nanette wiser

Comfort Cucina: Bella Brava

In Live Savvy: Dining & Travel, Tampa Bay on October 12, 2011 at 5:03 pm

When Bella Brava moved fromCentral Avenue to Beach Drive, both a geographic relocation as well as a culinary redesign big on food/wine and unique flavor pairings.

Post Saturday market, friends meet up at the horseshoe-shaped bar with flat screen TVs for following TVFN or sports, admiring the walls of wine and chalkboard filled with specials. Cute couples nestle in the two dining rooms on either side of the inviting cocktail lounge, sharing caprese or warm sherry gorgonzola dip with housemade potato chips, the ultimate in urban hip weekend meanderings.

Thoughtful chefs provide both gluten-friendly and vegetarian options, well executed with tender produce obviously locavore-sourced.

 Seafood stars here, especially the pan-roasted mussels with white wine, butter, tomato, fresh garlic and basil served with ample grilled ciobatta bread to sop up the sauce.  The North Carolina trout with lemon butter piccata and crimini mushrooms  served with grilled asparagus or mac n cheese rocks my tastebuds as does the seared sea scallops with smokey pancetta brittle. For apps, the fennel-flavored calamari con frito with lemon caper aioli or jumbo lump crab cakes are the perfect starters before sharing the woodstone oven gourmet pizzas.

 This is real pie in the sky, from traditional (sausage and peppers spiced up with caramelized onion and smoked mozzarella) to the asparagus and crispy prosciutto and fromage-fans four cheese with fresh sage delight. The BBQ chicken flatbread is a light and lively pizza alternative with crispy pancetta and creamy gorgonzola drizzle.

 While lobster and white truffle mac n cheese is all the rage in Beverly Hills and worth trying here, I prefer the goat cheese and spinach toasted pinenut ravioli, drizzled in basil pesto cream or the grilled chicken penne pasta with cotto ham and peas in asiago cream for my pasta craving. 

 Salad starlets include the Bella Brava wedge dressed in creamy gorgonzola and dappled with applewood smoked bacon as well as the house spinach salad with pistachio-crusted salmon.  Homemade soups, Black angus burgers with herbed fries and wood-grilled chicken Marsala round out the ample fare.

 Cocktails boast Italian favorites (Negroni, Bellini), classic martinis and Manhattans, Latin pisco sours/mojitos and specialty cocktails infused with herbal/veggie smash (lavender, cucumbers, cilantro) and unforgettable fruit medleys (blackberry ginger, strawberry balsamic). Pair your meal with Peroni on draft, a quirky Brooklyn End India Pale Ale or dozens of boutique wines organized from light to full body, especially the Malbecs and Voignier.

San Diego: Magnificent Mussels

In Live Savvy: Dining & Travel, San Diego on October 10, 2011 at 6:57 pm

For more than 20,000 years, we’ve enjoyed eating the bivalve mollusk known as the mussel. In San Diego, we cultivate them on special farms — Carlsbad Aquafarm being one of the West Coast’s finest purveyors. Sip crisp Sauvignon Blanc for a perfect afternoon. Get more delish dish at Inquisitive Tongue.

Blue Point Coastal Cuisine: Well known for its Pan Pacific seafood entrees like the Alaskan black cod in spiced misoyaki, Blue Point cooks up pan-roasted green-lipped mussels sensually flavored with coconut and ginger and served with green curry. Its specialty cocktails and amazing oyster bar are not to be missed either.
565 Fifth Ave.; 619-233-6623

JRDN: The sunset view, boardwalk action and crisp boutique beers beckon you to meet friends at the bar, moving on to sup on steamed mussels, prepared with chorizo, garlic, Chardonnay and herb butter, just one of Chef David Warner’s heavenly JRDN’s “surf, sky and spirit” concoctions.
Tower 23 Hotel, 723 Felspar St.; 858-270-5736

Jsix: Discover garden flavors in this tarragon dijon mussel melange cooked in white wine and garlic broth with fennel pollen. Served with fries and lemon aioli, Jsix‘s California modern cuisine sings beautifully in this dish.
Hotel Solamar, 616 J St.; 619-531-8744

The Oceanaire Seafood Room: You know them for their global oysters (including Carlsbad’s Luna, Blonde and Del Sol), but you’ll love them for their glamorous decor and steamed Mediterranean black mussels mariniere (white wine, butter, shallots). At the Oceanaire bar, steamed mussels are only $7.99 nightly, and it pairs perfectly with a half bottle of Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.
400 J St.; 619-858-2277

Pacifica Del Mar: Pacifica‘s steamed local mussels cleverly seasoned with chorizo, garlic, white wine and sweet onions pleases its beautiful-people clientele nightly. Do not overlook the stellar wine list either.
Del Mar Plaza, 1555 Camindo Del Mar; 858-792-0476

Quality Social: Belgian ale, leeks and fresh bay accent these fragrant West Coast mussels, accompanied by grilled bread for dipping. Add California artisanal cheeses (like Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam and Point Reyes Blue) and chopped salad with goat cheese for a perfect Quality Social date night out.
789 Sixth Ave.; 619-501-7675

Tampa Bay: Fried Chicken

In Live Savvy: Dining & Travel, Tampa Bay on October 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Dipped and battered dozens of ways and served up on salads or in tacos, fried chicken will never go out of style. These restaurants offer a unique take on the comfort-food classic — from Chinese Katsu to Southern drumsticks, these dishes transcend finger-licking good.  Click here for more Inquisitive Tongue delights.

Cafe Dufrain: This romantic waterfront bistro boasts a stylish regional American menu, eclectic beer/wine list and seasonal dishes such as organic fried chicken and smoked bacon braised collards drizzled with Eden’s Nectar spiced honey and served on a buttermilk waffle.
707 Harbor Post Dr., Tampa; 813-275-9701

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store: If you want boy-howdy cooking, order up the Colby cheese melted fried chicken BLT, buttermilk fried chicken and dumplings and Sunday chicken fried chicken blue plate special, a meal for two at this homespun favorite.
2151 54th Ave. N., St. Petersburg; 727-526-0031
4011 Ulmerton Rd., Clearwater; 727-572-8685
13833 W. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa; 813-855-4200

Lee Roy Selmon’s: Fried is a religion here (sweet potatoes, green tomatoes), but you’ll be a fanatic after biting into the Selmon family classic sandwich, cooked crispy and hot, topped with Swiss cheese and served with lettuce, tomato and garlic horseradish aioli sauce.
2424 Tyrone Blvd N., St Petersburg; 727-347-5774
Additional locations in
Tampa, Brandon, Bradenton, Sarasota.

Pei Wei Asian Diner: Roy Yamaguchi’s popular fast food healthy eatery will make you crave the fire not typically associated with granny’s fried chicken. Take a bite of the honey-seared crispy chicken tossed with garlic sauce, chili oil, rice sticks, scallions and red bell peppers, and you”ll be hooked.
1402 66th St. N., St. Petersburg; 727-347-1729

12927 North Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa; 813-960-2031

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