Girls on Food

Travel

The New Way To Buffet – The Atlantis Resort and Casino

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Photo courtesy of Atlantis Casino

As if the Atlantis Resort and Casino weren’t classy enough, they have spent over a million dollars redesigning their Toucan Charlie’s Buffet menu and décor to bring a touch of Las Vegas right here to Reno. Welcome to Reno 2016. Casinos can be stunning but you might prefer to gamble online even if you’re a casino high roller.

I was invited to a media night last week to get a taste of what the new buffet at the Atlantis had to offer. Upon walking in, the first thing I noticed was all the jungle theme décor was wiped out and replaced with sleek lighting making the buffet brighter, highlighting the food. The color scheme was updated with intense hues of espresso and cream, and the old purple and teal were no longer a thing. As you guys know, I am a sucker for casinos both online and in person. I have been loving Stake 7 recently!

You see, going to the casino itself wasn’t much of an interest to us, especially as we knew that we could check out something similar to euro casino bonus in our own time and enjoy playing these games within the comfort of our own home. We were here for the food.

We were sat promptly and quickly grabbed the blank canvases which were the starting point of the evening. Blank canvases? Yeah, I am talking about the warm, lovely white china plates that patiently await your culinary desires.

I noticed all of the lively stations such as the Sauté and Grille, Far East, Asian Wok, Pho, Expansive Carvery, Charcuterie sliced premium meats and cheeses, Custom Salads, Savory Sea Fare and Southwest. As I strolled down what I considered being my version of the Wonka Factory, I noticed that the salad bars were updated with fresh and exotic creations that were eye-teasing and palate pleasing. One salad especially caught my eye which was the mango, shaved fennel and mint salad which was fresh and light.

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As I continued my journey down buffet lane, the ethnic stations also stepped up their game. At the Hispanic counter, giant meatballs were floating around in broth known as Albondigas Soup. Typically at buffets, I stay away from the soups because they are either severely over salted or traumatically bland, but this soup brought the heat, spice and everything nice. Because I was shocked at how tasty the soup was, I indulged in a second bowl.

What I respect and love about the newly redesigned buffet, was there were healthier options available, and clearly something for everyone. From the prime rib carving station to the marinated beet salad and lastly the indulgent dessert island, I am sure you will be pleased with the numerous options available to you.

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I would like to extend a big Thank You to Tracie Barnthouse, publicist for the Atlantis Casino for the invitation to experience an authentic 4 Diamond experience. The Atlantis Resort and Casino new Buffet stepped up their game and are blowing their competitors out of the water. Swing by and taste the experience for yourself, you will genuinely be satisfied.

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Toucan Charlie's Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Megan’s Alexandria, VA Adventures

IMG_6035Ok, maybe I was technically in Old Town Alexandria, but I saw some monuments and traversed cobblestone streets just like a real tourist.  It’s exciting to know that I barely scratched the surface of this burgeoning foodie community and missed a couple of truly outstanding sounding tasting menus.  Methinks there will have to be a part two in a few months, I mean there’s always cherry blossoms to see.  After nearly seven hours in a car jammed up on I-95, we stumbled into a BBQ restaurant adjoining our hotel, The Hotel Monaco, a trendy meat paradise rife with artisanal cocktails and deliciously tender fare.

IMG_5989This slow cooked beef brisket with horseradish mashed potatoes, white bread, and BBQ was handled to perfection. So delightful that you can cut into it with a fork.

Jackson 20
480 King Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314
http://www.jackson20.com

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Border Springs Farm Lamb with Anson Mills polenta and market vegetables
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Brussel sprouts with black walnuts and maple

 

One of their signature cocktails aptly named “Catch Her In The Rye” is high west double rye, liquor 43, with orange hazelnut syrup is a straight up down south salute to all things strong and delicious.  If still alive, J.D. Salinger would have honored it with his reclusive seal of approval.  Their cocktail menu is expansive and has a little something for any adventurous diner looking to veer off course from a traditional glass of wine.

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Also attempted at our table was the “Back To Basics” although I only believe that could be the case if you were lulled into a coma alcoholic of deliciousness.  This sweeter creation served in a martini glass combined Grey Goose vodka, pumpkin spice syrup, and coffee whip cream.  An appropriate period on a holiday meal or a lazy frigid Sunday afternoon.

The "Back to Basics"
The “Back to Basics.”

The second night of my stay, I couldn’t help buy try the small chintzy scale take on Medieval Times also known as John Strongbow’s Tavern.  After walking past this castle-shaped establishment the first evening, it immediately went down in the book as “to be experienced my liege”.

 

 

 

 

John Strongbow’s Tavern
710 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314
http://johnstrongbows.com

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Go Green Team…I mean Knight, I mean medieval mayhem!

I’m a sucker for Medieval Times as you can see from this pictorial evidence.  So, how could I not go to the restaurant that boasts of being a little piece of ancient tomfoolery?  The drink menu was peppered with aptly named starters.  I asked for the most popular libation “The Dragon’s Kiss.”  It was cider and cinnamon whiskey served in a tankard or large glass.  I, of course, said Tankard, my good sir.  The atmosphere was more of a sports bar, and the food was not as authentic as I had hoped.

