Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cafe L'Europe, Sarasota, FL

Cafe L'Europe is my favorite lunchtime treat.  It's an hour south of me, but it's located on the fabulous St. Armand's Circle in beautiful Sarasota, and its ambience and multi-national uber-professional waitstaff transport me back to a European bistro on every I drive.  UD and I enjoyed a wonderful, leisurely rainy-day lunch today with our friends Brian and Paula, who are fortunate enough to actually live in Sarasota.

I would love to try this place for dinner, but I've never managed it since wine is always involved in my dinners and it's quite a haul from for safety's sake, we'll just blog lunch.  We basically had a soup, salad and dessert lunch, which still came to $100 a couple with 2 cocktails per person...but we're not bitching because everything was top-notch.

Okay...maybe they've slipped a tad on the bread, which used to be individual rolls infused with various herbs, olives, seeds, cheeses, etc., but the basic slice of  French served with good herb butter was still not worthy of complaint.

I started (as I always do) with a bowl of Cafe L'Europe's amazing lobster's unfailingly creamy and flavorful with a generous portion of sweet lobster morsels floating in its midst, along with a lovely drizzle of creme fraiche (just in case it's not already rich enough for you).

Paula declined soup (which is probably why she gets to enjoy the honor of being "the skinny one"), but the boyz both hoovered down their Cafe Onion Soup Gratinee, which was beautifully presented in a large, baked, hollowed-out onion.

I can't ever seem to veer from Cafe L'Europe's delicious Blackened Shrimp and Bourbon Pecan Salad when I visit. Dear's a $15 salad (which always has me seeing stars) but it is SO wonderful! It consists of baby greens, homemade cornbread croutons, candied pecans, and bourbon maple vinaigrette garnished with artichoke hearts, chopped tomatoes and hearts of palm...and let's not forget the large and succulent blackened shrimp!

Jimbo went for the Monte Cristo (a battered and fried sandwich comprised of black forest ham, roast turkey, cheddar and gruyére) served with sauce supreme and lingonberries. Oh, and there were also fried potatoes of the white and sweet varieties.  No complaints were registered.

Brian and Paula both opted for giant caesars, with chicken and tomatoes on Brian's and shrimp, tomatoes and avacadoes on Paula's (our servers were only too happy to personalize the traditional salads for these two).

No one was even able to finish the salads, but the Y-chromes still wanted dessert (and who were WE to argue)??  ;)  Dogboy's seasonal mixed berry and apple cobbler with a sugared shortbread crust topped with really good vanilla ice cream almost made me weep.

Brian's key lime pie was so rich and creamy that it was almost the consistency of cheesecake.  Both desserts were outstanding.

We iz happy campers!

Cafe L'europe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bon Appetit, Dunedin, FL

Bon Appetit is a 30-year-old landmark restaurant on the St. Joseph Sound waterfront in Dunedin.  It was voted Tampa Bay's Best Waterfront Restaurant for 2009...however, I'm not sure I'm completely in agreement with that consensus.  Still, it's a lovely eatery with beautiful water views and solid, classic cuisine.  I like the "old-school" feel of the place...the interesting combination of comfort food and traditional continental cuisine on the menu, crisp white linens, elegant place settings, and more-formal-than-your-average-Tampa-Bay-waterfront-restaurant waitstaff make dining there feel a little like stepping back in time (you will definitely not confuse this place with Frenchy's).  These are also probably some of the reasons why it attracts a more "mature" (and I think you know what I mean *coughbluehairedcough*) clientele.  ;)  The view from our table:

Mom and I converged on the scene last week to enjoy a leisurely "ladies' luncheon", and we were not disappointed.  Warm, crusty dinner rolls were presented with tongs from a warming basket by a dedicated "bread-server" while we perused the menu.

I opted for the $18.95 3-course lunch, which included soup or salad and a choice of two desserts.  I started with the grouper chowder (which mom had, too) and it was very nice.  I would've preferred something slightly thicker and chunkier, but the flavor was excellent and both of our cups looked like they had been licked clean by the time we were done.

Service at Bon Appetit is extremely leisurely on its best day and was downright pokey on the day we were there (our waiter was new, albeit enthusiastic)...but who cares?  We had a nice window table and cocktails to keep us entertained.

