Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Veranda E at Happy Hour!

Happy Hour is a special time to have drinks and dine early. One of the prettiest spots in SW Florida is Veranda E, just off the West end of Naples' 5th Ave. South, with the "hidden" entrance on 3rd Street South. The pergola and the view of the pool can't be beat-that's why it's also been a popular wedding spot for years.

Since not many weddings take place at Happy Hour, AKA Social Hour, 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, this is your time to sample some delicious specials, as well as $7 wines by the glass. Dining after 6 pm can be romantic. The prices for entrees run from $38 to $84-don't gasp, this is Naples!

Many of the herbs come from the on-site garden. 

 My two favorites are the Veranda E Calamari  ($11), with a delicious kung pao-style sauce, mixed nuts,
Shaoxing wine, and optional red chilis for heat. Highly Recommended.

The  other is the Octopus ($21)  from the non-Happy Hour menu-it's THAT delicious! It's slow cooked, grilled, and served atop diced Asian pear with a touch of pineapple, yellow and red bell peppers, Macadamia nuts and mixed greens.
With the Romescu dipping sauce, this is Highly Recommended.

The Hot-N-Crunchy Grouper Sliders and House-made Potato Chips are a generous portion ($13), it's not local grouper because of the Feb. to April grouper fishing ban;  this is flown in from Brasil. This is not the Basa or Swai from Asia that's often posing as "grouper." the sauce is the same as the fish taco below.  
It may be  worth the splurge to order the regular dinner  Hot-n-Crunchy Grouper ($45) with  sautéd almonds, sesame Seeds, ginger, mango chutney sauce, and tropical rice. Bryan Sutton crafted this dish almost 20 years ago, and it's been a Naples staple wherever he has been.

Blackened Fish Taco with Cabbage Slaw and Avocado Cilantro Salsa is a great dish with an Asian fusion mango-chutney and sambal oelek aioli-type sauce listed for $8-on the check it was charged as $10... oh well.
This single taco is one of the better fish tacos around-the potion of fish is enough to make a second taco.

Brisket and Short Rib Burger with Blue Cheese and Veranda E Chips ($ 17) is a juicy good burger, I just wish the price was a little lower for Happy Hour. You do pay for the ambiance. After all, one may pay less and be in a crowded setting, or pay $17 and be in a tropical paradise-your choice. 
It has a very good fat:meat ration of 40:60 for optimal flavor.

Carne Asada Soft Tacos ($10) are gonna be popular, the beef is cooked medium-rare as I like, and it's a decent cut of beef. It
 comes with fresh guacamole, and some very, very good chips!

A happy hour plate, or plate and a shared half make a meal for most people. If you have room, try a dessert like the ginger-lemon ice cream ($10), tiramisu ($12, or a chocolate walnut brownie with ice cream and caramel sauce ($12).

My group of five had drinks and shared the specials for $120 plus tax and tip, we'd come back again in a heartbeat!

Curiously, the check has former Exec. Chef Bryan Sutton's name (who now heads The Rooster in Naples.)
 Now, it's hats off to  Executive  Chef Mounir Loqman, whose artfully- crafted cuisine I've dined on for almost ten years, while he was chef at his former restaurant-USS Nemo.

What's the competition? With this lovely tropical setting, perhaps the Garden of Eden!
Pricing? While they won't take business away from 5th Ave. South and Mercato places that offer almost 50% off apps at happy hour, the novelty and beauty of the setting and the quality of the food is the draw.

Veranda E at Hotel Escalante
 290 5th Ave South,
Naples, FL 34102.

(239) 659-3466

Monday, January 22, 2018

Namba Nails it in Naples!

Namba Ramen and Sushi could be named  "Osaka" or "Heaven" and folks would still arrive in droves.  It's the kind of place you want kept secret, that special  place you go to share comfort food with special friends and family. Namba is cozy, with 30 seats and a simple, uncluttered decor.

Right off, you notice the staff is knowledgeable, friendly, and works well together. That's uncommon  in a place that's only been open barely a couple weeks. The menu is clearly written, the dishes are beautifully presented.  
Because of the large numbers of people coming to 30 seat Namba during the first two opening weeks, to maintain top quality, server efficiency and decrease wait times, Chef Koko wisely decided to serve,  for the next couple weeks, a menu with some fewer selections, still keeping the most requested items.  That is a good thing-on my Sunday visit from 6 pm to 8 pm, while all table  were full, tables turned over, and there were no lines waiting to be seated. As Namba becomes more popular just by word of mouth, I predict some 7 pm short lines will be seen some nights in Season, so consider arriving by 6 pm or after 8:30 pm when Namba will be less filled!

