Six Years and a Weekend in NYC

This weekend Eric and I celebrated our 6 year wedding anniversary! I can hardly believe it. In some ways it feels like our wedding was yesterday and in others it feels as if we’ve always been married, like I can’t remember a time when we weren’t married, but we’ve made it 6 whole years and I can honestly say they’ve been the best of my life. Have they been easy? Definitely not. But we’ve had some amazing times, been to some incredible places and shared meaningful memories.

I still love looking at our wedding photos! They never get old, although we seem to have…we look so young here! I can’t wait to see what the next 6 years bring.

To celebrate our anniversary, since it was on a Saturday, we decided to take a trip to NYC for a night. We love New York City, in fact we got engaged there and used to go there often while we dated and were first married, but over the last few years, our trips became more infrequent and then non-existent. We were looking forward to going back to a city we truly enjoy.

This trip of course was centered mostly around food, like all good trips, right?! We got the chance to eat at some great places including Balthazar, Brasserie Les Halles (made famous by Chef Anthony Bourdain) and Pastis. You may notice that all of these are French brasseries or bistros, that wasn’t on purpose but just sort of happened. I didn’t complain! We also hit up this amazing brunch place called Peels; roasted tomato eggs benedict, need  I say more? Yum, even thinking about it right now makes me want to go back. Here’s the pastry selection at Peels:

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Some of our other highlights were shopping in Soho and visiting the Museum of Natural History, neither of us had ever been there before. Here’s one of our favorite exhibits, from Easter Island:

Although it was pretty crowded, we enjoyed walking through the museum and seeing the exhibits. Plus, if you’ve watched the movie Night at the Museum then it’s even cooler.

Saturday, we made the trip to Chelsea Market, a place I’ve wanted to go for a long time (Food Network studios is in the top of the building). All the food there was incredible but the most amazing was the fish market. You could find anything and everything possible at this fish market, take a look at some of the things we found:

Yes, those signs say baby octopus, sea urchin and squid!

There was a big line for some of these crustaceans! Don’t they look delicious bright red and steamed up? The fish market was like the aquarium, except you could eat everything! Maybe not appropriate for small children…

We had a blast in NYC, it was nice to get away for a night and we decided at the last minute to take the train which made the whole trip so nice and easy. We can go right from Lancaster to Penn Station, NYC and it only takes about 2.5 hours. It is more expensive than driving but the time and headache you save from driving are so worth it, especially if you’re only going for one night.

So that’s our anniversary weekend in a nutshell, what were you guys up to? Any fun weekend trips?

Colorado Getaway

As mentioned last week, we took a 5 day extended weekend out to Colorado. Eric was attending a conference for work and I choose to tag along. We stayed an extra 2 days after the conference to visit with some old college friends who live in the Denver area and had a great time catching up and exploring more of this great city.

This was not our first time out to Denver. As a tween, I came out to Denver with my family for a wedding and then we rented a car and drove all over the state to see as much as we possibly could in the 2 weeks we had allotted for the trip. I remember this trip well because it was my first time on an airplane and it was the farthest West my family had ever been.

The first time Eric and I went to Denver together, was for our friends wedding (the ones we visited). We fly to Denver, rented a car and took a huge road trip the included stops at the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, LA and back to Denver.

This getaway was a great opportunity for us to eat some good food and just relax and that’s exactly what we did. The first 3 days of the trip were spent in Golden, Colorado, where the conference was. This is a VERY small town. I walked the main street the first day and that is about all there is. It’s nestled in a valley and has the quaint small town feel with a beautiful river running through the center of town.  The two claims to fame are the Colorado School of Mines and the Coors Brewery.

We stayed at the Golden Hotel while we were there, that’s mainly where Eric’s conference was held. We didn’t get many meals together but did happen upon one of the most amazing sandwich shops. It’s called D’Deli and serves up some of the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat.

Why are they so good? Well, the bread is fresh and delicious, there are endless combination possibilities and just check out their sandwich menu:

Yep, there aren’t just 5 or 7 sandwich choices, there are 30+ sandwiches on that board plus the option to make your own.

