Category Archives: Food

Trader Joe’s Brands Uncovered

Even though I am cleansing my body and soul of packaged products, I have to admit there are still a few things I purchase from Trader Joe’s.  In my ongoing quest to a) know more about what is going in my body, b) know more about where my food is coming from and c) save money, I’ve decided to find out more about the products labeled under the Trader Joe’s brand.

Trader Joe’s is a privately held company and not required to divulge their suppliers.  They buy from high quality third-party suppliers and repackage the product for their own customers.  The product is then sold at a lower price to the consumer because of the larger scale of production.  Often, the packaging looks extremely similar to the original products and they are sometimes even sold side by side.

When I developed an incurable addiction to Strauss European Style Yogurt, I remembered reading the rumor that Strauss Family Creamery

Image found here.

supplied Trader Joe’s with their branded European Style Yogurt.  As the Trader Joe’s version of the yogurt is $2.50 when the Strauss version runs about twice that, I thought if I could confirm this hunch I could save $2.50 a week, $10 a month and about $120 a year. I also wanted to make sure my hard earned cash wasn’t going to support any companies I don’t believe in and try to avoid (including Coca -Cola).  My childhood addiction to Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books convinced me I had the investigative skills necessary to figure this mystery out.

I started by going to my favorite Trader Joe’s items and checking the ingredients against those products I suspected it matched.  I trolled message boards, asked friends to taste test and did some extensive google research on suspected doppelgängers.

This list is hardly exhaustive so please let me know in the comments what I am missing!  I plan to keep this as a regular, updated feature and include a price savings from the original product and Trader Joe’s branded item.  For a printable list, click here.

Trader Joe’s Branded Product Supplier Branded Product
Trader Joe’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Callebaut Chocolate
TJ’s White Baking Chips Guittard  Baking Chips
Trader Joe’s Vienna Style Lager Gordon Biersch Marzen
Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale Unibroue
Trader Joe’s Mission St. Pale Ale Firestone Walker
Trader Joe’s Mission St.IPA Firestone Walker
Trader Jose Beer Tecate Brewery
Trader Jo’es Bottled Water Poland Springs
Trader Joe’s Sprouted Wheat Bread Alvarado Street Bakery
Trader Joe’s Newton’s Folly Cider Woodchuck Cider
Trader Joe’s Granny Smith Woodchuck Cider
Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing Annie’s Naturals
Trader Joe’s Organic Ranch Dressing Earth Island Products
Trader Joe San’s Soyaki Soy Vay’s Veri Veri Teriyaki
Trader Joe’s European style Yogurt Strauss Family Creamery
Trader Joe’s Indian food Tasty Bite
Trader Joe’s Shells and Cheese Annie’s Homegrown
Trader Joe’s Frozen Spinach pizza Amy’s Kitchen
Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough Il Fornaio
Trader Joe’s Pita Chips Stacy’s Pita Chips
Trader Joe’s Pure Butter Shortbread Walker’s Shortbread
TJ’s Veggie Sticks Potato Snacks Good Health Natural Foods Veggie Stix
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Filed under Beer, Finance, Food, Grocery shopping, Lifestyle, Trader Joe's, Uncategorized

Planning a Budget Honeymoon: Affordable Luxury

Once we bought our tickets and knew the beginning and end of our honeymoon trip, we got to work on the destinations.  In looking at the map, it seemed like the best route was to stay in Cancun a few days, cross into Belize and go down to the Cayes before heading into Belizean jungle, going over to Tikkal and ending up in Antigua, Guatemala. It kind of looked like this: Roem really wanted a nice hotel room for our first few nights so I researched Cancun and was just really hesitant to stay there after reading about the touristy

Our first night in Playa del Carmen at the Casa Ticul.

nature of the area.  We decided to stay right outside of Cancun in Playa del Carmen and booked a 4 star hotel room  for about $110 on Expedia.  Our room was at Casa Ticul, a well appointed, adults-only boutique hotel that was well situated to the beach, restaurants and shopping.  It is highly rated on tripadvisor, which is our go to travel review website and we felt pretty confident that our budget accommodations would be luxurious and relaxing.

