Monday, November 30, 2015

Essen Hotel Review: Mercure Hotel Plaza Essen

I recently went on a work trip to Europe and one of the towns we stayed in was Essen, Germany (we also spent about two days in the quaint, wonderful town of Mechelen, Belgian which I will write about soon).

The Mecure Hotel is located near the city centre of Essen (5 minute walk to lots of restaurants and shops), about a 15 minute walk from the train station. 
The room was just the right size for two people, even better for one. In the room there was a closet, desk, sitting chairs with a table and a tv. I had enough space to unpack and hang up my clothes, as well as set up my laptop for work. I thought the bed was comfortable but I am not picky-I loved the fluffy comforters though. 
There was enough space in the bathroom for all of my junk to be spread out on the counter. Plenty of towels were around, and they also had a combo body-wash/shampoo dispensers. I have noticed that Europeans (at least Germans and Belgians) are more environmentally conscience. They had signs on the towels asking to reuse them if possible instead of getting new ones everyday. 
For a fee, ~17 euros (approx. 19 USD), the Hotel Mercure serves breakfast. It is quite a spread, and different from your typical American breakfast. They offered the familiar scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes. There was also an impressive variety of baked goods, sliced meats, cereals, fresh juices and other odds and ends. Every morning I had eggs, bacon, fresh smoothie/juice, bread, tea and sometimes a small bowl of cereal. I basically just tried little bites of everything. The bar area was great to hang out in - we hung out there one night and I did some work there during the day. 
This hotel was great, very visually appealing. If I need to make a complaint, the carpets/hallways on the floors with rooms are a little outdated. If you are visiting Essen for a conference, vacation or the reason I was there, Essen Toy Fair (Spiel Essen) this is a great place to stay. 

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Alexandria: Lena's Wood-fired Pizza & Tap

If there is one thing about me you should know is I have a serious weakness when it comes to pizza (and guacamole...and fries...and sadly many other things). I can not turn it town, nor can I stop eating it. Naturally when I spotted a coming soon sign for Lena's Wood-fired Pizza and Tap it was added to my to try list for the immediate future. I waited a couple of weeks after their opening to make sure that if they had kinks, they had time to work them out. 

I convinced my friend Jasmine to join me and we went for lunch and sat at the bar. To start off our meal we got some beverages - a lovely rosé for me and an IPA for Jasmine. The bartenders were great - she let us try a little sample of each before we committed to a full glass. I love it when restaurants allow that - makes me much more inclined to order a beer or wine when I know I will like it. 
Below is the Happy Hour menu for Lena's Wood-fired Pizza & Tap ... you know, because Virginia is pesky like that and restaurants are not supposed to list it online.
When going to new places, Jasmine always has to try their Caesar Salad $9 and I was more then happy to partake. Their dressing was tart, acidic and very caesary. We both loved it. Word of warning - the dressing is a tad potent, I had to brush my teeth after lunch. Worth it. 
I went with my usual when it comes to wood fired pizzas - the Prosciutto & Arugula $14 while Jasmine went with the Meatball $14. Both were great. The prosciutto melted in your mouth (this pizza is a fav of several of the workers). The meatball was seasoned well and we both liked how they were sliced thinner before being put on the pizza.  
The bartenders were great - very friendly and knowledgeable. Quality ingredients. 

Would I come back? Yes! I am looking forward to trying their happy hour and some other things on the menu - stay tuned for that review!...However, I wish they had some sort of lunch special as it is a little pricey to go for a workday lunch. 

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Clarendon: Cava Mezze Brunch

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It's been awhile since bottomless brunch has happened. While I love them, they tend to get a littleeeee crazy. This trip was no exception and made for a wonderful Saturday. Not feeling like heading into DC, we decided on Cava Mezze in Clarendon - a place many of us have been for dinner and loved.

Totally unlike myself, I didn't plan ahead and make a reservation. Luckily Cava was extremely accommodating when we called the morning of and managed to fit us in.  

