The Gallows – Boston, MA

The Gallows was a recommendation from Logan on our trip to Boston.  This place was a little out of the way for us, so we had to take the Silver Line bus (Diana’s first time on a public bus!) but it was definitely worth it.


First, I have to explain how this restaurant has harnessed technology.  We arrived sans reservation and were informed it would be a 45 minute wait.  The hostess asked for my phone number and said that when a table was ready, I would be texted.  That’s already cool enough, but you’re sent a text immediately that sends you to a website that shows you exactly how many parties are ahead of you.  So we stood outside and as people filtered, we’d refresh the page and slowly watch the number go down.  It was very exciting for me, I thought it was a great idea.

So we finally get in and the menu looks amazing. I want it all. I ordered The PEI mussels in coconut lobster broth with kaffir lime leaf and fried chilis. What a revelation.  A delicious twist on the tried and true white wine mussel sauce. It was a little sweet, a little tart, and left me wondering what was in it besides coconut lobster broth.  It in no way overpowered the mussels, and the fried chilis were a perfect addition of heat to this well-rounded dish.

Gallows mussels and kale salad

I also ordered the kale salad with smoky grilled corn, queso fresco, avocado, and chili popcorn.  This dish was perplexing.  At first, I thought the popcorn was gratuitous. But when the salad is eaten without it, you notice that something is missing. That bit of crunch, bit of heat to round out the mildness of the almost wilted kale. I will say, I wish the corn and avocado were more present, they were at the bottom of the dish, but maybe that’s my fault for not mixing it up.  I was too distracted by the chili popcorn.

Gallows lobster buns

Diana ordered the heirloom tomatoes with herbed cloumage cheese and curried crispy shallots.  The cheese was basically tzatziki, (not saying that’s a bad thing because it was crazy delish) and made for a remarkably refreshing and simple dish.  Almost a palate cleanser, a perfect appetizer. The tomatoes were delicious, really juicy and had the right amount of salty compensation. She also got grilled short rib tacos with napa cabbage slaw, nuoc cham, sesame aioli, sriracha, aromatic herbs. They were really light and flavorful with a kick from the sriracha. I’d recommend eating them fast because she left one for after her salad and the tortilla got all soggy and ripped apart.

Gallows heirloom tomatoes and short rib tacos

The Gallows describe themselves as “loud and welcoming” and that is completely accurate. A simply, yet well decorated restaurant with clean lines and nice soft lighting.  It made for a nice night out that we were able to dress up for!

The Gallows on Urbanspoon

Kappo – Orlando,FL

In the world of food writers, I’m a relative pauper. I don’t realistically see myself ever being a world traveler. I suppose that’s why we invent words like WANDERLUST. It was specifically created for people like me, and I reckon that’s why food and travel shows take up so much of my free time. The act of living vicariously through television is a yet to be named mental syndrome that I’ve developed over the years.

The word ‘vicarious’ often times connotes punishment. Therefore, in my case, vicarious is the proper word choice. Not being able to trot the globe is excruciating for someone with an intrinsic love of global cuisine. I think my blood lust burns hottest when I watch some spoiled host fall all over themselves while dining in Japan. If I ever had the chance to visit any of the prefectures, getting me to come back home would be a colossal task.

With that said, my recent trip to Orlando reassured me of the fact the Orlandoans have some very special new dining establishments. While I was in town, the city reactivated my faith in having the traditional experience right in my backyard.

I suffer most when I watch these guys walking through some back alley in Tokyo with their guides, and just so happen to stumble into a tiny izakaya or a micro sushi bar that was literally cut out of a wall. Generally these types of places seat no more than a handful of patrons at a time. I envy the admiration and communal attitude shown between patron and host. It’s a completely raw atmosphere involving only a cook and their guests.

Size matters.

Tucked in the rear of the deservedly popular East End Market in the Audubon Park district, lies Kappo, a 6-7 seat food stall specializing in Japanese specialties made from the heart, with ingredients source primarily from local vendors.


