The Grove (Lakewood Ranch) – Not Memorable Cuisine

My wife and I decided to try the Grove in Lakewood Ranch. Overall, the setting was great, the service was friendly and courteous, but my meal could have been much better.

We started with the Tomato Jam Flatbread ( $8). This was a basic flatbread with the tomato jam (replacing marinara) and topped with mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and basil. It is a good sharing dish, but nothing memorable. The jam overwhelmed to the other ingredients. I would rate this a 3.

My wife ordered the filet and she said it was very good. The side salad she requested was quite large.

I decided on the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($25) which was described as blue crab, tomato horseradish coulis, and slaw. When it was delivered to the table I was a little surprised as the normal domed-shape crab cake was more a potato pancake / Smashburger. It was flattened to a pancake shape. It was barely cooked, borderline room temperature and the flavor was not to my liking; it was bitter and overly salted, not allowing any of the carb flavor to shine. The scant amount of coulis was OK and the slaw was nothing special. This was not a well-executed or tasty option. The fries that accompanied the dish were also less than well-executed. Most were stuck together and those that were separate, benefitted greatly from the ketchup. I would rate this dish a 1.

With the patio fully occupied, I will chalk my experience to a bad few minutes in the kitchen and will give it another shot, but I will move to different choices.

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Mediterraneo (Sarasota) – Great Pasta, Timing from Kitchen Needs Work

A few couples went to Mediterraneo in Sarasota. It was completely packed on a Saturday night, it was full of hustle and bustle and we really enjoyed the evening.

Once seated, the server immediately brings a plate of Bruschetta, toasts topped with diced tomatoes. It was delicious and was a good preamble to the remainder of the meal.

I ordered the Polpo (Grilled octopus over green peas pesto puree) ($15) and the Linguine Nere (Black linguine/ shrimp/ spicy tomato sauce) ($18.50).

The appetizer arrived in record time, which was a little surprising. It was one long tentacle sitting atop the pea puree. The temperature of the octopus was a little concerning, the thicker part of the tentacle was very hot and the thinner part was served luke warm. It was not possible in the short time between the order and the delivery for this to have been prepared to order. In addition, it was overwhelmed with salt. Overall, I was disappointed with the octopus but the pea puree was delicious.

The squid ink pasta, on the other hand, was excellent. While the pasta was just a tad overcooked (personal preference), the sauce was fantastic. The menu and the server (a nice touch) both mentioned that the sauce was  “spicy,” it offered just a little spice, but nothing to be concerned about. The shrimp were firm and tasty, albeit on the smaller side. Overall, I really enjoyed this dish.

The timing from the kitchen needs a ton of work. When my wife was barely finished with her salad, they ripped the plate from the table and placed the entrées. The was absolutely zero time (if there was a negative time concept, this would be it) between the appetizer and entrée course. This was very bad form on a Saturday night.

We will definitely return to Mediterraneo and ask the server to ensure there is a 15-20 minute gap between appetizer completion and entrée start.

Brasserie Bazati (Inman Park) – Strong Appetizers

Brasserie Bazati opened last October and has outgrown the initial pains that many have described on the internet. With a great location overlooking the Beltline, this will fast become a destination restaurant, once a few of the dishes improve. The room is wonderful, with 30’ ceilings, plenty of room between tables a small nook-bar in one corner and both high and low tables to choose from.

French Onion Soup with cave-aged gruyere cheese, sherry and crouton –  The broth was deep and rich with flavors, but it was a little salty. It was joined in the crock slice of bread and the gruyere cheese. Neither overwhelmed the soup and onions. I really liked this soup. I give it an 8.

Mussels Moules Frites – herbs, shallots, white wine, butter, garlic. Probably the perfect bowl of mussels. The broth was rich and the chef is not shy to add a lot of garlic, which was great. The mussels were cooked to perfection, plump and moist and not a single “closer” was in the bowl. It was served with a great piece of bread to sop up the extra, plus frites which were also excellent. I give this a 10.