Often times for bottomless food there are a lot of hit and misses, but Cava kept up to it's standard and delivered mostly hits which is extremely impressive. Between all 8 of us, I think we managed to try everything on the menu. I love my friends and their willingness to share. I tried all 3 mimosas (OJ, grapefruit, apple cider) and the Grapefruit was my favorite. The table was split between the 3. 
Hands down my favorite savory option was the SPICY LAMB BENEDICT poached egg | spicy lamb $8. It was the first thing that caught my eye, and it was everything I thought it would be and more. It was spiced well, had a nice kick and the perfectly poached egg went incredibly well with it. The second photo is their CLASSIC BENEDICT poached egg | canadian bacon | tomato | hollandaise $8. A classically delicious benedict that will not let you down.
The VILLAGE FRITATTA spinach | feta | leeks | green onion $7 had the potential for greatness but unfortunately whoever prepared this had a heavy hand with the salt and it was borderline inedible. Prepared with the appropriate amount of salt. Although not for everyone because of it's fattiness, if it's your thing, then the PORK BELLY & EGGS poached egg | pancetta | hollandaise $7 is the dish for you. Pork belly, pancetta, poached eggs - enough said.
We LOVED all the sweet options for brunch. NUTELLA WAFFLE walnuts | nutella | bananas | cream $8. You can't go wrong with Nutella or a waffle, and come on, just look at the below picture and tell me it doesn't look good. FRENCH TOAST thick cut challah | honey |  berries | cream $6. Thick cut challah is the way to go, french toast normally isn't my thing but we ordered this multiple times - it's hard to explain, but the bread burst in your mouth with every bite. I can't find the description online, but the Greek Yogurt, Fruit and Granola was a surprising favorite. I love a think, tangy, Greek yogurt and this stayed true to its form, allowing the sweetness to come from the fruit and granola. This option almost took away the guilt of all of the other items consumed. BANANA FRITTERS honey | walnuts | sugar $9. If I am going to eat a banana, it needs to be served fried and drizzled with honey and sugar. 
There were only a few dishes that we did not enjoy. The first being the CAVA HOME FRIES potato | tomato | onion | basil | mushroom 6 which were unfortunately on most plates. After initially trying this, we did not touch the potatoes for the rest of the meal. The second was the CHICKEN SAGE SAUSAGE house made chicken sausage | sage 7. I love sage breakfast sausage but this was just not good. Important to note, their "grilled cheese" was a huge let down, not necessarily because it was bad, but because it was a pita with cheese on it…not a grilled cheese. 
We tried everything else on the menu and can recommend everything but the potatoes and sausage. 

Sometimes service can be a bit spotty for bottomless brunch but Cava managed to keep it going with large, slightly obnoxious groups of people - keeping the mimosas flowing and the food a coming. They do have a two hour time limit, which let's be real, is probably best for everyone.

For vegetarian friends, there are not many light options (as in 90% were carb heavy), but if you are not concerned about that, then you will be fine! 

Would I come back? Yes, I am pretty much in love with Cava Mezze and Cave Mezze Grill. This has got to be one of my favorite overall brunch food experiences in awhile. 

2940 Clarendon Blvd
Arlington, VA
Clarendon Metro
Cava Mezze Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Other Bottomless Brunches I enjoy
PJ Clarkes
El Centro 
Acre 121

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Arlington: New Dishes and a Taste of California Pizza Kitchen

I was recently invited to the California Pizza Kitchen in Pentagon City to try the fall menu and see this locations transformation into "The Next Chapter." The emphasis is on utilizing in season ingredients that are locally sourced when possible as well as changing the interior to be aesthetically pleasing, having a light, airy, California kind of look. CPK wants to move away from the chain look, so no two restaurants will look the same.

What is funny about this dinner is that most of the dishes I tried all had components that I am not a huge fan of...mushrooms, butternut squash and blue cheese. Even with those additions to the dishes, I really enjoyed everything I tried. It just goes to show you that you should go outside of your box sometimes - things could be prepared a different way and you might actually like it! 

CPK boasts a wonderful cocktail menu, in fact I dedicated a separate post to them because they are that delicious. You just need to pick your poison and then select a cocktail that contains it, you can't go wrong. My favorite was the California Dream Roots (made with avocado...sounds weird but super delicious).
To start off our meal we had the Brussels + Bacon Flatbread and the Harvest Kale Salad

Oh this flat bread - there really isn't more to say other than caramelized onions and bacon. Throw on some crispy brussels and a little cheese and you have a magical dish. 

