Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Frosé (Frozen Rosé ), with Appetizers at The French Brasserie Rustique in Naples.

 Frosé , or Frozen Rosé is the bright pink drink for Spring and Summer, and it’s off to a great start at The French Brasserie Rustique in Naples.  It’s refreshing to sip on a beautiful Spring day!

 Did you know that it takes more than just any Rosé to come out right?  Frosé makers may add a touch of citrus to the mix, however Chef Vincenzo Betulia adds his special twist to the Frosé mix at The French, just as he makes everything -from scratch, natch!

Visit , dine indoors or outside, and have  your "Frosé" with  a couple of these great appetizers at one of my favorite Naples Restaurants.

Steak tartare with hand -cut beef eye round, cornichons, egg yolk and market greens ($17). If you’ve never had steak tartare, then this should be the spot to have your first taste!

Deviled Eggs with American caviar, Dijon mustard, and espelette pepper.  An American tradition gets a French touch!

Lobster Rolls with poached lobster claw, tarragon aioli, and shallot. ($14) I prefer this lobster roll and its light dressing to the traditional Maine lobster rolls with mere mayo or butter. Try it and see!

Fried Cauliflower with charred scallion aioli and topped with  Pecorino Sardo grated cheese  ($14).  This is a surprisingly tasty and filling appetizer.

The French is a popular magnet for people to enjoy delicious cuisine in an upscale casual setting.

365 5th Ave S, Naples, FL,    (239) 315-4019  thefrenchnaples.com

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Joseph Phelps Vineyards Wines at the Bevy Brunch

Joseph Phelps Vineyard  Insignia wine is one of the iconic wines of not just Napa Valley, but of the entire USA. It’s been awarded the perfect 100% rating by wine maven Robert Parker for not just one, but for several vintage years. The Phelps  Vineyards produce other top wines. When I learned of this tasting opportunity for not only  the Insignia $225-275/bottle wine with a five-course  Bevy brunch, but  also to taste four other Joseph Phelps wines; the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Vineyards Freestone 2016 Chardonnay, Freestone Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir, and  2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, for $75,  I (and about 20 others) signed up. Disclosure:  I was offered the opportunity to be comped because I am a food writer/blogger etc.. My independent thoughts follow, as always.I tip $20, cash. Wine tasting dinners often go for $125-$200 in Naples. Having a four to five course meal paired with wines is a great brunch value for a wine lover at $75, knowing that easily $75 of  top quality wines would be paired with brunch dishes.

Wine maven Thomas Columbus guided us through the tasting of the iconic Phelps  white and red wines.

We started with Maine Lobster & Brie Omelette with garlic aioli, melted brie, and grilled tomato.
 The Joseph Phelps Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc (St. Helena, Napa Valley, California) was superb for  its crispness and light fruit hints-I and my tablemates could have finished a bottle of this alone, with the next few courses.  The tiny omelette’s delicate lobster and Brie were almost an afterthought as we savored the wine.

Chicken & Belgian Waffles with Pepper Pickles came next, with Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay from Sonoma.
The wine is refreshing, with a touch of oak.  The tender fried chicken is graced with a rich, dark crisp crust. I wouldn’t have minded a large dollop of Mike’s Hot Honey for dipping-mercifully, it’s not that hot, chili-wise.

Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir was paired with Filet & Poached Eggs topped with citrus béarnaise and microgreens.
Pinot is my low tannin “go-to” wine for fish, beef or other savories, and this Sonoma Pinot’s berry notes did not disappoint! The medium rare filet mignon and nicely poached eggs are a welcome brunch riff on the traditional eggs Benedict’s Hollandaise sauce and bacon.

Next was  Barbacoa Omelette filled with avocado, and topped with smoked gouda cheese.
It held its own with the delicious Joseph Phelps Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon’s full body and measured tannins.  Of the five courses, this is the only one I would have tweaked- with a dash of hot sauce. Your mileage may vary. At this point, I was quite happy with the wines and the brunch pairings. The Chef (perhaps  Executive Chef Christopher Renninghoff?) had wisely portioned out the size of the courses and wines to allow the diners to enjoy their meal, without feeling “too full, too soon.”

The Grand Finale did not disappoint-this legendary wine was juicy “carrot” that enticed me to come to The Bevy’s brunch.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards 2015 Insignia is one of the best wines I’ve ever had the good fortune to taste. Savor is the better word.  We sipped and treasured each mouthful. Then we sipped with the Country Fried Ribeye topped with a fried egg, accompanied by a flavorful chorizo sausage gravy and potato hash.
Insignia is a wine that those who “don’t know one wine from another” could recognize as a luscious treat. On the Robert Parker Wine Advocate scale of 100, this has already rated 98 points. In a few years, that rating may ascend to a perfect 100.