This is exactly what I was looking for.

I know that Central Florida has made some pretty decent strides to expand the culinary parameters of acceptance. However, until Kappo raised their clunky metal security partition for business, it was the first time someone dared to take a chance on the local palates. At the very least they’ve brought a new approach to our dining scene, one that’s causing food lusters to flock like rats in Meyers flats for a chance at the Sunday lunch omakase. Their setup and the way they treat their guests is eerily reminiscent of a high energy family meal. All that’s missing is the wonderfully boisterous pinpoint sound of my Nana’s voice coming from all directions like a swarm of killer bees.

The restaurant (which is not really a restaurant, but more of a proof of concept food lab) is run by five people that flow through the kitchen like a steady and uncompromising current. Some cut their teeth in New York City, a battleground for aspiring chefs, but all of them were friends before being business partners. If memory serves me correctly, all or a majority of the team spent time studying at the University of Florida. The interaction they have with their patrons is part of what moved me in such a positive way. I enjoyed my first meal at Kappo alone, seated with a group of strangers, some of whom were regulars and some, like me were there on their maiden journey. I wasn’t saying much because I’m not socially awkward or anything. I like to call it guarded. I’m always ready to parry an opponent when the situation calls for it. I wasn’t talking to anyone but simply watching the technique, since I find we can learn much from watching others work. The chef asked me, as he was a mere three feet from my face and I was hunched over staring at his mushroom cleaning technique, “Do you not like the food?” I replied. “I like it very much so. It’s actually making me exercise my brain.”

The food was entirely thoughtful and inventive from my point of view, with ingredients that I’m positive, have never been on any menu in this region. Truthfully they aren’t even on Kappo’s either when it comes to their Sunday lunch service, which changes not seasonally, not monthly, not even weekly, but per seating. What is eaten during the noon service might be totally differed from what a diner at 3 pm has, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

The meal is structured similarly to a traditional Kaiseki style service. It’s not just a whole bunch of sushi and sashimi, although when they do offer you a plate of either, you will want to eat it post-haste. Each dish is presented as a ceremony that ends up being a party.

The meal began with a rectangular bento box, from left to right, it contained a single bite of chopped horse mackerel sushi with matcha salt shishito pepper party umbrellas, followed by a duo of oysters, one with sake gelée and cucumber jus, and the other with lobster roe, bombarded my receptors with a tiger uppercut of oceanic flavor bursting at the seams. On the right there was foie gras of the sea, monkfish liver with grated daikon radish, which provided a paté like consistency.

Kappo bento box

Following that we enjoyed a delicate plate of flounder, snapper and salmon sashimi with salmon roe and cucumber relish.

Kurobuta pork belly kakuni with coarse country store grits from a mill up in Tallahassee was a comfort reminiscent of both a steamy bowl ramen and a creamy serving of porridge, while the pork confit, milk poached sweetbread croquette with pan roasted shimeji mushrooms, shiso dressing and a nori schmear was a nod to the more complex and time-consuming methods that the French have taught us to toil over. I think the croquette was the best bite of the day, as it was such a welcoming surprise. As the chef explained what lay before me, I had to ask myself, “Wait, what? Where am I?”

Kappo omakase

By this time in the meal, all of us former strangers now had a common bond, that of receiving a fantastic meal from some seriously genuine folks. We began to converse and relax a bit, all while groups of people from the market buzzed around trying to see what all the fuss was about. It was a good feeling to have, as if we were privileged in some way. Which in part you were as only 50 people in the entire world got to eat what we ate that day.

The last savory course was said to always include rice, so we were presented with a vibrant bowl of chirashi adorned with thin strips of omelet, diced scallop and salmon belly along with pickled vegetables and pickled plum.

