Seafood and river cruise

We had no actual plans for Saturday, so we headed out on a mission to find a few things friends had asked us to bring back to Finland. On the same adventure we also did some more shopping for ourselves at Pembroke Lakes Mall and the Shops at Pembroke Gardens. While there we enjoyed a spot of lunch at RA Sushi Bar Restaurant. After lunch and a partly futile search for requested souvenirs we decided to drive back to downtown Fort Lauderdale and check out the Riverwalk. I am sure the Riverwalk would have been a nice experience haven’t it been for all the construction going on. We started at Esplanade Park and checked out the old buildings of History Fort Lauderdale but trying to venture further down the river we had to go around one construction site and once we got back to the river it wasn’t long before we encountered another construction site and decided to turn around and head back to our car.

Opposite bank at the start of Riverwalk
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale

Saturday evening, we had a dinner reservation at Boatyard. When we arrived at the restaurant and checked in with the hostess, I was a bit taken aback by how loud the restaurant seemed. However, we were seated outside on the patio, which was much quieter so we could actually carry on a conversation while dining. Once again, we kicked off the night with drinks; I tested something called Minty Melon (Absolut grapefruit vodka, jalapeño, watermelon, mint) and hubby stuck to his trusted Dry Martini. For starters we ordered the jumbo lump crab cake with oaxacan mole, avocado crema and sweet corn, and the tuna tacos with yellowfin tuna, mango, hot and sour sauce and crispy wonton. Both were excellent. For mains we chose the grilled bronzino & gulf shrimp with fingerling potatoes and roasted tomato-fennel sauce, and the grouper piccata with wilted spinach, cured tomato, caper berries and lemon chardonnay butter both accompanied with a glass of pinot grigio. The mains were delicious even though the bronzino dish was far too big and I had to leave almost all potatoes uneaten and hubby had to eat a few of the shrimp. The service at Boatyard was friendly and professional, the food was tasty, and the setting was nice, so I would recommend the restaurant for any seafood lover.

My Minty Melon
Crab cake
Tuna tacos
Grilled bronzino & gulf shrimp
Grouper piccata
Boatyard restaurant

On Sunday, we kicked-off the morning with another breakfast at the Courtyard Café after which we returned to Sawgrass Mills as we realized we had forgotten to look for a few clothing items. Our supplement shopping was successful and once back in Fort Lauderdale we had planned to visit Bonnet House. However, when we arrived, we found out that the guided tours were already fully booked until 3:30 pm, which did not fit our schedule as we had a linner (lunch + dinner) reservation already at 4:30 pm. The option would have been to tour the grounds without a guide, but we felt the USD 10.00 price per person to enter the grounds without any access to the house seemed a bit steep, so we skipped the entire experience and headed back to the house. Our linner reservation was at El Camino, one of the two Mexican places we tried unsuccessfully to visit on Friday. The reason for such an early dinner was that we had booked a Holiday Lights Cruise with Riverfront Cruise that started at 7 pm. We started with a couple of margaritas while studying the menu. As we saw food being served at other tables and realized the portions were big, we decided to skip any starters. We ended up ordering a smoked brisket burrito and chihuahua cheese enchiladas. When the food was served, we ordered a second round of margaritas. The food and margaritas were excellent, and the service was super friendly, the only small complaint would be the noise level but that is something you would expect at this type of laid-back place.

Margaritas
Chihuahua cheese enchiladas
Smoked brisket burrito

After dinner we walked to the new river and stopped for a drink on the way at the Royal pig pub. Once we arrived at the riverfront and it was time to board the boat, we were told we should have exchanged our online reservation printout for some kind of chip at the Riverfront Cruise “office”. There were no instructions to do this anywhere (not on the website, the reservation printout nor outside the entrance to the boat), so we were a bit surprised at such a procedure. The man checking the chips was kind enough to let us board the ship and take care of our “registration” for us. We never really understood the purpose of having to get a chip but maybe it was to make the boarding procedure easier for the crew. The cruise itself lasted two hours, there was a cash bar onboard and plenty of upper deck seating. We cruised around on the New River ogling at the houses on the millionaires’ row and their Christmas lights. The cruise was fun, but it would have been interesting to learn something about the area we were cruising in and the houses we saw but I understand the regular 90-minute cruise includes commentary.

Cute hotel spotted on Las Olas
Some houses were really lit up
Lights around palm trees were popular
Some even came with colors
There were some superb mansions

One more Florida post to come.

