Monday, December 27, 2010

Review : 'town

While browsing the streets of Avondale during the "Christmas in Avondale" celebration, I decided to give the much talked about " 'town " a try. I snagged a seat at the open kitchen bar, so I could get a full view of Executive Chef Scott Ostrander work his magic. Just like an alchemist brewing a concoction, I watched him add butter, stock, and mirepoix to a pan to begin making his bouillibase.

To begin, I ordered the Sweet Potato chips. These sweet potatoes were thinly sliced, almost translucent. Deliciously crispy, drizzled with a sherry-bacon dressing. The sprinkling of fresh parsley on top gives the dish a great peppery note. I love making sweet potatoes into something savory, and this hit that spot perfectly.

The bouillibase is served in it's own individual le cruset pot. The moment it's served, I can smell the inciting broth, with fennel and fresh herbs. The pot is filled with a generous portion of mussels, shrimp, fish, and half a lobster tail. Chef Olestrander did a great job with this marsaolle based dish. The dish was so wonderful, my only wish was that I had a crusty piece of French bread to soak up that wonderful, flavorful broth.

I had a wonderful meal expierence at 'town, and I plan on coming back for brunch soon.... I hear they put on a fantastic brunch!

'town on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: Via Napoli at Epcot


As if gorging ourselves on delicious treats throughout the day at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival wasn't enough, my girls and I had made reservations to eat at one of Epcot's newest restaurants, Via Napoli. This sit-down restaurant is another one of the fantastic dining options at Epcot, located (obviously) in the Italy Pavilion. It's menu features all kinds of Italian specialities, but it's shining star is PIZZA. You can't miss the three giant faces of the wood-fire pizza ovens, each named after active volcanoes in Italy.... there's Stromboli, Vesuvius, and Etna.


Walking in, you feel like you're instantly transported to a well worn in, much loved restaurant in the heart of Italy. The walls are painted with a nice fresco, with views of sun lit vineyards. It may seat 300 but it feels cozy at the same time. We were seated at the GIANT family style table in front of the pizza ovens, it seats about 40 people.

Picnik collage

We ordered a glass of red-wine sangria ($7.00) and an Aqua Fresca ($5.00), which is made in-house and is a combination of water, sugar, and fresh fruit. I ordered the Limonata flavor. It was like a better version of a homemade lemonade. Tart, refreshing, and a good way to begin our evening.

Picnik collage

Since there were three of us, we decided we wanted to try the Fritto Misto platter ($24.00), which is a sampler platter of a few of Via Napoli's appetizers. It comes with fried calamari, zucchini, asparagus, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, eggplant, and fried risotto balls. Served with a side of zesty marinara sauce, this was a HUGE hit with us. We all got to try different things, and there was plenty for all of us. My favorite was the fried asparagus, that was new for me and it was surprisingly delicious! I also ordered the Proscuitto e melone ($7.00), which was slices of juicy cantaloupe draped with thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma, and is one of my new favorite combinations in life!


Then the crowning glory of the evening arrived, our Quatro Formaggio pizza ($28.00 for the large) was here. Crispy crust, oozing melty cheese on top, this pizza looked divine and we hadn't even tasted it yet. With a blend of four cheeses : Mozzarella, Parmesan, Fontina, Provolone, this pizza's flavor was out of this world. It was without a doubt the richest, most delicious cheese pizza I've ever had. The only thing that could have made it better was if we had gotten sliced pepperoni on top to cut through some of the richness of the cheese. But it was still good either way!

Our server for the evening was Francesco and between him and the other waiters in the place, they had us in tears over how delightfully funny they all were. He was a wonderful server and we will be back to Via Napoli very soon!

Please note that park admission into Epcot is required, and it's highly recommended to make advanced reservations when visiting Disney World, you can call the dining hotline at 407-WDW-DINE or log into Disney's website and make online reservations there.

