Bienvenidos a el Barrio

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Calling all Top Chef addicts! Another Top Chef contestant has opened a restaurant in Chicago and it did not let us down. Barrio is the new concept between DineAmic Group (think Siena Taven, Bull & Bear, Bar Siena) and Chef Katsuji Tanabe. Katsuji’s character and charisma comes through in many ways throughout the restaurant but especially in the cocktails’ names.

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For our first round of drinks Edwin had the Hot Mezz (left) and I ordered the Pantera Rosa (right). Mine was a house-made cucumber infused vodka with watermelon and lime. Our wonderful waitress described it as light and refreshing and it truly did just that. Now for my mezcal-loving husband, the Hot Mezz brought the smoky flavor along with watermelon, jalapeño, lime, and sage.

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The plates at Barrio are meant to be shared similar to tapas. For our first course we ordered the lump crab guacamole and the shrimp cocktail. The shrimp cocktail ended up being one of our favorite things. The crab was sweet, didn’t smell fishy, and paired nicely with the other ingredients. The grapefruit brought sourness, the jicama crunch, and the serrano the perfect amount of spice. Now the shrimp cocktail ended up being our least favorite item. The roasted tomato-habanero sauce and spicy mustard left much to be desired in terms of taste.

 

 

For our second course, we ordered the forrest mushroom tacos and the chopped salad. The tacos were, in my opinion, the best item we had. You got a slight hint of earthiness from the mushrooms and truffle oil that paired beautifully with the juice from the lime and that homemade tortilla just rounded things out. Our waitress told us that these tacos were an unspoken favorite of the staff and I can totally see why!

The chopped salad was also very tasty. The avocado brought creaminess to the plate while the corn and radishes brought sweetness and crunch.

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Yes, I loved this taco so much it deserves 2 photos!

For our main course, like we didn’t have enough lol, we ordered the tamarind beef short rib with a side of esquites-style corn. The short ribs were falling off the bone from how tender they were! The grits under the short rib were a perfect compliment to balance out the overall taste. These might not be the corn off the corner street vendor but the flavor was definitely something to brag about. The quest fresco paired with the epazote gave this corn its own unique flavor profile which I appreciated.

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To round off our meal, we each ordered a last drink and the tres leches dessert. I ordered the Ring around the Rosé which was refreshing without being overly sweet. I enjoyed having the paleta and allowing it to slowing mix into the rosé. Edwin ordered the Smoke Show once again picking a mezcal drink.

Now, as some of y’all may or might not know, I am a chocoholic! I will always have room for something chocolatey in my life. This time I shocked Edwin when I told him to pick the dessert as I wasn’t feeling the cocoa taco. He decided on the tres leches dessert and I was so surprised with how much I liked it. The cake was moist, the caramel and strawberries brought some sweetness and freshness, and that almond crisp/almond crumb brought the perfect crunch to round out the dessert.

On a side note, while we were there we wanted to see Chef Katsuji but unfortunately he left that day to Cali. Don’t worry, we messaged him on IG and promised him we’d be back when he was there 😉 Luckily, we happened to spot Chef Fabio Viviani, another Top Chef contestant, sitting next to us and I got my fan girl moment lol.

If you’re up for Mexican food with a pan-Latin influence, go check  Barrio out!

Gordo’s Ice Cream

 

I recently saw the most inviting paleta picture on Instagram and I knew I had to check it out. After some researching I came upon Gordo’s who has a location in Edgewater and had just open a second location in Printer’s Row – so close to home! I made Edwin promise to we’d go and we did just that today.

It’s located in a small street with accessible parking which makes it that much more inviting. There are also two other restaurants, Flaco’s Tacos and Hax: Hops and Burgers, which seem like a perfect date-night dinner and dessert idea.

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They have a variety of classic paletas, a create-your-own option, and various other treats. I’ll post the ice bars menu below:

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Our Experience

The lady working behind the counter today was super friendly and inviting! She went through their menu with us and even made some recommendations of “people favorites” which we really appreciated. Edwin decided to get the hibiscus tea palette with the dark chocolate dip and toasted almonds. I had the coffee paleta also with a dark chocolate dip and toasted almonds.

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If you’re looking for a different ice cream bar experience, go check Gordo’s out!

