Sunday, March 28, 2010

Going Greek in Greenacres

Your Gluttonous Gourmet’s latest gastronomic conquest has filled his stomach with food and his heart with music. To paraphrase the theme song of a 1960s television series:

If Greenacres is the place for you,

you will love to eat at Skorpios II.

I’m assuming of course, that Skorpios II actually resides in Greenacres, instead of Lake Worth. As any new Florida resident soon discovers, the state has numerous towns within towns. Many of them, like Tamarac, appear to be states of mind, given the lack of visible boundaries.

Although located on Lake Worth Road not far west of the Welcome to Greenacres sign, Skorpios II appears in the Yellow Pages as a Lake Worth restaurant. Without the Greenacres sign or the Yellow Pages listing, one might assume the restaurant’s location is nearby Palm Springs, which, much like its California counterpart, appears to be a state of mind for self-proclaimed celebrities such as this reviewer.

Regardless of its location's name, Skorpios II occupies Suite B of a humble strip mall on Lake Worth Road, not far west of Jog Road. Its modest exterior conceals what constitutes a culinary tribute to the island in the Aegean Sea whose culture shaped Western Civilization. Its tasteful interior, a white and blue nautical decor with a tease of the Aegean painted on its far wall, promises the typical Greek fare: exquisite, abundant and unpretentious.

Arriving shortly ahead of the 6:00 P.M dinner rush, we perused the menu, which featured the fare commonly found in Greek restaurants: Gyros, Moussaka, Baklava and Greek Salads of various sizes, just to name a few.

When Mike, our waiter, arrived, I ordered two Gyros sandwiches and a large Greek salad. Since Mike’s waist resided behind his belt, not over it, I assumed his recommended salad sizes would be half what I needed for gratification and ordered the largest size, despite a lengthy debate. His down-to-earth nature and desire to please made me share my story of winning a free dessert at the Cheesecake Factory with him. He responded with warm laughter

While waiting for the main course, we nibbled from baskets of warmed pita bits tasty enough to fill us before the meal arrived. Although the Gyros sandwiches took time to prepare, given the size the small but efficient kitchen, the crowded tables and the line out the door, they proved to be well worth the wait. The Gyros sandwiches, abundant in every applicable sense of the word, required two large hands to grip and a horse-sized mouth to bite. For those who cannot separate and reconnect their jawbones to devour this substantial sandwich, I suggest eating it with the wrapper on and peeling it just enough for your next bite. Its flavor is well worth the effort.

When the salad arrived in a huge porcelain bowl, your favorite Glutton faced a moment of truth. Abundant beyond words, it would give any serious glutton pause. The bowl would have held a basketball with room to spare. Iceberg lettuce with an ample supply of feta cheese and fresh tomatoes, as well as peppers and black olives piled high enough to make at least two salads of more than satisfactory portions. A second glance at the menu told me it was the family-sized salad. Nevertheless, I had a reputation to live up to or down to, as the case may be.

“You’ve given me a real challenge,” I admitted to Mike. But, if I didn’t finish it, I would claim that I ate too much pita bread before the food arrived. After all, the Gluttonous Gourmet has to maintain his reputation.

The two women sitting next to us announced that they had made a bet on whether I could finish the salad. In a brief but congenial conversation, they told us that they were of Syrian and Lebanese descent. Since my wife, Elaine, and our friend Sharon were Jewish and I am of bland ethnic origins, we proved that peaceful coexistence was possible, at least in the South Florida branch of the Middle East. Only our hunger prevented us from singing “Kumbayah.”

When the ladies announced their surprise at my appetite to Mike, he quipped, “This guy used to be the bantamweight champion of Palm Beach county.”

“Actually, Mike, I was five bantamweight champions of Palm Beach County,” I said, pleased to hear another boxing aficionado’s voice.

Mike’s grin reflected a combination of confusion and fascination . “You mean, you held five titles?”

“No, just one.” The Gourmet may be a glutton, and although he may have moments of hyperbole, he is not a braggart.

Mike looked bewildered. “I thought you just said you were a five-time champion.”

“No. I weighed enough for five bantamweight champions.”

“Enjoy your meal,” Mike said through a perplexed grin.

“Don’t worry, Mike. I always rise to challenges” I answered with the trash-talking brashness of a former--and current---title belt holder. (After eating the Gyros sandwiches, I had to remove my belt to make room for the salad.)

I rose to the challenge of eating the salad, easily a champion's effort. The pause to banter had allowed my food to settle, leaving enough abdominal square footage to meet one of my greatest gastronomic challenges with a lot of gusto and a little salad dressing.

