Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mereday's Brasserie Rocks Coconut Point in Estero, Florida

  Chef Charles Mereday, one of the USA's top chefs, now has three restaurants for you to savor three different styles. Most chefs would be "over the moon" to have even one restaurant showcasing their skills. In 2013 he knocked it out of the park with Mereday's Fine Dining waterfront location in Naples. He soon followed in 2014 with nearby Alto Live Jazz Kitchen with innovative food and nightly fine quality jazz. Now, just seven months later on September 10th, his eponymous third restaurant, Mereday's Brasserie opened, bringing his creative talents to Estero's Coconut Point. It features classic French dishes, an assortment of creative dishes, craft beers, draft beers and a full bar.
Executive Chef Joseph Pittman is at the helm, continuing his fifth year working with Chef Mereday.
Here's the dynamic duo of Chef Mereday with Chef Pittman.
  Mereday's Brasserie occupies the Coconut Point catbird seat opposite Bice, both facing US 41. I relish the casually elegant warm autumnal decor with rich brown wood walls and columns. Subdued lighting softly spreads form from overhead  orange drum lamps over linen topped granite tables.  The large windows open, letting the breeze waft over the long bar (with over a dozen draught (draft) beers) and the adjacent communal-style rectangular tables. Sport casual to elegant attire works well for dress.

Did I say draught beers?  Yes!  I favor the Dubliner's rich dark Guinness ("Guinness is Good for You") and the similar Brooklyn Brown Ale; my dining companions favor the 8% ABV Chimay "Triple" and Mama's Little Yella Pill Pilsner. There's also Florida Cracker, Stella Artois, Yuengling Lager and 8.6% ABV Pumking, with prices generally from $6 to $7.75 for a generous pour. There's no shortage of bottle beers like Dogfish, Arrogant Bastard, Greenflash Road Warrior, and even Angry Orchard Cider for $5.
Jennifer, the amiable ninja-dressed "beerologist,"  has crafted several mixes; a great 
Beer-tini with pink lemonade and raspberry;  the Stout Diplomat  has Guinness, brandy and rum;  the  "Shock Me" marries Mama's Little Yella Pill with Southern Comfort, and the Guinness Bloody Mary needs no introduction. Jennifer will soon offer layered beers, too.

Uh-huh, this is gonna be one serious happy hour hangout! There's a good assortment of French  and few California wines from $11-15 per glass. Splurge  for a bottle of Dom Perignon's refreshing bubbles to brighten your day.

Select a seat and let the fun begin.  Fresh baked bread arrives with a swirl of soft herbed butter. I want' to take home 5 lbs of that butter, it's so good!
Hors d'oeuvres ("apps") are best shared to enjoy the variety.Our server, Jo, was super helpful in suggesting apps and mains for our varied tastes. Spot on.
I'm addicted to the quartet of spicy smoked duck wings ($14) with Habanero/Sriracha- honey 'n butter sauce. It's "to die for" if you appreciate a little heat on your wings. Highly recommended!
The cold foie gras terrine rocks ($22), with a generous portion of mousse-soft ambrosia topped with Chef's Garden watercress, micro-greens and truffle oil. 
Savor the side mini ramekin of tartly-sweet grape mostarda with macerated grapes, sweet syrup, mustard and a hint of citrus and herbs. Then try a bite of terrine with the French coarse grain mustard. Pair the mostarda with the charcuterie platter  for a bonus taste treat. Highly recommended.

The charcuterie platter ($16) stands out; the selection varies daily.
 Ours included  spicy cured meats- Italian sopressada salami, savory duck prosciutto,  Molinari salami, caper berries , black olives and little gherkins. Highly recommended.

Share a whole wheel of  gooeylicious baked brie topped with Bosch pears and red pepper jelly ($16).

 Add a sprinkle of kosher salt if you will.  Recommended.

Roasted veal marrow bones fat accented with with fleur de sel ($14) are a treat for those who appreciate that "fat is flavor."
 French onion soup ($9) is authentic, with a rich beef broth, tender onions and melted (Gruyere?) cheese over sliced baguette. Recommended.
 The Tuscan "Chef's Garden" panzanella  salad ($14) has heirloom tomatoes, olives, and herbs.
 Filling! You may ask for  more bread cubes to soak up every drop of the olive oil, vinegar and herb dressing.

