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Archive for October, 2011

Jamie says: To celebrate my 25th birthday, we scooped Grandma up from Hollywood and headed to Seasons 52 (2428 East Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304; tel. 954-537-1052) with the family for a celebratory dinner.

The restaurant was elegant, inside and out.

Seasons 52 (Galleria Mall, Ft Lauderdale, FL)

A peak inside Seasons 52

When we arrived to our table, I was surprised to find a hand-written birthday card from the restaurant.

A birthday card from Seasons 52 and the Seasons 52 coaster

As I looked at the coaster and birthday card, I noticed the 52 in Seasons 52 is 25 backwards. Nice! I hadn’t even thought of that before. It must have been meant to be.

The cool thing about Seasons 52 is that their menu changes seasonally to incorporate fresh ingredients, (the name is reflective of this and that there’s 52 weeks in a year) and that all of there dishes are under 475 calories.

It must have been my special day, because Kathryn let me order her meal and we split the two. She didn’t regret her choice. We shared the Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon with Whole-Roasted Sweet Carrots, Fresh Asparagus, and Red Bliss Potatoes, which had some of the best carrots of my life! They were rosemary infused, tender, and sweet. The salmon was fresh and I thought it was special that it was served on a cedar plank. The potatoes were nicely salted and tasty. And the asparagus was good.

Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon with Whole-Roasted Sweet Carrots, Fresh Asparagus, and Red Bliss Potatoes

We also enjoyed the Wood-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Herb Polenta, Broccoli, Cremini Mushrooms, and Shallot-Dijon Glaze. The pork cubes were tender and flavorful; the polenta smooth and creamy with a nice hint of fresh herb flavor; the broccoli typical; the mushrooms fresh; and the lightly sweetened glaze brought the meal together for a satisfying meal.

Wood-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Herb Polenta, Broccoli, Cremini Mushrooms, and Shallot-Dijon Glaze

We were actually full after dinner. But when the tray of Mini Indulgences was presented and described in detail (with flashlight showcasing), we couldn’t resist. Plus the birthday girl gets a free one. Each dessert was less than 200 calories, too. They don’t compromise of flavor, just portion size. But really, that little shot glass of sweetness was plenty.

Mini Indulgences

For my Mini Indulgence, I chose Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Snap Crust. It tasted like a pumpkin pie mousse with sweet, crunchy crust and a nice spice cookie on top.

Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Snap Crust

Kathryn followed Pete’s (our waiter’s) recommendation and opted for the Pecan Pie with Vanilla Mousse. She loved it.

Pecan Pie with Vanilla Mousse

Somehow there was also a Classic Red Velvet Cake on the table. K has always talked about wanting a red velvet wedding cake one day, so she tried a spoonful. It wasn’t her fave, and she decided she liked “Pete’s” Pecan Pie with Vanilla Mousse better.

Classic Red Velvet Cake

We enjoyed getting to know our waiter and exchanging stories. We said a good or bad waiter can make or break a night. We were lucky to have a great one. And I have to thank my wonderful parents for making this day possible…

Dad and Mom

It was a wonderful night and I left full, happy, and rockin’ 25.

Grandma, B-day Girl Jamie, and Kathryn

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Jamie says: I was so excited to discover Bamboo Noahs (1251 South Pine Island Road, Plantation, FL 33324; tel. 954-475-8990) a couple of years ago. It’s slightly hidden next to a couple of businesses so I’m not sure how long it was there, but I am certainly glad to have found it. It’s a hidden gem, and the restaurant is definitely one of my all-time favorite lunch spots.

Bamboo Noahs (Plantation, FL)

It’s one of the few restaurants with delicious and healthy food in town. It’s the type of place where you order at the counter and they bring your meal food to you- it’s quick and convenient and has a fun, bamboo-inspired decor. The owner is very friendly and I always feel at home there.

I usually order the same meals because they are so good.

For my 25th birthday yesterday, I chose Bamboo Noahs for lunch. The restaurant must have known I was celebrating because they had these special napkins out. Just kidding, but the napkins were a really nice, new touch.

Inspirational napkins

Kathryn and I shared two duos (sounds redundant but it just means you add one side dish to each of meal). We ordered the Grilled Veggie Wrap with Lemon-Lime Thyme Sauce and ‘Taos’ Roast Turkey Wrap with Corn & Black Bean Salsa and Smoked Lime Sauce, each with a side of the Crispy Asian Slaw. You can pick the flavor of your wrap, too. I chose black bean for one and spinach for the other.

