Hell’s Kitchen (Breakfast) - Minneapolis, MN

The Basics

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Cuisine: America
Ambiance: Dark Sophisticate
Address: 80 S 9th St, Minneapolis, MN 55467
Neighborhood: Downtown
Phone: 612.332.4700
Web Site: http://www.hellskitcheninc.com
Must Taste (Breakfast):

  • Topping: Homemade peanut butter. I really wanted to try this, but didn’t end up ordering anything it came with. I also wanted to bring some PB home with me, but was trying to not check my baggage for the flight home.
  • Breakfast: Lemon-Ricotta Hotcakes. I also really wanted to try this, but decided to veer off the main path with my dish selection.
  • Side: Maple-Glazed Bison Sausage - Savory and sweet with that maple syrup topping.
  • Drink: I loved their coffee…it doesn’t say anything about this on their web site, but I believe I read somewhere in the restaurant that the beans are locally roasted (anyone from Hell’s Kitchen reading who can confirm?).

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Best For: Date (1 who is either hip or just loves great food…someone too prissy may not gel with the “dark” theme), Group Outing (with friends or co-workers), meal solo for you business travelers
What to Wear: casual-dressy (tennis shoes may be ok, but I wouldn’t wear them personally) to dressy
Good to Know: The restaurant has live music and events - see calendar online for details. Also, the restaurant features a slightly morbid theme (see photos of interior). I actually really like it, but those less open-minded may not.
Fave Points: Fun theme, rockin food, great menu selection.
My Fave Dish: I only got to sample 2 selections due to my business trip being short and my small appetite, but between the 2 I had, my fave was the Maple-Glazed Bison Sausage. I loved the savory-sweet combo of the sausage with the maple syrup topping that tasted almost candied. So good. I also love ordering things in restaurants that I can’t easily find elsewhere, and I’ve never seen bison sausage on a menu before. This is a definite must-try, especially since you can order a single patty for $2 and use it to balance out some of the sweeter breakfast options.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I was in Minneapolis, MN on business and noticed the Hell’s Kitchen sign on the way into town. I thought at first that the restaurant was related to one of my favorite shows - Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay.

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Upon investigation via yelp.com, I realized that this Hell’s Kitchen was a restaurant with its own original flair.

I decided this restaurant was a must-eat on my business trip and made sure to wake up extra early one morning to check it out solo. I was happy there were so many signs to guide me to the restaurant from the street.

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Enter from the street, pass a long hallway, and then descend down some stairs into Hell’s Kitchen.

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Mind the pointy chandelier (love this) on your way in. If you don’t have a good feeling for the theme of this restaurant, you soon will.

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The interior of the restaurant is as dark as you were likely expecting with dark wood, black drapery…

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…and interesting artwork.

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The menu is where things got really interesting.

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There were so many things that sounded interesting, like the Lemon-Ricotta Hotcakes I heard so much about online and the Mahnomin Porridge (a hot breakfast cereal made with rice and other tasty ingredients).

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I decided to try the Bread Pudding with Black Currants and Creme Anglaise (from the menu - “We use toasted, buttery brioche bread, baked in a vanilla-flavored custard with black currants folded in. Served warm with a vanilla crème Anglaise - $4.75″) and a single Maple-Glazed Bison Sausage ($2).

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Breakfast started with a nice, hot, mug of coffee. I really liked their house blend. It was nice and smooth.

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The Bread Pudding with Black Currants and Creme Anglaise came out nice and hot. I thought it was interesting that the sauce on the bottom was completely different from the sauce on the top (at least they tasted different to me - guess I should have checked with the waitress that they were truly 2 separate sauces). I tried to get a little bit of each sauce with every bite because they went so well together.

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The bread pudding was quite decadent…much like eating an uber-rich dessert for breakfast. Since I have a major sweet-tooth, this was welcome. I loved the bites of thick pudding with warm cream sauce and bursts of currants.

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I balanced the sweetness of the dessert-like breakfast with the Maple-Glazed Bison Sausage. I really enjoyed the spicy, savory-sweet flavor of the sausage and the fact that you can’t order bison sausage just anywhere.

Final Dish

I loved the playful ambiance of Hell’s Kitchen, their use of unique ingredients (lemon in pancakes, bison for the sausage meat, and rice in the porridge), and their most-interesting menu selection. I would try one of everything if I could, the menu was that captivating. I read some reviews on yelp saying that service was slow and unkind, but I thought the hostess was friendly, and she definitely seated me promptly. My waitress was prompt and took great care of me on top of her smiling face. I thought the service was great, though I did go on a slow morning when there were only a handful of tables in the restaurant, so I can’t speak to “rush hour.” The food was the main attraction and definitely lived up to the many reviews I found online. I can’t wait to go back and try some new dishes.

Hell’s Kitchen is exactly the kind of place that I seek out when I go taste-exploring in a new town. Every time I visit Minneapolis, I plan to make Hell’s Kitchen a must-stop and hope to take some of my co-workers with me.

Want to take a taste of Hell’s Kitchen home with you or bring it to your house? They have merchandise and food items available for purchase in the store and online. The also have a cookbook, which is something I look for from restaurants I like. You can also find a video on how to make the homemade peanut butter on their blog.

Restaurant Max (Apps + Cocktails) - Minneapolis, MN

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Modern Chic
Address: 215 4th St S, Minneapolis, MN 55467
Neighborhood: Downtown
Phone: 612.340.0303
Web Site: https://www.therestaurantmax.com
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Grilled Flatbreads: Garden - $11 - “artichokes, tomatoes, green olives, parmesan, basil, balsamic vinegar.”
  • Appetizers + Small Plates: Mini Crab Cakes - $9 - “preserved lemon, smoked tomato aioli.”
  • Drink: Gatsby’s Daisy - $9 - “charbay green tea vodka, lavender simple syrup, tarragon, cranberries” - great if you like interesting cocktails.

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Best For: Group Outing (with friends or co-workers), Romantic Date
What to Wear: dressy casual (sneakers not recommended) to dressy
Fave Points: Interesting cocktail concoctions. For our particular outing, the extensive bar menu was nice.
My Fave Dish: The Garden Grilled Flatbread was so much more flavorful than expected. I loved everything about it. I sampled a couple other flatbreads and thought they were pretty awesome, too.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

In Minneapolis on business, I went out with some co-workers after a long day to Restaurant Max to enjoy a drink or two and snack on some appetizers.

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Inside, the restaurant was quite large - especially the bar area. We found some comfy half booth / half table seats next to the bar.

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I loved the lights inside the restaurant - they were very unique and vibrant.

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For my drink, I ordered the Gatsby’s Daisy - $9 - (from the menu) “charbay green tea vodka, lavender simple syrup, tarragon, cranberries.”

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I loved the light but interesting flavors of this drink.

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Cute garnish.

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Our group ordered a couple different appetizers. My first selection - the Grilled Flabread in Garden - $11 (was $10 when we went, but the web site now says it’s $11) - “artichokes, tomatoes, green olives, parmesan, basil, balsamic vinegar.”

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I love flatbreads and pizza as much as the next girl, but this one really surprised me.

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I really liked the combination of flavors - all the veggies tasted great with the fresh basil and drizzle of balsamic.

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My second order was for the Mini Crab Cakes - $9 - “preserved lemon, smoked tomato aioli.”

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They were mini indeed. I wouldn’t recommend splitting this app with more than 2 people unless you have really small appetites.

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These mini crab cakes were small but mighty in flavor. The presentation was beautiful, too.

Final Dish

I really enjoyed my group outing to Restaurant Max. I think this place is great for appetizers and cocktails. Personally, I’m a big fan of unique cocktails and there were many on the menu that caught my eye. There is plenty of comfortable seating and the restaurant has a relaxed but fun feel. The bar menu had a great cocktail list and featured eats priced from $4 - 35 (soup to steak) - sure to fit anyone’s bill. Our waitress was friendly and prompt and got our checks to us when we needed (some of our party had to leave before the rest).

Next time I go to Restaurant Max, I’m trying a different cocktail, getting the Garden flatbread again, and possibly checking out one of their apps. Who knows, maybe I’ll even wander to the dining room for a full dinner? Based on the bar experience, I bet it would be awesome.

Basil’s Restaurant (Breakfast) - Minneapolis, MN

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Contemporary
Address: 7th & Marquette, Minneapolis, MN 55401
Neighborhood: Downtown
Phone: 612.376.7404
Web Site: http://www.basilsminneapolis.com/
Must Taste (Breakfast):

  • Breakfast: Wild Rice Waffles - when in Rome…check out the Wild Rice Waffles to get a taste of the local cuisine. These waffles taste pretty much like regular ones with a little extra texture.

Best For: Eats for travelers, meal with friends or co-workers
What to Wear: casual to business casual to dress casual
Fave Points: Convenient location for business travelers, nice interior, and fabulous indoor patio.
My Fave Dish: I loved my wild rice waffles. I’ve never heard of such a dish before and thought the flavor of the waffles was really nice and that the rice added some fun texture. The waffle was cooked perfectly - slightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I was in Minneapolis, MN on business and made a quick stop to Basil’s Restaurant for a simple breakfast.

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As the hostess led me inside the restaurant, I caught a glimpse of their indoor patio area and asked to be seated out there. There was a nice water fountain that streamed from the ceiling to a small pool below that created a relaxing moving water background. The view was the inside of a mall-like area.

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The table setup simple simple, but nice and clean.

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I ordered a cup of coffee with cream and sugar to drink.

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I was feeling a standard egg, pancake, and bacon kind of breakfast, but the wild rice waffle captured my attention as soon as I saw the dish listed on the menu. I knew I had to try them.

The waffle came out perfectly golden brown and served with whipped butter, syrup, and a couple pieces of fruit.

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The waffle was just how I like them: slightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

Yes, there really was wild rice inside!

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I ordered an extra side of fresh fruit - the bowl was really pretty and I liked the variety of fruit and how the medley contained berries - strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

Final Dish

Although Basil’s Restaurant may easily be missed since it’s not street-side and is located inside The Marquette Hotel (on the third floor), the restaurant is worth a visit. I liked the clean, contemporary interior of the restaurant and the indoor patio is definitely worth checking out. My waiter was nice but the service was a little on the slow side. The food more than made up for it. My breakfast was really well prepared and the flavor of the waffles was awesome. I would definitely come back to Basil’s Restaurant, but I will probably try to wake up earlier next time so I can enjoy a slower-paced breakfast, but not because of the service. This restaurant is a nice place to catch up with the newspaper and take your time sipping on coffee and savoring your waffles, especially before starting a long workday.

BANK (Drinks) - Minneapolis, MN

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Modern Sophisticate
Address: 88 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402
Neighborhood: Downtown
Phone: 612.656.3255
Web Site: http://www.bankmpls.com/
Must Taste (Drink):

  • Cocktails: Blueberry Mojito - a mojito amped up with fresh blueberries…yum!
  • Drink: For a more masculine drink, try The Classic - a standard martini served with either gin or vodka and choice of olives or lemon twist

Best For: Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: casual-dressy to dressy
Fave Points: Quiet, laid back atmosphere and nice cocktail selection. I also liked how the bar was located in an old bank with dining rooms available in what used to be bankers’ offices. Check out the vault which is now a wine cellar.
My Fave Dish: I fell in love with the blueberry mojito. So simple, but so good.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I was in Minneapolis, MN for work and headed out with a group of co-workers for drinks. I went with the group to BANK and was happy to relax in the sophisticated and relaxed environment.

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I was torn between the blueberry mojito and the Green Grass Tea and as I like to do in these situations, I asked the waiter which one was better.

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He recommended the blueberry mojito, which was an excellent choice.

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The blueberry mojito was delicious - refreshing but with a fruity twist. I loved it and am only sad that I can’t seem to find this drink anywhere else. I suppose it would be easy enough to ask a bar to toss a couple blueberries into my next mojito, so maybe I’ll try that and see how it compares until I can make it back to Minneapolis again.

