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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Patanegra, St. Petersburg, FL

If Barcelona laid an egg in downtown St. Pete, the hatchling would be Patanegra.  Sleek and urban-chic, if I squinted a little I could've almost imagined that I was stepping off of La Rambla and into one of the ubiquitous tapas bars I fell in love with on my visit to said city 10 years ago.
















The restaurant has only been open for about six weeks and they are (admittedly) still working out little kinks and details, but one would be hard-pressed to realize that fact if they weren't already aware.  Service was caring and attentive on my recent visit and management was highly visible, roaming the house to ensure that every patron was satisfied...and this one certainly was.

It was almost impossible for my party of four to hone in on a reasonable selection from the tantalizing array of tapas, so of course we over-ordered.  Empanadas have been my holy grail ever since I made it my mission to snort them 3-5 times daily when I discovered truly great ones on a trip to to Argentina, and Patanegra did not disappoint.  We tried the lump crab and ropa vieja varieties, both of which were meaty, encased in warm, flaky crusts and served with a nice selection of dipping sauces.
















Gambas Pil Pil (shrimp marinated with garlic, paprika and olive oil) were tender, subtly flavored  and delish.
















Since I adore anything that shows up in an individual little fryer basket, the Croquetas had me at "hello". I loved biting through their tooth-shatteringly crunchy crust and savoring the tender chicken and Serrano ham filling within.  Dayum!
















Picquillos Rellenos are clearly the brainchild of Satan himself.  These sweet, mild peppers crammed with Serrano ham, chorizo, mushrooms and cheese, topped with piquillo aioli and Manchego, were obviously the temptation of Eve.  Really...who sacrifices anything for a stupid apple?
















A couple of entrees were also sampled in addition to the tapas overload.  Spanish Paprika and Coffee-Rubbed Pork Belly was quite good and generously portioned (I only got a small bite as its "owner" was a little stingy with his treasure).















Pato Asado (pan roasted duck with purple potato mash and habanero barbeque sauce), while mostly pleasing, fell a tad short.  Neither due to taste or presentation, but more for lack of an anticipated exterior "crisp" factor.  That said, I'd rather have moist duck (which this was) than overcooked duck and I was left with a favorable impression overall of the Pato Asado.  A rather unique duck dish, the spicy sauce and the purple mash that came with it were interesting and tasty accompaniments.
















While both sweet finishes we wound down with were wonderful...Cuatro Leches (yes, we're talking "FOUR milks" and the ridiculously kicked-up product that results from piping dulce de leche atop tres leches cake),...















...was slightly trumped by the creamy Coconut Panne Cotta with banana flambe and (yes) more dulce de leche (which should pretty much be slathered on everything as far as I'm concerned). Desserts really don't get much better than this
















Despite being a little nitpicky about my duck skin (hey...that's what I do), I really like Patanegra.  It's just another example of why Pinellas County trumps Hillsborough for best overall food culture. There you go...I'm a dual-county resident and I just said that.


Patanegra on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Riverhouse Reef & Grill, Palmetto, FL

Riverhouse Reef & Grill is an attractive, dog-friendly (outdoors) venue with better-than-average, reasonably priced typical Florida fare.  The wide al fresco dining deck is a nicely-shaded oasis for catching a river breeze and watching the yachts go by.  An easy shot down I-75, it's a pleasing alternative for those in Southeast Hillsborough county seeking a waterfront dining destination.

Our server was sweet and helpful, if not terribly attentive...but our party of four was in no particular hurry to tear ourselves from the chill vibe of the place on a Sunday afternoon, so her pace suited us perfectly.  The menu runs the gamut from burgers, sandwiches and salads to fresh seafood entrees, island ribs and steaks, but everyone seemed to be in a pescatarian state of mind on our visit.

UD's seared Ahi Tuna Tacos were glistening and fresh-tasting, and served with shredded lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo and cilantro lime aioli.  Slaw was deemed crunchy and delightful with a vinegar-based dressing.
















