Greek-Turkish Fare at Mandolin Aegean Bistro

First bite… quite good.  Last bite… borderline disgusting.  That ever happen to you?  ‘Cause it just happened to me.

Pick for the evening… Mandolin Aegean Bistro*.  This Mediterranean shop offers a Greek-Turkish menu with appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and (heavier) entrees.  I had read good things about their fries + yogurt combination, so definitely wanted to try some.  I ended up getting the Grilled Halloumi Cheese Sandwich with Turkish Chorizo, which came with fries on the side.  Yay!  A small side of yogurt was an extra $1.  Fine, no biggie.

In case you were wondering, Halloumi is a semi-hard, brined white cheese that’s made from a combination of goat’s and sheep’s (and sometimes cow’s) milk.  Because of its high melting point, it’s actually relatively easy to fry.

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The first bite of the sandwich was pretty tasty, but sadly, it went downhill from there.  There wasn’t anything super exciting about cheese — and IMO, cheese is usually pretty exciting — and the Turkish chorizo was really salty.  I mean REALLY salty.  Ate dinner more than four hours ago and am still thirsty.  Won’t lie… had a semi-difficult time finishing the meal.

I probably shouldn’t have waited until the end to eat the french fries because they got kind of soggy and limp.  The oil they were cooked in didn’t seem to be the freshest.  Despite dunking the fries in the yogurt (which was actually pretty decent with its subtle sour cream flavor), there was no salvaging them.  I had a bit more than half before tossing — and that was only because I always feel bad about wasting food.  Unfortunate.  Very unfortunate.  Especially since I ❤ french fries.

Rating, you ask?  Below average, maybe okay.

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I will say though, that the ambiance was cute and the service was excellent.  They have a covered patio seating area with vegetation and lanterns, and the waiters and even busboys were very nice and personable — but not obsequiously so — which was great!  Kudos there, Mandolin!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go have another cup of water…

*Location:
4312 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33137

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Summer’s Here… Time for BBQ!

062714_cc_bbqMy company hosted a BBQ during lunch today and I was super excited to partake in all the smoky/grilled/what-have-you goodness!  #freefood  The spread for this afternoon included slow-cooked BBQ ribs, grilled BBQ chicken, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, mac & cheese, french fries, and brownies.

I was pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of the food I piled high onto my plate.  Overall rating, fine, which is pretty good in my book!  The only thing I definitely wouldn’t eat again was the hot dog (below average, bordering on no).  Way too salty, even sans condiments!  The mac & cheese (okay) didn’t have much flavor and was a tad bit dry, but it was bearable I suppose.

New discovery today… baked beans as an alternative to ketchup on french fries is delicious!  Everyone should give it a try.

What are your favorite summer foods?

Second Eataly in US Calls Chicago Home

Since I’ve spent a decent chunk of my life in Chicago, I’ve come to think of it as my second home.  I recently visited over a long weekend and ate at some great restaurants, including the Italian superstore-restaurant Eataly* that just opened this past December.  (The original US Eataly opened in August 2010 in NYC.)

eataly_menu_061514The massive bi-level multi-restaurant superstore is essentially a one-stop shop for all things Italian-kitchen!  Part grocery store, part kitchenware shop, part restaurant, Eataly is like an Italian paradise 5,000 miles from the mainland!  #foodieheaven

I had heard great things particularly about the pasta station, La Pizza & La Pasta, so was eager to stop by for dinner.  Once seated at a table, I was presented with bread and olive oil with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  No hesitation on my part in grabbing a piece of bread and dunking it in the oily-cheesy-goodness.  The subtle flavors were rather enjoyable.  Off to a good start so far.

For my main course, I ordered the Pasta al Forno al Ragú — or lasagna with Bolognese sauce for any non-Italian speakers.  Decent presentation, decent taste.  Overall rating of fine, I’d say.