Final Dish

BANK was an awesome spot for after-work cocktails. There were plenty of seats - spaces for small groups to large groups - standard chairs to cozy couches. I liked their speciality cocktail list - I love being able to select from lists of cocktails rather than trying to make up my own. The service was prompt and our waiter was personable. I especially liked how mod yet relaxed the environment felt - it was nice to be able to relax with my blueberry mojito. I saw a couple dishes going out to some tables while we were there and they looked quite appetizing, so next time, I’m hoping to hit up BANK for both the eats and drinks.

Lyon’s Pub (Dinner) - Minneapolis, MN

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Neighborhood Pub
Address: 16 S 6th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402
Neighborhood: Downtown
Phone: 612.333.6612
Web Site: http://lyonspub.com/
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Dinner: Plymouth Burger - burger with Swiss cheese, American cheese, and grilled onions on marbled rye with hand cut fries.
  • Drink: Choose from the pub’s nice beer list.

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Best For: Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: casual
Fave Points: Interesting burger concoctions - they aren’t too over the top, but they’re a step ahead of the typical options (hamburger or bacon cheeseburger?) even just in the bread/bun options.
My Fave Dish: My fave dish was the Plymouth burger (or do I like the Wells Fargo better…hmm). I’m a bit traditional at times and was worried I wouldn’t like how the burger was served on marbled rye bread instead of a typical burger-bun, but I absolutely loved the marbled rye substitution.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I was in Minneapolis for work and went out with a group of co-workers to grab a relaxed dinner at self-proclaimed “neighborhood pub” Lyon’s Pub after flying into town on a Wednesday.

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Normally, when I’m traveling, I try to hit up restaurants featuring a city’s specialties, so while I was looking forward to hanging out with my co-workers, I wasn’t expecting more than bar food at the restaurant, but I’d be happily surprised by the pub’s burger list.

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The inside of the pub really did have a friendly neighborhood-like feel with lots of rustic wood and a relaxed ambiance. It was May and pretty hot, but the front windows were wide open, so the temperature was a bit warm inside the restaurant. I did kinda of like the open-air feel, which reminded me a bit of how they’ll swing the windows open at restaurants in Charleston, SC (where it gets quite hot and muggy).

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I was expecting to order my usual bar fare - some sort of burger. What I wasn’t expecting was the most-awesome list of creative burger concoctions, which had more than just the usual bacon cheeseburger. The burger combinations weren’t all that unusual but small changes, like rye buns instead of traditional white buns, were nice to see. I had a hard time narrowing down and selection and lucked out that the lady across from me said she’d split her burger with me if I split mine. Done and done. I love sampling as many flavors as possible, so this seemed like a win-win.

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I’m a pretty healthy eater on most days and find getting my veggies in while I’m traveling for work to be a bit of a challenge. To get at least a serving or two, I started my dinner with a side salad, which was HUGE. Lots of iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato, shredded carrot, and plenty of croutons. I had ranch dressing on the side.

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I also managed to get an onion ring and 1/2 cheese stick the group was sharing for appetizers. They were nice and crispy.

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I ordered the Plymouth - a burger with Swiss cheese, American cheese, and grilled onions on marbled rye with hand cut fries.

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I traded half of my Plymouth for half of a co-worker’s Wells Fargo burger, which had swiss cheese and bacon on a rye bun.

Both burgers were awesome! I was happily surprised at the burgers and really enjoyed both. I was so glad my co-worker wanted to trade sandwiches because I was torn between ordering the two and got to taste them both this way! I’m still not sure which one I liked better.

Final Dish

While there are many fancy options for eats in downtown Minneapolis, check out Lyon’s Pub if you’re looking for a casual dinner in a friendly bar environment. They have an open interior and nice beer selection. I imagine the place can get pretty busy and loud on the weekends, but it is a pub, afterall. We were there on a weeknight and the place was nice and laid back with what appeared to be a handful of regulars.

The waiter we had was quite personable and friendly and helped answer all our questions. Definitely try one of their interesting burger creations for a different kind of burger dinner - maybe the Plymouth? If you’re looking for a MN-themed eat, try the Beer Cheese Soup with Popcorn topping. I didn’t get it but wanted to try it. Maybe next time?

Fiamma Restaurant (Dinner) - Charlotte, NC

The Basics

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Cuisine: Italian
Ambiance: Cozy Traditional
Address: 2418 Park Rd, Charlotte, NC 28263
Neighborhood: DIlworth
Phone: 704.333.3062
Web Site: no website - Fiamma Restaurant on Yelp
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Salad: Blood Orange Salad - beautiful presentation and great flavors.
  • Pasta: Homemade ravioli - they change their flavors often, but the spinach is delish. The fresh-made pasta makes the ravioli extra tasty.
  • Dessert: Chocolate Tart - served hot - this is so yum. Great taste and lovely texture. Save room for dessert.

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Best For
: Romantic Date (call ahead to reserve the window-seat), Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: casual-dressy (no tennis shoes) to dressy
Good to Know: Almost everything on the menu is made from scratch, which is apparent in their delicious dishes.
Fave Points: Nice selection and especially how they make almost everything from scratch, even the limoncello.
My Fave Dish: The homemade ravioli was my favorite. I absolutely love fresh pasta. The delicate pasta pockets with spinach and cheese tasted so great with the tomato sauce and cheese on top.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I had a business meeting with my friend (and event co-organizer) about an event we had just executed, in preparation of next year’s event.

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Wanting to stay in the Dilworth area, we decided to meet up at Fiamma Restaurant.

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Fiamma may easily be written off by those who don’t know better because the restaurant is located in a strip mall (same one as Ru San’s) and therefore has a simple, easy-to-pass exterior.

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Inside, the ambiance was quite traditional with dark wood and white linens.

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We were promptly greeted and served a bread basket with an herb-olive oil for dipping.

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I started with a glass of the Vermentino, Sella & Mosca (Delicious apple and pear flavors with a fresh, crisp finish).

The restaurant had some delicious-sounding specials, but for eats, we went with the special 3-course meal I had read about from a note on the front door. The meal featured 3 courses with a couple options for each of the courses. My friend also got the 3-course meal and we ended up splitting a bit of each course to get a better taste of the restaurant’s dishes.

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For my first course, I ordered the Blood Orange Salad. I loved the presentation and the flavors of the orange, fennel, frisee lettuce, and dressing went quite well together. The large piece of shaved cheese on top really made the salad.

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My friend ordered the Vegetable Croquettes, which were served with a bit of salad and were also quite tasty.

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After our first course and just before our second, we were served a palate-cleansing sorbet. I thought the sorbet was a nice touch.

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For his main course, my friend got the veal with spinach and mashed potatoes.

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For my main course, I got the homemade spinach ravioli, which was served with a nice tomato sauce and topping of fresh grated cheese. It was so good, and the pasta just melted in your mouth. I’m such a huge fan of fresh pasta and this dish was simply delicious.

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For our last course, my friend got the chocolate tart.

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I ordered the tiramisu. They were both delicious, but I think I actually liked the chocolate tart better. The tart was just such a nice concoction with a great texture of chewy, crispy, and gooey all together with yummy chocolate - served hot. Yum.

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Coffee went perfectly with dessert.

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To end the meal, we were even served some complimentary samples of the restaurant’s homemade limoncello. It was so good I may just order some of it to go with my meal in lieu of wine.

Final Dish

Fiamma Restaurant is a hidden gem in the wonderful world of Charlotte eats. Hidden in a strip mall facade, this place offers up some pretty fantastic eats. But, don’t be fooled by the outside appearance. Would you rather a restaurant have a great outside appearance or great food? If you chose the latter, give Fiamma a try.

The waiters and the rest of the staff are quite knowledgeable in regards to the wine list and food, so feel free to ask them any questions about selections, etc. because you’ll get some good answers. They helped me make a nice wine selection on this particular dining adventure.

You’d have a hard time ordering the wrong thing here since the restaurant offers so many delicious dishes. The fact that they make almost everything from scratch is a big plus. Try the 3-course special menu (offered Monday-Wednesday) while it lasts to get a nice variety of Fiamma flavors, and be sure to save room for dessert.

Copa Vida (Coffee) - Durham, NC

The Basics

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Cuisine: Coffee Shop
Ambiance: Simple + Airy
Address: 2816 Erwin Rd, Suite 20, Durham, NC 27705
Neighborhood: Duke
Phone: 919.383.4900
Web Site: Copa Vida on Yelp
Must Taste (Coffee):

  • Coffee: A Latte with whole milk. They use milk from a local creamery, which makes the drink divine.

Best For: Group Outing (with friends or co-workers) or a coffee shop trip solo
What to Wear: casual (but casual-dressy is acceptable)Good to Know: the shop uses milk from a local creamery and that makes all the different in the quality of their beverages.
Fave Points: Use of local creamery’s milk (I believe the coffee beans are locally roasted, as well).
My Fave Dish: I absolutely loved my Vanilla Latte with whole milk. The froth was so decadently thick and the milk really made the drink.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

After our dinner, my friend and I decided to take our conversation to Copa Vida to enjoy some post-dinner coffees.

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I wasn’t sure exactly what to get at first. When I hit up new coffee shops, I try to look for their specialty drinks but the menu at Copa Vida had all the traditional drinks listed. I decided to order my usual - a Vanilla Soy Latte.

Lucky for me, somehow the topic of the shop’s use of a local creamery’s milk came up, so I quickly switched to a regular Vanilla Latte. I asked the barista what kind of milk she suggested and she said to get the whole milk for the full effect. She was so right.

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The shop had quite a few tables, but they were simple set-ups without much padding and my friend and I wanted to relax on something more comfortable. We headed towards the front of the shop and found a cozy couch to set up on.

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I loved my red mug. I prefer ceramic (or just not disposable) mugs when I take my coffee inside coffee shops and this one was really neat-looking.

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Check out that froth.

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It was so thick. The froth even stuck to the sides of my mug when the drink was gone. Impressive! The barista was spot on with the whole milk suggestion. The milk and froth were the best part of my drink. I think this was one of the best lattes I’ve had ever.

Final Dish

I really appreciate places, like Copa Vida, that go out of their way to support other local businesses. The shop’s use of the local creamery’s milk was my favorite highlight of this spot. The space inside was pretty large and would probably support a large group. They also have wifi if you’re looking to setup your laptop. One downside of the shop is the limited hours. I believe they close pretty early (early for a coffee shop IMO). Their hours aren’t going to put me off, though…I’m already looking forward to another whole milk latte the next time I’m in Durham. This place may become a Durham must-stop for me.

Six Plates Wine Bar (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American Tapas
Ambiance: Modern Chic
Address: 2812 Erwin Rd, Suite 104, Durham, NC 27705
Neighborhood: Duke
Phone: 919.321.0203
Web Site: http://www.sixplates.com/
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Wine: Six Plates is a wine bar! Try the suggested pairing for the dish(es) you select.
  • Side: Flavored popcorn of the day - taste the unique flavor offering - I’ve never seen popcorn like the popcorn served at Six Plates.
  • Tapas: Lamby Joes - this is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Ground meats with fennel seed on ciabatta rolls make for a light tapas good for sharing between 2 people.
  • Tapas: Flatbread of the Evening - I loved the texture of the flatbread and the toppings were a big hit, too!

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Best For: Date, Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: casual-dressy (no tennis shoes) to dressy
Good to Know: the restaurant doesn’t have traditional waiters. Sit at the bar if you want more interaction or help.
Fave Points: Unique dishes, small portions, suggested wine pairings, and especially the restaurant’s use of as many local ingredients as possible.
My Fave Dish: My fave dish came as a bit of a surprise to me. Turns out the Flatbread of the Evening (we got a flabread with a chickpea puree with local tomatoes, a cheddar cheese and a yogurt sauce) was my fave so far. The dish seemed quite simple, but the flavors went together so nicely. I thought the dish was flavorful but light and a delight for my palate.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I met up with a girlfriend for a girls’ dinner out at Six Plates Wine Bar in Durham, NC.

