The Seedy World of Sponsored Reviews

There’s a maddening trend slowly choking the food scene as I know it. It’s one of deceit and false admiration, and it’s infiltrated every form of media. Traditional print, social media and online blogs have become playgrounds for amoral, shallow “food lovers” to peddle their “reviews”, which are almost always positive, and typically written in exchange for a handout. They furiously thumb through their thesaurus, searching for alternatives to good, delicious, and tasty, replacing them with flowery nonsense like miraculous and enchanting. Social media feeds, a necessary evil these days, have  been compromised by lackluster, or downright misleading content posted by lazy individuals looking to benefit from the latest food craze, which is usually old hat by the time they parrot their buzzwords. Photo sharing applications which were once ripe with authentic food lovers posting unique, heartfelt and at times scatterbrained shots, has evolved into calculated, inorganic vehicles for hardly veiled advertisement.

Review Deal

Of course it’s not all bad. I love Instagram and my curiosity is often piqued by a well curated Tumblr, or Pinterest board. It’s still possible to find inspiration from a select few that choose to share their creative efforts for all to see. I also find a good number of new places to eat from users based in cities I’m less familiar with. Unfortunately, for many, it’s smoke and mirrors, it’s style over substance. Tell me, what is the motivating factor of putting your food on the ground just so you can get your shoes in the shot? Or spending 5 minutes to figure out the right light/angle while your food dies on the table? Was it worth the waste to build that Jordan Balfort sized pile of flour in the background of your sinfully simple Lemon Bar recipe? Of course it is if it garners one more view or like, a currency that’s become the heroine for the myriad insipid “foodies” out there.

Advertising has played a huge part in the way the public perceive quality, but unquestionably the main culprit has to be the content creator. We may all disagree about what we think is good and still get along if our motives are pure and true. The simple fact is every one of us has preferences and opinions. But those who sell their souls for free food, the ones who couldn’t write themselves out of a will, they’re the reason I’m starting to hate restaurant reviews and food blogs. It’s gotten so dense that when I peruse a major blog, it’s nearly impossible to find an honest opinion that hasn’t been tainted by the siren song that is a free meal. There are instances of those who have offered to live blog a charity dinner in exchange for a free seat. What good does that do anyone except the “freeater”? There are those who exploit their children in order to gain popularity, even getting paid to appear in person with their spawn at sponsored events and restaurants. Of course there’s the whole group of individuals who only posts photos from a restaurant because it was a prerequisite for a free meal, praising a dish in the caption even if said dish is trash. What’s the point? What good does that do anyone? I don’t need to see photos of bad food and you don’t need to post them. All it tells me is that you’re angling for a freepeat visit. A visit you probably received because the restaurant must need the attention. I can’t figure out any other purpose to share this kind of content. Within the last month, I’ve had a hand full of chef friends give me firsthand accounts of “bloggers” soliciting them personally in order to trade a free meal for 1 instagram photo. It’s sad to see some establishments take the bait for extra exposure. I personally feel it’s false admiration both parties are guilty of. And neither will ever disclose any transaction/barter has occured.

If you get a free meal and don’t say it was a free meal, you can’t be trusted. Tons of popular personalities are guilty of this. It’s always a tell-tale sign when the usual suspects all happen to eat at the same place, around the same time, posting photos nearly simultaneously. They are likely at a sponsored, free food “media” extravaganza. Every single person should make that fact known on every outlet every instance, but they don’t. They are misleading you, the potential patron. Let me expound just a bit more because it’s a matter that is hardly ever touched on.

Failing to disclose you are bought and paid for is a violation of the Federal Trade Commissions guidelines on sponsorship and endorsement. Not only are you required to be upfront about the circumstances surrounding the exchange, you are required to notate clearly and conspicuously as part of your post or article. This would prevent the naive and ignorant from wasting any more time on your site. This isn’t exclusive to blogs, it includes your social feeds such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and yes especially YELP.

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I’m not saying all these people have terrible taste. I mean, we all seem to go to the same spots at some point. However, when you go for a #sponsored meal, the restaurant obviously knows why you’re there. The fact of the matter is you ARE going to get very, very good service and normally, very good food. Or at least the best product the restaurant in question is capable of. We have some advice which I’m sure you wont take if you happen to be guilty of this.

Here it is, ready? Just stop. Stop going. Stop writing about Dunkin Donuts new featured Dunkaccino, or The O-Town Mac Down or the Bay Area Margarita Bash or even all new places “Grand Opening” parties looking to be the next buzzworthy restaurant. Just go on a random day, and pay.

