Day of the Dead Party

Happy Halloween!

Each year, Oyamel hosts a Mexican Day of the Dead fiesta here in DC. (Incidentally, Oyamel is just one of many fabulous restaurants run by star chef Jose Andres. You may have heard his name lately because of all generous Puerto Rico relief work!)

Anyway, here’s how the festive night unfolds…

You line up outside with all the other eager patrons, waiting for the doors to open.

As soon as they let you in, you’re presented with a colorful display of food and drink stations, passed bites, a live latin music band, a dance floor, and painted skeletons everywhere.

The atmosphere is buzzing with festive energy, amplified by the free-flowing drinks.

Seriously, I could not even keep up with all the interesting cocktails being made all around me.

A bit of a lightweight (it was a week night after all), I enjoyed two non-alcoholic Mango aqua frescos for most of the night, but later topped those off with one very salty and delicious traditional Margarita.

One of my favorite food stations was the Ceviche, where I devoured about 5 of those little tuna tartar tostadas and a couple of oysters.

Waiters with large trays endlessly circled the area, presenting us with street tacos!

There was everything from roasted pork to beef to vegetables, all served with the spiciest sauces and moles. Not for the spice shy, that’s for sure!

This night was so fun, and we ended up meeting a great group of people.

Until next year, Oyamel!

Quick Nashville Trip

Although I grew up in the South a few hours away from Nashville, I never really spent any time there.

But recently, we took a quick trip to Nashville, and I was surprised by how much the city offers. Here’s a quick round up of what we did, where we stayed, and what we ate.

The first day we arrived close to dinner time and headed straight to Rolf and Daughters for dinner. This restaurant serves small plates, and it’s a must if you like innovative cuisine.

It was too dark to take flattering pictures of the food inside, but we had a series of really delicious plates like sourdough bread with seaweed butter (obsessed!), homemade fusilli pasta with mushrooms, Njuda baked sweet potato, and the signature dish, chicken with preserved lemon and garlic.

Patio at Rolf and Daughters

The drinks were really good too and I had something so unique made with Pimm’s, fresh herbs, and falernum, an old timey simple syrup made of ginger, cloves, almond, and lime.

When we travel, we like to stay in Airbnb. This time, our rental was in a neighborhood near Vanderbilt University. This historic red brick cottage had so much Nashville charm- old creaky floors, a slanted bathroom ceiling (where we bumped our heads a few times), country music posters and art, and country decor.

I loved the bedspread and the chicken motif decorations!

The next morning, we headed to Biscuit Love early so we’d be there when they opened. This place tends to get long lines and it makes sense why. The food was so good.

I feel like biscuits are making a revival in the States right now. I know biscuits can be different things in different countries, but here biscuits refer to traditional southern rolls made with tons of butter and flour. As you can see, they can be eaten savory or sweet. 

We ordered the fried chicken biscuit smothered in spicy white gravy. The star of the meal though were the mini biscuit donuts served up with blueberry compote and whipped mascarpone cream. Needless to say, it’s worth heading back to Nashville just for this plate again!

The Parthenon at Centennial Park, downtown Nashville

After breakfast, we walked downtown and spent some time in Centennial Park. This park has green public spaces where people can perform or exercise (African dancing and drumming) and a replica of the Parthenon.

From there, we headed to lunch.

You can’t come to Nashville and not eat Nashville hot chicken. There are a couple of good places that serve it, but we went for Hattie B’s. We stood in the long line for about an hour, but it was worth it!

Crunchy. Spicy. Savory. Totally satisfying Nashville Hot Chicken.

After our lunch, we went to Music Row for some country music at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. This place is really amazing. There are three levels and each one had live music all day long. We ended up staying for about 3 hours and then walking around the streets to hear other musicians playing too.

Even if you don’t know much country music, this part of Nashville is really great to visit.

After listening to music, it was getting later in the day but rather than dinner that night, we decided to have some drinks and appetizers instead.

We headed to Patterson House for a few hours.

This speakeasy was so charming. I’d call the atmosphere swanky old-fashioned library (sounds strange, but it works). We tucked ourselves in to a dim cozy corner and enjoyed our lovely drinks!

The bar tenders are really enthusiastic about their job and so skilled here that they can even concoct something just for you. You just tell them your preferences and they come back a few minutes later with a delicious custom made creation.

My cocktail was great. Herbal. Fresh. Gingery. Exactly how I like it.

A Few More Scenes from Nelson

Enjoying an afternoon at Neudorf Vineyard

I already gushed about the Abel Tasman National Park and lamented the fact that many New Zealand visitors don’t seem to make it to Nelson.

Well, here’s another reason to spend some time here.

The wine!

Nelson is home to so many great wineries that you could visit a different one every day for three weeks and still not hit them all.

We paid a visit to Neudorf Vineyards on a sunny warm Wednesday afternoon and had the place to ourselves. I loved the comfortable ambiance of the winery, and my glass of the Moutere Chardonnay was so delicious.  They even ship their wines worldwide. 