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I loved the modern ambiance inside and the black, white, and red color combination.

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I enjoyed the lighting inside - especially the chandelier.

Upon entering the restaurant, we were promptly greeted with a friendly smile from the owner, Matt, who helped us during our dining adventure for the evening.

Since the restaurant doesn’t have traditional waiters, and this was a first visit for both my friend and me, we decided to grab a seat at the bar.

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We started with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes - The “Tenured” Lamby Joes.

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Two mini sandwiches with ground meat, fennel seed, and lettuce on tiny ciabatta rolls. I thought these made a great starter for the meal and were perfect to share between the two of us.

Next up, we ordered the steak.

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We each had a glass of the Olivares Monastrell “Altos de la Hoya” Jumilla, Spain, which was the suggested wine pairing for the steak plate. I thought it was a great wine.

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Not too long after, our steak dish came out - braeburn farms sirloin – local asparagus hash | fig demi glace sauce. The steak was super tender and I loved the fig sauce. A nice savory-sweet combination.

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Matt surprised us by sending out the Tuna Tartar Tower on the house - My friend and I were on the fence about trying this one, but it was quite good (if you like raw tuna). The tuna was paired with jicama, avocado, and a lovely mango vanilla vinaigrette.

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We also ordered a small cup of the bacon-flavored popcorn because we were so intrigued by the idea of the uniquely-flavored popcorn. It was gooood!

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For our final (savory) dish of the night, we got the flatbread of the evening, which had a chickpea puree with local tomatoes, a cheddar cheese and a yogurt sauce. I think the flatbread was my fave dish of the night - it surprised me the most with its interesting combination of ingredients and light yet tasty flavor.

Next up…dessert!

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My friend and I each got a glass of the dessert wine - Robertson Winery Late Harvest Gewurtzraminer South Africa. I really enjoyed the dessert wine, and I don’t usually do dessert wines.

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While deciding on dessert, we perused the gelato menu, which had so many interesting flavors, I wanted to try one of each.

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Instead of trying to try all the gelatos, I settled on swapping out the goat cheese gelato in the dessert we ordered for the thai basil gelato. As for dessert, we ordered the Strawberry Shortcake. I had visions of fluffy, biscuit-y shortcake floating through my head as I waited for our dessert to arrive, so I was surprised to see a modern take on the dessert with a flaky nest of batter in lieu of the cake-like base I typically see. Though it wasn’t what I was expecting, I thought the shortcake “nest” was pretty cool and made for a fun presentation. Dessert was light and delicious.

Final Dish

Check out Six Plates Wine Bar in Durham, NC for a new take on tapas-style dinner. Choose from the six, seasonal tapas dishes offered or try one of their other dishes (flatbread, lamby joes, or olive plate). The wine pairings for each plate make choosing a wine extra easy for the amateur wine drinker. Those more experienced in the wine department may make their own selection from the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Additional drink options are available for the non-winos.

Try the Flatbread of the Evening and be sure to save room for dessert. Six Plates offers several unique gelato flavors like Olive Oil, Guinness, and Yuzu (yea, those really are gelato flavors).

Choose a seat at the bar for a more interactive experience or make your way to one of the swanky arm chairs if you want to get cozy. Either way, spend an evening at Six Plates to enjoy interestingly-delicious food paired with great drinks and escape in the modern-chic ambiance.

1900 Mexican Grill & Tequila Bar (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: Mexican
Ambiance: Comforting-Festive
Address: 5110-1E Park Road, Charlotte, NC 28209
Neighborhood: Southpark
Phone: 704.523.1554
Web Site: 1900 Mexican Grill on Yelp
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Drink: Dirty Margarita - similar to a standard margarita but much better - watch the rim, I think it has cayenne pepper on it!
  • Entree: Chicken Fajitas - great seasoning, plenty of chicken, onion, and green pepper. Hubby and I can easily make a meal of this with a side of queso.
  • Entree: Go for a combo and be sure to get the Chicken Chimichanga - nice crispy outside, hot gooey inside with pulled pieces of tender chicken and veggies. Yummy cheese sauce tops the dish perfectly

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Best For
: Casual Date, Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: casual to dressy-casual
Fave Points: Consistently delicious food, quick service, great drink options (they recently redid their drink menu which has a tequila list that reads like a wine list along with many new mixed drink options). Besides being a great restaurant, I love how the owner is super nice and a wonderful supporter of the local community.
My Fave Dish: This is a toss-up between the fajitas and the chimichanga - it depends on my mood. I love the fajitas most days, but I usually go for the chimchanga when I want something more decadent and comfort-food-like.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

Hubby and I have frequented 1900 Mexican Grill for a few years now and it is one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in Charlotte. For me, 1900 offers a nice midpoint between the every day Mexican restaurant and the fancier places like Cantina 1511 .

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We really enjoy the casual, comfortable, and festive decor inside 1900 Mexican Grill.

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The carvings on the booths always make me smile.

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Chips are quickly delivered to the table…

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…along with 2 types of salsa - standard tomato-based salsa and a corn-based chunky-salsa.

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Hubby and I always get a side of queso, too - it’s too hard to resist that cozy, melty cheese. Every once in awhile, the cheese comes out a bit on the cool side, but our waiter/waitress is always happy to quickly heat it up for us.

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1900 Mexican Grill recently redid their drink menu. At first glance, I thought I was looking at a wine list, but I soon realized the extensive list was chock full of various tequilas…how cool? The other side offered an assortment of tequila-style cocktails (and some other non-tequila options). I asked the waiter which drink he thought was best and he recommended the Dirty Margarita - “This one cleans up nice! 1800 Silver tequila, Cointreau, our margarita mix, and fresh tamarind nectar. Served on the rocks.”

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I was a little afraid of the Dirty Margarita because of the name, but it was fab…I think I have a new favorite kind of margarita!

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The taste wasn’t altogether vastly difference than a regular margarita (not like a strawberry margarita would be, at least), but the subtle differences in flavor were welcome. Just watch out for that rim - I think the bright orange is cayenne pepper! Oh, and the drink is more price-wise than a standard margarita, but I think it’s worth the extra cost for the quality of the drink.

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Hubby almost always gets Combo #2 - your choice of 2 items from about 6-ish standard options (like tacos, burritos, etc). Hubby usually gets a burrito and enchilada. The combos are served with re-fried beans and rice.

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As for me, it’s always a toss up between Chicken Fajitas (so sizzly-delicious) and a Combo #2 with a must-have Chicken Chimichanga. For this meal, I went with the latter option and was not disappointed with my chimichanga and enchilada - delicious!

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I love the way they do the Chicken Chimichangas here - nice, crispy-crunchy outside and tender chicken and veggies inside - all topped with a hot cheese sauce. The balance of textures and flavors is so good. Add a side of re-fried beans and side of rice..yum!

Final Dish

1900 Mexican Grill is one of our go-to restaurants when we want a laid back meal with simply delicious food. This neighborhood spot is popular with the locals probably for the same reason we love it so much - the consistently tasty food and that most-impressive tequila & cocktail list. We love how 1900 offers quality Mexican food with a reasonable price tag and comforting ambiance. Speedy service, waiters who recognize you, and a smiling owner nice touches, too.

Ru San’s Japanese Sushi + Cuisine (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: Sushi + Japanese
Ambiance: Fun + A Bit Rowdy
Address: 2440 Park Rd, Charlotte, NC 28203
Neighborhood: Dilworth
Phone: 704.374.0008
Web Site: http://rusans.com/
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Sushi: Like shrimp tempura (or maybe just new to sushi, in general)? Try the Crunchy Mui Bueno. Like tuna? Try the Olympic Five Ring. There are many, many more great options…so hard to pick favorites.
  • Appetizer: Tiger Shrimp - so yummy, firm, and spicy and served over a chopped “salsa” - these are some of the best shrimp I think I’ve ever had.
  • Drink: Like sake? Try one of their flavored sakes (like Asian Pear) or go for a saketini like the Sake Pomegranate.
  • Dessert: Baked Mochi - If you either 1. like red bean-based desserts or 2. like experimenting with new flavors, then check out the Baked Mochi - chewy, fried dough with a sticky-sweet adzuki bean sauce.

Best For: Casual Date, Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: casual to dressy (I see a wide range of attire here)
Fave Points: Ru San’s has that “Cheers” feeling for me, not to mention a great assortment of unique sushi combinations.
My Fave Dish: Crunchy Mui Bueno - ok, so many people won’t consider a sushi with shrimp tempura “real” sushi, but what can I say except that I simply love the combination of the crunchy shrimp tempura, crisp cucumber, and smooth avocado. Sometimes you just like what you like, no?

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

Hubby and I went out for a casual weeknight dinner to one of our fave Charlotte spots - Ru San’s, a regional chain restaurant that feels like a one-off.

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We have been going to Ru San’s for a few years now, and we always have a great time visiting this local sushi hot spot.

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I love the ambiance inside Ru San’s - the sushi chefs greet you with cheers/happy-yelling and smiles when you walk in the door.

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They’ve also somewhat recently grown their seating area and sushi bar area and added some chic new decor.

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Normally, when I go to Ru San’s, I get either a flavored sake or just water, but on this night, I decided to try a saketini.

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I got the sake pomegranate, which was really tasty. I didn’t see them make my drink, but it tasted like they used real pomegranate juice because it had that slight tartness to it.

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For starters, we got miso soup and a house salad with ginger dressing. I’m a big fan of miso soup and enjoy the one they serve…except I’ve always found the noodles in the bowl a bit strange. I usually just eat around those. The salad is much like the ones they serve at teppenyaki restaurants, which I love for that delish ginger dressing.

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Hubby wasn’t in the sushi-mood, so he got some of the tiger shrimp appetizer.

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The shrimp were nice and tender and had a really amazing spicy flavor to them that paired well with tangy, fresh-squeezed lime juice. The shrimp were served over a chopped “salsa” with tomatoes, onion, and avocado. I sometimes feel silly ordering non-sushi items at sushi restaurants, but these are just so good…I’ll definitely be getting these again.

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The sushi menu is quite large, but I have my favorites.

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For sushi, we got some pretty Americanized-items: Crunchy Mui Bueno (my fave - shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, crunchies) and tempura asparagus.

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The tempura asparagus roll is a great appetizer to get for groups - it’s simple and a steal at right around $2-3.

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The Crunchy Mui Bueno (a Ru San’s specialty roll) is one of my all-time favorites. I realize it’s cooked and not very authentic, but I love the texture of the crunchy tempura with the other ingredients and the overall flavor.

Final Dish

Ru San’s has consistently remained one of my favorite sushi spots in all of Charlotte. I’ve been told that there are restaurants that have fresher fish, but 1. I’m not sure if that’s true and 2. I don’t care. I’ve always found the food at Ru San’s to be quality, and I love going for the fun ambiance, smiling sushi chefs, and upbeat music. I also really enjoy trying their interesting sushi combinations. Though you can get the standards like Spicy Tuna or Ebi, Ru San’s also offers some really intriguing specialty rolls like the Olympic Five Ring or the Godzilla Roll.

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If you’re not sure what to order, check out the sushi rolls on display by the front door - they always put out 4 or 5 different plates so you can see what the sushi actually looks like - I love checking this area out when I’m looking to try a new roll. Those new to sushi will probably also appreciate the display.

If you go on a weekend night, expect to wait. Weekdays are usually pretty light on traffic, but this place is a popular spot with the locals, so they’re usually pretty busy, in general.

Next time you’re craving sushi, check out Ru San’s to see why the locals love it so much.

