Citizens Kitchen and Bar, Las Vegas NV

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Citizens Kitchen and Bar

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Lavazza Coffee

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Ultimate Tots Smothered & Covered – Cheddar, Chicken Gravy

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The Big Meatball Parm – Beef, Pork, Grandma’s Gravy, Ricotta

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Kobe Chili Cheese Fries – Kobe Sirloin, Cheese Sauce, Waffle Fries

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Chicken & Waffles – Bacon and Cheddar Waffle, Fried Chicken, Jalapeno Maple Syrup

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Crème Brulee French Toast – Strawberries, Custard, Whipped Cream

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Red Velvet Pancakes – Whipped Cream Cheese

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Classic Carrot Cake – Cream Cheese Frosting

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Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookie

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Perfectly fine with French food and well experienced with ‘modernist’ cuisine, both at local spots as well as internationally revered recipients of three Michelin Stars, but born in the Midwest and raised on anything but foie gras or liquid nitrogen cocktails suffice it to say that I’m a fan of the whole “upscale American” movement – the sort of food that takes the shake n’ bake that mother used to make and turns it into something worth leaving the house for, the sort of food that critics love to critique even though they likely cannot make it as well themselves…the sort of food being served at Citizens Kitchen and Bar in Mandalay Bay.

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Open 24/7, and operated by the now Hakkasan-acquired Light Group, it was just after 11am that a friend and I arrived at the Citizen hostess podium and dining as guests of the manager it was mere moments before we were led to a large four-top at the restaurant’s back corner – the low-slung leather banquets of soft leather so comfortable that one might want to take a nap in them, particularly with the sounds of Dylan, Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd playing from the speaker system above.

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Obviously a restaurant of dual personalities, the weekend brunch a casual and laid back affair while late nights are said to be a raucous mess of patrons exiting nearby Light Nightclub, it was under the watchful eye of a British gentleman named Tim that our meal took place and whether an effect of being known to the chef or simply the young man’s mannerisms the service could not have been better – easily the best I’ve experienced in Mandalay Bay with plenty of whit and knowledge to compliment an eight plate feast with enough food that it could have fed two-to-three more.

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Noting up front that the ‘grab n’ go’ section is mostly devoid of housemade options, instead outsourcing all but the cookies and a few cakes due to kitchen constraints, it was with four savory dishes that the meal began and with plenty of par-for-the-course Lavazza to wash it all down the first round was a bit of a mixed bag – the chicken and waffles excessively priced at $24 with both items less crunchy than would be ideal, though the tots and waffle fries each proved crisp and quite capable of holding up to cheese and meats with substantial depth of flavor, an adult-fist of a meatball also standing out with impressive tenderness beneath a good sear in a bath of bright tomato sauce with grated cheese adding just enough salinity to make it all shine.

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Moving next to a duo of sweets, it was somewhat surprising that the Red Velvet Pancakes were not to be found on the weekend menu, but with a simple request a substantial stack of three Frisbee-sized discs was produced with each proving exceptionally fluffy and loaded with cocoa beneath a checkerboard of cream cheese frosting, the neighboring French Toast another hefty option with a crunchy topcoat overlying four supple-centered slices dripping with custard as fresh cream and strawberries completed the picture – both plates on par with the best in the city, and the former amongst the best nationwide.

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Unwilling to forgo desserts, and as such requesting the rest of the pancakes be packed up, it was with little hesitation that a slice of carrot cake was ordered and clocking in at probably 12-ounces the four layer slice would prove not only enormous but also outstanding, the moist base bespeckled with carrots, raisins, and nuts amidst a bold spice heavy in cinnamon and nutmeg – a pair of freshly made cookies proving equally delicious and thus leaving one to wonder just how much better Citizens could be if it brought the whole pastry department in house.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Sporting prices similar to other spots on it’s ilk, with a menu built to please anyone at any time of day, one would be hard pressed to name a better 24/7 dining option on the south side end of The Strip than Citizens Kitchen and Bar and with hats off to service as well as hopes for more focus on the pastry program in the coming months it will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes under new management…though hopefully it won’t be the music, pancakes, or Parm.

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RECOMMENDED: The Big Meatball Parm, Kobe Chili Cheese Fries, Red Velvet Pancakes

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AVOID: Chicken & Waffles, Outsourced Pastry (Muffins, Cupcakes, Brownies, Croissants)

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TIP: Offering various menus at different times during the day, those interested in specific items would be well advised to check in advance, though to keep it simple “breakfast” is offered until 11am seven days a week with the restaurant then transitioning to Lunch/Dinner Monday through Friday and Brunch on weekends, the brunch lasting until 4pm before becoming Dinner.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://citizenslasvegas.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Citizens, Citizens Kitchen and Bar, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Pork, Waffles

MiX [2,] Las Vegas NV

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MiX

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Double Espresso over Ice

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XXL Rum Baba – Monte-Carlo style

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Profiteroles – Vanilla Ice Cream, Warm Homemade Chocolate Sauce

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Chocolate Souffle – Pistachio Ice Cream

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Warm Madeline – Warm Nutella

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Unable to resist the allure of a three-foot-long Baba Au Rhum, no matter how full from a several course feast at Veranda, it was up the exterior facing glass elevator that myself and two friends ascended to Alain Ducasse’s soon to reboot MiX and meeting two more at a ten-top table in the center of a cascade of glass bubbles it was in conversation and desserts that we partook, another double espresso over ice at half the price of the Four Seasons Lavazza proving a perfect accompaniment to the four-plate proceedings.

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Truly one of the most stunning rooms in Las Vegas, with nearly panoramic reviews of the Strip and beyond, it was entry that we saw the object of our desire and admittedly having experienced the dessert several times in the past in locations from New York to London the tableside preparation was slightly less dramatic than that at the others while the choice of rum was a well-culled trio, myself opting for the lightest option while others veered spicy – all with stellar results over the apricot glazed cake with plenty of cream.

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Deciding to also invest in a shared soufflé that proved an impeccable display of rich dark chocolate amidst an ethereal base that found much needed levity in a quenelle of pistachio ice cream, it was next in six sliced balls of crispy pate a choux surrounding smooth vanilla that we indulged and topping each one with thick chocolate fudge the third Ducasse classic was perhaps the best version of the dessert I’ve tasted to date – a compliment of questionably equal applicability to the hot-from-the-pan Madeline, a lightly crisp edge over delicate sponge that was delicious on its own and all the better when dipped in a sidecar of warm hazelnut spread.

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FOUR STARS: Advertising, to some degree, that the whole three-foot baba would be served at a cost of $12 one rationally assumed that deal was too good to be true, and instead charging $12 per person for what would amount to perhaps a two inch slice the portion was still quite generous considering the version in London goes for about $26 per person – though with far more pomp and circumstance. Truly a beautiful space it will be interesting to see where the Delano takes Ducasse and “Rivea,” but as long as they keep the signatures there is no doubt it is a space worth visiting, even if only for dessert with a view.

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RECOMMENDED: Baba Au Rhum, Profiteroles, Souffle.

