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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Madfish, St. Pete Beach, FL

I almost don't know where to begin in describing this dining debacle.  I will first say that my companions and I based our decision to check out Madfish for dinner predominately upon the excellent experiences we've had at her sister restos (1200° Chophouse and Snapper's Sea Grill, both also located on St. Pete Beach).  In retrospect, I have my suspicions that Madfish may be an adopted sibling due to the diametrically opposed DNA of the food quality found here.  I was having a "bad camera night", so not everything will be photo-documented.

The venue exterior is chrome-trimmed, retro-diner cute and the dining area is comfy-casual.  Our young server, André, was the only bright spot in the meal as he struggled valiantly to salvage our experience despite the subpar creations being dispatched to us by the kitchen.  

We requested an order of the intriguing sounding Doughnut O-Rings as soon as our glutei hit the Naugahide, which are basically thick, batter-dipped and fried onion rings dusted in powdered sugar to resemble doughnuts (the rings, not the glutei).  Have you ever bitten into a tempting looking onion ring, only to discover that the center was not cooked to complete tenderness so the entire scalding strand came whipping out of its golden tube to slap you on the chin?  That was the MO of the Doughnut O-Rings.

We shared an odd rendition of Oysters Rockefeller. Hollandaise (if that's what the thick, goopy sauce they were drowning in even was), bore little resemblance to that noble culinary creation, hadn't a single note of lemon, and tasted more like melted cream cheese than anything else.

The Chef's Mussels of the Day were nicely presented, albeit some of the most insipid in flavor I've ever partaken of. The promised Cuban toast sticks for broth sopping were AWOL.















Not feeling as famished as usual, I was reeled in by one of the early dining specials - a $12.95 slice of prime rib with mashed potatoes.  I will preface this by saying that I wasn't expecting a Ruth's Chris experience for thirteen bucks...but if you're going to offer a petite cut of prime rib, you should know what you're doing.  Ordered medium rare, what showed up had the thickness and texture of the sole of a work boot, having been cooked to a uniform gray hue throughout.  A gummy scoop of mashed potatoes reminiscent of my late '70s high school cafeteria fare was perched alongside.  The only saving grace of this meal was a better than average house salad studded with dried cranberries and cheese crumbles.  The zippy Green Goddess dressing drizzled atop was a modernized version with a garlicky kick that I wouldn't hesitate to buy if it were sold by the bottle.













Regular-priced dinner entrees were ordered by my dining companions, although none fared much better than I. The Belle of the Boulevard's $24.95 Filet Mignon was so overdone that it was channeling a hockey puck as "inedible" continued to be the buzz-word of the evening.
















"But, what about the Boyz' dinners", you ask?  Their seafood entrees did not quite meet the epic bar of dismal quality set by the beef dishes, but almost.

There was a bland, vaguely shrimp-scampi-esque dish that Red Lobster could've given a run for its money...



...and a similarly unmemorable riff on Grouper Oscar (also failing to deliver for its $25 price tag). There was a sea of white space left on that plate with only the weakest discernible effort made at presentation.
The sturdy little Key lime bars delivered at the end of the meal were (at long last I can say it) not bad. 
This was an extremely disappointing experience based on food quality alone.  In fact, it was probably the worst restaurant meal I've had this year.  

I must add that our server inquired about the uneaten steaks and offered to replace them, Disappointed, cranky and ready to go home, we refused but noticed that they were removed from the final tab.  Due to his superhuman efforts, André's gratuity was generous and based on the full amount of the bill before the two entrees were deleted from the tab.  Service was not the issue here.

Perhaps the chef was on vacation or he/she was having a really off night.  Either way (not being one to throw good money after bad), I'll never return to Madfish.


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My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

1200° Chophouse, St. Pete Beach, FL

When one thinks of dining on the Pinellas beaches, juicy steaks aren't often the first menu items that spring to mind in an area rich with grouper sandwiches, fried shrimp, burgers and conch fritters. Overlooking 1200° Chophouse on St. Pete Beach, however, would be a mistake.

This small, carnivorous den of inequity is casually appointed with cowhide-print walls and utilitarian wooden chairs, tables and bar stools built to withstand the restaurant's heavy rotation of hungry locals and tourons. With seating available for only approximately 40-50 people at the bar, indoor and outdoor tables combined, go early or be prepared to wait as reservations are not accepted here.