Posts about events featuring foods that can’t even be purchased by the general public serves no purpose. So, if you want to be a restaurant critic, then do so. Go anonymously, without warning and uncompensated by the establishment you’re reviewing. Give us an idea of what it’s like to visit without the benefit of all the free stuff. Let a restaurant earn their popularity. The last thing I need to read before each post is “We were recently invited,” “It was my pleasure to attend” or “I was the guest.”

I know what that means.

Really, there’s nothing wrong attending a re-occurring event to provide opinionated coverage in order to give prospective visitors an idea about what to expect and what to avoid. The Walt Disney World Epcot Food and Wine Festival, held each fall, comes to mind.  That’s not to say that Eat a Duck has never been the guest of a chef, restaurant or food related event, but we always disclose our intentions to pay beforehand, letting the coordinator, PR manager, or chef know that our attendance does not mean a write up will follow if the experience fails to impress.

If this indictment reflects your style, you’re probably fuming and fastidiously removing Eat a Duck from all your social feeds. That’s ok, we don’t rely on ad revenue or provide click bait to pay the bills. We don’t make friends with restaurants and chefs for the compensation. We do it because we respect them for providing us delicious sustenance. So you won’t see any Living Social deals for PDQ, or live Tweet sessions from the latest Shake Shack opening.

I can’t end this tirade without mentioning restaurant reviews in the newspaper. Here on our humble peninsula, there is no Jonathan Gold. We don’t have a fair, intelligent, uncompromising food critic with prose so slick it puts you flat on your back. There is no one of that caliber anymore in Tampa, Orlando, Miami, and certainly not in Lakeland. No, we have critics afraid to offend restaurants, I suspect because of fear of losing current, future or potential advertising dollars.  Not every restaurant merits a 3+ star rating on a 5 star scale. If you’re going to make certain you’re the first to report at every known edible outpost, there are going to be some egregious misses and it’s your responsibility to report this in detail. You should be more responsible than to say your fried Tilapia was so fresh it tasted like it was just reeled in. Just FYI, Tilapia is farm raised 5 to 1 over line caught and they’re almost exclusively shipped in frozen from Asia, South America or Africa. If only we had access to fresh seafood in Florida.

It’s your responsibility to be completely transparent. Don’t hold back information that could help your readers make wise decisions with their dining dollars.  Not every restaurant is good, yet the “bad” review is nearly a thing of the past in this area. Except on Yelp of course. The problem there is the retaliatory nature of reviewing on the site is not a true critique, as writers mainly focus on service or some other irrelevant quality instead of talking about something important, like, I don’t know, the food. Sometimes the Yelpless don’t even make it that far before doling out a single star.

The purpose of critique is not to be overly funny, mean, to give false commendation or ruin businesses. The point of talking about food, restaurants, and chefs is to educate, to learn and to promote what we consider to be our unique opinion, so hopefully someone benefits from the realistic portrayal and has a great meal.

We think we do an decent job at it, and we know you aren’t going to use what James or I say as the gospel. Both of us have full-time jobs and use our hard-earned money to enjoy this favorite pastime of ours to the fullest. We aren’t going to go to every high-end restaurant like our friend Aiste at Luxeat. We definitely wont be the first to scoop an opening, because we like to give places a gestation period. We know that costs us a bit with viewership looking for the latest tags and trends. If that’s the price we need to pay to be fair and honest, so be it.

We promise to stand behind our recipes, restaurant recommendations or anything else we give our opinion on, even if that means taking down a post when restaurants dip below our standards. We are Eat a Duck. We will continue to write about all the good food that crosses our paths. We don’t like Pumpkin.

Buttermilk Bakery – Orlando, FL

It’s taken us over a year to try these off the wall, idiosyncratic or dare I say Craftsmen and Wolves-esque lineup of croissants, tarts, cakes, pies, financiers, cookies, and kouign ammans. As a self profressed food lover, it’s a travesty that I’ve waited so long. 

buttermilkbakeryI’m comfortable in my critiquing abilities and knowledge of the greater Orlando area, and so I it seems natural to see Buttermilk Bakery, aka I love Buttermilk as arguably the finest patisserie in Orlando. You can’t browse any of the reputable, nay popular blogger community figureheads without seeing top down shots of what I would consider their flagship flavor: The double baked matcha croissant. Of course, I followed suit, the lamb that I am. But let’s get serious. How many bakers in the area are performing at this level?  With a scope ranging from caramel cornflake crunch croissants to roasted sunchoke goat cheese & herb quiche, and about 100 other equally innovative creations, the answer is roughly 3-4. How many bakers in this area can actually deliver a quality product? I’m going to hold firm with 3-ish. We tried two items on our visit. The aforementioned double baked matcha croissant and a slow roasted strawberry pop tart for the kid.

