A Day and Night in Rotorua

From neon green lakes during the day to pool tables at night

So, this is my VERY LAST POST about New Zealand. I’m kind of sad about it, but you’re probably thinking Finally!

We spent our last day in Rotorua.

Rotorua is a rather interesting place. It’s what I imagine Earth must have been like during Dinosaur times.

Pockets of steams rising all over the place, volcanic craters, molten hot springs, neon green bodies of water, and a noticeable sulphur smell.

In fact, you can visit the Waitopo Geothermal Park park to see a concentration of all these ancient wonders in one place.

Walking around the park, you are greeted by many scenes of this…

It was hard to get a good shot of this lake which would do it justice.

The wind kept blowing steam into the picture. So, I’ll just describe it to you.

A two tone pool. A body of emerald green water surrounded by a bright orange ring, colored by the minerals in the water around the rim.

It wasn’t all just sulphur and steam though. The park also has beautiful walking trails through trees like this.

My favorite place in this park though was this bright neon green lake. Yes, it really is that color. Did you ever guess that hue existed in nature?

After walking around and contemplating prehistoric environment, we headed to our very special resting place for the night, the Hamurana Springs Lodge.

When researching this inn, I didn’t pay too much attention to the description. It just sounded like a decent place to stay.

But it ended up being my favorite stay of the entire trip.

This lodge was a bit out of town in the country side, sitting on its own estate surrounded by fields of horses. Once you turn into the road leading to the inn, you see the lodge perched up on a hill.

Then you drive down this wonderfully long path to the inn

Finally, you reach this cute old inn.

Once you’re inside, you’re greeted with all kinds of lovely views of the countryside

as well as portraits of local Maori tribespeople on the walls

Being there on a Thursday night, we had the random luck of being the only guests.

Not only did we have the run of the place, but we got so much specialized attention from the staff.

In fact, we joked that we felt like we were in an episode of Downtown Abbey. The staff tended to our every need, building a fire for us and stoking it through the evening, offering nice drinks, and so on.

We took advantage of all the lodge’s amenities including this beautiful fire place in a sitting room where we read books and drank wine for a few cozy hours. They piped in old fashioned jazz music and we felt like we had gone back in time to a different era.

Though I’m not skilled at pool at all, we also enjoyed playing a few games

That night, we slept so well, probably the best I slept the entire trip.

And the next morning, we went down to the dining room and were greeted with this nice breakfast. Fresh croissants. Cheeses and meats. Berries with yogurt.

After eating seconds and drinking a few cups of coffee, we spent a little time in our room just enjoying the view and feeling grateful that our trip to New Zealand ended on such a high note.

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!

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.

Exploring Otago Region, NZ

Queenstown is a perfect location to spend a few days as your home base on the South Island.

From there, you can explore the Otago region for its lakes, glacier mountain pools, historic Gold Rush towns, and wineries. We thought about doing a few organized tours, but in the end, opted for the flexibility of a rental car.

Our first order of business was a visit to the stunning Blue Pools.

It was a little out of the way north of Wanaka, but it was worth it.

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You drive into Mount Aspiring National Park (isn’t that a great name?), then walk through a small wild mossy green forest across a wobbly suspension bridge, and then you reach these jewel colored pools that are absolutely clear to the bottom.

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This particular day was so dismal and overcast and I really didn’t think the water would be so vibrant. I thought there needed to be sun to get that gorgeous glittering blue, but I was so wrong.

The pools were the most beautiful color! They get their distinctive hue from light refraction of particles in the icy mountain water.

It’s sort of crazy to think about this beautiful place in nature just hiding in middle of a dense forest. I wonder how many more undiscovered places lie waiting around the world? And I wonder what the first people to come upon these pools thought about their discovery. 

Don’t you want to jump in?

After the blue pools, we did some more driving through Wanaka region, stopping to take pictures at every turn and seeing lots of sheep dotted across the countryside.