D’Vine Wine Cafe (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American + Tapas
Ambiance: Intimate Chic
Address: 14815 John J. Delaney Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28277
Neighborhood: Ballantyne
Phone: 704.369.5050
Web Site: http://www.dvinewinecafe.com/
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Small Plate: Lobster, Crab, and Corn Fritters - $11 - Sort of like crab cakes with lobster, served with warm apple chutney - this is a great tapas-style plate for sharing.
  • Small Plate: Apple and Fig Toasted Bread + Melted Brie - $6 - This savory/sweet combo makes a great appetizer or tapas-style plate for a group. The flavor combination is simple but tasty and the melty brie is the best part.
  • Drink: Wine Flight - prices vary - When in Rome…if you’re in a restaurant that has “wine” in its name, you should probably go with the wine. If you like to sample, go for a wine flight. Otherwise, make a selection from their extensive wine list. Owner Terry Miller is a wine collector and medal winning wine maker, so he really knows how to pick the cream of the crop.
  • Dessert: Cheesecake - $6 - Three mini cheesecakes in Vanilla Bean, Black Berry, and Chocolate. I had a hard time picking a favorite flavor because they were all so good, but I had a good time trying.

Pricing Samples (Dinner):

  • Small Plates: $6 - $11
  • Main Course: $5-$19

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Best For: Romantic Date, Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: nice casual (not tennis shoes) to dressy
Fave Points: Huge wine selection, delicious eats, cozy chairs in the lounge area
My Fave Dish: Those yummy cheesecakes - they were relatively light for cheesecakes, which is always impressive, but the flavor combos really got my attention.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I met up with five of my girlfriends for a group outing to D’Vine Wine Cafe for a special birthday celebration over good eats and great wine.

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Inside D’Vine there was wine everywhere proudly on display…what a selection!?

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The tables were simply decorated and the ambiance was tastefully modern.

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We all ordered wine to start our meal, with most of us ordering flights to get a good feel for some new wines.

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I ordered the Interesting Whites Flight.

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The wine flight carriers were unlike any I’ve seen before - so neat.

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Though there were some interesting entrees on the menu, we decided to go for a tapas-style dinner by sharing a few different dishes. We started with the spinach salad. We got 2 orders and the restaurant kindly split the 2 orders among 5 bowls - 1 for each of us.

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They even put the dressing on the side. The salads were really good and I enjoyed the dressing.

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After the salad, we ordered a bunch of different plates.

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A cheese plate (you get your choice of 3 from a list of 6 options from around the world)

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Hummus - 3 flavors served with warm pita. I normally shy away from things I think I can make at home, but the flavors in the hummus were really intriguing - I’d definitely order this one again.

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We got extra bread.

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Apple and Fig - loved this savory/sweet combo with the melty brie cheese.

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Lobster, Crab, and Corn Fritters - served with warm apple chutney. I’m a big fan of crab cakes and these were sort of like crab cakes with a slightly different flavor but same great concept. Go for this if you like crab cakes and lobster.

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Seared Scallops - in a Thai coconut sauce. It’s hard to go wrong with scallops to begin with, but the sauce really made this dish extra yummy.

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The sliders (kobe beef, turkey, and tuna) served with your choice of bean salad or chips. Again, I’m loving the flavor options and ability to try different flavors in one dish - beef to turkey to tuna…nice. Go for the bean salad if you want something more unique - the chips are pretty tried and true.

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A birthday dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert. We first ordered the Kilwin’s Chocolate Tasting, which contains an assortment of chocolates from the Ballantyne Village chocolatier, including fudge.

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My personal favorite was the cheesecake trio - 3 cheese cakes in chocolate, black berry, and vanilla. All these flavor are different and delicious at the same time. I loved the presentation of the cheesecake mini-towers with fresh berries and chocolate pieces. The cheesecakes were the perfect end to our meal.

Final Dish

D’Vine Wine Cafe is more than a wine bar, this place has an incredible selection of eats in addition to their amazing collection of wines. Whether you’re looking for some small plates to snack on over wine or a full-on dinner, D’Vine has you covered with some truly delicious options, from crab cakes to cheesecakes.

If you’re looking for some interesting and unique flavor combinations, give D’Vine a try and maybe go for the Wild Boar Tenderloin or the Chocolate Dessert Sushi - you’re not easily going to find that elsewhere in Charlotte.

If you’re looking for a quiet evening, hit up D’Vine earlier in the week around Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday through the weekend is usually chock full of exciting events - from wine tastings to live bands. For more action, visit the restaurant closer to the weekends and check out D’Vine’s event calendar to learn more about their special events like the American Cancer Society Benefit this Thursday, 6/11/09, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Join the Connoissuer Club to be kept in the loop of D’Vine’s latest happenings.

From entertainment, to great wines, to awesome eats, D’Vine Wine Cafe has a lot to offer.

Taste of Charlotte 2009

General Event

I caught the tail end of Taste of Charlotte 2009 today, 6/7/09, when hubby and I decided to venture out to the festival for lunch.

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We didn’t feel like paying for parking, so we just found some free street parking a few blocks away and walked down to the event.

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We arrived at the end of the festival at 6th St where there were plenty of samples being given out.

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We first picked up some tokens and a pamphlet containing a list of vendors and booths.

We also came prepared with a big bottle of water so we could use the tokens we spent last year on drinks on more food…or dessert…whichever we felt like eating.

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The day was beautiful - sunny with blue skies and white clouds.

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It was also super hot outside, though it did feel pretty pleasant in the shade.

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The first thing we had to eat was actually free - a Bagel-fuls sample in the plain flavor. The sample was way better than I thought I’d be and would certainly be easier to eat on the run than a regular bagel with cream cheese.

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Further up there were more samples to be had at The Other White Meat booth.

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They gave me a lovely pork sample that was actually quite tender and well-seasoned…I should have gotten the recipe they were offering.

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We walked around the event noting various dishes that sounded interesting.

As we walked around, I took note of the event. There were things for the kiddos, like this huge pair of slides.

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There was also a climbing wall. Not sure if this is kids-only, but I’ve only ever seen kids on it in the past couple years we’ve attended this event.

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There were events on the center stage - when we walked by there was a dance group performing.

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There were also some quirky gimmicks like this Land O Lakes creamer-box-backpack.

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This nice young man was giving out Honey Bunches of Oats samples out of his sample bicycle.

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There was also a living statue in the middle of Tryon. We didn’t stay long enough to see if they moved.

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There were some craft booths set-up in the middle of the event - you can always tell the crafty booths because they’re the ones that are in the center of the road with their tents backing each other.

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The balloon guys are always popular at these events.

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Oxygen was also recruiting for its new TV show - Dance Your Ass Off. No, I didn’t try out…I thought about it, though, because it looked like fun.

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We walked all the way down to the other end of the event before turning around to start picking out dishes to taste.

Main Eats

Village Tavern

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First up, we decided to try a local favorite of ours - Village Tavern.

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Normally, I like to try restaurants I’ve never been to before at events like these, but we didn’t see a whole lot that we were dying to try, and I always get steak at Village Tavern, so I was curious about their crab cakes.

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Hubby and I thought the crab cake was really good. I think I’m going to stick with the steak at Village Tavern, though, because it’s just that good! I was glad to have tried the crab cakes in case I ever feel like going red-meat free for dinner.

Outlaw BBQ Shack

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Next, we visited Outlaw BBQ Shack.

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Outlaw BBQ Shack was a XLI Super Bowl Vendor. Pretty cool, no? Hubby and I are always on the lookout for good BBQ - my personal fave BBQ joint is in Greenville, SC, and I haven’t found anything to top it yet.

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I have to say, this BBQ Pork Slider came close…it was darn tasty and the meat was nice and tender.

Caribbean Hut

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Next up, we visited the Caribbean Hut booth to check out the first tasting that caught my eye…

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Jerk Chicken with Peas Rice. The chicken was extremely tender and served on the bone. Between the chicken and the rice, the flavor was very good and a bit on the spicy side, which I liked. The rice took me back to our visit to the Bahamas last year with its similar flavors to the rice and peas we commonly found on the Island.

Flat Rock Grille

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For our last savory dish, we hit up the Flat Rock Grille booth.

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We decided the barbeque shrimp sounded really interesting and had to wait just a couple minutes while they finished cooking a fresh batch. I love getting food at its freshest, so I was happy to wait.

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When I read the name of the shrimp dish on the menu, I envisioned shrimp slathered in ooey-gooey, sticky-sweet barbeque sauce, and was happily surprised with the concoction they had prepared. We got 3 shrimp, a slice of lemon, a slice of tomato and a piece of green onion, doused in a semi-spicy sauce. I thought the shrimp were really flavorful and well-cooked.

Sweet Eats

Amelie’s French Bakery

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The first sweet we decided to try was a selection from the Amelie’s French Bakery booth.

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Since I studied French throughout school and did an exchange in high school to France, I have an affinity for French flavors, especially French desserts like those commonly found in the patisseries.

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I decided to get a macaroon and tried the Cinnamon Chocolate macaroon upon flavor-recommendation (they had 3!) from the guy in the booth. He was so right - this was amazing! Loved it! The flavor of the cinnamon was nice and light and I really liked the texture of the macaroon.

Black Finn

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The last tasting we tried was one that caught our eye early on in the Black Finn booth.

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The girls in the booth had been nice enough earlier to show us what this curious-sounding dessert dish looked like, and we decided to revisit the booth to get it.

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I present the cookie slider.

The cookie slider was deceptively simple but oh-so-good. The cookies were homemade and since they were stored in the freezer, they were slightly frozen along with the ice cream. This dessert was delicious and helped cool hubby and I down from all the walking around in the heat. It was really the perfect end to our afternoon of good eats. After cooling off with our cookie sliders, we headed home happy and full.

I’m already looking forward to Taste of Charlotte 2010!

The Flying Biscuit (Brunch)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Casual Upbeat
Address: 7930 A Rea Rd (Stonecrest Shopping Center), Charlotte, NC 28277
Neighborhood: Ballantyne
Phone: 704.295.4440
Web Site: http://www.flyingbiscuit.com
Must Taste (Brunch):

  • Biscuits: Obviously! Whenever a food item is in the name of the restaurant, you know you have to try it. The Flying Biscuit doesn’t disappoint with their tall + fluffy biscuits topped with sugar sprinkles and served with apple butter. Though the biscuits are available in whole wheat, and I’m all for whole grains, I’d stick with the regular biscuit.
  • Eggs: Scrambles - The Flying Biscuit overs several lovely scramble choices. I’m hoping to eventually try one of each.
  • Sweet: Oatmeal Pancakes - I haven’t had the opportunity to try these yet but I can’t wait to - I hear they’re awesome.

Best For: Dinner with Friends/Family, Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: casual
Fave Points: Healthy options like soysage instead of sausage, grass-fed beef, farm fresh eggs and other high quality ingredients
My Fave Dish: Southern Scramble - from the menu - “crisp turkey bacon, spicy collard greens, onions and cheddar cheese scrambled with three large farm fresh eggs.” I love this flavor concept in breakfast/brunch form - the turkey bacon helps give the dish a slightly healthier kick.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

My friend from San Francisco was visiting for the weekend, and I wanted to take her somewhere to get a knock-out brunch.

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Though there are tons of great brunch choices in Charlotte, I decided to take my friend to The Flying Biscuit, a regional chain restaurant, for it’s casual atmosphere, healthy options, and affordable prices.

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The weather outside was a perfect spring day - sunny and warm, but not too hot - so we decided to eat on the outdoor patio to get some fresh air. I started brunch with a nice, hot mug of coffee.

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There are tons of great options on the breakfast menu, but I decided to get a repeat of what I ordered the last time I was at The Flying Biscuit - the Southern Scramble.