 

 

 

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Medieval prime of rib

As you can see, my prime rib looks more Applebee’s than Arthur’s Round Table and the pretzel roll harkens mostly to a TGI Friday’s kitchen, but sometimes when anyone’s looking for noshes that can be your jam.  It still has an off and interesting charm that would entice locals to attend when they host one of their live events that fit the theme.  However, next time I’m looking for ancient epic adventure I may have to take another trip back to The New York Renaissance Faire as I wrote about earlier this year.  I mean, they have TURKEY LEGS there.

Finally, however, on the third day, I found an eatery that combined both the authentic cuisine and historical value of Old Town Alexandria.  After a bit of research and a few appropriately placed street signs, I realized we were staying right down the street from Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant.

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Gadsby’s Restaurant
138 N Royal St, Alexandria, VA 22314
http://www.gadsbystavernrestaurant.com

Founded in 1749 and named after Englishman John Gadsby, an entrepreneur who served as tavern keeper from 1796 until 1808.  Historical luminaries such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe would dine here to be entertained and engage in hard and fast political discussions.  If you would like a more detailed account, you can read on here Gadsby’s Tavern History.

Beyond the essence of historical greatness nestled in the candlelight wooden chairs, the food was perfectly prepared and savory.  Baked Brie seems to be a staple at several restaurants in the surrounding area, but you won’t see me complaining.  To start, we began with baked brie en croute.  Brie baked in puff pastry and stuffed with cardamom-spiced apples and finished with raspberry coulis and sprinkles of cinnamon and sugar 9.  Am I in heaven because I see an angel in front of me.  Note to self: Megan, you have to stop using pick up lines on your food.

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The entire meal was an 1800s phantasm.  Basking in the faint glow of period moonlight and soft candle flicker it was impossible to finish the ample portions.  For the main course, I had the much praised prime rib of beef.  Slow-roasted with Yorkshire pudding, horseradish sauce, whipped potatoes, and vegetables du jour 28 the cut of meat was massive!  Succulent and expertly braised, I cannot say enough good things about Gadsby’s Tavern.

IMG_6043Pictured left, the prime rib and to the right an expertly crafted denouement to our three-course journey, an iced cake by recommendation from our period dressed server, it was light, and I maybe had the capacity to have to spoonfuls before asking kindly in a modern tradition to take the rest to go.

IMG_6045Thankfully, we have plastic bags now and don’t have to balance extra food in bear pelts.

 They feature an extensive wine list. However, I chose to attempt their holiday beverage.  Warm apple cider with a heaping addition of rum.  They don’t scrimp on the pour, and I can easily say it will be very hard to attempt more than one.

An honorable mention has to go to the chain la’Madeleine that as a New Yorker I can only imagine is a distant cousin of Au Bon Pain and Le Pain Quotidien.  Any fresh, fast chain restaurant that gives me a croissant with my omelet is winning at mostly everything.  Not to mention I chose a variety of fresh ingredients and was not let down.  You can see the spinach happily peeking through the surface of the eggs.

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Also, on my way home I would be remiss without mentioning I FINALLY had a genuine Cracker Barrel meal with some many times fried chicken, and I will indeed never be the same again.  On that note, it’s time to hit the gym after all this decadence, so I may live to nosh historically again.  Goodbye Old Town Alexandria, land of meats, baked cheeses, and public transportation to monuments I shall miss you til’ we meet again.  Although, you rained on my sightseeing parade you created a storm of cuisine in my belly that I will not soon forget.

As I continue to eat my way through the always inspiring the United States I know I will continuously bump into one constant waiting for me where I go.

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Oh Starbucks, you always know how to find me and help me get home during six-hour car rides.  Now even in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Big Bites in a Small Town: Nellie’s Smokehouse Barbecue in Warren, OH

The holidays usually means family gatherings, reminiscing on old times, and food. Lots and lots of food, in fact. There was certainly no shortage of home-cooked family dinners during my Christmas break. But, my dad wanted me to skip an evening enjoying a home-cooked meal to try a new soul food bar that recently opened in my hometown of Warren, OH.

BBQ signNellie’s Smokehouse Barbecue
2461 Youngstown Rd SE, Warren, OH 44483
http://www.nelliessmokehousebbq.com

This was a big deal. Every year, I only get a few chances to indulge in my dad’s famous barbecue ribs and fried fish, my mom’s greens and honey-baked ham, and other high-calorie, but absolutely worth it guilty pleasures. I did not want to give up a second of home-cooked meals to eat out as I could in Fort Lauderdale regularly. But, like everyone else on the planet, my new year’s resolution to get back in the gym didn’t begin until, well, after the new year. So, I threw caution to the wind and decided just to eat out.

I have to say that I am glad I did. My family went to a new place called Nellie’s Smokehouse BBQ in Warren, OH. Now, let me be frank. I am from the smallest of small towns. Our cuisine is less South Beach sophisticate and more Midwest meat and potatoes. However, this place definitely has broken the local mold. Nellie’s Smokehouse BBQ has amazing food with an abundance of flavor. Their menu is a diverse mix of authentic smoked barbecue, classic and whole wings, and local favorites like Reuben sandwiches.

