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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dinner at Roy's Bonita Springs

Fusion Cuisine is a concept that started becoming popular almost 50 years ago in the culinary world. This makes sense historically when looking at language. Many languages have become "creolized", or fused together centuries ago with European explorers coming into the New World. The same trend has happened on a very wide scale with food in part due to the effect of technology on world cuisine, both in terms of awareness and availability.

Roy's, Bonita Springs, FL

is a restaurant in Bonita Springs, FL that serves Hawaiian/Japanese fusion fare.This concept was introduced almost 30 years ago by Roy Yamaguchi, a classically trained chef with Japanese and Hawaiian roots. In part because of this Chef Roy was awarded Best Chef: Pacific Northwest by the James Beard Foundation in 1993, sort of an Oscar in the culinary world. He has also published numerous cookbooks, been awarded many other accolades and since has become a celebrity chef. The first Roy's restaurant was opened in 1988 in Hawaii and has expanded to many other locations, both domestically and internationally. After changing hands a couple of times, the majority of locations are now owned by a restaurant concern based in Texas, though Chef Roy is very much involved with them. Roy's locations in Hawaii and Pebble Beach, CA are still owned by Chef Roy. The Bonita Springs location was opened in 1999.

I was contacted by a public relations firm recently to sample, with other local media, their cuisine and spread the word. Having never eaten dinner here, my dining companion and I gladly accepted their invitation. 

As you enter Roy's Bonita Springs you first encounter the bar area followed by an open air kitchen on your way to the indoor dining area. I have always been a big believer in open air kitchens. I really think seeing the kitchen staff at work helps diners connect better with the food being served to them. This concept has been used successfully by many including the Japanese with their Teppanyaki restaurants or pizza parlors with the chef tossing pizza dough.

Open air kitchen, Roy's Bonita Springs
Indoor dining area, Roy's Bonita Springs
The food and beverage selected for us that evening was very diverse and sampled from the different menus the restaurant offers.

Apart from a bowl of edamame, we were each brought samplings from Roy's cocktail offerings, a Pacific cooler and Polynesian passion. The Pacific cooler was a combination of Deep Eddy ruby red grapefruit vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, strawberries and oranges. The Polynesian passion melds Appleton Estate 12 year old Jamaican rum, Don Q coconut rum and passion fruit juice. The Pacific cooler was a bit sweet for me and I preferred the Polynesian passion with it's tropical flavors.

My dining companion and I then delved into the food offerings of starters, mains and desserts. The menu is structured so that about 75% of items are "core" items. Some of these are dishes that have been served in the chain from day one or are inspired by them. The remaining menu items at each location reflect the demographics of the restaurant and/or preferences of the chef making every restaurant different.

Two starters were brought out from Roy's happy hour (aloha hour) menu. These were the rock shrimp tempura and the Szechuan spiced pork ribs, the latter on Roy's original menus. The rock shrimp tempura, served with shishito peppers, shimeji muchrooms and a "Malaysian" curry aioli. Malaysian curries typically are turmeric rich, and can incorporate coconut milk, shrimp paste and tamarind. The presentation of this dish was impressive, the shrimp served wrapped in a banana leaf. This was good, but not my favorite. 
Szechuan spiced pork ribs

The Szechuan spiced pork ribs were fantastic, and when tasted I could understand why this have been a menu item over the years. The ribs are marinated, braised then grilled. The marinade and basting sauce is seasoned with miso, ginger, garlic, saki, soy and hoisin sauce among other spices. They are finished with chives and sesame seeds, and are fantastic. Perfectly cooked and flavored, this starter is highly recommended.

We finished our tour of starters with Auntie Lei's aloha roll. Sushi was not part of Roy's initial fusion concept, and was introduced later.
The roll had spicy tuna and cucumber on the inside, with hamachi, salmon and avocado outside. The avocado garlic ponzu sauce gives this roll a nice citrus note. The roll was good. I thought it much better served without wasabi/soy given to us which seemed to result in a clash of flavors. All in all, these starter items well represented the appetizers available here.