The next leg of the trip was traveling from Playa del Carmen to a destination in the Belizean Cayes.  We knew the pricey flight from Cancun to Belize City was out, but Roem was resistant to taking a long dusty bus ride that would eat into our limited vacation time.  We decided to avoid a 12 hour trip to Belize City and instead take a bus to the border town of Corozal before taking the early morning ferry to the Cayes the next day.  We chose Corozal instead of the more popular crossing at Chetumal, because most reviews seemed to agree that Corozal was a charming little town with better accommodations.  We both decided that the night’s hotel would be a budget accommodation and we chose the Mirador Hotel for its convenient location and small price tag of $40.

As for the Belizean Cayes, we had heard Ambergris Caye was beautiful, but we were craving a more off the beaten path destination for our honeymoon.  A friend of mine had traveled to Caye Caulker a few years ago and raved about this secluded, sleepy village.  I did some reading on the wikitravel site and was

Reading from a hammock on our balcony in Caye Caulker.

bewitched by the description of Caye Caulker as “popular with backpackers and budget travelers for its (relatively) cheap prices, laid-back vibe, and abundance of restaurants and bars.”  I had also heard there was a popular bakery on the island that baked fresh cinnamon rolls each morning and that lobster was reasonably priced in July, so that sealed the deal for both of us.

There are very few hotels on Caye Caulker and the one that stood out to us right away was the Seaside Cabanas for its laid back vibe, beautiful rooms and excellent reviews.  Because we saved money on our room in Corozal, we could afford the $125 price tag for three nights.  Caye Caulker was also said to have more affordable dining and recreation options, so we knew our budget would go further by staying there than one of the more pricier islands.  A comparable room in Ambegris Caye would have cost us about 60% more so we ended up with more money to put into our beer fund.

To get back onto the mainland from the Cayes, we had to take a ferry to Belize City and then another bus to our destination in the Cayo Region of Belize.  For this stop, I had dreams of a romantic hidden property that would be cut off from the rest of the world where we could enjoy each other and have some amazing food.  It was only a short search until I found the place that fit the bill and I knew I had to find money in the budget to stay at Table Rock Lodge.  The website described

Roem taking a walk at Table Rock.

Table Rock as “a sustainable lodge in a canopied rainforest setting unlike any other in the Cayo District of Belize” and it looked like the ultimate honeymoon destination.  It was about a half an hour from the main town so all-inclusive meal options were available and every review raved about the quality of the food.  There were a few other lodges that looked beautiful so I waffled on this decision for a few days but ultimately went with Table Rock Lodge because of their timely email responses and exceptional customer service.  We booked the Aracari Room for $95.00 a night and added the breakfast and dinner option for $29.00 a person.  A full review will come in a later post but if you are considering traveling to this area of the world at all, please book a few nights at Table Rock.  It was easily the highlight of our entire trip.

Upon leaving the Cayo District, we planned on heading into Guatemala to tour the Tikal ruins.  There are only two options near Tikal and both get average reviews and tend to be pricey.  We booked a room at a budget hotel in a good location called Hotel Santana because there really wasn’t one a stellar option in our price range.  The Hotel Santana was $50 and we figured our room would only be used to sleep in considering the main objective in Flores, Guatemala was to see the ruins.

Our inexpensive hotel in Flores, left us with a little extra money for the last few nights of our honeymoon in Antigua.  We were both really excited to end our trip in Antigua as we’d heard it was a magnificent city with lots of attractions.  We decided to leave our accommodations open and gauge our budget a few days ahead of time before we booked a hotel.  We did not know at the time that we were visiting this ancient town during a religious festival and most hotels had been booked for weeks.  This led to an experience that included one of the worst hostel rooms in my entire life and one of the most beautiful hotel rooms I have ever stayed in.  More on that experience in our next installment of the Booking An Affordable Honeymoon.

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Filed under Beer, Belize, Finance, Food, Guatemala, Honeymoon, Lifestyle, Marriage, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized

South By South…What Just Happened?!

 

I’m sitting in the Austin airport after a wild week of music, more music, brisket and beer. (With a side of music.) Yes, folks… I “did” South by Southwest. What is SXSW, you ask?

Well… in short, it’s city wide film, technology and music festival and conference in Austin, Texas.

The first week is for independent film, the second for technology innovators and

startups, and the third week for independent and upcoming musicians… well, sorta.  Not just.  The last week of SXSW is how it all started and so the draw for music week is the most compelling, I would say.  So compelling in fact that anyone and everyone that has even so much as pressed play on an iPod shows up.  And every single place is a music venue.  Houses, corners, even elevators.  I’m not kidding.

