Tag Archives: cocktails

Spooning the River…

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I never did post on the time we had a girls’ night dining at Sea Change, a restaurant known for its sustainable seafood and one of the Top Chefs in America last year. Maybe it’s because I was savoring a rare evening dining at a seafood restaurant. Or maybe it’s just a given to dine there. It’s a well-known, top Minneapolis restaurant and perfect if you are seeing a show at The Guthrie Theater {affectionately just called The Guthrie around these parts} and want a nice, swanky night out.

But if you are looking for a place that is just as tasty, but more casual, head yourself across the street to Spoonriver. Located just next to the Mill City Farmers Market, Spoonriver is a restaurant serving local, organic and sustainable fare with lots of options for vegetarians.

Even after the few times I’ve walked past the place, it took us a Groupon Living Social deal to get us there. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what the place was about. The deal prompted me to visit their website to read more about them and check out the menu online. I was sold.

What really took me by surprise was the list of craft cocktails at Spoonriver. I knew I’d be ordering one, but which one to choose? I narrowed it down to two: the Pear Ginger Martini (house infused ginger vodka, La Poire Grey Goose, Cointreau, Domaine Canton, Prosecco) and the Elderberry Negroni (Miller’s Gin, MN Elderberry juice, Campari, sweet vermouth.) {Yes, I bypassed all of those St. Germain cocktails on the menu. I wanted something different!}

Our knowledgeable bartender noted that the Pear Ginger Martini would be a sweeter and the Elderberry Negroni would be tart. So what did I do? Since Rob was driving, I sipped on the Elderberry Negroni before dinner and had the Pear Ginger as dessert! {At the advice of our bartender again, of course. I know, she twisted my arm.}

Elderberry Negroni

Elderberry Negroni

I have to say that the drinks were beautiful! Since we were sitting at the bar, we had the opportunity not only to see all of the cocktails being made, but also smell them! I kept thinking, “I wonder what that is? It smells so good!”

Rob’s choice was the Ophelia – Tanqueray Gin, Grand Marnier, Creme de Violette, lemon.

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Ophelia

Have you ever had Creme de Violette before? We’ve tried it once, in an Aviation at the old Nick & Eddie. {Oh how we miss that place!} Creme de Violette made from very specific violets and is very hard to find. So when Rob saw a cocktail with it on the menu, it was an easy choice.

We got to Spoonriver early, but the place started getting busy quickly. The restaurant is long and narrow, which gave me the impression, at first, that it was bigger than it really is. Make sure you either get there early or make a reservation.

For a moment, I felt like I was at the airport, because I noticed a kiosk with items available to-go. These are perfect for impromptu picnics along the river! What a fantastic idea. But who knows about these?

The food really does shine here, too. Rob found his Grass-Fed Burger quite tasty and impressive, despite the tortilla chips on the side. Not only did I find my Savory Crêpe Special of the Day delicious, but beautiful, too. Inside was warm goat cheese goodness with some veggies and flavorful herbs. I didn’t think to snap a picture until I already dug into this delight that reminded me of France:

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Apparently, during the Farmers Market hours, Spoonriver has an outdoor stand where they offer their sweet and savory crêpes as well. I wouldn’t turn one of those down.

One of the things I like about Living Social, is that sometimes after you’ve redeemed a voucher, they send an email asking what you thought of the restaurant. I gave the restaurant a “Thumbs Up” and commented, “The most colorful plates I’ve ever seen. The food was superb and love the cocktail menu! Thanks.”

I think this is the first time I ever got a reply from the restaurant!

Thank you for your kind words, Carrie! We’re happy to hear you had a positive experience dining at Spoonriver & enjoyed our creative plating :). I’ll pass along the compliments about our cocktails list to our Bartenders as well. We hope to see you again soon! Sincerely, Katie, Manager  

I don’t know whether the name Spoonriver was given because the restaurant is off the Mississippi {just a short walk!} or because you’ll be  spooning up some yummy goodness along said river in Minneapolis. Or maybe it’s for another reason entirely. All I know is that high quality, affordable, delicious meals and cocktails can be had here, whether you are taking a walk along the river, enjoying the Farmers Market or are off to a show.

