Monday, June 25, 2007

Bonefish Grill

For Father's Day, my dad wanted seafood for dinner. Of course I'd offered to cook, but we'd decided to attend a Italian & Exotic car show in Memphis so we opted for something in the area. After a quick stop at Red Lobster to find a 45 minute wait, my husband and I thought of Bonefish Grill. While it's a chain restaurant, it's one of the better thought-out concepts. The food was surprisingly good and fresh, and the atmosphere very inviting.

Their special of the day, Imperial Tilapia, was a tilapia fillet stuffed with a mix of crab, scallops, and shrimp, topped with a cream sauce. The creme brulee was in the top five I've sampled anywhere. A word of caution about the crab cakes appetizer is plated with two sauces, a green almost pesto type sauce and a red sauce. The red sauce is not for the fainthearted, it is most definitely hot. Not spicy, hot; while it was good, the heat I suspect would be a turn-off to many diners.

For those who aren't seafood fans, the beef filet is better than in many steak restaurants. Try the au gratin potatoes on the side too, they are simply fantastic.

My rating: 4.5 stars

Pros: Being a chain, there's several locations in the eastern US. The variety of fresh seafood is a seafood fanatic's dream.
Cons: I don't have a location nearby. The location I went to is a bit dimly lit, so take a small pen light to see the menu!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cool Cupcakes

These have to be some of the coolest looking cupcakes I've ever seen. Found on the blog Vegan Yum Yum, the baker provides an explanation and photos demonstrating how she created these little charming delights. Pretty nice!

They're almost too cute. It steps just past that boundary, where food has become so attractive I almost feel bad for consuming. Note I said almost. Cute will not save you from being consumed, oh dainty little cupcakes.

Then there's these delicious delights. While the knitting theme cupcakes are truly adorable, the chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing at left are perfect in their own right. They look delicious. They are delicious. They do look great, better than the photo can do them justice as I didn't have the nice little white rectangle plate for display. They are what I consider "honest" food. It's made in a real kitchen with simple ingredients that don't require trips to the specialty stores of New York or some other major metro. It simply doesn't get much better than that. These I can eat.

Thanks to the wonderful neighbors who made these and have promised me more cupcakes and a recipe. Yea!

Brave New Restaurant

Creating a lunch special featuring baked tilapia topped with a blueberry sauce is definitely brave. It's fitting to find such a dish at a place called Brave New Restaurant. Thanks to the friendly folks at the BMW Motorcycle dealership, I've put this quirky little hot spot on my "must repeat" list of restaurants. I've heard from several individuals ravings about the grilled cheese sandwich on the lunch menu, but until recently I've only been for dinner. Finally I had the opportunity to try the sandwich, and fortunately for me I had my husband with me so when I was tempted by the unique lunch special, I could order it and still sample the ever-so-famous sandwich. They were right about the grilled cheese, it is pretty spectacular. He ordered it sans brave new shrimp, which I think would have made it even more sensational. I didn't regret my decision to order the fish special, despite the odd sounding combination. The blueberry touch was nice without being overpowering.

It's a bit out of the way to get there, but well worth finding this gem. A varied menu and simply perfect atmosphere make it even more outstanding.

My rating: 5 Stars

Cons: A little bit challenging to find the first time, as it's on the 2nd floor of a nondescript office building of sorts. Parking may be a bit limited during busy times. If this is all I can find to complain about, it's a really good sign.
Pros: If everything on the menu tastes the way the few dishes I've had so far taste, it's nothing less than spectacular. The food is clearly very fresh. The atmosphere makes this place great for a quiet dinner for two, a business lunch or a nice change from the standard fare with a few friends.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Never Again.

Never, never again. I know, "never say never," but in this case, never again. I will make a promise to myself that the next hotel room I walk into, I will promptly walk over to the window, look below, and if I see a swimming pool, club or other such noisemaker I will go back to the front desk and request a different room.
Last night I stayed at the Wingate Inn in Little Rock. Nice enough hotel, good location, reasonable price. In theory it's catered to the business traveler, thus the good sized desk and working space, refrigerator and microwave, etc. It's just a well laid out room for those on a business trip or maybe one night passing through town. The continental breakfast, included with the room, is adequate in selection but a better quality than several others I've sampled in the past.
However the location of my room is awful. It's directly above the pool. Well past the 10pm closing time last night, the raucous band of kids with parents watching on were running, screaming even to each other. Finally the noise settled down around 10:30pm. I wasn't thrilled but was willing to forgive. My generous nature is tested however, when I awake just after 7am to the sound of more kids filling up the pool below. For a "business" oriented hotel, there's a lot of little noisemakers in the pool going strong into the night and starting well before I intended to emerge.
I am still strongly debating if I'll give the hotel another chance. When I called the front desk this morning to ask about the unplanned early wakeup call (almost 2 hours prior to my real wake-up call) the lady who answered offered no apologies or even the slightest bit of concern. We'll see what is said when we check out. This is one instance I'll be stopping by the front desk to voice my complaint.

