Friday, December 18, 2009

French Happy Hour at Bastille

A week ago on Friday night (which seems like an eternity due to the hellish week I've had) I met Matt at Ballard's newest french restaurant, Bastille (www.bastilleseattle.com or 5307 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle 98107), for happy hour. I was excited to go because I keep reading mixed reviews about this place and I love french food-- well, most french food anyway.

We didn't have a meal, so I can't do a complete review, but we did have an appetizer and drinks. We ordered the steak frites au poivre to share and it was pretty good. Although we asked for the steak to be medium rare and it came out medium well on one half and pretty medium on the other-- not exactly even or what we ordered-- but it tasted fine and the french fries were great. I definitely would like to go back and try the duck confit (a bit of an obsession of mine since we went to Branzino-- I am even making duck for us on Christmas Eve!) and the macaroni gratin.

As for drinks I had a French 75 (gin, champagne, lemon and sugar) which was $9 on happy hour (seriously?!? that is pretty steep!) and a goose martini with a twist. The french 75 was pretty good, but I prefer cocktails to be strong and this one was a bit too girly, even for me. The service at the bar was great . . . not too attentive, not too busy . . . all we had to do is make eye contact with the bartender and he came right over to help us.

The ambiance was great!! Perfect lighting, black and white decor, tile everywhere, arches over the bar that looked like subway arches but at the same time were reminiscent of the Arc du' Triumph in ol' Paris. It was pretty loud in the restaurant due to the acoustics from all the tile, but I actually liked it. It was not SO loud that we had to scream at each other, but it was just loud enough that I felt like our conversation was private.

Overall, I had a very enjoyable experience and would VERY much like to come back for a dinner or another happy hour anytime!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome to The Ridiculously Slow Life, Virgin Islands Style


Well, I am back from my Virgin Islands vacation: I am a bit more relaxed, sun tanned and definitely more appreciative of everything I have at home.

When the good Lord created me he did not bestow the virtue of patience upon me, but as I have gotten older I have slowly become a bit more patient. However, the little patience I do have was tried endlessly on this vacation, particularly at restaurants. Every single restaurant I visited in the Virgin Islands had the slowest service imaginable. We're talking 15 minutes for your server to even come over and give you the specials, another 20 for her to return and at least another 20-25 to get your food once you have ordered. So, when in the Virgin Islands it is advisable to NEVER go to a restaurant when you are starving. Instead you MUST arrive just before you think you may start to get hungry, that way when your food arrives you will be starving and ready to eat. This is not an exaggeration. I kept getting so angry at restaurants, and my parents had to keep reminding me, "You're on island time, Natalie". Island time-schmilandtime! I'm hungry NOW!!!

Anyway, on to the reviews of the food at the St. Thomas restaurants I visited . . .

The restaurant we visited the most often, Robert's American Grille (http://www.robertsamericangrille.com/ and 6800 Estate Nazareth, St. Thomas USVI 00802) was actually located at the Elysian Beach Resort where we stayed. The picture above is of a fresh scallop salad with lime vinaigrette dressing at Roberts restaurant (and some pinot grigio-- yum!). This salad was divine and had a spicy-flare to it that I hadn't expected, but enjoyed very much. The dinner menu at Robert's is re-created every night in order to integrate the freshest catch of the day. For example, my Dad was able to order fresh caught wahoo, which is a fish I have never seen on any Seattle menu. One of the most fantastic (and VERY Caribbean) dinners I had at Robert's was a jerk chicken with mango chutney and black beans-- absolutely delicious and something I did not feel any calorie-guilt when eating. Robert's has excellent breakfasts as well; the smoked salmon eggs benedict was one of the best breakfasts I have eaten in many years. Not only is the food fresh and delicious at Roberts, but the staff is extremely helpful and friendly (albeit very slow) and you can literally eat it 3 feet away from the sandy beach. Definitely the perfect vacation dining spot.

We also went to an Italian place called the East End Cafe (http://www.eastendcafesttomas.com/ and 6501 Red Hook Plaza, Suite 201, St. Thomas USVI 00802). When I looked at trip advisor this restaurant was rated 4.5 out of 5 stars and voted the number one restaurant of 94 on St. Thomas-- and I have to say I agree! The restaurant has dark, modern furniture, dimmed lights, white table cloths, candles and a swank vibe. It is right next to (and owned by the same people as) a wine pairing place and the wine list was extensive and our server did not shy away from making wine recommendations for each dish. Unfortunately, I was unable to drink much on this trip because we were very physically active and my back injury from my car accident in April was threatening to act up-- drinking plus muscle relaxers can equal BAD. However, my parents had coconut martini's to start and wine pairings with their dinners, and they both seemed quite pleased. The bread they brought us to start was great and they paired it with a garlic ricotta cheese spread instead of butter. I loved this idea! It was like they had taken ricotta cheese and a few cloves of garlic, thrown it in a food processor and whipped it to perfection: it was light, flavorful and a hell of a lot less caloric than garlic butter. We also started with salads and potato truffle soup, which was divine. I ordered the chicken parmesan and it was very good, but the portion was so enormous that I could only eat about half. It came with yummy zucchini and pasta. My parents both ordered the wahoo fresh catch special that came with a cabbage leaf filled with savory panna cotta. This dish was absolutely beautiful and very creative, if you ask me. Overall, my experience here was great barring the slow service and the fact that the power kept going out. Yes, the lights completely went out and our waitress came over to explain that it happens all the time and the generator would kick on shortly. We were in the dark for about five minutes, during which time my Mom couldn't stop giggling, until the generator kicked on minus the air conditioning. So, about 10 minutes later it was quite balmy in the restaurant and definitely time to go. This whole scenario was a little weird, but makes for a great family vacation story.

