Monthly Archives: March 2016

Virtù & Old Town Scottsdale

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My husband has been so great at finding restaurants when we are on vacation. I’ll scour for hours and weigh my options to find the perfect joint. Or, in Rob’s interest, I’ll search for the “best” burger hoping that someone has the same tastes as we do – which is not always the case.

In fact, after our lovely morning at the Papago Park and Phoenix Zoo, I used my trusty Thrillist to find best burgers in the area {it worked in NOLA!} and then mapped them to find which would be closest on our way back to Nora’s in Scottsdale.

Due to our location, I chose Rehab Burger Therapy.

Let’s just say it was not our type of restaurant.

The tap list was almost non-existent. The menus felt grubby and it seemed, well… corporate. The bartender was friendly and told us the basic history of the place… But we weren’t feeling it. So to be fair, we didn’t try a burger at Rehab Burger Therapy, so we can’t give you a true account {although some of the descriptions sounded good}. After munching on a little chips and guac, Rob found us another, more interesting option just a few blocks away!

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Enter Virtù

How he discovered it, I don’t know.

This quaint little place looks more like where one would enjoy a fancy, even romantic dinner. However, they are open every day for brunch from 10a – 2p. This was a win for us since we were out and about on a Thursday. And look, they had a nice craft cocktail bar!

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From their website:

At Virtù, the Machiavellian term for achieving excellence, expect a wandering, Mediterranean-inspired menu that changes almost weekly, sometimes daily, featuring handmade pastas, premium seasonal produce sourced from some of Arizona’s most celebrated farmers, superb seafood imported from the most notable fish markets in North America and southern Europe, as well as a seasonal cocktail program crafted with fresh-pressed juices and unique spirits.

Okay, now I get it. Rob was in search of some good pasta!

We couldn’t pass up a craft cocktail in this sort of establishment…

Which one would you choose?

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Rob went with the Fortified Truth {not pictured}. I however chose the Virtù Starter KitI mean, this was my first time at Virtù. It was only fitting, no? And it was beautifully crafted.

While I perused the menu, i noticed our place settings – forks and knives tucked in bed with a bit of rosemary. Smelled so good!

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What would you choose from the brunch menu? Of course, it changes often based on availability of local products and inspiration. Can you guess what I chose before you read further?

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I had my eyes on that Raclette Grilled Cheese! However, I just consumed my fair share of chips and guac at Rehab Burger Therapy. So I went with the other item that looked satisfying to me…

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Insalata – figs, pistachios, goat cheese, black grape vinaigrette – $12

It’s really difficult to show the loveliness of this salad. SO MANY FIGS! I would have liked just a bit more goat cheese to counteract the sweetness. But it did remind me of the flavors of a nice autumn salad in Paris.

I liked the open kitchen look with fun signs above, educating {Amaro} and entertaining…

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Crêpes bigger than my head kept coming up. I couldn’t believe the portion sizes. The cooks in the back were pretty easy on the eyes, too. 😉

And while I determined Rob had chosen this place for the pasta, there was no such thing on the brunch menu. I guess he’d have to settle for the Juicy Lucia Burger. After he ordered, I reminded him to keep an open mind. “I’ve never seen a Juicy Lucy outside of Minnesota – so don’t expect this to be one,” I warned him. They were just trying to make this burger sound more… Mediterranean.

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Juicy Lucia Burger – French Onion Style | Gruyere | Caramelized Onion | Fries – $15

I knew Rob would probably still like the burger because he salivates over French Onion Soup, which is what I assumed they were going for here. But when that plate was delivered, our bartender said. “Now be careful eating this burger… the Gruyere is tucked inside… It’ll be really hot.”

It was indeed a Juicy Lucy!

Rob was blown away by this burger as well as the holy mound of well-seasoned fries. Why was this not on a best burger list?! Perhaps because Virtù is a James Beard Award nominee known for its refined Mediterranean cuisine.

If you are in Scottsdale for any length of time, we’d like to suggest that Virtu is worth a stop.

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We finished our day with a few more stops including:

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Contemporary art museums are hit or miss for me; but this one was a no-brainer because there is free admission on Thursdays. We had nothing to lose! I was in serious awe of Bruce Munro’s Ferryman’s Crossing exhibit. Created with hundreds, maybe thousands of CDs, the play with light is mesmerizing. That is, unless, of course, you have vertigo. You can click here for a short slide show of photos.

