D.C. Airport Dining: Kapnos Taverna

I was in my hometown of D.C. for work this week and I arrived at Reagan National Airport to come back to Chicago a few hours early with some time to kill.  I was wandering along the airport corridor and was surprised to stumble upon a new location of Kapnos Taverna!

The restaurant, its first location situated in the heart of Ballston, Virginia, is a local favorite and hot spot for many of my friends and family who live right outside of D.C. in Arlington. I’ve been to the Arlington location previously and enjoyed the meal tapas style with my family – everything we ordered was perfection with great, attentive service.

At Reagan, the menu is designed more for individual orders which is helpful for the business traveler. However, I still wanted more people with me so I could try it all! There were plenty of amazing options.

I got a crisp glass of the Greek white wine and pondered over my decision for awhile.

I ended up ordering their fried brussel sprouts and a chicken gyro this time around. I can’t even describe the brussel sprouts.  I wish I had Mike Isabella in Chicago every day is all I can say.

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Speaking of, Mike, when are you going to open up a Chicago location!?

 

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Chicago Restaurant Week Dinner: Nando Milano Trattoria

I think Italian was on my mind for restaurant week this year.  I checked out another restaurant in Wicker Park off of Division Street called Nando Milano Trattoria for dinner.  As soon as I walked in I knew I was in for a treat.  The owner, who opened up the restaurant a few years ago is from Italy, and he greeted me immediately and took a few minutes to get to know me. He asked, Was I Italian? How did I hear about the restaurant? Was I celebrating any special occasion? His charismatic and personal demeanor set up for a true Italian dining experience.

The restaurant itself was beautifully decorated, dim-lit with Italian wine decorating the walls.  The bar only fits a few people and there are about a dozen or so tables, making for a very intimate dining experience.

I started with some fine Italian wine which was recommended by the owner.  I am not well-versed in Italian wine, so if you are in the same boat as me, they’ll help you decide what you might like if you aren’t familiar.

There were multiple (versus typically about three) options on the restaurant week menu for both the appetizer and the main meal. To me this is more ideal so someone can really experience a new restaurant their way.  Their portions for restaurant week were also very good –  you may even have leftovers to take home to your sweetie!  I started with a polenta cake covered in prosciutto. Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds.  I could have it every day (while eating lettuce for every other meal).  For my main course I got the seafood risotto, which was creamy and had a variety of shrimp, octopus, and clams.

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For dessert I ordered the ricotta cheesecake.  Can you say slap you in the face, melt in your mouth fantastic?! I would say one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had.

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Overall, the dining experience was top-notch and I’ll definitely be back….with my Italian boyfriend.

Chicago Restaurant Week Brunch: Bar Siena

Chicago Restaurant Week is from January 22-February 4 this year.  I’ve been a fan of restaurant week since I’ve lived in D.C.  It’s always an excuse to check out new hot spots I’ve been wanting to get to as well as test out my palate to new cultural experiences.

A place that has been on my list to try for both brunch and dinner is Bar Siena.  Sister to I might say my favorite place downtown, Siena Tavern, this gem is situated in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop.  A more rustic, casual feel than its counterpart, the Italian restaurant has two floors with a round robin bar downstairs and a very large leafless tree covered from head to toe in lights.  As the branches expand up into and throughout the top floor they help add a romantic feel to the industrial decorations.  I also like that this location has TVs everywhere, so its a great place to watch sports at any time of the evening while you are hanging out with friends.

I’ve seen plenty of tempting instagram posts of Bar Siena’s bloody mary, so my first visit was of course for restaurant week brunch! As far as the bloody mary goes – it was delicious.  A bit on the spicy side, but it stays cold throughout your meal in metal tumbler and is topped with celery, candied bacon, and a piece of their stracchino cheese fingers (yum).

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Their restaurant week brunch menu was also totally worth it.  I started with an appetizer of the Stracchino cheese fingers, moved on to some of their infamous pizza, this one in particular was their Fireball Pepperoni, and ended with my choice of their multiple gelato flavors – I went with smores.

I can safely say my restaurant week brunch of 2016 was a success!

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Spicing Up The Standard Diner: Dove’s Luncheonette, Wicker Park, Chicago

The hip new diner in Wicker Park has been on my list for up-to a year now – Dove’s Luncheonette.  A wildly popular breakfast and Chicago brunch nook, Dove’s Luncheonette has been known for it’s long (but worth it) wait.  I lucked out when I had some visitors arrive early on a Saturday morning from out of town before the rest of Chicago was up.  We took advantage of the quiet morning and got to Dove’s right before it opened up at 9 am.  We weren’t the only early doves – even though we sat right down, the adorable small diner filled up within 15 minutes.

