Via Verdi Cucina Rustica – Miami, FL

Authenticity as it pertains to food, has become an increasingly important quality to bloggers, and even critics over the years. After all, as people become more adventurous in their taste, their quest becomes all about finding the “most authentic” version of the cuisine in question. This is in stark contrast to how we thought about ethnic cuisine 50 or 60 years ago, when immigrants had to tailor their dishes to suit our timid taste buds. The clearest example of this phenomenon is Chinese food, a cuisine that historically exudes bold flavor, vibrant color and generous use of spices. Sadly, here in America, our inexperienced palates have transformed it into a bland parody of itself.

No cuisine is immune to the changes that inevitably take place when a dish reaches our shores for the first time. Chef Ed Lee, in a recent “Mind of a Chef” episode, explained that this isn’t always a bad thing, and that we shouldn’t necessarily be chasing authenticity, but embracing the new cuisines that spawn from this metamorphosis. These are, after all, what make up “American food”, not only burgers, fries and apple pies.

While I agree with Chef Lee, I also feel that it’s possible to find truly authentic food here in the States if you care to look. It may use local ingredients, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine, as all the best food cultures adapt to new surroundings. The search for such food however, is important, as those who can’t afford to travel regularly, shouldn’t be deprived of the wonderful flavors from faraway lands. Even if you can pony up for a trip, you shouldn’t have to jump on a plane to get a taste of your favorite dish.

Via Verdi spread

Thankfully there are others who share my crazy Utopian ideals, and luckily for me, they’re Italian. A couple of years ago, the exuberant Carro brothers, Fabrizio and Nicola, along with mixologist wizard Cristiano Vezzoli, opened Via Verdi, with the simple goal of serving authentic Italian dishes, with quality ingredients and an exacting eye for quality. It’s a recipe touted by many, but executed by few. This trio however, succeeded, and has created a restaurant with the rare ability to transport its diners with a single bite.

I hesitated to write about Via Verdi after my first two visits, not because they were undeserving, quite the opposite in fact. The meals impressed me so much, that I feared this shining star would quickly burn itself out. So many times after having a great meal, I’ll return, only to find out the chef has left for greener pastures, or the owners, smelling success, have grown too quickly, leaving the quality lacking. This hasn’t been the case at Via Verdi. The team, experienced from their time at Miami mainstays, Quattro and Segafredo, have kept themselves focused on the original mission.

The menu is simple, no need for a paragraph when a handful of words will do, the ingredients speak for themselves. The polenta with truffle Parmesan sauce, in its tiny cup, commands attention as the wonderful aroma of truffles fills the air. Other fried dishes like the beautifully crisp arancini, or the sumptuous veal polpettine highlight Via Verdi’s mastery of tomato sauce. Take note other Italian restaurants, this is how you make tomato sauce. You can tell just by smelling that sauce is on point. Whether it’s their classic marinara, or fiery arrabiatta, the distinctive tang of San Marzano tomatoes is present and complemented with the perfect touch of sugar and spices.

Tonnato di vitello, a dish easily ruined by low quality ingredients and overpowering sauce, is a must. Via Verdi’s is a graceful rendition of the classic Northern Italian dish, light and refreshing, with hints of citrus and a briny pop from the capers.

Via Verdi pasta

Pasta of course, displays the same rigorous attention to detail as the rest of the menu. From herbaceous spinach gnudi covered in that wonderful sauce, to strozzapretti in rich and gamey braised osso buco, quality reigns. Even the vegetarian choices like a pecorino and beet ravioli in a zucchini sauce, are excellent. Naturally, all the pasta is made in house.

But it wouldn’t be a true Northern Italian restaurant without Piedmont truffles, the knobby little nodules that bring grown men to tears as they empty their wallets in the hope of just one fleeting taste.  People like to throw the word truffle on the menu, but few actually show you the goods, fewer still trust their diners enough to leave said goods on the table unattended. I was fortunate to pay a visit to Via Verdi on a night when white truffles were indeed on the menu. A delicious but simple risotto dutifully served to deliver the tasty tubers, as you wouldn’t want anything to overtake the delicate yet assertive flavors that every great truffle bestows.

White truffle spread

While dessert , sadly doesn’t come with white Alba truffles (although I didn’t ask), it’s absolutely worth saving room for. Panna cotta with passion fruit and strawberries should be on the table if it’s available. Another fantastic option is the Bunet, a chocolate amaretti flan with caramel sauce that doesn’t kill you with sweetness, but leaves you feeling cozy and warm.

Via Verdi dolce

Is Via Verdi authentic? Absolutely. Does it matter? Heck yes it matters! That’s not to say that every restaurant serving ethnic cuisine needs to stick hard and fast to the rules of the homeland, but for those that do, and do it well, I applaud you. As I’ve said time and again, a meal, when done right, has the ability to transport you, and the boys at Via Verdi are offering flavor trips to Alba with every  dish.