Old Adobe Mission Church 

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This the oldest Catholic Church in Scottsdale. In the early 1930s, a group of Mexican immigrants worked alongside locals to build this adobe structure. It’s not exactly a must-see in my book, unless you have an extreme love of visiting churches, or a real affinity for this sort of history and/or architecture.

Old Town Tavern

Did I forget to mention that all of the above is located in Old Town Scottsdale? It’s quite the area of restaurants, bars, touristy shops and the like. We stopped at the the Old Town Tavern just for a beer to sit and soak up the sunshine for an hour or so. The serve a few local and craft beers by the can. The people-watching was grand!

My favorite part was when a guy brought his dog {Boston Terrier, perhaps?} on the patio with him, placed him on the high top bar stool across from him. Then he set a glass of water down on the table for the pooch as well as a bottle of beer for himself. Oh, how wonderful it must be to have beer with your best friend like that on a nice sunny day!

When we got back that afternoon, Nora asked us what we did. When we told her we finished our day at the Old Town Tavern, she said, “Oh! I’m so glad you made it to the OTT!” Apparently, that’s what the locals call it. 😉

How do you find or research restaurants for your travels?

Cheers~
Carrie

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A Day in Phoenix…

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In general, I’d say people visit the Phoenix-Scottsdale area to find a spa retreat, golf, or visit friends and family. When you live in the colder climes, it’s a great way to get away to get some sun mid-winter.

It’s not a place where people go to see a ton of sights.

Originally, Rob and I had planned to do some hiking on the day that we would have to ourselves while Nora was working. At this point, Rob’s back was not 100% better from the accident. So we were looking for something much more laid back than, say, hiking the Superstition Mountains. 😉

We debated over coffee…

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Nora recommended this eclectic little cafe called Sip Coffee and Beer House not far from her place in Scottsdale. Oh how I loved this coffee shop and wish we had one like it near us!

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After a little fuel, we opted for a little jaunt around Papago Park. It was a gorgeous day. In fact, we had all perfectly beautiful days during our February stay in Phoenix – 70 to 85 degrees with a very slight breeze!

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The wonderful thing about Papago Park is that it is a beautiful example of Arizona’s natural beauty situated right within the city.

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There are also so many places to park; so you can drive around and walk as little or as much as you want. We chose to park and take the short walk up to the famed Hole in the Rock.

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The natural, eroded “hole” in the rock was used by the Hohokam {one of the first peoples inhabiting the area} for astronomy and seasonal change by the positioning of the sun.

We decided to take the path up and around the rock. It’s not a long path, but it’s rocky and steep in some parts.

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While I was spending a lot of my time looking down, Rob swears he saw a salamander or lizard of some sort scurry by… We also so this… squirrel? It may seem basic-looking to you, but to us, it was huge!

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Rob also saw other little squirrels that he swears were neon green. I, however, believe it was just the lighting from the angle we were at once we got up to the hole in the rock.

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We climbed up a bit further so we could peer through that smaller hole in the photo below.

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To our wonderful surprise, we had a beautiful view of the oasis of Papago Park.

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This lovely area could be considered the Central Park of Phoenix. It’s a great area to walk about, relax. While we were climbing the rock, we were all alone. However, there were only a few more people in the park on this lovely Thursday morning. I tried to zoom in and get a photo of one of Rob’s neon squirrels; but alas, you’ll only see a shadow. Can you find it?

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Since our hike was short, we had to find something else to do for the next several hours.

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We had thought about hitting up the Botanical Gardens (also located in the park), but will have to save that for next time. But one thing we have learned over the years – we love exploring zoos!

Phoenix Zoo FTW!

It was only a $20 adult entrance fee and we would be able to take the “Arizona Trail” to learn more about local wildlife. Rob was especially curious about the javelina. And we found them!

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We sent the photo above to Nora at work. She was smart enough to realize we had not found them in the wild because there was a wall in the background. We should have sent her the photo below instead ;-).

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So, what is a javelina, you ask?

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Rob was hoping we’d spot one in the wild on this trip. After reading that, we realized that if he did see one, he’d see many!