We started with Dove’s House Blend Dark Matter Coffee and the staff kept our delicious cups filled to the top throughout our experience.

Dove has it figured out with its menu of Southern-inspired Mexican options.  It only offers a handful of choices and for the most part they all have a spicy twist on a standard menu item. It’s a great way to get people to order outside of their comfort zone and try something new. Think fried egg with brisket, or onions, eggs, and queso.

I ordered the Avocado Toast  on multigrain bread with smoked ham and something called an almond-ancho vinaigrette with a side of grits. Perfection!

I will definitely be back!

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The Duck Inn, Bridgeport, Chicago

One of the most talked about new restaurants in 2015 was The Duck Inn situated in Bridgeport. A hop, skip, and a jump from the Chicago White Sox field, The Duck Inn was one of the three Chicago restaurants named to Esquire’s Best New Restaurants List and we had the opportunity to hit the quaint, cozy spot up towards the end of December.

The relaxed, homey atmosphere and attentive staff create a dining experience where time stops and you can forget anything other than the company you are with and truly enjoy your meals.

I’m a sucker for any Lychee drink, so when I saw the Lychee Chuhai cocktail on the menu, I couldn’t have just one. Other drink orders from friends ranged from beers to whiskey on the rocks, and everyone was happy and relaxed.

For dinner, I ordered the Gyros Plate and everything was seasoned and cooked to perfection with all the fixings placed perfectly so you can enjoy your lamb chop, pitas, hummus, and tzatziki both separately and together.  The Chicken Thigh and Pasta Carbonara were other popular orders at our table and everyone enjoyed their meal.

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My one critique is that I noticed with both my meal and the others was that the portions are pretty small for what you order and pay and you don’t leave full.  I’d suggest ordering an appetizer or extra side and dessert to even out the meals.

 

 

Seattle, Washington: Best Vacation of 2015

Looking back on 2015, I’d say my favorite trip of the year was to Seattle, Washington.  I had heard amazing things from friends and colleagues about how Seattle was one of their favorite cities so I had to check it out.  I headed out there with my mom, sister and aunt at the end of June and the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny.  Apparently you don’t typically need air conditioning in Seattle, so multiple times during our trip we saw people lugging around box window fans they just bought.  What was uncomfortable for Seattleans was perfect for us – we got sunshine all four days we were there! I’ve outlined a few of my favorite experiences and then ones I wish I had time for!

Seattle Hotel

We stayed at the W Hotel downtown, and it was perfectly located to get to restaurants, shopping, and the Pike Place Market daily.

Seattle Restaurants

Salty’s on Aliki Beach:  Aliki Beach is where Sleepless in Seattle was filmed, and looks right across to the city so you get some amazing sunsets and views if you go there for dinner and eat outside.  The service was fantastic. We started with the Seafood Trio which included the Dungeness Crab Cake, Calamari, and Coconut-Crusted Prawns.   I also got the world-famous seafood chowder with crab for my meal and split the salmon with my sister.  I’d suggest sticking with a cub of the soup for an appetizer – its delicious but heavy.  The salmon was perfection as was the rockfish. I paired my meal with La Crema Chardonnay – light and crisp!

Sunset at Salty's on Aliki Beach

Purple Café and Wine Bar: Although I can’t remember what wine flights I had, I can tell you the wine was on point and the layout of the restaurant is beautiful. The servers did a great job at helping you pair your food orders with the type of wine you were drinking. The number one recommendation in terms of food is the Maine Lobster Baked Mac N’ Cheese, regardless of what it pairs with.  We also split some of the pizzas and did a meat and cheese board which all worked perfectly with the tastings.

Wines at Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, Seattle

Trace Seattle: We didn’t have to walk far to get to this restaurant as it was located right in the W!  We ate here at the very end of our trip because we were exhausted and it did not disappoint.  We shared the Spinach & Artichoke dip, Brick-Fired Pizza and Crispy Fried Brussel Sprouts.  All incredible.

Serious Pie: I can’t make a trip without going to one of the top-rated pizza shops! We decided on Serious Pie which was located pretty close to Pike Place Market. A cute little pie shop where you can watch the staff make the pies, don’t be intimidated by the wait outside! It moves quick.  We had the Buffalo Mozzarella pizza.

Woodinville Wineries

If you get the time to travel outside the city, there are a cluster of wineries within a 30 minute drive in Woodinville, WA.  When there’s wine, you can always make time!

JM Cellars: This winery was gorgeous and hidden within the sky-high trees – think of jumping around the tress in Twilight.

