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Thursday, July 19, 2018

ACF Naples Chefs July 2018 Chapter Meeting at Halperns' Steak and Seafood

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) is a professional culinary organization with over 200 chapters and close to 20,000 members. It is the largest professional culinary organization in North America. It's membership consists of chefs, other food industry professionals, food enthusiasts and certainly a food blogger or two.

ACF offers educational, training, certification and charitable resources to members. Additionally, they publish a number of online periodicals such as The National Culinary Review, and provide member discounts on various Goods and Services.

One of the chapters in Southwest Florida is the ACF Caxambas Chapter of Naples and Marco Island, or ACF Naples Chefs (ACFNC). With the exception of most winter months, ACFNC holds a monthly chapter meeting. 

In July 2018, the monthly meeting was held at the Naples branch of Halperns' Steak and Seafood.

Halperns' Steak and Seafood
Halperns' story is very interesting as noted in The Atlanta Jewish Times. If you are not into links, the founder of the company, Howard Halpern started all of this in Atlanta in 1966. They provided produce to a newly found restaurant chain, Burger King. After realizing the low margin in produce, Howard started Buckhead Beef in 1983, and the company was bought by the food distribution conglomerate, Sysco, sixteen years later. Howard was into family-run food distribution, and started Halperns' Steak and Seafood in 2005. The company has since been bought out by Gordon Food Service, a private concern, though still retains it's original name.

The meeting featured a number of vendors both in, and out of the rubric of Halperns'. It was an informal meeting to sample the many wonderful wares of it's host and other independent vendors. Although not all inclusive, here were some of the offering to attendees.

Landert Bread, an independent vendor, was the initial encounter for most attendees.
Landert Bread
They had a impressive display of baked items, including a wonderful selection of their proprietary breads.

Landert Bread selections
These included French baguettes, Andalusian flat bread and rustic crust breads. All of these were really great. A number of really good cookies, cupcakes and muffins were also available to be sampled.

Panacea Oyster Co Op was also there,

Florida Apalachicola Bay oysters
shucking and serving their delicious oysters. Halperns' food offerings are greatly augmented by this company.

Florida Apalachicola oysters, Panacea Oyster Co Op

There were wonderful cuts of meat on display from Halpern's Black Diamond Program.

Dry aged and prime meats
From right to left are bone in rib eyes, the short loin, where t-bones and porterhouse steak come from, tomahawk rib eye, bone-in New York strip and boneless New York strip. Dry aged meats are aged at 75% humidity and 36 degrees F for about 6 weeks. It all looked really good and I couldn't wait to try some of the cooked versions of these.

There were some wonderful hamburgers to be sampled called "CBS" burgers. These were a mixture of chuck, brisket and short rib and were quite good.

There was also a sampling of Halperns' dry aged prime rib.
Dry aged prime rib
These were a melt in your mouth flavor explosion. Highly recommended.

As participants were socializing,
Attendees, July 2018 general meeting of ACF Naples Chefs
there was more deliciousness to be had here.

A most amazing duck breast was served from Jurgielewicz and Son, some of the best I have had. They are another company under the Halperns' umbrella.

Duck breast
In addition to oysters there was seafood including shrimp and some delicious cobia from another Halperns' vendor, Cleanfish.

Paneed cobia from Cleanfish
This was excellent, some of the best fish I have ever had. It tasted like it was just plucked out of the water. A friend I invited to this meeting doesn't like fish, but loved this. I think that says it all.

As the meeting built up to a crescendo, 
Attendees, July 2018 general meeting of ACF Naples Chefs
there were a number of other foods to sample including Halpern's mushroom offerings by Mycopia, including these beautiful Nameko mushrooms, Japan's most popular cultivated mushroom.

Nameko mushrooms, Mycopia mushrooms
There was also a good sampling of burrata and feta cheeses from Meredith Dairy, an Australian concern. The cheese samplings were very good, especially the goat/sheep blend in olive oil. Feta cheese at it's best.
Feta cheese, Meredith Dairy
Of course, thirsty participants could wash this all down from beer produced at Naples Beach Brewery, a locally produced beer,

Naples Beach Brewery sampling station
or sip wines provided by Progress Wine Group.