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AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: Shuttering to redecorate after the New Year’s Eve festivities but offering the XXL Baba through the end of the year those looking for this particular presentation should head over to the Delano soon.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

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http://www.delanolasvegas.com/dining/mix-at-delano.aspx

Mix on Urbanspoon

Posted in Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Madeline, MiX, Nevada, Souffle

Veranda [2,] Las Vegas NV

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Veranda

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Olive and Rosemary Focaccia

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Pera – Bartlet Poached Pear, Spiced Goat Cheese, Endive, Pecans, Porto Dressing

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Sicilian Meatballs – San Marzano Tomatoes Sauce, Pecorino Romano

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Melenzana – Breaded Eggplant, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Smoked Mozzarella ‘Guazzetto’

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Margherita – Roma Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Micro Basil

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La Pasta Cotta Nel Vaso – Hand Cut Artichoke Pasta Cooked in a Jar, Scallops, Calamari, Shrimp, Tomatoes Basil, Caciucco Sauce

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Tortelloni Zucca e Manzo – Homemade Tortollini, Braised Short Rib, Pumpkin, Smoked Brown Butter, Sage, Winter Truffle

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Paccheri Napoletani – Napoleon Style Paccheri Pasta, 24 Hours Cooked Baby Pork Ribs Ragu, Italian Sausage, San Marzano Tomatoes

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Tagliolini Ai Gamberi – House Made Saffron Tagliolini, Prawn, Sea Beans

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Pollo Cacciatora – Half Chicken Stew Cacciatora Style, Roman Tomatoes, Red Bell Pepper, Organic Creamy Polenta

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Patate e Funghi – Petite Potatoes, Wild Mixed Mushrooms, Marsala / Carota- Rainbow Baby Carrots, Black Olives Powder

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Apple & Fig Crostada – Burnt Orange and Vanilla Bean Reduction, Panna Cotta Gelato

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Meyer Lemon Zeppole – Passion Fruit, Honey, Blackberry Syrup

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Amaretto Tiramisu – Crispy Basket of Hazelnut, White Chocolate, Espresso Gelato, Orange Flavored Cotton Candy

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Double Espresso and Ice with biscotti

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Visited just weeks ago for brunch as a guest of the Four Seasons there was little doubt that a return to Veranda was in order, and when the recently renovated restaurant decided to open its doors at 50% off to any diner making a December reservation on Black Friday the deal proved too hard to resist – the discount proving most fortuitous in the setting of a restaurant that has the gall to charge $14 for two tiny eggplant rolls and $12 for double espresso of less-than-ideal Lavazza served alongside, not over, ice as if defying one to make a mess in trying to do it themself.

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Acknowledging the fact that the first experience at Veranda was coordinated by PR with superlative service from start to finish, suffice it to say that a second meal booked under the name of two friends offered less impressive timing and having ordered substantially with requests for items to be sent out in a rather specific manner the start of the meal was almost inexplicably rushed – the delicious and soft focaccia hitting the table before menus were even opened and both fourteen dollar meatballs and the aforementioned eggplant arriving before a few small bites of brilliantly balanced salad were fully consumed.

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Treated next to a pizza that featured a surprisingly buttery crust with little char and rather flavorless tomatoes that thankfully received an upgrade from thickly applied Mozzarella and light accents of basil it would not be long before an onslaught of primi arrived and with the four-top table as well as meager sharing plates obviously overburdened despite our server personally suggesting he would “space out the pastas” two of the dishes were immediately sent back to the kitchen – Chef Minichiello obviously taking the gesture seriously by not only coming out to personally apologize, but also individually plating each subsequent course in tasting-menu fashion.

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Speaking specifically to the quality of the noodles, aside from the signature “jar” with pasta that logically becomes a bit soft due to the cooking technique, it can only be said that most of Minichiello’s housemade creations are served with textbook consistency and with the two meaty courses more ‘up front’ with the flavors of slow-cooked proteins allowed to shine the flavors of the Pasta Cotta Nel Vaso and Tagliolini were far more restrained, the first melding shellfish and herbs with light cream while the later was an aromatic masterpiece, the saffron and sea beans each offering their unmistakable flavors in balance to sweet, snappy prawns.

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Pairing a half-chicken cooked Cacciatora-style, with far better results than that at Giada according to my two friends, to two sides that were simple yet impeccably prepared to maximize the flavor of every ingredient it was at this point that each in our party noted that we were becoming quite full and yet with a half-off dessert menu featuring no less than seven items I’d have liked to try it was with some restraint that only three were ordered – the doughnuts a but underwhelming when compared to the buttery seasonal Crostada, but neither even in the same ballpark as the ‘signature’ in terms of taste or presentation, the cotton-candy topped pedestal featuring soft lady fingers and mascarpone soaked in Amaretto with boozy blueberries and three balls of ice cream making for one heck of a ‘sundae.’

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Tipping on the pre-discount total to the tune of just over $200 for the table it must be said that considering the cost of the meal Veranda presented one of the best dining values on the Strip in this particular circumstance, but taking into account the service gaffs and truly laughable coffee upcharge the question becomes whether yet another visit could be justified at double the price – something I cannot say I’m certain about at this point, though with selective ordering one could undoubtedly put together an excellent meal under $100 per person, including a glass of wine, for a special occasion.

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RECOMMENDED: Tortelloni Zucca e Manzo, Carota, Amaretto Tiramisu.

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AVOID: Melenzana, Margherita Pizza, Zeppole, Coffee.

TIP: Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner those looking to dine at Veranda are well advised to either call the restaurant or contact them via e-mail for current menus, the Four Season’s antiquated website still infrequently updated and refusing to offer prices.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.fourseasons.com/lasvegas/dining/restaurants/veranda/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pizza, Pork, Tiramisu, Truffle, Veranda

3940 Coffee and Tea, Las Vegas NV

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3940 Coffee and Tea

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Pecan Sticky Bun

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Red Velvet Cupcake

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Peanut Butter Cookie

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Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

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Campfire ‘Smores Cookie

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Located off the lobby of the recently rebranded Delano, with a trendy wooden décor “inspired by desert shade’” and several styles of seating juxtaposing a small bar flanking a marble hearth, 3940 ups the ante in the world of casino coffee shops not only in terms of styling but also in offerings, a variety of overpriced artisan sandwiches served alongside an impressive lineup of pastries, lattes, juices, and teas.

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Legalistically named and across the way from Franklin it was just after 3pm that I arrived at the brightly lit bar and with folks from an ongoing tech conference occupying several tables as well as the leather recliners in the corner a quick chat with friendly baristas yielded a double espresso over ice and a six-part sampling of the day’s pastries, the total just under twenty-seven dollars.

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Noting that $5 for a double over ice is more-or-less the going price at every Strip-side Starbucks suffice it to say that the Grand Avenue Roasted shots from 3940 are a significant upgrade over the competition, and with similar praise lavished on a warm sticky bun that somehow maintains crunchy layers of lamination beneath a mountain of candied pecans and butter one only wishes the rest of the wares could have been so good, the cupcake far better to look at than to eat given the substantially sweet and paste-thick icing while each of the cookies, save for graham-cracker caramel studded ‘Smores, was almost brownie-dense and entirely one note.

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TWO AND A HALF STARS: Offering better coffee than almost any coffee bar on the strip, along with several interesting lattes and fresh squeezed juices, but exceedingly expensive for sandwiches that look no more interesting than Panera it seems the best bet for a visit to 3940 is for beverages alone and although the sticky bun is quite excellent, an even better version can be had fresh to order from Della’s Kitchen just down the hall.

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RECOMMENDED: Espresso, Sticky Bun, Campfire ‘Smores Cookie.

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AVOID: Cupcake, Cookies in general – particularly the overly sweet chocolate chip.

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TIP: Open 6a-4p daily, and check out the complimentary flavored water from the hotel lobby while viewing the exploding rock art just across from check-in.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://delanolasvegas.com/dining/3940-coffee-and-tea.aspx

Posted in 3940, 3940 Coffee and Tea, Breakfast, Coffee, cupcakes, Dessert, Food, Las Vegas, Nevada

Layers Bakery Cafe Westside, Las Vegas NV

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Layers Bakery

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Grizzle Nickel Bar

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Chocolate Chip Cookie / Molasses Cookie

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Chocolate Whoopie Pie

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Apple Coffee Cake

Promoting a natural and organic approach to all of their products Layers Bakery is the sort of place anyone with a substantial sweet tooth should really want to like, but with a first visit to the flagship proving rather underwhelming it was almost a year later that a trip to the smaller storefront on Medical Center Street finally took place – the results equally unimpressive as a stripped down selection due to “lack of demand” yielded only one memorable item out of an order of five.