I ordered the Bellanini which included: Bellanini - Grilled Panini Style, Olive Tapenade, Pesto Aioli, Roasted Garlic, Mozzarella, Spinach, Red Onions, Roasted Red Peppers, Portabella Mushrooms, Fresh Basil, Artichoke Hearts, Feta, Balsamic Vinegar and it looked like this:

Between the mushrooms, artichokes, cheese, spinach and tomatoes, I don’t know what I liked best. It was outstanding.

Eric chose the Olympian sandwich which included: Olympian - Corned Buffalo, Muenster, BBQ Sauce, Chipotle Ranch, Fried Onions, Mixed Greens, Jalapenos, Green Peppers, Red Peppers, Portabella Mushrooms

He said that the corned buffalo was some of the best meat he’s ever had.

After 3 days in Golden, we moved over to Erie, Colorado. Erie is close to both Denver and Boulder and is also close to the airport. The first night there, we went to one of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at in a while. Linger is a restaurant whose menu is made up of elegant versions of street food and is housed in an old mortuary. Yep, you read that right I said mortuary. They take the theme far enough to make it cute but not far enough to make it disturbing. Your water is served out of a glass bottle that looks like it use to be filled with embalming chemicals

Your menu is on a steel clipboard. Your check comes on a toe tag and the whole place has an industrial feel to it.

The food is ordered in small plates and many dishes are meant to be eaten with your hands. Between the four of us I think we ordered about 8 dishes and if course some cocktails. I love small plates because then you get the chance to try many different things during one meal instead of only 1-2 things.

Eric and I shared the mushroom barley soup. The mushrooms were earthy and delicious and the soup was served over a doughy dumpling filled with cheese! (Forgive my extremely dark iPhone pictures!)

Next, we shared Mongolian BBQ suck buns, which were my favorite. The BBQ sauce was sweet and tangy.

Next we moved onto the Strongbow Cider Mussels with Garlic, Thyme, Celery,  Grain Mustard,  Maple  Drizzle  & Grilled Spicy Cheddar Bread. They were almost better than my mussels. I found myself really enjoying the maple and mustard flavors with mussels; flavors I had never before considered together.

Next came the sesame BBQ tacos which were made with Kobe short ribs. These looked great but something about the sauce on them didn’t sit well with Eric or I and neither of us finished ours.

Finally came glorious dessert. All of us were very full by this point in time and decided to split one dessert between all of us. We choose the Italian Coffee & Donuts, powdered sugared donut holes, served warm with expresso chocolate mousse that has some sort of lemony goodness on top. The lemon was a bit strange but also added a lightness to the mousse. Amazing.

These were the two best meals of our trip and we had a wonderful catching up with old friends. We already can’t wait for our next trip to Denver and the new food we’ll get to try!

Food Fit for a King

As promised last week, here is the run down on the food at Grand Tetons National Park. Eric mentioned, the food in Grand Tetons National park was far and away better than the food found at Yellowstone. Yellowstone has a contract with a resort company who maintains almost all of the park’s food. Because of this contract, not only is the food terrible but it is also the same throughout the park. Grant Tetons national Park is completely different in the food department. There are a few different places to stay and by that I mean lodges owned by different independent companies. At these lodges you can find hotel-like lodging, cabins and places to camp in both tents and RVs.

As Eric mentioned we were in cabins at Signal Mountain Lodge right on the shores of Jackson Lake. At Signal Mountain Lodge, there are three different restaurants located in the main lodge building. We ate in both the bar and the named Deadman’s Bar which had a nice sandwich and local beer menu, one night. Each morning we ate breakfast at the Trapper Grill Restaurant, located in the same building as the bar and other restaurant. There are large windows with a beautiful view of the mountains and the lake. The menu was incredible with both egg options and some specialty items like blackberry stuffed French toast (which Eric ordered and thoroughly enjoyed). The menu also offered buffalo sausage as a upgrade and Eric said it was delicious. I liked that the menu offered delicious and healthy choices and ordered Irish Rolled Oatmeal with a side of fruit two of the three mornings. I would highly recommend the Trapper Grill to anyone heading to Grand Tetons.