This was another excellent meeting of ACF Naples Chefs highlighting great foods and camaraderie among members. From what was sampled here, if I was a commercial buyer I would definitely try out their product in real time. 

That's that for another post on Forks.

Halperns' Steak and Seafood Naples Plant
3565 Plover Ave, Naples FL, 34117


ACF Caxambas Chapter of Naples & Marco Island
President Richard Crisanti, CEC, WCEC, CCA. ACE
PO Box 855
Naples, FL 34106

Jurgielewicz duck
Halperns' shrimp
Meredith Dairy burrata
"CBS"; chuck, brisket and short rib burger
Prime and dry aged meats, Halperns'
Cooking cobia, Cleanfish display
Mushroom display, Mycopia

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Dinner was Nice at Spice Club

The Spice Club

Spice Club Indian Grill, San Carlos Park, FL
is a restaurant serving Indian cuisine. They have, as of this writing, been open almost one year.

My dining companion and I had been here when the restaurant first opened about eighteen months ago. It was managed by a different owner, and the food was incredible, unlike any I had had at most Indian restaurants. Unfortunately that owner's expertise was in IT, and the restaurant didn't last long. It was taken over by one of the owners of India's Grill in Fort Myers, Dilip Bare. He comes from a family with about 15 years of restaurant experience in Florida, with six restaurants statewide.  

Having had a very favorable personal opinion on India's Grill online last year, the owners invited my dining companion and I to try out their latest restaurant. The generosity of the present owners is noteworthy as our food was given to us gratis.

The interior of the restaurant is commodious and can accommodate many diners if need be. We came here about 7PM on a Saturday night in July.

The first thing ordered were the papadum, which can be described as Indian potato chips. They are a very thin disk made often from ground lentil flour, dried, and fried until puffed up.

Papadum with sauces and toppings
The papadum were served (counter clockwise) with onion chutney, tamarind and mint sauces. This was an excellent Amuse-bouche and I must say, a triumvirate of deliciousness. Most highly recommended.

After a through study of their Menu, here is what we sampled that day. I thought a vegetarian and non-vegetarian starter appropriate for a review. As for the former, we tried the vegetable somosas, which are actually vegan. One complaint from vegan diners locally is a modicum of choices featuring vegan cuisine. I think Spice Club is most accommodating to vegan dietary considerations, an oasis of vegan dining in a desert of local choices.

Somosas are fried dough shells filled, at the restaurant, with potatoes, green peas and spices that include cumin, cilantro and that blended Indian spice, garam masala. They were very good.

Even better was the non-vegetarian lamb pepper fry.

Lamb pepper fry
This was excellent, with very tenderized lamb coated in garam masala, coriander, chili, cardamom, curry leaves and other spices then cooked in coconut oil. Curry leaves are interesting Botanically, and part of their flavor comes from the compound that gives cinnamon it's unique taste. It was really good, the sweetness of the lamb melding perfectly with the slight bitterness of the seasonings used here. Again, most highly recommended.

Our served suggested a bread to go with our entrees. We opted for the chicken tikka nan. 

Chicken tikka nan
Chicken tikka is basically boneless chicken cooked in a tandoori (clay) oven brushed with clarified butter (ghee). This is incorporated into the nan dough and the bread cooked in a clay oven. It was good and a great accompaniment to our mains.

The first thing brought to the table was the mango shrimp.

Mango shrimp
This was incredible, unlike any Indian dish I had ordered before. Shrimp are sauteed, and combined into a sauce of mango pulp, onion, garlic paste, ginger, mustard seeds, coconut milk in addition to other spices. The sweetness of the mangoes and coconut milk melded perfectly with the seafood here. Another most highly recommended dish.

The next dish was the goat shahi korma. Another most highly recommended dish.

Goat shahi korma
This dish is served in both goat and lamb versions. We were cautioned by our server that the goat version was boney, and he was right. However, my dining companion and I love to gnaw on bones when eating our meat. If this is not for you, get the lamb, which is boneless.

