Tampa Girls Weekend Fun

Birthdays are a perfect excuse to visit long distance friends so I recently hopped to Tampa for the weekend to get a taste of this South Florida destination and celebrate with friends. A weekend trip for a purpose is great as you get to wash away some of the excuses that normally plague a short trip.  Instead of worrying about ticket prices or how to work time off in your hectic schedule it becomes a lot easier to just bite the bullet and commit.  When you are visiting a new city the choice is even more tempting as you can get some of the highlights of a city in a very fun weekend with friends.

For this trip as I have amazingly chic friends I got some of the best food and drinks that the city of Tampa had to over. Fresh off the plane, thanks to a prime airport location, I quickly started my Tampa tour and the super sophisticated Ocean Prime.  This was my first time trying this is a national restaurant chain and I was definitely not disappointed.  The lounge and bar area have a cool kids vibe flowing from the staff to the guests.  The smoking Berries and Bubbles cocktail caught my eye as soon as I walked in and with first sip I was in love.  The food and service combined with this intoxicating cocktail started my night off on a high note.  To keep the party going in Tampa is easy as pie as they have several bar areas which making something you like a breeze.  As bar hopping is a serious past time of mine it was easy to go from grunge, to bar, to hookah, and even to live music so finding something up your alley is almost guaranteed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a long night of fun and a nice day of taking advantage of some of the great shopping Tampa had to offer it was time for a birthday dinner. Where else should you celebrate one of your most fabulous friends than the world renowned Bern’s Steak House.  To say the restaurant is a culinary experience is an understatement.  From the ornate decorations to the completely separate dessert restaurant the experience at Bern’s is top of the line.  While I am not a big steak person, I could not resist as you look at the giant menu of options.  Even more exciting is that you come in with the expectations you are about to give away your first born for your meal and I was pleasantly surprised with the cost of the food considering we got course after course of exquisite dishes.  For some extra bonus points you have the opportunity after your meal to tour the kitchen, including in house butcher, and wine cellar.  A great way to appreciate your gastronomic adventure at Bern’s even more.

 

Now of course everything I did in Tampa did not consist of food and drink but those were definitely some highlights. All in all Tampa was a cool city that had a mix of small town closeness with stylish city flare.  With their closeness to the water and constant festival city one thing is for certain, Tampa and its residents know how to have fun!

Coastal Mexican Cuisine with Caracol

Caracoal (7)Houston has more than its fair share of Mexican restaurants and I think we can claim some of the best in the country.  The finesse of Mexican cuisine can be lost, however, in the sizzle of the fajitas or the oozing cheese we have come to expect when we think Mexican.  The creator of some great restaurants including the Backstreet Café and Hugo’s have put together an awesome alternative to that perception of Mexican food with the coastal Mexican cuisine found at Caracol.  With a focus on fresh seafood the restaurant brings together fresh flavors with unique spins on more traditional dishes and the results are remarkable.

Caracoal (8) Caracoal (6)The restaurant itself is an ode to the coastal Mexican colors, decorated in bright hues of blue and white.  One a sunny day the patio presents a perfect place to be transported to a beautiful coastal village, while in the heart of the Galleria, as you drift away with every bite of the delicious food.  The menu is separated into sections so you can focus on your favorite prep for the seafood explosion.  From an innovative raw menu to a more tradition hot you can choose exactly how close you want to be to the coastal Mexican flavors.   I started with the scallops and my taste buds were instantly awakened by the interesting combination of bread crumbs and seasoning that put my scallops in a whole new light.

Caracoal (9)In moving to dinner what caught our interest more than anything else was the sides so although we ordered the spicy shrimp we could not wait to dive into some interesting accompanying dishes.  The spicy shrimp was delicious, giving me flavors reminiscent of a spicy curry, the real star of the table were the sides.  Caracoal (1)We went with the Repollitos Asados (charred Brussels sprouts), Tamal Azteca (layered tortilla casserole) and Col Rizada (sautéed kale).  Between the layered tortilla casserole, which was a dense take on an enchilada feel, and the kale with its favors of lime and cheese, I could eat those two dishes, and only those two dishes, that every week.  The flavors took something familiar and make it unique and definitely left an unforgettable impression.