It is a beast of a music festival, if you can even call it that, and it’s an event I’ll never miss after this one. How I’m saying that after sleeping so little and the fresh hum of guitar amps still ringing in my ears?  It’s hard to explain.  I can only attest to the energy around here. People are buzzing still, after non stop music 20 hours a day for a week.  The paint still hasn’t dried on some of the venues that were painted, rebranded and reinvented for SXSW.  Needless to say, for Austin, SXSW is a VERY BIG DEAL.

And here at the airport, flights are delayed. People are updating their Facebook status’ with “I made it through SXSZzzz.”Everyone is tired. Or hungover.  (Mostly both.) Everyone has raccoon eye tan lines.  And a guitar strapped to their back like a Baby Bjorns at a Lamaze convention.  I just realized that I have been walking around with BBQ sauce smeared on my tight jeans by seeing it on someone else.  And I don’t care.  It was delicious.  There are arms tattooed in multicolored, crunched paper bracelets from VIP parties and uber exclusive secret shows and unannounced mayhem at 4am where P-Diddy sang karoake and Kanye healed the sick. It was epic. It was also somehow, in all this craziness it manages to be special. Dare I say, intimate. Maybe it’s southern hospitality, the sweet drawl and manners, or simply too many Shiner Bocks, but Austin, in all her Lady Gaga-Madness managed to charm me.

  • Foodtrucks sell Migas

Austinites love tacos. And they love that they love tacos. And they want you to love tacos too. My first night in Austin after landing was spent in a Mexican food joint with my cousin Kalyn on the outskirts of town eating “Migas” tacos and waffles, while drinking cold Negro Modelo. Not a bad start to the week, if you ask me.

Migas is a breakfast taco, essentially, my local tour guide informed me.  And since I’m not the Food Editor of this blog (or any blog, unless, if by “editor” you mean, “Nomnomnom…”, then yes, I “edit.”) so I’ll not wax poetic about the flavors, but they’re good. Eggy, peppery, veggie-y, good. I give them 3 out of 4 Nomnomnoms.

You’ll quickly notice upon arrival that Austin is a hotbed for foodtrucks. They’re EVERYWHERE. The locals call the gathering of foodtrucks “trailer parks” (probably because most of them are fat little mod’d airstreams) and when they gather, wagons circled in a little powwow, they deliver delicious foodie creations ranging from cupcakes to snowcones, paninis, crepes, waffle tacos, korean tacos, brisket tacos, breakfast tacos, and also… yes, you guessed it. Pizza.

  • Beers of Austin

There are some very proud brewers in Austin. And rightly so.  I could go on and on about all the fabulous beers I tried, and probably will in a future post, but let me make 2 recommendations.

Drink a Shiner. It’s the unnofficial “good” beer of Texas (I’m not much for the fizzy yellow stuff), and it tastes better there than it does imported to your local corner store.  I have no scientific evidence to support this, but if we had enough of them, I’m sure I could convince you.

Go to The Ginger Man. If you’re a brewer or a fan of strong interesting beers, you’ve got to check this place out.  They’ve got everything and are quick to show you to the Texas Micro-brews if you ask, which I like.  A little local pride. The staff is very nice and drunk informed, and will make sure you get a cab find something delicious for you to try.

Now, to be honest, this is really just the tip of the iceberg for how many thousands of shows and activities that went on over the week at SXSW.  But you simply can’t make them all.  (I barely made my own show.)  Some more advice?

  • Book Hotels EARLY

If you can book it a year in advance, great.  We booked ours a couple of months early when I booked the gig.  I recommend it.  We grabbed our comfy 2 bed La Quinta Inn room just a few minutes from downtown and took one convenient public bus right into the heart of the action.  Bus tickets are $1 each way or $2 for the whole day.  That’s a no-brainer for WPP. And busses run till 2am during SXSW.  Holla!

Also, when you get there, go with the flow.  Find friends.  People are nice there.  Don’t rush.  There’s so much to see in Austin.  I fell into an early trap of trying to make this huge schedule with times, and shows, and bands, and parties, and sharing that document with the entire world, whew.  I’m tired just trying to wrap my head around what a mess that would have been.  Luckily these guys did a much better job, and it helped.  But spontaneity is really where the fun is at SX.

  • Don’t Forget H2O!

Get yourself a foldable water bottle.  (I know.  Why didn’t I invent that?!)  They’re genius, can fit in a man-purse (what?) and will keep you from falling down and going boom.  Not to mention, the oows and aws when you open that baby up.  Oh man…  I’m gonna go drink out of mine right now.

