Dear Foodies,

Are you bored? Stressed? Or exhausted? Well, here’s a mood-boosting idea for you — and it’s called the “Courtyard” located in McAllen. It’s an ideal place to meet friends, dine, shop and enjoy entertainment opportunities. Why Darling, I must say . . . they’ve had a lift! This village style venue has a new updated look thanks to the vision of owner Mayra Brown. I love shopping at the Courtyard during the holidays because Christmas lights and decorations are everywhere creating a festive atmosphere. December 8, 9, and 10th is their annual “Holiday Sidewalk Sale” (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) with live music to get you in the spirit!

A few weeks ago, Mayra asked me to join her for lunch at Fiorella. Some of you might remember they had closed their doors when it was located on 15th Street (that was a while back) in McAllen. They were known for their wine tastings, private receptions and gastronomical dinners. I remember devouring their Chiles en nogada made with poblano chiles filled with picadillo then topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. The elaborate dish (which has all three colors of the flag) is served to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day. I was ready to try the new “Fiorella” along with my friend Janna Cantu (violinist) a foodie at heart. Walking up the steps (has an elevator) feels as if, you’re entering a secret garden. The owner has spared no expense when it comes to the exquisite landscaping (very European) and décor. Janna and I could not believe our eyes when we walked in. I was fascinated by the sleek and modern interior which is decked out with contemporary artwork. Every painting, sculpture, and piece of furniture is arranged and situated perfectly. The music selection (Bossa Nova) compliments the ambiance and style of the dining room. The menu is quite clever and daring (ethnic cuisine with a twist) — it’s apparent George Villarreal is bringing a little bit of Mexico City (melting pot) to McAllen. Mayra formally introduced me to George (owner) who also happens to be a passionate cook. He made sure our lunch was going to be as good as the art he displayed.

I began with the Royal Fiorella Salad which has a variety of crisp greens, raspberries, walnuts and delightful house vinaigrette. The “Trois Fromage” quiche with bacon and mushrooms was, tre francais! The flaky, buttery crust came out perfect. George also placed a sinful, creamy bowl of Fiorella’s Spaghetti in front of me. Oh, well! The creamy parmesan pasta was nestled in with smoked prosciutto and slices of mushrooms that put me in a Zen-like state. They always offer three different lunch specials ($12 —includes soup or salad) throughout the week; but you can also order off the dinner menu if you wish.

I could tell this place represented a labor of love for George and it was apparent that he liked to be surrounded by beautiful, meaningful objects in order to share them with others. For example, the Moroccan Tajine and the Chicken Curry (choice of risotto or basmati rice) are elaborately plated specialties that will delight anyone. A Tagine (also, Tajine) is a cone-shaped Moroccan earthware cooking dish that is used for slow cooking (stews) meats, vegetables and fruits. The seasoned vegetarian Moroccan Tajine ($15 served with basmati rice) has goat cheese stuffed into baby red bell peppers, sliced Portobello mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and other seasonal vegetables. This vessel allows the aromatic vegetables to stay firm and not lose any of the important nutrients or flavors.

Then you have the Chicken Curry ($25 with pita bread) that I promise will be the talk of the town. This impressive over-sized oval (white) plate is designed to look like a painter’s palette. There are small pockets or dippers (that’s where one would add their different colored paints) containing shaved coconut, raisins, chopped pineapple, and cashews. The chicken bathed with a mild curry and ginger sauce is placed on the opposite side of the dippers. Then you get to have fun adding and mixing in all the extras (you desire) onto your sauce ; artfully design each bite . . . and enjoy.

Mil gracias y buena suerte,

Madame Gourmand

Fiorella Art in Cuisine, 5401 N. 10th Ste. 203 “The Courtyard,” McAllen. 956-627-0840.

There is another artistic masterpiece I know of; her name is Olivia Amor Bayse who happens to be my adorable three-year-old niece. Thanks to Mayra’s husband, Dr. Esteban Brown (fertility doctor), my sister Yvonamor became a “Mami.”