Saturday, April 30, 2011

So-So Italian at Carmen's Italian Cafe, Bradenton

My wife, daughter and I had a passable meal at Carmen's Italian Cafe in Bradenton last night.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was very nice - with warm decor and a very nice waitress - Michelle.

The chef and owner, Carmen, is reportedly from Sicily. The dishes on the menu are from all over Italy. Our food ranged from nice to expensive blah.

We started with the soup of the day - Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool in Italian-American lingo). That was very tasty.

As an entree, my wife had one of the evening specials - seafood cannelloni (misspelled as "cannalloni"). The pasta part of the dish was homemade and very tasty. HOWEVER, the filling, which was supposed to be lobster, scallops, and shrimp was an indistinguishable mush that could have been anything. It was outrageously priced at $27.99. When we mentioned our unhappiness with this dish, we were told the filling has to be prepared that way!

I had Veal alla Carmen. It was very tasty. It was tender pieces of veal sautéed in butter and white wine with lemon, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and herbs. It was served over linguini and cost $18.99.

Our daughter enjoyed "Pasta Carbonara" for $12.99. (In Italy, they would use the specific name of the pasta and follow it by the words, "alla carbonara;" e.g., spaghetti alla carbonara.)

Our wine was a 2009 Stemmara Feudo Arancio Nero d'Avola for $24. It was decent, but I've had much better Nero d'Avola. This brand normally retails for about $9.

It took us about 45 minutes to get our entrees after ordering them.

The restaurant should correct the menu's misspelling of "caprece" to caprese.

After dinner, we joined friends in the restaurant's adjoining bar, which was decorated like a tacky rec room, in contrast to the restaurant's nice decor.

The bottom line is that we will not return. If we want Italian food with a Sicilian touch, we'll return to Ortygia in Bradenton. Although its chef was not born in Sicily, his food is much more authentic and has some dishes not normally found in U.S. Italian restaurants.

Carmen's is located at 515 27th St. East in Bradenton. It is in a little strip mall just behind a car wash at the intersection of State Rd. 64 and 27th St. E.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hunan Manor - A Chinese Taste Treat

On Wednesday night, I had dinner in Columbia, MD with J.Y., one of my favorite former colleagues. Since I have not found a Chinese restaurant I like in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, I suggested that we dine at Hunan Manor (, a Chinese restaurant I have enjoyed in Coumbia, MD when we lived in the area. I was very happy to see that the food there is as delicious as ever.

I know nothing about authentic Chinese food. However, I have always seen a number of orientals dining there. This visit was no exception.

In addition to the menu which has many of the Americanized Chinese dishes found in most U.S. restaurants, there is also a section of the menu entitled "Authentic Chinese Menu."

We shared an order of two spring rolls and two entrees. The entrees were:
1. Beef, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables over pan-fried noodles. It was great!
2. Salt and Jalapeño Pepper Shrimp, Calamari, and Scallops. This was listed as a hot dish, but I asked the waiter if it could be made mild. It was. The seafood was lightly breaded. It was fantastic. The latter dish came from the "Authentic Chinese Menu."

Although I should probably have chosen a white wine, I selected a MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir. As usual, this wine was very nice.

The atmosphere is more upscale than most Chinese restaurants, and the service was excellent. Dinner for the two of us came to $81, including wine and the taxes, but before tip.

Hunan Manor currently has three restaurants, all located between Washington, DC and Baltimore. The one where we dined is located at 7091 Deepage Drive, Columbia, MD.

Franklin's Restaurant, Brewery, & General Store - A Maryland Treat

Tuesday of this week, I had a very pleasant & tasty dinner with friend & respected colleague, V.M. At her suggestion (actually, her nephew's suggestion), we ate at Franklin's Restaurant, Brewery, & General Store ( in Hyattsville, Md.

Although I prefer wine, I felt I couldn't pass up the brew produced at Franklin. I tried the Sierra Madre West Coast-style pale ale hopped with Cascade hops with citrus aroma for $4.50. Just to be sure that I loved it, I had two of them. The second one confirmed my initial judgement.

I started my dinner with an "appetizer." It was described as "Nickel Curves." There were three lamb merguez burger sliders topped with tzatziki sauce for $8.50. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was tempted to order more.

My next course was a healthy one (contrary to my normal instincts) - a salad of asparagus, beets, hard-boiled eggs, greens, and Cherry Glen goat cheese topped with red wine vinaigrette for $9. It was very tasty.

For dessert, we shared a huge and tasty caramel bread pudding for $6.

The clientele was generally young - probably many drawn from the nearby College Park campus of the University of Maryland.

They also have a general store, which I did not check out.

The address is 5121 Baltimore Ave, Hyattsville. Phone 301-927-2740.

I recommend it. I plan to go back for the Nickel Curves.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant @ Sarasota - Cocina Muy Sabrosa!

Last night, we had a delicious meal with four friends at Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant near downtown Sarasota (

My wife had two tapas and dessert. I had two tapas, dessert and a double espresso. We shared a half pitcher of sangria. Everything we ordered was terrific. In fact, we liked the dishes more than most of the tapas we'd had in Spain 18 months ago.

My wife's tapas were:
- Gambas Romesco - Sautéed jumbo shrimp with roasted tomato, garlic, almonds, and sweet red peppers for $12.95.
- Solomillo a la Parilla - prime fillet grilled and slice with mushrooms and brandy cream sauce for $12.95

Her dessert was Torta Valenciana - chocolate ckae with vanilla ice cream, raspberry sauce, orange zest, and fresh berries for $8.50. Her dessert portion was very large, as was mine.

