Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Little Joys

I have been in Columbus for the past 8 weeks, in Westerville, & it hasn't been my favorite place. Much of the food is standard corporate chains & I have to drive everywhere, which I hate. However I am obsessing over a little local bakery I found, Suisse Shop, where women gossip over their baking tables creating the most beautiful & delicious cakes. Their pumpkin cookies just brighten my day & have quickly become my favorite fall treat. It's findings like this that can make the work week bearable!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goodbye Philadelphia: Day 4 :)

I'm almost there! :) Last day at the office....

Thursday August 30

It's another beautiful day today in Philadelphia and there's nothing I'd rather do than take a walk around Rittenhouse Park, one of the five original open-spaced parks planned by William Penn in the 17th century. There are plenty of park benches where you can sit and people watch, and all around the square are high rise residences, luxury apartments (like mine!), office towers, popular restaurants, and shopping (Barney's Co-Op!). 

I stopped by Hip City Veg to get my favorite Crispy Hipcity Ranch sandwich that is like a super delicious fried chicken sandwich except there's no chicken - it's 100% plant based! All of their food comes wrapped in compostable materials and it's super easy to grab something and take it to the park to eat.

Hip City Veg

Now after my last, long day at the office (who am I kidding - I played on Pinterest all day!), it was time for a really good meal.  I'm having a hard time deciding between one of my old favorites, and a new restaurant I've been dying to try - so I'll tell you about both!

Tinto Wine Bar is near Rittenhouse Square and it is so much more than a wine bar! The restaurant is another brain child of my favorite Philadelphia chef, Jose Garces, and it immitates the pintxos bars found throughout Northern Spain. Depending on your mood, they have formal seating areas with warm lighting, a long bar that is lively and attentive, and smaller lounge areas for cocktails and catching up with friends. We slid into a cushioned booth and started with sangria (the best I've had in Philadelphia) and the chef's tasting of charcuterie and cheese. We then moved to an amazing bottle of tinto (Pesquera per our waiter's recommendation) and shared the following small pintxo plates: shortrib bocadillos (sandwiches), albondigas (meatball brochettes), duck confit montaditos (canapes), green beans, and crab. The duck confit montaditos were so delicious that I hurried to consume way more than my fair share. It was just so delicious!

Tinto Pintxos y Vinos

And I have to mention a restaurant I visited more than once, Friday Saturday Sunday. Any restaurant that’s been in business 38 years and maintained a sense of humor fits my bill! I first visited the restaurant at the recommendation of a local (the one and only Emma Oswald) when a college friend of mine visited Philadelphia. I was immediately taken by its charm. The wait staff isn’t your usual set of waiters – they seem like buddies or friends with an excellent list of specials on a chalkboard. As I had my share of reasonably priced wine with little twinkling Christmas lights surrounding me, I found the food to be delicious and unique. The pate is great, the mussels are cooked in the usual garlic white wine broth but with special touches (like Andouille sausage!), the jumbo lump crab cakes had lots of fresh crab and texture, and the fish special is always delightful and lightly baked / grilled / fried (cooked perfectly). I’ve since taken two different client counterparts to the restaurant and they also enjoyed it. Don’t miss the bar upstairs – they have lots of tasty little bites and the wine list boasts “the finest wines at the fairest and squarest of prices.” Like button!

Friday, Saturday, Sunday
A 2012 Open Table Winner!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Goodbye Philadelphia: Day 3!!!

It's finally cooled down in the city and I actually saw small piles of brown leaves on the sidewalk as I walked to work today... Eek!

Wednesday August 29

There's no better way to spend your hump day than at happy hour, and in June, July, and August, Philadelphia brings the city together through the City Sips program. Many popular restaurants and bars offer $5 cocktails, $4 wine, $3 beers, and half-price appetizers on Wednesdays from 5 to 7.

I visited The Farmer's Cabinet. There’s not much you could dislike, with its speak-easy feel, charming soft lighting, and clusters of barrels for bar tables. The bartenders are knowledgeable and the drinks are crafty; if you sit by the bar, you notice they chop their own ice and use their own bitters. They also brag that they have the most diverse collection of European craft beers in Philadelphia. 

