Looking at Sea Creatures and Eating Them As Well

May 3rd, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Last day in St. Pete and the sunburned family checked out of the condo. Hot and sticky day. Headed to Ybor City, the historic section of Tampa which was founded by Cuban immigrants. Once a center of a thriving cigar industry (you can still get hand rolled cigars there), Ybor City is now famous for dining. The main attraction is Columbia Restaurant, the oldest (more than 105 years) continually operating restaurant in Florida. This is a vast restaurant serving Cuban/Spanish food. Good ingredients but a bit heavy handed with salt and chorizo. Very pleasant service. Ordered a pitcher of outstanding sangria. HG had some very generous small plates: Gambas Ajillo (prawns in garlic sauce, good prawns but the sauce was too salty); grilled super tender calamari (simple and perfect); PEI mussels in a broth of tomatoes, sliced chorizo and parsley (excellent mussels whose flavor was blunted by excessive chorizo.) Handsome Haru shared the mussels with HG and pronounced them “awesome.” Given the evidence of the mussels ordered at Columbia and in St. Pete restaurants, PEI mussels have regained their splendor. (Or, are they exporting the winners and keeping the losers at home? We’ll soon find out.) BSK had grilled grouper which she pronounced “best ever.” SJ knocked off a big plate of roast pork. Handsome Haru had a Mojo Chicken sandwich (looked mass produced and not very appetizing). HH wasn’t impressed with the sandwich but happily consumed a virgin mango daiquiri and a big bowl of the house salad mixed table side by a charming young man. Teru, the reigning Princess of Cuteness, devoured a big bowl of mac and cheese. Approved. HG and HH finished with flan. HG and SJ had cups of cafe con leche. Some of the best coffee HG has ever experienced. After the lengthy meal, the group spent hours at the Tampa Aquarium, located in the Port of Tampa. Kids wondered at the sharks and were pleased to pet the sting rays (this is allowed if you use two fingers and pet their backs gently). Long, tiring flight back to Albuquerque. Home after a drive in the rain. The reunion with Toby, The Wonder Dog, was super joyous.

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A Day Of Exuberant Appetites

May 1st, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

The sun sizzled on St. Pete Beach today but it did not dull the appetites of HG/BSK and family. Brunch at The Frog Pond. Big plates of waffles, pancakes, eggs and grits (best grits ever), quiche, biscuits and gravy. Big culinary departure for HG who usually breakfasts on juice, coffee and oat cereal. Doesn’t eat until dinner. In and out of the warm sea all day. Splashed among the gentle waves with Haru, Teru, SJ and BSK. The essence of innocent fun. Despite the big brunch everyone was ready for some big time eating when the sun went down. Off to Cedars Restaurant in the Seminole neighborhood. Down home Lebanon cuisine. Halal meat. Hookahs on the outdoor tables. Wanted to taste everything so ordered baba ganoush, labneh, feta cheese with chopped tomatoes, hummus, tabouleh, salads. Excellent tastes. Perfect after toasting on the sunny beach. Main dish was kebabs (chicken, beef, ground lamb) on a bed of rice with grilled vegetables and a bowl of tzatsiki. Much, much food. All good, The garlicky chicken and the rare grilled steak were solid winners. Drove back to our vacation condo for salt caramel gelato and (for HG) a nightcap of Jim Beam bourbon. Nice finale to our last beach day. Back to The Land of Enchantment tomorrow. Hope Toby, The Wonder Dog, hasn’t lost his heart to Ina G., the charming jewelry designer, who has been HG/BSK’s temporary house sitter. HG/BSK miss Toby, their feisty, furry little friend.

