Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eating in Sonoma - We're Fancy Now and Still Judging

Earlier this month I found myself in Northern California with 36 hours to spare before my flight out of Sacramento.  I needed someplace nice to relax and it was a toss up between Tahoe (37 F) and Sonoma County (82 F).  Weather was the key here, so off I went to Sonoma. 
 Besides the obvious weather considerations, I wanted to see Sonoma because the The Bachelor filmed there last Season with local boy Ben.  As fans of the show know (and who isn't a fan!), Ben took front runner Kaci B. to dinner at The Girl and The Fig.  That was all I needed to make Girl/Fig my destination! 

I checked into the El Dorado Hotel on the plaza and a very nice girl at the desk gave me the "Internet special" even though I was a walk-in.  While I did love the California coolness of the El Dorado, I'm not sure I'd stay there again.  It's was great to be right on the plaza, but after midnight the motorcycle noise went on all night.  Apparently, the Harley noise in California is just as bad as the the Harley noise in Florida.  Can't say I'm surprised.  Sonoma sort of reminds me of Truckee, California meets Leesburg, Virginia.  There's a blue jean, wine-snooty, ex-hippie vibe in both places.  Shopping and wine are probably better in Sonoma.  People watching better in Leesburg.

Restaurant wise, I'm now a big fan of the El Dorado Kitchen.  The Kitchen has to be the best place in town.  There's a wood and whitewash feel to the place that is quintessential California.  The menu is what you'd expect with a few nice touches and tons of avocado.  It would have been very, very easy to pick something healthy and low-cal.  But, of course, I didn't.  My salad of heirloom beats, goat cheese mousse, orange, ruby grapefruit, arugula and marcona almonds was spectacular.  The chef was very accommodating and made me a vegetarian version of the pasta special: pappardelle with green garlic cream, peas, wild mushrooms, baby carrots and chiles.  He left out the sausage and it was not missed.  I am not exaggerating when I say this might be the best meal I've had this year.

Unfortunately, I am not a big fan of The Girl and The Fig.  Maybe my expectations were a bit high.  Maybe I was just too excited to eat at a restaurant featured on The Bachelor!  Maybe not.  The Girl/Fig can only be described as "Goodwill Chic."  That's my term for something one or two steps below "Shabby Chic."  The furniture is first apartment shabby and the lighting is bright to highlight the fact that the place is dumpy.  I suppose that's what they are going for, but with the El Dorado Kitchen across the street, you'd think they'd try to up the ante. 

Although it was a Tuesday in the middle of low season, they could only give me a reservation for 9 pm.  OK.  I can be European now and then.  I ordered the mussels because it looked like a specialty.  The french fries showed up in the little cone, but were stone cold.  What is worse than cold fries, I ask you?  The mussels seem to be made in a big pot in the back and most of the meat must drop to the bottom because I had way too many empty shells in my dish.  To be fair, the waitress did not charge me for the mussels after I complained about the fries.  Excuse me, frites.  Since I was already in a foul, cold-frites sort of mood, the two girls sitting next to me talking on their cell phones did not help.  I like restaurants that have a no cell phone policy and enforce it. 

Good food was also had for breakfast at the Sunflower Caffe for breakfast and The Red Grape for lunch.

- Auntie

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Judging - I'm Not the Only One...

From NeverSeconds
Check out this new blog, NeverSeconds, created by a student who photographs their school food everyday.  As you know, I'm very concerned about healthy eating for kids and so I love this blog.  Judged - a great view into what's going on with school lunches.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Passing Judgement - Healthy Greek Lamb Burgers

Tonight we had a WW recipe for lamb patties with a creamy cucumber sauce.  They were so good, it was almost as good as the Mediterranean kabob place we normally order from and pick up cause they don't deliver. So this was a good "no driving" alternative and it was fast.