Why the confidence in Buttermilk Bakery after just one first trip? They’re already firmly established pillars of the community. I mean, if they sucked, I’d have heard about it by now. So what I’m tasting on my first trip cant be a fluke. What I’ve been waiting a year to try has long been warmly accepted by the masses.

matchacroissantEven though I have strong ties to my dear friends (and partners to some extent) at Born + Bread Bakehouse  here in Lakeland, I was reminded by a t-shirt I saw at Urban Canning Co. stating, it’s about “community not competition.” It’s ok to show love to people doing great stuff similar to what you or your loved ones do. We can all learn from, and respect each other’s qualities and be better for it. Even though Buttermilk Bakery ain’t my kin, I still love what they’re providing to the people of Orlando and hope said people continue to sustain these craftsmen so that I can make a repeat visit on April 11, 2017.

The croissant was simply obese, the flaky crust moist with butter. Generously stuffed full and adorned with delicate, matcha tinged frangipane. The pop tart shell was akin to pie crust, flaking as easily as Talia Al Ghul in the Dark Knight Rises. The strawberry filling was extraordinary from the slow roasting which concentrated the berry to a paste. It was close to overwhelming how much strawberry came through, as they don’t skimp on anything.

To understand how highly I view Buttermilk Bakery, take note of my day. I went to Anh Hong, a staple in the Viet-centric neighborhood on Colonial Drive in Orlando for a delicious lunch with the family. This was followed by a trip to the bowling alley closer toward the attractions where my 7 year old son rolled a 92 on his first game ever. The intent was to quickly head back east after bowling around 4:30 pm to arrive at the Audubon Park Market right at 5 pm. Traffic dictated that I would arrive at 6 pm. The drive home normally from Winter Park area is 52 minutes. Traffic decided that 52 minutes wasn’t long enough. Traffic was thinking more like 1 hour 30 minutes. In conclusion, If you find yourself en-route to or from great pastry, your body will forgive 98 extra minutes on I-4.

 

Lakeland Barbecue Co.

I don’t remember exact flavors at Good Buddies, exempt them dirty fries. Why my phantom taste buds can recite this one menu item among all the others is beyond human comprehension. Yet, as an ode to the restaurant that once bustled then succumbed to a tragic fire a half dozen years or more in downtown Lakeland, my French fry cart The Root concocted our own version of dirty fries. Unfortunate or indifferent as it is, Good buddies isn’t back although the team that once brought some of the best BBQ around is. And what’s in a name really? For me, it happens to be nostalgia for  something I honestly can’t really remember too much of other than my brain verifies they was awesome. Lakeland BBQ Co. has risen out of the ashes of a burned down building and years worth of domination in local BBQ competitions. That is what their reputation of this new to you named BBQ Co is built upon.

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This isn’t really a review, think of it more of an introduction to how I gauge my barbeque.
When you walk in, head toward the bar in the far reaches of the building where you might see someone waving a wooden stock pot spoon at you to control foot traffic in the right direction. If you don’t already know how to order BBQ from a new place here’s how you do it. Everyone’s got one or two favorite cuts of meat or preparations. From birth I’ve been a rib guy, mainly spare with the tips attached. If that’s not available, I wont always go for the back ribs as the next option. If not pork ribs, ill usually gravitate (if available) toward more rare white rabbit type forms such as Burnt Ends, In House Smoked sausage, Pig Belly and Mutton. If you don’t have a preference with BBQ I think you’re on the verge of being lost. I’m saying this because we have rules. Without rules, chaos reigns. When chaos reigns, you get your queues from a talking fox. On the first trip to a new BBQ restaurant or frankly one you’ve never been before, always order what you already love. This is your gauge. If you don’t think they do what you like very well, you probably aren’t going to like the rest. I would never order pulled or chopped pork over ribs, brisket, sausage, lamb, duck or even chicken, so why would I judge based on that? Chopped pork is way down my list, but this is  not at the behest of anyone that likes it. We all have our security blankets.

The ordering structure at Lakeland BBQ co. makes it easy to perform a second test because the subject is already at the table. Saucing. Take your less predominant index finger  out. Place a few dabs of whichever sauce you think you’ll enjoy. You want control, which is why I squeeze with my right and test with the left. Their spicy sauce is not overbearing on the heat index, but it’s cold inside to be honest. Usually shivering will cause you to feel the heat more than it’s meant to be felt, so sit near the window for maximum effort. It was very tolerable nonetheless. I detected a flavor combination with a subtle complexity right off the bat. I think I got some coffee and smoked chile, caramelized brown sugar in there somewhere.

