March 13, 2014

Marchand's Farm to Fork at the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel #VinoyF2F

The Renaissance Vinoy Hotel is a St. Petersburg landmark. The history and the ambiance of the Vinoy provide charm that you can’t find anywhere else. Since the grand opening in 1925, the historic hotel has played host to countless guests, including Presidents, professional athletes, and A-list Hollywood stars.

I was recently invited to wine and dine my way through the main dining room at the hotel – Marchand’s Bar and Grill. Lucky for us, Marchand’s is open to the public - not just hotel guests.

The six course tasting dinner at Marchand’s featured locally sourced ingredients. Chef Mark Heimann and Chef de Cuisine Ross Clingman turned these locally sourced ingredients into pure food magic. At the presentation of each course, we marveled at the dish presented to us. Each course built upon the last to create a memorable dining experience that I won’t soon forget. Not only did every course look fabulous, they tasted even more fabulous.

The start of a perfect meal

Here is a look at the dishes we tried:

Florida avocado, crisp prosciutto, pickled radish, duck egg, rocket greens, buttermilk dressing
Not your mama’s typical lettuce and tomato salad! This salad was a great way to start the meal, and a tasty preview of the meal ahead.

Spiny lobster cake, celery seed, chipotle-lemon grass remoulade
Before the dinner, I saw a tweet hinting at this glorious spiny lobster cake. I was looking forward to this because I love lobster. What could be better than a bunch of lobster meat stuffed together to form this tasty cake? Mmm. And see those little black squid-ink croutons? They were unique and so tasty. A return trip to Marchand’s would be in order based on this dish alone.

Braised veal cheeks with cabernet linguini, escarole, bronzed sweet onion, pecorino
Lots of firsts for me on this dish. Veal cheeks? Cabernet linguini? They both sound intimidating but were both super delicious. The veal cheeks were melt-in-your-mouth tender. The cabernet linguini was fresh and not too bold or too heavy.

Lake meadow’s game hen, orange-honey crust, charred cabbage, saison beignets
I’m not sure if the best part of this dish was the orange-honey glaze or the saison beignets. I could have easily had a few spoonfuls of the orange-honey glaze and a few saison beignets and been happy. Together, this dish was spectacular. And then…

Fried flounder, corn spoon bread, Andouille stuffed peppers, jalapeƱo butter
Save the best for last! Just when we thought the meal couldn’t get any better, out came this stunningly delicious (and adorable) plate. The flounder was fried to crispy perfection with a light batter. The corn spoon bread tasted like a spoonful of Southern happiness. Then I tried the Andouille stuffed peppers - a mini bite of sweet heat and the perfect way to wrap up the savory portion of the meal.

Plant City strawberry cannoli and banana cream pie duo
Dessert is always a requirement for me. Marchand’s dehydrated local strawberries and turned them into this cannoli shell and stuffed it with a smooth creamy filling. This duo also contained a deconstructed banana cream pie. Both mini desserts were refreshing and light. This was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Along with every course we had a pairing from Marchand’s in-house sommelier. As if the food wasn’t enough, here’s what we enjoyed sipping on throughout the evening:

Chardonnay – Hahn SLH Estate, California
Sauvignon Blanc – Starmont, California
Malbec – Trivento Amado Sur, Mendoza Argentina
Jai Alai IPA – Cigar City Brewing, Tampa
Key West Sunset Ale – Florida Brewing, Melbourne
Prosecco – Mionetto, Italy (does this place know the way to my heart or what?!)

You can have your own Chef's Surprise Tasting dinner at Marchand's (with or without wine pairings) or try these dishes a la carte. There are lots of other dishes on the current menu I'd love to try, like the Lobster and Oxtail Ravioli Duo and the Sea Scallops. 

Another awesome feature of Marchand’s is the new tabletop sommelier. This iPad feature has the full bar/wine menu, suggested pairings, and other nifty features. You’ll even be able to save and send yourself notes on the drinks you enjoyed so you’ll be able ask for them again at a return visit or purchase them to enjoy at home.

After this exquisite dinner, Marchand’s is moving up to the top of my list for go-to special occasion dining. There’s no need to spend lots of money on a chain steakhouse when you can have locally sourced gourmet fare for practically the same price. To top it all off, you can’t beat the charm of The Vinoy for any celebration. And even when not celebrating special occasions, Marchand’s is perfect for your next date night, girls night out, or whenever you’re in the mood for a delicious meal.