Tip: Arrive early for dinner and then take your chances on “rush” tickets at The Guthrie!

 Question for you:

Crêpes – Sweet or Savory?

Cheers~
Carrie

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Five Links for Friday

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I’ve been collecting a few links that I’ve wanted to share. There’s no theme here. Or the theme may be that these posts don’t relate to each other. I enjoyed them, so I thought you might, too.

1)  Perspective: When your Body Feels Like a Burden…

2) I am already a pretty light packer, but I could travel more fashionably. I love these combos: Packing Math.

3) Lost in translation? I’ve, too, felt like the French overuse our “F” word. It’s strength and vulgarity are misunderstood. Some examples: La Bombe d’F.

4) Can you live on $35 for groceries each week? That’s what food stamps will get you. Take the $35/Week Challange.

5) How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Bitter Drinks – A step-by-step guide on how to enjoy bitter cocktails. Seriously. I. Had. No. Idea.

Please share one article or blog post that intrigued you this week!

Cheers~
Carrie

…to Blackbird Cafe

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So last week, I told you about the Girls’ Night that Rob crashed.  But after dinner at Pat’s Tap, the girls and I wanted to practice our usual tradition of finding somewhere else for dessert.

Only we were no longer hungry.

So instead, we decided to find a place for a nightcap or coffee. And… if we had an inkling for dessert a little later, that’s when we’d take a look at the menu. 😉

Our Smartphones were not yielding any intriguing results. So we finally just decided to drive around the neighborhood until we saw something.

That’s when we happened upon Blackbird Cafe.

It was quite busy when we walked in! But we found the last three seats at the bar and made them work. A guy at the end moved down just one more for us and we were Golden.

After about three hours of sitting there…

We knew that we needed to come back for dinner sometime.

The variety of beverages including the beer, wine and cocktails is unique and inviting. Evidently, there is much thought in putting together this menu. The six-tap beer selection is constantly rotating and could make any beer-lover drool. It’s no joke. The lists may not be extensive, but they focused and varied to just the right degree.

The girls each ordered a Maiden Rock Honey Crisp Cider that was good and slightly dry. I started with a Kir Royale, {bubbly + crème de cassis} one of my fave afternoon cocktails to order when I’m in Paris. Hophead Rob chose the Epic Hopulent IPA on tap. See?

You can please everyone!

We watched all the food orders come up. Rob eyed the ramen dishes. Jen was curious about the seafood tacos.

There were a few Asian touches to the menu, including sake. There were also sake buddies, which is something I’d never heard of before. They’re shots or sidepours of sake that are meant to pair with the beers on tap. Rob had one. I thought it worked well. But what do I really know about sake buddies?

Then Rob switched to the Southern Tier Barrel Aged Back Burner. This is described on the Southern Tier website as an “Imperial Barley Wine Style Ale Aged with Oak.” It was my first time tasting this beer and I loved it as well. Like, really loved it. What’s unique about enjoying this beer on tap at Blackbird? They received it about a year ago and then aged it themselves in their cellar!

Sitting along the bar, it was quite hard to hear each other. At one point, Jen and Kim were in a deep conversation; so we turned and stared at Kim creepily until we got her attention. The funny thing is, that when she finally noticed, she thought we were asking her to take a picture of us. So she did.

Creepy Photo {source: Our friend Kim!}

Creepy Photo {source: Our friend Kim!}

Check out that deer head between us. And notice the antlers on the walls. They are all over the restaurant. It makes me wonder why this place is called Blackbird!

But one of my favorite things in all of the restaurant could be found in the restroom. There is a doorbell next to the mirror with a sign that reads, “Press for Champagne.” Okay, so YOU just press it and let me know what you get.

The service we had at the bar was exceptional. Kim and Jen ended up splitting an ice cream parfait with bacon. They were quite happy. Rob got some late night fries for a snack.

But as driver that night, I found that one of the best things about this place was the espresso machine. I will be sober cab anytime as long as wherever we go has either superb coffee or an espresso machine.