As for the ribs:

The smoke ring was there as you see, but the smoky flavor wasn’t as bring you to your knees powerful as you’ll find at other joints.  Because of these factors, the texture made me think more of deeply roasted shoulder. I respect the restraint they exhibited as it caused me to actually taste pork. Kind of the reason we like the stuff in the first place.

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The menu is brief with the main and sides at a minimum, so you don’t have a myriad of options. I’m fine with that. I’d rather have fresh tasty sides done very well, over a pliable sheet panned week old macaroni and cheese. Opting for what I perceive everyone will gravitate toward, Cheesy Hash brown casserole was my side of choice, although the following visit allowed me to put their Collards under the microscope. You see, in actuality making good Collard Greens isn’t tough. Just don’t serve them raw in a salad or turn ’em to mush. everything else within the spectrum is allowable. The problem is people who make really good Collard Greens don’t want to admit anyone else does them good.  I have to admit, they done did the Collards right. Tender, ham hocky, salty and tangy with some great pot likker broth to sip as an after meal digestif.

A fitting suprise was the wedge of cake like cornbread on my lunch tray. I wasn’t expecting it, probably didn’t need it from the generous amount of ribs they provided, however I was very happy to eat the entire brick. Restaurant cornbread can be as fickle as a newspaper editor, twice as crummy and three times, no four times as dry. Not here.

Since they’re only open for Lunch, this new place might not end up on everyone’s to do list. If you’re a fan of Good buddies, maybe you’ll try this and think it’s just like they used to do it. Maybe you’ll think they have grown from the years being on the circuit. Maybe you’ll be elbow deep in pork fat  and far too busy to pontificate over these trivialized matters.

é by José Andrés – Las Vegas, NV

When all is said and done, the goal of a restaurant, whether it’s fast food or fine dining, is to seat you at their table. If we’re talking about the latter, besides the menu, there are a number of tactics available to a discerning restaurateur. Hiring that hot bearded chef from some hip locavore, farm-to-table joint perhaps, or landing the top floor in the latest Zaha Hadid building. Or maybe it’s touting a one night only tasting menu featuring sustainable heritage bacon.

All of these strategies have been executed in principal, or more likely verbatim, but in Las Vegas, the capital of distraction, attracting diners to your restaurant is an even greater task.  So how do you do it, how do you compete when almost every celebrity chef has a Vegas location vying for those dining dollars? Well for one diminutive dining room, it’s simple, you don’t.

This tactic of isolationism would be suicide for most restaurants, but é by José Andrés is not most restaurants. You won’t see any signs for it as you walk through The Cosmopolitan, it’s not listed on the website, and even if you were to walk by Jaleo, it’s parent restaurant, you’d probably miss it.

E spread 1

It all started with a call from my dad and a one word question, “Vegas”? The answer was an instant yes, and with that, the meal planning began. Well, I say planning, but it was really just jumping online the second I got home to see if é had two spots open during our trip. I had heard about José Andrés’ semi-secret restaurant within a restaurant a while back, and it had been on my wish list ever since.

A few days later a dainty envelope bearing a faux wax stamp arrived containing two gold admission tickets. I can hear the snickering, but for me, it showed that the staff at é sought not only to provide a meal, but an experience, starting with your own personal Charlie Bucket moment, and it totally worked.

We arrived at Jaleo with golden tickets in hand, and no clue as to what lay ahead. Soon after, our seven dinner companions slowly trickled in. Naturally small talk exposes occupations first, and we were a diverse bunch; two neuroscientists, a spinal surgeon, a PGA rules official, a “businessman” with two young “lady friends”, together with me, an architect in training and my aircraft trading father, formed a group like a strange food loving cast of Gilligan’s Island. Little did we know how important that group would prove to be to the experience. Each of us took our seat at the bronze, horseshoe-shaped bar, surrounded by full height walls of library card files meant to represent Chef Andrés’ mind, filled with flavor ideas. After a quick introduction to the friendly, and thankfully not too formal, staff, our meal of over 20 dishes began.

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Smooth foie gras and crunchy corn nuts, wrapped in what looked like pressed dryer sheets, but turned out to be cotton candy, was a refreshingly playful way to start a meal of this caliber. José is a decidedly serious chef, as his many restaurants can attest, but you can tell he’s having fun at é. Take his “beet-kini” grilled cheese with its two slices of “bread” formed from pressed beet meringue, achieving a color that’d make Willy Wonka proud, sandwiching a thick cream of La Peral blue cheese. Yet the flavors are always the main attraction, concentrated sweetness from the beets against the grassy blue cheese.