 

Veni, Vidi, Amavi – Florence

Ahhhh, Florence! Edwin has proclaimed it as his favorite Italian city and I don’t blame him. It has the feel of a small city with museums, landmarks, and restaurants galore. We took the train from Venice to Florence and arrived at the NH Firenze hotel in no time. We immediately dropped off our bags and began to explore.

Attractions

Bomboli Gardens

Ponte Vecchio

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We knew we had to start our exploration by visiting the Ponte Vecchio. Luckily it was a short walk from our hotel and on our route to the Bomboli Gardens. The Bomboli gardens were a beautiful sight to see. There were fountains, greenery, and scenic views galore.

Galleria dell’Academia

You know we couldn’t come to Florence and not see David in all of his glory. Sure I’d seen his picture in books but seeing him in person, all 17 feet, is a quite a sight. The Galleria dell’Academia itself was a small museum, compared to other Italian museums, but the lines to buy tickets/get in wrap around so do yourself a favor and pre-order your tickets. They tickets will be waiting for you and your predetermined time and it will grant you fast access to the museum.

Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi is a beautiful building in and of itself that holds work from some of the greatest artist to ever live. We were able to see artwork from Botticelli, Giotto, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello. Don’t leave Florence without a visit.

Giotto’s Bell Tower

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The bell tower next to the Basilica is composed of 414 steps and this one (unlike the one in Venice) does NOT have an elevator. Not gonna lie, we had to stop here and there to catch our breathes but the sights from atop were unbelievable. The bell tower itself is considered to be the most beautiful bell tower in Italy.  It is said to have been built more for aesthetics than functionality. Don’t let the climb scare you away, it’ll be worth it, I promise! You can also preorder the ticket for the Basilica and Duomo beforehand in order to save you from standing in the sun for a long time.

Santa Maria del Fiore Basilica and Duomo

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3rd largest church in the world

Foodie Goodness

Culinaria

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Culinaria is a small restaurant with Mediterranean influences. It had a variety of tagines, hummus, and veggie-friendly dishes. We ordered the pork stuffed with plums and the veggie spaghetti which was something out of our comfort zone but it totally converted us and convinced us to make our own zucchini noodles at home. To finish off our meal we had the  “out-of-this-world” homemade tiramisu and enjoyed every last bit. Our waiter, who was wonderful, helped make our experience even better. He told us about his childhood in Oaxaca, Mexico and even spoke with us in Spanish! As a final treat he shared with us his mother’s homemade limoncello which was the best limoncello we had in the entire trip. If you’re looking to experience different cuisines, make your way over to Culinaria and enjoy a wonderful meal.

Ditta Artigianale

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Mercato Centrale

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If you’ve been to Eataly then the Mercato Centrale will feel awfully similar. They have many tables in the middle of the market with food stands all around the perimeter. The stands have pasta, steaks, burgers, pizza, dessert, and many other options. We ordered a pizza and while we waited bought some drinks and arancini to start the meal. It was a good meal but would probably explore other options before coming back.

I’Brindellone

I’Brindellone was our FAVORITE meal and we say that without hesitation. We knew when we walked there and were turned away because they were booked/all full capacity that we were in for something good. We made a reservation for the following day and couldn’t wait to come back. When we arrived for dinner the second time, we were immediately greeted at the front door and walked to our table. We knew from a post by Georgette (Girl In Florence) that we were going to order the truffle pasta and bistecca a la florentina. For the sake of our health we decided to order burrata with arugula and tomato and it did not disappoint. Then came the stars of the night – the pasta and steak. Mind you the steak was not for the faint of heart as it was about 3 pounds and the smallest one available so we took one for the team and ordered it anyways. The steak was flavorful, tender and a perfect protein to accompany the pasta. If you ever find yourself in Florence make sure you make a reservation at this restaurant and go indulge in a Florentine staple.

Shopping

Digerolamo

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My one request for Edwin on this trip was that I get a handmade leather. Since it was the Ferre Agosto (August break) many restaurants and stores were closed for 1-2 weeks at a time. Lucky for me Clara from Digerolamo came back to her store the day before we were set to leave Florence. I walked into her store/workshop and immediately knew this was what I was looking for. She was ever so gracious and accommodating, she answered all of my questions and made me feel very appreciated. I was very excited and nervous to place my order but it all went super smoothly. Inside the store you could see the workers doing their craft in such an artistic and unique way that is rarely seen nowadays. Clara informed me that since my purse was going to be made-to-order she would have to ship it to Chicago. I had wanted to carry it around in Italy but can now say that it was worth the wait.