There's also escargot in basil pistou cream, crispy frogs legs, mussels in coconut green curry and seared scallops with sweet corn puree. The oyster bar is well stocked.

My favorite entree is the fragrant tender snapper steamed en papillote ($36), served with garden fresh tomatoes, shallots, delicate herbs and red and yellow peppers. Highly recommended.
  The coq au vin ($26  would bring tears to a homesick  Frenchman's eyes. 
The chicken is expertly braised with red wine and mirepois, served with button mushrooms and roasted russet potatoes. Chef Pittman knocks this one out of the park. Highly recommended.

The bouillabaisse ($38 was the only "just good" dish, with fish, clams, mussels shrimp and potatoes. The mussels had tiny bodies within the shells- this will be addressed  with a quick change of supplier long before you try the dish.  

 Alas, the rouille was not spicy hot, perhaps taking a nod to chiliphobic American palates. Simple remedy-add some hot sauce to taste.

There's also braised Moroccan style lamb shank, a cowboy cut 18 oz. rib eye, lobster "Thermidor" and seared tuna. I'll try the duck breast l'orange and the rainbow trout next visit.

Save room for dessert!  I loved the ($9) huge portion of "floating islands"/ Pavlova creation, with a heaping bowl of  firm, rather than soft meringue and berries in a fruit  sauce, served separate from a ramekin of deliciously macerated berries in a citrus-creme Anglaise sauce.
 It's enough for three people.  Highly recommended.

The peach tarte ($9) is artfully plated- a gem to behold, and tastier on the fork.
Whether you come for  wine or draft beer at the bar, or settle in for a few courses, you'll discover why this is one of the top dining spots in SW Florida. 
  Dining competition?  Not!  Other finer dining spots I like in Lee County include Bonita Springs' Angelina's Ristorante,  Fort Myers'  Southern styled The Veranda,  and  European influenced Sasse's Restaurant.

Mereday's Brasserie, 23161 Village Shops Way, Coconut Point, Estero,  949-9466,

P.S. Chef Mereday hosts the Fox-4 weekly series, Back of the House, Saturdays at noon. Learn about other great dining spots from a chef's unique "back of the house" point of view.
       Watch an episode -copy and paste an "URL" line to your browser to see.

Episode two
Episode three
Episode four

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rumba Cuban Cafe in Naples

     Cuban food in Cuba hasn't tasted this good since the '50s. Cuban food in many of Miami's spots hasn't tasted this good, ever. What's the secret? Flavor, flavor, flavor. Garlic, lime, lemon and vinegar are the major flavor messengers.

It's on the intimate side inside, with perhaps  a grand total of 60-some seats. Choose your spot along the bar, in the dining room, or outdoors on cooler nights. The music is perfect for dancing (sorry, no dance floor) and the servers treat you as a long lost relative. What's not to love?

    It's the former site of Fernandez the Bull's Southern location. Fernandez has kept their Immokalee Road location at 1201 Piper Blvd, Suite 10- you'll get delicious Cuban food there, too. No surprise-I'm told the chef at Rumba was the chef at Fernandez, and the former Fernandez staff bought this location, changed the name and kicked up the flavor a bit!  

Pick a table and have a seat. Soon slices of piping-hot grilled Cuban bread arrive, crisp and butter soaked with pungent garlic.

Start with Cuban nachos ($11).  A quartet of tostones-thin sliced fried green plantains- are piled with marinated chicken, beef or pork, and covered with Rumba cheese sauce. 

This flavorful dish is an ample meal for most people. Recommended.

If it's lunchtime, order cafe Cubano, or a double Cubano for a sweet caffeine kick. There's also soft drinks like Materva, Jupina, Malta, Iron Beer, and  beers and wine.

For dinner, the huge portion of lecho asado ($16) is enough for two people. This slow roasted marinated pork is grilled and basted in mojito sauce- a garlic and lemon tart treat. 

 All entrees come with a choice of two sides-my favorites are the crisp tostones, sweet plantains (plantanos maduros), and the best is the fried yuca- a potato-like tuber that's boiled then fried to a pillowy light texture. 

Highly recommended.

Not a big eater? The thin palomilla steak ($13) is mojito-marinated, topped with grilled onions, and served with sides. 