At an Andrés restaurant, you’ll never be without seafood for long, so the coca de recapte featuring a pristine Murcia sardine and deconstructed escalivada (a traditional Catalan dish usually made with grilled red pepper and eggplant) piped in neat rows was a welcome sight. Three quick bites followed, mini brioche stuffed with goat cheese and Iberico ham, a smoked Kushi oyster, and one of Eat a Duck’s personal favorite delicacies, a seared chicken oyster set atop crispy skin.

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How about some shark? Why, yes please! A little Cadiz style fried nugget of adobo marinated thresher shark was as impressive as it was simple. Think of a piece of perfectly fried pork belly, and then remove any trace of lean meat, that was the texture. The fish itself didn’t have a distinct flavor, but the combination of spices from the adobo and the sharp sherry vinegar on the crisp shell was intoxicating.

Apparently you can pickle mussels, and guess what, they’re delicious! The creamy little shellfish with their added sourness were paired with little pea-sized olive spheres and a squeeze of citrus that woke up the tongue. Which brings me to Cava sangria spheres! After downing these high-end jello shots, everyone at the table had a smile on their face.

Let me just state that by now, I had become fast friends with the two lovely ladies to my left, one of whom was already starting to get full, and I being ever the gentleman, graciously offered to assist her in dispatching whatever morsels remained from each course.

The next course was a true brought me back to earth as the preparation was explained. I take it there’s no fear on the staff’s part of divulging secrets here, because I was no clearer on how this dish was created after the explanation as I was before it. From what I gathered, (and José would probably cringe, or laugh if he read this) you take fava beans, purée them, mix them with some molecular something or other, and then reformed them into their former fava shape. The result is an impossible smooth “bean” creme floating in a comforting jamon consommé. Two schmears in the roasted and black garlic varieties packed an incredibly concentrated flavor, playing off the subtle ham tinged broth.

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A return to the sea with two prawns from Palamós, barely cooked on the grill to keep their creamy texture. If you’ve ever had ama ebi nigiri, it was a similar mouth feel. The flesh was exceedingly sweet with just a hint of smoke. Sucking shrimp heads seems to have become the cool thing to do after years of Bourdain and the like preaching the gospel of guts. Seriously though, when the opportunity arises to wrap your lips around a crustacean of this quality, you’d better suck every last succulent drop out of that shell.

The grilled Txocoli style cod jowls that followed brought the dreaded “wall” within sight. It didn’t help that I had a double portion after sharing with my generous neighbor! The garlicky pil pil sauce mingling with swirls of squid ink was almost too luxurious. In keeping with the cream theme, we were then presented with a steaming package of champagne cork sized mushrooms in a creamy bagna cauda.

I won’t lie, I was reaching my limit, but the sight of an enormous grilled Australian Wagyu ribeye was enough to generate a second wind. The color was unreal. Their grill must’ve been screaming hot because it had an amazing crust, but the deep crimson flesh beneath was still wobbly to the touch. Piquillo chips and white asparagus joined the perfect slice of beef, pairing with the grassy notes. A nice layer of fat lent its flavor to an already delicious cut.

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With that exclamation point, the dessert parade began…with an egg, or what looked like an egg, but was in fact thickened cream whites with an orange yolk. A little chocolate drum shell containing a minty chocolate mousse atop cocoa nibs was a familiar flavor, like an intense Andes mint, or Andrés mint if you will.  José’s own take on a Ferrero Rocher was presented as a golden nugget in a ring box. The distinct hazelnut chocolate flavor combo was spot on, and even more pronounced than its namesake.

I’ve had very few dinners where I leave with more friends than I arrived with. I can confidently say that the group you draw at é can make or break the dinner. Without fail, the food will always be incredible, but the people make the experience special, and that goes for the staff as well. Our group was fantastic, the room felt alive, there was laughter and hugs and a common giddiness over this awesome moment we were all able to share. Even the chefs seemed to be having a great time. So if you visit é, befriend your neighbors, chat with the sommelier, joke with the chefs, chat with the assistants, because at the end of the day, it’s the people who make the meal.

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Eat a Duck in Singapore

I recently returned from a trip to Singapore, tagging along with my parents as they attended an aviation conference.  I’d researched the country ahead of my visit to gain at the very least, a basic understanding of the culture and history. It was a British trading post, separated from Malaysia making it it’s own city-state, and resulting in English becoming the official language.  There are four major cultures in Singapore: Malay, Japanese, Chinese and Indian.  As you’d imagine, as a result of this collision of culinary cultures, the food is remarkable.  I was told that Singapore is very much a city of commerce and cosmopolitan life, not the normal nitty-gritty, cheap and dirty Asian experience I have come to crave and love. In fact, Singapore has earned the nickname “Asia-Lite.”  Armed with this information, I sought out Anthony Bourdain per the advice of my dear Diana.  Surely he would find the food culture I was searching for, and boy, did he.

