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Cheese Culture Lacking

Cheese Culture has an identity crisis.

The small, mom and pop cheese and wine shop located on Las Olas Boulevard, in Ft. Lauderdale, doesn’t know whether it wants to be a small wine and cheese purveyor, or simply a quaint cafe that serves wine and cheese.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s a cafe/store/place you really should avoid. In fact, the folks at Cheese Culture may want to brush up on their people skills.

On this particular evening we attended a sparkling wine tasting “event” that we had received a “special invitation” via email hosted by Cheese Culture requesting an RSVP.  We expected a cheese pairing (or at the least recommendations for pairings) for each wine.  How silly of us to expect that at a cheese shop.  There was neither.  The wines were laid out on display with no description or pairing recommendations, just bottles on a table.  This was really just a distributor sampling much like you find in any grocery store on any given weekend.   No RSVP required.  Okay, we got that and went in for the tasting fully expecting to want to order a cheese platter at some point.

The host and hostess of the event, representing the distributor, were in the very back of the small store.  They were pleasant people, offering decent pours of five sparkling wines just in time for the New Year’s holiday celebration. We enjoyed sipping on some delicious sparkling wines (a Prosecco most notably, that shined above all the others), though there were a couple forgettable ones. Still, the hosts were amicable and answered any questions that came their way.

As we wandered the store we stopped in front of the one (yes, only one!) cheese case to see what we wanted.  The Cheese Culture’s staff made no effort whatsoever to ask us if we needed any help, if we were interested in any cheese – nothing.  We were especially taken aback by a gentleman (who may or may not be one of the owners) that walked right in front of us as we eyed several cheeses in the glass case.  He was clearly able to hear our conversation inquiring about what we may like to try but chose to ignore us.  Mind you, this is the second time we’ve gone to Cheese Culture and both experiences have been similar.

We had great hopes for this shop as we started to watch the signs go up and were able to get a preview at the Las Olas Wine & Food Festival.  Our hopes were dashed not one, but two times since.  There are other great local cheese shops with large, but unique choices that want our business, so that’s where you will find us.

Cheese isn’t the only stinky thing in this establishment.

Mollydooker Wine Pairing Event, Epic Hotel Miami, Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sparky Marquis, owner of MollyDooker Wines (McLaren Vale, Australia-mollydookerwines.com) is living the dream. If that dream includes making exquisite, award-winning wines in one of the most beautiful regions of Australia, being married to your college sweetheart (who is also the mother of two active, smart and funny children) and oh yeah, “employing” your mother as your top ambassador and marketing agent. If that is indeed living the dream, then yes, Sparky Marquis is your proof.

The Blending Begins

The Blending Begins

Sparky and his mother Janet make frequent trips to the United States to host MollyDooker wine pairing/blending events across the country. It offers them both a chance to come to America, see the country and meet scores of adoring wine aficionados nationwide and talk face to face about their passion: wine.

So it came as no surprise that when Sparky and Janet were hosting an event at the gorgeous Epic Hotel in Miami one Saturday, well, it was a given that the Wanderlushes would must attend. We had a chance to be a part of one of his blending events a few years ago in Fort Lauderdale.  We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Sparky and Janet, while learning all about these incredible wines from the winemaker himself.

More Wine!

More Wine!

Second Round of Tasting

Second Round of Tasting

This was a larger event, though, with about 100 guests in attendance. At each table were placemats, along with four “stations” designated for each of the MollyDooker wines to be blended that evening for a personalized version of MollyDooker’s Two Left Feet: The Scooter Merlot, the Maitre D’ Cabernet Sauvignon and the Boxer Shiraz. Each wine is unique and amazing in and of itself. If you haven’t had the opportunity to try these wines, pick one up and enjoy all the subtle nuances and complex flavors a MollyDooker wine imparts.  After a brief introduction and speech from Sparky, the blending commenced. The idea of mixing the wines like mad Bacchanalian scientists is to achieve an altogether new and exciting MollyDooker wine. Couples at each table would blend different percentages of each together in beakers and vote on the results. The couple whose wine garnered the most votes at the table would win a prize. So, we ruminated over what would make the best tasting wine and went to work.  The other couples we were sitting with blended some solid fruit-forward wines, but in the end  our fellow Wanderlushes Jen and Mitch’s blend proved to be the winner. They were each given sporty black MollyDooker baseball caps as the winners!

