Weekend Eats ATL

…because calories don't count on the weekends

Marcel Atlanta


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All’s Well at Marcel

Up until the end of June, a classic steakhouse was one of the few things in Atlanta that Ford Fry didn’t have.  Things changed in July when he opened Marcel in the former Abattoir space.  Although I was sad to see Abattoir go, I was pretty excited about the new addition to Atlanta’s steakhouse scene.

At first glance, I loved what they did with the space.  The dim lighting, leather booths, and velvet curtains definitely gave off an “old school” steakhouse vibe, but then there were modern twists like the bright and mirrored bar in the center.

We ended up sitting in the bar room, so there was no reason not to start with a dirty martini.  One martini later, Marcel got its first check in the blue cheese-stuffed olives box.

Marcel Atlanta

So far, so good.

Marcel Atlanta

By 9 pm, the bar was packed.

To soak up all that vodka and vermouth, our server immediately brought out a plate of piping hot bread that was likely pulled out of the oven 25 seconds earlier.  If you’ve ever tried one of the famous English muffins at the Model Bakery in Napa, then you’ll know why I was so excited about this particular bread basket.  Marcel’s version looked deliciously similar and melted in your mouth just the same.  Thank goodness they only gave us one each, or else I might have skipped the steak altogether.

Ford Fry Marcel

Extra butter, please.

Although I was hoping for a tableside preparation when I ordered the Caesar a la minute, everything else about the salad was exactly what I wanted.  The romaine was crisp, the croutons were buttery, and the dressing was perfect.  Although it wasn’t served tableside, you could tell they had just mixed everything up minutes ago, hence the “a la minute.”  Also, never underestimate the importance of a chilled salad served on a chilled plate.  It can make all the difference in the world.

Marcel Atlanta

Caesar, a la minute

If steak isn’t your thing, Marcel has tons of fresh seafood options.  There were several east and west coast varieties on the oysters du jour list, and they were served with baked sea salt crackers and all the necessary fixings.

Marcel Atlanta

Oysters on ice

The sole meunière was classically prepared and beautifully presented.  They brought the fish out whole for a preview, and then returned it minutes later, filleted and ready to eat.  The fish was cooked nicely – flaky throughout with a crispy pan sear.  The subtle lemon-butter sauce really allowed the sole to shine on its own.

Marcel Atlanta

Sole with some soul.

A day or two before I dined at Marcel, I read an interesting article that compared steaks on a price per ounce basis at all the big name steakhouses in Atlanta.  The verdict?  Marcel was the most expensive steakhouse in Atlanta.  So naturally, this made me even more eager to give their steak a try.

I went with the 8 oz filet madame, and Chad with the 14 oz bone-in filet monsieur.  Fitting, I suppose.  Ever since my horrific experience at Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, I am extra careful and overly specific (almost to the point of obnoxious, really) when ordering a steak.  In this particular instance, I am pretty sure I used some combination of extremely rare, blue, barely cooked, and cold center.  I also specifically requested a cool plate.  Crystal clear, right?  Wrong.  My first steak came out on a piping hot plate and was barely medium rare.

Marcel steak Atlanta

This is how a normal person might prefer their steak…overcooked.

Contrary to popular belief, I really don’t enjoy sending back $50 steaks.  So if anyone has a suggestion about how I can be more clear about the whole rare thing, I’m all ears.  I will say though, that Marcel recovered very gracefully from this misstep.  The manager was extremely apologetic and brought out a new steak right away (not that it takes much time to sear a steak for 20 seconds on each side).

Marcel Atlanta

And this is what I prefer…perfection.

The second steak was served on a cool plate (check), with a cool, red center (double check).  The outside of the steak was nicely seared  with a salty-buttery crust.  The filet was ever-so-slightly marbled, and flavorful enough that it didn’t need any of the additional sauce add-ons that the menu offered.  It was really delicious, and worth waiting for.  Did it taste $.62/oz better than Kevin Rathbun’s filet?  Probably not, but keep in mind that, like any other steakhouse, you’re paying for the entire experience, not just the steak.