Maxwell Food Center spread

I was the first to touch down, arriving at 7 am. After a morning nap following my 20 hour trip, I set out in search of a meal.  Bourdain’s first stop was the Maxwell Food Centre, a bustling set of hawker stalls all under one roof. One of the famous dishes in Singapore is chicken rice, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Chicken on top of seasoned rice with various condiments. I chose the Hong Xiang chicken stall, which came highly recommended by Bourdain and did not disappoint. The chicken was beautifully moist laying on top of a bed of steaming rice.  The lady at the stall took out a spray bottle and sprayed my entire dish before handing it to me.  I don’t know what it was, but I assume it was a spray bottle of delish. Accompanying the chicken rice was an extremely thick hoisin sauce and chili sauce. It was heaven, a perfect glimpse into what Singaporean food would hold in store.

Our next adventure into Singaporean cuisine was recommended to us by our cab driver. We were headed to Long Beach restaurant on East Coast Park only knowing that we wanted the best chili crab Singapore had to offer.  Obviously picking up on our ineptitude, he recommended drunken prawns, boiled in a cognac stock, the fried rice and black pepper crab. Not all cab drivers are to be trusted, but in this case, our man knew his stuff.  The cognac stock was so smooth, and had us lapping it up long after the prawns had been devoured.

Long Beach spread

Chili crab was the star of this trip. Crab, steamed and smothered in a tomato, garlic, chili sauce. Equal parts sweet and savory, this sauce was everything you could ever want, worthy of being used on any food item throughout the day, we couldn’t get enough. The same driver recommended we order sweet buns with which to sop up the sauce after we were done with our crabs, like I said, he was a smart man. Next came black pepper crab. This is the same dish as chili crab but with a black pepper paste smeared liberally over the steaming crustaceans. This version was much spicier and in your face, and perfect counterpart to its sweet chili crab cousin. While you’re eating these two dishes, be prepared to get extremely dirty. Sauce all over your face, arms and hands, but gladly so.  It proves you’ve truly enjoyed your dish.

It seems inevitable that any tourist to Singapore will hang around Marina Bay for a little while. Within the Marina Bay Shoppes is a great food court featuring various cuisines from around the continent, but of course, I went for dim sum because, well, I am Jimmy’s sister. The siu mai and shrimp har gao were up to par. It was a perfect, close spot to beat the heat and grab some delicious food as well.

Iced coffee is definitely a must when exploring Singapore. It is HOT, crazy hot, and the combination of ice and caffeine kept me running. It’s available pretty much anywhere, but I preferred to grab it at the hawker centers.

Marina Bay dim sum

Since the shopping is near legendary in Singapore, my Mom and I hit up Robinson’s, the big department store, where we discovered delicious snacks like green tea kit kats and squid jerky.  On the basement level of Robinson’s we stumbled upon a gyoza restaurant called Gyoza-Ya. There was a hefty list of delicious things to try but we had to settle on a select few.  We started with chilled eggplant with miso paste. Give me anything with miso paste. The eggplant was delectable, tender, but almost too difficult to grab with chopsticks, as the thick, savory miso paste made for a slippery affair. Next was cucumber with miso paste. Those delicious Asian cucumbers. You can really tell the difference. The miso paste on this dish was presented in little pearls that broke apart in your mouth, spreading the heavenly miso all over your palate. I ordered what was described on the menu simply as “Ramen Egg.” I thought it was going to be some sort of egg drop ramen soup. I’m so glad I was wrong. The waiter sets down a chilled soft-boiled egg on a plate in front of me, and I look at Mom not knowing exactly what to do. What I can infer after taking a bite is, the egg was soft-boiled, and then marinated in some sort of ramen stock or soy sauce? I don’t know for sure but holy whoa it was delicious. The white of the egg flavored with sesame paired with a silky, runny yoke on the inside was perfection. I want it for breakfast daily. Of course we ended this lunch with both vegetable and pork gyoza. It was Gyoza-Ya after all.

Gyoza-Ya spread

Still, the chili crab lingered in our mouths and brains.  So this time, we sought out Jumbo Seafood restaurant, recommended by multiple former Singapore residents. We ordered all the usual suspects, chili crab, black pepper crab, fried rice, shrimp in miso paste (I can’t quit the miso paste) and steamed Snapper with cilantro.  The crabs here were much larger than at Long Beach, but I’m at a loss as to which restaurant prepared them better. I just want access to chili crab at all times.