There were a lot of different textures of the salad but they all blended together nicely. The tanginess of the goat cheese brought all the different components together and I really loved the freshness and variety of the flavors. If you are trying to be healthy - I recommend getting this salad and adding on some protein (chicken, shrimp or salmon).
I got to sample two of their pizzas - Mushroom, Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza cremini mushrooms, rustic pepperoni, spicy italian sausage, mozzarella and wild oregano and Wild Mushroom Pizza shaved cremini, shitake, portabella and white mushrooms with slivered scallions, cracked black pepper, pecorino romano and mozzarella, finished with parmesan + the optional white truffle oil

This is where I started to get really nervous at the dinner...both pizzas had mushrooms - but like a good food blogger, I tried them and found out when mushrooms are shaved, I don't mind the texture as much. I really liked the Mushroom, Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza. The spices in the pepperoni and sausage were amazing (they cure their own pepperoni, and then its shaved and torn onto the pizza-well worth it) - with a finish of wild oregano which really takes it up a notch. 

The Wild Mushroom Pizza had great flavor - and an added freshness with the spring onions. If you are a mushroom lover, then this is your pizza - with four different types, they are packed on. The addition of truffle oil is necessary, I just love its aroma. 

On a side note - both pizzas tasted good reheated in the toaster oven for breakfast the next morning - winning! 
In all the years I have been coming here, I have never looked past the pizza and salad menu (BBQ chicken pizza has my heart). It is now time to start looking past pizza (it pains me to say) and try some of their entrees. Hearth Roasted Halibut Wild caught halibut roasted on a cedar plank with grilled asparagus and butternut squash farro & baby kale and Fire-Grilled Ribeye 12oz USDA choice ribeye grilled with housemade Pinot Noir salt and topped with creamy bleu cheese butter, served with roasted fingerling potatoes and lemon-garlic arugula salad were the two I got to try. 

The halibut was cooked well, and I really liked the Parmesan, paprika farro. There were no overpowering flavors, everything blended well together. This was a favorite dish of one of my friends. 

I am a meat and potatoes kinda gal and have gotten really into compound butters lately so this dish was right up my ally. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare and the tang from the blue cheese was just enough for me. I brought the leftovers to my friends and they thought that butter could have used more flavor. We all agreed that the potatoes were amazing, perfectly cooked and the seasoning was on point. 
Salted Caramel Pudding rich caramel pudding, black cocoa cookie crumbs, housemade whipped cream, caramel sauce and natural flaked sea salt. It's not often you see pudding on a dessert menu but wow, am I glad they added this. The combination of flavors (sweet, salty, rich) and textures (smooth, crunchy, whipped (fluffy) and light) made this an extremely decadent and swoon worthy treat. I actually took one of the home because I liked it so much and two of the guys I shared it with later ate it up. <I just checked out their website….the have a s'mores pudding jar….must try in the very near future>
Butter Cake - I really enjoyed the flavors and textures of this cake. There was a layer of caramelized sugar on the outside which added a nice, sweet crunch to the cake. 
Now for the reallyyyy exciting part...I learned how to toss pizza dough and was taught by BRIAN. Yes, yes...I know, I should quit my day job and go into pizza making.  
Basically, the bottom line is you need to get yourself into CPK soon and try one of their new fall items. Some of Brian's favorites are the Jamaican Pizza or the Kung Pao spaghetti...which are now on my list to try very soon. 

Another important thing to note is that CPK wants you to try new items. They have a policy set where you can order something new...and if you don't like it, they will replace it with your usual. It doesn't get much better then that! 

1201 South Hayes Street
Arlington, VA
Metro: Pentagon City 
California Pizza Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thirsty Thursday: Cocktails and Happy Hour at California Pizza Kitchen

When you think of California Pizza Kitchen fancy/craft cocktails aren't on the mind, only delicious and innovative pizzas.  I recently had a chance to sit down with the SVP of culinary development/head chef Brian Sullivan to try some of the fall items (review coming soon) as well as the cocktails and I couldn't have been more impressed. Every drink that I tried was exciting and never left that sugary gross feeling that you often get from cocktails. I was especially pleased to learn that their cocktails that involve fruit all have FRESH fruit puree - nothing bottled/jarred, which is really apparent when you drink them. 