Via Verdi Cucina Rustica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Garde Manger Revisited

After only two visits, Garde Manger has entrenched itself deep in my heart. It’s not simply because the food hits the mark with near perfect accuracy, or that they’ve achieved such a warm and inviting atmosphere, but because it has quickly become forever linked to happy times with friends and family. On my most recent visit, I was bestowed the honor of minting two new oyster lovers. Only Garde Manger, with a constant supply of the most pristine bivalves North America has to offer, has the power to turn people’s preferences around on a dime. I ordered a beginners pack of oysters, featuring a pair each of Cooke from PEI, Chipaganne from New Brunswick and Montreal’s own Trésor du Large (thanks to Meggie for the spelling!). I’ve said it before, but in my opinion the oysters here set the bar, no where else even comes close. As a tasty accompaniment, we chose a tidy bowl of buttery smoked salmon and pickled onion.

Garde Manger spread 1

With five people, we planned on sampling a majority of the menu if possible, starting with a crisp beet salad with apple radishes in a buttermilk dressing. As you’ll tend to do at Garde Manger, especially in the winter, we left the light dishes behind and dove headlong into a plate of pork and mushroom bread pudding topped with mizuna and a soft-boiled quail egg. Keeping the rich train rolling was a hot reisten brioche topped with foie gras and cranberry sauce. The thick lobes of buttery foie linked up perfectly with the tangy cranberries. The brioche standing by to soak up all the glorious drippings.

Garde Manger spread 2

Everyone at the table, all loved ones of mine, did me proud with their selections. As this was Montreal, the lobster poutine was an automatic choice. Fresh cheese curds, thick gravy and a sprinkling of chives were mounded over succulent chunks of lobster meat. Somehow the frites managed to sustain the moist barrage and kept things crisp and salty, flavoring the crustacean nicely. On the other side of the table, the walleye with quinoa, artichoke and rosemary crisps was a hit with the ladies.

Garde Manger spread 3

A handsome plate of seared scallops soon arrived joined by Romanesco broccoli, buttercup squash and bacon topped with healthy slices of black truffle. Scallops are a tricky protein to get right. The chefs at Garde Manger will take you to school in the art of scallop searing, achieving a perfect caramelized layer on the outside, while leaving the interior pearly and loose, sort of like a medium rare steak. Speaking of medium rare, a grouping of slice venison looked like little targets, their deep crimson centers indicating where the choicest bites would be found. The sometimes gamey nature of venison was noticeably absent here. A smooth Jerusalem artichoke purée and crispy bits of kale gave contrasting textures to the beautiful meat. I was leery of the last seafood dish, a seared fillet of cod surrounded by clams in a fennel purée. I’m a notorious fennel hater, but I have full trust in Chuck Hughes and company, and with good reason. The purée was delicious, maybe it was the mixture of saffron and butter that tamed the licorice tinge that I so abhor, or it could have been the sweet caramelized endives. Either way I found a preparation for fennel that I could swallow, and dare I say, enjoy.

Garde Manger spread 4

Nothing could have prepared me for the dish I chose. Whole Cornish game hen, swaddled with winter veggies, stuffed with foie gras, mushrooms and red cabbage topped with truffle butter. The smell coming off this bird was enough to induce a truffle aroma coma. I will admit, I was simultaneously excited and intimidated by the fowl. The prospect of an entire bird, with ribcage and all replaced with a foie gras, mushroom mixture was almost too much to resist. Needless to say, I dispatched the bird along with the truffle infused veggies.

Loyal readers, I feel that I’ve made this clear in last post on the subject, but if there’s one restaurant you visit while in Montreal, make sure it’s Garde Manger.

Orlando Food Crawl 2014: Part II

ead-orlando-food-crawl-2014 2.0

We arrived early at East End Market just in time for Sangria Hour over at the adjoining Txokos. While most of the crew had to cure their shakes, I set out to explore the market while waiting for a couple of chumpy stragglers to vacate our spot at Kappo. Not that any of us are big tymers like Bird Man or Mannie Fresh, but we “still fresh” and because of that, reserved the entire restaurant…all eight seats. (For an introduction to Kappo, see our review)

For those who don’t know, East End Market is a food-centric co-op/incubator for small upstarts. The owner has provided a handful of spaces for small business owners to develop and demonstrate their concepts. It’s been a proven success as pretty much every booth is always buzzing with shoppers. I decided to do another mini cleanse with a small glass of lemongrass, starfruit Kombucha from Joybird Juicery.

