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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dinner at Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill of Fort Myers

Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill


Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill
is a restaurant in Fort Myers, FL serving food from Central America, specifically from Honduras. Rinconcito Catracho means little Honduran corner, and I will abbreviate the name of this restaurant as LG (Latin Grill). LG has been at this location for 2 and 1/2 years. It's owner, Christopher, chatted with me for a bit about the restaurant and it's fare. Most of the recipes used here are from his family in Central America. Everything that we tried here was made from "scratch", even the tortillas, but more on that later.

As you enter LG, the interior of the restaurant is basic though somewhat homey, made even more so being there a few days before Christmas. Should you just want to grab a light snack and a beverage, there is a pool and foosball table in the back should you feel so inclined.

My dining companion and I sampled a number of items from LG's dinner menu. The first were the pupusas. These are masa cakes that are usually stuffed with cheese along with any number of other things and cooked on a griddle. In this case we tried the the pupusas with chicken and cheese, jalapenos with cheese and locoro with cheese. Locoro is a vine that is widely grown in Central America. The buds and flowers of locoro are widely used as foods there. It has a sort of nutty, "green" flavor and was very good, as were the other versions of this dish, the masa blending perfectly with the cheese and other fillings. There were served with curtido, a condiment made from pickled red onion, beets and cauliflower. Curtido is a traditional Honduran accompaniment.

We split a baleada, which was a large wheat flour tortilla, about the size you would use for a burrito but a bit thicker. The inside of the baleada was smeared with mashed fried beans, made that much better with a heavy dose of lard. Avocado, carne asada, egg, queso duro and crema, the latter sort of like a runny sour cream were piled on top of the beans (the works).  The tortilla is then folded in half to make a semi circle. This was absolutely delicious and an unbelievable bargain at $2.95.

Pollo con tajadas was next. Tajadas are fried plantain or banana slices, in this case green bananas. The foundation of this dish, tajadas, were like banana chips. Not greasy at all and delicious. These were topped with a minimalist slaw of cabbage and carrots, a mild Honduran aioli made from chili de arbol among other ingredients (which was a family secret), fried chicken and curtido. This was another absolutely delicious dish, and I really liked the breading on the fried chicken (another tightly held family recipe).

On another visit we sampled the ceviche. It was good, though flavored very differently from the Caribbean and Peruvian ceviches I am used to. I think the difference here was the lack of aromatic vegetables and cilantro that are used heavily in the latter two regional cuisines. What was unusual was the portion size, which was easily twice that one normally gets in Southwest Florida.

We finished with the fish tacos which were to say the least, remarkable. This wonderful dish featured in house freshly made corn tortillas, lightly breaded tilapia, minimalist cabbage and carrot slaw, sweetened Honduran aioli, and curtido. The tacos are served with really good beans (again, heavy on the lard) and rice with peas, corn and Lima beans. All for $8.00. These are hands down the best fish tacos I have had east of the Mississippi.

If these great flavors are not enough for you they serve really good in house made salsas with either a tomatillo (hot) or chili de arbol (mild) base.

The owner of LG has tried to create a little corner of Honduras in Fort Myers. Not only has he succeeded, but has given all of us an opportunity to try wonderful, fresh and authentic cuisine that is nearly an unequaled combination locally of flavor, quality and price. I rarely rave about a restaurant to this degree but LG is a true gem and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I hope readers will eat here. LG will not disappoint.

That's that for another post on Forks.


Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill
2096 Beacon Manor Dr,
Foft Myers, FL 33907
(239)204-9184


All major credit cards accepted; Kid's meals served; Hours 9AM-10PM; breakfast, lunch and dinner served

Dining area, Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill



Pool and foosball tables, Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill

Papusas with curtido, Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill


Baleada with beans, egg, carne asada, queso duro, avocado and crema, Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill


Pollo con tajadas, Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill

Tomatillo and chili de arbol salsas, Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill

Remarkable fish tacos with rice and beans, Rinconcito Catracho Latin Grill








Friday, December 16, 2016

Windows on Wine: Wine and the Holidays

Here is another installment from local retired Master Sommelier Barry Larvin's wine blog, Windows On Wine. To read a bit about wine suggestions for the holidays, as well as other tidbits about wine, go Here.

