Tag Archives: foodie

I’m not cut out for Vegas (aka a travel guide for someone who hates gambling)

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. It was my first visit back to the Strip since I was freshly 21 – so nearly 9 years ago. Let’s just say, it will probably be at least another 9 years for me to forget yet again why I am not cut out for Vegas and decide to make a return trip. That’s the schedule me and Sin City have. We reconnect every 6-9 years, realize it isn’t going to work out, and go our separate ways.

My first trip was when I was about 15. Our family was on a cross-country trek in an RV that was going to last most of the summer. I think it was around 2002 or 2003, and my main concern was making my parents as aware as possible that I was extremely upset they were forcing me on a tour of the US when all I wanted was to spend the summer with my boyfriend. Ah, the stupidity of youth. What I wouldn’t give to go on that trip now that I actually realize how awesome it was to see the Grand Canyon, the California sequoias, Yellowstone, and numerous other national treasures.  One stop on our tour was Vegas, and our first date was a good one. I wandered the Strip, taking in the amazing decadence of each casino and spending my parent’s money at the shops at Caesar’s. We visited Circus Circus and rode the indoor rides. Between the lights, the shopping and the coasters, I was enamored. I couldn’t wait to go back when I was old enough to drink and gamble. It was a typical first date. We were both on our best behavior.

My second date with Vegas was a few months after my 21st birthday. My mom and my three aunts and I decided to take a girls’ weekend. We had high hopes of winning big and living large. My mom won a few hundred bucks on a slot machine. Me – I lost my modest budget of $300. I’d never seen money vanish so fast. And that’s when I learned that I hate gambling. That, and that you really shouldn’t gamble if you aren’t emotionally stable enough to lose. As a poor college student working two jobs, I worked too darn hard for my money. There is nothing worse for my competitive and logic-based brain, and my anxiety-laden psyche, then trying to figure out how to find some semblance of skill and strategy in games of pure and random chance. I did, however, enjoy the shows. We saw Bette Midler and she was absolutely fabulous. We all took a trip up the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, Bette & faux Paris weren’t enough for me to continue a love affair with Vegas. When our flight was cancelled and we were forced to spend an unplanned night in a crappy motel room off the Strip, I was cursing Vegas and vowed never to return.

Nine years had passed, and now that I was a fairly successful adult with disposable income and a wonderful husband as a travelling companion, the faults I found with Vegas in the past seemed just a matter of circumstance. I thought that this time I’d be able to set a budget and be okay if I lost the money set aside for gambling. I was wrong. By the time I’d saw my final chip lost to the roulette table, I was near tears. Why, for the love of all that is good, could I not win once?! Slots – lost. Roulette- lost. Blackjack – lost $300 in a blink. I mean, come on! I was losing my money so fast I wasn’t even able to have any fun with it. Finally, after our third date, I learned that Vegas and I just aren’t compatible. I am not one of those types who likes the thrill of trying to win big. I’d rather just keep my money. Should Vegas and I attempt to reconnect again, I’ll stick to dining, shopping and shows. The casinos and I just aren’t meant to be.

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It wasn’t all bad. I scored a cute pair of black booties at a steal. I ate the most delicious Spanish tapas in the gorgeous Aria. We laughed (and cringed a bit) during a variety vaudeville and Burlesque act called Absinthe. We got a dose of political satire and incredible slight-of-hand from Penn & Teller. When the soul-sucking casino games drew our final dollar from us, we retreated to our room and paid way too much for a pay-per-view movie, but there is nothing better than curling up with my honey. After all, $20 for nearly two hours of entertainment is quite the bargain in Vegas. Alone and away from it all, Brian and I got a chance to really connect and have a few deep conversations – one while we gazed over a panoramic view of the Strip while dining on Alaskan king crab legs and filet. Oh, and we saw Britney, bitch.