It's tough for me not to choose grouper when it's available (which it was), but I was tempted by the $10 Corona Beach Fish Sandwich (beer-battered Atlantic whitefish topped with slaw and remoulade sauce) which did not disappoint.  The fish portion was huge, sweet, lightly breaded and fried to perfection.  Served on a good bun, the slaw topper was a nice addition.  The sandwich came with a choice of one side, and the french fries, while likely of the bagged variety, were a quality product and served hot and crispy.
















My pal, Candy, zeroed in on the Kickin' Shrimp Tacos, made in the same style as the Ahi Tuna Tacos only with fried shrimp prepared in a Bonefish-esque "Bang Bang Shrimp" application that boasted a nice surge of heat on the back end.
















Our other dining companion took a somewhat healthier route with Butterfish (Alaskan Black Cod marinated in sweetened rice wine and sake, then broiled until caramelized and topped with tropical salsa).  The fish did indeed have the texture of butter and was served with a side of steamed veggies and a pink, creamy cloud of old-school Fruit Ambrosia (not pictured) which the boyz practically fought over for an additional $2.50.














Remember this awesome stuff?  Photo credit goes to www.michellestastycreations.com.














Both beautiful and affordable, Riverhouse Reef & Grill is a worthy destination that offers much to satisfy a wide variety of palates.  While there's nothing cutting-edge going on the kitchen, food is well-prepared and tasty, portions are generous and prices won't break the bank.

http://www.riverhousereefandgrill.com/

Riverhouse Reef & Grill on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Supper, Philadelphia, PA

Supper has been on my wishlist for quite some time, ever since first seeing it featured on the television shows "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" and "Unique Sweets".  Finally got a chance to try it tonight as UD and I are in Philly visiting family.  While it wasn't a dining disaster, it failed to meet expectations on so many levels that it definitely falls into the "disappointing" category.

The restaurant is small and comfortable with an open kitchen and plate glass windows overlooking South Street. Waitstaff, however, are too inexperienced for the price structure of the menu, not knowledgeable of its offerings, scattered and generally unenthusiastic as they basically phone in their abysmal level of "service".   

We started with bread service (listed at the bottom of the menu as "available upon request", which I found a bit odd as it was easy to miss and there was no verbal offer of said service). Do you want me to have the bread, or not? With that mini-rant out of the way, the tall, yeasty rolls couldn't have been more perfect unless they'd been warm and the accompanying sweet potato butter was light and delightful.


UD and I immediately ordered a bottle of sparkling wine (dry and lovely Domaine Barmes Buecher), which was deposited on our table at room temperature.  A chiller with ice was dispensed only after we complained and requested one, which quickly overflowed onto the table as the warm bottle melted the ice at warp speed.  When our server finally ambled back our our way, our table was a veritable pool, at which time the chiller was replaced with fresh ice and the retention pond on the table robotically mopped up.

Carrot and Orange Soup with cardamom marshmallow, ginger and mint was silken, candylike decadence and presented in a huge troth   So good!
















We were intrigued by the offering of Spring Crab Succotash (a concoction of lump crab meat with corn kernels, edamame, bonito flake, Old Bay seasoning).  I inquired about the application and was told that it was a warm spread that came with Ritz Crackers.  I was IN! This stuff was off the chain...nutty, spicy and crustacean morsel-laden,  Dispensed sans the Ritz, we nibbled on it patiently while we waited for our wayward server to follow his trail of breadcrumbs back to us so we could issue an Amber Alert for the crackers.  At long last, a back-up contingency teen young adult waitperson drifted by to lackadaisically inquire as to our satisfaction. UD:  "This crab succotash is quite tasty, but I believe crackers were supposed to come with?"  Displaced-And-Obviously-Confused-Should-Be-A-TGIF-Server: "Were they?  Let me go check with the kitchen.".  As we continued to wait, a third individual breezed by to see how things were going. Again, we asked for crackers. She disappeared just as TGIF returned with (count 'em) SIX Ritz crackers. We ate the six crackers with the dish and, with copious amounts of the succotash remaining, had to ask for more crackers from our Original Server (OS)  who was seemingly shocked that the dish had been delivered without crackers in the first place. We then received a generous portion of Five. More. Crackers. OS explained the mix-up by revealing that this was a new menu item and that (understandably) there was some kitchen confusion. WTH?  It's a $17 APPETIZER!  Get your shiznit together because this clusterfluck could've been remarkable but only succeeded in pissing me off by not only forcing me to beg for crackers, but also to eat most of the spread without them.