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Perhaps one third the size of the original, tucked away next to the Hospital just off the 215, it was admittedly a trip to the nearby FedEx that took me to the smaller Layers and although service first chastised me for taking pictures, the young woman eventually lightened up and filled the order, all items wrapped in paper and placed in a pair of bags at a total of $17 as the rest of the staff stood in the kitchen without a single person to serve in the café.

Opting to take goods elsewhere to enjoy alongside coffee it was in the bakeless “Grizzle Nickel” bar that I first partook and although interestingly textured with graham, coconut, chocolate chips, and peanuts all competing for palate space the flavor was largely that of the bittersweet chocolate that dominated, a flavor I’d find far more subdued in a chocolate chip cookie that was quite decent, though nothing the average baker couldn’t make just as well at home.

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More impressed by a molasses cookie that featured a far bolder spice profile than most restaurants or bakeries would be willing trot out while the coffee cake proved too dry in areas not in direct contact with the admittedly delicious apples, it was after more coffee that the refrigerated whoopie pie was explored but despite having allowed it about an hour to warm up the now room-temperature palm-sized disc still proved far too ‘cakey’ while the filling was pasty and thick, not smooth and creamy like several experienced in the past.

TWO AND A HALF STARS: Giving them credit for trying to do what is right it can only be said that Layers simply does not execute as well as other bakeries speckled across the valley and with none of their cakes offered at this location while only one is cut daily at the Henderson flagship I simply cannot justify recommending them to anyone, there are simply better options to be had.

RECOMMENDED: Molasses Cookie.

AVOID: Whoopie Pie. Also, the Coffee Cake, though the sour cherry version was much better at the Henderson location, so perhaps this one…or that…was an anomaly.

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TIP: Closed on Sunday and Monday, open 8a-3p Tues-Friday, 9a-2p Saturday.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

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http://www.layersbakery.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Las Vegas, Layers, Layers Bakery Cafe, Layers Bakery Cafe Westside, Nevada

Bite Breakfast & Lunch, Las Vegas NV

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Bite Breakfast & Lunch

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Bottomless Coffee

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BEER CAKES – Guinness beer batter with crispy smoked Applewood bacon pieces

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BITE’S ULTIMATE PANCAKES – Fresh egg surrounded by our buttermilk pancake batter filled with bacon and sausage pieces

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MONTE CRISTO FRENCH TOAST – Turkey, ham fried egg & Swiss cheese

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FUNFETTI PANCAKES – Cake batter with rainbow sprinkles and topped with yogurt (…or not, bro)

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CHOCOLATE MOCHA WAFFLE – Whipped cream and chocolate fudge

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MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP PANCAKE – Minty green pancake batter, loaded with chocolate chips and topped with whipped cream and chocolate fudge

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BANANA NUT FRENCH TOAST – Homemade banana nut bread dipped into our French toast egg batter, grilled and topped with sliced bananas

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Replacing the shuttered Sun City Café, Bite quickly garnered attention when I discovered it was less than ten minutes from home and giving the restaurant a few weeks to get its footing before paying a visit with three friends the simple conclusion is that either they still haven’t figured it out, or perhaps that they never will.

Located in a strip mall, pretty standard for Las Vegas, Bite is the invention of Chef Andrey Ariza and having personally contacted the restaurant weeks prior to find the website and menu (and subsequently linking it to their urbanspoon, yelp, and foursquare accounts) the first tip-off regarding customer service occurred when their online question form went unanswered and finding similarly disinterested staff located in store suffice it to say that those who drink their coffee quickly should sit close enough to the back of the restaurant to fill their own – the bottomless cup of $2.85 brew admittedly good, though the temperature could have stood to be turned up a few degrees.

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Pleasantly decorated for Christmas, with a small kitchen and at least three line cooks manning the fryers and grills, it was with football in the background that an order was placed and requesting the food in two rounds the items rolled out at a good pace – the mistaken substitution of pancakes for French Toast one flaw, while the ‘funfetti’ stack was served without yogurt as though no one would notice – a later excuse of “we just replaced it with butter, sorry ‘bout that bro” apparently felt to be service-recovery enough.

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Speaking to the quality of the food, much like the rest of Bite it was a bit of a mixed bag, the first round of savories honestly proving superior to the second set of sweets with the Monte Cristo fairly well constructed despite being unfried while the “Ultimate” was interesting if only for the runny eggs at the center, though this also contributed to a substantial degree of sogginess when taking into account the somewhat greasy sausage, the Beer Cakes surprisingly my favorite plate with light hoppiness and a crispy griddled layer overlying a fluffy center that paired nicely with smoky bacon.

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Transitioning to more childish delicacies after a bit of respite, and a couple of trips to the coffee machine as the restaurant began to fill, 09:10:11 on 12/13/14 arrived just after unordered banana pancakes and funfetti pancakes lacking the menu-promised yogurt arrived and returning the first while settling for flavors no different than average white bread in the other it was in the crispy chocolate waffle and a single $3 mint flapjack that we indulged, both decent but nothing to write home about, while the late arriving Banana Nut French Toast was admittedly quite good, a crispy topcoat overlying a pudding like center with plenty of bananas made all the better by a drizzle of warm maple syrup.

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TWO STARS: Stunningly unapologetic for serving items without the toppings promised on the menu and mostly underwhelming in their execution of plates that sound far more interesting than they taste one of my dining companions summed Bite up best when she said that it seemed they were trying to capitalize on the success of BabyStacks, but with four of them already populating a valley with plenty of competition from EggWorks, The Cracked Egg, Blueberry Hill, Hash House, and so many others that offer a better overall experience I’m not really sure Bite offers any good reason to go back.

RECOMMENDED: Beer Cakes, Banana Nut French Toast.

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AVOID: Funfetti Pancakes (particularly without the yogurt,) and letting the Ultimate sit for too long as the rim around the egg became congealed and quite unpleasant.

TIP: Currently offering a Buy-One-Get-One Entrée deal, those interested in checking out Bite at a bargain are advised to watch the Review-Journal or community delivered “View” with the caveat that the deal is only available M-F (just like deal offered at The Cracked Egg.)

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://thebitelv.com

Bite on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bite, Bite Breakfast & Lunch, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Pork, The Bite LV, Waffles

FIX, Las Vegas NV

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FIX

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Iced Tea

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Prosciutto Wrapped Dates – Chorizo, Roasted Piquillo & San Marzano Sauce

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Lobster Tacos – Grilled Mango, Cilantro

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Duck Prosciutto Flat Bread – Fromage Blanc, Onions, Pecorino Cheese, Rocket

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Wood Grilled Bruschetta – Greek Yogurt, Citrus, Blackberry Jam

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Duck & Waffles – Confit, Fried Egg, Maple Bourbon Syrup

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Ultimate Very Adult Mac & Cheese – Truffle Oil, Prosciutto

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100-Day Dry Aged Bone-In Tomahawk Ribeye with Lobster Whipped Potatoes and Sweet Corn Spoon Bread

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Warm Doughnuts – Apple Pie Filled, Rum Raisin and Cinnamon Apple Dipping Sauce

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Warm Banana Bread – Coconut Ice Cream, Malibu Anglaise

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Chocolate S’mores – Flourless Chocolate Cake, Graham Crunch, Milk Chocolate Pudding, Burnt Fluff

Noting up front that our table was spared the Las Vegas Boulevard upcharge, present at nearly every restaurant stretching from Mandalay Bay to the Stratosphere as we were dining as the guests of Brian Massie, it was just prior to 8pm that myself and a friend sat down at Bellagio’s FIX and with a warm welcome from hostesses up front, and superlative service throughout, the menu selected by Executive Chef Renieri Caceres proved every bit the innovative expression of American comfort foods that it is billed to be.

