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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Windows on Wine: Czech Wines- A Wine History Lesson

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


Sunday, August 27, 2017

ACF Naples Chefs 2017 Wine Dinner

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) is an organization of almost 20,000 culinary professionals in close to 150 chapters nationally. ACF offers a number of opportunities to foster the growth of professional chefs and food industry professionals. In Southwest Florida, The Caxambas Chapter of Naples and Marco Island is the local chapter rebranded under the moniker of ACF Naples Chefs (ACF Naples). ACF Naples has the distinction of being awarded a number of national ACF accolades from best local chapter nationally to prestigious individual recognitions very much an honor in the kitchen. ACF Naples has a number of meetings and dinners annually. One of these, their annual wine dinner, is one of the chapter's premier functions combining exceptionally crafted food with a very well thought out wine pairing. 

Dining room, Collier's Reserve Country Club

As with most ACF Naples meetings, they are held at country clubs as the majority of member chefs work in this setting. The 2017 wine dinner was no different, being held at Collier's Reserve Country Club.

Table, 2017 ACF Naples Chefs Wine Dinner

For the dinner each table was set to accommodate both the food and wine pairings and as such was a work of art in itself in table preparation.

Pouring sparkling wines, ACF Naples wine dinner

Sparkling wines, ACF Naples wine dinner

As attendees gathered for the meal they were poured two sparkling wines, a lambrusco from Clerto Chiarli winery and a brut prosecco from the producer Zardetto. Both were excellent.

Prosciutto with compressed melon, brown figs, basil and olive oil. ACF Naples wine dinner

These were served with a compressed melon, brown fig, basil and Prosciutto appetizer in addition to passed treats of burrata-filled cannoli and pork belly with salmon crudo appetizer spoons. What is compressed fruit anyway? Fruit normally has air pockets in it and when placed under vacuum, the fruit becomes more dense, colorful and much more flavorful.

Richard Crisanti, ACF Naples chapter president

After social hour, everyone was seated and addressed by incoming ACF Naples President, Richard Crisanti, a two time chef of the year awardee by the ACF Naples chapter and a president's awardee from the ACF national chapter.

Executive Chef Brian Lord, Collier's Reserve Country Club
Before the start of each of the 5 food and wine pairings awaiting us, Brian Lord, Executive Chef of Collier's Reserve Country Club, gave a brief description of what to expect from each course.

Oyster bourride

The first course was a traditional French fish stew, Bourride, which was thickened with saffron aioli, a flavored mayonnaise. Blue Point (Long Island sound) Oysters, mussels, preserved lemon, peppadew pepper and oyster crackers all combined to make an outstanding starter. This was paired with a "Domaine St. Clair" Chablis from the producer Jean-Marc Brocard.

Servers, ACF Naples wine dinner
What really added some savoir faire to the evening was the synchronized service for each course. For every table, it was one server and diner with each diner served simultaneously. Due to labor constraints, this is rarely seen and was a really nice touch probably mesmerizing diners that much more.

The second course was caramelized grouper atop ravioli filled with spinach mousse.  The grouper is caramelized by coating in a sugar/salt mixture and sauteing and/or broiling. Chorizo, leeks, fresh corn kernels and English peas in a creamy vermouth broth finished the dish. The wine pairing here was a gruner veltliner from Stadt Krems winery.  Both the spinach mousse and chorizo added incredible depth and flavor to this again, outstanding course.

The next two courses were meat dishes, the first of which was a crisped (presumably fried) terrine of lamb neck. This was served on top of stone ground Red Mule grits, a delicious polenta substitute. Caramelized "black garlic", Rainier cherries  and a Madeira lamb gastrique finished this remarkable 3rd course. A gastrique is sort of a reduction of sugar and vinegar and infused, in this case, with Madeira wine and lamb drippings. A Zenato Valpolicella superiore, a blended Italian red wine aged at least one year with an alcohol content of at least 12% was a delicious accompaniment to the food. I think this was my favorite wine of all that evening.

Cast iron beef tenderloin, ACF Nalpes wine dinner

The last of the meat courses was a cast iron beef tenderloin. Cast iron meats are first seared at high heat in a cast iron skillet, then finished at lower temperatures in an oven. Rosti potatoes (essentially a large potato latke), veggies, mushroom, a Shiitake moussseline (sort of a hollandaise sauce infused with pureed mushrooms) were plated with a variation on Bordelaise sauce. Bordelaise is a classic French brown sauce incorporating bone marrow and red wine. A malbec from El Enemigo in Argentina was served with this course. Low in tannins and very rich, I think this wine could stand up to anything you would pair it with. More perfection from Chef Lord and crew.