PS: Marchand’s also has weekend brunch, sushi on select nights, and a special prix fixe menu. I can’t wait to try these soon.

January 22, 2014

Chihuly Collection

Downtown St. Pete has a lot of gems. A gem that sparkles extra bright is the Chihuly Collection on Beach Drive. Dale Chihuly is the master of glass. The glass art featured in this collection will have you marveling at just how impressive a bunch of glass can be. Whimsical, creative and magical are some of the terms that come to mind.

The Chihuly exhibit goes with the approach of quality over quantity. The Collection is not a full museum, and it certainly does not take long to explore. You could walk through and see everything in as little as 10 minutes, but because you will be stopping, staring, and awing at the art, you will likely spend 30 minutes or more inside. In fact, you may even want to go back through and see it all again. It's really that impressive. There is also a brief film you can watch before or after you explore the art. The film gives you a behind the scenes look at how Chihuly and his team work their magic.

The Collection contains the famous Chihuly chandeliers (my favorite), as well as other stand alone art pieces. Some of the pieces hang from the ceiling, and you could easily touch them but I wouldn't recommend it. (Who would want to be responsible for breaking a beautiful piece of Chihuly artwork? Not me.)

My favorite piece
Yes, this is all glass

Hours for the exhibit are 10-5pm Monday-Saturday and 12-5pm on Sundays. Too bad they aren't open weekend nights because this would make a perfect date night. A dinner on Beach Drive and a leisurely stroll through the Chihuly Collection sound like the perfect evening to me. Whenever you go, you'll be lucky to have an up close and personal view of some amazing art. For an extra Chihuly fix, head over to the Vinoy Hotel and check out the Chihuly piece in their lobby.

November 04, 2013

Orlando weekend recap

Last weekend we ventured out of Tampa Bay and into the Orlando area. No theme parks in mind on this particular visit, just relaxing and enjoying time together and with friends.

The best part of our trip was our temporary vacation home at Windsor Hills Resort. Windsor Hills is a perfectly kept community of vacation homes for families visiting the Orlando area. They boast themselves as "the closest vacation home resort to Walt Disney World." The property seemed to be very secure, and totally picture perfect. The lawns were perfectly manicured, the neighborhood was perfectly quietly, and it looked like the ultimate suburbia dream land. Nearby you could find every chain restaurant you could imagine and lots of souvenir shops. If you are vacationing with your family to the Disney area, this is the way to do it. Our vacation home had 6 bedrooms, a game room, and a private pool.
Ah, Pleasantville
My favorite meal of the trip came from Shula Burger. I found out that this was actually the newest location - it was in Kissimmee at the Rolling Oaks Plaza. (We actually visited the Rolling Oaks Plaza several times while we were in town. It has pretty much everything you need.) Shula Burger is a part of the Shula family of restaurants (including Shula's Steak House), from namesake and former NFL coach Don Shula. The Kissimmee location of Shula Burger is the 5th - and I was really surprised when I learned that one of the locations is in the Southwest terminal at Tampa International Airport. I am hoping that Shula Burger adds a full scale Tampa or St. Pete location in the near future. I have been thinking about that burger since I had it 2 weeks ago!

Shula Burger is a fast-casual burger chain. You order at the counter and your meal is delivered to your table. The staff was incredibly accommodating, starting with Carlos who greeted us at the door and explained the experience to us. He mentioned that he had tried everything on the menu (lucky guy!) and would be happy to make recommendations if we needed them. I stuck with my favorite type of burger, the Mushroom Swiss burger. There were 9 signature burgers to choose from or you could customize your own creation. I counted at least 8 cooks in the kitchen during our Saturday afternoon visit. It was nice to know that they had adequate staff to handle the lunch rush.

The Shula Burger and Sweet Potato Tots
Mushroom Swiss Burger with Sea Salt Fries
I was also very happy to find that Shula Burger uses brioche buns for their burgers. I hate going to a burger place and being served a cheap bun. The buns used at Shula Burger were strong enough to hold the patty and toppings without falling apart. The burger patties are made from Black Angus beef, short rib, and brisket. The burger was very juicy and flavorful. I loved that they used a perfect ratio of cheese on the burger. The cheese fit the whole patty - not too big or too small like at other burger places. The branding of Shula on the bun was a nice touch too. The Sea Salt fries sounded a little intimidating because I don't love salt THAT much, but they were pretty much regular fries. The salt was not overwhelming or even really that noticeable and the fries were extra crispy.