CaracolTo wrap a meal we were obsessed with, the deserts on the menu knock the whole experience over the park.  I have made my passions for churros no secret and with them on the menu my vote was locked and loaded.  Yes the apple empanada was delicious, but those churros….Delicioso!!!  We enjoyed ours with the pineapple marmalade on the side to give us a chance to enjoy the hot, crispy, melt in your mouth flavor of the churros.  Despite an evening full of rain leaving such an enchanting dinner was like come back to reality, only it’s a dream I can escape back to! And one I plan to revisit frequently!!!

Caracol (2) Caracol 1 Caracol (5) Caracol (4)

Dining in Sydney: Delicious finds in the Outback

O Bar Birthday Plum SoufleeThe international food scene can be tricky.  Honestly its partially because as Americans we have been spoiled on the have it your way philosophy.  While at home it is our expectation that if we see something on the menu that we don’t like or is not perfectly suited for us then we can just request a change and voila, we have the perfect customized meal for us.  I found out on my first trip to Paris that philosophy can be lost in different countries.  On the bright side when traveling to Sydney, there are a lot of food parallels between American cuisine and that of Sydney.  While there are certainly many safe roads you can take on your cuisine tour of the country, there are also ample possibilities to try something new and things that are regional to the Australia area.

Appetito PizzaOne of the biggest surprises I found when eating around in Sydney is the large Italian influence in the country.  My tour guide informed me that Italians were the second largest ethnic group in the country.  I should have had a clue when I saw gelato shops almost on every concern in tourist areas (this is a must try while in Sydney!)  I was able to find some wonderful Italian food while visiting with my top spot going to Appetito.  Located in the Rocks area this quaint restaurant offered Italian fare that for me seemed pretty authentic.  With fresh made pastas and sausages and hot out of the oven pizzas I was in seventh heaven during my meals at the restaurant.  For sure comparatively eating in Sydney is on the pricy side, but every bite I had at Appetito was well worth it.  Appetito Table Starters Appetito SaladFrom a beginning salad to a delicious pizza to even the biscotti we could barely slow down enough for a mutual smile you give to another foodie when you have just discovered food nirvana.  For those wanting more on the traditional American take on Italian cuisine Appetito to is a great place to take small steps in expanding your horizon.   With fresh seafood prominent on the menu and the handmade pasta you take one step closer to the simple ingredients and strong flavor profiles Italian cuisine is known for!

Italian food was definitely the majority for me when it came to finding a restaurant whose menu spoke to me, grabbing some great pasta and pizza in the Rocks, Central Business District, and Darling Harbour areas, however, there are also some impeccable fine dining options around Sydney.  O Bar SteakFor me bar none the most important component when searching was the view.  In a city surrounded by water, getting a Birdseye view of what the city had to offer was important.  I also wanted to dive into some of the more authentic flavors of Sydney.  I found my perfect match at The O Bar in Sydney.  This rotating restaurant is located at the top of Sydney’s tallest office buildings.  The 360 degree view was amazing and contemporary cuisine carefully balances flavor with a contemporary vibe.  With me diving feet first into the glazed spiced pork and my daughter gleefully indulging in the grain fed short rib it made for a great birthday dinner.  With the dinner wrapping with a birthday plum soufflé the O’Bar certainly made it a night to remember.

Roasted corn at the Rocks Market Monet cupcakes at the Rocks Market Australian Breakfast at the WestinFrom kangaroo to emu the meats in Australia certainly can offer a taste of something new for the American palette.  I still found comfort in something that I made an easy connection with though, their seafood.  From lobster rolls to fresh fish fillets I found their surf and turf selections to be top notch.  If you are visiting Bondi beach Icebergs is a great place to still enjoy the beach and catch some fresh tastes of Sydney.