Another place that Eric enjoyed introducing me to was the Jackson Lodge. He had been there as a kid and enjoyed the view from its windows along with some delicious milkshakes. At Jackson Lodge they also have a few restaurant options. The first one we tried is a lunch counter style restaurant called the Pioneer Grill. The have a nice menu of what I would qualify as “diner style” food. Eric got a milk shake just to confirm that they are still delicious, confirmed! We also shared a plate of chili fries and I enjoyed their huckleberry ice cream.

The best restaurant we ate in was on our final night in Wyoming, again at Jackson Lodge, in their restaurant called the Mural Room. This restaurant had gotten very good reviews on Travel Advisor but they all mentioned the high prices so we chose to save it until the end of our trip. Let me say the whole experience surpassed our expectations. The atmosphere of the restaurant was calm and quiet and there is an entire wall of windows looking out onto the mountains. Our waitress was very good and knowledgeable about the menu.

We started with buffalo carpaccio. The meat was so thin and deliciously perfect. Sprinkled with a bit of parmesan, tossed greens and a sweet tomato relish; an amazing combination.
I ordered the steak for my main course. This was the best steak I have ever had in my life. The term “like butter” is perfect for this steak. I have never eat a steak this quickly in my life, I also appreciated the simplicity of the dish as it had few sides to compliment the meat.

Eric ordered elk; it was prepared rare and served with a huckleberry sauce. He also ate every last bite and enjoyed it completely.

We both ordered our own desserts and Eric ordered banana fritters (deep fried bananas with a chocolate sauce) and a Bailey’s milkshake. He said the fritters tasted like tiny funnel cakes!

I ordered huckleberry chocolate chip bread pudding with huckleberry ice cream. Not only was it moist and delicious but the ice cream came in a candy dish made of huckleberry candy.

We had a wonderful last dinner at the Mural Room and yes, it was pricey but after a whole week of some unhealthy and some pretty bad food it was worth it! If you find yourself in Grand Tetons National Park be sure and stop by the Jackson Lodge for a great meal!

 

Grand Teton National Park, WY (Yellowstone’s younger brother)

After three awesome nights at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone, Marah and I headed down the road to our next adventure at the neighboring Grand Teton National Park. The Teton Range represents the newest part of the Rocky Mountains, geologically speaking. The mountains reach up to 13,775 feet in elevation, which is up to 7,000 feet off the floor of the beautiful Jackson Hole region. Our stay at the National Park was in a rustic cabin at the Signal Mountain Lodge. Interestingly enough, this was the same place my familly stayed the summer of 1988 when I was six years old. The cabins were just as I remembered, and the lodge was just the same, perfectly situated on the banks of Jackson Lake, and at the foot of Signal Mountain. Again, we had no TV or radio in our cabin, but had we needed contact with the outside world, there were TV’s in the lodge great room, and even WIFI (so not exactly 1988). The Tetons don’t have the magnificent geyesers or wondorous mineral springs of Yellowstone, but what it lacks in hydrothermal explosions it makes up for with spectacular views.

While Marah and I did not partake in the fishing, or camping, we were out and about, and I was on a mission to see the mountains in an up close and personal way. We decided to take a hike up casscade canyon and all the way to lake solitude. This is an 8.1 mile uphill hike, at elevation. It was breathtakingly beautiful and actually not as difficult as we thought it would be… (famous last words). At this point, we made a fateful decission to continue over the paintbrush divide and hike back down paintbrush canyon to the car. On the map it looked as though we were headed back the faster way, and at the same time seeing new sights we hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, we failed to realize we would be climbing up to 10,700 feet and making what should have been a nice round trip 16 mile hike, into a gruelling stress inducing 20 miler. We made it all the way, it was amazing, and we were both completely exhausted. On the way, we saw a moose, a nice 12-point mule deer, a couple marmot, and several pika. We did not see a bear, although there were reports of a familly of grizzlies moving around very close to our cabins.

During the rest of our time in the Tetons we enjoyed the boating on Jackson Lake, made several trips to the Oxbow bend looking for wildlife and made a trip into the town of Jackson. Jackson is the quintessential western mountain town, and the Teton Village ski area has all of the modern niceties of a five star resort area (including a Four Seasons Hotel… in case the rustic cabin idea isn’t for you).