(Oh, and don’t forget the flush-able baby wipes!  Amber scoffs, but just trust me on this one.)


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Filed under Austin, Beer, Food, Music, SXSW, Tacos, Travel

Bigger is better: Buying in Bulk

Until fairly recently, I did all my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s.  At first I would just go there for a few specialty items.  Then I slowly realized that my nearest Safeway sojourns were netting me fewer and fewer items and most of my time was spend wandering the aisles, marveling at Trader Joe’s products.  I swiftly converted and did all my shopping there; grabbing my basics first and always throwing a few new curiosities into the cart.  I discovered frozen garlic naan that tasted homemade, unsweetened, dried mango that tasted like candy and marinated cannellini beans.  For years, I was content to wander, a tad self righteously, through TJ’s, picking out high quality items at affordable prices.

We don't need to add anything to this.

It was then that I began to notice how much waste our little family of two was throwing away.  At first I ignored it, I mean we were eating healthy! whole! foods!  But I had a sneaking suspicion that even though my frozen black bean and corn enchiladas were delicious they would probably be healthier and better for the environment if I made them myself.  So a few months ago, I made a commitment to cut down on packaged foods by 50 percent, including the whole foods I regularly purchased in packaging.  Because I really didn’t need the extra guilt that came with the shrink wrapped bok choy, bagged apples and microwavable butternut squash when I was trying to do the right thing..

Now your eyes may be glossing over right about now because this is sounding way too hippie for you to even consider implementing.  I’m not relying on the environmental concerns alone to sway you, because that wouldn’t work for me either.  Here at WPP we are always concerned about the environment and healthy eating, but the bottom line is it needs to be budget friendly  So I will add that it’s possible to cut your food budget in half by reducing your packaged foods.

Eliminating packaged produce was actually a welcome relief considering Trader Joe’s is a wonderful store but really has average vegetables and disappointing fruits.  We switched to a CSA called Farm Fresh to You and although my fantasies of farm visits have yet to materialize, we are very happy with the service.  We receive the medium regular basket every other week and that seems to fit our needs well and the produce is exponentially better than TJ’s even with the odd bruised or damaged item.  The best part is there is no wait list, you can opt out of those items you don’t care for and they deliver to your house.  It’s a little more expensive than other services but considering the WPP household is car-lessfree it is really convenient.

We cannot live on fruits and veggies alone so we also venture out every few weeks to the utopian wonderland known as Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.   Let’s just say it’s a really good thing that I am on borrowed Zipcar time there because  I could easily spend a whole day in what I’ve dubbed “Adult Disneyland”.   And as it’s a workers’ co-op, it’s owned by the employees so you are supporting a business that is fair and equitable.  Not sure about you, but that just makes everything taste better to me.

A usual trip will find me starting out in the spice aisle and refilling my reusable spice jars, coffee tins and tea cans.  If you love to cook or bake you will be astounded at the variety of flours, (gluten-free and regular) sugars, cereals and pasta in the bulk area.  If you aren’t in San Francisco and you want to try shopping in bulk, make sure the place you are visiting has high turnover and seems to do brisk business.  No one wants the forgotten, weeks-old granola thats been sitting in the bin forever.

Some items you should always buy in bulk are spices, beans, grains and cereals.  Spices are significantly cheaper in bulk and you can try a variety of exotic blends that will make your food taste better.  Now is the time to get a little bit of smoked paprika and hickory salt which will only set you back a few dollars and really improve the flavor of your food.  When buying in bulk, you just get the amount you need, saving you from the unfortunate discovery of the dill seed you needed for a recipe three years later for a recipe, that now has gone rancid.

If you love to bake or are following a gluten free diet, then shopping in bulk is a good fit for you.  You have access to high gluten flour for bagel making, chickpea flour to try that new recipe for socca or a gluten-free version of yogurt cake with almond flour, without committing to an entire bag that could go bad.  I purchase my cereal and granola in bulk and transfer directly to my oxo containers at the store.  Don’t miss out on the dried pasta aisle for some whole wheat pasta, rigatoni for a meat based sauce, and throw in some orecchietta just because it is  so cute.

