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Take Me, I’m Yours Morgan Street Food Hall & Market in Raleigh, NC

Recently, food halls have been popping up all over the country. When I heard Raleigh was getting not one, but two, my immediate reaction was “great, a glorified mall food court” because really, when was the last time you felt cool eating at the food court, amiright? But there are a couple huge differences at play here, so put your worries aside!

First, food courts are so often chains and standard fare. Morgan Street Food Hall & Market is, for the most part, neither. Rolled ice cream anyone? Poke bowls, empanadas, and ramen were the first things to catch my eye. Cousins Maine Lobster (the only option I would consider a chain) is slightly more accessible here, and with a lot more seating options! The line is still out the door but with a beer in hand and a bustling crowd, a far cry from the hot food truck rodeo lines you’re usually waiting in! Last time I tried that, I was “red as a lobster” by the time I ordered my Connecticut lobster roll!

Raleigh Rolls rolled ice cream, which is a treat for all! (yeah, I shared with the baby!)

When you first walk into Morgan Street Food Hall, you’ll see a bustling crowd and tons of seating options, from picnic tables to couches and arm chairs, and finally, 4 top tables with chairs. There are indoor and outdoor seating options, with a couple bars to frequent as thirst arises. There are 18 dining options, ranging from southern to Mediterranean to Asian; comfort food and hangover food and on to desserts and bubble tea. For our family, this is the perfect place for all of our meals out: we have 2 picky preschoolers who think the margarita pizza at Bella’s Wood Fired Pizza and Tapas is out of this world (and less than $10, thank you!).

For me, I get the “adventurous” foods I can’t talk the whole family into – ramen and poke bowls, while hubby gets to fill up on empanadas, which he loves! We have an Italian au pair living with us this year, and she has enjoyed working her way through the options Morgan Street has at her disposal. Currently, her heart resides in Raleigh.

I’ve now eaten at Morgan Street 3 times. Hubs and I met a group of friends here one night before an Umphrey’s McGee concert downtown. There were a lot of empanadas and some curry plates, a kick ass looking pizza, a whole lot of beer, and my amazing delicious tuna poke bowl, with fresh tuna on their California bowl (from The Bowls), loaded with amazingness and topped with avocado! It was incredible, and I couldn’t wait to go back!

So the next weekend, a girlfriend and I met up there, and she got ramen and I went back to The Bowls for round 2 – this time trying their spicy tuna on the Malibu bowl, which has spicy seaweed salad in it. The biggest difference was that the tuna was chopped up instead of chunks, so I would probably go regular tuna in the future.

We also ventured over to the bar, and I tried the Deep River Brewing Company’s (out of Clayton, NC) pumpkin pie porter, which was oh, so good and also very seasonal! It was delicious after a long afternoon of shopping and enjoying the suddenly cooler temps here in NC! Finally (maybe the first finally), we waited in line at Cocoa Forte Desserts for chocolate dipped cheesecake, which we were saving for when we got home, and then I talked my friend into trying out Raleigh Rolls, the rolled ice cream place! It’s a little bit Coldstone Ceamery (you get to choose 3 flavors that go into your ice cream, and then 3 flavors for the toppings) meets a sushi roll (because in the end, they hand you a bowl with 6 rolls of ice cream). So good news – you can sub flavors – I subbed in coffee flavoring for the graham cracker in my s’mores ice cream, and it was the.best.thing.ever! Little man ate way too much but also thinks I’m the coolest mom ever for sharing my ice cream with him, ha! (Verdict on cheesecake – its on a stick, so go ahead and eat it immediately. I waited a few hours to eat mine, and it fell apart really fast. Pretty sure it was user error though).

So the next day, my hubs was still out of town (he went on Phish tour last weekend), and I needed to provide food for my little ones for the 4th day in a row. So…I started thinking about that pizza, and the fact that cow burger has hot dogs. Surely they could find something to eat…

Here’s the deal – I was nervous to bring a 5 year old and a 3 year old and a 5 month old into such a busy place. But…they loved it! My son is begging to go back, my daughter can’t stop talking about the ice cream, and the baby slept thru the thing. We also found an awesome place for our family photos in 2 weeks. So all in all, a great trip. I will send you all day every day to Bella’s pizza – it was incredible, and the kids ate every bite of that pizza. I loved the portion size of the burgers (I got the classic cheeseburger) and I’d heard great things about it, but I would definitely trust your gut on that place. First, the line took F O R E V E R which I’m not really into, and wouldn’t have waited in it but our au pair and I both wanted a burger so we stuck with it. Second, we waited F O R E V E R for our buzzer to ring. Like it took the entire time the pizza cooked to wait in the line and order. Then the kids ate the whole pizza. And I took them back over to Raleigh rolls and waited for someone to turn melted ice cream into frozen ice cream rolls, and then the buzzer sounded as I was paying for them. So the burgers were delicious, great bun to burger ratio, and overall very satisfying, but with so many faster options, I’m not sure I would wait for it again.

Also, pro tip – if you have a picky child who only eats vanilla ice cream (I know, I know, its super weird but what I’m dealing with right now), there is another small ice cream scoop place in the food hall. Don’t waste your $7 on plain vanilla with a tiny sprinkling of rainbow sprinkles. Spend that money on the whole experience and all the toppings, and get Sir Picky something from the cheaper place!

So final verdict – run, don’t walk, to the Morgan Street Food Hall if you’re in Raleigh. Bring an appetite. Check out the unusual places, especially the bowls, the broth, and curry in a hurry, and take the time to wait in line for Raleigh Rolls! I’m looking forward to heading down there again next weekend after the International Festival to try out some new places!

Mei Lin to Serve a Taste of Nightshade at JBF’s Taste America LA 2018

Every year, Taste America brings the James Beard Foundation dinners and programs to exciting culinary destinations to their annual LA benefit dinner. This year’s LA event, Friday, October 12, 2018 at SLS Hotel, Beverly Hills, starts with a 6 PM cocktail and tasting reception followed by a seated dinner and dessert reception at 7 PM. I am so excited to cover this year’s event since last year’s was so incredible.

This year’s event will include many tastings, including Holly Jivin of The Bazaar by Jose Andres and Tres, Raphael Francois of Tesse, Margarita Manzke of République and Mei Lin, of the highly anticipated upcoming spot Nightshade, which is set to open this Fall. 