There's a lot I'm willing to forgive in a hotel, but excess noise is not one of them.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hotel Rants and Raves

I've posted about a few things in hotels that are pleasant surprises and some not so pleasant. Since I've been traveling again a bit lately, I think it's about time to add to that list.

I like glasses made of real glass, not just plastic. While I might be a bit of a klutz, I don't need a hotel reminding me they trust I'll break whatever I can in the room.
When traveling with two of us, I like having two chairs for the desk, and room for both to view said desk.
When the hangers can be removed from the hanger bar, that's the good hangers.

No rooms should be above the pool or bar / restaurant areas. Use that space for offices, maintenace, laundry facilites, vending... Anything is better than listening to the thump of club music until 1 am when you just want to sleep. Or waiting for the heathens let loose at the pool to be reeled in by a relunctant parent or chaperone.

Here's a bonus question to ponder... When traveling with your spouse, who gets the bucket of ice? It seems like it's always the same person with every couple. I almost always grab some ice shortly after checking into the hotel.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Chocolate cake?

If you're in the vicinity of Little Rock, stop whatever you're doing and go get the chocolate cake at the Peabody. Now. You won't regret the decision. It will be worth every little bit of extra exercise you may do in payment for your crime. Now go... eat.

I had a relaxing room service dinner tonight at The Peabody in Little Rock, provided by Capriccio Grill. Started off with the ravioli, which was excellent. The steak was cooked properly and needed nothing extra; the rosemary potatoes were a good complement to the steak. The french fries, not so hot.
Then there was "chocolate cake." I don't know what it was, it wasn't like any cake I've had before. Either way, it was unbelievable. Topped with fresh blueberries and surrounded with droplets of chocolate raspberry sauce and lime sauce, plus a fresh strawberry holding more of that green liquid delight, it was both visually attractive and truly as delicious as it looked. Probably even more.

I'd have taken a photo, but one of me licking the plate might not be such a proper thing to display.

Time for a Break

With all my travels as of late I've tried to keep a better log here about my "adventures." I don't know it helps or entertains anyone all that much, but for me it's handy to be able to reference it when someone asks for recommendations.

While I've been on the road, I've finally taken that extra few minutes to read a book or two. Right now I'm working on Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. His show on the Travel Channel, "No Reservations" is a glimpse into how the other half lives. His book on the other hand, is a revelation into what makes someone as interesting as him tick. What on earth would posses a man to willingly sit on a kitchen floor in Alaska and eat raw seal innards? Reading his book elaborates as to why he does it. That doesn't mean I want brave all the culinary oddities and risk my entire digestive tract, but it does explain his rationale and make me want to stick my big toe in the crazy food pond.

It's also making me really look forward to diving into my own kitchen again; I really do miss my own cooking when I travel.

Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.

If you want a place worth driving to, this is it. Starting with a building, decor and menu all with character and food that follows that home, this is one quirky dining dream.
The pizza of course is excellent, can't go wrong with about anything in that department. I found the quesadillas to be as good or better than those at many Mexican restaurants. This restaurant was what made me want to come back to Asheville and explore the area more.

My rating: 5 stars

Pros: Everything I've eaten there has been exceptionally good. Decor is fun and entertaining in itself. Reasonably priced and portions are large enough to share.
Cons: It's all the way out in North Carolina so I can't get there as often as I'd like.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Residences at Biltmore

This fantastic new "Hotel" of sorts is a great getaway from the standard fare of hotels that line the Interstate. Asheville itself is an escape from the big box and chain life that dominates most towns. With local boutiques and interesting restaurants on nearly every corner, I could spend weeks here and never get bored with the variety. I could see something new on the menu every day!