The the Grilled Veggie Wrap with Lemon-Lime Thyme Sauce was mouthwatering. The blend of mixed veggies is perfect and has a generous amount of portobellos. And it’s served with this delicious, creamy sauce. The veggies are so moist and pipping hot, too. I could probably eat one of these everyday and still not get tired of it.

Grilled Veggie Wrap with Lemon-Lime Thyme Sauce and Crispy Asian Slaw

And don’t be fooled, by the word coleslaw. This outstanding side dish tastes nothing like your typical mayo-based restaurant slaw. It’s the most delicious coleslaw I’ve ever had! The thinly sliced cabbage is accompanied by fresh bell peppers and makes for a beautiful array of colors. Its tossed in a light, sweet dressing with an Asian-flare. Seriously, you’ve got to try it. You’ll instantly gain a new respect and appreciation for the word “coleslaw.”

We also enjoyed the ‘Taos’ Roast Turkey Wrap with Corn & Black Bean Salsa and Smoked Lime Sauce which is a chilled wrap with freshly-carved turkey that tastes just like Thanksgiving. I enjoyed the corn and beans inside. It’s a little dry, but with the sauce from the Veggie Wrap, it’s perfect.

'Taos' Roast Turkey Wrap with Corn & Black Bean Salsa and Smoked Lime Sauce

I’m going to be more adventurous next time I dine here, because I’m sure there are many other delicious meals to be enjoyed, too!

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Jamie says:  I found one of my new favorite lunch spots near home!  It’s called Star Bistro (8618 Griffin Road, Cooper City, FL 33328; tel. 954-252-5545; not open Sundays). I’ve been there twice in the past week. Honestly, the place has no street appeal (it doesn’t look like much from the outside), but  don’t let that stop you from going in. You’d definitely be missing out. On the inside it’s cozy and classy. The jazzy music is relaxing and the food is, well, it’s amazing.

Star Bistro (Cooper City, FL)

The first time I dined at Star Bistro was with my Mom. I enjoyed the 1/2 sandwich, 1/2 salad lunch combo both times I dined here. The chips, which come with the combo, were some of the best I’ve ever had- they were slightly oily, yet light and airy, and lightly salted and peppered. For my first visit, I tried the Rosemary Chicken Sandwich with almonds, scallions, and light yogurt dressing and the Spinach and Strawberry Salad.  The sandwich had a rich creamy taste (which was surprisingly from light yogurt, not heavy mayo) and had ample fresh rosemary to make the taste buds dance. The salad had walnuts, a tasty light dressing, and polenta croutons. The polenta croutons weren’t many, but were crispy jackpots of flavor when you got a bite of one. The meal was so tasty but felt healthy and light. I was sold.

Rosemary Chicken Sandwich, Spinach and Strawberry Salad, and chips

A few days later I was back. This time to celebrate my 25th birthday with my sister and two girl first cousins.

Jamie and cousin Ashley

Kathryn and cousin Sarah

On this second visit, I ordered the Smoked Salmon BLT with light caper mayo-mustard spread on ciabatta and the Mediterranean Salad with cucumbers, feta, kalamata, red onion, peppers, and lemon oregano vinaigrette (another 1/2 and 1/2 combo). I enjoyed the soft feta and the distinct taste of the kalamatas on a larger portion of salad this time. The salmon BLT was made with lox and was a good, tasty sandwich. They were very good, and I’d order them again, but  they were not as extraordinary as my first meal.

Smoked Salmon BLT, Mediterranean Salad, and chips

Smoked Salmon BLT with light caper mayo-mustard spread on ciabatta

Kathyrn says:  I ordered the 1/2 sandwich, 1/2 salad combo too. I chose the Portobello and Brie Sandwich with Granny Smith apples and arugula and the Spinach and Strawberry Salad.

The sandwich was absolutely amazing – I almost wished I’d ordered a whole one. The thin slices of crunchy apples were complimented quite nicely with the oozing, sweet melted brie, the arugula, which gave it a little kick, and the Portobello, which was tender and warm. The bread tasted fresh and soft. I put my chips in the sandwich to add a little salt and an extra crunch. Yum!