Born in China, Mei Lin and her family immigrated to the US when she was only 3 months old. Mei started her work in the industry at her father’s restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan which took her on a path to a line cook position at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Vegas. Then she  worked up in the ranks to a junior sous chef.

Mei burst onto the LA scene as a part of the opening team at Michael Voltaggio’s ink. where she earned the sous chef position. She most recently won season 12 of Bravo’s cooking competition show Top Chef and after hosting many of her own pop-ups, I’m feeling confident in Nightshade becoming LA’s next top restaurant. Check out my interview with her below.  

Chef Mei Lin

GOF: Any advice for aspiring chefs working their way up?

ML: One of the key components to me becoming a sous chef within 6 months, is a no holds barred attitude. Just get your work done and learn to take criticism.

GOF: What inspired the concept behind Nightshade?

ML: Nightshade is inspired by my childhood, previous work experience and travels around the world. From helping my parents in their Chinese restaurant as a kid in Detroit to my previous restaurant jobs with stalwarts such as Michael Symons, Wolfgang Puck and Michael Voltaggio, and lastly to my extensive travels around the world. I wanted Nightshade to be the culmination of my culinary history.

GOF: I read that when you were testing out recipes for Nightshade, you opened up your test kitchen and asked for honest feedback. Which items had the best feedback and was there one item that had regrettable feedback?   

ML: The Mapo Tofu Lasagna has been the dish that has gotten the most praise so far. Surprisingly I’ve gotten feedback that the Szechuan Hot Fried Quail wasn’t spicy enough.

GOF:  What can we expect aesthetically with Nightshade’s design?

ML: The dining room is going to be light and airy with emerald green accents lined with brass. The kitchen is semi-exposed behind a marble bar counter that will be reserved for walk-ins.  

GOF: Is there one food item you wish had more hype to it?

ML: Shirataki miracle noodles.

GOF: Any foods you wish Instagram would calm down on?

ML: Rainbow colored foods.

GOF: Which JBF Taste America chef are you most excited participate alongside with?

ML: It’s a pretty exciting lineup all around but I’m particularly excited to see Holly, we’ve been friends for a long time and she is a really talented chef.

GOF:  Why is the James Beard Foundation important to you?

ML: The James Beard Foundation is important to me because it’s creating more awareness around food culture as well as honoring talented chefs that work hard to create good food ultimately helping to bring people together.  

There are still tickets available for the Taste America LA event, click here for info. 

Reasons to Love Antibes France + L’Arazur

The French Riviera is known for beautiful beaches, sunshine, and luxurious, over-the-top experiences. Instead of indulging at one of the well-known hot spots like Cannes, Nice, Monaco, or St. Tropez, I opt for the low-key, classic European vibe of Antibes. Antibes is located between Cannes and Nice. It’s 30 minutes by car from the Nice airport and easily accessible by train.

Antibes has the beautiful beaches the French Riviera is known for and the Mediterranean’s famous ultra-blue water to go with it. But, instead of Lamborghini lined streets filled with high-end boutiques and 5-star resorts, Antibes maintains the charm of an old world city.

The Old Town neighborhood of Antibes has everything I want in a French town: gorgeous old buildings, classic architecture, a renowned daily market, a fantastic weekly antiques and flea market (Thursdays!), a 14th century chateau style castle turned world class art museum (Picasso!), picture-perfect mazes of backstreets, corner cafes for sipping espressos in the morning and cocktails at night, and loads of traditional bakeries (almond croissants!).

Almond croissants aside, I haven’t even scratched the surface of Antibes’s culinary scene! It is France after all! The Riviera’s warm climate and seaside geography inform the flavorful and diverse regional cuisine full of fresh, local produce and seafood. Sure, there is amazing cheese – (Its still France!), but fewer dishes are drowned in cream or filled with pork lardons. The Riviera showcases a lighter side of French cuisine!   A culinary haven for vegetable and seafood loving foodies like me – especially when prepared with the precision and expertise of the area’s best chefs!

The husband and I habitually end our trips to Europe with a few days in Antibes. After a few weeks of being on the go and exploring new cities, I’m might not be ready to go home, but I am starting to crave a hint of familiarity.  Antibes is a beautiful, relaxing, and charming final chapter to a trip. It has the perfect blend of everything we love – sunny weather, fabulous beach, cool architecture, great art, interesting history, scenic drives, and of course, amazing food.

Since Antibes has become a recurring theme in our travel repertoire, I keep my pulse on the town’s restaurant and chef buzz. So when we arrived, I had two things on my culinary agenda: 1. Find the best Almond Croissant (Boulangerie Veziano) and 2. Figure out why L’Arazur is the spot on every who’s-who in the food world’s radar.

When the duo behind L’Arazur’s resumes include a combined nine Michelin starred restaurants, the hype is high and the expectations are even higher. Located a hop away from the center of Old Town and by pure coincidence, a block from our AirBNB flat, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dine at L’Arazur.

L’Arazur

8, rue des Palmiers

06600 Antibes

On an unassuming corner of a tiny side street, L’Arazur’s location is equal parts charming and understated. The restaurant opens at seven for dinner. For most of the day, the modest signage, a glass case containing the menu and a few of the restaurant’s accolades make the exterior no more remarkable than any quaint establishment in an old French alleyway. This becomes even more true when factoring in the roll down metal door covered in graffiti.

At seven o’clock, when the doors of this back-alley establishment open and the service starts, nothing about what follows is typical. The oh-so-thoughtfully planned tasting menu with a mind-blowing amuse bouche, intuitive service, and perfectly timed courses are remarkable. There is a reason its on critics’ radars and rumors about a star are circling. L’Arazur’s dishes are a true tour d’ force.

We ordered the five-course plus dessert tasting menu. Their tasting menu has gotten lots of attention. So I went into the meal with a mixture of heightened expectations and skepticism. I was disarmed of my skepticism quickly.

L’Arazur’s execution of both the food and timing is among the best, and I can’t recommend their tasting menu highly enough! The menu showcases a perfect balance of lighter dishes followed by richer ones and bright acidity followed by decadence, accompanied by an almost eerily attentive level of service. Each course left me itching for the next, not out of hunger, but out of shear delight! Every plate was as tantalizing as the one before. Bites displayed a myriad of creative techniques and artistic presentation.

