Thursday, August 28, 2014

Calling All Home Chefs! MasterChef open casting is coming to Miami!


Do you think you have what it takes to impress Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich? Popular cooking show, MasterChef, is now casting its new season. Amateur chefs and home cooks can compete to win a $250,000 cash prize and cookbook deal. Florida's culinary artists can vie for a spot at the Miami open casting call on Saturday, October 4, 2014 at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, 255 Biscayne Boulevard Way.
According to casting AP, Ned Johnson, MasterChef is looking for everyday people from all walks of life who love to cook and have always dreamed of becoming a professional chef. They are particularly interested in people with interesting occupations and hobbies. Those selected at the Miami casting call would represent the South Florida area. Interested contestants should preregister for priority at www.masterchefcasting.com and contact AP, Ned Johnson, at castingned@gmail.com or (328) 798-1910.

MasterChef Casting : Official Casting Site For MasterChef Season 6 on FOX
www.masterchefcasting.com
The Official Website For MasterChef Season 6 Casting

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Crust, Naples, Florida

Pizza with tomato sauce, provolone cheese and crumbled italian sausage

I'm a sucker for pizza.  What's not to love about bread and cheese, right?   If you've read my earlier posts, you all know that I'm particularly wedded to a thin crust.  I'm sure my fellow Chicagoans are in disbelief.  After all, my beloved birthplace is the home of the deep dish.  But I just never got used to the gummy crust at the bottom of a Chi-town pie.  Nope.  For me it's crispy cracker crust all the way. That is exactly what The Crust promises.  So, ever on a search for the perfect pizza, the fam and I made our way to the Pavillion shopping center in North Naples during the pizzeria's opening week.  I know I was taking a risk by going on the restaurant's fourth night of operation.  I mean, I hadn't given them a chance yet to work the kinks out.  But curiosity got the best of me ... and I'm glad that it it did.

The Crust definitely delivers exactly what it promises.  The Crust serves thin-crusted, midwest style pizza, cut into "party size" squares.  While other pizzerias tout their sauces, the Crust touts ... well, their crust.  The name says it all.  "Crispy on the bottom, fluffy in the middle ..."  The Crust's pizza crust is just as described on their webpage.  And just to prove it, I had to take a pic.

Now that is crisp!  And I'm not the only one that thinks so.  My husband, Italian by heritage and upbringing, is pretty discerning when it comes to pizza crust.  His family is from "just the other side" of the GW Bridge and he's grown up with more than his fair share of New York style pizza.  He doesn't let a  poorly cooked crust past his lips without vocal criticism.  I was nervous bringing him to the Crust without first sampling it myself.  And, to my great relief, it only took one bite for him to succumb to the crust of the Crust.  (Yes, I meant to say that!)

What I loved:  You mean besides that thin and crispy crust?  The options.  While the Crust offers a few gourmet pizza combinations, I was drawn to the Crust for its "make your own pizza" option.  I'm not just talking about the ability to select from a variety of toppings.  I'm talking about the ability to also choose the crust (traditional or gluten free), the sauce and the cheese.  Now that my son is on a mandatory low sodium, low protein diet, the ability to customize our pizza as much as possible is key.  I count this as a big plus for all of you who are on doctor prescribed diets.  The Crust gives you the option of selecting between traditional tomato sauce, pesto or olive oil.  And the latter is ideal for those who are told to keep sodium to a minimum.  So, for my son, we opted for an olive oil coated crust.  I myself stuck with good ol' tomato.  Both were good.

As for the cheese, here the Crust also deviates from the norm.  The Crust's menu pizzas are all topped with provolone cheese instead of the usual mozzarella.  And although you can select a different cheese,  mozzarella is not an option.  I'm not sure why, but I'm not sure I care.  The provolone tasted just as good to me.  I didn't even miss the mozz.  Call it blasphemous if you want, but I call it tasty.  

Even better was the service.  For an opening week, I found the staff to be much more than adequate.  Our server, Calesta, was prompt and courteous, frequently checking on us but not so much as to be hovering.   The manager on duty also took a moment to check on us and to converse with neighboring diners.  We sat next to the bar/kitchen but didn't find the activity around us to be intrusive.  And we enjoyed the decor that pairs black and white photos of Old Hollywood with rustic wood tables and industrial elements.  I personally loved the hooks underneath the bar.  Obviously whoever thought up that one thinks just like a woman.  



What I Didn't Love:  Umm ... I'm still thinking on this one.  I've read a few other reviews on Yelp that weren't as sold on the Crust.  Perhaps I just have different taste.  Perhaps I was just as pleased as punch about the customization options.  Perhaps I fared much better going on day four post-opening than those who went to the soft opening.  I certainly mind less than others that this eatery seems to cater to a more "upscale" Mercato kind of crowd.

How much we spent:  ($$)  For our party of four we ordered two custom pizzas, one with provolone and olive oil and one with provolone, tomato sauce and crumbled italian sausage.  We also ordered four sodas.  Our total bill was $48, which included a generous 20% tip.