Do you have a tradition when you go out with friends?

Cheers~
Carrie

Heidi’s Minneapolis {Closed}

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This past weekend, we celebrated my birthday with our birthday dinner tradition. Last year, we were in Chicago, on our way to Ireland and I had an absolutely perfect experience at Naha. It was going to be tough to top that.

I wasn’t really trying to top anything, though. I just wanted to go someplace nice and new for dinner. Originally, I had chosen Louis Ristorante in St. Paul. But then, just one week before my birthday, I received this email in my inbox. I was immediately intrigued and changed my restaurant choice to Heidi’s.

Rob made reservations for early Friday evening, perhaps to make a night of it. We tend to sit at the bar when we dine out, but this birthday girl got to choose.

First, it was 80-freakin’-degrees. It’s never 80-freakin’-degrees around my birthday! It’s the time of year that starts to get rainy, dreary and cold. So I had seriously considered sitting out on the patio. But I remembered the photos from the article and thought about how nice it would be just to sit inside, not at a bar, but at an intimate table. {Besides, the street traffic seemed pretty loud.}

We were seated in a corner of the restaurant. The table was set for two, but each of our chairs were situated with their backs up against each corner of the wall, so we that neither of us would have had our backs to the rest of the dining room. This is the first time I’ve been seated this way. In hindsight, it seems so obvious, but at the time, I thought it was brilliant.

Rob still found it strange that after we ordered our silverware was placed in front of us, in the middle of the table instead of beside us:

130The menu here is a little different, so I’ll explain a bit how Heidi’s works. You can order a four-course meal for just $48 by choosing one item from each item on this grid.

121Or you can order anything off the grid à la carte. I know it’s hard to read, but that’s the best I could lighten/clarify that photo with the lighting in the restaurant. But you get the point. You can see a version of it on their website, too.

OR

You can choose to go with the seven- or nine-course menu. If you decide to go this route, all of people in your party must do the same. This was not an option for us with Rob’s allergies.

122Before we ordered, we each started with a cocktail.

Ramos Gin Fizz    20 (please allow 8 min) Beefeater gin,lemon, lime,vanilla, simple syrup, cream egg white, orange blossom wate

Ramos Gin Fizz – $20
(please allow 8 min)
Beefeater gin, lemon, lime,vanilla, simple syrup, cream egg white, orange blossom water

I really couldn’t justify getting a $20 cocktail. But I wanted to know what all the hype was about since THRILLIST said it was “worth every penny.” Although I had no problem waiting the eight minutes for the drink preparation, I tried to time it just out of curiosity. It took about eleven minutes and that is with no one else in the restaurant ordering beverages.

The verdict? It was good. I’ve honestly never had a gin fizz before, so I don’t know how it would compare to others. But I wouldn’t order it again. Maybe it wasn’t my thing. Maybe I just expected it to knock my socks off. In any case, I know it’s labor intensive. Maybe I need to order one at the Bradstreet Crafthouse to compare.

Then there was Rob’s cocktail:

Bobby Burns    11 Dewar’s, sweet vermouth, Benedictine

Bobby Burns – $11
Dewar’s, sweet vermouth, Benedictine

I’m not a huge fan of whiskey, but I took a sip anyway. At first, the whiskey is in your face, like I’m used to, but this drink has a really mellow finish. And I couldn’t figure out why! I couldn’t even pinpoint the flavor. That must be from the Benedictine.

~

I knew I was going to go with the four-course option and had an idea what I was going to order by what I thought sounded good by the THRILLIST recommendations and by, of course, looking at the menu online. Rob decided on two items from the à la carte menu which would be brought out during my two middle courses.

First Course

Chilled Langoustine

Chilled Langoustine – $9 (à la carte)

This was such a beautifully presented dish, one which took me a while to even notice that the eyes were still on the critter. That’s usually a turn-off to me. I don’t like me food staring at me. The flesh was topped with an almond cream, which was quite luscious. While good, it’s something I really wanted to try, but not something I’d order again.