With a masterful blend of familiar and unfamiliar elements, L’Arazur sheds a fresh perspective on seasonal, local ingredients without alienating diners with avante garde techniques or inaccessible flavor profiles.

STARTER: Parmesan crisp with herb infused cream, & sushi-style cucumber roll with cashew crème. Accompanied by a not-too-sweet, bright, citrus Aperatif.

WINE: Saint Peray, La Beylesse. A mineral forward white. Recommended as a complement to the tasting menu by our server.

COURSE 1: An amuse bouche of whipped sweet potato foam & raw halibut. Served with black bread infused with orange.

COURSE 2: Snapper Ceviche with sea beans, pineapple, & radish.

COURSE 3: Blue lobster, mushrooms, black bread crust, parsley emulsion with a rich buttery bisque.

COURSE 4: Poached turbot with cockles, smoke emulsion, & chard. Served over a bed of pureed celery root with flowers.

COURSE 5: Roasted pigeon with glaze, roasted vegetables, & fresh herbs.

PALATE CLEANSER: Lime sorbet with cucumber sugar.

DESSERT: Chocolate Mousse with kalamansi citrus sorbet, orange blossom sponge cake, & candied seeds & grains.

POST MEAL SWEET: Madeleines with Mirabelle Jelly Candies (and we ordered espresso).

I soaked up every morsel of L’Arazur’s expertly crafted dining experience. The wine pairing was perfect. I really wanted to pick a favorite course and rave about it. But, I can’t choose just one! The amuse bouche is a memorable stand-out. The turbot was so perfectly and uniquely prepared! And, the rich, flavorful complexities of the lobster were phenomenal. Their chocolate mousse ruined me for all other chocolate mousse. My chocolate loving palate wants to be mad about it but can’t be.

The bottom line? L’Arazur deserves every ounce of buzz, the hype, and a star of its own. I can’t wait to return.

#WineWednesday: Malibu Wines

Welcome to my new weekly column

#WineWednesday!

Here at #WineWednesday, I’ll be sharing my adventures in the world of wine in LA.

10 years ago, I was a server in a small, family-run Italian trattoria in Sacramento called Michelangelo’s. While many Sacramento natives were driving to Napa on the weekends to get their swirl on, I was getting most of my sips on at work, through product tastings. I loved learning about wine this way and didn’t feel left out, even I was missing out on some fun winery tours.

Like Madonna, over the next 10 years my beverage pairing choices were always reinventing themselves: from a classic cocktail phase in Sacramento, to a major craft beer phase in Seattle, and even a cheap liquor and club soda phase when I could barely afford to pay rent in Venice.

Fast forward to July of last year, when I found out I was pregnant, meaning… bye-bye alcohol! I had survived countless media events, a month long trip to Italy, a bachelorette party at Pump in West Hollywood sans alcohol. After the birth of my daughter in April, I waited 6 weeks before my much anticipated glass of wine.

For me wine conjures up so much more than beer and liquor, whether it’s a memory, or even an surprise unexpected flavor. I enjoy allowing wine to open up and breathe, talking about it, comparing flavor notes. I just like it more.

As a new mommy, I usually don’t allow myself to drink more than 1-3 glasses of wine a week (damn you responsibility!) but when I do I make sure I’m experiencing only the very best- and this is my column to showcase that.

This week’s #WineWednesday is a spotlight on one of LA’s most Instagrammable attractions: Malibu Wines.

Malibu Wines
31740 Mulholland Hwy, Malibu, California 90265
https://www.malibuwines.com/

When thinking about California vineyards, Malibu may not come to mind right away. But Malibu actually boasts of over 50 independent vineyards. With the foggy coastal climate in the AM and rich soil from the PM heat, it creates a great environment for deeper red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Malibu Wines, a tasting room and picnic area serves up both Semler and Saddlerock wines. Both brands utilize estate-grown grapes from the Saddlerock Ranch across the street.

On the weekends, their picnic area schedule is packed with food truck events, movie screenings, even yoga and mimosa themed events. If you plan to come here with a group for a weekend, I think your best game plan should be to purchase a bottle. But if you want to sit, chill and really focus on a tasting, I recommend taking a departure from all the craziness and pop by for a weekday tasting flight.

The flights of wine are reasonably priced, a light flight for $15, a red flight for $17, 5 wines per flight. This is an easy one to split with a pal.

After going through both whites and red flights, my top 3 wines were the Saddlerock’s Rosé of Grenache 2017 (very fruity, also candy-like), the Sangiovese 2014 (light bodied red but full on tannins) and the Merlot 2016 (expect cherry with lots of spice).

This is such an iconic place to visit. Whether you’re with a friend from out of town or you want to unwind and relax, Malibu Wines is one of those LA spots that never goes out of style.

Although this wine tasting was comped by Malibu Wines, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

Staying At The St. Jane Hotel And Dining At Free Rein In Chicago

My annual summer trip to Chicago was met with a big first for me – it would be the first trip with my 4-month-old daughter Marie! Usually, on my trips, I freely roam the city, restaurant to restaurant doing whatever I please… those days are over.

Now that we’re traveling as a family, I have a lot to consider when looking for a hotel. I wanted to make sure my stay was comfortable for baby Marie, charming to the eye for my husband and food-centric for myself. I was a little nervous about staying at a boutique hotel because I wasn’t sure how baby friendly it would be. Many boutiques I’ve stayed in, tend to be a smaller in bedroom size, with more sophisticated furnishings – great for adults but I need to consider the little one.

We decided to book a junior suite at the St. Jane Hotel, which opened in July, and it delivered on all 3 counts.

This boutique hotel is located in the 37-story Carbide and Carbon Building, built in 1929. The outside maintains an art deco flair with its black granite and gold accents and the moment you walk in, it feels half Great Gatsby half Lana Del Rey – Jazz age meets hipster chic.

Carbide and Carbon Building
Baby Marie loves the art deco style!

The Premiere Junior Suite is a bit of splurge, but it’s so perfectly spacious that it’s worth it or a family vacation. The astonishing views of the city, a roomy shower (that also has a beautiful city view!) and a big comfy bed are worth the upgrade. Bonus: the toiletries are products by Mason Margiela’s ‘Replica’ Jazz Club line, my all time favorite perfume!

