Sydney, Day 2

Sydney, Day 2

My mom is from Sydney and has quite the family over in Australia with 3 brothers and 1 sister that all have kids around my age. I grew up visiting them throughout the years it was about darn time that I introduced my husband to them. After years of trying to make that happen, today was finally that day!

My sister, Ryan & I made a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast, at the hotel and then we took off to find some coffee, a birthday card, and wrapping paper for my Aunt who celebrated her birthday in the day prior. We went to a few grocery stores before finding a card and had to go to a bookstore to find any sort of wrapping paper or bags. The differences in what stores carry in the US and AU are incredible. Almost every store in Australia is unique and has super cute designs. Chain stores / restaurants are much fewer and farther between. I quite prefer the Australian stores to those in the US.

Once we got what we needed, we ran back to the hotel, grabbed the gift, and took off in a cab to Ripples Chowder Bay for brunch. The view from the restaurant was beautiful and we had two big tables for the 20 of us! I can’t tell you how happy I was that everyone was coming in from all over Sydney for lunch with us. Ryan did a great job trying to remember who everyone was and we were all in great spirits.

IMG_1289

Since there were so many of us, we had a prix fixe menu, though the waiters were having trouble rounding us all up to order since we were all socializing! Oops.

Our first course was either deliciously buttery prawns or a goat curd salad with beet root. I got the prawns and could not have been happier. They were 8 inches or so long, buttery, and melted in your mouth.

The second course was either risotto, barramundi, or what most of us had, the steak with mushrooms and sweet potato puree – so scrumptious!

IMG_1296-2

Dessert option 1 was meringue – an Australian dessert of the most fluffy, cloud like pastry you could imagine. Ryan tried it and kept saying he “made a HUGE mistake” ordering the chocolate moose!

IMG_1300-2

After a lively lunch, we took some family photos of all of 11 cousins and then my sister, Ryan, and I with my aunts and uncles.

It probably took us about 30 minutes and some serious corralling from some of the cousins to get us out of the restaurant and into the cars since we were all chatting so much! We ended up in my cousin’s car to drive back to her and her husband’s new apartment. They just recently bought the place to start their new family and it had an amazing view of a national park off of the back balcony. We even saw a few kookaburras in the trees!

We had some great conversations and catch up time before it was time to head back to Surry Hills. My aunt and uncle were kind enough to take us on a brief tour of downtown and drop us back at the apartment. It was so great to see everyone!

While brunch started at noon, we didn’t get back until 6! Time flew so fast and we were pretty hungry when we got back so we took off to an Indian place that my sister had been wanting to try called Masala Theory. It was a “neo-Indian” cuisine an we started with some deconstructed samosas that were to-die for! We then split some amazing lamb chops in a mango puree, flaky naan bread, and a green veggie curry – yumm!

That restaurant turned Ryan into an Indian food fan – something I’ve been trying to do for years! We were stuffed and were glad to walk some of it off on the way back to the hotel

Continue on this adventure…

Advertisements

Tuscany

Tuscany

Ryan couldn’t wait for today and our tour through Chianti wine country. His favorite wine’s of all are Chianti Classicos which are from the heart of the Chianti region in Tuscany and have black roosters on the label to signify that they are made with the right formula of Sangiovese grapes.

Chianti region in Italy

Our hotel didn’t include breakfast, so we walked to a little pastry shop to carbo-load on croissants and doughnuts before making our way to the train station to meet our Walkabout Florence tour group. Our tour guide, Lavi, was energetic and ready to go. She led us through the station and down to our smaller sized tour bus. There were about 15 people on our bus and it was the perfect size for a tour. Unlike some of our tours in Phuket, Thailand, we did not encounter any other tour groups during the rest of our day on this tour, making it very intimate and unique.