At 1200º Chophouse, you get all the benefits of an upscale steak house without being “a la carted” to death.  Each entree is served with warm bread, a better-than-average house salad comprised of mixed greens, toasted walnuts and craisins in house vinaigrette; starch of choice (just go ahead and order the loaded baked potato - you know you want it); and au gratin tomato. Bonus points are bestowed because it’s perfectly okay to wear your shorts while getting your carnivore on.

House salad and soft, warm bread with honey butter.





















Because UD and I were celebrating our Lucky 13 wedding anniversary, Mama felt entitled to splurge. And since the only thing better than lobster is MORE lobster, I zeroed right in on the Twin 7 oz. Caribbean Lobster Tails. Perhaps a tad on the tough side (which is not terribly uncommon with warm water lobster), they were tasty nonetheless and I appreciated how solidly loaded up with goodies (butter, bacon, sour cream, cheese, chives) my baked potato was.
















Underdog's 2.5 lb. Tomahawk Ribeye was a caveman's dream come true.  Beautifully seared and cooked to a perfect medium rare, it kept him happily gnawing away at it for a full 48 hours.  It's a splurge at $59, but could easily be shared by two (or more). Recommendation:  Pay the $4 upcharge for an accompanying boat of creamy Gorgonzola sauce.
















We capped off the meal by sharing a decadent, creamy sea salt and caramel panna cotta.  This dessert was comped due to a relatively insignificant but slightly annoying issue with some small flying insects that had managed to enter the venue earlier in the afternoon.
















While this restaurant is not inexpensive, it imparts a lot of bang for the buck.  We received excellent service and were not rushed despite the fact that a waiting line had formed by the time our meal was complete.  The damage, which included a bottle of sparkling wine and a glass of red, came to around $140 before gratuity.

www.1200chophouse.com

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My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nabruzzi Trattoria, Tampa, FL

While I'll be the first to admit that Italian cuisine is not my favorite (mostly because I often feel that it's not that "special" unless I'm actually eating it in Italy), I am thrilled to report that the delectable delights at Lutz's Nabruzzi Trattoria set my heart to racing. Despite its strip mall location, the restaurant boasts a warm, higher-end interior and we enjoyed attentive, pleasingly low-key and highly knowledgeable service from Eric over the course of our meal.

We received a complimentary basket of warm, crusty Italian bread with an exceptional red pepper tapenade and herb-infused olive oil for smearing/dipping right off the bat.  My starter of Fiocchi Di Enzo (four cheese and pear stuffed al dente pasta purses drizzled with an EVOO, basilico, and rosemary herb sauce may leave my eyes stuck in a rolled position of ecstasy for days. Strewn with toothsome prosciutto morsels and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, it was an addictive study in sweet-meets-salty that paired amazingly with our extremely reasonably priced $24 bottle of Avissi Prosecco.  










Underdog's ruby-red, velvety carpaccio was so tender it practically dissolved on the tongue. 
















Entrees at Nabruzzi are served with a choice of soup or house salad in addition to the aforementioned bread service. The hub-unit opted for the earthy and robust-flavored lentil, bean and mushroom soup of the day while I paid a $2 upcharge for a house Caesar - both outstanding. 

While I generally don't think of vegan soups (or vegan ANYTHING, for that matter) as being terribly exciting, I have to admit that this one had a hearty rusticness that we both enjoyed.


















Nabruzzi's Caesar Italiano is a refreshing, lemony riff on the classic. Cool and crisp, the dressing was lighter and less garlicky than that of the standard and anchovies were offered on the side (not pour moi, but it's nice for those who enjoy them to have the option).  














My Vitello Nabruzzi was comprised of a veal scallopini sauteed with garlic, mushrooms and sherry wine cream sauce...then topped with eggplant, ricotta and mozzarella and served atop a bed of house made pasta. While it was fork-tender, flavor-riche and otherwise fab in every way...














...hubster's stunningly plated U-10 New Bedford Seared Scallops (all seafood offered here is flown in fresh each day, we were assured) served atop creamy mounds of crab and lobster risotto still managed to steal the show.  While you will probably want to leap in your car and drive Lutz as fast as it will take you upon viewing the pulchritudinous splendor of this dish...I must warn you that it was a special of the evening. And no one at Nabruzzi was taking the word "special" lightly in this instance.












To wrap things up, a dreamy citrus-riche Limoncello Cake and Coppa Catalana with berries provided our sweet ending.  While the Coppa Catalana was lovely, that Limoncello cake (moist to point of almost being gooey and showered with white chocolate shavings) set the bar so high that we were eyeing the custard like it was a red-headed stepchild by the time everything was said and done (and eaten).  

