Marah mentioned the food being much better in the Tetons that at the neighboring Yellowstone Park, and it is very true. I will let her get into the details of our final meal at the Jackson Lodge, but I will say that I was very impressed with the amount of locally grown, farm fresh, organic, and sustainable options at both the Jackson Lake Lodge and the Signal Mountain Lodge. I know we haven’t talked extensively about those causes on the blog yet, but it is something Marah and I advocate, and it is always something worth noticing when you are out to eat. Not surprisingly, the flavors were great and the food was very well prepared. Below I have inserted some of the pictures, but it is hard for any photo to do the mountains justice (You might just have to see them for yourself).

Teton Range

Casscade Canyon

Lake Solitude

Looking up at the Paintbrush Divide (yes we went over that!)

View from the top.

The Teton Village Tram

Marah enjoying Jackson Lake boating!

Yellowstone National Park, WY

Last week, we spent seven days exploring Wyoming, specifically Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park. The first half of the week was in Yellowsonte and I think my favorite part of our week. We decided to stay in the iconic and historic Old Faithful Inn which sits directly beside the most famous of Yellowstone’s geyers, Old Faithful, so called because it erupts like clockwork almost every 90 minutes. The Old Faithful Inn is a hotel that I will always remember fondly; built in 1906 it has withstood time, technology and even the great fire in 1989. The entire hotel is made of logs and inside has 3 stories that look down into the lobby with a 4 sided and enourmous fireplace. This was what we saw driving up:

We choose to go the less expensive route and stayed in one of the original rooms of the inn which meant we also had to share a larger dormitory style bathroom down the hall. We had a sink and mirror in our room but had to go down the hallway to use the shower or toilet. I was a little concerned but the whole set-up worked out fine and we really enjoyed the nightly rate of $96! Being a history lover, I also love thinking about the first tourists who stayed in the inn arriving by train and stagecoach and sharing restrooms like we did.

The three floors of the lobby are not only beautiful, they have couches for guests to sit on and wooden desks with Tiffany style lighting attached.

There are no TVs in the rooms and you can see the geyers from your window! The three days in Yellowstone, were spent driving through the park and stopping at the major features to see geyers, mineral pools, waterfalls and wildlife; one night while walking among the geyers, we even heard an entire pack of wolves howling. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard, also a bit unnerving…

Here are a few of the highlights:

Old Faithful Geyser

Mineral Pool

Mineral Pool with the yellow colored stone the park was named for in the background

Great Falls

Thomas Moran painted these famous falls and sent the paintings back East to boost tourism. It worked like a charm!

Mammoth Hot Springs

These are just some of the incredible things we got to see but I’m sure you’re wondering about the food we ate. I must say that we did not choose Yellowstone as our vacation destination for the food. On travel sites, the reviews of the food in Yellowstone were all poor so we didn’t expect much and all the reviews were correct.

Yellowstone’s food is managed by a resort company and I’m not sure about all the details but apparently they have some sort of deal in which there is no motivation to produce good quality food so they don’t. The main restaurant in the Inn is primarily a buffet establishment whose food compares to a cafeteria and we discovered that the best food in Yellowstone is found at the General Store next to the Inn.

There is a small soda fountain that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and we ended up eating there for every meal except for the very first one. The first meal was at the Inn and we discovered how truly horrible the food was; we ate in the lounge and each had a hamburger. The menu only had three sandwiches on to choose from (talk about slim pickins!) and all were pretty gross; hamburger, grilled chicken or eggplant. Go to Yellowstone for the geysers and the amazing landscape, there is truly nowhere else like it on earth. Do not go to Yellowstone expecting good food.

We loved the park and I hope we get the opportunity to return someday. I’m sure you’re wondering how Grand Tetons was, we’ll recap that tomorrow but just know that he food was so much better! Food photos are coming…

Red velvety beer?