We then sampled three entrees, both new and classic, in addition to one from their chef's tasting menu. The jade pesto steamed whitefish was the first thing we sampled. From the chef's tasting menu, the whitefish that evening was swordfish. The fish is steamed with a number of ingredients, including ginger, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. Jade pesto coated the fish, which was made from scallions, cilantro leaves, oyster sauce, ginger and garlic. Baby bok choy and carrots were served with this, and the dish finished with a shoyu (soy) ponzu sauce. This entree was also good.

Butter seared Georges Bank sea scallops

A new item, butter seared Georges Bank sea scallops, was brought out next and was even better. The rice served with was flavored with coconut, lobster stock and what appears to be Roy's go to spices of kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass. The scallops were perfectly cooked, served with mini peeled heirloom tomatoes and finished with a fish sauce/coconut/cilantro sauce and garnished with frisee. Very, very good.

Braised short ribs of beef
Last but very much not least were the braised beef short ribs. This is another "core" or classic item at Roy's. Once tasted, one can easily understand why. This dish is simple in it's presentation though complex in preparation. The short ribs are seared, deglazed and cooked for 4 to 5 hours. After that, the ribs sit for 24 hours and the fat and gristle shaved off. The ribs are then cryovaced and cooked sous vide with demi glace and butter. The finished ribs are then plated atop mashed potatoes, broccholini and finished with a demi glace/buerre blanc sauce. This dish was incredible and one of the best I have had in some time. Most highly recommended.

During our tasting we were brought a couple of wines to sample. A very nice savignon blanc from Marlborough, NZ by Whitehaven was the white. For those lovers of this grape that prefer grapefruit notes, this is the wine for you. 

The red was a cabernet savignon from Caymus in Napa Valley. For those cognoscenti of wine, this was the real deal.

Executive chef partner, Ignacio Ortiz, Roy's Bonita Springs

As we sampled our mains we had the pleasure of chatting with Ignacio Ortiz, the executive chef partner of the Bonita Springs location.

Chef Ortiz had an interesting story. He had never been to cooking school but always had a passion for food and it's preparation. After coming aboard 10 years ago, he trained with some of the seminal chefs of Roy's restaurants,  including David Abella, executive chef of Roy's restaurants for 20 years, Roy himself and his initial restaurant partner, Gordon Hopkins.

He explained as Roy's restaurants progressed, they have introduced wine dinners, chef classes and other menus such as their chef's tasting, bar bite (aloha hour) and weekend brunch menus to diversify from their original fusion theme.

We then tried two of the restaurant's desserts. The first was the classic Roy's melting hot chocolate souffle, really a molten lava cake. I am not a dessert eater but this was off the charts delicious. Raspberry coulis and vanilla bean ice cream sealed the deal.

Pineapple upside down cake

We finished with one of the restaurant's local creations, pineapple upside down cake. This innovative dish created by the restaurant's pastry chef at Bonita Springs. Brown sugar pound cake topped with caramelized pineapple and served upside down is garnished with chopped pineapple,mango, strawberries, raspberry and liliquoi (passion fruit) coulis. The dish is finished with a scoop of coconut ice cream and shaved toasted coconut. Another over the top dessert. Both of the ice creams served to us that night were made locally by Royal Scoop and more on them later.

The dinner put together for us that evening was a well rounded exposure to many of Roy's menu items. The food was good to exceptional and the beverages and wines very good. I am happy to see that Roy's has held true to many of their "core" menu items. If it's not broken, don't fix it. I will be going back to the restaurant for their upcoming Thanksgiving dinner menu, which by the way, looks very good.

A hui hou, Roy's Restaurant

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

26831 South Bay Drive, # 100
Bonita Springs, FL 34134
(239) 498-7697

Roy's Bonita Springs, FL Website 

Open 4-9 PM Monday through Thursday, 4-10 PM Friday, 11 AM to 10 PM Saturday and 11 AM to 9 PM Sunday. Happy (aloha) hour daily from 2:59-7 PM daily and 9 PM-close Saturday; All major credit cards accepted; Kid's meals available; No valet parking; Menu items available for takeout.

Bar area, Roy's Bonita Springs

Pacific cooler (left) and Polynesian passion (right) cocktails
Rock shrimp tempura
Auntie Lei's aloha roll
Jade pesto steamed whitefish
Roy's melting hot chocolate souffle

Friday, November 3, 2017

Oyster 101 at Sea Salt

The Sea Salt Restaurant Group is, as of this writing, restaurants featuring seafood as their primary focus in both Naples and St. Petersburg, FL.