The food’s pretty good too. Take your seat at the large farm table in the back of the restaurant and start with a cheese tasting plate, a house cured meat tasting place, and a pickled tasting plate (if you’re into more than just pickled cucumbers). For your entrée, the pork chop with pickled blue-berries and the grass fed strip steak with charred spring onions are good portions with great taste. And the dessert menu changes weekly but if they offer a choice with “spicy pepper and chocolate foam” – say yes! Definitely stop by when it’s a nice evening; they have large terrace doors facing Walnut Street and you’ll have nice people watching and a nice breeze. Best time to share dinner is on a late working night after 9:00 pm when you can dine to old school sounds of hot jazz, popularized during the turn of the century, and day dream about less stressful days…

For dinner, we slowly stumbled over to Barbuzzo which is a very popular Mediterranean kitchen and bar. When the restaurant first opened, it was so popular that you had to wait weeks to get a reservation, and it's pretty small and intimate place (don't be surprised when you brush elbows with the table next to you). Brought to you by Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney who more or less completely turned around a desolate city area with their delicious groceries and restaurants, the food is meant to share and it's outstanding. I ordered the red sangria (of course) and the pig popcorn which has a delicious flavor combination of apple cider, chile, mustard, and horseradish. Always check out their specials - we ordered the squash blossoms which were lightly fried to perfection - and definitely get a pizza to share (you can't go wrong with the Margherita). For pasta, they offer varieties like squid ink tonnarelli, pan seared gnocchi, and beat ravioli, and my favorite entrées are the grilled bronzino, caciocavallo stuffed meatballs with shortrib and pork, and the mussels with peppers and onions.

One should note that although the food is delicious anytime in the evening, the pizzas, pastas, veggie boards, and barbuzzo burger are all $10 after 10 pm (and the sangria is $4)... Excellent option if happy hour takes you into the evening hours and your stomach rumbles after all those cocktails!

I could have stopped there but given this was my last night out with some dear coworkers who have been through the ringer with me, we stopped by McGillin's. Wednesday is the best night at McGillin's because it's kareoke night in the confines of the oldest and best Irish pub in Philadelphia. You have to veer through an alley or two to get there, but you can't miss it - it looks almost like a gingerbread house in the middle of a garbage alley. It's crowded and messy, but a staple. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Goodbye Philadelphia: Day 2

It's day 2 of my last week in Philadelphia, and I have a full agenda ahead of me!

Tuesday, August 28

For lunch, I'm heading to Reading Terminal which is a mecca for stimulating the senses. They have food booths that serve all types of cuisine and lots of fresh produce and delicious smelling soaps to browse. But I'm here today for a specific reason: to get the best sandwich in America as determined by my food-host crush Adam Richman from Man Versus Food. The line at Dinic's was already wrapped around the restaurant, but I was lucky enough to grab a seat at the bar before reaching the end of the line. I ordered the pork sandwich with the broccoli rab on top and a splash of gravy. Delicious, and I was pleasantly surprised that the bread soaked up some of the flavor while still keeping its crunch. Definitely order one, tip the waitress well or take it to-go, and grab a t-shirt while you're at it...

Here's the video from Travel Channel...

Dinic's Pork and Beef

Now if you're not careful, all this "good eating" will catch up with you and you'll leave Philadelphia a little rounder than when you arrived. For a good workout, I head to Lithe Method Studio. I love that the classes change every month so your body never gets used to the same routine, and there's good music and lots of different options to keep you interested. Try a class with the resistance bands, or a class with a combination of cardio, weights, and bar work. I've seen results - my calf muscles look nice when I wear heels and my arms and shoulders have really toned. Plus I've slimmed a good inch or two off my waist. And if you need to workout and eat healthy in a flash, pick up a smoothie or one of their to-go meals - some are better than others but it's convenient and easy.

Lithe Method

If you have some free time in the afternoon, you must check out the historical sites. Go to the Liberty Bell and visit Independence Hall. Also, walk a little further to see Benjamin Franklin's grave in a super old cemetery. When I visited his grave, several of his descendants were there to pay respects. The area is really beautiful so it's perfect for an afternoon walk and you'll see lots of old buildings and perhaps a couple crazy adults dressed up like Betsy Ross or Benjamin Franklin, reading the constitution or the Declaration of Independence out loud!

For dinner, I have a special treat and hands-down my favorite restaurant in Philadelphia. Talula’s Garden is a short walk and great for many reasons. First, it has an intimate outdoor patio sheltered with greenery and twinkling lights, the perfect place for a nice meal on a nice evening with nice friends. Second, the staff is attentive and passionate about the food without being too stuffy or formal. Finally, the food! You should arrive hungry and approach the meal as a three-course-delight to fully enjoy the simple and natural menu. 

