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Sunday, June 1, 2014- Dinner in Barcelona, Spain at Surya

Kathryn says: We couldn’t help but take a detour from Spanish food when this inviting Indian restaurant, Surya, caught our eyes in Barcelona. Here was our view from our table. We sat outside under a covering.

The atmosphere

The atmosphere

It was located a convenient block or so away from our hotel.

Fun Indian decor

Fun Indian decor

We came hungry and curious.

J & Dad

J & Dad

We feasted at a wooden table decorated with colorful candles and water glasses.

K & Mom

K & Mom

We took a toast together.

Colorful candles

Colorful candles and water glasses

Mom ordered a light appetizer of a crispy Indian chickpea cracker that came with a green dipping sauce.

Indian Indian garlic nan (bread)

Indian chickpea cracker

For dinner, we shared some hot, soft pita wraps with flavored Indian cottage cheese chunks inside. They came with some greasy potato wedges.

Tasty pita wraps

Tasty pita wraps

We also tried a yogurt sauce with warm pita bread.

Pita and hummus

Pita and hummus

The warm lentils with curry powder were flavorful comfort food.

Warm lentils

Warm lentils

They were served with Basmati rice.

Steamed white rice

Steamed white rice

Dad ordered a pureed spinach dish that was also a very tasty comfort food and went well with rice.

Pureed spinach

Pureed spinach

We were happily full by the end of the meal.

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Friday, May 30, 2014- Dinner in Barcelona, Spain at Tapas 24

Kathryn says: We found the stairway to tapas heaven in Spain.

We bypassed the handful of outside tables on the sidewalk and went down the steps of Barcelona’s Tapas 24 into a cozy inside nook that was perfect for a rainy-night, off-the-beaten-path stop for tapas and drinks.

Street view of Tapas 24.

Street view of Tapas 24.

Stairway to tapas heaven.

Stairway to tapas heaven.

Tapas 24 quickly became one of my top two meals of the trip.

We went for dinner around 7 p.m. and it was hopping. Good luck getting a high-top table or seat at the bar if your party is more than one. But we didn’t seem to mind the 25-minute wait once we tasted their offerings.

Their lemon beer on tap was a light, refreshing, sweet summer drink that went down easily. It reminded me of Lienunkugel’s Summer Shandy.

K enjoying a delightfully light, refreshing lemon beer.

K enjoying a delightfully light, refreshing lemon beer.

But the real pleasers here were the fresh-made, savory tapas that tasted as scrumptious as they looked. A-plus for flavor and presentation here.

I took a Hail Mary attempt at ordering from the Spanish menu before realizing they had an English one, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I highly recommend the pork tacos, which came with the ingredients separate so they wouldn’t get soggy.

Fresh, savory pork tacos.

Fresh, savory pork tacos.

The shredded, tender pork dripped in a curry-like marinade that woke up my tastebuds with flavor. A green sauce on the side and carmelized red onions with cilantro perfectly complimented the pork on the soft, miniature corn shells.

A tasty little taco.

A tasty little taco.

Because you can never get enough pork in Spain, I also ordered a pork chunk dish that was ever-so-lightly fried and dotted with guacamole sauce, peppered with a paprika-like spice and topped with onions and garnish on each. The flavors were so succulent and sophisticated. It was an eye-closer. (That’s a big deal for me.)

Crispy pork chunks bursting with flavor.

Crispy pork chunks bursting with flavor.

Mom chimed in with another finger-lickin’ picking’ — bruschetta. Rustic bread with a crunchy crust and a softer inside nicely absorbed the olive oil a soft, crushed tomatoes.

Crispy, rustic bread with olive oil and tomatoes.

Crispy, rustic bread with olive oil and tomatoes.

Jamie jumped in with a healthy choice that ended up being a culinary beauty. Tender, white asparagus were slit open and filled with a seasoned white mayonnaise sauce. This gourmet treat really surprised us with its presentation. Brigh-blue edible flowers and darker purple pedals lined the top, as well as orange shavings.

Beautiful white asparagus.

Beautiful white asparagus.

Dad’s gluten-free pick was boiled white potatoes served with sliced ham and drizzled with olive oil. It was simple and satisfying.

Simple and satisfying potatoes and ham.

Simple and satisfying potatoes and ham.

Because I was sitting right in front of the dessert display, I worked up an appetite for a sweet ending to the meal.

View of our bar seating.

View of our bar seating.

The waiter recommended this dense pastry filled with custard and topped with plenty of powdered sugar. It was rich. Although I like dessert, the savory dishes beat out the sweet one this time.

Powdered, stuffed pastry.

Powdered, stuffed pastry.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014- Dessert in Madrid, Spain at Chocolateria San Jines

Kathryn says: Next to holy grounds, temptation awaits the sweet-toothed tourist.

Chocolateria San Gines is just around the corner from the church with its namesake.

Chocolateria San Gines is just around the corner from the church with its namesake.

Tucked up behind San Gines church, but in sight from the main street is Chocolateria San Gines. The electric red cursive sign lights the way to a place where vats of hot chocolate turn quicker than ham sandwiches – and that’s saying something in Spain.

The old-fashioned dessert shop on a hill dates back to 1894, and their offerings are timeless – rich, thick cups of hot milk chocolate, served with a spoon.

Dip and devour.

Dip and devour.

Your order comes with a plate full of churros – fried sticks of dough; think thick, crispier pieces of funnel cake, Americans.

Coiled churros wait to be cut and served.

Coiled churros wait to be cut and served.

