Oceana (St.Thomas) – Almost Flawless From Start to Finish

DSC_2747Our recent visit to Oceana was close to flawless from start to finish. This restaurant is an annual visit for our group and the visit to the beautiful setting was the culinary highlight of the extended weekend. Our servers for the evening were exceptional. They explained the evenings specials, at both ends of the long table, were helpful with suggestions, when one in our party explained her allergies, they were quick to check with the kitchen on each of the dishes, they delivered the food efficiently, checked in and were a part of our fun.

We started the evening with a small gift from the chef. An Asian soup spoon was delivered to each of us. Each was filled with a gelee made with blueberry and kobuchi (Japanese tea). It was a very playful start to the meal and set the tone for the menu’s light options.

For my appetizer I ordered the special of the evening, the Lobster Bisque. The bisque was served with a dollop of crème fraiche and a mini-triangle of grilled cheese. This version offered a delicate flavor from the lobster; it was not overwhelming; and was offset by the tang of the crème fraiche and a slight crunch from the grilled cheese. I really liked the Lobster Bisque.

I also ordered the evening’s special for my entrée, Swordfish medallions with fried sweet potato gnocchi plus slices of cucumber and mango. I was a little hesitant ordering swordfish and mentioned my anxiety to the server about dried out fish. She was very confident about the chef’s ability. She was absolutely correct. The swordfish was perfectly prepared, moist on the interior and the texture indicated its ultimate freshness. The gnocchi added just a little crunchiness but it was not a significant flavor component. The mound of thinly sliced and slightly pickled cucumbers were a great addition. The entire dish was elevated by the sweetness of the ultra-thin slices of mango. This modest addition created a beautifully wonderful composition.

The table ordered almost all of the desserts to share. My favorite was the Chocolate Molten Cake, which ranks as one of the top five I have ever eaten. The other outstanding choice was the White Chocolate Panna Cotta, which was served with sweet berries; the combination was outstanding. The Creme Brulee was slightly undercooked, a little runny, but the flavors were perfect and the topping was minimal, which is my preference. The last dessert was the Apple Pie. It was also delicious with crispy apples complemented by a crust with great buttery flavor.

Overall, our venture to Oceana was nearly flawless and I cannot wait to return next year for another creative meal.

Johnny Utah’s (SONO) – Not Crowded for a Reason

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The original plan was to meet at Donovan’s to watch the first half of the Cowboys-Packers game, have a burger, and I was looking forward to also ordering a bowl of Clam Chowder. But Donovan’s was packed so plan B was to walk down to Johnny Utah’s, which has a good beer selection for my buddies and 10 TVs for the game. While Donovan’s was packed, there was hardly a soul in Utah’s, so grabbing a table was an easy adventure.

We immediately ordered Wings ($12.00), hot with bleu cheese. When they arrived they looked a little strange, instead on the wing slathered in sauce, they had a light coating and they were swimming in a small pool of Buffalo sauce, with a side of blue cheese dressing. I chose a winglet for the initial bite and it was OK. There was very little spiciness to the wing. I added a little extra sauce and again, they were OK, still not a lot of spice. I added extra sauce and a little blue cheese dressing and they were still, just OK, nothing special at all. They were pretty boring at best. With my bacon and cheese additions this was a $14.50 burger that was not worth the money.

The next round was burgers. I ordered a medium-rare Johnny Utah’s Burger ($12.00), a half-pound burger with red onions, lettuce, and tomato, served on a brioche roll, and I added bacon and American cheese with a side sweet potato fries. For a bar that was 85% empty it took almost 25 minutes for 3 burgers and a sandwich, but we were watching the game so this was not an issue. When they arrived the consensus was that each was cooked more than ordered, mine was medium+. The first bite of the sweet potato fries was disappointing, they were all crust, tasteless and overcooked as well. The meat had a little flavor, was highly compressed, and offered little juiciness. The bacon was very pedestrian and the cheese was grocery store quality. The brioche had zero buttery goodness, it was very bland. Overall it was a very disappointing burger.

The service was outstanding, the server was prompt, efficient and checked in regularly. Hopefully this is the standard when she is serving more than one table. It was too bad that Donovan’s was too busy, and it is understandable why Johnny Utah’s was not.