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Southern Scramble - from the menu - “crisp turkey bacon, spicy collard greens, onions and cheddar cheese scrambled with three large farm fresh eggs.” I’m a big fan of breakfast out, but I’m used to seeing the usual suspects - traditional fried eggs, pancakes, and omelets. This dish offered a new combination of flavors in scramble form, which I absolutely loved. The salty turkey bacon (healthier than standard bacon) paired nicely with the onions and collard greens and cheese is a must for me and eggs. I also liked how you could get a full bite with each of the flavors representing, thanks to the ingredients being cut to size nicely.

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For my side option I selected fresh fruit. The fruit was ok - nothing special and I’ve had fresher, but the rest was so fab, I didn’t care.

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The biscuit was great, too, especially with that yummy apple butter they serve. I also really liked the sugar sprinkling on top of the biscuits and think it’s a nice touch.

Final Dish

The Flying Biscuit is a simple restaurant with simply great food. Though the wait line can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, I usually find it worth the wait. Perhaps one of my favorite features of this restaurant is their dedication to high-quality ingredients by using ingredients like farm-fresh eggs. Their healthier ingredient options like turkey bacon and soysage also catch my attention and are much appreciated. I’d have to say that The Flying Biscuit is one of my favorite brunch restaurants in all of Charlotte. There are other brunch spots I’d hit up if I were looking for something more ritzy or romantic, but for the days when you don’t want to dress up just to get some good food, The Flying Biscuit hits the spot and fits the bill with its reasonable prices.

Sole Spanish Grill (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: Spanish + Tapas
Ambiance: Intimate
Address: 1608 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203
Neighborhood: Dilworth
Phone: 704.544.7918
Web Site: http://www.solespanishgrille.com/main.htm
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Tapas: Gambas Picantes - Shrimp in a spicy tomato broth. This is no longer on the tapas menu, but they can make it upon special request. I highly recommend it if you like shrimp dishes with a spicy twist. Use the leftover sauce as a dip for your bread.
  • Tapas: Patatas Bravas - $6 - from the menu: “fried potatoes with a mildly spicy alioli sauce.” The sauce was quite creamy (possibly mayonnaise-based) so it’s a little rich, but full of flavor. I love it.
  • Drink: Pitcher of Sangria - though the sangria is a bit on the expensive side when sold by the pitcher, the pitcher contains quite a bit of sangria and no ice or fruit. The fruit is served in a cup with ice which you can fill with the yummy sangria of the restaurant - the flavor is awesome. Should you choose the pitcher, be prepared to drink up! Perhaps I’m a lightweight, but my friend and I struggled just a bit to finish the pitcher between the 2 of us.
  • Dessert: Tres Leches - one of my fave Charlotte desserts. This dessert is deceptively simple in flavors with a milky, almost vanilla-like taste (vanilla as in simple…the cake doesn’t take much like vanilla to me). The first time I had this, I thought the first bites were pretty plain, but if you’re not careful, you’ll unwittingly fall in love with the dessert like I did. Luckily, the other restaurants (Miro, Zen Asian Fusion) under the same owners serve this dessert, too.

Pricing Samples (Dinner):

  • Tapas: $3 - $9
  • Dinner: $11-$22

Best For: Romantic Date, Group Outing (with friends or co-workers)
What to Wear: nice casual (not tennis shoes) to dressy
Fave Points: Cozy patio and the fact that I always have a hard time picking between tapas and full entrees when I go here - too many good options
My Fave Dish: This is a tough choice between the Gambas Picantes and the Tres Leches dessert, but I’m going to have to go Gambas Picantes because it’s the first thing I think of every time I go to Sole.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

My friend from San Francisco was visiting for the weekend and I wanted to take her somewhere “chill” with a real local feel for her first dinner with us.

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Hubby and I decided on Sole, one of our local faves, so we took our friend on over in search of Spanish tapas. We really wanted to sit out on the patio to take advantage of the warm April night, but there was a bit of a wait, so we headed over to the bar area for some sangria.

My friend and I split a pitcher of sangria while my husband started on some beer. We were a little surprised to find out that the pitcher was almost $30, but we did get a lot of sangria out of it. Seriously, the pitcher was all sangria, no ice or fruit taking up space - our fruit and ice were served in our glasses when the pitcher was delivered, so you get your bang for your buck if you’re ready to drink a fair amount. If you just want a little sangria, you may want to order by the glass.

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As someone who refuses to put their purse on the floor, I was very thankful for the hooks just under the bar where we could hang our purses while we waited for our patio table.

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Soon enough, our table was ready and we headed out to the patio area to enjoy dinner. I thought patio area was really cute - especially the lighting.

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We started dinner with some hot rolls and butter. I thought the (free) bread was nice because I’ve noticed a lot of places seem to want to charge you for bread these days.

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When it came to picking out tapas, I quickly scanned the menu for my personal favorite: the Gambas Picantes tapas. I was sad to see it wasn’t on the tapas menu any more, but more than happy when the owner told me they could still make it. Phew!

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We also got another of our faves: the Patatas Bravas, which have a slighty-spicy alioli sauce - a bit on the creamy side, but I really like it.

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We also went with an order of the ever classic Empanadas (from the menu: “Traditional Spanish turnovers with beef“), which were very good with that yummy, crunchy outside.

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And, to round things out, we also ordered the Croquetas de Pollo - from the menu: “Chicken croquettes.” The croquettes were pretty good, but I thought they were slightly on the bland side along with the accompanying sauce. This tapas was probably my least favorite of the group but probably because everything else was so amazing. Not to mention, it’s hard to compete when you have a tried and true go-to dish, like me and the Gambas Picantes. Regardless, I’d order these chicken croquettes again.

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Though we didn’t order that many tapas for 3 people, I was, personally, saving room for dessert. When we decided to go to Sole for dinner I had 2 things in mind: 1. that shrimp tapas and 2. the Tres Leches. The Tres Leches cake is one of my favorite desserts in all of Charlotte. I remember the first time I ordered it, I got it because the menu touted that the dessert had won a “Best of” award. I thought the first couple bites were rather simple and wondered what the big deal was. However, as I continued to work my way through the cake, I fell more and more in love with it with each bite. Nowadays, I have a hard time resisting this dessert whenever I see it on the menu at Sole and its sister restaurants - Miro, Zen Asian Fusion. I’ve even actually ordered this cake (and this cake alone) for take out a couple times.

Final Dish

I highly recommend Sole Spanish Grill for a near-future restaurant experience for you. I love the intimate, welcoming environment, their sangria, and their menu. I’ve dined at Sole several times before enjoying both the tapas and the entrees. I always have a hard time choosing between the 2…especially when I’m already trying to save room for dessert. To me, Sole is a great restaurant no matter your occasion - whether you’re on a romantic date or catching up with a friend. Relax into your conversation over a variety of Spanish flavors and check out the patio if the weather is nice.

Crepevine (Brunch)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Local Cafe/Joint
Address: 624 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122
Neighborhood: Sunset
Phone: 415.681.5858
Web Site: http://www.crepevine.com/
Must Taste (Brunch):

  • Obviously…the crepes! Def try the strawberry-nutella crepe (if you like chocolate and strawberries) - there are plenty of delicious savory crepes, as well.

Best For: Nice-casual brunch with friends, family, or SO.
What to Wear: casual to nice-casual
Fave Points: interesting crepe flavors - low-key atmosphere and lack of waiters (yea, sometimes you just don’t want waiters - makes you feel less like you’re imposing on someone’s section and more like you can kick back and take your time).
My Occasion: brunch with friends
My Fave Dish: The strawberry-nutella crepe - so simple but oh-so-good.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

On Sunday morning, the last day of my San Francisco trip, my friend helped see me off in style with a crepe brunch. Creperies seem to be quite popular in SF.

We headed back to Crepevine, which was the restaurant we tried to visit the previous day but skipped due to the long line and our eagerness to hit up wine country.

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Although Crepevine is a regional chain, the restaurant had a real one-off feel to it, which I liked in addition to the laid-back atmosphere.

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We ordered at the counter and got a # for our table - we were #20 - so the restaurant knew where to deliver our food, since Crepevine doesn’t really have waiters (they do have people who will help you though, but no dedicated waiter).

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We enjoyed more coffee and conversation whilst waiting for our crepes.

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Our crepes were out before we knew it. We ordered 2 crepes to share - a savory pesto chicken crepe

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(here’s a closer look)

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…which was served with a nice, fresh salad with a light salad dressing (the light dressing seems to be popular in SF. Next time, I’ll buy some to bring home) and some potatoes.

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We also ordered a sweet Nutella and strawberry crepe, which was my fave! The crepe had a nice balance of crepe to chocolate to strawberries and the crepe itself had a nice texture.

I finished off the sweet crepe and left a bit of the savory for my friend to enjoy later. The crepes were amazing and made me wish we had a creperie in NC. If nothing else, I very well may try to make my own crepes some time soon. The crepe dinner I enjoyed on my exchange trip to France was my fave and this brunch reminded me of just how good crepes can be!

Final Dish

Brunch at Crepevine really hit the spot. Some days you really want an eggs and pancakes kind of breakfast and some days, you want to experiment. If you’re feeling frisky, check out the interesting flavor combos are Crepevine, which are deceptively simple yet still invoke the feeling of a new taste adventure. Crepevine does offer non-crepe entrees in case any one in your party wants a more traditional breakfast. I’d definitely return to Crepevine on a future trip, and I’d go crepes all the way.

Park Chow (Coffee + Dessert)

The Basics

Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Casual-Chill
Address: 1240 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
Neighborhood: Sunset
Phone: 415.665.9912
Web Site: http://www.chowfoodbar.com/
Must Taste (Dessert):

  • Ginger Cake - It’s an unusual dessert - one I’ve never seen before. This dessert was a rich cake sans frosting, but don’t worry, you won’t miss it. The Ginger Cake is served hot, topped with a syrupy sauce, and served with a scoop of pumpkin ice cream…so good.

Best For: casual date or meal with friends/family.
What to Wear: casual to dressy-casual (mostly casual)
On the Speakers: Smashing Pumpkins
Fave Points: that “where the locals eat” feel, the fact that they support local farms and utilize wild seafood, organic free-range chicken, and all natural beef.
My Occasion: coffee and dessert to catch up with a friend
My Fave Dish: The Ginger Cake - though the Huckleberry cobbler was darn good, too.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

Although we got a recommendation to try out a local, Healdsburg haunt for dessert (while we were in the area after dinner), that place and everywhere else seemed too booked up to serve my friend and I coffee and dessert. After circling the restaurants in Healdsburg, CA and finding zero good coffee + dessert options, and then getting a recommendation on a great spot back in SF (from my friend’s sweet-tooth roommate), we spent a long (almost 2 hour) car ride back to San Francisco, CA in search of dessert (my friend lives in SF, so we had to head that way anyways).

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We ended up at one of my friend’s roomie’s fave spots in town - Park Chow . I loved the ambiance in Park Chow. The place seemed very local-centric, one-of-a-kind, and super chill. Park Chow would turn out to be the perfect spot for us - somewhere where we could relax and enjoy some dessert and coffee without feeling like the restaurant and/or waitress was rushing us out the door to turn a table.

I was also intrigued with the menu there, which I perused while my friend ran to the restroom, even though I knew we wouldn’t be having a second dinner. All over the menu were the buzzwords I’ve been looking for when I grocery shop: organic, local, + sustainable. I was so impressed! I want to eat a whole meal there next time so I can check out their regular eats.

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My friend wanted to order a latte but didn’t see one on the menu. I suggested she just ask if they could make one and they said they could. Not only that, they could make what she really wanted - a soy latte. I’ve tried soy lattes before. I figured since I liked chocolate soy milk, I’d like a soy latte, too, but I wasn’t that impressed with them the first time I tried them. Fast forward to our SF dessert-meal at Park Chow, and I figured I’d go with the flow and try a soy latte again.

I guess the 2nd time was the charm for me because it was love at first sip. That soy latte was one of the best lattes I’ve ever had…ever! I seriously savored every, single sip. Just look at that froth. I can’t believe they can get froth like that from soy sometimes.

