Sette Luna – Easton, PA

The joy of feasting with family is one of the many mantras we preach here at Eat a Duck. This humble food writer recently had the even greater honor of taking his lovely and spry, octogenarian grandmother out on a dinner date. She goes by many names, but I call her Baba.

An unfortunate truth in life is that many of us don’t get to spend as much time with our grandparents as we may like to. Thankfully, I haven’t had that problem as she lovingly opened her home for me and my wife to stay when I landed my first job in Manhattan. In those months, she brought me to one of her favorite little Italian eateries just one town away in Easton, PA, Sette Luna. It quickly became “our place”, and whenever I visit, I can be fairly certain we’ll end up there on any given night.

Sette Luna Exterior

This visit felt special though. My trip had been unexpected, so when I found out I would be heading to Bethlehem, I got my taste buds ready for some rib-sticking Italian cuisine. We arrived without reservations but were seated promptly. Unlike most restaurants I’ve patronized, no prior menu research was required. While many of the items here are tantalizing, like the wild boar agnolotti with wild mushrooms and pancetta, or the “lovingly braised” osso bucco, I was here for one thing, Bud’s bolognese speciale. Judge me all you want for going with the “safe” choice, this dish is straight up comfort food and I never pass up a favorite.

Bud's Bolognese Special

This is out of order but I don’t care. I love this bowl of pasta, it puts a stupid grin on my face the second I spot it heading for my table. Tender fettuccine, coated in a meat sauce so luxurious it’s almost a gravy. Nothing cute, nothing fancy, just the way I like. The menu doesn’t lie when it states, “ain’t nothin’ like the real thing baby!”. Bud, I’ve never met you in person, but I feel we’ve made a connection through these noodles you’ve graciously shared with me on so many occasions.

Now that I’ve blown the climax of this post wide open, I’ll keep it rolling with a couple heavy hitting appetizers. Baba doesn’t mess around when it comes to dinner time. Sure she’ll order a nice light arugula salad…but it’s going to be covered with fresh slices of prosciutto di parma and roasted figs stuffed with goat cheese!

Goat Cheese Stuffed Figs, Arugula & Proscuitto

We matched that with a trio of veal meatballs relaxing in generous amounts of Sette Luna’s tangy tomato sauce and a cozy jackets of melted mozz. A sprinkle of freshly grated parm finished it off and we dug in. The meat was succulent and savory, with just enough spice to keep your tongue on its toes. The sauce and cheese intermingle with the juicy meat to form a single entity in your mouth. I enjoyed the addition of a couple of lemon peels that added a spring of citrus to the high voltage marinara. There are few things in this world better than a meatball done right, and Sette Luna has got them on lock.

Veal Meatballs

To round out the fantastic meal, Baba went all out on one of their specials of the night, the rabbit lasagna. I had nearly been tempted away from my go to dish when I heard this one get announced. Delicate shreds of rabbit with spinach and melted cheese all coated in a cream sauce and a drizzle of balsamic. Sounds heavy no? It was surprisingly light and easy to down in large bites, a dangerous combination. Rabbit always sounds enticing, but many places overcook it ’til it turns to leather. Not here, your tongue is plenty strong to tackle this bunny, and the distinct flavor still shone through in spite of the cream and cheese. Too bad we may never have the pleasure of tasting this one again, the nightly special giveth and taketh away.

Rabbit Lasagna

Happily, I chalked up another wonderful dinner with just me and my Baba. Sette Luna makes it all possible with its homegrown owners supplying the town of Easton and the surrounding area with fantastic Italian cuisine and the perfect venue to make memories with loved ones. Thanks to Josh, Terry and Bud for all the great meals over the years, I can’t wait for my next visit!

Sette Luna on Urbanspoon

The Savory Side of Dough

You’ve already heard our soliloquies of the fantastic things Datz Dough is doing in the pastry world. But if you thought sweet treats were all they had to offer, you don’t know the half of it.

Chef Domenica - Photo: Kevin Tinghe

Photo: Kevin Tinghe

It’s no coincidence that as soon a new talented, and dare I say, infamous chef was hired, a sea change washed in from the orange-purple horizon. Now I’ve read the stories about some of the behind the scenes drama involving past employers. Non-compete clauses and threats of law suits. For us, the consumer, the final product, not any extenuating circumstances, should be the deciding factor of how and where we spend our money. Here at Eat a Duck, we’ve resolved to save the drama for our mommas. For me, I know the pedigree. To win over an unbiased food lover like myself, you only need three words, “duck fat fries”. Those words might as well join Chef Domenica’s copious ink, as the two go hand in hand.

I can attest to the legitimacy of the hype surrounding this particular chef. By all means, if you have yet to try her interpretation, I would chug my way to Palma Ceia for an order. Thrice is not only the world’s greatest mid-2000s post emo/post hardcore/post melodic hardcore emo/ pre-post-experimental post-hardcore, modern-melodic rock outfit, it’s also the number of steps it takes to properly cook frites.

Foie Gras Slider

I find joy most often when Eat a Duck actually gets to eat duck. Not only did I get my first fill as technically I ate duck in the fries, they also have the best preparation of foie gras I’ve found in the Bay Area, in quality and in taste. For a fair enough price, you can get a small slider of brioche crouton, with a nice little slab of foie gras, perfectly cooked with a layer of sear to keep the fatty liver from completely melting away. As with any competent take on foie, a sweet and acidic addition of figgy jam with balsamic will not only cut the fat, it also causes a the whole affair to foiemoneously linger on the tongue. This little foiemuse will make you think about it so often throughout the rest of the day, you’ll begin speaking in foienglish.