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Reliable Keegan’s

April 30th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Perfect beach day. Bright sun. Cloudless blue sky. Modest breeze making the heat comfortable. Inviting sea. Gentle waves and warm water. HG read Hemingway’s book about Paris, A Moveable Feast. Conclusion one: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound were all certifiably crazy. Conclusion Two: HG admires Hemingway’s prose craftsmanship. His account of a trip with Fitzgerald is brilliant. His generosity toward that troubled man is admirable. Despite that, HG finds Hemingway personally unpalatable–homophobic, ludicrously suspect macho. HG/BSK, Haru, Teru and SJ spent much time carousing in the gentle sea. HG ended the glorious beach day with a soak in the hot tub. HG and family were ravenous after hours of fun. So, it was back to reliable Keegan’s in the Indian Shores neighborhood of St. Pete Beach. Seated immediately. HG had the stupendous sea scallop ceviche washed down with an icy beer, Followed by charbroiled octopus. Best ever. Superlatively tender and full of flavor. SJ had a cup of the creamy She Crab Chowder. The group devoured Prince Edward Island mussels, conch fritters, fried calamari, grouper sandwiches, loads of French fries and cole slaw. HG had a generous platter of warm Gulf shrimp dipped in melted butter and dotted with Keegan’s hot sauce. Finished with hearty gumbo. Wonderful food. Friendly, efficient service. Keegan’s never disappoints.

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Trying Too Hard

April 29th, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

Dinner at Guppy’s On The Beach Seafood Grill (in the Indian Rocks neighborhood of St. Pete Beach) was an up and down (mostly down) experience. Guppy’s is a large, popular restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating. HG chose indoor (an error). Seated in a bleak air conditioning chilled room. Historic photos on the wall of historic Indian Rocks bathing beauties (in one piece suits) was a nice touch. Ordered a pitcher of sangria. Eeks, horrors!! The restaurant tampered with the classic recipe and added loads of cinnamon (also some cloves). Smelled like a men’s room deodorant with overtones of potpourri in a New England tourist gift shop. Undrinkable. Replaced the witches brew with cold Stella Artois beer. After a lengthy wait HG and SJ were served bowls of hot and spicy fish chowder. Caribbean tastes. Heartening. Twenty minute wait. A bowl of plump, tasty Prince Edward Island mussels in a broth enhanced by tomatoes, greens and garlic finally arrived. Light at the end of a tunnel. Mood became optimistic. A 25 minute wait quenched the happy mood. HG rose to complain. Waitperson said she’d inform management. Rest of the meal arrived in a rush. Strange food. The dishes were over elaborate with too many ingredients on each plate. Festoons of shaved carrots. Slivers of olives. Sauces that did not enhance. Truffled mashed potatoes that tasted chemical. Fried green tomatoes and fried oysters destroyed by heavy breading. Broiled octopus (tender and good quality) that were savory after all the redundant sauce was scraped away. “Lobstercargot” failed. This was a dish served in a traditional escargot plate, little chunks of lobster in a traditional garlic and butter sauce. Something went wrong. Cheese (possibly cream) was added to the sauce. Glop. At end of the meal, very personable manager appeared and removed sangria and chowders from the bill. Apologized for the delays. Consolation for the bad meal was the very modest expense.

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An Italian Zabar’s in St. Petersburg

April 28th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

If you relish Italian food, visit Mazzaro’s Italian Market in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is a vast, busy Italian food emporium that is an Italian version of New York’s famed Zabar’s. No housewares, but unlike Zabar’s there’s a butcher, fresh fish counter, greengrocer, pastry section, coffee bar and an encyclopedic array of fine wines. There are indoor and outdoor dining areas where one can order exceptional sandwiches and hot dishes. Row upon row of shopping aisles with shelves carrying an endless array of olive oils, vinegars, canned tomatoes, capers, sweet treats, etc., etc.. The scope is international. HG discovered six varieties of middle eastern halvah, for example. HG/SJ visited this extraordinary place for dinner fixings. Sausage, prosciutto, tomatoes, olives, ricotta, mozzarella, mortadella, bruschetta topping, almond honey bars, cheeses and rose and pinot noir wines. All of excellent quality. Dinner at home was outstanding (as usual). SJ prepared a big platter of antipasto. This was followed by SJ’s supreme version of linguine with oil, garlic, anchovies and chopped flat leaf parsley. An epic Italian-accented extravaganza. Viva Italia!! And, Viva SJ !!.

