The Restaurants at My End of the Universe

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Looking for a new Mediterranean restaurant and ended up at Mirage Restaurant in Clearwater on Gulf to Bay.  Normally, we’re not too keen on buffets, but this one was surprisingly fresh and tasty.

The buffet had a variety of salads and dips, my favorite being the babaganoush.  There were several different rice and vegetarian options, stuffed grape leaves, plus chicken and beef kababs.  We tried a bunch of different things and the meats were all very tender and everything had a good mix of flavorful spices.  The baklava for dessert wasn’t too sweet and had a warm cinnamon flavor to it.  The restaurant itself is just a big open dining room, plus a patio out front.

Total bill was $47 and we’ll definitely be back again.

Mirage Restaurant
2284 Gulf to Bay Blvd
Clearwater, FL
727-724-3604

Mirage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Food4/5
Service4/5
Atmosphere3/5
Value4/5
3.9/5

My sister and I met up in Orlando today and had lunch at Ararat Euro Food and Bistro.  The menu is extensive and we decided to get a bunch of appetizers to try.  We started off with the Pirozhki.

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It’s an oven baked pastry with a choice of fillings and we went with the ground beef.  It was fresh and tasty, but a little on the dry side.  It could have used something to dip it in.  We ordered a carafe of Mors which is a fresh berry juice.

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I’m going to have to figure out how to make it.  It wasn’t very sweet, but had a pure berry taste to it.  There were a bunch of different berries in the bottom of the carafe and its made with whatever berries are in season.  Then the rest of our hot appetizers arrived which included pierogi, cabbage rolls, eggplant cutlets, and garlic & dill potatoes

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Our favorite was the eggplant.  It was seasoned and cooked perfectly.  It had a nice little crunch and not mushy at all.  Eggplant is not the easiest thing to get right, but they know how to make it here.  The pierogi and cabbage rolls were good.  We were both expecting something different with the garlic & dill potatoes.  We didn’t expect them to be french fries.  They were seasoned well, but with all of the other goodness on the table, they didn’t get much love.  This is some place I’d definitely go back to when I’m in Orlando.  There are so many things on the menu I’d like to try.  It’s on Universal Blvd, just past all of the chaos of the theme parks.  Highly recommend it.  Total bill was about $40.

Ararat Euro Food & Bistro
7540 Universal Blvd
Orlando, FL
407-351-3131

Ararat Euro Food & Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Food4/5
Service4/5
Atmosphere4/5
Value4/5
4.0/5
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  • Filed under: Orlando, Russian
  • We’d already eaten at two new places for us this weekend, so I decided to try for a third.  We ate dinner at La Bella Eva over in Clearwater.  It’s a small Italian pizza place in strip mall on Belcher.  It was nice and toasty inside which was perfect on this rather chilly evening.  We decided to try the potato soup.

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    My first bite was very flavorful, but cold.  We had to send it back to the kitchen to get heated up.  After that, though, things went much better.  The soup was really good.  Thick & rich with a wonderful flavor.  Loren kept trying to slide it closer to his side of the table.  The bread was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside.  You know it’s good when Loren reaches for more before I get a chance to.  We also got some calamari.

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    The calamari was a little chewy and needed some salt, but otherwise pretty good.  You can get a medium or spicy sauce to go with it and we chose the medium.  It wasn’t really spicy, but definitely had some red pepper in it.  At this point, we both realized we had already ordered too much food, and then the entrees came.  Loren got the linguine with meatballs.

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    He liked it.  It was a rich sauce.  I though it tasted like there was wine in it that hadn’t been fully cooked off.  I got the eggplant rollatini.

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    It was like lava when it came to the table.  The eggplant was cooked very well.  It still had some texture to it and the cheese and sauce were tasty.  Too many places overcook the eggplant to mush, but this was a really good dish.  We both had leftovers and decided to split a Manhattan truffle for dessert.

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    Vanilla and chocolate ice cream covering a cherry & almond center and completely enrobed in dark chocolate.  It was delicious.  They had several different varieties of these truffles and I think we may have to go back just to try some of the other ones.  Total bill with a drink was $38.