“Truly, there isn’t a party like an Eat a Duck party, cause the eating of the duck at the party doesn’t ever stop. Wherever we go, best believe we got our confit. Rolling down the stylish peak, to get a taste of duck with berry gastrique.”

To complete the tour de canard, I have to mention the confit of quarter. A generously sized portion, enough to share with a good friend. I suggest possibly Todd Sturtz of Tasting Tampa fame, as he resides dangerously close to this particular eatery. Again, you are going to find a great deal of balance. Simply eating an order of such a luscious menu item would probably make your head gravitate skyward toward Dough’s heavenly ceiling. The bite of lemon from the dressing that coated the accompanying bitter green salad was what I needed to pull everything back from exceedingly gluttonous levels. The same can be said of an agrodolce type, berry drizzle.

Duck Confit

The table also feasted on some other great items such as sweet, creamy cornmeal polenta, with a mound of expertly roasted mushrooms and a drizzle of high-grade truffle oil. This might not sound like it works, but the pungent early flavor of mushroom and truffle go well with all the natural sugars that come from the sweet corn. Finally, black mussels cooked in bourbon barrel ale, plenty of butter, garlic and lemon composed last dish. For the vital few who love moules frites, you have Dough to thank now, as the gold standard in the area. I felt as if I was drinking a tiny piece of Belgium with every slurp.

Fall Harvest

Bourbon Barrel Ale Mussels

There are about ten more items that are as equally intriguing on Datz Dough’s new savory, bistro menu. They can be had for lunch or dinner, with what I’m assuming will be additions and tweaks down the road. Maybe even off menu, super top-secret stuff, featuring yours truly perhaps? Now if they only served dessert!

Red Door Wine Market – Lakeland, FL

Let’s be honest, late night dining has never been Lakeland’s forte. Let me rephrase, quality late night dining. Recently, Logan and I found ourselves in the familiar situation of wanting something tasty long after the sun had faded. Had this been any time in the last ten years, we would’ve had to either make the trek to Orlando or Tampa, or suck it up and go to sleep hungry. This time though, a freshly minted eatery, with the curious ability to transport us somewhere with cooler weather and colorful leaves, was there to sate our hunger.

Red Door Exterior

Red Door Wine Market was anything but expected to this jaded Lakeland visitor. As soon as I stepped through the door (yes it is actually red), I felt like I had just walked in out of a blustery nor’easter. It’s an indescribable quality that some restaurants have, that ability to transport you, with either food, atmosphere or both.

Red Door Interior

After a quick introduction with Chef Jason Boniface, a legit looking dude to be sure, I took my seat and was immediately struck by the items on offer, marrow bones, oysters on the half shell and scallops ‘n bacon, in particular, caught my eye, “I am still in Lakeland right?”, I thought to myself. Sure enough, Lake Morton was just down the street. We wasted no time ordering the marrow and the scallops straight away. I was giddy. I realize it must sound like I’m insulting Lakeland with my surprise, and I mean no disrespect, but seafood isn’t normally what you’d want to order anywhere else in town, and forget about finding split marrow bones with beef marmalade and gremolata.

Red Door Menu

The dishes arrived and once again I had forgotten my surroundings as the aroma of braised pork belly and beef marrow filled my nostrils. The marrow was thick, shiny and slightly pink. These may have been the heartiest marrow bones I’ve ever had. The gelatinous protein spread like room temperature butter. A dab of gremolata and a pile of marmalade on a crostini comes together for the most ridiculous mouth feel. This dish is to my mouth what a squirt of oil is to the Tin Man.

Roasted Bone Marrow

Scallops are one of my favorite types of seafood. Crown a few slivers of jiggly, braised pork belly with the pearly white shellfish, and you chef, deserve the Nobel Prize. You could stop wars with this dish. The scallops were perfectly seared, just enough to color the outside, yet little enough to keep the insides translucent. The sweet scallop, enhanced by the maple gastrique, paired wonderfully with the savory belly. Given the chance, I’d have eaten these quicker than Lucy on the chocolate conveyor.

Scallops 'n Bacon

Jason must have peered deep into my soul in the few seconds we locked eyes, because an ice bowl with five enormous Louisiana oysters appeared without request. We here at Eat a Duck never expect freebies, but when the planets align and you’re bestowed with one, you respect the gesture and devour it! A squeeze of lemon and small slather of cocktail sauce prepped the succulent bivalves for their short journey down our gullets. Sweet to the extreme, meaty and just briny enough to remind you of the ocean, they were the perfect ending to our late night jaunt.

Louisiana oysters on the half shell

I heard rumors of an amazing brownie, alas, it’ll have to wait for my next visit. There are so many people to thank for this experience, Logan and Jason immediately come to mind. I live for these unplanned food-ventures, and if Red Door Wine Market is the beginning of a trend in Lakeland, you’d better believe I’ll be there to follow it.

Red Door Wine Market on Urbanspoon

2013 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival – Part II

Nearly a week after Logan’s merry jaunt around Epcot, I had the great honor to join my colleague in an all out attack on the world, the world showcase that is. I’ve compiled another half-dozen menu items on offer at the festival, along with a few pro tips for anyone planning a visit.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life in Florida, and I must sheepishly admit that this is my first year at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. I may not have over a decade of experience with the event like Logan,  but I do share his years of experience in the mosh pit. Let me first say that his comparison of said pit, to the hungry hordes of Epcot is terrifyingly accurate. Having spent the beginning of our day at the other Disney parks, we were somewhat acclimated to the crowds. Nevertheless, it was still amazing to see that many people milling around the 30 booths around the World Showcase Lagoon.

