Savannah Ya’ll

What a difference in Savannah the last few years. Last time we were there, maybe 10 years ago, the shopping on Broughton Street was mediocre with a couple of mid level chains. The restaurants were either country, old folky, or touristy. The River area had just been redeveloped but as with every decent size city
it was definitely their tourist trap.
But now! The shopping is great, lots of great chains like Anthropology, J Crew, and Banana Republic with more coming and even more cool smaller shops like Chocolate by Adam Turoni on Broughton and a new location on Bull (ridiculous and he has fake grass as carpet in an all white store so perfect) 24e (a very cool furniture and housewares store) on Broughton and also on Broughton…

The Paris Market

This beautiful shop has unique new and antique items. Their coffee shop has pastries and sandwiches from local bakeries. We went there every day. If I lived in Savannah I would be there all the time. Brought home a long mirror and old wooden box that the sales lady was kind enough to finagle out of the display and call the manager to find out how much to sell them to me for because they were just display pieces. I bought a damn sandwich every day! They were just so delicious. The St Germaine was the best with chicken. They were out of them the other 2 days so I got the charcuterie sandwich with salami – also really really good. The bread was just a perfect baguette.

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and the restaurant options, although still limited have grown enough that we ate in an amazing restaurant each day we were there.

I highly recommend visiting eater.com when you are visiting somewhere. They have tons of articles and lists about the local food scene. I found an article from a food writer about Savannah who felt the same way I did about most of the restaurants in Savannah but mentioned 3 new places that were changing everything.
Plus a friend recommended 2 more.

Where to eat…

The Wylde

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This place is a short 15 min drive over to the river, Google Maps will take you on the highway but on our way back it was just as easy and way more scenic to take Derenne to Bull. First of all the atmosphere was just stupid. It was a beautiful crisp winter day the sky was perfect blue, you’re sitting out on a
cool slightly hipster dock with a southern flair.

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The waitresses know the food and were super friendly. The owner is there cleaning tables and greeting people. As we walked up the chef was at the back door scaling a fish. That’s fresh! So we ordered as much as we could. Hemingway Daiquiris – which aren’t anything like the daiquiris you’re used to.

Hemingway

Good White Rum
Grapefruit juice
Lime juice
Maraschino cherry liquor
Garnished with a brandied cherry

We ordered the housemade wild boar sausage on toast with truffle butter – don’t get scared, that’s the fanciest thing they had. And it was so good. The toast was crispy and the sausage had a loose texture with tons of flavor and none of it was gamey. In fact we made such a big deal over it that the chef dropped off an extra tray of it.

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The details matter too – everything was served on real trays or plates, no plastic or paper. They used cheap trays you get from the restaurant/kitchen stores and it makes a huge difference.

Fresh grilled fish with a beautifully toasted bun (again, details) radish, pickled red onion and arugula. Crispy fish with creamy, slow cooked, high quality grits. Succotash, roasted potatoes and green beans, and of course collards. The best collards I’ve ever had. Tender and slightly sweet with a little kick.

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And we tried one of everything for dessert! All housemade from scratch. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be made with great fresh ingredients and maybe put a little interesting twist on it.

Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookie and Ice Cream sandwich, and Bruleed Bananas with Cookie Crumble and Ice Cream

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We didn’t go see it, next time, but while you are out there it’s a short drive to the Bonaventure Cemetery – can’t wait to go next time.

Collins Quarter

They gutted the front of the old building and left the shell so you are sitting at street level but you can see the walls of the old basement and where the first floor used to be. The architecture was really interesting. Collins is on Bull Street center of Savannah’s historic district. Very hip crowd hanging out there
and very crowded on the weekend.

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At Collins Quarter they have a lavender mocha that was velvety and rich. Fresh pastries every day. We had the brown sugar banana bread with a mixed berry compote and mascarpone. I know shut up!

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Watch out for the biscuits and gravy, way way too spicy for me. As delicious as they look I couldn’t eat it.
But if you like spicy you’ll love this.

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The waitress recommended the eggs benedict, which is what I should have gotten. Fortunately my friend shared his. And as simple as it was the oatmeal with fig and apricot compote and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts was so good I made it at home.

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For lunch we split the smashed avocado with feta, tomatoes, micro herbs, and a poached egg all on fresh toasted bread and the sandwich of the day which was grilled gruyere with ham and mushroom.

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The Florence

At the end of Whitaker Street on Victory Drive. It’s a converted Ice Factory. Again, details details. They have a little bakery and coffee shop that’s open for breakfast and a main restaurant open for dinner and brunch. We of course visited for all of the above.

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The coffee shop is serious. The make their own mocha syrup, in fact he was out when we stopped in so he made some fresh for me. Their baker was trying out bagels for the first time and she nailed it. Perfect crust and not too chewy inside. They also have various croissants and pastries, all buttery and flakey. We had the gruyere and ham croissant and the cranberry danish and Blake tried the bagel. They also sell their croissants at The Paris Market’s coffee shop.

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Dinner. Shared the Florence Bread Plate with apple butter and sea salt olive oil and fresh butter. Various types of fresh baked bread. Ate it all. Followed with the bruschetta topped with smoked trout crème fraiche and potato chips and pork belly with romesco and escabeche

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I had the Egg Yolk Ravioli with ricotta, mushrooms, brussels, butternut squash, radish, puffed parm, and ham and kale broth. Sorry the pictures are so dark.

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Tommy and Blake each had the Painted Hills Sirloin, root veg gratin which was rich and creamy, oyster mushrooms, celery root, and braised collards. Melt in your mouth good.

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The Grey

On Jefferson Street a few blocks off Bay was converted from an old Greyhound Bus Station. They kept 90% of the bus station intact. They did a beautiful job restoring this old building and gave it a really hip new vibe. Of all of the places we ate though this one had a little hint of pretentiousness. It was a little too hipster for me. Lots of buzzing about but the waiter wasn’t that attentive and it took 3 hours for us to eat. The food was delicious and the atmosphere beautiful, the servers are friendly, but.. I don’t know just not quiet my thing.

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Again, I apologize for the dark photos but I figured they’d frown on me turning up the lights.

We ordered – roasted beets with buttermilk yogurt and greens. Rainbow carrots with cream cheese, rye, and caraway. Pork shank with greens and a johnny cake.
Smoked collards, leek, onion, and shallot.

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Dessert we had the Pot de Crème with vanilla, molasses, and candied peanuts. Chocolate Parfait with chocolate pudding, spicy peanuts, peanut butter whipped cream, and chocolate wafer. Sweet Potato Pie with toasted oats, honey, caramel, whipped cream.

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The Pink House Tavern

The restaurant is pretty touristy. But the tavern in the basement, not the bar at the back of the building but the one in the basement was warm and inviting. Standing in front of the building go down the stairs to the left of the front door. The tavern has this great English tavern vibe in the original basement of this old mansion.
Drinks and atmosphere were great.

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The 22 Square Bar at the The Andaz Hotel

We had a couple of drinks here. The bartenders were great. Gave us samples of things they were mixing for other people and the menu was fancy but not over the top. The restaurant also called 22 Square looked delicious. Blake had eaten there before. We didn’t get a chance this time but it looks like the perfect place to go for drinks and snacks.

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Aside from just walking around, because the homes and gardens are ridiculous. They are inspiring and so well restored. I usually take tons of pictures for ideas for my own yard or home. There are lots of tours of the historic homes. I highly recommend doing that. We toured the Mercer-Williams House, its the house from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You only get to see the garden and the first floor. It’s still set up the way Williams restored it in the 1970s and looks lovely but the furnishings aren’t historic and you only see the first floor because the family lives in the rest of the house. The garden was neglected too. I haven’t been on other historic home tours in Savannah so I can’t compare but click here for a list of all the homes you can see.

Historic Home Tours of Savannah

The River front area is really touristy. We walked along it one night didn’t go in anywhere. The bars were either dirty or very touristy and the shops all sell crap. It’s worth walking down there but there’s nothing really worth staying for.

I always like taking a historic tour of some kind, preferably as soon as we get there. It helps you understand the area and all the buildings you are walking by. There are always walking tours, carriage rides, and bus or trolley tours. Just pick the kind you like the best. Here’s a link for Historic Tours

Some other places to visit

Wormsloe Plantation Historic Site

Massie Heritage Center

Shop Scad

Habersham Antiques Market

There are so many options for places to stay. You can book a whole house on AirBNB or VRBO or check into a beautiful Inn or Bed and Breakfast. I would try to get something in the historic area and something that’s close to everything. The historic area isn’t very big so it’s very easy to walk to almost everything. But parking is terrible. So you don’t want to have to constantly be trying to find a parking space. Trust me, walk.
And be aware if you park on the street overnight they have signs for what day the streets will be swept but it’s a little confusing. The sign will say Street Sweeping Sat 12am – 4am which means don’t leave your car there Friday night. I know that doesn’t sound confusing now but when you just glance at it you see Saturday but it means Friday. Fortunately, they don’t tow your car they just give you a
$25 ticket you can pay online.