My rating:  (4 spoons)  I haven't had a pizza I liked this much since my visit to The Blue Moose in Colorado.  The fact that my better half likes it too must mean that there is promise in this pizza.

Before you go, don't forget to check out Anna's Mini Review.  She's got a good pic of our olive oil pizza.  :-)










Sunday, June 15, 2014

Anna's Mini Review - The Crust, Naples, Florida


Hello! I'm Anna and I'm reviewing The Crust. It is an amazing pizza place. And it's right by my house !!!!!!! Well, I am a natural pizza lover because my mom is one too!

I had a custom designed pizza for dinner.  It was very good.  I say, very good.  The cheese was provolone instead of mozzarella.  And instead of tomato sauce, it was olive oil.  The crust was cooked perfectly.

We also got another pizza.  I had a bite of it too.  It had a very good crust with tomato sauce, provolone cheese and sausage.


It was delicious food.  It was very superb.  It was cooked perfectly.

The service was very good.

I give it a five spoon rating!

Please go to The Crust!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bomboloni alla Nutella - Tony's Off Third - Naples, Florida

Bomboloni alla Nutella


I have never taste tested for the blog while attending a business seminar, but there's always a first time for everything.  And today was the day for a first!  You might be surprised (or not) to learn that I actually have a day job, and that I don't eat my way through food for a living.  While it might be a dream of mine to procure such delicious employment, this girl still makes a buck the old fashioned way.  I've got to keep my legal mind as sharp as a pencil, so every year I attend the Florida Bar's Attorney/Trust Officer Liaison Conference.  One of the nice things about this conference is that I get to network with a lot of non-lawyer colleagues who work in related fields.  Kristin Vaughn of the estate auction and appraisal firm, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, is not only one of these fellow colleagues but also a fellow foodie.  Kristin is a fan of this blog's Facebook fan page and she must have seen the pic of that maple bacon doughnut I posted for National Doughnut Day.  Because as soon as I saw her we launched into an excited conversation about doughnuts.  And not just any doughnut, but the Bomboloni alla Nutella, the latest limited offering from Tony's Off Third, a popular wine and pastry shop in Naples' exclusive Third Street Shopping District.

Kristin's office happens to be just above Tony's Off Third so she had the skinny on this new sweet treat that trended on Naples Facebook feeds last weekend.  Created by shop co-proprietor and Naples' restauranteur/chef, Tony Ridgeway, the Bomboloni alla Nutella is an Italian doughnut filled with white chocolate mousse and Nutella cream.  Kristin didn't have spend a lot of time convincing me that I needed to try this.  She had me right at Nutella.  Hazelnut and chocolate.  Mmmmm.  Love that stuff.  I have ever since my cousin brought it back from a trip to the Netherlands while I was in my teens.  And now Nutella is as ubiquitous as ever.  So, it was only a matter of time before it made its way into a doughnut.

But Tony's doughnut, available only on Fridays, is no run-of-the-mill doughnut.  This brioche style doughnut, with its light bread-like texture, is generously filled with delicious mousse.  The bread itself is not sweet so that this treat is sweetened exclusively by the cream.  I like my desserts sweet but not overly sweet, so this doughnut fits the bill for me.   With that being said, there is a generous amount of cream in these pastries.  So it's best to eat one over a plate or at least a napkin lest some of that sweet cream become a new adornment on your lap.  Not a good way to waste such deliciousness!



Many thanks to Kristin for commandeering someone to pick up a box of these Bomboloni and ferrying them down to us at the conference.  I will definitely be paying her back with lunch sometime very soon, maybe at Ridgeway Bar & Grill.  :-)


Ridgway Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Ravenous Pig, Winter Park, Florida


My kids are on spring break this week and we are enjoying a long-deserved Disney vacation.  But that does not mean that I take a break from my search for gastronomic delights.  Lucky for us, four Central Florida chefs recently earned honors as James Beard Foundation Award semifinalists.  Two such chefs, James and Julie Petrakis, have made their culinary mark in the upscale Orlando suburb of Winter Park with their restaurants, the Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder.  Both feature seasonal fare from local farms, fishermen and purveyors, following the current farm-to-table trend.  Today, the Ravenous Pig was the ideal location for a reunion with a friend.

The one-page one-sided dinner menu features seasonal items.  I ordered Gruyere biscuits to start.  My  love of cheese and biscuits made me curious and I'm thankful for my curiosity.  The buttery flaky squares come served in a basket with generous pots of butter.  Hints of Gruyere were definitely there but not obvious or overwhelming.   That was a good thing because I love to slather butter on my biscuits and the mix of butter with Gruyere is a good one.


For dinner, I order Florida pompano paired with black lentils and rigatoni.  The pompano was nicely browned and properly cooked.  But I didn't find the fish to be a standout on the plate.  I was much more satisfied by the lentils, generously mounded atop what is billed as a romesco sauce.  I tend to be attracted to high flavor profiles and the romesco sauce satisfied that part of my palate, making it a nice compliment to the otherwise delicately flavored fish.  For me, the only miss on my plate was the rigatoni.  Others may not mind it, but the bite of this pasta was just too toothy for me.   I would have been just as happy without it on my plate.