Trout Meuniere with sun choke purée, Brussels sprouts, brown butter, lemon, capers, micro-greens –  I ordered this because the manager highly, highly recommended the dish. I should have trusted my gut and ordered a different item. This is not a brook trout dish but a steelhead trout dish, more aligned with a wild salmon. I always wonder where the fat ends of the filets go, since I was served the tail end. The best part of the dish was the sun choke purée, full of flavor. Unfortunately, the fish was a little overcooked, just to the point of beginning to dry. The was little, if any, lemon on my dish and a scant few capers. The Brussels sprouts were very good. I give this dish a 5-6.

Crème Brulée – Served in a traditional low dish, the crème was ultra-creamy and the topping was just the right thickness, not too thick and gave a little crunch and sweetness. I would definitely recommend this as a nice ending to the meal. I give this a 9.

Service was excellent. Our server knew the menu cold, gave recommendations and was present throughout the meal.

Overall, I really liked the restaurant, the service and most of the food. I would pro

Cibo & Beve (Sandy Springs) – Some Great Burrata & Eggplant Parm

I was not sure what to expect from an Italian restaurant in a strip mall across from Kroger’s, but the couple who recommended the restaurant assured me the food was delicious. When you walk in, you are pleasantly surprised by the surroundings, you leave the strip mall thoughts behind, you are in a nicely decorated restaurant. There are high top tables when you enter, a smattering of regular height tables and a few booths. Our foursome decided on a booth, it was a great choice.

The first indication of the food quality was the bread, which I was told was made in-house. A basket was brought to the table with two bowls of olive oil with a ton of pepper added to the oil. The bread was delicious, just be aware that you could receive a fair amount of pepper on the olive oil dip. A second basket was delivered. I give the bread an 8.

The Burrata appetizer was served with halved cherry tomatoes, arugula, balsamic and extra virgin olive oil ($12) – One of the best Burratas around. The skin was soft and when you cut into the center, the interior oozed, with great flavor and texture. It went well with the arugula and the scant, few halved cherry tomatoes. The only negative was the salting of the arugula was very uneven. The Burrata is a 10 and the salad & tomatoes are a 7.

The Cibo Meatballs ($10) were topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, and a dollop of ricotta. There is little positive I can say about these meatballs, it was a complete failure. They were served room temperature, much too cool, the meat was stringy, there was little, if any flavor, and the texture was too firm. The sauce was the only redeeming feature. I would avoid this altogether. Sorry, but this dish gets a 0.

Eggplant Parmigiana ($12), was a typical recipe, but served in individual casserole dishes. The dish, itself was thinly sliced eggplant layered with mozzarella and parmigiana and san Marzano tomato sauce. This appetizer is easily an entrée portion and was absolutely delicious. It was individually baked to order so let it cool down before you start to eat. This is definitely a 10.

Veal Scaloppini ($28) is thinly pounded and served with sage, prosciutto cotto, fontina cheese, and white wine, atop polenta and spinach. This is also a large portion with several slices of delicious veal, perfectly fried sitting atop the prosciutto, spinach and polenta, a mighty tower. As a head’s up, there is a difference between prosciutto parma (the thin slices that we all enjoy with mozzarella and tomato as an appetizer) and prosciutto cotto, the latter is part of this dish and resembles boiled ham versus the cured prosciutto. I really like the veal, but the prosciutto cotto was not to my liking and I was not overly enamored by the polenta. I give this a 7.

Tiramisu ($8) with espresso and kahlua dipped savoiardi, mascarpone mousse, cocoa powder was a great split for dessert. This was an excellent version, with the cake and custard allowed to shine versus some versions where the liquor is the centerpiece. It is a nice hug at the end of the meal. I give it a 9.

Service was very good.

Overall, I liked Cibo & Beve. The atmosphere was great and the food has potential. With one meal under my belt I have a better feel for the strengths and will order accordingly on the next visit.

Russ & Daughters (NYC) -Keep it Short and Enjoy

Smoked SalmonsWe did it.

We made it there, we found the tickets, we were present when our number was called, we ordered everything we wanted, and when we sat at the table in the apartment…we ate a magnificent breakfast.

We ordered New Zealand salmon, Scottish salmon, herring with cream sauce and onions, chopped herring and cream cheese. We decided to buy the bagels elsewhere.

The New Zealand was very mild with a buttery texture, I never would have guessed either, but the NZ salmon was delicious. Even better was the Scottish, a richer flavor and the best salmon of the weekend. The herring in cream sauce is incomparable, has no competitor, and is perfect in every way.