Out of all the places on the crawl, the crew was most looking forward to Kappo. All eight members of said crew are live free or die harder with a vengeance sushi connoisseurs. If you want to experience the experience we experienced, you need to set it up through their email process. I’ve had a nice back and forth with the reservations department coordinating this and previous visits with excellent results. They have hospitality down on all fronts in a dynamic way, from planning to meal execution.

Let me reiterate, if you’re looking for the girlfriend experience in a way that only food can provide, phrases such as, “money is no object”, “foie-forward”, “don’t hold back”, “bring the uni” and “its imperative you make it rain shaved truffles” need to be part of your conversation when you set up meal.

Just so we’re clear, you may or may not be able to have a meal in a similar scope to what we had. We ate omakase style. There are no menus. We have no say. The whole idea is to trust the chef. If you want to order off of their pretty incredible menu, I think your best bet is to go to the first come first served weekday hour where everything can be had a la carte. If you want a meal only a small group of people will ever have, do what we did. You’ll feel like Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1994 action thriller, “Blown Away.”

Starting with the first course, they were definitely “foie-forward” with a lavish preparation of cured duck liver torchon, hidden inside a caviar jar with dollop of beluga, and a small layer of preserved kumquat marmalade underneath to add some sweetness as well as acidity.

Kappo spread 1

And so began the debate of which course was best at Kappo. It would be hard to top to the silky foie, except maybe with the most luxurious chawan mushi ever assembled. The custard, flavored with dashi, had a deep mahogany layer of truffle demi-glace that was so heavily reduced it approached life-threatening levels of pungency and earthiness. I almost started believing in umami. The custard itself was nice and wobbly, not too dense, which played perfectly with a couple of tongues of Atlantic uni that hovered gently over the truffle sauce. We assumed that the dish set in front of us was complete as is. We were dead wrong. The chef started walking around with a handful of whole black Alba winter truffles, shaving them with a microplane in the general direction of our bowls, without fear of consequence. This might have been the moment where my, “It’s imperative you make it rain shaved truffles” comment came into play. James wasted no time positioning himself to have truffles shorn straight into his mouth. Chef obliged with some paper-thin wafers as he pulled out the industrial strength slicer. I felt like Kurt Russell in the 1992 fire related action-thriller motion picture, when I was surprised to find truffles floating in my sake due to the “Backdraft”. Studying shaved truffles up close is such a beautiful and mesmerizing thing, like the most delicious Catacomb you could ever traverse. You should try it sometime.

The chefs kept the pace with a warm and cold sunomuno style salad with a heaping pile of cured salmon roe and marinated then seared scallop as the base. More uni fulfilled the request to “bring the uni”, this one coming from the Pacific. You could really tasty the subtle nuances between the different regions the sea urchins hail from. The Atlantic was more buttery, almost without that sense of coming from the sea at all, which did pair well with the custard. The Pacific was briny, with a stronger presence which worked just as well with in the sunomuno preparation. No salad would be complete without roughage. Chef placed a single nasturtium leaf coated in spritzing of kaffir lime essence. It reminded me of the way morning dew sticks to a flower just before sunrise.

The next dish was a fried enigma. What was this? One bite of the milky interior and I knew immediately. Milk poached sweetbreads fried in coarse panko crumbs for maximum texture. They were served with small heap of pickled julienned Asian pear, and a pungent nutta sauce of hot mustard, vinegar and blanched baby bok choy to create perfect harmony.

Kappo spread 2

Next was the sushi course. We were treated with a sampling of Artic char, flounder and waqyu strip loin, all topping the most succulent nubs of tranquil rice at just the right lukewarm temperature. I imagine if I ever got a chance to try out a 3 Michelin star sushi joint, the rice would be similar. The fish and beef weren’t ice cold and neither was the rice. I think serving cold sushi masks the true flavor, thankfully they were both at a more resting temperature. It goes to show that if you’re working with a superior product, you don’t need to put it into a cryogenic sleep to keep it fresh.  I can confirm  our resident “rice” guy Thai was spotted shedding tears of joy.

Yes, you can go to Kappo and only eat sushi, and I know that you’d go home praising yourself for the amazing decisions you’ve made. With that said, if you don’t allow the chef to breathe in a way that promotes creativity, you’ll miss out on a rare experience. The meal was inherently Japanese, as this is technically a Japanese food stall. Though, the influence of French, Korean, Italian and American for that matter, all played out seamlessly during the course of the meal.

Finally, as part of the chefs tasting we were served dessert. The chef handling pastry is a master. She keeps the flow of the meal intact by not killing the senses with overly sweet morsels, and she presents the final treats like a goodbye kiss. Not with a lame handshake, but with two kisses on each cheek. Starfruit paté de fruit, green tea mochi, pistachio and cocoa-matcha truffles were all delightful in their own unique way. Together they formed a Voltron bonbon.