At this point, I was feeling a little rushed. I  know that the staff was only trying to provide good service. We were the only people in the restaurant for a while, so we were the only customers to tend to at the moment. But I was hoping to order some wine with with my seafood and I wasn’t even near finishing my before-dinner drink. I had planned on ordering a glass of white wine with the seafood I was having:

124I was looking at the Viognier in particular.  It’s a wine from the Var region of France. It’s a smaller locale {where I studied for a semester during college} within the region of Provence. It’s rare to see a wine from that region on a restaurant list and I know that Viognier tends to pair well with scallops…

But before I knew it, my second course arrived.

Second Course

Sauteed Diver Scallop - $17

Sauteed Diver Scallop – $17 (à la carte)

What I really wanted was the Apple Orgy for my appetizer. I really no idea what an apple orgy is; but it came highly recommended by THRILLIST and I thought I saw it on the grid/à la carte menu. That night, it was only offered as part of the nine-course tasting menu. I inquired about this to see if our server could swing an exception, but he wouldn’t/couldn’t budge.

But I wasn’t disappointed because my scallop was out of this world! I dipped my fork first into the side of lavender cream. Heaven! The scallop was perfectly seared and laid atop a bed of sauteed greens. I couldn’t quite place the citrus-y sauce drizzled, but it mixed well with the darker balsamic sauce. I found it to be such a well-balanced dish of unique flavors that this scallop has found its way onto my unpublished/unofficial list of the best scallops I’ve ever had.

Believe it or not, Rob went vegetarian for the evening…

Smoked Mushroom Ragout - $7

Smoked Mushroom Ragout – $7 (à la carte)

He was in heaven and said it was the best $7 he’s ever spent! Lots of umami going on there!

Third Course

Originally, I wanted to try the tilefish in the THRILLIST post. But I didn’t expect it to be available when I didn’t see it online. Then I thought about the halibut. At this point, though, I had just had two courses of seafood. So I decided to go with the Petit Filet instead.

With it, I ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Rob chose the French Syrah to go with his entrée.

126Rob is not a fan of South American red wine, so I was surprised when he tried mine and preferred it over his! I liked both of them and found that they paired equally well with my steak. So we switched.

This filet was incredible. I normally order medium rare, but I sometimes find that in restaurants this nice that I need to order medium. Such was the case here, so I’m glad I told the server what I wanted.

I wouldn’t say that this steak is as good as my favorite filet in Minnesota at Sul Lago, but it’s still one of the best filets I’ve had. Rob couldn’t believe the value. This steak was listed as $36 à la carte. And I was getting this entire four-course meal for $48.

And if Rob didn’t order this, I was planning on ordering it…

Caramelized Onion Risotto 12

Caramelized Onion Risotto – $12 (à la carte)

This risotto is excellent – cooked perfectly al dente with lots of onion flavor. {Biz, this risotto is not for you!} 😉 Still, Rob’s love affair with the parmesan risotto at Sul Lago cannot dissolved. It’s actually no longer listed as a side on the menu there, but he orders it anyway!

Fourth Course – Dessert!

Hibiscus Meringue 9

Hibiscus Meringue – $9 (à la carte)

THRILLIST intrigued me with this one, too. So I had to try it.

At first bite, it was a little blah. The flavors were so subtle and the merigue so light and airy {which it is meant to be.} I guess it wasn’t what struck my mood that day. Rob felt the same, but as I continued to eat the dessert, it got better as some of the flavors mixed together and I had no trouble finishing it!

Dinner at Heidi’s was an experience – one that I’d recommend. I’m curious about their Thursday Night Happy Hour. Who wants to try it with me sometime? If we have another patio night with this weather, it’d be perfect. Or we might just have to wait until next spring…

We did make a night of it and had an after dinner cocktail. You’ll have to wait until later in the week to read about it!

Do you ever do a course-style meal or tasting menu at restaurants?

If so, what’s the best one you’ve had?