Via Napoli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Taverna San Marco

I'm lucky enough to get emails from Groupon on a daily basis, alerting me to special deals around Jacksonville. One afternoon, I saw that they had a deal going on for Taverna so I grabbed it and made plans to visit with an old friend of mine.

I made reservations for 8:00pm on a Friday night, which may have been a crazy mistake of mine.... the San Marco area on a Friday night has a serious lack of parking! After a few rounds up and down the boulevard (cue "Don't Stop Believing here) I finally found some parking and made my way in. So just a heads up if you plan to visit, get there way ahead of schedule so you can find parking.

The decor is very nice, the bar has rustic wood accents, the lighting is chic, and the layout is cozy. Our waitress came right out to present us with the charcuterie and cheese menu, along with the dinner menu, and described to us the specials of the day.

After a good look on the menu, my friend and I decided on the Gambas al ajillo ($9) (Prawns with garlic and chili), and the House-made mozzarella, Prosciutto di Parma, grilled peasant bread platter ($14) to start with.


The prawns arrived in a mini skillet, and were perfectly cooked. The tender shrimp were covered in a chili dry rub, then cooked in a sauce of sliced garlic, chili oil, and a squeeze of lemon. These were a great choice, and both of us used the rest of our peasant bread to soak up the rest of the juices.


Our platter came out on an aged wooden board, and was artfully presented. The slices of fresh mozzarella were drizzled with olive oil and smoked sea salt. The peasant bread was grilled and had a slight smoky flavor to it. The platter was even served with dried figs, which was a key element. The combination of these flavors with the silky prosciutto were marvelous.


My friend ordered the Skirt Steak a la Plancha ($22) for his entree. This skirt steak was served with roasted fingerling potatoes and a chimichurri sauce on top. This steak had such incredible flavors going on, with a bit of chili rub on the potatoes and steak, and the chimmichurri sauce was delicious.


I ordered the fish special of the evening, which was Tuna, so I got it Pesce style ($28). The tuna was seared, and then served with haricot verts, fennel, fingerling potatoes,
nicoise olives, tomato confit, fresh picked herbs. I chose to leave out the olives, but all of my other veggies were so fresh and amazing. The crisp fresh green beans and a perfectly seared piece of tuna was a good choice.


Not to be missed are the Patatas Bravas ($5), which are fried fingerling potatoes with spicy paprika served with a garlic ailoi. I would have been so happy having just these and the platter as my meal. Their garlic aioli is to die for, and if you want more to dip in, just request it and they will gladly bring you more!

We finished off the evening with a glass of Sorracco for me and a Sam Adams Oktoberfest Brew for him. An overall great evening trying out a new place that will definitely be added into a rotation for me!

Taverna on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Maple Cream Cheese frosting

This recipe is so delightfully simple and perfect for a lazy Sunday when the weather has cooled off. Make some of these, brew a pot of coffee, and grab your nearest book. I promise you'll have a good day.

1 box yellow cake mix
1 15oz can of pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

Mix all ingredients on low for 30 seconds, then mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scoop into cupcake liners and bake for at 350 degrees for 17-19 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Place on wire rack to cool.

1 8oz block cream cheese
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 of a 1lb bag of powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients until smooth and pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Review: Salt Life Food Shack

No matter where you go in Jacksonville you're bound to see the phrase "Salt Life" someplace. Whether it be a decal on the back of a car, or on a t-shirt or hat, just look around and you'll see it. What is Salt Life? It's about living a passionate life of enjoying saltwater sports. The company was founded 6 year ago here in Jacksonville Beach and has grown to a massive line of products featured in all types of surf shops around the globe.

Earlier this year, the folks at Salt Life opened up a restaurant in Jacksonville Beach named the Salt Life Seafood Shack. With a menu that heavily features seafood, there's also delicious choices for those "land lovers" as well. I felt like taking advantage of the gorgeous weather we had this weekend and decided it was high time I pay a visit to the Shack.