When you are looking for a place, look at the rooms. If they only show you the living room or the lobby skip it. You want to see the rooms. Some places will put all the money in the lobby area and the rooms suck. Make sure there’s a picture of the bathroom too. With a house rental sometimes you get an amazing deal and a beautiful home and sometimes its just a regular old house. You have to prioritize what matters to you. Location (do you want to be in the middle of everything or on the water)? Price (the rental homes are usually a great deal a whole house that sleep 8 people – $350 a night / $87.50 per couple)? Size (do you want all your friends or family together)?

Figure out what matters the most and start there. If you want to be close to everything, only need a room for 2 people, and don’t care about the price – go for a 4+ star hotel. If you have a big group with varying budgets and still want to be in the middle of everything go for a rental home. If you want the experience of a historic home go for the rentals, inn or bed and breakfast.

Last little note, the week days were much less crowed. We could get in almost anywhere and had less trouble parking. They clearly have a lot of people who visit for the weekend. It was night and day and we weren’t there during any particular holiday. Plus hotels etc. are usually cheaper during the week.

 

Asheville – Hippies Hipsters and Haunted Houses (well not really I just wish)

Ok so the Biltmore Estate is not the Haunted House at Walt Disney World but from certain angles outside it looks like the most awesome haunted house ever! Inside is pretty cool too but they won’t let you take pictures – damn it.

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That photo is from their website.
My photos of the front of the house sucked.

These are the ones I took closer up. They aren’t too bad.

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Standing in the patio area in front of the house.

The drive up to the house (sorry did not take pictures I was enjoying the view and forgot) you drive past creeks and fields and through beautiful woods. The landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park in NYC designed the property for George Vanderbilt. Is seems like just natural woods but he actually designed it all. You drive through a beautiful gate then past the ticket and welcome center and along a 2 mile winding path, every step is the same route taken by Vanderbilt and their guests 120 years ago. They’ve done a beautiful job of keeping the property as it was when it was built and as it was intended.

You can do a self guided tour or take several behind the scenes tours. I recommend renting the audio equipment for the self guided tour. They give you so much info on everything you are looking at. I can’t describe the magnificence of this house. The family was pretty amazing too. They paid their employees NYC wages and paid all their medical expenses. When someone became ill they continued to pay them and held their job for them. They built a village where married employees lived. (the Biltmore Village is still there some of the original homes are restaurants and shops and the rest are now hotels and stores but you can still see where this little village was) There’s just so much info about this family and the estate.

Here are a couple of links

Wikipedia – Biltmore Estate
Biltmore Estate Website

Off the amazing library is a patio covered with a grape vine. From the family photos you can see they spent a lot of time here. The patio over looks a large side yard that at one time had a pool. From this yard you can see the amazing grounds and it leads down to
the formal garden and green house.

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That gravel area was where the pool was. It originally was like this then they added a pool for their daughter Cornelia. Later it was taken out again to restore it back to the original yard.

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The garden was mostly bare from photos it looks like spring is the time to go to see it in full bloom. The trees all had color still and they still had plenty of plantings just no flowers. Inside, the green house was filled with tropical plants.

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After touring the house we had Afternoon Tea at the Inn on Biltmore. It was a great way to include a little bit of the Vanderbilt tradition in our visit. I highly recommend arriving a little early and having a drink at the bar and sitting on the terrace to take in the view.
Again – no pictures, sorry.

But here’s a picture of the view from our table at tea, very similar to the view from the bar’s terrace.

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Afternoon Tea

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I looked at the hotels in the Biltmore area – the Grand Bohemian is beautiful, brand new building that looks ancient. The rates are really reasonable. The Inn on Biltmore Estate and the Village Hotel are crazy expensive. $400+ and it doesn’t include admission to the house. Both are so far away (4 miles I think) from the house that you would still have to drive there so I’m not really sure what the perks are. You can rent bikes, go for a horse ride, and do all of the other things on the estate without staying there. The Grand Bohemian is in the Biltmore Village, across the street from the entrance gate to the Biltmore.

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This is the Red Stag Grille in the lobby of the Grand Bohemian.

These photos are from Google

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There are several B&B’s, hotels, and lofts for rent on Airbnb and VRBO downtown. I don’t recommend the Grove Park Inn. It’s really really dated and not worth the price. It’s about a 15 min drive from downtown to the Biltmore. So stay where you’ll be the most. It’s very easy to drive around the city but hard to park downtown. Although there are parking garages.

The food and bars in Asheville are great. But after a few days it’s kind of hipster overload. When you are planning where you’ll eat I highly recommend mixing in something other then farm to table rustic or you’ll be so over it pretty quickly. Same thing for the craft cocktails. I think we’re about to implode with this stuff. The drinks are getting more and more complicated or really not complicated at all just described in an obnoxiously complicated way.
Can I just get a Makers and ginger please.

So here’s our dining experience.

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Biscuit Heads

2 locations – get there early or on a weekday or the line will be out the door. And totally worth it!

Cat head sized fresh made biscuits, a long list of gravies, the gravy of the day was bacon mushroom, a jam and butter bar, and tons of cool options. Top picture is a biscuit with greens, pimento cheese, mushroom bacon gravy, and bacon. The jams were homemade sweet potato butter, peach strudel butter, strawberry jam,
and citrus basil jam. Stupid good.

Tupelo Honey Café

Can’t go to Asheville without going here. And even with all the new places that have opened in the last 10 years it was still on the top of my list. We had breakfast and dinner there this time. And the service is unbelievably genuine southern hospitality.

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Breakfast – wheat toast with pimento cheese, fresh tomatoes, and pepper bacon and a sweet potato pancake bigger than the plate with pecan granola on top and sorghum syrup.

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Dinner – country ham wontons with a Brussels sprout slaw and the veggie plate with greens, beans and mac and cheese.

Rhubarb

They took 3 restaurants and turned them into one very cool rustic farm to table place. We had an afternoon snack at the bar and breakfast. Would love to go back for dinner.

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A dark rum, homemade pear ginger beer and soda and one of the local craft beers on tap. Their house made charcuterie, pickles,
and local cheese board.

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Breakfast – fresh everything. I forgot to take a picture of my house made English muffin with bacon and a sunny side up egg. A friend got the cruffin. A croissant that is baked in a muffin tin with bacon, cheese, and thinly sliced potato and comes with a side of cream cheese and chives. Once again, stupid good. They also had
another option with rhubarb jam.

There are tons of options for brunch usually on Saturday and Sunday and every place has their own take on Bloody Mary’s

Posana

Right next to Rhubarb. This place was a welcome break from all the hipster rustic-ness of everything else in town. More refined – still had a nod to that whole vibe though.

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My pictures are dark and not doing it justice. Braised then pan seared pork shoulder with sweet potato puree and apple sautéed with greens. Smoked butternut squash with goat cheese, golden raisins, pecans, and crispy leeks with a kale currant and pear salad. So yummy.

Some other places that I don’t have pictures for but you could try

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

They are across the street from Rhubarb – they have a small shop where they sell chocolate bars and ice cream and next to it is the lounge where they sell desserts and drinking chocolate

Wicked Weed

A local brewing company that also has a great restaurant and full bar. Upstairs is the full restaurant and outside they have fire pits. Downstairs is a limited menu and just beer and wine but you can sit outside (they have heaters when it’s cold) The bar snacks were great. Didn’t try the sandwiches but they also looked great.
Definitely want to try them next time.

Social Lounge

Fun quiet bar with a cocktail called the Buttercup. As my friend says it’s so good she’s sure it has crack in it. I agree, I was hooked immediately. The upstairs outside patio was really nice.

Every block downtown has a bar or a brewery. There are tons of shops, restaurants, galleries, and antiques. In the Biltmore Village area you have the chain stores like J Crew and William Sonoma.

Their airport is tiny so it’s so easy to get in and out.
20 minutes from downtown too.

Click here for more info about Asheville.

Sarasota Sunsets

I can’t believe I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and just visited Sarasota for the first time.

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The downtown was a cool mix of 1920’s Mediterranean – mid-century modern – and chic new buildings. It was really easy to walk around the entire downtown and the beaches and other sites were a very short drive away.

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We were there in late August when Ringling was out and all the snow birds were still up north so it was pretty dead but the up side to that is we didn’t have to wait for anything and we didn’t really need reservations to anywhere. But it was 1,000 degrees so we ended up spending a lot of time in the water. I definitely want to go back to see some of the other sites and spend more time exploring when it’s more pleasant.

You can tell there’s a large retirement community there – every block has an Italian, steak or old school seafood restaurant and a lot of the shops downtown were well lets say – mature. I’m assuming there’s more diverse shopping nearby because it’s an upscale area so there must be a Jcrew somewhere. But they have lots of new exciting restaurant options too. Farm to table – locally grown – and interesting prepared. I think the young people are slowly infiltrating the place.

