Category Archives: Travel

South Padre Island: Not a Foodie Destination

Fried Artichoke Hearts from Padre Island Brewing Company

Our anniversary trips have gotten steadily less sexy as time has passed – Paris, Portland and this year – South Padre Island. At least we stick with a “P” theme. This year we had a pretty valid excuse for not jet-setting to Prague or Paraguay. We were just not ready yet to drop off the baby and take off.  So we wanted somewhere that was driving distance (nowhere is a good driving distance with a fussy baby) and was cheap. Initially, the thought was Big Bend, but it’s eight hours away and Padre was six and much cheaper.  We found a great deal at the Travelodge at the very end of the island. We got a two bedroom room with a huge kitchen and living room, plus we got to take Olive and it was only $99 a night. The hotel also had beach access. I highly recommend this place and the location was perfect. It was not fancy by any means, but if you are staying in South Padre you are probably not looking for fancy.

Ranch burger with grilled onions

I wish I could give some positive reviews of the food we had on the island, but man, oh, man, what a disappointment.  Our first stop was the Padre Island Brewing Company. This brew pub was located on the main drag, not too far from our hotel. The menu seemed to consist of standard pub fare. But I guess I have been spoiled by Austin and Portland brew pub food – basic, but tasty. This food was really just basic, not too much ingenuity going on. We started with the fried artichokes and the beer battered mushrooms stuffed with crab and served with ranch and a citrus tartar sauce. And then we split the Ranch Burger, which was topped with BBQ sauce and grilled onions.

Stuffed Mushrooms

I know these choices are not terribly exciting, but neither were our options. And while the food was not horrible, it was just kind of –  meh. At least with this place we did not get stuck with a large bill, which is not something I can say for a couple of our other dining choices.

Delicious Beer!

And at least they had delicious beer! So all in all the food was bland, but the prices and beer made up for it!

Beet and Raspberry Bruschetta and Parisian Mac and Cheese

The next day was Thanksgiving. We all slept in and watched some football (just like at home!). Then we took Olive and the baby down to the beach – for both of them it was their first trip. So we had so much fun.  Olive ran and caught the ball in the waves with Chris, while Owen and I just sat in the shallow part of the water enjoying the lapping water. It was a very nice introduction to the ocean. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by South Padre Island beaches. I am from Florida and I have heard many Texans trash the shore here, so I was a bit nervous. But this part of Texas is not that bad and is fairly comparable to some Atlantic side beaches in Florida.

After the beach we headed back to the room and had a nap. And desperately searched for a restaurant that might be open on the holiday. We found Cafe Kranzler, which seemed like a great option and was ranked highly on Yelp – well, it was ranked highly on Yelp for the area. When we got there, I instantly thought it was a pretty cute place. It’s not fancy, but it’s got a nice vibe to it. And they had what seemed to be a very nice fixed price menu. We decided against it in order to try some of their regular menu items, but it looked great. We started with a couple of appetizers – the beet and raspberry bruschetta and the Parisian Mac and Cheese. Both of these were fantastic and were the highlight of the dining experience. The mac and cheese had brie, mushrooms and truffle oil in it and was superb. The bruschetta was even better, the melange of flavors including the tartness of the raspberries, the earthiness of the beets combined with the creaminess of the goat cheese was amazing – a big winner. If only we had stopped there. But alas, we ordered entrees. I ordered their wiener schnitzel. Mine was not bad, it was pretty basic, it was just bland. It was your standard fare schnitzel, nothing out of the ordinary, very thin. Chris’s entree was just, for lack of a better word – gross. He ordered the mandarin orange crab crepe. While I commend him for ordering exotic, it definitely backfired. The crab filling itself was very sweet and then it was topped with an equally sweet sauce. I think it would have served the chef better to create a contrast versus just piling on the sugar.

Mandarin Orange Crab Crepe

Wiener Schnitzel

Cold Creme Brulee

For dessert we ordered the creme brulee. It’s a favorite dessert of ours. And while it was cold inside and super thick and sugary on top, not my favorite, it was not bad. It just wasn’t my favorite version. This time, we did get stuck with a big bill. So my feelings on this place are very mixed. I might recommend sticking with appetizers and wine.

My sexy husband at Clayton's beach bar

One big surprise was the food at Clayton’s Resort. If you have ever been to Panama City or any other super touristy beach destination, you have seen this place before – huge open deck playing bad music, beach volleyball nets and a frozen alcoholic drink machine. So I was not expecting much. Oddly, this was the best food we had the whole trip.

Yummy nachos and the requisite frozen margarita

Chopped Shrimp Cocktail

Since we had plans for a big dinner, we just ordered a couple of appetizers  – nachos and a shrimp cocktail. The shrimp was hands down the freshest seafood we had the entire trip. And there was a lot of it. At first, I thought the presentation was weird all chopped up in the sauce, but it worked. And the nachos had huge chunks of fresh avocado and tomatoes as well as jalapenos. It was simple and yet very fresh, not what I was expecting.

Snapper Special

Captain Dan

For dinner on our last night I really wanted to go to the Sea Ranch Restaurant. I had done my research and this seemed to be the best place for seafood. I guess I should caveat this again, it seemed like the best place for the Island. What was odd about this place, is that it is right on the water, but I could swear it was some of the most stale and not fresh seafood I have ever eaten. We started with some oysters, clam chowder and a salad. All were ok. The oysters were very nice and yummy. I would recommend them. But the chowder was just unbearably salty and the salad was fine, but nothing extraordinary. Our entrees were not great either. Chris’s entree – the special of the evening was pretty good. It was a snapper with a cream sauce over pasta topped with shrimp. So it had a lot going on to mask anything fishy. Mine was just bad. It was the Captain Dan, which consisted of a broiled flounder, scallops and shrimp. The seafood was so slimy and I could not even eat the fish, it stunk. There is no excuse for that on an island. And then we got the check, which added insult to injury. I will say that our server was impeccable. And it seems that service overall is a big priority, which is great. I just wish they had better food.

If you want good seafood or good food in general in Padre it seems the best way to do it is cook. But the island overall had a great vibe and it was a wonderful getaway.

Travels to Oregon, Part 2 – The Bend Edition

Tumalo Falls Stat Park

Tumalo Falls State Park

 

Wow, it’s been awhile. I hope I can even remember our trip to Oregon. Not to worry, I have a great memory – much to my husband’s chagrin. So when I last wrote Olive’s Herbs I recalled our edible adventures in Portland with my family. After a few days enjoying the city, Chris and I embarked on the rest of our vacation to Bend. Neither of us had been to this part of Oregon and it looked to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the weather did not fully cooperate. It was cold and rainy for most of our stay in Bend. And it was a very interesting city, a lot like a rich, ski town. Tons of fancy shops and restaurants in an isolated area for well-off visitors surrounded by small Native American reservations and flat, farm land. Bend is also heralded as a place for outdoor adventurists. There are tons of activities like fly fishing, hiking, swimming, tubing and more. We just visited when the weather was not cooperating. But we did manage to get out and hike for two of the days we were in town. And our most beautiful walk was at Tumalo Falls State park. The only thing you have to pay for is $5 for parking. But bring your checkbook or cash – as you have to leave this in an envelope in a box for the USDA Forestry Service.