Window view from Icebreakers

Window view from Icebreakers

So whether you are on the more exotic with ostrich and kangaroo on the menu on just want an Australian twist on some comfort food favorites Sydney is a great place to get out there and try out what Australia has to offer.Monet cupcakes at the Rocks Market

Davis St. bringing Fine Dining to Hermann Park

Me in Davis StEvery once in a while something comes a long that not just meets a need but also surpasses expectations.  Davis St. came in right on time to fill the fine dining void there has been in Houston’s museum district and Third Ward.  Not only does Davis St. give the neighborhood something it was missing in fine dining, it also delivers great food and ambiance that will wet the appetite of the whole city.  Located in the Mosaic towers, one of the great luxury living locations in the area, the restaurant puts New American cuisine on the map with interesting twist on new and old dishes alike.Davis St digital tabletop Davis St Cocktails Davis St Chandaleir

IMG_9143 Davis St Red Fish IMG_9139

 

 

 

 

Although I have had my eye restaurant for a while, it wasn’t until my dinner plans lead me to a restaurant closed on a Monday night that I stepped in the door of Davis St. By pulling from the urban elegance of the Mosaic, the décor of the restaurant is sleek but with pops of the signature green all around.  I was like a kid in a candy store walking in with my eyes dancing between the fun lounge chairs, a statuesque bar, and digital screen table (where you can check out the menu and play a quick game of checkers or chess).

At my seat I really found myself at a loss for words when it was time to order.  Too many wonderful choices on the menu on and only one belly to fill with them!!! Crab cakes or fondue or buffalo chicken spring rolls had my mind spinning but despite the temptation I decided to skip appetizers and go straight to main course.  I could not have made a better decision.  No appetizer means I had more space to clean my plate with my order of Crispy Red Snapper.  With perfectly crispy skin sandwiching a plum piece of red fish all on top of dirty rice I was one happy camper.  Add a side of Brussel sprouts and this is the type of meal you fight over when people ask you for a taste.   To ensure I would be completely addicted we finished the meal with a Brownie Waffle S’more.  With every bite I got the sweet treat of my favorite part of the brownie (the crust) partnered with marshmallows.  SINFUL!!!!!  The entire meal was so great I had to ask to speak to the chef just to shake his hand.  With the winning combo of fantastic food, service, atmosphere and location I am sure that Davis St. is going to be on the map for a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My top 10 loves from the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair Grand Tasting

IMG_5487The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair Grand Tasting puts most wine tastings in the Houston area to shame.  Not only is there a phenomenal selection of delectable food and wines and cocktails, but the planning and set up flows seamlessly.  Instead of being bogged down in one line or another you can quickly flow from food to wine to spirits to conversation in the striking setting of the ballroom in the Sugar Land Marriot Town Center.   There are hundreds of reasons to enjoy this event but here are my top ten loves from a fantastic night in Sugar Land.

10. The Crowd:

The CrowdYes festivals are supposed to be fun but I have been to more than my fair share of them that had the fun drained out by a grumpy crowd.  The crowd for the Grand Tasting came ready to celebrate food and wine in high spirits.  Mixing drinks and lines can be tricky but everyone was ready to mingle and share their discoveries of what moved them from the festival.

9. Don Julio:

Don JulioThis is an old favorite for me but tasting like this really allow some brands, like Don Julio tequila, to showcase not only the great traditional approach but also shine through in a new light.  Don Julio made some great cocktail creations that hit the spot when circling the Visit Mexico tables.

 

8. Tullamore Dew:

Tullamore DEW

If you are not careful at a tasting all the new wines you taste can become pretty murky in your memory.  There is nothing like a brief break to wake up your palette and Tullamore Dew provided that for me.  They are the epitome of service with a smile, always willing to share the great legacy and tips to make the whiskey more accessible to drinker’s palettes.

7. Grand Auction:

Grand AuctionSome auctions try to get a little for a lot but the Grand Auction really showcased some heavy hitters in wine, food and travel.  The auction was irresistible as soon as you enter and really got your imagination going on all the possibilities that the night could hold.  I got away with a trip to the JW Marriott San Antonio for a steal and am ready for my getaway.

6. Chef Interactions: For a foodie there are few things that connect more to the food than the getting into the mind of the person who created it.  Being able to talk to the chefs first hand at some of the best restaurants in Houston gives you a glimpse into what is store when you visit their restaurants.

5. Flora Dora:

HendrickI thought Thursday I had explored all I could explore with Hendrick’s gin.  The Flora Dora was a great light and refreshing getaway from the wine selections that abound that night.  The ginger beer was really a great hidden ingredient and offered some of the great ginger flavor while lightening up the gin flavor.

4. Merlot Rosado:

Merlot RosadoHonestly I have never heard of a pink merlot until last night and it was instantly love at first sip with this offering form Dubacano Wines.  The wine was a great match for both red and white lovers as it offered the full bodied favor of a merlot with a smooth balance usually found in a rose.