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A shot of my nephew looking super annoyed that I paused his meal to play photographer

As diverse as the menu was, almost our entire party chose to order some variety of wings. I had the traditional buffalo wings with fries. The wings had just the right amount of heat and spice to counter the tanginess that’s a staple of buffalo sauce. The fries were cooked and seasoned to perfection. Not too crunchy. Not too soft. Not too salty. Not too bland.

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My sister had the bourbon style wings, and we need to talk about this sauce. If you ever wondered if bourbon wings actually contain any alcohol, this recipe answers that question handily. The sauce was one part sweet, one part heat and a few parts bourbon. My sister joked she was getting a shot with each wing. We both loved the flavor, though, and I definitely recommend trying this sauce as a break from the normal buffalo style wings.

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If dry wings are your thing, then this place has a treat for you in the form of their ranch dry-rub wings. I have never been a fan of dry wings. However, I have to admit that these almost made me change my mind. The ranch coating wasn’t powdery like it was might have been when I made them at home.

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My dad had the Reuben sandwich but did not cooperate in taking a picture. He was hungry. If you ever find yourself in Warren, OH, the smallest of small towns, make a beeline for Nellie’s Smokehouse Barbecue and tell them Brian sent you. He’s my dad, and everyone there is on a first name basis with him. Who says there aren’t perks to small town living?

Christina’s Visit to Patron Hacienda in Atotonilco, Mexico

In the small town of Atotonilco outside of Guadalajara, Mexico sits the Patron distillery. The distillery is where they make all of their product and bottle it by hand. I was lucky enough to visit and bring back photos of the tequila making process. Patron uses two different methods to make their final product, one characterized by the traditional tahona; a volcanic stone used to crush the agave. The other process is a more modern roller mill that seperates the agave juice and fibers. No matter which style the agave are destined for they start the same way.

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All the agave have their leaves removed by hand and are baked for 72 hours in large brick ovens.

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All the agave have their leaves removed by hand and are baked for 72 hours in large brick ovens. After the baking they are either crushed slowly with the tahona or they go to the roller mill process.

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IMG_7052The tahona crushed tequila is transferred to the fermentors with both the agave fibers and agave juice while the roller mill only captures and ferments the juice.IMG_7041

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Here in the roller mill process only the juice is fermented. Above both the fibers and juice ferment together.

Both are distilled twice in copper stills and then they are ready to be diluted to 80 proof and aged, blended, or bottled. IMG_7045The flavor difference between the two methods is noticeable. The tahona tequila yields a fruitier tequila with a less noticeable taste of alcohol while the roller mill is bright, citrusy, and burns a bit more on the way down. The regular Patron is a blend of both but I recommend giving Roca Patron a try as it is made from only the tahona tequila and is perfect to sip on. IMG_7056Patron has a variety of aged products from the Reposados and Anejos to the more exclusive extra anejos. IMG_7066They use different barrels to age them including French oak and American Bourbon barrels.

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Some of the wood used for the aging process.
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Trying different combinations of age and wood.

One thing I always admire is a large company doing their best to be responsible. Patron can’t help being a large company but they do their best to be a great part of the community.

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The bottling process is still done by hand.

They have not automated any of the processes but keep everything done by hand thus providing many jobs to the community. They also have their own reverse osmosis plant to reclaim the water used in the tequila process. Solid wastes are turned into compost which prevents yeast from getting into other water sources and killing other ecosystems. They use the compost in their own gardens and donate it to the agave farmers they source from.

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The huge (and smelly) compost area.

I really enjoyed seeing how tequila was made, admittedly even though it’s one of my favorites to drink I didn’t know much about it before. If you like tequila I recommend trying out a tahona processed tequila if you can, maybe start with some Roca Patron?

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Patron’s own vegetable gardens grown with their fertilizer and reclaimed water.

Winded: Julianne’s Chicago Trip Part 3

Wow. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to get the final part of my trip to Chicago up, but here it is! This post is all about my favorite classic American treat, the cheeseburger, as well as a couple of treats I also savored.

Tried my best to imitate the statue a la "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" at Art Institute of Chicago
Tried my best to imitate the statue a la “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at Art Institute of Chicago

Billy Goat 1

Billy Goat Tavern 
430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level, Chicago, IL 60611
http://billygoattavern.com

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Fresh off the grill and into your mouth

Lower Whacker Drive is one of those major streets that seems very familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Then you realize you recognize the double-decked streets as shooting locations for “The Blues Brothers” and “The Dark Knight.” It’s also famous because of a certain burger joint that delivers attitude along with a burger. I would be a foodie disgrace if I didn’t check out Billy Goat Tavern, a restaurant that inspired a famous SNL sketch, watch the clip here. There’s a whole lot of history you can read about here as well. But let’s get eating!

Cheeseburger with pickles
“Cheezeborger” with pickles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved that the staff performed as the SNL characters for us. It’s not a “cheeseburger” I ordered, it’s a “cheezeborger.” Billy Goat Tavern has an old fashioned, American diner feel and (bonus points) a full bar. The burgers come out fresh off the grill, not served on a plate, just on a sheet of wax paper. This is clearly not a joint for the fancy. I got the double cheezeborger and added pickles to it. The burger patties were thin, so I’m glad I got double because their bun is pretty thick and it would’ve overshadowed the patty if it was only a single. The pickles really were the treat for me. They were so fresh, crisp and crunchy. As a dill pickle lover, I was blown away with them, and that alone will have me visiting Chicago more often.