Me and Chris at the Observation Area at Tumalo Falls

Me and Chris at the Observation Area at Tumalo Falls

We also went hiking at the Upper Deschutes Trail, which is also very nice and convenient to downtown Bend. Here is a link to a few other trails in the area.

Oregon Iceberg Wedge Salad

Oregon Iceberg Wedge Salad Crispy with pancetta and bleu cheese vinaigrette

Well with all that hiking Chris and I were excited (read starved) to eat at one of Bend’s nicest restaurants – the Blacksmith. Since this was our anniversary trip we decided to splurge on a fancy meal. And after much debate we settled on Blacksmith. They have a great “Sunset Dinner” special that is a four-course meal served every day of the week from 4:30 to 5:30 for only $24. But alas, we are not early eaters so we did not partake, but this is a great option!

We started with a very simple iceberg wedge salad, which was delicious. But it’s pretty hard to mess up a wedge of lettuce topped with pancetta and bleu cheese dressing.

Surf and Turf

Surf and Turf

Campfire Trout

Campfire Trout

Michele Emery’s Award Winning White Truffle Mac & Cheese

Michele Emery’s Award Winning White Truffle Mac & Cheese

For our entrees we ordered a surf and turf for me and the campfire trout for Chris. And I will tell you I never get surf and turfs, but since I am not drinking wine because of the pregnancy I decided to just go for it. And I am glad I did. The dish is comprised of an organic grilled top sirloin with Dungeness crab and a scallop Newburg sauce. It was divine. The steak was perfectly cooked and the scallop sauce was delicious.

Chris also enjoyed his campfire trout, which consists of a fresh Idaho trout, pan fried in brown butter, served with beer barley risotto, cowboy caponata, grilled spinach and a honey-almond beurre blanc sauce. While I loved my selection more, Chris’s was pretty damned good as well. The trout tasted like it had been caught in the morning.

For our side we could not pass up the truffle mac and cheese. Plus it says it’s award-winning. That means you have to try it. While it was delicious, I must point out that very similarly to the salad it’s hard to mess up something with ingredients like cheese, pasta, breadcrumbs and truffle oil.

Bananas Foster Tableside

Bananas Foster Prepared Tableside

And the absolutely best part of the meal was something we belabored over a bit – the Bananas Foster prepared tableside. Once again I justified dessert by the fact that I am not drinking the wine. And once again, it was worth it. Our wonderful waiter almost lost life and limb in a blaze of flambed dark rum but it was so decadent I would do it again. The dessert consisted of dark rum caramel, poached bananas, warm banana bread, vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream all prepared at your table. If you ever end up at Blacksmith, get this dessert.

Our repast at the Thompsons

Our Repast at the Thompsons

 

Fresh Trout

Fresh Trout

While we did eat at a few other restaurants in Bend, there were not many noteworthy experiences that we had eating out besides the Blacksmith. Our only other great dining experience was at the home of Bunny and Mark Thompson. Their son Mat and daugher-in-law CJ are friends of ours that live here in Austin. And it just so happened CJ, Mat and their adorable baby girl Maggie were visiting when we were there. So we scored an invitation for dinner. And boy did we get lucky. Mat and Mark had spent the previous day fly fishing and we got to eat the fresh fish they caught. The fish was prepared a couple of ways – baked and grilled. There was also an appetizer of smoked trout – awesome! Bunny did a great job of truly honoring the simplicity of the fish and prepared some delicious but minimal sides. There was a cucumber salad that was dressed with a herbed vinaigrette as well as a rice pilaf dish. It was one of those meals that fed you, but also made you feel a little healthier.

This is just one of the many trips Chris and I have made out the Pacific Northwest and we love it more and more every time. There is the beautiful scenery, a true commitment to locally-sourced healthy foods and wonderful people. We will definitely be back.

Travels to Oregon, Part 1 – The Portland Edition

Pastries, Croissants and Bread, oh my!

Pastries, Croissants and Bread, oh my!

In honor of our second wedding anniversary Chris and I took an early trip out to Portland and Bend. We also invited most of my family – including my brother John, sister-in-law Ginger and my mom and dad. Missing was my little sister Kara and her boyfriend Eric Lee.  The first night Chris and I arrived we got our rental car and headed to the house we rented in the Alberta Arts District. I have only high praise for this rental. It was only a couple of  block away from Alberta and we were walking distance to restaurants, bakeries, markets and coffee shops.  Chris and I fell in love with the house and the neighborhood. That first night we walked to a cute French restaurant on Alberta called La Petite Provence.  The restaurant definitely had a very authentic bistro vibe inside including very bright lights. So while it was quaint, it was not exactly a romantic setting. Which was ok considering it was me, Chris and my parents. After much mulling over the menu we all ordered. I got the goat cheese salad with salmon. Chris ordered the Salmon special , which was a poached salmon filet with sautéed vegetables, rice and a basil pesto. My parents split the couscous salad and the chicken cordon bleu.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Couscous Salad

Couscous Salad

Salmon Special

Salmon Special

Salmon Salad

Salmon and Goat Cheese Salad

My salad was ok, but a little bland. The pears and goat cheeses were a lovely touch though. Chris’s special was nice and light, but also a little bland. The two winners were my parents dishes – the couscous salad and the chicken cordon bleu were both fantastic. Both had a lot of flavor and richness.

Overall, I did enjoy the food and the experience. But there were a few cons to this place.

  • The service was not very good, but I have heard that service in Portland is iffy.
  • Chris did not receive his meal until we were all done eating.
  • The salmon was not super fresh.

And while they obviously forgot Chris’s meal, they did reward us with a free pastry sampler, which adequately made up for the forgotten meal!

Oregon's Williamette Valley Wine Region

Oregon's Willamette Valley Wine Region

The next day, everyone had arrived. John and Ginger’s plane had gotten in from LA the night before very late. We all got up and had a yummy breakfast at the house. And then we headed to the Willamette Valley to do some wine tasting. As most of you know I am pregnant, so it was mainly wine sipping for me. We went to a number of wineries including Erath (avoid), Torii Mor (pretty good), DePonte Cellars (also pretty nice) and Penner Ash (good wine, GREAT winery, beautiful scenery). I was a little disappointed in the Willamette Valley wines. They mostly produce whites and pinot noirs that are not very complex and a little flat. I am told it’s because of the rain and lack of intense sun, which makes a lot of sense. It was still a beautiful day and the scenery at these wineries was unbelievable. Even more beautiful than Santa Barbara wineries.

The family!

The family!

In the midst of this wine tasting everyone needed some food. So we stopped at Farm to Fork, an adorable restaurant in Dundee, Oregon located in the Inn at Red Hills. The place was filled with preserves and specialty vinegars and the food was not too shabby either.