The drive to our first winery was about 50 minutes but it went by quickly as Lavi told us all about the history of Chianti wines. Apparently, in the days of the Romans, wine was terrible tasting. The Romans used any grapes they could find, didn’t prepare the wine well, and diluted it with 2 parts water. Because it tasted so bad, the Romans would add spices and other things to it to mask the taste and mainly drank wine for health reasons (it was safer than water in most cases). Over the years, people discovered that the way you grow the grapes, the size of the bunch, the altitude of the grapes, the soil, amount of skin used, and the aging process are all critical components to making a decent tasting wine. Harsher growing conditions and smaller grape yields typically give the best tasting wines. Not what you would typically think, right?

To grow a Chianti Classico, there are rules the govern all aspects of the wine making process so that the wine quality maintains the Classico standards. For example, the vines have to be planted close together so that they compete with one another for water and minerals. The wine makers do not water the plants so the vines have to drive their roots deep into the soil to find water. The vines have to be planted between a certain altitudes and on a slope because water is harder for them to get. Most importantly, all of the wines have to be at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. There are a slew of interesting rules that go into makings such amazing wines.

Our first winery was Villa Li Corti which sits on top of a hill on the 617 acre estate. We toured the vineyard and the olive groves before going inside to see the wine making process.

We took a tour of the barrel rooms…

And we got to see how olive oil is made. Apparently, “extra virgin” for olive oil means it came from the first press of the olives in the machine (below) after picking. Buyers be ware, the new and trendy “extra extra” virgin oil is just a marketing gimmick and the closest thing to “extra extra” would be eating raw olives.

We went up to the tasting room and sat at a 4 top table with bread and meats for us to try. We started talking to the other couple across from us and learned that they also got married on September 16th as well and were also on their honeymoon! Small world. We had a good conversation about all things wedding, living in Brooklyn, and other miscellaneous topics while drinking some delicious wines and eating the meats.

After tasting #1, it was off to our lunch location – La Cantinetta di Rignana. We bounced and swerved our way on the bus, deep into the heart of Tuscany, to this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was just as special as the restaurant we went to in Hvar and apparently, it was so good that George Clooney and his wife went their twice in the same week! The view was amazing and we were treated to an insanely good meal. George has good taste in food…

Up first were 4 different types of bruschetta: tomato and olive oil, chicken liver, “lardo” which is cured ham fat (like on prosciutto), and mushroom. My favorite two were the lardo and chicken liver – sounds gross but it was so good!

After that, we had two types of pasta: boar rigatoni and truffle ravioli. The shavings of truffle were huge and I am now addicted to everything truffle. It was family style so I had to share the ravioli, but I did not want to!

After lunch, Ryan and I walked through the vineyard and tried a grape that had fallen from the vine. IT was so good.

We hopped back on the bus and off to the third winery. The roads were very bumpy, windy, and narrow and we almost had some “too close to the edge of the cliff” moments… but we eventually made it to the Montemaggio estate. The manager gave us a tour of the vineyard and the gardens.

They were actually harvesting the grapes while we were there, so we got to see the grapes getting crushed and pushed into one of the big tanks. It was quite a treat to get to see all parts of the wine making process in action.

Grape sorting at the Montemaggio vineyard in Tuscany, Italy

We were led through the villa and up to the tasting terrace. There were cheese pairings with our wine and we must have tried 6 different, delicious varieties. The lady next to me was making very strange, monotone noises while our host was speaking, and Ryan was imitating her in a way that almost made me lose my wine a few times. Between his silliness and the wine, we had a blast!

After the last wine, it was back on the bus and to a little square for some shopping. There was an amazing butchery there that smelt heavenly, so we bought some meat and cheese to take back to the States.

After about a 50 minute bus ride back, it was time to say goodbye to our tour group, drop the wine and goodies we bought back at the hotel, and walk over to Il Latini for dinner. Like the night before when we first stumbled upon the restaurant, there were 30 people already there waiting for the doors to open. At least there was a line this time, instead of a massive, unorganized crowd. Thankfully, we had reservations and went to the front of the line to get in pretty easily once the doors opened.