    La Bella Eva
    1469 S. Belcher Rd
    Clearwater, FL
    727-400-6824

    La Bella Eva on Urbanspoon

    Food4/5
    Service3/5
    Atmosphere3/5
    Value3/5
    3.4/5

    We decided to try Bambino Pizzeria in Dunedin for dinner tonight.  Being July, the first thing we noticed was that the air conditioners were not able to properly cool the space down which made for a somewhat uncomfortable dining experience.  We started off with some eggplant sticks.

    Loren was hesitant at first, but they were really good.  Crunchy on the outside with perfectly cooked pieces of eggplant inside.  They came with a side of marinara sauce that was pretty tasty.  Loren liked the bread more than I did.  It had lots of cheese and herbs on top, but it was a little too crunchy for me.

    I decided to try the lasagna which also came with a side salad.

    There was a high proportion of meat to cheese in this lasagna.  Since I’m more of a cheesy person, I probably wouldn’t order it again, but Loren liked it.  It had some nice flavors, but I found it to be a bit on the salty side the more I ate of it.  I ended up bringing half of it home.  Loren tried the Bambino Mitt which was sort of an Italian sub on thin crust pizza dough.

    He really liked it.  I didn’t think he was going to eat the entire thing, but he cleared his plate.  It had ham, salami, provolone, lettuce, onions, banana peppers, tomato, mayo and Italian dressing on it.  Of course, I couldn’t pass up the cannolis.

    They were ok.  A little too much cinnamon flavor in the shells for me.  As for the service, it was lacking.  There was only one waitress on the floor and she was overwhelmed.  She never stopped by to check on us after the food was delivered and when I ordered the cannoli, she mistakenly filled Loren’s empty iced tea glass with water.  Total bill was $28.  The food was pretty good, but this may be one of those places where take-out is a better option than dining in.

    Bambino’s Pizzeria & Restaurant
    2028 Bayshore Blvd
    Dunedin, FL
    727-734-5555

    Bambino Pizza and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

    Food3/5
    Service2/5
    Atmosphere2/5
    Value3/5
    2.6/5

    Unseasoned


    Leo’s Italian Grill opened up 3 weeks ago in Palm Harbor so that was our destination for lunch today.  It’s a huge space with a patio, banquet room, and large bar area.  We were seated in a booth that seemed rather awkward to me.  The table was too long for us to sit opposite each other, so we sat in the middle & looked out at the other diners in the restaurant.   The experience didn’t get off to a good start when the waitress brought Loren sweet tea instead of unsweetened and just went downhill from there.

    Both our entrees came with soup or salad.  Loren chose the wedding soup & I got the pasta fagioli.

     

    Both were desperately underseasoned.  A little salt can go a long way.  This was the theme of the meal though, it was all very bland.  I certainly prefer non-chain restaurants, but I compared everything I ate to that at Olive Garden and the chain definitely wins out this time.  The bread sticks were really tough and thick.

    Even the dipping oil was lackluster.  I also noticed a definite lack of consistency in how the waitresses handled their tables.  When another waitress brought out the bread & oil, she explained what was in it.  When another table said the bread was hard, she brought them out a different basket.  When ours went to clear some plates, she asked if she could take the bread basket & I said yes because it was hard.  Her answer was oh, well, sometimes they just come out that way.

    We tried the calamari.

    It had a very thick coating of batter on it, so they were very crunchy and also in need of some seasoning.  The marinara sauce had an undercooked taste to it.  It was almost a metallic taste from the tomatoes not being allowed to simmer long enough.

    For his entree, Loren got the chicken piccata.

    Now, this is a dish he gets at a lot of restaurants and the key flavor you expect to taste is lemon.  It was non-existent in this dish.  In fact, the sauce tasted like eggs & butter.  He did say the chicken was very tender though.  I went for the eggplant rollatini.

    I’m not sure how to describe the taste on this.  It had a lot of mozzarella which I guess ended up being the predominate flavor.  The eggplant was very mushy and the ricotta also tasted like eggs.  There just weren’t any Italian spices or even salt & pepper to give it any flavor whatsoever.  I ate half of one.  Needless to say, this isn’t a restaurant we’ll be returning to.  I’d choose Olive Garden over this any day.  It was a very disappointing $29 lunch in both food and service.

    Leo’s Italian Grill
    33286 US Hwy 19 North
    Palm Harbor, FL
    727-786-9110

    Leo's Pizza & Italian on Urbanspoon

    Food2/5
    Service2/5
    Atmosphere2/5
    Value2/5
    2.0/5