Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Subscribe to Southwest Florida Forks

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Very Generous Pour at the Capital Grille

Capital Grille, Naples, FL

Darden Restaurants is the world's largest casual dining operation in the world with over 1500 restaurants and 150,000 employees working under 8 different banners. These include Seasons 52, The Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and Longhorn Steakhouse among others. One of these banners, The Capital Grille, was started in Rhode Island in 1990 and acquired in 2007 by Darden. The Capital Grille is a luxury steakhouse banner under The Specialty Group of Darden.

Wine Lockers, Capital Grille
As you walk into the restaurant at the Naples, FL location to talk to the receptionist the first thing you may notice is the rather commodious and well appointed bar area bustling with patrons. The second are the personalized storage lockers in the reception area. The hostess told me they are reserved for those that buy a case of wine from the restaurant and pay a $500 annual fee. This entitles one to be on a mailing list for VIP events, forgo a corkage fee for wine brought into the restaurant and also have preferred seating.

Wines featured in The Generous Pour, Capital Grille

My dining companion and I were there for their annual promotional event, The Generous Pour. The event features tastings of 7 different wines, 3 whites and 4 reds. All of the wines chosen for this event are rated 90 plus points on the rating scale developed by the wine critic, Robert Parker, for the influential wine periodical The Wine Advocate. The white wines featured were a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Gris. The red wines served were a Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel and 2 Cabernet Sauvignon wines. For a more complete description of each of the wines served for this event go Here.  The Generous Pour is $28 with dinner which can even be a salad if you like bringing this event into extremely generous territory.This seems to be a very popular promotion, as our server told us about 30% of diners order this.

We were escorted to our table and immediately brought water and a bread basket. The bread served was excellent with a wide range of textures and flavors. Lavash, pumpernickel with white raisins, ciabatta with herbs, Parmesan and egg wash and French dinner rolls, which are basically baguettes in dinner roll form. All of this made for a really good snack while we were perusing the menus.

Lobster Mac and Cheese

We decided to sample a few items, the first being the lobster mac and cheese. For mac and cheese per se, this dish was excellent. A mixture of Havarti, White Cheddar, Mascarpone and Parmesan cheeses graced our macaroni, which had a bit of a seafood note. I never thought certain shellfish like lobster and crab are a good idea in heavy sauces. Their flavor is so delicate it can be easily lost in a heavy sauce. Nonetheless, this was a very good plate of mac and cheese.
Cobb salad

Since I was able to, I really wanted to have a salad for dinner. Unfortunately, what really appealed to me was the Cobb salad that was only available at lunch. Calling ahead, the restaurant told me they would gladly make one for me by request, a real feather in their cap for service. This was a nice take on the traditional Cobb with sliced tenderloin, egg, avocado, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, bacon covered lettuce with a honey mustard dressing and blue cheese. Should you ever forget what is in a Cobb salad, remember the acronym EAT COBB (eggs, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon and blue cheese).

My dining companion ordered the shaved Brussels sprout salad with toasted pecans, goat cheese and smoked bacon. Just more deliciousness. We also split an order of roasted wild mushrooms consisting of roasted crimini, oyster, shiitaki and portobello mushrooms. My dining companion did not care for these but I did. More for me!

One more thing about The Generous Pour. You are poured one ounce samples of each wine but you are free to revisit any and all wines as much as you like. I particularly liked one of the Cabernet wines (Mt. Brave) which our server told us was normally $30 a glass. The restaurant was extremely generous with their servings which made me very happy.

With price points in the upper range of the dining scene in Naples, The Capital Grille does not always have to be about capital, especially with this great promotional event.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

The Capital Grille
9005 Mercato Dr.
Naples, FL 34108

All major credit cards accepted; valet parking; kid's meals available, open Monday-Thursday 1130 AM to 10 PM, Friday 1130 AM to 11 PM, Saturday 5-11 PM, Sunday 5-11 PM

Bar area, Capital Grille

Dining area, Capital Grille

Bread basket

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dinner at Martin Fierro Restaurant

Martin Fierro Restaurant, Naples, FL

Martin Fierro is an epic Argentine poem describing the contribution of the gaucho, or the cowboy, to the development of Argentina in the late 19th century. The gauchos in this era were apparently instrumental in Argentina's secession and independence from Spain. In contemporary Naples, FL, Martin Fierro is an Argentine steak house.