  • Spray the grill rack (or grill pan) with nonstick spray. Preheat the grill to medium or prepare a medium fire.
  • Stir together the yogurt, cucumber, mint, and the pinch of salt in a serving bowl. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
  • Mix together the lamb, ginger, garlic, cumin, paprika, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl just until well blended. With damp hands, form the lamb mixture into 8 (1/2-inch-thick) oval patties. Thread one patty on each of 8 (6- to 8-inch) metal skewers.
  • Place the skewers on the grill rack and grill, turning, until the lamb is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the patties from the skewers. Spread the romaine on a small platter and place the lamb patties on top. Serve with the yogurt sauce. Yields (1/2 cup romaine, 2 lamb patties, and 1/4 cup yogurt sauce per serving. 
For the above items it's 9 points +

I also made a side of rice and a side of tomato cucumber salad because that's our normal take out meal and it was great. Judged - awesome "Greek takeout," fast, and healthy!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Juding Jane's Cafe Naples, Florida

Place:  Jane's Cafe  Location: Old Town Naples, FL
Date:  April 15, 2012
Meal:  Brunch

If you are looking for the most expensive breakfast in Naples, look no further than Jane's Cafe.  Located in the tres-chic 3rd Street area of Old Town Naples, Jane's is the place to see the rich and famous (mostly rich) residents of Naples.  Tucked away behind the upscale, shop lined streets is this little jewel of a cafe buzzing with energy.  Don't even try to go there after church on Sunday because that's when the Naples super-rich head over there for the $24 lobster omelets!

Waiting for a table at Jane's is your first wait of the day.  After you are seated, you're going to wait for the waiter.  (Maybe that is why they call him a "waiter?")  After that, there's a wait for the food.  I also waited for coffee this morning.  But my shrimp, lobster, asparagus and Swiss cheese omelet was very yummy and I ate every bite.  But, at $18 for just an omelet, English muffin and fruit garnish, it was a tad expensive. No potatoes!  I suppose it's a GOOD thing that there are no potatoes at Jane's.  No hash browns or home fries drenched in butter and sour cream.  Yes, I suppose that's a good thing.  It's one of the things that makes Jane's an almost healthy choice for brunch.  The "Organic Plate" is also very healthy and calorie friendly - eggs, whole wheat toast, tomatoes and spinach.  (Boooor-ing!)

If you are the "bread for breakfast" type then steer away from the "Organic Plate" and head to the "Chocolate Monkey French Toast."  yup - chocolate and bananas with monkey bread and syrup.  If it doesn't kill you, you'll probably enjoy it.  The waffles look very good, light and fluffy, covered in fresh fruit and whip cream.  Don't let the fresh fruit kid you, this breakfast is also packed with calories.  As you waddle out of Jane's you'll probably be in the mood to walk off some of the calories.  The shops of 3rd Street are great and there's a new gelato place next to The Island Company.  Go ahead and have some dulce dessert because it's not like you're going to fit into anything they sell at The Island Company if you keep eating like this.

Enjoy Breakfast on 3rd Street!  Auntie

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Passing Judgment - Kate Middleton's Hair

Courtesy: The Huff Post Style
I love Kate Middleton - like I want to wear every outfit, dress, pair of sneakers, whatever she wears and do my make-up and hair exactly like her.  AND so does everyone else.  These pictures were first seen this weekend and I kid you not, there were at least 10 women (including me) on the train this morning, trying to wear this do.  Please keep in mind that this was just on the 1/12 of the train I could see and judge.  Judged - a great hair style and everyone wants to wear it too (also looooove the dress).

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Trip to Charleston - Yum

View from the Battery, Charleston, SC
First off, this is Charleston, South Carolina - everything is going to be good.  I have an event coming up for work so I was in town doing the planning and my sister met me there. It was great and we pretty much ate our way through town. If you are vacationing or visiting Charleston in the future, this should help plan the dining portion of your trip. Note: I wrote that last sentence for search engine optimization reasons.

Shrimp and Grits from the Hominy Grill
First stop, Hominy Grill for brunch. We went here straight from the airport and immediately ordered John Daly's (ice tea and lemonade with alcohol) while we waited for a seat.  For brunch we ordered fried green tomatoes, corn bread, a biscuit, and the shrimp and grits.  The Hominy Grill is known for its shrimp and grits and for a good reason, these are out of this world. The combination of shrimp, bacon, green onions, and the acidity of lemon on top of creamy grits is fantastic.  The biscuit was wonderful as was the somehow creamy corn bread (I don't know how, but I'm sure it's not good for you). The only thing I wasn't impressed with was the fried green tomatoes, they were just okay, not worth the calories, spend them on something else, like the fried chicken on a biscuit. Judged - great food, great place for brunch.