At the end of the day, all of this, plus the bottle of Prosecco, set us back a whopping $110 before tax and gratuity...making Nabruzzi an elegant and affordable date-night delight.

http://nabruzzitrattoria.com/

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My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Brick & Mortar - Kitchen & Wine Bar, St. Petersburg, FL

Downtown St. Pete does it again.  While it’s difficult to eat quickly enough to keep up with its continually burgeoning restaurant scene, I’ll continue to try.  This week’s golden spoon award goes to Brick & Mortar, the 6-week-old hatchling of Jason Ruhe and Hope Montgomery, the husband and wife team of In Bloom Catering which has served the Tampa Bay area for 10 years.

Having rented the kitchen and the private dining area formerly occupied by St. Pete Brasserie, the couple intends to continue providing to their catering niche while following their dream to own their own restaurant.

With well-honed culinary skill sets already firmly in place, Brick & Mortar is off to a magnificent running start.  The space is intimate and charmingly farmhouse-rustic, seating approximately 50 inside and 15 al fresco along the sidewalk. The somewhat abbreviated menu focuses on small plates (which my better half and I delved our way through as you will see below) with a short selection of entrees and daily specials featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients and a painstakingly admirable level of thought and care reflected in every offering.

While most of my culinary cravings are best served with a defibrillator, the Grilled Romaine proved to be a salad I can firmly stand behind.  The substantial lettuce heart boasted a faint wafting of char (while refraining from being grilled until wilted) and the tangy, creamy bleu cheese and lemon garlic dressing drizzled atop it was sheer culinary wizardry.  I’ll take a bowlful of dressing and a spoon for dessert, please!  Accents of shaved Parmesan cheese and pickled red onions made this a standout.
















The Caramelized Onion and Cheese Tart was a study in decadence - every aspect from tender, flaky crust to luxe, creamy filling practically melted on the tongue.  Goat, Parmesan and bleu cheeses converged in this holy grail for fromage lovers, with razor-thin slices of tiny tomatoes creating a candy-like, ruby lace around its perimeter.
















Brick & Mortar’s silken Pork and Chicken Liver Pate is some of the best I've tasted in a very long time.  Adorably presented in its own precious, Lilliputian glass jar and served with crostini and seasonal jam (in this instance, a fine blueberry), the most unexpected element on the plate was a surprisingly addictive assortment of house-pickled veggies.  Marinated in a heady myriad of spices including star anise, fennel, coriander, peppercorn and red wine vinegar, the floral-scented mélange of cool and crispy carrots, red onions, green beans and asparagus was a delightful foil for the earthiness of the pate.















A trio of fat, velvety veal meatballs lolling in a cuddly bed of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Polenta (grits on steroids) completely owned me.  The crushed tomato sauce ladled over it had an almost electric pop of bright freshness that was followed up by a pleasing surprise ending via a Fra Diavolo-esque after-beat of heat.  Garnished with grated Parmesan cheese and fried basil leaves, this $11 “small plate” is generous enough to be in meal in itself.
















Our tasting dinner culminated in a warm peach cobbler studded with blueberries and strawberries, crowned with an irresponsibly massive dollop of whipped-to-order heavy cream, proving once and for all that Brick & Mortar is the ultimate avenue for meeting one’s MDR for fruits and veggies (in that roundabout way that The Unhealthy all cherish). 













A newbie that’s doing everything right, Brick & Mortar should be on every foodophile’s “to do” list.

https://www.facebook.com/brickandmortarkitchen/info?tab=overview

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My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Patanegra, St. Petersburg, FL

If Barcelona laid an egg in downtown St. Pete, the hatchling would be Patanegra.  Sleek and urban-chic, if I squinted a little I could've almost imagined that I was stepping off of La Rambla and into one of the ubiquitous tapas bars I fell in love with on my visit to said city 10 years ago.
















The restaurant has only been open for about six weeks and they are (admittedly) still working out little kinks and details, but one would be hard-pressed to realize that fact if they weren't already aware.  Service was caring and attentive on my recent visit and management was highly visible, roaming the house to ensure that every patron was satisfied...and this one certainly was.

It was almost impossible for my party of four to hone in on a reasonable selection from the tantalizing array of tapas, so of course we over-ordered.  Empanadas have been my holy grail ever since I made it my mission to snort them 3-5 times daily when I discovered truly great ones on a trip to to Argentina, and Patanegra did not disappoint.  We tried the lump crab and ropa vieja varieties, both of which were meaty, encased in warm, flaky crusts and served with a nice selection of dipping sauces.
