In case you can't tell, I give Shula Burger an A+!

On Saturday evening we ventured out to Citywalk at Universal. I love going to the Universal parks, especially during Grinchmas. Our visit to Citywalk featured a trip to Rising Star. Rising Star is the ultimate karaoke venue for those who dream about being on stage. You sing karaoke along with a live band and backup singers. All of the singers were really good. This is not your typical "tone deaf" karaoke bar (although maybe some not so good singers came on after we left?). Rising Star has an ample list of karaoke classics and several current songs to choose from. The downside was that the band takes 30 minute breaks in between sets of about 30 minutes. I'm not sure why they go from 100% entertainment to 0% entertainment for such long periods. However, this is the perfect spot for anyone who dreams of being on stage and wants a taste of stardom - even if just for 1 song.

Rising Star - backup singers, live band, and an awesome performer
What are your favorite places in Orlando? I hope to be back for Grinchmas this year!

Check out Shula Burger on UrbanSpoon:
Shula Burger on Urbanspoon

October 15, 2013

Tampa Bay Speed Boat Adventures

I recently hit the jackpot when I came across the website for Tampa Bay Speed Boat Adventures. The website reads "Be your own captain as you tour Tampa Bay driving your own speed boat." Once I saw "no experience necessary" and all of the 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor I knew I was sold. (And to know me is to know I love a good tour!)
The 3pm tour coming back to land
I was able to book a 5pm tour on a Saturday. They do have earlier afternoon tours available, but I wanted a time that wouldn't be so hot. We met our captain near the Tierra Verde Marina. After a brief safety orientation and overview of the boats, we were stepping into our temporary home on the water.
Idle speed as we left the dock
There are a few periods in the tour where you have to go "idle" speed. This speed allows you to take in the scenery - waterfront homes and other boats out on the water. After a few minutes of getting used to the steering and the boat, you soon reach the regular speed zone. Then, it's party time! You can go full throttle throughout the Bay. The majority of the tour is at full speed. We did have some choppy water for short periods, but it adds to the experience. (Tip: you may want to bring a towel to put on the seat to ease some of the hit you will take if you have choppy water.)

nice house, eh?
We were lucky enough to have a clear day with ZERO percent chance of rain! Since it was a 5pm tour in October, the temperature was in the mid-80s, and there was not a cloud in the sky. We saw a handful of other boats out on the water, but it felt like we had the bay all to ourselves. Our captain took us all the way out to the Skyway Bridge. Let me tell you, the bridge is much nicer when you're looking up at it from a boat instead of driving over it. Unfortunately no dolphins came out to visit us while we were on the water.
oh how I love where I live
The speed boat tour was leisurely and FUN. We weren't rushed at all and before we knew it the sun was starting to set and we were heading back to dry land. I HIGHLY recommend this tour to anyone who is up for an adventure. It's an amazing way to unplug, unwind, and enjoy the sweet beauty of Tampa Bay.

August 24, 2013

Brew Over Ice giveaway!

Let's face it - Florida is hot all year long! We may get a few weeks of cooler weather, but most of the year there is no need to wear anything more than shorts and flip-flops. There is also not much need to drink anything that isn't cold! An iced coffee is almost always my choice over hot coffee. I was really excited when I saw that Keurig has a brand of Brew Over Ice K-Cups that I can use to make iced coffee or iced tea at home.

I have been able to try a few Brew Over Ice K-Cups, and so far my favorite is the Donut Shop Sweet & Creamy Regular Iced Coffee. I was surprised how "sweet and creamy" it was right out of the brewer. (You can tell from the picture below too!) Unlike past attempts to make iced coffee at home, this one tasted like what I would get from a local coffee shop. I did add a splash of vanilla creamer for a hint of vanilla flavor. It came out perfect!

Brewing, brewing...
If you prefer tea over coffee, Brew Over Ice also sells many varieties of tea. I tried the Strawberry Pomegranate from Vitamin Burst, and Peach Iced Tea from Snapple. Both were great for an afternoon pick me up.

Brew Over Ice has offered a prize package to one of my readers! 
Congratulations to Tabitha W!
To enter to win, leave a comment with what Brew Over Ice flavor you would most like to try! 
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter after you leave your comment. 