The decor inside is all aqua tile with wood accents. There is a salt water tank in the middle of the room. It's quite nice and casual all at the same time. Since I was alone, I grabbed a seat at the bar. I was greeted by a friendly waitress, who suggested I try the Tuna Poke bowl, which has been previously recommended to me by many people. Sounds right up my alley, I'll take it!

Tuna Poke Bowl

The Tuna Poke Bowl ($14.99) is a house speciality, served in a generous portion, with beautiful chunks of raw tuna avocados. Served on a bed of sticky rice and sauteed spinach. The top is sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions. The soy based sauce has a slight kick to it, and any one that's a fan of spicy tuna rolls, this is a dish for you. It's such a refreshing dish, so light and filling. Perfect after a day on the waves!

Other menu items include:

  • Beer Can Chicken ($9.99): smoked chicken with a maple glaze and served with roasted corn.
  • Beach Boil ($11.99): shrimp, crab legs, sausage, corn, and potatoes. Similar to a low-country boil.
  • Ensenada Taco ($8.49): You choice of grilled Mahi or shrimp and chorizo, served with cabbage slaw and cilantro lime sauce.

They have specials featured every day of the week, so stop by next time you're at Jax Beach and "get Salty!"

Salt Life Food Shack on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Urban Flats

Located in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the Southside is a new place called Urban Flats. It's the newest apres-work watering hole for the blue collar workers. The inside is sleek and modern, there's a huge outdoor seating area with barstools, tables, and comfy couches that will be wonderful for those nights it finally starts to cool down here in Jacksonville.

For a starter, I ordered the Urban Stix ($4.50). These are flat straws made from the same whole wheat dough as their flatbreads. They're baked with smoked gouda cheese and sea salt. What a great bar snack..... the spicy mustard is perfect accompaniment with the smokiness of the cheese. You'll want to enjoy these with a icy cold beverage. I paired it with a generously poured glass of Wente Vineyards Reisling ($8.00).

Since Urban Flats is mainly known for their flatbreads, I ordered the prosciutto and fig flatbread ($9.00). It's topped with slices of prosciutto, bleu cheese crumbles, honeyed figs, mozzarella, and chives. The flatbread is slightly crisp on the bottom and still semi chewy. You get this great combination of savory/sweet with the sweetness of the rich honeyed figs and that salty hit from the prosciutto and bleu cheese. The mozzarella is there to bind it all together and makes sure that the other toppings don't go sliding off every which way.

I really enjoyed my evening here. There was an acoustic guitar performer strumming away and the crowd was quite lively. It makes for a nice spot for a evening with your significant other, girls only night, or your work crew. Try it next time after you're catching a movie over at TinselTown!

Urban Flats on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Easy Key Lime Pound Cake

Anytime there's a bake sale at my work, I always get asked to bring a little something. I decided to switch it up from my normal goods and bring a pound cake. I have a great and super easy pound cake recipe that impresses everyone!

1 box Lemon cake mix
1 box Lemon flavored instant pudding
4 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup Key Lime Juice
1/4 cup water
Zest of 1 lime
Can of cream cheese frosting

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F . Prep your Bundt pan with Pam or any type of grease or flour.
  2. Combine all your ingredients (except for the frosting) in a mixer, and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepped Bundt pan.
  3. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Once you remove it from the oven, let it sit in the pan for about 10 minutes on a cooling rack. After resting, take it out of the pan and sit on cooling rack until completely cooled. Transfer to plate or platter of your choice.
  4. When ready to frost the cake, remove the lid and seal from container of frosting. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, until frosting is pourable.
  5. Casually pour the melted frosting over the cake, looking like a complete domestic diva.
This cake is fabulous and easy for so many occasions. And you can change it up with different cake flavors and juices. I think a chocolate cake with coffee used in place of the juice and water, along with some melted Nutella drizzed on top would be wonderful!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: Bistro Aix


Right in the heart of San Marco and 5 Points, lies Bistro Aix. I have had many of my foodie friends gush over how delicious it really is, so I decided to treat my mom to a dinner there before catching Mamma Mia at the Times Union Center.

