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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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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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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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Front door of Sora Margherita in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome

Inside of Sora Margherita

Front of hand-written menu

Inside of hand-written menu

Fried artichoke

Inside of fried artichoke

Egg noodles with a chunky pink sauce

Egg noodles with mushrooms

Eggplant slices in vinegar with spices

Zucchini slices with oil and herbs

Mozzarella ball with arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a basil leaf

Restaurant bill with J's price prediction written in oil

Dad and waitress

Jamie says:  We didn’t order our lunch, but it sure was delicious.  We ate lunch at Sora Margherita (Jewish Ghetto, Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30, 00186 Roma, Italy, tel. 06.6874216). It was the only restaurant recommendation in Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook for the Jewish Ghetto we just finished touring on the Rick Steves’ audio guide.  The restaurant is so hidden; there’s no sign- just some frilly strands hanging over a door.  The man at the door asked if we had reservations (we didn’t).  He told us to go stand under this overhang down the alley, a five minute wait.  We were lucky to get in.  The place was small, and interesting (no frills for sure).  The waitress was a little tough, but made the dining experience so entertaining.  She didn’t even bring a menu at first and asked if we wanted artichokes- out came four orders of fried artichokes (we later found out this cost us 24 Euros for the four).  They were greasy and crunchy on the leaves, but soft (and still greasy) in the heart and stem.  I really enjoyed the heart and stem, tried a few leaves, but didn’t really care for them.  Neither did my Dad.  When she saw that we weren’t really eating them, she picked one up off my Dad’s plate and pretty much shoved it in his mouth.  Kathryn and I got a little scared.  We hid some of our uneaten leaves under the napkin on the plate, crushed some up, and started stacking plates.  But our waitress caught on.  She lifted up the plate off the stack and noticed our trick.  In all honesty, Kathryn and I were scared.  The waitress brought out a menu at our request (it was handwritten in marker and had a drawing on the front), but we really didn’t have much of an idea of what we were reading except for a few basic menu items.  My Dad explained to her that we didn’t want meat (we became vegetarians for the day since we had no clue what she would bring us).  No worries, though, she just picked random menu items and brought them out.  We had no control.  It was kind of nerve-wrecking and exciting.  Out came egg noodles with a chunky pink sauce- tasty!  Whew!  Then came egg noodles with mushrooms and lots of oil- awesome!  Eggplant slices in vinegar with spices and thin zucchini slices with oil and herbs- amazing, too!  A huge mozzarella ball encircled by arugula and quartered cherry tomatoes and topped with a basil leaf arrived, especially for my Dad (but we shared it since it was huge).  It had a chewy, spongy texture and lots of liquid in it.  It was interesting and almost tasted like a goat cheese.  At the end, we all guessed what the bill would be (since the waitress did all the ordering and we didn’t order off the menu) by dipping our finger in the excess oil on the plate and then writing our guesses on the paper table cloth.  According to the guidebook, this place was supposed to have awesome food at a low price.  My guess of 84 Euros was the highest, and the bill ended up being more (92 Euros with sitting fee and 15% included service fee to be exact). Although it was a bit pricey, the food was outstanding and the entertainment unforgettable.

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Chocolate tartufos

Chocolate tartufo

Jamie says:  Mom spotted this chocolate cupcake-like dessert at Caffe’ Domiziano (Piazza Navona 88), which was conveniently located right next to our apartment on Piazza Navona.  When I asked what it was, the Italian man said “tartufo.”  Pretty much it’s Heaven on Earth.  It was creamy, dense, slightly bitter dark chocolate gelato/ice cream with a chocolate shell and a heaping of whipped cream.  It was rich, thick, and decadent…perfect for any chocoholic.  Amazing!

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The Colosseum

Anti Luzzi Cafe

Anti Luzzi Cafe place mat

Shrimp salad with black olives, mozzarella, tomato, and corn

Chicken breasts and chilled veggies

K's iced coffee

K's pizza with eggs, artichokes, mushrooms, olives and ham

Jamie says:  My Dad had been talking about seeing the Colosseum for years.  And this was the day.  It was awesome being there with my Dad for something that was so important to him.  After our visit, we grabbed lunch at Anti Luzzi Cafe.  It was nice to sit and relax after walking around and being in the heat.  I was looking for something not too bread/pasta-heavy, so I ordered roasted chicken.  They brought me the chicken breasts instead, but it did the trick.  I asked if I could have the veggies and potatoes, which I saw in the restaurant’s showcase instead of the side the chicken came with; the veggies looked a lot better than they tasted but were still pretty good.

Kathryn says: After our mid-day audio tour of the Colosseum, I cooled off with an iced coffee. Iced coffee in Italy never seems to come with ice in the cup, which is nice because then it doesn’t get watery.

For my meal, I ordered pizza topped with a whole lot of amazing ingredients – hard-boiled eggs (that was a first), artichokes, mushrooms and ham. It tasted so fresh and flavorful that I ate most of it (minus the crust and some of the bread), and left feeling full, happy and recharged.

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