Cheers~
Carrie

Kitchen – Miami Beach, FL

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When we arrived in Miami to spend the day before our cruise departure, we couldn’t check in to our hotel – The Pelican –  right away, so we dropped off our bags and wondered off along Ocean Drive in search of some lunch. The beach was just across the street! It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we knew we’d be sitting outside sipping cocktails watching the world go by…

There were restaurants lined all along the street. Employees tried to lure passersby in to their restaurants by offering special lunch deals. We wanted to walk a bit. We wanted to get a feel for what our options were and just enjoy the afternoon sun. And just like in any touristy area, the nagging got old really fast. It seemed most of the restaurants were offering the same things – a rather large and varied menu including Cuban sandwiches, ceviche and some Italian food.

As we were walking by Kitchen, a server tried to stop me, just as they all had and at this point. At this point, we had  decided that we needed to just pick a place. So I said, “So, tell me, what have you got?”

He brought us over to the outside display menu and started going through the items. The one thing I knew that I really wanted to try while I was in Miami, was a Cuban Sandwich. I also considered the ceviche, but wanted something a little more filling at the time. As we listened, the server told us that if we dined there for lunch, he’d give us a free “small” drink as he made a gesture with his thumb and forefinger about the size of a shot glass. He said that every drink thereafter would be buy-one-get-one-free. I looked over at Rob to make sure he found something on the menu that he’d like, because that was the most important part – the food. And with pasta on it, Rob knew he’d find something. So we decided to sit and relax on their patio on this fine afternoon, while we thought about all of our friends up in cold Minnesota. 😉

For our small drink, we each ordered something fruity. Mine was a Miami Vice {half pina colada – half daiquiri}. Hey, we were in Miami. And the last time I had one of those was on my very first {and only} cruise. Rob’s was some specialty drink that I can’t even remember.

Our small drinks

Our “small” drinks

That was one of the best frozen drinks I’ve had in my life! The Pina Colada part was so creamy and just perfect. I don’t drink frozen cocktails very often, so after a bit my stomach started getting queasy. It wasn’t agreeing with me at all. So when our lunches came out, I had a really hard time eating it.

Cuban Sandwich

Cuban Sandwich

While the bread from this sandwich was very good, the pork was just sliced from a deli and the overall flavor was pretty bland. But maybe part of the reason I felt that way was that my tummy wasn’t feeling so hot. On the other hand, Rob’s food was delectable:

Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

Rob said it was the best Carbonara he’s ever had! And quite frankly, I’d have to agree. Maybe it wasn’t traditional, but the bacon pieces were perfect in terms of size, shape, texture and crispiness, the sauce was creamy and the pasta perfectly al dente. I stole a few bites of his when my Cuban got old.

But before we received our food, our second drinks arrived:

Champagne Mojito & Caipirinha

Champagne Mojito & Caipirinha

As mentioned in a previous post, these were just incredibly HUGE! Since we didn’t have any real plans for the day, we thought we’d sip them while sitting on the restaurant patio in the afternoon sun. Besides, Rob had a plate of Carbonara to finish. He wasn’t about to let any of that go to waste!

Rob drink

And let me tell you, these drinks were strong. It’s not like they served you huge watered down drinks as a novelty. Even with all of those limes in there, they tasted mostly of booze. Still, my husband says that Kitchen is where limes go to die!

Limes

How many limes do you think are in this glass bowl?

While we were eating, I saw someone else perusing a menu and read on the back, “Two-for-one drinks. Second round is free.” OH NO! How were Rob and I supposed to finish these and each have a second?! We chalked it up to just being stupid and not paying attention. There was no way we could drink anymore if we didn’t want to pass out within the next half hour.

Instead, to make light of it, we started trying to guess how much these drinks were. Because, like most cocktail menus, prices weren’t listed. Here is the equation I used to make my guess.

  1. First off, these beverage were each equivalent to about four drinks a piece.
  2. They were uber-strong.
  3. We were on expensive Miami Beach, probably the most expensive place I’ve ever been. One night at a “cheap” hotel will set you back about $300.
  4. If these drinks were even $7 a piece, that would be cheap.

My guess was around $25 – $30 per drink.