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Bloggers with fab blogs about Florence:

Georgette from Girl in Florence

Nardia from Lost in Florence

Delectable Mac-n-Cheese

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When the newly engaged best friend requests mac-n-cheese I make it and with the Fourth of July/summer parties in full swing I decided to share my recipe below. It took me a few tries to perfect my ingredients and toppings but I think I’ve finally found the perfect combo….

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Ingredients

Mac-N-Cheese

  • 16 ounces of cavatappi pasta (you can also use elbow macaroni)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard (optional)
  • 1 pound cheddar cheese, Grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to your taste)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (or to your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Panko Topping

Directions

  1. Place a heavy stockpot with water over medium-high heat until it bowls.
  2. Add oil
  3. Then cook the macaroni until very al dente. Macaroni should be too firm to eat right out of the pot. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
  4. In the same empty stockpot, melt the butter and sprinkle in the flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat. Cook the mixture for a few minutes minutes while moving it constantly.
  5. Next, pour in the milk, add all of the seasonings, and whisk until smooth. Cook for five minutes or until very thick. When ready, reduce the heat to low.
  6. Add in the cheese and stir to melt.
  7. Taste the sauce and add more seasonings as needed!
  8. Pour in the macaroni and stir to combine.
  9. Place the mac-n-cheese in your desired dish and top with the panko topping.
  10. If you’d like the reheat it and/or keep warm, place the oven-safe dish in a 325* F oven.

Finally, enjoy!

*Recipe used and/or adapted from: Ree Drummond’s Macaroni and Cheese

Veni, Vidi, Amavi – Venice

“We came, We saw, We loved”

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Growing up, my parents shared their love of traveling with us. Although most of our trips consisted of visiting their hometown in Mexico, they always made it a point to visit other Mexican cities and states in order to develop our love for their country. Now that I’ve grown up, I think it is fair to say they’ve succeeded. They also allowed us the opportunity to study and travel abroad without any hesitations because as the saying goes “to travel is to live” and they truly believe that.

Last summer, in August, Edwin and I took a 2 week trip to Italy. We visited Venice, Florence, Rome, and Sorrento. In order to keep things in order, I’m going to create a separate post for each city so I can share things easily. So here we go ….

Travel Arrangements

Edwin and I booked our travel package through Costco Travel. This was our first time booking through them and at the end of the day we ended up being very happy with that decision. They booked our airfare, hotels, and transportation between cities which made our travel a breeze. 

Accommodations

 

 

Although we were visiting Venice, our hotel, Lagare Hotel Venezia, was actually in Murano, a neighboring island. Our hotel had daily transfers between Venice and Murano which made moving between the islands very easy and convenient. Our room included daily continental breakfast which was our favorite breakfast from all of the hotels in our trip.

Attractions

St. Mark’s Campanile

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We visited the bell tower early in the morning to avoid the cruise rush. I thought we would have to climb all the way up but they’re modern 😆 and have elevators to take you up. The climbing experience was waiting for us in Florence 😩. The views from up above were spectacular in all directions.

St. Mark’s Basilica

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We decided to wait to visit for Basilica until the afternoon in order to avoid some of the early morning traffic from the cruises. The Basilica typically close at 5pm so we headed over around 3 in order to avoid the rush and we did not regret it. You can also purchase tickets ahead of time in order to skip-the-line and get in quicker. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside but the mosaic on the ceiling is worth the wait in line so check it out!

Palazzo Ducale/Doge’s Palace
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The Doge’s Palace from the Campanile
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The prisoners’ lasts views from the Bridge of Sighs

The only place we pre-reserved tickets for was the Doge’s palace Hidden Treasures tour. We actually wanted to go on the Secret itineraries tour but it was sold-out by the time we tried to book. We had a small group of 5 people + a very knowledgeable tour guide which made for a fabulous tour. We learned all about the history of the palazzo and then got a chance to explore on our own.

Get Lost!
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“Here we are and here we stay! No gentrification!

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On our last full day in Venice, after we had seen all the must-have attractions, we decided to take it easy and follow everyone’s suggestion to just get lost in Venice. We wandered down winding streets and alleys smelling flowers and witnessing street art. We also met two wonderful Michoacanas who were a blast and shared a gondola ride with us.