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DMK Burger Bar
2954 N. Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL 60657
http://dmkburgerbar.com

DMK is very well-known among locals for their burgers but they also have fantastic cocktails. As you can see, I appreciate the bar and burger vibe.

 

Watching "The Breakfast Club" and sipping on a "Some Candy Talking" cocktail.
Watching “The Breakfast Club” and sipping on a “Some Candy Talking” cocktail.

DMK 7I ordered the “Some Candy Talking” cocktail, mostly cause it’s named after a great song by The Jesus and Mary Chain. It’s Jim Beam Bonded, Campari, rhubarb and lemon. It was like an elevated whiskey sour; I loved the bitterness of the Campari in there too.

 

 

 

 

 

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I always aim for the best, so I chose the number 1. This burger was topped with aged cheddar, smoked bacon, charred balsamic red onion and Rufus Teague’s BBQ sauce. I’m usually not a big BBQ sauce on my burger kind of person, but it worked so well with the onions that I may have been converted. The patty was thick, bloody and the bun perfectly soaks up all the flavors.

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My boyfriend ordered the number 2, with chili-rubbed onion strings, Amish blue cheese, and spicy chipotle ketchup. This one had a spicy kick to it, which he loved. Onion strings on a burger were also never really my thing, so I would’ve ordered them on the side, but my boyfriend loved them on it.

DMK 5These friends were heaven. We got the fries with parmesan and truffle cream. They were beautifully crisp, and the truffle cream wasn’t overwhelming, like others I’ve had in the past. Perfect pairing with the fries. Then we decided to nosh at a traditional Illinois ice cream spot.

 

 

 

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Oberweis Dairy Ice Cream & Dairy Store
3055 N. Sheffield, Chicago, IL 60657
http://oberweis.com

oberweis 2I may lose some serious foodie street cred with this one, but I honestly never knew about Oberweis Dairy before this trip. Oberweis has been delivering fresh milk in the mid-west since 1927 and has since expanded into many ice cream shops. I got their popular summer flavor (sorry, I know I’m really late with this one) Cherry Pie and a pint of milk. Being someone who switched to almond milk early this year, the milk was a lot for me to take in. I think it’s probably the creamiest milk I’ve ever experienced. It’s so decadent; I really didn’t need two creamy items, but when in Chicago, right? The cherry pie swirled ice cream was also very rich but so worth it.

 

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Oh Midsized Town of Bethlehem (P.A. Of course)

Oh Midsized town of Bethlehem, how you feed me riiiiight.  This Thanksgiving, my always adventurous tribe decided to explore the historic town of Bethlehem, P.A.  This quaint Moravian landscape boasts of its serious Christmas culture including marketplaces and ornament chachkis galore.

We stayed at the Hotel Bethlehem which has one of the top 100 holiday brunches in the United States.  I was on site to happily confirm this with an empty plate and shoddy iPhone camera in hand.  Check out my delicious bagel with cream cheese, capers and lox for my Thanksgiving morning repast. 
I always get a sampling of cold appetizers to start. Due to the sheer volume of guests equally enjoying the brunch it was slightly difficult to catch the carving stations and hot serving dishes in action.  Regardless, I got some up close and personal snaps of the takeaway.
  They did a fantastic job at including all of the holiday favorites including turkey, roast beef, and the ever important stuffing.  I mean, why not throw a breakfast sausage in the mix.  Nothing wrong with a pinch of meal mingling.

Historic Hotel Bethlehem: 1741 on the Terrace
437 Main Street, Bethlehem, PA 18018
1741ontheterrace.com

My family could think of no better way to work off all those noshes than with a trip to The Koziar Christmas Village in Bernville.  I was in kitschy roadside heaven.  This place hits the holiday spot and doesn’t gauge you with amusement park prices.  My hot chocolate in a souvenir cup a measly $7.00 and that mug is taking daily trips to work with me, mark my seasonal words.

Koziar’s Christmas Village
782 Christmas Village Road, Bernville, PA 19506
http://www.koziarschristmasvillage.com/

Across from where we stayed was this adorable chocolate spot with truly delicious offerings.  Homemade cocoa in every, shape, and form.  

Sage wisdom from the local chocolatiers.

Our top pick from our mixed bag was the chunks of different nut turtles.  Don’t let Oprah’s Favorite Things list get wind of this place, or their adorable boxes of truffles may be impossible to get your hands on.

Chocolate Lab
446 Main Street, Bethlehem, PA
http://www.chocolatelabbethlehem.com

Friday morning I laced up my walking shoes and hit the streets to school myself in the Moravian way of life.  Moravians are one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world with its heritage dating back to the Bohemian Reformation in the fifteenth century. Bethlehem hosts their historic dwellings and church.  My cousin, Uncle Colm and I happened upon one of the oldest cemeteries and poked around awhile.  Only in the daylight of course.

Check us out being tourists.  Watch on as my Uncle sports his favorite next to cannon pose.  I see an antique cannon calendar photo shoot in his future….watch out FDNY calendar.  
No rest for the weary as we were off to The Christmas Market brimming with holiday wares and funnel cakes for miles.  Well, at least for the length of three tents.  Showcasing handcrafted hats, toys, and art it is an absolute explosion of homegrown creativity and community.  I tried the creamy potato soup in a bread bowl partnered with a Diet Coke pleading me to share a drink with “someone special”…..so I ate with the fam.  I can see the warm fuzzies flying in so many nineties sitcom directions.