Draper Farms Chicken Salad Sandwich on House Baked Brioche

Draper Farms Chicken Salad Sandwich on House Baked Brioche

Croque Monsieur

Croque Monsieur

Crispy Duck Confit Salad

Crispy Duck Confit Salad

 House Roasted Top Round of Beef

House Roasted Top Round of Beef

Everyone’s meal was outstanding. My top round of beef sandwich was tasty and the combination of the earthy beef and au jus mixed with the gorgonzola dulce, arugula and pickled onions was a delight. Ginger’s duck confit salad was a clear winner. Not only was there duck confit on it, it was also topped with wine preserved figs and roasted grapes as well as hazelnuts! My parents split the croque monsieur, I was not able to eat this since there was an uncooked egg on it, but how can you mess that up? And according to my parents, they did not. John and Chris both ordered the chicken salad sandwich. I would have to say that was the most boring item, but it was still very fresh and tasty. It was served open-faced with celery root-apple remoulade, grapes and hazelnuts.

Cabezon Mac and Cheese

Cabezon Mac and Cheese

After driving back into Portland we all freshened up and headed to dinner at Cabezon. John and Ginger had a few friends in town from Corvallis and an old family friend also met up with us there. So our big group took up a large table in this small and intimate seafood restaurant located near both Portland’s Hollywood and Rose City Park neighborhoods. I had done a lot of research on restaurants in Portland. And in the end we mostly cooked, but I insisted that we go to this place. I had read some stellar reviews and the menu looked great as well as the prices. One thing I really try to do when recommending restaurants is find places that I think are steals. And this place fit that to a T. This was the best service and food we had dining out while in Portland. And I highly recommend it. Now on to the food!

Ginormous Caesar Salad!

Ginormous Caesar Salad!

Arugula and Frisee Salad

Arugula and Frisee Salad

House made Paté with crostini, pickled, pears, wild plums and red onions

House made Paté with crostini, pickled cherries, wild plums and red onions

Pork Tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin

Mussels with French Fries

Mussels with French Fries

Homemade Pappardella with Braised Lamb

Homemade Pappardelle with Braised Lamb

Sturgeon with a tomato and pepper sauce

Sturgeon with a tomato and pepper sauce

The menu at Cabezon changes daily and they are really into local, fresh and seasonal items. While this is pretty awesome, it meant the dishes I loved on their website were not on their actual menu. This ended up being fine as one of their specials was pappardelle with a braised local lamb sauce. It was excellent! If you go in and this is a special definitely get it! If you don’t like celery I would not order it though. For my starter I ordered a delicious frisee and arugula salad. The truffled goat cheese absolutely made this salad and I believe this might be a more permanent item on the menu. I loved it! I did not get to try all the dishes as there are lots of things off-limits to pregnant ladies – caesar salads, pates, shellfish and the list goes on. But the sturgeon dish was lovely and light. I was also surprised at how flaky and white it was. Sturgeons can live a long time and grow to be huge, so I was expecting something a bit more steak-like. Chris’s pork tenderloin was awesome and it was served with a pickled cabbage side that was out of this world!

Almond cake with berries and mascarpone caramel sauce

Almond cake with berries and mascarpone caramel sauce

Local peach crisp with house made vanilla ice cream

Local peach crisp with house made vanilla ice cream

Dessert at Cabezon was also a home run. Chris and I ordered the almond cake and it was so moist and flavorful! And the mascarpone was a perfect accompaniment to the berries. My dad ordered the crisp and it was also delicious. The homemade vanilla ice cream was perfection!

As we left the restaurant the chef came out to say hi and check on how our meal was. I always love it when a chef comes out and asks you about your meal. I think it was a nice touch to an already nice meal.

Our Cornucopia from the King Portland Farmer's Market

Our Cornucopia from the King Portland Farmer's Market

The night before we all left to go out separate ways, we decided to cook a meal at the house (another awesome bonus to renting). In preparation for the meal a few of us went to the King Portland Farmer’s Market, which was just a 10-minute walk from the rental. I am just so used to the farmer’s markets in Texas where there is about five things in season and all vendors are selling the same things. Not here in Oregon. There were fava beans, artichokes, fennel, peppers, garlic, heirloom tomatoes and much more! Visiting the farmer’s market was one of my favorite foodie experiences in Portland. If you go find a farmer’s market near you and pay a visit.

After the farmer’s market we went to a local chain grocery store called New Seasons and got some yummy salmon, lamb and sausage.

Dad and John Versus the Grill

Dad and John Versus the Grill

Lovely Cheeses Brought By Kevin and Anat

Lovely Cheeses Brought By Kevin and Anat

The Final Product

The Final Product

The Sundae Dessert

The Sundae Dessert

The final dining event ended up being my favorite of the trip. Maybe it was that we had all of our family and some friends over and it felt like we lived there or if the food was just so fresh it stood out. I do not know, but it was a wonderful experience. To start off John and Ginger’s friends Kevin and Anat come up from Corvallis again and brought with them a bevy of yummy cheeses and homemade wines and champagne as well as some delicious Pinot from the vineyard where Kevin worked. For the main course John and Ginger made an unbelievable fava bean salad with grilled fennel, artichokes and feta cheese. There was also a regular salad with heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches as well as fresh corn and the grilled salmon, lamb and sausage. The salmon was the best salmon I have ever eaten. It was cooked perfectly! For dessert we made sundaes with crushed chocolate, ice cream and fudge sauce.

The perfect meal made the parting even sadder!

Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy at Helser's on Alberta

Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy at Helser's on Alberta

But it wasn’t anything a yummy breakfast couldn’t partially fix. After the family had all parted Chris and I made our way to Helser’s on Alberta for breakfast. We both ordered the same thing – biscuits and mushroom gravy. And it was yummy. It was a fairly overcast chilly day – the first we had while in Portland, so this nice hearty breakfast hit the spot. This was the only meal we had here, but the rest of the menu looked awesome. So when we come back I would love to try some other dishes.

Alas, we were out of time and headed to the Part II of out Oregon adventure – Bend! Stay tuned for our eating adventures in the outdoorsy town of Bend.

St. Pauli N’awlins aka my foodie adventures in New Orleans while pregnant

Here's what I got to drink!

Here's what I got to drink!

We recently took a family vacation to New Orleans. We all got hotels right in the French Quarter. Normally, this would be pretty awesome. But normally I am not pregnant. And let me tell you all this –  New Orleans is not the city for pregnant people. At 5 p.m. when most people are getting off of work and just hitting the bars, most of New Orleans is passed out puking in the streets from drinking all day long. Also, New Orleans is crowded and humid! I took about three baths a day to just rinse the sweat off. Despite all this I love New Orleans. It’s a city with a personality, a smell and a sound. But does it have a taste??? While most people automatically say Cajun, New Orleans has a very innovative and at times sophisticated palate these days.

Not really sure what this is!!!

Not really sure what this is!!!