Food

 

We typically had dinner in Murano as our day typically ended early in Venice. Our most favorite dinner in Venice was Osteria Allá Frasca. We had passed by the restaurant every day on our way to the dock for our transfer and kept seeing that every table was reserved which of course struck my curiosity. On our last full day there we decided to stay longer in Benice and have dinner there – best decision we made! Luckily the owner had a table available but we did see him turn people away because it was completely booked. If possible, visit this restaurant and make a reservation  beforehand if you can.

Venice is a wonderful starting and/or ending point for any European adventure. We would recommend 2-3 days here before you jet of to your next destination.

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Next stop ….. Florence!

Delicious Chocolate Stout Cake

I recently shared some of my home baking experiences on my Insta stories. I love to bake all kinds of goodies for friends and family. I’ve been getting a lot of requests for the cake I recently made so I decided to share recipe here. This cake is chocolaty, moist, and delicious without being overly sweet.

Chocolate Stout Cake*

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Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 cup stout (I used Hitachino’s espresso stout but you can also use Guinness)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cups sour cream

Chocolate Ganache

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rum (optional)

Kahlua Whipped Cream*

  • 1 cup Whipping Cream
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Kahlua (feel free to use a different quantity or type)

Cake Directions

  1. Preheat your over to 350*F
  2. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, and then butter the paper.
  3. Bring the stout and butter to a simmer in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Once it has simmered, turn off the heat and add the cocoa powder. Whisk until the mixture is smooth then let it cool.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set this aside.
  5. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream using the paddle attachment. Once the eggs and sour cream have incorporated, add the stout-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine.
  6. Next, add the flour mixture the the liquid mixture and beat briefly on slow speed.
  7. Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and put it in the oven.
  8. Bake the cakes for approximately 35 minutes or until a tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean.
  9. Lastly, let the cakes cools for about 10 minutes then turn the cakes onto a cooling rack and let them cool completely.

Ganache Directions

  1. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.
  2. While that is heating, place the chopped chocolate in a glass bowl.
  3. Once the cream has simmered, turn off the heat and add it to the bowl with the chocolate. Let the cream sit in the bowl for a few minutes so it can melt the chocolate.
  4. After a few minutes, whisk until the mixture is smooth then let it cool.

Whipped Cream Directions

  1. Place all three ingredients in a stand mixer with the wire whisk attachment.
  2. Whisk on high until stiff peaks begin to form.

Assembly

  1. Place 1 cake layer on plate/cake stand. Spread the ganache over the cake. Top with the second cake layer.  Spread the Kahlua whipped cream over the top and sides of cake.

*Recipes used and/or adapted from: CHOCOLATE STOUT CAKE by Epicurious & Kahlua Whipped Cream by Sugar & Soul

Top 10 Travel Tips

Besides eating, Edwin and I also love to travel. Over the past few years, we’ve traveled to Mexico, Asia, Europe, and various cities in the US. Whether we’re traveling locally or abroad we always tend to follow the same pre-adventure routines in order to make the best of our trips.

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Pre-Trip

  1. heResearch, research, research – As we begin to narrow down our possible destinations, we begin to look up weather conditions for our dates of travel. We also look for top attractions so we can make a choice – are we looking for adrenaline rushes? Do we just want to relax by the beach? Are we interested in learning about the city’s history?
  2. Make an itinerary – Once we’ve selected a city/place we begin to create our itinerary. We take into account the top attractions and split them into the days we’ll be at that location. We usually like to leave the first and last day free so we can relax, get unpacked/packed, and get ready for the next step. I’m the type that schedules out vacations by days but my sister schedules by the hour lol so feel it out and see what works best for you.Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 2.11.32 PM
  3. Be prepared for variable weather – As we mentioned above, we always look up the area’s typical weather conditions for the month we expect to travel. Although it was hot season when we went to Italy, we made sure we brought a jacket and umbrella just in case mother nature decided to surprise us.
  4. Buy travel insurance – This is something we’ve recently decided is imperative to get since we don’t know what can come our way. Insurance is usually offered when you buy your flights and for a relatively inexpensive price can save you from losing a lot of money.
  5. Plan your finances – will you be using your credit card? Make sure you alert them of you travel destinations so they don’t think someone has stolen your card. Will you be exchanging money before going? Some banks have to order foreign currency especially if it is not a frequently used type of money. Does you credit card charge a foreign transaction fee every time you use it? This is are all good questions to ask/find out about before you depart for your destination.