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Unabashedly trendy, with a low-lit space that spans a long stretch of the gaming floor next to the Via Bellagio shops, FIX is the oldest of Chef Massie’s Light Group ventures and although a bit more ‘clubby’ than some might prefer as music bumps overhead the noise never once inhibited conversation, though the $20 cocktails fueling surrounding tables at times did incite the occasional loud moment as we dined on ten plates from which only the tiny lobster tacos proved underwhelming in any way.

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Served in four courses, from a trio of servers who kept water and iced tea flowing while providing ample descriptions of each course throughout the night, it was with the aforementioned tacos alongside three additional appetizers that the evening began and although impressively plump dates stuffed with spicy chorizo were delicious atop smoky tomatoes while delicate cured duck dazzled atop a cracker-crisp crust it was the bruschetta and emulsified balls of Greek yogurt that proved the undeniable stunner of the opening act, a light citrus note melding the sour spread with lightly charred toast while a sidecar of jam and flakes of sea-salt were available to be added according to taste.

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Progressing next to an intermezzo, not originally offered as part of the menu but provided on request, round two arrived on piping hot cast iron and with crispy waffles, a fried egg, and maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels offering a breakfast-y backdrop the confit duck starred at the center, an intensely crisp skin overlying supple flesh with gaminess that rivaled the best renditions of the classic French dish that I’ve tasted to date…on either side of the Atlantic.

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Not especially a ‘steakhouse,’ but offering both wet and dry-aged steaks, it was with round three of the evening that Chef Caceres really went all-out and eschewing otherwise excellent sounding cuts it was to a 100-day-dry-aged Tomahawk that we were treated, each medium-rare bite imbued with a bleu-cheese funk far more impressive than that of Tampa’s famous Berns just one week prior and easily on par with the aged product offered at Carnevino, though not quite approaching that of their inimitable Riserva (in texture, flavor, or price.)

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Quite sated by the richness of proceeding courses, not to mention lobster mashed potatoes, batons of flash-fried grilled cheese with truffle imbued fondue, or reference standard spoonbread traditionally offered with a crispy pork shank I’d very much like to try next time around, it was with a trio of desserts that the evening would end and although both the hot donuts with a duo of rich sauces and the tender, tropically themed bread pudding were quite delicious it was the server-recommended S’mores that shined brightest, each bite reinventing the campfire classic with textures ranging creamy to crunchy as smokiness and light salinity prevented the composition from trending too sweet.

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FOUR STARS: A ‘mid-range’ option in the ever-swanky Bellagio, with prices expectedly trending a bit higher than one would likely pay elsewhere, FIX has been doing “upscale comfort food” for longer than most and although Chef Massie’s duties have now expanded beyond the Strip to Hearthstone the kitchen still seems to be firing on all cylinders while service and setting are energetic without being annoying, a rarity at similar restaurants…particularly here in Las Vegas.

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RECOMMENDED: Wood Grilled Bruschetta, Duck & Waffles, Warm Banana Bread, Chocolate S’mores, Dry Aged Beef (ours was the ‘nightly special’ detailed on the menu and may not be available at all times)

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AVOID: At $24 the Lobster Tacos simply did not offer enough lobster or flavor to justify the cost. $20 cocktails spiked with all sorts of oddities such as Red Bull and Gum Drops also seemed a bit excessive, though neither of us opted to imbibe.

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TIP: Open until 1am and offering a prix-fixe deal for those checking in on social media those looking to dine at FIX on a budget are advised to check it out, a 3+ course affair with several options available for just $60.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://fixlasvegas.com/

Fix on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, FIX, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Lobster, Nevada, Pork, Truffle, Waffles

Clear Sky Beachside Café, Clearwater FL

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Clear Sky Beachside Café

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Caramel Cinnamon Roll

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Smoked Gouda Grits

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Banana Nut Pancakes with Glazed Pecans

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Almond French Toast – Hazelnut Flavored Cinnamon Egg Batter topped with Roasted Slice Almonds, Powdered Sugar

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Stuffed French Toast with Ham, Swiss, Powdered Sugar, and Warm Berry Compote

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With miles of oceanfront the obvious draw of Clearwater Beach it would be foolish to say that part of the appeal of Clear Sky Beachside Café isn’t the nearby sand and sun, but with the water now trending a bit too chilly for all but the most dedicated or wet-suited it was with some surprise that we arrived to find the small restaurant nearly full just after 8:30am on Black Friday, an outdoor seat proving a bit chilly and thus taking us to one of the few remaining indoor booths where friendly service tinged in “y’all, please, and thank you” proved almost as impressive as the cuisine.

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Situated on the small peninsula just northwest of Largo and decorated with dolphins alongside aerials of the thin strip of white sand it was with a generously portioned cinnamon roll drizzled with sticky, sweet caramel that breakfast began and requesting a side of stick-a-spoon-up-straight grits as an appetizer as opposed to a side it was difficult to decide whether to veer savory or sweet, the former certainly more my style but the later so richly imbued with notes of hickory that it would prove impossible to resist – a second order almost considered with entrees and likely even better as offered beneath gulf coast shrimp.

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Again taking a route that was one part brine and one part bakery as entrees arrived it was in a French Toast sandwich stacked high with Ham and Swiss that I invested my appetite and adding a bowl of house made berry reduction the unfried take on a Monte Cristo proved invariably impressive, the same to be said for a stack of Banana Pancakes so full of fruit and chopped nuts that they may as well have been flourless and final plate of thick egg bread completely coated in almonds that was delicious even without syrup, but all the better when drizzled with honey and plenty of melting house-whipped cinnamon butter.

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http://www.clearskycafe.com/

Clear Sky Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Clear Sky Beachside Café, Clearwater, Florida, Food, French Toast, Pancakes, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Vacation

St. Pete Bagel Co, Largo FL

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St. Pete Bagel Co.

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Coffee

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Apple Fritter

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Glazed Sour Cream Old Fashioned

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Blueberry Cake Donut

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Red Velvet Donut

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Crème Brulee Donut

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Key Lime Pie Donut

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Chocolate Cake with Caramel Peanut Ganache Donut

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Waking on Black Friday with a focus on culture and cuisine far moreso than shopping for bargains it was just after 7:00am that our trio entered the doors of the Largo location of St. Pete Bagel Company and with options running the gamut from hot bagels and spreads to several ‘designer’ donuts as truly gregarious service further enhanced the mom n’ pop feel of the space I cannot even fathom how locals or tourists could consider visiting Dunkin’, Krispy Kreme, or any sort of chain for their early morning carbs.

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Admittedly a bit off the beaten path, in a small strip mall off Indian Rocks Road with a more appropriately named flagship in St. Petersburg proper, it was mere moments after stepping foot into the shop frequently awarded Best Bagels in the Tampa Bay Area that we were greeted by friendly smiles and immediately identifying us as visitors the inquiries and recommendations came quickly, an eventual order of two coffees, a half-dozen donuts, and one fritter tallying a mere $8 with long tables ready to seat us as we indulged.

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Perhaps unwisely eschewing the eponymous boiled and baked delicacy in favor of items far more sweet it was immediately in the hot n’ crispy apple fritter that I sank my teeth and although a bit more oily than some may prefer I personally found the fruit to dough ratio pleasantly skewed to the left as pockets of cinnamon helped curb substantial sweetness, a similar balance offered by the use of more than the usual amount of sour cream to craft an old fashioned with a nearly pudding-textured center that stands in the same echelon with reference standard versions found at old school doughnut shops speckled around the Chicago and LA.