Prize package includes: 
3 Brew Over Ice K-Cup samples 
A Brew Over Ice plastic tumbler so you can take your tasty drinks on the road with you
4 Brew Over Ice drink coasters
A light up Brew Over Ice ice bucket with ice tongs

Even if you don't win the prize package, you can still feel the love from Brew Over Ice! You can download a $2 off coupon to try the Brew Over Ice K-Cups of your choice, or enter to win $10,000 cash!

Disclaimer: I received a free Brew Over Ice package including K-Cup samples in exchange for this review.

August 17, 2013

Cupcakes, cupcakes, and more cupcakes

Today the Morean Arts Center hosted their 3rd Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest. This event allows amateur and professional bakers to compete for the title of the best cupcake. I was happy to participate this year by sampling as many cupcakes as I could handle. In lieu of a normal lunch, I sampled sweet cupcakes, savory cupcakes, traditional cupcakes, gourmet cupcakes, and everything in between. Here are some highlights of the event:

Chocolate Oreo Cheesecake
Blood Orange Creamsicle
Cannoli Cupcakes (Parisian raspberry to the right)
Caramel Apple
The Elvis
Lemon and Pomegranate
My favorites were:
Red Snapping Turtle
Can't go wrong with Chocolate and Peanut Butter

I'm looking forward to next year! Go hungry and leave happy.

August 08, 2013

Girls Night Out with the Tampa Bay Rays

Grab your best girlfriends and head out to Tropicana Field. The Tampa Bay Rays are hosting a Girls Night Out on Thursday August 15th. $25 dollars will get you a lower level reserved seat, a Rays wine tumbler, and a voucher for a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. (Psst- Did you know the Rays started serving wine this season? Pretty cool.) Head to this link to buy your ticket and use promo code GIRL3 to get in on this deal. Hurry, because you must buy your tickets by August 14th!

This Rays wine tumbler can be all yours!

July 29, 2013

Enjoy Arts & Tastes St. Pete

Celebrity chefs are often found wondering around in Tampa Bay. Emeril Lagasse, Robert Irvine, and Wolfgang Puck have been known to dine at their favorite local eateries like Cassis and Cafe Ponte when they are in town. While I personally haven't been lucky enough to spot Emeril strolling down Beach Drive, I know others who have. Soon enough, famous chefs like Masaharu Morimoto and Ming Tsai will not only be in town, but we will all have a chance to dine on the culinary creations we've only seen on TV.

The Enjoy Arts & Tastes Festival will be happening in St. Pete this November. As a huge fan of culinary cooking shows, I am super excited to have the chance to get to see these chefs in person AND taste their dishes! All of the major chefs at the 
Enjoy Arts & Tastes Festival have names you'll recognize from your favorite culinary channel or TV show. This will be the largest gathering of celebrity chefs ever assembled on Florida's Gulf Coast. And, the best news is that all proceeds benefit Florida ProStart. Florida ProStart is a 501(c)(3) organization that sponsors high school students interested in the restaurant and foodservice industry.

Who can you expect to see at 
Enjoy Arts & Tastes St. Pete? Donatella Arpaia, Scott Conant, Todd English, Lorena Garcia, Duff Goldman, Ingrid Hoffman, Masaharu Morimoto, and Ming Tsai!

I am happy to present you with the lineup of events:

A kick-off to the festival weekend, this dinner will combine culinary arts with fine arts through teams of celebrated chefs and artists. Teams will present a one-of-a-kind menu inspired by the sensibility and style of each artist, accompanied by fine wines and spirits. Seated dinner. Location: Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Dr. NE, St. Petersburg, FL
Time: 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Ticket Price: $200 (includes all food & beverage)
A late-night dessert tasting party that celebrates Salvador Dali’s art, and plays on his delicious lithograph, Les Pios Nonoches. The evening will feature notable regional pastry chefs and chocolatiers offering an array of desserts inspired by the artist’s work. A selection of fine wines and spirits will be served. Walk-around tasting.
Location: The Dali Museum, 1 Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg, FL
Time: 10:00 pm – 1:00 am
Ticket Price: $85 (includes all food & beverage)

