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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dinner at Table and Tap at Babcock Ranch

Babcock Ranch, Punta Gorda, FL

Babcock Ranch (BR) is a residential and commercial development in Southwest Florida of approximately 18,000 acres. Half of this area will be devoted to greenways, lakes and parks and less than 10 percent for commercial use; the remainder used for residential development. BR also has an accompanying nature preserve that has an area 4 times greater than that being developed. BR prides itself on sustainability. This is being accomplished in a number of ways and I will discuss the highlights here. Water conservation is achieved through limiting grass cover in residential areas and the use of grey water for irrigation. Homes are made energy efficient by following guidelines from the Florida Green Building Coalition. Probably the hallmark of BR is their use of solar energy to provide power to the community. In a partnership with FPL, BR has installed about 350,000 solar panels on almost 400 acres of land. This mode of power generation will be supplemented with natural gas when necessary. Though not costing residents less than more commonly generated types of power, it is derived from much greener technology.  Savings on energy in BR will come primarily from energy efficient construction methods.

Sustainability will also extend from and into the culinary aspects of BR.  These efforts will be led by Executive Chef David Rashty. David is a graduate of the International Culinary Center in Manhattan and president of the Southwest Florida chapter of Slow Foods, a group that represents everything fast food is not. He is a very progressive culinarian, and it was interesting talking to him about his shared vision for BR.

Each residential development in BR will have it's own community garden. In that regard, a farmers market will be held every Thursday from 1-7 PM. The community gardens will also be tied into the elementary school which will open soon and become part of the school's curriculum.

Chef Rashty is in collaboration with UF/IFAS extensions both in Lee and Manatee counties to develop onsite fruit trees and other agricultural production. A composting facility is in the works as well. This will be made up both of a horticultural and vegetable (table scrap) nature to facilitate a "zero-waste" food and beverage operation that is planned to eventually exceed 500,000 square feet of space in total. 

A package store, Slaters's, will open soon in BR's first marketplace providing packaged and prepared foods in addition to beverage offerings.

The first restaurant at BR, Table and Tap (TT), has been open now almost 2 months. TT can accommodate up to 150 diners in either indoor or outside dining areas and is open to the public. Chef Rashty was kind enough to have a dining companion and I out to sample some of TT's fare gratis. Having tried some of his cooking at his previous kitchen, Jack's Farm to Fork, I knew we would be in for a real treat.

"How hungry are you?" Chef Rashty asked. "Starving!" we replied. We would come to regret our words, especially by the time the many courses including dessert were served to us.

The first three dishes were from the appetizer menu. The first item served was a sous vide red miso braised pork belly with a sour cherry, bourbon glaze. This was fantastic, with a very high quality piece of Niman Ranch pork belly perfectly cooked and an equally great sauce. Mizuna micro greens sealed the deal.

The fried goat cheese was next. Balls of goat cheese are breaded in Panko crumbs and deep fried. These are served with hazelnuts, a champagne vinaigrette and drizzled with honey produced at BR and more mizuna micro greens Another great dish.

Butternut squash soup followed, served with pear bits and pear cream as a garnish. A good dish and a nice presentation with the heirloom china that it was served to us in.

A couple of items off the salad menu were sampled. Fortunately, from now until the end of our meal, the items served to us were either shared or pared down to a tasting portion.

The roasted beet salad was next, and a bit different version of a signature dish from this chef. Red and golden beets were topped with hazelnuts, goat cheese, a hazelnut vinaigrette and nasturtium as well as sunflower micro greens. Very, very good and highly recommended.

We also tried an off menu spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, walnuts and grilled pear slices. The sugars in the fruit very much complemented the bacon dressing. It was also good.

After many deep breaths, a few entree items followed. A Meyer lemon duck confit with orecchiette was first, with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, peas and Parmesan cheese. The orecchiette (small ears) were cooked perfectly al dente. I thought the citrus note here interesting but the dish was a bit too salty for me. 

Duck breast was next, cooked perfectly and served with curried corn puree, fingerling potatoes and smoked beets. This was an excellent dish, though the beets were a bit over smoked. That being said, I love duck and all the other flavors in this dish melded together perfectly.

A off menu special, grilled veal chop, finished the entree items. Veal is probably at the moment one of the least PC meats one can order, but was sourced from a producer using humane animal husbandry methods through Grand Western meats. This was one of the best veal chops I have ever had, a 12 oz. portion and just like buttah. Served with pureed parsnips and roasted potatoes, my dining companion and I savored every bite!