Yes, with this calculation we expected to pay about $50 – $60 in drinks…

for lunch.

It turns out, I wasn’t even close! One drink was $45. Yes, that’s right – $45. Although, luckily, he didn’t charge us for two nor did he offer us a second round. Maybe he knew that since we already had enough alcohol with our first drink, he’d give us these as true buy-one-get-ones. Whew! I’m guessing that servers can probably can make their own rules to lure people into the restaurant.

receipt

While we passed away the afternoon, we looked up some reviews online about Kitchen and were astonished that they were horrible – mostly rated only one and two stars. But as we read further, we learned that these ratings and disappointments were due to the expense of these ridiculously large drinks.

I totally get that.

Diners felt suckered in and scammed. Despite this, I can’t imagine it was any different anywhere else along that stretch on Ocean Drive. All of the other restaurants were offering the same huge drinks and trying to lure us in to their restaurant in the same way. I’m sure that they weren’t any cheaper.

But I’d also like to argue that you get what you pay for, too. {Even if you don’t know what you are getting or paying for in the first place.} Although we supposedly paid $45 for one drink and got the other free, $22.50 was still less than what I expected to pay per drink! And these were some of the strongest drinks we’ve ever had. Plus, with the first two drinks “free”, the cost really wasn’t all that bad. If I would have finished my Champagne Mojito {I just couldn’t although it’s funny that I found the mint to calm my tummy issues from earlier!}, we technically would have enjoyed about 10 cocktails that afternoon. And at about $7 to 8 a pop, that’d be $70 – $80.

I think most people reviewing Kitchen felt tricked and that was more the problem here than anything. But with this being the best Carbonara Rob had ever had in his life and both of us having quite the buzz when we went back to the hotel to check in, we really didn’t have anything bad to say about it!

Come back Monday to learn about our experience after our lunch as well as our hotel and ROUND 2 at Kitchen!

Did you ever pay more for something and then realized later that although it was expensive, it probably was still a good value?

If so, tell us about it!

Cheers~
Carrie

Back from a Cruise…

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Where in the world is Wine Wednesday?! It’ll have to come back tomorrow as Thirsty Thursday because we have something else to recap. However, the topic of wine and chocolate will only be appropriate for Valentine’s Day!

~

Monday night we returned from a 3-night cruise to the Bahamas. I booked this vacation with a certificate I earned through doing Wine Tastings with the Traveling Vineyard. Lucikly, we are home and not floating around in the sea like those poor passengers stranded on that Carnival ship without power. My heart goes out to them and I am sending over positive vibes for a quick return home!

Our cruise departed from Miami, so Rob and I spent a night there, right on Miami Beach. Our ports of call included CocoCay (a Bahamian island owned by the Royal Carribbean cruise line) and Nassau.

Majesty of the Seas

Here is what we learned.

Miami is one of the most expensive cities I’ve ever visited. And that includes London. Sure, these drinks were huge {salt shaker and water glass for reference} and by no means were they weak, but…

Champagne Mojito & Caipirinha

Champagne Mojito & Caipirinha – Rob says that this is where limes go to die!

…Do you think one of these drinks is worth $45? Maybe. There’s probably about a half of a bottle of alcohol in each one. At least they were buy one get one free!

receipt

Gratuity seems to be included on every bill on Miami Beach

At least the food was good. But that’s for another post. We still loved the city and our experience there. {Or at least what I can remember of it after that big drink and our hotel’s free drinks at Happy Hour.}

We checked out the beach just across the street from our hotel on Ocean Drive before the sun went down...

We checked out the beach {just across the street from our hotel on Ocean Drive} before the sun went down…

~

Renting a cabinette on the beach away from the crowds for $50 is worth every penny. Instead of trying to secure a lounge chair lined up within inches of each other on the crowded beaches of CocoCay, we paid the extra to be taken to the other side of the island to Barefoot Beach:

Our cabinette came within

We chose the shaded canopy as our cabinette instead of the chairs with the blue awning. $50 bucks provided us with rides to and from this side of the island, two reserved lounge chairs with a table, towels, Evian water in an ice bucket, two floating mats, a fruit plate and our own personal servers for ice cold alcoholic beverages {for purchase}.