As for the salad, I enjoyed the light dressing, which made it moist and gave it a hint of sweetness.  The flattened crumbles of blue cheese, fresh strawberries, and crunchy walnuts mixed in well. I was excited about the polenta croutons because J raved about them last time she came here, but they tasted a bit freezer burned. I’m not sure if they’ve ever been frozen, but that’s how they tasted. Otherwise, everything was just peachy.

Portobello and Brie Sandwich, Spinach and Strawberry Salad, and chips

I was glad to be at J’s new local favorite restaurant with her to celebrate her 25th birthday. Time for cake! The group consensus was to share a Chocolate Flour-less Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. Cousin Ash and I loved it, although J thought it tasted a little freezer burned, The cake was moist and ever-so-soft, the chocolate sauce was the perfect amount of rich without being too sticky or watery, and the vanilla ice cream was a good classic. I’d order it again in a heartbeat. Happy Birthday, Jamie!

Chocolate Flour-less Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

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Jamie says:  Five dollars for dinner and a movie? Can’t beat that! Especially when it’s from tasty Chipotle and the movie’s about food. On Friday at sunset, the Stolarz family and Grandma and Uncle Rick ventured to Downtown Fort Lauderdale for a 7:00 taco and chip dinner from Chipotle and an 8:00 showing of the documentary Fresh at Cinema Paradiso (503 Southeast 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301) for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF).

I stretched my arms out of the car at a red light to capture this beautiful sunset

Cinema Paradiso with adjourning outdoor patio for dinner

We got our movie ticked and a flyer about a Chipotle Halloween costume deal/contest

Beverage area in the outdoor dining tent

Happy Chipotle employees serving tacos

Kathryn and I have had Chipotle many times before, so we knew we were in for a great meal. Our whole family enjoyed the tacos with pork carnitas (there was also a beef option) topped with roasted chili corn salsa, mild fresh tomato salsa, romaine lettuce, and freshly grated cheese and a bag of chips with salsa. The pork was well seasoned and the ingredients were all fresh. The tortilla chips were ample and the salsa had a kick to it.

Tacos with pork carnitas topped with roasted chili corn salsa, mild fresh tomato salsa, romaine lettuce, and freshly grated cheese

Bag o' Chipotle tortilla chips because brown paper bags aren't only used for school lunch

We brought plastic chairs together in a little circle and enjoyed our food outside.

Our family enjoying Chipotle tacos and chips (Meet Grandma, Mom, Dad, K, Uncle Rick, and J)

Immediately after dinner, we sauntered into the charming little theater adjoining the outside patio to watch the movie Fresh. The seats were plush and comfy. We watched the movie together and were surprised to see how some animals are treated before and after slaughter. The movie showed little chicks being thrown out of cages, chickens with their beaks cut off, pesticides being sprayed in sheets over fields, bacteria growth and proliferation, and animals in such tight living conditions that the scene screamed claustrophobia. However, instead of just showing the bad, I like how they juxtaposed these scenes with Pleasantville-like stories of happy organic farms with animals that were free to roam and treated with love and care.

Cinema Paradiso (aka the movie theatre)

Inside the theatre

The movie was very eye-opening to me. It was one of those call-to-action films. At Publix this week, I was definitely more conscious of my food choices. I purchased organic milk and spinach, eggs from free-roaming chickens, and frozen blueberries from the US (I realized the ones I normally buy were from another country).

I’m not saying I am going to buy organic, free-range, and local for every food item I eat, but any small changes are definitely a good start for the environment and sometimes your health. If you haven’t seen a movie like this, I’d highly recommend it. As they say, knowledge is power. Be enlightened.

One quote from the movie really resonated with me: “your dollar is your vote.” What will your vote be for?

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J holds up the Leaning Tower

K lends a hand to try to help straighten the tower

Pizza in Pisa

Kathryn says: We came to Pisa to do one thing – to see the Leaning Tower. We enjoyed walking around it and reading about it in our guidebook. Apparently, architects and engineers tried to correct the lean several times, and it just wasn’t happening. We joked that it was a good thing it wouldn’t stop leaning because it created a huge tourism industry here. That lean generated a lot of jobs, and a lot of creative photos.

After snapping our share of photos and even a fun video, we headed to the bus stop to catch a ride to Luca. While we waited, my stomach grumbled, and I thought of a good way to appease it – pizza in Pisa!