Shahi means regal in Indian, and this dish truly is. Korma is a dish that in this case, incorporates almond and cashew paste, heavy cream, and vegetables. This was another incredible entree. Please order this if you go to Spice Club. It, as the mango shrimp, will not disappoint.

To round out our meal we tried another vegan item, the yellow dal fry.  This is basically a lentil curry soup to be plated over rice. It can have garlic, ginger, chilies, tomatoes, onions, coriander, cumin and turmeric. It was good, to be sure, but if ordered again I think I would get a bit more heat. After all these delicious meat dishes I think the dal fry needed to be buttressed by a bit of heat.

I do not have a sweet tooth but my dining companion does. As such, we sampled two of the dessert offerings.

The first was that classical Indian dessert, gulab jamun.

Gulab juman

Here milk is condensed, mixed with flour and fried. The typical presentations are fried spheres. These are served with a simple syrup flavored with cardamon and rose water. Slivered almonds sealed the deal. Again, most highly recommended.

The last dessert was gajar halwa, or sweetened ground carrots. Shredded carrots are cooked and combined with milk, ghee (clarified butter), sugar, saffron, cardamon and raisins. It was very different; unlike any western dessert but very good.

The food at Spice Club is excellent. Much thought has been put into quality ingredients and ample care into the restaurant's preparation of food. I think there is something here for everybody, vegan, vegetarian or carnivore. I hope readers will dine here, Spice Club will not disappoint. Should you just want a toe hold on all this deliciousness, a lunch buffet is served daily from 1130 AM to 3 PM. If I were you, I would just dive in and go for dinner. This is one of the better restaurants in our area.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Spice Club
18011 S. Tamiami Tr.
Fort Myers, FL 33967

Lunch buffet daily: 1130AM to 3PM; Dinner daily: 5-930PM; All major credit cards accepted.

Indoor dining area, Spice Club
Vegetable somosas
Yellow dal fry
Gajar halwa

Friday, July 6, 2018

Happy Hour at AZN; Worthwhile?


AZN restaurant
is a restaurant that features Asian food. They have been open for over 10 years now in the Mercato, a mixed use commercial/residential development in North Naples. I am not a big fan of these types of developments as I think they're a bit too contrived. It seems to have worked for some at this location though, including AZN.

I was recently at Mercato for their Sunday Funday event, and rediscovered their happy hour, "R'AZN the Bar" at AZN.  I Blogged about their happy hour over 4 years ago; the food being just O.K. and had not been back since. On that more recent visit, the food seemed much better, so I planned a third visit with a few other friends.

Here were the happy hour offerings that day. I was pleased to see that the items that were kept on their happy hour menu from four years ago had only a very mild price increase. This has not been the case with other local happy hours, especially the ones owned by large restaurant corporations.

Happy hour menu, AZN
There were four of us, and we decided to try a number of menu items. The first was the chicken lettuce wraps. 

Chicken lettuce wraps
This was a hold over from the menu from 4 years ago and I was happy to see only a 16% price increase. This is about double the average yearly Consumer Price Index from 2014-2018, but no where near the increases seen at other, again, corporate restaurants that have happy hours.

This item was good, featuring ground chicken, water chestnuts and hoisin sauce. As there were four of us, the lettuce was mostly ornamental. I'm sure we would have received more lettuce on request, but we were happy to just sample the filling.

We then tried the beef lo mein, another holdover.

Beef lo mein
This was very good, it being the typical lo mein incorporating beef, soy sauce, sesame oil and various vegetables. What is the difference between chow mein and lo mein you may ask? It's principally in the noodles. Chow mein uses crispy (c as in chow) while lo mein uses soft boiled noodles. I haven't yet thought of a good mnemonic for lo mein noodles but if you can, please write me!

We also sampled the spicy calamari and the coconut shrimp. The calamari was battered and spiced with Shichimi commonly known as togarashi. This is a spicy, 7 component Japanese seasoning agent similar to Garam Masala of India or Advieh used in "Persian" cooking. It was served with a togarashi mayo dipping sauce. It was good, but not my favorite of the afternoon.

The coconut shrimp were next. There were four of them which was perfect for sharing at our table. This recipe is usually made by dredging shrimp in flour, then an egg wash then rolling then in shredded coconut and putting them in a fryer. They were served with a pineapple/ mango puree and were good.