Dessert

Dessert

The Main Course

The Main Course

After the blending, new wines were laid out and the waiters then brought out plates of food; an entrée of chimichurri steak and au gratin potato made with both white potatoes and sweet potatoes. Both were delicious, but the chimichurri sauce overpowered the wine just a bit. Dessert consisted of a delicious chocolate mousse, which each of us devoured (and which paired remarkably well with the wines.) During the evening Sparky gave a very heartfelt and genuinely moving speech, talking about the austere beginnings of MollyDooker wines and how grateful he was to Americans in general for appreciating his wines. One turnoff, however, was when several wine-soaked attendees insisted on talking loudly during Sparky’s speech.

After dessert Sparky brought out the “Party Wines,” which include the Gigglepot Cabernet Sauvignon; the Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz (our favorite); the Enchanted Path Shiraz/Cabernet; Carnival of Love Shiraz and the Velvet Glove Shiraz. With only one bottle per table, we were all quick to pour…

The Aftermath

The Aftermath

Mai Kai Restaurant, Ft. Lauderdale

Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a Hawaiian/Polynesian-themed restaurant in town that served island food, plusMai Kai really strong fruity, rum-soaked drinks in cool-looking glasses served up by co-eds clad in skimpy island wear? Oh yeah, and put this all under a thatched roof faux tiki-style building with torches and “waterfalls,” too.

Welcome to Mai Kai, located on Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale.

Since its inception over40 years ago, The Mai Kai has been offering tourists and locals alike authentic Polynesian cuisine (think Japanese or Korean BBQ, but with more Don Ho and less Kim Jong-Il) and dinner shows consisting of Shakira-like hula dancers and dudes twirling fire batons. However, most locals (us included) prefer to sip drinks in the Molokai Bar, which is located just inside the restaurant. If you’ve never been, check it out some time. With its signature clipper ship nautical-themed décor and polished wood bar, the Molokai Bar is a relaxing saloon in which to enjoy cocktails and/or appetizers with friends, or as we noted, a fair number of business professionals taking full advantage of the Mai Kai’s happy hour drink prices.

Food reviews are mixed, though the Mai Kai’s drinks are top notch. Looking at the illustrated, full-color menu, you’ll notice the cocktails are divided into three categories: mild, medium and strong. Kim and Mitch had the Cobra’s Kiss,  and Jen enjoyed the Tahitian Breeze while I sipped on a Hidden Pearl, a medium strong punch laced with rum, served in a tulip glass.

Mai Kai Back Bar

Mai Kai Back Bar View

This particular night, one of our favorite local bands, Slip & The Spinouts, was playing sets from 6 to 9 p.m. It was Slip’s birthday, so in true fashion he celebrated his big day doing what he loves most: playing kick-ass rockabilly music and enjoying a few birthday libations between sets. With dinner plans already made and still in a proper frame of mind, we finished our drinks, said good night to Slip and the boys and headed out. As to the libations, just keep in mind that yes, the Mai Kai’s drinks are fruity, cold and delicious – but they can also be deceivingly strong. Here’s a simple sobriety test: order one drink and enjoy it. If you’re bold enough to cross the two or three-drink threshold and start seriously entertaining the idea of twirling fire, hula dancing or singing Tiny Bubbles, it’s time to say aloha to the Mai Kai. Cheers!

Dapur—Asian Tapas Restaurant and Lounge

Dapur Restaurant

Dapur

Gauging the eating habits of Fort Lauderdale foodies is always a crapshoot. What’s popular today may be gone today, literally. Seizing on the hot trend of tapas dining, Chef and restaurateur, Edi Mulyanto, has put together a chic dining spot with a decidedly South Beach feel to it: Dapur. If the site looks familiar, you may be thinking, “Another restaurant? There?” Have faith, dear readers. Dapur is the latest incarnation to open at the location of several restaurants and nightclubs that have come and gone. Dapur looks promising. The night we dined the main room was filled with customers and the lounge on the other side also had a fair amount of patrons. The décor is “Eclectic Asian Spare,” with simple wood tables, white plates and non-descript flatware, plus a fair amount of candlelight to set the mood beautifully.