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Somewhat underwhelmed by a blueberry ring whose artificial taste was only enhanced by rich icing but subsequently impressed by the manner in which cream cheese frosting helped to tame the richness of moist Red Velvet it was onward to filled options that the experience progressed and although the crème brûlée was more akin to typical custard beneath a slightly harder than average glaze the Florida favorite Key Lime Pie with added zip from a dusting of zest was truly delicious, a final few bites of Snicker’s themed chocolate cake beneath peanuts and caramel proving a pleasant pairing to the locally roasted French Vanilla coffee.

http://www.stpetebagelco.com/

St. Pete Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Florida, Food, Largo, St. Pete Bagel Co, St. Pete Bagel Company, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Vacation

Columbia Restaurant, Tampa FL

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Columbia Restaurant

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Warm Cuban Bread with Whipped Butter

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Albondigas – Meatballs of Veal and Beef simmered in Catalan Tomato Sauce

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Devil Crab Croquettes – Blue Crab, Cracker Crumbs, Paprika, Onions, Garlic

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Empanadas de Picadillo – ground beef, garlic, tomatoes, onions, raisins, olives

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Pollo Manchego – Boneless Chicken Breast, Bread Crumbs, Manchego, Sundried Tomatoes, Fresh Basil with Carrots and Green Beans, Citrus Sauce, “Good Rice”

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Paella “Campesina” – Valencia Rice, Beef Tenderloin, Pork, Chicken, Chorizo, Green Beans

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Brazo Gitano “Cien Anos” – Mazanilla Sherry flamed Spongecake soaked in syrup and topped with Meringue plus Strawberry Sauce

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Pumpkin Flan

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White Chocolate Bread Pudding – Le Segunda Central Bakery Cuban Bread soaked in Don Casimiro Classic Silver Rum Sauce

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Billed on marketing paraphernalia as “Florida’s Oldest Restaurant” while even the branded butter dish pronounced them a “Gem of Spanish Restaurants” it was to a packed house on Thanksgiving night that my mother, aunt, and I entered Ybor City’s storied Columbia Restaurant and although a brief “Traditional Thanksgiving” prix-fixe was offered it was in the restaurant’s signature items that we instead showed interest, an eight plate order and far too much of their outstanding Cuban Bread proving mostly impressive, superlatives and branding aside.

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Immense in size and dazzling in décor, with several rooms well worthy of exploration, it was in the central courtyard juxtaposing a small fountain that our trio was seated and perusing the multi-paged menu before asking a few questions it would not be long before a tower of tapas arrived – each of three appetizers well suited for sharing with the croquettes unfortunately a bit oily despite filling ample with crab while both the tender meatballs and sweet-meets-savory empanadas were exceedingly delicious, the later amongst the most intricate and well-stuffed I’ve ever seen.

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Moving onward to mains after a sizable delay due to the expected preparation time of proper paella suffice it to say that even split amongst two persons the portion of the rice dish was sizable and although some of the rice could have stood to be a bit more crisp it would be difficult to find fault in any of the meats, the bold chorizo lightly spiced and the chicken shockingly tender despite being all-white meat – a similar quality found in a plate of Pollo Manchego that also proved big enough to share as the aged Spanish cheese fought for top billing with boldly flavored tomatoes atop a bed of lightly perfumed rice.

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Undoubtedly a place where dessert should not be missed it was in a dainty seasonal flan harkening dreamwhip pumpkin pie that my mother indulged and, with my aunt investing in bread pudding that saw two slabs of Cuban bread saturated in boozy cream mellowed by pockets of white chocolate, I opted to go for dinner and a show – the tableside flames of Sherry licking the meringue atop spongecake and strawberries with dramatic effect both in theater and flavor, each bite a balance of sweetness and smoke atop booze and butter that mustn’t be missed.

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http://www.columbiarestaurant.com/ybor.asp

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Columbia Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Columbia, Columbia Restaurant, Crab, Dessert, Florida, Food, Pork, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Vacation

Ophelia’s On The Bay, Sarasota FL

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Ophelia’s on the Bay

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Baguette Basket with Whipped Butter

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Blackberry Martini

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Hudson Valley Foie Gras en Torchon – Savory Turkey Confit, Raclette Bread Pudding, Cranberry-Thyme Puree, Streusel, Crispy Sage

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Goose Breast – En Sous Vide with Garlic and sage, Sweet Gooseberry Compote, Spiced Orange Gastrique, Okinawa Purple Potatoes

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Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner – Brined Turkey, Cranberry Smoked Cheddar Stuffing, Turkey Gravy, Crème Fraiche Potatoes

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Key Lime Pie – Coconut and Rum Baked on a Graham Crust, Served Over Mango Coulis with Butter Cream and Zest

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Chocolate Pecan Tart – Sweet Dough, Georgia Pecans, Brown Sugar Caramel Custard, Milk Chocolate Ganache, Dark Chocolate Curls, Wild Turkey Sauce and Whipped Cream

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Suffice it to say that while I’m generally happy to dine with anyone, provided the experience is worth the expense, Thanksgiving 2014 presented a bit of a conundrum – where does one take an 87 year old grandmother that they haven’t seen in over a decade, and moreso one who rarely travels outside a two-mile radius of her Venice home that considers Denny’s tilapia a meal worth dressing up for? The answer, within a ‘reasonable’ distance, was Sarasota’s twenty-two year old waterfront destination Ophelia’s on the Bay.

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Located on Midnight Pass Road, on a small peninsula overlooking Little Sarasota Bay, Ophelia’s is one of those restaurants one might assume to cater to the local septuagenarians as well as those celebrating special events and with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the waterfront while service is the feigned-formal sort common to country clubs across the country the kitchen features an ever changing menu largely focused on locally sourced proteins as produce, as well as a surprising collection of wild game including goose, venison, and boar on the afternoon of our Thanksgiving feast.

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Pricey per my grandmother, though exceedingly affordable per my own fortunate standards, it was with a duo of appetizers, three mains, and a pair of desserts that our meal progressed and with the elderly lady enjoying an iced-down glass of $9 wine to ‘make it last longer’ while my mother imbibed in a delicious $12 hand-muddled martini the first round of plates was an impressive start, a caprese-style salad featuring a generous portion of soft cheese over crisp tomatoes amidst aromatic dressings while the torchon of foie gras served over a round of briny bread pudding with cranberries to add balance was the sort of thing I’d be happy to see on the tasting menu at a place like The Inn at Little Washington or even Per Se.

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Progressing rather quickly to entrees, prices ranging $29 to $36 with an premium placed on more ‘exotic’ meats, it was in a plate of lobster from which she only ate 1/3 (before packaging the rest) that my grandmother placed her faith and marveled by the fact that she did not need to shuck the crustacean, served over gnocchi, herself it appeared she loved every bite – or perhaps just spending time with family without having to worry about the check – while my mother and I enjoyed a duo of well prepared traditional Thanksgiving birds with decidedly non-traditional sides, her stuffing and my potatoes both exceptional, though the later appeared entirely alien to the contented lady across the table from me.