Food & Wine Festival Day 2

Let’s get the first pro tip out there straight away…

Pro tip #1: Grab a map and plan your route!

If your family is like ours, the days schedule will likely get stretched out beyond your expectations. So when you get to Epcot, get a map if you don’t have one already, and figure out which booths you want to hit before you even pass the Coolzone. Which brings me to…

Pro tip #2: On a budget? Limit your alcohol!

Purchasing adult beverages will drain your bankroll quicker than marrying Kim Kardashian. If you want to maximize the amount of dishes you get to try, grab a swig of Kinley or Smart Watermelon from the Coolzone, located in the last building on your right, just before you reach the bridge to the world showcase. If you’re dying for some booze though, there are many budget friendly options in the $2.50 – $3.00 range that’ll hit the spot.

But enough chatter, this IS a food blog after all. So let me dish out the meal Logan and I put together on our recent visit. Since Logan went left last time, we went right. First stop on our map was Canada, our eyes and stomachs set firmly on the wild mushroom beef filet with truffle butter sauce from “Le Cellier”. People in line were raving about the cheddar soup, which I’m sure was fantastic as well, but the tender filet with its truffle aroma had a stronger pull. I received a nice chunk of beef, smothered in mushrooms and truffle sauce. Naturally I would’ve like it to be cooked just a touch less, but when you’re feeding the masses, medium is a safe bet. No matter, the flavor was there and it was a great start to my first Food & Wine visit.

"Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce

Pro tip #3: Divide and conquer!

While I was in line for the filet, Logan wisely moored himself at the Refreshment Port, aiming to get his hands on the Dole pineapple fritters. Take this strategy and you’ll efficiently plow through multiple lines at once, garnering a couple of different dishes in the time it usually takes to get one. The more friends you have the better! We met up and exchanged our ooo’s and ahh’s, and promptly dug in. The fried batter had a light sprinkling of powdered sugar that stayed crispy despite the juicy pineapple below. It was refreshing and decadent all at once.

Dole Pineapple Fritters

With two dishes secured in our bellies, we made a beeline for France and its escargots persillade en brioche. You get three little snails tucked into puffy, golden and thoroughly buttered brioche pouches. I feel like snails are gaining in popularity in America as people get over their squeamishness at the protein. If you’re still on the fence about them, try them here, it’ll change your mind. They’re coated in a butter, garlic and herb glaze that gives them a rich flavor and ultra creamy texture, no balloon-like chewiness in sight.

Escargots Persillade en Brioche

Once again, while I was in line in France, Logan headed to New Zealand. We deliberated between the venison sausage and the lamb meatball and eventually agreed on the sausage. You get a nice, plump sausage link with generous amounts of pickled mushrooms and baby arugula, drizzled with a black currant reduction. This was definitely the “entrée” of the night. The sausage was hearty and full of flavor. Venison often tends to be gamey, which can taste like licking an iron tree. This had no sign of that off-putting taste. The meat was tender and almost sweet, with just enough fat content to keep things juicy inside the casing. The pickled mushrooms and black currant reduction threw their tangy and sweet weight around and balanced the dish perfectly.

Venison Sausage with Pickled Mushrooms

On our short walk past Japan, we lamented the missed opportunity to showcase some of that countries finest dishes. Instead of serving a hot cup of rich ramen, there’s a California roll. A slick stand serving takoyaki (diced octopus in a wheat batter, served with a variety of toppings) would’ve been more exciting than the chicken teriyaki you can get anywhere in America. It may be the result of demographic, but in my opinion, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival should serve to expand people’s culinary horizons…but there’s always next year (hint hint).

Just off the main path as you cross the border into “America”, you’ll find the “Hops & Barley” booth. We skipped over Ireland’s lobster and seafood pie in favor of a traditional lobster roll with lemon herb mayo. Let me sing my praises here, Disney does not skimp on the lobster and this ain’t no claw meat only roll either. You get a heaping mound of lobster with a good variety of meat from all corners of the crustacean. It hit all the marks you want in a lobster roll. Fresh meat, a nice coating of butter and just the right amount of mayo to give the whole affair creamy citrus twinge. It may seem expensive at $7.00, but you’d be lucky to find this quality, or quantity for that matter, at a better price point anywhere else.

Lobster Roll with Lemon Herb Mayonnaise

With our bellies filling and our feet aching (well my feet, Mr. Postman over there was running circles around me) we stumbled upon the cheese booth on our way to a previously planned stop at China. Logan had already sampled the tempting almond crusted blue cheese soufflé, so we went with the artisan cheese selection. We both consider ourselves major cheese heads, and not in the Green Bay Packers sense, but we were both impressed with the trio on offer here. First in the photo below we have La Bonne Vie Triple Cream Brie with apricot jam. Ultra creamy, buttery and full-bodied, unlike most average Brie you’ll find in the store. In the center, Beecher’s Flagship Reserve, a special cow’s milk cheese made only on days where the milk is just right. Here it’s paired with a small drizzle of honey to play off its rich, salty notes. Last but in no way least, Wygaard Goat’s Gouda with crispy Craisin bread. This had the salty kick of a fine Gouda with the creamy, sour notes from the goat’s milk. Surprisingly one of the best cheese plates I’ve had in a while, and I wasn’t even sitting down to enjoy it.