Jumbo spread

Our flights were extremely late at night, so our last dinner was back at Maxwell Food Centre, since the parentals hadn’t been. This time I had ban mian, a soup with pork and rice noodles and of course, plenty of condiments with which to customize your dish. I washed it all down with starfruit juice, something I’d never seen before but had to try. Our meal was accompanied by three old dudes drinking beer with their portable radio blaring, chilling at the table next to us, like I assume they do every night. True, Singapore doesn’t have an abundance of cultural sites, but it definitely makes up for it in an abundance of delicious foods.

 

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #7

Every so often, the boys of Eat a Duck are bestowed with incredible meals in rapid succession. Sadly we couldn’t share in any food-ventures over the last few days, but if the spread below is any indication, I’d say we still had a successful week in eating.

The wife and I snuck in a visit to Boca: Kitchen, Bar & Market in Tampa and Café Boulud in West Palm Beach before heading down to Miami to see my parents off for the summer. If I’m not eating with Logan, I’m probably eating with Jep, and we did some fine work this weekend. Dim sum at Blackbrick, incredible Japanese spiked Peruvian fare at La Mar and a long-awaited trip for pizza Napolitana at Stanzione 87 were all on the menu. A simple dinner at home with some home-made pesto over fusilli and antipasti of burrata, heirloom tomato and prosciutto from San Daniele.

Logan made his rounds to some of the best eats in Lakeland with Vietnamese from Pho Tan, and BBQ from Fat Maggie’s. Concord Coffee and their Poor Porker supplied pastries seems to be a weekly affair, and who can blame him? The food scene in his town is really starting to show some promise, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more Lakeland restaurants making their way into the recap in the weeks to come.

Look out for some full length pieces in the next few weeks featuring some of the new Miami joints we’ve teased here!

EAD Weekly #7

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #6

It’s shaping up to be quite the epic contest of Noodle Wars 2015 between James and myself. While I have gotten more strict with my eating habits, there’s no chance I will ever deny myself the joy of eating great Vietnamese food. I may have temporarily dislocated pork shoulder from my daily intake, but that isn’t stopping me from enjoying the extensive menu over at Pho Cali in Sarasota. I opted for a bowl of lemongrass beef bun, with spicy chile and onions. It almost made me forget my fatty pork patties. Jimmy more than made up for my pork omissions. We both have a deep yearning to find that next great menu item that’s possibly hiding on the back page. In this case, it was Ha Noi noodles with pickled green papaya, grilled pork and pork meatballs. What a refreshing feeling it is for each of us to have a place in our respective towns with such high flavor and quality. It’s been a long time coming.

Speaking of a long time coming, a wood fired pizza insurgence is under way. Have you joined the republic? We are feverishly composing our thoughts on Polpo Pizza Co. to express our love for what they are producing. I know there are a lot of pizza people out there. You owe it to yourself to plan a nice beach day in the Sarasota area, with special attention paid to procuring a pizza pie produced particularly by Polpo at the precise period and place Polpo pre-determines to park.

Moving on, we found that going back to our well of old favorites resulted in great rewards. I haven’t been back to Beewon Korean restaurant in almost five years until last week. I found an old picture of my son noshing at the table back then. Poor guy didn’t even have a hair on his head. But he sure was happy taking on their bulgogi beef. While the sure things (Mahans & Oxford Exchange) triumphed, the new stumbled. Deciding after many contemplative passing glances at their storefront on Colonial Dr. in Orlando, I gave Mamak Asian Street Food a shot. While their rendition of Char Kway Teow (a wide rice noodle dish similar to chow fun) impressed, the beef curry meatballs left me wincing with confusion. The curry sauce itself tasted fine, yet the meatballs seemed like they were purchased at IKEA. Truthfully, I guess I should say that I quite enjoy their meatballs. But I expect them to stay at IKEA, in a pool of brown gravy, garnished with Lingonberry compote and not curiously found in an Asian hawker style restaurant. I cant say for a fact they bought them elsewhere or made them by hand, shaped to extremely perfect proportions. They were just very, very familiar to me.  I say maybe give Mamak a shot, but not before going to every single other jaw dropping place in a two block radius. With big guns like Ming’s Bistro, Anh Hong, Little Saigon, and Chuan Lu Garden, Mamak has a lot of competition. It’s by far the prettiest space on the block. So if they can get the entire menu hitting on all fronts, look out!

Finally, we finish at home. We try to eat what’s in season and tastes best, wherever we live. In Florida, we’re seeing a burst of peaches on the scene. They’re mainly smaller and thinner skinned than their relatives that hail from Georgia in my opinion, which results in a more concentrated flavor. We found some gems at Sweetwater Farms yet again. Large heads of broccoli, Japanese eggplant, and a slab of grass-fed sirloin from Providence Cattle proved to make a wonderful version of a New York style Chinese take out favorite; Beef and Broccoli. Another Stone Crab season has come to an end. I got my last chance to enjoy my favorite claw based foods. For one day last week, Whole Foods had them on special at their beer bar for 2$ a claw, so I took advantage of the situation. When you see that kind of deal, never pass it up! We’ll see you next week!