Delicious Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Delicious Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

That being said our first stop on the New Orleans road trip was a stop at Bourbon Street Cafe in Jennings, Louisiana – a casino/truck stop/Cajun restaurant.  This place might have been the culinary highlight of our trip. It just goes to show you that sometimes the best stuff comes in the most surprising packages. The gumbo was amazing – big chunks of flavorful, dark meat chicken and loads of smoked sausage. On the side were rice and a very tasty potato salad.

Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Fries

Shrimp Po Boy

Shrimp Po Boy

We also ordered a shrimp po boy which came with a side of sweet potato fries. Both were very good, but it can be hard to mess up fried foods. I would recommend this place just for the gumbo alone!

Once we arrived in New Orleans we had dinner reservations at a highly recommended restaurant called Jacques-Imo’s Cafe. I thought the restaurant had a lot of character and about 3/4 of the table loved their meal. I unfortunately was a part of that 1/4 that did not.

Super Yummy Garlic Corn Muffins

Super Yummy Garlic Corn Muffins

It started off great with a complimentary plate of their delicious garlic, corn muffins. You could feel the butter on your hands – pretty awesome. For me it started going down hill with the salad.

Salad with Worcestershire Sauce

Salad with Worcestershire Sauce

I love salads. I really do. This salad was gross. It was essentially spinach (awesome!) topped with Worcestershire sauce. That was it. I had two bites.

Grouper Imperial

Grouper Imperial

Yummy Lamb Dish

Yummy Lamb Dish

My father and I ordered the grouper. Which he liked. I was disappointed. The description of the grouper did not mention that it was covered in a cream sauce. I really enjoy simple fish dishes, especially with a fish as yummy as grouper. Eric, my sister’s boyfriend ordered a lamb dish with red wine that was fantastic. My husband and sister ordered the soft shell crab special atop friend green tomatoes. They both loved it. My mom ordered an eggplant dish that was sub par, very salty and topped with a too rich cream sauce.

All in all people are going to tell you how great this place is, I say take that with a grain of salt. But give it a try.

Stanley's Awesome Bloody Mary

Stanley's Awesome Bloody Mary

The next morning we all got up to get some beignets at Cafe du Monde. Well, so did everybody else in New Orleans. So we picked a close by brunch place called Stanley, it is also in Jackson Square. I loved Stanley. It was a simple brunch menu, with some nice New Orleans twists.

Mixed Baby Green with a Raspberry Champagne Vinaigrette

Mixed Baby Green with a Raspberry Champagne Vinaigrette

Eggs Benedict Po Boy

Eggs Benedict Po Boy

Eggs Stanley

Eggs Stanley

Eric Lee eating his Big Stanley

Eric Lee eating his Big Stanley

Let’s start with the salad. It tasted like a salad should – healthy, not like a lettuce leaf soaked in sodium water. And the dressing was yummy. I also ordered a plain burger and it was delicious. The table ordered a small order of fries and that was enough, the order was huge. My sister and dad ordered the Eggs Benedict Po boy and it was lovely. I could not eat too much because of the raw egg factor, but they both loved it. And my husband ordered the Eggs Stanley, which had cornmeal-crusted P&J’s Louisiana oysters, poached eggs, Canadian bacon and Creole Hollandaise on a toasted English Muffin. I would also highly recommend this dish. There was actually nothing that I can caution anyone against ordering at Stanley. It was all good.

Nola Brewing Tour!

Nola Brewing Tour!

I am not going to go into this portion too much. Because there was not a lot of food consumed, unless you consider hops a meal. But we were lucky enough to get a private tour of the Nola Brewing Company. And I believe they give tours on the first Fridays of the month. Do yourself a favor, if you are beer lover, make a trip here!

Cochon Sign

Cochon Sign

For Saturday night we celebrated my brother’s 33rd birthday at Cochon a restaurant that specializes in making cuisine out of random pig parts. While I am inspired by their innovation, when you are nine weeks pregnant pig parts don’t sound very appealing. But it was my brother’s choice, so we all went. It was a very large group that included our immediate family, a couple of my brother’s friends and my Aunt Mary and our cousins Anna and Clare. Hence, I will not be going over everyone’s meals. I will pick a few to highlight.

Squash salad with goat cheese and fresh herbs

Squash salad with goat cheese and fresh herbs

Delicious squash blossoms with pickled vegetables

Delicious squash blossoms with pickled vegetables

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

Birthday Boy Dessert!

Birthday Boy Dessert!

What’s interesting to me about Cochon is their inspiration appears to be derived from meat, but their vegetables are what really stood out for me. I did have a side of ribs, but to me they were just so-so, nothing special. Also, Chris ordered their signature dish which was their Louisiana cochon with cracklins. Essentially it’s pulled pork. And he found it to be very boring.  But my word, their squash salad and squash blossoms were out of this world. The salad was fresh and summer-y and full of flavor. The squash blossom was delicious itself, but the pickled vegetables on the side were an incredible complement to blossoms.  Another standout was the macaroni and cheese. It was lovely, it had a homemade cheese sauce that was crispy brown on the top and was just perfect.

flamenküche

flamenküche

assiette de charcuterie

assiette de charcuterie

Crawfish Bisque

Crawfish Bisque

Our last night in New Orleans we went to Luke’s. This was my choice and all in all it was pretty good. It was not as good as I thought it would be, but the service was awesome.

My sister started off by ordering a yummy Alsatian appetizer called flamenküche , it’s an onion tarte with bacon, caraway and Emmenthaler cheese.  It wads divine.

Dad ordered the assiette de charcuterie which looked delicious. I could not eat it as it involved various meat spreads, one of the many things pregnant women are deprived of.

And lastly Chris ordered the bisque, which was very good. It was not too salty and had nice chunks of crawfish in it.

Ravioli of local crabmeat

Ravioli of local crabmeat

The famous Luke burger

The famous Luke burger

Poulet grand mere

Poulet grand mere

Crisp pork belly and clams

Crisp pork belly and clams

For the entrees most of the table ordered the burger. And I had a bite, it was pretty tasty. Apparently Luke is known for it’s burgers, which is a little odd as it’s a fancy French/Alsatian restaurant in a hotel.  For my dinner I ordered the crabmeat ravioli. I was a little disappointed in my dinner. The portions were small and the meal was essentially one-note and bland. Chris ordered the poulet grand mere – an herb roasted local chicken with  bacon and whipped potatoes. This sounded very good to me, but it ended up being VERY salty. So if you are not a salt fan, do not order this dish. My father ordered the pasta with crispy pork belly and clams. He loved it! I had a bit and I thought it was a very nice dish. The pork was cooked perfectly and the fresh pasta was delicious.

For dessert we ordered two portions of the basque vanilla cake with creme fraiche and blueberries. That was a winner! The cake was super moist and the creme fraiche with the blueberries was a great combination.

“gateau basque” vanilla cake

“gateau basque” vanilla cake

In summary, I would say this culinary adventure to New Orleans was a mixed bag. A few of the dishes were impeccable, but overall most of the restaurants themselves did not shine. Let me know if you all have any other New Orleans restaurants you love!