Christkindlmarkt
ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks
101 Founders Way, Bethlehem, PA 18015
http://www.christmascity.org/christkindlmarkt/

Ok “someone nice”….I’ll be waiting at this wobbly table for you to share my low-calorie refreshment and bread bowl with me.

The Moravian Book Shop
428 Main Street, Bethlehem, PA 18018
http://shop.moravianbookshop/index.htm


On to The Moravian Book Store!  This place not only has books, but it has coffee, baked goods, and MEAD.  Someone order me an air mattress because I am moving in…..I’ll find a nook in the back somewhere near the cupcake themed kettles.

The Colony Meadery has a beautiful tasting station at the back of the store, and I couldn’t resist treating my taste buds to the sampler.  Dear Megan’s liver, don’t worry, these glasses are not ALL for me (only half)….does anyone know a good juice cleanse?  I had my mother on hand to taste the sweeter samples.  My favorite was one of their flagship breeds called Straight, No Chaser.  If you’re looking for something a bit sweeter the Pikwant Fields, a strawberry kiwi blend may be more your speed.  Worth the taste test, the brand ambassadors are pleasant and knowledgeable so ask them anything, they will know the answer.

At the conclusion of my journey, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Historic Hotel Bethlehem had one of my favorite seasonal beers: Mad Elf Ale.  It’s like swishing Christmas around in your mouth without all the pesky pine needles.  If you haven’t tried this blend, give it a go…tis’ the season.

Oh, midsized town of Bethlehem, how you’ve done me right.  If you’re looking for a place to enhance your Christmas spirit and you’re tired of Starbuck’s red cups do yourself a favor and take a drive to Bethlehem, PA.  You are sure to find yourself smiling from ear to ear and feeling the rush of seasonal holiday joy.  Maybe you’ll even tear up a bit without having to listen to The Christmas Shoes (if mama meets Jesus tonight) oh God, every time.

 

Christina’s Good Eats in Guadalajara, Mexico

Last week I was lucky to attend a whirlwind trip to Guadalajara, Mexico to visit the Patron distillery (more on that in a future post). While there I got to enjoy some great food and cocktails. I wanted to share some of it with you here!

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The tequilas on display at La Tequila in Guadalajara. On the opposite side are more completely different bottles.

La Tequila

This restaurant is aptly named, just look at that panorama of tequilas!

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Blue corn sopes were one of my favorites!
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Howabout I pass? 

We started off with some melted cheeses and molcajetes. The molcajete is the stone bowl resembling a mortar and pestle. These ones came laden with grilled cheese, meat, avocado, and salsa with tortillas on the side of course. There were also ant larvae, worms, and quesadillas with crickets from Oaxaca if you are feeling adventurous! I passed on the creepy-crawlies, though I was feeling optimistic until I actually saw them. My favorite appetizer (other than the cheese) were the blue corn sopes, perfectly crispy on the outside and wonderful flavor.

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Tuna a la Talla, marinated in talla sauce of guajillo, pasilla, and ancho chiles and spices.

My table decided to get a bunch of entrees to share so we got to try a lot of different flavors. My personal favorite was the (huge) pork shank marinated in guajillo and ancho chili sauce. I also enjoyed the slow baked suckling pig in a dried chili and pulque sauce, it was so tender! I enjoyed the Tuna a la Talla and the chicken breast with black mole, but found the Ram Mixote a little greasy and gamey and the Spicy Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce were a bit too sweet for my tastes.

Spicy Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce.
Spicy Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce.
Chicken with black mole.
Chicken with black mole.

Hacienda Patron

The next day we enjoyed a special lunch menu at the Patron distillery. Obviously each course was paired with a Patron cocktail. Unfortunately you will not be able to dine here unless by special invite but maybe my meal will provide some inspiration for your kitchen.

We started off with a panela cheese “salad” and tomato basil soup accompanied by a classic margarita.

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Panela cheese with cucumber, baby corn, and a dried tomato vinaigrette.

Our main course was a fantastic smoked tuna topped with a foam made from avocado and Gran Patron Platinum. I’d like to try making a tequila and avocado sauce at home, I’d probably add a little kick by way of Jalapeno though! This came with my favorite of the cocktails, the Abejorro, a refreshing tequila cocktail with watermelon, honey, and ginger.

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Smoked tuna with avocado and tequila foam. Served with a side of rice and a little bit of beet.
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Abefjorro cocktail; watermelon, ginger, honey with Patron tequila.

For dessert we tried an apple crisp with homemade agave ice cream. The ice cream took me by surprise, the agave has a flavor close to honey yet very distinct. It actually took me a few bites to adjust to the agave flavor but once I did I loved it! I would love to see agave ice cream at my local ice cream shop. This came with Guadalajara cocktail which sounded intriguing with Patron Pietra, grapefruit bitters, pink pepper, and agave nectar but was just too sweet for me.

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Apple crisp with agave ice cream.
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The Guadalajara cocktail.

Cantina La Reforma Uno

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The molcajete we started with. This one has meat, chorizo sausage, cheese, onion, and salsa.