If you love food and are trying to improve the way your dishes taste, switch to dried beas immediately  Not only do they taste SO much better, they are cheaper, healthier, and take up less space.  The selection you have when buying dried beans in seemingly endless and you can cook up your own heritage varieties like the Rancho Gordo.  Not only do they taste better, they are so easy to make.  All it takes is an overnight soak and some extended cooking for dried beans to come into their own.  I always soak at least a double batch and put half my cooked beans in the freezer.  That way I can whip up a quick chili or hummus whenever the mood strike,  Beans are a budget shopper’s dream and I implore you to give up on those cans with their mushy product and extra sodium immediately.  I promise you will never go back.

You can refill everything from your peanut butter jar, soy sauce bottle and shampoo container.  That’s right, even your personal products can be refilled at the co-op for much less than those costly salon bottles.  While you are there, make sure to pick up some Strauss Whole Milk Yogurt and organic beer after hitting the exceptional cheese department that is truly a foodie’s dream.  It’s also a great place to get rennet if you are interested in making cheese or raw milk if you’ve never tried it.

Don’t be intimated if this is your first trip to the bulk bin or food co-op.  My first time, I was nervous they would spot me as an imposter as soon as I entered the line with my shameful disposable bags.  Just remember, you are making the first step and going much further than most people do.   Next time, just bring your own containers and weigh them ahead of time when it’s empty.  Record the weight on a sticker at the bottom and fill with you desired product.   This is called the tare weight and will be subtracted from your final purchase.

See that’s not so hard!  Just beware that these little changes will slowly begin to change you and before you know it, you’ll be proselytizing too.  Your food will taste better,  your impact on the planet will decrease and you’ll be saving money on your monthly food bill.  I’m not asking you to create your own dairy products or bake your own bread, but I bet that’s not too far off.  Embrace your inner hippie!

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Filed under Family, Finance, Finance, Food, Lifestyle, San Francisco, Uncategorized

How to Eat Your Way Through Seattle: Part 1

Every time I want to go somewhere I add the destination to my Airfarewatchdog feed and wait until the next deal pops up.  As this past weekend lasted a full three days, I knew I wanted to take a trip somewhere and Portland was near the top of my list, mostly because I spend way too much time on this site.  The sheer number of amazing breweries and other beer related experiences is ridiculously awesome.  The problem was tickets for President’s Day weekend were $300+ and there is no way this bargain traveler could justify that, even for beer.  Instead I noticed a ridiculously amazing deal for tickets to Seattle for $110 round trip and I began dreaming of coffee, rain and flying fish.

Roem’s been busy recording his album which means I see his inert form before I go to work and hear his key in the door at some insane time in the wee hours of the morning.  My dreams of a romantic weekend away were dashed after

The Vintage Park Hotel is a great place to stay despite the fact they stock leopard print robes and name each room after a Washington Vineyard.

looking at his production schedule before SXSW, so I shelved my plans after some minimal pouting.  But I just couldn’t let it go completely and I continued to check the flight schedule, incredulous that the tickets remained insanely cheap.  Finally about two weeks ago, I convinced my sister to join me on a girls’ weekend away after a few homebrews.  We also persuaded BFF Courtney to come along and booked our ticket along with a 4 star hotel on Priceline we scored with an $85 bid.

Friday night we got into Seattle around 11:30 pm and easily made our way to the hotel via the Link which cost us about $2 each.  Seattle has us at hello with its clean, reliable and cheap mass transit.  We ended up taking the bus and monorail all weekend and I have nothing but positive reviews for the system.  Cabs are pretty cheap so if it’s freezing and/or raining it’s definitely a worthwhile splurge but we were able to cover diverse areas of the city on the bus for around $10 for three days.  We were also lucky enough to have beautiful weather and comfortable shoes, so getting around was easy on the budget.

Saturday morning we started our day off with a recommendation from the doormen at the hotel.  I rarely trust concierage advice on the must see destinations in any city because I prefer off the beaten path attractions and they are usually catering to a different clientele.  The guys chatting us up in the lobby were young and opioniated with definite ideas on what we should see our first hours in Seattle.  They shot down our plan to visit a local coffee chain and directed us instead to Stumpstown Coffee in Capitol Hill and advised us to then head over to Cafe Presse next door for breakfast.

As seasoned urban walkers, we took on the challenge of a 30 minute walk with bravado.  By the time we reached Stumpstown we were freezing and in need of major caffeine.  The coffee there is ridiculously good.  April and I opted for the individual, Chemex brewed, single origin coffee, while Courtney ordered an iced latte.   I tried the Burundi brew sourced from West Africa and it was a medium bodied roast with a rich mouthfeel and lots of body.  Courtney claimed her latte was the best she had ever had and as a former barista, the woman knows her coffee.  Stumpstown Coffee also has locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn so those may on my next travel itinerary.

