Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pig Roast at Gloria's La Trattoria Cafe' Napoli

SWFL Foodies Wanda Lopez and Gloria M Jordan crafted a banquet for the first 20 people to sign up for the pig roast at Gloria's La Trattoria Cafe' Napoli! Guests were greeted with a choice of wine, fresh baked bread and butter. We introduced ourselves to each other, and the fun began! Crisp baked curly plantain chips started us off, soon followed by the grand entrance of the pig. The a teaser of crisp skin, and a cameo appearance by Mr. Puerco, flashing a toothy grin. Chuck and Linda Rakos and Karen Reynolds Hager, Peter Horan, Suzanne Jepson and a cast of thousands feasted on the rice, veggie platter and the tender pulled pork. Those who "never eat dessert" had more than a forkful of Gloria's guava and pineapple laced cake! Thank you Wanda and Gloria for a feast for the senses in Habana and Seville!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mermaid Garden Cafe in Fort Myers

"I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus' garden in the shade**"

**Richard Starkey's lyrics popped into my head as I walked into Chef/ co-owner Gloria Cabral-Jordan's Mermaid Garden Cafe. The kaleidoscopic mix of eye candy-colorful teacups, wall hangings, and beautiful desserts- reminded this SCUBA diver of the varied treasures that octopi use to decorate their rock gardens.

 The Mermaid Garden's sea foam green walls and acoutrements honor the wholesomely sensual Mermaid, but with a twist! As Gloria notes, "We imagine that the mermaids must get sick of eating seaweed and scallops all day…let’s invite them to town for some fresh vegetables and greens – and while we’re at it, why not champagne?"

Well, why not?  And so, the Mermaid Garden was launched in February. The refreshing culinary theme offers local sustainable farm-to-table cuisine with fresh organic local produce, local eggs and  meats, when available.  Gloria has visited many local farms; only a few meet her high standards for quality and consistency. 

"I'd ask my friends to come and see
An octopus' garden with me
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade."

Up at 8:30 a.m.? Come savor the $6 protein roll with smoked salmon; the ciabatta roll with serranito ham, or the seared ahi tuna roll. More adventuresome? Then it's the roasted chorizo with grilled organic eggs and petite potato kale hash, or the open face huevos rotos florentini with sautéed spinach and farm cheese for you! Rotating options include mini flavored croissants, Argentinian empanadas with different fillings, and a flavorful array of fresh, locally baked pastries.  
 "We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus' garden near a cave"

I stopped by with a friend for lunch. It's not easy to find the elusive Mermaid at first. Temporary signage "challenges" preclude a much needed sign on Winkler or College.
 Mermaid is towards the south side of the Atrium's five entrances. Look at the other diners-there's a cross section of Fort Myers folks here, with a generous dollop of "movers and shakers." 
Start with a Nutella or caramel cappuccino, cafe con leche, or the Mermaid's dark roast coffee. Wines by the glass are a great deal, generally $7.  Sip a Bellini  or a Brut split for $7; most wine bottles are in the $30's. Champagne bottles runs from $35 and up. I enjoyed a large glass of mango-passion fruit-guava tea.
Gloria was having an informal tasting of new wines, and invited those around to try a sip. The Ma Roat Valpolicella, and the Caprili Brunello di Montalcino are my favorites reds. The Alsatian Baumann Riesling is a great sipping wine on a summer's day.
Order several sets of appetizers to share. The oven baked prosciutto-wrapped around gooey melted cheese is mouth candy!
  I hail from Miami, so I'm partial to spinach, chicken, and brie cheese empanadas.
Popular lunch items from the menu are the $10 lemon chicken jicama crunchy salad with toasted corn tacos; the French Mermaid's baguette cradling seared ahi tuna with a black garlic aioli, or the romaine and mache-smoked Caesar with crisped garbanzos.  

We started with a special's take on deviled eggs-the devilment was a dollop of avocado- think a mild guacamole, topped with a strawberry slice.
 A pretty presentation. The wonderful sweetness of the strawberry just didn't balance against the avocado on my traditional taste buds. Easy fix. I enjoyed  the avocado and egg's flavors enhanced with a sprinkle of salt, and had the strawberry slices afterwards, to best enjoy their bright sweetness.
I dove into my $10 cochinita pibils. That's an unfamiliar name for tender Spanish roasted pork (think pulled pork with a touch of garlic) on a ciabatta roll with pickled onions, watermelon relish, a smear of black garlic aioli and a side of mixed greens.
 This is refreshingly moist and tasty. Next time, I'd have the aioli on the side, to really savor the juicy pork's goodness.
My friend's appetite awoke as he started on his $12 farmer palomilla paillard with farm tomato chipotle sauce, and a goodly amount of greens, marinated cherry tomatoes, golden raisins, red onions and black garlic aioli.
 This is a Cuban-style, flat pounded grilled or sautéed steak (3-4 mm thick) that's hard for other chefs to not overcook. Gloria's chef kept it tender and tasty. This is for those that appreciate a nicely cooked palomilla steak.  If you insist on  an"American" style thick steak, well...

