Sunday, August 31, 2014

Xtreme Juice – Tampa, FL

This morning we were out of milk and low on breakfast foods in general (funny enough, we had a Breakfast for Dinner potluck tonight so now we have more breakfast than we know what to do with…) Since Sunday is BOGO day at Xtreme Juice, I picked us up some smoothies. 

Xtreme Juice has been around since 1997, and growing up in Tampa I’ve been there plenty of times.  It is right next to an Einstein Brothers bagel shop and recently Trader Joe's opened across the street.  

They have a huge selection of smoothie varieties, along with wheat grass and smoothie popsicles.  Sundays are usually packed, but today was actually pretty quiet. 

I got the Summertime Lime and Lance got the Peanut Butter Whirl.  We probably picked two of the least healthy ones on the menu – mine was a mix of lime sherbet and pineapple, and Lance’s was milk, peanut butter, banana, honey, and yogurt. 

The Peanut Butter Whirl tastes more like a milkshake.  And the Summertime Lime was tart and refreshing.  Nice for a hot day like today.  

Xtreme Juice is located at 619 S Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33609 and is open 6:45am – 9pm Monday through Thursday, 6:45 – 8pm Friday, 8am – 8pm Saturday, and 8am – 7pm on Sundays. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Villars Dark Chocolate with Absinthe

When we go to ABC to pick up beers, I’m always tempted to buy all their fancy snacks.  This time I splurged and bought bar of dark chocolate filled with absinthe.  It is made by Villars, which is based out of Switzerland, so I figured it had to be good. 

The writing on the bar was in Swiss, but there was a sticker over the back showing the nutritional facts in English.  We broke it open when we got home – the bar is divided in sections and each piece has a liquid center. 

It is very rich dark chocolate.  The center has a little bit of the licorice flavor from the anise spice in the absinthe, but not so much that you can’t appreciate the dark chocolate.  It actually only has 5% alcohol so it isn’t too strong (doubt you’d feel tipsy even if you ate the whole bar).  Nice to try something different every once in awhile. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blue Diamond Wasabi & Soy Sauce and Honey Roasted Chipotle Almonds

One of the first reviews I did was for Blue Diamond Toasted Coconut almonds.  Our Sunday paper had a coupon for Blue Diamond last week, so I decided to try a few more varieties.  This time I bought “Wasabi & Soy Sauce” and “Honey Roasted Chipotle” almonds. 

So far I haven’t found a variety I don’t like!  The Wasabi Soy is like a crunchier version of wasabi peas.  And the Honey Roasted Chipotle is the perfect blend of sweet and spicy.  They are really coated in the flavoring – but surprisingly they don’t have all that much sodium or sugar, and they are high in protein, so they are actually healthy!  Each serving size is about 28 nuts, which is plenty to fill you up for a quick snack. 
Still more flavors left to try!  I think I’ll buy the Lime & Chili next time…

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

IKEA Breakfast

When Lance & I used to work together, we would go to IKEA breakfast on Sundays before work, and then wander around and check out the furniture.  Not to say their breakfast is anything that spectacular, but $5 can easily fill the two of us there. 
We were both off today, so this morning we headed to IKEA.  The breakfast starts 30 minutes before the store opens.  It is a very casual cafeteria-style restaurant.  The tables, chairs, and pendants decorating the dining area are all ones they sell (they even sell their cups, plates, and silverware). 

I’m pretty sure they lose money on the breakfast just to keep people in the store longer with the hopes they’ll stick around longer to shop on a full stomach.  They have a 99¢ breakfast plate with 2 sausages, potatoes, and scrambled eggs.  I got that with a side of the Swedish pancakes.  Lance had the corned beef hash and frittata.  

The food is very filling – they don’t season it much, but they do have salt, pepper, and Cholula hot sauce at all the tables.  Afterwards we took a lap around the store to work off our meal.  If you haven’t been before, you may be lost for hours.   We actually hadn’t visited in a long time, so we spent over an hour wandering around.  
We ended with their $1 frozen yogurts - vanilla yogurt served on cake cones. 
Since everything is so cheap there, it’s hard to go home empty-handed.  Today we bought 3 succulents for our coffee table.  
If you want to check out the food at IKEA, the restaurant is open 9:30am – 8:30pm Monday through Saturdays and 10:30am – 6:30pm on Sundays.  IKEA Tampa is located at 1103 N. 22nd Street, Tampa, FL 33605.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Roux VIP Preview Dinner

A few weeks ago, the soon-to-open restaurant Roux posted a competition on their facebook page.  Since they serve New Orleans style cuisine, they sent guys around town dressed as crawfish to advertise.  If you caught a photo with the crawfish, you could win a complimentary dinner for two. 
So of course I drove around searching for them to have a shot at the free dinner (see my post about it).  Luckily I did get a photo with them – and they invited me and my plus-one to a special preview night. 
They posted the competition again a few days later, and my dad went looking for them this time.  My parents live about a block from Roux, so he didn’t have to go far to find them.  Here’s my dad’s selfie with the crawfish:
Unfortunately for my mom, she already had plans the night of the VIP event, but my brother, David, happily filled her place as my dad’s plus-one.  So last night, Lance, David, my dad, and I headed to Roux to get a sneak-peek before they officially opened.

We planned to just walk from my parents’ place, but it was a rainy night so we drove instead.  The VIP dinner reservations started around 6pm, but since Lance and I both worked that day, we scheduled our dinner for 7:30pm.  We got the last parking spot, so clearly many people had already arrived to the event earlier.  It’ll be interesting to see how their relatively small parking lot handles the crowds once they open.  I’m assuming the first week or two will be insane since they already have over 12,000 facebook fans – and their sister restaurant Datz is always packed.

