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
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

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

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!