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Relatively thin pasta layers for lasagna, but good proportion of ingredients to pasta.  I was satiated about halfway through — guess it’s my fault for filling up on bread earlier — but I kept eating because I didn’t want to take home leftovers in a doggie bag.  How else would I get to try other new restaurants while I was in town?!

The pizza/pasta station at Eataly Chicago has the same menu for lunch and dinner.  Check it out here.

*Location:
43 E Ohio Street
Chicago, IL 60611

Artisan Pizzas at Uno Pizzeria & Grill

For all my pizza fans out there, this one’s for you!

During my recent travels to the land of Mickey Mouse, I was looking for a quick, budget-friendly place for dinner and stumbled upon Uno Pizzeria & Grill* after glancing at my hotel’s homepage.  I knew Uno was famous for their deep-dish, but since I wasn’t really in the mood for the heavy stuff, I opted to try their Artisan pizza options instead.  With a takeout special of 2 for $20, I was sold.

Bachelor #1… Chicken Verde Artisan Crust Pizza: chicken, roasted red peppers, garlic, and spinach, topped with mozzarella, drizzled with basil pesto

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Hot or not?  I’d give this guy a “fine” (4 out of 5) rating.  I would take it and its gustatorily attractive toppings on a second date.

Bachelor #2… Prosciutto Arugula Artisan Crust Pizza: peppers topped with aged white cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and arugula, drizzled with balsamic glaze

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Hot or not?  I’d also give this candidate a “fine” (4 out of 5) rating, though I think I’d prefer bachelor #1.  The balsamic glaze on #2 gave it a pleasantly sweet personality.

I will say that I’m a fan of the Artisan crust.  It’s a bit on the thinner side, yet still somewhat fluffy.  (For the record, I think fluffy-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside crust is the best!)

Did you know?  Though not formally documented, deep dish pizza is said to have originated at Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1943, and Chicago-style deep dish can be up to three inches thick.

Hungry yet?  What’s your favorite type of pizza?

*Location:
12553 State Road #535
Orlando, FL 32836

A Modern Twist on American at Southern Swank Kitchen

Yesterday, I brunched at Southern Swank Kitchen*, a modern American joint in South Florida.  The restaurant decor is highly predictable from the establishment’s name… swanky Southern, surprise surprise.  SSK just opened in September 2013, so it’s still a relative newbie in my book.

Okay, enough talk about the history of SSK… let’s talk about the food!  I ordered Chicken & Waffles off the brunch menu.  Chicken thighs FTW!  (Clearly, I’m not a huge fan of white chicken meat.)  The picture on the restaurant’s website made it look so good I thought I’d give it a try.

ssk_chicken_062314The white stuff that’s drizzled on top is hibiscus marshmallow sage sauce, or in simpler words, melted marshmallow.  It actually made every bite of the meal rather sweet, which in my book, brought things down a notch.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get away from it!  Bah…

Not sure what the red sauce on the side is called, but it definitely had a sharp kick.  Maybe it was supposed to counteract the marshmallows?  *shrug*  Either way, I would definitely rate it above the marshmallow-y stuff.

Overall, the meal wasn’t super flavorful — super sweet does not count — so I’d have to rate it an “okay” (3 on a 5-point scale) or maybe a “fine” (4) considering its novelty presentation.  Slightly disappointing, considering the $16 price point, excluding tax and tip.

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I do need to give a shout out to the bacon jam though, which was delicious and very flavorful.  It actually contained small, yet noticeable, bits of bacon.  Guess that’s why it’s called bacon jam, right?

Try any interesting food combinations lately?

*Location:
4198 S University Drive
Davie, FL 33328

All-You-Can-Eat at Dragon Gourmet Chinese Buffet

Weekends are meant for eating out, and this weekend was no exception.  Dragon Gourmet* was the restaurant of choice for lunch today, and I made sure to take full advantage of its all-you-can eat menu.  Not great for my waistline, especially since I haven’t been to the gym in weeks, but indeed a party for my taste buds.  (After eating, I promised myself I’d hit the gym on Monday.)