Entree time.  UD's Supper Burger (10 ounces of custom blended dry aged beef with crisp country ham, sharp cheddar, caramelized onions, tomato, house pickles on a freshly baked bun) was undeniably one of the best burgers ever created, although the accompanying salt and vinegar fries with their trio of dipping sauces were limp, greasy and uninspiring.
















Finally, I ordered Duck & Waffles (crispy duck confit with pecan sage waffles and maple bourbon jus).  Only the duck confit failed in this dish..but it was an epic fail.  The duck was withered and overcooked to a superlative degree...far beyond "crispy" and bordering on "jerky" in texture.  Left virtually untouched on my plate, I calmly provided the reason when OS came to clear the plates and inquired.  He returned shortly and offered a complimentary dessert  as compensation for this inedible dish, which I politely refused.  Shortly thereafter, a managerial/owner type person stopped by with an air of faux concern, again offering a free dessert. Umm....No.  I'm sure I could've pushed the issue and forced the removal of this $26 entree from our bill, but I preferred let the situation play out for journalistic purposes. 
















At  the end of the day, lack of managerial concern coupled with unforgivably sloppy service far overshadowed the mostly redeeming qualities of the cuisine.  Supper had the potential to be a positive dining experience, but ultimately just left me feeling aggravated.

Supper on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, Brandon, FL

I don’t always cook, but when I do, I trash the kitchen like a drunken rock star. "Which is why I generally prefer to leave food preparation to the professionals. Still, it’s nice to have a few culinary tricks up your sleeve when attempting to reel in a mate, woo your in-laws or upstage a frenemy.  Unfortunately, when your skills are limited, they tend to go into heavy rotation and soon an embarrassing conclusion is drawn by all:  you’re just a one-trick pony.
Sure, you could drag out your dusty cookbooks, drop a Benjamin or two at the grocery store and start test-driving recipes …but I know of a more fun way to expand your repertoire (and here’s the best part — there’s NO cleanup!).
Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium offers an astonishing curriculum of mini cooking classes, ranging from cake decorating, fresh pasta making and a French macaron workshop (all hands-on) to cooking demonstrations that walk you through the preparation of a multi-course dinner menu, with themes such as “Steakhouse Cuisine,” “Sensational Duck” and “A Taste of Fat Tuesday.”
Added plus:  Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are offered while you observe, and all participants are served the beautifully plated finished products to enjoy in the bistro-like setting.  It’s like sitting at an open kitchen bar in a fine restaurant watching your meal being prepared.  I wish college had been this fun (who knows what level of greatness I could have achieved had there only been a bottle of wine on my desk to keep me focused).

The scene:







My most recent "lesson" was the complete demonstration of a "Steakhouse Cuisine"themed dinner revolving around large portions of heraty, filling heartland food with a focus on meat and potatoes.  Yes, please!

First up, a crispy iceberg lettuce wedge drizzled in tangy, freshly made roasted tomato dressing and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds.  Yes, cheese crumbles are always appreciated, but I enjoyed this variation on a steak house classic and the seeds provided welcome, nutty textural contrast.







Next, our guest chef demonstrated how to make restaurant-quality twice-baked potatoes using a ricer; create a perfect, evenly-cooked tenderloin of beef in the oven (Tip: tie the smaller ends underneath the roast and bake at a low temp); and oven-roast asparagus with lemon zest, which provides a hint of hollandaise flavor without the calories.  The finished products were all sheer perfection, especially the pink and juicy, evenly cooked slices of boeuf with their crème fraîche based dollop of zesty horseradish sauce. Portions were massive to begin with, but second helpings of both tenderloin and potatoes were offered to anyone with the stomach space to shoehorn them down.