It was time to say goodbye to the four chef team of Kappo to hit our last stop.

With our bellies distended, we saddled up to a hightop at the ever-loving Cask & Larder. Fullness never stops a true eater from ordering something that sounds tasty. Pogo eyed a scrumptious tamale with roasted goat, buttermilk curds, and pickled sweet peppers, while me and James couldn’t resist the lamb ribs, with a sticky BBQ sauce, smoked collard greens and quick B&B pickles. The rest of the table was not going to let us down.

Cask & Larder goat tamale

They pooled together what room they had left in their tummies and ordered an impressive tower from the raw bar. Rock shrimp scampi, roasted oysters with slivers of uni, oysters on the half with mignonette, steamed cherrystone clams with tostones and an aji amarillo aioli, and slabs of raw tuna coated with tahini, chiles, Asian pear and crispy maitake mushroom threads.

Cask & Larder spread

We had a round a victory drinks to mark another successful conquest, one of which happened to be the best gin and tonic in town. It’s always sad saying goodbye, but then again we’ve already begun plans for the next adventure, so that softened the blow. We all miss Todd, and while we’re glad he’s living his dream with his dreamgirl, it doesn’t diminish the fact that a big part of what made the Tampa food scene so lively, isn’t in Tampa anymore.  We miss him so much, we miss his scent. When this all gets sorted out, I think we should all get an apartment together. Til’ next time, old friend.

Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner: Elevage – Tampa, FL

Who is James beard and why does everyone in the food world love him? Honestly, I’m not exactly sure all the reasons, and as most can confirm, I’m too lazy to do a Google search to find out. What I do know is that he loved food more than you or I ever will. He built up a grand knowledge of cookery, developing a huge following through the many series of instruction throughout the country and in his home in Manhattan for decades during the middle of the 20th century. So many credit Julia Child for her enormous influence on the American home cook. Well, Mr. Beard was a similarly potent influence on just about every aspect of food, be it in the restaurant industry, food writing, instruction and even in our groceries.

When gauging the greatness of an American chef, a simple check to see if he or she has ever been a semi-finalist in the yearly award ceremony will erase all doubt. Just to sniff at a James Beard award is basically a confirmation that you know what you’re doing, and the best part is, anyone can win. Except me maybe, but I don’t hold it against them. I’m not bitter…really.

FOJBB_LOGO-web-page

The James Beard foundation has instituted a roaming dinner series all over the country as a vehicle to raise money for the vast amount of charity work they do. They call them Friends of James Beard Dinners. The Tampa Bay Area has been host to a few of them, but not for a long time. It’s been almost two years since we enjoyed the cavalcade of local chefs coming together for a great cause. You might think that bringing together eleven chefs from Tampa Bay, who in a round about way compete everyday for our business, and sticking them  in the same kitchen might be a recipe for disaster. However, from what I’ve heard about the back of house goings on, it was more camaraderie than competition. Even though I’m sure they all wanted to put up the best food possible, they did so without vitriol.

Consider the state of the Tampa food scene two years ago. A meal like this couldn’t have even been conceived, as many of the chefs that shared the spotlight didn’t have places of their own back then. Now, we have a bare minimum of eleven chefs representing their respective establishments to give us the meal of a lifetime. All of these restaurants have their own identity and point of view, yet acted like worker bees inside the host kitchen, Chad Johnson’s Elevage at the Epicurean Hotel.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014

I realize the timeliness of this piece is a bit off as it has already been covered by other entities. I don’t feel it required an immediate write up as you can’t find any of these dishes in any of the kitchens of any of the restaurants. At least that I know of. The purpose is to show you what these guys and gals are capable of. We can give them all our blessing to really go for it all the time by supporting them and being good patrons. Order the specials or the tasting menus at these places. You will almost always be given a sleek meal that is usually a peek into the future when compared to the rest of the menu. To describe every dish in dramatic detail would result in an additional 5,000 word essay and I’m sure you don’t want to suffer through 14 separate dishes each with their own unique pop culture reference to describe the flavor. And you probably don’t want to hear about how I thought something tasted like bologna, but in the best possible way of course.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 2

I will say this though, every chef paid homage to their home state, be it in the technique, the ingredients used, or the Florida cracker cuisine that’s gaining notoriety. From the lobster & avocado salad with passion fruit vinaigrette curated by Restaurant BT, to the smoky quail with a burgoo sauce that married the flavors of our Florida swamp with the simple elegance of the rolling Basque hillside presented by Chef Johnson himself, even our favorite dish of the night, the Snapatrufalojam, a perfectly portioned piece of crispy skin on Florida red snapper laid on a truffled mash and sweet tomato jam with little black truffle shavings strewn all over the plate. Thank goodness it’s truffle season! I love the fact that chef Zack of Z Grille didn’t let anyone in on the concept, not even the head of the wine program knew, as he had to guess on the pairing. It added to the mystique in a Jennifer Lawrence way, not the odd Rebecca Romijn Stamos O’Connell kind of X-3 the Last Stand kind of cluster.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 3