I walked over to the nearby food truck and ordered a mushroom pizza, which the cashier threw on the griddle to reheat. She cut it in half and gave it to me folded over like a panini, but I opened it up for the photo. It had light cheese and sauce and tender mushrooms on a thin, crispy crust. It wasn’t the best pizza in Italy, but I thought it was pretty cool that I was eating “a piece of pizza in Pisa.” Say that ten times fast.

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Dad, restaurant owner, and Mom at Osteria Ai Specchieri

Restaurant

Bread with olive oil

Calamari

Polenta

Pizza with salami, mushrooms and artichokes

Tuna salad with mozzarella

Jamie says:  Oops… I forgot a great meal from our trip!  Here it is!  Better late than never.

Kathryn says:  After touring Doge’s Palace, our stomachs were grumbling. Just down the street, we popped into Osteria Ai Specchieri (Calle Larga San Marco 654 Venezia; tel. 041-523-7918) to give it a try.

The owner was super-friendly and instantly befriended us. After he took our orders, he sat down at the table next to us to eat his lunch.

I got a delectable fried calamari, which was perfectly crispy, salty and lemony, and a side of polenta, which was plain but good when I drizzled olive oil on top.

Mom got pizza with salami, mushrooms and artichokes, and she was kind enough to share it with J and me. We were amazed by the flavorful cheese and toppings and found it to be our best pizza yet in Italy.

J says:  K was right!  The pizza was quite awesome.  It was hard to resist eating more of Mom’s meal.  I really enjoyed my tuna salad, too.  It was tasty and light.  There was also corn in it again.  Dad got the same thing and liked it, too.

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Pretzel cracker mix and apricot juice

Pasta with white and red sauce, bread, prosciutto, hard cheese, olive, crackers, and cookie

Blood orange juice

Gelato cone

Focaccia bread and cookies

Jamie says:  It was sad leaving Rome.  The ground was wet… the city must have been sad we were leaving.  We took a taxi ride early in the morning with an interesting and kind taxi driver who never failed to point out a significant building or tell us an important story about history (I guess a tour was included in the fare).  We got to the airport and found our airline- Alitalia.  The foodie in me asked if there would be breakfast… I was told yes.  We boarded the plane (which didn’t take off for an hour) and met some interesting people during the flight.

My “breakfast” ended up being a pretzel cracker mix and apricot juice (and a Larabar I packed from home).  I enjoyed the snack but was still hungry.  Lunch came soon after.  It was pasta with white and red sauce, bread, prosciutto, hard cheese, olive, crackers, and a cookie.  I put the prosciutto and hard cheese in the roll and made a tasty little crunchy sandwich.  The pasta was actually quite good.  We each had our own, but K really liked the side with white sauce and I preferred the red.  I ordered a blood orange juice to make sure I wouldn’t be hungry.  It tasted like it had added sugar but was good regardless.  Tiny gelato cones came for dessert.  To our pleasant surprise, there was a chunk of chocolate at the bottom of the cone.  K and I each managed to get a second one.  They were too good not to.  The last food we were served was focaccia bread and cookies.  The bread smelled better than it tasted but wasn’t bad.

Between the chatting, food, sleeping, and reading… the time went by and we were home in the US.  The six hour time zone change was actually a more difficult adjustment.  (I’m still getting up early, but am appreciating the longer days.)  We were starving for dinner by 5:30 PM (hey, it was 11:30 PM in Italy) and decided to grab some good ol’ BBQ at one of our favorite restaurants in Davie- Scruby’s BBQ.  Dad and I appreciated the variety of restaurant styles in the US (in Italy you don’t see Mexican, Japanese, BBQ, Thai, etc. restaurants) and was looking forward to some ethnic cuisine.  K and Mom still had their hearts (and taste buds) in Italy I think.  We’ll be back again one day… we threw money in the Trevi Fountain.

