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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Earls Kitchen & Bar

     In keeping with the spirit of my birthday month, the celebration continued at Earls courtesy of my friends Jackie and Liz.
     We were here once before, but I forgot my camera that day and I was itching to have a do-over so I could blog about it. The space is ample and open. Even the kitchen exposes itself and its cooks, offering a bustling spectacle to the patrons sitting in its proximity. We sat at the core of the place, a wide, bright expanse framed by enormous glass doors where an ocean of elegant picnic and counter tables surround a large island that is the main bar. This area is itself surrounded by a balcony on the other side of the glass providing outdoor seating under happy red umbrellas.
     Earls is one of those places that follows the new trend to kick off Happy Hour at 3:00 pm, and we, tired teachers at the end of the school year, were happy to partake. Jackie and I started with white and red wines respectively, and Liz ordered a Raspberry Lemondrop. None were memorable, so Jackie had a Vodka Cranberry. She wasn't impressed with that either. But then we discovered their frozen White Peach Bellini, and the gates of joy opened wide. Rum, sangria, white wine and peaches in perfect alchemy. It's attractive, it's sweet and it goes down smoothly in a most dangerous way.
     For appetizers, we ordered a side portion of onion rings and an order of yam fries. The onion rings didn't make any lasting impression, but oh those yam fries! They're the kind of thing you crave in a bottomless bucket, curled up on the couch with something good to watch on TV on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I don't care who you are or what your eating habits are... all bets are off!
     For entrees, Jackie ordered the Dominical Fish Tacos, grilled wahoo with mango avocado salsa, and she enjoyed them, except for the hot sauce, which fortunately was served on the side. Liz and I ordered Chicken, Brie and Fig sandwiches. What could be better than the combination of cheese and fruit in ciabatta bread? Maybe some roasted apples, some spinach and garlic mayonnaise mixed in with the sweet fig jam and Brie to give it extra punches of flavor? Done. The perfect match to those heavenly Bellinis. Liz had a side of kale salad with her sandwich and I had a side of delicate Yukon potato fries with mine. They sure know how to fry things at Earls.
    The first time we were there, we shared the Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert, a structure consisting of chocolate cake, vanilla bean gelato with toffee and chocolate sauces. It was a delightful choice, but this time we went for the featured dessert, the Fresh Berry Shortcake, a homemade shortbread cookie swaddling a sublime vanilla cream mousse, topped with seasonal berries, which for us turned out to be strawberries.
     I like this place, I really do, and even though I wouldn't characterize the menu as spectacular, it offers enough solid selections to make any visit pleasant. Nevertheless, I found a snag that I can't let go. In all fairness, this is not the restaurant's fault but rather a lack of judgment on the server.
     I counted four separate instances in which she addressed Jackie while I was in mid-sentence, which forced me to stop so my friend could answer her questions. I understand that they are trained to be accessible to the patrons, but couldn't she just stay visible without interrupting, or perhaps wait for a natural stopping point in the conversation to address someone at the table? I can see it happening once, but the same behavior four times? How could she not notice that she was constantly cutting into the conversation? I don't know, maybe it's me.
   All ranting aside, I'm glad we went back, and I'm glad the experience was enjoyable, for the most part, and I wouldn't mind visiting again.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Café Prima Pasta