Johnny Utah's on Urbanspoon

China Gardens (Delray Beach) – Great Owners Serving Very Good Food

China Gardens is located in a northbound strip mall just south of The Boys of Military Trail in Delray. There is ample parking for the restaurant that probably seats around 60-70 people. The owners were on-site when we did take-out on Christmas Day. They were fantastic in handling a very difficult crowd and an overabundance of orders and egos, and for that reason alone I would give them my business. The menu includes every variety and desire of a Cantonese restaurant. The food ranged from excellent in certain dishes to OK in others.

The best of the order was the Hot & Sour Soup. It had a great flavor with a vinegary taste with just a hint of spice. The Fried Dumplings were also excellent, but they were the smallest dumpling I have ever seen. The skins were thin and the filling had great flavor. The egg rolls were pretty good. The skins were thin and the filling was basic egg rolls without any mini-shrimp. I did not like the ribs. They were boiled first and were soggy and bland and then crisped under the broiler before placing on the plate. I would avoid these.

The Moo Shu Pork was very good. The only issue was they also included shrimp in our order. We did see this before the one member of our family who has a shell fish intolerance ate any. Given the frantic nature of the kitchen that night it was perfectly understandable that some orders may have been mis-cooked.

The General Tso Chicken was good. To the benefit of the restaurant the pieces were quite large and they used white meat as well, which I really liked. The breading was thing, again a positive, but the sauce was a bit lacking. I would have preferred a little more flavor. The fried rice was a bit underseasoned and flavored, it was more bland then I prefer.

Overall I was pleased with China Gardens. The soup was a stand-out and if you choose specific items you can design a very good meal. And with the owners as personable and professional as could be, I would definitely return.

China Gardens on Urbanspoon

Hudson Restaurant (Delray Beach) – Outstanding Dinner

Hudson Restaurant is located just off Atlantic Avenue in Delray overlooking the eastern side of the Intercoastal. The entrance to the restaurant is located on Venetian Drive and the parking lot is fully dedicated to valet parking. There are four separate eating areas, the bar, the lounge, the deck and a slightly more formal dining area overlooking the kitchen. All but the bar offer a view or a limited view of the waterway. Be advised that the dining area’s proximity to the kitchen was our least favorite as the cooking aromas engulfed the table.

Overseeing the kitchen is Executive Chef George Cocilova, a CIA graduate, whose experience includes cooking at Bouley in New York City, The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Aqua in San Francisco. This top-tiered experiencewas evident in my dish, which was perfectly prepared and composed.

The table started with the White Flatbread. The crispy rectangular presentation was topped with garlic confit, Fontina and Ricotta cheeses, pinwheel sausage and broccoli rabe. This was delicious. The crust was crispy and was a great canvas for the two cheeses, which gave a good level creaminess. The pungency of the broccoli rabe was offset by a mildly spicy sausage and the garlic confit was a great complement to the other ingredients.

For my entrée I ordered the Pork Porterhouse that included sweet potato purée, braised rainbow Swiss chard, HUDSON bourbon peaches, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions and finished with a red grape demi. This was outstanding. The pork chop was moist and full of flavor. The caramelized onions were more sautéed than a slow caramelization, and were soft and sweet and the bacon pieces were perfectly crisped and added smokiness and saltiness. The peaches added a great level of sweetness to the overall presentation. This was one great chop.

Service was fantastic as well. Our server was knowledgeable, friendly and was more than willing to offer suggestions and opinions.

Overall I highly recommend Hudson as a great restaurant with a great view.

Hudson at Waterway East on Urbanspoon

Jfood’s Top Fairfield County Eats for 2014

 2014 is drawing to a close. During 2014 I visited over 100 different restaurants, and like most data sets there were some that were fantastic. Here is a list of my favorite dishes from 2014.

Appetizer – Harlan Social’s Artichoke Muffaletta. It pairs a glass jar filled with an artichoke / olive salad (with tons of other ingredients) with a scoop of the wonderfully creamy Stracciatella di Burrata.

Appetizer – The Whelk’s Green Goddess Deviled Eggs made me a believer that this dish can rise to spectacular levels. The fried oyster and pickeled onions separates this version from any other.

Burger – The Walrus + Carpenter burger is a shoo-in to make my top burger list in a few months. A crisp char, flavorful grass-fed meat with Bourbon onions separated this rendition from the rest, an incredible burger.

