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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

ACF Caxambas Chapter of Naples and Marco Island Meeting at Spring Run Golf Club in Bonita Springs


On June 15, 2015, members and guests attended the amazing ACF Caxambas Chapter of Naples and Marco Island, June General Meeting at Spring Run Golf Club in Bonita Springs, hosted by Chef Steve Joynt and Sous Chef George Villagomez.
Chef Steve Joynt
   The featured education presentation was on the ACF’s Professional Certification Program.

The welcome reception and plated dinner attracted over 100 members and guests-that's a very good showing for the off-season!

There were casual walkabout appetite teasers and magnetic energy bites with Rosemary Skewered Lamb Belly, and Satay Style Lamb With Micro Mint & Tangerine Lace
Aji Amarillo Creme Fraiche

A Whimsical Array of Charcuterie & Crudites

A Raclette Melting with Perfectly Melted Raclette & Gruyere Cheeses over  Baby Potatoes, Earthy Mushrooms & Crunchy Toasted Artisan Breads 

Venison Brisket -a Follow-Up On Halpern’s Venison Tasting had Taleggio Grilled Cheese with Venison Brisket, & Apricot-Caper Puree, On Pecan Raisin Bread-Deelicious!

I flipped for the Tropical Paradise From Happy Foods with Unusual & Underused Tropical & Florida Grown Fruits

 Carbonated Berries & Compressed Melons

The Plated Dinner theme of  " Bellies and Cheeks" featured a Petite Cheeky Salad with Gulf grouper cheeks wrapped in brick pastry with ahi amarillo criolla frito broccoli salad & micro cilantro 

The entrée of Veal Cheeks & Pork cheeks, parsnip puree & cabernet demi, grilled asparagus sauté was superb-the braised cheeks are ambrosia-like with tender, rich flavor.

Dessert was a surprise, with Lucky Charms Panna Cotta, Waffle "Biscotti", Cocoa Dusted Candied Nueske Bacon. The bacon is over the top!

 Special thanks to Port Royal Trading Company, Cheney, Happy Foods, Halpern's, and additional vendors who are supporting this meeting. This would not be possible without their continued support.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chef Brian Roland of Crave Culinaire is Finalist on Final Episode of Restaurant StartUp.

Brian Roland made it to the final episode of Restaurant StartUp, appearing before 60 Million viewers!!! WOW!! Not shabby publicity at all! A group of Neapolitans (and some Bonitans) made it to a special showing on a large screen TV, and got to taste Crave Culinaire's amazing treats. Speaking of treats, there are rumors of Brian giving Nicole a special glittering treat by year's end, too!

 Brian and his team were up against a team that offers gee-whiz flashy desserts and some savories at $10-15 per plate. I woulda tried the place once, and that would have been it. Brian offered the Start Up guys a chance to co-create a dining venue for special events in SW Florida, where any chef could come in and cater for their special event, and Brian could offer exquisite tasting dinners, too. Different strokes for different investors, for sure. The other team won over one of the two potential investors. That's fine, Brian will find investors in the area to partner with for his dream.
 If anyone can make a dream come true, it's Brian, proven by his success with Crave Culinaire. Some of the samples last night included:

Hibachi Flash~Seared Furikake Ahi Tuna

Alba White Truffle Oil, Miso Infused Napa, Galangal Mousse
Toasted Nori Threads, Black Sesame Crisp
Moulard Duck “Tasting”
Pomegranate Brined & Grilled Breast, Matchstick Duck Crackling, Duck Fat Toasted Brioche
Port Wine~Fig Marmalade and Syrup, Italian Parsley Dust
Maldon Cured Heirloom Tomato and MontChevre Bucheron
Caramelized Citrus~Fennel Salad, Aged Pedro Ximenez Syrup
Crave’s Gluten-Free Pistachio Cracker, Micro Basil