Dessert proved to be the surprise star of the evening for both UD and myself.  Underdog has a deep and abiding loathing for all things "coffee", while I don't care much for chocolate...and especially don't care for those ubiquitous "chocolate lava" cakes one sees on chain resto menus all over town.  The molten espresso and sea-salt chocolate cakes we observed being prepared were astonishingly subtle in flavor (including being light on espresso) and grown-up in taste (this is not Chili's Chocolate Lava Cake).  Made with a combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolates, the finished products were crowned with silky chocolate ganache, toasted pecan pieces and flakes of sea salt. The exterior had the texture of chewy brownie edges while the interior was extremely moist and truffle-like, but not oozing.  Our dining party of four unanimously agreed that it was the finest chocolate dessert any of us has enjoyed in, like...forever.









The Rolling Pin experience provides a great time for foodnatics and cooking junkies of all ages and it's all very interactive.  A dining steal, you get a full meal including unlimited beer and wine, an informative "Food Network" style presentation and 10% off any store purchases during your 2.5 hour class for around $45-$60 per person at dinner (some day classes and "hands-on" courses cost less). 

Don’t be daunted by the Rolling Pin’s east Hillsborough County location.  The upper tier of the Selmon Expressway practically deposits you into the parking lot, making it a veritable magic carpet ride from most areas in south and central Tampa.  


Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Hablo Taco, Tampa, FL

Oh, Channelside...how do I loathe thee?  Let me count the ways.  First of all, anyone not gifted with an IQ level of at least 100 points will never be able to decipher the convoluted payment system at your "convenient" parking garage.  Hire an attendant and charge more, for gawd's sake, so everyone doesn't have to wade through a human clusterfluck of mass confusion in order to park and get on with their day.  Now that I've gotten THAT out of the way...onward to Hablo Taco.

The vibe here is relatively sterile, more bar-like than restaurant-like and predominately staffed by lackadaisical 21 year-olds.  I've honestly gotten more enthusiastic service at a McDonald's drive-through window.  Expect the place to be noisy, chaotic and awash in a broad swathe of rowdy humanity, especially if a Lightning game is imminent...















...as it was on my visit.  Due to that fact, we were presented with postage stamp sized menus with extremely limited offerings, apparently because it's too difficult to keep up during a local event rush...therefore, several items I specifically came to try were not available.  Sorry, but a full restaurant on a hockey game day is not the same as Christmas Day at the Columbia where a limited menu is a little more understandable.

Moving on to food and bev, there are few complaints in that department.  The Diablo margarita is one-of-kind and not for the faint of palate.  Mezcal, triple sec, blood orange liqueur, lemon and lime juice, simple syrup and jalapeno (heavy on the jalapeno) converge to create an interesting juxtaposition of tangy citrus, boozy goodness and sweat bead-inducing Scoville unit levels of heat in this libation.





















Fresh guacamole is available in an array of tantalizing applications.  We zeroed in on the Bacon and Cheese guac, which was a pleasing, generous mound of creamy avocado interspersed with crispy porcine crumbles and queso fresco.  Accompanying chips, however, were greasy and had an aftertaste of fryer oil.















My Southern Tacos (fried chicken, cabbage slaw, avocado ranch, roasted corn salsa and BBQ drizzle) were probably the largest tacos I've ever tried to shoehorn into my mouth...and I got two with a side of rice included for $8.50, which felt like a bargain.  This was an interesting application, but it didn't put me on the fast track to Flavortown.  I supposed I deserved that for making such a wimpy, gringa-sounding selection.















UD's fat, protein-laden Burrito Grande with beef barbacoa, pulled chicken, guac, shredded cojita, dressed lettuce, crema and black beans was the star of this particular talent competition.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the rice and bean sides were better than those served at most Mexican restaurants in town. 





















