There is nothing more exciting than taking your palate on a food filled journey; especially when you get the opportunity to travel somewhere completely new to you. As my trip to Ft. Lauderdale came closer, my first goal was to find out where to eat and I had 3 days and 3 nights to check out what the city had to offer. On top of the many choices, Ft. Lauderdale was also hosting their "restaurant week" event which is similar to what us Houstonians call "HRW" or Houston Restaurant Week. In Ft. Lauderdale it is called "Dine Out Lauderdale" and features special three-course, prix-fixe dinners at participating restaurants for $35. Sound familiar? My trip ran right in the middle of this event (the event is held October 1 - November 10, 2011). All the while I thought my quest for the best food would be easy...now my focused thoughts ran wild as I imaged how many more places I would be able to dine at for $35! This was clearly a good sign of what turned out to be a great week on the coast!
LocalEats.com. We are a featured blog on here as well and I knew it was a great website to find fellow food bloggers. I had already planned to sample Italian so that was a must, but I was open to other options. After spending a few hours sorting through articles and Ft. Lauderdale chef accolades, I came across Casa D'Angelo (Italian - 1201 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304) and Johnny V's (American - 625 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301). I only wanted to eat out for 2 of my 3 nights, and these were my official selections.
Why these two you ask? Well, that was simple. Casa D' Angelo, which serves Tuscan entrees with southern Italian accents, is under the direction of Chef Angelo Elia. Chef Angelo Elia was awarded "Top 5 Chefs" in the Dade-Broward Area (City and Shore Magazine). In addition, Casa D'Angelo has been rated one of "America's Top Restaurants" by ZAGAT, has received the Readers Choice Award for Best in Broward County by Sunshine Magazine, and has been labeled "Exceptional" by the Miami Herald; just to note a few. I was sold...no need to persuade me any further! As stated by Lucy Cooper of South Florida Gourmet, "A rewarding experience...I can only write with a certain reverence for Elia's calamari and scungelli...the gnocchi is nothing short of incredible...the finest steak Florentine I have ever tasted, including those I've had in Florence".
I scheduled dinner for both Monday and Tuesday night and decided to rest on Sunday as this was my first day there. Opting for something quick and a place where I could watch the game, I went across the street to Rivals Waterfront Sport Grille. This was a true sports bar. I thought it was pretty cool that they asked what game I wanted to watch. I was more concerned about the food, so I went with the waiters recommendation! Seated at a large booth and sitting right in front of the TV, I ordered a drink. I went for the Blueberry Martini which sounded sooo refreshing and it was! For lunch I sampled the Philly Cheesesteak Sliders and the Jerk Chicken. The Philly's were very filling and were actually decent. I am pretty tough on places that serve Philly's as they are one of my favorites. The jerk chicken was way too spicy for my blood, but they were good. I finished watching the game and left happy with my quick lunch selection at Rivals. I wanted to go back during my visit but didn't get the chance. Now on to the greatly anticipated dinners...
Upon arrival to Casa D'Angelo, I was asked if this was my first visit. I quickly answered "yes" and was shown to one of the best seats in the house. I was pleased! My table faced the beautiful wine cellar that seemed to be filled top to bottom with any wine of your choosing. The wine menu was expansive and in comparison to the dinner menu, it didn't stand a chance. I am not a wine connoisseur by any means, so I allowed the waiter to recommend a "sweeter" wine for me. A Pinot Grigio was chosen as my bottle for the evening. I can't move on to the food without telling you about my waiter. I hate that I do not remember his name, but this gentlemen was phenomenal! At many high end restaurants the chef may have approximately 3-5 specials to share that are available for the taking. If my memory serves me well, and it usually does, my waiter listed at least 10 specials for each course including dessert! Maybe I am stretching it, but I promise I heard 40 specials in less than 3 minutes! Being stunned that he could even remember this, I asked him "Are you sure you got everything?” He answered, "I think so" as he pulls out his cheat sheet and replies back with a "Yep, I got it"! You gotta love that! The service remained consistently great throughout the night.
