Fine Dining à la Carte
Break out of the constraints of conventional dining and embrace a do-it-yourself attitude with these exciting and unique ideas for creating a fine dining experience à la carte.
By Rebecca Cahilly
Enjoying a fine dining experience doesn’t always mean you have to arrange for a babysitter, make reservations months in advance at a trendy new hot spot, and hope your precious two hours out will yield a perfect blend of five-star service, breathtaking atmosphere and a gourmet meal worth writing home about. As anyone who enjoys good food knows, it’s not just about sustenance; it’s about the experience, and sometimes eating out fails to deliver on all fronts.
This month, we had a ball discovering fabulous ways to have an equally fabulous fine dining experience on any budget — all without ever setting foot in a restaurant. Besides, this is not the time of year to sit indoors, so dust off your picnic basket, break out the wedding china, or simply grab a couple of wine glasses and join us … we’re going fine dining à la carte.
GOURMET PICNIC WITH MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENT
While most states offer an outdoor concert series during the summer months, we get to enjoy them year-round. Somewhat of a well-kept secret known only to locals, the SunTrust Sunday Jazz Brunch series in Fort Lauderdale is one of the best ways to enjoy our delightful weather, some cool jazz and a lazy picnic on the riverbank.
Meandering along the Las Olas Riverwalk, the jazz brunch is held the first Sunday of each month and features musical talent performing from four different stages, as well as plenty of grassy, pleasantly shaded areas to spread a blanket, open a bottle of wine and break out a baguette and some pâté.
With the shops of Las Olas only minutes away, it’s easy to find everything you need to enjoy a gourmet family picnic. For us, a picnic centers around wine, cheese and bread, and we can’t get enough of the fresh baked breads, pastries and mini pecan pies from Gran Forno(www.granforno.com). For the wine and cheese, our new favorite is Cheese Culture, (www.cheese-culture.com) where proprietors Susan and Mitchell Phipps will guide you in your exploration of everything fromage, as well as suggest the perfect wine pairing. Knowing our penchant for blue cheeses, Susan recommended Valdeón, a Spanish blue that is salty and sharp, but creamy and approachable for most. This cheese is encased in sycamore maple leaves and is, as Susan puts it, “a real stunner!” We had just secured a warm, freshly baked baguette from Gran Forno, so Susan recommended a little French number called “Epoisses” for a softer, spreadable cheese. “This one looks like a darling little pastry but it packs a strong punch,” she warned. The rind has been soaked in brandy and, once punctured, oozes with a pungent smell but delicious creaminess — perfect for spreading on our fresh bread and washed down with a lovely 2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards pinot noir.
Because we have a three-year-old cannoli connoisseur in the family, we never pass up an opportunity to pick up a few mini cannolis from Pan’E Dolce’s master pastry chef, Roberto Pacella, (www.panedolci.net). A visit to see the exquisite chocolate creations courtesy of Schakolad is also a must when on Las Olas (www.schakolad.com/chocolate), or, when picnicking with a larger crowd, how about a couture cake from East End Eats (www.eastendeatscafe.com) or a couple of lunch boxes from Eten Food Company across the street, (www.etenfood.com). Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
If your picnic basket isn’t full enough already, leave room for some goodies from Mediterranean Market, a high-end meat and seafood market serving prepared sandwiches, bread, wine, pâté and cheeses for the complete picnic experience (www.shopmedmarket.com). Or, simply stop at the Gourmet Farmers’ Market — every Sunday on Las Olas and 12th Avenue — for local fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, honey, spices, and much more, including pies.
Now all that’s left to do is grab your special someone, your children or well behaved dog, and a couple of friends and head over to the riverfront for a truly gourmet picnic lunch.
Fancy a no-hassle beach picnic? B Hotel’s B’stro on the Beach in Fort Lauderdale will create a custom picnic to go for boat trips, beach days or anywhere else you might want to go. (www.bhotelsandresorts.com).
CATER A FINE DINING EXPERIENCE — CHEZ YOU
Entertaining in one’s home seems to be a lost art, with today’s hectic schedules and daily demands. But what better way to have a relaxing, special evening with a small group of friends and family than to have your meal catered by a professional chef? The experience is surprisingly cost effective and you just might find yourself becoming a regular client!