Food Truck- Vanchetta’s Porchetta sandwich was outstanding. Great rotisserie pork with slaw, provolone, red onion marmalade…all hitting the palate simultaneously.

Meat Entrée – South End’s Pork Chop Scarpariello, a >1” chop with a few hot peppers, chunks of hot and sweet sausage, some incredibly flavorful potatoes and broccoli rabe and you have the perfect meat entrée.

Meatballs – How can you pass up the meatball sampler at Bar Sugo? Each is delicious by itself and together are fantastic.

Pizza – Locali’s “The American X-Butcher” grabs this spot. The dough was perfect with toppings that include DOP tomatoes, bacon, Vidalia onion, potato slices and topped with organic farm eggs. It was exceptional.

Sandwich –JAX & Co.’s Cubano. The combination anchored by incredible pulled pork was outstanding, and the spicy mustard really kicked up the heat.

Soup - Match’s pho ga was delicious. It was deep in flavor, the sriracha added a touch of spice and the hoisin the delightful umami. This was one great bowl of pho.

Taco – The pork taco at Rincon Taqueria is an easy winner. The shredded pork was one of the best braised pork dishes I have tasted and could easily be served as an entrée.

Not in Fairfield County…a special call out is required for the Luigi Bianco pizza at Fortina in Armonk. Start with a perfect crust and add some burrata, robiolona, and parmesan cheeses and then take it to pizza stardom with the swaths of black truffle. Wow!!

Mario’s Osteria (Boca) – Stick with the Pastas

Mario’s Osteria is located on Glades Road in Boca Raton, just east of I95, sharing feeding duties in a mall with PF Chang’s. The traditional red sauce Italian is mixed with a southern Florida feel. Instead of red-checked table cloths and candles burning in wine bottles, the décor balance hard woods with enormous metal chandeliers. The menu is extensive, with one side comprised of appetizers, sides and pizzas while the reverse side offers Paninis, pastas, meats, fish and chickens. Your traditional selections of parmesans, meatballs, baked pastas are all available.

I was told the portions are quite large so I ordered a Veal Parmesan, served with a side of pasta and Marinara sauce. Others ordered the Cavatelli with Chicken Meatballs (to share) and a Shrimp Scampi.

My veal arrived and it was breaded, fried, topped with melted cheese and a little Marinara. The pasta was a regular side portion with Marinara. The veal was very overcooked, some bites were incredibly chewy. The flavor of the meat was good and the scant sauce was good, but not great. The pasta was also overcooked, and again the sauce was good.

The Shrimp Scampi and the Cavatelli portion were quite large. There was probably 8 ounces of pasta on each, the two chicken meatballs were enormous and there was a tremendous amount of shrimp on that order.

Service was outstanding, friendly, helpful and spot on with his checking in.

Overall Mario’s is a good choice if you are looking for a decent red sauce restaurant.

Mario's Osteria on Urbanspoon

Dorsia’s (Boca) – Great Find for Outstanding Food

Dorsia is located on North Federal Highway in Boca Raton just north of Congress on the southbound side. It is a small storefront in a six store strip mall and valet parking is available. Once inside the scenery changes to a well-appointed restaurant with white tablecloths, a bar that seats 10-12 and service that is friendly, brisk and knowledgeable. This is a family run establishment and the care for the customer is felt in the interaction of the hostess (probably the wife) and the chef in each of the dishes.

We decided on a single course for dinner and I chose the Squid Ink Linguine with calamari, shrimp, tomato, white wine, and garlic. I was expecting the ring shaped calamari but when it arrived the calamari was presented as juliennes with five medium-large shrimp. While the server was asking others if they required Parmesan cheese I tasted the dish. There was no need to add another component, this was a delicious dish. The house-made pasta was soft and still maintained a delightful bite, the shrimp were sweet and perfectly cooked and the calamari were nicely prepared. The flavors were fantastic. This was a great pasta.

For dessert we shared the chocolate mousse pie. Please order this silky wedge of deliciousness. The texture was wonderful. With a cup of espresso, it was the perfect ending to the meal.

I highly recommend Dorsia over so many other places in Boca that have glitz over food. This is the best meal I have eaten in Boca and struggle with thinking of a better restaurant in the area. Thank you for proving my point to my relatives that small family owned restaurants prepare food at a different level than the so-called fancy chains.

Dorsia Restaurant on Urbanspoon