I had a very difficult time choosing tapas because there were so many that sounded delicious. I chose:
- Chorizo y Pimientos - five types of chorizo sausage sliced with roasted tomato and sweet peppers for $7.50.
- Piquillos Rellenos - Roasted red peppers stuffed with ground veal and mild chorizo sausage & served with a light sherry sauce.

My dessert was Pudin de la Pan - bread pudding with dried fruits and Spanish brandy served with vanilla ice cream for $7.95.

The half pitcher of red sangria was $16.75. It was very nice.

Our total tab with gratuity was $100.60.

They have an extensive wine list comprising Spanish and Portuguese wines. The Spanish wines are from all the major wine regions of Spain. Bottle prices are reasonable and range from about $19 to $199.

One of the dishes that some of our companions order was Champíñones de Sevilla. It was not quite what they expected. It was described as four types of mushrooms sautéed with sherry over goat cheese and toasted bread. They were expecting slice of toast on a dish. Instead, it was a soupy mixture in a bowl.

One of our dinner companions was unhappy with the cost of his ordinary well vodka - $7.50 a glass. I don't know what such drinks normally run.

I was unhappy with the fact that our waitress did not mention that a 20% gratuity had been added. While she was very friendly:
1. Because the table was small, we did not want all of our orders to arrive at once. All of us at the table asked that the one part of our orders come first and the other part later. She assumed we meant the first part of each couple's order, whereas we meant the first part of each person's order. Consequently, some of us were served our entire order in the first round and some were served none. She then tried to get more orders out and the table was very crowded.
2. She was inattentive toward the end of our meal.

We dined on the second floor. Some nights, there is live music and/or flamenco on the third floor. The schedule of events is on the web site.

There is a roof-top bar that is very nice.

We will definitely return and I suspect two of our companions will because the wife had previously enjoyed meals there with friends and they enjoyed last night's meal.

This restaurant is a part of a small chain with other stores in Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater, and Orlando.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Square One - Good Burgers

Last Saturday evening, seven of us had a nice family dinner at Square One Burgers & Bar not far from Lakewood Ranch. The menu had a great assortment of Angus burgers, as well as bison and ostrich burgers, aw well as pulled pork, "chicken burgers," sliders, salads, desserts, etc.

My wife had the Angus All-American burger for $6.99 and I had the Three-Mushroom burger with sautéed porcini, portabella, and garden mushrooms and a Sooner sauce for $9.99. My burger was one of the tastiest I have ever eaten. My wife's sweet potato fries and my regular fries were very tasty. My caramelized apple crisp dessert was also delicious.

The sandwiches all come with a side. Some sides, such as the sweet potato fries, cost a bit extra.

Our service was very good.

For the address, menu, etc. visit the web site at

The restaurant is one of a small chain of three restaurants in Sarasota and Tampa. It has an Oklahoma influence on the menu and with its decor of Modern Cowboy Something or Other. Although it only opened recently, it seems to be doing very well. I had previously eaten at the Sarasota store across from Sarasota Memorial Hospital. My burger there was tasty, but not as good as this one. I'll definitely return.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Delicious Encore at Ortygia

We returned to Ortygia Sicilian restaurant in Bradenton last Friday night for another great meal. Since the outside temperature was very comfortable, we sat at an outdoor table. We were entertained by the singing and guitar playing of Jay Turtlehawk, of Tuscarora Indian heritage.

My wife once again had the delicious Pate di Pollo con Pistacchio appetizer - chicken paté with basil, caramelized garlic, and pistachio. It was just as terrific as the previous time.

I had a fantastic appetizer of Finocchio Arrostito - fresh roasted fennel in an Italian chardonnay cream with olive & pancetta finished with an imported Caprino cheese bread crumb crust for $8.50.

My wife also repeated her previous entrée of Timballo di Penne - pasta with meatballs, egg, mozzarella, provolone cheese, and roasted pepper bathed in balsamic and parmesan and served with tomato sauce for $11.50.

I had a special - Sicilian pot roast cooked in Nero d'Avola wine (a Sicilian wine) with bay leaf and citrus zest for $18. It melted in my mouth. The bread we were served was a home-made tomato bread.

We both had the same chocolate dessert my wife had tried on our previous visit.

Our wine was a bottle of red wine from the Le Marche Region of Italy. It was a Piceno DOC - Il Conte Villa Prandone made of Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes for $24. (The wines at Ortygia are very reasonably priced. There was even a Barolo for $48.

The owner, Guy, came and chatted with us for a minute. He remembered us from our previous visit - mentioning several things we had told him.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Nice Dinner with High School Classmates

We spent a delightful evening last Monday with some of my high school classmates with whom I had become acquainted/reacquainted at our 50th reunion last summer. Two came with their spouses and one with her cute and very-well behaved dog. One spouse is a retired pilot who has had some very interesting experiences, including being the pilot of Air Force One for one president and the pilot of a unique, around-the-world commercial charter flight. This flight was from north to south across the poles with a landing at McMurdo Station in the Antarctic.

We prepared a 4-course meal. I made bruschetta, spaghetti all'amatriciana, arista alla fiorentina, and cipolline alla fontina (pearl onions with fontina cheese sauce). My wife prepared a dessert of panna cotta. The arista was not as juicy as the previous time I had made it. I probably cooked it about 5 minutes too long. The cipolline alla fontina was ok, but not exciting. It was the only new dish for me and I probably won't make it again. It was from the Beautiful Italy cookbook. The spaghetti and bruschetta both turned out fine.

I served two red wines - a Mantellassi Morellino di Scansano from the Maremma, Tuscany and a Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico - both wines that we enjoyed.

Our guests brought us some very nice wines.

We look forward to getting together with them again.