Side-wise we tried the creamed corn and the scalloped potatoes.  Both sides were creamy, cheesy, and decadent to the point where a few bites was enough.  They were definitely sharing-sized portions.  The crispy, baked crust that encased the creamed corn was to die for, and I don’t even really like corn.

Marcel Atlanta

Creamy & crispy, with a hint of corn.

Marcel Atlanta

They do offer some sides that aren’t covered in butter & cheese…but where’s the fun in that?

In the end, despite the minor steak snafu, I had a great experience at Marcel.  I was impressed with the food, and the service didn’t skip a beat.  Judging by the jam-packed crowd at the restaurant, I don’t think Marcel is going to struggle to sell any steaks, higher price tag and all.

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Burning Bridges at Bern’s (Travel Eats: Tampa)

It’s not exactly a secret that I love a good steakhouse.  A recent meal at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa got me thinking about what specifically I look for in a steakhouse.  I’ve narrowed it down to six important criteria:

  1. The steak.  There are few things in life that I love more than a perfectly rare filet.
  2. The service. Believe it or not, this is almost as important as the steak.  Part of the reason I’m willing to pay $50+ for a piece of meat is for the excellent service that usually accompanies it.
  3. Caesar salad. I’m a creature of habit.  A steak dinner always starts with a Caesar salad.
  4. French fries. You won’t find any baked, mashed, or scalloped potatoes on my plate.  Always French fries, preferably drizzled with truffle oil.
  5. Dirty martini. This classic drink goes perfectly with a steak.
  6. Chocolate cake. No matter how full I am, I always have room for a rich and decadent chocolate cake.

Back to Bern’s…let’s see how they stacked up.

The steak.  The second steak I received at Bern’s was perfectly rare and delicious.  The first, unfortunately, was medium rare, despite the fact that I ordered it “as rare as possible” and even specified that “yes, I would like it cool throughout the center.”  I ordered the châteaubriand cut, which is essentially a filet sliced differently.  I couldn’t actually tell any difference between the two, but like I said, the second steak was quite tasty.

Bern's steak

Steak # 1. I’d say that’s about as medium rare as you can get.

Bern's steak

Steak # 2.  I think they got the “as rare as possible” thing down on this one

 

The service.  The service at Bern’s was without a doubt the worst I’ve ever received at a steakhouse, and this wasn’t my first rodeo.  In baseball, they say three strikes and you’re out.  Bern’s struck out twice and then some during our two hour meal:

  • After learning this was our first time dining at Bern’s, our server didn’t provide any type of introduction to the restaurant or overview of the menu.   She gave us menus and took our drink order.  Strike one.
  • I asked a question about the châteaubriand cut, and our server explained that I should read the description of the cuts on the menu. I’m quite capable of reading, thank you, but the menu description didn’t answer the specific question that I had.  Strike two.
Bern's menu tampa

The menu provided a detailed description of each of their cuts

  • Refer to the French fries section below. Strike three.
  • Refer to the steak section above. Not only was my steak overcooked, my Mom’s was as well.  I didn’t realized that my request for “as rare as possible” was too vague for Bern’s.  Strike four.
  • Wait, isn’t our server supposed to come by at some point to ask how the food is? Hmm, I guess she forgot that part too.  Strike five.
  • After all of that, our server brought the check over and explained that per restaurant policy, a 12% gratuity charge had already been added to the bill. She then had the nerve to specify that we were welcome to add additional gratuity if we felt that she deserved more than 12%.  This was simply rude beyond belief.   Thank you for the Tipping 101 course, but we have, in fact, dined in a restaurant before and are quite familiar with how gratuity works. Strike six.
  • Refer to the chocolate cake section below. Strike seven.
  • Needless to say, we were all pretty ticked off about the meal, so we called and asked to speak to the manager the following day. He called back three days later and pretty much said, “sorry I’m not sorry.”  Strike eight and Bern’s is out.

Caesar salad.  We opted for the tableside Caesar salad in lieu of the house salad that came with the steak.  I love a good tableside Caesar, and Bern’s is among the best I’ve had.  The dressing was zesty and delicious.   It was actually a tad lighter than a traditional Caesar dressing, which I really enjoyed.