We also went to an Asian fusion/sushi place called Lotus (6100 Red Hook Quarters, St. Thomas USVI 00802). Lotus had the best atmosphere of any place we visited: dark, SUPER modern, lime green walls, great place settings, large screen TVs stacked and showing under water video-- it almost rivaled Tao in Vegas for Asian bistro campy ambiance, almost. However, the food for me . . . not so much. I should say that I have tried sushi over and over again, and I really, really want to like it, but I hate it. Sushi is nasty and I gag every time I try to eat it-- with a very open mind I might add. Natalie and sushi don't mix. My parents love the crap though and they ordered all sorts of beautiful, interesting looking dishes including a dish called fire and ice where they light rum and ginger on fire for the garnish and brought out strips of raw fish on ice. It was quite visually stunning and they really liked it, but the smell alone made me want to vomit. I ordered their green apple phad thai. It was NOT good. The highlight of the whole dish was the green apple croutons and other than that the dish had zero flavor. I know I am spoiled living in Seattle with the large Asian american population and the wonderful food they produce, but I expect better from a fancy, expensive Asian bistro. That being said, the drinks and the dessert were amazing. I ordered a cucumber chill martini (midori, vodka and muddled cucumbers-- wow!) and a banana brulee (ginger creme brulee topped with carmalized, crispy bananas-- amazing!). If you like sushi, I would say Lotus is a great bet, but otherwise only go there for drinks and dessert.

Here are some pictures of me and my parents frolicking on the beaches of St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands for your viewing pleasure:








Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Off to The Virgin Islands!

My vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas more specifically, is coming up fast! I leave on Black Friday at 10:20 pm head to Newark, New Jersey and then down to the islands. I should arrive in the sunshine by 1 pm local time on Saturday. Long flight, but hopefully it will be worth it. I haven't been on a real, extended vacation since 2005 and this trip will be a real treat for me and a MUCH needed break from my job. This is a family vacation (minus my little brother) and I am sure my parents will want to do a lot of exploring and fun things. What kind of food do they have down there? Caribbean? I have no idea, but I really hope that they have a ton of coconut shrimp, mojitos and fruit. The great news is: I get to find out and I will write about my findings when I get back home on December 5th!

Wish me "Bon Voyage". . . or just wish me an uneventful, un-cramped flight . . . whatever works.

P.S. The picture above is a picture of the beach at the resort where we will be staying. It is called the Elysian.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Hit, A Miss & A Home Run at Branzino


Last Thursday I took Matt to Branzino (2429 2nd Avenue, Seattle 98121) for his birthday. I picked the restaurant because I love Top Chef on Bravo and the executive chef at Branzino competed on the current season of the show Top Chef: Las Vegas. Needless to say I had very high expectations for the quality and creativity of the food at Branzino. However, the verdict on our experience at Branzino: VERY inconsistent.

I was pleased when we walked in and I saw the ambiance in the restaurant: dark wood furniture, candles, big windows looking out onto the street. We were shown right to our table without a wait (as we should have been considering I made the reservation well over a month in advance) by a pleasant host. However, this was the last part of our service with which I was entirely pleased.

The menu at Branzino is not entirely clear in the sense that you cannot tell if each of the listings is meant to be a small plate (so you order 4 or 5 items to share and get full) or entrees (so each person orders one entree and an appetizer/salad). When I asked the waiter about the size of the portions and the vision behind the menu he was very cryptic and just said, "it depends on what you're looking for". Hmmm . . . yeah, dude, you are completely useless and NOT helpful at all, but good try. At this point I was annoyed (can you tell?). Finally on our second try to order the waiter brought over a more knowledgeable staff member (thank God) and we were able to settle on duck confit (over monkfish), ravioli, gnocchi and beef carpaccio to start.

The beef carpaccio came out first and it was fine. I will say that any kind of beef isn't really my bag, so I only ate a few bites. Matt loves beef and the carpaccio was gone by the time our gnocchi came out.

I had high expectations for the gnocchi as it is supposed to be something of a specialty at this restaurant. However, I was a little thrown when the menu said it was rabbit gnocchi. I have never eaten bunny before and I was apprehensive about eating poor, little, fluffy, Peter Rabbit. However, I got over it pretty quickly because the dish was fantastic. The rabbit meat was tender and delicious. The first few bites of the dish were overly, in your face salty, but as we dug into the dish the seasoning was much more even and it tasted great. This salty gnocchi fact is a bit ironic since the chef was sent packing from the show for salty gnocchi (and undercooked prawns). Maybe if Padma and the crew had dug into the dish a bit more after the first bite they would have been pleasantly surprised. Definitely a hit for me.

Next they brought out the mushroom ravioli and the duck confit. They put the duck confit in front of me first and the ravioli in front of Matt. The duck confit was a home run, out of this world fantastic experience: perfectly cooked duck with crispy skin, barley, pear and fennel. It was VERY filling, but an absolute delight. I had never tried duck before either and I am very glad that I ventured out of my comfort zone because I found myself a new favorite food. As I was noshing away and saying, "Ohmigod, this is fantastic," Matt was eating the ravioli and looking much less thrilled than I was eating the duck. We each got about halfway through and switched plates.

I tasted the ravioli and I instantly understood why no yummy noises had been coming at me from across the table. Definitely a miss. The cheese and the mushrooms were a weird flavor match and the ravioli lacked je ne sais quoi, pizzazz and umph. All around lackluster and completely blah, except for the strange aftertaste.

Personally, I think we should have ordered the monkfish instead of a second pasta dish. I blame the waiter. Other than the lack of knowledge and ability to give a foodie education on the dishes the service wasn't terrible. The staff was friendly and our food came out relatively quickly.

I was also disappointed in the way the staff chose to seat the restaurant. There were a ton of empty tables and the staff chose to sit a couple right next to us instead of staggering them a few tables away. When I say directly next to us, I mean it. There is no partition between the booths that go up the center of the restaurant and they were literally next to us. I could have extended by arm and touched the girl next to me. Not so hot for having private conversation. I felt like I really had to edit myself. Alas, this was near the end of our meal and it didn't really matter.