After a few hours here, we were hungry and headed to the Grape Escape on the way back to our AirBnB in Nelson.

We just made it before closing in late afternoon, and while they weren’t serving lunch anymore, we did snag a delicious piece of hazelnut and kahlua merengue cake.

This cottage cafe was so charming. I’m always taken in when greeted by a lazy cat sunning itself on the front steps!

Favorite Meals in New Zealand

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Afghan cookie and cornflake ice cream from Giapo in Auckland

I know, I know. I’ve been retracing each step of my New Zealand trip in excruciating detail.

There’s still a few more sightseeing posts to share, but today, I’m taking a break from that and instead talking about the yummy food in New Zealand.

You know me, I usually like to do a complete travel food diary (breakfast-lunch-and-dinner-each-day), but there were just too many tasty things. So, today I’ll just showcase the ones that stand out.

I already did a whole post on our wine tasting day at Waiheke Island, including the wine country lunch at the Shed. Now that we’re heading into fall, I’m craving their sweet potato deconstructed “cheesecake.”

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A fun quick breakfast from the Auckland area was this egg salad and bacon bagel from Best Ugly Bagels. The name is strange, right? But ugly is fine by me when the bagels are so tasty. 

Perhaps the most indulgent things we ate in Auckland were the creative ice creams from Giapo (the Afghan cookie version is pictured above). This one below is hazelnut and toasted merengue.  The selection changes every few months and I’d love to see what new versions are concocted each season. IMG_0064

Moving on to Queenstown, we loved the burgers there including the famous Fergburger and Devil Burger, both of which I recommend.

However, everybody goes to those places, so I want to highlight two other great meals we had. The first was this giant steak and fries platter with herbed garlic butter from Atlas Beer Cafe. Yes, that slab of butter melts all over the meat and fries… and it’s a bargain for less than $20 New Zealand dollars. (NZ beef ain’t cheap, ya’ll).

The other was this halloumi cheese avocado toast and ice milk from Vudu Cafe and Larder. The ice milk has all the components of a milk shake,  but it’s not blended.

Everything is plopped put in a glass and then time works it wonder, gradually melting the ice cream into the milk and chocolate syrup.

I already talked about our wonderful road trip day through Otago region and our stop at the Cardrona Hotel. This garlic knot was recommended by some people we met and it came out of the oven piping hot and salty and buttery.

In Christchurch, I already gushed about how we stuffed ourselves at the Farmer’s Market. However, other favorites were Pedro’s House of Lamb. (Try it if you’re in the area- one serving feeds a small family!)  and we stopped at Dmitri’s Greek Food for falafel. Guys, this falafel rivaled the best we had in Greece last summer…

Nelson, New Zealand was home to some of our best dishes on our trip. First up was this giant turkish food platter at Paasha. We thought there’d be no way we could finish this much food. Um… it was inhaled in about 10 minutes.  

I also discovered hazelnut merengue cake with kailua frosting from the Grape Escape.  Turns out these merengue style desserts are popular in Australia and New Zealand, so there’s lots of great recipes for them online. I’ve since researched how to make this exact version at home. 

Finally, in Rotorua, we visited the Wednesday night Night Market and enjoyed a whole range of things including this pita with venison, couscous, greens, and spicy sauce.

Our last special meal of the trip was our breakfast at the Hamurana Lodge. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Warm croissants. Charcuterie. Cheeses. Fresh berries with cream.

Incidentally, we were the only people at the inn on this day and we got such fun service and attention. There’s a lot more to say about this place, so stay tuned for my upcoming Rotorua post. 

Christchurch Farmer’s Market

Enjoying the “Happy Buttie” sandwich at the Farmer’s Market

All the meals we had in New Zealand were great, but one of my favorite food experiences was the Farmer’s Market in Christchurch.

We almost missed it completely, though because … we had no idea it existed.

In fact, if I hadn’t been bored on the plane and hadn’t absentmindedly browsed one of those airplane magazines that people NEVER look at, we would’ve lost out forever.  I’m so glad for random airplane magazines. You too?

Anyway, to get this farmer’s market, we walked from our hotel through a couple little neighborhoods and a big city park. It turned out to the most lovely local setting right next to a little canal. 

What can I say about the offerings?

Well, there were so many beautiful looking fruits, vegetables, and pastries to buy and some new-to-me local specialties too, like feijoas and NZ Afghan cookies. More to come on those…

We spent some time browsing all the vendors, getting inspired by quite a few things.

But there was a HUGE line to get bacon breakfast sandwiches, and we knew we couldn’t resist. I mean, check out the menu.

How cute is the “Happy Buttie”? It comes with a long list of yummy things and a HUG! (My husband turned down the hug, but of course, I obliged)

Anyway, this sandwich was so good, and we’ve actually made this at home twice since coming back. (On a side note, it seemed like almost everything in NZ comes with these colorful fresh greens)

The other thing we had to try was “Posh Porridge.” The concept is so simple, and I’m sort of shocked we don’t see this at farmer’s markets in the States much.