Caesar salad Bern's

The perfect combination of ingredients.

Tablewide Caesar salad Bern's

The preparation.

Tablewide Caesar salad Bern's

The finished product. Perfection.

French fries.  Each steak at Bern’s comes with their famous French onion soup, a salad, a baked potato, onion rings, and the vegetable du jour.  Woah, that’s a lot of food.  We explained to our server that we weren’t really interested in any soup, salad, potatoes, onion rings, or vegetables, and could we just order the steaks a la carte?  No.  Sorry, we don’t do a la carte.  Of course they don’t.  We then asked if instead of the four servings of soup, salad, potatoes, onion rings, and vegetables that we didn’t plan to eat, could we simply substitute one order of truffle French fries.  No.  Sorry, no substitutions allowed.  And that was that, there were no French fries to be had at this meal.

Dirty martini.  My martini was ice cold and just right.  Bern’s even made up a tiny bit of ground with the blue cheese-stuffed olives.

Bern's martini

This was definitely a two-martini kind of meal

Chocolate cake.  After dinner, we headed upstairs to Bern’s famous dessert room in hopes of drowning our dinner sorrows in some chocolate cake.  Unfortunately, 15 minutes later, no one had even come by to take our order, so we left.  Cakeless.

To say that Bern’s was disappointing would be the understatement of the century.  When I think about my favorite steakhouses here in Atlanta, the service at Bone’s immediately comes to mind.  Bern’s was basically the anti-Bone’s.  Now, just in case there’s any hint of lingering doubt in anyone’s mind (although I’m not sure that’s actually possible at this point), there is a 0% chance that I would recommend Bern’s to anyone visiting Tampa.  Ever.

Wine cellar Bern's.

The fabulous wine cellar at Bern’s.

Girl's weekend in Tampa

 

 

 


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Taco Tour: Escorpión

I have spent the last twelve months or so completing a whirlwind Taco Tour of Atlanta, and I have officially found a new top taco.  My recent meal at Escorpion Tequila Bar & Cantina was pretty close to taco-perfection.  The restaurant is located in Midtown at the corner of 5th and Peachtree.  The inside has a spacious bar and dining area, and the outside, a breezy wrap-around patio (immediate bonus points for this).  The patio was spectacular for people-watching, even if the Peachtree traffic was a bit noisy (apparently raging up and down Peachtree on a motorcycle is a popular sport these days).

Escorpion’s cocktail menu offers quite a few tequila concoctions, and I was sold on the El Veneno as soon as our server uttered the words “skinny margarita.”  The drink was ice cold, refreshing, and quite strong.  It also arrived within minutes, which warranted additional bonus points.

Escorpion Margarita

Few things are more refreshing than an ice cold margarita on a hot summer patio

Courtesy of my dining companions, I also tried sips of the Santa Ana Fruit Cart and the Pharmacia, but the Veneno was definitely my favorite.

Escorpion Margarita

Santa Ana Fruit Cart

 

Escorpion Margarita

Pharmacia

Our cocktails arrived with a complimentary order of chips & salsa, which seems trivial, but is becoming more of a rarity these days.  The salty chips and fiery salsa balanced perfectly with my skinny marg.

The taco section encompassed approximately 50% of Escorpion’s menu, so I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the selection.  The tacos ranged from traditional to adventurous (think beef tongue & braised goat) and came in three sizes: a la carte, plate, or familia.  You can also choose between flour or corn tortillas.  I think it’s obvious that I appreciate options.

Of everything that I sampled, the grilled shrimp taco was by far the best.  The shrimp were really large (for taco standards), nicely charred, and topped with fresh pico de gallo and a drizzle of jalapeno salsa.  I came back a week later and ordered two more of these (along with a few more El Venenos).

Escorpion Atlanta

Top Taco

The grilled salmon taco was super flavorful, even if the salmon itself was cooked about 30 seconds longer than I would have liked.  The fish was topped with a cucumber-mango-jicama slaw, and dressed with a tangy citrus vinaigrette.  A hint of chile salsa completed the dish, providing a spicy kick at the end.