For my entree, I selected Roasted Half Rack of Lamb with Pecan Crust.  It was delicious, and was served with traditional mint jelly, grilled asparagus, and a delightfully tasty potato croquette...along with some strange french fried veggies which I couldn't immediately identify, but later determined were rutabagas.  This was my first experience with rutabaga, and it was actually quite nice...sort of a cross between potato and apple. 

Mom opted for the Roasted Red Snapper on a Bed of Lobster Hash with Beurre Blanc.  How could something called "Lobster Hash" possibly be bad?  Mom confirmed (between bites) that it indeed couldn't be.

My dessert course of Viennese Raspberry Pudding was presented after we finished our lunches.  While it looked beautiful, it was only okay...not like a pudding at all, but almost like over-sweeteened pureed fruit topped with whipped cream.  I'm not sure what that was all about, but I wouldn't order it again.

The entire experience lasted bout two hours and we rolled out of there fat and happy.

Miss you, mommers (4/12/1936-4/13/2011).

Bon Appetit on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bernini, Tampa, FL

Note:  I blogged a more recent Bernini visit in January of 2011. To see how that trip went, click here.

Bernini is one of my favorite restaurants in Tampa (and is definitely my favorite Italian restaurant in the area).  The restaurant is housed in beautifully restored old bank building in Tampa's historic Latin quarter, Ybor City.  It is named after the famous sculptor, architect and painter, Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, of the late renaissance period (1598-1680). He is best known for being the founder of the Baroque style of art. Prints of many of his sculptures adorn the restaurant’s interior.  The interior of the restaurant is bustling, beautiful and's almost always noisy, but it's a good kind of noisy.  It's filled with the sound of friends enjoying wonderful food, wine and ambience.  This is no Carrabba's...but nor is it stuffy and full of itself.  It reminds me of actually being in Italy, or at in the very least (as my friend Karen pointed out) being in a large city like New York or Philadelphia, in a bona fide Italian ethnic district restaurant.

Not the best photo/representation, but here you go:

As it happened, $2 Finlandia martinis were being offered on the night we why wouldn't we do that?
Knowing full well how huge the portions were, we simply started with some of the wonderful bread with dipping oil, and an order of Carpaccio (Pepper Crusted, Seared Thin Beef Tenderloin with Capers, Red Onions, Shaved Parmesan, Crostini & a White Truffle Balsamic Drizzle) to share, of which about 50% had been snorted before I could even get my camera out.  I wonder who would do such a thing?  Oh...right.
Underdog can never seem to pass up the Grilled Veal Chop Topped with Proscuitto & Fontina Cheese Served over Risotto ala Florentine...and who can blame him?
I got our buddy Ed hooked on my favorite Bernini dish, which I've yet to see him veer from.  Bernini’s Signature Pistachio Nut Crusted Grouper Served with Mashed Potatoes & Broccolini with a Marsala Brown Butter Sauce (except he loves Bernini's creamy, cheesy risotto, so he always substitutes).  IMHO, there are few better grouper dishes in Tampa Bay.

Karen, who is a tiny little thing, clearly had delusions of grandeur when she ordered this monstrous slab of Veal Lasagna (Layers of Veal Bolognese, Ricotta Cheese, Sautéed Spinach, Pasta Sheets & Marinara Sauce).  I've had this one before, too...and it only falls short of being the best restaurant lasagna I've ever had because I think it could stand a little more marinara. Over half of it went home with her. 

As difficult as it was for me to pass on the Pistachio Crusted Grouper, I decided on a dish I hadn't tried at Bernini before...Cinzano de Pesce (Shrimp, Mussels, Clams, Fresh Fish Medallions & Blue Crab Sautéed in a Sweet Red Vermouth Marinara Sauce with Crushed Red Pepper Served over Linguini).  I may have a new was insane!  The fish and shellfish (which the dish was absolutely loaded with) were fresh, tender and perfectly cooked (not dried out like seafood in Italian red sauces sometimes are).  Thanks to the red pepper flakes, the marinara sauce had a spicy kick which I really loved. 

In spite of the fact that we had all gorged ourselves, we couldn't resist a little palate cleanser in the form of Bernini's Flourless Chocolate Cake (Two Layers of Belgian Chocolate Cake with a White Chocolate Ganache Topped with Cocoa Whipped Cream)...with four forks.  It was like chocolate "buttah".  :thud:
Like the swallows to Capistrano, we will return!