Four Fun Days in Florida!!

It had been a while since my son and I went on a vacation just the two of us.  We usually try to do three or four trips a year.  In fact it had been nearly a year since our last adventure to Letchworth State Park, Rochester & Niagara Falls last summer.  Most of our trips since have been with family or friends which is fun too, but I miss the time we get together when it’s just the two of us because my ten year old is truly fun to hang out with.  So a couple of weeks ago we took a short, post school, pre camp trip to Florida.
We flew into Ft. Myers with initial plans to go to Sanibel Island.  Upon doing further research into the area, my son wasn’t thrilled with the lack of nightlife and restaurant options within walking distance.  So we opted to make the 2 hour drive to Ft. Lauderdale and stay there instead.  I figured it would be a great opportunity to go through the Everglades and a fun adventure for my reptile loving child.
Despite a tire change delay at Newark, we drove into Ft Lauderdale at a fairly decent time and just in time for a late dinner.  I had exchanged emails with the hotel concierge a few days earlier to get some recommendations on restaurants.  I hate getting to a place without options for food and then wind up at some chain restaurant for the sake of killing the hunger pangs.  So we checked in, without bothering to park the car, and headed straight for 15th St Fisheries.  We were told that they have great seafood including Stone crab claws, and that one can watch them feed the tarpon right off the dock.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to experience either since the kitchen closed at 9pm and we were 20 minutes too late.  Seriously?  Who shuts down at 9pm?  This is when I miss the food scene in NYC & Europe.  It’s much more friendly toward those of us who like to eat on the later side.
A recommendation from the valet took us back to the A1A toward Las Olas Boulevard, the now popular strip in Ft. Lauderdale.  I had been to this city about 12 years ago and as I drove along the shore, memories came flooding back as they often do when we get older.  Memories of learning to roller blade on the A1A in heavy traffic (not sure how I got talked into that one), skinny dipping at midnight after way too many Manhattans (or that one), the hangover the next day, etc.  But I digress…..
We wound up at Rocco’s Tacos – a lively, happening place with great margaritas.  We were seated at a high table near the center of the restaurant which gave us a great view of the whole place – larger than it looked from the outside.  My son had eaten a small sandwich upon landing and wasn’t nearly as hungry as I so we ordered some guacamole (they are known for the tableside preparation in a molcajete) , a few a la carte tacos (fish, pork & steak) and a margarita for me of course.  Personally I don’t get the whole fascination with the guacamole made tableside aside from it being an excuse to charge high prices for something for no reason.  I can whip up a great guacamole in exactly five minutes (ripe avocado, lime juice, cilantro, chopped jalapeno, salt & pepper – some like to add chopped tomato).  And let’s face it in the end it’s really all about the quality and ripeness of the avocado.  Oh and don’t EVER serve me a guacamole made from one of those packet mixes that totally kill the flavor of this amazing fruit.  So is a $15 price tag for guacamole too much?  Absolutely!!  But it was good, and I was hungry and on vacation so didn’t care too much.  The tacos were very good too.  Being a bit tired from our travels we skipped dessert and returned to our hotel where I spent an hour sipping some single malt by a fire pit, while listening to the ocean after putting my son to bed.  Now it felt like vacation!!
My son and I are not breakfast eaters so we tend to skip the hotel’s overpriced buffets and go to the local supermarket for bagels, fruit, yogurt and granola bars.  All you need is a mini bar to store a few things.  Our lunches were largely eaten poolside from the hotel bar menu.   Nothing to write home about but far too convenient to pass up.  And so we worked extra hard to make the dinners count.

On our first night we walked up and down the strip several times checking out all the menus before settling on H20 Café.  We loved this place.  The service was friendly and the food fabulous.  They brought us warm bread with some really good olive oil with balsamic and parmigiano reggiano for dipping.  We shared a Caprese salad and it was so good that I had to fight my son to give me a few bites.  The tomatoes were perfectly ripe and the mozzarella very fresh & creamy.  He has an affinity towards leaves so I got to have the basil all to myself.  For our entrees we ordered Penne Carbonara and a Blackened Grouper.  I accompanied my fish with a fantastic German Riesling.  By now we were fully relaxed and entrenched in our vacation and looking forward to the next day.
Unfortunately the remainder of our days were not as sunny as the first when tropical storm Debbie decided to pay us a visit.  This did not hinder our plans to have a great trip and luckily Floridians are used to such weather and plan for it. 
One such day, we decided to borrow umbrellas from the hotel and walk to town in search of a place for lunch.  The pool was closed and there was not much else to do.  We wound up at Spazio, a restaurant that a friend had recommended to us.  Four hours later, we had had an enjoyable lunch with some great Vermentino while watching the Euro Cup quarter final match between Germany and Greece.   Our waiter, Damian, engaged us into their inner bets on the game and we had a fun afternoon in the rain.  We shared a flatbread with soppresata (much better than plain old pepperoni), a Panini Caprese (tomatoes not as good as H20), and some perfectly cooked broccolini.  If you’ve ever attempted to cook this vegetable, you know that it is not that easy.  So when I tasted this, I had to have the recipe which Damian was glad to share.  I have since made it at home and had great success.  The key is to splurge and use butter instead of olive oil and only cover and cook for two minutes.

Another memorable meal took us to True Luck Steakhouse.  I really wanted to head back to 15th St Fisheries on our last day, but my little man wanted steak and who was I to refuse.  The concierge recommended True Luck after finding out that the boutique steakhouse, Steak 954, was booked till 9:30pm.  This was a fun experience.  Again, we dined outside on a covered patio with rain pouring down and an awesome live band playing.  I never realized how magical that atmosphere can be.  Our meal was excellent with the exception of slightly too much salt on mine.  Filet for the little man, more Grouper for me, topped off with a Key Lime pie (couldn’t leave Florida without at least one).  The waiter suggested an excellent Sancerre and I treated myself to a glass of port at the end while we waited for the rain to stop.
After saying goodbye to Ft. Lauderdale the next morning, we set out for our adventure in the Everglades where we took an airboat ride to pet the gators.  I’m not a big fan of reptiles but my son is obsessed with them.  He wanted to bring one home and of course I asked him if we could cook it for dinner.   Have you ever had alligator tail?  It’s quite delicious!!!

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