EAD Weekly #6

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #5

This week we kept things fresh starting with our friends at Clementine Café serving up some seriously delicious tacos to rival the best Mexican street fare. Pho Tan, Lakeland’s own Vietnamese hangout makes an appearance showing that even little towns in the heart of Central Florida have international tastes. Logan has a nice write up coming out later this week, so stay tuned. The Poor Porker wowed us with their insane ‘crack cookie’, while Miss Rose at the Sweetwater Organic Farm in Tampa offered her own interesting sweet treat, sesame seed mung bean balls. Old standby Yummy House delivered its biweekly dim sum feast with style, impressing each time with piping hot dumplings made to order. Fresh off the boat from the UK is Yo Sushi. The UTC mall in Sarasota has been bestowed with the well-known conveyor belt sushi restaurant, the first of four US locations slated to open in the next few months. From the insane line, it looks like mainstream America may finally be ready to embrace ‘kaiten’ sushi. Look out for a full post after we’ve had a chance to run them through their paces.

Eat a Duck Weekly #5

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #4

Eat a Duck took a break from editing and arranging our weekly recap to concentrate on spending some quality time with family. That doesn’t mean we stopped eating great food! Actually, we probably eat way better when we gather in familial packs, as Jimmy’s dinner at Indigenous in Sarasota will show. He dined there with his pop last week, who, in all honesty is the patriarchal figurehead of the Eat a Duck empire. He sort of introduced both Jimmy and me to fine dining togetherness with our trip to Joël Robuchon all those years back. What a treat it was to have James Beard award nominee Steve Phelps come visit the table to say hello.

In a post that needs, and will have, a spotlight all its own, Jimmy and I both ate at Polpo Pizza Co. on the same day, but at different times. I’ve touted it as the best pizza I’ve had in Florida since I had my first bite. That statement held true after taking the spicy Moroccan with me on my way to Ft. Myers. Wood fired at around 900°, (as all pizzas should be) then topped with smoked eggplant, lemon goat feta crème, spiced chickpea purée, rosemary oil, scamorza cheese and pistachio gremolata. I know it’s a lot of stuff to process, but it all worked beautifully.

Of course there was a grand assortment of dim sum had by all. Cumulatively, we ate at 3 different spots; Yummy House, China Yuan and Ming Court. Not to mention yet another trip to regular hang outs Poppo’s Tacos, Fat Maggies and Pho Cali

I seemed to be imbibing quite heavily on tasty pastry dependence, making my way from Lakeland across the state to Southwest Florida. Hitting up Born + Bread Bake house, Concord Coffee, The Poor Porker, Locale Market, Sarasota Tea Co, Perq Coffee Bar, and Sweetberries frozen custard along the route.

We can not forget to self promote. During the last 2 weeks, our alter egos The Root Frites had two great services in downtown Lakeland, with three amazing flavor combinations; The Cuban Missile Frysis, The Californian, and The Turkish Delight.

The last night of our weekly recap eligibility ended with a family dinner, as my uncle Greg came down for his semi-annual visit. I had the privilege to cook for him as well as my immediate family. We enjoyed a succulent brined, slow roasted chicken, sautéed garlicky collard greens, mashed potatoes, and an all too complex version of Greek salad. Hope you had a great couple of weeks in food just as we did!

EAD Weekly recap 4

EAD Weekly Recap No. 2

Another week of eating has come and gone, and we’ve cobbled together the photos for you. It’s always a privilege to pony up to the Kappo bar and enjoy a feast of epic proportions. There you will find the highest quality sushi, executed with great imagination and precision at prices that would be 3x higher in any major city. If you’re a fan of pizza and dim sum we’ll likely have you covered every week, as both Eat a Duck majority contributors are big on the pizza and dim sum game. This week is no different as Jimmy hit up Yummy house for his fortnightly pilgrimage to the Sarasota dim sum haven, while Logan stumbled upon a legit pizzeria and spaghetteria called Tartini during a business trip to Orlando. Finally, we give you a glimpse of what we consume on a more regular basis at home. I love when my wife cooks. What she enjoys eating the most she cooks just as well, as you can see in this spicy yellow coconut curry stew and her fantastic salad of baby kale, roasted beet, soft boiled egg, avocado, radish, with a bacon drippings vinaigrette. Hope you all ate just as well!

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