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Maybe I’ll give that crafty vixen one more try after all…

If you are looking for a non-gambling centered visit to Vegas, full of food and entertainment, here are my recommendations:

Day 1

  • If you are travelling from the East Coast, reminder that Las Vegas is on virtually the opposite side of the country. It is waaay closer to California than I remembered. We still managed to tough it out and fit in a great dinner and show. To get you in the Vegas mood, and help motivate you through the three hour time difference, do yourself a favor and check out Julian Serrano at Aria for Spanish tapas. The rioja was delicious (I only was able to have a sip because I’m preggers, but it was amazing!), the braised oxtail was the best thing on the menu, the pan con manchego was scrumptious, and there were a number of other dishes I wish I could have fit in. We made reservations, but it wasn’t too crowded on a Friday in January.
  • Next, keep yourself entertained with the fast-pace and raunchy humor of Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace. Be prepared for graphic descriptions you wish you could be unheard, but some of the most incredible acrobatics you will ever see. Not suitable for children.

Day 2

  • Do yourself a favor and contact The Massage Couple for a wonderful in-room massage. They offer a 90-minute massage and take the stress out of reading through a million spa reviews. Prices are much more reasonable than the hotel spas (most of which aren’t that well-rated). If you prefer a spa environment, and price isn’t a concern, then there are a number of great places to check out. Either way – take some time to relax.
  • After a relaxation session, head to Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris casino for a terrific French brunch. The ambiance is really great, and the food was amazing. We recommend the baked goat cheese and mussels. The fresh French baguettes are addicting, and the chocolate mousse is superb. Reservations are a must!
  • For the evening, pick one of the many concerts. We saw Britney, but there are a ton of others to choose from. A Vegas concert is more intimate than you’ll find other places. The Axis at Planet Hollywood, for example, only seats 4,600. Because they are shows with long runs, the stage and props are always spectacular.

Day 3

  • For breakfast, pick a buffet. They are all fairly comparable. We hit up the Spice Market at Planet Hollywood because that’s where we were staying. It was pretty decent and had a range of cuisines. (We don’t recommend the PH as a place to stay, however. Rooms were nicely sized, but our floor reeked of cigarettes, housekeeping was lousy, and they were stingy with towels. There are much nicer places to stay.)
  • Instead of gambling, shop the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood. There are tons of sales, and your $500 will go much farther! Just be sure you have room to take all your loot home.
  • For your last evening, catch a magic show. We saw Penn & Teller at the Rio. Be prepared for some political comedy and impressive slight-of-hand. If you are more into vanishing airplanes or gimmicks, then there are several other magicians to choose from. If you do wind up at The Rio, which is a little off the strip, then The Voodoo Steakhouse offers a good meal (although a little pricey). The view is pretty impressive and gives you a panoramic of the Strip. We split the Land & Sea so Brian could have his steak and I could have some delicious crab legs. There are certainly better meals- and at better value –  so don’t make the trip unless it’s convenient.

 

 

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On planning a wedding – Foodie bliss

After a two month hiatus from any sort of wedding planning, this weekend Brian and I jumped back into the game tackling flowers, decorations, entertainment, menu and wedding cake all in one Sunday outing. We are by no means done, but we’ve made pretty considerable progress and the fuzzy mental imaginings of my wedding day are starting to gain clarity. Let me start by absolutely raving over the staff at our venue. For anyone looking for a stress-free, warm, welcoming wedding planning experience, please look up Hidden River Events in Asheville, North Carolina. We absolutely love these people and their big, beautiful, friendly hearts. 

The highlight of our trip was of course the food. I can’t think of one single life activity Brian and I enjoy more than eating. Sometimes this shared love gets us in trouble (oh for the love of ice cream!) but more often than not we find limitless joy in trying a new restaurant or dish. Add in our appreciation for wine and craft beer, and well, let’s just say we wouldn’t be content with a pasta buffet line at our wedding. 

We were able to meet with two caterers on Sunday. For our first tasting we were treated to crab cakes, tomato and basil crostini and a Parmesan artichoke spread. For our second we devoured mini bacon and cheddar beef sliders on a delish pretzel roll, black bean and sweet potato sliders with avocado, mini BLTs, and crunchy tea-brined chicken.