The place was family style so everyone sat close together and it was a very social setting. There was a pre-fixed menu for $55 euro a person, but we were not that hungry, so we ordered a few things off of the menu instead and stuck with the table wine that was only 10 euro a bottle. Little did we know, our “small order” got us enough food for 10 people.

We got the 3 salami plate and did not realize that the “selection of 3 pastas” was actually 3 full servings of various pasta dishes!

After that, was the massive steak and two different, complementary desserts. Thank gosh we did not go for the tasting menu!

As it turns out, the couple next to us who did get the tasting menu didn’t get that much more food than us but they paid double! They got one additional entrée, but we were also given the same desert and a free bottle of desert wine! We started chatting with them about the sheer amount of food and what tasted the best. The couple was in town from California and were pretty fascinating. One was an artist and the other was in the energy business and we had a good convo about American politics for about 45 minutes until all of the wine finally disappeared. Overall, the dinner was very enjoyable and we would recommend Il Latini to anyone in Florence that is anywhere on the scale of very hungry to starving. You will get a delicious meal for a great price.

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

I woke up this morning with a little wine-induced fuzzyness from our romantic evening prior. I was pretty proud that I set my alarm, charged my devices, and even pre-packed a little! I felt great though and it was time for another fantastic breakfast at the Coronaro Hotel. I didn’t eat apple pie for breakfast again this morning, instead opting for croissants, some prosciutto and cheese, and yogurt. Ryan ordered the “best pancakes of his life” which were more like crapes with a fantastic berry compote. He also got a ham and cheese omelette and I tried the Diocletian omelette made of prosecco and honey which, unfortunately, was brown/ greyish, looked pretty gross, and didn’t have much flavor.

After breakfast, we packed our room up, checked out of the hotel, and left our bags at the front desk. We had a minor panic when the front desk tried to give us our rental car keys back from the day before – the hotel was supposed to call the rental car company the night prior so they could pickup the car! Somehow, that didn’t happen and the hotel wanted to charge us for parking and who knows what the charge would have been from the rental company! Thankfully, the hotel comped our parking charge and got things sorted with the car company so the crisis was averted.

We decided to do a little shopping before our 1:30 ride to the airport. It was sprinkling a bit but that didn’t stop the businesses of the city! First, we stopped at Jupiter’s temple in the palace. Apparently, the tickets we bought to the bell tower two days prior included Jupiter’s Temple, so the guy at the front entrance just asked to see pictures of us at the bell tower as proof we bought the tickets – pretty smart move huh?

The temple was slightly underwhelming, consisting of one statue and 3 caskets, but seeing stone caskets from 10 AD was pretty surreal.

IMG_6641

After the temple, we walked to the green market and it was bustling! I wish we had a market like that in Texas! The smells of the flowers, herbs, meat, and cheese were intoxicating and even made my overly full stomach rumble. We bought some freshly shaved prosciutto, honey, lavender, and olive oils for our families and didn’t want to leave.

 

Eventually, the time came for us to head to the hotel. I had left over cheese, bread, and meat from dinner the night before, so that was my “light lunch” before we took off to the airport. Our cab driver was quite talkative and pointed out all of the historical sites along our 30 minute ride. He also told us the state of the country and how governmental corruption has made it impossible for foreign investors to invest in Croatia, how there are only jobs during summer tourist season and that, during winter, there are not enough jobs to go around. How the pay is not enough for young people to start family’s so more Croatians live outside of Croatia and in Croatia because there are more job opportunities. It was quite a sad but interesting point of view.

The Split airport only has 8 terminals and is super small. Checking in for our flight took about 30 minutes and we had 1.5 hours to kill before takeoff. The airport was so small that, once we did need to board, we walked the tarmac to the airplane and walked up a short flight of stairs onto the craft. There wasn’t even room for carry on bags! Fortunately, the tiny plane had no issues taking us to Rome, though it was too small for a gate and we took a bus from our landing pad into the Rome airport.