A view from our room at night

St. Jane Hotel’s key restaurant is Free Rein, a modern French brasserie led by chef Aaron Lirette, who obtained a Michelin star for GreenRiver. Free Rein serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offers a coffee shop, full bar and provides the hotel room service. Here’s how I savored the hotel with an ultimate epicurean stay.

I started the bright and early at their café, which is separated from the main dining room. The coffee is provided by Chicago fan-favorite Dark Matter and pastries by fellow Michelin star collector, pastry chef Evan Sheridan of Sixteen.

The Ham and Cheese Croissant, although not shaped in the classic crescent style, the Ham and Raclette is still flaky, buttery and I loved the addition of mustard on top. I loved my Dark Matter lattes every morning too, but with the time changes and general baby exhaustion, I did fuel up on their Nitro Cold Brews as well.

Ham and Raclette Croissant
Latte

Later on, Chicago Girls on Food blogger Hilary met up with me for lunch, where I was able to get a little break from the family and do what I love to do the most – explore a new restaurant. Highlights from this lunch included:

Sweet Corn Soup– corn, scallion, and coconut

I always love a presentation of soup pouring! 

Kanpachi Crudo– English peas, heart of palm, citrus, caviar 

Soft Shell Crab BLT– Bacon, gem lettuce, Old Bay aioli

Saffron Spaghetti – tomato, fine herbs, parmesan

I loved all of Chef Lirette’s artful takes on American classics for lunch. If I had to choose tops spots, my number 1 was definitely the Soft Shell Crab BLT. This succulent sandwich is paired perfectly with the crispy Old Bay seasoned fries. The Kanpachi Crudo is a close second, it felt like a spot-on execution of “summer on a plate”. For lunch, I recommend washing it all down with a glass of Virtue’s Rosé Cider, it’s crisp, lightly floral but pairs perfectly with any of the dishes above.

Virtue Rosé Cider

For dinner, the lights dim down and it feels a little fancier at Free Rein. The menu expands out to a number of new options, including large format items, intended for sharing.

I started with a glass of Clos des Papes “Le Petit Vin d’Avril” a rich, Rhône blend to pair with decadent dishes. The absolute favorite item was the Foie Gras Tourchon with black truffle, Marcona almonds, cherry compote and summer berries. This item will be available on the Fall menu, so make sure you pop in there soon!

Foie Gras Tourchon

My other favorites included the Tomato Salad, with black garlic, cucumber and sourdough and the large format Dry-Aged Slagel Farms Ribeye with chanterelle mushrooms, potato puree, and beef jus.

Tomato Salad
Dry-Aged Slagel Farms Ribeye

Staying in a very touristy part of town and relying on the hotel to have extraordinary food sets a bar very high and sometimes isn’t realistic, but Free Rein and the St. Jane Hotel exceeded my expectations.

GOF Tip: The room service menu offers some items from the Free Rein menu – go for the Smoked Whitefish Toast. Since I was watching Marie, it’s nice to have an easy-to-eat but still gourmet meal around!

Baby Marie admiring the gold elevator doors

Although the lunch portion was provided by Free Rein, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

#girlsonfood Interviews Jeanne of @jeanne.eatsworld

Our hashtag #girlsonfood has over 11.7K uses on Instagram! 

Thank you so much to our readers for using this tag!

I have been looking through all the images and saw that there were so many bloggers/photographers/influencers that I wanted to get to know a little better. So, I created a new column where I interview the folks behind some of most the interesting pages.

Through the uses of our hashtag, I found Jeanne of @jeanne.eatsworld. Jeanne was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia and moved to Minneapolis at the age of 15 years ago. She works a 9-5 desk job at American Express Global Business Travel and based off her Instagram feed, she savors every minute of her travels. Whether it’s a shot of cup of coffee to go or a shot of her traveling, the world through her eyes looks pretty incredible!

GOF: When did you start your Instagram page?
JH: I started my IG page about 4 years ago mixing between my love for food, for travel and just life in general in Minneapolis. I started to focus on food around 2016. I still post about travel but mostly food.

Jeanne

GOF: Favorite food city, outside of Minneapolis?
JH: My fave food cities are New York and Seoul. I travel to NYC about 1 or 2 times a year to eat. They have so many options that I am not able to find in Minneapolis.

GOF: What’s tougher to get in Minneapolis?
JH: I love Oysters but they are pretty expensive here. Between $3-4.50 each so whenever I can find $1 oysters I am there! At The Mermaid Inn in NYC they offer $1 oysters for Happy Hour.

Happy Hour oysters from The Mermaid Inn photo by @Jeanne.eatsworld

GOF: Was being a “foodie” always a part of your life or did it come later?
JH: I always love to eat and even before IG I was already taking pictures of my food- especially when on vacation. Being raised in Indonesia, I was exposed to many different varieties of food. I’d eat anything from street food, like frog legs, all the way to finer Michelin Star restaurants. So I guess it is always been a part of me and now thanks to Instagram I am able to showcase that.

GOF: I notice a lot of espresso and teas on your feed, what’s your all time favorite caffeinated beverage?
JH: My fave caffeinated beverage will be any kind of latte but I do love a good Matcha latte.

GOF: Do you give restaurants a heads up you’re coming in or do you prefer anonymity?
JH: No. I don’t give them a heads up. I usually just come and eat anonymously and review it based on my personal experience.

GOF: What’s one of the coolest experiences that’s come from your food photography?
JH: I love meeting other foodies who have had the same passion for food and photography but most importantly become real life friends with them. I also do get invited to some restaurant openings and events.

GOF: What’s the furthest you’ve traveled for food?
JH: I did travel to Singapore earlier this year because I want to try the best durian and my friends called me crazy!

Be sure to follow @jeanne.eatsworld and @girlsonfoodblog and use that hashtag #girlsonfood to be featured someday! 

#girlsonfood Interviews Kyley McGeeney of Mission Michelin

Our hashtag #girlsonfood has over 11.6K uses on Instagram! 

First off, thank you so much to our readers for using this tag!

Second, I have been looking through all the images and saw that there were so many  bloggers/photographers/influencers that I wanted to get to know a little better. So I created a new column where I interview the folks behind some of most the interesting pages.