3. Haak Madeira Blanc Du Bois:

HAAK MadieraOffering a port with undertones of Carmel seemed like a stretch to me but Haak Wines delivered on their Madeira Blanc Du Bois.  It is a great after dinner treat where you can quickly forget pulling out dessert plates as the drink offers dessert in a bottle.

 

2. Photo Booth:

Photo Booth FunI have a baby obsession with photo booths but I hate when you are limited in space or props.  The photo booth at the Grand Tasting was stocked with easy to use equipment, fun props and pliantly of room to play and a staff to show how it all works.  A review station let everyone get in on the fun to review your pics, find fun pictures from other guests and quickly send the ones you love via SMS or email.

1. Bon Bons!

Frenchs Bon BonsI walked up impressed with dainty display and cookie bon bons, grabbing two and sliding to the next booth.  With every bite of bon bon deliciousness though I was regretting every step away from this delicious treat.  Mister French’s Gourmet Bakery really outdid themselves with the sweet treats in several delicious favors that were truly finger licking good.  It was the one thing at the tasting I wanted to make it back around for round two but atlas, the delicious secret had been exposed and the table wiped clean.

Discover your own favorites at the Sip and Stroll today!

Food, fun, and wine…On My!

winepairingOne of my favorite events, the Sugar Land Wine and Food Festival, is on deck this weekend and I could not be more excited!  The festival offers a multitude of events so regardless of if you like more of a low key experience or the equivalent of the wine tasting decathlon, there is something perfect for you.  Here is a peak into what you can expect for a weekend of jam packed events, learning, food, and fun.

On the Rocks Bartender Challenge: Thursday the festival events spring into action at the Sugar Land Regional Airport.  Houston has really developed its mixology prowess over the last couple of years and this event is meant to showcase some of the best of the best in the bartending world.  An event this fabulous has to have a great foundation, so the drinks of the event will feature Hendrick’s Gin.  For old and new gin drinkers alike Hendrick’s is a pleasant surprise.  The gin’s small production and unique recipe of flowers, roots, and fruits break the mold on what you would expect in a gin.  With the five competing bartenders all sure to bring it for the competition you are sure to experience gin and cocktails in a way you have never seen them before.

Fred Parks Wine Seminar – Battle of Sexes: This seminar prepares to tackle the challenge of what wine really does fit men vs. women.  Put away your preconceptions and really face the challenge head on to see where you are on the palette scale as you explore the gambit of wines in a flight from reds to whites to sparkling.

Herradura Tequila Seminar: With Cinco de Mayo coming up now is the time to power up your tequila knowledge.  Herradura Tequila sources from carefully grown blue agave to produce a masterful tequila loved by aficionado’s everywhere.  The seminar offers a chance to learn about the love and people who go into making one of my personal favorites.

Whiskey Seminar – Tullamore Dew: I recently heard about the Tullamore Dew story at a seminar and the incredible history of a boy working at a distillery that transformed into an Irish whiskey powerhouse was only topped by the smooth taste of this single malted spirit.  You are sure to have a great time raising a glass to some fun Irish toasts throughout the event and learn some facts about whiskey as well along the way.

The Grand Tasting: When you combine the best of food and spirits how can you not be guaranteed a phenomenal night? The grand tasting is an unbelievable opportunity to reconnecting with some of your old favorites as well as find new ones as you make your way through the ballroom.  With 14 of Houston’s best restaurants and 28 different wine and spirit companies represented I double dare you not to have the time of your life!

Sip & Stroll at Imperial: More of a daytime or outdoor type of person? Well you can have all of the fun of the Grand Tasting on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a celebration of the best of the best in food and wines.  Take the spirit of the food celebration home with you by stopping by one of the pop-up book shops and come face to face with some of your favorite cook book authors.

Bistro Brunch: The perfect weekend is wrapped up with the perfect meal…Brunch!!!! The mix of savory and sweet brunch when combined with the global reach of this event is a memorable way to wrap up the weekend of fun.  The event is sure to leave a great final impression so you can start the 362 day count down until next year!  Plus you can work off some of the calories from the weekend to the sounds of Joel Guzman, Sarah Fox, and Los Aztex to prevent the guilt from creeping up on Monday.

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