This is a bargain price. Palomilla steak is quite thin, so it's almost always served well done.  Recommended.

My favorite treat is the shrimp al ajillo ($19).

 These plump shrimp are sautéd in a white wine, butter and garlic based sauce, then topped with capers. Cooked to tender perfection, the shrimp are to be savored/devoured within minutes of serving. Highly recommended.

Neighboring tables recommended the ropa vieja, masitas de purco, churrascos (beef or chicken), medianoche sandwich,  and croquetas de la casa.

Dessert?  I've only tried the bunuelos so far. 

This sweet petite delight is a figure-8  pastry that's hand rolled, fried, and topped with a special tropical sweet sauce. Add the scoop of vanilla ice cream for $1. It's worth it.  Next time I'll save room for the guava cheesecake, flan, tres leches or the Rumba jump start with a shot of Cafe cubano!

For a wallet friendly family meal, friends or date night (it can get noisy) , Rumba delivers delicious food in a casual setting. You may just become a regular, too.

1265 Airport-Pulling Road South, Naples, 659-2996,

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Caribbean Delight- The Island Seafood Restaurant - Cape Coral, Florida

 The Island Seafood Restaurant promises "The Best Mayan Riviera and Caribbean style Seafood in Cape Coral."  I'll happily extend that promise to cover all of Southwest Florida, and put it head to head with any Latin-Caribbean cuisines.

  Opened in late April, the restaurant sports al fresco dining, a full bar, and is very family friendly. 
  Freddie Garcia and  Jacqueline Vasquez are the owners. Chef Garcia painted the Caribbean underwater murals ( makes me want to SCUBA dive!), crafted the tropical bar, and did all the other decoration. 
He's so creative in various culinary and decorative arts. This is their second restaurant.

We started with appetizers. The quality of the food kept us ordering more and more.
Server Emilee is tops in her thoughtful suggestions warmth, and her personality made for  a wonderful evening.

Fresh fish ceviche ($12) is a large flavorful appetizer with perfectly citrus-marinated fish,  fresh corn, sweet peppers, diced tomato, onion, mixed garden greens and lime juice. 
This is a great deal for the fine quality and portion size.  Highly recommended.

Guacamole at $8 is enough for two-it's clearly prepared to order, served in a molcajete. 
Chef Freddie adds his delicious twists to a creamy traditional dish, including bits of sliced boiled egg with spices to chunks of Haas avocado and diced tomato.

The fresh mixed seafood cocktail appetizer ($12) is a meal in itself, attractively served in a large glass bowl with chips.
 Inside is an oceanic cornucopia with cooked Gulf shrimp, delicate octopus, oysters, scallops, fish, diced tomato and lime juice.  Highly recommended.

Salsa and chips are $1, how can one go wrong? The salsa is under-spiced, so one can add as much heat as desired from several hot sauces already on the table. The chips are ok, they are perhaps the only thing not freshly made on site. Very few places freshly bake/fry  corn tortilla chips anymore.   

The tropical pineapple ($16)  was the pinnacle of  our evening!  Chef Freddie
combines pineapple, tropical fruit, multicolored sweet peppers, ham and grilled chicken (or seafood) with an aromatic Mayan-Creole sauce.   
The generous portion is  served  in a half-pineapple, baked with a topping of mozzarella cheese, and served with crisp Cuban bread.  Highly recommended.

 Vegetarian molcajete ($12) is served hot and stayed hot for perhaps 15 minutes with the heat retained by the thick volcanic molcajete.
 The mix of  tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, carrots and Mayan-Creole sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese is a vegan delight.
Save room for the signature dessert ($6) - banana cheesecake wrapped in tortillas and fried, served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with luscious caramel. It's enough for three people to share. 
 Latin night is a must attend if one likes Latin American music with a Latin DJ and dancing. It's only offered Saturday nights from 10 pm -2 am.