Artisan Cheese Selection

Sadly we didn’t make it to China and Singapore as was planned, but I’m sure we’ll be back soon, so stay tuned. My first visit to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was a resounding if exhausting success. Where else can you eat delicacies from around the world, WHILE you exercise? It’s a win-win. There’s less than a month left, so get it while it’s hot! See you there!

Zen Forrest – New Port Richey, FL

Have you ever had a moment of clarity where you finally understand and realize that everything doesn’t revolve around you? No? Me neither. As food writers we yearn for attention. Not necessarily from the amount people who feast their eyes on our top-notch content, non-scathing remarks or overall unstoppable charm, but more from having our peers respect what we say and what we deem delicious. We have said this so many times it’s become something of a mission statement, we only write about stuff we really, really like. Love is too strong a word but it fits most of our restaurants of note.

I’m always honored to be an invited guest to any special occasion, and my recent visit to Zen Forrest was no exception. A few of my friends had eaten there in the past, praising the “east meets east-er”, so I trusted their judgement to guide me. I pride myself on knowing just about every worthwhile eatery within and hour and a half from my house. The key to my ignorance about this Zen Forrest was its location. To ask me to where exactly New Port Richey was, I wouldn’t know more than to say “west”. Honestly, it’s no farther for me than say, Balm, Tribly, (The Windy City) or even Alturas for goodness sakes! I literally made a handful of turns in the hour it took to reach my destination.

Zen Silhouettes

But this isn’t “Flight of the Navigator”. Lets get back to the most important part of the story. Me. I arrived shortly before the doors opened, as the restaurant is normally closed on Sundays. I stared through the viewfinder of my camera trying to pass the time alone in silence. You see I was attending stag, not knowing a single attendee. As we were led into the large open dining area, I was escorted to my table, catching sight of two placards bearing my name. I sat down to greet my neighbors, a very nice couple that regularly patronize the “Forrest”. I asked them about the restaurant and how long it had been in business. As far as they recall, it’s been at least ten years. Ten years?! How had I not heard of it? Blasphemy.

Marinated sardines, tofu & jalepeno, pickled sprouts

The table was already decorated with a slew of banchan, basically Korean condiments. The evening had been given a theme meant to showcase both the modern and traditional aspects of Korean cuisine. We got our first taste of this from the bowls of pickled and marinated vegetables, fish and tofu preparations before us. I had a feeling that my table in particular weren’t here because they were kimchi-philes. Rather, they were simply fans of the restaurant in general, which was a testament of the quality to come. For me Korean food can be a very excellent gateway from “food noob” to full on adventure eater, but it can also drop road blocks depending on your courage.

Pickled Cucumber & Cabbage with Bulgogi Maki

As the nice lady next to me was searching for a fork instead of her chopsticks, I asked her what she thought so far. She hadn’t taken a bite. “I don’t know what any of this is”, she said with a quizzical look on her face. So I looked around trying to find the easiest item to stomach. I spotted a bowl of traditional Napa cabbage kimchi and some cucumber pickles and handed it over. This was followed by fried cauliflower tossed in chili sauce. It appeared everything was staying down so I continued to lead her into uncharted territory. A helping of seaweed and some fermented bean sprouts coated in sesame, followed by a few pieces of Korean sushi, which was bulgogi rolled with vegetables in rice and nori. Then things got weird. I passed over a bowl of fried tofu with jalapeno, soaked in a sweet wine vinegar. I thought it was absolutely splendid, especially for someone with a disgust for tofu and tofu laced products. She kept a safe distance from the acorn gellée with cilantro chimichurri, something I thought was a triumph in flavor, yet was one of those things whose texture can play with your head. She actually did try the chimichurri on the top but wouldn’t touch its partner. Marinated sardines were also a no-go as she abhorred the thought of eating little baby fish bones. I don’t really blame her as it’s not really my “Matt Forte” either. All of that and this was just the first course!!

The chef followed up the feast of fermentation in a classic way with a couple nice ground chicken and kimchi stuffed pan-fried dumplings they call mandu or mandoo. I say man-dude those were good! My neighbor devoured the gochujang (a spicy Korean condiment) that came as a dipping sauce. After the plates were cleared she asked what that sauce was, and if it was hard to find. It is not.

Another highlight included Korean fried chicken with buttery corn cob slices. Fried chicken is a really popular item in South Korea, and they’ve put their own unique spin on the classic dish. The Korean variety has been on the rise in the States as super chefs like David Chang and Dale Talde have embraced the technique, putting variations on their respective menus.

korean-fried-chicken-pork-belly-pickled-radish-chicken-kimchi-mandoo

The biggest winner of the evening had to be the slow cook pork belly and pickled radishes. So soft you could have cut through it with a wet noodle, yet the outside had a barrier of sticky-sweet charred hoisin, finished on the grill. I was served a nice mini slab about an inch thick, laced with supple, gelatinous rendered pork fat. I got started by taking swipes at the mass, incorporating a little radish with every bite. Then something horrible happened, I started running out of food on my plate!! The bites became smaller and smaller as I foolishly tried to stretch my rations to no avail. Before long it was just a delicious memory.