Oh… Also included? These gorgeous crowd-free views!

~

If you take the time to look, you can find some beautiful things in the ocean.

this little guy

Rob found Patrick!

~

When relaxing on a beach, sometimes you feel like you are in a Corona commercial.

Corona

Sometimes a 40-year-old can still act like a kid. Boy, did Rob get excited when we returned to our stateroom to find a towel shaped like this:

This monkey {later named Lulu} is wearing my sunglasses!

This monkey {later named Lulu} is wearing my sunglasses!

And sometimes that 40-year-old is just in search of something he discovered as a kid.

Rob tried Goombay Punch as a teenager on his first trip to the Bahamas.

Rob tried Goombay Punch as a teenager on his first trip to the Bahamas. It can only be found there. He was delighted to find it again when we stopped at a local food mart in Nassau.

Then we found something also labeled “Goombay” that was marketed just for me:

Our Goombay drinks! {Truthfully, these pineapple punch sodas tasted almost identical!}

Our Goombay drinks. Truthfully, these pineapple punch sodas tasted almost identical!

~

Only on a cruise, can trail mix become crack.

This stuff was addicting. Yeah, like we weren't going to be fed enough on board. For the record, I gained 5 lbs on this 5-day vacation.

This stuff served with our cocktails was addicting. Yeah, like we weren’t going to be fed enough on board. For the record, I gained 5 lbs on this 5-day vacation.

Fruity tropical drinks get old real fast… (At least for Carrie.) Rob’s favorite onboard beverage was the Goombay Smash.

There were dozens of other tropical drinks. But after a while, I was just done…

Peach Bellini {even this got to be too sweet for me!} and a Goombay Smash

Peach Bellini and a Goombay Smash

And sometimes, just sometimes… You have to break down and order a white zin. Kidding! I finally decided to order the a dry rosé from Provence. They brought me the Beringer White Zin instead. Oh, well. Now at least I could try to relate to my Wine Tasting guests who are still drinking the stuff.

This pretty much sums up

This pretty much sums up one of my favorite things to do – reading while drinking a glass of wine.

And lastly, I learned that I get quite frustrated when I can’t do all of things I used to be able to do.

This back issue driving me nuts. I would have loved to walk around Nassau more. I would have loved to go snorkeling and swim with the dolphins. I would have loved to be able to swim more easily in the ocean. Oh, how I’ve taken little things like walking and swimming for granted! Luckily, I have an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon next week to discuss my options.

Have you ever been a cruise?

If so, which cruise line and where?

What did you like best about it?

Cheers~
Carrie

Pops for Champagne – Chicago, IL

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After a day wandering Chicago, I was still contemplating what we were going to do for my birthday dinner.

I was most intrigued by a restaurant called Naha. I had found it somehow by clicking around online. It had also popped up in my inbox by Serious Eats as a restaurant with one of the “Best Burgers in Chicago”. Although it was my birthday, I still wanted to make sure there was something on the menu Rob could have and enjoy. I also read that Naha’s Chef Carrie Nahabedian was a James Beard Award Winner.

But what was most important was that there were so many things on the menu that I wanted to try!

Still, I had not set up reservations anywhere. I know that’s not the best idea for dinner out at a nice restaurant in Chicago. When this happens at home, our plan is usually to go to a restaurant right when it opens and snag a seat at the bar.

However, after our nap and a few birthday phone calls {one being from my dad indicating that he was going to visit us one weekend/aka come for Rob’s birthday surprise party}, we didn’t get out the door until probably 6:30.

And I still wanted to stop at that place I found on our trek to the hotel: Pops for Champagne. {Fitting for Wine Wednesday, don’t you think?} So we headed off in that direction.

I don’t think Rob was too happy when we walked in the door and they asked him to take off his hat. It was packed and there would be a wait if we wanted a table. However, I spotted the last two open seats at the bar.