While the food (based on our limited options) was mostly good, service, ambiance, clientele and location combined to create a somewhat negative experience.  Hablo Taco seems to be geared towards more youthful diners who will undoubtedly appreciate it more than a couple of cranky old Baby Boomers.

http://www.hablotaco.com/

Hablo Taco on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Crazy Cafe, Riverview, FL

Mama always said, "if you don't have anything good to say about someone, don't say anything at all"...but mama's taste buds were more forgiving than mine.  After reading glowing reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp as well as receiving personal recs from friends whose palates I trust, we decided to give Riverview a chance and drive the few miles from our Stepford Valrico abode for a casual Japanese repast.

The interior of this strip-mall resto met expectations...clean and relatively sterile in ambiance. Service was prompt and low-key.  Food was SO nothing to write home about.

Entrees included the requisite iceberg lettuce salad with ginger dressing (it is what it is and I usually enjoy it despite its humble nature, but my salad bowl had half an inch of water in the bottom of it...try a Salad Spinner) and a wan and oddly flavored mushroom and onion soup.
















My Steak and Shrimp Hibachi Combo was all but inedible.  Both steak (which was livery in taste - most likely round steak if not an even cheaper cut) and shrimp were dry and overcooked.  The fried rice I selected appeared in the form of a gummy scoop of sushi rice that had been slightly darkened with soy.  There were only a few barely discernible flecks of egg and scallion to be found in this sticky mound and a magnifying glass would've been helpful when it came to identifying their whereabouts.  Guess what, though?  I ate all of the noodles so I wouldn't leave completely hangry.
















Underdog fared somewhat better with his $15.95 Sushi Dinner, which provided him with a decent California roll and seven other pieces of the house's choosing.  The selections were reportedly fresh-tasting while falling short of being memorable in any way.
















I only pray that East Hillsborough one day catches up with the rest of the county as it pertains to the evolution of the quality of local restaurant cuisine.  At this point, expectations of locals still seem rather low.  All is not lost, however...you can always hit Pacific Grill for good sushi and Asian cuisine in the Brandon area.

http://crazycafe301.com/

Crazy Cafe on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Soho Backyard, Tampa, FL

This hip little spot in South Tampa is serving up some seriously good gastropub grub.  Let's get a couple of things straight right off the bat, though.  If you're over 40, you might be the oldest person in the place.  The bar and table stools are designed for the narrow and resilient arses of youth and will provide little comfort to the aching backs of Baby Boomers.  If you're looking to be pampered, this is not your spot.  While service is friendly and adequate, you won't be getting kissed on all four cheeks.  It's a little more bar and a little less resto in vibe, but the creative menu is worth checking out.

Goat cheese stuffed figs wrapped in crispy prosciutto set my taste buds to tingling...

...but the "World Famous" (and, yes...I consider that self-proclamation to be justly deserved) Duck Wings, which are actually drumsticks, left me positively starry-eyed.  I tried the succulent drummies sauced two ways...Orange Habanero, which catapulted me into the throes of  hot flash nirvana in the best of all possible ways; and the wimpier, but equally delightful, sticky honey and garlic application. 
I liked the fried chunks of lobster tail in my Lobster Basket, but was expecting a more tempura-like breading than what was presented (a little heavy for the delicacy of said shellfish IMHO).  There was nothing not to love about the sidecar of caramelized on the outside, tender on the inside, unctuously truffled potato wedges.


Cilantro Coconut Rum Gator Skewers were off the chain.  Sweet and succulent, they bore little resemblance to the gamy, breaded and fried nuggets ordinarily found on Florida menus.  It tasted like chicken does...in a chicken's dreams. Caribbean Cole slaw was pleasingly cool, crisp and refreshing.

Our Chocolate Mousse Cups with Raspberry Drizzle failed to thrill me as much as they did my better half.  To be fair, chocolate desserts rarely do.  While I appreciated the flavor and presentation, the mousse could've been a little sturdier and more well-chilled.  We showed up for our meal at the odd hour of around 3:30 PM, so this dessert might've still been in the early preparation stages for dinner patrons.
Don't expect a Bennigan's-esque tab at the end of your meal because quality ingredients come at a price (and justifiably so).  All of this plus two drafts, two glasses of wine and an order of to-go Duck Wings for late night snacking came to $120.  Fun spot and worth a visit.


The Soho Backyard on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.