The next time I rose, I raised my hands high over my head and bellowed: “I DID IT! I DID IT!” the way boxing champions do after winning their bouts. When I rose, however, my right hip bumped the adjacent table, spilling a huge and tempting heap of moussaka into the laps of the ladies.

So much for world peace.

When Mike brought the bill, he told me he had been involved in boxing in a variety of capacities. When he asked me what I thought of my meal, his tone reminded me of Howard Cosell, the late boxing announcer.

“Well, Mike,” I said, “It was definitely a challenge. The meal was bigger than I thought. It was a tough opponent to finish off, but tender to eat. I took its best flavors and came right back. Like I told you, I rise to challenges. It had a lot more flavor than I expected, and the salad had great conditioning. Crisp lettuce, fresh feta cheese. . . It took me a while, but I wore it down to size and finished it off, even after eating two plates of pita bread. The meal was a tough opponent, but I’ll give it a rematch any time. I told you, Mike, I RISE TO CHALLENGES. NOTHNG CAN STOP ME! I AM THE GLUTTONOUS GOURMET! I AM THE GREATEST GLUTTONOUS GOURMET OF ALL TIME!

“Would you like some dessert? I recommend our Baklava.”

“You’ll have to talk to my promoter, Mike. If the price is right, I’ll eat anything, anywhere, anytime.”

At Skorpios II, the price is right and the portions please both discerning palates and cavernous abdominal cavities. It won’t take much negotiating for me to take on the baklava. I will eat at Skorpios II anytime.

And so should you.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Best Food Bargain in South Florida

When evaluating a restaurant’s cuisine, I consider quality and quantity equally important. As a dining experience, the all-you-can-eat buffet is dear to the small heart that runs the huge stomach of the Gluttonous Gourmet. In addition to filling his astronomical gastronomical needs, it guarantees a profit---for this customer, although not necessarily for the management. To the Gluttonous Gourmet, the Sunday Dinner Buffet at Madras Cafe on Powerline in Pompano Beach ranks as the most gratifying buffet, quantitatively, qualitatively and economically, that he has graced with his all-consuming presence.

On Valentine’s Day, valentines of all ages, shapes and sizes crowded the restaurant, eager to please each other with exquisite exotic food and delightful desserts (not all of them on the menu). The crush of holiday business forced your Gourmet to suffer the indignity of waiting five minutes before the hostess could seat him.

No sooner than she seated him, your reviewer went to the Dosa Station, where he ordered the South Indian specialty, a fried lentil crepe wrapped around mashed potatoes mixed with onions and mild spices. The Masala Dosa should satisfy the neophyte's craving for novel and outstanding flavors. One also finds a variety of condiments for the Dosa, such as coconut chutney and sambar, a vegetable soup that can be consumed as a dish or used as a condiment. As one moves toward the rear of the Cafe, one finds a variety of salads, roasted red and green peppers, and tasty vegetarian dishes for weight-conscious consumers who possess greater will power than your reviewer.

My eyes shifted from the light fare to the back table where the diet-conscious fear to tread and the flavor-conscious hate to leave. From left to right, trays of Basmati Rice, Hot and Spicy Gobhi Manchurian, Paneer Masala, Chicken Biryani and Butter Chicken aroused the roar in the Gluttonous Gourmet's belly. The Gourmet, however, bleated at the thought of eating the Goat dish at the far right, however much others might enjoy its flavor.

After I selected my food trays and carried them to my three tables, which I pressed together to create an adequate eating surface, a thick Indian accent addressed me with uncharacteristic directness:

Sir, you must not remove the food trays from the buffet table.”

This is an all you can eat buffet, is it not?

Yes, sir. But we want our customers to taste a variety of flavors.”

I assure you, sir, they will. The Chicken Biryani tastes like chicken when it doesn't taste like rice. And the goat dish tastes like whatever goat tastes like. What are your customers, gluttons?”

The waiter gave me a stare of polite incredulity, then turned away.

I plunged into the Gobhi Manchurian, which lived up to its hot and spicy billing. An abundance of chili peppers and onions blended with chicken and cauliflower stung my tongue and popped beads of sweat on my forehead. Although the dish did not have the saucy texture typical of the other dishes, it nevertheless ranks as one of the most flavorful dishes I’ve ever eaten in an Indian restaurant.

Next came the Paneer Masala. Paneer does not conform to one’s customary expectations about cheese. Its texture and flavor resemble fried tofu.Your reviewer found the dish, made in a bed of creamy and mildly spiced tomato sauce, almost as tasteful as Chicken Tikka Masala, one of his personal favorites on the Madras daily menu.