After we were foritfied with caffeine, we headed to Cafe Presse for some much needed sustenance.  Committed to

Eating our meal took precedent over taking pictures, but you get the idea.

sampling as much food as possible during our short trip, we opted to split most meals three ways.  This was logistically challenging at times but guaranteed we were able to try an outrageous variety of food without being completely glutonous.  For breakfast we ordered two eggs broiled with ham and gruyere, a croque monsieur and pain au chocolate.  The broiled eggs were perfectly cooked and delicious in their simplicity.  The croque monsieur had lovely caramelized bits on the broiled, creamy bechamel sauce while still maintaining the  integrity of the bread and was the perfect foil for the salty ham with the sharp, creamy cheese.  The pain au chocolate was high quality, bittersweet chocolate on a crunchy baguette that was pure heaven with the medium bodied drip coffee from Caffe Vita.

After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with our friend Emily, a recent transplant to Tacoma from the Bay Area.  She took us through the Pike Market and we snapped the obligatory pictures of the sights.  I’m not going to say the market is overrated, but I probably wouldn’t tour it again on a Saturday.  After the market, Courtney used her librarian skills to take us on a tour of the Public Library and it was a perfect diversion from the nonstop eating with an amazing view on the 10th floor.

When Rick (my brother in law) suggested we head to Serious Pie for lunch, we decided to dive right in.  If you go anywhere in Seattle, please make it Serious Pie and order the Yukon Gold Potato, Rosemary and Pecorino pizza.  The crust is perfectly thin with good charring and the toppings were well seasoned and flavorful.  We also tried the pizza with sweet fennel sausage, roasted peppers and provolone and the rich, well devleoped toppings were heaven on that crust.  If you do visit Serious Pie, do me a favor and order the yellowfoot chanterelle and truffle pizza, as it smelled ridiculously good and just sounds like Seattle to me.

April and I had the Schooner Exact King St. Brown Ale while Emily and Courtney went for the Spire Mountain Cider. The Schooner Brown Ale is a medium bodied, brown ale with nice caramel notes and a balanced hop aroma.  The Spire Mountain Cider poured a beautiful liquid gold color, and tasted rendolent of crisp, sweet apples balanced with dry acidity and medium carbonation.  It was so good, I have a cider fermenting in my primary right now trying to reproduce that perfect balance.

Our hotel offered a complimentary wine tasting, so we finished up our day with some wine by the fireplace followed with a rest before dinner.  We decided to again take Rick’s advice and head to Bathtub Gin and Co. in Belltown for an illicit cocktail in a speakeasy behind an unmarked door.  A group of guys graciously offered us the open seats at the bar and we had some of the most delicious, expertly made drinks I have had the pleasure of drinking.  They were every bit as good as Bourbon and Branch but about half the price.  Between the well mannered men, strong cocktails and affordable luxuries, I was swiftly becoming a huge fan of Seattle.

We headed from Bellmont back to Capitol Hill for dinner at a popular gastropub called Quinn’s.  After learning there was an hour wait, we skipped Quinn’s and went a few blocks up to Boom Noodles as we were all starving.  We started with the five spice pork buns and all ordered bowls of steaming noodles.   All the dishes we tried were good but none were outstanding.   I had the pork ramen and it was better than some bowls I’ve tried in San Francisco, but not better than my go to spot, Genki Ramen.  It did fortify us after the strong cocktails and we really didn’t have any complaints.  Full, drowsy and satisfied we headed back to the hotel and introduced Courtney to the TV show/train wreck known as Cheaters.

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Filed under Airline Travel, Beer, Food, Lifestyle, Seattle, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine

WPP Do Not Miss: Caseros Restaurant

Have you ever walked into a place and instantly felt like you just belonged there?  All of the decor, the vibe, everything just meshed with your soul and you could happily live forever in this restaurant/market/club/bathroom?  While planning our wedding I had this vision of what I wanted the room to feel like and it took months to get to the place where I could visualize it.  Halfway across the world in Argentina, I walk in to the restaurant named Caseros and I was home.