California Pizza Kitchen Happy Hour
"Let's Get Happy"
Monday-Thursday at the bar 3pm-6pm & 8:30-close
$4 Draft Beer - Sam Adams & Blue Moon
$4 Bottles Beer - Stella, Corona Extra, New Castle
$5 Wines by the glass (3 whites & 3 reds)
$5 Premium Well Drinks
$6 Fresh Agave Lime Margarita
$6 Hand Shaken Agave Mojito

I'm going to start with my favorite (and Brian's fav too!), the California Roots svedka vodka, fresh avocado and mint, fresh agave sour, fennel salt rim. This drink is an original CPK creation and one of a kind until someone knocks it off. At first I was hesitant of a drink made with avocado but I was pleasantly surprised. Normally I am not a huge fan of licorice flavor (fennel seed) but it paired nicely. It was creamy, light and fresh. 
CPK offers a seasonal sangria, and luckily as it was only a week or so away from fall when I did the tasting, I got to try the summer and fall sangria's. Fall's Sangria is a Blood Orange Sangria, using fresh blood orange puree. This was fresh and not overly sweet which I find that some white sangria's can be - another one of my favorites. The summer sangria, Seasonal Harvest was also quite tasty - I liked the addition of grapes! 
Blueberry Ginger Smash Jack Daniels Whiskey, agave nectar, domaine de canton ginger, fresh blueberries and lime, cranberry juice. You can't go wrong with whiskey, and I like the fruity change from what I normally mix it with - coke or ginger-ale.  
The Executive Decision tequila blanco, muddled mint, agave sour, agave nectar, lime - created by the CEO of CPK, and what I think to refer to as a minty margarita. This drink is refreshing and light. 
This baby will knock you off your feet if you are not careful, The California Crush boasts Absolut Mandrin, Absolut Citron, muddled mint with fresh orange and lemon. Mostly vodka, this drink is delightfully fresh and citrus - the citrus masks the taste of vodka. I could see myself going though more then a few of these and getting into trouble. 
The Coconut Blossom Mandarin Blossom Vodka Casamigos Tequila Blanco, agave sour, pureed coconut, fresh pineapple is a pleasant spin on a pina colada ...switching it up a little with the addition of tequila and vodka. A drink that transports you to a tropical island that won't kill you with the sugar. 
Basically, next time you are in the mood for drinks...and I mean more then your typical jack and coke (which they have if that is what your heart desires), you only need to head to California Pizza Kitchen - no more traveling to some fancy pants place in DC. Plus - you can get some great noms to have with your cocktails aka delicious pizza! 

1201 South Hayes Street
Suite F
Arlington, VA
California Pizza Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Alexandria: Bon Vivant Cafe

Back at the end of March (whoops!) I was invited to a media dinner at Bon Vivant Cafe in Del Ray, Alexandria. Daylight savings hadn't hit yet and the lights were dimmed for the dinner ambiance so my photos sucked, hence the lack of a post. I enjoyed the experience and made a mental note to come back and try them out, finally managing to do so recently. 