From hors d’oeuvres and signature cocktails on your patio to a three-course customized gourmet meal in your dining room, to aperitifs and petit fours in your library, catering a dinner party at home is a lovely way to entertain…and relax.
Dena Lowell Blauschild, who runs Parkland Chef Catering company of Coral Springs with her husband, Chef Keith Blauschild, agrees. “There are so many gorgeous homes in South Florida, and this is a great way to entertain. You aren’t rushed out of your seats and can enjoy a leisurely evening in different areas of your home with your guests.”
Whether it’s a romantic dinner for two, a special celebration with close friends or a full-on event, these catering companies deliver five-star service and gourmet meals for an exceptionally wonderful fine dining experience.
Dish Culinary Solutions — Executive Chef Jonas Hägg provides a world-class culinary experience in nearly every type of cuisine. For our special event, Chef Hägg and his team created a spectacular five-course Italian menu to fit our Italian Garden Party theme, completed with a three-tiered tiramisu cake. Fantastico! (www.dishculinary.com).
Grateful Palate — One of the best restaurants in South Florida also offers a superb catering experience. They are well versed in private functions and small parties, which makes for a truly memorable experience. (www.thegratefulpalate.com).
Parkland Chef Catering — Attention to detail and unique customized menus tailored to your vision are what set this team apart and give them rave reviews time and again. (www.parklandchef.com).
WHAT THE HECK, CHARTER A YACHT
For the ultimate in fine dining and overall luxury living, why not take advantage of the water on your doorstep and charter a yacht — complete with captain, stewardess and even a chef — for the day or weekend?
Picture this: You and up to 11 of your dearest friends pack your bags for the weekend and arrive at the docks to meet your private yacht, where you are greeted by your personal — and very professional — crew. At once your bags are whisked from you, replaced with a frosty beverage and a tempting canapé, and you are then escorted to the sun deck as the crew prepares the boat for an evening sunset cruise along the Intracoastal. More libations, more delightful snacks, and, after freshening up in your private stateroom, you return to the aft deck to sit at a gorgeous dining table and enjoy an exquisite gourmet dinner.
The following few days bring more of the same — sunshine, friends, gourmet meals to satiate your inner foodie and a personal crew to cater to your every whim. You might enjoy a cruise around Star, Palm or Hibiscus Islands in Biscayne Bay, and maybe anchor at Monument Island for a refreshing dip in the water. Perhaps one evening you hit South Beach and try out some of the great restaurants like Zuma and Area 31 at the Epic Hotel in Brickell (www.epichotel.com), or enjoy the day’s fresh catch grilled to perfection by your chef on the flybridge.
Dhardra Blake runs LuxuryDayCharters.com, which specializes in yacht charters of seven days or less, and can tailor an itinerary to suit your taste and lifestyle. Whether you plan a 4-hour cruise or a long weekend in the Bahamas, LuxuryDayCharters.com has a great fleet of private yachts from which to choose, depending on your budget. With prices that range from $2,000 to $15,000 a day and up (plus expenses such as food/alcohol, dockage, gratuity & sales tax), plus expenses, chartering a yacht is a bit pricier than a gourmet picnic lunch, but, when shared among 12 friends and marked by the best service, food and ambience you could ask for, it’s a worthwhile and memorable fine dining alternative.
CHASE A FOOD TRUCK
If you’re not quite in the mood for a weekend cruise or a catered in-home dinner; in fact, if your schedule hardly permits you the luxury of regular evenings out to try new restaurants, we suggest you look into the food truck scene. It took us a while to get over our initial aversion to the idea of being served gourmet meals from a truck, but the concept has caught on such that many of these trucks are manned by 5-star chefs trying out a new concept — without a brick-and-mortar restaurant behind them.
Jochen Esser runs Gourmet Truck Expo, a company that organizes food truck events in South Florida. “I work with over 120 trucks,” he says, “and many deliver very high quality food, not the garden variety fast-food burger.” Each food truck is an individually owned small business, some owned by established restaurants. Gourmet Truck Expo finds great locations and gets a good lineup of trucks together to offer a nice variety to the customers.
Look for food truck gatherings at farmers and crafts markets and outdoor concert series — an upcoming series of free concerts in Boynton Beach is where we’re headed next, plastic forks in hand — or follow Gourmet Truck Expo on their website, www.gourmettruckexpo.com.