They did a fantastic job designing the interior to look like an authentic New Orleans restaurant – you almost forget that you’re in Florida.  The décor feels like a modern blend of a French Quarter townhouse and a ritzy parlor of a mansion on St. Charles Avenue. 
The first thing I noticed was the elegant ceiling, covered in ornate decorative golden tiles.  They incorporated the wrought iron that is so popular in New Orleans, brick accents, real gas lanterns, and a fancy crystal chandelier, but somehow it doesn’t feel over-the top.  

The cuisine is described as “Creole Nouvelle” – a blend of all the diverse influences of New Orleans cooking.  They serve traditional dishes with a modern twist. 

We weren’t quite sure what to expect for the dinner – we figured that it would be a limited prix-fix menu with a small sampling of their food.  But our server, AJ, informed us that we were welcome to order anything on the food & drink menu that we’d like!

We started off with some drinks – their menu had a wide selection of cocktails, plus beer and wine.  The boys all had beers, and I tried a sazerac (I figured I had to since it’s a classic New Orleans drink).  Wow my drink was strong – but very tasty.  You have to like licorice flavor though since it has absinthe in it.   Later in the meal, AJ recommend the French 75 – made of Bombay, lemon, champagne, and lemon zest.  It was light & refreshing – I’m sure anyone would like that drink. 
We ordered char-grilled oysters for the table.  They were served on a bed of salt, topped with romano, parmesan, and compound butter, and came with crispy bread.  They were so tasty I could have ordered another round, but knew I had to pace myself for all the food to come.   
Afterwards, we ordered a half dozen menu items to try a sampling of a bit of everything – including the “mumbo jumbo seafood gumbo”, smoked quail salad, duck pontalba, a 22-ounce bone-in Cajun dusted ribeye, Abita beer-battered soft-shell crab, and the praline paneed redfish.  Several dishes came with sides, so we tried the smoked mac & cheese, Brabant potatoes, Benton’s bacon Brussels sprouts, and the maque choux.  This was WAY more food that we would eat on a normal night out, but we figured this was our chance to try as many dishes as possible!

The food was all incredible – you can tell they did their research to perfect the best Creole-style recipes.  The gumbo was packed with seafood – shrimp, crab, redfish, trout, and crawfish.  It was a bit spicy, but the pecan wild rice balanced out the heat.
The quail in the salad was smoked and tempura fried – then served with spinach, pickled red onion, praline bacon, grilled cornbread, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and bourbon-molasses dressing.  It could easily be a meal on its own. 
The mac & cheese was the best than any of us have ever had.  The smoky flavor really distinguishes it from ordinary macaroni.  I’ll probably order it every time I come back. 
The duck pontalba was prepared with tasso ham, shiitake mushrooms, and a creamy béarnaise sauce.  It was served with the Brabant potatoes – which were diced and fried in spices.  The duck was good, but the potatoes were amazing.  Roux linked a recipe for them on their facebook.   
The ribeye was served with a marrow bone and also came with a side of the Brabant potatoes.  The steak it was enormous!  Lance ordered it medium rare (he likes red steaks), but it was on the rarer side for my taste.  My dad said he expected it to start mooing.  We decided the rareness wasn’t a problem though since about half of it ended up coming home with us, and now it won’t get overcooked when reheated.    
The soft-shell crab was one of my favorites – it was so crispy and had incredible flavor.  It was topped with Creole mustard vinaigrette and served over maque choux – a vegetable medley sort of like a succotash. 
I think the best dish of the night was the redfish.  The flavor from the bourbon-pecan brown butter was delicious and it was moist and flaky.  The Brussels sprouts that it was served over were chopped in small pieces which really infused every bite of them with the bacon. 
Despite the obscene amount of food we ordered, we still sampled their dessert menu afterwards.  They were out of the peanut butter chocolate chip mousse bomb (which means I’ll definitely have to try it next time) but we ordered the 4 other desserts to share, along with Café Orleans coffee drinks.
The drinks were made of anise simple syrup, St. George NOLA coffee liqueur, Teeling Irish whiskey, espresso, and anise whipped cream.  I loved my drink – but unfortunately I don’t do so well with caffeine late at night, so it kept me from sleeping soundly last night.  It would be alright for someone who drinks coffee on a regular basis (Lance has several cups of black coffee every day so it didn’t affect him…)
The reconstructed parfait was layers of fresh lemon curd, strawberry mousse, and almond cake.  It was nice and light. 
We also had the vintage baked Alaska – Creole cream cheese gelato, cherries jubilee gelato, bananas foster filling, and red velvet cake with torched meringue.  The presentation on that one was incredible. 
The Demure Abita Turbodog doused chocolate layer cake was pretty decadent – and also had a nice presentation topped with a colorful chocolate ring. 
The pecan bread budding was made from a French baguette and warm bourbon butterscotch sauce.  That was my favorite of the 4 desserts we tried – although I’m a huge fan of peanut butter and chocolate, so if I come back and try the peanut butter bomb next time that might win for best dessert. 
The Roux staff was very friendly and accommodating – our waiter AJ even took a photo with us.  We spent some time after dinner chatting with the Roux team and raving over the meal.  They were such a nice group of people and I wish them all the best – there is no doubt Roux will be a huge success.  That was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, and I feel so lucky to have been one of the first people to taste their fabulous food.
Rumor has it that Roux will open their doors next Thursday, August 28th, but there hasn’t been an official announcement yet.  They may be reservation-only at the start until the chaos dies down.  But even if there is a long wait at the beginning, the food and dining experience are definitely worth it! 

Roux is located at 4205 S. MacDill Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33611 – they haven’t posted their hours yet, but once they are open, they will serve lunch and dinner.