Thursday, April 24, 2014

Run, Don't Walk, to Se7en Bites Bakeshop

I had been craving real, handmade pastries all week when I finally had a chance to try the six-month old bakery, Se7en Bites, in downtown Orlando. I am so glad I came to a place that could really fulfill my cravings. 

The problem was trying to pick out which dessert I wanted to try. They had such a broad selection, from cheesecake, to pies to cakes to large muffin-like brownies, that I just wasn't sure. The staff and other guests recommended the Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie, which I didn't try this time but will soon, along with the Oatmeal Whoopie Pie Cookie. This is, hands down, the best cookie I have had, and one of the best desserts in Orlando. The delicious, crispy cookie edges combined with the soft center and delicious filling, make this one of the customer favorites at Se7en Bites. 

I also had the the Lemon Shortbread Cookies, filled with limincello curd. The shortbread was delicious and absolutely the texture I am looking for in a shortbread cookie, but the limincello curd filling was what made the cookie stand out. It was very tasty, and not too sweet or tart. In fact, I don't find Se7en Bites' desserts to be overly sweet like some other cupcake shops and bakeries in town.

But wait, there's more! In addition to a variety of desserts - which change daily - Se7en Bites offers a few savory dishes. I opted for the Se7en Bites Benedict, which is the bakery's own twist on an Eggs Benedict. Instead of an English muffin, you get probably the best savory Southern-style biscuit I have had. You can taste a bit of herbs and it is very flavorful overall. That is topped with a fried egg with runny yolk, a crispy fried heirloom tomato, high quality crispy bacon and a house-made Benedict sauce that is light and delicious.

The price for the Benedict ($7.75) is fairly reasonable, considering the portion size and all the homemade, high quality ingredients. The pastries are somewhat pricey, at between $2.75 and $5.00 each, but they are well worth it.

Have you tried Se7en Bites yet? If so, let me know your favorites in the comments section below.

Where: 207 N. Primrose Dr., Orlando.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Best Shrimp, Fritters at Dixie Crossroads

I was overjoyed to be able to go back to Dixie Crossroads in Titusville, Fla., for a second visit the other day. I had been craving the restaurant's Royal Red Shrimp, a delicacy caught off the East Coast of Florida that many people are not familiar with, since the last time I dined there. Once you have tried the delicate, flavorful shrimp, all other shrimp just seems second-rate.

Of course, it's the way that Dixie Crossroads prepares the shrimp as well. You can get it prepared several ways, and we like the broiled, scampi-style preparation best so far. The shrimp was cooked perfectly, so it was tender and juicy and paired perfectly with the scampi sauce. The garlic butter sauce is great too!

The other dish I was most looking forward to was the light, fluffy corn fritters topped with powdered sugar that are served complimentary to each table. I am used to dense corn hush puppies, so I really love this recipe that makes fritters light, airy and sweet. It is the perfect bite of fried goodness. I also really liked the soup of the day: a Caribbean tomato-based seafood soup. It was very flavorful and hearty.

There were a couple of things I was disappointed with, though. While the crab cake appetizer was delicious, I don't believe it should be priced at $9.99 for a small cake. The Royal Red Shrimp is pricey too - nearly $15 for a dozen - but I expect that for a delicacy that not many restaurants serve. Another complaint on prices: the restaurant's Signature Cocktails are $12, and I don't see cheaper alternatives on the menu if I don't want a drink that comes in a take-home Dixie Crossroads glass.

I was so looking forward to the Apple Walnut Cobbler, but it was not as good as I remembered. I don't like the soft pastry at the bottom, nor do I like the flavor of the topping. 

Still, I will always love Dixie Crossroads' seafood and fritters, and will be back...again and again. Let me know your favorite dishes on the menu in the Comments section below!

Where: 1475 Garden St., Titusville, Fla.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Excellent Food, Wine & Atmosphere at Carmel

I have not come across a restaurant since dining at the Bull & Bear in the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, that has the perfect mix of three things that I look for as a diner: delicious food, excellent service, and a wonderful atmosphere. I have now found that wonderful place to hang out with friends and family in a relaxed atmosphere, without paying ridiculous prices: Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar in Winter Park, Fla.

The atmosphere is created by the lighting and variety of tables, comfy couches and bar seating, which allows for several different spots to sip wine and visit with friends. The serving staff here has been trained well: there are always various servers at your table, whether they are serving food or removing used dinnerware. Service is also heightened by iPads with photos and full descriptions of every menu item, including the nearly 60 wines on the menu.

My husband and I recently dined at the restuarnt during Happy Hour, which runs from 4:00-7:00, Monday - Friday. There are a few special drinks and appetizers on the menu for a flat $4. The house-infused cocktail we tried was Spicy Pineapple, which was the most unique and flavorful margarita I have had. However, I was not blown away by the special cocktails on the new spring menu, including Spring Thyme Martini and Lavendar Lemonade. Unfortunately, the lemonade drink just tastes like lemonade. I may have been expecting a sweeter martini in Spring Thyme, but the cucumber flavor is delicious and refreshing.

However, the food was outstanding. Everything came quickly, was hot, and utilized high quality ingredients. One of the house specialties is Carmel's Chickpea Fries. I have never eaten chickpea fries and really didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor, the corresponding dipping sauces and the fact that the fries are gluten-free. I would love a crispy outside to the fry, but that may not be possible.

Carmel's Lobster Bisque is one of the best I have had in Orlando - particularly for a non-seafood restaurant! The Shrimp Ceviche is another wonderful light and flavorful starter, served with delicious crisps.

We also loved the Mediterranean Sea Bass dish, which features a perfectly cooked sea bass with crispy skin that is paired perfectly with a mixture of tomatoes, olives and capers. I really loved the Angel Hair pasta that was served with the dish as well. The steak and juices in the Steak Frites pairs perfectly with Carmel's crispy, herb-flavored French fries, which I will order every time I am there. I daresay they are the best mid- to upscale-restaurant fries in Orlando.

All the desserts sound amazing, but we only had room for the Poached Pear with Caramel Sauce. The mulling spice flavors in the pear pair perfectly with the caramel and vanilla ice cream. I would definitely recommend this dessert to top off a great meal.

We had a wonderful experience at Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar in Winter Park and we were happy to hear that coming soon is...Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar Altamonte Springs!

Where: 140 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.