Basically, it’s organic oats topped with all sorts of tasty things. We got the banana, sticky date, peanut butter, and chocolate version. Look closely at the picture and you will see they did NOT skimp on the chocolate.

I loved it, and I’m so glad I got a picture of the sign, because I’m planning to make all those versions as well (blueberry and lemon curd, oh yes).

Finally, can we talk about these Afghan cookies?

So these were a new completely new discovery to me (have you ever heard of them?), but they are a really popular treat in New Zealand.

This chocolate cookie has cornflakes in the dough, a thick swirl of chocolate on top, and a crunchy walnut. You can buy them in bakeries and grocery stores and we tried at least a couple versions of them in New Zealand.

I’m officially hooked and have googled recipes for homemade versions as well.

You see, this is why I LOVE travel. It’s all comes down to the cookies.

Dinner at Pineapple and Pearls

Don’t let the name of this restaurant fool you. It’s no frothy lightweight experience.

In fact, this year Washingtonian magazine ranked Pineapple and Pearls the number one restaurant in DC.

And let me tell you. Getting a reservation here is no easy feat. You have to be on the website the second, er no, millisecond the reservations open and hit “reserve” before you can blink. Do not hesitate.

This is how you beat out 2,000 other eager diners (so we were told by our server)  for a dinner spot. But even then, your meal might start at an awkward time like 9 pm on a Wednesday night and go until almost midnight like it did in our case.

Even though I’m more of a person at heart who’d rather be in her pajamas in bed by 10 pm, we were so excited about going here.

The restaurant is a classy tiny space for only about 30 diners at a time. Because we were a party of two, we sat at the chef’s counter, where we got to see all the action as it happened in front of us.

The chef right in front of us was assembling a dish with what resembled mashed potatoes all night. Only later did we find out what it really was!

Like our meal at Minibar, it is truly fun to watch the chefs in their habitat, and the whole scene unfolds like a perfectly choreographed event.

The meal starts with something called “Afternoon Tea” which offers up a trio of beautiful little bites including a foie gras canele paired with a teacup of gin with Cloosterbitters, rum, and quince.

Next, we had a series of more little dishes including the most intense beef tartare & caviar, charred octopus, split pea consommé, and a french omelet.

All delicious, but I have to say I was partial to the octopus. Didn’t know it could taste that good.

The next course was black sea bass (another fish I didn’t know could be so delectable)

This was followed by probably my favorite of the entire night, a sweet bread taco served along side a mescal Paloma cocktail.

At about this point, we could’ve stopped and been perfectly happy with the meal.

But there was one more savory to come!

This trio of sides (persian rice, white beans, and dolmas) for the lamb dish.

The savory part of the meal completed, the next course was a resheshing pineapple granita with beet soda.

This was followed by our last fancy drinks of the night, amari and coffee and dessert.

I think you need a closer look at the dessert. It was Okinawan purple potato ice cream (ice cream close to our hearts) with chocolate cake and chestnuts.

 

Finally, the meal rounded out with the most exotic fruit plate with starfish, banana chocolate lollipops, and candied gooseberries.

All in all, the food was delightful and the service was top notch.

But in the end, perhaps one of the most luxurious parts of the experience is there is no bill at the end.

No check. No waiting. No figuring out the tip. You pay upfront for all of it when you get the coveted reservation (food, drinks, and gratuity).

So, you just decide when you’re ready to leave, get up, and go.

Work Day Lunch at Central

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This post 2 weeks ago  talked about a coping strategy for those non-stop busy and stressful work weeks: fancy lunch!

Central Michel Richard in downtown DC is one of my favorite places to enjoy a weekday lunch. The food is so delicious and I love seeing the new seasonal items they add to the menu every few months. In particular, the desserts are heavenly and I always try something unique.

On this day, my husband and I got a bowl of french onion soup and shared a Manhattan (pictured above). It was a Friday at the end of a long work week, after all.

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Next up was shrimp risotto with saffron. This dish was so delectable. Risotto is one of those things I rarely eat at lunch since I don’t want to fall asleep from carb overload afterwards, but this day, ordering the risotto just seemed right. img_2363

We also shared the fried chicken and mashed potatoes. If you’re ever in DC and stop by this restaurant, you must order this just to taste the potatoes, which are the silkiest potatoes around, I think.  (I’d argue they’re actually the star of the dish)

For dessert, the Napoleon called to us, and look how beautiful it was!  This dessert tastes so good with a bitter latte.

You might be wondering how to eat this since it’s sky high. You just take a fork and smash down all the layers, so in essence you’re eating a bunch of cream with shards of phyllo pastry. It’s so light and creamy and perfect after a heavy meal. img_2367

Most workdays at my desk, I eat a rather uninspired lunch of salad or a sandwich brought from home.

But during rough weeks, it feels so luxurious to go out to somewhere nice. Looking forward to it definitely helps getting through those long days.

How do you handle your long busy weeks?