Could there be such a thing as red velvet beer? Well yes there certainly could be, but we’re not that big yet, so we’ll settle for the next best thing. One of my favorite beers, and definitely an old stand-by is the perfect Guinness Draught. Now you might be wondering why Guinness as the first foray into the brewing arts by Red Velvet blog? Quite simply, it is because of it’s red… yes deep ruby red color, and it’s velvety smooth taste. I am not an expert on Guinness, but I do know how to expertly enjoy it! For me, it all starts, and many times ends, with the perfect pour. If not done correctly, an improper pour will effect my enjoyment of the beverage, which is unacceptable for the first Guinness of the evening (three or four in I may not mind as much). The first part of the pour is selecting the classic tulip shaped glass (which was actually recently redesigned in 2010). The glass should be held at a 45 degree angle and the draught should be poured to fill as much as possible at this angle or approximately 3/4 full. Next the pint should be set asside until the first pour settles, and the color is uniform. After the appropriate amount of time (after all, good things come to those who wait) the pint should be filled the rest of the way with a second pour. According to the official marketing, the whole process of a perfect pour should take 119.53 seconds. Then it is simply time to enjoy. I like to let the dark roasted barley stout coat my throat as I enjoy the first sip, and it is always fun to wipe away that first Guinness mustache. Not like other stouts, Guinness has a distinct flavor and smoothness, and Marah will be the first to tell you Guinness is not for everyone. While she rarely will have a Guinness here in the US, she will also tell you that (as is true with most things) it is much better when you go straight to the source. All Guinness in the US comes from the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, which just recently celebrated their 250th year in a 9000 year lease of the downtown Dublin location. We were lucky enough to visit the emerald isle, and apart from checking into the hotel, the Guinness tour was our first stop (and within walking distance) after the overnight flight. The building where the tour takes place is a phenomenal old storehouse which was used for fermentation until 1988 and is filled with all of the old machines and brewing tools. However, the best part of the tour is the 360 degree view over the city that awaits you at the end of the tour in the Gravity bar as you enjoy a complementary pint. Everytime I have a Guinness I am amazed at how unlike other stouts it really is. I’m not going to say it is the best stout in the world, but it is certainly unique, and I think you have to respect that. It almost seems as if there is some kind of Irish magic in it. Guinness has the amazing power of giving even the gloomiest days a happy ending. I find it’s best enjoyed on a rainy day, no warmer than 50 degrees alongside a nice hot Guinness stew, or shepherds pie (maybe I’ll get Marah to make that for an upcoming post?). For some reason, it is always better if nothing has gone right for you yet on that particular day. At that point, there is nothing better than a Guinness.

Every pint of Guinness seems to have a story and a couple of my personal stories were in Dublin. I’m not sure if it’s because I was tired and cranky after the overnight flight, or because I was pissed off that part of my luggage was stolen, but I will always remember the 1 and 1/2 pints (Marah didn’t finish hers) of Guinness at the Gravity bar as quite possibly the best pints I’ve had. They certainly were the freshest. Although, our last night in Dublin wasn’t too far off either. At the reccomendation of my cousin, we popped in to O’donoghue’s pub for a pint and some live music and were treated to the whole bar spontaneously breaking out in Irish drinking songs as if we were in a movie scene. It was a wonderful last night in Ireland, and Marah and I both are longing to go back. The last thing I will say about Guinness is that it really is good for you. Very similar to a glass of wine, Guinness has been shown in University studies to have the same antioxidant powers as many common fruits and vegatables. So drink up, Guinness is Good for You!

An ode to Rosé

Last Summer, Eric and I were fortunate enough to get the chance to go on a fabulous trip for two weeks to Germany and Southern France, more specifically Provence. We have dear friends that live in Germany, whom we met the last time we vacationed there and were able to visit with them before driving South to the warm and sunny Cote d’Azur (aqua coast in English because of the beautiful water).

Eric and I fell in love with Provence, as most people who visit it do. The food was fantastic and the seafood, incredible. The weather was hot but the water was cool and the smell of lavender always seems to permeate the air.

Provence is slower than a city like Paris, people take their time and life revolves around eating, staying cool and time with family and friends. This is a way of life that Eric and I dream of joining someday (currently we’re hoping to retire there, but if life takes us there before that we wouldn’t mind!). It also doesn’t hurt that the average French inhabitant, actually European inhabitant gets a minimum of about 6 weeks vacation every year. Yes, Americans work way too hard and our vacation/sick/maternity policies are the worst in the world. Google it if you don’t believe me and then email you findings to your boss.

