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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dinner at Artisan Eatery in Fort Myers

Artisan Eatery  (AE)
Exterior, Artisan Eatery
is a restaurant that has been open, as of this writing, for about 2 months. There has been a lot of hype recently on social and "traditional" media about AE.  Always looking for good places to eat, my dining companion and I decided to take a peek.

As you enter the restaurant, the first thing you will notice is a commodious dining space and an open air kitchen. I have said it before and will say it again. I think open air kitchens are really a plus as seeing the food prepared really helps diners better connect with their food. After all, the Japanese have used this theme successfully in their teppanyaki restaurants in addition to pizzerias with their tossed crust.

Interior, Artisan Eatery

AE models themselves on a fast casual platform, where one orders at the register and the food is brought out to them. This theme is further reinforced by their essentials station, which provides non alcoholic beverages, cutlery and condiments, all self serve. I am OK with all of this, what interested me was the food that my dining companion (DC) and I ordered that night.

They had a special menu that I would assume changes frequently. The special lunch and dinner menus for that day are in pink.

Sample special menu, Artisan Eatery

I saw an item that looked interesting from this menu but we started from the regular Lunch and Dinner Menu.

One of the first things we ordered was the prosciutto flatbread. This sounded heavenly, with of course prosciutto, arugula, toasted pine nuts, shallot vinaigrette and shaved parmigiana. The flavors in this dish were very good, but the preparation not up to the ingredients. The flat bread was cooked like a cracker. With the way this dish was sliced and delivered to the table, the vehicle for these wonderful flavors could not be folded. Unfortunately, most of the flat bread topping upon eating fell onto the plate and could not be readily enjoyed with it's vehicle. Perhaps this would be better plated as a salad, I don't know. This dish could have been much better.

We then moved onto another menu item which was tuna tataki, served with a ginger soy emulsion, preserved lemon and crispy rice noodles. This was one of the best tuna tataki dishes "per se" I have had, the tuna in this dish cooked to perfection. Unfortunately the sauce did not work for me. I thought the preserved lemon gave way to more than desired bitter notes due to residual pieces of lemon rind. Perhaps I am just accustomed to the traditional Asian treatment and wanted more umami. Unfortunately, this take on tuna tataki disappointed.

I love pork/beef blends, and ordered the pork belly hamburger from their special menu that day.

"Pork belly" hamburger

This was brought to us on a brioche bun, with provolone cheese, "LTO" as they say and pepper jelly. I am really into a good burger at home and find a 1/3 pork to 2/3 beef mixture fills the bill. I did not find this at AE and it just tasted like a regular hamburger for $14.00. I do not know what the beef/pork ratio was here but it did not work for me.

I am sorry to say this but the best thing we ordered that night were the sweet potato fries.

Sweet potato fries

This was a huge portion of fried sweet potatoes and was served with about 2 tablespoons of maple brown sugar aioli. The thought here was great but to be sure, 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of aioli was not enough for all of the best sweet potato fries I have ever eaten. As such, we could have requested more but after this dining experience just grabbed ketchup from the "essentials" station. Do not get me wrong, no matter the condiment, these will be the best sweet potato fries you will ever eat.

I found the fare at AE uneven, and on the whole, very disappointing. I know others have raved about this establishment but it really did not work for my dining companion and I. If you go, I hope you, as did others, have a much more positive dining experience.

That's that for another post on Forks. 

Artisan Eatery
8951 Daniels Pkwy.
Fort Myers, FL 33902

Open 7 days a week, 8 AM-9 PM; No valet parking; All major credit cards accepted; Beer and wine available on premises.

Interior, Artisan Eatery

Essentials station, Artisan Eatery

Tuna tataki

Prosciutto flatbread

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lunch at Soul Bowl Cafe in Fort Myers

Soul food has it's beginnings in the Southern United States. I like to think of it as food from the cultural soul of this area. It's beginnings were really with native American Indians. Corn and wild game were a big part of their diet. This cuisine was adopted in some form or fashion by many early foreign immigrants to this area and the slaves they brought with them. The corn so prevalent in the Indian diet gave way to cornbread, grits, hush puppies (fried cornbread) and batters for frying. Frying was a cooking method popular before the advent of refrigeration. Again, as did Native Americans, animals were consumed in their entirety. This gave way to dishes made from intestine (Chit'lins), pig feet and skin. Animal fat was commonly used for cooking.