You have to start with the cheese. I ordered the World Travel; An Illustrious International Collection and each one was unique, creamy, and delicious. My dining partner was quick to order the Exotic Mushroom Pâté en Croute, Speck, Fried Chicken Wing, Sunny Quail Egg, and Pickled Mushrooms and Shallots. It seems like a lot of ingredients for one dish, but it looked like a piece of toast with a couple greens, gravy, and a delicious, creamy egg sunny-side-up. I’m not a pâté kind of girl but I almost licked the plate! For an entrée, I ordered the Braised Lancaster Chicken and Tender Potato Gnocchi, Summer Sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Zucchini, and Chicken Jus. Very delicious and it was a large portion that I was happy to finish. My friend ordered the Muscovy Duck Breast, Sweet and Sour Orchard Cherries, Glazed Turnips, Beluga Lentils, and Cherry Stained Duck Jus which had a lot of flavor

If you are too full for dessert, duck into the courtyard or perch at the bar underneath beautiful glass globe lanterns and order the drink that fits your character (I am “The Winemaker”). Please, just trust me, and thank me later!

Talula's Garden in Washington Square

Monday, August 27, 2012

Goodbye Philadelphia: Day 1!

After 1.5 years in the great city of Philadelphia, I am facing my last week. It's strange how my "loathing" of this city when I first began my work here transformed into admiration and love once I moved into a better neighborhood. Now, I'm a huge advocate of spending a week or weekend in this fabulous town. I've made a list of all the final places I wanted to visit and the food I want to have just one more time before I leave, and wanted to share my daily itinerary for anyone else visiting this city soon!

Monday, August 27, 2012

When I arrived, there was a torrential downpour and my pants, luggage, and laptop were all soaked. I peaked into A-Kitchen which is the restaurant in my building (the AKA at 18th and Walnut) and took a seat at the bar. The barista was kind and not very busy, so we chatted over my delicious latte and greek yogurt/granola/strawberry & blueberry parfait. $13.00 later, the rain slowed and I was saying my goodbyes. Excellent breakfast spot and good celebrity watching (Colin Farell ate here often while filming his movie Dead Man Dan, as did Dominic Cooper who I might have stalked... a little!) at AKA Rittenhouse Square

Once I made it to my office on Market Street, I chose to have lunch at one of my favorite places: Honeygrow. It's fairly new and very delicious, and they have "make your own" stirfry, salads, and yogurt sundaes (and they have a selection of pre-determined menu items if you are feeling indecisive). I got my usual: egg noodles with bamboo shoots, broccoli, and red/green peppers mixed with chicken and a delicious spicy garlic sauce. And you walk away with a perfect lunch in a little brown box - all you need are chopsticks and sriracha sauce! You'll get addicted!

Honeygrow | Honest Eating + Growing Local

On my way home, I stopped at the most fanstastic beauty meca: Blue Mercury. They have the best selection of all my favorite products: Kiehl's, Morrocon Oil, Dermalogica, Bumble & Bumble, and La Mer. You can also visit its location in Chicago or New York City.

Blue Mercury - Beauty and Skin Care

Finally, my favorite meal of the day - dinner! I had to stop at Garces Trading Company. This low-key with high-yum spot is like a grocery store with a diner and a wine shop, all in one. Browse their wine selection and pick a nice red, then sit at a high-top and enjoy sharing small dishes with your friends from their reasonably priced menu. Start with the chef selection of cheese and charcuterie, then order the scallops which are plump and delightful, and any of the entrees will be delicious (I recommend either the pork chop or duck breast). If it's Wednesday, order the whole branzino (delicate and buttery!). But best of all? Dessert! Order the macaron assortment, or if you are too full, pick out a small box of them to take home!
 Garces Trading Company

Check out this great review:

More to come on Day 2!!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Apartment Clubs in Japan

I took a week off work at the end of February and went to Japan with "the three best friends that anyone ever had..." So bare with me as I have lots to tell!

There are so many aspects of Japan that I love: the fashion, the polite and follow-by-the-rules culture, but the dirtier, sexier trends happening behind the scenes. They are so peaceful but complex and honor, respect, and regard each other (and their ancestors). On this trip, I was able to revisit places that left an impression on me from my last visit in 2008... but also experienced new parts of the country that surprised and inspired me.

Thanks to the fabulous men who joined us on the recent Japanese adventure, I learned about a very new and interesting way that the Japanese are letting off steam at the end of a long workday. I had always known that Japanese men tended to work hard, work late, socialize less with women, and instead drink themselves into stupors (which was only confirmed when we noticed a young man running himself into a wall, his attire a crumbled business suit, at midnight in a dark alley). But after meeting a nice American man who had lived in Japan for a couple years (we met him at a kareoke bar), he showed us something quite intersting...

Down dark alleys and up the stairs in what seemed like an apartment building was a club! And quite possibly the most interesting club I had ever been to...