Back to Provence, it’s one of my favorite places I’ve been and I encourage anyone to visit. Check out this Episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, he spends a few weeks in Provence and everything he says is totally accurate, plus there are some great shots of the countryside:

 

This is part 1 of 3 of the show and you can see the rest on YouTube.

The official wine choice of Provence is Rosé and after visiting, our official Summer wine choice has also become Rosé. Rosé is not to be confused with a blush wine like a Zinfandel although the two varieties share a smiliar coloring, they are completely different in taste. In my opinion, a Zinfandel is way too sweet. Which is often the reason women tend to like this wine better than men, the same goes for white wines.

A Rosé is crisp and clean and dryer than a Zinfandel. Perfectly refreshing for a muggy Summer day. It pairs well with anything from the grill and any seafood choice. Rosé must be enjoyed chilled to enhance its flavor and refreshing qualities. Most regions in Southern France have a local rosé that is inexpensive and delicious. Here in the USA, I have had a tough time finding more than 2 choices of rosé at the liquor store. Perhaps, the reason is that it’s not popular locally or it has something to do with the archaic liquor laws in Pennsylvania or I haven’t visited all the local liquor stores to really know what they’re offering but suffice it to say, I’d love to see more than 2 kinds of rosé when choosing my wine.

My challenge to all of you is to try it. Whether you prefer white wine or red or aren’t even a big wine drinker, I think rosé might change your mind. So get out to the liquor store and buy a bottle for the weekend, don’t forget to put it straight into the fridge so it’s nice a cold when you decide its time for a glass.

Tonight we’re drinking our rosé with crépes. Don’t worry, crépe post to follow!

Weekend Getaway – New Hampshire

As I mentioned in the last post, we spent Memorial Day weekend in New Hampshire. Eric’s brother and his wife live there with their new addition, 3 month old Patrick. This was our first meeting and I think it’s safe to say, he liked me, he really liked me. This fact is demonstrated in well in the following photo:

 

Patrick actually fell asleep on me several times in the two days that we were visiting and when you’re 3 months old, that’s like your favorite activity, so suffice it to say, I’m in. The crazy red-headed aunt has been approved.

Aside from hanging with Patrick (and his cool parents) there were two highlights of the weekend that I recommend to you. The first is chocolate and the second is brunch.

This part of New Hampshire is right along the coast and sits right next to the border to Maine. We like to visit the town of Portsmouth while we are up there. Portsmouth has lots to offer including great little boutiques, a quaint city center, the proximity to the sea, wonderful restaurants and a small chocolatier called Byrne & Carlson.

All of the chocolates are handmade and the whole shop is filled with the best candy you’ll ever eat.

These are my favorite, caramallows. The chocolate is filled with home made marshmellow and caramel, both so soft and sweet. They make them in both dark and milk chocolate. I always get a large box to take home and they last about a week.

As you can see, if you find yourself in Portsmouth, NH make your way over to Byrne & Carlson, you won’t be disappointed.

The other highlight of the trip was Sunday brunch. We went to the York Harbor Inn, located right on the Maine coast. There are big windows in the dining room and you can sit and look at the water.

Even better than the view, is the food. First I ordered a cocktail, it was a drink made up of blueberry juice, St. Germain and champagne. It was delicious, the blueberry went so well with the St. Germain. I will be trying to replicate it at home.

We all ordered different things for brunch and I was lucky enough to get a good picture of each dish before we began to eat.

I ordered eggs benedict with steared beef medallions.

Eric ordered the lobster benedict, which was delicious. The buttery egg over the lobster meat was an incredible combination.

My brother-in-law ordered the French toast.

My sister-in-law ordered the cobb salad.

We all enjoyed our meals and I hope to go back for brunch the next time we visit.

All in all we had a wonderful time in New Hampshire and can’t wait for more adventures as our nephew gets older. For now I’ll leave you with one last cute baby picture. Notice the onesie that we bought him from Cochon 555.

Cochon 555 – The Ultimate Pork Experience

WARNING If you don’t like pork or seeing raw pig, I suggest skipping this post. If, however you love the other white meat and consider bacon a welcome accompaniment to any other food, read on!