Bon Vivant was started by a husband and wife team - Jawad and Tania. They originally began serving food at local farmers markets but grew in popularity and decided to open a restaurant! Their goal is to "celebrate the ingredients," letting them speak for themselves. Jawad ran the media tasting and let us know his favorites depend on the day but he prefers the Tarragon Chicken Salad and the meatballs. 
When we came in March, they mentioned they were in process of building a patio (which was apparently kickstarter funded). They did a great job, it really is lovely and is the type of patio that makes you sad the season is about to be over. 
Mac and I both ordered smoothies. I went for the Green Refresh cucumber, spinach, mint, avocado, lime + green tea $5.90 because I knew I would probably be indulging in dinner (although I ate a sandwich for lunch soo I don't really know what was going through my mind). I enjoyed this as much as I could enjoy a green drink and did not think it was too overwhelming as it lacked a sweet (apple, pineapple, etc) addition. Mac ordered the Mango Basil mangos, strawberries, basil, oj $5.90 and she really liked it. 
Carrie and I both took the carb filled route and ordered sandwiches, which are served with a side of greens. I went with the Italian Sandwich prosioutto, smoked gouda, tomato and basil $10.25. Carrie ordered the Roasted Beef with Blue Cheese Dressing $10.50. Both sandwiches were good, but needed a little more substance inside to balance out the amount of bread. The baguette stole the show and was fluffy and crunchy and soft and tasty. 
Mac took the healthy, smart route and ordered the Southwest Salad grilled local-pastured chicken, bell peppers, avocado, corn + habanero tomato dressing $11.95This salad was packed full of flavor. The habenero tomato dressing had a slight kick to it, and for those that shy away from spicy, I was told it was manageable. Bonus points, this salad had a half of an avocado on it! 
Feeling slightly under the weather Carrie also ordered the 72-hour 100% Grass-fed Beef Broth $5. The flavor is a little bland, but when she dipped her steak sandwich in it, she said it made the perfect aus jus. Beef broth seems to be a new health trend. A glass of broth a day is said to help with digestion, skin (something about the collagen) and other things - check out here for more. But hey, if Chuck Norris drinks beef broth, then perhaps I can get on board with this new trend.  
When I came for the media tasting we also got to try a variety of soups, including a Chickpea and Kale soup that I was head over heals for. The soup was gluten free, dairy free and vegan - yet packed full of flavor and texture. We also tried a Key Lime Parfait that the table all really enjoyed. If you have any sort of dietary restriction or are looking for a sugarless dessert this is a good option - however I prefer my desserts to be full of fat and sugar and butter and would most likely not order it unless I had to because of my diet. 

All in all round 2 was a great experience - I wish it was a little closer to my office as they have some really impressive salads which Old Town severely lacks. 

Would I come back? Yes. In addition to their cafe, they have a little shop that serves locally sourced goods, including some amazing bread. I also want to try a few more of their salads.

2016 Mount Vernon Ave
Alexandria, VA
Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Falls Church: Elephant Jumps

A group of friends and I have started a monthly girls night where it’s just us gals going out to eat and chatting about life and love and other fun things. Last month we went to Kapnos Taverna for Restaurant Week in Arlington and it was delicious – I highly recommend. We all shared food and I knew these girls were worth keeping around (note – if you do not let me take a bite of your food, I will still probably be your friend).

This month’s restaurant choice was Elephant Jumps in Falls Church (Merrifield) and it was another winner in our books.
Jessie ordered the Thai Spicy Shrimp Soup $5 (which we all sampled a spoonful of) It was sweet, sour, and spicy with perfectly cooked mushrooms and shrimp. We also ordered the Thai Spring Rolls $4 which were fried without being oily and served with a delicious sweet chili sauce. 
Erin and I split the Pineapple Fried Rice $11 pineapple, green pea, onion, carrot, egg, curry powder, cashew nut, cilantro + chicken and the Fried Tilapia with Mango Salad $15 (a popular mention on yelp) fried tilapia served with green mango sauce, red onion, chili, lime. Pineapple Fried Rice is really a best of both worlds dish– sweet and savory. It was aromatic and had a mild curry flavor to it with a splash of sweet from the pineapple. The breading on the tilapia was fried to perfection and had a good flavor to it. Tilapia is a mild fish and the combo of the breading and mango salad adding a crunchy yet fresh, cool, spicy and acidic contrast when paired together.  

Kir ordered the Chicken Aroma Coconut Rice $15 grilled marinated chicken, coconut rice, thai sweet chili sauce, side of papaya salad. This chicken was marinated and cooked perfectly, with a slight and welcome hint of coconut flavor. While Jessie enjoyed the flavor of her Chicken and Peanut Sauce $11, the sauce was more of a soup and the chicken and veggies were not her favorite. 
Prices and service and were great - they were extremely patient with us. After we paid for our bill we hung around and talked for probably an hour and they had no outward feelings of annoyance or trying to move us along (it was not full or we would have definitely moved along and chatted somewhere else). The food was really good, and everything we ordered is highly recommended except for the chicken in peanut sauce. 

Would I come back? Yes, I would love to try more of their dishes, especially the SEN YAI PAD SEE EW MOO MUG (an original/more authentic version of my fav pad see ew)!!! 

8110 A Falls Church Blvd
Falls Church, VA
Elephant Jumps Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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