My only concern is my waistline. Some of the dishes were entrée size. By the third or fourth course, most of the room was belly aching about being full. If some of the dishes were smaller, I think we would have enjoyed the visually sensational peanut butter and chocolate kitchen sink dessert that was presented by Café Ponte. There was even a petit four bar from Chocolate Pi that was too tempting to bypass. I sampled one of the coolest bites ever thought up, what do you get when cross a cheese plate with a cookie? A beet and goat cheese macaron. Great idea and execution, hopefully that will end up in the case this fall.

My wife and I were invited guests of the Epicurean hotel for this meal to support a great cause, namely providing scholarships to underprivileged kids so that they can fulfill their food based dreams. The event helped us to meet new friends with the same love of eating, we may not have ever met otherwise. Those included were Laura Riley of the Tampa Tribune along with her photographer who gave the table some nice insight into was really going on in the kitchen. Not to be forgotten was a married couple who were some of the most humble and down to earth conversational people I can remember. The wife mentioned in passing how her father traveled the globe and actually created a cookbook from all the ideas he brought back home. I asked if it was in circulation, and she said it was still somewhere out there. After exchanging contact information, a few days later to my bewilderment we received a copy in the mail. How sweet was that. Thank you very much Sadie. We plan to put it to work real soon. Along with giving me a couple more places to add to the list of must eat restaurants, it also grew my desire to plan a visit to the Beard house in Manhattan to attend one of the more than 200 dinners they host a year.

2014 Epcot Food & Wine Late Nights LIVE!

You know fall is in full swing when a dozen of the world’s finest culinary cultures gather around the World Showcase Lagoon to show off their regional specialties. This year, Logan and I were asked to give their new Late Nights Live event a test drive on the very first night it was open to the public. Think Food & Wine Festival mini. Here’s the rundown, the party starts at 9:45 pm, after the exhausted families have exited the park. Eighty bucks will get you a lanyard with a card good for five food items and one adult beverage, complete with light up disco cup. You’ve got six booths to choose your chow, while a live DJ serenades you with his best Skrillex impression. Best case scenario. in theory, you can drop your bean all while eating beans at the same time you can trip on some topiary.

 Disney Food & Wine Festival Late Nights

We scouted our choices before making any hasty decisions. The choices were as follows: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Greece, Canada, Ireland and the Dessert & Champagne booth. We were hoping that they’d rotate through the countries each week, but upon investigating, it seems that these booths will be repeated.

We hit Hawaii first and snapped up both choices, tuna poke with seaweed salad and lotus root, and kahlua sliders with sweet and sour pineapple chutney and spicy mayo. The slider was a slam dunk. I was worried the chutney would be overly sweet, but it brought just enough sugar to accentuate the pork. The kicker for me was the spicy mayo which had an addictive ginger tinge. The tuna poke was fresh but overly subtle if that even makes sense. The seaweed salad helped bring some much-needed umami.

Tuna poke & Kahlua sliders

Ireland is at the far side of the Late Nights Live event area, so we made the trek with the intent to eat our way back to the entrance. Lobster and seafood fisherman’s pie was, for me, a bit suspect. Seafood being served en masse in Disney doesn’t instill the greatest confidence. However I quickly reversed that opinion as soon as I tasted it. Smooth and creamy mashed potatoes hid tasty chunks of lobster and fish and the buttery crust made it pure comfort food. Not to be outdone was the chocolate lava cake (I’m not sure why it’s Irish but I didn’t complain). They’re about the size of a golf ball, but that’s all you’ll need because these little guys are rich. The pitch black Bailey’s ganache oozes out as soon as the fork touches down. Thankfully, the chefs kept the sweetness in check with just a simple glaze to finish it off.

Ireland - Lobster fisherman's pie, chocolate lava cake

The only real line started as soon as the party began. As it does every day at the festival, Canada is the belle of the ball with its truffled filet offering. If we were to compare food to the 1992 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays (which happens like every single day), the steak would have to be Joe Carter. With its down to earth attitude and its constant perseverance, the filet, alongside its mushroom compliment keeps hitting frozen ropes through the gap year after year. The rainbow trout, (Canada’s second offering) well, it’s Pat Borders. An unlikely hero who rose from obscurity and public apathy.  The chefs at Disney decided against removing the skin. This was a bold move in my mind. I try to take my personal preference out of the equation when evaluating festival food. Remember this is for a mass audience. I feared the appeal of a skin on fish combo would be lost on the majority. Never have I been more incorrect. It added great flavor and complimented the crisp bacon that cascaded over the top of the filet, like tasty little unstable boulders.

