July 31, 2011

My Perfect Italian Wine Bar

What makes a neighborhood wine bar perfect? Is it the ambiance, the service, the wine, or the food? I am not sure, perhaps it is a balance of these aspects. But, I think I have found my perfect, Italian wine bar.

Located on Carroll Street between 4th and 5th Avenues in Brooklyn is Al Di La Vino. Downstairs for the main trattoria, the wine bar is small, rustic, and romantic. It has simple decor, a relaxed atmosphere, and very good service. And more importantly, it has excellent wine and food.

Before leaving for Brooklyn, I had asked for local wine bar recommendations on Twitter and the author of the Brooklyn Nomad blog suggested this location. (He also suggested a lovely cafe called The Chocolate Room, but more about that at another time.)

When we first walked by Al Di La Vino I thought it was the cutest looking little restaurant. Then I read the name on the yellow awning and realized it was on my list of recommended restaurants - yes, it was the perfect place to go for dinner.

Al Di La Vino is below and around the corner from a larger restaurant, Al Di La Trattoria. Jonathan and I arrived fairly early in the evening but there were already a few people sitting at the bar. We sat down and each ordered a glass of wine and some water and began to peruse the menu. They serve classic - and delicious sounding - Italian fare.

So, what did we eat? I started with a zucchini salad and then had spaghetti with clams; Jonathan had the tripe stew and then risotto. The salad was light and refreshing - thin strips of zucchini with mint, parmesan cheese, and a light dressing. It ideal for a warm summer evening. My spaghetti and clams also delicious! The pasta was cooked so that it was perfectly al dente and dressed in olive oil, white wine, garlic, chili flakes, and parsley. Jonathan enjoyed his tripe stew so much he finished the entire bowl, savoring each bite. The risotto contained cuttlefish, staining the rice black with it’s ink. The flavor was briny and reminiscent of the sea, but a little intense for me. However, it was creamy and perfectly cooked. And, of course, everything paired wonderfully with the wines we tried.

The thing I loved about Al Di La Vino is the fact that it was a perfect balance of romantic ambiance, laid back atmosphere, excellent food and wine, and good service. It is a lovely place to go and enjoy a wonderful meal and relax after a day of work - or exploring the city.

July 24, 2011

Not Your Ordinary Diner

Diner on Broadway in Brooklyn is not your ordinary diner. It is also not your typical trendy restaurant. Located in an old diner building with a classic counter and booths it exudes a feeling of retro chill. There are a few more tables on the sidewalk in warm weather where diners can relax and eat their meal outside.

The perfect beverage for dining outside in the summertime...

The menu at Diner

We arrived just before they were opening for dinner on a Sunday evening. The staff suggested we get a drink at the bar while waiting for the dinner service to begin. When it was time we opted to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather. Our waiter wrote the menu for the day on the paper table covering and gave us details on each dish. We ordered a bottle of rose wine and a fennel salad to share. For entrees I got the halibut and Jonathan went with the pork chop.

The salad was fresh and delicious - shaved fennel with mint, Parmesan cheese, and a tasty baby green I was not familiar with (but it was great). The waiter than brought some house-made duck pâté because he was worried the kitchen was a little slow in preparing our main dishes. (I did not find the pace slow, but being on vacation I was happy to have a leisurely meal.) Of course, Jonathan happily enjoyed the pâté while we related and enjoyed being in Brooklyn.

And soon our entrees arrived. My halibut served a a salad of greens, warm baby potatoes, and grilled squid rings with a wonderful sweet mustard dressing. It was perfectly cooked and wonderfully tasty. Jonathan' pork chop came with onion rings and some slaw that he thoroughly enjoyed. (And even though I am not a fan of onions, I tried an onion ring and it was really good.)

We ended the meal with a quintessential New York dessert - a perfectly creamy and scrumptious cheesecake with fresh strawberries. A perfect end to a lovely meal! This is definitely my favorite Diner anywhere...

July 22, 2011

My 7 Links: Through My Eyes

When I first heard about Tripbase’s My 7 Links Project I thought it was really cool. The goal of the project is to “unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.” So, I was excited when Kathy from Food Lover’s Odyssey nominated me to participate.

But, where to begin?