We finished with a key lime tart. This was different than most and had a chocolate/raspberry crust; the key lime filling flavored with tequila. The flavors in this dessert were interesting and a nice ending to an over the top repast.

I wanted to take a look at TT's kitchen. It was for the most part well put together and well staffed. I was also given a demo of Chef Rashty's hand held smoker, "The Smoking Gun". This item was interesting but I smelled like a victim of a hickory forest fire after walking out of the kitchen. All in a days work. 

Table and Tap is an excellent restaurant and is a vanguard in it's location. The food is prepared by a very competent chef from, when possible, locally sourced ingredients. Even better, the vast majority of price points are between six and seventeen dollars for any one menu item. As perhaps a harbinger of things to come, they recently had a Founder's day event which 20,000 people attended and the food trucks that were there sold out in less than 2 hours. With everything that is planned for the development, many culinary searchlights will no doubt be shining very brightly from BR.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Table and Tap
42680 Crescent Loop Rd.
Punta Gorda, FL 33982


Accepts all major credit cards; kid's meals served, open daily 11-10 PM; Sunday brunch from 10-4 PM starting soon, please inquire

Table and Tap restaurant, Babcock Ranch

Outdoor dining area, Table and Tap restaurant, Babcock Ranch
Miso braised pork belly with cherry bourbon glaze

Fried goat cheese with hazelnuts and honey

Roasted beet salad with hazelnuts, goat cheese and hazelnut vinaigrette
Butternut squash soup with pears and pear cream
Spinach salad with walnuts, grilled pears and warm bacon dressing

Orecchiette with duck confit, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, peas and Parmesan cheese

Duck breast with curried corn puree, smoked beets and roasted fingerling potatoes
Veal chop with parsnip puree and roasted potatoes
Chocolate raspberry key lime tart
Executive Chef David Rashty, Table and Tap kitchen, Babcock Ranch

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dinner at JewBan's Deli Dale Food Truck

Riptide Brewing Company, Naples, FL

Riptide Brewing Company (RBC) is a microbrewery in Naples, FL. They opened in the fall of 2015 and were the second microbrewery to open in the city of Naples. As with most, if not all of the microbreweries in Southwest Florida, RBC has a very friendly, community-oriented vibe. They feature a number of in house beers on tap, in addition to beers from other local and statewide breweries. Entertainment is offered in house multiple times during the week. They also bring in food trucks on premises which serve food 3 or 4 times a week.

Across the city in East Naples plans are coming to fruition to develop a permanent food truck park. The owner and promoter for this venture has been auditioning food trucks not only locally and from across the state, but nationally to participate in the park. Food trucks are very much in vogue at the moment. Typically, a food truck owner does not want the constraints and/or costs of a brick and mortar restaurant and chooses a mobile venue instead.

One of the first trucks to pass muster in East Naples was JewBans Deli Dale (JewBans). JewBans are a couple, Jewish and Cuban, that worked for many years in corporate America and have pursued their dream of running a business that prepares Cuban and Jewish foods. They deli dale (dahl-e), like dillydally, dale being Cuban slang meaning "go for it". They started this business in Miami, and their recipes reflect, in many cases, those passed down from family many generations earlier. 

I had read about them recently in other local media. When I found out they were serving at Riptide, I felt compelled to take a peek.

If you go to their website, their menu offerings are prolific, too much for a food truck at any one time. One of the owners told me that is their entire culinary repertoire which is tailored to the venue in which they serve. At breweries, they tend to favor more of a protein laden menu while at farmers markets, Matzo ball soup may appear. Unbeknownst to my dining companion (DC) and I that night, we were in for a real treat. 

Although JewBans menu was limited that night, DC and I sampled most of it. The first thing tried was the Circa 1899 Hot Pastrami sandwich. I am a fool for good pastrami, and even at the "classic" delis nationwide, it can be hard to find. JewBans pastrami was a magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale, some of the best I have had. It is prepared over a week in house, and so much meat is served each plating requires 2 buns. Mustard and pickle are perhaps de rigueur, here an afterthought compared to the quality of the pastrami,

DC and I also split a Miami in the Hoose, a classic Cubano. This was one of the best Cuban sandwiches I have had. Sweet ham, smoked had, in house roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle sealed the deal. Excellent and highly recommended.

We finished with the Cuban steak bowl. This was Palomino steak (thin Sirloin) over Jasmin rice with  black beans and in house "drunken" plantains. Good but eclipsed by the previous two dishes.

Although not sampled, we also caught a glimpse of the Cuban sandwich platter (Cuban sandwiches sliced in bite sized pieces) and the final menu item, their signature mojo chicken. This was mojo chicken served with a taco over jasmine rice and black beans.