Canada - Filet w: wild mushroom and truffle butter, smoked trout, frisée, bacon

Making our way towards the entrance and the Grecian booth, we picked up our souvenir cups with the special cocktail which both of us were indifferent on. Not because it was bad. We just don’t drink much. The cups were seizure inducing, like a DeadMau5 appearance, yet very cool, unlike a DeadMau5 appearance. As I type, my 6-year-old has already confiscated them for his private use. While in Greece, we ordered the chicken gyro as well as a boat of molten cheese topped with honey and roasted pistachio. I remember when the Greece booth opened a year or so ago, it had always been bypassed since the offerings appeared a bit plain jane to me. As Central Floridians, we have a cavalcade of Grecian delights within a short drive, which didn’t help motivate me to try it. The flavors on the gyro were very well done, with notes of lemon, garlic, and oregano all blanketed underneath a creamy tzatziki . If you’ve never had chicken souvlaki, this is a good representation. The melted cheese, made to resemble flaming saganaki was a study in simplicity, having only three known ingredients. That of the honey, pistachio and the cheese itself. It sure ain’t the prettiest filly in the stable. Nevertheless, on taste alone it was surely “affirmed.” Although I’ll admit to the fact that I’ll be stealing that flavor combo for personal use, I still hope in the future that this particular booth changes up their choices for a more adventurous Mediterranean take.

 Greece - Chicken gyro & Saganaki

Finally dessert was served. I have to say when we received our sampler plate of a tiramisu inspired opera gateau, blueberry lemon cheesecake Swiss roll, and passion fruit and lime gelée layered custard thing, I was baffled. This all was really great tasting stuff and wonderfully executed. We both had our preferences for the flavor combinations included in these mini offerings. I am a serious cheesecake and passion fruit guy, while James shares my passion for passion fruit and has a historic love affair with chocolate. Not only was this the most complex and complete dish, but at a $4.00 price point, it was also a comparative steal. We would like to thank the folks at Walt Disney World public relations for allowing us to be their guests. Think about the amount of food that comes out of each baby kitchen. No one had any complaints, or sent food back as far I could see and everyone was walking around dancing to the beat. We are adults acting like adolescents. Why? Because it’s a freaking great time.

Epcot Food & Wine dessert trio

St. Petersburg Food Bonanza

I’ve recently been tasked with some work that requires some traveling for the next 3 months or so. Sadly it’s meant that the lights at Eat a Duck world headquarters have been off for much of the past month. However, traveling means new restaurants, and as I’ve a moment to catch up on my latest food-ventures, I thought I’d share.

St. Logansburg

My first assignment was in St. Petersburg, a city I’ve come to love over the years due to constant trips back and forth from home to concerts. As food goes, ten years ago, downtown St. Petersburg could have been the inspirational backdrop for Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, a desolate wasteland. You had bars and concert venues, the occasional jerk chicken shack and not much else. After I got married, my wife and I developed a mutual love of the local baseball team. We searched for places to eat before the game, but it was an ordeal to find those great local places back then, as we had only word of mouth from friends and associates to rely on.

Nowadays complete strangers are more than willing to give you insight into just about every dining room, hot dog-cart, or kitchen that exists. From those strangers I’ve conversed with over the most years, some of them have actually become great friends. I give my most heartfelt gesture of respect to these new friends I’ve met along my journey, with a goal to eat the best that I can, every single day. Of course there’s James (my bro and co-conspirator), always spit balling with me about anywhere either of us eat. It’s less a question of needing the approval of the other to eat at any place in particular, and more of a desire for that stamp or blessing from a trusted friend that good eats are ahead.

To Mr. Jeff Houck of Tampa Tribune fame, who is a walking Gastropedia, as well as Todd Sturtz, who proves every week, that he can out do any of us when it comes spending one’s per diem.  For me though, on this trip, I have to tip my pickled daikon filled hat to Ms. Marissa Nguyen, a true ambassador to the greater St. Pete food scene. I felt bad, but almost everyday she would get a message, asking where I’d be going for lunch? With her recommendations in hand, I ended up eating my way through her stomping grounds, 4 out of 5 days. That’s why we’re better for wear when it comes to technological advancement. I probably would never have discovered all the fantastic places in neighborhoods like as Pinellas Park and off everything off 4th st, as those areas have just never pinged on my radar.

How about some food?

The banh mi stands alone at the top of my sandwich pantheon. When you get a great baguette, fresh herbs and pickled vegetables with some sort of fabulous pork product, well, things don’t get much better. You’ll end up feeling like King Friday XIII or Queen Sara Saturday living in the magical world of make-believe.