I began this blog in November 2008 on a trip to the Philippines and Hong Kong as a place to chronicle and share my experiences, thoughts, ideas, opinions, and visions on my first trip to Southeast Asia. My husband is Filipino and our trip was an opportunity for him to share his native country with me.

To me, Southeast Asia was a dizzying and exotic locale. Everything was new - tastes, sights, smells, and experiences. The only grounding aspects to the adventure were family and the hospitality of the Filipino people. And through the trip I blogged. Through words I not only shared my experiences with my readers, but I gained a deeper appreciation for the culture I was visiting.

Since then I have continued to blog and share my travels - both near and far. Here are my 7 links.

1. Most Beautiful: The Museum at Night

When I first thought about this category I decided I must select a photography post. However, it was hard for me to decide which photo deserved this honor. I finally decided to go with my current favorite; however, others I considered were Love on a Wall, In the Middle of the Waves, or Wild West - Wild World.

2. Most Popular: My Favorite Travel Indulgence

This post was in response to The Travel Belles Across the Cafe Table #1 question: What is your secret travel indulgence? When I saw that question I instantly knew what to write about - afternoon tea. It has been a tradition (obsession?) of mine to go to afternoon tea when I travel. I was thrilled to receive a lot of positive response from readers about this post!

3. Most Controversial:  Reflection and Observation

Like Kathy (Food Lover’s Odyssey) who nominated me to participate in this project I am realizing I do not write controversial posts. But, in lieu of a true controversial post, here is what I wrote upon returning from my first visit to Southeast Asia. This post is important to me because I wrote it near the beginning of my journey as a blogger - and I feel where I really found my voice. In addition, it was the post in which I shared my thoughts some of the aspects of Southeast Asia that surprised me - like the numerous advertisements for skin lightening creams.

4. Most Helpful: San Francisco - a Last Few Favorites

When I lived in San Francisco I wrote several posts about my favorite places in the city and this is the last one in I posted before moving to Washington, DC. Here are the links to my other favorites posts from the City by the Bay...

Favorites Around the City - San Francisco Part One
Favorites Around the City - San Francisco Part Two
Favorites Around the City - San Francisco Part Three
San Francisco Favorites - Part Four
San Francisco Favorites - Part Five

Enjoy next time you are in San Francisco!

5. Surprisingly Successful: Eating in Manhattan After Work...

I wrote this post between returning from a brief work trip to New York City and going on vacation. I wanted to share my food-related experiences before getting caught up in the vacation whirlwind of family, friends, and fun.

6. One That Didn't Get the Attention it Deserved: A Trip Across the Border - A Short Visit in Vancouver

While I think this post deserves more attention, I also think the city of Vancouver deserves more of my time. Unfortunately, this short visit is the only time I have been able to spend in this vibrant place. I hope to be able to return again sometime...

7. A post I am most proud of: Visiting Stonehenge and the City of Bath

I had been to London and Manchester many times before this trip, however I had never ventured outside of the city. When my husband Jonathan and I were planning this trip to Europe he insisted on including Stonehenge on our itinerary. And I am glad he did - it was really cool to see this circle of stones in person!

Thank you Kathy for nominating me to participate in this project and spend some time looking back at my journey as a blogger and traveler.

My nominations for the My 7 Links Project are:

The District Chocoholic
Zizi's Adventures
Tales of a Brit Abroad
Starry-Eyed Travels
Good Global Citizen

July 17, 2011

Brunch at Birch and Barley

Since we moved to Washington, DC we have been in search of good place to go for brunch and I have shared several of our experiences here on this blog. Recently this pursuit brought us to Birch and Barley on 14th Street near Logan Circle.

The hostess seated us at the chef’s table in the back of the restaurant. This is a counter with a view of the kitchen so we were able to see the progress of our food after we ordered. And speaking of ordering, I got the huevos rancheros with tea and Jonathan got the corned beef hash with coffee.

The service was very good and our food arrived promptly - and the food was very good. My eggs were served as an omelet with jack cheese and chili sauce. There were some tasty pupusas on the side. Jonathan enjoyed his hash and the tea and coffee were both good as well. Sitting at the chef’s table was fun too! Not only were we able to see our food being created, but we also saw other dishes we want to try on our next visit. (The flatbreads looked good.) Birch and Barley has definitely earned a spot on my favorite brunch places in DC list! (And it’s a very short list...)