We had a lot of amazing food in wonderfully atmospheric restaurants during our stay in Argentina.  But Caseros was special.  From the gorgeous antiques artfully displayed in the kitchen window, to the bowls of brightly colored fruits and vegetables on the tables, I was head over heels.  I admit to being so inspired by the decor that I constantly refer to it when choosing paint colors, pieces of furniture and outfits.

Enough gushing let me show you what I mean.

The front patio of the restaurant located at Av. Caseros 486, San Telmo.

The inside of the restaurant is full of whitewashed furniture with pops of richly hued green and dusky blue.  It’s spare design focuses the eye on the exquisite textures and layers within the negative space.

Note the rich contrast of peppers in one bowl and apples in another used as centerpieces.

Have I mentioned that it is nearly impossible to get really good bread in Argentina?  Most of what is served on the table looks like day old, stale hot dog buns.  It’s really a shame considering the butter is sinfully delicious.  If you only went to Caseros to try their crusty, richly perfumed, perfectly baked bread and rich unsalted butter, it would be well worth it.

For lunch, Caseros offers a menu ejecutivo which consists of a beverage, salad, entrée (usually consisting of a choice between meat and fish), and a coffee for only 40 pesos or $10 US.  No need for a menu, just order one of each from the menu ejecutivo and go with the mint lemonade to drink.  Trust me, it looks like pond water but is equal parts refreshing, tart and sweet.

Our salad consisted of baby arugula, thinly shaved carrots and zucchini, and shaved Parmesan dressed lightly with a buttery olive oil vinaigrette.  It was the perfect marriage of crunchy, fresh vegetables,  spicy arugula and salty, creamy cheese.  The vinaigrette was so good we  were taking finger swipes off the empty plate and still swooning after the salad was long gone.  It’s amazing how something so simple can be so delicious.  The salad was actually bigger than pictured but we forgot to take a picture until we had already devoured a few bites.

When we first heard the choice of fish or chicken for the entrée, Roem and I briefly considered having the same dish.  We had been told the fish was amazing but I absolutely insisted we have seperate orders, so Roem ended up with the chicken.  Don’t feel too bad for him, because the chicken was declared the winner in the entrée smackdown.  it was lightly pan fried, richly flavored with crushed garlic, salt and herbs with crispy, perfectly cooked potaotes on the side.  The fish was also lovely with a light, ephemeral breading that literally melted in your mouth and perfectly paired with roasted root vegetables.  You’ll notice we didn’t capture one image of this feast because we were swooning over the food and didn’t remember the camera (or our own names) until our plates were clean.

After our plates were whisked away, we were brought two beautifully plated coffees with little caramel cookies and a small glass of seltzer water.  This simply elegant presentation echoed the entire experience at this wonderful restaurant.  The bitter, perfectly pulled coffee was enhanced by the rich caramel in the cookie.

The coffee was a perfect ending to our meal, but we threw caution to the wind and ordered up a dessert to share.  I simply turned around and saw several people around me digging into a dense, pudding-like dessert.  I gestured to my neighbor and asked for one of those, por favor.  It turned out to be rice pudding that was perfectly cooked and lightly sweetened, topped with carmelized almonds.

Tormented by the fact that we had discovered this restaurant so late into our stay, we made plans to come back on our last day in Buenos Aires.  Our second meal lived up to every heightened, exaggerated memory of the first.  We definitely recommend Caseros restaurant in San Telmo for your stay in Buenos Aires.

 

 

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Food, San Telmo, Uncategorized

Please accept this apology.

Do you ever have a nagging sense you are missing something as you move through your day?  It’s right there on the edge of your brain and it flits away just when you can almost reach it.  I’m a big believer in celebrations for pretty much anything so it was shocking when I finally looked at the calendar and realized it was our big 6 MONTH anniversary.  We made it all these months and are still going strong!

I confidently texted my beloved to let him know of the auspicious date and his reply stopped me in my tracks.  “Yup.  Already made reservations at A16 for tonight.”  Uh what!?  Let’s just say my husband is not known for remembering dates, names, conversations or what he ate for breakfast.  In fact, he reasoned this should be one point in his favor when he “inevitably forgets a birthday or two in the future.”  Good thing I mark his calendar to avoid that cataclysmic event.