Escorpion Atlanta

My terrible photography skills do NOT do this one justice

The arrachera taco was a marinated skirt steak, with grilled peppers and onions.  The salsa de arbol on this taco definitely brought the heat, but paired really nicely with the smoky flavor of the steak (even if my mouth was slightly on fire by the end of it).

Escorpion tacos

Make sure you have a full drink ready to handle the heat on this taco

The seta veggie taco was probably my least favorite of the four, but let’s be honest, when are vegetables ever better than steak, salmon, or shrimp?  The presentation of grilled corn, Portobello mushrooms, and zucchini was bright and beautiful, but the veggies tasted a bit bland.  I definitely would have liked a little more of the poblano flavor, and a little less cotija.

Escorpion Atlanta

Slightly prettier than it tasted

Despite their differences in proteins and flavors, all four tacos had one thing in common: a fresh and delectable corn tortilla.  The tortillas were served warm, and just thick enough to keep the tacos intact.  I didn’t try any of the flour tortillas, but I’d imagine they were on the same level as the corn.

Until my next stop on the Taco Tour (which is currently TBD), Escorpion has officially taken over the #1 spot.  Sorry, El Taco, it’s been a good run.

 

 


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Float Away, Floataway Café

Floataway Café has been floating around (no pun intended) the middle of my “restaurants to try” list for a little while now.  I finally checked it out a few weeks ago with a group of friends, and I have to say I was not impressed.  The restaurant is hidden away behind a couple warehouses in the Emory/Druid Hills area.  The space is definitely warehouse-chic, with high ceilings and lots of natural light.  Floataway’s concept was something along the lines of a modern blend of Mediterranean, Italian, and French cuisines, although I’m still a little bit unclear on what exactly they’re going for.

The menu is broken down into a few sections: cold & warm starters, pizzas, pastas, entrees, and vegetables.  The pizzas all looked and smelled pretty delicious, and I wish now that we had gone that route.  Per our server’s recommendation, we started with the gulf blue crab fritter and the octopus.

The crab fritter was nice and crispy on the outside, but it was way too thick.  This resulted in a slightly mushy texture throughout the center of the fritter.  It was served over some sautéed red onions and tomatoes in an oil-based sauce, which didn’t exactly help with the mushiness.

Floataway Cafe

Fritter failure

The octopus dish had a really nice combination of flavors.  It was served over some roasted purple potatoes with a zesty cumin-spiced yogurt.  However, the octopus itself was poorly cooked.  Octopus has a very small window in which it goes from perfectly cooked to overcooked, and the chef definitely missed the window here.  The texture was a little rubbery for my liking.

Floataway Cafe atlanta

It probably doesn’t help that I now compare every octopus dish I eat to St. Cecilia’s version

Entrée-wise, I went with the trout, which was served over a side of pureed chickpeas (aka hummus) with a nice roasted chickpea and red onion garnish.  I never would have thought to pair trout with chickpeas, but the combination worked really well together.  The trout was nicely cooked and crispy on the skin side, but I really would have liked a bit more sear on the other side as well.

Floataway Cafe atlanta

I’ve yet to find a hummus-anything combination that I don’t love

Chad went with the grilled hanger steak.  I’m never really a fan of non-steakhouse steaks, and this one was no exception.  The steak was served pre-sliced with a glob of buttery garlic sauce on the side.  Unfortunately, the sauce didn’t quite mask the fact that the steak itself lacked flavor.  The best part of the dish was the side of pommes frites.  The frites were pretty delicious, as French fries usually are.

Floataway Cafe atlanta

News flash: adults over the age of 5 can cut their own meat

Overall, I thought the experience at Floataway was mediocre at best.  I didn’t eat one bite the entire evening where I thought, “wow, that was delicious.”  The service was definitely nothing to write home about either.  In fact, the drink service was painfully slow, especially given that the restaurant was not crowded at all for a Friday evening.  At the end of the day, Floataway definitely floated down to the “one and done” section of my restaurant list.