A Thursday February morning was a perfect day for the zoo. It wasn’t very busy with kids until later and the weather was perfect. Nora asked if it was smelly and I can’t recalling it being so. Perhaps if the weather was hot and the sun was beating down…

We saw many more animals we’ve never seen before – like the Arabian Oryx and the Komodo Dragon. We also saw a Bald Eagle up close. One of the most fun experiences, though, was to go into the Monkey Village! After being briefed through double doors to give these squirrel monkeys at least three feet of room at all times, you can walk through their habitat. It’s the only one in the U.S.!

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We have learned lately how much we love zoos, so I vowed to finally make a trip to the {essentially} free Como Park Zoo in St. Paul after our visit, as well as finally see the Hawaiian Monk Seals at our MN Zoo. It’s the only place where you can see these endangered creatures outside of Hawaii!

Now, it was time for lunch… but I’ll save that for tomorrow.

Do you visit Zoos when you travel?

If so, what has been your favorite?

What is your favorite animal/exhibit to see?

Cheers~

Carrie

 

Arizona – The Perfectly Timed Vacation

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Rob and I had a vacation to Phoenix planned for February. We knew it would be a great opportunity to get away from the Minnesota cold and dreariness as well as see friends and family. Little did we know that it was unintentionally the best-timed vacation ever! After our car accident, we weren’t about to cancel our trip.

In fact, it was the best thing we could do to heal –

both physically and mentally!

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I know I’ve touted several time on the blog that visiting friends or family is one of the best ways to travel. On this trip to Arizona, we were going to visit our friend and fellow Packer fan, Nora, who was transferred there for work less than a year ago, as well as some of my family.

Another reason why this was the perfect trip for us after a major accident was that we had no real agenda. It was going to be mostly relaxation and spending time with loved ones.

Our friend Nora is not only a fellow Packer fan, she is also a fellow craft brewery fan. She knew exactly how to start off our trip!

Craft 64 is Scottsdale’s answer to great wine, artisan pizza and – get this – over 30 craft brews on tap hailing from Arizona! Who knew that Phoenix had hit the craft beer craze?! {Well, Nora, of course!}

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All from Arizona!

The Happy Hour was stellar. I started with Uncle Bear’s Barkley’s Peanut Butter Cup Porter, made right in Phoenix. It was very peanut butter-y, which sometimes is too much for me; but this one worked!

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There’s quite a selection of wine, too, if you don’t want to partake in the brews. You can even get it …

FullSizeRender (2)…because there is a tiny wine shop area up front. Craft 64’s location is unassuming in my opinion and rather small inside. The patio out back was full when we arrived. It was the only reason we weren’t sitting outside on our first day of beautiful February Arizona weather! This was how the interior looked when we arrived, but it filled up quickly.

IMG_5910After a couple brews, we ordered some artisan pizza.

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My fave was the Blanco.

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Rob loved the Carne. We also ordered a Fico, which may have been good if it hadn’t been overcooked.

Overall, it was a great first beer experience for our stay with Nora in Scottsdale. What’s more is that we could Uber everywhere. It was only about $5 – $7 to get around Scottsdale at any given point. Rob and I had only used it a couple of times with friends in the past. But it is very valuable in this area. If you haven’t used Uber yet, you can get up to a $15 ride for free if you click my referral code here. It really is worth it to have a quick taxi pick-up when you don’t have any cash. You just pay with our account on the app!

If you are in the Scottsdale area and want to try something different from the spa hotel where you may be staying, I’d recommend Craft 64. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a car. Uber it!

What is the best establishment for local beer, wine and or/food where you live?

Cheers~
Carrie

Surdyk’s Flights – Closing?

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When I first learned that Surdyk’s Flights at MSP Airport was closing, I was in utter dismay.

WHY?????

Now, I probably only fly twice a year, but I nearly always stop at Surdyk’s Flights pre-trip. We always arrive early to the airport, regardless of our destination, because after going through security, we like to get settled in a restaurant and have a bite to eat. It’s like a kick-off to our vacation. And when leaving MSP, that almost always means a stop at Surdyk’s Flights.

The menu is simple, but fresh: small plates, meats, cheeses, sandwiches. There’s beer, wine, cocktails, too. Surdyk’s is a well-known name in Minneapolis because Surdyk’s Wine and Cheese Shop has been open since 1934.

Having a restaurant in the airport is genius because there are also flights of wine.

