The Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, FL – Am I Asking Too Much?

I was at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida, for a work conference. It’s a very traditional hotel with a beautifully manicured ground and white sand beach access. I sampled a couple of items from the room service menu, in addition to eating in their restaurant. They have five eating venues on site at the hotel. The room service food items appear to come from Cafe 4750 and Ocean Bar & Grill. This post will focus on the room service experience since that’s the ultimate measuring stick for a hungry traveller who arrives late and tired.SHRIMP COCKTAIL: Spicy Horseradish Cocktail Sauce. BLACK ANGUS BURGER: Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion, Fries, and Swiss. This was a cute little set up – perfect for a photo. The orchid was beautiful and probably the most tasty item on the table. The shrimp cocktail was bad. The shrimps came at near room temperature. Although I don’t have an issue with that, the texture of the shrimps was a bit limp. It was not flash frozen when caught. Low quality – similar to the frozen shrimps one can get from a generic mid-level supermarket. BLACK ANGUS BURGER: Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion, Fries, and Swiss. The Ritz failed me at the shrimps but the burger was a lot better. Not medium as ordered; it was well done instead. But the burger was at least firm and tasty. However, I did slathered a ton of ketchup to make up for the dryness from over-cooking.

I understand The Ritz is supposed to be a 5-star luxury hotel. The Ritz at Amelia Island is an ocean front properly with an impressive surrounding. Their restaurant, Salt, served me excellent lunch. So perhaps my standards are too high? I want freshness in seafood and the right execution for my meat.

I was hungry and I ate my meal at the pretty little couch. So the meal fulfilled my basic need. Yet I was left wondering why the Ritz could not do better while enjoying the stunning ocean view outside my balcony.

This experience took place at

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island
4750 Amelia Island Pkwy
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
Phone:(904) 277-1100

Sam Snead’s Grill and Tavern in Tampa, FL – Airport Terminal Eating with a Buzz

On my way back to NY into a snowstorm day in March, my flight was delayed for a few hours. I hung out with my friend at a Starbucks until the conversation ran dry and I went into the terminal. Still had a lot of time to kill and went to the only restaurant-looking place in the terminal, Sam Snead’s Grill and Tavern. I had no idea who Sam Snead was until I walked into the restaurant. Sam Snead was an American professional golf player and had a nickname called, “Slammin’ Sammy.” I was very skeptical how a professional golf player can translate into an excellent food establishment.

Here we go!


This is the Crab Louie Salad (somehow it’s not the restaurant menu anymore). I had very low expectations of this dish. In fact, I half expected that I could get sick from the crab and wondered what it would be like to be sick on the flight. You should have seen the restaurant – it looked like a darkened and dirtier version of the TGI Fridays with Sam’s pictures on every wall, overtired middle-aged disheveled waitresses and overweight dinners at every table chowing down something on large plates. It looked run down.

Then came the salad: surprise! The crab was fresh and not from the can. The salad was fresh and the avocado had the correct ripeness. I was so wrong.


OAK FIRED CHICKEN FLAT BREAD – roasted red peppers, goat cheese and balsamic glaze. After I finished the salad, I was still hungry. The overtaxed waitress recommended their famous flat bread. At this point, I was sold on any item on the menu. The flat bread was so thin and good that I actually packed the leftover and brought them onto the plane with me. Same Snead knew his restaurant business. Now if they could update the look of the restaurant…


I nursed this berry with vodka concoction while eating for two hours. The buzz set in and I was as happy as I was after a long run. Life was good!

Recommend.

This experience took place at

Sam Snead’s Grill and Tavern
Airside A, Across from Gate 14
Tampa International Airport
4100 George J Bean Outbound Pkwy
Tampa, FL 33607
Phone:(813) 396-3977

Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar in Clearwater Beach, FL – Sunny Sunday Fish Tacos on the Beach

I got my sunny Sunday in Clearwater, Florida! After a run on the beach with the sun beaming down me, my friend and I went to Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar in Clearwater Beach before I headed back to NYC. What shocked me was the brightness you get on the beach. The sun reflected off of the white sand and came inside the restaurant. You felt the breeze and you heard the kids laughing. After my five-mile run, I was in a state of serenity filled with love, love, and love. I so adore my endorphin highs.

Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar is famous for its location. It’s right on the beach. The food was not a focus at all. On their menu, they said: “There’s no place like this place, anywhere near this place, so this must be the place.℠” Very full of themselves but I admit that I forgive them for the average food. Ah, the glorious sun.