Sea Salt, St. Petersburg, FL
Being from Southwest Florida, I have been to the Naples location numerous times but never to the location in St. Petersburg. The location in St. Petersburg is much more commodious than that in Naples and is located in Sundial St. Pete, an upscale shopping, dining and entertainment destination. Both Sea Salt locations have interesting themed dinners and other events. During a recent trip to St. Petersburg, I attended an event on oysters at Sea Salt, Oyster 101. This event was limited to 20 participants and is held 4-6 times per year.

Attendees, Oyster 101, Sea Salt, St. Petersburg, FL

The event was led by Executive Chef, Kenny Tufo. Chef Kenny was quite the erudite chef on all things oyster.

Executive Chef Kenny Tufo, Sea Salt, St. Petersburg
The purpose of the introductory class was 5-fold. Participants learned how to shuck oysters, differentiate between types and taste, learn a bit about what oysters do and bring a few recipes home with them well suited for the home cook.

From a global perspective, there are 5 oyster Types.  Ninety percent of these are farmed. There are Atlantic, which include Gulf oysters, and those more north such as blue point from New England and those from Canada. Pacific oysters are mainly found on the west coast of North America, as are Kumomoto, a Japanese import now farmed there. Olympians are also found on the west coast of North America, but have almost been decimated due to environmental conditions and predators. Finally there are European flats which originally were found in France and the United Kingdom. There are sub types of each oyster type, and the varieties are legion. This is in part due to the marketing efforts of oyster producers, but can also describe the waters or region they are farmed in.

Ernst Haeckel's "Acephala"
By Ernst Haeckel, A German Biologist- Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 55: Bivalvia; Courtesy of Wikipedia

Oysters are bivalves meaning they are composed of "laterally compressed bodies enclosed by a shell consisting of two hinged parts." Most bivalves are filter feeders. Filter feeders strain particulate matter and nutrients from their environment. Impressively, one 2 inch long oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, and are important in the maintenance of the ecosystem they inhabit. This also brings up the concept of Merroir, or the development of flavor from the local environment, in this case, the sea (water).

One of the first things we learned in Oyster 101 was how to shuck an oyster.

Shucking oysters, Oyster 101
Once you know what you're doing, it's relatively easy. In lieu of a heavy glove, we folded a bar towel into thirds and then folded it in half, making a pocket for the oyster. Taking an oyster knife, we placed the tip into the hinge of the oyster and moved the tip of the knife around until finding a pocket in the hinge. After that, all it takes is an up and down movement or twist of the oyster knife and voila, the shells pop apart. There is no brute force required. Oysters have what is know as adductor muscles on the top and bottom of their bodies that attach to the shells. All that needs to be done once the shells are apart is to sever these with your oyster knife and you are done.

Shucked oyster, Oyster 101
A common misconception is that oysters should never be eaten in months without an "r", just as white should not be worn after labor day! In the warmer months (May-August) oysters spawn, which leaves their flesh watery and thin. As almost 90% of the world's oysters are now farmed, this is less of a health hazard but more a matter of texture and taste.

A number of condiments were available to us to accent the fruits of our labor, and were considered traditional oyster accompaniments. These were Tabasco sauce, fresh lemon juice, horseradish, cocktail sauce (horseradish and ketchup) and a Migonette sauce. The latter is a classic combination of shallot, cracked pepper and vinegar. 

Clockwise from left; horseradish, cocktail sauce, Tabasco and Migonette sauce
All told we sampled Atlantic oysters (Gulf in addition to Beausoleil oysters from New Brunswick) and Fat Bastard oysters from the west coast. The latter oyster type had a very deep pocket for a shell on it's lower side yielding an oyster that was not only meaty but had plenty of delicious, briny oyster liquor. We then traveled back to the east coast and finished with a Rock Harbor oyster found in the northern part of Cape Code. Delicious!

For those that are not oyster devotees, this was an excellent primer on the world of oysters. There were probably about 6 to 7 oysters served that day, but considering some of them retail for $4.00 each, the class was a bargain at $35.00 if not for the camaraderie alone. At present Sea Salt does not offer this class at their Naples location. After attending Oyster 101 this would be both an educational and entertaining addition to the Southwest Florida food scene.