 

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During Travel

  1. Be flexible- When we make our itinerary we might add an extra activity (or two) to each day just to make sure we’re not stuck with a “what should we do now?” moment. Also, if we’re having a good time in one place we don’t rush out to make sure we see everything. Most cities are so large you won’t see everything anyways so why rush? Adjust your day and go from there.
  2. Take lots of pictures – I’m a picture fanatic and thankfully my husband is OK with that. In the end of the day, besides our memories, this is what we take home with us. I LOVE making photo books with our pictures so that one day, when we’re old(er), we can show our adventures to our future kids and grandkids. IMG_6850.jpg
  3. Do as the locals – Do you see local people heading into a certain restaurant? Is the restaurant so small/exclusive that they turn you away as a walk-in but are happy to book you a seat for the next day? We always find that the more local restaurants always have the better food and best experiences. We have sipped homemade limoncello with an Italian who lived in Oaxaca, MX during his childhood and that is a memory we’ll never forget.

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    Delicious recommendation from Georgette (@GirlInFlorence)
  4. Relax and enjoy your surroundings – Although we always want to see everything we can, it is sometimes best to just relax and enjoy the view. Sit on that park bench and watch the kids play, observe old men as they gather to discuss news, but most of all enjoy the company of those who are with you (especially if this is the solo-trip of a lifetime).

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    Watching local kids play soccer in Venice
  5. Carry snacks and wear comfy shoes – Yes, I know, comfy shoes but not always (but the can be) the cutest but if you’re gonna be walking for hours, do yourself a favor a pack them. You might not wear them the first, or even the second, day but at some point they might be the Godsent. At some point, it might be a good idea to pick up some snacks – peanuts, almonds, etc., in case you get stuck in line waiting for an attraction and begin to get hangry (not that that has happened to us lol). Last, but definitely not least, we like to bring an empty bottle of water and fill it up every morning at the hotel that way we can rehydrate throughout the day or after eating said snacks.                                 IMG_7149

But the best and final tip is ENJOY yourselves!

Mid-June Restaurant Recap

Dove’s Luncheonette

Dove's Luncheonette

Chicken Fried Chicken

Pozole Rojo

We decided to visit Dove’s Luncheonette for a spontaneous Saturday lunch. We’ve been to Big Start next door (get the Al Pastor Tacos) and always drive by Dove’s but after seeing it on a Food Network show we finally took the plunge and decided to visit. Edwin ordered the pozole rojo and I ordered the chicken fried chicken.

The pozole rojo came with all of the fixin’s including tostadas, cabbage, and radishes. Although we (because we all know I had to have a taste too 😉 ) enjoyed the flavor of the pozole we had to keep reminding our selves to not compare it to our Mexican mom’s pozole. All in all it was a good dish.

The chicken fried chicken came smothered in salsa verde with peas and pearl onions. I am a fan of onions so this dish is right up my ally. I do think a salad would have done well to counteract all of the richness of the dish. Definitely give it a try with a cazuela or beer.

Small Cheval

Small Cheval

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In an effort to burn calories 😉 Edwin and I decided to visit Small Cheval before a nice walk on The 606. I ordered the hamburger and Edwin the cheeseburger with two cokes because a coke and burger go together like PB&J. I love my cokes super chilled so when they handed us two cups full of ice, I knew this was the place for me. Given that they have a small menu, and being part of Au Cheval, I had high expectations for the burgers and they did not let me down. They were nice and juicy and the fries were SUPER crunchy. Don’t forget to get the garlic aioli from the condiments counter! Next time, and there will definitely be a next time, we would love to sit outside and I plan on ordering a shake for quality control :).

Scone City

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Our last stop on this tour of Bucktown/Wicker Park was a Sunday morning run to Scone City. I happened to see their pictures on Instagram and knew I had to visit. Edwin and I had to make very difficult decisions when trying to pick flavors. Some of their available flavor options were: brie honey and time, cinnamon chip, and maple bacon. Ultimately, I went for the Triple Chocolate (no surprise there! I’ll always get anything chocolate) and Edwin ordered the Blackberry and Orange Glaze. We enjoyed our scones with iced mochas and then went about the rest of our Sunday. You should definitely give Scone City a try if you’re in the neighborhood.