Fish Tacos: grilled and seasoned fish (Grouper) comes with lettuce, pico de gallo, shredded cheddar jack cheese and chipotle mayo. Served with black beans and rice.

I highly recommend the sun in Florida during February for any New Yorkers. This is as good a spot to eat some fish tacos as any. Bring your shades and swimsuits!

This experience took place at a very sunny spot on the beach

Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar

10 Bay Esplanade
Clearwater Beach, FL, 33767
Phone: 727-446-2642

Cristinos Coal Oven Pizza in Clearwater, Florida – A Mom and Pop Local Favorite

On the same rainy Saturday in Clearwater, Florida, eating became more important than usual to spare ourselves the boredom. My friend looked up this French Bistro, Salt N Pepper, and thought we could just show up and be seated for an early dinner. For two women from NYC, we thought little of the local demand. We were left out in the rain and got diverted to the next best thing down the street – Cristinos Coal Oven Pizza on South Fort Harrison Ave.

Cirstinos was busy. The parking lot was packed and people were standing outside waiting to get in. Luckily, they had a table for us quickly. If you think of a slightly larger pizza joint in an upscale town in Westchester, you will have Cristinos. The place was buzzing with customers, the ovens were hot, and the decor was outdated. A mom and pop shop for sure. But obviously, it is also a local favorite observed by how packed the dinning room was.


Garlic Shrimp: Fresh shrimp sautéed in a white wine garlic sauce.


Margherita with Prosciutto – Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, oregano.


Quattro Formaggi with Sausage Tomato sauce, mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta, gorgonzola, basil and oregano.  Bad combo.  Ricotta was a very bad addition as one of the cheeses.  Trader Joe’s frozen Quattro Formaggi is better.

The toughest decision for me was to decide whether I should have the sausage or pepperoni with the four cheese pie. If I were to get a regular pizza from a pizzeria, Cristinos would have been acceptable. But as a restaurant, this is way below par when compared to Fortina’s in Armonk. It was certainly a let down from the French Bistro food to pizzeria pizza. I was just happy that we were fed and sheltered from the rain. Pretty low standards.

Here is to a sunny Sunday! Buon appetito!

This experience took place at

Cristinos Coal Oven Pizza
1101 S Ft Harrison Ave,
Clearwater, FL 33756
(727) 443-4900

Wildflower Cafe in Clearwater, Florida – Buttermilk Biscuits on a Rainy Saturday

I went to Clearwater, Florida, for a short weekend at the end of February to recharge, get some sun, and be away from the storming weather of the NorthEast. As life would have it, it poured the entire day on Saturday. My friend and I tried to salvage the day by eating at the Wildflower Cafe on Fort Harrison Ave. Wildflower was a well-rated restaurant that serves daily breakfast and brunch. It was also extremely busy when we got there. People were running to get inside the restaurant. We knew the food would be good, but we were in for a huge surprise.


Cheesy Grits & Scramble Eggs. The grits came separately. Can you see the buttermilk biscuit in the photo? Honestly, the eggs were ok and the sausage was average. But the biscuit was outstanding. It was very crumbly which I don’t usually like. I also don’t usually like biscuits. But this one… The balance between the butter, the sweet and the salty was just right. Even if it is crumbly, I wanted more with each bite.  This is another example of ugly but awesome tasting food.


Cheesy Grits. Blah.

Definitely go back for the biscuits. I would be willing to eat the other items on the plate because of the biscuits. It was a sufficient temporary distraction for us from the rain.

This experience took place at

Wildflower Cafe
1465 S Fort Harrison Ave
Clearwater, Florida 33756

Watercolor Lounge at Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key Hotel in Clearwater, Florida

My friend and I stayed at the Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key in Clearwater, Florida. After our dinner at St. Petersburg, we came back to the hotel and decided to have dessert. The lobby of the hotel has the Watercolor Lounge which faces the Clearwater Bay. The view was beautiful in the day light when the sun hits the water just right. At night, you see flickers of light from the boats on the bay. We sat in the lobby and ordered two desserts.


Mini – Indulgences Crème Brûlée with fresh strawberries, whip cream. Aren’t they cute? The presentation was adorable. The taste was okay. Not creamy enough and too much whipped cream. The fruit on top did not give it enough distinction between each spoonful.


Krispy Kreme® Bread Pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. This was awesome. Didn’t think I would like a donut bread pudding dessert since I rarely eat donuts and am generally not a bread pudding fan. The chocolate they laced on top of the bread pudding was heavenly. The fried and sweet blended well. The ice cream provided a nice cooling sensation from the pudding.

