Thursday, December 20, 2007

College Cuisine?

Gainesville, Fl, the quintessential college town and home of the Gators, is not exactly known for fine cuisine. With a student population of 40,000 undergraduates and many more graduate students and faculty, fast food chains practically dominate the dining scene, but with some searching you can find delicious food that is independently owned and prepared. Two affordable choices are available to spice up the monotony of the fast food chains, Ivy's Cafe and Fresco.

Ivy's cafe is an independently owned restaurant that is part diner, part bistro and offers healthy goodies like frittatas, soups, sandwiches, and desserts. I went to lunch with my soon-to-be-barrister bud and my nephew. The legal one chose a simply delicious egg white omelet with fresh veggies and cheese and a no nonsense cup of coffee. She had no objections for the chef and left very little on the plate. I opted for the soup and salad, mushroom barley creamy and not to salty (although the portion was too small for my taste) and a savory salad with caramelized onions, seasoned walnuts, cherry tomatoes and provolone cheese on mixed greens. Ivy's is the place to be for fresh independent dining, but is only available for breakfast and lunch.

If a new take on dinner is what you are after, check out Fresco an Italian eatery offering a variety of traditional pastas and pizzas. The portions are reasonable for the price and the atmosphere is warm and cozy, the perfect place to catch up with friends or canoodle with your sweetheart. The bread arrived thickly sliced in an attractive wire basket, chewy and crusty like good Italian bread should be and lightly rubbed with garlic and oil. All dinner entrees are served with your option of a Caesar or house salad. Both were fresh, but the Italian dressing on the house salad needed a bit more salt. After a short interval, dinner steamed out of the kitchen. My linguine with clam sauce included a generous helping of clams in the shell. However, oil overpowered the garlicky sauce and the quantity of clams kept me from diving into the pasta before it was cold. The creamy chicken and sun dried tomato pasta also suffered from an overdose of sauciness that overwhelmed the flavor of the pasta and the chicken. While not quite the restaurant it could be, Fresco is a welcome change from the fast-food chains offering generic dining experiences.

If you must have your fast food, I recommend Zaxby's for their truly crispy-savory-crunchy fried chicken platters with seasoned fries. Truly craveable!

The Mixx at Nexxt

So I have taken to doing a little research on my blog subjects, just to see what the competition is saying and to check my own judgement. The reviews for Nexxt were illuminating and quite revealing, first though, my experience. I hit up Nexxt for a late Saturday lunch with my mom and mini-me after a long day of shopping in Midtown. The service was a little slow as the waiters seemed to be involved in a complex choreography that requires them to bus tables, deliver food, and take orders in all areas of the restaurant. This was okay as we were a little shell-shocked from bargain hunting with the wholesale shoppers and the menu is incredibly extensive, about 15 pages of fine print. We finally decided on Kobe beef chili dogs for starters, stacked chicken tortillas for mom, a walnut-pear salad for me, and double cheeseburger with fries for Sof (she loves her burgers). The Kobe chili dogs stood out a head above the rest, but the entire meal was delicious. My salad was huge and filled with fruits and veggies and dressed with a lovely light viniagrette. Sofi's burger was juicy and tasty, but what isn't when it comes with cheddar and bacon. Mami's stacked tortilla's lacked a bit of flavor, but the portion was huge and the bonus came with a sweet corn tamale seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg. Delicious! The verdict: Nexxt is like a Cheesecake Factory, except the food actually tastes good!

Our next Nexxt visit, left quite a bit to be desired! This time, we went for dinner and took dad as well. Talk about a disaster! The restaurant was loud and crowded the camarero choreography was totally off and worst of all Dad's salad, some Italian concoction with a silly name, was atrocious! Dad works really hard so him getting a disappointing meal is especially upseting. I ordered fish tacos and Mami had chicken marsala and mashed potatos. Both were pretty good, but I felt like I was back at the Cheesecake Factory.

Not surprisingly, the blogosphere also offered mixed reviews, what surprised me was the vehemence of some! There are some unhappy Nexxt customers out there. At the top of the haters list, Tere from the Coral Gables blog. Tere's blog is great, comprehensive and fun and offers a great forum for people to talk about her posts. Her readers both loved and hated Nexxt, but most had mixed reviews. Other sites, Citysearch, etc. had more of the same. My advice is to give Nexxt a try, but go for lunch stick to the appetizers, pizza, and bar-food dishes. These are sure to please at affordable prices, but skip the fancy stuff and don't necessarily trust your waiter's judgement.

Happy Eatings

P.S. Definitely try the Kobe dogs!

Much love for OneBurger

During the finals crunch, I managed to spend a night out on the town with one of my favorite people, my lil' sis Sofi, a.k.a. "mini-me." Sofi and I started the night out looking for Italian cuisine, but had a change of heart and decided to go for the quintessential American classic--burgers and fries. Not wanting to waste our night out on Mickey D's or BK, Sof and I hit up OneBurger, an upscale burger joint offering a twist on the classic. OneBurger, a hip and trendy eatery, spices up the traditional by offering a plethora of toppings including goat cheese, roasted peppers, pesto, bacon, cheddar, and mozarella on your choice of beef, chicken, turkey or veggie burger. Sides aren't limited to plain potatoes, as diners can choose from sweet potato fries, yuca fries, onion rings, soup, or salad. Sof went for the double decker bacon cheddar burger with onion rings, while I choose the goat cheese and roasted pepper burger with sweet potato fries. Sofi's sandwich was massive and flavorful, and the neatly stacked onion rings were crispy and light. I wasn't quite sure how my toppings would pair with the burger, but it couldn't have been more delicious. The sweet potato fries were some of the best I have eaten, succulent and salty. Sof and I liked OneBurger so much we brought our parents for lunch later that week. Seating is limited at OneBurger, but during lunch hours additional seating is available next door at the Globe. Here are some pictures of our favorites:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lunch steals!

So, it's been quite a while since my last blog, I blame final seminar papers for the delay. Literally, I've been up to my ears in paperwork since October, but I did manage to take some pictures of great lunch bargains. It's always nice to find a meal deal that leaves your stomach fully satisfied and a little to spare in your wallet. Here are two restaurants that fit the bill:

Lan Pan Asian Cafe: It can be easy to miss this little gem, located on the first floor of the Dadeland Station, but Lan's fast and friendly service and hefty portions are sure to give you plenty of energy to continue an all day shopping spree. Each lunch entree comes with a ten piece California roll, miso soup, green salad, wakame salad, and a bean sprout salad.

This healthy and hearty portion still leaves room for the delicious entree. I recommend the red curry chicken or beef or the Thai basil chicken, but stay away from the chicken dumplings, flat in flavor and doughy.

Giardino Gourmet Salad: Coral Gables is known for its beautiful homes, broad tree-lined avenues, not for its low prices, but Giardino's changes this with their healthy gourmet salads. Salads come in three sizes Piccolo ($5.50), Basta ($7.50), and Grande ($9.50). With an array of hearty toppings like nuts, cheeses, and meats, the piccolo is certainly filling, while the Grande can easily feed three people. My personal favorites are the Habanero salad with spicy watercress, avocado, and plantain chips, the Fizz with arugula, strawberries, and Gorgonzola, and the Japanese with crunchy cabbage, soybeans, and wasabi vinaigrette.