This restaurant is found on the beaten path at the Hilton Guadalajara. We started off with molcajetes again as well as a variety of sopes, quesadillas, and salsas. This time I was brave enough to try the dried cricket quesadilla. The flavor wasn’t an issue but I did find it to be dry and dusty feeling in my mouth.

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Fried quesadilla al pastor.

For dinner I ordered a fried quesadilla al pastor, I loved the homemade tortilla but the cheese seemed a little dry. I also ordered the shrimp aguachile, very similar to ceviche this is one of my favorites and you don’t see it at too many places. Theirs was good and spicy, excatly what I wanted! The winner though was the mummy shrimp, shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon! Need I say more?

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Aquachile.
Mummy shrimp.
Mummy shrimp.

For dessert we had a trio of cakes; rich chocolate, tres leches, and cheese tart with figs. The chocolate was fantastic but the tres leches was probably my favorite of the three.

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Chocolate cake.
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Cheese tart with figs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tres Leches cake.

Overall, I really enjoyed the food on the trip. I even got outside of my comfort zone by trying the crickets! It was a very quick trip so next time I hope to get out any try some local street food.

LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle – Monterey, CA

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LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle
Municipal Wharf Number 2, Monterey, CA 93940

It was time to leave Reno, time for the vacation I had been dreaming about all year. My husband and I were going to embark on a California coastal tour down Hwy 1, with absolutely no schedule or agenda. We decided to include the word culinary to our vacation title, so here it was, our California culinary tour down the coast.

Our first stop was in Monterey, CA. We got into town late, so we found a quick bite and headed back to the hotel room where the beach waves that were right outside our hotel room crashed down so loud for a minute you thought you were living in the ocean.

Morning came quickly, and I was borderline hangry, but you can’t be angry in such a beautiful place, so we will stick with hungry. We found some locals and spoke to them about what breakfast places they recommend, and they directed us to Lou Lou’s Griddle in the Middle on Municipal Wharf 2.

As we approached the wharf, we noticed a bright yellow little building sitting literally, right in the middle of the wharf. Municipal Wharf 2 is a working wharf so there were many vendors and fisherman working away at their normal life, the normal life I escaped. I was in awe of everything, in awe of the fisherman, the people, the big boats, the trucks and even the courageous birds that were so bold and not scared of anyone.

We walked in to LouLou’s and noticed they were full. It was Tuesday around 10am, and full…it must be good! We waited a short time and then Gigi, the owner, greeted us with her genuinely warm smile and sat us at an adorable little booth by a window. It’s a one row classic diner stop that is colorfully decorated. We were able to see everything all in one birds eye shot. The restaurant is casually paced and the smells, oh the smells reassure you made the right decision to dine here. Diana Ross was jammin’ over the radio and the sounds of newspapers wrestling and coffee being poured joined Diana’s tunes.

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A very spunky and energetic waitress came around and offered to take our beverage order. She also made some fantastic menu suggestions. I also noticed that the busboy was working with a smile and chuckling with the fishermen outside. Everyone who worked here truly enjoyed being there and was pleased to serve.

After staring down all the guests plates in the diner, my eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Pancakes, the actual side of a hubcap. They appropriately  called it the Hubcap Pancake. I don’t think I’ve seen a pancake that large. I decided to go with the Seafood Reef Rider Omelette which was a fluffy three-egg omelette with
shrimp, crab, mushrooms and monterey jack cheese. Hold on though! I wasn’t done ordering yet! I had heard the clam chowder was killer, and love me a good bowl of chowder, so I also ordered a bread bowl clam chowder for my husband and I to share.

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The clam chowder stole the show. It was smooth and creamy with oversized chunks of clams and potatoes. It wasn’t overly seasoned with fish base, this was the real deal. The bread bowl was warm and toasty and perfect for sopping up that amazing chowder that truly was a gift from the wharf gods. I ate and ate, with no limits. I kept repeating over and over, “That Chowder Though” until finally my husband asked if I was going to save him any. Oops!

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Next arrived our Reef Rider Omelettes. They were filled with warm melty cheese and succulent shrimp. The eggs were light yellow and fluffy, beautifully and perfectly prepared. You would think we would be getting full, but no. My husband noticed they had fried oysters on the menu and wanted to sample those as well as we are both oyster fanatics! You could hear them drop into the piping hot fryer and hear the sizzling and gurgling of the fryers. Shortly after being shucked, battered and fried, they arrived to our table and let me tell you, they brought sexy back.

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The oysters were FRESH, they were gigantic, they were juicy and not overly greasy or seasoned. The fryer oil was clean, you can tell they maintenance their fryers well because the color on the oysters was a beautiful golden brown and didn’t taste old or rancid. The oysters were delectable and superbly delicious.

DSC_0379Once I introduced myself as a food blogger to the staff, it seemed to make more sense as to why the hell we were eating so much. Chef Benito visited our table and brought us a sample of his signature dish. He cooked this dish for Guy Fieri when Diner’s, Drive In’s and Dives paid them a visit. He brought us a beautifully constructed abalone slider with a seared sea scallop and prawn. The abalone was tender and lightly breaded and laid upon a slaw that complimented it nicely. The sea scallop was seared to perfection, falling right apart as you took your first bite. You can taste the passion that fires from within Chef Benito’s soul. He has been the Chef there for 14 years and clearly is a master at what he does.
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I highly urge my readers to please swing by LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle and experience culinary mastery at it’s finest. I have no problem driving 5 hours just to get my hands on another bowl of their Clam Chowder! They will NOT disappoint!
Loulou's Griddle In The Middle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Julianne’s Vancouver Trip Part 2: Poutine Paradise

Poutine. 