Kappo chirashi

The chef instructed us to start eating. As we began to devour our rice bowl, two of them walked around our area and started pour shrimp head broth into our bowls, and made a second pass to sprinkle various crazy condiments as if we were part of some food related ceremony/drum line. First came the dried ume flakes, then togarashi, matcha, salted pop rocks and dried milk powder. They kept telling us to keep eating so that every bite is different. It was such a fantastic and interactive interpretation.

For dessert, we were treated by the pastry chef to a perfectly made tuille, filled with silken tofu mousse laced with coffee soaked cherries. It was placed in a sake cup filled with coffee and dried cherries to give an even more pronounced familiarity.

Kappo matcha green tea ice cream

Finally, we were treated to the creamiest, most luxurious matcha green tea ice cream I’d ever had. It was accompanied with some sweet red beans and a bed of honeycomb nougatine which caused the levels of flavor to jump passed the power of reason. I said out loud that my wife was going to be so mad that she missed out on this, as she is an expert on the subject.

Without fear of public retribution, I can honestly say that it was the best meal I’ve had this year. We use these terms loosely because cuisine is so subjective, and often times those words lose their meaning, but I mean it. If I could choose, I would want to enjoy that type of dining experience every single day. I don’t want to be a Kappo stalker, but I can see how that could easily become a thing.

Kappo on Urbanspoon

Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner: Elevage – Tampa, FL

Who is James beard and why does everyone in the food world love him? Honestly, I’m not exactly sure all the reasons, and as most can confirm, I’m too lazy to do a Google search to find out. What I do know is that he loved food more than you or I ever will. He built up a grand knowledge of cookery, developing a huge following through the many series of instruction throughout the country and in his home in Manhattan for decades during the middle of the 20th century. So many credit Julia Child for her enormous influence on the American home cook. Well, Mr. Beard was a similarly potent influence on just about every aspect of food, be it in the restaurant industry, food writing, instruction and even in our groceries.

When gauging the greatness of an American chef, a simple check to see if he or she has ever been a semi-finalist in the yearly award ceremony will erase all doubt. Just to sniff at a James Beard award is basically a confirmation that you know what you’re doing, and the best part is, anyone can win. Except me maybe, but I don’t hold it against them. I’m not bitter…really.


The James Beard foundation has instituted a roaming dinner series all over the country as a vehicle to raise money for the vast amount of charity work they do. They call them Friends of James Beard Dinners. The Tampa Bay Area has been host to a few of them, but not for a long time. It’s been almost two years since we enjoyed the cavalcade of local chefs coming together for a great cause. You might think that bringing together eleven chefs from Tampa Bay, who in a round about way compete everyday for our business, and sticking them  in the same kitchen might be a recipe for disaster. However, from what I’ve heard about the back of house goings on, it was more camaraderie than competition. Even though I’m sure they all wanted to put up the best food possible, they did so without vitriol.

Consider the state of the Tampa food scene two years ago. A meal like this couldn’t have even been conceived, as many of the chefs that shared the spotlight didn’t have places of their own back then. Now, we have a bare minimum of eleven chefs representing their respective establishments to give us the meal of a lifetime. All of these restaurants have their own identity and point of view, yet acted like worker bees inside the host kitchen, Chad Johnson’s Elevage at the Epicurean Hotel.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014

I realize the timeliness of this piece is a bit off as it has already been covered by other entities. I don’t feel it required an immediate write up as you can’t find any of these dishes in any of the kitchens of any of the restaurants. At least that I know of. The purpose is to show you what these guys and gals are capable of. We can give them all our blessing to really go for it all the time by supporting them and being good patrons. Order the specials or the tasting menus at these places. You will almost always be given a sleek meal that is usually a peek into the future when compared to the rest of the menu. To describe every dish in dramatic detail would result in an additional 5,000 word essay and I’m sure you don’t want to suffer through 14 separate dishes each with their own unique pop culture reference to describe the flavor. And you probably don’t want to hear about how I thought something tasted like bologna, but in the best possible way of course.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 2