If you like top quality ramen, then you've come to THE right place. Chef Koko is meticulous about freshness, be it noodles, sushi, pork, duck or edamame.  The prices of Chef Koko's dishes  are VERY reasonable for the portion size and quality. Same goes for beverage prices. Start with a hot sake, hot green tea, organic tea, cold beer, or glass or bottle of wine. I like the Gruner Veltliner and the Pinot Grigio.
Grilled Shiitake Mushrooms 
I like to try unusual offerings, and the Grilled Shiitake Mushrooms ($8) brushed with grapeseed oil, then grilled and tossed in a light wafu Japanese-style seasoned butter 'n topped with red shiso sauce can't be beat for its rich, umami earthy flavors!

 I highly recommend my favorite- the Hokkaido Ramen, $13 for a 10 ounce bowl of flavorful umami-rich broth that cooks for 17 hours. The dish is brimming over with  the house-made noodles, king crab leg, calamari, shrimp, corn kernels, scallions and spicy bean sprouts. It's filling and one of the ramens that you'll have! 
Whole tiger Prawn 
The STAR of my evening is the Whole tiger Prawn ($24), that's got enough tender-sweet meat to match a 1.5 lb lobster's, and the prawn's flavor and texture  are in between that of a prawn and a lobster. The meat is cubed, grilled, then tossed in Asian citrus butter. It's served in the shell, with a side of finely shredded carrots, daikon and micro-cilantro, all topped with a light Asian vinaigrette. Highly recommended!
Beef Hayashi Ramen
My companions and I shared the Beef Hayashi Ramen bowl ($11) with ample creamy-rich  tonkatsu broth,  thin- sliced Black Angus sirloin  sautéed in shoyu sauce with minced garlic, ginger, Asian pear, with a seasoned  Jidori half egg and spicy bean sprouts, all atop house-made noodles. The dish  has a luscious mouth feel!
 It takes a masterful chef and many hours to make the tonkotsu broth's light, creamy color and consistency. The bowl size can be filling for a lighter eater.  

The Hakata Classic Ramen ($10) is a tonkotsu -base broth with tender marinated pork chashu slices,  seasoned Jidori egg half, red ginger, wood ear mushrooms, nori, bamboo shoots, Japanese pickled plum, and spicy bean sprouts. 
Hakata Classic Ramen
Each of the ramen bowls has its unique flavors and textures, order a few different bowls, extra spoons and bowls for sharing, and enjoy comparing and contrasting the flavors! For an extra $1, get another half Jidori egg...I would! Other toppings to add to your ramen bowls include smoked applewood Duck chasu Slices ($2), sautéed Wood Ear Mushrooms ($1), or Fried Red Onions ($1).

 I love the Grilled Octopus ($13) that's slow braised for five 5 hrs, lightly grilled to have just a touch of char, then tossed with a rich Japanese Worcestershire-style sauce. Slice, then dip the octopus into the charcoal smoke-infused Asian citrus aioli on side-that's a treat!
Grilled Octopus
 Savor the  grilled cherry tomatoes as you "pop" them in your mouth, appreciate the tart sweetness of the pickled beets, 
Rock Shrimp
Get a side of Rock Shrimp Tempura ($11) with delicate sweet shrimp in a thin, crisp batter, tossed in seasoned lemon butter, topped with micro Asian mix, then  then accent them with a dip in the tiny saucer of  house-made aioli  with lime, and a touch of chili and cilantro. Hmmm, I wonder what it could be like to dip them in a Thai sweet chili sauce as well?
Karai Edamame
The Karai Edamame ($5/6)is a medium spicy treat-it's pure finger food, with steamed soybeans dusted with salt/smoked soy sauce,garlic, ginger, chili, and topped with a micro Asian mix.  

There are half a dozen vegan items, too, like Namba House Salad, Vegan Ramen, Grilled Shishito peppers, Grilled Asparagus, Karai Edamame, and other small plates.

Finish with a cup of the made in-house Green Tea Brulee ($6), with steamed egg custard infused with green tea, and topped with a caramelized brown sugar crust.

There will be more to follow as I spend another visit at Namba Ramen & Sushi!

