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We stayed a few nights in Islamorada at the Cheeca Lodge. Since we had spent most of the day getting to Islamorada, we opted to stay close to Cheeca for dinner. We took the resort’s bikes and pedaled over to the Islamorada Fish Company. I thought it was odd at the time that this restaurant was located in such close proximity to an enormous Bass Pro Shops. But Jim and I spent an interesting hour wandering through the store looking at all of the products.

Now, as I write this, it all makes sense. The Islamorada Fish Company is actually part of the Bass Pro Shops chain of restaurants. This would explain the kitschy decor (large, fiberglass looking sea creatures hanging over your head). We had a few drinks on the beach by this point so I asked for virgin spicy bloody mary, Jim ordered a Mango Morada Colada. A long while later, our drinks arrived. The Mango Morada Colada was tasty, but you couldn’t detect any alcohol in it. The virgin spicy bloody mary must have had a double dose of alcohol in it because it was super strong.  I know that I ordered a virgin drink, but I definitely didn’t get one!

For food, we went on the lighter side: fish tacos and a Greek salad topped with dolphin. The fish tacos were ok to somewhat disappointing. Even though the restaurant is on the water and touts fresh fish, they must not have meant the fist they used in the tacos. There was a small amount of redemption in the greek salad with dolphin. No, you’re not actually eating the mammal. There is a dolphin fish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompano_dolphinfish. The grilled dolphin on top of the (average) greek salad was really good.

I can’t actually say that I would recommend this restaurant for the food. However, it has a great view of the gulf and some pretty good drinks.

 

Islamorada Fish Company

81532 Overseas Hwy (Mile Marker 81.5)
Islamorada, FL  33036

305-664-9271

http://restaurants.basspro.com/FishCompany/Islamorada/

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We landed in the sun and humidity in Miami and immediately made our way to a brunch spot. We needed some good food before we made the drive to Key West. Despite the heat, we opted to sit on Oliver’s brightly colored patio. I ordered a corned beef hash special with a virgin spicy bloody mary and Jim ordered the eggs benedict.

The corned beef hash was one of the better corned beef hashes I’ve had. I order it every time I see it on a brunch menu. It was the the kind where the corned beef is recognizable as having been meat at some point in its life. It wasn’t the ground mushy type of corned beef. It had a good texture and wasn’t overly salty. The virgin spicy bloody mary was a perfect companion, providing the right amount of zip for an otherwise mildly spiced dish. Jim was really happy with his eggs benedict (poached eggs on canadian bacon, english muffin, hollandaise sauce and grilled tomato). The hollandaise sauce was surprisingly light for being so rich. His plate was completely clean when he handed it back to the server.

We had a good meal here, but I have to admit that the service was a little slow. We didn’t really notice because we were trying to plan out the rest of our vacation. However, it being a Monday morning and there being less than 5 other tables filled, there didn’t really seem to be a reason for the service to be that slow.

 

Oliver’s Bistro

959 West Ave # 15  

Miami Beach, FL 33139

http://www.oliversmiamibeach.com/

We met a friend for a early Sunday lunch at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. The rotunda itself is spectacular. Originally part of The City of Paris Dry Goods Company, one of SF’s most important department stores in the early 1900’s, the rotunda was rebuilt by Neiman Marcus. In 1981, the 2,600 pieces that comprised the City of Paris dome were sent to Massachusetts for restoration. In 1982 the dome was reinstalled by Neiman Marcus as the focal point of its rotunda restaurant. The restaurant wraps around the rotunda and allows light through to the ground floor. The space is airy,  bright, and extremely opulent. OK, but enough about the space….

 

The meal started with piping hot popovers and strawberry butter. A popover is a light, hollow roll made from an egg batter similar to that of Yorkshire pudding. The strawberry butter contained enough strawberry for flavor, but not enough to overpower the savory butter. Yummy. I might have to try making popovers at home! Following the popovers was a small taste of their chicken consomme. Tasty, but nothing special.

 

My husband had the lobster club: applewood smoked bacon, avocado, arugula, lemon aïoli, toasted brioche, and yukon gold potato chips. The sandwich was decadent with large chunks of lobster meat. My friend had the dungeness crab and Maine lobster melt: avocado, white cheddar, brioche, spring greens. I sampled both, and had a hard time distinguishing the two sandwiches. For my own entree, I selected the beef shortrib ragu pappardelle: basil, wild mushrooms, shaved pecorino romano. The beef shortrib ragu was well seasoned and savory. The pappardelle was fresh and well cooked. After I finished the pasta, I was looking for some bread to mop up the last bit of ragu.