Imagine your living room, with a couple couches and overstuff chairs, neon signs and bright balloons on your walls, with an older gentleman in a business suit as the DJ. There's a man in a bedazzled vest to greet you and expensive drinks behind a bar served to you in small glass bottles with Disney characters. I think I broke about 3 of those tiny glasses. There's a drag queen dancing in the middle of the room, and men, sleeping, in every corner...

(Notice the Hello Kitty in the background...) These men sneak here after work to drink, to play, to dance, to pass out, and have a nice slumber before heading back to work the next day. Where do they shower or keep a change of clothes? My friend Will explained this usually happens when they become so inebriated that they miss the last train home. It's normal and expected to find a nice lounging place and sleep until the sun rises. There was a group of young men in one corner, sleeping on a table, and in my tipsy (or smashed) state of mind I barely remember patting him on the head and wishing him wonderful dreams.

Why don't we have these wonderful apartment clubs in Chicago? Could I start one?

And then there was another in Osaka, in fact - my Lady Gaga had actually performed here as a surprise after her concert in the city. I was too under the weather and stayed in on this evening when my friends ventured into this rainbow colored, disco ball and Lady Gaga lipstick wonderland. Just looking around would be enough to give you a seizure...

I mean, if this was in my apartment... I would never leave!!! :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Honolulu Hideout: The Pink Palace!

I have a romantic fascination with historic hotels.  I love walking through their corridors and looking out upon their gardens or beaches and imagining the celebrities of the past doing the same. On my trip last September to Hawaii, much to my boyfriend’s dismay, I insisted that we stay in “The Pink Palace.”  At the time we made the reservation, I didn’t know much about its history, but I knew it was a nice resort on the beach and that was enough for me.

I was immediately fascinated upon checking in.  We arrived at night and the hotel seemed mystical tucked into a jungle, with a long drive underneath the pink, Spanish-Morrish structure. The lobby was grand and open to the beautiful landscape and warm air of the Hawaiin night. I loved it! And our room was small, but gorgeous, with a separate sitting room decorated with pink pillows and looking out onto the pink roof. I'm so glad we stayed in the historical side of the hotel and loved the upgrade!

What I love so much about the resort, is the idea that it was one of the first resorts, and it looks so different than the other hotels located on the beach.  I imagine what it must have been like in the early days, to embark on a long five day sea voyage, only to arrive with numerous trunks, servants, and your own Rolls Royce vehicle. But beyond the grandeaur and luxury, I was so relaxed in its interior, perhaps the most relaxed after enjoying a couple mai tai’s and rocking back and forth on one of its many rocking chairs overlooking the evening scene on the beach.

It was truly one of my most favorite travel experiences, and hotels. And as you now know, my love goes way beyond its gorgeous pink color!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On the Relay to Hana...

Most people are familiar with the famous Road to Hana in Hawaii, and honeymooners from across the nation commit to their Jeep and the windy road for an enjoyable day of gorgeous sites. Although I did not have a Jeep, I ventured out, a little later in the day than I would have liked, only to discover we would have plenty of company on the road, as we joined the popular "Relay to Hana..."

At first, we groaned thinking about backed up traffic, difficult driving maneuvers to avoid the runners, and the possibility that their vehicles would block our much desired views. But as we pulled up behind the trucks below and had our first encounter, we thought, "Wow, we could not pick a better day to be entertained on this drive..."

We cheered for them as we drove past, waving at Pirates, Disco Queens, Abba, and Monkeys, watching them sweat and struggle around each windy hill and curve. I was amazed! I've never been a runner myself but this is definitely something I could get behind, even train for! It was truly so much fun.

And the view along the way was not bad either... Highly recommended and traveler approved, the 2012 Relay to Hana! Any takers?

Spending a Day in a Hammock

My boyfriend and I decided to take a short trip down to warm weather before Christmas (who couldn't use a little sun before the holidays).  We used our Starwood points to book The Westin in Key West... and after a strenuous drive, and strenuous check in, we explored the city. Key West is a wonderful town full of off-the-beaten path restaurants, and watering holes for debauchery (I won't share any stories about what we did there...).

 The view from our table at the most charming spots we discovered...

However... I must admit that the charm of the city could not compare to the fabulous day we spent crashing the beach at the Casa Marina hotel. We passed by at the recommendation of my parents, and were at awe of its beach scene. It was so wonderful that we returned a second day... grabbed a hammock, and had the most wonderful time staring up at the palm trees and enjoying our beach side concierge...

Think towels refreshed at a whim, cold cucumber slices and Popsicles delivered without ask. A wonderful experience, spent with a wonderful man, and a wonderful view... now I just need a white sand beach, two palms trees, and a hammock for two of my own! Perhaps I should add that to my Santa list for next year...