And of course, there is a wine shop attached. You can purchase a bottle and drink it at your table! {No restaurant mark up!}

In fact, we did just that before our trip to Australia:

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{Side note: We adored this wine!}

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So to kick off our trip to Arizona last month, regardless of how early, I knew that we’d have to stop at Surdyk’s Flights before it closes at the end of 2016. 😦

Because it was not yet quite noon, I started with a Bloody Mary.

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Rob jumped right in for a flight! 

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{His wrist was still bandaged from the accident}

My favorite salami sandwich didn’t appear to be on the menu anymore; but so much looked good. I opted for breakfast:

POACHED EGGS 12. with la quercia prosciutto, and sautéed spinach on grilled bread with roasted tomato salsa

POACHED EGGS – with la quercia prosciutto, and sautéed spinach on grilled bread with roasted tomato salsa – $12

This breakfast was actually very healthy and hit the spot! If anything, I could argue that there might have been too much prosciutto. I couldn’t eat it all.  All of that goodness was piled atop four lovely pieces of crusty bread.

Rob went with a sammie:

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I honestly don’t remember which one this is, but the photo doesn’t do it justice. Surdyk’s sandwiches are The Best. He opted for a side of beets because he loves them. They aren’t something I ever make at home!

We did hear customers asking about the closure, expressing their sadness. Servers kindly replied, “Well, maybe they’ll work something out…” The MAC (Metropolitan Airport Commission) is not renewing Surdyk’s Flights’ lease at this time. They have other plans for the space.

The good news is that there is another location in Terminal 2! Unfortunately, I haven’t flown out of that terminal in over 15 years. Yet, I will be next month! Time to take Surdyk’s Flights – Terminal 2 for a spin!

If you dine pre-flight at your home airport, what is your go-to?

Cheers~
Carrie

Possibly the Best Thai in the Twin Cities

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Our friend Kim’s choice for our February’s Girls’ Dinner Night Out involved some of the best Thai in all of the Twin Cities.

How can I dare say that? There are countless Thai restaurants all over the metro area!

Because Naviya’s Thai Brasserie in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis has upped the game on Thai cuisine.

Per the website:

What we have to offer is nothing like the other Thai restaurants in town. We cook every dish not only with fresh ingredients but also with a strong sense of pride, and we’re already receiving wonderful feedback and reviews.

Because:

Most of our meat is natural without added hormones and antibiotics, and almost all of our food contains ZERO MSG. With that said, there are some trace MSG in our Mushroom Soy Sauce and Oyster Sauce. Upon your request, we offer a MSG-free Tamari Sauce as a substitution for either of the two aforementioned sauces.

Talk about transparent!

But it’s not just the food:

We’re not only about the food – We believe that beverages complement and enhance a perfect dining experience. Kim Labarge, the brasserie owner, studied from WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) Advanced Certification Wine & Spirits certified materials. He flew to Sydney and completed a series of rigid exams. He has also travelled around Asia to gain a first hand experience in selecting the best quality tea. His expertise is the foundation of our select list of quality wine, beer and tea from all over the world. They bring out different aspects of our menus. All of our staffs go through a mandatory wine and tea workshop, so please feel free to consult with our servers for their recommendations of wine and tea to make your meal complete.

Both Kim and I decided to try the specialty teas!

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So tasty, but not sweet if that’s what you are into. There were actually a lot of people in the restaurant drinking these teas! The wine list is pretty phenomenal, too. Too often, Asian restaurants will offer only, say, a Riesling and Chardonnay, a Merlot and Cab – both cheap and generic. The wine list is much more interesting here! Beer is bottled. I don’t believe they have any on tap. But nonetheless, it’s nothing to squawk at! Check out the beverage menu online.

The portion sizes are more than generous. Here is Jen’s entree:

Cashew Chicken: Stir-fried chicken with cashews, sweet yellow onion, green scallion, cauliflower, Yellow and green zucchini, seasoned with fresh garlic finished in Naviya’s brown sauce – $15

Jen was delighted! She said that she never thought to put cauliflower in a stir fry like this, but it worked really well.

Kim enjoyed the Massaman Curry. For whatever reason, I don’t have a photo. But here is the menu description:

Massaman (Gang Matsaman) is a southern-style Thai curry which originates in India brought by the traders 100′s of years ago. The dominate ingredient is turmeric. Your meat or protein selection is braised in a peanut and coconut puree finished in the aromatic curry sauce finished with caramelized sweet carrot and potato.