This photo sort of looks like a folk art painting to me. I love how there’s a layer of mist hanging low over the small village.

Remember our wine-tasting day at Waiheke Island where we befriended several New Zealand ladies? Well, one of the places they highly recommend to us was the Cardona Hotel.

This historic spot was built in the 1860s for gold miners. Today it’s a cozy little stop between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the food was fantastic! In addition to the tiniest retro sink in the bathroom (you could only fit one hand in at a time!) I’ll always remember this place for serving one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. (Eventually, I’m planning to write a post about New Zealanders and their obsession with coffee!)

Driving back to Queenstown, we took advantage of our rental car to visit the Gibbston Valley winery and cheesy. (Yes, cheesery is a word, I learned on this trip.)

This charming winery with its red barn buildings, birds, and rose garden (still hanging on even in early winter) was so picturesque.

We spent a little relaxing while here sampling a few of their sheep and goat cheeses along with some glasses of Otago wine. There is a nice restaurant there too, where I would have loved to eat dinner, but we had plans in Queenstown for a meal instead.

Overall, our plan to rent a car and plot our own itinerary from Queenstown was the right decision. In fact, I highly recommend you do that if you’re planning a trip here too. There’s just so much interesting scenery and stops and you’ll want the flexibility to pull off the road when you want to.

 

 

 

 

Dinner at Garrison

Last Saturday night, we celebrated my husband’s birthday at Garrison restaurant in DC. This restaurant features farm-fresh ingredients with a Scandinavian twist.

We ordered the tasting menu with 7 small courses. Strawberries and fresh peas are in season right now – several courses featured them prominently.

As the restaurant was really crowded and noisy, we opted to sit outside. Unfortunately some of the photos didn’t come out as the sun went down. But here’s a good peek at most of our meal.

The first course (pictured above) was fresh pea soup shooter with a radish topped with fresh butter. Humble the ingredients may be, this plate was beautiful and probably my favorite dish of the night. I also ordered a rum and tamarind cocktail, which I really enjoyed.

Next was this beautiful fava bean strawberry goat cheese salad. It looked so pretty, but as you can see, there wasn’t a lot of salad on the plate.

The third course was rye toast with a quail egg, asparagus, and parmesan. I really liked this and have plans to recreate this at home.  

Fourth, there was pea pistou ravioli. I felt a little bit disappointed by this, as I suspect the green sauce was actually the pea soup we had above. Also, there were more radishes, and asparagus. This course felt a little bit like a repeat to be honest. 

Then we had soft shell crab over the creamiest polenta ever. This was really tasty, though I’m not sure the crab was enough for me to even know what it tastes like.

Duck was the next course, and while my husband really liked this one, for me it was just okay. It had those large sea salt flakes on it, which seem to be so popular these days and I generally like, but in my opinion, they make dishes way too salty often.

Other courses included a cheese platter with three cheeses, an order of poppy seed gougeres, and strawberry camomile panna cotta.

Overall, this dining experience was just okay for us. While I liked the food generally and our server was nice, there were some issues with this restaurant and it was just way too expensive for what you got.

First off, the reception at the host station was a bit off when we arrived (they didn’t recognize our reservation even though I called and confirmed it).

The restaurant was super dark and noisy inside (as in you would have to raise your voice to have a conversation with the person across from you) and the seating was really tight (almost rubbing elbows with your neighbor on both sides)

The tasting menu was not anything special and there’s really no incentive to order it. They basically served a strong of the regular entrees but cut in half between two people, resulting in really small portions. In fact, the panna cotta dessert was literally cut in half, which felt cheap, in my opinion.

You could order all of it a la carte and get exactly what you wanted. What’s more the tasting menu didn’t even feature their signature poppy seed gougeres, which required you to order that extra. What? I thought tasting menus were supposed to be more exciting than the regular menu, but not here.

In any case, I would recommend not coming here if you’re hungry. If you do try it out, I’d just order a few dishes to share.

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?