Kalbi with kimchi butter

Finally, came the beef. Two thinly sliced short rib planks, called kalbi arrived with a crown of kimchi butter. Out of everything that I anticipated, this was the most coveted. This is where that moment of clarity comes in. When you realize the food world doesn’t revolve around you. When you understand that there are actually people out there who are creative, thoughtful and just as smart as you think you are. Whomever had the brilliant idea to write that recipe down and then execute it like a boss, I tip my brand new Montgomery Biscuits hat to you good sir or madam. I personally don’t believe in umami, but if it does exist, the kalbi with kimchi butter would be the October centerfold in the calendar

I beg the runners of Zen Forrest to make a place for the pork belly and kalbi somewhere on the normal menu. I think you have the food equivalent to blue sky meth in your kitchen. My head is starting to twitch and my skin is already beginning to itch. I’m going to need another fix before too long.

Zen Forrest on Urbanspoon

2013 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival – Part I

I used to be a young kid with a whole bunch of energy. From the ages of 16-24, most of my free time was spent going to punk rock shows. I’ve lived in the pit and emerged unscathed (most of the time). I can be sure that there was a change in the tide around 2005 when I slowed my concert attendance. I honestly believe that’s when my favorite genres of music started going stale. There are still great bands out there, but for me, they either aren’t fun to see live, don’t put out new music, don’t play near me regularly or they stopped touring all together. That was also the time that food programming and food and drink based personalities began to gain popularity. They became household names in the American psyche. I’m sure many of you could rattle off a dozen names no problem. Now we have food based shows on their own networks running 24/7. Chances are some of you may have just stopped watching Master Chef Junior Jr. to read this masterpiece. Anyway, at that same time, I became more and more interested in food culture, studying technique and becoming a fan boy to just about every great cook out there. Now there’s a circuit across the country of festivals and special events where chefs can promote themselves like a band through demos, interviews or exclusive dinners.

food-wine-fest-entry-the-hungry-masses1

Disney as I know it, is not about jumping on the bandwagon. They are about being on the forefront of innovation and trend. That’s why they have long since created what should be viewed as the Space Mountain of Food And Wine Festivals. Their annual fall time parade for the senses usually runs for about a month and a half, right when fall hits at the Epcot world showcase in Walt Disney World. If memory serves me correctly, this is the 18th year running, and it could quite possibly be the largest yet, as I witnessed on my first day.

What should you expect? In two words, sensory overload. The crowds can be daunting if you’re not used to swimming your way through a mosh pit like a king salmon on its way upstream to produce its delicious roe. In my experience over the past decade and a half, they’ve never run out of a single menu item, ever. I can’t compute how they keep the quality at such a high level given how quickly they move through the incredibly long lines.

I would advise you to do a bit of research, especially if you’re on a budget. Figure out how much you can spend per person. For example if $30 a person is your goal, you’re of age and chose to drink, your experience might consist of 4-5 different samplings of food and a couple tastings of wine or beer. Print out a guide, or get one from the front and begin mapping out a strategy. Try and pick some stuff that you can’t get where you live. I think you’ll be pleased by some of the more exotic offerings. As you wade into the fray, you have two options, right or left? I always have a phantom inclination to go left when I’m at Epcot. Maybe its science, I should ask Figment. In any case, my intuition served me well.

The first stall I visited was inspired by Brazil. Each booth has 2-4 food choices and a couple of drinks as well. Most of which are indigenous to the theme country. I chose based on pressure from my good friend Jeff Houck, the crispy pork belly with avocado on a mattress of thickened black beans. Listening to your peers pays off people. Jeff’s play calling was brilliant, reminiscent of Weeb Ewbank in Super Bowl III. The belly was indeed crispy, yet it had been cooked for almost a full work week so that the fat had rendered away just enough to keep my wife interested. She doesn’t like her bacon too fatty. It was rich and tender and was a wonderful contrast to all the vibrant flavor surrounding it. I would take my advice through Jeff’s advice. Make an all out ground assault on Brazil. Attack the belly!

Crispy Pork Belly with Avocado

At this point, I was searching for some Seoul food, by way of the infamous kimchi dog. The addition of Korea to Food and Wine’s stable of countries couldn’t have come at a better time, as I am presently embroiled in a public love affair with Korean cuisine. Meeting the kimchi dog was a premeditated rendevous I have no shame admitting. This might seem to be a normal looking hot dog at a first glance. When you dig into the meat, so to speak, you’ll find all those familiar tastes synonymous to the region. Spicy of course, as there is kimchi throughout, in the meat, in the slaw, in the mustard sauce, on my shirt. The bun and the encased meat lends itself to the sweeter side. Even though this is a festival for the public, you still have a touch of the Tyramine effect from the slightly fermented cabbage. Don’t be off put, it’s a wonderful sensation!

Kimchi Hot Dog

It didn’t take long, once I’d cleaned my shirt, to stumble upon the cheese tent. They offered a selection of cheeses, some of which we might discuss at a later date. I completely overlooked the almond crusted soufflé paired with fig jam. For three bucks, How could I pass it up? I waited in a shorter line than normal, getting looks at what everyone else was leaving with. At least 10 cheese courses flew by with little samples of Disney themed wines. I can’t remember the names, maybe one was Snow White Zinfindel or something. Write that down, I may need to get a trademark! I didn’t see anyone else order the soufflé, so I began to curb my excitement, as there have been a misstep in my future. After I found a quiet spot to take my first bite, I found a little old lady eating a soufflé by herself. I asked what she thought of it. She said in a sweety pie southern accent “I didn’t realize it had blue cheese when I ordered it, otherwise, I wouldn’t have”, but did she like it or not? Who cares if it was a mistake or planned, right? “I loved it! One of the strangest things I’ve ever eaten, but it was mighty tasty”. I couldn’t have agreed more. Approach this soufflé as more of the crustless quiche that it is. 