IMG_6658

It was about a 65 euro taxi / Uber ride from the airport to our hotel in Rome so we decided to take the train for 14 euros instead. The train was relatively easy to find as the airport is so well signed, and we were on a direct train to Rome quickly. The travel time taking the train vs. a cab was actually very similar too – so no time lost!

We were in a bit of a hurry at this point since we had a 8 PM reservation at Il Pagliaccio.  Translated as “The Clown”, Il Pagilaccio is a two Michelin Star winning Italian restaurant in the middle of Rome run by chef Anthony Genovese. Since there aren’t any Michelin Star places in Texas, we wanted to try one out as a honeymoon treat! We arrived at our hotel at 7 PM and the restaurant was about a 15 minute drive, so we needed to change quickly – the only problem was the guy at reception had trouble finding our reservation. I got about 4 emails over the past three days from Expedia telling me our stay at the Dharma Hotel was approaching and I had my confirmation sheet printed, so I was so confused. I handed him my sheet and he directed my attention to the date of our stay, September 30th, and reminded me it was only September 25th! I accidentally brought us to the hotel we are staying in before we head back to Texas! Ryan was not happy and the time was ticking!

The front desk guy called us a cab and we rushed to the new hotel, he dropped us off on a side street and we finally found the Spagna Royal Suites and rang the bell. The guy who answered said we were, yet again at the wrong place, and we needed to go to the other Spagna hotel down the street – seriously? Ryan was laughing at me and it was already 7:40 so when we arrived, huffing and panicked at the Spagna, they quickly tried to calm us down. The two reception guys called the restaurant to bump back our reservation to 8:30 and walked us through the amazing concept hotel. They brought us down to level two, where our room was, and walked us through the amenities, including a sauna in our room! There were even a bunch of fish tanks spanning the entire wall adjacent to our room with jelly fish and other sea creatures. How cool!

Jelly fish tanks at the Spagna Royal Suites in Rome, Italy

We quickly freshened up and were off in another adventurous cab ride, squeezing narrowly through alleyways packed with people and cars. We didn’t think we were going to make it a few times but successfully got to Il Pagliaccio in good time.

The staff at Il Pagliaccio was so polished, with white gloves and perfect timing, and I loved the ambiance of the restaurant. We were seated in a corner table and I couldn’t help but eaves drop on some of the interesting conversations at tables near us, spanning from the hedged-fund class dating scene in NYC, to tips on how to write thrilling, non-fiction novels. It was quite a scene.

IMG_6708

We choose to do the 8 course “surprise” tasting menu and started with a glass of Pinot Grigio before transitioning to a nice, 2012 Chianti Classico (Ryan’s favorite) to go with it.

The dinner started with 3 amuse bouche dishes, ranging from 36 month old parmesan cheese, dry yeast and venison waffle with salad, lentils and blue cheese, chickpea foam with anchovies and crunch bread, and a “surprise” mushroom dish.

The main courses began with a chilled mushroom soup and oyster in green, burrata and tapioca. The chilled soup was an amazing start to the night. To be honest, when the oyster arrived on our table, I was slightly hesitant, but I do love oysters. It ended up being a surprisingly delicious course with interesting texture bold flavors.

As a pasta lover, when the tagliolino came out with a savory sauce and freshly made noodles, all of my senses were sent to heaven! The first pasta course was followed with veal tortellini and carrots, and I was finally, again, reunited with truly Italian pasta. While my taste buds wished that the dishes were twice their size, my stomach was already starting to fill up – oh no!

We enjoyed some delicious bread variations with the main courses. One of the breads was a fantastical crispy and fluffy salted focaccia. It was by far my favorite. I finally flagged down the waitress to get a second portion of the carby goodness but, before I could take a bite, another waiter came and delivered our white fish and peas course and stealthily took my bread! I think that moment was the saddest I have ever been in relation to food. Like, envision your favorite piece of food ever, and then, as you are about to enjoy a miraculous bite, someone swoops in and takes it from you, never to ever be had again! And now you feel my ciabatta sorrow…

Do you know what the best way to cure bread-induced depression? Desert! After we finished our final entre, the desert train started down the tracks.. and was 5 carts long! It all started with milk ice cream, goat cheese, caramelized rice and pear compote in an amazingly complex dish. My favorite part was the bits of cereal under the ice cream which gave some crunch to the otherwise soft compilation.