We pulled up to the bar as Rob fixed his disheveled hair and perused the drink menu. While there are so many different Champagnes {oh gosh, I’m just giddy thinking about it!} on the list, I knew I couldn’t talk Rob into a bottle of bubbly before finding our dinner destination, so I suggested we order a couple of Champagne cocktails.

Sparkling Cocktail List

There were too many I wanted to try, but finally I settled. And do you think three weeks later I can remember what we tried? Must be a sign of old age.

Carrie’s Sparkling Cocktail – Start Wearing Purple, I think

Rob’s Sparkling Cocktail – Corcorvado, I think

When asked if we’d like to peruse their menu, I said, “Why not?” Knowing Rob just wanted to get the hell out of the a place he had just exclaimed was “Probably the most expensive place in Chicago,” I knew that looking at the menu was just to pass the time while enjoying our cocktails. {Wine was $12 – $17 per glass, cocktails $10 – $14.} I knew we’d be dining elsewhere.

But instead, he asked me if I was interested in trying a Snack.

“Hmm… What are you thinking?” I said.

{I knew he had something in mind.}

Two things under the Snack Menu caught his eye:

Frites Garlic-truffle-brown butter, jalapeño aioli, ketchup  – $6
Tempura Wisconsin Cheese Curds Harissa romesco, ranch – $6

I told him to go ahead and choose one. I know, I know, it was my birthday. I’m sure I’m that annoying girl who always says, “I don’t care. You pick.” Or at least it seems that way. Truth be told, if I *really* do care or have a preference, I will tell you! In those rare instances when I can make up my mind, I’m not too shy to let you know.

After much debate – okay, not really – Rob chose the fries.

One of the other reasons why we often sit at the bar for dinner is that we like to strike up a conversation with the bartender, if possible. However, after being served, the bartenders were too busy attending to the other people swigging Champagne patrons to linger and chat with us, which is completely understandable.

Then the fries arrived. And the heavens parted.

Frites of the Gods

They were beyond excellent, if that is possible.

Rob dubbed these the best fries he’s ever had. It was then that our bartender, I believe his name was Greg, came over and asked how they were.

Rob went on and on about the fries… that we were from Minnesota and that these were worth a plane ticket down to Chi-town. Greg started to tell us how the chef prepared the fries. They are all fresh cut and boiled before they are fried. He said that was the “secret” to them. For me, the fries stood well on their own, the truffle butter gave them great flavor. The fancy sauces on the side were just an afterthought, that maybe even cluttered the dish with too many flavors. I tried each one, but then left them alone.

Greg asked where we were planning on dining that night and when we mentioned that we didn’t have reservations, but were considering Naha. He said, “Oh, we know those guys there! We love that place. You’ll really enjoy it.”

When Greg gave us our bill, he came back and said, “Don’t leave just yet. Our manager knows the owner over there. He’s making a call to get you hooked up.”

Wait a minute…

WHAT?

In retrospect, I keep thinking of these things:

  • We didn’t ask for them to do that!
  • They didn’t know us from any guy off the street.
  • I don’t even think that Rob mentioned that it was my birthday.
  • He just knew that we wanted to go there and we only had one night in Chicago.

Wow. This blows Minnesota Nice out of the water!

Within minutes, the Manager of Pops for Champagne came over and introduced himself. He gave us his card and said how wonderful a place Naha was. In fact, he had just dined there the previous night and spent $200 on himself alone because he kept ordering dozens of oysters. {This might scare some people away, but I had a look at the menu and the prices seemed reasonable for a nice restaurant in a big city. I wasn’t planning on ordering dozens of oysters and expensive Champagne anyway.}

Then he said that he contacted Naha and the owner, Michael, was going to be expecting us. He talked with us a while and I just kept thinking… “Wow! We’re getting into a restaurant with a James Beard-Award-Winning Chef without reservations and the menu looks amazing.”  We no longer had to think about nor worry what we were going to do for dinner.

We walked out the door arm-in-arm with smiles on our faces to begin the four block walk over to Naha…

Come back tomorrow to hear about our dinner!

Cheers~
Carrie