Sea salts, Sea Salt, St. Petersburg

Aw shucks, it's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Sea Salt
183 2nd. Ave. N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Atlantic (Gulf) oysters

Atlantic (Beausoleil) oyster
Pacific (Fat Bastard) oyster
Shucking oysters, Oyster 101

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Windows on Wine: A Celebration

Here is another installment from local retired Master Sommelier Barry Larvin's wine blog, Windows On Wine. To learn a bit more about the wines, go Here.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dinner at India's Grill

India's Grill is a restaurant in Fort Myers, FL that, as the astute reader may gather, serves Indian cuisine.

India's Grill, Fort Myers, FL
The restaurant opened in February of 2016 and I ate there a few months after. I was contacted by the owner earlier this year to return sometime and try a few more items gratis. The first time my dining companion (DC) and I went there we thought the food to be very good so I was more than happy to accept the owner's invitation.

There are both outdoor and of course indoor dining options in the restaurant. I thought the dining areas were modestly put together but more than adequate to accommodate dining parties both small and large.

Indoor dining area, India's Grill

The owner's cousin, Sudev, was our server and made some excellent suggestions for us from their Menu.

The first item we tried was a vegetarian appetizer, gobi Manchurian.

Gobi Manchurian
This is an Asian-Indian fusion dish. Breaded fried cauliflower (gobi) is served in a spicy Asian-inspired sauce of chilies, soy sauce, ketchup and sesame oil. The dish was topped with green onions and garnished with apples, onions and mint. This menu item was a knockout, and one of the best appetizers I have had in recent memory. DC also thought the same. If you closed your eyes you would think this was a meat dish.

We were then treated to a mixed grill of tandoori chicken and lamb chops. Brought to the table on a sizzling platter, the chicken and lamb were marinated in a yogurt-citrus mixture, and spiced with a tandoori masala. Tandoori masala (tandoori spice) is an Indian spice mix consisting of cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, chili, turmeric, mace and salt. The lamb was also seasoned with a sauce using garlic and ginger as a base.  The meats were cooked in a clay tandoori oven which typically get up to 900o F resulting in meats that are both very tender and flavorful. This was also excellent and whether you prefer lamb or chicken you will not be disappointed.

We then sampled a couple of other dishes, chicken Chettinad and goat Neelagiri khorma.

Chicken Chettinad (left) and goat Neelagiri khorma (right)
Both of these dishes are from the Tamil Nadu state of southern India, known for it's very aromatic and spicy cuisine. Chicken Chettinad is typically marinated in lime juice, turmeric and salt, then ginger, garlic, curry leaves, tomatoes and onions are added to the mix. A very complex seasoning mixture is also added that can include coriander, cardamon, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, clove, anise, coconut and whole black pepper. The dish was very good, but could have had a bit more cracked black peppercorn added to it to give it a little extra "bite". 

Khorma (korma) dishes are meats and/or vegetables that are braised in water, stock and yogurt or cream. This khorma comes from the city of Neelagiri in southern India. After adding a fried onion/garlic paste, the dish can be spiced with cinnamon, cardamon, clove, turmeric, chilies, mint, coriander and the Indian equivalent of herbs de provence or 5 spice powder, garam masala. The flavor of the goat really shined through this delicious and intricate blend of spices and was excellent. Both dishes were served with basmati rice and it was also suggested we have these dishes with garlic naan. The garlic naan was excellent and the perfect accompaniment to these two curries.

Our server, Sudev, was extra attentive. Looking around the restaurant I was pleased to see that other diners were promptly acknowledged upon arrival and their food served to them in a timely manner.

Should you be in the mood for a buffet, it is offered daily at India's Grill and has a good selection of vegan and non-vegan items to choose from. The restaurant also offers delivery service through a 3rd party. Please call the restaurant for details.

I had been a big fan of the Spice Club, a nearby competitor in San Carlos Park that recently closed. I was pleased to find out it had been bought by the owners of India's Grill. They will no doubt carry on with their tradition of preparing excellent Indian cuisine.

The food sampled at India's Grill was very good to exceptional. I think there is something here for everyone, from vegans to carnivores and everything in between. Highly recommended.