July 13, 2011

Across the Cafe Table - Beaches

This month The Travel Belles Across the Cafe Table question asks:


I am going to begin with the where of the question. Of the beaches I have had an opportunity to visit to date, my favorite beach is White Beach on the island of Boracay in the Philippines. (I know there many, many beaches in the world that I have yet to visit, hence the caviot in my previous sentence.) So, my answer to the where of this month’s question is White Beach. I recently wrote about my experience visiting the Philippines - and Boracay specifically - for The Travel Belles, so I will just summarize here. White Beach is my favorite beach because it has sparkling blue waters, soft white sands, and a very shallow slope so you can walk out into the water for a long distance before it becomes deep. (For more about White Beach read my article, Philippine Beach Memories.)

And what would I bring with me to the beach? My husband, of course. He is my favorite traveling companion. And herever I travel, whether to a metropolis or an island oasis, I bring my camera with me. It is impossible to plan or predict picture-perfect moments, so I always like to have my camera just in case...

Here’s to a beautiful day at the beach!

White Beach
Boracay, Philippines
Read blog posts from other Travel Belles about this month's Across the Cafe Table question.

July 10, 2011

Eating in Manhattan After Work...

Whenever I travel to New York City - whether for business or leisure - food is always a highlight of the trip. New York is such a diverse city it has a plethora of good restaurants, cafes, and shops serving food from all over the world.

This year I spent nine days in New York City between the beginning of June and the beginning of July. The majority of that time was for fun - visiting friends and vacation - however a portion of it was to attend a conference for my day job (marketing and social media). During those few days I spent my days inside an auditorium and then enthusiastically hit the streets in the evenings.

On this particular trip I stayed at the Pod Hotel. Converted from a former hostel, this hotel has very small rooms (some with shared bathrooms and some ensuite) and a cool vibe. I loved my little room (or pad as the hotel referred to it); but I was relieved to be traveling alone on this trip. (Of course I missed having Jonathan - my husband and travel companion - with me but my pod was so small I cannot imagine how fit two people and two suitcases could fit in the space.)

Croissant and hot chocolate
at the Pod Hotel Cafe

So, where did I go when I was not working or sleeping in my pod? Most of the mornings I began my day at the Pod Hotel Cafe with a pastry and hot chocolate. (Another plus of this hotel is their cafe serves pastries from Balthazar and other popular New York City bakeries.) In addition to the wonderful pastries the cafe serves Guittard hot chocolate, which is one of my favorite pre-mixed hot chocolate blends. One morning I did venture out onto the street for breakfast. My conference was on the Upper West Side at the 92nd Street Y, so I decided to look for a cafe in that neighborhood. I ended up at a small bakery on Lexington Avenue called Corrado Bread and Pastry Cafe. The cute shop has a few tables along East 90th Street where I sat and enjoyed my breakfast. I have to admit - the croissant and hot chocolate where not as good as at the Pod Hotel Cafe, but I enjoyed watching the morning street scene.

After spending the whole day inside listening, learning, and speaking it was exhilarating to be out on the street in the evenings. One evening I stayed close to my hotel and wandered around the Midtown East neighborhood. While this area is within a short walk of Midtown, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square it has a very different vibe. 3rd Avenue is lined with small local restaurants where people meet after work, not the neon of large chains filled with hungry tourists. I decided to have a glass of wine and some cheese at La Cava. It was crowded, but I found a seat near the back and placed my order. The first thing I noticed when I sat down was that the atmosphere in this wine bar was very different than what I would expect in Washington DC. It was abuzz with energy and excitement - an instant reminder that I was in Manhattan. My Cote du Rhone and cheese plate arrived promptly and I enjoyed my dinner while taking in the scene.

One evening later in the week I had enough time to venture further from my hotel. So, I took the subway downtown to the Lower East Side. First I wandered up and down the streets checking out the restaurants, cafes, and shops. This neighborhood is home to new fashionable cafes and establishments that have withstood the test of time, like Katz Deli.