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“And I’m BACK in the Game…”

The 70-degree weather this past weekend reminded me that spring, and more importantly, patio season, is right around the corner.  In preparation for lots of outdoor eating and patio drinking in the coming months, I decided it was time to dust the cobwebs off my blog.  I haven’t actually given up my weekend eating habit in the last few months, I’ve simply found that between working, traveling, and an MBA program, free time is more difficult to come by than it used to be.  I’ve actually enjoyed a handful of delicious meals over the last few months, so rather than writing an extremely long post that will bore everyone to tears make everyone extremely hungry, I’ll stick to the highlights:

Kevin Rathbun Steak

My birthday dinner in November was the perfect opportunity to re-visit one of my favorite Atlanta steakhouses, at which point it officially became my number one favorite.  The 12-ounce bone-in filet was everything a steak should be and more: perfectly seared on the outside, blue on the inside, mouthwateringly flavorful, and served with a side of truffle butter.

Kevin Rathbun Steak

Perfectly cooked on the outside…

Kevin Rathbun Steak

…perfectly blue on the inside

The Caesar salad and truffle fries were also note-worthy parts of the meal.  The salad was crisp, peppery, and Parmesan-cheesy, served on an ice-cold plate with chilled forks (Rathbun’s is all about the details).  The French fries were hand-cut, drizzled with rosemary truffle oil, and dusted with shaved pecorino.  They were also served with a tangy aioli, but I opted to double up on truffles and dipped them in the leftover truffle butter.

Kevin Rathbun Steak

The more truffle oil, the better

Kevin Rathbun Steak

Crispy Casear

The dessert was the only part of the meal that was slightly disappointing.  Although it doesn’t look it, the chocolate truffle cake was quite dry and well, too cakey.  Next time around, I’ll skip dessert in favor of the chocolate sea salt tart next door at Krog Bar.

Kevin Rathbun Steak

Despite the dry cake, the icing was quite tasty

Murphy’s

We started 2014 off on a high note with a five-course dinner & wine pairing at Murphy’s.  In addition to an array of fabulous wines, we had the opportunity to try some off-the-menu dishes.

Murphy's

They even personalized the menu for Chad’s birthday…

The fuji apple & kumquat salad was a light and fresh preface to the meal, paired perfectly with an equally light and refreshing glass of champs.

Murphy's

Course One…just getting started

The chef immediately kicked things up a notch with the second course, featuring broiled wild shrimp.  The dish was bold, rich and decadent.  The garlic-buttery creaminess reminded me a little bit of shrimp & grits, without the grits, of course.

Murphy's

Course Two…I’m already starting to get full.

Course three was a pomegranate-marinated duck breast.  The pomegranate glaze brought a unique sweet and savory component to the dish with a nice, crispy skin on the outside.  The duck itself was overcooked for my liking, but I didn’t leave a spoonful of the accompanying wild rice and maitake mushrooms behind.

Murphy's

Course Three…more rare please!

The soy braised short-ribs were without a doubt the most delicious thing I tasted all night.  Although I’m generally not a fan of soy-flavored anything, the short ribs were super-tender, and paired nicely with the earthy root mash.

Murphy's

Oops, forgot to photograph the best course of the night…

After courses one through four, really the last thing I needed was anything else to eat.  So naturally, I proceeded to scrape up every last bite of the vanilla crème brulee with its accompanying chocolate-drizzled shortbread cookie.

Murphy's

Course Five…sufficiently stuffed!

To be honest, the entire meal was a highlight, and the service was phenomenal from start to finish.

Don Antonio by Starita

I was quite disappointed when I found out several months ago that STG Trattoria was closing.  Fortunately, the disappointment was short-lived because several weeks later, Don Antonio by Starita moved in.  The New York-based restaurant has quite the selection (more than 50, in fact) of Neapolitan-style pies.  The restaurant itself seems to be an upgraded version of STG, with much tastier pizzas, and a lot more to choose from.

We opted for one each of the pizze bianche and pizze rosse.  The pizzas were small enough to call “personal”, but big enough to warrant sharing.  Unsurprisingly, the prosciutto e arugula was my favorite of the two.  The white pizza was topped with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto di parma, arugula, pecorino romano, basil, and of course, a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Like I said, "personal-sized"...for a very hungry person!

