs were huge and delicious and the pasta sauce was bright, flavorful and hot. The pasta was definitely not homemade, but it was fine anyway, and the price was very fair.

If you’re in the area, especially late at night, I’d suggest giving it a try.

Nino’s: 1354 First Ave. New York, NY

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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.

 

El Cantinero: 86 University Place. New York, NY

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Gabriel had been telling me about El Cantinero for a while because he thinks it’s great Mexican food, reasonably priced, and (most importantly for him) they don’t charge extra for chips and salsa. When we got there, we were initially told they wouldn’t seat us until all 4 of us arrived, but just a few minutes later the host changed his mind and led us to a great table towards the back. We’d specifically asked for a quiet-ish spot and he gave us a large, round table that was kind of tucked away. Perfect.

Chips and salsa were brought out right away and drink orders were taken. Our friends arrived just a few minutes later and the waiter came back to take their drink orders and to bring us water and menus. So far so good. At that point I asked for an order of guacamole for the table. (request #1)

He came back about 5 minutes later to take our orders and check to see how our drinks were. So far, so good. I asked if the guac was coming out and he said it was on it’s way. (request #2)

Our meals were brought over and everything looked great (except for Gabriel’s order which didn’t include the stuffed pepper he’d ordered, but ok- he was hungry and happy with what came instead).

I found it odd that our entrees arrived and our app still hadn’t so I made that known by asking the waiter about our guac. (request #3) He apologized and asked if we still wanted it.

We ate about 3/4 of our entrees. The guac came out! Hooray! It was quite good even though we were already filling up and slowing down. Better late than never. Kind of. I was not impressed with the service at all. The waiter hardly checked on us at all and the timing of the guac’s arrival was really pretty pathetic. Maybe they had to go harvest the avocados. My chicken mole was good- though not the best I’ve had. Overall, the meal was so-so. My frozen strawberry margarita was delish though!

When our bill came, I honestly thought there was a mistake. 4 of us, one app, a few drinks and 4 entrees came out to well over $120. For pretty typical Mexican food I thought that was really too high but oh well, at least we had plenty of time to catch up with great friends!

Would I go back again? Um, no. Doubtful. Right near me is my fav Mexican, Maz Mexcal.

https://bigforkinmouth.wordpress.com/?s=mezcal

Next time I have a Mexican craving, that’s most likely where I will go.