Milk ice cream, goat cheese, caramelized rice and pear compote.

Next was a lemon cake topped with mint and berry, a sorbet, assortment of truffles and other little pastries.

We were stuffed beyond reason. Thankfully, I came prepared in a flowy dress, and we had a long walk back through the streets of Rome to our hotel. We even got a sneak night-peak at the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon before arriving at the hotel.

Continue reading this adventure…

Fredericksburg Part 2

Fredericksburg Part 2

After a long day of wine tasting and a solid power nap, it was time to resume the Fredericksburg fun! We had an 8:30PM reservation at the Supper Club at the Vaudeville restaurant on Main street so we decided to walk through the shops on Main before dinner. There are quite a few boutiques, wine tasting rooms, candy stores, and knickknack stores to walk past and Ryan bought a big bag of white cheddar popcorn for our road trip home. After about 2 hours, we needed water and some energy so the plan was to grab a coffee and water at a bar before dinner. We went into a bar and ended up getting beer and a Michelada (basically a bloody Mary with Dos Equis instead of vodka). After being introduced to Micheladas during my trip to Guatemala, I can’t say no to them! It was so refreshing to have something salty and savory after the sugary wine earlier that day.

Finally, it was time of dinner. We walked to Vaudeville and went in the side alleyway entrance to this amazing, fire-lit, patio area. Wow, was it surprisingly nice! I told Ryan he needed to plan things more, since he did such a good job on this trip, and he told me he was taking a sabbatical from planning! (Insert eye-roll here) Anyways, we were greeted by name and escorted to this intimate table on the side of the restaurant. We had a pre-fixed 3-course meal in store for us and our names were even on the menu! Talk about amazing service.

We started with cocktails and three types of delicious bread; parmesan puff, multi-grain, and olive. The bread was light, fluffy, and made that day right in town! As we were enjoying our bread, we saw a black tail slink by our table and Ryan freaked out. There was a cat in the restaurant and Ryan loves cats. Apparently one of the girls at a table by us was allergic, so the host picked the cat up and put it on a table right outside the window from us. Ryan kept going on and on about he wanted a “café cat” and that they should have put him at our table. Literally, the rest of dinner, Ryan was on the lookout for that dang cat! I must admit, it was cute.

Our first course came and drew our attention from the cat and back to our dinner. The sweet smell of the curry immediately made our tastes buds perk up and the prawn and squid ink noodles were the perfect complement. I was a little skeptical that I would not be a huge fan of the dish, but I would have that every day for weeks if I could!

Our second course was perfectly cooked pork loin with grilled Brussel sprouts, a Brussel sprout empanada, and a to-die-for parsnip puree! I couldn’t believe how far this meal was outside of my expectations!

For desert, we had a dense, moist lemon cake with raspberry sorbet and vanilla panna cotta. Again, it was done perfectly and the three courses were just the right amount of food.

Ecstatic about all of the delicious parts of our dinner, we walked off our meal on the way home and quickly found our way to sleep.

Day 2: Enchanted Rock

After doing the wineries and shopping in the previous day, we decided to drive to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for a hike. The Park is know for its massive pink granite dome that sticks way above all of the other features in the area. In peak season, the park gets packed early, and they close the gates as early as 10AM to control the crowds. Knowing that, we got up before the crack of dawn (like 7:30 AM) to make sure we could get a spot. It took about 30 minutes to drive to the park site and there was a line of cars already waiting to get in at 9AM!

We were able to get a spot, lathered up with sun-screen, and took off on the Summit trail. It was about a half mile, straight up-hill hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. There were quite a few people but it did not feel too crowded and there was a nice breeze to keep us cool on the way up.