     Happy Birthday to me! I'd been wanting to try Prima Pasta for over a year. In fact, I'd heard so much about it, I mentioned it in my women's fiction novel "Friends of the Bride", currently in progress. No amount of research or number of third party opinions can beat an actual visit. Writers have to keep it real, right?  So my friends DJ and Frances with their respective husbands, Mario and Ross joined John and me for a birthday celebration/'casing the joint' adventure.
     The place as a whole is small and even further divided into a bar area and a dining area. The tables are so close together, you are almost forced to have physical contact with the strangers sitting around you.
     Lights are dim which exponentially enhances the spectacle that is the space's focal point, a lavish crystal chandelier like none I've ever seen. The walls are papered with pictures and wine bottles, and the ceiling sparkles with an eclectic mix of lighting fixtures, all holding court around the centerpiece. It's busy, it's crowded, it's dark, but it works.
     The menu is comprehensive and respectably Italian. For appetizers, we started with an Antipasto Misto and a basket of Zucchini Fritti seasoned with salt and lemon. The antipasto platter contained cold cuts, cheeses, grilled vegetables, hearts of palm and an assortment of large olives that transported me back to Tuscany.
     Our entree selections were varied and a good representation
of the menu. DJ and Ross had the Black Linguine Seafood in lobster sauce, Frances and I had the Fiocchi Rapera, tiny pasta purses stuffed with Asian pear and gourmet cheeses happily playing in truffle sauce, and dotted with crispy sprinkles of prosciutto. You see, when fiocchi is on the menu, I have to look no further. I rhapsodized so much about this dish, that the very particular Frances decided to try them. I'm happy to report that she was not disappointed, but I have to say, though, they were not the best I've ever tasted. However, I found them satisfying and would become my 'usual' were I to frequent the establishment.
     John ordered the Chicken Limone and found it unremarkable. Mario had the Veal Parmesan and ate it with gusto. Palates are like snowflakes.
     Dessert was fun. First, I was serenaded by the staff with a cheesy rendition of "Happy Birthday, Principessa", which I didn't hate, accompanied by a block of Tiramisu. Then, we proceeded to play DJ's and my favorite game, Musical Desserts. We ordered Profiteroles, pastries usually stuffed with cream and drizzled in chocolate sauce. Prima Pasta, however, stuffs them with vanilla ice cream. I prefer the classic version.
     We added ricotta cheesecake, Creme Brulee, and Tartufo, dulce de leche ice cream covered in a hardened dark chocolate. I'd never had ricotta cheesecake and I found it the perfect combination of airy and rich. I'll be looking out for more of that in the future. I love Tartufo, but somehow this one didn't satisfy. I wanted the sumptuous flavor of dulce de leche, but I had a tough time finding it. Perhaps it was overwhelmed by the dark chocolate.
     The Creme Brulee and Tiramisu were average. I will say, however, that everyone else enjoyed all the selections as they rotated around the table. I'm just too picky about my sweets, I admit.
     The restaurant punctuated our meal with complimentary shots of Sambucca, a gracious gesture indeed. It was a great evening, primarily because of the company of good friends, great conversation and endless laughter. 53 was a good year. Bring on 54!

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Whiskey Joe's Bar & Grill

     Man plans and God laughs. That was the theme for my Memorial Day Sunday. John and I set out to spend the day at Bill Baggs State Park under the shadow of our favorite lighthouse. When we got there, we found the park full, and we were sent away. So we went to Plan B- Crandon Park. That was crowded too, but it served the purpose- a day of sunny skies, tropical breezes and warm ocean water.
     We intended to end the day at the Lighthouse Cafe at Bill Baggs, but since we didn't gain access, we pulled Plan B again. We decided to try Whiskey Joe's.
     You can choose your view between a shimmering Biscayne Bay framed by the Miami skyline, or the sight of super-sized forklifts moving charter boats to and from gigantic shelves as they squeeze through the narrow alley between the marina and the tiki bar deck. A singer played a repertoire of standard tropical bar fare (Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Zach Brown) on his acoustic guitar, but he wasn't terribly engaging.
     John ordered the Angus sliders but he didn't like the grilled onions. He can't quite figure out the difference between sauteed and grilled. Based on several experiences, his conclusion is that 'grilled' means limp and greasy.

     I ordered the fish and chips. It was a generous portion and the fries ('chips') were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The fish wasn't bad except one piece tasted a little gamy. That was disconcerting.
     We accomplished our goal- we had dinner in our bathing suits looking out into the bay, although John was quite intrigued by the sight of the forklifts putting boats on shelves as if they were toys. Whiskey Joe's, however, will not be on our "keeper list".

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