The food at JewBans really works and is incredibly delicious. Although sampling only 3 of their menu items, they were for the most part, exceptional. There is a reason they passed the audition for the East Naples upcoming food park. Their price points are modest, a relief from the prices at times for excellence in Naples. They will be here for the foreseeable future, and post their schedule on their website. I hope readers will take time to smell the culinary roses. The beer and atmosphere at RBC are also very nice, a perfect combination with Jewbans when I was there.
Riptides hours and food truck schedule are on their website. JewBans schedule is also on their website.

Riptide Brewing Company
987 3rd. Ave. N.
Naples, FL 34102

JewBan's Deli Dale Food Truck
Beer selection, Riptide Brewing Company
Interior, Rip Tide Brewing Company

Cuban sandwich platter

JewBans Deli Dale food truck
Menu for JewBans at Riptide Brewing Company

Pastrami sandwich
Palomino steak with black beans and jasmine rice
Miami in the hoose classic Cuban sandwich

Mojo chicken with tortilla, Jasmin rice and black beans

Que, JewBans food truck

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lunch at True Food Kitchen

Main dining area, True Food Kitchen
Fox Restaurant Concepts (Fox) is a consortium of close to 60 restaurants in 13 different states. Headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, Fox currently operates under 16 different banners. These include Culinary Dropout, The Arrogant Butcher, Flower Child and Dough Bird; names that are quirky but very much get your attention. In 2008 another restaurant banner was launched, True Food Kitchen. There are as of this writing 20 True Food Kitchens, one of them recently opening in Naples, FL.

True Food Kitchen (TFK) is a partnership with Andrew Weil, a physician who was instrumental in the development of integrative medicine. This is a gestalt approach to medicine incorporating not only biological and psychological aspects, but social and spiritual as well. Nutrition plays a big part in this. 

It has long been proposed that low grade inflammatory events in the body are progenitors of disease processes such as heart disease and diabetes, and there is good evidence for many of these claims. Nutrients in various foods have been found to have anti inflammatory properties per se, which has led some to advocate an anti inflammatory "diet". Some studies on this have been equivocal and therefore the concept as such, controversial. There is no doubt that good nutrition is a component of good health, and this is one of the concepts of TFK.

As you enter the restaurant there is a very large open dining space accentuated by many windows letting in lots of natural light. There is also quite ample outside dining space as well, should the weather warrant it. This restaurant also has somewhat of an open air kitchen. I have always felt that kitchens such as these help connect diners with their food if they can see the kitchen staff at work. After all, the Japanese have been successfully using this concept for many years with their Teppanyaki grills.

My dining companion (DC) and I dined here on the second day they were open. We tried a few of the menu items.

The first thing we sampled was the torched avocado from the vegetable offerings. It looked interesting, with "torched avocado", cucumber noodles, reconstituted dried Asian mushrooms, sesame, radish, sugar snap peas and ponzu sauce seasoned with tumeric. Ponzu sauce is sort of a soy sauce "spiked" with a citrus note. I thought the dish was a bit of a disconnect with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the citrus seeming to clash with one another. We then moved onto a couple of the entrees.

DC ordered the sustainable seabass with broccolini, sugar snap pea, roasted mushrooms, ancient grains and a umami sauce. The ancient grains at TFK are a mixture of farro, brown rice and quinoa. Umami is the 5th sense of taste, that of savory. The restaurant replicates this with a mixture of olive oil, apple cider vinegar and yeast flakes. We both thought the dish good, but there were better sea bass dishes to be had locally.

I am a fool for fish tacos, and what was served to us was wonderful. These were served properly on corn tortillas, with avocado, pickled onion, cilantro and Greek yogurt. A side of anasazi beans accompanied the dish. These were delicious, seasoned with cayenne pepper, cumin, pico de gallo and cotija cheese. The fish portions in this dish were significant, almost 3 oz. of sea bass per taco. Although fish tacos originated in the Baja region of Mexico, these fish tacos were some of the best I have had East of the Mississippi.

I felt the restaurant had much more to offer and wondered about the service especially with the corporate presence that day. Fortunately I was able to connect with one of the TFK corporate representatives. This individual most graciously offered to give DC and I the opportunity to sample more of the restaurant's offerings gratis.

Talking to our server before ordering on our second visit, we were told they received 40-50 hours of orientation; learning menu items and a team approach to service. This really showed not only with our server but with watching the service provided to other diners.