The place feels like an upscale coffee shop inside, with shiny machines, mirrored walls and lots of small tables. You order at the counter and then sit in or outside along the narrow, cobblestone street alley.

Service is friendly and quick.

Service is friendly and quick.

Service comes with a big smile from young waiters wearing white paper hats and aprons. There are plenty of tables outside, but inside has its own charm and character.

K and J share a late-night treat.

K and J share a late-night treat.

They also serve a drink that pleasantly contrasts the viscous chocolate – a watery, nutty, cold beverage called horchata. Mix in a little hot chocolate and you just might have the best of both worlds.

Sweet decadence. Hot chocolate with churros, and a cold horchata.

Sweet decadence. Hot chocolate with churros, and a cold horchata.

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Kathryn says: The Field Irish Pub & Eatery is a charming restaurant on Griffin Road that takes you away. I’ve never been to Ireland, but I felt like I was visiting when I entered the doors of The Field. It definitely gives off that European feel.

I was introduced to the restaurant when a colleague invited me to join a group for lunch there, and I had no idea what a find it would be!

Upon first arrival, a knight in shining armor greets you from a 110-year-old banyan tree.

Image

The tree towers over a substantial outdoor seating area with large tables shaded by green tarps. I loved the finishing touch of the white string lights along the perimeter.

There’s a cute little outdoor bar around the corner with high-top tables near the entrance. Once you walk inside, the lights are dim, but there sure is a lot to look at. Around almost every corner, there’s a fake fire place and some knick-knacks that it looks like they took from my Grandmother’s house, as she pointed out when I brought her on my second visit. There’s old china plates, books, fake flowers, pots and pans and antique lamps in every nook and cranny.

It’s a very spacious place with tons of seating, some on tables with barrel bases. The place is full of dark wood furniture and low-lit lamps. It’s very cozy and seems like the perfect place to camp out for a long meal on a rainy day or to relax for a celebratory evening with a group of friends.

As any good Irish restaurant would have, their menu is loaded with potatoes. On my first visit, I ordered an iced tea and one of the lunch specials – a fried fish sandwich with french fries and Irish potato soup.

The unsweetened tea came in a mason jar, which I found to be adorable.

The fish sandwich was gigantic, perhaps a foot long. It was crunchy, crispy white fish served on a long loaf of white bread with lemon and tartar sauce on the side.

I’m picky when it comes to fries, but someone at the table said they were good here, so I went with it. They were delicious, thick steak-fries with light seasoning. I enjoyed them dipped  in ketchup and dunked in my potato soup.

The potato soup was creamy and had medium-sized chunks of potato in it. The bacon bits, scallions and cheddar cheese on top filled it with savory flavor.

***

On my second visit to The Field, I brought my Grandma for dinner. We were in the mood for drinks, so we each got a Black and Tan, which is a tasty mix of Guinness and hard cider.

For my meal, I ordered the Country Chicken Pie, a homemade casserole with chunks of chicken, chopped mushrooms and onions, sliced carrots and peas. A giant, flaky pastry sat on top with a scoop of mashed potatoes.

It looked like a decadent dessert pastry with a scoop of ice-cream and a cream puff on top, don’t you think? Or maybe I just had a sweet tooth.

The pastry was surprisingly light and airy. Underneath, the tender chicken and fresh veggies were mixed into a flour-like gravy that gave it the consistency of a soup.

The small side of green (and yellow) beans was good and buttery.

For dessert, we split the Decadent Chocolate Cake.

It came with a few sliced strawberries and some whipped cream on the plate and chocolate syrup drizzled on top. As you could imagine, the cake was rich and loaded with a gooey chocolate icing.

Perhaps I’ll come back to catch some live Irish music some time.

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Jamie says: Here’s a long time favorite fancy lunch spot from the Pine Island Plaza- Vienna Cafe and Wine Bar  (9100 State Road 84, Davie, Florida 33324; tel. 954-423-1961).

This is the side of the restaurant most people would probably see. (We rarely see because we come from the other direction.)

Vienna Cafe (the side you'd see from State Road 84/ Interstate 595)

I actually stood in front of the sign for a little trying to figure out if it was new or just something I never noticed before…

Their sign up close

Here’s the side of the restaurant we usually see…

Vienna Cafe (the side you'd see from the plaza)

Check out the bar inside. (I’ve never sat at it because I always go for the delicious food.)

The bar

So straight to the tables we go. This is the area we have always sat in…

Seating area

But there’s also another seating area, too.

Another seating section

It’s a charming place to dine for a nice lunch. (I love their lunch, but I’m not as sold on their pricier dinner menu.)

Take your special someone to Vienna Cafe

I love how they always have fresh roses on the table.

The tables always have beautiful, fresh roses

One of our favorite salads is the Sonoma Salad. We will often share it as an appetizer, but this time I really wanted their delicious grilled salmon on top of it. (They’ll add grilled salmon to any salad; for a fee, of course.)

Sonoma Salad with grilled salmon added

Kathryn says: Whenever I go to Vienna, I have a go-to meal that I get because it’s so very tasty. The Cambridge Royal Smoked Salmon  is a sure bet for a delicious meal. The delicate smoked salmon is piled atop crispy fried potato shreds. The dish is topped with a dollop of sour cream and a small spoonful of caviar. A little bowl of capers comes on the side. If you’re in the mood for salty, crunchy and sophisticated, then this is your dish.

Cambridge Royal Smoked Salmon

Jamie says: Overall, Vienna Cafe is a wonderful place for a nice lunch out. The food is scrumptious and the atmosphere is charming.

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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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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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