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As for dessert, the weather had been overcast and rainy all day, so I wanted something cozy and warm besides the soy latte. I thought about getting the cobbler, but my friend was ordering that, so I went with the Ginger Cake with Pumpkin Ice Cream. Turns out the Ginger Cake is served warm, too. Sweet!

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My friend ordered the cobbler - huckleberry and (I think) apple a la mode! We shared a few bites of dessert with each other, following our sharing theme from dinner. I don’t think I’d ever had huckleberries before, but they were quite good. I’ll have a hard time choosing between the Ginger Cake and the Cobbler next time I visit Park Chow.

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The restaurant was busy and a bit loud, but also relaxing and casual. Our waitress gave us space but also gave us enough attention, which I definitely appreciated. My friend and I happily eased into our lattes and desserts and enjoyed some good conversation to round out an overall amazing day in California.

My Dish

Sometimes, it’s hard to find a good restaurant where you can kick back and enjoy a slow coffee + dessert over a long conversation. Though Park Chow is not a coffee shop (where I normally think of relaxing over coffee), they took great care of us and left us enough space so we didn’t feel like we were imposing. To top that, their lattes and desserts were so warm and cozy and tasty - they were the perfect end to our awesome day of wine tastings and good eats. I’m looking forward to returning to Park Chow next time I’m in San Fran, but next time, I’ll be sure to try out some of their entrees to help them support their local farmers and try out some of those interesting-looking menu items. Don’t be surprised if I save room for dessert, too.

Ravenous (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Cozy Cottage
Address: 117 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Neighborhood: Sonoma
Phone: 707.431.1302
Web Site: no site found, click here for their yelp
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • According to the man at Trentadue, the burger is a must-eat. Although we really wanted to try the Ravenous burger we heard so much about, we were persuaded away by the rest of the menu, but if you try it, let me know what you think.
  • Bravette Steak - $26 - “Creekstone grilled spice-rubbed bravette steak lime chipotle sauce peppers + onions…roasted potatoes” - the steak had an awesome flavor and I really enjoyed the sides, too.

Best For: Semi-casual/romantic date (because of the laid back atmosphere) or dinner with friends/family.
What to Wear: dressy casual to dressy
Fave Points: that “where the locals eat” feel, interesting menu selection, location
My Occasion: dinner with friends
My Fave Dish: That bravette steak - the flavor combo was out of this world - loved it!

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

After wrapping up our *sniff* last wine tasting of the day at Rosenblum Cellars , we were seriously ready to get our eat on and headed back to Ravenous (Trentadue’s dinner recommendation) to see if they were open yet. It was Saturday night, sure to be a busy night for the restaurant, so we were lucky we got there early at around 5:15pm.

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The restaurant was located in what looked to be a renovated house. I loved the interior - it was so cottage-y-cozy. I love these local-type restaurants - they are so fun to visit.

The place was empty when we got there, which was good because we beat the crowd. Ravenous had quite a few reservations booked up apparently, because I watched them have to turn away a couple groups. If you want to hit up this spot, I suggest you make reservations ahead of time or get there early! The bar area filled out pretty quickly since most of the tables seemed to be saved for reservations.

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We grabbed a table with a half booth along the wall where my friend and I could both fit on the cushy booth-side and were promptly greeted by our waiter…

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…and 2 copies of a hand-written menu, presumably by the chef. The selections all sounded really good, so my foodie friend and I happily split a few courses so we could try out more flavors.

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The table had pitchers of water with lemon and (I think) cucumber slices.

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The table also had a lovely loaf of bread - I think it was wheat sourdough.

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We started with a mixed green salad - can you believe this is “half”?! The portion was more than generous, and the salad was really good - the dressing was so light that I hardly noticed there was any on the salad at all (a good thing IMO).

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We also got an appetizer of crab cakes to share. These came with another little salad. My friend absolutely loved the crab cakes, and though I thoroughly enjoyed my share of the dish, I couldn’t help but think the ones from Eclipse were a wee bit better. My friend confirmed her enjoyment in the dish with her look of pure crab-cake-enjoyment that I noticed as she munched on hers.

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Now, the entree was another story. We got the bravette steak - from the menu: “Creekstone grilled spice-rubbed bravette steak lime chipotle sauce peppers + onions…roasted potatoes.” The steak was a little cool (heat-wise) when it came out, but the flavor more than made up for it. The spice rub was subtle but delicious and paired well with the cilantro lime sauce that lightly flavored the meat. The roasted potatoes were nice, hot, and tender, but not too soft. The carrot and asparagus were good, too, as was the roasted red onion quarter. The steak was by far the star of this meal!

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After our main meal was over, we received another hand-written menu for desserts. We looked it over but remembered another recommendation by Trentadue to try Hotel Healdsburg for dessert, so we got ready for some sweets (even though we were pretty stuffed!).

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Before leaving Ravenous, I snapped a couple shots of the fireplace that added extra coziness to the atmosphere.

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As we left, the restaurant was just picking up steam. The place was really filling up and must be popular with the locals.

Unfortunately, Hotel Healdsburg was closed for the evening for a special event, so we headed back to San Fran in search of sweets…more on that next time.

Final Dish

I really loved how cozy our dinner at Ravenous was. My friend and I were so comfortable there dining with the locals. I enjoyed the simple, little touches, like the handwritten menu and roaring fire in the background. Our waiter did a nice job taking care of us without rushing us and the food itself was really great overall, as well. I’m a little sad I didn’t try that burger the man at Trentadue suggested, but there’s always next time. I think I’m also going to stick around for a Ravenous dessert next time, as well.

Rosenblum Cellars

The Basics

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Cuisine: Winery
Ambiance: Jovial
Address: 250 Center Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Neighborhood: Sonoma
Phone: 707.431.1169
Web Site: https://www.rosenblumcellars.com
What to Wear: casual to dressy casual
Fave Points: location and the $5 shipping on 6 bottles of wine
My Occasion: catching up with a girlfriend
My Fave Wine: Désirée Chocolate Dessert Wine, California

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

After leaving Trentadue Winery, we headed over to Healdsburg, CA for a snack. It was about 4:30 pm and we’d had a late breakfast, but no other food…just lots of good wine. We got a couple recommendations for restaurants in Healdsburg by the peeps at Trenadue and decided on hitting up Ravenous where we heard they had a great burger. Unfortunately, we were a tad early and the restaurant didn’t open till 5!

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Although we were a bit hungry, we decided more wine sounded like a good idea still, plus my friend said most wineries closed after 5/6 pm-ish, so we hit up Rosemblum Cellars. Rosenblum’s Healdsburg tasting room was actually in the city of Healdsburg, so the place was packed! We had to wait to get a spot for tasting. A spot opened up but the people on either side of it spread out so we couldn’t fit. Luckily, the nice man behind the counter kindly asked the gentlemen to help us make our way to the tasting counter. How nice!

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The tasting room was super cute and there was wine everywhere!

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There was a cozy sitting area across from the tasting counter, but this area stayed pretty empty while we were there.

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Once we got a spot at the tasting counter, it was vino time! My friend and I each got the reserve wine samplings. I was most intrigued by the wine they said was for barbecues and grilling-out parties! Those wines really did taste like they’d go great with some nice, smoky summer-grilled foods! I didn’t get any bottles of these BBQ wines, but wish I did!

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More etched-glasses! I loved how each winery had their own etched tasting glasses.

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Seriously…wine everywhere!

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Love those pour spouts.

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Though this place was busy, we had a good time with our wine tasting. Oh, and do you see that decorative vase-looking-thing in the background?

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I’m talking about this thingy - the blue, green, and yellow vase. If you’re not familiar with wine tasting, you may not know what this is. This receptacle is where you pour the wines you don’t want to drink any more. I know…it sounds almost impossible to not want to finish your wine! But, if you’re up for a serious day of wine-visiting, you can easily visit 5+ wineries, so at some point, you may wish to not finish your entire tasting glass, especially if you’re driving! In that case, simply pour your wine into this vase. Done and done.

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Specials.

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Rosenblum has a stimulus plan, too.

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My friend and I wrapped up our wine tastings and even got to try some of their delicious dessert wines, including one that is flavored like chocolate!

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I probably would have only been able to get 1 bottle of wine, but due to luggage space, not budget. Like I said, I had budgeted for some vacay shopping. Lucky me, the winery offered $5 shipping to select spots if you purchased 6 bottles of wine or more. Now, I say I budgeted money, but I didn’t budget 6 bottles worth! As it worked out, my friend got 3 and I got 3, which they let qualify my order for the shipping…yay! The people at Rosenblum were so nice! I picked up 2 dessert wines and 1 white. There they are on the counter while our wine helper prepares my goodies for shipment.

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Friends at Rosenblum. :)

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Corks by the entrance/exit. Info on the wine club, too. Each of the wineries we visited had their own wine clubs, which I didn’t research, but seemed to get you free tastings and discounts on wine. If only I lived in Cali…I would be all about a wine club membership! In fact, my friend said she wants to retire in California wine country and now that I’ve seen what it has to offer…I want to retire there, too! It’s beautiful and so relaxing!

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After finishing our tasting at Rosenblum Cellars, we headed back to Ravenous for sustenance. More on dinner + dessert next time!

Final Dish

My friend and I really enjoyed our trip to Rosenblum Cellars. The place was packed, but we still got a lot of attention from the man helping us. The $5 shipping really saved me because I wouldn’t have been able to buy those extra bottles of wine if they didn’t ship them to me (all bottles arrived safe and sound a week-ish later). My suitcase was already packed! I also really liked the location of Rosenblum’s tasting room - right in the heart of Healdsburg, CA - a cute wine country town. There were tons of restaurants and shops nearby - all within walking distance. In fact, we ended up walking to the restaurant where we had dinner and we really enjoyed looking in all the little shop windows and what not. Definitely try the dessert wines if you go…I know I will next time! I’ll look for that BBQ wine, too!

Trentadue Winery (Wine Tasting)

The Basics

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Cuisine: Winery
Ambiance: Friendly, Welcoming, + Chic
Address: 19170 Geyserville Ave, Geyserville, CA 95441
Neighborhood: Sonoma
Phone: 704.433.3104
Web Site: http://www.trentadue.com/
What to Wear: casual to dressy casual
Fave Points: friendly people, laid back atmosphere, free tastings
My Occasion: catching up with a girlfriend
My Fave Wine: 2006 Trentadue Sangiovese, Alexander Valley Estate

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

After leaving Bella Vineyards + Wine Caves , we headed over to the next stop on my friend’s winery list - Trentadue Winery . This was a winery my friend had never been to, but heard good things about. We lucked out that my friend happened to have a winery map complete with winery addresses, along with a GPS system so we could enter the addresses and get directions. The GPS was very handy to have on our little road trip to easily get from one winery to another.

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We passed the gate and drove down a red-leaved-tree-lined road towards the winery.

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The wine tasting area was very fru-fru-looking from the outside and very pretty. It’s no wonder they do so many weddings here! In fact, there was one wedding going on while we were there!

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I loved the fountain outside…especially the lions!

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This winery had more counter space for us, so we grabbed a nice corner spot. Trentadue Winery offered free wine tastings from the left side of the menu - any choice of (about) 8 wines! Free wine tastings are always nice. See the etched wine glasses again?

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My friend got the port tasting…

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…while I got the regular wine tasting flight.

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The glasses were totally different sizes! My friend’s glass was so cute and mini! I sampled a couple wines off the free list and all the ones on my tasting flight. I even got a couple sips of my friend’s port tastings. The wine tastings were all delicious. Additionally, I really liked the staff at Trentadue. They were very personable and energetic.

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Yay for wine tastings with good friends!

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The ladies next to us had the cutest dog! This is (I believe) a Mi-Ki. I hear it’s a new breed? I’ve certainly never heard of it before.

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They even showed us some of their dog’s tricks like how she could stand.