Gu’s Kitchen (Buford Highway, ATL) Still Serves the Best Dumplings

front windowOne of the great things about Atlanta is Buford Highway. You can wonder in and out of strip malls filled with ethnic foods from around the world. Miles and miles of options.

I’ve been reading a lot about Gu’s Kitchen new location on Buford Highway and with the weather not the best for any outdoor activities, I decided to give it a try. When I arrived, there was a dragon festival commemorating the beginning of the Lunar New Year and it set the stage for the festive culinary events to follow.

descriptive signTo the left of the entrance are two coolers filled with water, one plain and the other, “lemon,” with lots of glasses stacked neatly to one side. I did not understand their purpose when I arrived, but would 15 minutes later, after a few bites of noodles. To the right of the entrance is your first stop, the combination ordering station and cashier. You receive a menu and an obligatory, “Is this your first time here?” questions. When I smiled, the cashier was great about making recommendations, I wanted to order a lot, but we agreed to keep it small, an order of six dumplings and the handmade, thick noodles. You then pay, go to your table and wait. The food arrived in about 5 minutes.

DumplingsThe dumplings are a must. You can choose from three fillings, pork, chicken or vegetables and pair it with one of the two sauces, I chose pork filling with the Zhong style, Gu’s award-winning famous sweet & spicy sauce.

They were perfect in every way. Words cannot describe the silkiness of the wrappers, soft, succulent and added just a touch of flavor. The pork filling was delicious, not too much, not too little, and added great flavor, not fighting with the other ingredients. The sauce/oil was a variety of spicy, ranging from a 4 to a 6 on my scale, depending on each bite. Overall, these were probably the best dumplings I have ever eaten.

Thisck NoodlesThe noodles are described on the menu as “Handmade thick chewy noodles with homemade sweet sauce and chili oil; sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. One of the most famous street foods in Chengdu.”

The noodles were thick and mounded in a bowl covered with a very similar spicy oil to the dumplings. I was a little concerned that they would be gummy, but I could not have been more wrong, they were soft and delicate throughout (I disagree with the “chewy” description). The sauce added the same level of spiciness as the dumplings, again, depending on the individual bite, it could range from moderate to noticeable kick of spiciness. In addition, the spiciness stays on the lips and mouth for a few minutes afterwards.

Overall, Gu’s kitchen should be a “must go to” on everyone’s list. I hate saying this since I need to also get back to try some of the other dishes.

Heirloom BBQ (Sandy Springs) – A Little Disappointing

Two Meats + SidesI tried to buy some Q from Heirloom a few weeks ago but when I arrived, the parking lot was empty, I knew the bad news…sold out. The paper bag on the front door confirmed my fear. Today was different since I arrived mid-afternoon, there were both cars and motorcycles in the lot and a few people were gathered in front of the door.

You enter the market, grab a menu and work your way to the order/register. I ordered a 2-meat platter with two sides and chose the brisket and pulled pork for the meats, baked beans and Brunswick stew for the sides, and an order of the Korean sauce. All was placed in a Styrofoam clamshell along with some sliced pickles and a buttered and grilled bun.

Pulled Pork – This was the best of the order. They give a good mound of meat. I loved the texture, almost soft and delicate with great smokiness. When you added some of the special Korean sauce it was an international explosion of flavor on the palate.

Brisket – There were probably 4 nice slices in the order. I really wanted to love the brisket but it fell flat. While the meat absorbed a good deal of smokiness, the rub disappeared in the cooking process, I could see it, but it was almost non-present on first bite. The meat was greatly enhanced by the sauce, but without the sauce, it was not to my liking.

Make your own sandwich – I halved the roll and tried with the pork/sauce/pickle on one half and substituted the brisket on the other. The combination was really good with the spiciness of the sauce and the tanginess that the pickle complemented the other participants.

Brunswick Stew – I was skeptical when I ordered it, but it was excellent. Full of great flavors and chunks of meat.

Baked beans – A little too sweet for my taste, plus with a ton of meat scraps all over the kitchen, I would have preferred some chopped meats in the beans.

Overall, I was expecting a lot more from this acclaimed BBQ joint. While the pulled pork was outstanding and even better with the Korean sauce, the others fell a little flat. Given the proximity to B’s Cracklin, the stakes are higher for this part of Atlanta.