The centerpiece of the festival, the Grand Tasting will feature top regional culinary talent who will present tasty portions of their signature dishes, both savory and sweet. To top off this gourmet experience, fine wine and spirits will be poured.
VIP tickets grant access to HSN’s VIP tent, where guests get a chance to mingle with celebrity chefs who will stop by throughout the day.
Location: Tented area at The Mahaffey Theater Plaza and Albert Whitted Park, Bay Shore Drive SE, St. Petersburg, FL
Time: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Ticket Price: $95 General Admission/$125 VIP Access (includes all food & beverage)
An exciting array of interactive culinary demonstrations led by guest celebrity chefs and personalities who will reveal their tricks of the trade. Demonstration-only, no tasting.
Location: Mahaffey Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Arts, 400 First St. S,
St. Petersburg, FL
Time: 11:00 am – 6:15 pm
Demonstration schedule will be available on the festival website
Ticket Price: $50 per demo
A Latin-inspired celebration featuring tastings from regional and guest celebrity chefs. Fine wines and spirits are not the only accompaniment - lively music will set the mood at the Vinoy Renaissance’s grand Palm Court Ballroom. Featured chefs will be on hand to present their dishes and interact with guests. Walk-around tasting.
Location: The Vinoy® Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, 501 5th Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, FL
Time: 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Ticket Price: $225 (includes all food & beverage)

Enjoy burgers at this afternoon poolside party, featuring St. Pete and the Bay Area’s most popular chefs and restaurants. Celebrity judges, including HSN, Inc. CEO Mindy Grossman and host Donatella Arpaia, will crown the Best ‘Burger, and attendees can cast their vote for a People’s Choice award winner. Music will make this a lively finale to a great weekend. Walk-around tasting.
Location: The Club at Treasure Island, 400 Treasure Island Causeway. Treasure Island, FL
Time: 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Ticket Price: $75 (includes all food & beverage)

Tickets for Enjoy Arts & Tastes went on sale today! Tickets are available at
Special shoutout to those making this event possible: Bill Edwards Presents, HSN, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, and Florida ProStart.

Which event would you most like to attend? 

July 06, 2013

Sushi Wave

The future of sushi has rolled into town. Sushi Wave is a new family owned sushi restaurant in Pinellas Park. The cool blue lighting provides a warm vibe for diners sitting at the sushi bar, and adds a nice modern vibe.

Sushi Wave uses a tablet system for ordering. Each table receives an Android tablet in place of traditional menus and those pesky little pencils that most sushi places use. You can see a picture of every menu item along with the price, and submit any special requests. If you're dining with friends, you can even use the tablets to track separate tabs. Any time you need to call your waiter, request a refill, or order more sushi, just use the tablet. Magically, whatever you need will quickly appear at your table!

I am all about speciality rolls when we dine out. We tried several at Sushi Wave and they were all very good. I even missed some on the tablet that I want to try next time. The crispy spring rolls we had as an appetizer and the fried cheesecake we had for dessert didn't hurt either!

A perfect dinner
The Volcano
How cute is the White Dragon roll - snow crab, avocado, and cucumber, topped with seared white tuna with eel sauce and spicy mayo. Looks cute and tastes good too. Win-win.

The White Dragon
Kudos to Sushi Wave for investing in good ingredients and the technology to make themselves stand out. I think Sushi Wave is a great addition to the local sushi scene, and will be around for a long time to come. 

PS: Sushi Wave has been running lots of deals on their Facebook page.

Check out what others are saying about Sushi Wave on UrbanSpoon:
Sushi Wave on Urbanspoon

July 04, 2013

Under Construction!

I am working on my blog layout and design. Sorry in advance for any broken links or other issues over the next few days!

June 13, 2013

Homeruns on the field and in the kitchen

Dads love baseball. Dads love grilling. Sounds like spending time at a Rays game for Father's Day weekend is a great idea! The Tampa Bay Rays have a great promo going on this weekend as they take on the Kansas City Royals. With the Rays Ticket Tandem you'll be able to get a Rays apron at any game this weekend (June 14th-16th)!

The aprons are designed to look like the jerseys that the players wear. The apron is a perfect gift for dads this Father's Day weekend, or the perfect addition to any cooks apron collection. It's also a different take on the traditional baseball shirt or jersey gift. I received a copy of the apron to try out - and I'm sure you'll love it too! Support your home team while cooking up some good food. Perfect!

Click here to purchase your tickets!

While you're at Tropicana Field, be sure to check out Everglades BBQ! I'm sure dad would love a Pulled Pork Sandwich while he watches the game.

Also happening at the Trop this weekend -

Saturday June 15th - Vow renewal on the field after the game. Deadline to register is Thursday 6/13
Sunday June 16th - Kids 14 and under get a pair of Jeremy Hellickson headphones (while supplies last) & post-game concert with the Imagination Movers. Also - Bark in the Park is back!

Go Rays!