With many people migrating to the Northern United States over time from this area, soul food, as with all foods, brought people together through cultural bonds and memories of home. I spent a good part of a decade in Mississippi pursuing a graduate degree. During that time I fell in love with Southern cooking; aka soul food, and missed it when it was not readily available. I was pleased to see a restaurant recently opening locally that features this type of cuisine.

Soul Bowl Cafe
has been open, as of this writing, for about six weeks. It is located across from the Fleamasters Fleamarket in Fort Myers. SBC is housed in a building with a patina in addition to an interior dining space that is extremely minimalist. However, in the area it is in, it works very well. As my grandmother told me, "don't judge a book by it's cover". As usual, grandmother was right. Some very good cooking is to be had at SBC. The restaurant is owned by a couple that has both long term expertise in the food industry and a wealth of soul food family recipes.

If this is your cup of tea, I think you will find the menu at SBC interesting.

Menu, Soul Bowl Cafe
Menu, Soul Bowl Cafe

Most of their food is served in varying sized bowls I would assume to control portion size along to complement the assonance in the establishment's name.

My dining companion and I went there on a Sunday. Unknown to us then, they only served a limited menu on Sundays. Here was the Sunday dinner menu that day though it changes weekly.

Sample Sunday dinner menu, Soul Bowl Cafe
We asked what the soul bowl was, otherwise known as the soul bag on the menu. "Plenty of pig parts" was the reply, and we were asked if we wanted a sample. How could I say no? It was really good, but thinking of what was in store, we switched gears. Although plentiful in this dish, we simply did not have the "guts" to be culinary adventurers that day. As such we went for the other two menu selections.

Meatloaf with Mac 'n' cheese, lima beans and corn bread
My dining companion chose the meatloaf. A very generous serving was set atop a mashed potato base and smothered with gravy. It was excellent. I noticed the mashed potatoes were not entirely mashed, the odd chunk of potato turning up. This was a very good sign and reminded us this stuff was made in house from "scratch".

The mac and cheese was simple, but also very good. The lima beans served here were exceptional, their starchy creaminess accentuated by the pork fat used to cook them with. The corn bread served was not the best I have had, but good.

I went for the turkey wing with gravy. This was another excellent dish, served atop rice. I decided to try fried okra and greens as my sides, and both were exceptional. The okra, coated with a corn meal batter, was perfectly seasoned and cooked. A bite into them yielded a crunchy texture followed by the flavor of okra. The collard greens, cooked to perfection, had that slight bitterness offset by the pork fat used to cook them with. Highly recommended.

We split a piece of key lime cake as a dessert.

Key lime cake
Although I was disappointed to find out this was not made in house, it was not bad, obviously made on a small scale and for $2.00, a bargain. I don't think you can get a corporate made dessert at a convenience store for that.

The service here was very good, and the owner and employees very friendly. Should you not want to eat in house, take out is available as well.

The food ordered that day definitely brought me back to my days in the deep south and was as good as I remembered it. I think we had a very good sampling of the side dishes offered here which were all excellent to exceptional. Our main dishes were also excellent, I cannot wait to go back and try more of them. Not only is the food here very reasonably priced, but it seems to have more soul than it can control!

That's that for another post on Forks.

Soul Bowl Cafe
3802 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33916

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 6 AM-4PM; Saturday, 8AM-7PM; Sunday, 8AM-5PM; Breakfast served till 11 AM. Closed Mondays; Kids meals not available; All major credit cards accepted.

Interior dining area, Soul Bowl Cafe
Turkey wing dinner with fried okra and collard greens

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Naples Originals Quarterly Winter Gift Certificate Sale

Naples Originals is a consortium of almost 40 locally owned restaurants. The main purpose of Naples Originals is marketing member restaurants. To this end, they promote fostering an appreciation of local restaurants as well as other businesses. At the end of the day, locally owned restaurants and businesses enhance their environments by providing a diverse and unique experience for patrons.

Quarterly, Naples Originals restaurants and catering services donate Gift Certificates to be sold at a 30% discount from face value to the public. This is done to market member restaurants and to provide monies for charitable concerns. The face value of these certificates is generally $50.00, $25.00 and $15.00.