It was a very happy ending to the night and to my first day in Clearwater. It is always nice to end the night with sweets and great conversations.  Good night, everyone.

This experience took place at

Watercolor Lounge
Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key
1201 Gulf Boulevard
Clearwater Beach Florida 33767
+1-727-596-1100

The Birch and Vine Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida with a Highly Delectable Dragon-Berry Mojito

I was at St. Petersburg, FL, the last Friday in February, and found myself at The Birch and Vine Restaurant. This is a restaurant that is inside The Birchwood Inn and has a highly delectable dragon-berry mojito. The restaurant has a motto from Virginia Wolf:

“One cannot think well,

love well,

sleep well,

if one has not

dined well.”

Well, well, well.  Now I know what my problems are.  🙂


Roasted Red Curry Chicken Spring Rolls: Cucumber kimchi, peppadew coulis, cilantro-jalapeno puree, scallion.  Anything would taste good when you are starving.  But I believe this was more than hungry satisfaction.  The spring rolls were not greasy but crisp.  The jalapeno puree, peppadew coulis and the kimchi cucumber combination made me lick up all the sauce on the plate.

Chicken Fried Calamari: Carrot puree, pickled okra, thyme scented honey, bourbon smoked peppercorn gravy, house made hot sauce.

The Birchwood Cobb: McGregors’ hydroponic romaine, duck confit, grape tomato, crisp pork belly, gorgonzola fritter, avocado, chopped duck egg, preserved lemon & fine herb dressing.  Best part of this is the duck confit and then the gorgonzola fritter.  When you bite into the fritter, the explosion takes you by surprise.  Never knew gorgonzola would taste not so stinky.  This is one of the more sophisticated Cobbs out there.

Dragon-Berry Mojito: Bacardi dragon-berry rum muddled with fresh berries, mint, and lime, a splash of house made simple syrup, topped with soda. We ordered this mojito virgin. mmm. mmm.  Birch and Vine knows their cocktails.

Highly recommend this establishment. Next time, I should order the mojito with the Bacardi rum.

This experience took place at

THE BIRCH & VINE RESTAURANT
340 Beach Dr, NE
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
727-896-1080

Truluck’s Seafood, Steak, Crab House in Boca Raton, Florida – Amazing Ingredients!

I was in Boca Raton, Florida for some business meetings and had the pleasure of eating dinner at Truluck’s with my work friends. The seafood was amazing. Truluck’s is primarily a seafood restaurant that offers fresh and seasonal seafood from their own fisheries. When I was there in mid February, Florida’s Stone Crabs were in season.

The restaurant was elegant and open-aired. For a New Yorker, February in Florida is a dream come true. Incredible seafood in a beautiful restaurant, the warm air temp completed a perfect night. But I will say that being away from all the snowstorms and my daily life was such a nice change of pace. That sensation of the sweet escape probably skewed my taste buds.

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Fresh Florida Stone Crab Claws: Served chilled and pre-cracked with a specialty mustard sauce. These crab claws were the best claws I have had in a very long time. They were completely clean with no funny smells. The meat was tender with crab juices. Once you put it in your mouth, it slowly melted. This was my first experience with the Florida Stone Crabs. I was very impressed.

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Miso-Glazed Seabass: MSC certified South Georgia Chilean seabass served with crab fried rice and chilled cucumber slaw. Kayla, my strategist and an excellent fisherwoman (you should seen the fish she caught), went back and forth on her consideration between this and the Cioppino (Fresh fish, shrimp, mussels, calamari, and crab simmered in a tomato and herb broth). I was so looking forward to trying the Cioppino… Or bouillabaisse in French.

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South African Lobster Tail: The Rolls-Royce of lobster with Balsamic-Glazed Portabellos and Sautéed Green Beans. This was unholy. The tail was so big and meaty. And so good. This was the first time I felt I had gotten a lot more than what I deserved. Felt rather spoiled. I am not a wasteful person and hate to not finish my plate. I left the portabello mushrooms which by themselves were a meal. I also left the green beans. In comparison, my “little” friend, Danielle, did well with her lobster tail; she shared and thoroughly enjoyed the bounty of the sea.

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Sautéed Jumbo Lump Crab Cake: With house made tartar sauce, parmesan mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Thanks to Kristin (the thin runner who I aspire to run like and look like in the near future), I was able to taste this dish. In full disclosure, this is a dinner with my work friends who help me create marketing content and strategy. They all know that I write this blog so I got a piece of every dish they ordered!