Maestro de parrilla, Martin Fierro restaurant, Naples, FL

Martin Fierro is primarily a parrilla, or barbecue restaurant. It is different in a sense that they use wood, and very different wood than most to grill their meats. Besides the usual Florida Oak, they combined this with wood from the Quebracho tree, an extremely hard Spanish wood that imparts a very unique flavor. Quebracho is derived from the term "axe-breaker".

The interior of the restaurant is long, narrow and humble, but very accommodating. There are outside dining options as well.

My dining companion and I decided to try the sample approach here, and were pleased to find out there was no split charge. After a nice basket of bread and Chimichurri sauce, which is a very pleasant amalgam of parsley, garlic, oil, oregano and vinegar, we wanted to sample their ham and cheese empanada. It was unremarkable, but served with a homogenized Chimichurri sauce which was this dish's saving grace.

Grilled watermelon salad

We then moved onto the grilled watermelon salad. It was incredible. Grilled watermelon from the parrilla was served with arugula, almonds, cherry tomatoes, Feta cheese and a balsamic glaze. This was fantastic and definitely not one of those "do not try at home dishes". It's a priority now to experiment with grilled watermelon.

Meat lover's parrilladas plate

We finished with the parrilladas portion of the menu, de rigueur for the carnivore and/or the Argentine diner. We ordered the meat lover portion consisting of Churrasco steak, short rib, pork chop, chicken breast and chorizo. It was excellent and served with mixed vegetables in a balsamic glaze with fried yucca. The yucca was the best I have ever had; crispy on the outside but soft and starchy as a potato on the inside and served with a basal aioli. The mixed vegetables were green beans, asparagus, red onion, mushrooms and grape tomatoes sauteed with a mixture of soy sauce, garlic and vinegar then finished with a balsamic reduction. They love balsamic reductions here and they work well; the mixed vegetables were one of the best parts of the meal. The portions in the meat lover's plate, in addition to the 2 sides, are easily enough for two if not three. We even had leftovers which in my dining experiences is unheard of.

The food at Martin Fierro restaurant is for the most part, excellent. The service was great, the portions generous and the prices, for what you get, kind. If you haven't been here, go. There is a reason they have been in business for almost 20 years.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Martin Fierro Restaurant
13040 Livingston Rd.
Naples, FL 34105

All major credit cards accepted; Open Monday-Saturday 11 AM-10 PM, Sunday 12-10 PM; Kid's meals available; Self-parking available.

Outside dining area
Indoor dining area
Bread with Chimichurri sauce
Ham and Mozzarella empanada
Mixed vegetables and fried yucca

ACF Naples Chefs General Meeting July 2017

The von Liebig Art Center, Naples, FL

The Naples Art Association was started over 60 years ago. In it's present form, it is housed in the von Liebig Art Center (von Liebig) which contains it's administrative, exhibition and educational facilities. The von Liebig is also an event space which was home that evening to the July 2017 general meeting of The ACF Naples Chefs, but more on this later.

Watson Gallery, The von Liebig Art Center, Naples, FL

Steve Augulis, "Best Laid Plans"

The Watson Gallery at The von Liebig was nicely appointed for this event, and included The von Liebig's annual national photography competition, Camera USA, which is now in it's 7th year. I was happy to see some local artists featured, such as Joseph Parisi, Karen Swift, Dennis Church and Steve Augulis, with his photograph, "Best Laid Plans".

Now for the event. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) is the largest professional chef's organization in the US, with almost 20,000 members in 150 chapters. The membership of ACF mostly consists of chefs and food purveyors, but others such as culinary enthusiasts are more than welcome. Flush with pride from the recent annual National ACF meeting in Orlando, FL, local chapter members brought home a number of national recognitions. These included one member's induction into ACF Culinary Team USA which competes internationally in events including the "Culinary Olympics" held annually in Erfurt, Germany. This was not bad considering a total membership pool of almost 20,000 nationally.