New York, New York

My Best Friend April

My best friend April in New York City

Jennifer Santoro

Me and my other Best Friend Jennifer in New York City. Sorry Jen, there were not a lot of good close-ups

I recently made a much needed trip to visit my two best friends in the world April and Jen. It’s kind of a long story, but I have known April since I was 10. And when I moved to Boston for graduate school I met Jen. In 1999, April moved up to Boston and we all lived together. Jen and April hit it off immediately. So it’s pretty convenient for me that my two closest friends are super close and now live in New York City. Over the years my visits to New York have evolved. They used to include drinking wine at the apartment, getting dinner and drinks and then hitting bars until 4 a.m. , and pretty much not getting out of bed until at least noon. Now, it’s mainly dinner and drinks, with an occasional glass of wine enjoyed beforehand and we are out of bed by 9:30 to walk around the city. But the big emphasis is always food! This recent trip proved no different.

First stop, Turkish Grill in Sunnyside Queens

Turkish Wine

Turkish Wine

Friday night, after I had just flown in we went to the Turkish Grill,  right around the corner from Jen’s place in Queens.  I absolutely love Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food. You pretty much cannot go wrong in ordering. We started off by getting a bottle of Turkish wine, which was interesting. it was very spicy with a dark, red fruit taste. It was not a super full tasting wine and probably could have used a little more time in the bottle, but it was not a bad buy. And I always like to try different types of wines.

Babaganush

Babaganush

Sigara Borek

Sigara Borek

Cheese Bide

Cheese Bide

Doner Yogurt Dish

Doner Yogurt Dish

For dinner, we ordered a bunch of stuff to split. We started off with an order of babaganush. It’s kind of hard to mess up this smoked eggplant dip, and they didn’t! It was superb. We then got the Sigara Borek, which is pastry dough stuffed with feta and fresh herbs. WOW! This was a great light summer appetizer. The pastry dough was not super doughy or overwhelming. You could really taste the herbs and the tang of the feta. Our next course included the Cheese Pide and the Doner Yogurt dish. The Cheese Pide was essentially cheese bread with tomatoes. Once again, a pretty safe pick. And it did indeed deliver and was even better when it was dipped in the yogurt sauce of the Doner dish. Lastly, we chose the Doner Yogurtlu. This was a little bit of a departure for me. Mainly, because the dish involved bread crumbs. It also included vegetables and lamb, but there were a smattering of bread crumbs mixed in as well. While the bread was awesome in the yogurt sauce, I felt that they put more bread that meat or vegetables. So while I did like the dish, I might try something new the next time we visit. All in all, it was a very pleasurable dining experience.

La Flor

La Flor for Brunch

For brunch on Saturday morning we headed to another one of Jen’s close by haunts – La Flor. It was a tiny place serving Mexican food and a pretty diverse brunch.  We started off with a bread basket full of scones and muffins. You HAVE to get this if you go. It is awesome. The blueberry scones were that perfect blend of sweet and savory that I love about scones.

The Best Bread Basket in the World

We went with a big group of people, many I did not know, so I am just going to post their food photos. I did not eat all of these, so I cannot do much describing. But as they say a picture tells a thousand words, and these pictures have me salivating.

Portobella and Goat Cheese Salad

Portobello and Goat Cheese Salad

Tropical Fruit French Toast

Tropical Fruit French Toast

Chicken Sandwich with a Field Greens Salad

Chicken Sandwich with a Field Greens Salad

Chicken Tostada

Chicken Tostada

Shrimp Tacos

Shrimp Tacos

Portobella Omelet

Portobello Omelet

I can really only speak on the last dish – because it’s mine. I am a sucker for omelets and pretty much solely order them when I go out for breakfast or brunch. On the day we went this was the omelet special with Portobello mushrooms. It was tasty, nothing out of this world. But it was a solid omelet with lots of cheese and mushrooms. Jennifer also swears by the tropical fruit french toast.

Tres Palacios Carmenere

Tres Palacios Carmenere

For my last meal in NYC, we had a couple of options and even went to Otto, Mario Battali’s Enoteca Pizzeria joint in New York. But I was feeling sick and hungry, it was loud and there was an hour wait. So we went to our second choice which was Bar Paya, a Peruvian tapas restaurant located in the East Village. I had very high hopes for this restaurant. The chef – Matthew Kenney,  is fairly well-known and his last project was the high-end raw-food restaurant and culinary academy 105 Degrees in Oklahoma City. Instead, it was a bit hit or miss. The meal started off with a great hit –  the wine. The yummy Tres Palacios Carmenere was an absolutely delicious deep red fruit wine with some hints of earth. I loved it and it was perfect with our dinner. It was recommended by our waitress.

Yuca Fries with Lucuma Mustard

Yuca Fries with Lucuma Mustard

Sweet Potato, Andean Goat Cheese, Spinach, Black Pepper

Sweet Potato, Andean Goat Cheese, Spinach, Black Pepper

Peruvian Guacamole with Lobster, Shrimp and Aji Amarillo

Peruvian Guacamole with Lobster, Shrimp and Aji Amarillo

I am going to start with the hits. Similarly to the previous night, we split a bunch of different dishes.  We started off with the Yuca fries and the lucuma mustard. I really loved the texture of the fries. I know some may disagree, but I like the thick and very starchy flavor of Yuca. And while I did like the lucuma mustard, I did not really taste a lot of the lucuma. Lucuma, is a tropical fruit with a flavor similar to sweet potatoes. It just never stood a chance against the bold flavor of the mustard. But what does? That’s why mustard is one of my least favorite condiments – it overpowers all other flavors.

Another standout was the sweet potato, spinach, pepper and goat cheese paya, which is essentially a flatbread. I’ll be honest I was not expecting much, but the flatbread was one of my favorite dishes. The tartness of the goat cheese was a perfect companion to the sweet potato.

And another wonderful dish we picked was the Peruvian guacamole with, lobster, shrimp and aji amarillo. I already love guacamole, but add some delicious seafood and a yellow chile pepper and you have a winner. I was impressed by how much shrimp and lobster were actually in the guacamole, but I also liked that it did not overpower the flavor of the guacamole. I would like to add that I did not really taste a lot of the chile pepper.

Chickpea-Potato, Avocado, Farmers Cheese,Harissa, Heart of Palm, Herbs

Chickpea-Potato, Avocado, Farmers Cheese,Harissa, Heart of Palm, Herbs

Peruvian Meatballs, Green Olives, Coriander Paya

Peruvian Meatballs, Green Olives, Coriander Paya

The two biggest disappointments were the chickpea-potato, avocado, farmers cheese, harissa, heart of palm and herbs causa and the meatball, green olives and coriander paya. Causa’s are a very traditional Peruvian dish that is essentially a mash of vegetables – mainly potatoes. What I was really blown away with by the causa is the blandness. I could not believe a dish with all of those yummy ingredients including harissa, could be that boring. But it somehow managed to be almost tasteless. The meatball, green olive and coriander paya was also somewhat bland and then compound that with the fact that the meatballs were SUPER dry. The meatballs were just unacceptable for such a nice restaurant.