The prices at Branzino were fairly reasonable and we got out of the restaurant for about half of what I had budgeted. After an inconsistent experience, the reasonable price made me happy.

I would go back to Branzino again, but only to order the duck confit. Maybe I'll venture out to a few other things that looked good on the menu, but I won't hold my breath.

On the bright side, I made a carrot cake from scratch for dessert (my mommy's recipe) and it turned out damn good (if I do say so myself)!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lola Happy Hour

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Just a quick note here . . . not last Friday, but the Friday before I went to Lola (2000- 4th Avenue, Seattle 98121) for happy hour. Happy hour runs from 4 pm to 6 pm, but if you have been sitting at the bar during happy hour and the clock passes 6 pm you will most likely still get the happy hour pricing. I did not actually eat anything but the drinks are good and ridiculously well priced. They have this lovely peach bellini-ish concoction that is made with sparkling wine and just the right kick of spice. They also have a huckleberry fizz drink, which was fine, but not my favorite and a Grey Goose vodka martini all for $5. If you can find any other place in the city that serves Goose martini's for $5 I will be completely shocked because I certainly never have found one. A word of caution though, the Goose martini's come with a feta cheese stuffed olive, which over time turns your drink into cheese-vodka mess (ick!). So, my recommendation is either eat the olive right away or ask to substitute a twist. I did the latter and the martini was perfect.

Lola also has a lovely little patio area that is great to sit in and people watch, if you can get a seat outside. I will never forget a year or two ago, Matt and I were sitting on the patio and talking when the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine van (or its doppelganger) was sitting at the light near the patio on 4th Avenue. All I could think was: "Was that the Mystery Machine or I am really just that drunk?!?". Maybe you had to be there, but it was hilarious. When we were there two weeks ago the patio was completely full and we had to sit at the bar and miss potential cartoon van sightings, but it was nice to sit inside to escape the 85 degree September weather (WTF is up with that btw?) in the air conditioning.

Anywho, if you are downtown in the early evening and feel like having a fabulous martini or peach bellini, Lola is a great place to stop.

P.S. I am wondering how my blog got up to almost 12,000 hits? I swear it was only at 300 a week or so ago . . . I am thinking my counter is broken. Boo.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wino Weekend in Lake Chelan



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Grapes at Wapato Point Cellars


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Lake Chelan in the Sunshine

This past weekend my friend Tiffany and I headed off to her parent's house in Chelan, WA. For those of you not in the Washington "know": these days Chelan is to Seattle what the Hamptons are to New York City on the weekends during the summer. Every weekend many, many wealthy souls from Seattle/the Eastside brave the mountain passes and head over to their country houses on Lake Chelan. The tiny, quaint town of Chelan is basically packed with Seattle-ites during the weekends and it is difficult, if not impossible, to find parking in Downtown Chelan or navigate its teeny sidewalks.

Chelan has also gotten quite the reputation for producing quality Washington wines. Tiffany had recently thrown a bachelorette party for her best friend from high school and they took a wine tasting tour of Chelan to celebrate. They came home with many bottles of wine and Tiffany happend to share a pinot grigio from Wapato Point Cellars with me one night. The wine was amazing because of the strong apple flavors in the wine. These flavors come from the fact that grapes and apples are often grown in adjacent fields in Chelan, and it makes the wine fabulous.

Needless to say, Tiffany and I did some wine tasting on our little weekend trip. We went to Wapato Point Cellars and tried their: 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Riesling, 2005 Red Delicious, and 2006 Rose. The Sauvignon Blanc was great and had VERY strong apple notes, but my favorite was the Riesling! The Riesling was sweet, but not too sweet, and packed a great punch of fruit flavors-- including peach-- yum! The Red Delicious was very nice as well, but a bit dry for my tastes. The Rose was amazing. So much so that Tiffany bought an entire case. I am not normally a fan of rose's but I am going to see if I can't talk her into letting me have a bottle for my red collection. I would highly recommend visiting Wapato Point Cellars if you are ever in Chelan. The wines are great (and unlike expensive, pretentious Napa Valley) the wine tasting fee is $0-- that's right-- absolutely free. The pours aren't as generous as the pours in Napa Valley, but you can't beat free.

Tiffany and I went out to the Vogue Wine and Coffee bar in downtown Chelan that night. The ambiance there is a little funky. There is live music, cute 'vintage' Washington wine posters and an attempt at sophisticated decor. However, the bar moved-- significantly-- whenever anyone leaned on it and for some reason everything felt unfinished and not tied together. The wine was not that impressive either. We walked in and the guy asked us what we wanted after advising us that several of the wines, including what sounded like a lovely Viognier, sucked. We ordered a Pinot Gris first and it was absolute piss. I think I may have had Franzia that tasted better, and at $7 a glass that was VERY disappointing. Then, high after our great experience at Wapato, we decided to order a Rose. The Rose was better, but still fell short of my expectations for a wine bar in the middle of Washington wine country. Vogue is a fairly new establishment and it is obvious to me that they still have a LOT of work to do in the construction of their bar and their wine list. On a brighter note, the live music was fun and Tiff and I had a great time singing along to Sublime and ZZ Top covers.

Overall the weekend in Chelan was lovely and relaxing. I came home with a little more knowledge of Washington wines and quite the sunburn on my face and chest. Ahhhh . . . summer in Washington; fleeting but fantastic.


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Tiffany and I at the Vogue Wine bar in Downtown Chelan

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Las Vegas Restaurants: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

As I have talked about in my past few blogs, I made a trip to Las Vegas this past weekend and shopped, dined, drank, saw a show, etc. I had a great time, but ohmigod am I happy to be home and back to my normal life. I visited four restaurants while in Vegas: Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris, Tao at the Venetian, Wolfgang Puck's Spaggo at Caesar's and Border's Mexican Bar and Grill at the Mandalay Bay.