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So cute! I realize dogs have little to do with wine, but I think that this little story of the winery welcoming the dog adds to the personality of the place and shows how friendly they are.

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After our entertainment, we wrapped up our wine-tasting and discussed wine-purchase-options.

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I got 2 bottles! I purchased 2 reds:

I couldn’t decide between these 2 bottles of wine (both from the free list, surprisingly enough), and since they were reasonably priced, I figured it was ok to get both (especially since I had some spending money budgeted for the trip and wasn’t just charging up a storm). I can’t wait to enjoy them now that I’m home!
Anywho, after Trentadue Winery, we were off to Healdsburg, CA to get a snack, then more vino!
Final Dish

I think Trentadue Winery was my favorite winery of the trip. I felt very comfortable and relaxed during the tasting, and my friend and I were really able to kick back and have a great time between tasting wines and just catching up in general. Besides having great wine, wonderful customer service, and a welcoming environment, I had an overall feel-good-feeling after leaving this winery. I’d happily return to Trentadue next time I’m in the area.

Bella Vineyards + Wine Caves

The Basics

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Cuisine: Winery
Ambiance: Inviting
Address: 9711 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Neighborhood: Sonoma
Phone: 866.572.3552
Web Site: http://www.bellawinery.com
What to Wear: casual to dressy casual
Fave Points: the tasting caves! I believe these can be rented for special events.
My Occasion: catching up with a girlfriend
My Fave Wine: 2006 Sonoma Country Syrah

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

My friend has already been out to wine country and since she lives in San Francisco, was able to gather a slew of good winery recommendations before our trip. She hand-selected a handful that she thought would be good to visit, which was awesome because I knew nothing about the wineries out in the Sonoma area.

First up on the agenda was Bella Vineyards + Wine Caves . Thanks to our staying up late chit-chatting, sleeping in, and late breakfast, we didn’t make it to the first vineyard until about 2PM, which was fine with us because neither me or my friend like to rush around.

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The weather was a bit uncooperative and scheduled to be rainy and overcast. Luckily, we mostly just had overcast with some peeks of sun throughout the day.

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After seeing the Bella sign at the entrance, we drove up a little hill and parked. The view from just the parking lot was spectacular! So scenic!

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We saw a cute doggie running around the picnic area where people were enjoying lunch outside.

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Since we didn’t bring any food with us, we headed straight for the tasting cave.

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We first hit up the cutesy boutique area, inside the cave, where they had lovely platters, other plate ware, and random trinkets.

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Next, it was on to the tasting area. The place was pretty packed, but we waited a couple minutes till some people left so we could squeeze in.

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We selected the Tasting of Current Release Wines.

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We got started with our wine tasting.

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They had little menus printed out so you could read a blurb about the wine you were tasting.

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I loved how the tasting glasses had the vineyard’s logo etched into them. I would learn over our trip to wine country that this is a common theme for the wineries.

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Getting another taste.

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At the tasting counter!

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The inside of the cave was themed nicely - everything was muted in color, and the cave had a relaxing feeling.

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They had barrels, wine bottles, and boxes of wine piled up behind the tasting counter.

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More vino!

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We wrapped up our tasting and headed back out of the cave. My friend advised me to pace myself on wine-buying since we had 4 more wineries on our agenda, which sounded like a good strategy to me since I wasn’t exactly budgeted to go too crazy on the wine-buying. I thought the wines at Bella were pretty good, but it was tough to decide on buying something or not since I had nothing to compare my tasting to. I decided to hold off on buying any wine just yet, though I’d end up wishing later I’d gotten at least 1 bottle.   

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The winery had some proud awards and other plaques displayed throughout the caves.

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On the way out.

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Almost there.

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It wasn’t a long walk from the tasting counter to the door…I just took a lot of photos since I thought the view was interesting. Check out all the people having picnics in the background!

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Here are the hills above the Bella caves.

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The sun even peeked out for a bit.

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I didn’t buy any wine, but I did get some Zinfandel Grape Jelly! I can’t wait to try this stuff! I thought it was made by the winery, but upon reading the label, realized it was made by Zin Restaurant , which we didn’t get to visit (this trip).

Final Dish

I absolutely loved my trip to Bella Vineyards + Wine Caves. The wine caves really gave a unique flair to the winery and made it a must-stop for my friend and me. The people working the tasting counters were very friendly and quite knowledgeable. I’d love to go back to Bella some time soon, but next time, I’ll be sure to bring a picnic basket so I can enjoy their scenic setting with some tasty treats and some extra spending money so I can bring a bottle of wine or 2 home with me.

Cafe Rain Tree (Breakfast)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American
Ambiance: Simple Diner
Address: 118 W Portal Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
Neighborhood: Sunset
Phone: 415.665.3633
Web Site: no site, click here for the yelp page
Must Taste (Breakfast):

  • Banana Pancakes - regular diner-style pancakes with a handful of banana pieces - sometimes simple, is better.

Best For: family or friends
What to Wear: casual
Fave Points: standard American breakfast options - pancakes, eggs, omelets, bacon
My Occasion: breakfast with a friend
My Fave Dish: Banana Pancakes - sometimes you want a fancy crepe breakfast, sometimes you just want a tried and true pancake. Bananas help switch up this diner standard.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I was visiting my friend in San Francisco from the East Coast and my friend really wanted to take me to a local creperie. We hit up the Sunset area and headed to the creperie only to get stuck in a huge line. We had plans to head out to wine country later that day, so we decided to skip the crepes (and the wait) and stop somewhere else. We happened to pass Cafe Rain Tree and decided a traditional eggs + pancakes kind of breakfast sounded pretty good.

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The interior of Cafe Rain Tree reminded me a lot of your standard diner-style restaurant - no frills.

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It was pretty chilly inside the restaurant - we used our coffee mugs to keep our hands warm.

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I got my fave breakfast combo - pancakes, eggs, and bacon. I got 2 fried eggs over medium and jazzed up my pancake order by adding bananas. The breakfast for me. Although I didn’t think there was anything particularly special or unique about the breakfast, it was certainly satisfying.

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My friend got an omelet, which was served with whole wheat toast and, I believe, potatoes.

Final Dish

The restaurant wasn’t fancy and didn’t seem to have any over-the-top unique offerings, but it was good for what it was - nice, simple food, fresh off the griddle. Our waitress was pretty friendly, too, and everything came out quite promptly. Breakfast hit the spot and filled us up nicely for our trip to wine-country.

Millennium Restaurant (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: Modern Vegetarian
Ambiance: Cozy Modern
Address: 580 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (inside Hotel California)
Neighborhood: Nob Hill/Tenderloin
Phone: 415.345.3900
Web Site: http://www.millenniumrestaurant.com
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Small Plate - Seared Brassicas - magical flavor combination - great if you like your veggies - especially cauliflower
  • Drinks - I highly recommend trying any of the cocktails, especially the citrusy Square Root and the fruity Kiwi Gimlet.
  • Entrees - Try the Chanenay Carrot Polenta Cake if you like the idea of grilled polenta being served with smokey tempeh and a drizzling of yummy beans
  • Dessert - Try one of each. Just kidding…but I do recommend saving room for one of chef Eric’s amazing desserts. Try the shortcake - whichever is in season. I found the Earl Gray shortcake dessert to be fab.

Best For: Business, romantic date, or dinner with friends.
What to Wear: dressy casual to business casual to dressy
Fave Points: amazing cocktails and some of the most unique flavor combinations I’ve ever seen
My Occasion: dinner with friends
My Fave Dish: Earl Gray Shortcake Dessert - I’m a big fan of tea-flavored foods but they are hard to find. This dessert was done perfectly with moist tea-flavored shortcakes, decadent cream, and matching Earl Gray ice cream. Top it off with candied citrus peel and…just wow.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

Of all the impressive eats I found in San Francisco, I have to say that my dinner at Millennium Restaurant was my absolute favorite. Although I’m not vegetarian, I found their online menu intriguing, and I was most looking forward to trying this restaurant out from all the ones I researched. I was not disappointed. Let me start at the beginning of this dining adventure, though.

I stayed late at the office, hit up a couple quick stores (there is lots of shopping in the area), and met up with my friends to grab a late dinner at Millennium at Hotel California. I felt like I was walking forever from the financial district to the shops and then to the restaurant…especially because I had my purse, laptop, and luggage in tow! It was a long walk to the restaurant and my feet (in my 2 1/2 inch boots) were killing me! But, the walk was well worth the dinner I enjoyed at Millenium.

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I had tried to call ahead reservations earlier in the day but was told the restaurant were booked till 10PM. Popular place! We decided to try to sit at the bar and upon entering the restaurant were greeted by a couple friendly hosts who told us that bar seats, at least 3 side-by-side, may not open up for awhile.

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My friends (1 a new friend and 1 my BFF from middle school who lives in SF now) knew how badly I wanted to eat at this particular restaurant so we got comfy in the waiting room while the host was kind enough to take my (heavy!) suitcase to the back.

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Well, it must have been our lucky night or just meant-to-be because we only had to wait about 5 minutes before 3 side-by-seats opened up at the bar!

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Cocktails were first on the agenda and I was super excited about this part. The cocktails were what made me want to come here over the other vegetarian SF restaurant (Greens) that I heard good things about (still want to try it next time). The restaurants use of organic syrups and organic fruits were so unlike anything I find around my hometown.

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The 3 of us each started with a Square Root: “Fresh muddled blood orange and mint, Square One organic vodka, Veev acai liqueur.”

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Cheers!

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The drink tasted as good as it sounded and I enjoyed my cocktail slowly over the duration of the meal.

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I am a slower drinker than most. My friends were soon ready for round #2 and ordered a Kiwi Gimlet, which I watched the bartender make from a real, fresh kiwi fruit! So cool!

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I lucked out that my BFF from middle school is now a foodie, too, because we were able to try more flavors by splitting a starter, an app, and an entree!

The appetizer list had many good options, but we chose the Black Bean Torte.

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whole wheat tortilla, caramelized plantains, smoky black bean puree, pumpkin-habanero papazul, cashew sour cream, carrot & onion escabeche.” The flavors were so different and yet worked so well together. The torte portion was a bit sweet yet still a savory appetizer.

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We also got some Seared Brassicas, which we learned were veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, etc.

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capers, chile flake, garlic, smoky almond romesco.” This little dish was one of my favorite parts of the meal - the cauliflower brassicas were seasoned so nicely - they were spicy and smoky and simply delightful to eat.

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For our entree, we selected the Chantenay Carrot Polenta Cake.

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seared greens, snap peas & smokey tempeh ’sausage’, orange scented black bean feijoada, aji coconut cream, lime & cilantro soffrito, plantain crisps, coconut cashews.”

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A little blurry, but another view of the entree. The dish was awesome - the flavors all melded together so tastefully and though it was hard to decipher individual flavors, I didn’t care. I enjoyed the entree bite for bite without worrying about what exactly I was eating. I will say I could tell when I was eating the tempeh and it was gooood!

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Here’s what our other friend got - some sort of tamale with some rice and mushrooms inside and root veggies on the side. It looked really good, too!

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Another cocktail for my friend - Union Square Sidecar - a concoction of yummy apple flavors. Seeing all the other cocktails made me wish I drank faster so I could try more! I’ll know for next time!

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A dinner for moi wouldn’t be complete with out coffee and dessert.

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Check out the cute, little sugar and creamer set they brought out - so tiny! The creamer was soy, too! The sugar was something special, but I forgot exactly what they called it.

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And now, perhaps my favorite course of this most-delicious vegetarian dinner (I forgot the exact name so here’s what I think it was called): Earl Gray Shortcake with Earl Gray Ice Cream and (I think) White Chocolate Cream. Omg…soooo unique and soooo darn good! Wow! I’ve seen a recipe for Earl Gray Chiffon Cake that I’ve been thinking about attempting, but to find it in a restaurant with matching ice cream…I’m impressed!