Cacao Tart, Vanilla Maca Crema

Cacao Tart, Vanilla Maca Crema

And last, but not least our waitress advised us to get the chocolate tart for dessert. She thought it would go very nice with our wine. And she was spot on. I was actually not in the mood for dessert, but one bite of this delicious concoction and I probably elbowed Jen and April out of the way to eat most of it. It was a very dense chocolate tart topped with a delightful vanilla sauce. We all raved about this dessert.

One final note, I really love writing this blog because it is a chance for me to re-live and re-visit these memories. And since I definitely do not get to see Jen and April as much as I would like – life and distance get in the way all too often, this blog allows me to feel like I am there again with them. I love you ladies so much and I thank you for hosting me. And I look forward to more dining experiences with you -wherever they may be.

Christmas in the Keys

Christmas Turtles

The closest we got to snowflakes - Christmas Turtles

This year my family tried something a little different for Christmas. Instead of flying home to Tallahassee, we decided to all travel. Our presents were dinners we would cook every night. As you can tell the apple does not fall far from the tree in my family. We love a couple of things immensely – food and travel.

We waffled about where to go; eventually settling on Key West. Then there was lots of confusing emails back and forth about where to stay. Sensing the travel was doomed unless a place was picked quickly we all settled on what seemed like a nice place; a five-bedroom house right on the water in Key Largo. We found it on Craigslist. Here’s a travel tip for you – don’t rent a place on Craigslist. They are not accountable for a community and there are no reviews. Visit a travel rental Web site such as homeaway or VRBO instead. The place was not a complete *&^$ hole. It was pretty close.  Ants marched all over the counter tops and there never seemed to be a stop to their steady stream, the microwave door was held up by duct tape and almost fell on my mother’s foot, there were wires poking out of places that previously held a sound system and the sconces and general design looked a lot like Miami Vice  filmed there. But from the outside, it was beautiful! It was right on the water and we got to visit with manatees and even a huge lizard.

32 Mangrove Lane  mansion

The beautiful exterior

Manny the Manatee

Manny the Manatee

Forget the awful house. I was with family – my mom Janis, my dad Jack, my little sister Kara, her boyfriend Eric, my younger brother John and his wife Ginger. Ginger’s family also spent some time with us as well. Ginger’s mom Janice, Janice’s boyfriend Jeff as well as Ginger’s sister Debbie were all there too. It was definitely some intense family time spent canoeing, deep-sea fishing, diving, sleeping in and mostly eating.  And the highlight of each day were the dinners. Our numbers changed each day. A lot of the family is from Florida so one night there would be nine people, then 11. But each night was filled with the same wonderful conversation, food and ease (mostly fueled by excessive wine and margaritas). Couples were assigned a night to cook. And we spared no expenses. This was our Christmas present to one another.

Kabob Night

Kabob Night - clockwise starting from me, John, Ginger, Janice, Janis, Jack, Eric and Kara

The first night was kind of an open night. So for about an hour everyone argued about what to eat. Finally, Chris and I just told everyone we were making grilled kabobs. Some people complained (you know who you are – mom :), but in the end it was a very succesful meal. I think a certain someone even said it ended up being one of their favorites. Chris and I marinated shrimp, pork and chicken then grilled it up. We also had kabobs with bell peppers, onions and mushrooms. We also made a salad and some cheesy potatoes. Oddly, it was my salad dressing that was a big hit. It’s just a simple french vinaigrette with a small twist.

Kabob up close

John in action

John in action

The next night was by brother John and his wife Ginger’s turn. I think my brother is an excellent chef. Ginger as well. So I was pretty excited about their dinner. They decided to go a very South Florida route and created a grilled seafood dinner with some Cuban touches – plantains, black beans and rice and a yummy tropical fruit chutney. And for dessert they made poached pears in a red wine sauce. It was absolutely yummy.

Grouper, Scallops and stone crab and side dishes

Grouper, scallops and stone crab and side dishes

Poached pears in wine sauce

Poached pears in wine sauce

The next night was out turn. It was kind of hard to beat  John and Ginger, but Chris and I tried our hardest. We also wanted to use a lot of seafood. But we opted for an Italian feel to the meal. We made a really simple pasta dish with just diced tomatoes, garlic and wine; and we poached shrimp, scallops and lobster in butter then skewered it in between basil and then grilled it. If I must say so myself it was outstanding. My mother who hates seafood said the lobster was her favorite (haha John and Ginger and Kara and Eric ).  Now that I am done rubbing that in I will discuss our dessert choice. We opted for a simple dessert since our dinner was kind of labor intensive. We made a blueberry and strawberry shortcake. It was pretty yummy, but very simple.

Pasta, salad and seafood

Pasta, salad and seafood

 Blue Heaven in Key West

Blue Heaven in Key West

One night we decide to take a night off from cooking and we all piled into a car and drove the two and a half hours to Key West. Key West is ok. It’s pretty touristy and is very crowded. But there is one saving grace – one of my favorite restaurants, Blue Heaven. Chris and I ordered the jerk chicken and it was awesome. Please, do yourself a favor and if you go to Key West go to this restaurant. It’s a great slice of simple and tasty food that is not touristy.

Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken

The best key lime pie in Key West

The best key lime pie in Key West

The next night was Christmas Eve and we have a tradition in our family that we eat Polish food. It’s kind of weird, I know. My mom is part Polish, but that’s not even why we eat it. My parent’s first real date was Christmas eve and according to legend it was supposed to be a party. But the only one who showed up was dad. Well that night my mom made her Polish Christmas eve. And my dad was hooked. So in celebration of the date that ensured my brother, sister and I were born we eat kielbasa, sauerkraut, potato pancakes and apple sauce. Unfortunately, this year I forgot to take pictures. But let me assure you it was as yummy as ever. My parents actually picked up some fresh kielbasa in Miami. It was heavenly.

Nugent Family Magic Pancake

Nugent Family Magic Pancake

For Christmas morning, we somehow were in charge of cooking again. But we had an ace up our sleeves. Chris has a family recipe that is pretty awesome. It’s called a “Magic Pancake”, but basically it’s a Swedish Pancake. It’s lovely because it’s not too sweet, but not too savory either. The finishing touch is some powdered sugar and a spritz of lemon juice. We also pitted some cherries and made a lovely cherry glaze with some port and sugar.

Christmas Burgers - A New Tradition!

Christmas Burgers - A New Tradition!

You might think at this point we would be so tired of eating. You would be right. Well, we were at least tired of cooking elaborate meals anyway. So when it came time for my sister and her boyfriend to cook we were ready for some good, old-fashioned burgers. And boy were they awesome. They stuffed them with all kinds of goodies – blue cheese, jalapenos, bacon and much more. For sides we ate grilled corn and oven roasted potatoes. For dessert my mom made a tres leches cake.

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake

In the end, I am a little mixed about the travelling Christmas experiment. It was so much fun to be with my family in one house for a whole week. But because of the weather and lack of presents it just did not feel like Christmas. But I will tell you the meals and conversation at the end of the day were presents enough.