To sum up, it’s uncommon in Naples to find wine pairing dinners at the $75 price point for many reasons. For those not familiar with Naples’ finer restaurant pricing in Season; $75 may buy an app, main, and dessert with one glass of wine.

  It’s a treat to have a wine pairing brunch instead at this price point. It left me and my dining companions with an unforgettable, magical afternoon of five nicely matched courses, topped with one of the world’s best red wines.  Highly Recommended.

 Check out The Bevy's creative mixed drinks, and their lunch and dinner fare. My faves are snapper amandine, and the pork tomahawk. Ask for the Show Me the Monkey cocktail!

The Bevy, 360 12th Ave S, Naples, FL

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Indo-Lebanese Vegan Fest by Chefs Asif & Rachid, hosted by SWFL Veg Fest

On June 3, 2018, over 200 people came to the Indo-Lebanese VEGAN Fest by Chefs Asif & Rachid, hosted by SWFL Veg Fest at 21 Spices restaurant. The meal was 100% vegan, 100% organic, and no added oil. The delicious Indian and Lebanese food buffet, with luscious desserts was $19.99, with $2 going to aPlantBasedDiet.org.
Here's some of the dishes from 21 Spices and Kareem's Lebanese Kitchen!

SWFL Veg Fest shall have a HUGE gathering February 24, 2019 at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs, FL. There may be over 15,000 people at this third annual event! There are other events year-round at different cities-check it out at http://www.swflvegfest.org/

Baba Ganush -eggplant, parsley, lemon juice, salt , tahini -sesame seeds

Hummus-garbanzo beans, lemon juice, garlic, water, salt

Fattuch Salad-lettuce, vegetables, molasses, salt, pomegranate

Aloo Gobi-potatoes, cauliflower, tomato juice, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, red chili powder

Yellow Dal- yellow lentil, cumin seeds, curry leaves, salt

Okra Masala-okra, tamarind, onion, tomatoes, curry powder, cinnamon, fennel seeds

Basmati rice

Naan-flour, yeast, water, salt

Tabouli-parsley, lemon juice, salt, bulgur wheat

Baklava-crisp and wonderfully sweet!

Rice Pudding- rice, coconut milk, sugar, cardomon powder, rose water

Fresh fruit salad


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Mauritson Wine Dinner at Rumrunners in Cape Coral

Clay Mauritson, Vintner
Ralph, Jeff, and Todd
     Until owners/chefs Ralph Centalonza III, Jeff Gately and Todd Johnson open Rumrunners South in Naples, I'm happy to join those who appreciate the best, and continue to drive 1.5 hours from Naples up to Rumrunners in Cape Coral.

This terrific trio paired with Clay Mauritson of the noted Mauritson Wines from Heladsburg, CA to craft a wonderful 5 course Mauritson Wine Dinner on April 4, 2018.

First course was Seared Lemongrass-scallion Crusted Red Snapper, ginger-pineapple beurre blanc, and caramelized plantain, paired with an exquisite wine - 2014 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc.
I bought a bottle to take home, it was that good!

2nd Course was my favorite duck- Crispy Jurgielewicz Duck Breast served with sweet potato cannelloni filled with confit, ricotta and Shiitake mushrooms, finished with cherry jus, accompanied by the  2014 Dry Creek Zinfandel. 
Duck Breast
 3rd Course was the oh- so-tender slow-roasted Niman Ranch Porchetta pork belly rolled with loin, ground shoulder and Iberico cured ham, with parsnip puree & fig, joined with the  2014 Rockpile Jack's Cabin Zinfandel.
The 4th Course featured what I think is the best cut of beef, the Spinalis cap of the Ribeye. This Sous Vide Black Angus Ribeye "Cap"came with charred farmers carrots and a rich root beer gastrique. The  2012 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvigon was later purchased by a few people, it was that great!
Dry- Aged Spinalis portion of the Ribeye
The pairings were spot on, as was pacing of the courses. We saved room for the 5th course; Chocolate Mousse with banana caramel sauce, a superb passion fruit curd, garnished with brûléed bananas and a petit macaron. 

The waterfront setting, five excellent courses, and four wonderful wines was nicely priced at $100 plus tax and tip.  As i met other diners, I learned that a half dozen or so diners drove the 1.5 hour trek from Naples to join with perhaps 60 other diners for this Wine Dinner. All left very, very happy!

Rumrunners, 5848 Cape Harbour Drive, Cape Coral,  

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