Indigenous

Cute historic house with a modern interior. The chef literally catches the fish in the morning for the dinner menu.

Parmesan beignets with honey, pear and thyme – Local cobia with vegetable slaw and potatoes Lyonnais

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Louies Modern

Because this is their slow season they weren’t open most of the time we were there – the only opportunity we had to eat there was for Brunch. Which was really good but I’d love to go back when we can try their dinner menu.

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Buddy Brew Coffee

Right next to Louies Modern there was a little coffee place that shared an open air lounge area with Louies they had great coffee and a little a/c area to enjoy it. But during months with nice weather the open air lounge area would be awesome to hang out in. I imagine in the evenings it doubles as a bar area for Louies.

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Jack Dustys

The main restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, we met friends there for drinks and the waitress overheard us say it was our anniversary so she brought over a cheese tray with marcona almonds, honeycomb, dried and fresh fruit and crackers. My drink was Hendricks gin with ice cubes made of 3 different juices, mango, passion fruit, and rose water with a lily. You drink it slowly so the ice cubes slowly melt and mix with the gin.

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Their breakfast had everything you can imagine only house made with local ingredients. Perfect service.

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For dinner we had coffee rubbed steak with a house made steak sauce, pork belly Panini with peanut butter and banana (not usually on the dinner menu but I wasn’t very hungry so the waitress offered the lunch menu – the Ritz is cool like that) – dessert was chocolate mousse and a couple of skinny mochas.

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Their homemade molasses bread baked in a can and served with fresh butter and sea salt

Some places we didn’t get to eat but want to try next time…

Made
downtown

Social Eatery and Bar
downtown

Selva Grill
downtown

Nancy’s BBQ
in the historic Burns Court of downtown

We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton on the bay

It was right at the edge of downtown so we were able to walk everywhere – even though it was crazy hot we just sucked it up. But if you went in November it would be lovely walking weather. To get to St. Armands or the Beach Club on Lido Key it was a quick right out the driveway and over the bridge – about a 5 min drive. We rode bikes to a beautiful waterfront neighborhood with complimentary bikes (paddle boards and kayaks were available too). This Ritz was exactly what I expect in a Ritz so accommodating and great at making you feel special. Everyone asks your name and remembers it the next time you see them. Like you’ve been visiting there for years. They find you chairs by the pool, adjust your umbrella, cover your chairs in towels, bring you an ice bucket with water and wait on you hand and foot. We drank cucumber, gin and St Germain in the pool and Modelo’s over looking the beach at the Beach Club.

My only complaint is that they need a separate smaller pool without kids. Rich kids can be obnoxious. Their parents pay no attention to them and no matter what corner of the pool we tried to hide in one of them was constantly splashing by us or almost jumping on our heads even though I was shooting my best stink eye at them.

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The Ritz-Carlton Beach Club on Lido Key

The Ritz has private residences at both locations but at the Beach Club it’s just private. The hotel guests get to use the pool, access to the beach, the tiki bar, and the pool side restaurant. Same amazing service. Every evening they have a sunset party with bongos at the tiki bar on the beach. The bartenders were so hospitable – every time they made someone a frozen drink they would give samples from what was left over in the blender.

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On our bike ride we visited a couple of the historic neighborhoods in Sarasota. I started to read a coffee table book as I was waiting in the lobby, I didn’t get to finish it but the history of Sarasota is pretty interesting – Google it or look it up on Wikipedia. There’s a historic downtown that leads to an area called Burns Court that is a cool collection of shops now. That leads you to the Orange and Osprey Ave neighborhoods where there are waterfront homes. Turn west off of Osprey Ave onto Lincoln Drive. The 1 block oak lined drive that ends in a cul-de-sac has a park in the median. All the homes are new but built in historical styles and just really well done. Architecture and landscaping.

Turn west onto Bay Point Drive off of Orange Ave. and at the end of the drive you’ll see this beautiful mansion that overlooks the bay. The second photo is the backyard. If you look carefully you can see deck chairs on the roof we think there was a pool up there. What a dream, it reminded me of the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom and if know me you know that’s a compliment.

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Most of the other homes in the area were just big. No character at all but this one was amazing.

Some places we didn’t get to see partly because of time and partly because as I already mentioned – it was a 1,000 degrees. So next time we visit it will be cooler and we’ll go see these sites…

Ca d’Zan
the Venetian inspired home of the Ringlings

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
downtown near the Osprey neighborhood

Sarasota Jungle Gardens
just before Ringling

St. Armands
a shopping and restaurant area on a little island between
Sarasota and Lido Key, it was very Tommy Bahamas

Mote Marine Aquarium
on the north end of Lido Key

There are also a ton of theaters and an opera in downtown Sarasota.

A friend whose daughter went to Ringling stays at the
Lido Beach Resort
right on the beach with it’s own tiki bar.
Great option for next time. Can’t wait.

Noshville

What an awesome city Nashville is. It’s a refined southern city that loves music and art with just the right amount of country and even then it’s a funky kind of country. When you have art you have creative people and where you have creative people you have amazing shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.
Creative people make amazing things
not just art to look at but art you listen to and literally consume.

Support Art in your own town, even if you don’t “get” art
I bet you “get” good food, artisanal beers, bakeries, markets, and homegrown music.

Let’s Start with Breakfast

2014-08-01 Nashville Barista Coffee 2

  2014-08-01 Nashville Barista Coffee 3   2014-08-01 Nashville Barista Coffee 5

The Barista Parlor
has 2 locations the original in East Nashville and the new location in the Gulch both are awesome and they take their coffee very seriously (they don’t have decaf) and the mocha’s are made from shaved local artisanal 70% dark chocolate. It’s slightly bitter but so smooth. They have breakfast sandwiches and pastries from scratch – like buttermilk biscuits with sage sausage peach jam and eggs or country ham with chili infused maple. Peach granola. Skillet cornbread with cheddar eggs sausage and honey drizzle.

I think just about every restaurant in Nashville does brunch – they take if very seriously. We went to The Tavern in Mid-town they have a long wait time every Sunday but honestly I wasn’t that impressed. It was fine but it felt like a chain and the food was just fine and in Nashville don’t ever settle for fine. The white trash hash was a keeper – tater tots with cheese bacon and green onions.

2015-07-05 Nashville Tavern white trash hash

Another awesome breakfast (or lunch) place was
Biscuit Love
also in the Gulch. They have biscuit donuts filled with blueberries and topped with lemon custard. Nashville’s famous hot chicken and biscuits with homemade pickles and everything is from scratch.

2015-07-01 Nashville Biscuit Love donuts

Breakfast Lunch or Dinner

Didn’t get a chance to try The Southern but it’s on the list for next time. It’s right downtown it has everything from house made granola to a hillbilly wrap with greens, black-eyed peas, chow-chow, eggs, cheddar and pulled pork – What?!

We did hit Pinewood Social
I can’t imagine going to Nashville and not going there at least once. Located in SoBro They have a bowling alley they salvaged and an outside area that overlooks the river and has bocce ball and little cozy pools that you have to make a reservation for – plus a super cool airstream they serve delicious snacks from. The bar is run by the Patterson House a really cool speakeasy in Mid-town, the coffee is by Crema which is just a few blocks from Pinewood and the menu was created by a former Catbird Seat chef (have not been there yet – tough to get a reservation). The menu at Pinewood is ever-changing and always amazing. Various bruschetta, peaches with burrata, and bacon wrapped meatloaf with mac and cheese.

2015-07-05 Nashville Pinewood Social snacks   2015-07-05 Nashville Pinewood Social menu

2015-07-05 Nashville Pinewood Social drinks

2015-07-05 Nashville Pinewood Social coffee   2015-07-05 Nashville Pinewood Social bowling

Fidos
In the Belmont Village near Vanderbilt. Really cute area that feels like a small college town right in Nashville. The main street is 21st Ave and there are tons of cute shops, restaurants, and coffee shops there. Fidos is a great breakfast or lunch spot. Craft beers and homemade everything – lots of comfort food.

2014-08-01 Nashivlle Fidos 1

It’s Dinner Time!

Butchertown Hall In Germantown, apparently Nashville’s first suburb. Beautifully restored little Victorian homes, old brick warehouses converted to apartments and restaurants, and cute little shops. We had the trinity (brisket, ribs, and sausage) with pickles and tortillas, a creamy slightly spicy cheese dip with sausage, tomato salad and roasted brussels spouts.