DC and I wanted to sample some of some of the restaurant's beverage offerings. We ordered the honey lemonade which was made from honey, lemon juice and an optional splash of cucumber juice. I tried the cherry chia limeade with lime juice, Amarena cherries and chia seeds. The lemonade had a bit of bitterness. Perhaps they did not peel their cucumbers before making juice from them. In contrast, the cherry chia lime aid was excellent, well flavored and very refreshing.

I love roasted vegetables; charred cauliflower was ordered. It was flavored with harissa tahini, Medjool dates, pistachio, dill and mint. The dill and mint provided a very unusual flavor combination that I had not experienced before. On the whole, this vegetable offering was quite good. We also sampled from the salad menu and the Mediterranean quinoa salad looked interesting. Romaine lettuce was topped with quinoa, seedless cucumber, Kalamata olives, sweet Peppadew peppers, cherry tomatos, pole beans, feta cheese, almond and finished with an oregano vinaigrette. I thought it was very good but not being a "salad person", DC didn't care for it. It's all a matter of taste sometimes.

The pizzas at TFK looked good, so we ordered the wild mushroom pizza. This 12 or 14 inch pizza came with roasted mushrooms which looked like Crimini and/or Shiitake, asparagus, roasted garlic and a mozzarella/taleggio cheese mixture. Taleggio is sort of an Italian Brie cheese, very creamy and buttery. With a moderately thin, light crust the pizza was close to perfection and delicious. A must order again item. A turkey burger was ordered from the sandwich selections. It was served with butter lettuce, smashed avocado, tomato, smoked Gouda cheese and a jalapeno remoulade, or sort of a spicy mayonnaise-based sauce. The dish was served with cubed sweet potato roasted with olive oil and onions and/or a kale salad with sea salt, chili pepper, garlic and a lemon vinaigrette. Although made with breast meat, the burger was unusually moist with the inclusion of the skin at grinding. With the avocado, remoulade and the smokiness of the cheese, this sandwich was excellent and one of the best turkey burgers I have ever had. I thought the kale salad ok in addition to the roasted sweet potatoes. The sandwich was so good however, the side dishes were easy to overlook.

We were then treated to tasting portions of each of their desert items. A flourless chocolate cake was served with caramel, vegan vanilla ice cream a cocoa nibs. Interestingly, the ice cream was made from coconut milk.

We were also served a slice of their vegan, gluten free key lime pie. How can this be you may ask? The crust is made from ground almonds, gluten free flower and cinnamon. The filling consists of key lime juice, coconut water and cornstarch and is topped with a mixture of whipped coconut cream, vanilla bean paste, sugar and lime zest. Surprisingly, it was very good and one of the better pieces of key lime pie I have ever had.

A duo of Sea Buckthorn fruit sorbet with cherries and another scoop of vegan vanilla followed. Sea Buckthorn is a shrub that produces an orange fruit that is very astringent and sour. This is prevented by frosting the fruit and adding sugar making the fruit a perfect candidate for sorbet. The berries (fruit) of this plant are also nutritionally dense and have purported medicinal properties.

Their vegan flan followed, with coconut, chia seeds and caramel sauce. The texture was different from the traditional and the dessert on the whole, good.

I happened to have a decibel meter on my phone for an unrelated reason, but decided to check it out. At the peak of the lunch crowd, the ambient noise level approached 95 dB. This was rather high, but did not interfere with conversation between DC and I as we were at a small table for two. If you want a quite, intimate dining venue for perhaps date night, this restaurant may not be for you. However, I felt the ambient noise level in the restaurant complemented the large open dining space and the natural lighting in the restaurant.

On the whole the food at TFK was good to excellent with a number of standouts. I think the concept of this restaurant very much has it's finger on the zeitgeist of the contemporary food scene, and should do extremely well. The restaurant also changes it's offerings seasonally, a perfect excuse to go back in Summer, Fall and Winter.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

True Food Kitchen
Waterside Shops
5375 Tamiami Tr. STE. 15
Naples, FL 34108
True Food Kitchen-Naples Website 

All major credit cards accepted; kid's meals available; valet parking through Waterside Shops
Honey lemonade and cherry chia limeade

Torched avocado

Grilled fish tacos
Sustainable seabass

Charred cauliflower
Mediterranean quinoa salad

Wild mushroom pizza
Turkey burger
Sea buckthorn sorbet and vegan vanilla ice cream
Flourless chocolate cake
Coconut and chia seed flan


Friday, March 24, 2017

The World's Largest Wine Dinner at Carrabba's

Carrabba's World's Largest Wine Dinner

Carrabba's Italian Grill (Carrabba's) is a restaurant casual dining chain that operates at the time of this writing almost 250 locations. A casual dining restaurant typically offers reasonably priced food with table service in a casual atmosphere. Carrabba's is part of the Bloomin' Brands consortium whose banners include Bonefish Grill, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar and Outback Steakhouse. 