 We saved room for dessert. Because the pastries and desserts are sourced daily from local vendors, when they run out, that's it!
Sicilian cannoli take on a new accent when Gloria has the sweeter dos leches piped into each cannolo, instead of the usual ricotta or less common mascarpone filling.  
 Gloria's Calamondin orange cake was a superb surprise! This orange is a hybrid cross between a mandarin orange and a kumquat. Though the juice can be quite tart, Gloria's recipe uses the sweet peel in a delectable sauce, yielding s a superb sweetness more like a Honeybell  tangelo than other oranges. 

 The underlying sponge-type cake is a perfect foil for the calamondin.  Highly Recommended!   
Others liked the Beignet-type pastry that's heated then drizzled with a double chocolate sauce just before serving. The mini bread pudding looks like a cupcake, that's topped with caramel sauce
Take home some  empanadas. Get an assortment.  Some are cheese and spinach, others contain smoked chicken and spices-they vary from day to day. 

"We would sing and dance around
Because we know we can't be found
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade"

     Mermaid Garden Cafe sits, terrarium -like, inside The Atrium at 8695 College Parkway (at the intersection with Winkler Ave.) ,  Fort Myers,  425-3480,,   serving breakfast and lunch.

Monday, August 31, 2015

I Dodged a Bullet, er, Bolt of Lightning!

I DODGED A BULLET, ER, BOLT OF LIGHTNING last night, that struck 20 feet away from me!  Yesterday evening,  I watched streaks of lightning dance across the sky, and almost subconsciously counted the seconds till the thunder sounded.  Five seconds, then three then practically zero. Yikes, that's too close for comfort!  I moved away from my view at the plate glass windows, to a room whose windows were steel encased- boarded up, Florida-style, in anticipation of  a visit from Erika, the tropical storm that fortunately fizzled. The thunder soon was near, and quite loud, but certainly nothing anyone would call "deafening." Little did I know  then what I learned today; lightning struck the tall black sapote tree, 20 feet from me, and crashed its upper half to the ground. I learned of this an hour ago, when I went to collect some fruit from the tree to bring to a friend. Something was very wrong as I approached the tree.
Path obstructed by downed tree's limbs and fruit
   The walkway under the tree was now obliterated by a wall of green foliage . I came closer to the tree, to make sense of this bizarre finding. The abundant foliage-clad top of the tree was snapped off, blackened at the break by lightning's black char. Whoa!  That's not the first lightning-struck tree I've seen. 

You may have seen such trees, too. I started to gather the unripe fruit, only to discover the most amazing part of the story. The lightning had "cooked" all the unripe fruit on the downed tree section! Compared to the firm, round unripe fruit on branches unaffected by the lightning, the difference was apparent.

 All the affected fruit was abundantly wrinkled, very soft, and well, cooked! 
Now wrinkled, cooked fruit still on the tree's branches
 Alas, cooking unripe fruit with over 100,000 volts does not  ripen the fruit.

Lightning struck, wrinkled immature fruits on left, normal round immature fruits on right, with one mature-sized fruit at top for comparison.

Cut surface of "cooked' lightning damaged fruit on left, vs firm round undamaged fruit on right.
Oh well, my poor tree. I'll  saw off the downed trunk branches, haul them to the curb, and sadly toss out dozens of overcooked, unripe black sapote fruits!  By the way, I do have battery backups and surge protectors on my computer and other small appliances. As their function lights are all on to show they are working, i can only assume the hapless tree took 100% of the lightning strike.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mereday's Brasserie at Bayfront -492 Bayfront Place, Naples, Florida

The Green Tea Terrarium Dessert

Mereday's Brasserie has now materialized in Naples at the former site of Chef Charles Mereday's Alto Live Jazz Kitchen. Yes, while the Alto concept is no more, this newest iteration of Mereday's eponymous restaurants Rocks!  The "A" team culinary family cooks from scratch, with Chef Mereday, Executive Chef Joseph Pittman, Chef David Lee Russell, Chef Kimberly Bechtel and Chef January Nutial, to name a few. The Mereday's Brasserie in Estero is now a separate entity, no longer owned by Chef Mereday. 