Cheers!

Cafe Bistro, Nordstrom, Naples, FL (yes, this is my photo...)



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dinner at Pho Plus II (Closed)


Pho Plus II


is a restaurant in the Metropolis Plaza in Fort Myers, FL serving Vietnamese Cuisine. They have been open at this location for approximately 2 months. Both my dining companion (DC) and I love Vietnamese food. Having heard good things about Pho Plus II, DC and I felt compelled to check it out.

The interior of the restaurant is simple, and seating options include tables, booths and seating at the bar. Do not let the exterior or interior of this restaurant mislead you. Unknown to DC and I at this point, we were in for a real treat.

The first thing we tried was the Bo Tai Chanh. This is a Vietnamese classic, and is sort of an Asian Carpaccio. This dish was wonderful, the rare beef used here cooked ever so slightly by marinating in lime juice and sugar. Served on a base of vegetables and cilantro, this excellent dish was finished with chili, caramelized shallot and Nuoc Cham.

The next menu item we tried was the restaurants' version of pork Banh Mi. Banh mi is an ode to French influences in Vietnam as this is a sandwich served on Baguette Bread. It was very good, the caramelized pork melding nicely with pickled daikon and carrot, onion, chili, cucumber and cilantro. The sandwich would have been perfection if the bread would have had a bit less volume. I thought it detracted from the wonderful filling inside it.

We finished up trying one of the establishments' Hot Pot. There are many versions of this dish in Asia which all center around diners adding ingredients table side to a bowl of hot, boiling broth. We tried a "Mongolian" or beef hot pot. This was very good. Ingredients served table side were thinly sliced raw beef, onion, cilantro, bean sprouts, noodles and Cai Lan, a sort of Asian Broccoli. This is a very "hands on" dish and really fun to share with 2 or 3 people.

After the hot pot was brought out I wished we would have split a bowl of pho as the small version of the restaurants' hot pot is easily enough for 3 or 4 on it's own. At first thought, the proprietor seems very heavy handed on the heat with this dish. I'm sure that a good part of this is boiling spiced broth is just that much hotter due to volatilization of the pepper ingredients. If you are used to medium heat I would recommend doing mild to medium instead.

The food at Pho Plus II is very good to excellent, reasonably priced and highly recommended. I cannot wait to go back and try more of the establishments' offerings, like mo' pho!

That's that for another post on Forks.

Pho Plus II
12951 Metro Pkwy.
Fort Myers, FL 33966
(239)768-0051

Pho Plus II- Yelp 


Accepts all credit cards; Kids' menu; Private parking; Take out available

Interior, Pho Plus II

 
Table setting, Pho Plus II



Bo tai chanh, Pho Plus II

Pork banh mi, Pho Plus II


Beef hot pot, Pho Plus II







Friday, December 9, 2016

Sizzle, a Quartely Publication of the American Culinary Federation: Winter Edition 2016

The American Culinary Federation is a professional organization of chefs, cooks, food industry professionals, food enthusiasts and a food blogger or two.  They have about 200 chapters and almost 20,000 members. They offer training, accreditation, scholarship and certification to foster professional growth in the culinary arts.

They publish a free quarterly periodical, Sizzle


Sizzle Winter 2016

Sizzle features culinary trends, cooking demonstrations, features on leading industry chefs and recipes. It's also available as a free app on Apple, Android and Amazon Kindle devices.

For the Winter 2016 digital issue of Sizzle, click Here. I think you will find many things of culinary interest in this publication. 

It's a wrap for another post on forks.




Dinner at Alexander's

Alexander's 

Alexander's Restaurant


is an eponymously-named restaurant in Naples, FL owned by long time Naples culinary fixture, Chef Alexander Bernard. Chef Bernard has been practicing his craft locally for over 30 years starting Alexander's over 20 years ago.

As you approach the entrance to the restaurant there is a beautiful outdoor dining area.