Banh Mi Neighbor small

Here are three banh mi’s, so tasty they’d make Mr. Rogers slap his Viet-ma-knees! I ate four banh mi from three different places on my lunch breaks, each one having a distinct personality that made me love em all.

Banh Mi Trio

This first one is the special banh mi from Season’s Café & Bakery. Tightly packed and full of sliced pork, pork skin and a smear of paté.

Second,  the meatball sub from Saigon Sandwich. I was hesitant about this one since I hadn’t received much feedback and the place was empty. I’m happy to report that the meatballs had great texture and the generous amount of mayo was sweet and lemony which helped soften the interior of the bun.

I tried going to Thuy Café on Wednesday but they were closed. Timing was off until my last day when I got this lemongrass and grilled beef beauty. The bread here was superior. However, each banh mi offered distinct qualities worth going back for. On my way out of Thuy Café, I stopped in the market next door for a drink. What I found was a lesson in marketing with the most amazing impulse buys laid out for the taking. BBQ pork soft baked buns and shrimp sui mai sitting at the register as I made my purchase. At just a buck, I couldn’t pass up that deal son.

Impulse Dim Sum

Sandwiches are well represented in St. Petersburg. Although I didn’t photograph everything, it’s worth mentioning the many bread encapsulated lunches, from the imposing hunk of burger at El Cap, to the Bones Brigade meets haute cuisine manner Z Grille presents their unreal burger, to a possible top 5 best cuban sangwich ever had at Bodega on Central.

Everyone has that one place to get a classic burger, where they’ve been making it the same way for decades. It’ll never let you down and will always amaze. If you don’t have that, move. El Cap, St Petersburg’s version. Get it all the way for a perfect condiment conglomerate.

El Cap & Z Grille Burgers

Z Grille was my first dinner as it was highly recommended. My buddy Todd even decided to meet me for this one. I think he tried to kill me, because our choices were anything but light fare. We started with sweet and tender, leperous-like Dr. Pepper ribs. I say that because the meat was cooked so exquisitely, that it fell right off the bone. The name got me immediately as I’m a huge fan of any soda boasting 23 unique flavors. They were better than I could have dreamed. We followed that by a couple of entreés, that of sage and cornflake crusted chicken and waffles and Chef Zack’s attempt to kill a couple of Tampa food stalwarts in one fell swoop, by way of house ground steak burger. The chicken and waffles were great on their own, as they remained crispy throughout the meal, even after been drenched in a fantastic peppercorn infused maple syrup. The syrup initiated the most conversation, as it was thought provokingly floral as syrups go. The burger, on the other hand, hit us like a Peterbilt. It’s not enough that they make it using fresh ground ribeye and brisket, or that there’s a plank of Neuske’s bacon and house roasted garlicky tomatoes topping it off. Ordering it “Z style” will also afford you the opportunity to add a slab of pork belly, an over easy egg, as well as a nice seared piece of foie gras. Oh and they serve it with a side of truffle frites.

Z Grille Spread

The next meal was at Nitally’s. I’d heard this was a must try from multiple friends. If you love food with spice, I think you’ll meet your true love, as Nitally’s mashes up the cuisine of Mexico and Thailand in a way I’ve never seen before. The menu is vast and I was mentally exhausted after working extremely long hours. I put the decision in the hands of my waitress. You should only do this if you trust them implicitly…or if you’re just too wiped out to read the menu. A good measuring stick is to ask them what they like to eat. If the response is lightning quick, you’d do well to heed their recommendation. If you hear a lot of ums and uhs, it probably means that A. They don’t eat there much, or B. The food sucks. I was treated to a whirlwind of geographic cuisines as she brought me Mexican baos filled with grilled pork, with an abstract slathering of sweet and hot sauces. My main course was red curry pad Thai. More of an ode to Southeast Asian, however I didn’t care where the food came from at that point, just as long as it blew my mind. The heat from the chiles made me sweat and I was only halfway though the plate, but the flavor kept me coming back for more.

Nitally's Spread

My last dinner was at La V. It might have been the most modernized Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever been to. It was a nice change of pace to what we’re used to, as I felt more relaxed in this setting. At least for me, Vietnamese food is set aside for a hurried day time meal with no fuss, it’s get in and get out!! With La V, I was more inclined take my time. The wife made the trip for this one, so we agreed this was going to be the place for us. She ordered the lemongrass bùn, and proceeded to devour it so quickly I failed to get a shot! We shared the garlic and sweet chili wings, which our host basically insisted we order. He was right, they ruled. Me and the little guy shared a fajita-like seared filet  with mushrooms and onions. This five year old is a definitely a steak snob, as nothing but filet will do. I wonder who he got that from? Couldn’t be his dad, as I will eat any part of the cow set aside for legal consumption in the state of Florida. These were fine dishes and a pleasant departure from the norm, with a touch of elegance. Looking back, dang I ate a ton of cilantro..