My first meal in Vegas (basically right after stepping off the plane and checking in to the hotel) was at Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris. Beth and I walked down the strip in the heat and humidity to the Paris so I could #1 get my picture taken in front of the 'Eiffel Tower' and #2 so we could get some French food. Below are some pictures of the excursion.

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Me at Mon Ami Gabi
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My delicious lunch at Mon Ami Gabi

Mon Ami Gabi is a more formal restaurant at night, but during the day they open up the air-conditioned terrace area that opens up onto the strip. True to the European experience, they have wine carts everywhere, wood and wicker chairs and white table cloths. After the server comes over to say take your drink order he or she will bring you a warm baguette to start. I ordered an open faced sandwich with brie, micro greens, marinated peaches and balsamic vinegar. This was hands down the absolute BEST meal I ate while in Vegas and it was vegetarian! Hooray! The sandwich came with pomme frites, which were okay, but I didn't need them. The sandwich was small enough to eat the whole thing without feeling super guilty and decadent enough to feel like you were indulging yourself big time.

The flavors all complimented each other perfectly and I sincerely wish there was a place in Seattle where I could find something similar. Cafe Campagne really doesn't rock my socks because every dish on their menu has some sort of disgusting, rotting, red meat flesh on it . . . yucky. *Sigh* Oh well I guess I will just have to plan another trip. I will say that the service at Mon Ami Gabi is slow, but it sort of adds to the laid back European experience and honestly (probably since I was on vacation) I really did not mind.

That night we went to Tao at the Venetian for Nicole's bachelorette dinner and it was wonderful. As you can see in the picture below, we all had matching "Nicole's Vegas Bachelorette Party '09" t-shirts. It was all really fun.
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The girls at Tao
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Coconut Shrimp with Peanut Sauce-- my dinner


The food at Tao was unbelievable. Everyone was ooohing and ahhing over their dinners and yummy cocktails. My entree was really great; the coconut shrimp were perfect with the peanut sauce and asian vegetables. However, I really don't think they needed to 'garnish' (and by garnish I mean completely cover the plate) the entree with cilantro. I also really didn't like the fact that they didn't remove the shrimp tails. If I wanted to work for my food I would have stayed home and cooked. I also tried Beth's cilantro 'garnished' kung pow chicken and it was extremely delicious.

Now I am going to complain. They charged me $7 for a bottle of sparkling water. $7! That is completely ridiculous, especially since I know it costs $3 at QFC. Also our waiter was a complete and total jerk. He refused to split the check at all and was completely rude and condescending to Beth when she pushed him on it. He acted completely put off by any requests that we made and treated us like second class citizens-- which in turn-- cut his tip in half. I told Beth that we should ask for the manager and report him, but she didn't want to get him in trouble. If it had been up to me I would have done everything I could to get his dumb ass fired, but leaving a dinky tip was all the revenge that I was able to get.

The ambiance at Tao is really campy and sexy. There is a real koi fish pond beneath a huge Buddha in the dining room. There are different varieties of old opium pipes set in back lit, brightly colored shelf boxes along one wall in the restaurant. The music is just loud enough to make the restaurant feel like a sleek lounge.

The ambiance and the food made Tao a great place to eat. If you are in Vegas just make sure to go to Tao with a small party, mind your manners to your waiter and NEVER ever (horror of all horrors) ask the waiter to split the check.

The next day I had lunch at Wolfgang Puck's Spaggo at Caesar's Palace. I was taking some alone time and therefore didn't get any pictures to show off on here. I sat in the bar and ordered a salmon salad which was pretty good. The salad desperately needed a little more acid and definitely needed something crunchy. Between the salmon, the avocados and the celery root it got a bit mushy and that is no good. However the bartender was very sweet and attentive, plus he told me that I look like Anne Hathaway. I liked him; he gets a big gold star from me. I guess I can be easily bought, but oh well.

That night we went to Border's Mexican Bar and Grill at the Mandalay Bay. My experience here was a little 'hairy' to say the least and I would say that this restaurant personifies "The Ugly".
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Me and a few ladies before dinner at Border's
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My Chicken Enmolada Dinner

First off let me state that I didn't pick this restaurant. Another girl in our party made the reservation because she had been before and really liked their ceviche. Fine and dandy, I guess. I ordered special which was the chicken enmolada. I was really trying to go low carb because the dress I had on was tight and VERY unforgiving of any tummy bloat/food baby that might occur after eating. So, I ate about five tortilla chips (salt is bad for bloat) and waited eagerly for my chicken. Finally the food came and I ate a few pieces of what was really delicious chicken and started poking at the veggies. What did I find lurking in my veggies you ask??? A BLACK HAIR!!! No I am not kidding, a HAIR!! I was so disgusted. It gives me the heeby-jeeby's just thinking about it now. I immediately motioned for a bus boy to come over and showed him the little friend I found in my food. He apologized, and was very nice, and offered to bring me a new plate. A new plate was quickly brought out and the manager came out, apologized and offered to buy me a drink. I ordered their biggest margarita, poked at my food and lamented my experience. Needless to say I ate a little, but I left the restaurant $40 poorer, hungry and pissed off.

I will say that the wait staff at Border's was really sweet and attentive and genuinely wanted us to have a nice dinner experience. Needless to say all of their efforts were ruined by their kitchen staff member who forgot their hairnet that day. Uhhhh, there go the heeby-jeeby's again.

So 'the good' restaurant in Vegas was definitely Mon Ami Gabi, 'the bad' was Tao because of their asshole waiter and 'the ugly' was Border's for their lack of hygiene. Overall I had a really nice vacation and did eat some delicious food in Las Vegas. There are about a million more places I would like to try down there and hopefuly someday I will get the chance.

As for right now, all of my summer travels are officially over and I am back to writing about Seattle exclusively. So if any of my loyal readers hear of any new, fantastic places please leave me a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Watch Out Las Vegas . . . Here I Come!