8847 Tamiami Trail North, (239) 592-4992

Hours Mon.-Thu: 11:30 am - 10 pm, Fri-Sat:11:30 am-10:30 pm, Sunday 5 pm - 9:30 pm. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lee Health's 4th Annual Vegetarian Chef Challenge Cook Off

Chef Cathy Berner and Chef Jack Brown
In recognition of National Vegetarian Awareness Month this month, Lee Health hosted its fourth annual Vegetarian Chef Challenge at its four acute care locations.  Each of the four locations showcased one of their chef’s as they created a culinary dish using ONLY plant based ingredients. The chefs traveled to all four locations the week of October 16th.   Cafeteria patrons voted for their favorite dish. The top 2 chefs, Chef Cathy Berner, and Chef Jack Brown, competed in the grand champion cook off held at Health Park Medical Center at 1 pm on Wednesday November 1st. Chef Brown was defending his  Championship crown for the last four years, so Chef Berner was truly up against a well seasoned chef!

The competition started with passed peanut butter and coconut balls, which surely whet the appetite!

Chefs had only 20 minutes to prepare their entries, then judges and the audience got to taste their dishes.

Chef Cathy Berner presented a classic diner dinner meal with a vegan twist

. She crafted a vegan burger with a delicious vegan tofu, tempeh, cremini mushrooms, beet, almonds, panko bread crumbs and vegan "Parmesan cheese" burger patty, topped with crispy roasted carrot "bacon" and  sautéed onion rings on a toasted bun. A side of sautéed; carrot  fries, with a a chipotle mayo dip's heat accented the burger.
   A refreshingly cold vanilla vegan milkshake, using a mix of So Delicious brand coconut milk and  Silk vanilla almond milk, topped with vegan ice cream, countered the chipotle mayo's warmth.

Chef Jack Brown crafted an Italian duo of "chicken Parmesan" and "chicken" marsala using vegan cheese and panko breaded green jackfruit, which did a quite nice substitution for chicken!

 It pulls apart much like chicken breast!
These "proteins" were accompanied by mashed parsnip potatoes with a dash of black truffle oil, and fresh steamed mushrooms,  baby carrots, purple cauliflower and  zucchini, with a dash of lemon juice.

Either dish could have been a signature dish at any restaurant! The competition was very close, however Chef Brown won by a hair, according to the panel of four judges. (I was one!)

 The two final contestants (of four original ones) took home prizes.

This event clearly raised awareness about the delicious flavors and benefits of using ONLY plant-based foods in a healthy approach to dining and to living. Plant-based diets have  improved chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and COPD. Eating this way helps one to become leaner and avoid or lessen use of processed foods.

P.S. Health Park Medical Center's atrium lobby is as beautiful as that of many fine hotels!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sasse's Restaurant's Wild Game Wine Dinner...and More Dinners to Follow!

Executive Chef and Owner Josef Zimmermann of Sasse's Restaurant  in Fort Myers started off Sasse's wine dinners on October 26, with this well-attended wild game dinner-a true sensual delight one might find in Germany or Denmark. Ah, a decision to be made. Two roads diverged in the wood  on this; dine without wine for $65, or dine with five different wines for $85. I chose the latter path and that made all the difference. A properly paired wine greatly enhances a dish's flavors.

Chef Josef Zimmerman is, hands down, one of THE top handful of chefs in Southwest Florida. I've had a variety of his dishes before, and I'll have quite a few different creations  more times in the future, be it lunch, dinner or a wine dinner.  Word of mouth fills Sasse's seats, off Season or in Season. The restaurant's setting is warmly cozy in size and ambiance. Seating is thus limited, so reservations are encouraged.

Sasse's cuisine leans toward Northern Italian and Mediterranean influences, With the menu changing weekly-you won't be  bored!  Chef Josef  combines his creativity with old school training, and selects the best local and US sourced foods for his culinary creations. The servers are professional, friendly, and second to none in their fine quality of service.  

This Fall themed game dinner started with  Essence of Creamy Wild Game Soup "Hubertus." 

This alone could have been my "happy meal" for the evening-it was that richly flavorful! Jalapeno-seasoned wild boar sausage in a sour cream and lingonberry sauce is the written description- that barely hints of the rich, earthy concentrated flavors, or the cool dollop of creme fraiche.  Tellingly, fellow diners used their baguette bread to sop up every morsel.

From the forest came the Wild Boar Cingale, a Tuscan specialty, with the ragout served over pappardelle paste, and paired with Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico Reserve. 
Wild Boar Cingale

 The tender boar was not "gamey"-this is a function of both getting a younger boar, and knowing how to spice and slow cook it. Some less experienced  chefs may overcook game meats.