The atmosphere is bistro/lounge hybrid. Exposed brick walls combined with hammered metal bartops creates a cool look.

Our server handed us the menus, and even they had a nice well worn copper look about them. A definite first for any place I've been to in Jacksonville.

Mom and I scanned the menu and each decided to try the $29 Prix Fixe menu. I decided to get the Fire roasted Tomato soup, Mussles Frites, and Profiteroles. Mom got the French Onion Soup, Roasted Chicken with port and mushroom sauce, and the German Chocolate cake.

Our soups came out, steamy and hot, in these adorable mini tureens. My tomato soup was garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and chives. Mom's french onion looked like it was straight from a Parisian Bistro with the broiled gryuere and toast on top. The first taste of my soup, I could taste that delicious smoky tomato note. I took a bite of mom's and the broth had a deep and rich onion and herb flavor. We both at as much as we could, and our server brought our entrees.



Mom's chicken looked delicious, the chicken's skin was roasted to perfection and was lovingly surrounded with the roasted mushrooms and cipolini onions in the decadent port reduction.


My Mussles Frites looked incredible. They were drizzled with a saffron garlic aioli, served with toast pointes to soak up the broth. But the superstar of the evening was the fries. I could sing praises for days about these fries. Hand cut, double fried, tossed in cracked salt and pepper, chopped rosemary, and thyme. Every bite had me groaning and exclaiming how amazing they really are.

I was completely shocked that I actually saved some room for the dessert, and I am glad I did. My profiteroles were served with vanilla bean ice cream and drizzled with warm chocolate ganache and caramel.

Profiteroles at Bistro Aix

Mom's German Chocolate Cake was a generous slice, served with fresh berries. She said it was one of the best tasting German Chocolate cakes that she has ever had.

German Chocolate Cake Bistro Aix

If you're looking for a fantastic meal here in Jacksonville, but want to try something new, drive over to Bistro Aix for a meal you're not soon to forget!

Bistro Aix on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Review: Bento Cafe at St. John's Town Center


One of my new go-to places out at the Town Center is Bento Cafe, located in the same area as Best Buy/Toys R Us/ Ulta.

They call themselves "Pan-Asian", and they have menu items featured from multiple Asian cuisines. In fact, when you walk in, there's two menus, one is the Kitchen Menu and features dishes like Garlic Broccoli, Curries, Kung Pao, and the other menu is strictly sushi. For this visit I figured I'd try a little of both.

I start off by ordering one of my favorite cold drinks.... Boba Tea ($3.25) . It's a blended drink that has sweet and chewy tapioca pearls floating in the bottom. I was delighted to find they had Honeydew as a flavor choice, it's always my preferred flavor! Within a minute or two, I was happily slurping down my drink. Cold, sweet, refreshing. Make sure you don't suck up that drink too fast, otherwise you're likely to start choking on one of those tapioca pearls!


For my sushi selection, I picked my old standby, a spicy tuna roll ($6.25). I can always judge a place by how good the spicy tuna roll is. The roll arrived so nicely plated and drizzled with a spicy shrimp sauce. Inside the roll, the tuna was seasoned perfectly, with the perfect bite of heat from the sriacha mixed in with it.


For my entree, I ordered the Garlic Chicken and Broccoli Bento Box ($7.50). I love how visually appealing this looks in the seperated compartments! Each bento box comes with small sides of ginger salad, white rice, noodles, and vegetables. You can also order the entrees as a Noodle Bowl (served over udon noodles) or as a Rice Bowl (served over white rice). My garlic chicken was very flavorful, and even had a slight bit of spicyness from the kung pao sauce they toss it in. The ginger salad was fresh, I always enjoy the ginger dressing. After my tea and sushi roll, I couldn't finish my entire bento box.


I frequent this place quite often now, pretty much go every other week. I always know I can get a good meal here, and get my sushi fix for a great price! And right next door is the ever delicious Mochi frozen yogurt... but I'll save that review for another day!