Almond Crusted Blue Cheese Soufflé with Fig Preserves

I made a conscious effort to stop at four dishes this trip because I knew I’d be back before long. So for my last dish, I set my coordinates to Belgium, arriving close to dusk. The sun was fading but the crowds were growing. Rock moms were flooding the walkways and food stalls, perhaps hoping Ken Block might make a surprise appearance. Upon our arrival in Belgium, I presented my papers and promptly joined the longest line of the day. If the Belgians know how to make one thing right…, it’s frites. But if the Belgiumese know how to make a second thing well, waffles or gaufres would solidify the number 2 spot. People were going waffle crazy, with three different variations, two sweet, one savory.  I went rogue, trying my hand at a mashed potato and leek waffle topped with braised beef and a smattering of salty butter. I never thought of taking mashed potatoes and wafflizing them.  I have had savory waffles many times, but not like this. It was a testament to creative thinking.

Mashed Potato & Leek Waffle with Braised Beef & Butter

There’s so much good stuff to be had at this festival, and as I said before, no matter the crowd size, they’ve never run out of food or drink on me. Besides the obvious quality in product Disney is always going to be known for, to me, that is the most impressive part of the whole event.

You can be a fan of food, wine, beer or a combination of all three like me, and have a blast.  Our culture is evolving to include these kinds of gatherings to attract just as many people as the traveling musical festivals that have grown stale. Maybe I’m getting too old to be in a circle pit, or maybe it’s because it’s easier to bring the family.

Stay tuned next week as the boys of Eat a Duck sink their teeth into a food filled day two at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival! If you want to plan your own outing, the festival runs through November 11th, so there’s plenty of time!

Anise Global Gastrobar – Tampa, FL

It’s hard to imagine a logical person asking for anything better than those little puffy globular fatty pork filled clam shells known as bao. The Stinky Bunz food truck goes above and beyond when it comes to serving the wonderfully steamy, lovingly handcrafted pockets of goodness. With a sparkle in my eye glimmering brighter than the David Yurman summer collection, I tried my first bao at the aforementioned Stinky Bunz, at the first sanctioned monthly food truck rally in my sleepy city. The next time around I eagerly anticipated giving the bao my full attention. Sadly, they didn’t come back. I found out that the truck had taken an indefinite hiatus. It was then that sadness gnawed at my heart as my soul was swallowed up in a baoless void. My body violently seized function as a tempestuous sorrow knocked me down to my knees, much like Eu·ro·aq′ui·lo, the great storm of biblical proportions.

Stinky Bunz Truck

What more could I do than wait things out? I wrote down my vitals on my arm as one does in times of natural disaster. Name, address, favorite taqueria. You know, the essentials.

Flash forward to the near present. a good friend of mine kindly requested my help finding a venue for her brother and sister in-laws anniversary dinner.

The prerequisites were the following:

  • great menu both in the food and drink department
  • a place that adults could go for a night away from the kids, as well as a place that doesn’t make you want to leave after an hour
  • and the most challenging of all,  to find a place no one had ever been to, as the Central Florida area has been quiet in the new restaurant department.

I began doing the research and was coming up empty. The seemingly insurmountable task almost had me down for the count, until I saw it, “Coming soon, Anise Global Gastrobar”. I saw those words in a post online and had to check it out. I admit, the name is a mouthful but it appeared, based on name alone, that this place might meet my needs, wants and Bacchanalian desires.

Anise Logo & Interior

Scrolling. Menu. Click. Full Dining. Click. Scrolling. “Stinky Bunz”. That read with an eerie familiarity. Kind of like that one place I used to know. Was I in the food version of the epic blockbuster “The Number 23”? Through hungry, squinting eyes, I read “inspired by our food truck”. I picked up the phone, dialed up my friend, gave her the details and a grand party was had. (Editors Note: I wasn’t even invited to the party that I basically birthed.)

Then it was my turn. Little time had passed before my wife and I were once again looking for the perfect place for a dinner date. Anise was the first place that came to mind. My wife usually likes eating on the lighter side, but sometimes, when the planets align, she craves food of the deep-fried persuasion. As I read the entire menu with the grace and style of Eric Carmen, she began to swoon at some of the items. Truffled tater tots, duck confit lettuce wraps, baked goat cheese, and of course the trademarked Stinky Bunz.

We actually started the meal with the tots. There’s something about the molecular makeup of a tater tot that science cannot explain. Don’t you ever compare them with french fries, dont do it. When you pair the Picasso-like structure of perfectly crisp tots, combined with a liberal shower of truffle essence, then provide a lemony aioli as my paint for this canvas, the results are like art in a basket. The tots got the ol’ supershot basketball treatment. It was a race to see how many we could devour in 60 seconds. I scored a swisheroo for two while the wife earned a free play.

Truffled Tater Tots

I chose the duck confit lettuce wraps as my first true solo endeavor as she went with a steaming bowl of Korean Jap Chae. The lettuce wraps were a great way to start the Asian portion of the meal. The shredded duck cooked in its own fat and slathered with hoisin inside the lettuce wraps, included fresh herbs, pickled daikon and lots of sliced raw jalapeno. I welcome heat when it’s balanced, which this was. Mainly due in part to the bright citrus dressing that played as the sauce. It not only cut the heat but also served to cut the richness of from the confit de canard.