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I am VERY, VERY excited because in less than 48 hours I will be heading to Sin City for some much needed R&R. This is my first trip to Las Vegas, and I am stoked to see the infamous city!

We are staying at the Monte Carlo and already have plans to see the Thunder Down Under (it IS a bachelorette party after all) and to go to Tao for dinner. I also HAVE to head over to the Paris to have my picture taken in front of the "Eiffel Tower" and eat at Mon Ami Gabi . . . tres fabulous. We also have plans to eat at a fancy Italian restaurant off the strip (the name is eluding me at the moment). So, very soon look for new blogs about the good eats in Vegas. I'll post lots of pictures and try to be sober enough to appreciate (and record) my dining experiences.

Oh, P.S., if you want to talk to me this weekend call at your own risk . . . you may get more laughs (at me) than you bargained.

Cheers!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tommy O's Happy Hour

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I had to go out of town on business last week-- anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely LOATHE this part of my job. If I am going to have to travel for a week I want go somewhere pleasant with my friends . . . NOT to Vancouver (WA not B.C.) on business. However, there was one bright spot on this work trip-- the Happy Hour at Tommy O's.

Tommy O's (801 Washington Street, Vancouver 98660) is a Pacific Rim/Hawaiian themed restaurant with great Mai Tai's and a-maz-ing coconut shrimp-- amazing! Happy hour appetizers are all under five dollars and include: fish and chips, a Hawaiian burger, spicy fries, pulled pork sandwiches, tempura vegetables and all other sorts of spicy, sweet delights on the cheap.

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation-- in Vancouver with no idea where the hell to eat-- I highly recommend Tommy O's. They are very busy and slightly understaffed because of all the business, but the food is worth the wait. Happy hour starts at 3 pm and goes until 6 pm, except on Friday when happy hour starts at 2 pm. Goes to show, even in a hole in the wall town like Vancouver, you can still find a little bit of paradise if you know where to look.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Wine Tasting in Napa Valley


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This weekend I flew to CA (see, I told you I would be travelling this summer) and spent a very lovely Saturday wine tasting in Napa Valley. This was pretty much a dream come true for me. It was on my list of 'Things I Must Do Before I Get Married & Have Kids' and now I can check that one off the list. Hooray! Now I just have to get to Vegas (going in July), New York and Paris.

Anyway, before I left I printed out a map of all the wineries in Napa and the list was extremely overwhelming. I decided to highlight the more famous wineries and try to visit those along with a few lesser known wineries. Ha! I only made it to three wineries because a day of wine tasting in the warm sun makes you TIRED fast. My parents warned me to not get too drunk and to only take a taste and not feel the need to drink the entire pour. This was good advice, however, when you are paying $15 to $25 for a flight tasting at each winery you tend to have a strong desire to "get your money's worth". Due to this mentality I was completely wasted half way through my tasting at the second winery and ready for a big nap after the lunch I ate to "soak up the wine". What the hell, I had a great time and I would love to go back again.

Our first stop was the Robert Mondavi winery (7801 St. Helena Hwy, Oakville CA 94562 and http://http://www.robertmondaviwinery.com) which was on my "famous" list. Of the three wineries that we visited this was my favorite, which is odd because I have NEVER liked a bottle of Mondavi that I purchased at the grocery store. The wines you taste at the winery are generally not available in mass production and are much more delicious. $15 each buys you a three flight tasting and you get to keep the glass, which of course says 'Robert Mondavi'. I tasted their 2007 Napa Valley Fume Blanc (VERY good), a 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir (okay) and the 2007 Moscato d'Oro (WONDERFUL). I had recently read an article on moscato in Food and Wine and really wanted to try it because it sounded right up my wine palate alley-- and I was not disappointed. In fact, it was so good that I bought a bottle, which I HAD to do because it is not generally available in stores. Now my only problem will be choosing a good occasion to uncork my wine treasure. On top of the great wine tasting, Mondavi had a great gift shop-- complete with some honey truffle mustard which I could kick myself for not buying-- and beautiful grounds with roses and a fountain.

Our next stop was the Louis M. Martini winery (254 St. Helena Hwy, St. Helena CA 94575 and www.louismartini.com/winery/tasting.htm) which was on my 'lesser known' list and it was nice as well, but less impressive than Mondavi. The grounds were gorgeous but the tasting room wasn't all of that charming and the bartender was not as knowledgeable as I would have liked, younger than me and a bit of a pompous ass. Good thing I was drunk at this point or dealing with him would have been even more annoying. When we walked in Mr. Wonderful gave us a complimentary sample of their most popular cabernet sauvignon and it was okay, but I don't particularly like cab's. Then I had a $12 Summer White's flight (they had several flights to choose from in different price ranges) that included 2 chardonnays and a moscato. I swear to God, moscato's are all the rage in Napa right now and they are ALL fabulous. I liked the first chardonnay called Shady Pines, the second one not-so-much and I liked the moscato, but not nearly as much as the moscato from Mondavi. We stayed at this winery for a good hour and enjoyed the tasting, but did not purchase any wine.

At this point I was pretty loopy and getting tired. So, we decided to stop for lunch at a place that I cannot remember the name of for the life of me. They had yummy garlic fries and so-so mac and cheese, but nothing that could make me remember the place through my wine haze. After lunch I was feeling a bit better and we drove around a bit more and decided to make one final stop before heading back.

Our third and final stop was at the extremely beautiful and famous Beringer winery (2000 Main Street, St. Helena CA 94574 and http://www.beringer.com/). I know that this next statement makes me a bit of a nerd, but I was so excited to go to the Beringer winery because Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey went there on one of the episodes of 'Newlyweds'-- don't judge me, I never claimed that I had sophisticated TV programming taste. Anyway, I have never liked a Beringer wine that I purchased from the grocery store and I am sad to report that I did not like a single wine that I tried at the Beringer winery either. However, we paid $10 each for a three wine flight, but the bartender was friendly, enthusiastic and let us taste like seven wines. I tried pretty much everything including a white merlot, which I had never even really heard of and a ubiquitous moscato, but nothing tickled my fancy and it was time to go home. The grounds at Beringer are absolutely breath taking, gorgeous and HUGE. They have several beautiful, old buildings and lush gardens. Their tasting room was also beautiful, the bar was marble, mahogany and very impressive. It is a shame that such a lovely place can't put out a good wine to save its life (in my humble opinion anyway).