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Florida Bliss

April 26th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

HG/BSK plus SJ, Handsome Haru and delicious little Teru, are busy having sun and sea fun at the RAM SEA CONDO complex in the North Redington Beach neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Fla. The group has a nice and big beachfront space (three bedrooms and two bathrooms plus laundry room) with a spacious terrace overlooking the sea. Only thing missing is Exquisite Maiko. HG/BSK’s talented daughter-in-law is running ONI SAUCE at the Brooklyn Smorgasburg and delighting the crowds with her fabulous Japanese fried chicken, Gobo Chips and Beef Skewers all drenched in her incredible Chili (Rayu) and Onion sauces (also for sale). So, Florida fun this year without EM. Lots of sun and swimming today. Ocean water is warm and friendly. Ended sun fun with a hot tub soak and bracing shower. Raging dinner appetites. Off to Keegan’s Seafood Grille for a feast. Scallop ceviche. Conch fritters. Steamed, warm Gulf shrimp with melted butter. Gumbo. Broiled grouper with cole slaw and French fries. Fried calamari. Oysters–raw and steamed. (This was only disappointment. Not as tasty as last year’s bivalves. Must be getting them from another source). Back to the apartment for salt caramel gelato, almond honey crunch and bourbon whiskey. Joy. Joy. Joy.

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Keegan’s Seafood Grille

April 18th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

For the last days of HG/BSK/SJ and family’s Florida sun and sea extravaganza the restaurant of choice has been Keegan’s Seafood Grille in the Indian Rocks neighborhood of St. Petersburg’s Gulf Coast. This super casual place is perfect after a beach day. The atmosphere is laid back and joyous. The smiling waitpersons seem glad to see you. However, there’s nothing careless or slipshod about the food. Doing simple things perfectly takes discipline, And, Keegan’s got a disciplined kitchen staff. Oysters arrive perfectly chilled and perfectly shucked (these are the best Gulf oysters HG has ever encountered). “U-Peel-Um” shrimp arrive warm, firm and bursting with flavor, ready for a bath in melted butter enlivened with hot sauce. Grilled or blackened Grouper and Amberjack taste fresh from the sea. There’s succulent, tender octopus (a signature dish). The octopus is steeped in olive oil and garlic, “charbroiled” and finished on “a hot lava stone.” Some outstanding conch dishes: conch salad, cracked conch, conch fritters. An innovative snack of deep fried JalapeƱo peppers stuffed with cream cheese and crab. A Greek influenced dish of shrimp, feta cheese and hot peppers served in a terrine. Fried soft shell crab sandwiches. Gumbo (HG found it equal to N’Awlins’ best). Georgia low country She Crab soup. Oyster stew. There’s very good India Pale Ale on tap (no hard liquor is served, alas). Low prices. High spirits. Honest food. Keegan’s got it all.

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Washington Heights (Florida Style)

April 17th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

HG is rapidly becoming the color of an antique mahogany chest. Ah, that St. Petersburg sun. HG/BSK’s grandson, Handsome Haru, is now a shade of appetizing butterscotch. Adorable granddaughter Teru is bossing everyone around and responding to compliments on her unique cuteness with maidenly reserve. Yes, everyone is having a good time. Today’s big meal of the day is at Pepo’s Cuban Cafe. The casual eatery is reminiscent of the Cuban restaurants HG enjoyed when doing business with real estate clients in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. (This was where the first wave of Cuban emigres settled in New York City. Their New Jersey choice was Union City). Pepo’s menu features all of the classics—Cubanos (pressed ham, pickle, roast pork and cheese sandwiches); Picadillo, Ropa Vieja, Plantains–and, of course, black beans with white rice or saffron rice. A highlight of the menu is Pernil, slow roasted pork. Pepo’s calls the dish “The Original Pork.” That’s what HG ordered. A big bowl of shredded pork doused with flavorful juices from the roasting pan. The accompanying dish was a platter of saffron rice and black beans. Two salsas–red and green. Every element was perfect. Fluffy rice. Perfectly done beans bursting with a cuminy kick. Pork that captured the gusto of the tropics. And, the portions were super generous. SJ ordered the same dish while everyone else knocked off giant Cubanos. HG drank icy Yerba Mate soda (a sort of Cuban version of Cel-Ray Tonic). HG/BSK are hopeful the thaw in USA-Cuba relations will allow them to soon eat Cuban food in Havana.