Like I said, “personal-sized”…for a very hungry person!

For a meatier option, the margherita with sausage and mushrooms was also quite tasty.  What really made the pizzas stand out, however, was the dough rather than the toppings.  The wood-fired crust had the perfect textural balance of delicate fluffiness baked inside a crispy shell.

Don Antonio

They certainly didn’t skimp on the toppings either…

Next on my list for Don Antonio: the pizze fritte aka “lightly fried pizza”, because you really can’t go wrong with fried pizza.

As you can see, food-wise, it hasn’t been a terrible winter (although I can’t exactly say the same about the weather).  Unlike my blog, the Atlanta restaurant scene has definitely NOT been hibernating all winter long…I think it’s safe to say my bucket list is overflowing and ready for Spring!


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Lowering the Steakbar

Before there were four, all three of Kevin Rathbun’s Atlanta restaurants were competing for the top spot on my ATL Faves list.  His fourth and latest concept, KR Steakbar, opened in Peachtree Hills back in February.

I’m often skeptical about the service component at brand new restaurants, so I decided to give it a three month grace period before paying the establishment a visit on a recent Saturday night.  Despite reading mixed and some less than raving reviews, I still had high hopes for the Italian-inspired small plate & steak concept.

We started the evening at the bar, which was large with lots of seating.  The restaurant also had a nice patio area, which appeared as though it would be very pleasant, weather permitting.  The bartenders were friendly, attentive, and efficient.  My off the menu vodka-cucumber-mint cocktail was delivered quickly and tasted quite refreshing.

KR Steakbar drinks

My go-to summertime drink: vodka & water with cucumber, mint, and lime

We were seated right on time for our 8:45 pm reservation.  Although the atmosphere had a nice, fun, and upbeat vibe going on, the restaurant was very loud.  Our 4-top table was also excessively long, to the extent that it was difficult to make conversation across the table.  The hostess attempted to reseat us, but every other table was full – not the end of the world, but worth noting.

Our server gave a brief overview of the restaurant concept and menu – Italian fare, smaller portion sizes, multi-course dining encouraged, steaks highly recommended.  We took her advice.

Course One: a meat & cheese assortment from the a la carte “salumi & cheese” menu.  We opted for the Parmesan, Harbison, and Rogue River Blue, accompanied by some Cacciatorini and Finocchiona slices.

KR Steakbar cheese

The Rogue River Blue was my favorite

KR Steakbar meats

I’d skip these next time and go for something more adventurous

The Parmesan and the Rogue River Blue were both sharp and delicious.  I didn’t care for the soft, almost liquid texture of the Harbison.  The salami slices were pretty standard as far as cured meats go, although I always love the fennel flavor of Finocchiona.

Course Two: kale from the “garden” menu.  The kale was sautéed with cremini mushrooms in a smoked olive oil, and topped with just a tad too much Parmesan.  Although the Parmesan was quite good, it overpowered the dish and masked the earthy flavor of the kale and mushrooms.  The cheese plate would have been sufficient.

KR Steakbar

Cheesy kale

Course Three: ribeye from the “meat” menu.  I was tempted to try a fish or pasta dish, but our server’s description of the ribeye ultimately won me over.  She explained that the ribeye was actually just the center cut piece, so really more like a filet.  She had me at filet, extra rare.

KR Steakbar steak

Too. much. arugula.

Presentation-wise, I was confused by the dish.  The steak was “garnished” with arugula and radishes, which turned out to mean smothered in giant, wilted lettuce leaves.  I quickly brushed the wilty salad off of my steak and cut it open to reveal the important part – the cool, red center.  They were spot on with the extra rare.

KR Steakbar ribeye

Kevin Rathbun certainly knows how to cook a steak perfectly

The flavor of the ribeye was phenomenal.  The outside was seared and perfectly salty.  The six ounce portion was smaller than I’m typically used to seeing, meaning I still had room for dessert and no one had to wheel me out of the restaurant.