I wish I could have stayed longer and visited more wineries, but I am quite the light weight these days and I couldn't hang with the winery pros (even after I started taking a sip and tossing the rest). Below are some pictures from my Napa Valley adventure. If you do get a chance to go to Napa you should jump on it immediately. A day in Napa is decadent for three of your five senses. The air smells great, the wine tastes wonderful, and the scenery looks beautiful. I will definitely be back to sample more wines and hopefully one day I will get to Sonoma as well.

Beringer Vineyards


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Me at the Mondavi Fountain

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Me in front of the Beringer sign

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chandler's Crabhouse: Not Just For Drinking Anymore


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So, my Dad is town and my parents came up to my apartment today to visit with me and enjoy a rare sunny day in Seattle. The few days that are sunny in this fantastic city make up for the constant nasty drizzle all year round, if you ask me anyway. We went to Queen Anne Cafe (meh overall, but crab cakes were pretty good) for lunch and Le Panier for dessert (OMG-- I love their eclairs!). Then we did a bit of shopping and went back to my apartment to talk and relax for a bit before heading out to dinner.

We went down to Lake Union and went to Chandler's Crabhouse (901 Fairview Avenue N., Seattle 98109). I have a bit of history with Chandler's . . . in 2006 it was my favorite place to go cocktailing. I had a pretty solid group that would meet at Chandler's every few Saturdays. We would fraternize with the bartender (and by fraternize I mean buy him shots) and I have a lot of great memories of that year because of Chandler's. However, I had never actually EATEN there until tonight and I was completely blown away.

We sat in the sunshine at a booth right on the water and ordered cocktails and wine to start. Let me say first of all that Finlandia is their house vodka (seriously? awesome!) and they also had Viognier by the glass. Then we ordered this spicy crab appetizer with hollandaise sauce and it was rich, creamy and wonderful-- none of that odd feeling where you put something in your mouth that you thought was fish, but now you're not so sure because of the odd taste and texture. Then I ordered the Australian lobster tail with mashed potatoes and asparagus. It was so good that I literally told my Mom to stop asking me questions while I was eating so that I could concentrate on enjoying my dinner. My Dad ordered the ahi tuna and my Mom ordered the salmon, and we were all extremely impressed with our entrees. We all sampled each other's food and EVERYTHING was amazing. I would almost even say that the mashed potatoes at Chandler's rivaled the infamous mashed potatoes at the Metropolitan Grill. Then we ordered dessert. A molten brownie sundae and creme brulee with a 30 year port . . . the perfect way to end an excellent meal at sunset on Lake Union. I will say that my Dad, who is more knowledgeable than me on the subject, was slightly disappointed in the port recommended by the staff and did not feel that the chocolate dessert was rich enough.

The prices at Chandler's are NOT cheap, but not completely outrageous either as the seafood is extremely high quality. My lobster tail entree was $40 and my parents entrees were both around $30. So, about typical for a quality restaurant on the water and worth every penny.

Needless to say I am quite stuffed and almost ready to go into a food coma as I write this, but I had a wonderful day and dinner with my family.

Just for fun, here is a picture from good ole drinking at Chandler's nights in 2006.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

W Seattle vs. W San Francisco


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I recently took off for a couple days and flew to San Francisco to get away. It was quite a lovely trip and I had a wonderful time. Before I left I mapped out a few places that I absolutely HAD to visit while I was down there . . . the CB2 store, the flagship Williams Sonoma, the Museum of Modern Art and the W Hotel were all on the short list. As it turns out the W and the Museum of Modern Art are right next door to each other! So, that made my day plans easy to accomplish.

I went to the Museum of Modern Art first and checked out the SF collection of Henri Matisse's and Roy Lictenstein's (I have two Lictenstein prints in my living room-- LOVE him). I actually got my picture taken next to a huge Lictenstein, which maybe I'll post on here later. Anyway, after a few hours of exploring the museum I was hungry so I went next door to the XYZ restaurant and lounge at the W Hotel.

I had extremely high expectations for the W San Francisco (181 Third Street, San Francisco 94107) because the W Seattle (1112 Fourth Avenue, Seattle 98101) is one of my favorite lounges and holds a lot of great memories(blurred as they might be). Plus, I had read a review in some magazine awhile back that just sang the praises of the XYZ bar. My initial response upon walking in . . . wuh wuh wuh. The W Seattle has a MUCH larger and better decorated living room space and is MUCH more modern and new. SF just seemed small and in dire need of an up-date. The Bar was a U-Shape-- somewhat like Seattle, but unlike Seattle there were no other places to sit in the lounge besides the bar. I ate in the restaurant and the food was amazing (the service not so much), but once again the ambiance left a lot to be desired. They had all sorts of fresh flower arrangements all over, which is nice, except when the staff is not careful to dust off the pollen frequently. Allergy attack anyone? Oh well, over all it was a pleasant enough experience, but it did not live up to my high expectations. Earth and Ocean and the W Bar in Seattle kick XYZ's pretentious ass.

I will say that the one thing that the W Hotel Seattle doesn't have that SF does have is a Bliss Spa. I was so tempted to go up a couple floors and ask for a tour of the spa, but it just seemed too dorky when I wasn't planning on getting any treatments that day. Oh well, I guess I will just have to live with the Bliss products I buy from Sephora for now. However, note to the W Seattle-- put in a Bliss Spa! Please, it would be very lucrative. Maybe I will have to check out the W Scottsdale and go to the Bliss there the next time I go visit my Dad.