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Beachcombers (And Food)

April 14th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

More sun. More sea. More fun. And, a nice surprise. Beautiful Zena B. has accompanied SJ and family. (The lovely lass doesn’t swim but sunbathes and hot tubs). Ram Sea, the condo/resort BSK selected, is comfy, convenient and friendly. Not to be mistaken for Palm Beach or the Riviera. Unchic. Caters to families from the South, midwest and Canada. Lots of kids and teens and college-agers. These teenagers and collegians are not the Spring Break cliche of wet-T-shirt-contest-having, beer swilling, vomiting-on-the-beach barbarians; rather, they seem to be busy all day flirting, joking, playing volleyball, kayaking, paddle boarding, throwing footballs, etc. BSK remarked on how beautiful and fit the young women looked — lean and athletic. These are young women who exercise and play soccer, tennis, volleyball, basketball, etc. The girls of HG’s generation (and possibly BSK’s) seemed forced into the role of beach bunnies whose principal activity was nurturing a tan. Our fellow vacationers at Ram Sea are a kind, courteous and helpful group of folks. When HG tripped leaving the sea (nothing serious), a half dozen young people and a group of oldsters raced to his rescue. Sun, swimming and sunset drinks on the terrace created raging hunger. HG, BSK, etc., abandoned seafood and drove to Pho Kien Kang, a Vietnamese restaurant. Egg rolls; big, steaming bowls of pho with sliced beef; grilled pork on “broken rice.” HG mused how immigrants have improved American restaurant cuisine. There are now few American cities where one can’t get a big bowl of good pho. Hopefully, when the Mideast madness simmers down, we’ll get a deluge of good Syrian and Iraqui eateries.

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Beachcombers

April 13th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

In St. Petersburg, Florida for annual visit with BSK’s very frail 95-year-old Mom (the brave lady hangs on and seems to enjoy seeing her family). BSK had the good idea of renting a 3-bedroom, 2-bath condo facing the Gulf of Mexico. SJ and family motored down from frozen Brooklyn for some much needed warm Florida sun; white, powdery sand beaches and sea swimming. HG/BSK arrived on a Saturday, did some necessary shopping for essentials, basked in the hot sun (temps in the high 80’s), swam in the warm sea, loosened muscles in a hot tub, showered and drank cold white wine on the sea facing terrace. Sunset over the Gulf was a dramatic blaze of color. Appetites well honed, HG/BSK were off to Leverock’s Restaurant for some traditional Gulf Coast seafood. Started off with some Gulf oysters (bland when compared to the briny Northeastern variety but tasty when enhanced by horseradish, lemon and hot sauce). Very good grilled Grouper with cole slaw and sweet potato fries. Shared a dessert of Key Lime pie. Went back to the restaurant on Sunday night after late afternoon arrival of SJ family. Easter Sunday crowd had demolished all of the oysters but the group managed to dine lavishly on fried shrimp, steamed snow crab, grilled Grouper, fried onion rings and a giant helping of shrimp and bacon over cheese grits. Shrimp in local St. Pete restaurants come from shrimp fleets (many manned by Vietnamese emigres) operating out of New Orleans and Galveston. These shrimp are fresh, juicy and much better than the frozen, tasteless variety served in Northern states. Happy mouthfuls.

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