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Blackened Grouper Pontchartrain: smothered with crawfish tails, shrimp, and blue crab in a spicy piquant Creole sauce. Did not taste this one but my social media colleague (Wally!) loved it. I am sure by now he had tweeted, posted to FB, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. Vine is coming up in our repertoire shortly, with highly engaging video content! We will make seemingly dry and boring products come alive with creativity and imagination. Digital marketing at its best.

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Sweet and Spicy Icelandic Cod: True cod broiled and served with blue crab guacamole, tomato, jalapeños, and sweet chili sauce. Thanks to Matt (our SEO guru), I regretted my decision to order the South African lobster tail. This dish is like a beautiful and intelligent woman in an evening gown. Not only is she pleasing to the eye, she is also interestingly opinionated and a superb conversationist.

If the South African lobster tail is the Rolls-Royce, this is the futuristic spacecraft. It’s more refined. The taste is layered and complex. The cod, unlike what one may expect, is soft and delicate. Loved the kick from the jalapeños and the sweet chili sauce.

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Sweet Potato Fries: everyone was making a big fuss about how good these are. They are good but they are just fries.

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Key Lime Pie: Same comments as the sweet potato fries. For the record, Wally disagrees. He had once attempted to bring home multiple Florida key lime pies in his carried-on luggage for the family.  He was forced to check his pies! Even all mushed up, he said they were still delicious. He is a die-hard key lime fan.

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Chocolate Bag: This is sinful. This is a bag made out of chocolate and stuffed with all sort of savory sweet things such as cookies, raisins, truffles, M&Ms etc..

This was a highly memorable event. Food was amazing. Seafood was one of the best I have had in years. The price sticker was also shocking. Birthday and anniversary dinners, anyone?

This experience took place at

Truck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House
351 Plaza Real
Boca Raton, FL 33432
In Boca Raton at Mizner Park.
561-391-0755

Buena Vista Bistro in Miami – French Comfort Food

I am not ashamed to say that when I am in the States but outside of my own home, my comfort food is French Bistro. I am also not ashamed to say that I did no work in looking up good restaurants to try while in Miami. I even disregarded recommendations from a foodie friend of a colleague in Boca Raton. That’s how I landed in Buena Vista Bistro. I came across it on my way back to the Airbnb, after shopping all day at the Design District of Miami. Buena Vista Bistro serves the French comfort food that I know so well.

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A good baguette with butter, a hallmark of any good French bistro. The butter came soft and ready to be spread.

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Special: Grilled Baby Octopus with Olive Oil. Hmmm. Fresh. Tender.Juicy. Smooth. Charred. It was not enough!

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Onglet Steak (Hanger Steak) with Ratatouille. Medium and done correctly! The ratatouille was a little bit too greasy. The steak can use a little less butter. See how it swims in the grease in the picture?  But other than those two minor items, it was perfect.

It was a perfect meal in so many ways with my favorite protein and carbohydrate. Buena Vista Bistro is a place that you can go everyday on your way home and just have a simple home cooked meal. I felt at home.

Will definitely return when given the opportunity.

This experience took place at

Buena Vista Bistro
4582 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 456-5909

Buena Vista Deli in Miami’s Design District – Palm Trees and Blue Skies

The Northeast is experiencing a tough Winter this year with weekly snow and ice storms. The cloudiness has really gotten me down in February. Thanks to my job, I found myself sitting outside of Buena Vista Deli on President’s Day in Miami, Florida, having a simple yet satisfying brunch. The glorious sun! Even the stop sign looked much better next to palm trees and blue skies.

Buena Vista Bakery is located in the Design District of Miami on NE 2nd Ave and a short walk away from the Airbnb that I stayed in. It was not the best of the neighborhoods but the walk was warm and summery. It put a sprint into my steps. I was skipping!

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A stop sign and palm trees!

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It was a very simple and very French breakfast: toasted baguette with butter and jelly; sausages; one Madeleine cookie; soy latte. The best part was the baguette… good bread – the density was right. The soy latte was decent – European in origin. The Madeleine was not too hot – not enough butter or eggs, too fluffy. The Costco Madeleine is better. The sausages were average – seems like they warmed up the frozen kind.

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But I could not complain. It was one of the nicest breakfast in a while for me. It was warm and sunny. It was cheap.

I squinted my eyes and smiled. I love the sun. Will return when given the opportunity.

This experience took place at

Buena Vista Deli
4590 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 576-3945