For my entree, I decided to go with something a little more interesting outside my normal Thai realm. So I chose a dish listed under Naviya’s Favorites:

Rama Thai: Slow cooked fresh cracked peanut puree, sweet coconut milk and red curry paste tossed with choice of meat served on bed of wok-charred veggies. Recommended with Shrimp!

Rama Thai: Slow cooked fresh cracked peanut puree, sweet coconut milk and red curry paste tossed with choice of meat served on bed of wok-charred veggies. Recommended with shrimp. {And that’s how I ordered it!} – $18

Wow! Was this dish tasty! The shrimp were aplenty as well as plump and perfectly cooked. The sauce was peanuty, but of a texture I’ve never had before. And oh, those vegetables! They were charred just beautifully. I ate every single vegetable on my plate. It would be hard to stray from this dish next time, but I’m really curious about the Hot Plates on the menu.

We split a serving of the ultimate Thai dessert: 

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Mangoes with Sticky Rice

While not truly necessary, Naviya’s puts extra coconut milk on the side for dipping.

The restaurant was generally full with two or three people waiting to be seated at any given time. There was also a lot of take out going on! If I lived in the area, I’d probably get takeout from Naviya’s quite often.

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After dinner, we decided to go for coffee. On our Girls’ Dinner Nights Out, after dinner, we usually go for dessert, coffee or a nightcap. It was coffee FTW on this chilly February night!

Kim found Royal Grounds, a coffee shop I’ve been meaning to hit ever since we got back from Australia. They were the only purveyors in the Twin Cities to make a Flat White{That is, until Starbucks started doing it.}

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I most certainly had to get a Flat White, but there were a few other interesting options:

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I love the “royal” look to this place.

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One thing I found interesting at Royal Grounds:

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I know that the banishment of tipping is becoming more of a trend in the USA, although I haven’t been to restaurant yet that does this. It’s much more up-and-coming in NYC, although there are a few in Twin Cities that do it, too. Here, it is built into their prices. Some restaurants just add the service onto the bill at the end.

For the record, there was no real tipping trend in Australia. Minimum wage is roughly $16/hour. We didn’t find service to be typically that good in restaurants there, but that’s all based on our American standards, you know. Many of the servers we encountered were foreign, too, English being their second language, which sometimes made it difficult to communicate.

I digress, because we were not in Australia here! On the contrary. It was a cold, February night in Minnesota.

The girls got much more beautiful beverages than my little flat white:

Royal Grounds was a cozy little place to relax and chat over delicious caffeinated beverages. Now, if only they could make me some Caramel Slice… 😉

What is your favorite Thai Dish?

Is there a beverage from your travels you wish you could order at home?

Cheers~
Carrie

The Rest of the Emotions + Car Shopping + Bacio

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It’s really phenomenal how your outtake on life changes after being something semi-traumatic.

I say semi because it could have been much worse.

Some people have commented about how positive I’ve been through the whole experience. But after the initial feeling of gratitude, I went through the so many other emotions the week following:

  • guilt that it was my fault or that I could have done something differently
  • confusion – on survival and why?
  • concern – for Rob’s healing
  • worry – about finances and how insurance would handle getting a new car
  • more guilt because the day before we got into a huge argument which we finally worked through just hours before the accident
  • pressure – to find a new car right away

But the worst were the what-ifs.

What if it hadn’t turned out the way it had? What if our dogs had been with us in the car? What if the accident caused injury to someone else?

What if, once we had “landed”, Rob had been extremely hurt – or even, dare I say it – dead? My life would be completely different right now. I’d be feeling more guilt and my life would be forever changed. I wouldn’t be the same person.

Not that I am now.

I would not have been as calm as I had been that day. I would have been a complete wreck.

I had a full day of emotion over this, with a lot of crying. Rob had his own emotions, too, which he wouldn’t share with me at the time. That upset me, too. The emotions were running high… Not to mention that I kept replaying the accident over and over in my mind – with possible alternative scenarios.