Chef Angelo Elia
Because I wanted to make sure I left room for dessert, I skipped the appetizer and moved straight to ordering a few entrees. As I waited for dinner, I was served a pairing of bruschetta that was accompanied by large chunks of fresh parmesan and a few pieces of flatbread. Talk about a good start...it was gone in 60 seconds (yep, just like the movie)! For dinner I had the "Spaghetti Salsiccia E Broccoli Rabe" (Spaghetti with homemade sausage, broccoli rabe, extra virgin olive oil, and red pepper). I wanted to try one of the specials as well, and the waiter did go through all that trouble, so I went with the "Short Ribs" (placed on a bed of fettuccine). This place is as authentic as you can get. You will not find any fettuccine alfredo on this menu! The Spaghetti Salsiccia E Broccoli Rable was great. The sauceless and perfectly cooked pasta paired with the homemade sausage was something to write home about. The Short Ribs were the dish to beat. They were tender and falling apart like an award winning stack of ribs. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. As with the Spaghetti, the fettuccine was cooked perfectly. There is nothing worse than overcooked pasta, right? For dessert I tried the "Molten Chocolate Cake" served with Homemade Vanilla Gelato. I will say that this was one of the best molten/lava cakes I have sampled to date. Hands down! Overall, I had a great time at Casa D'Angelo. The ambiance was perfect, the service was great, and the food was even better!
em>Molten Chocolate Cake, Casa D'Angelo
My choice of visiting Johnny V's was a no brainer. Anyone who can go up against the infamous Bobby Flay in an Iron Chef competition (Johnny V went up against Bobby Flay on Monday, January 1, 2007 on Food Network) is alright in my book. Being that Bobby Flay is one of my personal favorites, I wanted to see what Johnny V had to offer on a regular day (you know...when he is not in front of one million fans!). At first glance the restaurant reminded me of a chef inspired Chicago dive. It was small, yet cozy. I opted for a seat that looked out to Las Olas. As I waited for my table, I took a seat at the bar. The drinks were strong, but not really that good. The bartender totally killed my margarita! This was not a good start, but my expectations were already set. Everything had better be good at this point. Once seated my excitement re-entered as I was handed the "Cheese Menu". It had been some time since I had seen one of these. With selections from 39 artisinal cheeses from all over the world...I was "all over" it! I went for the three cheese selection of a Canadian Cheddar, a Brie and a Gouda. My cheese was served with Fig Balsamic Marinated Grapes, Olives “Confit”, Fresh Pear and Hazelnut Paste, Sweet and Spicy Pecans, Grilled Bread and Flatbread Crackers. I enjoyed this but soon realized I was quickly becoming full. This forced a change of heart in my menu selections as I decided to move forward with the "Dine Out" menu versus the regular menu. I thought the special menu would be lighter as they typically will serve smaller portions.
Chef Johnny V
After my cheese introduction I ordered my meal. For starters I had the Sherried Lobster Bisque (with roasted garlic croutons). Can you say, "Wow"! This was one rich dish. It was creamy and had immense flavor. Great job on this Johnny! I was impressed and anticipated the next round. For dinner I tried the Grilled Sliced Hangar Steak (with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, baby corn, and barbeque demi glace) and the Yellowtail Snapper (with truffled wild mushroom mash, citrus sauce with sundried tomatoes, wilted spinach, and cippolini onions). The Hanger Steak was cooked medium rare and it was great, but the mashed potatoes left much to be desired. They were just okay. The snapper was tender and very light. A different sauce may have taken this dish to the next level. For dessert I tried Johnny’s Favorite Chocolate Cake (with caramel, banana and peanut butter mousse, and malted milk ice cream) and the Bread Pudding Flan (with dulce de leche ice cream). I am not a huge fan of peanut butter (only in PB&J's) so I should have known better. Once I scrapped the peanut butter mousse off and made my way to the banana mousse, I was a happy camper. The cake itself wasn't good and seemed like it was a few days old. The bread pudding was so-so. I kinda felt as though my excitement quickly rose then feel soon after my lobster bisque. Would I return? Yes, I would and I would go for the short ribs they rave about. It just seemed like over kill to eat short ribs two nights in a row!
Unfortunately, due to low lighting in the restaurants, I did not get an opportunity to take many photos of my meal. I am 100% against a flash going off inside of a restaurant...lol! Here are a few more pictures taken from the cafe inside of my hotel. The "Jumbo Lump Crab Truffled Mac and Cheese (topped with grilled Prawns) was pretty good. However, don't use the word "jumbo lump crab" to describe your dish. It was almost impossible to see anything "lump" aside from the macaroni. I had the French onion soup as well and I ripped through the layer of cheese to only find an overly sweet pile of onions and broth! Hey, the cheese was good though.
My time in Ft. Lauderdale came to a close too soon. There are so many more places that I want to visit. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to go back in the near future to finish my food filled adventures on the coast of sunny Florida!
~ Shanna "Urban Girl" Jones, Urban Swank