Through the hashtag, I found Kyley McGeeney (@missionmichelin), who runs her own blog, Mission Michelin. I checked out her project and was excited for the premise behind it – she ate her way through the entire D.C. Michelin Guide and blogged all about it. Kyley and I discuss the world of blogging and fine dining below.

GOF: How long did it take you to eat through every Michelin Star/Bib Gourmand/Michelin Plate restaurant in DC?  How did you prioritize what restaurants you dine at? 

MM: A little over a year and a half. I started in December of 2016 and completed my mission in July of 2018. I started with ones I was most excited about (e.g. Rose’s Luxury, Tail Up Goat) as well as radiating out in concentric circles from my office especially for lunch.

Kyley McGeeney

GOF: Do you give the restaurants a heads up you’re coming in as a blogger, or do you prefer enominity?

MM: I used to not tell them but eventually starting giving them a heads up. It made it easier to get my chef picture and have them sign my Michelin Guide!

GOF: How do these restaurants/chefs/servers react to you photographing the experience? 

MM: Sometimes they’re really supportive: they offer to take pictures of me and my dining companions or I can tell they’ve purposely seated me by a window to have good light for the pics. The only times I’ve ever been told “no” were two different chefs/owners who said food was fair game but they didn’t want to be photographed. Also at Komi, where you can’t photograph the food.

Jamón Ibérico from Del Mar

GOF: What DC Michelin spots are in your top 3?

MM: This is tough! minibar is my number one and I always joke there are about 17 places tied for second. I really like Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple & Pearls, Himitsu, Thip Khao–there are so many more! Two that are too new to be in the guide but I really love are Del Mar and Bresca.

GOF: Was fine dining a part of your up-bringing or did it come to you later in life? 

MM: Part of my upbringing. We went out to dinner about six nights a week growing up and for my 10th birthday I asked to have a ladies luncheon. In Ithaca, where I’m from, the fine dining options are more limited but in NYC for college our go-to was The Four Seasons.

GOF: Was it tough to budget this project out? 

MM: Honestly budgeting my time was a much bigger issue than money. I’m married with two little kids so it wasn’t an option to go out spontaneously or too many nights a week. Everything was planned weeks in advance. I also mainly eat dinner at 5:30pm to be home for bedtime!

@missionmichelin in Portugal with Chef Jose Avillez

GOF: When are you coming to LA to see if we’re Michelin-worthy?

MM: I’ve actually been to LA in the past year! I LOVE Night + Market Song (haven’t been to the other two yet). Thai cuisine is one of my favorites. Gjusta for breakfast is also my go-to. Cassia and Bestia were also great and I am dying to try Somni!

GOF: Now that you’ve reached your goal, what’s up next for you? Any other new projects?

MM: I’m still continuing with food but without necessarily a list to check off. The point of all of this was ultimately to re-acquaint myself with the DC food scene after moving to the suburbs. Just because I’ve eaten at all the restaurants in the Guide doesn’t mean there aren’t new ones, ones not in the Guide, and repeat visits!

Be sure to follow @missionmichelin and @girlsonfoodblog and use that hashtag #girlsonfood to be featured someday! 

Let’s Get Toasted: Toasty San Francisco

Toasty

2760 Octavia St. San Francisco, CA 94123

Website and Instagram

What would you do for good food?

Stand in excessively long lines (ahem, Madrid and Street XO)? Wake up at all hours of the night to secure reservations (how else can I secure some of the most coveted reservations) Fly thousands of miles in search of the prettiest bite?

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I will not let any obstacle get in my way of an epic meal and in fact, I’m guilty of all three.

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to San Francisco to visit my very best friend. This girl has been my ride or die and partner in dine since college. So, it goes without saying that every time I visit, I send her a list of potential eateries that I’d like to check out. Knowing that we won’t knock out a fraction of them, I note which ones are an absolute must. On this last trip, there were only three places that were non-negotiable, Toasty, being one of them.

How does a girl from Nashville come across an avocado toast bar in San Francisco? Well, that’s simple. Instagram. A fellow food blogger highlighted Toasty on their feed and I was awestruck. I had no idea that toast could be so pretty.

After a four hour flight and one heck of an intense parallel parking job, we arrived at Toasty.

Toasty, which opened in October 2017, is the first ever avocado toast bar in San Francisco. Owner Sofia Pinzón, who arrived by way of Medellín, Colombia, decided to turn her love of all things avocado into a business that would attract people from across the globe. Realizing that people eat with their eyes, Pinzón created these masterpieces topped with edible flowers that are almost too pretty to eat. Almost…

Toasty, located in the Cow Hollow neighborhood, is staffed by only eight individuals.  Seating is rather limited with only bar seating available on the inside and three quaint tables located outside the restaurant facade. If you want to grab a place to perch, I’d recommend going early or during an off time, even though I think Toasty has a line out the door on any given day.

Restraint. The first word that comes to mind when I walked through the doors of Toasty. I wanted one of everything on the menu. Remember, I’ve been stalking this eatery for quite some time and that, paired with a voracious appetite can be quite dangerous. After my partner in dine talked some sense into me, we ordered.

Seeing as we just finished caffeinating, we opted for healthier beverage choices: Beet Root and Turmeric lattes. I’m not going to lie, I’ve never had a Beet Root Latte in my life, but it, like all the toasts, was too pretty to pass up.

After five or ten minutes passed, our collection of toasts arrived at our table. Collection is the appropriate word because our selections literally consumed our table and we had nowhere else to go. Thank goodness we planned accordingly and snagged a table.

My partner in dine and I decided that the Eggy and Prosciutto toasts were a must but alas, my inner child wanted the Unicorn toast as well.  Who can say no to colorful cream cheese and sprinkles?

I have to admit, we both paused with hesitation. These toasts were indeed to pretty to eat. But let’s be honest, that only stopped us for a minute. We each started with a slice of a different toast. I started with the Eggy, she started with the Prosciutto. Once we devoured this goodness, we exchanged notes and then wooden cutting boards.

Despite the fact that we ordered the Unicorn toast for photos only, I couldn’t resist nibbling on that colored cream cheese goodness. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as sweet as I anticipated.