Dessert course, ACF Naples wine dinner

Dessert was also excellent with grilled peaches, lemon basil sorbet, white chocolate mousse, meringues and vanilla peach coulis, a sweetened and strained fruit puree. The final wine pairing was with a sweet dessert wine, sauternes from Fleur d'Or in the Bordeaux region of France. The winemaker at Fleur d'Or is a negociant, or one that buys others grapes or juice to craft their own wine. Even though grapes are not grown at Fleur d'Or, their wine was excellent and a nice end to an extraordinary meal.

The wine dinners are one of the highlights of ACF Naples functions and are well worth attending. This dinner is open to the public, but only upon invite from an ACF Naples member. As always, it is chefs cooking for chefs. Sponsors of this meal really put their best foot forward, and as with most of these functions, food of this caliber cannot be found locally at any price. It's just another plus of local ACF membership.

It's a wrap for another post on forks.

Ice sculpture, ACF Naples wine dinner

ACF Caxambas Chapter of Naples & Marco Island (ACF Naples)
President Richard Crisanti
PO Box 855
Naples, FL 34106

Burrata-filled cannolis, ACF Naples wine dinner

Pork belly and salmon crudo appetizer spoons, ACF Naples wine dinner

Caramelized grouper, ACF Naples wine dinner

Crisped lamb terrine, ACF Naples wine dinner

Chablis, ACF Naples wine dinner

Gruner veltliner, ACF Naples wine dinner

Valpolicella superiore and malbec, ACF Naples wine dinner
Sauternes, ACF Naples wine dinner

Social hour, Naples ACF wine dinner
Attendees, ACF Naples wine dinner
Curtain call, Collier's Reserve staff, ACF Naples wine dinner

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lunch at Al Fresco Restaurant in Palm Beach

Palm Beach Par 3 Clubhouse, Palm Beach, FL
The Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course is a public golf course in Palm Beach, Florida. It was opened in 1961 and completely remodeled in 2009 with the guidance of golf legend Raymond Floyd. The restaurant, Al Fresco, on the second floor of the golf club, opened in 2013. I had read about this in one of the New York Times series of articles, 36 hours in Palm Beach, FL and on a visit to the area, wanted to take a peek.

Patio, Al Fresco, Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course, Palm Beach, FL

View, Al Fresco Restaurant and Bar, Palm Beach, FL

The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor dining options. It was the middle of August, but after being in the restaurant space, my traveling companion and I decided to eat outside. The outdoor patio area was shaded from the sun, had brisk ocean breezes, compelling views of the Atlantic Ocean and was quite comfortable even in the middle of the day.

The lunch Menu was very appealing, offering sandwiches, burgers and salads in addition to both traditional and Italian-inspired dishes.  My traveling companion and I decided to split a few dishes. Upon inquiry, a split charge seemed to be subjective and rarely enforced.

Prosciutto salad

After a nice offering of ciabatta bread, the first thing my traveling companion and I sampled was the Prosciutto salad. This was a very nice salad of arugula, radicchio, diced tomato, Prosciutto, shaved Parmesan and a balsamic vinaigrette. 

We then moved onto the roasted Portobello appetizer. It was excellent, served warm with arugula, roasted red peppers, piquillo peppers, goat cheese and herbs. A wonderful flavor combination. I really liked the endive scoops should you want to dispense with your fork. Nice and simple, a wonderful combination of flavors.

Linguine alle Vongole

We finished with the linguine and alle Vongole. This was delicious and most highly recommended. In house made linguine was incorporated into a butter and white wine sauce with chopped and whole little neck clams, red pepper, garlic and parsley. The portion above was a split portion of the regular menu. Again, most highly recommended.

The food here was very, very good but the service was a bit slow. That was OK though. Although the front end was swamped on a Sunday afternoon, it didn't matter. Sitting in a shaded area with the Atlantic sea breeze and some very good food, we were more than happy to take our time.

Dining at Al Fresco is highly recommended. The recommendation is not only for the pleasant sea breezes and views of the Atlantic Ocean outside, but also for the very good to excellent fare served here at gentle prices. If in Palm Beach, I hope you will go here.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Al Fresco Restaurant
2345 South Ocean Boulevard
Palm Beach, FL 33480

Breakfast, lunch and dinner; Lunch 11 AM - 4 PM daily; All major credit cards accepted, Complementary valet parking, Kid's meals.