To cover my burning shame I decided to take issue with the restaurant choice.  I had been there before and remembered it was “just okay”.  It was “loud” and tasted “ordinary”.  My husband asked me where I wanted to go.  I wasn’t sure.  Maybe just somewhere causal.  But it was a “special” occasion so maybe we should try one of those of those restaurants we always wanted to try but could  never seem to find the time?  Except I couldn’t remember any of them.  (Note to self: make a spreadsheet to avoid this unfortunate situation again.)  So I grudgingly agreed to relinquish control and head to A16.

Oh am I glad we did.

We started off with two glasses of wine at the bar while we waited for our table.  The wine list is fabulous and has many hard to find Italian wines not widely distributed in the US.  Unless you are an expert I suggest letting the sommelier and/or bartender steer you in the right direction.  We threw ourselves at their mercy and were rewarded handsomely.

Our table was a tiny two top sandwiched between a rowdy group of newly minted drinkers and the more comfortable booths lining the wall.  I shrugged off my annoyance and was forced to admit that our poor table placement was due to our last minute reservations and not our hostess.  Determined to make the best of it, I ignored the annoying girl chugging champagne and declaring her regular facebook and twitter updates to the entire restaurant table.

Our server was all business and gave honest answers to all our queries.  Even ridiculous ones like “Is it good?” after hearing the burrata they serve is considered the best in the country.  Yes that was me and my only defense is that it wasn’t house made and I am always plagued by the anxiety of ordering the very. best. thing. when I eat out.

Rest assured the burrata is the most delightful, wonderous thing I have ever eaten and I cannot stop thinking about returning if only for another plate of this cheese all to myself.  It’s perfectly silky with a firmer texture outside with an outrageously rich, creamy inside that sings of resplendent dairy  with a salty grassy flavor.  I really liked it.  The bread is perfectly toasted and thinly sliced to showcase the burrata in all it’s glory.

We finished the dregs of our white wine with the cheese and took the sommelier’s advice to get two more glasses instead of a bottle or carafe in an effort to try more of their unique selection.  We went with her selection of two wonderful wines from Campania and they went wonderfully with the rest of our meal.  (I know I’m a terrible blogger for forgetting our wine choices and leaving you hanging.  I promise to be better next time.)

We followed the burrata with the server’s recommendation for the maccaronara with ragu napoletana and house-made ricotta salata.  I am the first to admit that I resisted this order.  I wanted to try the more earthy, complex cavatelli di grano arso with ragu bianco or pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi but our entree was a rich pork dish so I pouted a little and ordered the maccaronara.  Thick, chewy house made pasta was perfectly cooked and the rich, complex ragu clung to the strands perfectly.  The ricotta salada was tangy and salty, perfectly complementing the dish.  We split the small portion and it was just enough to get a taste for the dish while leaving us wanting more.  We probably could have ordered the larger plate but we both were raised to never waste food and definitely would have fought to the death until every last bit was inhaled leaving us uncomfortably full before the entrée.

I love pork.  There really is nothing better than a beautifully cooked piece of pork that is full of flavor and FAT.  Too often this is not what we get when we order this sometimes maligned and mistreated protein.  A16 knows how to cook some pork.  We ordered the braised pork shoulder with persimmon jam and hazelnuts.  The pork shoulder was tender with a complex, meaty taste ringed in crispy fat and seasoned perfectly.  The persimmon jam was the perfect foil for the richly flavored meat and crispy toasted hazelnuts.  Simply delicious.

Seeing as this was a special occasion we were powerless to resist a peek at the dessert menu.  I always assure Roem I “just want to look” but he really knows there is no stopping me when just the dessert descriptions cause me to shiver in delight and start reading aloud.  We decided on the chocolate budino tart with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil and a glass of the paired 2006 Roberto Zeni, Trento-Trentino, Moscato Rosa wine.  The tart was full of complex textures with a dense, semisweet crust and a silky, luscious filling redolent of deep chocolate flavor.   The silky olive oil and salt perfectly highlighted the rich flavors in the tart.  The wine was sweet without being cloying, retaining its complex fruit flavor and luscious mouthfeel without veering into overly jammy territory.   It cut through the rich chocolate flavors and really complemented the dessert.

Yum.

So my true anniversary gift to my wonderful husband is a big, public YOU WERE RIGHT.  And really I can’t be too upset about the whole outcome because at the expense of personal pride came one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time.  If I had to choose, I’d trade one for the other any time.

So now I’m starving and plotting my next restaurant adventure.  Maybe Meatball Mondays at A16 next week?

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Filed under Anniversary, Food, Restaurants, San Francisco, Uncategorized, Wine