Outdoor dining, Alexander's Restaurant
The interior of the restaurant is also very nice.

Interior, Alexander's Restaurant
Having never dined here before, the ambience of the outdoor and indoor dining areas made my dining companion (DC) and I that much more eager to try Alexander's fare.

Some very good bread was brought out before our order, made even better with the addition of whipped butter with chives.

DC has a sweet tooth and ordered the wild mushroom and cashew Strudel. It was absolutely delicious. Each bite of perfectly cooked Brik pastry yielding it's buttery flakiness to a filling of creamy cashews, herbs and sautéed mushrooms. Caramelized apples accompanied the strudel which was finished with a balsamic reduction.

I am a fool for roasted beets, so the roasted beet and goat cheese salad looked worth a try.

Mixed greens were topped with roasted beets, toasted walnuts, Granny Smith apples and a dollop of goat cheese. The salad was finished with a walnut vinaigrette. The crunchiness of the walnuts complemented the beets and greens. The flavors of these seemed to meld almost perfectly with the tanginess of the goat cheese and green apples. Another very good dish.

We decided to split an order of lettuce wraps. Crispy Duck, which really refers to the skin, pickled red onion and ginger were served as fillings for leaves of romaine lettuce. Hoisin and peanut sauce were served as toppings. The peanut sauce was interesting. This restaurants' version incorporates hoisin sauce and rice wine vinegar making it different from the Traditional Preparation This menu item was also very good. Dishes like this are great to share as it's really hands on and fun putting them together.

After all these great starters, DC and I tried something from the "mains". We decided on the Colorado lamb shank.

This was a huge, almost 1 and 1/2 pound portion of lamb shank. Slowly braised for hours in veal stock and Mirepoix, it was seasoned with rosemary and garlic. The dish was served with caramelized butternut squash and Farro sweetened with dried cherries. This to me was the highlight of the evening, definitely enough for two and highly recommended.

The fare at Alexander's is very good. It does not attempt to be "high art" but succeeds at being very solid, flavorful food prepared with quality ingredients The service is good and the atmosphere, well, just perfect for date night. Alexander's will have you coming back for more.

That's that for another post on forks!

Alexander's Restaurant

Alexander's Restaurant
4077 Tamiami Tr. N.
Naples, FL 34103
(239)262-4999

All major credit cards accepted, kid's menu, no valet parking. Closed Sundays.

Bread and whipped butter with chives


Mushroom and cashew strudel

Roasted red beets and goat cheese salad
Lettuce wraps
Braised Colorado lamb shank



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday Dining in Southwest Florida


The holidays are upon us and celebration is one of our thoughts in the forefront for the majority of us. This of course, again for the majority, would be Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years’ Eve.
I have limited this article to options available Christmas Day for a number of reasons. For the most part, a vast majority of area restaurants will be open Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve. If you feel compelled to dine out either of these nights, just pick up the phone and call. Chances are your favorite restaurant will be open.
The real challenge then is to find somewhere to celebrate on Christmas Day as probably over 90% or more of area restaurants are closed.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

November Meeting of the ACF Naples Chefs at Lorenzo Walker Technical College

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) is a national organization of almost 20,000 members and 150 chapters nationwide. They are made up of chefs, food industry professionals and perhaps a food blogger or two.

For the most part, here is what ACF is all about. I cannot say this any better so I am quoting from ACF's "About" page.

"We offer culinary competitions, certification, a national apprenticeship program, regional and national events, publications and much more to help foster the growth of professional chefs and the food service industry. If you are not part of our organization, we invite you to join us and gain access to the best culinary resources available".

The local ACF Chapter is The Caxambas Chapter of Naples/Marco Island and their moniker on social media is ACF Naples Chefs (ACFNC).

Almost every month from March to January, ACFNC holds a general meeting.  Generally, a chapter member volunteers to sponsor one of these monthly events. Most of the time ACFNC monthly meetings are held at country clubs as chefs at these facilities comprise the majority of chapter membership. The November meeting was a bit different and was held at Lorenzo Walker Technical College. (LWTC)


Lorenzo Walker Technical College, Naples, FL



LWTC is run by Collier County Public Schools as part of their adult and workforce education Program. They teach employment preparation skills for labor fields such as cosmetology, drafting and welding among other programs. They help provide financial aid through local, state and federal grants and scholarships in addition to career placement for graduates. LWTC has around 1500 students enrolled in its various programs.

