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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ortanique onThe Mile

     Miami Spice... two months of the year when budget-conscious foodies in this city can sample restaurants on the higher side of the price spectrum and still pay their mortgage. Genius!
     I was nervous about this adventure because I had great expectations. The buzz on Ortanique was good and based just on that, I boldly decided to mention it in my novel-in-progress "Friends of the Bride". It was a good call. The place delivered and then some!
     If you blink, you might miss the minuscule exterior next to the Miracle Theater. Once you do find it, a large flamingo painted in bright, tropical colors greets you outside the door. From that moment on, the theme of the restaurant envelops you and the surroundings- ortaniques, a cross between sweet oranges and tangerines first discovered in Jamaica.
      From the vivid orange fruit painted on black walls, to the joyful yellow chiffon draperies that enclose certain seating areas, to the elegant china pattern featuring the peculiar fruit, there is no doubt that this is the kingdom of the ortanique, and once you enter it, I challenge you to ever forget it. A tear almost formed in my eye when we were paying the bill because I simply didn't want to leave!
     A warm shoutout to Gigi Chirolis, the restaurant manager and gracious hostess, who greeted us with a wide, welcoming smile and made us feel like VIPs. Our waiter John was also personable and attentive. It's so nice (and rare these days) to find such delightfully professional people in the food service industry. Now, let me tell you about my new best friend, Bartender Kevin. He single-handedly restored my faith that there are barkeeps out there capable of making the elusive lychee martini to my satisfaction. Kevin, you nailed it! Hubby continued on his Beers of the World tour and tried a Red Stripe Jamaican lager and gave it a thumbs up.
     The Miami Spice menu usually offers a prix fixe three-course meal. For appetizers, I ordered the ceviche and John had the broccoli cream soup. The ceviche was fresh and tangy and even the touch of spice didn't offend my sensitive palate. The soup was creamy and delicate with a surprise bit of cheese mixed into the cream that made you savor every spoonful just a little longer.
     We both ordered the pan sauteed grouper, marinated in Teriyaki and sesame oil with Ortanique orange liqueur and Bacardi Limon sauce. It came topped with steamed seasoned chayote and carrots on a citrus sweet plantain-boniato (white sweet potato) mash. The fish was meaty and sensuously touched by the sauce, but the mash was the superstar of this dish. The sweetness of the plantain, the velvet luxury of the boniato and the playfulness of the citrus, all mix in your mouth so delectably, you just have to close your eyes and experience the flavors one by one. I tried to replicate this item at home the very next week, and needless to say, much improvement is needed on my version.
      Then, it was time for dessert. We ordered the cheesecake zabayon with berries and the coconut Tres Leches. The zabayon delivered a lush creaminess with the rich flavor of cheesecake, all tempered by the freshness of the berries. The Tres Leches was a soft sponge soaked in coconut deliciousness that gushed wet and sweet in my mouth.
     I love it when a dining adventure becomes an unforgettable memory!

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 Kitchen Experiment #6 - Fruit Salsa

     Last year, a friend brought this little treasure to a ladies' dinner and I became obsessed. So easy, so versatile, so divine!
     The original recipe calls for two Granny Smith apples, eight ounces of raspberries, one large mango, one pound of strawberries, sugar and cherry preserves. I had an assortment of other fruit in the house that I wanted to use, so I substituted the mango for cantaloupe and honeydew melon and the result was just as good. I think the mango is the Alpha fruit in this Salsa, but its absence didn't deter from a successful finished product. Once those fruit juices mix with the sugar and the preserves, it becomes a silky nectar teeming with diced fruit.
    I feel giddy just thinking of the endless possible uses for this as a topping - over ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, as a relish over fish, chicken, pork, even beef. You can even just have some in a bowl with a dollop of whipped cream or sour cream. The list can be infinite!
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar

     Hot, sunny, not a cloud in the sky... That's my kind of Labor Day weekend! Sundress, sunglasses and sunscreen... check! Islamorada, here we come! Traffic was a bit slow at times as I expected on a long holiday weekend, but we didn't care. The drive South toward the Florida Keys is always magical for me. It always feels like a bona fide vacation even if it only takes an hour from my home.
     At Lorelei, you can sit on their deck overlooking the inlet or you can sit right on the sand, next to the docks where small boats are hitched just like horses in front of a Western movie 'cantina'. I suspect the pretty acqua umbrellas and white Adirondack chairs and tables could even brighten up days not as splendid as today.
     My appetizer was a creamy Mango Margarita. I had a hard time not slurping it right up like chocolate milk. John, who has now become quite the beer connoisseur but in a good way, ordered and enjoyed a LandShark Lager.
     For lunch, I had the Mahi-Mahi tacos with sweet potato fries, and John ordered the half rack of BBQ ribs, with fries and coleslaw. My tacos were a feast of crunchiness and flavor, the Mahi fresh and moist and perfectly breaded. John was satisfied but not impressed with his ribs. As much as I love sweet potato fries, I must say John's regular fries were crispier and better fried than mine.
     Their coleslaw is interesting, for lack of a better word. The flavor is right, but they include black pepper in their spices which adds a whole new layer that is impossible to ignore. I think if I liked spicy food, I would like this version, but I just couldn't get past the pepper taste.
     We were intrigued by the frozen Key lime pie dessert option on the menu and just as fascinated while we were sharing it. After a few analytical bites, we concluded that it could be described as frozen Key lime custard. We were not disappointed, especially Hubby, who is an avid consumer of just about anything frozen and sweet.
     All in all, a pleasant experience in a pleasant environment. Good start to our Labor Day holiday.
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