I will be traveling this summer and I will do a little blogging about my other city adventures for fun. Next stop? LAS VEGAS. We already have reservations at Tao, so I will definitely have to write about what I find there.

Oh, P.S. the flagship Williams Sonoma store in SF is AMAZING! Four huge floors of all things cooking! I loooooved it.

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Me at the Museum of Modern Art next to a Lictenstein . . . I look so small next to that huge painting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Casuelitas Happy Hour


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Yesterday I went to happy hour in the sunshine and it was lovely. We (James, me and a few of his friends) started out at Amber and then headed to Casuelitas Caribbean Cafe and Rum Bar (81 Vine Street, Seattle 98121) in Belltown. When you walk into this small restaurant the smell of coconuts and Caribbean spices fills the air and you instantly feel like drinking a mojito. Lukcily, mojitos are $6 during happy hour. I didn't try a mojito, I stuck with the $3 well drinks. Unfortunately, the consensus of our party was that the well drinks were not nearly strong enough, but if you drink enough at $3 a pop they will get the job done. James and I split the shrimp ceviche and it was absolutely delicious and CHEAP. The one complaint I have about Casuelitas was the service, or shall I say, lack thereof. We waited over twenty minutes for the check once we asked for it and another ten for them to return with respective change and credit cards. Although slow, the staff was very friendly and apologetic. So I would recommend checking out the island themed happy hour, but only if you have time to go at laid-back, island pace.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

ART at the Four Seasons: A Little Disappointing


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Kitchen Bar at ART. The colored lights that illuminate the bar change every 30 seconds or so.

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Me at ART.

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Tiffany at ART.

So, after quite the devastating Friday night (long story) and the crappiest week ever, Tiffany and I went to the new restaurant, ART, at the Four Seasons (99 Union Street, Seattle 98101). The place was very nice and had a good ambiance. Perhaps it is due to my rotten mood and general distaste for life right now, but overall, I was disappointed. The view of the water and the Olympics is fabulous, except for one enormous problem: it is blocked by a couple hideous industrial buildings including one with a huge "Public Storage" sign. Real classy.

We ordered Bellini's to start our evening and they were very good, but nothing SPECIAL. Then for appetizers we ordered the gnocchi with black Oregon truffles and the crab cake. The gnocchi was very good-- great combination of flavors including an unexpected sweetness. However, the verdict on the crab cake, not so good. The crab tasted "fishy" and was not very fresh. On top of that the filling was bland and so was the aioli . .. boo. If there is one thing that I HATE, it is a bad crab cake.

Then came the entrees. I ordered the wild salmon and Tiff ordered the ribeye. I will be honest, they get an A for their entrees. The salmon was on a bed of fabulous lobster mashed potatoes and it came with a cocoa-like, curry crust. It was wonderful. Tiff really liked her entree as well. The ribeye came with mascarpone butter and campari tomatoes. She kept making yummy noises and saying "Ohmigod", so I am guessing hers was succulent as well.

Dessert was . . . odd. I ordered the apple pie and out came an individually sized apple pie but it was in the shape of a CUPCAKE?!? The crust was really thick and hard to cut through and it was served on a teeny plate. I was seriously afraid my cupcake was going to go flying onto my lap or worse, another patron. The pie itself was okay, but to be honest, I can do better at home. So, I was disappointed. I HATE paying an arm and a leg for something that I can make better myself. Tiff ordered the creme brulee and yummy noises once again followed. So I am guessing the creme brulee was better than the apple pie.

The service was very good. Our water glasses never got even halfway empty and our waiter was very attentive, friendly, and cute to boot, I might add. I paid $87 for two drinks, half of two appetizers, an entree and dessert. So, the prices were not that bad, considering if you go to a comparable establishment you will probably pay at least $100 for a similar menu selection.

The other problem with ART is its patronage. Tiffany and I were the only patrons in the restaurant not eligible for medicare. I am not kidding, every other person in the restaurant was AT LEAST 55 or 60 years old. So it's not exactly the kind of place you meet your future husband, unless maybe you're an Anna Nicole Smith type. It's not exactly a happening place to see and be seen if you ask me. Perhaps we came on the wrong night and I will probably hit the lounge section of the restaurant for a happy hour, but if I see all geriatric faces again, I will not be back.

To sum up: good drinks, so-so ambiance, good service, great entrees and many, many old people are the things one finds at ART. If I go back and get a different impression I will let you know, but I am not optimistic.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TASTE Restaurant at Seattle Art Museum


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I have been meaning to write about the TASTE restaurant at the Seattle Art Museum for quite awhile now. I was driving down First Avenue yesterday on my way to Home Depot (I am thinking of painting my bedroom) and I drove past the new Four Seasons-- which reminded me that I really need to go check out their new restaurant ART. Then, I drove past SAM and remembered how incredibly delicious the food and cocktails are at TASTE (1300 1st Avenue, Seattle 98101).

I have been to TASTE several times and I am always impressed by the interesting names they give their plethora of unique cocktails. For example, there is The Hammering Man (gin, lime juice, tonic and bitters), The Impressionist (pear vodka, triple sec, lime) and The Lusty Lady (grapefruit vodka, ruby red grapefruit juice, lychee)-- ha ha. The Lusty Lady cocktail is a shout out to the famous, landmark, strip club across the street that the swanky, new businesses can't oust from the neighborhood. The themed cocktails add charm to the small restaurant on the first floor of the museum. I will say that they should have marketed this restaurant differently, as it is supposed to be something of a wine bar and the wine selection isn't that wonderful. The wine by the glass selection is VERY limited, much more so than other comparable wine bars, and their collection of wines by the bottle isn't that vast either. So, go to TASTE for the appropriately named, charming and delicious cocktails, but go elsewhere for exploring wine.