LWTC also offers a commercial foods and culinary arts program. It is a 2 year program with 1200 hours of instruction. Students are taught various aspects of food preparation, hospitality, dining room operations, instruction on kitchen sanitation and restaurant equipment operation.

After socializing for a bit attendees lined up for a Thanksgiving themed dinner prepared by LWTC students.

Naples ACF Chefs November Meeting 2016

Menu, ACF Naples Chefs November Meeting

The dinner included sweet potato pecan casserole, butternut squash soup,



 assorted salads,


and a bar with condiments for biscuits as a side dish


or for sandwiches from carved turkey or smoked skirt steak


with various gravies and sauces.

After that we were treated to a variety of various mousse, macarons and chocolates.

 

After a brief discussion of chapter business Chapter President Chas Tatigian and Membership Chairs Andrew and Megan Somerville acknowledged new members that month.


This was followed by a tasting of Felchlin chocolate.


Chef Rob of Swiss Chalet, the sole distributor of Felchlin chocolate in the U.S.,


gave us a bit of history of the Felchlin company followed by a video of chocolate Cultivation, Harvesting and Processing.


Felchlin was put on the map with its celebration of Maracaibo 65, a Venezuelan cacao bean chocolate  that won world accolades in 2000.

After the presentation, some of the students and instructors at LWTC were given recognition by the ACFNC chapter.


This was another great meeting of ACF Naples Chefs. It would not be possible without the largess of Oakes Farms, US Foods, Swiss Chalet, Felchlin Chocolate and LWTC.


Lorenzo Walker Technical College
3702 Estey Ave. Naples, FL 34104
(239)377-0900

Naples ACF Chefs
President Chas Tatigian, CEC, CCA
PO Box 855
Naples, FL 34106
ctatigian@acfnapleschefs.org



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Lunch at Osteria Tulia in Naples






An Osteria is traditionally an Italian restaurant that serves wine and simple local food. This concept continues locally at Osteria Tulia in Naples, Florida, operating since 2013.



There is indoor dining if you prefer, or outdoor dining all in a very simple, comfortable environment as an Osteria should be.

Read More

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cheney Brothers Inc. Food Distribution Center in Punta Gorda, FL



Cheney Brothers Inc. (CBI) are a food and restaurant equipment distributor headquartered in Riviera Beach, FL. They distribute their products mainly in the Southeastern United States, and are the leading food distribution company in Florida. They easily rank in the top 10 of food distributors nationally in terms of sales.

I was recently invited, as part of a chef's group, for a tour of their distribution center in Punta Gorda, FL which opened in 2015. It is approximately 340,000 square feet on 25 acres and employs upwards of 650 people. This center services CBI customers from Tampa to Everglades City.

CBI distribution center, Punta Gorda, FL

Having researched food distribution in the United States, I found little information on this topic online. What little there was is written by faculty of the Food Industry Management Program at Cornell University. Dr. Miguel Gomez, an Associate Professor there, was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his chapter, Gomez, M., and McLaughlin, J. (2014). Food Distribution. In. R. Neff (Ed.), Introduction to the US Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Food distribution is defined as the system(s) that bring food from the farm to ultimate end user.



The chain of food distribution in the United States is quite long, employing upwards of 20 million, or about 13% of the US workforce.



It starts off with farm supplies (seeds, animal feeds) and branches out to various manufacturers and processing entities, ending up in the food service industry or retailers.


At the beginning of the 20th century, agricultural production was comprised of many different independent, family owned, loosely connected food producers and manufacturers. With consolidation and increases in efficiency, large scale farms comprise less that 10% of all farms, but produce about 60% of all agricultural products. Because of this, the number of farms has fallen about 50% in the last half century. This has had a very large effect on the agricultural labor force in the past 100 years. In the early 1900's, 40% of the US labor force was employed in agriculture. This has been reduced to about 2 percent as of 2010.