1339 Cape Coral Parkway East, Cape Coral, 541-0722

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mereday's Fine Dining - The Tops in Naples, Florida

Chef/Owner Charles Mereday has earned success in Naples. In less than a year even, his first restaurant, Mereday's Fine Dining, was selected as Gulfshore Life Magazine's Best 2014 New Restaurant.
 His friendly, strong visage is on the cover of Gulfshore Life's July issue, too! The teaser asks, "Can this hot chef cut it here?" The answer, of course, is a resounding "Yes!"
His second restaurant, Alto-Live Jazz, Kitchen, has been just as successful for both its cuisine and its high quality of Jazz that entices people to linger long after dinner, especially when  Lew Del Gatto and Dan Miller are on stage. (And, there's no cover charge.)  As Cheryl7677 on Tripadvisor says "Alto is the ultimate Jazz Dining Experience in Southwest Florida! Our food was elegantly prepared and served while listening to an equally matched musical experience by expert jazz artists! The menu offers a variety of selections at prices for your budget! The music is top shelf!"
I stopped by for drinks with friends the other day, and we stayed at the bar to try some dishes before going to Alto. Before we knew it, hours had gone past unnoticed and we had experienced one of those magical evenings in Naples with superb food and company... and we never got to Alto!

The bar looks out on part of the Bay, with some diners arriving by boat. The other side of the restaurant also has a water view.  You can take the water taxi to the restaurant, and enjoy the ride and the view along the way. Then continue gazing on the water and passing boats from inside Mereday's  or while dining out on the waterfront terrace.  How many restaurants offer these beautiful perks?
We had a flight of  delicious wines through the evening...each stands on its own merits. I'd enjoy it even when not paired with food; the food only elevates it. There's also daily wine flights for $10 as well.  Cocktail? Try "Thyme after Thyme", "The Sazerac", and the "Green Goose".  Draft beers are on tap from Naples Beach Brewery; Pale Ale, Rye Stout and Weizen.

The menu changes daily.  We started with  pan-seared hog snapper, with  a lusciously creamy parsnip purée, truly fresh peas and micro greens. 
The combination of the crispy hot tender fish and parsnips in each bite is like ambrosia.  

 The 2013  Origine Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc was perfection. One of my dining partners paused between bites and sips to exclaim, "This is ridiculously delicious!"

Next was cheese-filled  squash blossoms atop blood oranges and beets, with edible nasturtium, and two different sauces.
The hot oozing cheese, crisply fried blossom and the cool sweetness of the blood orange slices is over the top. My other dining companion said " If I can eat here every day it would make me happy forever!"

We cleaned our plates in no time!

Pizza at Mereday's is also over the top,  with real Wagyu (Kobe) beef  and oodles of Maytag blue cheese,  caramelized onions, basil and  micro greens sprinkled on just before serving. 
The crust is crisp and hot. The savory combination of the blue cheese and seared rare beef is a must have.  

I went to the completely open kitchen to see the chefs working their magic.
Next was long flat pappardelle pasta with earthy fresh brown mushrooms, basil, cherry tomatoes and pancetta in a creamy sauce. 

 Pappardelle derives from the word to "gobble up, " and you'll do just that. Pasta never smelled as wonderful or tasted this good outside of Italy till now!

Do try one of the wines we enjoyed...the Domaine Nicolas Girard  "Menetou-Salon" 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire River Valley, the Domaine Jean Guiton Savigny Les Beaune, or the medium bodied La Tribu Bodegas el Angosto Mourvedre blend.  The sommelier has already figured a pairing for each new dish, and wines change with availability. These may come from small allotments-the sommelier has his buying connections.  The Yountville  Liparita "V Block" Cab goes fast!

Every afternoon in SW Florida it rains for a glorious half hour, and we got the catbird's seat view of the rain and clouds coming and going. 
Nice show. If only we thought to bring our dishes onto a nearby yacht's  covered deck, I could not imagine a meal being more enjoyable.

We stayed after the rain for the spicy spirited mussels in red Thai curry sauce with coconut milk, topped with cilantro. It was paired with my favorite Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.
 I like boldly spiced food-it's infrequently found in Naples. If you like some heat, this dish  will also be one of your favorites.

  The ambiance at Mereday's is one of simply casual elegance. The servers are amazing. Tell them your preferences, and they are ready to suggest a dish or wine that will suit you.
    Stay for dessert-the pastry chef crafts unique dishes- some with Caribbean origins, others with twists on classical desserts.  Currently, there is mocha pots de cream with flourless chocolate cake and white chocolate ice cream; sticky toffee pudding with brown butter ice cream, strawberry lemonade sorbet with fresh fruit, and artisan cheese selections.

1500 5th Ave S, Naples,  732-0784,