Everglades and heavy shopping

On the second morning in Florida we had breakfast at the house and hopped in the car to head to the Everglades. We had bought tickets online for Coopertown Airboat that has been in operation since 1945. We arrived at Coopertown Airboat around 11 am and there was already a bit of a line to the ticket booth. We joined the line and once it was our turn, we showed the receipt for the online purchase and paid a USD 3.00 per person Everglades National park entrance. Having bought the tickets online we saved three dollars per ticket so if you want to save a bit it makes sense to buy your tickers in advance. After a quick restroom pit stop, we entered the dock area, first we were directed to attend a short show where we were told about the alligators and snakes they had in enclosures on the premises and those who wanted could touch a baby alligator and a snake. We sat in the backrow, so we did not pet either of the animals. After taking a look at the animals on show it was time to board the airboat. Before taking off the guide passed around some cotton to put in our ears as the boats are quite loud. Then we took off “into the wild”. The tour covers approximately 9 miles of this unique environment and lasts for one hour. First, the guide zoomed us through some vast open saw grass, which was fun especially when the boat went sideways. After a while we slowed down for the first time so the guide could tell us about the area and the birds we were seeing. The guide would drive the boat faster for a while and then slow down or stop so we could keep an eye out for gators and the guide could inform us with facts about the place. We did manage to spot three gators during the ride and plenty of birds, the nature in itself was also impressive. There is no guarantee you will see gators during the ride, but I am pretty confident the guides are able to spot at least one gator for you on every ride as they know where to look and have a trained eye. Once we docked you had the chance to again pet a baby gator if you wished. Before leaving we strolled through the gift shop that was full of gator themed knick-knacks, clothing, toys, etc. When we exited the area sometime after 1pm the line to the ticket booth was super-long so I recommend going early in the day if you don’t want to queue for a long time. I would wholeheartedly recommend going on an airboat tour to explore the Everglades if you are in the area as you get to see some stunning nature and interesting wildlife. There are numerous airboat tour operators in the Everglades, we picked Coopertown due to its long history and were satisfied with the choice, but I am sure there are other good operators out there too.

Rescued gators at Coopertown Airboat
Rescued gators at Coopertown Airboat
Learning more about gators and snakes
We saw many birds
Our airboat guide
Spot the gator
Loved the nature in the Everglades
This guy greated us when we returned to shore

After driving back to Fort Lauderdale we scoped out the local Macy’s and mall, The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale and grabbed afternoon coffee from the Starbuck’s at Macy’s. That evening we had a dinner reservation at Serafina by the water. We had requested outdoor seating in our reservation, which was actually good because the indoor space was very limited with around 20 seats. It started raining just before we got to the restaurant and while we were waiting to be seated a couple of groups of diners moved indoors, which had me a bit worried. It turned out that part of the outdoor seating had problems with a protective tarp and thus water got in but the area where we were seated was fine and we managed to stay dry. We kicked off dinner with an aperitif and some starters. I ordered the Tonno Tartar consisting of sushi grade yellow fin tuna, marinated with sesame oil, over a bed of thinly sliced avocado and hubby enjoyed the Carpaccio Di Manzo, of thin sliced cured filet mignon served with arugula, truffle oil and parmigiano reggiano shavings. Both starters were excellent, which set our hopes high for the mains. We both had a pasta, mine was the Ravioli del Giorno which was lobster filled ravioli with a lobster bisque while hubby’s was Capellini fra Diavolo con Gamberi, angel hair pasta, sautéed with jumbo garlic shrimp in a spicy san marzano sauce. I can honestly say this was the best pasta I’ve ever had in a restaurant outside Italy. The service was super-friendly and the staff really made us feel at home.