The next links in the food distribution chain are food processing and manufacturing entities, which account for 10% of all manufacturing shipments in this country. This would include bakeries, animal and specialty foods, among other goods.


Food brokers and food wholesalers follow next in this distribution system. Brokers facilitate the exchange of goods between manufacturers and retailers. They do not have physical possession of a manufacturer's goods though earn a commission on these transactions. Food wholesalers in contrast buy and store goods in bulk and sell them at a profit to retailers. These can either be merchant wholesalers, which buy from manufacturers, or manufacturer wholesalers, which sell direct to retailers.


Food retailers, such as grocery stores, wholesale clubs and farmers markets in addition to food service outlets, which deal with food preparation and service outside the home, are the final links in the food distribution chain.


These in many cases are not well defined boundaries. Grocers may have their own distribution centers, while selling prepared foods from their retail spaces. Merchant wholesalers may incorporate a retail space to sell to the public.


Now onto the tour. We were picked up by chartered bus, which I thought was a very nice gesture by CBI. After entering the facility, we were given a tour by Joseph Cino, General Manager for this CBI distribution facility.
There were many areas of this distribution center including storage space for slow moving and specialty items,a refrigerated receiving area interfaced with a refrigerated multi-temperature storage facility for things like flour and rice, produce, meats, seafood and frozen items.


They use very sophisticated tracking methods for metrics on their warehouse products. Bar codes transmit information as to point of origin, weight, contents and nutritional content while RFID technology tracks things such as location and ambient storage conditions.


CBI also has a Cheney Express at this facility, which is an area where the public  that may not have an account set up can purchase product. Distressed and short-dated products are also available here at quite a substantial discount.

On the final part of the tour we had lunch at the test kitchen here. Run at this facility by Executive Chef Joseph Salvaggio, CBI test kitchens offer clients a chance to taste available or new products sold by CBI. They can also sample their own recipies made with CBI ingredients.

A nice charcuterie and cheese plate of Prosciutto, Speck, milk-braised Coppa, and Serrano ham with Parmesan, Moody Blue, Irish Cheddar, Gloucester and Pecorino-Romano cheeses was served. This was complemented with Cerignola onions with a lemon-infused Balsamic vinaigrette and Roman long-stemmed artichoke hearts with sun dried tomatoes and Tribeca breads. As to the mains, we were served dishes buffet style.

Maryland lump crab cakes in a lemon buerre blanc sauce, pistachio-encrusted lamb, chives and goat cheese mashed potatoes, baked wahoo with an olive tampanade, strip steaks with mushrooms and veal demi glace and assorted vegetables and desserts.



This was a very good tour of one of the cogs in the wheel of the food distribution system in this country.



Cheney Brothers Inc. Distribution Center

1 Cheney Way

Punta Gorda, FL 33982

(941)505-5885

Chartered bus, CBI distribution center tour

Entrance, CBI distribution center

Joesph Cino, General Manager and tour guide, CBI distribution center

Slow moving and specialty item storage, CBI distribution center 

 
Refrigerated receiving area, CBI distribution center

Refrigerated and humidity-controlled dry goods storage area, CBI distribution center

Cheney Brothers Express public sales facility

Cheney Brothers Express public sales facility

Test kitchen and dining area, CBI distribution center

Prosciutto, Speck, milk-braised Coppa, and Serrano ham with Parmesan, Moody Blue, Irish Cheddar, Gloucester and Pecorino-Romano cheeses, Cerignola onions with a lemon-infused Balsamic vinaigrette and Roman long-stemmed artichoke hearts with sun-dried tomatoes and Tribeca bread. CBI test kitchen.



Pistachio-encrusted lamb, chives and goat cheese mashed potatoes, CBI test kitchen.
Strip steak with mushrooms and a veal demi glace, CBI test kitchen.

Baked Wahoo with olive tamponade, CBI test kitchen.

Maryland lump crab cakes with lemon beurre blanc, CBI test kitchen.