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Mimi E Coco outdoor seating

The Stolarz family at Mimi E Coco

Margarita pizza with mushrooms and pancetta

Lemonchello

Jamie says:  For our final dinner in Italy we decided to a restaurant from a street close to our apartment.  Mom suggested we check out our options on the entire street before committing to a restaurant.  Surprisingly, this was quite difficult since many restaurants caught our eye, but we followed Mom’s advice.  It was a good thing we did because we ended up choosing Mimi E Coco (near Piazza Navona, Via del Governo Vecchio, 72; tel. 0668210845), a restaurant toward the end of the street.  There were outdoor tables in the street and also indoor tables in the cute restaurant.  We chose to dine inside this time- away from the disruptive street vendors who tried to sell everything from roses to laser pointers.  The customer service at Mimi E Coco’s was one of the best we had during our trip.  They brought chips to the table and, as a gluten-free option, brought a cup of green olives.  I’ve never had olives like these; they seemed to be without any salt or preservatives and tasted so fresh.  The waitress and owner were very friendly and engaged in conversation with us- telling us stories and asking questions about us.  There were so many good options on the menu it was hard to choose.  We ordered two margarita pizzas with mushrooms and pancetta (they also placed a green olive in the center of each).  Pancetta covered the top of the pies and a generous layer of mushrooms lay below the pancetta.  The crust was the perfect thickness- moto bene!  I tasted one of Dad’s potatoes- they were really tasty, too.  They brought us all lemonchellos, which was a treat since I had wanted to try one in Italy and I had forgotten, and toasted “chin chin.”  This was the trip of a lifetime!

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Grom gelato

Grom menu

Kathryn says: One afternoon, we split up to do our own things. I went shopping around Piazza Navona and bought a cool pen; it has a pull-out scroll that you can write a message on and it retracts back into the pen. I haven’t figured out what to write on it yet, so I’m open to suggestions…

Of course, after about an hour of shopping, I made my way to a gelateria for a mid-afternoon refresher. I went to Grom (Piazza Navona 1, angolo Via Agonale; Rome, Italy; Tel. 39 06 68807297; http://www.grom.it/ita/) I couldn’t really understand the menu since it was in Italian, but I knew it looked good, so I asked the server what he suggested and kind of winged it. I ended up getting Crema di Grom, which tasted like vanilla cream, and Torroncino, which tasted like cookies and cream. Both fine choices.

I sat by Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain and savored the treat, which melted fast but tasted so good. I tried not to get any on the postcards I was writing to my friends back home, and I couldn’t resist telling them how I was enjoying a cup of Italy’s best dessert while writing to them.

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Castel Sant’Angelo

Cafe

View from our table at Castel Sant’Angelo of St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican

The Stolarz family dining at the restaurant in Castel Sant’Angelo

Sweet rolls

Swordfish with potatoes

Spaghetti with red sauce and pancetta

Artichoke lasagna

Iced coffee

K & J on top of Castel Sant

Jamie says: When I was little, I remember eating in Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World. That was about my only castle experience until now. We were in for a real treat when we visited Castel Sant’Angelo after visiting St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. My Grandfather’s name was Angelo (meaning angel) so this castle had extra significance to us. We climbed the cool, dark interior of the castle with a destination in mind- a café for lunch. We had some “Stolarz luck” when a table cleared out right before Kathryn’s eyes. But it wasn’t just any table, it was one with the most beautiful view of the city and St. Peter’s Basilica. For lunch, we shared artichoke lasagna, swordfish with potatoes, and spaghetti with bacon. The table bread was very different than anything we had had in Italy before- lightly sweetened rolls. This was the first time I had swordfish. It was a thick fish and tasted alright (I remember reading it’s high in mercury, though). I was glad to have tried it but probably wouldn’t order it again. I liked the spaghetti with the red sauce and chunks of pancetta. Kathryn absolutely loved the lasagna.

Kathryn says: Some meals are unforgettable, and this lasagna was one of them. It was so good that once I tasted it, I knew I wanted my own plate of it. Mom and J had eaten the other two-thirds of it since we had planned on splitting everything. So after taking a bite of the swordfish and spaghetti, I gave the rest to Mom and J and ordered another lasagna. The layers of tender noodles, oozing mozzarella cheese and soft artichokes were topped with a fine powder of Parmesan cheese and surrounded by light, bitter arugula leaves and drizzles of a sweet balsamic vinegar reduction. The ingredients blended beautifully into an incredible orchestra of flavors. There I was, enjoying the best lasagna and the best view of the city sitting atop a castle with my dear family. I also enjoyed a sweet, bold iced coffee in a fancy glass. I felt like a princess in a fairy tale.

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