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Here’s another picture because it was that good! Check out the candied fruit peel on top!

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Our friend got a chocolate-y-peanut-buttery-cake with ice cream, which also looked quite tasty.

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The restaurant, itself, had a cozy + warm environment. Here were the booths next to the bar area where we sat.

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I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about sitting at the bar because I usually like to get comfortable at the table in a big chair or booth during meals. The bar ended up being the best place for us. I was able to have great conversation with my friends, and we even met some fellow foodies. A super cool French chick sat next to us and talked to us about her favorite restaurants in SF (besides Millennium, of course) and she even had tons of photos on her iPhone to share, including the one in the photo above. She doesn’t have a food blog (yet), but I told her she should totally start one. You could tell from her photos that she had great taste in food!

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As we were wrapping up our meal, I mentioned to my friends that it would be cool to take a photo with the executive chef, Eric Tucker. My brave friend quickly asked the host who said that Eric didn’t like to take photos so he wasn’t sure if he’d come out for a photo-op. The host ended up asking the manager who worked some magic, I guess, because Eric came out long enough for a couple quick photos and for me and our new French friend to tell him how amazing everything was. How cool!

Final Dish

It doesn’t get much better than this, folks. I didn’t even miss the meat from my dinner - everything was that delicious! I’m no restaurant connoisseur, but I have been getting tired of seeing the same ole, same ole at restaurant after restaurant so my dining experience at Millenmium was like a breath of fresh air for this girl! From the delicious cocktails to the tasty starters to the fabulous entrees and of course to that amazing dessert, the theme for Millennium carried through proudly and strongly - interesting and unexpected flavor combinations using fresh, healthy, and environmentally foods that will delight your inner foodie.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy a meal at Millennium, so if you find yourself in SF, definitely check it out. Since I don’t know when my next trip to SF will be, I may have to get the restaurant’s official cookbook to tide me over till then. A bientot, Millennium!

Fuzio’s Universal Bistro (Lunch)

The Basics

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Cuisine: Eclectic
Ambiance: Simple, Warm
Address: 1 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94111
Neighborhood: Financial District
Phone: 415.392.7995
Web Site: http://www.fuzio.com
Must Taste (Lunch):

  • Universal Pasta: Shrimp Pomodoro - “shrimp, garlic, pomodoro sauce, chile flakes and basil

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Best For: Business or lunch with friends.
What to Wear: casual to dressy casual to business casual
Fave Points: eclectic menu - a nice variety of cuisines
My Occasion: lunch with clients
My Fave Dish: Shrimp Pomodoro - “shrimp, garlic, pomodoro sauce, chile flakes and basil“.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

After our dinner at Town Hall, my clients took me out to lunch the next day at Fuzio’s, which is a regional chain restaurant that features a diverse menu from paninis to pastas and more themed in various cuisines - from Asian to Italian.

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The interior was decorated simply. I liked how the paintings on the walls added splashes of color and personality.

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I normally stick to water or sweet tea when I get lunch, but for this meal, I decided to try something new - raspberry lemonade. It was both tangy and sweet and overall pretty tasty.

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It was with a bit of apprehension that I ordered the Shrimp Pomodoro and at no fault of Fuzio’s. I once had a shrimp and red-sauce-based dish that was rather bland and boring that totally turned me off of shrimp and red-sauce-entrees. I decided to give the combo a try at Fuzio’s and I was not disappointed. The pasta sauce was very flavorful and quite tasty. There were also tons of shrimp in the bowl - many more than first appeared to be there. The fresh basil on top was the cincher for me and the tiny side of foccacia was just the right size.

Final Dish

Fuzio’s was a great choice for lunch. The menu seemed to have an option for every palate and the food, at least what I had, was delicious!

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Fuzio’s would make a great lunch spot for those working in the Financial District of SF since it is so conveniently located in the area. I could see myself frequently Fuzio’s if I worked around Embarcadero. I’d love to go back and try one of their other pasta or entree options.

Town Hall (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American with a Southern Twist
Ambiance: Rustic Chic
Address: 342 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94105
Neighborhood: SOMA
Phone: 415.908.3900
Web Site: http://www.townhallsf.com/ (site didn’t work when I tried it earlier today, but this is the URL listed - could be temporarily down)
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Starter: Butter Lettuce Salad - this salad had an overall light taste, and the combination of the ingredients (fuji apple, blue cheese, butter lettuce, thin radish slices) makes this a winner. My client, who is a foodie herself, recommended this, and it was a great recommendation that I’d like to pass on.

Pricing Samples (Dinner):

  • I didn’t write down any pricing info while I was there and the web site appears to be down, so I don’t have a lot of info here for now. My entree, the osso bucco, was around $25 if that helps.
  • Starters - $10.50 - 15 (got this from one of my pictures) :)

Best For: Business or Dinner with friends. Town Hall would make a great date, too, but don’t expect quiet romance here.
What to Wear: nice-casual to dressy - business to special occasion
Fave Points: interesting flavor combinations - slightly Southern feel
My Occasion: dinner with clients
My Fave Dish: San Francisco’s Best Hot Chocolate - so decadent and delicious. This dessert is unfortunately only available during cold weather months - Check with restaurant for availability details.

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I was in San Francisco, CA on business and took 2 of my clients out for dinner at a local restaurant they selected - Town Hall . We talked about possibly going to Boulevard but after pulling up and reviewing the menus for both restaurants online, we all decided to stick with the original choice.

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We had a reservation for 5:30 pm, but we arrived a wee bit early and the hostess offered for us to wait at the bar while they prepared our table. We sat at a gigantic table next to the bar (looked like a 14-top) and ordered drinks while we waited. I ordered an Athena - “Veev acai spirit, Eli’s refresher blend of white peach & guava purees, a floater of sparkling wine, lime twist with two brandied cherries.” The drink tasted just as good as it sounded on the menu and the table was ready before I got to finish it.

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The interior of the restaurant had a really rustic-chic feel to it with exposed brick walls and lots of wooden furniture.

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I really liked the one-of-a-kind chandeliers overhead and the big windows that let lots of natural light in.

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At the table - very simple place-settings and table decor.

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The menu had lots of great options and the waitress was helpful in assisting all of us with our orders.

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We received a rustic, wooden container of bread to start the meal.

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Upon recommendation of one of my clients, I tried the butter lettuce salad, which was excellent! I don’t even like blue cheese, and I still absolutely loved this! This salad made blue cheese taste good.

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As we enjoyed our salad and bread, we also enjoyed some great conversation talking about everything from other great restaurants in SF to Casual Carpool - a concept I thought was pretty fascinating and one I’d never heard of in any other city before.

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For my entree, I had the Pork Osso Buco - “Niman Ranch pork osso buco, Anson Mills grits, black trumpet mushrooms, brussels sprouts and a coffee mushroom jus.

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The pork was fall-off-the-bone tender and seasoned very well. I really enjoyed the pork with the grits underneath the meat and the sauce really enhanced the flavors which all went quite splendidly together. I only wish there were more veggies, but at least I got plenty in the salad.

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Dessert was a tough choice altogether. I was torn between the Warm Cornmeal Crepes with Meyer Lemon Curd and San Francisco’s Best Cup of Hot Chocolate. The “San Francisco’s Best” part of the latter option completely intrigued me, and I had to have it. All 3 of us at the table ended up ordering the hot chocolate dessert - it was a real chocolate fest.

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The hot chocolate was like liquid chocolate - so rich, thick, and creamy. I added some of the chantilly cream, which was served on the side, in every other bite. I ate one of the two chocolate cookies that accompanied the hot chocolate and they were nearly as decadent as the drink itself. They were soft, moist, chocolaty, and nice + chewy - just the way I like my cookies. I could only finish half the hot chocolate, but it was worth trying! I don’t know if I’d call it the “best” of San Fran because different people like their hot chocolate served differently, but I was glad to have tried it. Personally, I like mine more on the milky side, but served this thick, the Town Hall version made a better “dessert” than what I’m used to drinking for fun. The cookies and cream really rounded out the dessert to make it extra special.

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At the end of the meal, our bill was delivered in a red book, which I believe I signed (I think there were signatures in there, but my memory is fuzzy now since it’s been a couple months). I thought the book was a unique touch.

Final Dish

Town Hall proved to be the perfect spot for our client dinner. Everyone was happily full by the end of the meal and we were all in great spirits from the delish eats.

If you’re looking for a quiet date night, you may want to look again. For me, Town Hall seemed like a better place to kick back and have fun and maybe even get a little loud. I’m not saying you couldn’t do a date night here…I think you could have a wonderful date night here, too.

As for the menu, I’m actually from the South, so I was surprised to see so many Southern options on the menu, like the Fried Chicken and biscuits. I usually try to eat whatever is special to the destination I’m visiting (and not what is normally, easily accessible), so I shied away from the Fried Chicken, though I did still end up with grits. :) Southern or not, the menu had many wonderful options - especially that dessert menu! I only wish I had enough time to try one of each.

Eclipse Restaurant (Dinner)

The Basics

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Cuisine: American Eclectic
Ambiance: Simple Modern, Relaxing
Address: 5 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94101 (inside the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero)
Neighborhood: Financial District/Embarcadero
Phone: 415.788.1234
Web Site: Click for Site
Must Taste (Dinner):

  • Small Plate: Crab Cakes - ($15) - Delicious mix of lump and dungeness crab cakes - the jicama/corn side is amazingly simple and tasty.

Best For: Travelers, Business
What to Wear: casual to dressy
Fave Point(s): restaurant uses some local ingredients
My Fave Dish: Crab Cakes - I loved everything about this dish - from the crab cakes, to the sauces, to the side of jicama and corn…yum!

Menu pricing and availability subject to change.

My Dish

I was traveling for work to San Francisco, CA from the East Coast and was feeling a bit jet-lagged my first day in Cali. I didn’t feel like going far from my hotel, so I just hit up the Eclipse Restaurant inside the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero .

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I went a bit late and the restaurant was a little empty at the time, which was totally fine with me. The dark lighting helped me relax into dinner and the candles added to the ambiance.

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I had a glass of pinot grigio while I perused the menu. I liked how there were a few references to using local ingredients on the menu. The waitress could tell I wasn’t in any particular rush and gave me plenty of space while still ensuring I wasn’t getting antsy.

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I was pretty full from my dim sum lunch earlier, so I just ordered the Lump and Dungeness Crab Cakes - Sweet Corn - Jicama - Balsamic off the Small Plates menu.

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The crab cakes were amazing - I loved the crispy sides and the creamy inside texture. The flavor was great…

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…and went really well with the accompanying sauces.

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I was really surprised at how much I liked the side dish of jicama and sweet corn - the flavors were so simple and yet went perfectly together. The dish totally inspired to make a mental note to try to make something with jicama in it at home some time.

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Since I was feeling really tired from the jet lag, a cozy dessert sounded really appealing, so I ordered the Ferry Building: Farmers Market Seasonal Fruit Cobbler with Streusel Shortcake. The dessert references the Ferry Building , which is a nearby Farmer’s Market (near by as in across the street).

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After I ordered dessert, the waitress brought me a special dessert spoon and new napkin.

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The cobbler dessert was HUGE! It was also very delicious - especially that streusel topping…mmm.

Final Dish

Eclipse Restaurant was the perfect solution for this weary traveler. Though the menu was a bit small, it was also pretty diverse and had a lot of good options and meal sizes, which should easily accommodate any traveler. I thought the entree prices were a little expensive, but you are in the heart of San Francisco, so most restaurants are pretty pricey here. I found the crab cakes to be a steal at $15, and they were the perfect size for me since I wanted something on the lighter/smaller side.

The wait staff will give you your space if you need it. For me, it was nice to not feel rushed out of the restaurant when I was trying to relax in a new city. I really appreciated the fact that the restaurant tried to use some local ingredients, and I was mostly happy with the food itself - it was wonderful! I’d definitely eat here again.