2015-07-04 Nashville Butchertown Hall logs   2015-07-04 Nashville Butchertown Hall stamp

2015-07-04 Nashville Butchertown Hall trinity queso tomatoes and brussels

Rolf and Daughters
Another great place in Germantown, just a few blocks from Butchertown Hall. Great dining experience. I wish I could remember our waitress’ name because she was awesome. The menu has a lot of crazy items so I had to ask a lot of questions and not only was she not rushed or annoyed she was happy to explain everything in great detail and give her recommendations. Really laid back vibe. If I lived there I’d be there all the time. We had agretti, a grain that looks like pine needles that only grows in the Mediterranean but a local farmer figured out how to grow it for them. Sauteed with benny seeds it was so good! Pig head – meh. it was kind of gross. Just bits and pieces of the jowls ears etc. Was not a fan. Little beignets stuffed with cheese and herbs. Would love to go again.

2015-07-04 Nashville Rolf & Daughters agretti pig head   2015-07-04 Nashville Rolf & Daughter

Who wants a Snack?

In the same neighborhood as Fidos on 21st Ave is Hot and Cold a coffee shop with fresh popsicles and flavored shaved ice. I had strawberry topped with fresh strawberries, cucumber, and mint and these little marshmallowie things. Carly had mango and matcha topped with fresh mango and cereal. Crazy. Crazy good!

2015-07-05 Nashville Hot & Cold strawberry cucumber mint   2015-07-05 Nashville Hot & Cold mango matcha cereal

Oh and there are other things to do besides eat…

The Sounds AAA Baseball Team play in Nashville. Really nice stadium with (sorry I know this is more food) the best ballpark food I’ve ever eaten. Corn and jalapeno fritters, nachos with pulled pork and pickled veggies, hot dogs with spicy peach ketchup just to name what I can remember. The game was fun too with lots of entertainment in between innings and a beautiful sunset over the stadium.

2015-07-01 Nashville Sounds game 3

There are historic sites and museums:

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Antique Archaeology Nashville, Belle Meade Plantation, Belmont Mansion, Bicentennial Capital Mall State Park (with a really great farmers market and restaurants), Tennessee State Museum, the Parthenon at Centennial Park and tons of historic tours.

There are too many cultural sites to name,
galleries, museums, theaters, and music halls.

 There are distilleries, brewing companies, vineyards and wineries.

Check out the website Visit Music City to see the very long list of attractions. Scroll to the top of the page and you’ll see a link Nashville Neighborhoods – great way to understand where everything is. At the top there are also links for events, tours, sports, food, shopping, everything.

If you want to try to stay somewhere in the middle aim for mid-town but everything is pretty spread out. We used Uber a lot and most of the trips for 4 people were $5. Can’t beat Uber!

Just Outside the City…

Lieper’s Fork is a tiny town about 20 minutes outside of Nashville. The entire shopping and eating portion of the town is about 2 blocks of a country road but it’s really worth it. The shops are far from a Cracker Barrel, no kitschy country knickknacks here. Beautiful galleries and antiques. Like at Serenite Maison,  the David Arms gallery,
and one of my favorites The Copper Fox Gallery

2015-07-04 Liepers Fork Shop Moss Terrarium 2   2015-07-04 Liepers Fork Shop Moss Terrarium 1

The food it pure farm to table. Joe’s Farm Store and Café has produce and homemade items up front and a café with amazing bread baskets, sandwiches, salad plates, and desserts in the back. As soon as you pull into this little downtown and get out of your car you’ll smell Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant – the BBQ is amazing and so are all the typical homemade country cooking sides you get with it. This little store is an unassuming country store with a bunch of mismatched tables scattered about and a little stage in the corner. But the music is apparently famous and so are some of the musicians that stop by to jam with whoever happens to be on stage. It’s a really great place to spend a Sunday afternoon. Check out their website to see the events they have scheduled.

Just north of Nashville about an hour on your way to Kentucky is Clarksville, we stopped by Miss Lucille’s Marketplace and Café. Again, great home-made food with a twist and the booth’s have a nice mix of unique homemade items and antiques. They just added a coffee shop as well. Do not leave there without having the brisket sliders on pretzel rolls or the loaded potato salad. Crazy good.

2015-07-02 Clarksville Miss Lucille's 2

2015-07-02 Clarksville Miss Lucille's loaded potato salad and sliders   2015-07-02 Clarksville Miss Lucille's lettuce wraps

I love Paris in the Springtime (well it’s kind of cold but still really cool)

           2014-05-19 Paris Eiffel Tower 1

Top 5 things to would recommend when traveling to France
or areas in Europe around France –

1.
Bring a damn umbrella it drizzled on and off the whole time.

2.
Bring a warm coat/trench coat (for the rain) – it’s really really cold! France is across the ocean from Nova Scotia to give you and idea of how far north it is. Dress like you’re going to Vermont.

3.
Wear sneakers – I don’t wear sneakers anywhere except working in the yard and then that’s only when I have to use a shovel otherwise I’m barefoot or I wear them when I’m at the gym. Otherwise I have a butt load of cute sandals and flats. They are all comfortable, I wear them walking around Disney all day. But they are not good enough for walking in cold damp weather on cobbled stone streets. You walk all day long and when you do get to your location it’s usually a museum etc where you stand on your feet. So wear something with cushion for the cobbled stones and the standing and something that doesn’t rub in the wrong places like ballet flats. By the time we got to Loches the first thing I did was go to a shoe store and by sneakers and I loved how much better my feet felt in socks and sneakers! Wear sneakers trust me! They don’t have to be ugly gym shoes they can be cute sneakers there are lots of them out there. Take your time and find a pair that look good with your outfits and feel good.

4.
The trains are a headache. Take a train as far as you can then rent a car for the rest of the way. We changed trains twice and then took a bus – the station signs are all in French of course and so are the announcements so you never really know what’s going on. The bus stops at every stop so it’s not very quick and our ticket didn’t allow enough time to get to the train station so we missed our train and had to take a taxi to the next stop. A lot of stress. Next time I’ll take whatever train goes the closest to my destination then rent a car at the train station. So much easier.

5.
Get a travel book from Rick Steves. He had really great time saving tips on everything we went to and you can download his tours for everything from Versailles to the Louvre to driving day trips in Provence.

Ok so that’s done. Here’s how I planned this trip. First I have to say – travel agents definitely earn their money because this took a lot of time. I like to have a plan. It should be very flexible but there should still be a plan. From my experience when you just wing it you end up not really doing anything and missing a lot.

Step 1
Once you know where you want to go buy or download a travel book for that country I really like Rick Steves or the DK Eyewitness Travel books. Read about the country, it’s history, all it’s different regions. Make a list of stuff that looks interesting in each region or city you want to visit. If there’s enough stuff in the region to warrant visiting there then keep it on your list. Eventually you’ll have a list of a few areas you want to go to. Then buy or download the specific travel book for that area. For instance first I bought the France travel book. Then when I figured out we would be going to Paris, Loire Valle, and Provence I bought travel books for those regions. Then read about each region and write down what you want to do. Organize the list by days. Like if you see there are 3 towns a few miles from each other with chateaus you want to see obviously you can do those 3 in one day. This way you can figure out how many days you need for each region. Once you have figured out how many days in each region you’ll know how long your trip will be.

Step 2
Now that you know the length of time you’ll be there look in the travel books and online for any festivals for special events that will be happening around the time you’d like to visit. It would suck to go all the way to France and miss your favorite artist’s temporary exhibit by one day. Once you have your dates nailed down. Book your flight. A lot of airlines do a Economy Plus type deal where you pay $60 or so and get a seat with extra leg room. I highly recommend this. Riding for 8 hours on a plane squished into those little seats suck. If you can fly first class – do it! they have their own little cubby and their seats fold down into real beds. But our flight would have been $2,000 more per person for first class and I could think of a lot of other stuff I could spend that $2,000 on.

Step 3
Housing – once I started looking into hotels in Paris I quickly realized I was either going to stay in a dump or pay a crazy amount $750 – $1,000 a night for a decent hotel. So I looked at AirBNB and found amazing apartments for about $74 per person per night. Other sites are HouseTrip and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). A couple of tips – you have to sign up and get approved before you can request to stay at any of the places. They want to make sure you aren’t a crazy person. When you type in the location you can zoom in on the map or select specific areas of town so the options are narrowed down. You can also choose a price range, number of bedrooms etc. Skip how the outside or living room looks and go right to the bedrooms. This is where you will spend most of your time while you’re in the apartment anyways. Make sure the bedroom and bathroom are nice. The rest is just gravy. Usually there’s a street view too. Look to make sure the neighborhood is ok. You don’t want to be staying over a XXX theater – or maybe you do? Look for a place that’s centrally located to the areas or cities you want to visit as well. Location is really important. You don’t want to waste time driving for 2 hours every day. Or having to walk halfway across the city because you picked an apartment in the wrong place. Here’s the apartments we rented. We had the whole apartment but you can choose to rent just a room from someone.

Apartment in Loches (Loire Valley) was tiny but homey and the lady who rented it to us lived upstairs. This was the beautiful garden. The tower was had a staircase that took you down to the lower street. The last picture is the view from the garden of the lower street.