From the sky descended  sliced Pheasant Breast with Onion,Apple wood-smoked Bacon and Tender White Grapes. 
Pheasant Breast with Onion,Apple wood-smoked Bacon 
The tartness of the Champagne sauerkraut, and pumpkin gnocchi pangrattato  (with Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs) put this over the top! Paired with a 2015 Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Kabinett, the sweet Riesling masterfully matched the sweetness of the white grapes, deliciously accenting the sliced pheasant's delicate flavor.

The pasture brought forth a Duet of Fallow Venison- Noisette and Loin. 
Duet of Fallow Venison- Noisette and Loin

This savory dish had a hint of fruitiness with the juniper berry sauce brightened with lingonberries, house-made German spaetzle, and a red wine-poached Williams pear. The Poppy 2013 Cab paired nicely with the fork-tender venison in both the noisette medallion and the longer loin presentations.

The five course meal finished on a sweetly earthy note with the Fall-inspired Pumpkin Crème Brûlée.
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Chef Josef Zimmermann (on right)
Chef Josef  deftly torches each ramekin's sugary top to a glassy  firm finish before serving. Paired with a good glass of hot coffee, it had just  enough pumpkin flavor with a hint of raisins within the delectable custard. This was then topped with a tiny "pumpkin cake" He sparing incorporated  the oft-overused pumpkin "spices"so as to not overwhelm other flavors.

Not a wine drinker? Have a Krombacher wheat beer with your meal, or a glass of black coffee with dessert. After partaking of this wild game dinner's dishes from forest, sky and pasture in Sasse's warm setting with chilly winds outside, it brought back frosty memories... of stopping by Vermont's woods on a snowy eve. You get a true bonus-to savor Chef Josef's culinary creations through all four seasons, while being a short drive from Florida Beaches!

Check out Sasse's  schedule for upcoming monthly multi-course dinners-they are well worth your time and wallet. Lunch and dinner are served Tuesday-Friday from 11:00 a.m., to 8:30 p.m.. Dinner is served 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Sasse's is closed Sunday and Monday.

Sasse's Restaurant, 3651 Evans Ave, Fort Myers, Phone: (239) 278-5544,

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sea Salt and Bleu Provence Raise Funds for Red Cross Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief

Sea Salt's Chef Fabrizio Aielli, Bleu Provence's Lysielle Cariot, and the Sea Salt staff  collaborated on crafting a five course benefit dinner menu that raised  thousands of dollars for The American Red Cross's Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief Fund.

Over one hundred patrons supported the sold out culinary event, as restaurant personnel  gave of their time and talent  to help those suffering from the effects of Hurricane Irma. Jill Palmer, Executive Director of Florida's Southern Gulf Chapter of the American Red Cross, was the special guest.
 Foie Gras Terrine, with Toasted Brioche
The first course was Chef Cariot's delectable  foie gras terrine, with toasted brioche and richly caramelized plums, served with a glass of Meyer-Fonne Edelzwicker Alsace 2015. Some could have made a whole meal out of this dish!
Uovo Stuffed Pasta
Second course was my favorite; Chef Aielli's seductively simple appearing uovo stuffed pasta with black truffle and ricotta, paired with Massolino Barolo, Piemonte 2012. Sometimes this ravioli-lke pasta contains a whole egg yolk!  It's an art to making a fine ravioli (or simple roasted chicken for that matter.) Chef Aielli's creations never fail to amaze me!
Chef Cariot's Loup de Mer Pastilla 

Next, was the creative loup de mer pastilla by Chef Cariot, with a brick-shaped  light cover encasing flavorful mixed vegetables and sea bass, and accented by a red pepper coulis.
Chef Aielli's Wagyu Beef Loin
Chef Aielli's 9-hour Masami Wagyu beef strip loin hit the mark, cooked at 128 degrees with bordelaise sauce, bone marrow panzanella (Tuscan-style bread) salad, and saba (reduced grape must). What a treat!
Chef Cariot's Tarte Tatin ,with Chef Aielli's Italian Saffron Gelato
The dessert of desserts was Chef Cariot's classic French apple tart (tarte Tatin), paired with a scoop of Sea Salt's  Italian saffron Gelato. This saved me a trip to France for this delicacy...or or may have inspired others to make reservations for a dinner-at both restaurants. BTW, Have you ever seen Paris,while  covered in snow? Venice in a morning fog? These are experiences to savor, just like the food from Sea Salt and from Bleu Provence.

Sea Salt's Chef Fabrizio Aielli ,Ingrid Aielli, and Corporate Chef Jason Goddard

Co-Owner of Bleu Provence Jacques Cariot; Co-Owners of Seas Salt -Ingrid Aielli and Chef Fabrizio Aielli

Executive Chef, Co-Owner of Bleu Provence- Lysielle Cariot

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