On Monday night, WineGuy took The Radiologist and The Writer to a local seafood shack, Rodés. Although this place is usually jammed in season, they were the only patrons there the whole evening. They enjoyed freshly caught Florida grouper, shrimp, and scallops prepared all different ways. WineGuy made sure they had authentic Key Lime Pie for dessert. They loved it and sent the leftover pie to the boys, who gobbled it up. I, on the other hand, had to go to book club on Monday night. We forewent our usual sushi place for dinner al fresco at Riverwalk, overlooking Naples Bay. The new husband of one of our new members owns Riverwalk, and the new member treated us to dinner. We started with rock shrimp nachos. These were heavily-breaded, fried rock shrimp in a sweet chili sauce over multi-colored nacho chips sprinkled with jack cheese. The dish was not cohesive and didn't make sense. The Pinot Grigio we all drank did. I ordered a Salade Niçoise topped with rare ahi tuna, grouper, and sauteed shrimp. The salad was light and flavorful, filled with dark greens, a hard-boiled egg, and other chopped vegetables in some sort of citrus vinaigrette. The dish was a winner save for too much salad dressing, a perpetual restaurant mistake. The other mistake was sitting outside because apparently I was the main course for mosquitoes that night. I'm still scratching.
The following evening we all went to the new Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in town. WineGuy and I ate at the original Ruth's Chris in New Orleans years ago. It was the best steak I've ever had. The franchise absolutely lived up to the original. Although the new steakhouse is built into the local mall, when you walk in the door, you leave suburbia behind. The high-ceilinged interior was furnished in deep burgundy and ivory with mahogany furnishings and accents. The ivory walls were dimensional, textured to look like sculpted sand – you know, like the pattern made in a little Zen garden. We sat down at a four-top in the middle of the restaurant.
WineGuy ordered the barbecued shrimp appetizer, advertised as an authentic New Orleans dish, which our waitress heavily promoted. The shrimp arrived hot and well-seasoned, but dripping in a gloppy orange sauce that resembled no shrimp we've ever eaten in New Orleans. They tasted good, but they were far from authentic. The Radiologist ordered a tomato and sweet onion salad. It was a beautiful plate of thickly sliced beefsteak tomatoes and Vidalia onions, topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and a light vinaigrette. WineGuy and I ordered the Porterhouse for Two (medium-rare), fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce, creamed spinach, onion rings, and potatoes au gratin. The steak arrived, sizzling in butter (the restaurant's trademark preparation), and perfectly cooked to a warm red center. The kitchen sliced the meat off the bone and cut both the filet and the strip into servable pieces. The asparagus were steamed to a slight bite, and the hollandaise sauce set it off well. The big, fat onion rings were lightly battered and tasty, but nothing special. The potatoes au gratin were prepared in a 1/4" dice, instead of sliced, and felt awkward in the mouth; they were just okay. Three out of us four loved the creamed spinach, saying that the dish was a wonderful balance of heavy cream and spinach and seasoned well. I thought the dish was bland and boring; it needed salt and pepper and a heavy dose of garlic. But the table overrode my opinion. The Writer and The Radiologist ordered the Petite Filet (8 oz.) With Shrimp, garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. They said their steaks and shrimp were cooked perfectly. I tasted the mashed potatoes, which were whipped IMHO, and they were very good: lots of creamy, garlicky flavor balanced with buttery richness. My small complaint was that they were grainy, with a cream-of-wheat/wallpaper paste texture that I did not love. After all that food and two bottles of wine, we hardly had room for dessert. WineGuy sucked it up and ordered the banana cream pie. It was an individual pie served with caramelized sugar and bananas on top. Banana cream pie is one of his favorites, and he loved it. The Writer and I shared bread pudding with a whiskey sauce. It was a luscious casserole of sweet bread drowned in a sugary, whiskey sauce. The desserts were definitely and authentically New Orleans. Finally, a comment on the wine list. The wine list is not long, but it has many good selections. Unfortunately, Ruth's Chris is charging exorbitant prices. For example, our bottle of Red Blend, Francis Ford Coppola, Claret retails in the store for $11-12.00. Ruth's Chris sold the bottle for $40.00. There is no excuse for charging 3-3.5-times cost for wine. The markup on our second bottle, Shiraz/Cabernet Blend, Majella, "The Musician" (Coonawarra, Australia) was equally high. Nevertheless and overall, the meal was outstanding. We will certainly go back.