Pilsen Gems

On Saturdays, we usually head somewhere for lunch after Edwin comes home from work. Although we typically stick to a few favorites, this week we decided to stay local and visit a local family-owned restaurant and that’s how we came to ….

Diez y Ocho

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The restaurant is known for their burgers and let me tell you, they did not disappoint. I had the “turkeynator” burger on a rosemary ciabatta while my husband the “mafioso” burger. I ordered the natural cut fries with sea salt and Edwin ordered the cajun fries.

 

 

Chef Mike seemed very personable from what I could see while he was interacting with patrons at the bar. I overheard him say he was going to re-do the menu to include different burger ideas that he has created. Can’t wait to come back and see the new menu.

La Michoacana Premium

In order to get through the midweek slump, Edwin and I decided to visit one of our local ice cream shop – La Michoacana Premium. These ice cream shops are all over my parent’s state of Michoacan (hence the name) and have been popping up here in Chicago.

They have a variety of ice creams, popsicles, agues frescas, and other snacks. I ordered the piñon (pine nut) ice cream and let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS! I’d never even imagined pine nut ice cream but it was worth it. Edwin ordered the “esquimal” which is a vanilla popsicle covered in chocolate and sprinkled with coconut flakes.

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If you’re looking for some fun, tasty, and cold treat you should stop by La Michoacana (Blue Island Ave. and 18th Street).

“Wine”ing all day …. Part 2

Day 2 Continued …

After our early morning adventure and a nice nape we headed to our favorite place to grab a pastry (ok ok more like pastries) and coffee – Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, CA. Don’t let the line scare you, it moves pretty quickly. We sure didn’t waste the opportunity and tried a whole variety of items. One of our favorites for sure was the TKO cookie which is similar to an Oreo. After we picked out your treats, we headed outdoors to one of their tables and enjoyed our treats.

We then headed to a few wineries because “when in Rome, do as the Romans” 😉 We visited Beringer Vineyards and Alpha Omega Winery. Although we hadn’t made previous reservations at either place we were still able to do tastings.

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For dinner on the second night we visited Morimoto Napa. Considering we’re big fans of Iron Chef, we knew we had to make a visit to the Iron Chef’s restaurant.

For the appetizer course we ordered the pork gyoza which had garlic chives, tomato, and bacon foam. For the main course, I ordered the spicy tuna roll and Edwin had the Surf and Turf which included snake river farms wagyu beef, hamachi black garlic, and nuoc cham. Finally, for dessert we ordered the S’more which came with some flambe action 😆

Day 3

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We started off our third day by sleeping in and enjoying a relaxing morning. For brunch we headed to Domaine Carneros, one of or favorite wineries, for some sparkling wine and food. The cheese platter composed of local cheese was beyond delicious and something we still talk about today.

After Domaine Carneros we made our way to the “Napa Valley” sign for a mandatory picture. We also made time before our next wine tasting by visiting some nearby wineries.

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Our last wine tasting was scheduled at Cakebread Cellars, one of the last remaining privately owned vineyards in the Napa Valley, and in our opinion we saved the best winery for last.

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Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the vineyards as he had previously worked producing the wine. Also, per coincidence, our co-tourees were students from Northwestern and U of C, our alma maters. We all enjoyed talking about Chicago and discussing the various wines we were tasting. Truly a wonderful experience!

The last meal …

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Yes, that’s THE Thomas Keller, shaving truffles at the table next to us! Being big fans of The Food Network and Top Chef, Chef Keller’s name was very familiar to me. The blogs I read in order to prepare for the trip (Cyn Eats, The Blonde Abroad, This is My Happiness) all mentioned at least one of his restaurants so I knew they were a must-do on our list. Luckily, we were able to snag a table at Bouchon for our last night.

When we arrived there was a table next to ours reserved for a large group. We went about ordering our meal and a little while later we see Chef Keller and his guests walking to the table – I nearly died! We did our best to eat our meal nonchalantly but I still managed to snag some pictures of the legend working his magic.

For our appetizer we shared some french onion soup and then had the roasted chicken and steak frites. It was all delicious and lived up to our expectations.

The icing on our trip came when, in celebration of Edwin’s birthday, Chef Keller’s table sang “Happy Birthday” as our dessert came to the table. What a way to end our trip.

Until next time Napa …. and there will definitely be another time!

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