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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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

St. Partick's Day Parade in Naples and Lunch at Molcajetes

Attendees, St. Patrick's Day Parade, Naples, FL

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. March 17th is traditionally recognized as the day of his death, celebrated as St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick is significant for bringing Christianity to Ireland. It was said that Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity to the non religious of Ireland. As such, besides the many parades on St. Patrick's Day many people wear green items of clothing or other green accoutrements partially symbolic of the shamrock. The celebration has become somewhat known as being a bacchanal, in part because historically the restrictions on eating and drinking during the observance of Lent were lifted for the day.

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in many parts of the world, and Naples, FL is no exception, having held St. Patrick's Day celebrations for over 40 years. The parade route runs through downtown and adjacent, mostly residential areas of Naples. This year, in 2017, over 30,000 attendees populated the parade route. The parade, always held on a Saturday, was almost a week early to mark the observed celebrations on Friday, March 17th. High school marching bands, many floats representative of government and community organizations and others participated in the parade. Lucky attendees made off with mementos of beads and tee shirts thrown to them by members of the parade. I was fortunate this year to have an invite to a gathering on a second floor balcony on the parade route that had a bird's eye view of the festivities.

Entrance, Molcajetes Restaurant, Naples, FL

After two hours of parade-induced revelry, my dining companion and I worked up quite an appetite. We decided to travel to Molcajetes, a Mexican-themed restaurant in East Naples. What better place to commemorate the memory of St. Patrick than in a Mexican restaurant! What is a molcajete you may ask? I'm sure most of you have seen one, which are the mortar and pestle type cooking accoutrements sometimes made from lava rock that is used to make guacamole or crush spices.

There is limited outdoor seating at Molcajetes. Indoors, the seating at either booths or tables or at the bar is more than adequate. As you are brought your menus, you are served this wonderful appetizer of freshly made tortilla chips and 3 delicious salsas. Salsa roja, made from arbor chilies, salsa verde with of course, a tomitillo base and pico de gallo, that delicious mixture of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapenos and lime juice. This was almost a meal in itself, and a portend of the meal to come.

There were many things on Molcajetes menu, and here are a few of them.The first thing we tried was the barbacoa soup. This is a traditional Oaxacan dish. An adobo slathered piece of lamb is set inside a roasting pan on a roasting rack with vegetables and water, covered and cooked on a grill. After the lamb is cooked, the cooking liquid is reserved as a soup and the lamb (now falling apart) is used with other grilled vegetables to be eaten with corn tortillas and dipped into the soup. This was really, really good and different from most Mexican fare I had tried before.
We then ordered a carnitias and chorizo taco, both excellent. I had to try their tostadas, and a chicken tostada was sampled. It did not look like much, but the chicken, cheese, iceberg lettuce, avocado, tomatoes and refried beans melded perfectly into an excellent dish. The price point ($10.00) was a bit on the high side for this dish, but this was one of the better tostadas I have eaten.

They also have a number of specials including a daily happy hour and half price tacos on Tuesday and Thursdays.

The parade on St. Patrick's Day in Naples is a lot of fun. If you have never attended, please go at least once. Afterward, if you are hungry, I would highly recommend Molcajates. The food, for the most part, is reasonably priced and delicious. Both the parade and food are highly recommended.

3367 Bayshore Dr.
Naples, FL 34112
Molcajetes Restaurant Website 

Open from 10 AM to past midnight; All major credit cards accepted; Kids meals available

Golden Gate High School Band, St. Patrick's Day Parade

Naples Daily News Float, St. Patrick's Day Parade

Interior dining area, Molcajetes restaurant

Salsa roja, salsa verde and pico de gallo; Molcajetes restaurant

Half portion barbacoa soup, Molcajetes restaurant

Chorizo and carnitias tacos, Molcajetes restaurant

Chicken tostada, Molcajetes restaurant

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lunch at the Continental

The Continental

The Continental, Naples, FL

is a restaurant in Naples, FL. They have been in operation for about 2 and 1/2 years. The Continental is part of the D'Amico and Partners local empire of restaurants including Cafe Lurcat, Campiello, Masa and D'Amico and Sons.

As you enter The Continental, there are a number of wonderful dining options. There is a very aesthetically pleasing outdoor dining area that includes cabanas, in addition to dining at the outdoor bar. Should you be in the mood for a more private dining experience for a job interview or whatnot, that is available as well.

Some in house baked bread options were brought to the table before our order. Pumpernickel and traditional bread offerings quelled any immediate dining needs we may have had.

My dining companion, being a Francophile, ordered steak tartare. This is a dish of finely chopped meat with seasonings like onions, capers, peppers and Worcestershire sauce. The whole preparation is known for the tasting sense of Unami (savory) before anyone knew what that was. The dish was made that more contemporary with the addition of a quail egg on top of the tartare, a Dijonnaise mustard mayo sauce, shredded horseradish and sliced radish.

I am a fool for Nicoise salad, and seeing that on the menu, felt compelled to order it. It was fantastic, and was the traditional salad with Nicoise olives, green beans, carrot, egg, perfectly cooked Ahi tuna with a mustard vinaigrette.

My dining experience at The Continental was most positive. The ambience was very good, the servers spot on and knowledgeable, and the food excellent. The price point is at the upper end of Naples dining options but in this case, you get what you pay for. Highly recommended.

The Continental
1205 Third St. S.
Naples, FL 34102

All major credit cards accepted; No valet parking, Kid's meals served 

Click here to see properties for sale in Old Naples 

Outdoor dining area, The Continental, Naples, FL

Outdoor dining area, The Continental, Naples, FL
Bar area, The Continental, Naples, FL

Indoor dining area, The continental, Naples, FL

Lunch bread options, The Continental, Naples, FL
Steak tartare, The Continental, Naples, FL
Nicoise salad, The Continental, Naples, FL
Click here to see properties in Old Naples