While we were visiting Chicago a few weeks ago, we attended one of the most fun and unique food events, Cochon 555. Here’s a video from their website to give you an idea of what the event was all about, also it helps to know that in French the word cochon means pig.

This event was about pork and lots of it. Five chefs were competing for the chance to go to the Grand Cochon at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this Summer. (One of my life goals is to attend the Food & Wine Classic once.) The five chefs were all from the Chicago area and one of them was the winner of Top Chef Chicago, Stephanie Izard. Here is the list of the chefs who competed and their restaurants:

 Mike Sheerin – 3 Floyds Brewpub
Andrew Zimmerman – Sepia
Michael Fiorello – Mercat a la Planxa
Stephanie Izard – Girl and the Goat
Chris Pandel – The Bristol

When Eric & I arrived at the Blackstone Hotel, the hosting venue and a historic Chicago hotel known for being the headquarters for Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s right hand man and it was also seen in the movie The Untouchables, we were wristbanded and given the direction to go up to the main ballroom. Upon getting off of the elevator, we were in the prefunction space which house all of the alcohol. Five wineries were present along with alcohol sponsors St. Germain, Templeton Rye Whiskey, and Three Floyds Brewing Company, which was giving tastings of a bacon lager that Eric loved. We each grabbed a wine glass and headed around for our first taste then we walked inside the main ballroom, stomachs growling for the big event.

The ballroom was filled with people and the aromas of delicious food. Each chef had a station and lines  formed quickly with those eager to begin tasting. Unfortunately, we did not get the greatest pictures nor did they provide descriptions of what we were tasting so I’ll give you my run down of what we ate. The first station gave us a cold pork sandwich, pork popcorn and a pork taco. At the next station we tried kimchi bacon, smoked fat fries with sausage, pork tortellini with head cheese in skull broth with rosemary (AMAZING!) and a root beer float made with smoked fatback gelato, ginger beer and buffalo trace. Next, we tried pork broth with bacon and ramen noodles, which we both loved the most and a bacon and apple dessert with ice cream, also delicious. The next station gave us some more cold cuts and a bacon caramel which was surprisingly tasty. In between stations, we ate the food at a hightop table and got refils on wine, beer or mixed drinks. I imagine that heaven will be like this someday…

Here are some photos:

At some point as the evening progressed I noticed waiters coming around to each table and putting down a mason jar full of bacon, just for your eating pleasure. This is by far the best tasting bacon I have ever eaten and I’m considering using this centerpiece at every dinner party I have from now on.

While we were eating and drinking there was a butcher competition going on. Two butchers were competing to butcher 1/2 of an entire pig in the fastest time. I couldn’t believe how fast they went. Here are some photos from that, afterward they gave away all the wonderful meat.

After tasting everything, we voted for our favorite chef of the night and waited for dinner. Following the tasting portion of the evening, two whole roasted pigs were brought out for our eating pleasure. I was pretty full at this point, but did give it a taste and like everything else that night, delicious. Dessert consisted of a huge bowl of melted chocolate surrounded by pork rinds, YUM.

As the evening came to a close, it was time to announce the winner of the night. Michael Fiorello of the restaurant Mercat la Planxa walked away with the trophy and the chance to compete at the Grand Cochon this Summer. We were happy because he was the chef we voted for! I guess that means we have refined palates and should now be qualitifed to be food critics…

Following Cochon 555 and the walk back to the hotel, Eric and I both fell into a pork fat coma and didn’t eat pork for about two weeks after. I think it took that long for the fat to work its way through our bodies.

We had a great experience at Cochon 555, it was right out of an episode of Top Chef, complete with an actual Top Chef! If you live near one of the 10 cities that hold the Cochon 555 each year I encourage you to attend. This was the perfect foodie night out on the town for our weekend getaway to Chicago. Now all this writing about pork has gotten me hungry, I wonder if we have any bacon in the fridge…

My Kind of Town – Chicago

A few weeks ago Eric and I were lucky enough to get away for a long weekend in Chicago. This was my very first visit to the windy city and it was wonderful to get away, just the two of us. What’s better is that I was headed there to attend a conference for work (yes, I have a full time job, besides this blog). This meant that my hotel, airfare and some of my meals were covered by the office so Eric jumped on board to hang out with me during the time that I wasn’t attending sessions.

