Archive for the ‘Places to Eat’ Category

Step Back into the Old West

October 20, 2015

In N.Scottsdale to go to the theater?  Grab a bite before the show at Saddle Bronc Grill.

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The bar has better atmosphere than the restaurant and they even have live entertainment.

The tooled leather high top tables and bar stools give the place and old west feel…if there were tvs in the old west.  And you gotta love a bathroom door handle that’s a 6 shooter!

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Order up a drink and some “rattlesnake eggs”.  That’s their name for the fried potato and cheese balls.  The green chilies give them just the right amount of heat and there’s enough for the table to share.

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The menu features meatloaf, ribs, steak, chicken – many entrees are even offered in 1/2 size portions.  There’s something for everyone, even the pickiest of eaters.  Yes, it is family friendly but please parents – eat with your kids in the restaurant portion and leave the bar for the adults!

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Be sure to splurge the extra  $2 for the “Martini Potatoes” and leave room for dessert because the brownie is homemade!

Check Groupon before you go, you may be able to save some $$ but be sure to tip on the full smount, the service we received certainly deserved it!

A nice find and worth a return visit!

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Oasis in the Desert

October 6, 2015

After 2 weeks of lackluster dining experiences, we met my sister and her husband at Paul Martin’s American Grill (6186 North Scottsdale Rd) Scottsdale, Arizona.  In all my years of dining in the desert, this was my first visit to Paul Martin’s but it will certainly NOT be my last!

Heather - Server Extraordinaire!

Heather – Server Extraordinaire!

It started with our server, Heather.  What a joy!  It has become all too rare to find wait staff who take pride in their jobs and who love providing killer customer experiences.  Remember the old song for Burger King “Hold the ketchup, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way”?  Well that should be Heather’s theme song because she is unflappable.  Whatever we asked for she delivered with a wink and a smile!

We came in during happy hour which here extends from 3:00 until 8:00pm daily and started with cocktails.  A mojito or skinny margarita for only $5.00?!?  Who could say no to that?  Lots of great food options on the happy hour menu as well.

Butcher Board + Ribs

Butcher Board + Ribs

A butcher board with meats and cheeses including a truffle drizzled salami!  Chicken skewers were tasty and a generous portion – 3 skewers for only $5.00!  The ribs were a bit pricey ($9) but delicious and an appropriate appetizer or small meal serving.  I think I just got spoiled by all the awesome $5 options!

We could have easily made a meal of the great happy hour offerings but then my husband would have missed out on the delicous skirt steak.  When my sister and her hubby said they were going to split the pork chop dinner, it was delivered to the table already split onto two plates!

Be sure to leave room for dessert and may I recommend the apple crisp?  The homemade bourbon vanilla ice cream on top was a nice touch and the crisp was large enough to share.

Matt of Matchbook Wines

Matt of Matchbook Wines

As if great food, an incredible server and an attentive Manager (Eric) weren’t enough to make this a memorable evening, Matchbook wines was set up offering free tastings of 3 of their wines.  The Chardonnay and the Tempranillo were amazing!  Too bad the Tempranillo isn’t available in our local AJ’s.  If you don’t know Matchbook wines, they are sure to become a new favorite.  The brothers had a fascination with fire as youths and were always burning part of the family farm.  Today the nod to their pyromania shows in the name of some of their wines such as the Arsonist Chardonnay.

All in all, a night worth repeating again very, very soon!

 

 

Eat Like a Local

October 1, 2015

Getting ready to visit another city?  Groupon and Living Social are great ways to take advantage of deals in your destination city.  Using either your computer or the phone app, change the location using the zip code of where you are staying.  You can search for restaurant or activity deals to stretch your travel budget.

Groupon is a little more user friendly by letting you show the deals on a map rather than just a list but the few minutes of research you need to do using either is more than made up for by the bargains you’ll find.  The app makes it so you don’t have to print out anything so you can even grab a deal on your way out the door!

Here in Scottsdale, I’ve so far taken advantage of deals at:

Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill – Fashion Square Mall location
We went for Happy Hour and tried a number of their food offerings including Pulled Pork Sliders, Bacon Cheddar Potato Cakes, Sauteed Brussell Sprouts Pretzeland the Oven baked hot pretzel with beer cheese dip.  Off the Seasonal Menu I had the Pan Seared Shishito Peppers – a favorite of mine.  The table agreed that everything was great EXCEPT the hot pretzel which was dry and the ale cheese dip that looked unappealing and lacked flavor.  The manager was quick to take it off our bill though and even gave us coupons for a free appetizer when we return – and yes, we will!