On Wednesday evening, we headed up to Roy's in Bonita Springs. Our friend, Chef B, is the assistant chef there, so we joined her long-time boyfriend, GoJo, there for dinner, along with The Radiologist and The Writer. GoJo is an anesthesiologist who often works with WineGuy. He and Chef B are serious gourmands who travel the world over for great adventures and great food. We feasted at Roy's! When we sat down, Chef B sent an amusé-bouche to each of us. There was a small piece of blackened, rare ahi tuna in two sauces and a filet mignon tortelloni. The tuna was cooked perfectly, but, to me, the blackening seasoning overwhelms the piscine meatiness of the fish. Next, Chef B sent out a "canoe" of appetizers. It was a long white platter filled with Szechuan spare ribs, char shu chicken (like a chicken egg roll), a tempura sushi roll, and tuna tataki. They were all delicious and messy to eat. The Writer and I enjoyed every bite of the Maui Wowie salad we shared: vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet onions, feta cheese & lemon olive oil. The salad was light and flavorful. Each diner ordered his or her own dinner. The restaurant allowed us to create our own combinations of two entrées. The Radiologist and The Writer ordered Roy's signature Misoyaki Butterfish and the Tiger Shrimp. They swooned over the butterfish and loved the shrimp. GoJo ordered Fire Rim Shrimp over spicy kim chee pad thai; he's had it before and loved it. WineGuy ordered Asian chicken stuffed with herbs and spices and served over rice. He liked but did not rave about it. I lusted after the Misoyaki Butterfish; I always order it when I go to Roy's. I couldn't pass it up this time, but I felt I should try something different. So, I ordered a combination plate with the butterfish and an Herb Pesto Encrusted Corvina. The butterfish was divine: sweet and salty miso glazed fish served over sticky rice laid in a pool of lemon soy beurre blanc. The most perfectly braised baby bok choy accompanied this part of the dish, and it all was sublime. The corvina was a big mistake! It looked and tasted like grass-covered fish. I took one bite, and my tongue recoiled in protest. No more corvina for me. Dessert that night was the piece de resistance. Chef B outdid herself by sending out a platter of five signature desserts. We each had a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream to accompany the last course. There was a buttery, caramelized pineapple upside down cake. There was Roy's famous Molten Lava Cake, a hot chocolate cake with a liquid center. A nut-filled macadamia tart followed the cakes, and a galette (rustic tart) of summer fruits came next. The last dessert was a peach and ginger shortcake with fresh whipped cream. Each one was a winner. After all that food and three bottles of wine – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (NZ), Kim Crawford Chardonnay (NZ), and Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir (Napa, CA) – we were stuffed to the brim. We all rolled home to cope with our own personal bouts of reflux!
A wine note: if you're looking for some reasonably priced white wines to drink this summer, check out Cloudy Bay or Babich's Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough from New Zealand; look for one that is "unoaked," i.e., not aged in oak barrels. This was a bright, light white filled with lots of tropical fruit up front and a grassy finish. Just the right amount of acidity to go with grilled chicken, fish and other summer dinners; price should be approx. US$15-20 in the local wine shop. Along the same vein, Kim Crawford's Chardonnay was fruity, acidic, and just buttery enough to stand up to your favorite summer repast. Again, this one should retail between US$15-20.
Thursday night was The Radiologist and The Writer's last night in town, so we opted for a cute seafood restaurant on the bay. The million-dollar view did nothing to improve the lazy service or lackluster food at Bayside. I had a roasted eggplant bruschetta with mozzarella: it was a fancy name for cheese toast with a little eggplant on top. WineGuy had the asparagus and sun-dried tomato risotto. It was starchy and heavy and redolent with nearly overcooked asparagus. I had grilled sea scallops for dinner; they came with a side of that same risotto and some baby vegetables. The sea scallops and veggies were ordinary. The risotto completely overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the scallops. WineGuy had blackened ahi tuna (again). It was cooked properly, but it was an incredibly small portion for an entrée. Our friends both had grilled yellowtail snapper with lemon aioli. It was hard to tell anything about their fish under all that yellow glop on top. Mediocre food combined with a crappy waitress – 25 minutes to take our order, never kept our water glasses full, never cleared the table, never was around to ask her for something, took forever to bring our bill – now nukes Bayside right off our restaurant list. BTDT and don't want to do it again. Ever.
We raced out of Bayside and down to the main shopping and dining venue in town. We ended up on the upstairs terrace at Café Lurcat for dessert. It was a balmy evening; there was live music. We had a smart, sassy waitress bring us fabulous desserts and coffee. WineGuy had the profiteroles drenched in chocolate and caramel. I had a baked chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream; it tasted like chocolate and vanilla clouds. Our friends had the almond cake with strawberry-rhubarb compote. They loved the cake but wished it came with more than two teaspoons of compote. WineGuy said goodbye to his friends that evening, but I saw them the next day for lunch.
Wizard, Wild Thing, Moose and I met The Radiologist and The Writer for lunch at the local Persian restaurant, Bha! Bha! Amidst citrus-colored walls and an indoor fountain, we feasted on Iranian specialties. Moose ordered the aash soup, a lamb stock loaded with barley, bulgur, garbanzos and Persian noodles. Wizard and The Radiologist ordered a spicy beef kermani. WT ordered a lamb stew whose name I cannot possibly reproduce without a menu. The Writer ordered the lamburger in pita bread. I had a chicken kebab over jeweled basmati rice with grilled onions. Each and every dish was exotic, flavorful and plentiful. We had a great waiter who apparently lives right up the street from me. The kitchen was the tiniest bit slow: we arrived at 12:30 p.m. and had to rush the staff to get us out at 2:40 p.m. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable dining experience. I really want to go back there for dinner on a Friday night, preferably with girlfriends, when they have their Persian fortuneteller there!
If you think my gluttonous week is over, it's not. Tomorrow night we are going to an Australian and New Zealand wine tasting and cooking class at the Robb & Stucky KitchenAid Culinary Center. I see you scratching your head, saying "huh"? A high-end local furniture store teamed up with KitchenAid to open a casual living store. It features about 6 completely integrated and fully operational KitchenAid kitchens and laundry rooms that flow into indoor patio and outdoor living settings. They have their own chef who regularly teaches cooking classes, and we're going to one on Saturday night. By Sunday morning, when I have to
[Burp.] Excuse me. I'm going to sleep in the recliner now.