The penultimate dish, Butter Chicken, resembled the Masala, but the generous amount of butter used in place of yogurt sauce enriched its flavor significantly. The dish is one of Madras Cafe’s finest offerings, and no Indian restaurant in South Florida makes it nearly as well.

Last came the dessert. Your Gourmet selected a dozen balls of Gulab Jamun, a staple of Indian desserts, leaving the double chocolate cake (delightful, I was told) and several other highly-praised Indian desserts for the other customers to sample. Few treats in life can round out a meal (or an abdomen) as pleasurably as this dairy product with the texture and appearance of donut holes soaked in honey. What is an Indian dinner without a dozen of these flavorful treats to fill the last square feet of one's abdominal cavity?

I recommend the Madras Cafe’s Sunday Dinner Buffet to anybody interested in tasty cuisine with rich, exotic flavors. For a mere $14.95, you can consume as much of South Florida’s finest Indian cuisine as your stomach will allow and experience tremendous personal growth in areas you normally try to reduce. And you will very likely return to Madras to continue your pursuit of fulfillment.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009

Originally, I had intended to name this blog ”The Gluttonous Gourmet.” Unfortunately,my chosen name has been preempted, I suspect by some aspirant who neither shares my gastronomic philosophy nor my ability to consume food in quantities worthy of our chosen appellation.

Rest assured, there is only one real Gluttonous Gourmet, and I am He. The others, wannabes that they are, could never finish my plate, not to mention the one that comes after it. The only reason I don’t challenge my preemptive namesake to an eating duel at a large table in a favorite restaurant is that I want to savor the taste of my food and the gradual bulging of my body bloating to fullness in and over its chair. You won’t find this Gluttonous Gourmet eating fifty-seven hot dogs in thirty-nine seconds. Even in abundance, food is to be savored when devoured. Why inhale food so quickly that you can’t enjoy its scent? Not only should food be savored, but the act of gluttony, as well.

As a gastronome, I base my (w)holistic approach on the assumption that quality and quantity deserve equal consideration when determining whether a dish is worthy of consumption and a restaurant worthy of a return visit from the Gluttonous Gourmet.

In 1992, the only true Gluttonous Gourmet made his first visit to The Cheesecake Factory, in Coconut Grove. As frequently happens, the waiter expressed strong doubts that yours truly could consume his entire order of Spicy Cashew Chicken and a Bacon Cheeseburger with fries. “You don’t know how big the portions are,” the waiter politely cautioned me through a mustache reminiscent of a 1970s porn star.

“I don’t care how big the portions are, unless they’re too small.”

“If you can eat that order, I’ll give you dessert on the house.”

“You’re on,” I said, feeling the spread of my knowing grin. Those with lesser appetites, proverbially speaking, bite off more than they can chew.

The Cheesecake Factory’s portions were, then as now, noteworthy, and posed a reasonable challenge even for a man of my gargantuan appetites. The Spicy Cashew Chicken, breaded and piled high over a bed of rice that an average-sized person could sleep in, was worthy of inhalation and almost on a par with comparable dishes served in the very best Asian restaurants. The Bacon Cheeseburger ranked among the best and bulkiest this mouth had ever swallowed. The fries, however, were thin, and hard enough to resemble overweight potato sticks. Despite this shortcoming, the Cheesecake Factory had proved itself worthy of many return visits.

“I can’t believe you ate all that,” the waiter said.

“If you want me to make you believe it, you’ll have to pay for the second course, as well as the dessert. May I have your dessert menu?”

Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple cheesecake was the flavor I chose from a list that made Howard Johnson’s twenty-eight flavors seem paltry by comparison. Its combination of flavors made this reviewer a new devotee of cheesecake, other than the kind found in men’s magazines.

The waiter was so impressed that he brought the manager to my table. "You ate two whole meals and a dessert,” the manager said. I’m impressed.”

“Would you like to bet that I can eat another cheesecake? I asked him, contemplating a free plate of Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake as a worthy second serving.

The manager grinned, turning his face almost bashfully to one side before saying, “I’m more than impressed” and offering me a hand to shake.

I pulled his hand to the emptied plate and tried to place a portion of it on my fork. Before I could get a taste, six waiters dragged me out of the restaurant. “I’M STILL HUNGRY!” I protested as my body rolled down the steps to the street level of CocoWalk.

No doubt they thought my final action was excessive. They failed to realize my madness had a method. Not only did I get the free desert, but through the process of ejection, I got two free meals as well.

I picked myself up off the walk and prepared to visit Coral Gables.