For those who aren’t avocado enthusiasts (which I can’t even wrap my head around), Toasty offers açaí bowls and chia pudding.

Toasty’s menu changes every six months or so. Sofia has a few upcoming creations that are sure to be both beautiful and delicious. I may or may not have heard rumblings of beet and hummus toast? Perhaps something with arugula? Without a doubt, you know it will be photo worthy!

If you find yourself in San Francisco and find a place to park, head directly to Toasty for an unforgettable avocado toast experience.

MEDIA TASTING: New Brunch Menu at Del Frisco’s Grille is Picture Perfect

Earlier this week I journeyed out to the faraway land known as the Westside and visited Del Frisco’s Grille at its ocean front Santa Monica location. A completely revamped brunch menu was awaiting and OMG- everyone needs to visit and experience the brunch that Instagram dreams are made of. Perhaps Chef Steven Quinn knew his new menu would be so aesthetically pleasing or maybe this gorgeous spread is just like those girls that are naturally pretty with full brows first thing in the morning. Regardless, the food is amazing and photographs better than Beyoncé.

Del Frisco’s Grille
1551 Ocean Ave, Suite 105, Santa Monica, CA 90401
https://delfriscosgrille.com/

To start of this exclusive tasting, fellow media influencers and myself were guided to the patio where the most magnificent spread awaited. Voila!

The spread that dreams are made of

Lions and Tigers and Bears right??? Actually its more like egg yolks and cocktails and greens! Inspiration for the new menu came from around the globe and incorporates food trends that we all want to indulge in. From Brooklyn inspired dishes to a nod to our California love of things gluten-free Chef Quinn really brought it all together beautifully for our enjoyment. I genuinely had sensory overload!

As we all mingled a bit, we were given the first cocktail to sip. The colorful Fruit & Flowers- Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, blueberry, grapefruit and lime flavors make this a perfect light cocktail for the hot summer days we have coming our way. Plus is has a cute rock candy garnish for fun!

While very pretty, I wasn’t expecting anything too spectacular from the Smoked Salmon Tower. Unbeknownst to me, Del Frisco’s take on the classic lox bagel was a heavy hitter. Chef Quinn informed us all the fish was flown in straight from Boston from Foley Fish. ( yasss, that’s fresh AND fancy).  This smoked salmon was top-notch and took the bagel to the next level. The presentation for the tower is awesome with red onions, cucumber, tomatoes and capers but there’s two different kinds of cream cheeses provided which complimented the salmon exquisitely. One was a creamy plain spread and the other a unique “Everything” caper spread. Being the wise foodie that I am, I went half and half on the spreads since I couldn’t get full on the first menu item!

Smoked Salmon Tower + Fruit & Flowers

Nonna’s Pan Cinnamon Rolls were brought out and there were collective jaw drops around the table.  The bourbon espresso caramel sauce smelled like heaven and for an instant I had a clear image of the Italian grandmother who loved me dearly and baked this to comfort my bad decisions from the weekend. The toasted pecans sprinkled on top gave a great crunch and added protein to the dish!

Nonna’s Pan Cinnamon Rolls

For those admirable individuals who take the healthy route even during brunch you’re in for a treat. The Greens & Grains Bowl is the answer to your fit meal dreams. A cage free egg is awaiting for you to get the perfect boomerang of it being cut. Get that yoke ooze! Quinoa, charred broccoli, edamame, dried cranberries, roasted almonds, baby spinach and BEETS all drizzled with a sweet basil dressing are the rest of the elements in this awesome gluten free dish.

Greens & Grains Bowl

Chef Quinn has two other gluten-free options on the brunch menu: the incredibly photogenic Croque Madame and the delicious Eggs in Purgatory with their avocado flatbread side.

Croque Madame
Eggs in Purgatory

My fave dish was a tie between the Greens & Grains Bowl and the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Lemon curd, blueberry compote and fresh berries are the perfect summery brunch item to enjoy in the patio while people watching in Santa Monica. It’s on Ocean and Colorado right in front of the pier! 

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Del Frisco’s Grille quickly established itself as a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike and I can totally see why. Not only is their food incredible, the cocktails are so intricate and thought out that they deserve a whole post on their own! As any pro-bruncher knows, brunch is only as good as the booziness involved.

Even though I couldn’t partake in the meat dishes offered (I’m a pescatarian) the void was filled with cocktails! If mimosas or their signature Bloody Mary with Horseradish Wheatley isn’t up your alley there’s good kick in the  Crack Coffee. With its Mt. Gay Black Barrel Rum, chai tea syrup and Chameleon Nitro Cold Brew, you’re bound to wake up with this bevy. If you need some romance The Honeymoon in Paris will take you away to Providence in summer especially with its super cute sprig of lavender! Finally the crowd favorite at the event was the Watermelon Frozé! Rosé but better because you get a small serving of fruit, hooray! Mom would totally be proud.

Bloody Mary
Watermelon Frozé
Honeymoon in Paris

I’m super excited to hit up the Westside again for brunch. With the semi-new Expo Line Station a block away, there’s no need for a DD! Totally recommend it for all those who don’t want to worry about being stuck in traffic while in a food coma. Also, Del Frisco’s Grille is having a special 16 oz. 45-day Dry Aged Strip for the deserving fathers out there this upcoming Father’s Day ( yes, that’s tomorrow, Sunday 6/17). Fun fact, Del Frisco’s Grille is the cooler sibling of the widely praised  Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, so they know a thing or two about cooking meat.

Watermelon Frozé anyone?

Summer is here and so shall beach day brunches at one of California’s most iconic beaches. A million thanks to all who made this event possible and for everyone at Del Frisco who flew out from Dallas to spoil us with their new offerings. Chef Shawn Quinn really elevated the brunch game with such photogenic offerings. This place is ultimate #brunchgoals!

Thank you so much to Spin PR for arranging this media tasting. Although this tasting was comped, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

Powerhouse Chefs Demonstrate Their Best Bites at Taste of Yountville

It might have rained a bit in Yountville last weekend, but that didn’t put a damper on the 25th annual Taste of Yountville festivities! Our weekend of food and wine kicked off with a demo by Chef Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat, Chicago), who shared her recipes for shrimp toast (paired with a beer cocktail) and chocolate peanut butter Cheez-It® s’mores.