Now usually I don't comment on what others at the table have for dinner, but I'm making an exception today for the steak frites.  Because I was on vacation I ordered dessert and while waiting I took the opportunity to finish off the last bit of this flat-iron steak straggling on my husband's plate.  I don't typically order steak for myself but, if I ever come back to the Ravenous Pig, I will certainly order this plate for my own enjoyment.  The porcini mushroom rub that coated this steak is really very good.  But more than that, there was a tender texture to this meat that I still have trouble describing.  I swear it has something to do with the way that it must have been cooked although the method is evading me.  The look and texture of the steak was not what I would expect of something cooked on a grill.   And if I wasn't concerned about embarrassing myself with my novice appreciation of the science of cooking, I might say this was made sous vide.  I suppose it will just remain a mystery to me, at least until next time.

And the next time, I am most likely to order the cannoli for dessert again.  This is no traditional cannoli so true die-hard fans of the Italian treat might think twice about this dessert.  All others, however, may enjoy this reinvention.  This cannoli is much more delicate than its traditional inspiration, much more like a tuile.  Good for me, because I happen to love tuiles (which are so reminiscent of the Filipino barquillos I grew up with).  These sweet thin cookies were still filled with mascarpone although in a consistency of a whipped cream rather than a soft cheese.  Dusted with pistachio powder, set atop minced strawberry and honey (another one of my loves) and accompanied with a tart spoonful of strawberry sorbet, this sweet treat was an ideal capper to my dinner.  It's that kind of dessert that sates my sweet tooth without overwhelming it.  Perfect.


How much we spent:  With tip, we spent about $200 for our party of five, about $40 per person.  Our check did include, however, a glass of chardonnay for myself (yes I took my antihistamine), a couple of pints for our friend and three desserts.  A more dollar conscious diner could spend less.

My overall rating:  3 1/2 spoons.  I liked this restaurant.  I definitely loved the dessert.

When you have a minute, check out Anna's mini review.

The Ravenous Pig on Urbanspoon

Anna's Mini Review: The Ravenous Pig, Winter Park, Florida

Hi every one!! Its me, Anna, and I'm reviewing The Ravenous Pig !!!!

So, I had the sea bass (it is so clear that it's fish).  It had a spread of what I think was some sort of pesto all over the plate and it also had a baby onion on my plate.  It had 3 slices of radish on my plate too. Since I don't like radishes I decided to not eat them.  But if you like them you could eat them.


Oh! And I had yellow tomatoes too!!!! I also had what think was a little bit of quinoa and romanesco, too. Now for the sea bass. My fish had a little bit of pepper and a nice amount of salt. It was very tender too. 

I also had a lemonade. It was a little sour. I had to put two packets of sugar.

Now the service. The service was quick and very good. No spills and no messes.  I had a really really good time.                

I give the Ravenous Pig 4 spoons!
                                        
Now go read my Mommy's Review!

                                   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bricktops, Naples, Florida

Bricktops Restaurant in the Waterside Shops.  Photo taken from www.watersideshops.com

I don't typically write reviews about chain restaurants but today I make an exception for Bricktops.  Why?  Well, because I ate something exceptional yesterday and now I am in love with the Palm Beach salad.  Maybe it was just because I was in the mood for a good salad, but I think this is one darn good salad.  And, let's face it, it is very hard to find a truly good salad.  Many underestimate the salad as a dish.  I've come to the realization that we put in too little effort in preparing salads.  But now that I've committed myself to cleaner eating, salads are quickly becoming a staple in my diet.  The unimaginative mix of lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and lettuce is just not going to suffice anymore.  Not when I'm in need of a flavorful, filling salad entree option.   The Palm Beach salad definitely fits the bill.

Bricktops' Palm Beach Salad.  Photo taken from the Dish by M.M. Cloutier for the Palm Beach Post.

This beautifully prepared deconstructed stack of avocado, lump crab meat, tomato, shrimp and chopped egg surrounded by micro greens and cherry tomatoes had me at hello.   I admit that my initial infatuation was ignited first by the micro greens.  I don't know what it is about micro greens but I can't help but love them.  Maybe it's because I myself am petite.  It's like they were made for me.  But the true stars of this plate?  The avocado and the shrimp.   The wonderful thing about avocado is that it soaks up the flavor of whatever it's paired and seasoned with.  In this salad, that allows the avocado to serve as a healthy, substantive and flavorful alternative to dressing.  That's a good thing because the shrimp on this plate does not need to be overwhelmed by anything else.  This shrimp is perfectly dressed, not drowned as so often can be the case.  And the methodical stacking of this salad makes it easy for one to compose each and every ideal bite.

I love the fresh clean taste of this plate.  You may too.  I guarantee that I will be making a return trip to Bricktops so that I can order this again soon.   Perhaps I may see you there.


BrickTop's Restaurant on Urbanspoon