2014-05-11 Loches apt garden 4  2014-05-11 Loches apt garden 7

2014-05-11 Loches apt garden 8  2014-05-11 Loches apt garden view 1

Our apartment in Apt was more like a villa. It had it’s own walled garden. It was a full sized house. Just amazing.

2014-05-14 Provence Apt apartment 5  2014-05-14 Provence Apt apartment 4

2014-05-14 Provence Apt apartment 33  2014-05-14 Provence Apt apartment 6

2014-05-14 Provence Apt apartment 1  2014-05-14 Provence Apt apartment 3

Our second apartment in Paris was small but they all are. It had plenty of room for us. 2 bedrooms and a nice bathroom. More then a hotel room would have. But keep in mind with these amazing old buildings – there’s no elevator.

2014-05-19 Paris Isle St Louis apt 2  2014-05-19 Paris Isle St Louis apt 1

2014-05-19 Paris Isle St Louis apt 3

Each place was different with how we “checked in” they text and email you reminders and you can contact the owners directly. They all spoke English and were very prompt answering any of my questions. The 2 Paris apartments had key boxes. The owners emailed or texted me the door code and the key box code. The Loches apartment she actually picked us up from the bus station and was there to say good-bye when we left. The Apt apartment the owner met us there to give us the key and show us the place and then she was there when we left so we could give her the keys back.

Step 4
Booking special tours etc. If you’re going to go to museum’s and various tourist places you probably should look into a museum pass for the town. Not only is it cheaper but we were able to go through a special door and avoid the longs lines because we had a pass. Usually the city’s website will have a link for a pass like this. Order it ahead of time so it’s one less thing to do when you get there. If you want to see a show or ride a hot air balloon that kind of stuff you should book in advance. The travel books will give you ideas and so will the city’s website.

2014-05-08 Paris Louvre 5  2014-05-08 Paris Louvre 8

2014-05-08 Paris Louvre Mona Lisa

2014-05-08 Paris Moulin Rouge 2  2014-05-09 Versailles 3

2014-05-19 Paris Notre Dame 3  2014-05-08 Paris Sacred Heart 2

2014-05-20 Paris Luxemborg Gardens 2  2014-05-20 Paris Lock Bridge 2

The hot air balloon was really cool. I’m a huge wuss (just realized I have no idea how to spell that and spell check doesn’t either) I don’t like roller coasters or sky diving and white water rafting. But this was so calm and not scary at all. It just feels like you are floating. It’s really quiet and there’s no wind I guess because we’re moving with the wind you don’t feel it. The basket is high so you don’t feel like you’re going to fall out. I would love to do it again on a clearer day.

Step 5
Other transportation like rental cars and trains. Book those ahead of time again so you don’t have to deal with it when you get there. Most of the travel books will have guidelines for this stuff.

Once you have all this done then keep reading about your areas to learn more about what to see and to better understand where you are going. It’s a lot more fun if you understand what you are looking at. Rick Steves was really good at letting you know which museum’s or attractions were worth it and he gave us great tips to avoid long lines. Most travel books though will just list the most visited places and those aren’t always the best places. Sometimes they are just really touristy. Look online at places and people’s reviews. After reading several things you’ll get a better idea if the touristy place is worth it. Like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre – very touristy but of course you have to see them. And they were totally worth it. Standing next to the Eiffel Tower is kind of surreal.

As far as rudeness goes – because people always say how rude the French are. We didn’t really see that. We would say bonjour and then immediately say Parles-tu Anglais and just about everyone was happy to speak English. Occasionally there was a rude person – but there are rude people in America too. We had 2 taxi drivers that sucked. One acted like he had no idea what I was saying when I asked him to take us to the Eiffel Tower and one drove us out of the way  on purpose. And a guy at the train station said he didn’t speak English then looked over my shoulder at the French people behind me and made fun of me in French. But those assholes aside everyone else was really great!

Restaurants

As far as restaurants go most of the places in Paris wanted you to have reservations.  But that’s really hard to do because no matter how planned out your day is it won’t go according to plan. Things always take a lot longer then expected. So we figured out that the first seating about 8pm needed reservations but then the second seating about 9:30-10pm you could just come and give them your name and wait for a table. Even in the small places that worked. Don’t go to the obvious restaurants where the tourist go. They will suck. They know you are a tourist so the service will be poor the food mediocre and expensive. Look at Open Table to see what restaurants are on there those are usually good restaurants and you can see the menus and pictures. Ask your Airbnb host where their favorite places are. I don’t really ask the concierges at hotels anymore because they just direct me to the obvious tourist places. For Paris I found a book about the best restaurants in Paris – Food Lover’s Guide to Paris and there’s a Cooking Channel show called Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo that I love. She has a website and a page on her website lists her favorite restaurants in different cities. Both the book and Rachel’s website were so helpful to find really good local places. Watch travel shows or look up the show online and look for restaurant suggestions. Bon Appetite is also a good place to look.

Paris Restaurants we loved

Le Pain Quotidien

Little chain near our apartment on Rue Marie Stuart, but so cute Le Pain Quotidien – rustic tables, fresh bread and jams, and rich hot chocolate.

2014-05-07 Paris Le Pain Quitidien breakast on our first day 2  2014-05-07 Paris Le Pain Quitidien breakast on our first day 1

Spring

We found this place in the Food Lover’s guide. Spring serves just one 5+ course meal. No menu they just make you dinner. The service and ambience was amazing. The food was ridiculous. This was our first night in Paris and we really needed a great meal by the end of the day. We arrived at 6:30am (12:30am our time) so we had been up for over 24 hours. We had to check our bags in a city locker because it was too early to check into our apartment. It was raining, cold, and really windy. Then we dragged our luggage 4 blocks in the wrong direction because I was reading google maps wrong. So by the end of the day a really good glass of wine and a great meal was really welcomed.

2014-05-07 Paris Spring 1st course  2014-05-07 Paris Spring wine

2014-05-07 Paris Spring 2nd course  2014-05-07 Paris Spring 3rd course

2014-05-07 Paris Spring 4th course  2014-05-07 Paris Spring 4th course part 2

2014-05-07 Paris Spring 5th course 1  2014-05-07 Paris Spring bread

2014-05-07 Paris Spring 5th course 2

Verjus Wine Bar

The Wine Bars are small local restaurants that serve wine (a little beer and maybe 3 kinds of liquor) which is hilarious what the French think Americans drink. Every menu had Rum Punch and Mojitos on it. The Wine Bars we went to were like our Dally in the Alley – chef owned, unique and innovative food made with local ingredients fresh every day. Verjus Wine Bar was a Rachel Khoo suggestion.  We had a great fried chicken and banh mi type slaw sandwich and the best chocolate chip cookie and brownie I’ve ever eaten. And wine of course.

2014-05-07 Paris Verjus Wine Bar for lunch fried chicken sandwich

Frenchie

Another Wine Bar and another Rachel Khoo suggestion – Frenchie was a tiny little place that was worth the 30 min wait for a table. As with everywhere the people and service were great. Burrata with fava bean pesto, pate, pulled pork sliders, pot-de-crème, and custard with a graham cracker crumble.

2014-05-08 Frenchie burratta with fava pesto  2014-05-08 Frenchie pate with pickles

2014-05-08 Frenchie pulled pork banh mi  2014-05-08 Frenchie chocolate pot de creme

2014-05-08 Frenchie custard

2014-05-08 Frenchie 7  2014-05-08 Frenchie 4

Buvette

This place was in Bon Appetite – Buvette was a sweet little out of the way place we would have never run across if we weren’t looking for it. And they were open all day which was really unique – most restaurants if they were open for lunch were open 12-1:30pm and that’s it. You ate lunch during lunch time or you were SOL.  They had desserts on the counter with stacks of white plates. The bathroom was the cutest cleanest bathroom ever. Fresh Ricotta with pea pesto and lemon olive oil on toast, salami and olive oil, croquet monsieur, chocolate mousse, upside down apple cake, and waffles with berries.

2014-05-08 Paris Buvette 2  2014-05-08 Paris Buvette 3

2014-05-08 Paris Buvette Pea pesto and lemon riccotta on toast  2014-05-08 Paris Buvette salami and olive oil

  2014-05-08 Paris Buvette croque monsuier  2014-05-08 Paris Buvette chocolate mousse

2014-05-08 Paris Buvette upside down apple cake  2014-05-08 Paris Buvette waffle and berries

Au Passage

Yet another Wine Bar – Au Passage was also Rachel Khoo’s suggestion. Little out of the way place the chefs brought the food to your table and loved describing the ingredients and process. Very cool place. fresh burratta cheese with barley, smoked octopus, asparagus egg and cream, rhubarb crumble, and pistachio cake

2014-05-09 Paris Au Passage barley and ricotta  2014-05-09 Paris Au Passage octopus

2014-05-09 Paris Au Passage asparagus burratta and egg

2014-05-09 Paris Au Passage rhubarb cream and crumble  2014-05-09 Paris Au Passage pistachio cake

Angelina

Rachel Khoo again – she said it’s really touristy but really worth it. She wasn’t kidding. Its a fancy tea room across from the Louvre. Angelina’s has the best hot chocolate in the city. It’s really just melted rich dark chocolate that they serve with whipped cream. Their madeleine’s were really good too. They had a ton of fancy pastries. We stopped there on our way to the Louvre and walked through the Tuileries garden with our hot chocolate and treats. Then we ate at their satellite location in Versailles.