Bink’s Kitchen + Bar – 6107 N Scottsdale Rd.
Bink'sWith all the accolades Chef Binkley has received we had high expectations and were disappointed.  The food certainly tasted fine, but both the Baby Beets Ceviche and the Heirloom Tomatoes were such tiny portions – certainly not worth their $9 and $11 price tags respectively.  It almost felt as though they were running low in the kitchen and we got what was left – certainly neither item matched pictures on the web of those dishes.  The Gazpacho and Fried Shishito Peppers were more appropriately sized to their prices and the Moroccan Fried Chicken was the hit of the table.  Part of our disappointment was in the extremely slow service.  We were there on a Tuesday night early – hardly the middle of a busy weekend evening and the food took an exceptionally long time to get to the table.  When we inquired with our server, he acted as though we had personally insulted him!

 

Rosati’s Pizza – N. Scottsdale -10989 E Dynamite Blvd
We love pizza.  Just not THIS pizza.  I try to say something positive in every review but in this case, I can’t.  We ordered the “Double Dough”, a medium thicknessCholula crust with a hand-rolled edge.  The dough is the foundation of every great pizza and this dough was just bland.  It had no flavor what so ever!  The sauce was okay and the toppings (Pepperoni, Bacon, Black Olives and Fresh Tomato slices) were equally bland.  To add insult to injury – it took forever!  We looked surprised when another table that had been seated at least 30 minutes after us received their pizza first and the customer explained they had phoned in their order 15-20 minutes before they arrived!  Yes, it took nearly an hour to get a marginal pizza.  Thank goodness we had ordered the fried zucchini to tide us over!  We took most of the pizza home with us and using heavy doses of Cholula Hot Sauce we were able to make it more edible.

One of the great things about getting a deal, it takes some of the sting out of the lackluster experiences whether it is small portions, bland food, slow service or all of the above!

Barefoot Dining

August 9, 2013

On our anniversary, we had dinner on the beach in Aruba.  Like many beach resort areas, Aruba has a number of dining on the sand options.  
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The Westin sets up tables for the number of guests who have booked.  They have a great view of the sunset and a very nice menu but all the beaches in Aruba are PUBLIC so there are people frolicking in the surf and on the sand right in front of your romantic dinner.

This is actually a factor to consider at several of the dining spots.  One of the more popular dining on the beach options is Passions.  Part of the Amsterdam Manor all-inclusive resort, it accommodates both guests and outside diners.

The palapas also can be a factor when selecting a romantic dinner on the beach location. Many of the resorts have these thatched roof “umbrellas” to provide shade on the beach for their guests.  We had dinner one night at Matthews Beachside restaurant and found both the busy beach and the palapas greatly reduced our enjoyment of what was otherwise a lovely meal.  The palapas, unlike a traditional umbrella, cannot be closed or taken down. In the case of Matthews, we couldn’t appreciate the sunset because we couldn’t see it through all the palapas!
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Our favorite beach dining location was Barefoot.  Billed as “Elegant dining in flipflops” it was all that and more!  Located far enough from the busy resorts to have minimal beach traffic and an unobstructed sunset view, it was the perfect setting.  Yes, it is close to the airport and you can see a plane or two come in for a landing but that is, in itself, rather interesting.  It’s Aruba so we’re only talking about a couple of planes in an evening – not a couple of planes every few minutes.  The food was outstanding.  The service attentive without being intrusive.
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My personal favorite takeaway from the evening;  the Royal Mojito.  A typical Mojito but with champagne in place of the traditional soda water.  Oh yeah!  I’ve been ordering all my Mojitos “royal” (yes, I have to explain what that means but all the bartenders get it and think it’s a great idea) ever since we got back.
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How do you find the perfect beach dining experience on your next vacation?  Use the internet.  Once you’ve identified options, look at the photos on their websites.  You can usually review the menu on line as well.  Read reviews of both the food AND the settings on 3rd party review sites.   If you arrive a few days ahead, go check it out in person to be sure when the special night arrives you’ll have the romantic experience you were expecting.

Sunday in Scottsdale

May 24, 2013

Lots of Northwesterners head to the desert this time of year.  Sure, its starting to heat up but hey, its a dry heat and there are lots of golf courses.  Rates have dropped at many of the resorts so its perfect for a weekend – or longer getaway.

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If you find yourself in Scottsdale on a Sunday, be sure to book a table at Davanti Enoteca on Scottsdale Road at Lincoln.  The “build your own” Bloody Mary (or Virgin Mary) is amazing!

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They have all the usual items, Bloody Mary mix, limes, celery and olives.  But they also have a HUGE assortment of hot sauces and house-pickled items from cauliflower to actual pickle slices.

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There are also hot, snap peas, prosciutto wrapped asparagas and bacon!  How can you NOT love a Bloddy Mary with a thick slice of bacon down the inside of the glass!?!

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After a great brunch you can stroll next door and do some shopping at the Scottsdale Marketplace.

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This unique collection of over 35 shops features new, vintage and antique treasure in all styles and price points.  You are sure to find an irresistible treasure to remind you of your great desert getaway.