The next sale will be Thursday, February 22nd, 2018. Be sure to get to their Website early (6 AM or so) as this offer sells out very quickly.
Cheers and have a very pleasant dining experience at Naples Originals restaurants.
Turkey, Italian hoagie and Cuban (roasted pork) "sliders" served on parmesan ciabatta bread. Three60 Market, a member of Naples Originals.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lunch at Dorona in Naples

Dorona Italian Steakhouse (Dorona)

Darona, Naples, FL

is a steakhouse in Naples, FL. The owner's vision is to have premium, aged meats that are simply prepared mostly complemented by the establishment's interpretation of Italian cuisine. The meats here are aged for any number of weeks depending on the cut at about 35 degrees and around 20% humidity.

Dry aging locker, Dorona

The proprietors have a very long and successful culinary provenance stretching from Washington, DC to St. Petersburg, FL and Naples, FL.

The restaurant has been open less than a month as of this writing. Having sampled wares from the owners other brands, my dining companion (DC) were anxious to try this new addition to their dining armamentarium.

As you enter Dorona, the restaurant's space centers around the well thought out bar area, with booth and table seating adjacent to that.

Bar area, Dorona
 Here is establishment's lunch menu.

All of it looked really good, and here is what DC and I ordered from the menu.

We started with the fig and black truffle pizza topped with prosciutto and arugula.

Fig and black truffle pizza

This dish was excellent and DC and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We also sampled the wagyu stuffed olives; breaded and fried and served in a sort of deconstructed burrata sauce. This was not for DC and I. Recognizing our less than unbridled enthusiasm for this starter our server brought it back to the kitchen and took it off our tab. I thought this was great and customer service such as this will keep me coming back.
After our servers recommendation, we sampled the meatballs "affogato" in a tomato/parmesian gratin.

Meatballs affogato

As one of the owners explained to us, meatballs are very common in Venice but are mostly served plain; you get your meatballs there with a toothpick. The interpretation at Darona is affogato, or smothered in Italian. You then have these meatballs served topped in a very nice sauce. Although the meat portion of this dish is small it still is most recommended. 

As DC and I were waiting for our mains, we noticed that the table next to us ordered a Caesar salad. Refreshingly prepared table side, I was glad to see this mostly forgotten bit of restaurant showmanship brought back to life here.

DC and I ordered our main course from the reinvented sandwiches and burgers portion of the lunch menu. DC opted for the beef brisket sandwich.

Beef brisket sandwich
This sandwich was excellent, with ample amounts of hot/sweet brisket. It was topped with inoki mushroom tempura and cabbage slaw with a vinegar dressing. The vinegar note from the slaw was the perfect accompaniment to this exceptional menu item.

I settled on the dry aged beef burger. This was another exceptional menu item. The burger was topped with sopressata, caramelized onions, bourbon sauce and fried egg. The egg yolk drizzling over this wonderful aged beef patty after my first bite was incredible and a perfect foil for this dish. Most highly recommended.

The fries served with both of these items were very good. We were told this was due to a frequent oil change in their fryers. I wish more restaurants would do this as something so simple can make a big difference on the finished product.

At DC's suggestion, I took a bit of a closer look at Dorona's dry aging locker. One of their signature dinner items is a dry aged bone-in 140 oz. chateaubriand that served four.

Dry aged chateaubriand
I think you will agree with me that this menu item is a chateau "beyond".

From what was ordered for lunch, the food at Dorona is, for the most part, excellent. The service was also very good, our server being as accommodating as a server possibly could be. Our lunch experience here is highly recommended and was almost flawless. I think Dorona is a wonderful addition to the local culinary scene and a breath of fresh air from the luxury steak establishment status quo.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

2110 9th St. N.
Naples, FL 34103

Monday-Wednesday: Open 1130-230 for lunch, 3-10 PM for dinner; Thursday-Saturday: Open 1130-230 for lunch, 3-1030 PM for dinner; Sunday: 5-9 PM for dinner; No valet parking; All major credit cards accepted; Kid's meals by request.

Dining area, Dorona

Dining area, Dorona

Table side Caesar salad

Crispy olives stuffed with wagyu beef

Dry aged beef hamburger

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Dinner at Pho Kingdom in Fort Myers

Pho Kingdom (PK)

Pho Kingdom
is a restaurant in Fort Myers, FL serving Vietnamese cuisine. At present, they have been open less than a month and are in the space formerly housing Ruben's Smokehouse. I love a good bowl of pho, that delicious Vietnamese soup made from a richly prepared broth and rice noodles at it's most basic. That being said, my dining companion and I decided to check it out.

The interior of the restaurant is somewhat moderate and simple, reflecting the cuisine here.