After a first tasting, a BBQ lunch because we were still hungry, a pit stop for ice cream, and a second and markedly more robust tasting, we moved on to cake. I must say I was a bit disappointed I’d gotten so full up to this point, as this is what I’d most been looking forward to from the moment I said ‘Yes.’ I LOVE sweets. I have a second stomach dedicated to dessert. I don’t care if I can’t take one more bite of my delectable filet or my succulent salmon – I’m housing a whole chocolate brownie sundae or slice of key lime pie. When Anne set before us a tray full of cupcakes for tasting, I almost cried with joy. We sampled lemon, strawberry, almond, carrot, chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, red velvet, salted caramel, cream cheese with marshmallow fluff — it was ten kinds of heaven. I know everyone says their cake is going to be amazing, but then it ends up tasting like cardboard dust wrapped in a beautiful icing with has the texture of frozen Crisco and about the same flavor. In our case;however, our cake is going to be AWESOME. Really and truly.

And, because you know my tendency to completely change direction, we almost totally revamped our menu selections in preparation for our next tasting. So don’t worry, no spoilers here. Nothing about our wedding is traditional, and you can be sure the food most certainly won’t be either. 

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Friday Before Last I Turned 26

I wrote this last week, but was too lazy to post…

On Friday I turned 26. Apparently 26 is the year where I give up starving myself for three weeks to squeeze into a skin-tight black dress and hit up a club so I can give myself the gift of an ego boost via appreciative ogling. Or at least, what I think is ogling but could be everyone else developing the same tendency to squint and overactively blink when their contacts dry out due to dehydration caused by a mix of blasting AC  and too many vodka sodas. Or at least I assume everyone develops the squints. I do.

Instead of the aforementioned excitement, I’ve spent the last week stuffing my face full of delicious food and tossing down scrumptious cocktails which will leave me bloated and in need of some double-duty yoga sessions for oh… the-rest-of-my-life. It’s been awesome.

I may finally give up and admit that I love food too much to ever return to my high school weight. I’m getting used to my pot belly. I believe a gorgeous French girl once mentioned while lying in bed next to Bruce Willis in one of my favorite movies ever (if you don’t know the movie you should stop reading my blog now and never return) that she wanted a ‘pot.’ Well bitch, I got one. Be jealous.

As a matter of fact, all yall should be jealous. You know what goes into making a pot? A whole lot of time and money. I mean, you can’t sample one of everything on a menu without it – and that’s what I’ve basically been doing.

On my birthday proper we went to my favorite summer spot for patio dining. I also worked there during the space “in-between” college and real life – so I’m a bit biased. Sitting outside under the loving shade of an umbrella, sampling savory tapas and sipping red wine sangria made for pretty much the best birthday ever (except for last year when I spent it with my favorite Mexicans who showered me with chocolate, and cupcakes, and actual cakes.) It’s a tie.

Saturday was spent in Asheville. It was less a food day (which is strange because Asheville may be my favorite place in NC to eat) but I still managed to find several tasty brews to fill my belly.

And then there was Sunday. And Boston. And three marathon days of eating. I’ll leave that for my next post. 

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Greenville, SC: The New Charleston

This weekend a girlfriend and I decided we needed a mini-getaway. We initially planned to make use of her family’s condo in Myrtle Beach, but a forecast of rain put a literal ‘damper’ on our plans. Rather than have our girls’ weekend thwarted, we started to brainstorm other ideas. We tossed out Savannah, somewhere in Tennessee — and then there was a faint tug on my brain; something about a not-too-distant town that sat on a river and offered fantastic dining, picturesque scenery and great local shopping. ‘Aha!’ I thought to myself — why not check out Greenville, SC?

We were not disappointed.

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Friday evening took us to the river front and a highly recommended restaurant called The Lazy Goat. I pride myself on my love of a variety of cuisines, but this was a new spin. We were treated to a menu of Mediterranean tapas with global inspiration. Our libation of choice was a white wine sangria garnished with lime and strawberry. First course were lovely little bites of fried goat cheese with vanilla dusting and pistachio – we were greeted with a scent reminiscent of freshly-fried mini donuts — the inside was a delicious creaminess. I’m pretty sure we both let out an audible moan after the first bite. For our second course we enjoyed mussels with chorizo, garlic and pancetta (yum!) and a Cuban pizza with rosemary roasted pork, pickle slivers and provolone. Last but not least was a braised veal shank with broccollini and lyonnaise potatoes floating happily in a tomato and Gorgonzola cream sauce. It. Was. Amazing.