My trip to Vancouver schooled me in the art of poutine. I ate a lot of it. This classic Canadian dish originated in Quebec but I figured Vancouver was close enough for me to indulge in it. For those who are not familiar, poutine is fries, fresh cheese curds topped with a brown gravy (stock can vary from beef, chicken or veal). Now that I learned what I think makes great poutine, I wanted to share a couple of places with you.

wendy's poutine

First stop on the poutine trail was Wendy’s…. JUST KIDDING!!!!! But I was seriously entertained that all the American fast food chains hype up their poutine. Maybe next time I’ll lower my standards and try fast food poutine…

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Cats Socialhouse
1540 Old Bridge St, Vancouver, BC V6H3S6
http://catssocialhouse.com

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A post about the Granville Island Public Market will be coming soon, but on the island, my boyfriend and I stopped into a place called Cats Socialhouse. I hadn’t read up too much on it and I was blown away on how great the poutine was. I know a lot of people are partial to the darker gravy (usually made from beef or veal stock) but I prefer the lighter turkey or chicken based gravy. I also prefer not adding meat to it, it’s just not necessary for it.

Airports have a reputation for having terrible, overpriced food. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from Canucks Bar & Grill (the theme is devoted to the NHL team) but I walked away a very happy American on her way home.

Canucks Bar & Grill (in Vancouver International Airport)
3211 Grant McConachie Way, Richmond, BC V7B 1M8

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More glorious poutine! I actually requested lighter gravy and regretted that, this could’ve taken a little more. I had just been overwhelmed by other places serving that thick, beefy gravy, I got a little worried it’d be like that. Darn. I should’ve enjoyed my last plate a little more. The Canadian IPA by Alexander Keith was awesome, hoppy and light, just the way I like it.

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Obviously not poutine, but I couldn’t resist trying a Tim Horton’s Canadian Maple Donut. Stuffed with cream, topped with a thin layer of maple frosting. Probably not the best donut I’ve ever had, but I’m in Canada, aye.

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Christina’s Trip to New Orleans

I recently got to visit New Orleans for the second time and of course the food there is something to love… Rich, often fried, and a fantastic drinking companion, the food you can get in New Orleans speaks to the combination of cultures in the area. Here a few of the spots I tried during my trip.

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NOLA Poboys at 908 Bourbon St. in the French Quarter is close to Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop and open late. Just look at that extensive menu! The food was so good that we found ourselves back there for a second round. The etouffe and gumbo were deemed some of the best we tried. They aren’t messing around with portion sizes either, the 16″ poboys are more than enough for 2 people. I didn’t love every poboy that we tried but I will vouch for the “Who Dat” which is fried shrimp or oyster smothered in bisque. You must try  the etouffe, gumbo, and boudin balls (fried sausage and rice balls).

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Chartres House is close to Jackson square at 601 Chartres St. and a nice little spot with options to sit on their upstairs balcony and watch the foot traffic. (New Orleans is fantastic people watching, I recommend hanging out on a few balconies.) We tried the spinach artichoke dip that was served with crispy bowtie pasta instead of chips, an idea I never would have come up with but thoroughly enjoyed. We also had to have a sampler plate with the red beans and rice, jambalaya, and chicken and andouille gumbo each of which were fantastic!

IMG_2841The Original Pierre Masperos at 440 Chartres St. was one of our day drinking pit stops where we tried their Cajun bloody mary. Made with house infused vodka it packed a punch and the bar provided a nice respite from the outside hubub. Our bartender was fantastic, great hospitality here! Take in some history as you enjoy your cocktail as this is also one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter. In it’s early days as a coffee exchange it was the meeting place of men such as Andrew Jackson and Jean and Pierre Lafitte.IMG_2843

Expect to wait for a table at Coop’s Place located at 1109 Decatur St. The fried chicken here is fantastic and also comes with a side of their super tasty jambalaya and coleslaw. The other bonus to Coop’s is if you come here on a slower night (our first visit was a Thursday) you get a lot of local color.

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Cafe Envie and Espresso Bar is part breakfast place and part cafe on the edge of the French Quarter near the Marigny at 1241 Decatur St. You can get your latte, pastries, a full breakfast or just op for this breakfast in a to go cup. Sausage, bacon, hash browns, eggs, and grits all in a convenient Styrofoam cup make for the perfect portable hang over meal.

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My one regret is that we didn’t get back to Napolean House for a second meal. Located at 500 Chartres St. they serve up Pimm’s cups and NOLA food favorites. Their muffaletta was one of the best things I had the entire trip and even beat out some of the other muffaletta I had. The muffaletta sandwich was conceived in New Orleans by Sicilian immigrants and the name comes from the bread of the same name. Our group also gave rave reviews to Napolean House’s red beans and rice and the duck poboy.