I was contacted by a marketing firm for Carrabba's to attend gratis with a guest a special event there recently known as The World's Largest Wine Dinner. The event, held at all Carrabba's locations nationwide, boasted a cumulative total of 28,000 dinners, 7,000 guests and 4,000 bottles of wine. I had never dined at a Carrabba's so why not?

Part of the restaurant was reserved especially for this dinner. Upon entry to the dining area, we were offered a glass of Prosecco, This was a very nice gesture and a great aperitif for the evening's meal. I would guess there were 40 attendees for the dinner.

We were first treated to one of the secrets of Carrabba's cusine, the recipe behind their herb-olive oil recipe. The executive chef of this branch melded together a mixture of basil, garlic, parsley, oregano, rosemary, salt and olive oil for all of us to sample. We were then given a hands on demonstration as how to properly cook pasta. A ratio of 1 oz. salt to a gallon of water was recommended. This is just the cooking base and of course, cooking times vary by pasta type.
Insalata Fiorucci was the first course and was paired with a Chloe Pino Grigio. The salad consisted of greens, red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, Romano cheese, and Italian-themed vinaigrette, grilled eggplant and hazelnut encrusted goat cheese. I wondered what Fiorucci was. Upon researching this, it is an Italian fashion label or a purveyor of Italian specialty meats. The disconnect was apparent in the salad, which was just ok. I love goat cheese, but was disappointed in what was used as that "goat cheese" flavor was just not there.

The second course was a Calabrian Cavatappi, or a region of Italy that may use a helical shaped macaroni in the dish. The pasta was served with spicy peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, basil and olive oil and topped with burrata. Burrata is sort of a cream-infused version of mozzarella. This was paired with a Pieropan Soave. When a Soave is good, it's really good, with a refreshing crisp note on the palate reminiscent of Pino Grigio, with no bitterness. Again, the pasta dish fell flat in my mind, too little sauce and the burrata, a star of this course, lacking substance. The Soave paired with this meal was ok, but had a bit of bitterness that some more palatable Soaves avoid.
C'est la guerre, onto the main course.

The main course was a grilled sirloin steak or veal Marsala, both in a mushroom and Marsala sauce and served with broccoli. I thought the steak flavorful but unreasonably tough. Unless cut in small pieces and chewed thoroughly, it was somewhat difficult to eat. The veal was better, much more tender and easier to eat. Both dishes were served with a Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon. I thought this wine the best of the evening, grapey and refreshing compared to more of the serious Cabernet candidates from California.

We finished the meal with a "sogno de cioccolata" or chocolate dream. This was a fudge brownie with mousse, cream and chocolate sauce. The pairing with Joel Gott Zinfindel from California was the best part of the dessert course.

Carrabba's is an extremely popular restaurant. This location, apart from the wine dinner, was full to capacity for most of the evening. The wine dinner was a very nice promotional gesture on behalf of the restaurant chain but was not cutting edge or innovative cuisine by any means. At most, in the context of a casual dining chain, it was food and wine bolstered by it's price point of $40.00 for a 4 course food and wine pairing. Happily, I must also mention they were very generous with the wine served, providing guests with second glasses or more of each wine if requested.

I would like to thank Carrabba's again for providing a guest and I the meal gratis for this event.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks. 

Carrabba's Italian Grill
4320 Tamiami Tr. N.
Naples, FL 34103

Open 11 AM to 11 PM Fridays and Saturdays, 11 AM to 9 PM Sundays and 11 AM to 10 PM all other days; All major credit cards accepted; Kid's meals available 

Processo offering, World's Largest Wine Dinner, Carrabba's, Naples, FL

Calabrian Cavatappi, World's Largest Wine Dinner, Carrabba's, Naples, FL
Attendees, World's Largest Wine Dinner, Carrabba's, Naples, FL

Chef demonstration, herb-olive oil dipping sauce, World's largest wine dinner, Carrabba's, Naples, FL

Insalata Fiorucci, World's largest wine dinner, Carrabba's, Naples, FL

Chocolate dream, World's Largest Wine Dinner, Carrabba's, Naples, FL
Veal Marsala, World's largest wine dinner, Carrabba's, Naples, FL
Sirloin steak in Marsala sauce, World's largest wine dinner, Carraba's, Naples, FL