When I went back to work that Tuesday, I started getting weird headaches (not extreme, just not like ones I’d ever had before) and then I’d get nauseous about half-way through my day. I had a bit of back pain, too {but nothing like I had before my back surgery!}. By Thursday, I tried to make an appointment with my doctor, but instead went into Urgent Care. After some coordination and memory tests, it was determined that I was just shaken up pretty badly and that staring at a screen all day was not helping anything.

We also had a vacation planned the following week. I had no intention in canceling it. In fact, the doctor agreed that it was perfect timing! We could relax and not concentrate on anything for while.

Just heal.

And I truly believe our trip to Arizona was the best thing we could have ever done to recover from such an ordeal.

But in the meantime, I finally convinced Rob to stop sending me links to potential replacement vehicles. I felt too much pressure and stress to get a vehicle right away. We could wait until we learned how the insurance was going to work and look at cars when we got back from vacation

Then something changed.

I can’t say exactly what it was, but I officially became ready to at least look at vehicles. I knew what the insurance company was offering me. (Not enough, but they were paying for our medical bills – thank you, car insurance!)

We considered looking at the last model made of the Mitzubishi Endeavor (2011) SUV. Rob has the 2004 version and we love it. But did we need two Mitzies? My commute is only 5 minutes to work each day.

As mentioned in my last post, we found another Hyundai Elantra online – two years newer, with 5,000 less miles and $1000 less than what I owed on Sharkie. It was at a Mercedez dealership in Minnetonka. It wouldn’t hurt to take a look, would it?

Our salesperson let us take it out for a test drive without even taking our information! {Apparently he was working with several clients at once.} I thought I’d be nervous driving the Hyundai so soon after the accident, but I wasn’t. The features were exactly the same inside. It felt normal, natural to drive this car! While not the pretty silver that Sharkie was, the 2013 Hyundai had a couple of other features that Sharkie did not – like heated seats!

And there you have it, less than a week after the accident, I had a new car:

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But on this February Saturday morning, the dealership’s financing system went down! 

“Here,” our salesman said as he handed me the keys, “Take your new vehicle out and get some lunch!” By this time he’d had my driver’s license; but nothing had been signed yet. “I’ll call you when it’s back up and we can get you on your way.”

This was our perfect opportunity to try out Bacio, a restaurant that fellow blogger Kat has recommended as one of her favorites. We don’t get over to this side of town very often. Why not now? I checked their website – open for brunch!

{In the photo of above, my new-to-me Hyundai is actually parked at Bacio!}

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Rob had a local brew, while I settled for a Virgin Mary. This would be my first time driving on the freeway since the accident; so I was still a bit nervous. No need to add alcohol to the system! As you can see, we sat at the bar at this beautiful establishment. It wasn’t very busy, so we had a lot of time to chat with the dog-loving bartender!

Upon the initial inspection of the menu, something about it felt vaguely familiar. Then it dawned on me – listed was the exact same Heirloom Grain Salad that I love at Vivo in Apple Valley. Bacio is a sister restaurant! {Although the prices are a bit higher. It is Minnetonka, after all.} 

I decided to go try something else though. I was craving shrimp. My ultimate decision was the Rocket Salad with apples, arugula, spinach, lavender vinaigrette, spiced pecans and local blue cheese. I added some spectacular grilled shrimp!

I sure got my greens in that day! While the salad was very good, it was nothing compared to my beloved Heirloom Grain Salad. The shrimp were the stars of the show on this one. And with the shrimp, this ended up being a $20 salad.

Not-usually-a-fan-of-brunch-Rob was swooning over his choice:

breakfast risotto gf two poached eggs, local ham, sausage and bacon, harissa, cheddar and calabrian chili oil 18

Breakfast Risotto – two poached eggs, local ham, sausage and bacon, harissa, cheddar and calabrian chili oil – $18

One thing we loved about dining at Bacio during the daytime was the sunlight coming through the skylight near the arches. Just beautiful. Everything felt right that day. Now all we had to do was last two more days at work before a week-long vacation in sunny Arizona! {More to come on that!}

As an update, we both are doing much better, both mentally and physically. Rob’s stitches are out and his back and wrist are healing. He is just frustrated that his wrist is not at 100% so that he can begin weight lifting again. However, he has agreed to return to his trainer duties so that I could get back to my weight lifting routine. And let me tell you, after being off for month, the first time was quite challenging!

How do you go about shopping for a new-to-you vehicle?

Cheers~
Carrie