Dapur boasts an extensive specialty drink and martini menu, along with an eclectic array of white and red wines. Dapur’s signature cocktail, the Dartsmoor, which Kim, Jen & Mitch all ordered (I stuck to a, yawn…glass of Sauvignon Blanc; big mistake due to its small pour), was as good as described on the menu, though they were a bit smaller than we had hoped.

Hamachi Tartar

Hamachi Tartar - Gold Flakes on Top!

The portion sizes on the small plates are as advertised. It’s best to order several small plate items to share. We didn’t order any of the “large” entrees from the menu this particular night, but we could see some of the items being delivered to other tables (and something to try the next time we dine there). All of the entrees we were lucky enough to savor with our eyes looked and smelled incredible. Dapur’s staff is friendly and accommodating, as well. No high-brow stuffiness or SoBe attitude here. Our server was quite excited to talk about the food, but mostly he couldn’t stop raving about the drinks. They were delicious and refreshing.

Our Table Selections listed in order by favorite to least:

  • Hamachi Tartar—hamachi, fresh ginger, chives and garlic, soy yuzu sauce
  • Hamachi Kama—grilled yellow-tail tuna jaw with a ponzu dipping sauce
  • Royal Tuna  Roll – Albacore, Hamachi, Jalapeno Tempura, Cilantro, Inside and Topped with Tuna and Wahoo
  • Crab Cake—jumbo blue lump crab, heart of palm and crunchy coconut with a tangy creamy sauce
  • Bang Bang Scallops – Scallops with Soy Garlic Butter Sauce on Brussel Sprouts
  • Vietnamese Rolls—vermicelli noodles, basil, vegetables and shrimp with a peanut hoisin dipping sauce
  • Thai Pancake—green mussels, egg, tempura batter garnished with scallions and bean sprouts
  • Pretty Roll—salmon, tobiko, cream cheese, crab, wrapped in cucumber (no rice) (more of an appetizer than a roll)
Thai Pancakes

Thai Pancakes

Dapur
1620 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
www.dapurkitchen.com

Beer Reviews: Napa Smith Lost Dog Red Ale & Twisted Pine Hoppy Boy IPA

NAPA SMITH LOST DOG RED ALE

Kim and I saw the Napa Smith Lost Dog Red Ale (Napa Smith Brewery, Napa, California) on tap at a Boca Raton eatery last month, and we were both intrigued by the name and its point of origin, which begs the question: Can a good craft beer come out of the Mecca of American wine production? Yes, it can. The Lost Dog is smooth drinking ale with hints of caramel followed by a sweet, hoppy finish. With an ABV of 7.2%, the Lost Dog is mellow, easy to drink, and paired well with the artisanal grilled cheese sandwich and fries we shared. Find this Lost Dog, if you can – it’s a good companion that begs to be enjoyed and won’t wake the neighbors. Cheers!

TWISTED PINE HOPPY BOY IPA

I stumbled upon the Twisted Pine Hoppy Boy IPA (Twisted Pine Brewing Company, Boulder, Colorado) at Total Wine & Spirits recently and had to buy a six-pack based on the name alone. I enjoy IPAs greatly, so when I saw the cascade hops on the label and read its description, a purchase was in order. It didn’t disappoint, hop heads. If you like the tart, pungent bite of an IPA—start to finish—the Hoppy Boy is one beer you should make your friend. Colorado is quickly becoming the epicenter of craft brewing, shedding its Coors-or-nothing image in favor of finely made beers of all varieties. The Hoppy Boy is fine on its own, but would pair well with any spicy food, pungent cheese or even a bag of your favorite kettle-cooked chips. If you like a flavorful beer drinking experience, the Hoppy Boy will make the most ardent IPA lover happy. Cheers!

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