Tuna tartar
Carpaccio
Lobster ravioli
Shrimp pasta

On Friday we geared up for a heavy day of shopping at Sawgrass Mills outlet mall. Before driving out to the mall we decided to arm ourselves with a hearty breakfast and found the perfect spot in Wilton Manors only a couple of blocks from the house called Shawn & Nick’s Courtyard Café. We immediately fell in love with the place; its vibe, staff and food were excellent. I feasted on pancakes and hubby had Eggs Benedict. The quality of the food was really good, and the prices were more than fair. We ended up spending around four hours at the mall as it was huge and simply getting from one store to the next on our shortlist of favorite stores sometimes took ages. By the time we were done, we were happy with our haul. We had not made a reservation for dinner that evening so we simply took an uber to downtown and strolled around Las Olas looking for a place for dinner. We had our sights on a couple of Mexican places but by the time we had stopped for a drink at a pub and strolled around a bit, both places were packed, and the wait would have been over an hour. As it also started raining, we were not in the mood to explore the place any further, so we ended up at the same pub where we had the drinks for some food. The place was called Bo’s Pub located below The Balcony. As we had had a late lunch on the way back from the mall, we figured we’d opt for something small and ordered some pub bites: a pretzel with beer cheese and mustard sauce, Bo’s buffalo wings served with celery & blue cheese dip and some parmesan truffle fries. Turned out these weren’t really small bites so we couldn’t even finish off everything. The food was good for what it was, pub grub, the drinks were good and staff friendly. Two more posts to come on our Florida adventures.

Colorful Wilton Manors, Courtyard Cafe on the right
We did some shopping…
Las Olas Boulevard at night
Christmas decor Florida style
The pub grub

Catastrophic dinner & superb bed

I had booked a room and dinner package at Hotel GLO Sello for last week’s Friday. The hotel has recently been renovated from floor to ceiling, so it was interesting to see the renewed hotel. The room I had chosen was a GLO Tempur room that is equipped with a Tempur bed as we were interested in testing this state-of-the-art bed. We also tested the Chromecast-streaming system available in the room, which turned out to work well for streaming Netflix from my iPad. I also found the divan in the room super-comfy to lounge on. Before it was time to test the bed, we had a dinner to look forward to.

A place to lounge

If the room was a hit, the dinner was anything but. We had a table reservation at the hotel restaurant GLO Grill Kitchen at 8 pm and as we arrived, we noticed two larger groups already seated in the restaurant. Despite this, the restaurant was by no means full. The dinner package included was a three-course menu with two glasses of wine. The menu sounded delicious: starter of Fennel soup and olive chip, main of either Grilled whitefish, shrimp risotto and orange butter sauce or Grilled lamb, herb risotto and port wine sauce and dessert Gingerbread trifle. We both opted for the fish for the main course. We also decided to start off the dinner with an aperitif. The menu came with two glasses of wine, which you could select from the wine menu and for the starter we chose the recommended Chardonnay. While the waiter served us, he said that the food may take a while because there was a rush in the kitchen. This was no problem for us as we were in no hurry and were happy to enjoy the aperitifs without being rushed. But then things started to go pear-shaped.

We were finally served the starter about an hour into our reservation. The server apologized for the wait and said the food should be coming out faster as the biggest rush in the kitchen was letting up. However, this was not the case. Once we had finished our soups, we waited for another hour at which time hubby went to ask the servers when we might expect to be served our mains. The response was that they are just being prepared. This was, however, clearly not the case. It took almost another half an hour before the main course was served. While waiting for the main course a server came to ask which wine we would like with the fish. Then she said that she would recommend white wine, which almost made us burst out in laughter as that is not a wine recommendation in my opinion (we did laugh once she left the table). I noticed she had the wine list in her hand so I said that if I could have a look at the list I could choose, her response was that you have the same list right there on the table. Eventually she managed to recommend a Riesling. When she came back with the bottle, I had to stop her from pouring it in the wine glasses on the table that had already been used to drink another wine. Eventually the mains arrived, and the server said he would ask the kitchen to prepare the desserts right away, he also asked if we would like coffee with the desserts which the restaurant would pay for since we had to wait. As it was 10.45 at night, coffee did not sound like a good idea so I suggested the aperitifs could be comped instead. Once we had finished the mains, we said we would take the dessert up to the room as the restaurant was closing.

Due to the waiting I almost forgot to take a picture of the main so here I had already tucked into the fish

Up in the room we polished off the desserts and settled in for the night. The bed was amazing, I slept so well. All in all, I can say that the hotel was nice and awarded a perfect night’s sleep but the service in the restaurant was something I’ve never experienced before. Luckily, the food itself was quite good, otherwise the disappointment would have been huge. I do understand that the restaurant was busy but regardless, a three-course dinner should not take three hours (I’ve eaten six course menus in three hours). Also, the restaurant has been aware of the number of guests before hand as the large parties must have had table reservations as did we. So, I would recommend the hotel and might even return myself at some point, but the restaurant lost any chance of us ever coming back.

The magical Tempur bed