The Residences at Biltmore is still under construction, but one building is already open. Some units are for sale, sized from Studios to 3 bedroom spaces. My unit was a one bedroom with all the amenities. The complete kitchen is outfitted with with marble counters, stainless higher end appliances and a kitchen table to seat four comfortably. The living room has a gas fireplace, 42" flat screen tv, comfy sofa, leather chair and an over-sized coffee table. The bath is generously sized with a glass walk-in shower, deep garden tub and marble to match the kitchen. The king sized bed and 32" flat tv in the bedroom with more than adequate closet space and drawer space finishes off their great use of the just over 750 square feet of living space. It is bigger than most hotel suites and I have certainly paid more for a whole lot less. The furnishings are good quality, with decor that touches on rustic and contemporary. They have an overall look I wish I could accomplish with my own home, but when the last interior decorator I hired wanted me to put two large bright red sofas in my living room, I decided to stick to my own blend of style, however unbalanced it might appear.

For travelers planning to stay more than a night, this is a great alternative to the standard fare. Coming is a pool pavilion and possibly an on-site restaurant. Also available is twenty-four hour concierge service, which anytime I called was more than helpful. This is the second recent hotel I've found that has a staff that truly seems happy to do their job.

My rating : 4 3/4 Stars

Pros: A quiet escape right in the heart of a bustling but relaxed and fun city. Plenty of space, friendly staff and impeccable service.
Cons: No room service. Still under construction, so there's a few amenities that are not available yet but are coming. Also make sure to stay on the side away from construction, as rooms there have very minimal to no noise.

Carmel's in Asheville, North Carolina

The Grove Arcade is a unique shopping and dining spot in Asheville, combining an eclectic mix of local boutiques and eateries. Carmel's is located at one end, accessed from outside the building. With beautiful weather, dining al fresco and doing a little people watching over lunch proved entertaining. The Kobe Hot Dog, while it is an $8.50 hot dog, is large enough to call it a meal. A variety of cheeses make the possibilities seem endless for their grilled cheese sandwich, and in honor of April having been national grilled cheese month I decided to indulge in one of Smoked Mozzarella and Jarlsberg. It's only 2 months late, better late than never! On the side, their house dressing is excellent, the pepper cornbread a nice blend of sweet and spicy, and the sweet potato fries are noteworthy.

My overall rating: 4.5 Stars, well worth the visit!

Pros: Good variety and large enough portions to share. Sides dishes are creative and delicious.
Cons: Parking to get there can be a bit of a pain, most spaces are metered and the area does seem to stay busy.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Blowing Rock and the Meadowbrook Inn

Blowing Rock is a charming little resort town in the high country of North Carolina. It's a great starting point for cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway and taking in all the "scenic overlook" stops that appear at very regular intervals. Without lots of access points along the way, traffic can move smoothly, with the exception of the occasional driver paranoid of making a fatally wrong left turn and thus driving at about 15 mph below the already scenic stroll speed limit of about 45 mph.

The town has several little shops, some full of tourist trapping gifts, others with a bit of real local charm. A variety of restaurants, also mostly small local places make dining an easy and fun adventure. After talking with the staff of some of the local businesses, it's clear that none of them live in Blowing Rock; it's simply too expensive. Housing prices reflect the escape destination that is Blowing Rock. Overall though, it's a nice small town with plenty of friendly people and easy going charm.

I spent several nights at the Meadowbrook Inn, on main street in the historical district. While it's not the most modern hotel, it's very comfortable and does have all the modern amenities. The continental breakfast is adequate and the room service food is good. I suggest the fruit & cheese plate, great late night snack. Fresh pineapple, not something I'd have expected at 11pm in the middle of the mountains. The small bar has a creative staff that knows the options well. I stayed in a VIP Suite, and the size and features for the moderate price is impressive. A separate living room, wet bar area, fireplace and large jacuzzi tub are a few of the details. What makes the hotel really stand out to me is the staff; they're always friendly. Every single one seems upbeat and genuinely interested in making sure your stay is good. They're great actors or it's a pretty good place to work, either way it adds up to a good experience for the guests.

My rating = 4.5 stars
Pros: Great hospitality, convenient location to the historical area. Very good value for the money with the suite rooms.
Cons: Slightly dated style and overall feel. Continental breakfast is limited, and room service is only available in the evening. Most parking is uphill from the hotel.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hannah's BBQ

My rating: 4 stars
Located in Lenoir, North Carolina, Hannah's BBQ has the single best hush puppies I have ever eaten. Ever. Anywhere. They're really that good. The bbq pork is vinegar based and very North Carolina style. It has a bit of bite but is tasty. The chicken is moist and falls off the bone, no knife required.

But those hush puppies... I could sit and eat them all day long.

Cons: Small restaurant, don't order the water.
Pros: Best Hushpuppies anywhere. Oh and the bbq is pretty good too.