After exploring the neighborhood for a while I decided to have dinner at Bruschetteria on Rivington Street. This tiny cafe has only eight tables inside and a small bench outside. I ordered a glass of Nero de Avola, bruschetta with ricotta, black pepper, and truffle, and a green salad. The bruschetta was served make-your-own style with the topping in a bowl and the bread on the side. The food was very good - a perfect relaxing dinner!

Salad and bruschetta
at Bruschetteria

To end the evening I stopped by Cocoa Bar for a chocolate treat to reward myself after a long work week...

Chocolate marzipan cake
at Cocoa Bar

July 6, 2011

Visiting Chelsea Market Again...

I have always loved markets - and especially gourmet markets. In San Francisco there is the Ferry Building Market Place, in Seattle there is Pike’s Place Market, in Washington DC there is Eastern Market, and Chelsea Market is in New York City.

Whenever I am in New York, I try to make it to Chelsea Market to browse, have lunch, and have a hot chocolate at Jacques Torres. So after spending a weekend in the city visiting friends, my aunt and I dragged our rollerboards down to Chelsea to have lunch and buy snacks for our bus ride back to Washington, DC.

For lunch we decided to eat at The Green Table. This is a sustainable farm-to-table restaurant and wine bar tucked into the hubhub or Chelsea Market. After stashing our suitcases next to the wall we were seated at a table and given menus. One potential positive or negative aspect to The Green Table is the atmosphere is very relaxed. (In other words, this is not the place to come for a quick bite. But, that makes it a lovely reprieve from the bustle of the rest of the market.)

Grilled cheese sandwich and soup
at the Green Table

Both my aunt and I decided to get a grilled cheese sandwich and soup. The soup that day was crawfish bisque, which was more of a broth but was very good. And the sandwich was perfect - delicious crusty bread, sharp cheddar cheese, and chutney all toasted together. It was a great, relaxing lunch!

After lunch we went to Lucy’s Whey to get some cheese and sandwiches to eat on the bus ride home. This little cheese shop has a wonderful selection of cheeses and ready made sandwiches. Before leaving the market - and New York City - we went to Jacques Torres. I ordered a hot chocolate while my aunt shopped for gifts to bring back to DC. The hot chocolate here - and at other Jacques Torres shops around the city - is the richest hot chocolate I have had outside of Europe. It is fantastic - like drinking molten chocolate. A perfect way to end a trip to New York!

July 3, 2011

Tamarind in New York

Five years ago my aunt and I took a girls trip to New York City for the first time. On that trip we spent a week wandering the city streets, shopping, and, of course, eating. One of the most memorable meals back then was at Tabla near Madison Square Park. This restaurant served elegant Indian food in fashionable environment.

Earlier this month my aunt and I headed back to New York City for another girls trip. Our itinerary this time around included visiting a friend, shopping, and, naturally, eating. Unfortunately, Tabla is now closed, so my aunt suggested we go to Tamarind. She had dined there in the past and said that if I liked Tabla I would also enjoy Tamarind.

So, at the end of our SoHo shopping spree we hopped in a cab and headed uptown to the Flatiron neighborhood. Soon we were sitting at our table at Tamarind studying the menu. And I mean studying! There were so many wonderful sounding dishes. We selected an appetizer, two entrees, and some wine to share.

Before I begin talking about the food I want to about the service. From the time we arrived at the restaurant until we walked out the door the service was impeccable. They take the service part of fine dining very seriously and it was a delight.

But, back to food... After our wine arrive we did not have to wait long for our appetizer. We got raj-kachori which looked like a small round pillow of thin, crispy dough. Inside there were chickpeas, yogurt, tamarind sauce, and spices. It was spicy, but not overpowering and delicious. For entrees we ordered the tandoori grilled lobster and shrimp caldin (served with a spicy coconut sauce). We shared both dishes and enjoy (and finished) everything. With the entrees we got a whole wheat paratha bread that also great.

Of course after such a wonderful meal, we had to try dessert. Everything on the menu sounded wonderful, but we settled on gulab jamun. (We also ordered some dessert wine too.) The gulab jamun was delicious - warm pastries in a honey sauce. (And the wine was good too.) It was a perfect end to an elegant meal!

I did not enjoy dinner at Tamarind as much as I had enjoyed dinner at Tabla - I enjoyed Tamarind more!