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Explaining that she ‘couldn’t possibly’ eat dessert, but was happy to share bites of mine, suffice it to say that I was glad to have some leftover treats from Dough in the car for the ride home when my grandmother decided she ‘loved’ the decadent Chocolate Pecan Tart enough to take more than a few bites, and although trending more sweet than one would hope beneath a layer of buttercream frosting the Key Lime Pie was pleasant enough, much like the conversation amongst our trio in a space that proved more than suitable for such an event.

http://www.opheliasonthebay.net/

Ophelia's On The Bay on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Dessert, Florida, Foie, Food, Gnocchi, Lobster, Ophelia's on the Bay, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Vacation

Dough by Datz, Tampa FL

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Dough by Datz

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Pecan Pumpkin Pie

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Key Lime Pie Tartlette / Coconut Cream Pie Tartlette

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Salty Caramel Cupcake

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Buckeyes

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Pumpkin Pie Donut

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PB&J Donut

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Crème Brulee Donut

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Whiskey Caramel Pecan Donut

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Birthday Cake Donut

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French Toast Donut

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Already planning a Saturday brunch at Datz it seemed only appropriate to pre-order some Thanksgiving Day treats from its sister bakery and picking up several items on Wednesday, as well as a few more after Saturday’s breakfast, one could make a strong case for either space being worthy of ‘destination dining’ status to those toting a substantial sweet tooth anywhere near Tampa Bay.

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Truly a spot focused on tongue-in-cheek whimsy with an extra helping of ‘fun’ it was nearly two weeks before leaving Las Vegas that I contacted Dough and arranging for a pie as well as a few tartlettes to take to a family gathering I was assured that several additional items would be available a la carte in store, the eventual selections ranging from cupcakes and donuts to fanciful candies including a pair of peanut butter pudding balls dipped in chocolate that bested any I’d experienced during my 30+ years as a resident of the Buckeye State.

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Sourcing many local purveyors, both for production and items offered on the store’s shelves, it was to the tune of a half-dozen donuts and a single cupcake that our in-store order was conducted and with a dense base beneath thick frosting suffice it to say the Salty Caramel Cupcake is a dish best shared, the richness of the chocolate not even close to reined in despite a creamy core and saline topnotes, while each of the donuts featured far less heft, the cake options unfortunately a bit drier than would be my preference while the filled squares were all reference standard; each leavened brioche base piped to bursting with housemade jams and custards from which the crème brûlée and pumpkin pie should both be considered ‘musts.’

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A bit underwhelmed by the portion of each $5 tartlet despite up-front fruit flavors and textbook textures in each it was finally in the Pecan Pumpkin Pie that we indulged and although perhaps not as interesting as it sounded on paper it would be tough to argue that fresh pumpkin puree topped in crumbled housemade pralines could ever be less than delicious, the $14 pricetag a veritable steal for a nearly two-pound serving with an all butter crust that remained crisp for nearly three days.

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http://www.datztampa.com/dough/

Dough on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, cupcakes, Datz, Dessert, Dough by Datz, Florida, Food, French Toast, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Vacation

Edison Food + Drink Lab, Tampa FL

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Edison Food + Drink Lab

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Squash blossom lump crab Rangoon – blood orange ginger jam, toasted macadamia

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Redondo Serrano Ham Zeppole – Rosemary Doughnuts, Shaved Serrano Ham, Parmesan Snow, Compressed Melon

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Foie Gras ‘Au Grains of Paradise’ – Fingerling Potatoes Bourguignon, Maitakes, Lamb Bacon, Red Wine Sauce, Duck Fat Fried Shallots

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Fuji Apple + Baby Spinach Salad – Belgian Endive, Maytag Blue Cheese, Pain d’epice Walnuts, Pomegranate Raspberry Vinaigrette

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Roasted Tomato Soup ‘Arrabiata’ – Burrata, Crispy Herbs, Serrano Chilies, Toasted Garlic, Candied Citrus Zest, Ciabatta Crouton

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Spicy Jamaican-Fried Organic Chicken – Banana Bacon Waffle, Collard Greens, Chayote, Green Tomatoes, Chiles, Rum Curry Coconut Syrup

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Crispy Duck Confit – Black Truffle Gnocchi, Swiss Chard, Roasted Shitake, Turnips, Prunes, Apple Cognac Jus

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Wood Grilled Wagyu Culotte Steak – Duck Fat Fried Garlic Potatoes, Charred Romaine, Heirloom Tomato Brulee, Black Truffle Bearnaise

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Edison Crullers – Cardamom Glaze, Carrot Ice Cream, White Raisin Puree

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Peanut Butter Bar – House Vanilla Wafer Crust, Banana Custard, Chicory Ice Cream

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Sugar Crusted Butter Cake – Brown Butter Ice Cream, Pistachio, Orange, Toffee Sauce

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Said by some to be the most interesting restaurant in Tampa Bay or Saint Petersburg, a pre-game dinner at Edison Food + Drink Lab saw my oldest friend join in on a culinary tour trek across the Sunshine State and although the loud, industrial interior and forced valet parking left much to be desired the majority of Chef Jeannie Pierola’s creative cuisine lived up to high billing, a plate of truly awful and oily crullers the lone exception to the rule.

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Obviously a space built for youngsters with trendy beers and cocktails served at a bar while wood and polished stone dominate the dining area it was mere moments after seating that drinks were offered and with some choosing to imbibe I instead explored the whimsical menu, a two page ordeal with several options seeming a bit overwrought while others played on culinary concepts from various regions around the world.

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Beginning first with appetizers ranging from $9 to $17 it should seem obvious that items like foie gras and squash blossoms carry an upcharge but as good as both the creamy rangoon with aromatic sauce as well as the intensively savory take on duck liver were it was actually the light donuts dusted in confectioners’ sugar and draped with ham that stole the show, the addition of briny cheese and compressed melon offering a one-two punch of flavors helping to enliven the palate between each bite.

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At this point experiencing a slight delay between courses due to an influx of several parties while my buddy ordered a second bottle of beer it was with good fortune that mains proved well worth the wait and with the chicken and waffles focused on earthy aromatics rather than overdoing it with spice the flavor profiles of both it and the impressively crisp duck can only be described as inspired, the tomato soup and tender beef a bit more straightforward though well prepared, delicious, and generously portioned just the same.

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At this point pushing our luck in terms of making it to Amalie Arena on time it was in a trio of desserts that we called it a wrap and although the crullers proved not only greasy, but also cooked in questionably fresh oil, both the layered candy bar and butter soaked cake were far more pleasant, the chicory ice cream of the former a particularly lovely pairing to creamy banana custard while the batons of airy meringue added much needed levity to the heft of the large yellow square.

http://edison-tampa.com/

Edison: Food+Drink Lab on Urbanspoon

Posted in Crab, Dessert, Edison Food + Drink Lab, Florida, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Pork, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Truffle, Vacation, Waffles

Star Fish Co. Seafood Market and Restaurant, Cortez FL

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Star Fish Co.

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Stone Crab and Corn Chowder

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Conch Fritters

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The Star Combination Platter – Shrimp, Oysters, Scallops, Grouper fried Golden Brown with Fries, Hush Puppies, and Slaw

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Crab Cakes with Slaw, Cheese Grits, Hush Puppies

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Captain Kathe’s Key Lime Pie

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Quaintly located dockside in the small town of Cortez with a cash-only counter serving up ocean fresh seafood from A.P. Bell Fish Company next door the Star Fish Company could just as easily be a local gem for residents of the small fishing village and onlooking pelicans but having garnered national attention for both the cuisine and the ambiance the sizable garage-cum-kitchen overlooking the water proved an unbeatable stop on a cross-state trip from Miami to Tampa.

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Visited once by my mother and aunt during a previous vacation with their cousins I have to admit I was surprised that the two of them had accidentally discovered such a gem, yet arriving mid-day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving the crowd was apparently par for the course, a twenty minute wait in line followed by another twenty at the table for fried fish and seafood casting aside any semblance to the frozen stuff served at chains or places far removed from the coast.