Indoor dining, Al Fresco, Palm Beach, FL

Roasted Portobello appetizer

Monday, July 31, 2017

Italian Tapas and Wine Pairing at Palladio Trattoria

Palladio Trattoria, Bonita Springs, FL
Palladio Trattoria is a restaurant in Bonita Springs, FL serving Italian cuisine. The restaurant is owned by Emanuela Calcara (Chef Emma). Chef Emma is from the Piedmont region in Northeast Italy, and comes from a family of 6 generations of restaurateurs.  Although Chef Emma features items on her menu from Northern Italy, she can deftly switch her culinary tack. This is in part through her training at The Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and post graduate gigs with Live Nation Entertainment and kitchens of celebrity chefs.

Wine Tasters of Cape Coral, Palladio Trattoria

This food and wine pairing was organized by The Wine Tasters of Cape Coral (WTCC). WTCC has been around for 3 years and has about 60 members. Besides serving as a social group, membership enables participants to purchase wine collectively at a substantial savings. I was contacted by WTCC's organizer, Peter Young, to attend this event and document it, which he kindly arranged for me gratis.
Nick Parker, Domaine Select Wine and Spirits

The event was billed as Cicchetti (small plates) da Palladio, and featured wine pairings served by Nick Parker, area sales representative for Domaine Select Wine and Spirits. There were 5 wines featured that day, 2 whites and 3 reds, all from Northern Italy. As for food, there were 5 courses, and even a piano player that day.

Cucumber canape and grilled octopus/cranberry bean tower

The first wine featured was a Flor Prosecco. As mentioned in our tasting, Prosecco is Northern Italy's contribution to sparkling wine. This particular Prosecco was developed by celebrity chef Mario Batali and collaborators, and is the house sparkling wine served in all of Chef Batali's restaurants. It was a bit dry for a brut sparkler which I liked. This was served with a duo of plated items, the first being a cucumber canape with a cucumber base, smoked trout, mascarpone cheese, tarragon and lemon zest. The second was a "parfait" or tower of ring-molded grilled octopus with cranberry bean and pickled onion dressed with limoncello, parsley and olive oil. This was extremely good and my second favorite of the day.

Chef Emma with Burrata
The second white wine, a Ribolla Gialla from the Italian winery Bastianich was next. It was good, but fell a bit flat on my palate. This was my least favorite wine of the day. The pairing here was with a stuffed zucchini flower, a seasonal item widely available this time of year in Italy. The flowers were stuffed with Prosciutto di Parma and two different cheeses. These were a Pecorino Sardo, a salty Sardinian cheese made from sheep's milk that was balanced with Burrata which has a Mozzarella shell stuffed in this case, with Ricotta cheese. It was good, and a small palate cleanser for the rest of the day's repast.

The next dish was baccala (sort of a salted cod) served in the style of the Northern Italian city of Vencenza, slowly simmered in seasoned milk and served with polenta. Though a bit salty for me, the wine pairing for this dish was great. A Dolcetto (little sweet one) D'Alba from the winery Giacomo Borgogno was poured. The vintners here really know what they are doing and should as the winery has been around for over 400 years. It was a very nice light bodied, smooth on the palate red wine. Our wine steward for the day compared it to a Pinot Noir; fair enough.

Eggplant Parmesan was served for round four. It was good, brightly acidic and paired with a Chianti Classico from the Gran Toscana winery. There are a number of different designations of Chianti. For the sake of brevity, the classico designation refers mostly to where the grapes used in the wine are grown where a superiore classification has more to do with production and aging requirements. 

Paninetto all Porchetta

We finally finished with a stuffed and roasted pig, paninetto all porchetta. Traditionally Roman street food, this dish is anything but that in the 21st Century. Marinated in white wine and spices for days, the suckling pig is deboned, flattened out, stuffed with a mixture of thyme, rosemary and other herbs, rolled up and roasted. The porchetta was carved and served on sourdough bread. Condiments included picked onions, a mostarda (concentrated fruit syrup flavored with mustard oil) and a stone ground mustard combined with ground walnuts. This was incredible and beyond delicious. Served with this was a Brecciarolo Superiore from the Velenosi winery, a low tannin, full-bodied wine going nicely with this dish.

After the meal, an opt in/out tasting of a more coveted wine was available to attendees which happens at the end of each WTCC gathering. A magnum of 1997 Barolo from Giacomo Borgogno was opened, decanted and served to those opting in. Not paying attention and unaware of the tradition, I was not privy to this but heard very good things.