This was not Eric’s first time in Chicago, but it had been quite a while since he had been there last. You’ll soon find out that Eric has been pretty much everywhere in these fair United States (except Alaska). We had seen the travel show Giada’s Weekend Getaways a month or so prior to our trip which really helped us to narrow down where we wanted to go. In the end, it was pretty much a Chicago food tour, but for us nothing could have been more perfect!

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, in March. It was in the 50s and cloudy which is apparently pretty nice for Chicago in March and ended up being the best weather we had for the whole trip (pack boots ladies, they will be a lifesaver walking all over the city in the rain and cold). After settling in at the hotel, I had the whole evening free, as my conference didn’t begin until Sunday afternoon. We decided to walk through Millenium Park to enjoy the “nice” weather and see Lake Michigan. Here’s a photo of us in the famous “Bean”:

Next on our agenda was the famous John Hancock Building. Since it proved to be a relatively clear day and the forecast for the next few days consisted of rain and clouds we thought tonight was the best chance to get a good view of the city. We had heard that if you go to the lounge one floor below the observation deck, there is no charge for getting the same view and you can get some cocktails while you enjoy the city. So that means cocktails and no admission fee…yes please! We arrived at the Handcock building to find a very long line to the elevator that takes you to the Signature Lounge but soon found out that the line moved quickly and after about 20 minutes or so we were on our ride up to the sky. *Tip* If you’re willing to pay for a nice dinner at the Signature Room Restaurant, you can make reservations in advance and you get to jump the huge line. If we find ourselves in Chicago again, we may splurge for it.

Once getting off the elevator we were seated at the bar and were surrounded by windows. The whole city was lit up. Here’s a picture from the top:

The Signature Lounge is famous for its cocktails, especially it’s Sidecar Martini. I ordered the Sidecar and Eric ordered the Windy City Martini. The Sidecar was made of:Hennessey V.S.O.P., Cointreau, fresh lime juice and the Windy City was made of: Bacardi Limon, Grand Marnier, fresh lime and cranberry juices; both were delicious. Here’s a photo I remembered to snap while the drinks were still full:

We also ordered a small bar plate to go with our drinks. Here’s an image of the Marinated Fresh Mozzarella with crispy prosciutto, basil pesto and crostini:

I loved the small balls of mozarella coated in pesto and the pancetta on top was the perfect compliment. We spend the evening sitting on top of the world drinking fancy martinis and enjoying one another, it was perfect.

Sunday was the first day of my conference so we didn’t do much during the day but dinner was an amazing experience. We attended Cochon 555 a food competition featuring the Heritage Pig. A post on that awesome event will follow this one.

Monday was our last day in the windy city. I spent most of the day in session at my conference while Eric did work back at the hotel, but we were able to squeeze in a wonderful dinner at a vegetarian restarant called the Green Zebra. I’ve never been to a vegeratrian restaurant before and I thinking it would be like that scene from Baby Mama where Tina Fey goes on the date to the raw food restaurant but what I found was that the food was amazing.

The atmosphere was calm and cool, very earthly, almost like eating inside a Crate and Barrel.

The waiter told us to order a few plates because the portion sizes were pretty small. Eric ordered the roasted pumpkin soup and the mushroom bread pudding, I ordered the Slow Roasted Shittake Mushrooms, crispy potato, savoy cabbage and the Spence Farm Poached Egg, smoked potato puree. All were completely delicious and surprisingly filling. Here’s an image of my shittake mushroom dish:

The potato which encased the outside was crunchy and the mushrooms were filled with earthy flavor. We ended the meal sharing the Chocolate Pave with creme fraiche ice cream, sea salt, peanuts and caramel. Again, amazing. I’d love to go back and try everything on the menu. I paired a nice red wine with the meal go match the earthy mushrooms while Eric chose a beer from the beverage list.

I hope we get the excuse to go back to Chicago one day, there are so any more restaurants to try! Chicago is definitely, my kind of town.