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Starting first with key lime pie and a cup of rich chowder as both items were ready in wait suffice it to say that the former was the best we experienced on the trip and although some would claim the cream unauthentic the pie itself was so tangy it actually benefitted from the accoutrement, the addition of crackers to the chowder almost equally necessary as the potage was extremely thick and so chock-a-block full of crab and cream corn that it was almost too rich.

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Next treated to a trio of two white containers and a cardboard white basket it was all sorts of indulgence that waited and thankfully offering several combination plates at prices far less than would be assumed not a single items save for the slightly limp fries was less than exemplary, the breading on oysters, scallops, and grouper extremely light while the crabcakes and fritters were probably 90% meat, just enough breadcrumbs in place to hold each together without detracting at all from the naturally sweet shellfish.

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www.starfishcompany.com

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Star Fish Company on Urbanspoon

Posted in Cortez, Crab, Dessert, Florida, Food, St. Petersburg, Star Fish Co., Star Fish Co. Seafood Market and Restaurant, Star Fish Company, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Vacation

Moises Bakery, Miami FL

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Moises Bakery

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Tres Leches Cake

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Ham and Cheese Empanada

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Almond and Dulce de Leche Alfajor

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Egg Custard Danish

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Dulce de Leche Croissant

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Taking a short walk from the expansive space that houses Buenos Aires Bakery to the far more cozy confines of Moises Bakery it should probably come as no surprise that the later features a far more frenetic atmosphere than the first and although regulars completely packed the small dining area an English-friendly staff still made me feel like a friend of the house, a request for recommendations met mostly with items I’d already targeted yielding a five-part order from which only a slightly doughy croissant would prove less than exceedingly well made.

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Assuredly a ‘locals only’ sort of spot, and a place where everyone seemed to know one another by name, it was mere moments after placing my $7.75 order that items were placed in plastic baskets and although seats were entirely full a standing-room only table at the door was recently abandoned, the steaming hot empanada carefully cut with a fork and knife to liberate ham and Swiss from a crisp and thin pocket decidedly different from that at Buenos Aires and nearly twice the size but equally delicious and devoid of grease just the same.

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Progressing from savory ham and cheese to creamy egg-custard at the center of a flaky butter danish before moving to the sweeter parts of the quintet it was here that the uninspired croissant was sampled and returning the rest of it to the bag we were left with the two best items of the entire three-stop morning, a powdered sugar coated Alfajor the definition of sweet decadence while a cup of Tres Leches upped the ante with a swirl of caramel – a ‘Quatro Leches,’ if you will and a reason in and of itself to make the trip from South Beach up north.

http://moisesbakery.com

Moises Bakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Croissant, Dessert, Florida, Food, Miami, Moises Bakery, Pork, Vacation

Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe, Miami FL

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Buenos Aires Bakery & Café

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Ham and Cheese Empanada

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Entremets – Tres Leches Cake, Dulce de Leche Horn, Chocolate Caramel Square, Caramel Peanut Butter Cake

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Dulce de Leche Croissant

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Dulce de Leche Cream Puff

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Egg Custard Danish

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Guava Danish / Cream Cheese Danish

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The second stop on a morning trek towards Tampa Bay, Buenos Aires Bakery proved to be a destination sort of place for someone with an intense interest in traditional ethnic pastry and whether Argentinean, African-American, Caucasian, Cuban, or otherwise the vast selection and friendly service seemed to put a smile on everyone’s face while festive decorations and televised futbol pleased the eye.

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Far larger in size than one would expect from the street it is to a selection of nearly one hundred items that those entering the Miami Beach bakery are tempted and although ordering can prove to be a difficult process given the lack of signage and English-as-a-second-language nature of the staff those willing to take a chance are likely to be rewarded – the prices a veritable bargain for treats running the gamut from sweet to savory with several sizes offered to allow for substantial tasting regardless of appetite or party size.

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Focusing largely on items considered signatures by those ‘in the know’ it was with one piping hot fried empanada that our tasting began and with the pastry nearly choux-like in texture the fillings were creamy and smooth with nary a bit of oiliness to be found, a similar experience offered by the crispy caramel creampuff – essentially a profiterole packed with dulce de leche without suffering from sogginess at all.

Moving next to a plate of petit-fours, each offering a single bite of one of Buenos Aires Bakery’s well regarded cakes, suffice it to say that any event celebrated with the milky Tres Leches is bound to be a success and while the others were also quite tasty in their own rights none of them could rival a quartet of laminated pastries to follow – the soft buttery layers less crispy than French counterparts but the fillings each reference standard, the housemade guava jam and still-warm egg custard my personal favorites while my mother and aunt swooned over a cream cheese danish that walked a fine line between sweet and savory that the powdered sugar dusted croissant happily ignored.

http://www.buenosairesbakeryandcafe.com/

Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Buenos Aires Bakery, Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe, Buenos Aires Bakery And Cafe, Croissant, Dessert, Florida, Food, Miami, Pork, Vacation

11th Street Diner, Miami FL

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11th Street Diner

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Coffee

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French Fried French Toast with Strawberries and Condensed Milk Syrup

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Belgian Waffle with Strawberries and Whipped Cream

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Kentucky Bread Pudding with bourbon glaze and French Vanilla Ice Cream

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Old Fashioned Carrot Cake

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Targeting a trio of stops before heading northeast to Tampa, Wednesday morning began as one of only two occupied tables at 24/7 Eleventh Street Diner and seated in a cornerpocket booth amidst the shiny silver space breakfast was a carbohydrate heavy feast of questionable value considering the quality of the food, though the service and setting were a whole lot of fun.

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Unabashedly ‘old-school’ with an all-day menu of diner favorites, breakfasts, pastry case desserts, and the sort of coffee that has been sitting on the burner for far too long, it was with menus in hand and a caricature laden placemat in place that the experience on the corner of Washington and 11th began and although several interesting appetizers and desserts called out the eventual order entailed a quartet of plates, all arriving simultaneously despite the fact that two were pre-made – an understandable decision, it seems, as those two were technically ‘desserts.’

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Rapid fire from the kitchen and quick to refill water as acrid coffee caused regret for a wasted $2.50 it was only fifteen minutes after seating that plates arrived and setting aside an exceedingly small slice of Carrot Cake that proved underwhelming to focus on more temperature-sensitive options both the crispy malted waffle and the block of dense, lukewarm bread pudding proved run-of-the-mill – good but nothing to write home about, particularly given the price.

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Moving next to the reason Eleventh Street had originally been targeted for breakfast, suffice it to say that the “French Fried” French Toast was exactly as decadent as it would seem and with soft, eggy bread standing up well to lightly sweetened custard followed by a dip in the deep fryer the only thing holding back the plate was the small packs of Kraft “Pancake Syrup” – the worst of the worst artificial maple products entirely eschewed making me wish the application of condensed milk syrup had been a bit more liberal, though the sliced seasonal strawberries admittedly complimented the golden, crisp Challah quite well.

http://eleventhstreetdiner.com/

11th Street Diner on Urbanspoon

Posted in 11th Street Diner, Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Eleventh Street Diner, Florida, Food, French Toast, Ice Cream, Miami, Vacation, Waffles

La Esquina del Lechon, Doral FL

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La Esquina del Lechon

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Bread and Chicharron Basket

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Quesadilla a su Gusto – Chicken, Monterrey Cheese, Guacamole, Sour Cream

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El Famoso pan con Lechon – Slow Roasted Pork, Tropical House Sauce on Cuban Bread with Sauteed Onion, Crushed Pork Rinds

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Sandwich “Especial” Cubano – Ham, Turkey, Roast Pork, Swiss, Pickles, Mustard, Mayonnaise

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Café con Leche

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Tres Leches Cake

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Rice Pudding

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Progressing north from Lucali for a slightly more downscale finish to four nights of eating in Miami it was just prior to 8:30pm that our trio entered La Esquina del Lechon and although the kitchen was due to close at nine o’clock no less than a half-dozen parties would follow, the dining room nearly half full when the friendly front of house staff began turning folks away, instead focusing on proving a truly excellent experience to those fortunate enough to already be eating some of the best roast pork I’ve been fortunate enough to taste.