Below are some more photos from the trip. And a recipe!

Kara, me, Eric and Dad Deep Sea Fishing

Kara, me, Eric and Dad Deep Sea Fishing

I Caught a Fish!

I Caught a Fish!

Kara and Ginger Decorating Christmas Cookies with Disgust

Kara and Ginger Decorating Christmas Cookies Apparently in a Way My Sister Does Not Like

Much Better!

Much Better!

Magic Pancake Recipe (not the Nugent recipe, but very similar)

3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) butter
1/2 cup (2 ounces)  Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
small pinch of nutmeg
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of half a juicy lemon)
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Melt the butter in an 11″ straight-sided skillet, or a 12″ skillet with straight or sloping sides. Make sure whatever you use is oven-proof. Or melt the butter, and pour it into a 10″ square pan, or 12″ round deep-dish pizza pan. Yes, the size of the pan matters. Too small, it’ll overflow. Too large, it won’t puff as high. Try to find a pan or oven-proof skillet whose square-inch cooking surface is about 100 square inches.

Whisk together the flour, salt, nutmeg, sugar, milk, vanilla, lemon oil, and eggs till fairly smooth.

Pour the batter into the pan. Bake the pancake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until it’s very puffy and golden, with deeper brown patches. Remove it from the oven, and sprinkle with the lemon juice, then the sugar. Cut in squares, and serve immediately, garnished with fresh berries, if desired.
Yield: 4 generous servings.

Celebrating One Year in Paris!

Me and Chris at The Arc de Triomphe

Me and Chris at The Arc de Triomphe

Quick Jaunt to Paris!

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since my husband and I were married in Jamaica. The year has flown  by and I have loved every minute of being married. To celebrate our year of wedded bliss we decided to take a trip. We would like to do this every year and  alternate who plans the trip. The trip is supposed to be a surprise. Well, I am not good with surprises and neither is Chris. Not because we do not like them, but because we get so excited about them we just cannot wait. So when I started noticing it was cheaper to fly to Paris than Mexico or even San Francisco I was so elated. Airfare to Europe is very budget friendly in the winter months. So if you really want to go, but don’t have tons of cash, wait for cooler weather. I used to live in Paris and really wanted to share my experiences with the city and the language with my husband. I wanted to actually go to nice restaurants – not just eat at Quick or a gyro stand (both are still excellent choices). Perhaps experience the city as an adult instead of a 21-year old, broke au pair.

Anyway, so I booked our tickets for a quick four-night stay. We both started new jobs and could not take too much time off. Plus, we recently went to Rome and spent three nights there and felt like it was an ok amount of time to explore a city. So we thought four nights in Paris would be a good amount of time. Well, instead I learned a lesson. We will get to this later. I also booked an apartment in the Marais that was fantastic. I highly recommend renting apartments when traveling to expensive cities such as Paris. They are usually are very clean, in good areas and are much cheaper. The website we used was homeaway.com.

So we were ready to go! Cheap airfare – check, cool apartment in good area – check, tickets to the opera – check, list of excellent restaurant – check and even pre-bought tickets to the Louvre to avoid the lines – check. Oh, how I wish that was the case.

Jet Lag and Cool Night Life, Oh My!

Scrumptious Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream

Scrumptious Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream

Beautiful Duck and Pears

Beautiful Duck and Pears

Yummy French Wine

Yummy French Wine

So, as is widely known, I love food. So I did more research on restaurants and dining than on any other part of our trip. Unfortunately, many of the great places need reservations. I did not want to do that long distance, so I decided to wait until arrival to make reservations – big mistake. Find a way. Ask the person you are renting from or suck it up and take the phone charge. I did make reservations for the first night and it was by far our best meal. I read about Les Cotelettes in Budget Travel magazine. And oh my, what a great meal. We started off with the Salad Lyonnais, a little different from any Salad Lyonnais I’d eaten before. It was yummy greens, with boiled potatoes and a homemade sausage patty. I know it sounds weird. But it was not, it was divine. They also provide big jars of locally made mustard that are unbelievable. For our entrees Chris ordered a beautifully cooked duck served atop poached pears in a wine sauce and I ordered the chicken in a cream sauce with the most divine Morel mushrooms. What I loved about this restaurant was that all the ingredients are fresh, regional ingredients. The meal was not too heavy and not salty at all. Probably on my list of top five meals of all time (at a restaurant that is). We skipped dessert and instead searched for an old bar I used to go to a lot back in 1995 called Cafe Oz. It’s an Australian bar that served cheap bar and they had a location on Rue St. Jacques. Well, we wandered and wandered and were delirious by this point because of lack of sleep (we had been awake close to 30 hours). But we were in Paris! So instead of sleeping we went to a pub. But after one drink we called it a night and wandered back to our apartment and crashed out by midnight.

But imagine my surprise, when I woke up the next day refreshed and at one p.m. That was definitely not in my plans. We were supposed to get up early get breakfast and go to the Louvre. Well, since we woke up so late, I decided to postpone the Louvre until the next day and instead we decided to just walk the city. But before we left I decided it was a good idea to look for the Louvre tickets at least. Well, they were not there. Turns out I left them at home. Needless to say at this point I was a wreck. There was only one thing that could save my mood – a great eating experience.

Mushroom and Artichoke Crepes

Mushroom and Artichoke Crepes

Fortunately, that did occur. I had read about Cafe Breizh in a few different places. All glowingly recommended the Breton crepe restaurant. Crepes from Bretagne, a region of France bordering Normandy, normally contain buckwheat. Another Breton treat is super refreshing cider. But it’s usually the cider with alcohol – so be aware.

I ordered the artichoke crepe with eggs and cheese. Chris ordered the mushroom crepe with eggs and cheese as well. Both were perfect! We also got a small pichet of cider and cafe au laits. I felt a little less mad at myself for the Louvre ticket fiasco.

People Working at Symphonies Are Mean!

So after our crepes, we just walked around, kind of shaking the cob webs off our brains and getting our bearings. We walked along the Champs Elysees, saw the Eiffel Tour in the distance, walked near the Arc de Triomphe. Notice a trend here. I learned while in Paris, that it’s a big city. It’s not Rome. You can see a lot in Rome in three days, because it’s compact. And the nightlife is so-so, so-so you go to bed early. Paris is a double threat. There is nightlife and it’s a BIG city. We never quite got to see anything that afternoon. But we did get to see where the symphony was that we were going to that evening. So around 4 p.m., we walked back to our apartment, got ready and headed to the symphony. That night we attended the Theatre Des Champs-Elysees. It was the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and they played “The Rites of Spring.” It was a phenomenal performance. But it was what happened before that ruined the experience. We could not get a single person to tell us where our seats were. Finally, someone showed us our seats and then asked us for money. When we told her we did not have any cash she got filled with rage and kicked me out because I had champagne in my hand. If we had paid her she would have let me keep the champagne. Can anyone out there explain this to me? Is it customary to pay someone to show you to your seats in Paris. I used to live there and that never happened to me in the past. I was so bummed out after that event. I was just happy it was over and then we headed out to get some dinner.

l'ecurie

Quaint, 300-year-old l'Ecurie

Steak with Shallot Sauce

Steak with a Roquefort Cheese Sauce

A Nice Dinner Makes it All Better

Since it was a little later, our dining choices were limited. I had read of a great restaurant called Lippo. But when we got there it was closed. They recommended a place close by called L’Ecurie. And it was magical. The food was average, but the ambiance was unbelievable. It was tiny and all the wood was just a little warped. Turns out the restaurant is more than 300 years old. And the only thing standing in the way of it being used as a 17th century inn for a movie scene was the electrical lighting. For dinner we got steaks with shallot sauce and a Roquefort cheese sauce and fries. The prices were pretty outstanding too. Our dinner the night before was around 79 euros. This was 60 euros. I definitely recommend L’Ecurie. The food was not out of this world, but it was solid, good French fare at a cheap price and a cool atmosphere. Not really vegetarian friendly, though.