All in all, this was a great event with excellent camaraderie, food and wine. The food served to us was for the most part remarkable and if this gathering is typical of other WTCC events, they are highly recommended.
There will be another wine food/wine pairing here independent of WTCC on 8/15/2017. Please call the restaurant for details.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Italian tapas and wine pairing, Palladio Trattoria
Palladio Trattoria
28340 Trails Edge Blvd.
Bonita Springs, FL 34134

All major credit cards accepted; Kid's meals available; Summer Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 4-10 PM

Wines, Italian tapas and wine pairing

Dolcetto D' Alba, Giacomo Borgogno winery
Stuffed zucchini flower
Baccala alla Vincenta with polenta
Kitchen, Palladio Trattoria
Eggplant Parmesan
Carving paninetto all porchetta
Porchetta sandwich with condiments
Piano player, Italian tapas and wine pairing

Friday, July 28, 2017

Lunch at The French Brasserie Rustique

The French Brasserie Rustique (The French) is a restaurant in Naples, FL which serves, as the erudite reader may surmise, French cuisine. A brasserie is typically a mid-range dining experience in the French hierarchy of restaurant types, with fine dining and well-trained staff being hallmarks in this type of venue.

The French is the third restaurant offering from local chef/partner Vincenzo Betulia. Chef Betulia's first endeavor was Osteria Tulia serving Italian cuisine in a casual setting. His second, Bar Tulia, is a gastropub serving fine food and drink.

The French has been open since the beginning of 2017. Recently, they added a lunch service. As I had never been here and my dining companion here only for dinner, we decided to take a look.

Outdoor dining area, The French
Indoor dining area, The French

The outside of the restaurant is very nicely put together with many tables and patio umbrellas when necessary to shield patrons from the sun. The bar area of the restaurant is also open to the outside should you wish to order a beverage there. At 130 PM in the middle of July in Naples it was much too hot so we decided to enjoy their indoor dining area. I thought the indoor dining area very pleasant, with many tables in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. I really liked the open air kitchen. I have said this before and I'll say it again, I really think open air kitchens help diners really connect with their food. The Japanese have been using this concept successfully for many years with their teppanyaki grills.

As a prelude to our meal, we were brought a bread basket with a side of whipped butter with a garlic confit (garlic cloves slowly sauteed in olive oil). This was very nice and a harbinger of things to come.

French onion soup

The menu here has many French culinary classics. One of them, the soupe a l'oignon  (French onion soup) I had not had in many moons and was curious to try the restaurant's take. My dining companion and I originally wanted to split a bowl of this. However, seeing me maniacally taking pictures of the restaurant and food, the chef did not want to interfere with the culinary aesthetic of the dish by splitting it and gave us an extra bowl of soup on the house. Bravo chef! Yes, I will work for food. This was one of the best bowls of French onion soup I have ever had. The richness of the in-house prepared beef stock combined with the sugars in the caramelized onions incorporated with the textures and flavors of the baguette slice gruyere topping are almost beyond description. To be terse, if you go here, order this.

I am a fool for salad Nicoise though for the salad Nicoise aficionado, what constitutes a proper one has been a matter of considerable debate over the years. The salad at the French was very good with composed portions of black Nicoise olives, hard cooked eggs, green beans, boiled potato, tomato, anchovy and grilled tuna topped with a vinaigrette. My only fault with this salad were the tomatoes used in it. They tasted like many hothouse varieties, with little flavor and texture. I left them off to the side and voila, the salad was almost perfect and one of the better I have had. This is something easily fixed.

Croque madame

My dining companion ordered the croque madame, which at it's most basic is a ham and cheese snack. The restaurant uses brioche bread to make a sandwich with jambon de Paris, a specially cooked ham, gruyere cheese and mornay sauce (b├ęchamel sauce with gruyere) and bake it in an oven. The dish is then finished with fried egg. Plated with some artisan greens, the dish was as beautiful as it was delicious.

The food at The French is excellent and almost to a point, flawless. Combined with a casual atmosphere and superior service, this restaurant is a winner and one of the best in the area. If you go, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

The French Brasserie Rustique
365 5th Ave. S.
Naples, FL 34102

Lunch: 1130 AM-230 PM Monday-Saturday; Brunch: Sunday 10 AM-230 PM; Dinner: 5 PM-close; all major credit cards accepted; kid's meals available 

Outdoor bar area, The French
Indoor bar area, The French
Open air kitchen, The French
Salad Nicoise