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Every bit an off-the-map space, all the way up in Doral, with most options featuring roast meats and items spanning from Cuba to Latin America as a décor heavy with pigs smiles from around the room it was mere moments after taking a seat that menus were presented and before an order was even placed water was filled and a bread basket loaded with warm rolls and crispy pork rinds arrived, the later a generous portion of greaseless fried nuggets that were delicious on their own but all the better with La Esquina’s Mango Hot Sauce drizzled on top.

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Eventually making tough decisions given limited stomach capacity despite a menu from which nearly every plate sounded quite good it was a mere fifteen minutes after placing our orders that a trio of plates arrived, the quesadillas chock-a-block full of smoky chicken and cheese with creamy avocado in a sidecar while a duo of ‘small’ sandwiches proved to be anything but, the toasty housemade bread lightly sweet around a trio of meats and melted Swiss for the Cubano while the signature pan con Lechon was an umami-laden masterpiece of tender roast pork juxtaposing caramelized onions and crispy pork skin with sweet notes of citrus perfuming the palate with each bite.

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At this point happily sated but unable and unwilling to pass on a case of desserts from which I only wish I could have sampled more it was alongside a creamy refresher of Café con Leche that sweets were enjoyed and although the stick-a-spoon-up-straight rice pudding was reference standard stuff with cinnamon added to taste the Tres Leches was undoubtedly the best I’ve tasted to date, each saturated bite of buttercake impressively rich beneath heavy cream frosting as a pool of condensed milk added additional sweetness at the bottom of the plate.

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http://esquinalechon.com/

La Esquina del Lechon on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Doral, Florida, Food, La Esquina del Lechon, Miami, Pork, Vacation

Lucali, Miami FL

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Lucali

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Plain Pie – Hand Crushed Tomatoes, Bufala Mozzarella, Basil, Olive Oil

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Lucali Special Imported Italian Artichokes baked in sauce, Bufala Mozzarella, and Peccorino

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Dessert Calzone – Honey Ricotta, Nutella

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Fortunate to have snagged one of the limited seats at Mark Iacono’s Brooklyn original, where I experienced the best pizza I’ve tasted to date, it was with almost inappropriately high expectations that we entered Lucali’s new Miami location on Tuesday evening at 5:00pm but finding the dining room almost identical in décor despite its slightly larger size I’m happy to say that the product emerging from the hand-built oven is a nearly spot-on iteration of the original while service may as well have been imported direct from Carroll Gardens.

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At first a bit apprehensive that the expansion experience could not possibly live up to the legend lingering in my head from the March 2011 Pizza-Trek it was just as the restaurant opened its patio doors that our trio entered the romantically lit space and with wood tones dominating as Frank, Dean, and Sammy crooned overhead it was at a four-top large enough for six that we sat, a brief menu of appetizers expanding on New York’s Pizza and Calzone-only options and leading to a three-part order, each item cooked to order in the wood burning oven stoked by a team of two in back.

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Unable to decide between a trio of starters it was at the advice of our server that the meal began with a duo of tender marinated artichokes baked in Lucali’s signature sauce and draped simply with fresh Mozzarella and a dusting of briny Peccorino both the flavors and textures were brilliant, the light smokiness of the oven giving me hope for the “Plain Pie” to come – a $24 masterpiece of lightly charred crust with smoky blisters surrounding a center that was not quite ‘wet’ and as such more than capable of being eaten by hand with a simple fold, the flavor indistinguishable from the Lucali of my memories and equally wowing to tablemates taking their first taste of Iacono’s legendary pie.

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Unable to resist dessert, something not offered amidst the cozy New York confines, it was between cannoli, Nutella pizza, and calzone that we were left to decide and again deferring to the front of house with an eye toward more dining to follow it was in the creamy calzone that we invested our faith, the oven’s smoke this time serving to accentuate lightly sweetened ricotta as a drizzle of hazelnut and cocoa added richness making the sizeable pocket a dish best shared.

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http://www.lucali.com/

Lucali on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dessert, Florida, Food, Lucali, Miami, Pizza, Vacation

Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami FL

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Joe’s Stone Crab

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Bread Basket – Crisps, Pretzel, Butter Knot, Onion Pumpernickel

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Coleslaw

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Clam and Lobster Fritters – Bacon, Corn, Spicy Cocktail Sauce

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Coconut Shrimp – Holler Back Sauce

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Three Select Stone Crab Claws with Warm Mustard Sauce, Creamed Spinach, Smashed Squash

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Lobster Macaroni and Cheese – Vermont White Cheddar, Asiago Crumbs

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Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Green Tomato and Caper Remoulade

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Skinny Fried Sweets Dusted with Cinnamon Sugar

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Half-Slice Key Lime Pie

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Chocolate Pecan Pie a la Mode

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Bread Pudding with Maple Bourbon Caramel Sauce and a scoop of Graeter’s Vanilla Ice Cream

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No longer located only in Miami it was still with much intrigue that I entered Joe’s Stone Crab and having intentionally avoided the Vegas location at Caesars’ Forum Shoppes in order to preserve the integrity of a first visit to the original the decision proved to be a good one, the 1913 dining room at 11 Washington Ave offering a stellar lunch during the peak of stone crab season with service on par with that of several Michelin starred restaurants in Europe.

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Obviously offering an upscale experience compared to locations elsewhere, to the point that shorts and t-shirts are frowned upon in the main dining area, arrival at Joe’s begins at the Valet and with a young man holding the doors it was not long before we stood before a suited man at the podium, a walk-in for three not a problem at noon on a weekday with a choice of tables offered, the group electing to sit indoors on the left side of the expansive space – away from the din of the business lunch crowd.

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Obviously local and seasonal simply by the nature of a restaurant that actually closes during off-season it was to a menu of signatures and fresh seafood specials that we were greeted on seating and although happy to splurge when necessary a lunch special of three select claws, sides, and a half-slice of key lime pie for $42.95 was simply impossible to ignore – each claw plum and fresh, perfect on its own as I eschewed the mustard sauce and instead focused on the sweet protein alongside naturally sweet squash and creamy spinach, both as good as it gets for traditional steakhouse sides.

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Getting a bit ahead of myself, it should be noted that the meal actually began with Joe’s signature bread basket and although attempting some semblance of restraint it was illogical to refuse a second round based entirely on the strength of the salty warm pretzel as well as the unctuous pumpernickel, both enjoyed alongside butterflied shrimp coated in coconut that made my mother swoon while I focused on fritters nearly half lobster and half creamed corn with just enough filler to hold it all together beneath a golden, crisp shell.

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Slightly underwhelmed by sweet potato fries that were served in plethora yet a bit to limp for personal tastes it was in lobster-loaded mac n’ cheese and a duo of crab cakes shaped like Cuban croquettes that my dining partners indulged and although both were quite nice it seemed the consensus that the eponymous claws were the best choice, a similar statement befitting a large cube of steamy bread pudding absolutely drenched in boozy caramel…though the key lime pie and buttery toasted pecan pie studded with dark chocolate chips would easily be the highlights of dessert menus in several equally well regarded spots…or perhaps as a decadent shopping mall snack when back home in the 702.

http://www.joesstonecrab.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Crab, Dessert, Florida, Food, Ice Cream, Joe's Stone Crab, Lobster, Miami, Vacation