Duck Confit Lettuce Wraps & Korean Jap Chae

Shortly after pulling the curtain on the last wrap, my wife’s Jap Chae arrived. So, you can get this stuff completely vegetarian or with chicken or whatever and it will be just fine. But, my suggestion is to go for gold and get it with a couple hunky slices of grilled beef tenderloin cooked rare, like purple rare. The flavor profile for this somewhat simple dish is vast. I can’t accurately describe the fireworks display exploding in my wife’s brain as she devoured the noodle bowl. What I can say without pause that she has become a Jap Chae hound ever since, seeking and destroying all possible opposition in her path. I’ve never seen such dedication.

The bunz arrived. Three to an order and all with different fillings. I always eat in a way that rewards potential. Meaning, the dish that sounds the best to me, if I have the choice, will always be the last consumed. It was a fitting conclusion as the stinky bunz made it to the table far later than all the others. The first one grabbed was the Chinese BBQ pork shoulder with radish. I could tell right away this was the same style as I had many months ago at the food truck rally. Sweet, sticky and rich, similar to the flavors of the duck I enjoyed earlier. I’m glad I got that out of the way. More pork in the form of the belly was my second attempt in my Tour de Bao. Again, similar flavors with a few differing characteristics. The fatty pork did well to compliment all the freshness that surrounded it. With the addition of a slab of wonderful kimchi, it became clear how well the food was seasoned. I wanted no more than what was presented to me, but I had one Bun to go.

Stinky Bunz

Finally, with a heave and a hurl I grabbed the last parcel, catapulting it toward my face. I closed my eyes and quietly began singing in my head “I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ve got this feelin’ that won’t subside. I look at you and I fantasize. You’re mine tonight. Now I’ve got you in my sights…With these hungry eyes.” Crispy red curried chicken with a gargantuan cucumber slice, drenched in this bright white creamy coconut yogurt sauce was the last bite I would have. Fittingly it was the best. I could venture a guess at which 5-10 ethnic regions this one bite originated from, but I prefer to enjoy the mystery. The global part of Anise is the most telling. The food isn’t based on Chinese or Korean or Indian or even Taiwanese. They take a little piece of this and extract out a small sampling of that , making something tasty and worldly. You need to try this place. If for no other reason than to hear my voice serenading you with every bite you take.

da Campo Osteria – Ft. Lauderdale, FL

The first time I met chef Steven Acosta, we were in the bowels of a glorified furniture store. Naturally this is where most people go to see chefs demonstrating the process of mozzarella making. Strange setting aside, I was captivated by the pearly white cheese, stretching ever so gently between Steven’s hands. Looking around, I got the feeling that most of the people in the room didn’t really appreciate what they were seeing, an observation that would explain a lot…but I’ll get to that.

After the demo, I introduced myself to Steven and told him how much I enjoyed the delicious morsels. We chatted a bit about food. I mentioned my recent visit to Scarpetta, a restaurant that Steven says he uses as a measuring stick, a lofty aspiration to be sure, but I could tell he wasn’t kidding. I ended up leaving with a card and an invitation to drop by and sample da Campo’s full repertoire. Fast forward a couple of months, and I finally had the perfect opportunity to visit. My newly minted food friend Todd Sturtz was back in town, so I gave Steven a call, and we made our way to da Campo Osteria.

da Campo Osteria logo

I had never heard of da Campo before this, it used to be one of the many eateries by star chef, Todd English before Steven took the helm. As usual I had studied the menu beforehand and was excited by the offerings. We took our seats and our host arrived table-side to welcome us. We were given a choice, pick our meal a la carte, or leave ourselves in his capable hands. Only a fool would choose the former. With the game plan in hand, he disappeared into the kitchen to get us started.

First to arrive was the bread and sauce. A simple balsamic/olive oil, a sweet tomato marmalade and garlic spread. Naturally my favorite combo, and the first to disappear, was the focaccia with a slathering of the garlic sauce. For me, tomato option was a little sweet to be served so early in the meal when your taste buds are gearing up for savory.

Bread n' Spread

A small plate with a lone bacon-wrapped date with a shmear of aioli arrived to our delight. The bacon was gently glazed and wonderfully smokey, the sweet date and salty pork was a natural match and was a table-wide winner.

 da Campo Osteria wrapped date & chef Steven Acosta

Shortly afterwards, things got serious. Chef rolled out a table, and I knew what was coming. It was mozz time, and I was ready. Before Chef Acosta began, he asked if we knew what burrata was. We all immediately answered in the affirmative, slightly taken aback that he needed to ask. I later found out that many of the diners in the Ft. Lauderdale area are not the most adventurous eaters. Let me just say to anyone reading, if you like mozzarella, you’re gonna like burrata, trust me on this.

With our love for cream filled mozz expressed, Steven got to work, and I got a front row seat. He starts with fresh curds and adds hot salted water, slightly below the boiling point, to get the curds to melt. After much stirring, stretching, filling and tucking, a bright white orb was presented atop a mountain of local heirloom tomatoes and house made croutons.

Fresh burrata & heirloom tomatoes

In my lifetime, I’ve probably consumed over 100 lbs of burrata and mozzarella. If I were to rank them all, this would break the top five no problem. The exterior is firmer than the mozzarella you can buy in water and it’s also served just above room temperature. This caprese, panzanella salad whatever you want to call it, had some of the boldest flavors. The best part of the dish? The ridiculous slurry that formed at the bottom of the bowl from the cream, balsamic, tomato caviar and garlic infused oil from the croutons, so addictive I’m almost getting withdrawal.