Dining area, Pho Kingdom

The menu, at least for now, is minimal. That's OK I thought, perhaps they do what they do well.

Menu, Pho Kingdom
We opted to try a few things off the menu, the first being the cha gio tom and cha gio ga, fried shrimp and chicken rolls, respectively.  Four rolls come to a serving, and for $4, is very reasonable. The owner was really nice and brought to the table two chicken and shrimp rolls so we could try them both. Unfortunately, these were no great shakes. Just run of the mill fried rolls.

I wanted to try the beef rib dish (com suong bo) but they were out. We opted for the com suong heo, or barbecued pork with rice.

Barbecued pork with rice and fish sauce

Upon serving, this dish just seemed like a barbecued pork chop, at first glance unremarkable and I was somewhat disappointed. It was much more according to my dining companion who had traveled extensively in Vietnam. The pork was fairly sweet after it's condensed milk and honey marinade. The dish, once explained to me how it works, was very good. The pork, cut into bite size piece is topped onto rice and seasoned with the fish sauce-based condiment provided. To complete this meal, a small serving of the restaurant's chicken pho was served alongside. It was delicious and a wonderful compliment to this main.

We finished with the pho dac biet, a pho with brisket, meat ball and beef. This was a monstrous portion of pho and if I had to guess was about 25 oz. 

Pho dac biet
The condiments served were some of the usual pho suspects and included basil, bean sprouts, culantro and hoisin sauce. This beef pho was really heavy on the star anise/five spice powder so if you like this flavor this bowl o' pho is for you.

Having no more room for food we asked for the check. As of this writing, the restaurant is giving a 20% discount as a "carrot" to come and try their food. With our discount the above bowl of pho was around $11.00. I don't think you can find anything like this in the area for this price. For lunch, two people would have a fairly good serving of pho for not much more than $5.00. 

The food, from what was sampled at PK was ok to very good. I thought the pho hands down was the best of what we ate here. The prices, at least for now, cannot be beat and readers may want to take advantage of this promotion. If you have a "yen" for Vietnamese food, especially pho, PK may be for you.

Total with discount, Pho Kingdom

That's that for another post on Forks.

Pho Kingdon
11506 Tamiami Trail
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Open 11AM-8PM Sunday-Saturday; All major credit cards accepted; Self parking; Kid's meals available

Vietnamese shrimp and chicken rolls

Chicken pho side order

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Faith, Wine and Culture. Windows on Wine.

Another wonderful installment from local retired Master Sommelier Barrie Larvin's blog post, Windows on Wine. Barrie was president of The Court of Master Sommeliers for 20 years and developed many of their educational programs. For a brief discussion of Austrian wine and culture, go Here. As always, a great educational experience.

A non-nondescript glass of Gruner Veltliner somewhere in Naples, FL

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dinner at Namba Ramen and Sushi

Namba Ramen and Sushi (Namba),

Namba Ramen and Sushi, Naples, FL
as the savvy reader may surmise, is a Japanese-themed restaurant serving ramen and other items inspired by Japanese cuisine. The restaurant opened in December of 2017 and has a provisional menu for the time being.

Namba is a district in the prefecture (equivalent of state) of Osaka in central Japan. Koko Pitak, the executive chef, is from Thailand. After initially pursuing an electrical engineering career switched gears and trained in Japan mastering the art of preparing Japanese cuisine.

Chef Koko had previously worked at an Asian-themed restaurant in Naples and I really enjoyed his efforts there. As such, I was anxious to sample his offerings at Namba. For now, having just opened, his culinary repertoire is limited but many menu items will be offered in the near future from this extremely talented chef.

Interior, Namba
The restaurant, located in north Naples is relatively small, accommodating about 30 diners. They do not take reservations and for now, having just opened, the wait is minimal, at least the Monday night in January we were there.

We had a rather large party (6 diners) and were seated rather quickly. Having so many people in our group, we were able to sample a number of items from Namba's present Menu.

The first thing sampled was the restaurant's edamame. Edamame are soy beans, and once cooked, are meant to be squeezed from their seed pods when eating. Although not eaten and used as a flavoring vehicle, the edamame pods at Namba are seasoned with smoked soy sauce, garlic, ginger and for our order, mild chili pepper. They were very good, and kept the vegan contingent of our dining party happy.