The cactus, flowers, and giant boulders that had broken off Enchanted Rock and been shaped into all sorts of configurations over the years made for a very scenic hike, not to mention the breathtaking view from the top! Strangely enough at the top of the rock, there were little bodies of water called vernal pools that have mini-ecosystems of small creatures, making the moon-like rock alive with wildlife.

We enjoyed the view from the top for a while and took a more round-about way down. I thought the trail went one way and Ryan warned that it didn’t. I went anyway, almost stepped on a pretty big snake, and was scared right back to the right path to Ryan. He then proceeded to make hissing sounds the rest of the way down, partially making fun of me, partially trying to scare me again! While we didn’t see another snake (thank gosh!), we did encounter a few lizards and cool looking birds.

Our hike took about 1.5 hours total and was worth every step. The drive back seemed like it took no time at all. We walked in to the Airbnb and saw a strangely shaped piece of plastic on the ground that Dakota had chewed. We quickly realized that she had somehow pulled down the large bag of popcorn Ryan had bought the day before and she ate the entire, previously unopened bag! There was only one small kernel left of evidence that that popcorn had ever existed! Of course, Dakota pretended like nothing had happened and we couldn’t help but laugh. Oh, that dog.

Before we knew it, we were freshened up, packed, and ready to head home. We were starving so we parked in town and stopped at Burger Bar for burgers and sweet potato fries before embarking on the long drive through the middle of no-where Texas to get back home.

Nobu

I was first introduced to Nobu at the New York City, Nobu 57 location in 2010 (prepare for old photo below!). I was spending the summer with friends in Connecticut and we took a long weekend to venture around the city. Before seeing a show on Broadway, we went to Nobu 57 for one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. Not only was it my first time seeing a show on Broadway, it was also my first time experiencing a tasting menu. My, was it exciting and delicious!

Outside of Nobu 57 in NYC

A tasting menu is a series of small portioned courses arranged by the chef so that you can experience a wide variety of the best a restaurant has to offer. Typically, there are 2-3 versions of menu at different price points based on the number of courses and the proteins in each selection. I have had some tasting menus with 8 courses and, like in the case of Gaggan in Thailand, some with 18! Each course is a surprise and you get to try things you never would have tasted other wise.

A sampling of sushi at Nobu, Dallas

With such nostalgia for the NYC location, once I heard there was a Nobu in Dallas, I just had to try it! The first time was for my birthday over July 4th weekend in 2014. I remember it like it was yesterday. We had gone to a birthday pool party that afternoon and I had warned Ryan not to eat too much since we were getting the tasting menu that night. 3.5 hot dogs, chips, and a pizza Lunchable later, he was so full that he couldn’t have drinks at dinner so he could save stomach-space to try all of the food! *Sigh*. At least he learned his lesson! We had a delicious dinner that night and have been lucky enough to go back for tasting menus multiple times. With over 40 dishes tried at Nobu, I have never had a bad one – a pretty good track record in my opinion!

A sampling of sashimi and crab at Nobu, Dallas

I have met fellow Nobu enthusiasts while raving about how good it is. One of my very dear friends actually got the opportunity to meet Chef Nobu Matsuhisa at the Dallas location and invited us along! Matsuhisa co-owns the Nobu restaurants with actor Robert De Niro, and it was quite funny hearing Matsuhisa refer to De Niro as Bobby (a typical nickname for Robert).

Meeting Chef Nobu at Nobu, Dallas

We had some perfect sushi appetizers while socializing with Nobu
and then had another amazing dinner topped off with a tempura fried sea-bass specially flown in for the event! Not only was the plating incredible, but it was so delicious and something I would have never thought of trying otherwise.

img_4insta4

Overall, Nobu is an unforgettable tastebud experience that you will not regret. If you go, branch out from the normal and trying something new, either in a tasting menu or via your wait-staff’s expert recommendation. They have locations all over the world so find one near you and enjoy!