This is only a small selection of the fabulous food we tried in New Orleans and an even smaller look at all that is available there. I look forward to trying more places in future trips and traveling further beyond the French Quarter! What is your favorite place in New Orleans that I should try next time?

Rhone Wines Shine at Zaca Mesa Winery in Los Olivos, CA

IMG_2259It’s no secret I love the wine on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Santa Barbara County.  There are so many hidden gems on the trail, and while Zaca Mesa is certainly more widely distributed than many other wineries in the area, it has some unique wines you can only find in their tasting room.

Zaca Mesa Winery
6905 Foxen Canyon Rd.
Los Olivos, CA 93441
http://www.zacamesa.com

For starters, Zaca Mesa is located on some beautiful grounds out in the Santa Maria countryside. There’s even a hiking path through some of their vineyards you can take a walk through, as well as an oversized chess set that I’m sure is super fuIMG_1121 (1)n after a few glasses (not that I would know!). The outdoor area is stunning, and since the weather on the central coast is always fantastic, it’s the perfect place to sip some wine and enjoy a sunny day.

Head inside for your wine and you’ll be greeted by the very friendly staff. Zaca Mesa grows a lot of what you expect to find on the central coast- Chardonnay and some excellent GSM blends. But for the adventurous wine taster, they have some exciting and unique choices. Both their Marsanne and their Roussanne are fantastic whites. I was a little surprised when they recommended the Roussanne serves at cellar temperature instead of chilled, but it has so much body that it works beautifully. If you are into a classic Viognier, their’s is one of the best I’ve had from the region.

IMG_1119 (1)And if you’re a Rhone fan like me, you must try their Z Cuvee and Syrah. They have some special limited Syrah’s too that are just fantastic if you can get your hands on them. And if you fancy something a bit lighter, their Grenache is the bomb dot com. The best part about Zaca Mesa is they are by far one of the most affordable wineries on the trail. Tastings are $10 a person and most of the wine is under $40 a bottle (with many much cheaper options!)

If you are looking for a fun, laid back tasting on the central coast, make sure you visit Zaca Mesa! Leave the pretension at home and have some great wine with some fun people.

Julianne’s Vancouver Trip Part 1: Dim Sum Delight

The view from our Whistler Air tour
The view from our Whistler Air Tour

Vancouver, BC is a great weekend getaway for anyone on the west coast. It’s only a 3 hour flight, English is the main language, going through their customs is shockingly easy and the weather is a perfect break from the heatwave (it’s 99 degrees in October, not the pumpkin spice weather the other Girls on Food are enjoying…). I fell in love with Vancouver and I can’t wait to come back here one day. Even after I came home, I even went as far to look into professional realtors such as Eddie Yan, as one day I would love to call this place my home. I was only taking a look, but it may come in handy one day. Anyway, below are a few of my favourite foodie highlights from my 3-day vacation. Part 2 is coming soon!

My boyfriend and I had the best soup dumplings at Grand Sichuan in East Village, NYC, and we haven’t been able to find good ones since. We’ve tried almost all the dim sum places in Northern and Southern California, and we can’t seem to find any nearly as juicy. So one of our goals in Vancouver was to find soup dumplings as good as our beloved Grand Sichuan. Luckily, we found one just as good, if not better. Now we just to plan to fly back up to Vancouver whenever we get a craving…

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Dinesty Dumpling House
1719 Robeston Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 1C8
http://dinesty.ca

Dinesty2This place was my favorite from the entire trip. When you first enter, you can see the cooks making the dumplings in house. Everything is so freshly made; the soup dumplings gush out of the wrapping with pork juices and flavor. The filling/broth ratio was absolute perfection. These are the best dumplings I’ve had since I’ve been in NYC. They also provided me with instructions on how to properly eat soup dumplings; don’t just shove it in your mouth!

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Poke the dumpling and let the broth release onto the spoon, and then pop it in your mouth.

Dinesty5We also fell in love with the Simmer Chicken w/Basil & Triple Sauce. Dark and white meat is sautéed in a lovely dark sauce with bits of crisp basil and whole garlic cloves. We couldn’t leave without something sweet, so we got a round of Steamed Mashed Taro Buns. Perfect for those who aren’t big on sugary dessert.

 

 

 

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Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver
1128 W. Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V6E 0A8
http://shangri-la.com

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This Chinese inspired luxury hotel offers all the amenities you’d expect from a high-end hotel. It’s quiet; the service is prompt, and the towels are fluffy. What I loved about my stay here was the options in food. Right when you walk in the room, you are welcomed with fresh plums, ripe and ready to snack on. The fridge is stocked with plenty of healthy (and a few not so healthy) options. I loved that my boyfriend could order a lighter breakfast, and I could indulge in a full traditional Chinese breakfast, which is what we did.

shang 2There is no way I could eat this entire breakfast, but I’m flattered they thought I could. It starts with a selection of fresh juice (I chose carrot), congee, a Chinese porridge, with choice of meat (I chose chicken), assorted dim sum, a scrambled egg dish, “small” fruit salad and Sencha green tea. It’s more than a mouthful! The dim sum was a mix of pork bao, pork shu mai, and shrimp dumplings. I need to find an excellent recipe for congee, cause I forgot how much I love it! Love a savory start to the day.

Stay tuned for more from Vancouver soon, including poutine, smoked salmon and cocktails!

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