The food served at the July ACF Naples Chefs meeting was prepared gratis by Sage Events and Catering (Sage). Sage was started in 2006 by local chef Amber Phillips. Chef Phillips is self taught, and worked at locally well respected catering services before breaking out on her own. Sage is near the front of the line of catering services locally, winning best of the best accolades repeatedly for their cuisine. Sage can address almost any dietary need with their products including their award winning pre-made meals delivered directly to you.

Gumbo, Sage Events and Catering
A number of passed heavy hors d'oeuvres were available and some of these showcased vegan options that were as delicious as they were healthy. These included "buffalo bites" made from breaded cauliflower florets, jackfruit sliders, teriyaki balls made with Voorn veggie burgers and a gumbo made from Oumph, a soy product hard to distinguish from chicken. Oumph is made by a company called Food for Progress, which also was at the meeting. A dip buffet was also available featuring white bean dip and kalamata olive, artichoke and sun-dried tomato tapanade.

Attendees, ACF Naples Chefs July Meeting
Tomato and balsamic braised short ribs with gorgonzola polenta and micro arugula, Sage Events and Catering

As guests mingled and socialized, Sage brought in a number of other bites of deliciousness. Crab cakes with mango remoulade, mojo pulled pork with fried yucca, tomato and balsamic braised short ribs with gorgonzola polenta and micro arugula, cilantro mint shrimp and carrot flan with goat cheese and amaranth microgreens.

Endive bites, Food for Progress

Food for Progress also had a station at the meeting featuring their Oumph soy products. These included endive bites with slaw, tacos and soy nuggets which were quite good.

Dessert station, Sage Events and Catering

Sage also provided a dessert station with gluten free and in some cases gluten free/vegan versions of chocolate mousse with chantilly cream, key lime cheesecakes and tarts, banana cream pie and macarons with strawberry consomme.

Florida Microgreens donated some of their wonderful product for the event, adding distinctive colors and flavors to many of the items served at the meeting.
Changing of the guard, Chefs Crisanti and Tatigan, ACF Naples Chefs July Meeting

It was both a sad and hopeful evening as the chapter President, Chef Chas Tatigan, stepped down after a four year term and passed the baton to the chapter Vice President, Chef Richard Crisanti, who will lead the chapter going forward. There is no doubt that Chef Crisanti will help maintain the high standards this chapter has maintained over the years leading to many local and national accolades.

At the close of the meeting, Chef Phillips was given a commemorative plaque to recognize her efforts towards the chapter meeting that evening.

Chefs Crisanti, Tatigan and Phillips, ACF Naples Chefs July Meeting

Purveyors such as Phillips Crabmeat, Food for Progress (Oumph), Florida Microgreeens, Vroon and Tia Jorge among others donated product for the meeting which would not be possible without their largess. The evening's event was another exceptional chapter meeting of ACF Naples Chefs and another post on Forks.

Attendees, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting

Sage Events and Catering
4584 Enterprise Ave.
Naples, FL 34104

Naples Art Association at The von Liebig Art Center
585 Park St.
Naples, FL 34102

Gallery open 10 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday June 1 to October 16; 10 AM to 4PM Monday through Saturday all other days; Admission free; Self-parking available. Camera USA runs through August 4, 2017. 

ACF Caxambas Chapter of Naples and Marco Island (ACF Naples Chefs)
PO Box 855
Naples, FL 34106

Rob Epple and Rachel Shemenski of Florida Microgreens garnishing carrot flan with goat cheese
Food preparation, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting

Dip buffet, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting

Carrot flan with goat cheese and amaranth microgreens, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting

Crab cakes with mango remoulade, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting

Sage Signature Martini, Tito’s, Organic Lemonade, Cucumber Puree, Fresh Sage, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting
Jackfruit sliders, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting
Soy nuggets, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting
Mojo pulled pork with yuca fry, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting
Mint and cilantro shrimp, ACF Naples Chefs July meeting