2014-05-08 Paris Angelinas pasteries  2014-05-09 Versailles Angelinas hot chocolate

2014-05-09 Versailles Angelinas apricot and shortbread  2014-05-09 Versailles Angelinas chocolate and raspberry

  2014-05-09 Versailles Angelinas eclair  tuileries_garden1_original

Amorino

Gelato shop on Isle St Louis – they make the gelato look like flower petals on the cone.

2014-05-19 Paris Isle St Louis Amorino gelato 1  2014-05-19 Paris Isle St Louis Amorino gelato 2

Schmucks

We stopped here just to take a picture because the name was funny and accidentally found a great little place. That served liquor!! Schmucks is this really cool eclectic bar/restaurant in St Germain.

2014-05-19 Paris Schmuck 2  2014-05-19 Paris Schmuck 8

2014-05-19 Paris Schmuck 7

2014-05-19 Paris Schmuck 12  2014-05-19 Paris Schmuck 9

Semilla

This was one of the places in Food Lovers Guide. Semilla had great food and great people. Lots of activity. The kitchen was open so it was cool to watch the chefs working.

2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 1  2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 2

2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 3

2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 4  2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 6

2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 7  2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 8

2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 10  2014-05-19 Paris Semilla course 11

Loire Valley Restaurants

Cak’t

In Loches’ very quaint ancient village. We arrived late in the day on Sunday and not many places were open for dinner. We stopped into Cak’t they had just one meal for the day. Served by a sweet old man who looked as though he prepared it served it and cleaned up after. Fresh veggies, a meat sauce and puff pastry and of course bread and wine.

2014-05-11 Loches Cak & T 2

L’Etape Gourmade

In Villandry a little farm with a quiet little restaurant. Fire place was burning and after another very chilly day it was so welcomed. Friendly family staff. Rick Steves recommended this place. L’Etape Gourmade

2014-05-12 Loire Valley Villandry L'Etape Gourmade 1  2014-05-12 Loire Valley Villandry L'Etape Gourmade 5

2014-05-12 Loire Valley Villandry L'Etape Gourmade eggs 3 ways  2014-05-12 Loire Valley Villandry L'Etape Gourmade tourrine

2014-05-12 Loire Valley Villandry L'Etape Gourmade dessert 3  2014-05-12 Loire Valley Villandry L'Etape Gourmade dessert 2

2014-05-12 Loire Valley Villandry L'Etape Gourmade dessert 1

Creperie at Loches Chateau

This little place was part of the Loches Chateau. They had the original Roman keep which was partially in ruins, the royal palace built in the 1200s, a church and in the garden of the church was this little creperie run by two little old men. The view was beautiful and the crepes were delicious. Savory – potato, bacon, and cheese and prosciutto with egg and sweet – banana, hazelnut, and chocolate.

2014-05-13 Loches Chateau 11  2014-05-13 Loches Chateau 13

2014-05-13 Loches Chateau 50 crepery  2014-05-13 Loches Chateau 52 crepery potato bacon and cheese

2014-05-13 Loches Chateau 53 crepery proscutto and egg  2014-05-13 Loches Chateau 54 banana chocolate and cream

Provence

L’Isle Sur-la-Sorgue Restaurant

I didn’t write down the name of this place, we just happened upon it. Lovely friendly lady. An antipasti plate of all kinds of things, toast with cheese and a salad, fish casserole and veggies, grilled fish and veggies, and escargot

2014-05-15 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue restaurant 1  2014-05-15 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue restaurant 2

2014-05-15 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue restaurant 3

2014-05-15 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue restaurant 4  2014-05-15 Provence L'isle sure la sorgue restaurant 5

The same town had really cute shops. Olive oils, soaps, and candied fruit – it’s a big deal there. We bought an assortment, not really my thing really sticky and sweet. But they are really pretty.

2014-05-15 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue candied fruit

Apt local boulangerie,  boucherie, and farmers market

Had a picnic in our garden

2014-05-16 Provence Apt apartment picnic in the yard

Thym te Voila

In Apt our host suggested this place. Once again really nice people the chef came out to talk to us. Delicious fresh food. Thym te Voila

2014-05-17 Provence Apt Thym te Voila thai noodle salad  2014-05-17 Provence Apt Thym te Voila mushhroom strada

2014-05-17 Provence Apt Thym te Voila lasagna  2014-05-17 Provence Apt Thym te Voila chocolate cake with olives

La Prevote

Another little restaurant on L’Isle Sur-la-Sorgue. La Prevote is a hotel and restaurant. The whole city is an island that has tons of little canals running through it so the buildings are built over the canals. Inside they put glass up so you can see the river running through the building.  Delicious lunch.

2014-05-17 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue La Prevote course 1  2014-05-17 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue La Prevote course 2

2014-05-17 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue La Prevote course 3  2014-05-18 Provence Apt dinner in

2014-05-17 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue La Prevote course 5  2014-05-17 Provence L'isle sur la sorgue La Prevote course 4

The Chateaus of the Loire Valley

There are so many to see. Pick a couple each day but really after 5 they start to all blend together. Rick Steves has a list of the top ones you should try to see. Here’s the ones we went to.

Chinon

One of the smallest. This one didn’t take very long to go through. Not a lot of signage to read.

2014-05-12 Chinon 9  2014-05-12 Chinon 6

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Villandry  

This one had furnished rooms and an amazing garden. Still only took us about 2 hours to do the whole house and the gardens. The village was cute but not a lot there.

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d’Azay le Rideau

This one had an audio tour so it took a little longer while you listened to information about each room. The ones with audio tours provide a lot more information.

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Loches

This was literally at our front door. we parked at the base of the wall to enter our rental house. There was a small village within the chateau’s walls. An ancient roman keep, a 12th century chateau, a church, a creperie, and homes to walk by. One of my favorite. It took several hours to see everything. I don’t think there was an audio tour but on one of the floors of the keep they had a movie that explained a lot about it.

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Chenonceau

Amazing. They had a village as well but had a lot of restaurants and shops. This chateau is privately owned and you could really tell. Fresh floral arrangements in each room. All the rooms were furnished. They had restaurants, gift shops, a farm, gardens. It was all very tasteful too not too touristy or cheap. Great audio tour.

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The villages we saw in Provence

The amazing villages some built pre-Roman era up the side of a small mountain with a castle at the top. Most of the castles were in ruin but the villages are still there and most survive now on tourism. Some of the little villages have 35 people living there.

Gordes

This beautiful village started on the hillside – moved down to the valley below during the Roman period when it was safer. Then moved back up to the hillside during the dark ages for protection. They utilized the fields below and thrived agriculturally until World War II then all but about 100 people were left in the village and those were very poor. As tourism flourished did the town and now they have about 300 people living there. It’s amazing how well kept these ancient places are and we can’t even keep a 100 year old home from being torn down for a parking lot.

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La Baux en Provence

The town next to Carrieres de Lumieres. Beautiful little streets with a few shops and restaurants with amazing views.

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Seguret

This town was on the list of towns to visit on at winery road trip. Unfortunately we tried to do the road trip on a Sunday – pointless, everything is closed. Plan travel days on Sundays because everything is closed anyways and that way you won’t miss anything. But really pretty little town.

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Then there are all the extra things we did…

The hot air balloon – France Montgolfieres

You buy your ticket online then you make a reservation. Then you call them the day before to confirm your reservation. It’s a little tricky but really worth it.

Winery in the Loire Valley

Chevalerie Winery, this winery was built in an 11th century limestone quarry. The family that runs it started the winery in 1640 and the lady who gave us the tour is the 14th generation to run it. We also got the name of this winery from Rick Steves.

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Carrieres de Lumieres in Les Baux Provence

This is a limestone quarry that they turned into an art museum the art is projected onto the 5 story walls and it moves and changes and is set to music. Carrieres de Lumieres was near the village of Les Baux in Provence. You can buy tickets at the door.

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Locks on the Notre Dame bridge

There are several bridges you can do this on. You attach a lock (you can write someone’s name on if you want) then throw the key into the river for unbroken love. There are people selling locks there at the bridge. I brought my own so I don’t know how much they were. There are several bridges you can do this on. The one that recently started to collapse just had the most on it.