Oysters from Amen Street
Oyster Shell Chandelier
For dinner that night we went to Amen Street for some oysters and fresh fish.  We had the oysters (of course) and then split two entrees, because we like to try everything we can. One of the entrees was the Hot Shrimp and Crab Sandwich - Judged as ridiculously good.  The magic to Charleston's great food is that while they don't shy away from the fat, they use fresh ingredients and acid (meaning lemon, lime, or vinegar) to create a well rounded flavor. I loved this sandwich, but I don't think one can eat the whole thing, I was glad I split it with my sister.  The other entree was the fresh bass with a risotto.  The fish at Amen is brought in fresh every day and there is a list of the fresh fish they are offering that day, the bass was on the list and true to their word, it was fresh and delicious.  Amen Street - Judged as a great place for seafood. Also, I loved the oyster shell chandeliers.

Shrimp Po'boy at Hyman's
Lunch on day-two was at the famous Hymans Seafood.  Here we ordered shrimp po'boys in cajun sauce.  So rather than fried shrimp they sauteed the fresh shrimp in cajun seasonings.  We got lunch at their to-go counter because we had a meeting to get to and the line for the restaurant was long.  The great part about this was that we could watch the cook prepare the shrimp, which was done in her frying pan on the stove-top.  The po'boys were really good, but the best part were the hushpuppies, which where were the best I've ever had.  They were more like donuts, but whatever! So good..... Judged - classic institution for a reason.

Dinner on day-two, 82 Queen.  This is a nice place for a date, but I went with my sister because I was there and it's one of my favorite restaurants, so we had to go. It was romantic.  As they say on their website, "Nothing compares to the fine dining experience offered by this charming restaurant nestled in Charleston's historic French Quarter." The ambiance is wonderful and the food is amazing. I especially love their collared greens - I know this is a beautiful, fancy place, but they have amazing collard greens!  My sister ordered the brisket which was good and moist and laid on top of mac and cheese and collard greens.  After trying her dish she said, "let me try your collard greens because mine have barbeque sauce on them." then she realized that collard greens, cooked the right way, are actually just that sweet.  I had the fried fish over collard greens with pimento risotto. Good, but I had a hard time with the bones in the fish and it really got in the way of my collard greens and risotto.  I had the fried chicken there before but unfortunately it wasn't on the menu because it was really, really wonderful friend chicken.  Judged - a beautiful, romantic spot for a date in Charleston.

You think I'm done, but no, we kept eating. 

Inside Fort Moultrie
Day-three, I had lunch at the Mills House.  This is a historic hotel that sustained some serious damage during the American Civil War, but has since been rebuilt. I had lunch here with the tour guide who is going to lead a tour for my upcoming work event.  The food at lunch was fine, but the location and history of the hotel is really what it's about.  I suggest stopping in and peeking around.

On day-three we went out to Fort Moultrie, which was a fort from the Revolutionary War to WWII (if you're a real nerd, like me, check this out it's a 3D walk through what was once Fort Moultrie). 

Since we were out at the beach already, we decided to stay at the beach for dinner. We did a quick web search and found Bowens Island Restaurant. On our way we stopped at a great farmers market in Mount Pleasant and found a caterer for my event as well as some delicious kettle corn. 

Steamed Oysters to Bowens
Bowens Island Restaurant is off the beaten path, literally, you need to take dirt roads to get to it.  The base of the restaurant is cinder blocks and the main level, where you eat, is kind of like a giant deck.  There are walls around the deck (also a bar), which I believe are made of plywood and there are windows cut out with screens in them.  These windows are all open, letting the breeze through and allowing everyone to see the beautiful view and lovely sunset.  Bowens does not have an extensive menu, but what they do have is perfect and as fresh as you can get.  The oysters, which come steamed, are freshly harvested from the water you are looking at while dining.  These oysters are the best I've ever had, you do not need all the fixins' they are perfectly flavorful all by themselves. Order them by the tray (yes, the lunch tray) or "all you can eat."  Then go downstairs to the cinder block area to pick them up from the oyster cook, who will rinse them off with the hose, throw them into a pot of boiling water and then hand them over to you. The oyster cook and I had a nice conversation about where they oysters come from and how they are harvested.  Only, being a novice, I didn't know that I had to tip the cook and that's how he gets paid, so be sure to leave him some dollars on your way out. Judged - one of my favorite places to eat - it's relaxed, the food is fresh and delicious, the staff is friendly, and the ambiance is nature at its best. Be sure to seek out this hidden gem while in Charleston.

The view from Bowens

I can't wait to go back to Charleston, there's so much more to eat!!!