That's that for another post on Forks.

India's Grill
4724 S. Cleveland Ave.
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Open daily from 1130-3 PM for lunch and 5-10 PM for dinner; No valet parking; All major credit cards accepted; Kids meals available.

Outdoor dining India's Grill
Mixed chicken and lamb chop tandoori
Garlic naan

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

European Beer Tasting at The Ukrainian National Home

The Ukrainian Cultural Center of Syracuse, Inc. is a non profit cultural facility in Syracuse, NY. It helps maintain local interest in Ukrainian culture and provides assistance to members of the local community.

It is housed in the Ukrainian National Home (UNH), a building in the Near Westside neighborhood of Syracuse.

Ukrainian National Home, Syracuse, NY
The Near Westside was originally populated in the 1800's by Irish and Ukrainian immigrants. In the early part of the Twentieth Century, parts of this area were some of the wealthiest in Syracuse.  It is now considered one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country.

Though considered a private club, UNH periodically holds fundraising events open to the public in part to finance their community outreach efforts. One of these, their 3rd annual European beer tasting, was being held while I was recently in the area visiting a friend.

Initially not knowing what to think upon arriving at UNC, I quickly warmed up to it. My friend and I arrived early, and we were able to go to the bar and get a beverage while we waited for the event to start. UNC was originally built in 1933, and I suspect the bar has changed little, if any since then.

Bar, Ukrainian National Home
What intrigued me about this bar was that it reminded me of many taverns from yesteryear when I was living in Milwaukee, WI. There is quite an eastern European influence in Milwaukee. Though establishments there like this are commonplace there, they can be hard to find in other parts of the country, especially Southwest Florida. Talking to patrons, it was $10 for a yearly social membership to UNH. As it was a private club, they also permitted smoking but were trying to phase it out. Smoking is now only permitted on Fridays until 7 PM! Currently, UNH has almost 500 members.

Now for the beer tasting.The event was held in UNC's dance hall.

Dance hall, Ukrainian National Home

I thought it was interesting that the ticket taker for this event was in her 70's and told us her grandparents were married in this facility. Upon entry we were given a wristband and a 4 oz. sampling glass.

Sampling glass, European beer tasting, Ukrainian National Home
Numerous tables were set up for various snacks but also for the beers served. All told there were 28 different beers from 11 different countries. Beers from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Scotland and the Ukraine were made available to attendees.

There were two very nice beers from the Carlow Brewing Company in Ireland, an O'Hara's Irish Red and an Irish Pale Ale.

O'Hara's Irish Beers
Irish beer table, European beer tasting

What was interesting was that each beer station had a bucket of peanuts, presumably as a palate cleanser, in between beer tastes. 

Intriguing and equally delicious were the beers from Pardubicky Pivovar brewery in the Czech Republic. These were a Craft Boom Pardubice pale lager and pilsner beers. Pilsner beers originated in the Czech Republic many moons ago. No wonder it was so good.

Czech Republic beer table, European beer tasting
Probably most intriguing of all was one of the beers from Austria. This was brewed by the Schloss Eggenberg brewery, and is their Samichlaus lager. It is a Bavarian Doppelbock and at 14% ABV, is one of the strongest lagers in the world. Interestingly, Samichlaus means Santa Claus in Swiss/German dialect. This beer is only brewed on December 6th, the day of St. Nick, making it one of the rarest beers in the world. 

Austrian beer table, European beer tasting
Most of the other beers offered that evening were very remarkable. Better yet, attendees could mix and match any of these beers in a 6 pack at the end of the evening for $20.00, an incredible value. 

The European beer tasting at UNH was a really fun event and worth every penny at $35 for advance tickets and $45 the day of the event. This event is highly recommended.  I thought UNH a unique and excellent community presence in Syracuse, NY. 

Cornerstone, Ukrainian National Home
It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Ukrainian National Home
1317 W. Fayette St.
Syracuse, NY 13204

Lithuanian beers, European beer tasting
Italian beer table, European beer tasting
Scottish beer table, European beer tasting
Ukrainian beers, European beer tasting
Ukrainian beer table, European beer tasting
Belgian beer table, European beer tasting
English beer table, European beer tasting
German beer table, European beer tasting