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Brunch at Cask & Larder

Awesome new place – Cask & Larder. I don’t know how long they’ve been open but it’s new to me. The are on Fairbanks in Winter Park right where Orange Ave merges into Fairbanks. Had brunch there Sunday with friends. The waitress described the food and vibe perfectly “elevated southern”. It’s comfort food with amazing twists. The wait staff is professional but friendly and do an outstanding job of describing the food. You can tell they actually eat there and understand what the chef is trying to do.

Photos from their website…

Cask and Larder Southern Public House

Cask and Larder Southern Public House

Cask and Larder Southern Public House

Cask and Larder Southern Public House

In the dining room…

they have a big chalk board that list all the farms they order from. They use as local as possible and everything is made with such care and creativity. The plates are beautiful, colorful, and you can’t wait to dig in. I almost forget to take pictures before I attack. In fact we ordered the Bakeshop on a Boardfrom the Brunch Menu and never had the chance to take a picture! The boys started the meal with the Public House Bloody Mary – pepper infused deep eddy vodka, lemon, and pickles. Nice kick to it and some kind of unexpected spice. We were guessing cinnamon or nutmeg. The girls ordered Seelbach Cocktail – smooth ambler bourbon, Cointreau  sparkling wine, bitters. This was the only thing I didn’t like. Matt thought is was the rye bourbon but whatever it was it was really bitter. Even with adding ginger-ale I still didn’t like it. Not a problem, there are many many other enticing cocktails to try next time. I’m not a fan of bloody mary’s but I might order theirs next time. The Bakeshop on a Board consisted of raspberry jam and peanut butter mousse profiteroles (one suggestion if you are sharing this board – one profiterole has the jam and the other the peanut butter mousse so split each one first. We each took one without realizing – and these things were AMAZING) apple cider glazed fritters (equally as amazing. The glaze was caramelized and almost crunchy) cinnamon coffee cake, and zucchini bread. The last two were ok. Nothing crazy. But the profiteroles and the fritters – ridiculous.

So here’s our meal (every last drop was eaten) …

Fried Green Tomatoes with escabeche vinaigrette and tomato jam
Fried Pumpkin Blossoms with chow chow and “ranch” dressing with beets
Southern Ma’am – grilled brioche, swiss cheese, ham ham, fried egg, and greens
Fried Chicken & Waffles with orange ricotta, maple balsamic, and blackberries
Grits – anson mills grits, bbq border springs lamb, soft boiled egg, georgia gouda

what’s not pictured are the biscuits and gravy and the grits with ham jam. Delicious as well. This is most definatley my new favorite place. Unfortunately you really, really need reservations. Book them on their website through Opentable.com 

Baaston in Autumn

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Lobsta Roll and Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest at Doyles

Just got back from our first trip to this lovely city. This is my take on what to expect as a tourist in Boston. Friendly people. Beautiful historic buildings. Amazing food. Lots of great things to do but what ever you do don’t try to drive around! You can walk or take the subway anywhere. Its super friendly and easy to get around (with the gps on your phone of course – because the streets are all a web of confusion) but it’s much easier to navigate a web on foot then at 30 mph with cab drivers honking at you. So if you must drive out of the city rent a car for that day but don’t bother having one for the whole time. It’s crazy expensive to valet it at your hotel – $45 a night! and there are no places to park on the street. So just take a cab from the airport.

First things first – getting around… 

  • The North End – the oldest area of the city. There are very old (1700’s) buildings and landmarks like Paul Revere’s house (which was even built in the 1600’s) and the Old North Church scattered in among newer buildings. It’s really hard to see the Boston Paul Revere and Sam Adams lived in here. The streets are tighter and smaller. It’s more of a Little Italy now. Lots of touristy things and the historic pubs are either just the name of an original pub like The Green Dragon Tavern which was completely razed in the 90’s and the place now called The Green Dragon Tavern is just a pub with the same name. It is in an historic building though and right across the street from the “Oldest Tavern” I can’t remember it’s name we didn’t bother to go inside it was just a dirty very plain bar.This area was worth walking around for the afternoon but I wouldn’t pay for a tour. Just start at Faneuil Hall and follow the red line – it’s the Freedom Trail and it will take you past all the historic sights which all have plaques so you can read about each of them. Faneuil Hall is pretty much an information station. Behind it they’ve closed off the street and all the old buildings were converted into a shopping mall. This was the most touristy place in the city. Didn’t really see much of it.
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The Green Dragon Tavern – the new one not the original. I’m taking this picture because we hadn’t figured out it wasn’t the original yet
  • Government Center is exactly that just a bunch of modern government buildings – you have to walk right through this area to get from Back Bay to the North end. Otherwise it’s not worth mentioning.
  • Boston Common and the Public Gardens – center of everything. Both are beautiful parks filled with active people strolling, playing with their dogs, having a snack on the benches. No matter what time we walked through the park it was full. If you go Memorial Day – Labor Day ride the swan boats in the pond at the Public Gardens. Just like the rest of the city – it felt safe and was clean. But don’t be stupid, it’s still a big city don’t walk through by yourself at 3am waving your wallet around.

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  • Beacon Hill – this area was built by the wealthy in the 1800’s on top of the hill overlooking the Common and the Gardens. The brownstones here are amazing. This area is great to just walk around to see the homes. Beautiful tree lined streets. Quite neighborhood.
  • Back Bay – this is the only part of the city where it’s easy to navigate. The streets are in a grid and the streets running north and south are in alphabetical order. Commonwealth has a park running down the middle of the street and brownstone homes on either side. Newbury Street has the same beautiful brownstones but the basement and first floors have retail shops everything from Gucci to H&M. Lots of great cafes and coffee shops too.
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Brownstone on Commonwealth
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Shops on Newbury Street
  • Kenmore Square is where Fenway Park is – great tour of the park! This area and really every area we went to was clean and friendly. 
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The same spot in Moneyball where Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) limo pulls up when he’s visiting Fenway
  • The rest of the areas we really didn’t venture into. Theater District, Chinatown, South End.
  • On the other side of the Charles River  is Cambridge – MIT and Harvard are there but otherwise not much to see. Same thing for Charlestown the only parts that would be interesting to tourist are too touristy. Take the trolley tour to see Harvard, MIT, and Charlestown but I wouldn’t bother renting a car to go see it.

This is the Bean Town Trolley map. We used them because they were included in the Go Boston card that we purchased. But our concierge recommended Old Town Trolley. Since we didn’t also use Old Town I can’t really say which is better. I’m posting this map so you can see the areas. And the distance is deceiving we were able to easily walk from our hotel which was in Back Bay next to the Public Library to the North End. We never tried the subway because it was just easy to walk and we wanted to see everything.

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Where to stay…

We stayed at The Lenox in Back Bay. It was a charming historic boutique hotel. There are a lot to choose from though. Some of the others high on my list when I was searching were The Fairmont Copely Plaza, The Eliot Hotel, and Fifteen Beacon, they were all in the Back Bay area. I would say that was the perfect area to stay. It was near shopping, sites seeing, restaurants, parks, subways, everything. The hotel was very accommodating and friendly. The restaurant was fine – a usual high end hotel restaurant. We had breakfast there one morning but there are so many amazing restaurants in Boston I wouldn’t waste a meal there.

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The Lenox Hotel

What to eat…

Everything! Really great dining. We ate at everything from a Chocolate Bar to pubs to high end fine dining.

Breakfast.

We had coffee at a very nice coffee shop on Newbury – L’ Aroma Cafe. Busy with locals in the late morning. Looked like mom’s that had just dropped of their kids at school or people on their way to open the retail stores on the Newbury. Outside seating, muffins, pastries, quiche nice place. We also ate at Trident Booksellers for breakfast. Crowded local place on Newbury half bookstore half cafe. There are several cramped diner like tables and a counter to sit at. We opted for the counter. The wait staff were friendly artsy type young people. The type you’d except to see in a book store. The food was just as creative. I had the Mega tots that are stuffed with cheddar cheese and the size of chicken eggs Tommy had the homemade granola with very fresh fruit.

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Mega tots and granola with fruit

Lunch. 

Eastern Standard is just a few blocks from Fenway. All around Fenway were bars and burger places. Most were closed I’m guessing they are only open for dinner and on game days. Eastern Standard is a refine, turn of the century bar, restaurant and raw bar. Most of the people eating there were locals. Click on the link to see the great lunch menu and pictures of the place. Great service, food, and atmosphere.

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The raw bar at Eastern Standard
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The bar at Eastern Stanard
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Avocado BLT on fresh country white with butternut squash soup – delicious

Parish Cafe was on Boylston Street which is the street The Lenox Hotel is on and 1 block south of Newbury. It also has shopping but it’s not nearly has cute as Newbury. Parish Cafe was a local pub featured on the Cooking Channel’s show Unique Eats. There sandwiches were all created by local chefs. I got the Pudding Portobello by Debra Hughes. Sliced portobello mushrooms on foccacia bread with casio de roma cheese, an onion marmalade, and a walnut parsley pesto. Unfortunately Tommy’s sandwich which included veal was a special and I didn’t write down the whole thing. But here’s the pictures. They were both full of layers of flavor, the bread was perfectly crispy on the outside soft on the inside. The waiter was very helpful – so many great items to pick from. The place was quite (but we were there at 2pm) I imagine it’s slammed during lunch and dinner.