I will say this though, every chef paid homage to their home state, be it in the technique, the ingredients used, or the Florida cracker cuisine that’s gaining notoriety. From the lobster & avocado salad with passion fruit vinaigrette curated by Restaurant BT, to the smoky quail with a burgoo sauce that married the flavors of our Florida swamp with the simple elegance of the rolling Basque hillside presented by Chef Johnson himself, even our favorite dish of the night, the Snapatrufalojam, a perfectly portioned piece of crispy skin on Florida red snapper laid on a truffled mash and sweet tomato jam with little black truffle shavings strewn all over the plate. Thank goodness it’s truffle season! I love the fact that chef Zack of Z Grille didn’t let anyone in on the concept, not even the head of the wine program knew, as he had to guess on the pairing. It added to the mystique in a Jennifer Lawrence way, not the odd Rebecca Romijn Stamos O’Connell kind of X-3 the Last Stand kind of cluster.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 3

My only concern is my waistline. Some of the dishes were entrée size. By the third or fourth course, most of the room was belly aching about being full. If some of the dishes were smaller, I think we would have enjoyed the visually sensational peanut butter and chocolate kitchen sink dessert that was presented by Café Ponte. There was even a petit four bar from Chocolate Pi that was too tempting to bypass. I sampled one of the coolest bites ever thought up, what do you get when cross a cheese plate with a cookie? A beet and goat cheese macaron. Great idea and execution, hopefully that will end up in the case this fall.

My wife and I were invited guests of the Epicurean hotel for this meal to support a great cause, namely providing scholarships to underprivileged kids so that they can fulfill their food based dreams. The event helped us to meet new friends with the same love of eating, we may not have ever met otherwise. Those included were Laura Riley of the Tampa Tribune along with her photographer who gave the table some nice insight into was really going on in the kitchen. Not to be forgotten was a married couple who were some of the most humble and down to earth conversational people I can remember. The wife mentioned in passing how her father traveled the globe and actually created a cookbook from all the ideas he brought back home. I asked if it was in circulation, and she said it was still somewhere out there. After exchanging contact information, a few days later to my bewilderment we received a copy in the mail. How sweet was that. Thank you very much Sadie. We plan to put it to work real soon. Along with giving me a couple more places to add to the list of must eat restaurants, it also grew my desire to plan a visit to the Beard house in Manhattan to attend one of the more than 200 dinners they host a year.

2014 Epcot Food & Wine Late Nights LIVE!

You know fall is in full swing when a dozen of the world’s finest culinary cultures gather around the World Showcase Lagoon to show off their regional specialties. This year, Logan and I were asked to give their new Late Nights Live event a test drive on the very first night it was open to the public. Think Food & Wine Festival mini. Here’s the rundown, the party starts at 9:45 pm, after the exhausted families have exited the park. Eighty bucks will get you a lanyard with a card good for five food items and one adult beverage, complete with light up disco cup. You’ve got six booths to choose your chow, while a live DJ serenades you with his best Skrillex impression. Best case scenario. in theory, you can drop your bean all while eating beans at the same time you can trip on some topiary.

 Disney Food & Wine Festival Late Nights

We scouted our choices before making any hasty decisions. The choices were as follows: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Greece, Canada, Ireland and the Dessert & Champagne booth. We were hoping that they’d rotate through the countries each week, but upon investigating, it seems that these booths will be repeated.

We hit Hawaii first and snapped up both choices, tuna poke with seaweed salad and lotus root, and kahlua sliders with sweet and sour pineapple chutney and spicy mayo. The slider was a slam dunk. I was worried the chutney would be overly sweet, but it brought just enough sugar to accentuate the pork. The kicker for me was the spicy mayo which had an addictive ginger tinge. The tuna poke was fresh but overly subtle if that even makes sense. The seaweed salad helped bring some much-needed umami.