Chef Charles Mereday and Chef Joseph Pittman
 Confusing? Not so! The menu  at the Naples restaurant is completely new (vs the Alto menu)  and very wallet friendly , with some favorites brought south from the Estero Mereday's  Brasserie menu.  Relax with artisan cocktails and a broad selection of craft beers-be sure to ask Bartender Eli for suggestions! 
 Locals know that summer is the "off season" and Naples population shrinks waay down.  The almost nightly jazz that was at Alto will morph into having live musicians on weekends. My guess is that jazz  nights will alternate with of Blues, Latino/Flamenco , and other styles. Feel free to recommend your favorite musicians to Chef Joseph! 

The fourteen "small plates" outnumber the seven  "entrees."  This is to facilitate more of a "tapas" style of dining with friends. There's crispy frogs legs, Baked brie with pear and red pepper jelly; Moroccan beef rolls with cucumber dill creme fraiche; duck poutine; seared scallops and roasted beets salad. 

My group of friends/foodies started with the spicy smoke duck wings ($14) , with a Habanero, orange and Thai-style dipping sauce accentuating the trio of Frenched wings, cooked to a crisply tender perfection.  

 The sultry heat raises this to a uniquely rich culinary level.  This is my all-time favorite- Highly Recommended! 

Order the wild mushroom risotto ($14), and be seduced by the earthy Cremini mushrooms, cream and Parmesan cheese.  Highly recommended. 
A similar special is the aphrodisiacal  Chef's Garden Asparagus and  "to die for" gnocchi with a rich earthy mushroom-cream base. 
Like lamb? The Moroccan-influenced  lamb slider trio ($18)  feature braised and smoked lamb with tzatziki sauce on a brioche bun, topped with roasted red pepper, feta, arugula and red onion. Recommended. 
 The mussels  ($15) are flavorful, bathed in an aromatic  broth of  coconut milk, spicy Thai green curry and cilantro. We made "all gone" by dipping the delectable broth with warm cheese biscuits.  Highly recommended. 
Seared scallops (19) are among the best you'll ever have, with diver fresh U10 sized babies seared to perfection,and unctuously tender within. The roasted red peppers and sweet corn puree just add wonderfully complementary layers of flavor.
Want an awesome burger? Start with the best-Jimmy P's juicy Wagyu beef ($16) , served with caramelized onion bleu cheese and red onion jam on a brioche bun, with crisp fries on the side.  Highly recommended. 

There's four pizzas to try, from the traditional Margherita, to the Napolese with choice of sausage or pepperoni; or the roasted cremini mushroom with mozzarella, red sauce and grape tomatoes.  We ordered the unique olive tapenade pizza ($13) , with diced black and green olives, feta cheese, grape tomatoes and a generous topping of tangy arugula. The crispy crust and salty olive goodness is not your typical bland Naples, Fla. pizza.  

Save room for dessert.  Sous chef Kimberly B has crafted  a beckoning  banana walnut bread pudding with crème Anglaise; deconstructed chocolate trifle, and a vanilla bean crème brûlée.

The Green Tea Terrarium dessert  by Sous Chef Kimberly Bechtel is the BOMB! ($9) . 
This must-have dessert  knocks it out of the Bay with a stunning terrarium presentation, balancing a unique medley of textures and flavors.   Bite into a white "mushroom"this piped French meringue dusted with nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa powder  tastes like hot chocolate with all the right spices!! 
   There's a "stream"  of charred orange pastry cream, bordered by a chocolate-graham cracker "soil."  Boulders of toasted pine nuts and fresh berries dwell among the green tea sponge cake foliage.  there's more- a formed quenelle of charred vanilla and cardamon ice cream sits off to the side.  My dieting friend took one look and said "I think I'll slide off the diet for a few minutes!" Highly Recommended.     
The portions are more than generous at these wallet friendly prices. These prices are set at the price point that other restaurants set only with Happy Hour discounts.  So whenever you arrive,  you get Happy Hour pricing all the time. 

Competition? None really, this is a unique niche. Nearby Stoney's Steakhouse,  and Roy's Restaurant  have their respective big steak and Asian-styled cuisines down pat.  Mereday's Brasserie is warm and welcoming with a warm European accent, featuring rich wood walls, black tablecloths, fresh flowers and French art. 

Mereday's Brasserie, 492 Bayfront Place, Naples, Fl  261-2586