Course Four (not pictured): olive oil cake.  Disappointingly, the olive oil cake tasted no different than a pound cake.  It was moist, but lacked any sort of flavor.  The pistachio gelato that accompanied the cake was a nice touch, but there wasn’t much of it to go around.

Bonus Course: After-dinner drinks.  We finished the meal with a round of their house-made “Bailey’s” on the rocks.  This satisfied my sweet tooth in place of the olive oil cake.

KR Steakbar

I can’t remember what they called this, but it was tasty

Overall, I enjoyed the food, the atmosphere, and the service at KR Steakbar, but I definitely was not blown away.  Although the concept was interesting, I’m not sure “Italian fare with an emphasis on Prime steaks” is a cuisine I need to eat again.  Comparatively speaking, I would much rather dine at Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak, or Krog Bar over KR Steakbar.  I guess that’s the downside to owning three successful (and delicious) restaurants in one city – when you decide to open a fourth, everyone is going to compare it to the first three…#successfulchefproblems


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Travel Eats: Aruba Beach Café (Fort Lauderdale)

Several years ago, my family collectively decided that Christmas was much more enjoyable when celebrated in a warm and tropical location.  Hence began our tradition of migrating south to Fort Lauderdale at Christmastime.  When it comes to a beach vacation, we are all pretty easy to please provided there is plenty of good weather and food to go around.  Fortunately, luck was on our side this year and we enjoyed 5 days of fabulous weather, food, and drinks…

Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort

Poolside paradise

We began and ended (yes, we are creatures of habit) the trip with deliciously fresh seafood at Aruba Beach Café, a family favorite.  Aruba’s atmosphere is exactly as the name suggests – a casual and beachy spot overlooking the water at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, complete with live music, great service, and terrific food.  If you can’t already tell, I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting the area…

Aruba Beach Cafe

He welcomes you into to the cafe…

To start off, we ordered a loaf of Bimini Bread – a local Bahamian tradition.  Although it appears like a loaf of ordinary loaf white bread, the outer crust is actually coated with a sugary “Aruba” glaze.  The inside is quite airy and fluffy, and it is served hot with a whipped honey butter.  They only sell it ‘til they run out for the night, so you’d better order it early!

Aruba's Bimini Bread

Apparently it makes delicious French toast in the morning, if you have any left over, that is.

We also shared a plate of the Florida stone crab claws, the evening appetizer special.  As December is right in the heart of stone crab season, this was a good choice.  The sweet-tasting crab meat didn’t require any butter or dipping sauce and I found the stone crabs to be much more enjoyable to eat than the messy Maryland blue crabs I’m used to.

Aruba's Stone Crabs

Florida stone crab claws

My entrée choice was a no brainer – a blackened trio of scallops, shrimp, and Mahi.  It’s a pretty safe bet that anytime there is a blackened trio of anything on any menu, I will order it.  The seafood tasted as if it had been caught from the sea five minutes prior to tossing it on the grill.  The Cajun spices provided the perfect kick, balanced by the delicious rice & beans and veggies on the side – and I don’t even particularly like vegetables or rice & beans.

Aruba's Blackened Seafood Trio

The only thing it lacked was more scallops…

Although this enormous dish probably could have fed two, I happily enjoyed it all to myself, hence leaving no room for dessert.  Really, the best way for me to describe how good this dish was is to explain that I ordered the EXACT same thing when we returned to Aruba’s three nights later (luckily with a different server who didn’t recognize us)…enough said.

Now for a short summary of all the highlights in between Aruba’s # 1 and Aruba’s # 2:

  • LOTS of tropical drinks…
Fort Lauderdale

And I’m not normally a tropical drink drinker…

Hilton Fort Lauderdale

Breakfast with a view

  • Christmas Eve dinner at Ruth’s Chris – a family tradition.  The classic Caesar and filet combo.
Ruth's Chris Fort Lauderdale

Cooked perfectly, as you can see

  • Rich and decadent flour-less chocolate cake from Ilios
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Surprisingly, the only dessert of the trip

Hopefully this time next year, I’ll be doing the EXACT same thing (hint, hint, Mom & Dad).