Tovrea Castle

Looking for something else to fill your afternoon in the desert?  Why not visit Tovrea Castle?  This unique home and cactus garden are now part of the Parks Department and are open to the public for tours.

Sure, you can also catch some rays by the pool at your hotel or play some golf like most of the desert visitors do, but these “gems” will make your getaway something special and most important – memorable!

 

Downtown Oasis

March 16, 2013

Looking for a great place to take a break from shopping while in downtown Seattle?  How about a place for a bite before or after a show?  A conveniently located spot to meet friends for a glass of wine?
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Then look no further than the Fountain Wine Bar in the Seattle Sheraton on 6th Avenue.  The newly renovated space along the Pike Street side of the lobby is a lively space to refresh and recharge.

With over 40 wines by the glass, most with ratings of 90 points or above, you are sure to find something to your liking.  They also proudly boast some of the lowest per glass prices on premium wines – refreshing indeed!
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Want a bite to eat?  Order from the tapas menu and then sit back in a cozy chair, sip your wine and relax!  The fountain in the center of the room creates a welcome oasis in downtown Seattle.

This new “hotspot” will quickly become your “go to” spot and like me, you’ll be looking for excuses to go there!

Taste of the Town

December 21, 2012

On a recent trip to South Florida we did a Culinary Tour of South Beach in Miami.  Known for its many colorful, chic and exotic dining choices, its hard to know what to try.  The Miami Culinary Tour proven a great solution.

Bolivar Restaurant

Cuban Coffee

All total we made 8 stops where we sampled everything from scallops to Colombian chicken.  We visited Larios on the Beach, a restaurant owned by the singer Gloria Estefan serving “Old Clothes”, traditional shredded Cuban beef, rice and beans, plantains. There were French ham and cheese sandwiches, Cuban coffee, specialty cookies, bubble tea and delicious gelato.

The bites were generous and on the stroll from place to place Mirka provided a bit of history.  We got to appreciate the food, architecture and culture of this unique area.

Versace Mansion

Miami Culinary ToursWell-organized and nicely paced – each restaurant was ready and expecting us.  At the end we were given a list of the places we visited to make it easy to return on our own.

It was such a great experience that I look forward to trying the Little Havana tour as well.

It also prompted me to look for culinary tours in other cities.  Have family visiting for the holidays?  Seattle offers a similar dine around tour.  Chicago, San Francisco offer several and other major cities do as well.  We’re scheduling one in Scottsdale while visiting my sister and her family over Christmas.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!  Bon appetit!

The Last Shangri la

November 2, 2012

The picture in the ads you’ll see in the back of travel magazines for Bhutan is always of the” Tiger’s Nest” Monastery.  Tucked in the Himalayas, this developing nation only gets about 50,000 visitors a year and it was the October destination for the Travel Queen.

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Bhutan's Tiger's Nest

The first thing to strike us was the natural beauty.  Staggeringly high mountains thick with untouched forests dotted with terraced rice fields.  Glacier cold, clear rivers and streams crossed by simple bridges decorated with hundreds of prayer flags.

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Bhutan

Access to Bhutan is only through organized, all-inclusive tours.  Group sizes range from 1 to about 20.  

This is not a country where you could successfully explore on your own.  There is only 1 airline, Drukair, the national airline which has only 4 planes in their fleet.  There are no rental car counters – your tour will include a vehicle and driver.  Good thing because there are NO stoplights in the country and street signs or highway markers are rare.  The roads are also narrow, winding and not in the best of conditions.

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Hotel accommodations are clean and simple – think National Park lodging in the US but with poorer quality workmanship.  Plumbing is Western so there are regular flush toilets and showers in all.  Just don’t be surprised if the plumbing leaks or the electrical is hinky.  The beds are ROCK HARD, so much so that we took the comforter, folded it and put it under the sheet in an effort to add some cushion. 

The government mandated that by the end of 2012 all hotels must have Wi-Fi.  Usually it’s only in the lobby and even then, service is hit or miss.  I had a peek inside the wiring closet of one of the hotels and suffice it to say, it wasn’t close to any US standard. 

Most meals will be at your hotel and buffet style.  Typically 5 items with rice being 1 of them.  The food is at best “uninspired”.  I brought my own peanut butter and was the envy of our group.

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But Bhutan is not about luxury hotels (there are only a couple), great spas or fabulous cuisine.  Its about the natural beauty which it has in abundance.  Next week I’ll cover the hikes and help you select the amount of activity that’s right for you.

Exotic and Inexpensive

October 25, 2012

Want to learn a lot about how people live?  Pay a visit to the grocery store.  Whether in another part of the country or another part of the world, the grocery store is full of fascinating insights.

 

On my recent trip to Thailand I found unusual fruits; Dragon Fruit, Pomelo and Chinese Oranges (shown in that order left to right) to name a few.  Pick up a couple that look interesting and take them back to your hotel room to try them.