My favorite of the menu items we selected were the pulled pork sliders.

Pulled pork sliders

This excellent happy hour menu item features pulled pork, in house made BBQ sauce and cole slaw. In house made potato chips sealed the deal. There were two per serving so we ordered two plates for the table. Everyone was happy with these.

Our bill came to forty dollars, or ten dollars per person and we did not walk away hungry. The happy hour offerings ordered were not exceptional, but were good and a really great value for ten dollars per person. Better yet on Sundays, the day we went, happy hour is extended from it's normal 3-6 PM to 12-6 PM. This is a great place to have a few good bites after a movie at the Mercato and/or just sit outside and people watch. The happy hour at AZN has much improved since my initial visit and I would recommend it without hesitation.

That's that for another post on Forks.

9118 Strada Pl.
Naples, FL 34108

All major credit cards accepted, Happy hour 3-6 PM Monday-Saturday and 12-6 PM Sunday

Spicy calamari

Coconut shrimp

Friday, June 29, 2018

Dinner at Kareem's Lebanese Kitchen in Naples

Kareem's Lebanese Kitchen (KLK)
Kareem's Lebanese KitchenI
is a restaurant that the discerning reader may surmise serves Lebanese cuisine. Kareem is a common given name in the Middle East meaning noble or generous. In the case of KLK, this does not refer to any individual but to the meaning of Kareem per se. The food at KLK is most noble, prepared by Chef Rachid Eido, who has been in some very good, and for this area, unique Kitchens

I had heard very good things about KLK, and decided to take a look.

The restaurant has a beautiful indoor space that is very well done. There are outside dining options available as well.

On the first visit, my dining companion ordered a number of items, the first of which was the chef Rachid platter.
Chef Rachid platter
This is a very beautiful and comprehensive offering of the establishment's starters and salads. It includes hummus (cooked, mashed chickpeas with sesame paste), baba ghanoush (cooked eggplant and sesame paste), tabbouleh (a salad of tomatoes, mint, onion, parsley and cracked wheat), grape leaves, falafel (a deep fried ball of ground chick peas and or fava beans), fatayer spinach (spinach in dough triangles), kibbeh with labneh aioli (cracked wheat, onions, ground meat and spices with a Lebanese cream cheese-based dip), moussaka (an eggplant based dish with ground meat topped with an thickened milk-based sauce), and an in house made eggplant salad. Wow! All of this was really good but unfortunately, due to the portion size of each item, this restaurant's offering is not really made for sharing. Should you order the Rachid platter for the table, get more than one if all the members in your party want to sample each item served.

We also sampled the chicken shawarma on this visit. It was ok, but when I came back here again I wanted to try other menu items.

Though not photographed on the first visit, I was pleased to find another serving of Turkish lavas, otherwise known as "balloon bread".  This bread is thin, crispy and puffy and was a perfect foil for another menu item, Kareem's hummus sampler.

Kareem's hummus sampler
This was an absolutely amazing and delicious tour of this establishment's hummus offerings. The chef really knows how to make hummus which is probably the best I have ever had. This came in 3 versions (counterclockwise) as spicy, regular and garlic, and were served with a variety of crudites. The vegetables served here were nowhere near enough to mop up all of this deliciousness but no worries, just ask for more. That goes for the lavas as well. This is easily a meal for one or a very substantial starter for two.

I ordered the Fatteh lamb, which was sort of a "salad" of chickpeas, pine nuts, garlic, fried pita chips, pomegranate seeds and yogurt. It was very good.

My dining companion ordered one of the "signature" dishes of KLK, chicken farrouj, or Lebanese grilled garlic chicken.

Chicken Farrouj

It was served with a sort of garlic aioli and an onion, tomato and parsley salad seasoned with sumac, that tart lemony spice ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cuisine made from ground flowers of the sumac plant. Sumac potatoes and grilled zucchini sealed the deal. Highly recommended.