On our walk to grab an after-dinner drink, we started to notice familiar restaurant names. High Cotton from Charleston, Camille’s, Dixie’s and Connolly’s from Charlotte. We suspect they have the same owners, and that we aren’t the only ones who found this charming town to be a perfect substitute for a weekend in the South’s pet city of Charleston. Prices were cheaper, food was nearly as good, and the parking — well let’s just say you didn’t need to hike a few miles from your car to the city center. I even preferred the shopping. Greenville hasn’t yet been consumed with designer labels that push out anything local, hand-crafted and artsy. I picked up some gorgeous hand-crafted wood kitchen stuffs.

Below is the view from The Lazy Goat’s terrace. We didn’t get to attend the jazz festival — but we certainly enjoyed the view.

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The rest of the weekend brought more edible indulgences (creamy grits with chipotle cream — all you can eat too! lobster risotto, dutch apple and goat cheese nestled inside a flaky pastry, spinach and cheddar scones, the list goes on..) as well as some indulgences of the soul. We enjoyed spa services at our hotel accompanied by my favorite form of therapy – white wine.

It was a solid 36 hours, but we will definitely be making a return trip. I look forward to biking along the river and meandering through the zoo. I regrettably left some shops unvisited and delicacies untasted. We also have to stop in for a refill.

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Eat your way through Puebla

My absolute favorite part of travel is food. Well, actually, my favorite part of life may be food — followed closely by cuddling, books, movies & baby animals.

While in Mexico, I tend to spend 90% of my time eating. Which makes perfect sense when  you consider where food falls in my pyramid of life priorities. Let me demonstrate:

An Oversimplification of My Life Priorities by Brittany

Travel & Food/Chocolate/Mint Chocolate Ice Cream/Cookie Cake

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Reading & General Cuddling/Cuddling while watching Movies

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Baby Otters/Baby Cats/Baby Dogs/Baby Pandas/Baby Hippos & Other Baby Animals

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Everything Else

As you can see, my needs are simple. Feed me, and everything is gravy; however, lack of feeding results in monstrosity. Case in point, the Bojangles incident whereby I earned the lovely nickname ‘Hulk.’

Luckily, Puebla has a plethora of culinary opportunities to satisfy any palette. You may imagine that in Mexico it’s nothing but tacos and enchiladas — and it is — but there is so.much.more. During my first visit I recounted the delights which are seasoned pork tacos, humongous $6 filets, hot sauce on popcorn and chipotle sushi. I thought I’d eaten my way through most of what Puebla had to offer, but (as rarely ever happens), I was wrong.

Let me tell you now about pinchitos and four-course homecooked meals for 50 pesos.

There is a restaurant in Puebla called Lizarran. It is a Spanish-style establishment which specializes in pinchitos, commonly known as tapas elsewhere. Apparently it is an international chain, but somehow they have erroneously neglected to add Charlotte, North Carolina to their list of locations. In a Brazilian steakhouse fashion, waiters come ’round to your table with a variety of tapas. You pick and choose those you wish to consume and are charged by the piece. My favorites typically have some kind of cheese on them – fresh salmon with cream cheese, chorizo with melted cheese, prosciutto with manchego and crushed tomato, apple or pear with goat cheese, cheesecake… you get the idea. As icing on the metaphorical cake, they have a fantastic selection of wines to accompany your meal at decent prices. May be my favorite concept ever invented.

Today I had a foodie experience that I’m almost certain is reserved for locals (or foreigners who happen to stumble upon it.) There are secret treasures tucked around Puebla where you can imagine an old, wise and crinkly-eyed abuela in the kitchen cooking up her family favorites dating back for generations. There is no menu. Each day offers a four-course meal — soup, second course, meat and dessert — all for 50 pesos. You simply take a seat and enjoy the selections brought to the table. At my first go I was treated to chicken soup with avocado, noodles with jamon and cream sauce, spinach and ham stuffed beef with an apple salad, and cinnamon-spiced rice pudding.  For refreshment, water infused with orange. Everything was fantastic, and given that I can’t (read don’t) cook while I travel, a fresh homestyle meal served as a nice reprieve from the typical indulgent cuisine.

Full belly, full life. True story.

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