That night we tried again to find Cafe Oz. But to no avail. It was at this point that I realized my dependence on my iphone. At home I use my iphone for everything. Going to a doctor’s appointment- let me just use my Maps app. Looking for the reviews of a bar-let me just use my Yelp app. Well it costs an arm and a leg to use your iphone overseas. And for long trips it might be worth it. But for four days I was not going to spend hundreds of dollars to just use our phones for four days. After our needless wandering though, it almost seemed like a good idea. After getting a drink in a tourist trap we wandered home and went to bed.

Oh, the Louvre!

The next morning we got up a little earlier and I went to this awesome market around the corner – Marche Des Enfants Rouge. This market is legendary. Please go, if you visit. They have everything – cider, wine, cheese, butter, bread even sushi! So I stocked up on some basics to avoid spending more money on restaurants. After I got back Chris and I headed to the Louvre. It was a dreary day and since I left the tickets back home had to sit in both lines – the one to get through security and then the one to buy the tickets. But once we got the tickets we were on a roll. And that’s precisely why Chris and I are awful museum goers. I need to be provided interesting information about a specific piece of art, or my eyes glaze over and I get what I call “museum head.” Museum head is characterized by wandering thoughts, sleepiness, making random comments just so people think I am paying attention and more. The weird thing is I love art. But museums bore me, unless they engage.  The Louvre does not have to engage – it’s the Louvre. Plus I have been a few times before. But I was excited for Chris. I should not have been. Halfway through he asks me where the Impressionist painting are. I explain to him that they are at the Musee D’Orsay – a completely different museum across the river. Turns out my husband does not really care for classical paintings. He likes Impressionism. Which is fine except I double-paid and I am kind of tired of museums. So we decide to wait and see if we want to do that tomorrow. We cut our trip short at the Louvre and head home to relax, take showers and get ready for our anniversary dinner.

Hagrid and the Rugby Match

Beef Cheeks and French Fries

So, when we arrived in Paris I called and made reservations for Les Dingues for our actually anniversary dinner. I had read a great review on them that had key words such as “home-made ravioli in a brie sauce.” How can you go wrong?? Well, somehow it did. When I called the owner mentioned that there was going to be a rugby match that night on the television and did I mind this. I said no. If there is good food I do not care about the surroundings. I was in Paris! Who cares. What the owner, who eerily resembled Hagrid from The Harry Potter movie series, did not tell me was that he was not really cooking that night. He had some pate he was serving up, he’d made some beef cheeks in the crock pot and of course, fries. A few of his close friends were there and he was ready to watch France play in a rugby match. Once he found out it was out anniversary dinner, he felt pretty bad. And while the meal was not awful, it was the saltiest meal I had ever tasted. All in all, it was not the best meal. But it was ok. There are much worse things that could happen. I wish I could recommend Les Dingues. A part of me does want to give it a second chance. The owner was nice and the price was right – approximately 30 euros. But the saltiness was a lot to deal with and I wish I had know about the limited menu.

After dinner Chris and I ended up at a couple of bars we both liked and would recommend – Hop-in and Le Perle. Both are in the Marais area, where we were staying.

Our Last Day

Falafel on Rue Des Rosiers

I had been dying to try the famous falafel at As Du Falafel on Rue Des Rosiers in the Marais. Well, so was everyone else. So instead I tried their competitor across the street. I cannot remember the name. But it’s famous too. So you will have no problem finding it. I LOVED it! Whether you go to As or this place- just do it. If you love falafels, you will be very happy. It had eggplant and yummy chunks of falafels. You can actually see them make the falafel.

After the falafel we walked around the city and went to the Jardin du Luxembourg and then headed over to the Musee D’Orsay. We both loved it. Even though I did suffer from a small case of museum head, it was still unbelievable. I had never been before and I was blown away. If you enjoy more contemporary art – go there. Not only is the art just breathtaking, but the actual building is inspiring – it’s in an old train station right on the Seine.

Me without make up at the Musee D'Orsay

After the museum we headed back to our apartment, changed and headed to one of my favorite parts of Paris – Montmartre, to visit Sacre Coeur. The Basilica, a Roman Catholic church, is located on the highest part of the city, the butte de Montmartre. I love it because it is so out of place in Paris. Just the look of it anyway. Plus I love being so high up and seeing the entire city. What a view!

Me and Chris in front of Sacre Coeur

The Eiffel Tour from the Butte de Montmartre

Dolce Vita in Paris!

As much as I love French food, I was ready to not eat steaks and fries for the third night in a row. So Chris and I opted for Italian food our last night. And it was, well, Italian. You just can’t go wrong. But it’s really hard to be spectacular. We went to Il Duca, near Sacre Coeur. We started with bruschetta. Which was fresh, tasty and full of garlic. Chris ordered their purse style pasta filled with parma ham in a cream sauce. It was lovely. Mine was a spinach ravioli with mushrooms and truffle oil. Both were topped with amazing arugula. I do recommend this place, but only if you are done with french and want something a bit different.

spinach ravioli with truffle oil

Parma ham-filled pasta

Il Duca was also affordable, approximately 50 euros.

After dinner we grabbed a crepe at one of the many crepe stand in the city. And then a funny thing happened on our way home. I found Cafe Oz. Turns out it moved – a few streets away from where we were staying. We had been looking in the Latin Quarter, where a lot of the cool English, Irish, Australian bars are – a wonderful thing if you are an English-speaker living in a non-English speaking land. I had spent my 21st birthday at Oz. I even got sick out front after someone fed me a flaming B-52 shot (I have never done one since).  But the bar had expanded, become more of a chain and had a few more locations. So we stopped by the one near us on St. Denis. The bar, I used to love that had been tiny, with cheap prices had become an uber-expensive brand. The beers were about $10 a pint, the room was bigger, there was even live music.

I learned, this time in Paris, it’s really hard to go back. Things change – even ancient cities like Paris. But I also learned something else – I have the best husband in the world. And I am so glad I get to experience all of this with him.

I love you baby.