The food, for the most part at KLK is very good to excellent. As Middle Eastern restaurants go, this is one of the best I have eaten at. The ambience is very pleasant, the service well executed and the food on the whole, extremely good. KLK is most highly recommended and I cannot wait to go back to sample more of this deliciousness.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Kareem's Lebanese Kitchen
4270 Tamiami Tr. E.
Naples, FL 34112

All major credit cards accepted; Monday-Thursday: 1130AM-230PM and 5-9PM, Friday: 1130AM-230PM and 5-10PM, Saturday: 5-10PM, Sunday: 5-9PM

Interior dining area
Lavas bread
Fatteh lamb

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dinner at Tasty Cultures in Cape Coral

Tasty Cultures (TC)

Tasty Cultures, Cape Coral
is a restaurant in Cape Coral, Florida that features German, Polish and Eastern European cuisine. The two owners are German and Polish, respectively, and opened TC in 2014. Living in Naples, Cape Coral is somewhat Terra Incognita to me, but I had seen such great press about TC that my dining companion and I felt compelled to go and take a peek.

The interior of the restaurant is commodious and accommodating, though being there somewhat early on a rainy Sunday night, we had the run of the restaurant for a time.

I was very intrigued by TC's Dinner Menu and had not seen food such as this for some time as I did when I lived in the midwest.

After perusing the Wine and Beer Menu, I found some beer selections rarely seen in the area. I decided on a Ukrainian porter by Lvivske brewers. It was heavy duty, delicious and perfectly complemented our upcoming meal of mostly starches and meats.

Lvivske Ukrainian Porter

To drum up business in the slow season in Florida (summer) they were offering a free serving of pirogi,  those Russian pillows of dough filled with sweet or savory fillings. We chose the potato and cheese filling, served with sour cream for a condiment. It was very good and a nice start for a meal.

Potato and cheese pirogi
My dining companion loves macaroni and cheese and all of it's variants. As such we ordered the spatzle, those lovely miniature egg noodles with cheese and bacon. It was not my thing but dining companion loved it. Just more comfort food.

I love cured salmon, and TC had just the ticket, Beet-Cured Salmon Gravlax with Horseradish.

Beet-cured gravlax with horseradish
It was excellent, served with bread and herbal creme fraiche. Alas, I wish there were more of it!

Before our mains, we sampled two of the restaurant's soup offerings included with our dinner. One of these was white borscht. This is a classic Polish dish with a cream/vegetable stock base and incorporates potatoes, carrots, pork and undisclosed seasonings. It was delicious and highly recommended. Even better was the mushroom soup. I have made mushroom soup before and the sine qua non with this is to roast your mushrooms before preparing the soup. The restaurant appears to have done this, but rumor has it one of the owners receives dried Eastern European mushrooms from family monthly to incorporate into this dish. This was easily one of the best bowls of mushroom soup I have had in a restaurant. If you go here, a must do. You will not be disappointed.

Totally disregarding out "satiety thermostats" at this point, we tried a couple of the entrees. The first was the Schweinshaxe.

This was an over the top delicious serving of pork shank with a horseradish and honey glaze served with mashed potatoes and the vegetable de jour, zucchini. If you can share a few dishes when you go here, make this one of them! By the way, if you clicked on the schweinshaxe link, it led you to, a website for foreign pronunciations. Highly recommended.

We finished with bigos, a wonderful stew of chopped meat, in this case pork, with sauerkraut and mushrooms among other ingredients. This is also known as a "hunters stew" and is considered a national dish of Poland. It, like the schweinshaxe was incredible and highly recommended.

The food at TC is excellent and if you have not been there, please go. Based on the offerings sampled, it is so good and so filling you many need a gurney to transport you to your car after all is said and done. I am glad TC was on my radar, and I would return without hesitation.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Tasty Cultures
4815 Del Prado Blvd.
Cape Coral, FL 33914

All major credit cards accepted; Tuesday-Friday, Lunch:1130am-230pm, Tuesday-Wednesday, Dinner:5-8pm; Thursday-Friday, Dinner:5-9pm, Saturday-Sunday, Dinner:430-9pm

Interior dining area, Tasty Cultures

Mushroom soup
White borscht
Spatzle with cheese and bacon

Bigos with mashed potatoes