They can make an inexpensive meal or just a bit of an adventure, but don’t try to take foreign fruits or vegetables back home to the States.  There are restrictions designed to protect our food chain and always be sure to thoroughly rinse what you buy to eat.

Need some exotic but inexpensive souvenirs?  The grocery store is the place for those as well.

Interesting teas, salts, spices, nuts, candy make great gifts for those back home.  Macadamia nuts are a lot less expensive in the Maui Safeway than they are in the gift shop!

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You’ll also find products not available at home.  I brought back Pimento Salt from Portugal and vacuum packed olives (easy to pack – no glass, no liquids) from Greece.

I’m a chip junkie so I’m always trying different flavors of chips.  In Thailand I found flavors such as Hot Chili Squid and Nori Seaweed.  If you have teens at home, this is an easy and fun gift to bring home from your next business trip out of the country.  Imagine the fun they would have with their friends trying these unusual flavors – way to be the “cool parent”!

These exotic taste treats are a fun way to share your travels and you’ll quickly learn why the grocery store is my favorite place to shop when I travel!

Fighting Vacation Bulge

June 1, 2012

Most of us put on a couple of pounds while on vacation.  There are a number of contributing factors:  you eat out every meal, food is part of experiencing a new place so we eat differently and we tend to drink more to relax.

Knowing this, there are a number of ways you can minimize the amount you gain while on vacation.  Here are some tips and suggestions:

  •  How are you getting there? If you are flying, what time of day and how long is the flight?  If your flight extends over a meal – bring your own food from home.  Make healthy sandwiches or salads (toss with dressing right before you leave for airport and use disposable plastic container) and carry them on board.  Be sure to bring napkins, wet wipes and plastic silverware.

    If the flight is not over mealtime and not very long, bring your own snacks,  Trader Joe’s has great prepackaged snack bags of nuts and dried fruit. Quaker Oats 90 calorie granola bars and mini-bags of baby carrots work great too.

  • Driving, pack a cooler with low calorie, easy to eat foods to avoid bags of chips and cookies as your road trip menu.
  •  Where are you staying?  We like to stay places that offer at least a mini-fridge and microwave.  Many time shares also offer nightly or weekly rentals without an ownership requirement (don’t attend the sales presentation to get the free gift unless you really want to own a time share!) and those typically have a kitchen.  If not, most hotels will bring up a small refrigerator (they keep them because diabetics have to keep their insulin cold) for free or a nominal charge.
  •   Go to a local grocery store and stock up on water, flavored waters, fresh fruit and healthy snacks as soon as you arrive.  Bottled water in most hotels is expensive.  Stock your fridge and you will save a lot of money over the course of the week and have more control over at least some of your calorie consumption.
  •  Eat breakfast in your room.  Most places, breakfast is not a “cultural experience”.   It’s also an easy meal to make with just a refrigerator – even better with a refrigerator and a microwave.  At the grocery store you can get a package of the disposable storage containers which can double as bowls.  Cereal, instant oatmeal, milk, reduced calorie muffins, fruit, yogurt – all grocery store items can save you money and calories by letting you stay closer to your home routine.
  •  Lunch by the pool.  We grab chicken salads at the grocery store and put them in the refrigerator to have for lunch by the pool.  Look in the refrigerated cases near the deli and be sure to grab a fork from their salad bar or get one from the deli clerk.  Again, a big savings in both cost and calories.  After all, do you really need to “experience” a poolside hotdog?
  •  Happy hour dinner.  Ask for the places with the best happy hour or if the best local cuisine places offer happy hour.  If so, make this your dinner.  You can save some money, get and share several appetizers to try more of the local offerings and likely save some calories too.

    If you do order too much food, eat the items that won’t reheat well and take the rest back to your hotel.  Using the refrigerator and microwave this way can stretch your budget and help NOT stretch your waistline!

  • If you are a “foodie” like many of my friends, pick a night or two of your vacation to indulge.  This comes more under the “experience” category and is worth both the cost and the calories.  You may not want to waste your calories on items you can easily have at home and instead focus on the local or highly reviewed recipes.  Maybe you can walk to and from the restaurant to burn a few of the consumed calories.
  •   Need a drink?  Wines or spirits are far less calories than a margarita or pina colada.  A gin and tonic with some fresh mint makes a good substitute for a mojito.  A glass of chilled white wine or rose’ is refreshing and only about 110 calories a glass.

A few months from now, you won’t remember the hotel breakfast or the poolside hotdog – but your hips will!  Saving even 200-300 calories per day can make a huge difference on the scale when you get home.  Spend your money on experiences – that’s what you will long remember.

In addition to exercising some control over what you consume on vacation – I’ll also focus this summer on ways to put some physical exercise into your vacation with active travel options.


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