La V Spread

Honestly, almost every place I went last week deserves a full-blown slow clap review, picking all the finest points about why we should all be eating there now. Nitally’s is going to get that somewhere down the line, the same goes for Z grille. As always, every restaurant that graces the pages of Eat a Duck is approved for your future consideration. Be on the look out for more of my travels as I go all over the west coast this spring! If you’re interested, come out and meet me one night so I’m not so lonely. If you have a place in mind that I missed, let me know and I promise to hit it up!

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!

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!

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.

Tryst – Delray Beach, FL

As you’d expect, going out to dinner is something of a hobby for me. Forget that, it’s more like a passion. But sometimes it’s nice when I don’t have to travel the 50 miles to Miami, or the 20 miles to West Palm Beach. A nice 5 minute drive down to Atlantic Ave. is the perfect distance, especially when the destination is a plucky little gastropub, right here in Delray Beach! I had driven past Tryst many times and never really gave it much thought. It sits in a long row of restaurants at the westernmost end of Atlantic Ave.

Tryst Patio

We arrived early on a Friday night. Atlantic doesn’t really start jumping until 8:00 pm or so, which worked out since we were on a schedule and couldn’t really be waiting around for the hipsters to clear out. Thankfully, many eateries on the main drag, Tryst included, haven’t overlooked the virtues of outdoor seating. We took our seats adjacent a beautiful wall of graffiti and got to studying. My wife’s truffle radar homed in on the ‘not house made’ french fries with truffle aioli and angry ketchup. I’m not sure what the deal is with the ‘not house made’ thing, but the fries were crispy and golden, the perfect vehicles for the near habit-forming aioli. The ketchup was tasty, but we fell so hard for the aioli that we ordered a second cup.

Tryst appetizers

 

The fries were a promising start, but my sights were set on the “Bones & Fat” section of the menu. Any self-respecting gastropub needs a menu section devoted to these two ambrosial items. I had three choices, Chinese pork ribs with hoisin BBQ, toasted sesame and cilantro, roasted marrow bones with smoked sea salt, fig jam and baguette, or the obvious choice…fat vs. fat, confit pork belly pitted against a slab of seared foie gras. If Eat a Duck had an encyclopedia entry, you’d find a photo of one or both of those items. I was delighted to hear that the flavor profiles of this dish change regularly, on this night, it was buffalo pork belly and maple glazed foie. It was an intriguing combination and I was eager to see how it played out. The dish was set before me sending both buxom proteins into a slight wobble. Both were cooked perfectly, the foie yielded to my fork without a fight and was near liquid at the center, the sweet glaze pairing perfectly with the savory interior. The pork belly was wonderfully tender as well, but I’m not sure if buffalo is the right style for this cut of meat in particular. The spice, while tasty, overpowered the delicate pork with its partner in crime, generous chunks of blue cheese. I have to give them credit for creativity on that one, but I reckon the pork belly would have performed better with a different flavor profile. But that’s what evolving menus are for right?

Tryst offers a few options for veggies, but the true headliners lie toward the bottom of the menu. House made sausage of the day, a pork belly burger and a butcher’s cut along with fresh mahi tacos and fish n’ chips with aged vinegar are just a few of the tantalizing choices. As usual, we were on a budget, but that doesn’t mean we had to settle for less in the flavor department! Being recently crowned the “prince of pasta” by my esteemed colleague, I lived up to my title and ordered the penne, smothered in red wine braised beef, tomato, rosemary, broccoli rabe, and my personal favorite hard cheeses, grana padano. The wife chose the enticing ricotta flatbread with roasted garlic pomodoro and basil pesto, that’s my girl!

Tryst entrées

The pasta was toothsome and seasoned nicely, with healthy chunks of braised pork, smothered in cheese. The broccoli rabe added a nice bitter note without bullying the other flavors. The taste really coalesced when it was allowed to cool a little. The flatbread was a winner right out of the gate with the sauce lending a sweetly tart tang, mellowed by the dollops of fresh ricotta. It made a welcome transformation as the pesto hit our tongues. The common thread being garlic, garnered no complaints.

Finding a decent gastropub in a major cities can be a difficult task, so my discovery of Tryst came as a welcome surprise. We left satisfied and more than eager to return again soon. So on the off chance that any of you find yourself hungry in between West Palm and Miami, head over to Tryst if for nothing else than to see what form the pork belly/foie battle has taken on!

Tryst on Urbanspoon