Chef Stephanie Izard
Cheez-It S’more

Fun fact – did you know she actually had a Cheez-It® wedding cake? Yes, she’s THAT into them… and after tasting those s’mores, I think I am too! Chef Izard melts together butter, chocolate and peanut butter and pours that over Cheez-Its® before adding a mix of cocoa powder and powdered sugar, tossing to ensure each cracker is evenly coated. All that’s left to do is toast your marshmallow and get to sandwiching! The salty-sweet combo is to die for, and tastes almost like a Butterfinger bar. Chef Izard’s shrimp toast, topped with pickled Fresno chiles, was delicious – especially paired with a cocktail that incorporated the chile pickling liquid.

Shrimp Toast with Pickled Fresno Chiles, Pickled Red Onion, Preserved Lemon Aioli

We braved a quick run in the rain to make our way over to the V Marketplace Pavilion, where dozens of restaurants and wineries were showcasing their wares. After sampling some small bites, including ahi tuna poke from Celadon and black cod with pickled kumquat and meyer lemon aioli from Robert Mondavi Winery, we headed over to the Lynx-sponsored stage to watch Frank Bonanno teach us how to make ricotta.

Ahi Tuna Poke – Celadon
Black Cod with Meyer Lemon Kosho Aioli, Pickled Kumquat, Radish & Cress Salad – Robert Mondavi Winery
Frank Bonanno making ricotta

He started by combining a half-gallon of whole milk, 1 cup cream, and 1 cup buttermilk in a saucepan. After bringing it up to about 180 degrees, he added cider vinegar. As soon as he added the acid the mixture began to curdle, and after a few minutes of sitting in a fine-mesh strainer, the ricotta was ready! Spread on crostini, the ricotta was perfectly creamy with a delightful tang from the buttermilk. It might be a simple hors d’oeuvre, but it’s a showstopper!

Next up was the last event of the day: Michelin-starred Chef Ken Frank on how to make the perfect steak. You better believe I was taking notes! His tips started with buying the thickest cut of steak you can, emphasizing one big steak for sharing rather than a few smaller, thinner steaks. The benefit to a thicker steak is that there’s more room to nail the internal temperature, more time to get a great sear on the outside before the inside overcooks, and more room to get that delicious crust on every side of the steak. He got his pan ripping hot and seared the steak all over before letting it rest for a few minutes. As a general rule, he lets meat rest half as long as he cooked it. Then, the steak went into the oven to finish cooking. When it hit the perfect medium-rare he was looking for, he rested it again and, right before serving, tossed it in the pan one more time to get the outside super crisp. But the most important trick of all? Rest your meat on its side, not on the top or bottom, to get the most even distribution of juices.

The perfect steak – and no, that’s not hyperbole.

One bite of this steak, which was served alongside cheesy tapioca pearls, and I was in heaven. The steak was paired with a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon from Eleven Eleven wines. Chef Frank noted that he drinks cab every day – and we should too! That’s some advice I can definitely get behind.

Day two started off beautiful, without a single cloud in the sky. We started off the day learning the secrets behind Lisa Dahl’s incredible “Hipster Burger” (spoiler alert: lentils and quinoa provide heft, toasted walnuts add texture, and serrano chili oil is the ticket to great flavor). She also shared her tips for making the perfect kale salad: thinly shredding kale, then tossing it with a Greek-influenced vinaigrette before adding Caesar dressing. Thanks to the acid in the vinaigrette, the fibers in the kale soften and break down – the days of massaging kale are over!

Lisa Dahl’s gorgeous “Hipster Burger”

One of the most interesting presentations was an unlikely pairing – raw seafood and Pinot Noir. Featuring a flight of Twomey Pinot Noir, the dishes included Hamachi crudo with kumquat and avocado, tuna sashimi with cherry and red wine-steeped hibiscus, and a raw oyster topped with smoked soy sauce and toasted hazelnut. The takeaways from this presentation? Step outside of the box when it comes to pairings. Note how different ingredients change your perception of wine. Save money on garnishes by buying better main ingredients. Most importantly, take the time to learn about what you’re drinking and eating. Much like wine, food is heavily influenced by where it comes from.

From left to right: Chris Nishiwaki, contributor, Wine & Spirits Magazine; David Varley, Michael Mina Restaurant Group; Brady Lowe, founder, Cochon 555; Ian Leggat, director of marketing and public relations, Silver Oak Cellars and Twomey Cellars
Clockwise from top left: tuna sashimi, hamachi crudo, oyster

After a long weekend of food and wine – tough life, I know – it was time to head home. I’m already counting down the days until next year, but until then you can find me perfecting steak, drinking red wine with sashimi, and coming up with more Cheez It®-inspired desserts. Cheers!


A portion of the proceeds from this event benefited the families of those lost in the tragic shooting at The Pathway Home earlier this month. For more information and details on contributing to the fund, click here

Montreal, Mon Amour!

As the middle of winter consumes us, dreaming of somewhere warm is the most typical thought that crosses our minds. Punta Cana, Brazil, Mexico…to name a few. For me, I am a proud, winter-loving Canadian… who has barely seen Canada. I’ve travelled to Central America, I’ve road tripped and flown throughout U.S.A. numerous times, yet I haven’t traveled my way through Canada. For Valentine’s Day, I decided to take my husband to somewhere he has never been before, the home of the poutine, Montreal, Quebec.

Now, I’ve been to Montreal before for a day trip but did not get to experience the culture nor the amazing cuisine. We packed our bags and set off for a 5 and a half road trip to Montreal. We had no plans, zero bookings and just wanted to roll with the punches.

After settling in, we decided to wonder around our little neighbourhood near the hotel. Since our French is “Je ne c’est quoi” (literally means I do not know what) we wanted to try something a little familiar to us.

Our first stop: Bier Markt Montréal
1221 Rene-Levesque Blvd W Montreal,QC

I absolutely love the Bier Markt. I’ve been many times before but never in Montreal. It is traditionally a place that sells a ginormous variety of beers. From pints, to bottles, sample trays, cocktails, champagne, wine, literally everything. The only thing I’ve ever consumed here is beer, because that is what they are known for. This particular trip, we decided to order some snacks to go along with our sampler tray of beer. I never even knew we could order food let alone have a great selection to choose from. We decided to go with a shareable board of seafood and cheese. Just typing this, I’m already missing that board. Our three choices were fresh mozzarella, tuna poke and grilled calamari. It was paired with fresh bread, pickles and a raspberry compote. Spectacular and overwhelming perfect is the only way for me to describe the food, the ambiance and the general vibe of this establishment. We loved it so much, we ended up going back the next night for a little night cap.