 

We had a really nice meal here and the food was well prepared. Other than the ultra-luxe ambiance and the great service, there wasn’t anything that particularly set this place apart for me. I might go back again, but I won’t be a regular here. If you do go, don’t forget to make a reservation. The place gets packed quickly.

 

The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus

Level Four
150 Stockton Street
San Francisco,  CA  94108

415.249.2720

 

 

On a recent business trip to Austin, TX, I decided to stop by The Salt Lick in Round Rock. Since we were a pretty large group, we opted for the “Family Style” option. The Family Style option provides you with an unlimited supply of MEAT: brisket, sausage, and pork ribs. BBQ isn’t complete with the sides: potato salad, cole slaw, beans. bread, pickles, and onions. To round out the experience, one of the guys ordered an additional set of baby back ribs that were on special.

THE MEAT:
Brisket: I had an uneven experience with the brisket. The first two pieces were dry and unflavorful and needed quite a bit of the BBQ sauce to make it edible. The next helping was moist, well seasoned, and tasty. No BBQ sauce needed here.

Sausage: LOVED the sausage. Super tasty and very flavorful.

Ribs: I prefer my ribs falling off the bone. The ribs that were part of the Family Style were tasty,  with a good smoky flavor, but they were a little tough for my liking.

Baby Back Ribs: Mmmmm. That’s what I’m talking about. Very well seasoned and falling off of the bone. I was just sad that I didn’t have any room left to finish the entire rack.

THE SIDES:
Potato Salad: This was definitely a different potato salad than what I was used to. It wasn’t the white, creamy dressing type of potato salad. It was more like chunky mashed potatoes with a zip of mustard. I definitely liked this version of potato salad better.

Coleslaw: Again, a different kind of coleslaw. This focused on just finely shredded cabbage and a good cider-vinegar-esque dressing. No heavy mayo based dressing here. I think I ate a whole bowl of this by myself.

DESSERT:
Blackberry cobbler…..5lbs of sugar and 3 blackberries. It was so sweet, I took two bites and pushed it away. Ick.

Other than the dessert,  the meal was pretty good (can’t beat the under $20 price for all that food). But the next time I’m in Austin, I’ll try someplace else just to compare.

The Salt Lick
3350 Palm Valley Blvd
Round Rock, TX 78665
(512)386-1044
http://www.thesaltlickbbq.com

Some friends and I stayed in Palm Springs after a long hard day of shopping at the Cabazon Outlets. Note to self: never, EVER go to the outlets the day after Christmas. (What were we thinking???) We stood at the intersection of Arenas and Palm Canyon drive and debated between the modern cool looking Cheesecake Factory like menu or the warmer American Bistro with potential (short ribs, P.E.I. Mussels, seared ahi tuna… yum). Starving, we decided to eat at Zin American Bistro simply because it looked warmer.

 

When we walked up, we noticed that the restaurant quite full, but we wouldn’t have to wait for a table. Instead, we had to wait for the hostess to return from whereever she was to seat us at the table. We got an outside table right next to two heaters. Perfect. Just what we needed after a chilly day. Our friend inquired with the waiter about if the short ribs used any cilantro. He responded that he would need to check with with the kitchen and then informed us that the house was out of the P.E.I. Mussels and the seared ahi tuna, and short on the short ribs. This was everything that we were looking forward to on the menu. The waiter came back a few minutes later with our drinks…but not the answer to the question we specificallly asked. It should have been a sign. Nonplussed, we ordered: truffle fries, French onion soup, short ribs (two orders), free-range rabbit, and Belgian beef stew .

 

Appetizers –

We waited a very long time for the appetizers. During which, the waiter came back out and said that he could only fulfill one order of the short ribs, not two. We ordered the Zin Burger in replacement. Finally, when tables seated after us got their appetizers, we asked our waiter to check on the food. Minutes later, the food arrived. But it was our entrees and not the appetizers. We asked the waiter again, what happened with the appetizers. He ran back to check. When he returned, he indicated that the food “got lost” on the way to the table and that he would remove them from the bill. How does food “get lost” in a 20 table restaurant???

 

Entrees –

Short Ribs – Mmmm short ribs. Boneless, braised in a raspberry chipotle sauce atop a bed of peas and carrots. Perfect for a chilly evening in the winter. The sauce had a mild sweet with just a touch of flavor from the chipotle. I could have eaten the entire dish, but I agreed with my friend (who didn’t get his order of short ribs) that I would share half the dish with him.

 

Free-Range Rabbit – It’s been a while since I’ve had rabbit. This dish definitely didn’t disappoint. The rabbit was braised in dijon mustard sauce and served with pommes frites. The rabbit leg was tender and fell right off of the bone. The dijon mustard sauce was delight fully creamy without being overpowering to the rabbit.