Tuna poke & Kahlua sliders

Ireland is at the far side of the Late Nights Live event area, so we made the trek with the intent to eat our way back to the entrance. Lobster and seafood fisherman’s pie was, for me, a bit suspect. Seafood being served en masse in Disney doesn’t instill the greatest confidence. However I quickly reversed that opinion as soon as I tasted it. Smooth and creamy mashed potatoes hid tasty chunks of lobster and fish and the buttery crust made it pure comfort food. Not to be outdone was the chocolate lava cake (I’m not sure why it’s Irish but I didn’t complain). They’re about the size of a golf ball, but that’s all you’ll need because these little guys are rich. The pitch black Bailey’s ganache oozes out as soon as the fork touches down. Thankfully, the chefs kept the sweetness in check with just a simple glaze to finish it off.

Ireland - Lobster fisherman's pie, chocolate lava cake

The only real line started as soon as the party began. As it does every day at the festival, Canada is the belle of the ball with its truffled filet offering. If we were to compare food to the 1992 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays (which happens like every single day), the steak would have to be Joe Carter. With its down to earth attitude and its constant perseverance, the filet, alongside its mushroom compliment keeps hitting frozen ropes through the gap year after year. The rainbow trout, (Canada’s second offering) well, it’s Pat Borders. An unlikely hero who rose from obscurity and public apathy.  The chefs at Disney decided against removing the skin. This was a bold move in my mind. I try to take my personal preference out of the equation when evaluating festival food. Remember this is for a mass audience. I feared the appeal of a skin on fish combo would be lost on the majority. Never have I been more incorrect. It added great flavor and complimented the crisp bacon that cascaded over the top of the filet, like tasty little unstable boulders.

Canada - Filet w: wild mushroom and truffle butter, smoked trout, frisée, bacon

Making our way towards the entrance and the Grecian booth, we picked up our souvenir cups with the special cocktail which both of us were indifferent on. Not because it was bad. We just don’t drink much. The cups were seizure inducing, like a DeadMau5 appearance, yet very cool, unlike a DeadMau5 appearance. As I type, my 6-year-old has already confiscated them for his private use. While in Greece, we ordered the chicken gyro as well as a boat of molten cheese topped with honey and roasted pistachio. I remember when the Greece booth opened a year or so ago, it had always been bypassed since the offerings appeared a bit plain jane to me. As Central Floridians, we have a cavalcade of Grecian delights within a short drive, which didn’t help motivate me to try it. The flavors on the gyro were very well done, with notes of lemon, garlic, and oregano all blanketed underneath a creamy tzatziki . If you’ve never had chicken souvlaki, this is a good representation. The melted cheese, made to resemble flaming saganaki was a study in simplicity, having only three known ingredients. That of the honey, pistachio and the cheese itself. It sure ain’t the prettiest filly in the stable. Nevertheless, on taste alone it was surely “affirmed.” Although I’ll admit to the fact that I’ll be stealing that flavor combo for personal use, I still hope in the future that this particular booth changes up their choices for a more adventurous Mediterranean take.

 Greece - Chicken gyro & Saganaki

Finally dessert was served. I have to say when we received our sampler plate of a tiramisu inspired opera gateau, blueberry lemon cheesecake Swiss roll, and passion fruit and lime gelée layered custard thing, I was baffled. This all was really great tasting stuff and wonderfully executed. We both had our preferences for the flavor combinations included in these mini offerings. I am a serious cheesecake and passion fruit guy, while James shares my passion for passion fruit and has a historic love affair with chocolate. Not only was this the most complex and complete dish, but at a $4.00 price point, it was also a comparative steal. We would like to thank the folks at Walt Disney World public relations for allowing us to be their guests. Think about the amount of food that comes out of each baby kitchen. No one had any complaints, or sent food back as far I could see and everyone was walking around dancing to the beat. We are adults acting like adolescents. Why? Because it’s a freaking great time.

Epcot Food & Wine dessert trio