The next morning we decided to hunt down the perfect poutine. But since it was 10 am, we decided cheese curds and French fries were more of an afternoon treat.

As we were walking looking for a coffee shop, we found a little spot called: Paris Cafe
1333 Saint-Catherine St. W Montreal,QC

It turned out to be a quaint little restaurant serving crepes! The menu was in French but Nutella is a universal word in any language. I indulged in a London Fog latte and an incredible Nutella Banana Crepe that they prepare right on display as you enter the cafe. It was extremely decadent and the best latte I’ve ever had. This two story restaurant was packed but not busy as everything was made so quickly and devoured within minutes. It was a lovely spot to start our day off right.

Montreal is known for its beauty and art. On the side of buildings, you could see paintings of the late Leonard Cohen throughout the city. A beautiful tribute to a great Canadian artist in his home town. The architecture and museums were extraordinary. Some of the best I’ve ever seen. Everywhere you looked, there was beauty.

After touring the city, our quest for the perfect Poutine had peeked. As a vegetarian, I haven’t come across many poutines that I was able to enjoy. Most poutines I’ve come across had a beef base. I was concerned but determined I could find something just right.

That is when we stumbled upon: Ye Olde Orchard Pub
1189 Rue de la Montagne Montreal, QC

We were instantly greeted by a gentleman wearing a kilt. Typical old pub setting. What I thought would be a tiny pub was actually fairly large with dim lighting and stone walls. I eyeballed the menu and found the poutine section. There it was…my gateway poutine into the poutine world. Vegetarian Curry Poutine. It was a trifecta of my three favourite foods merging together in one dish. The curry actually just tasted like a spicy gravy. The cheese curds, although I hate the word curd, they were delicious. I had found euphoria in a pile of French fries. And I was in love.

This trip was filled with so much delicious food, we have barely eaten since we’ve returned home. Montreal really does feel like you’re in a different world. The cuisine, the culture, the people….its hard to describe but definitely somewhere everyone needs to go. Even in the winter, it was magical and felt like the perfect weekend getaway.

Until next time, Au Revoir, Montreal!

Lauren’s Last Bite Takes Over London

There’s no need to dread turning 35 if you do it with an epic trip to London. Turn up!! Turn up!! If you read any of my previous posts, you will recall I was living in Puerto Rico. I have since relocated back to Washington D.C. I love to travel as often as I can, but I am frugal. I would much rather spend my hard-earned moolah on food and cocktails! It is cheaper to book a flight out of NYC to London, which gave me the opportunity to try the ‘Purple Amethyst Latte’ at The End in Brooklyn. This vegan latte was a berry-infused, antioxidant rich, mood lifting drink with ube and a touch of lavender honey! This coffee shop offers a couple of energizing drinks as alternatives to coffee at their “Plant Alchemy Bar”. They are also famous for their ‘Unicorn Latte’.

Upon landing in London, a city known for its abundance of Michelin starred restaurants, I didn’t know which one to choose.  Luckily there were a few near my hotel. Another plus about London’s bevy of Michelin starred restaurants is that most of them are open for lunch and offer a prix fixe option that won’t blow your food budget. Unfortunately, I have a food budget AND a drink budget. My drink budget has been known to be loftier than my food budget. I chose the Typing Room’. It was modern, sleek, yet still approachable. I ‘day-dressed up’, but other diners were more casually dressed.  The food was stellar and the open kitchen gave way to a wonderful show. It was raining (duh, I was in London) and I ate a little heavier than usual for lunch. Venison, braised cabbage two ways with yogurt and demi-glace. The venison was so tender that no knife was needed.

Venison Medallions, Cabbage 2 ways, Spiced Yogurt and Demi Glace

Blown away by the service, food and the experience at Typing Room, I couldn’t leave London without checking another Michelin starred restaurant off my list. I love some fusion and StreetXO was highly recommended. This was a Spanish/Asian fusion. Ok, I can dig it. No surprise I started with a celebratory drink. They had me at vodka, St. Germain and that big a** glass. StreetXO has a variety of tasting menus, but being alone I was able to order a la carte. YAY!!! I had the “club” sandwich. Being a former Boricua, I couldn’t resist a croquette. These were a perfect mix of Spanish/Asian fusion: kimchi, raw salmon, trout roe, Lapsang Souchong tea, and sheep’s milk. These were perfect from the first dribble-down-your-chin-I-don’t-care-I-am-in-public bite. It was THAT good. The menu looked so good. I want to go back with more people and devour the entire menu…twice!  Most of the clientele were Spaniards. I loved this, because you know if natives are eating there it is legit. This also let me know how far my Spanish has regressed since living in Puerto Rico. 

“Club Sandwich” from StreetXO
Croquettes with kimchi, trout roe

I fell for the hype and went to the ICEBAR in London. It is exactly what you imagine…a bar with everything made of ice: the bar, the glassware, the seats, EVERYTHING. I’m guessing it’s an improbability that they ever run out of ice.  At the door you are greeted with ski jackets to keep you insulated in the constant brisk -5 Celsius temperature. It’s as cold as it sounds and your jacket comes with gloves attached. BRRRRRRR. I’m having cold flashbacks. It was a cool spot (literally and figuratively). The bar is sponsored by ABSOLUT and each year the inside has a different theme. When I visited it was a zoo them. Gorillas, zebras and tigers, oh my! I’ll be honest, I was a bit too cold to take it all in. Even the cute bartender with the sexy, South African accent couldn’t coax me into staying. Look me up when you have a job in a temperate climate.

treacle tart

As always, I will conclude with my last bite. I will go back to London for the ‘treacle tart’ from Boxcar Butcher and Grill. From my understanding, treacle is term for molasses, but is also slang for sweetheart. This tart had a sweet/salty combo from a dusting of caramel corn. All I can say is, “WTF?” Where’s the Food?

Cute Bartender @Icebar in London