 

Zin Burger – 11oz American Kobe Beef Sirloin, very juicy and tender. Topped with caramelized sweet onion, and Fiscalini white cheddar. The white cheddar had a great sharpness that provided a great contrast to the caramelized sweet onion.

 

I have to say, the food was pretty good, but the service was atrocious. He never checked in on us when we were waiting for the appetizers. Even after we let him know that we were starving and needed more bread, he didn’t go check on the appetizers. He also never apologized about the appetizers never showing up. As we were wrapping up the bill, I double checked to make sure they didn’t charge us for the appetizers that “got lost”. I was already sufficiently annoyed enough with the service that I didn’t tip my usual 20%. I was planning to leave just about 15%.  Then, I noticed that the left side of me (where the heat lamp had been) was a little chilly. I turned to my left and saw the waiter wheeling the heat lamp away. He didn’t ask and he could have waited for us to depart (we were maybe 5 mins from leaving). Nope. He just wheeled it away.

In the end, we left a 9% tip, which in hindsight I think was generous given the service that we received. Even though the food was relatively good, I will never, ever return to this establishment.

 

Zin American Bistro

198 South Palm Canyon Drive

Palm Springs, CA 92262

http://www.pszin.com/

“Are you sure you have the right address?” Jim asked as we cruised through an industrial warehouse area. I doublechecked the address and the GPS for the third time. It definitely didn’t seem like we were in the right location. Then on the right side, you could see a lot of cars parked on the side of the road. “There it is!”

Eatalian Cafe calls this large industrial space home. While the diners are comfortably placed in the front of the warehouse, large windows allow you to see into the production facility. The facility also makes fresh cheeses, gelati, and baked goods. When we were there, nothing was being made, but you could see large wheels of cheese displayed on the back wall. The cafe has a great energy to it and the noisy clash and clatter of diners just adds to the overall ambiance. (It also served to cover the excited squeals from all of the children in the restaurant.)

Eatalian is known for their thin crust pizzas. We ordered three: 8Gi, quattro formaggi, and the Gibo. The 8Gi is a combination of the Rock (tomato sauce,mozzarella,spicy salami,gorgonzola cheese,spinach,bacon) and 4 stagioni( tomato sauce,mozzarella,sauteéd mushrooms,ham, Italian sausage,artichokes). On a super thin crust, this pizza has something for everyone. The kids attacked the Quattro Formaggi (tomato sauce,mozzarella,Parmigiano Reggiano,Gorgonzola, Pecorino, Feta). I wrestled one of the kids for a slice and barely got a bite. The blend of cheeses was pretty good, but I have to say the feta seemed a bit out of place. The Gibo (tomato sauce,mozzarella, Italian sausage) had a great light taste and left me craving more pizza.

We ordered two pastas: the special of linguini di mare and a house made tagliatelle with porcini and fresh mushroom. The linguini di mare was well prepared, but nothing particularly special. The housemade tagliatelle was also well prepared, but the noodles seemed just a touch overcooked for my taste. Afterwards we indulged in two scoops of gelato: chocolate for him and panna cotta for me. It was the perfect ending for a wonderful Italian meal.

I would definitely come back to eat here. The pizzas were ridiculously good and remind me a lot of what you might find in Italy. The fact that the cafe is very kid friendly just makes it even better!

Eatalian Cafe
15500 S. Broadway St.
Gardena, CA 90248
310.532.8880
http://www.eataliancafe.com/

After a early show of the final Harry Potter movie, we found ourselves at Vino Santo Bistro in Redwood City. We picked this place since the restaurang was mostly full. A full restaurant is usually a good sign to us.

Primi Piatti – Rigatoni con Salsiccia, Pappardelli de la Nonna
We skipped the appetizer and went straight for two primi piatti. The rigatoni con salsiccia was a good dish with great flavors that melded well. The spicyness of the sausage helped keep the dish lively. On the other hand, pappardelli de la nonna was a bit of a disappointment. I ordered the dish because it was the only handmade pasta on their entire menu. The pasta was slightly over cooked, giving it a softer consistency that I would have preferred. The pancetta cubes were a little too hard and slightly over-sized. The lack of uniformity in the textures made the eating experience a little jarring. Flavor wise, it was OK.

Secondi Piatti – Petrale Sole
The main entree of petrale sole was good. It was well cooked with just the right touch of lemon. However, I have to say that I’ve had a similar dish at other locations that I prefer over this version. It did “save” the overall meal for me.

All in all, it was an OK meal. If I had to choose an Italian dinner out, I think I’d pick somewhere else first.


Vino Santo Bistro
2030 Broadway St.
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 780-0793
http://www.vinosantobistro.com