Gambas Pil Pil (shrimp marinated with garlic, paprika and olive oil) were tender, subtly flavored  and delish.
















Since I adore anything that shows up in an individual little fryer basket, the Croquetas had me at "hello". I loved biting through their tooth-shatteringly crunchy crust and savoring the tender chicken and Serrano ham filling within.  Dayum!
















Picquillos Rellenos are clearly the brainchild of Satan himself.  These sweet, mild peppers crammed with Serrano ham, chorizo, mushrooms and cheese, topped with piquillo aioli and Manchego, were obviously the temptation of Eve.  Really...who sacrifices anything for a stupid apple?
















A couple of entrees were also sampled in addition to the tapas overload.  Spanish Paprika and Coffee-Rubbed Pork Belly was quite good and generously portioned (I only got a small bite as its "owner" was a little stingy with his treasure).















Pato Asado (pan roasted duck with purple potato mash and habanero barbeque sauce), while mostly pleasing, fell a tad short.  Neither due to taste or presentation, but more for lack of an anticipated exterior "crisp" factor.  That said, I'd rather have moist duck (which this was) than overcooked duck and I was left with a favorable impression overall of the Pato Asado.  A rather unique duck dish, the spicy sauce and the purple mash that came with it were interesting and tasty accompaniments.
















While both sweet finishes we wound down with were wonderful...Cuatro Leches (yes, we're talking "FOUR milks" and the ridiculously kicked-up product that results from piping dulce de leche atop tres leches cake),...















...was slightly trumped by the creamy Coconut Panne Cotta with banana flambe and (yes) more dulce de leche (which should pretty much be slathered on everything as far as I'm concerned). Desserts really don't get much better than this
















Despite being a little nitpicky about my duck skin (hey...that's what I do), I really like Patanegra.  It's just another example of why Pinellas County trumps Hillsborough for best overall food culture. There you go...I'm a dual-county resident and I just said that.


Patanegra on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Riverhouse Reef & Grill, Palmetto, FL

Riverhouse Reef & Grill is an attractive, dog-friendly (outdoors) venue with better-than-average, reasonably priced typical Florida fare.  The wide al fresco dining deck is a nicely-shaded oasis for catching a river breeze and watching the yachts go by.  An easy shot down I-75, it's a pleasing alternative for those in Southeast Hillsborough county seeking a waterfront dining destination.

Our server was sweet and helpful, if not terribly attentive...but our party of four was in no particular hurry to tear ourselves from the chill vibe of the place on a Sunday afternoon, so her pace suited us perfectly.  The menu runs the gamut from burgers, sandwiches and salads to fresh seafood entrees, island ribs and steaks, but everyone seemed to be in a pescatarian state of mind on our visit.

UD's seared Ahi Tuna Tacos were glistening and fresh-tasting, and served with shredded lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo and cilantro lime aioli.  Slaw was deemed crunchy and delightful with a vinegar-based dressing.
















It's tough for me not to choose grouper when it's available (which it was), but I was tempted by the $10 Corona Beach Fish Sandwich (beer-battered Atlantic whitefish topped with slaw and remoulade sauce) which did not disappoint.  The fish portion was huge, sweet, lightly breaded and fried to perfection.  Served on a good bun, the slaw topper was a nice addition.  The sandwich came with a choice of one side, and the french fries, while likely of the bagged variety, were a quality product and served hot and crispy.
















My pal, Candy, zeroed in on the Kickin' Shrimp Tacos, made in the same style as the Ahi Tuna Tacos only with fried shrimp prepared in a Bonefish-esque "Bang Bang Shrimp" application that boasted a nice surge of heat on the back end.
















Our other dining companion took a somewhat healthier route with Butterfish (Alaskan Black Cod marinated in sweetened rice wine and sake, then broiled until caramelized and topped with tropical salsa).  The fish did indeed have the texture of butter and was served with a side of steamed veggies and a pink, creamy cloud of old-school Fruit Ambrosia (not pictured) which the boyz practically fought over for an additional $2.50.














Remember this awesome stuff?  Photo credit goes to www.michellestastycreations.com.














Both beautiful and affordable, Riverhouse Reef & Grill is a worthy destination that offers much to satisfy a wide variety of palates.  While there's nothing cutting-edge going on the kitchen, food is well-prepared and tasty, portions are generous and prices won't break the bank.

http://www.riverhousereefandgrill.com/

Riverhouse Reef & Grill on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.