Wine in Tress, JM Cellars

Chateau St. Michelle: A more widely known winery and one of the oldest ones in the area, the estate is well suited for weekly live music and picnics throughout the grounds.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Bar

A few others in the area I heard good things about but didn’t get the chance to explore were Columbia Winery, Novelty Hill, Silver Lake, and Woodhouse Wine Estates.

Seattle Activities

Pike Place Market: Obviously one of the most talked about points of interest in Seattle with good reason.  Pike Place was our favorite thing to do first thing in the morning.  We would get our walk in, get coffee (yes, we got to check out the first Starbucks!), and basically wake up with the vendors in the market. Imagine seeing people setting up the freshest fruit, flowers, and fish you could imagine.  The flowers were beyond memorable and if I lived there I would go weekly for a gorgeous bouquet. We also stopped by and stocked up on some of Beecher’s handmade cheese for our winery trip!

Pike Place Market, Seattle

Pike Place Flowers

Discovery Park:  A couple miles outside of downtown, I highly recommend hiking this trail while you are out there.  A great way to see the views and exercise at the same time.  We did about three miles and walked along the Pugent sound and then into what felt like the rainforest. There were breathless views with every step.

Discovery Park

Washington State Ferries: We quickly did the ferry to Bainbridge Island one afternoon so we could see the city from the water and also experience a different part of town.  The island was quaint with beautiful little shops, bars and restaurants. We wish we set aside a bit more time to just relax and enjoy the island a bit. A great thing about the ferries is that you get a wonderful view of Mt. Rainier from the water as well.  It was wild to see a snowcapped mountain in the middle of June!

View of City from Ferries

Space Needle: This iconic Seattle staple is a must for a 360 view of the city!

Space Needle Seattle

View from Space Needle, Seattle

Chihuly Garden & Glass: Right next to the Space Needle, you can buy a companion ticket to go to the glass blowing museum.  Be prepared for beautiful bright and bold colors in shapes and sculptures you would have never imagined.  Very impressive.

Chihuly Garden & Glass, Seattle

Chihuly Garden

Yellowleaf Cupcake: On our walk to the Space Needle, I spied some amazing looking French Macarons.  I had to go in and devaour a birthday cake flavored delicacy.

Underground Tour: Make sure to learn more about the history of Seattle with Bill Spiegal’s Underground Tour. Not only do you learn about (and walk) the world of Seattle that was once a floor below what it currently is today, you hear ghost tales, and get some interesting scoop on the Madame who basically ran the town, Lou Graham.

If I went back to Seattle

When I go back to Seattle, I definitely  plan to spend more time at the wineries in Woodinville, but also make some time to travel around Washington a bit more to see some vineyards.

The Alibi Room was one of the restaurants/bars on our list but from all of our activities we never got the chance to make it. Located in Post Ally of Pike Place Market, the locals had great things to say. I would also get chowder at Pike Place Chowder – when we were there the line was too long and it was in the high 80s.

Gladly I can say that I feel like I made the most out of my first trip and would add it to my list of favorite U.S. Cities!

 

Restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina

This summer I also had the opportunity to head back to one of my favorite warm East Coast beach spots, Charleston, South Carolina for another Bachelorette party!

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Charleston is a great vacation spot for couples, families, and friends. I love that you can quickly jump from a morning of shopping to a day on the beach to a night out downtown. Although I’ll spare you the details of everything we did that weekend, I’ll share some of the restaurants we hit up

  • High Cotton – My favorite spot of the weekend. A classy farm-to-table Southern restaurant that has an incredible menu. As a side, I got the Crispy Brussel Sprouts which I’ll say are the best I’ve ever had – mouthwatering! For my main meal I got the High Cotton Shrimp & Grits with Sausage which was also delicious. I did not leave hungry.

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  • Hominy Grill – This casual southern spot, known for their brunch has a relaxed outdoor patio. While you’re waiting for your tables they have an outside serving window to order cocktails – don’t miss out on their John Daly! We ordered the jalapeno hush puppies to share and I got the pimento cheese on a pretzel roll. Per my previous posts – those are two of my favorite things! It was delicious.
  • Cannon Green – A little bit more on the fancier side, the inside of the restaurant brings me back to the Great Gatsby era. A big open room with a gorgeous courtyard in the back, you go here for aesthetics.

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  • Leaf Charleston – Another casual spot that has an amazing outdoor area covered in trees where you can relax. We went for lunch and I ordered the Cuban Po Boy which was a little heavy for a hot summer day. However, my friends said the salads and Chicken Pita were right on point.
  • Snapper Jacks – We spent a day on Folly Beach and decided to grab lunch at this super casual surf spot. We all ordered frozen cocktails and fish tacos which were refreshing after a hot day on the beach.