We were obviously smack dab in the “delicious giant sphere” part of the meal, because two softball sized “jumbo” meatballs arrived. Chef assured us that these meatballs were practically newborns, they’re rolling up the fresh ground mixture of veal, beef and pork, and browning them one at a time. I hate those dense, flavorless, overcooked meatballs you get at many a mediocre Italian joint. These were on the other end of the scale, moist, tender, and packed with flavor, something you’d imagine that ideal Italian grandmother would make. The zippy tomato sauce offset the heft of the meat, with copious amounts of parm and basil to finish out the rustic theme. In my bachelor days, I would’ve ordered two of these to go and made a night of it.

da Campo's jumbo meatball

Things slowed down a touch with a couple of small plates. Crispy eggplant with apricot-chili agrodolce and veal cheeks braised in a barolo reduction with purple cauliflower and an artichoke chip. Normally I like my eggplant sliced thin and pan-fried in olive oil ’til crispy. This was a new preparation for me, cut into cubes and deep-fried. The eggplant retained its moisture beneath the seasoned crust, which saved the veg from the blandness that often results from too thick a cut. As for the cheeks, so tender they hardly required silverware, the natural flavor of the veal was the star, accented by the subtle barolo reduction. A bite of artichoke chip (which Steven needs to put in bags and sell they’re so good) added some salt that highlighted the veal even more.

Crispy eggplant & braised veal cheeks

At this point in our Italian feast, we were all ready for a pasta dish. Chef did not disappoint with three, hockey puck sized short rib ravioli topped with his signature tomato sauce. This was another favorite dish of the table, although anything with short ribs is bound to excite. The photo speaks for itself, this was Italian comfort food at its best.

Braise short rib ravioli

The last of the savory dishes was something of an experiment for the boys on the line. It was da Campo’s take on a “surf n’ turf”, with crispy pork belly and seared ahi tuna. It was served with roasted fingerling potatoes and brussels sprouts. Let me just say, the concept of this dish is fantastic, pair two moan inducing proteins on one dish and let the food do the talking. That being said, I think it still needs some tweaks. While the flavor of the pork belly was great, it was a little tough, and the skin was more chewy than crispy, not the usual wobbly, unctuous piece of fat I look for.

** UPDATE ** I had a chance to visit da Campo and Chef Steven again recently. I’m excited to report that the “surf n’ turf” has indeed been tinkered with, if not reworked completely. Steven killed it with this iteration, scrapping the seared ahi in favor of sweet jumbo scallops. The textures work perfectly now, the pork belly was cooked just right this time, achieving the fatty jiggle that was missing before, and the plump scallops are the perfect partner. The fingerling potatoes and sprouts have also been tossed, with chanterelle mushrooms, a few schmears of black garlic mascarpone and light dabs of tomato agrodolce in their place. I managed to pull the chef off the line for a moment to make sure he never changes this dish! Get to da Campo NOW and try this, though I doubt it’ll be leaving the menu anytime soon.

"Surf n' Turf" Pork belly & Tuna

The second suggestion might just be my opinion, but I’ve never been a fan of searing a wonderful piece of tuna, give it to me raw with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and I’m good. I think there’s a lot of potential here with a little reworking.

For the finale, we were given a choice for dessert, but my ears turned off after I heard tiramisu soufflé, which just begs to be combined into tiramisoufflé. It arrived all puffed up with eggy braggadocio with a crown of powdered sugar and accompaniments of mocha ice cream and mascarpone. A quick poke with a spoon paved the way for the ice cream and mascarpone to mingle at the molten core. We were all beyond full at this point but as is always the case, the dessert stomach allowed multiple mouthfuls of the sweet soufflé. The bottom layer of lady fingers and a smattering of chocolate chips pushed this dish over the edge. A word of warning, don’t attack this bad boy without friends, this is serious business.

Tirami-soufflé

We had a chance to chat with Chef Acosta after the sumptuous siege came had ended. He is truly passionate about his food, with the creativity and drive to deliver some top-notch cuisine. When he rattled off a few of the more adventurous dishes he’s come up with, we all perked up, only to find out that he hesitates to put them on the menu since earlier experiments didn’t sell. Unfortunately, as I feared at the mozzarella demo, the demographic of Ft. Lauderdale just doesn’t seem to be receptive to the new and exciting. The menu at da Campo already sports dishes like squid ink tortellini stuffed with king crab, or suckling pig confit with chanterelle mushrooms and sheep’s milk ricotta, that will impress if you’re willing to give them a shot. To all locals out there, I implore you, widen your horizons beyond mozzarella and ravioli, try something you’ve never heard of, give the guys free rein to flex their culinary muscles and I guarantee you’ll roll home with a silly grin.

As for the comparison to Scarpetta, I’ll say this, I had two completely different experiences at each restaurant. At Scarpetta, while the food was absolutely amazing, I got the feeling that there was a little laurel leaning going, and rightly so. They’ve figured out their recipes and they can crank them out night after night, but somehow the soul of the restaurant gets lost.

At da Campo, you can feel the creative energy, the attitude, resulting in food that is rustic, bold, and top shelf delicious. The menu is a constant work in progress, with unbelievable items that I hope never leave, and others that are diamonds in the rough waiting to be refined. So to the crew at da Campo, I beg you to hold on to that hunger to create, don’t let the timid eaters discourage you, because there are other true food lovers like me looking for places that can surprise and delight our jaded palates, and da Campo Osteria is that place.