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Portobello sandwich
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Veal sandwich

Max Brenner Chocolate – we stopped at this place on Boylston in Back Bay for a snack. Amazing hot chocolate with little crunchy balls in it and White corn croquettes with manchego cheese.

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White corn and Manchego cheese croquettes

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One of the days we drove to Salem (on a scale of 1 – 10 I’d give it a 6) if you have plenty of extra time its ok. I was a long 1 hour drive through congested areas to get to it. The town is not completely ruined by tourism. The museum has a very informative free movie you can watch to learn about the city. There are mostly old buildings in the historic downtown but most of them have tourist shops in them. Crap you don’t want to buy. But take the trolley tour around the city to see it all. The homes are lovey the town is too. Its just all tourism. You really want a mix of reality and tourism. It can’t be all reality because then there’s nothing for the tourist to do. But if it’s all touristy then you can’t really see what the town was like. I would say Salem was 65% touristy / 35% real. tipping a little too much to the touristy side for me. I would have liked to have found one shop selling items that weren’t neon orange or bedazzled with rhinestones that said witchy woman on it. Some cute shop selling tasteful items that reflect the pilgrim era of this town. We were able to find a restaurant that sold more then hamburgers. 43 Church. It was in an old boarding house. Restored true to the era of the building but with some modern touches. We originally planned on having dinner there. The menu looks great, truffled wild mushroom rangoons with roasted garlic aioli and grilled swordfish with lobster butter, arugula salad & tarragon pesto polenta fries. But since the town wasn’t as interesting as I hoped it would be we didn’t stay late enough for dinner so we had lunch instead. The lunch menu looked equally good. Autumn bisque, frisee & poached pear salad with boratta cheese, fresh berries & port wine vinaigrette. I had the house charcuterie with preserved lemon cheddar, brie au poivre, and poached pears.

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Charcuterie platter at 43 Church in Salem

Dinner.

 Bistro du Midi was on Boylston just across from Boston Common. Its on the second floor and the dinning room felt like we were in a swanky uptown apartment. Tommy had the grilled pork chop with lardons, sweet corn, fresh garbanzo, haricots verts, and smoked pork jus. We shared the goat cheese, pine nuts & honey barbajuans. I had the sweet corn soup with chanterelles, ricotta, cream frache, sage, and preserved lemon and we shared the Hazelnut milk chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream. Amazing every bit of it.

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View from the window of Bistro du Midi
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Tommy
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Bourbon, lemon, bitters, and pear liqueur
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Goat cheese, pine nut, and honey barbajuans
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Grilled pork chop with lardons, sweet corn, fresh garbanzo, haricots verts, and smoked pork jus
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Hazelnut milk chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream

Sel de la Terre was a little place next to the hotel. We just ducked in there one night. They were booked upstairs in the restaurant so we ate in the bar. Which had the same menu and great service. They have fresh baked bread and toppings to order for it. We chose the balsamic shallot and roasted garlic and the eggplant and goat cheese spread. I had the mixed green salad with poached egg and Tommy had the Lobster ravioli.

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Balsamic shallot and garlic and eggplant and goat cheese spreads for the fresh bread
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Mixed green, lardons, and poached egg
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Lobster ravioli

One night we drove to Cambridge to see a burlesque show, the Wrathskellar. We ate dinner at Hungry Mother which was also featured on the Cooking Channel’s show Unique Eats. Cute little place tucked in a mostly residential area. Definitely make reservations. We were there early at 6pm because we were seeing a show after but by the time we left at 7pm people were waiting for seats.  I had the biscuits, pepper jelly, pimento cheese with house made pickles & pickled beets.

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Hungry Mother’s pimento cheese, pepper jelly with biscuits, deviled eggs with house picked beets and cucumbers

Afternoon Tea.

The concierge at The Lenox suggested L ‘Espalier for tea its a block away from the hotel. I’ve had tea at the Ritz in Philadelphia, The Plaza in New York, and many many other places this was probably the most elegant tea I’ve ever had. First course of the Little Red Riding Hood was Scottish smoked salmon with creme fraiche and caviar, English cucumber with fines herbs cream cheese and candied lemon, Casco bay lobster profiterole, and Maine crab salad with sauce gribiche on a croissant. Second course – panna cotta with Matcha, earl grey trifle with grapefruit, chai tea cake with passion fruit, pate a choux swan with espresso Chantilly cream, chocolate decadence cake with moro orange, lemon chamomile and cherry crimsonberry scones.

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Pastries and scones
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Afternoon blend of Darjeeling and Sri Lankan estate teas and Chinese green tea with bergamot and grapefruit peel

Places we didn’t get a chance to eat but wanted to.

 Citizen Public House – in the Fenway area and Oak Long Bar & Kitchen which is in the Fairmont Copley Hotel. We walked through to see if there were any seats at the bar. Almost waited until 10 pm to get a table but decided to try somewhere else. This place looked great. We did go back the next day for breakfast and it was very good.  I had the Vermont goat cheese, egg white, spinach, pepper flat bread on whole wheat crust and Tommy had the Irish whiskey french toast with summer berry relish.

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Oak Long Bar & Kitchen at breakfast

What to do while you are there…

I recommend the Go Boston card – it was $140 pp for 5 days but when I added up all the places, historic houses, museums, trolley rides, Fenway everything we wanted to see was on it and it cost about 1/2 what it would have if we paid for each thing separately. I’ve already mentioned the trolley. When we go to historic cities I always like to take the trolley or a carriage tour first. It helps you understand the lay of the city, where the important sites are to go back to, and it’s transportation around the city.

Samuel Adams Brewery Tour – it’s free and you get free beer at the end. If that isn’t enough, its a very informative tour given by people who love their jobs and our guide was very entertaining. Its first come first serve. If you can go on a week day. If not get there when they open on Saturday. They only do so many tours a day. At the end of the tour they take you into the tasting room. there are several long tables and bar stools long the walls. Sit at the bar stools in the back of the room away from the bar. They fill up pitchers and pass them out to the tables. As the pitchers are passed along the tables everyone just takes about half a glass (8 oz tasting glass). So the pitcher is still about half full by the time it gets back to you. You know have half a pitcher to drink. You can refill your glass several time. You get 3 different tastings so by the end you can easily have had 4-5 beers instead of 3 tastings. After the tour a party trolley pulls up to take you to Doyles Tavern. One of the oldest taverns in Boston. If you take your tour ticket and order a Sam Adams at Doyles you get to keep the specially designed Sam Adams glass. The guy who drives the trolley is awesome. Thick Boston accent. The trolley is playing KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way – I like it” as we pull away with the disco ball and lights going. Doyles was an old tavern. The lobster roll at the top of this blog is from there. Tommy said it was great.

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Waiting for the tour to begin
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me at Doyles after the tour

Fenway Park – I’ll just post the pictures. You get to see the visitor’s locker room and dugout and sit on the Green Monsta.

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Tommy in the visitor’s dugout
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in the pressbox
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The Green Monster

Old Sturbridge Village – this was about 1 1/2  hours west of Boston. It was an easy drive along a highway that was lined with autumn colored trees. The village is away from everything so while you are there you don’t see any other buildings. They have gathered historic buildings from all over Massachusetts and recreated a town. They have a town square with a tavern, bank, church and faux cemetery  grist mill, sawmill, cider mill, school, pottery, working farm and farm house. it was very very well done. All the interpreters are dressed in period clothing and are actively working. They were very knowledgeable about the town and their jobs. After the hectic city it was a really relaxing place.

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Other things to do in Boston that we didn’t get around to…

Beacon Hill Walking Tour, The Freedom Trail Tour, Old State House, Otis House Museum, Paul Revere House (we did see this – it was interesting), they have Farmer’s Markets in all the squares everyday, there were several farms along the way to Old Sturbridge Village that we didn’t have time to stop at Jenney Grist Mill that presses and sells fresh apple cider, Hanson Farms that had a pumpkin patch and corn maze, and Dowse Orchard that also had fresh cider.

Tips on what to wear…

We went in the fall so it was chilly. You will be walking a lot so wear flats. But that doesn’t mean you should wear sneakers. There are tons of cute options out there that are comfortable and don’t make you look like a tourist. Even though it’s a big city most of the people were casually dressed. Mostly jeans with cute little jacket or sweater and scarf with boots or ballerina flats. The guys had on chucka boots jeans and sweaters. Here are some of the outfits I put together. I wore both walking all over town and was perfectly comfortable.

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This was my first time so be gentle with me. I take a lot of time to research the places I go and I wanted a place to share that research.