Shishito peppers

We also sampled the grilled shishito peppers. These are a sweet Asian pepper, and at the restaurant are grilled and served with a ponzu (citrus) aioli. Besides again mollifying our vegan diners, this starter was also very good.

The gyoza were next, and most definitely passed muster from our dining group. In house made dumplings (fried) are stuffed with Wagyu beef, cabbage and scallions and topped with a yuzu (citrus)/tahoon sauce. Tahoon is an herb that has both a nutty and subtle onion flavor. Garnished with a carrot puree, this starter is served with a sauce made from black truffle on the bottom and covered with ponzu sauce. If you order this be sure to stir this wonderful condiment before eating!

Grilled octopus

I am a "sucker" for octopus, and had to order the octopus appetizer on the menu. Usuta (Japanese Worcestershire) sauce, pickled beet, grilled tomatoes and yuzu aioli finished this wonderful dish. No matter your point of view on eating cephalopods, this starter is a masterpiece. It is beautifully presented and one of the best, if not the best grilled octopus dishes I have eaten. Most highly recommended.

We finished our perusal of the small plate menu with a couple orders of the steamed bao buns. These were excellent, filled with Berkshire pork, lettuce, pickled cucumber and hoisin sauce. Berkshire pork is what is known as a "Heritage" breed. Like heirloom in the vegetable world, heritage Berkshire has been around for many years; this pork being produced for almost 300 years in the UK. As Wagyu is to beef, Berkshire is to pork, both prized for their heavily marbled fat content. Berkshire pork is also known as Kurobuta pork in Japan. No matter, this small plate was very much enjoyed by the carnivorous contingent of our dining party.

We then moved onto our "mains", which was a sampling of the ramen offerings here. Our vegan diners ordered, of course, the vegan ramen. The base of this dish was vegetable broth/soy milk and included inari (fried tofu skins), cashew and bean sprouts. It was delicious, and thought it had a heavy coconut note. Au contraire chef Koko said, it's flavor comes from the in house made soy milk. An excellent menu offering, this will keep any vegan diner happy.

The other ramen dishes here are based on tonkotsu broth, which is a broth made from simmering pork bones for many hours, in this case seventeen. It is milky white, the color developing only in the final hours of cooking. One of our dining party ordered the beef ramen, which came with thinly sliced beef sirloin sauteed in a shoyu (fermented soy) sauce with ginger, garlic and Asian pear. Seasoned hard boiled egg half and bean sprouts finished the dish. I did not sample this but as all the other ramen dishes here, looked great.

Classic pork ramen
I ordered the classic pork ramen, which was served with pork chashu slices. Chashu is braised pork belly, and is heaven. This particular ramen is also served with red ginger, wood ear mushrooms, nori, bamboo shoots, Japanese pickled plum, spicy bean sprouts and seasoned hard boiled egg. It was hands down delicious, another fantastic menu item.

Hokkaido ramen
Another member of our dining party ordered the Hokkaido ramen, which has a seafood theme.  Here, this wonderful tonkotsu broth is flavored with king crab leg, calamari, shrimp, corn, scallions and spicy bean sprouts. At Namba, one is able to order additional toppings for your ramen. In this case, kamaboko fish cakes were the supplement. This is a processed whitefish that has various flavorings added to it and steamed. It is similar to the Krab that is available in North America, but can be prepared in much more aesthetically pleasing ways. This member of our dining party said "this was the best bowl of soup he had ever eaten". Having tried another version of this before, I would tend to agree.

We finished with a couple shared orders of the green tea-infused creme brulee, the only dessert available on the maiden limited menu right now. It was good. Visually the dish had one, but I really didn't taste a pronounced green tea note here. Having said that, if you like creme brulee you will like this dessert.

The food at Namba is very good to absolutely wonderful. You will not have a bad meal here. Although there are many great menu items, the ramen is hands down the best of the bunch right now from what we sampled. I cannot wait for Namba's menu to expand and have many more offerings. With this extremely talented chef at the helm, only good things can come from this establishment down the road.

Namba, Naples, FL

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Namba Ramen and Sushi
8847 Tamiami Trail North
Naples, FL 34108

Open Monday-Thursday: 1130AM-10PM; Friday-Saturday: 1130AM-1030PM; Sunday: 5-930PM; All major credit cards accepted; No valet parking; No reservations accepted, seating on a first come, first served basis; Take out available; Kid's meals on request.

Wagyu beef gyoza


Berkshire pork belly buns

Green tea-infused creme brulee