The food at TASTE is very good also. I absolutely loved the griddled cheese and roasted tomato soup. I am not a huge fan of tomato soup, but this soup was amazing-- thick, flavorful and succulent . . . yummy! I have also had their pizza, which was good, except it had large blobs of goat cheese on it and I loathe goat cheese. So, it wasn't their fault that I didn't read the menu properly. The food menu reads a little bit foodie, but if you are foodie-vocabulary challenged do not fear! The menu is written in ostentatious language, but it is mostly comprised of American classics with delicious ingredients prepared with a gourmet twist.

So, next time you are exploring the newest exhibit at SAM (or hitting up the Lusty Lady-- to each their own) be sure to stop downstairs at TASTE and relax with a cocktail and some delicious food. I have to say the TASTE restaurant experience compliments the museum going experience beautifully-- a perfect pairing.

I Heart Whole Foods Hummus


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I would just like to write a brief blurb on the wonder that is Whole Foods hummus. I kid you not when I say that it is THE shit. It is delicious, preservative free, organic and HEALTHY. It is only 25 calories per tablespoon, which means that one can make a very filling, low-cal meal out of 16 Wheat Thins and 8 tablespoons (344 calories total). I have been eating this as part of my "Natalie Get Back Down To A Size Zero by Vegas Plan" and it is working. (I am almost, almost down to a 2 and my Vegas trip is in July). Hooray!!! Also, since it is preservative free it doesn't give me heartburn like other brands (Athenos) can give me. Plus, chickpeas are a well known superfood and VERY good for you. I think everyone reading this blog should immediately run to Whole Foods and buy a container-- it's that wonderful.

Also, on a side note, I looked up Vessel Seattle on google today and there are A LOT of haters writing bad things about Vessel on the internet. I would like to respectfully disagree. Matt, Tiffany, Beth and I went to Vessel for cocktails (again) two weeks ago and I was once again impressed. The service was great and the cocktails were delicious. The waitress helped Beth (who is a little choosy) pick out a cocktail to her liking and they made Matt the most amazing, artful whiskey sour ever. They actually took the time to make a star pattern in the foam at the top of the cocktail-- it was really nice to see a bartender pay attention to quality and detail.

So, Vessel might be a bit pretentious, a criticism of many internet bloggers, but if you are looking to do a keg stand and tequila shots perhaps you should go to Kells on Post Alley, another dive bar or a frat party. However, if you are looking for a classy night on the town, complete with quality liquor and creative bartending, then Vessel IS the place for you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Friendly, Neighborhood Wine Bar: Swirl


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So, last Saturday night Tiffany and I wanted to go out. We did not go anywhere too pretentious because that would require us to put too much effort into our appearances. So, I suggested that we try a wine bar in Magnolia that I had discovered via the Urbanspoon application on my iPhone.

We ventured out over the Dravus Street hill and through the windy road of McMansions down into Magnolia Village. We found Swirl (3217 W McGraw, Seattle 98199) very easily (once again via the Maps iPhone application). Not only is Swirl easy to find, but we got a parking spot on the street directly in front of the bar, unlike the battle that would have been fought had we attempted to brave the Belltown scene.

We walked in the bar and it is quite small and intimate, but it is very obvious that the owners have paid close attention to ambiance and decor. The light fixtures are in the shape of glass grape clusters, the walls are a sultry shade of brown and the music is an eclectic mix of popular american and international music. The owners served us personally and were very personable and friendly.

We ordered a Viognier (a RARE wine find in Seattle) and the hummus and tapenade plate to start. The wine was excellent and the hummus and olive tapenade were lovely and definitely left me wanting more. Next we moved onto reds. I told the owner about the types of wine I like and asked him to make a recommendation. He made several recommendations and allowed me to taste the wines before I made my final selection. I ended up going with my old standby red selection, Pinot Noir, but it was a delicious Pinot Noir. We also decided to sample the desserts. I ordered the molten chocolate cake and Tiffany ordered the creme brulee. Both desserts were excellent. It turns out that the desserts are baked by the Upper Crust bakery across the street and sold to Swirl, but they were delicious none the less.

The owners were SO nice that they offered us fresh basil to take home and gave us both loaves of french bread to take home (on the house) as well.

Overall, I was very, very impressed with the wine selection, the quality of the food and the amazing attentiveness and generosity of the owners. I will most DEFINITELY be returning to my local, neighborhood, wine bar VERY soon!

Cheers!

CUPCAKES!!


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Wow! It has been a loooooong time since I have written in this thing! I started the blog, then got busy and haven't really been doing anything too interesting the past few months . . .

Anyway, I have been meaning to write a small review about the new cupcake shops that are popping up absolutely everywhere. I have to say, I L-O-V-E this new dessert trend. You have to love delicious, decadent creations that are also individually sized. My favorite cupcake place in Seattle is Trophy Cupcakes in Wallingford (1815 N. 45th Street, Suite 209, Seattle 98103).

I really like the Wallingford neighborhood right now too, actually. They have put in all sorts of cutsie shops for everything from gourmet cupcakes to doggie bakeries.

Anyway, Trophy Cupcakes is in a large brick building, but has the CUTEST, striped balloon awning at its entrance. Inside they have all kinds of adorable party supplies and every kind of cupcake embellishment you can imagine: new babies, birthdays, pirates, circus animals, graduations, all holidays, the list goes on and on. The cupcakes are delicious, moist and made super fresh. They have different selections on different days, but my favorites are: Hummingbird, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Chip Mint and Triple Chocolate. They also have selections that are a bit off the beaten path like Chocolate Graham Cracker, Chai Cardamom and Snickerdoodle. Cupcakes are $2.99 each or $33 for a dozen . . . the dozen works out great if you promised to bring dessert to your boyfriend's family's Christmas party and you REALLY don't feel like baking (I speak from experience). The staff is super friendly and helpful.

Wallingford can be kind of a pain in the ass and, happily, I read in the PI a few weeks ago that they are adding a location in University Village. Now I can shop at Juicy Couture and have my cupcakes too (just not too many cupcakes or those cute dresses might not fit as well).