No ratings for this meal.  Since I’ve eaten at Dragon Gourmet so many times, my opinion’s probably biased anyway.  Otherwise, why would I keep going back?

Photos for your viewing pleasure…

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Fish & noodles

Crab, bok choy, and green beans

Crab, bok choy, and green beans

Mixed sushi plate (from left to right: mango roll, dragon roll, dragon gourmet roll, eel roll) with tofu and seaweed salad

Sushi plate (from left to right: mango roll, dragon roll, dragon gourmet roll, eel roll) with tofu and seaweed salad

For dessert, tapioca pudding with taro and a fried sesame ball

Dessert, tapioca pudding with taro and fried sesame ball

The tapioca and fried sesame ball don’t typically go together, but I was trying to be environmentally-conscious and opted not to get an extra plate.  Typically, I would’ve gotten ice cream for dessert — in a cone, of course — but I’m currently still ice-creamed-out from my cruises in April and May.

Eat any noteworthy meals this weekend?

*Location:
1091 S University Drive
Plantation, FL 33324

Craving Modern Colombian? Check Out Bazzura Cafe!

Today I lunched at Bazzura Cafe*, a modern Colombian establishment in Miami, Florida.  Did you know… that “basura” (same pronunciation as “bazzura”) translates to “trash” in Spanish?  The restaurant even had trash can parts hanging up on its walls inside!

Contrary to what one would think from its namesake, the entire Bazzura menu looked pretty tasty — and I don’t actually say that often, so needless to say, I was pretty excited to order and eat!

I decided on the Pollo Bazzura Bowl, which was served with rice, beans, lettuce, tomato, potato sticks, and garlic sauce.  The ingredients were layered in the bowl and the contrasting colors added to overall visual appeal.  Potato sticks weren’t new for me, but potato sticks with rice and lettuce was.  Not a problem though.  I’m ALWAYS up for a culinary adventure.

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Anyone drooling yet?

I’m a pretty big fan of garlic in general, so you can probably guess I was super excited for the garlic sauce.  I actually ended up adding more about halfway through the meal.  Of course, I made sure to pop some mint gum into my mouth afterwards before running to my afternoon meetings.

Overall rating of the Pollo Bowl, you ask?  Just fine!  I’d likely eat it again, but probably after I try some other items on the menu!

*Location:
10437 NW 41st Street
Doral, FL 33178

Steakhouse Review: Fahrenheit 555

Any meat-lovers out there?  If so, this post’s for you!

As I mentioned in a prior entry, I cruised on the Carnival Breeze back in April.  And, of course, since I’m a foodie, I decided to try out the steakhouse onboard, Fahrenheit 555.

Pros?  It’s a specialty venue, which means that only a limited number of people can dine there per cruise and it promises food of a supposedly higher caliber than what’s offered in the main dining room.

Cons?  It’s a specialty venue, so the limited seating will most likely mean that if you don’t reserve early, you’ll be stuck with super early/late dining times — or even worse, no dining times.  There’s also an additional fee to dine.  $35 per person, in fact.  Not exactly chump change, but worth it for the experience, I guess.

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Sail with Carnival Cruise Lines… and Try the Lobster

This April, I was lucky enough to cruise with Carnival, on the Triumph and Breeze, to the Western and Southern Caribbean, respectively.  While onboard, I sampled lots and lots of food… okay, so I frequented the lunch buffet and ordered multiple appetizers/entrees/desserts at dinner.  Guilty.  Guilty of being a food addict.

One of my favorite meals — if not my FAVORITE meal — was the lobster served in the main dining room.  Here are the lobster entrees I had on the Triumph and the Breeze.  The meat was so juicy, tender, and flavorful that I didn’t even need to reach for the garlic butter sauce sitting ever so intently on the side… no wonder the guy sitting at the next table over ordered six of them!

lobster_triumph lobster_breeze

Any cruisers out there?  What’s your favorite meal on a ship?