Bento Cafe Pan Asian and Sushi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: French Pantry

One of my favorite lunch spots in all of Jacksonville is The French Pantry. Located in what looks like an old warehouse, this place is truly a treasure.

Only open from 11-2:15, Monday thru Friday, there is almost always a line that goes out the door. Seating inside is at French farmhouse tables, and more than likely, you will be sharing your table with others. Your menu choices of the day are featured on 3-4 chalkboards. As you wait in line, you can check out the menus, French Pantry is well known for their Bruscetta, which is unlike any you've had! They also have salads, sandwiches, and sometimes soup. The best part is that they feature items that change daily. Sometimes you can get lucky and they will have the crab cakes or Bang Bang shrimp salad. Two things NOT to miss if you see them. This is also the kind of place where everything is made fresh for you, to order, and once they are out of that item for the day, it gets wiped from the blackboards. Drinks to choose from include water, brewed iced tea, Diet Coke, regular Coke, or Sprite. They do have coffee and espresso available.

Once you place your order, you will be directed to a table, and fresh bread quickly follows you to your table. A steamy loaf of bread served with a bowl of dipping spices, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar is yours to share with your table mates. Your food is brought out very quickly, faster than most table service restaurants. At our table that day, there was very little talking, the only sounds you could hear were sighs and groans of contentment. My party ordered the Chicken and Artichoke bruscetta with goat cheese, the Fried Shrimp and Green tomato salad, and I got the Ar
tichoke, Prosciutto, and mozzarella Bruscetta. Most items are served with a small mixed green salad. Food is never scarce here, you will be stuffed if you eat it all!

The French Pantry also has a delicious selection of desserts to choose from, and it changes daily. Popular items are the Strawberry Cake, Carrot Cake, German Chocolate cake, and the White Chocolate Cheesecake. Make sure you ask for it when you order, because if you think about it and try to get it later, it may not be available anymore! You can also purchase freshly baked bread and rolls while you're there. Some choices include French baguettes, 7 grain, whole wheat, goat cheese and sun dried tomato foccica, and their delightful goat cheese rolls.

Menu items range anywhere from $8-$12, and desserts are $5.50 a slice. Definetly check this plac out for lunch one day, trust me, you'll be hooked!

French Pantry on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 1, 2010

Guy Fieri and Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives: Metro Diner

I was invited to participate in a taping of Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives at the Metro Diner in San Marco. Let me first say that I'm pretty much a Food Network junkie. I pretty much always have it on, no matter what time of day it is. When I got wind from a friend that Guy was going to be filming in the area, I got SO excited!

The morning started at 10am. Guy and crew were already inside hard at work filming the dishes to spotlight, which were the "Yo Hala on the Square" stuffed french toast, the Pittsburg Steak Salad, and the Mealoaf Plate.I don't want to really give away all the behind the scene secrets as to how it all happens...but I will say that I did finally get interviewed by the producer about what I thought about the place and the food. I hope they like my interview enough to show it on TV :)

I leave you with a few photos!

Me posing with Guy's Camaro
Guy, standing out on San Jose Blvd about to cause an accident.
Guy giving a description of the exterior. The older man is the Field Producer, Mike Morris. VERY nice man and really funny!

This guy's nickname is "Fraggle" and he does most of the prep stuff w/ the stand ins, giving instructions and what not. He actually has the trailer with all the equipment and Camaro, and he is the one that drives it everywhere. Cool guy to talk to, he said it's great checking out the entire USA from the road.

Metro's Menu board.... if you look in the top left corner, you can see where Guy spraypainted his logo and autographed it!

Crabcakes Benedict.... SO good at Metro Diner!!

The Yo Hala on the Square and the Pittsburg Steak Salad

Metro Diner on Urbanspoon

**UPDATE** The episode will be airing on Monday, September 20th at 10:00pm! The episode is titled "You Found 'Em". Here's the link to the episode.

THEY SHOWED ME 4 TIMES!!! OMG! I can't believe it!