After 5 days spent in the east of the island in Fajardo, we travelled back to San Juan to experience the much talked about Fiestas de la Calle de San Sebastián,- a weekend of celebrations, food and drinks in the heart of the old town. The experience would not have been complete had we not stayed at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in the chic District of Condado in San Juan. The hotel is everything you expect form a 5-star hotel and more. It was originally build by Frederick William Vanderbilt in 1919 and was the “it” destination for many. It recently went through major $200 million renovations re-opening it’s doors in 2014. As soon as you step through the lobby doors it takes you back in time to the glorious 1920’s with its style, sophistication and service that the Vanderbilt was and is known for.
The hotel is split into two towers: The Commodore and the Biltmore The one and two bedroom suites range from 750 – 1,500 square feet. Our upgraded suite consisted of granite counter tops, African mahogany wood detailing and custom-designed lighting elements. White Carrera marble floors, dove grey walls, and neutral-toned furniture accented with locally-sourced artwork, touches of turquoise and yellow, and the striking backdrop of the translucent Atlantic. The bathroom was configured with a rain shower and C.O. Bigelow bath amenities.
The hotel has two pools located on either side of the towers, one is family-friendly and the other is adults only. We got to experience both. The West Tower pool area features a 200-square foot mirrored pool with a waterfall, surrounded by chaise lounges and private cabanas – a perfect setting for sunning and socializing while taking in the warm breeze. The West Tower’s , infinity-edge pool is perched on the edge of the ocean, and lies adjacent to an intimate, wooden sun deck, located directly above the crashing waves with only two beach chairs. If you want these seats you have to get up extra early or have it reserved. Either way there is plenty of places to bask in the sun. The other pool located at the east tower was smaller but featured a large hot tub. From here there is also access to a small beach with loungers and service provided by the beach butlers.
There are several restaurants and bars located in the restaurant and although we didn’t get to try all of them I can attest to the 5-star quality and service of the buffet-style breakfast served pool-side at the Ola Oceanfront restaurant. After staying here for 3 short days we were pampered, rested and ready to head back to reality. However, the hotel quickly made its way to my top 5 hotels that I have ever stayed at. While its not a cheap place to stay, it is worth every penny.
* Condado Vanderbilt is part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Group.
Ooooh I know its been a while but I just just returned from the colorful and magical island of Puerto Rico recharged and ready to take on 2017. Puerto Rico was too good not to share. From the picturesque crystal blue water and white sandy beaches of the coastal towns, sparkling bioluminescence bays, rainforest and the colorful streets of Old San Juan- Puerto Rico checked off everything on my list of a perfect vacation. And that’s not even mentioning the amazing fresh seafood and the oh so delicious mofongos…and endless empanadas! Guys I’m in love and already trying to plan my next trip.
We started our vacation on the eastern tip of the island in the beach town of Fajardo. From here there are ferries to the nearby Culebra Island which is claimed to have one of the most beautiful pristine beaches in the world (Flamingo Beach). We stayed at the El Conquisitor, A Waldorf Astoria Resort and Spa which had its own private and secluded island, Palomino Island (See Review). This large resort is perched on a cliff and has more than 1000 rooms, a funicular taking guests down to the ferry dock where guests can ride to Palomino Island just 15 minutes away.
The drive from San Juan took less than an hour on the main highway and was a great way to see more of the country. Other options on the east coast is the Vieques island where the trendy W hotel is located (on my list of places to stay). There are large biolumenscent bays where the water sparkles at night time.
After 5 adventure-filled days and 8 mofongos later we drove back to spend the weekend exploring San Juan. We had no idea that we happened to be there on the most exciting weekend of the year, San Sebastian Festival, where old san juan would be filled with colorful parades, dancing, music and street food. In San Juan we stayed at the beautifully renovated Condado Vanderbilt Hotel located in the trendy Condado strip of town. If you are planning a getaway to Puerto Rico and only have time for San Juan make sure to stay at this hotel. The attention to every detail and customer service was beyond 5* making it one of the best hotels I have ever stayed at.
Things Not to Miss in Puerto Rico
Hike in El Yunque Forest
Ride the free hop-on, hop-off trolley in Old San Juan
Take a day trip to the island of Culebra
Paddle through the Bioluminescent Bay off Vieques or Fajardo
Partying in the streets of Old San Juan during the San Sebastian Street festival
When you have two celebrity chefs and one restaurant opening the expectations tend to be high. Aarón Sánchez and John Besh’s collaboration brings traditional Mexican cuisine to the heart of New Orleans. If you are going in expecting burritos and enchiladas then you are in for a disappointment. The menu features items such as the ‘coba triadic’ a raw fish ceviche, crispy Brussel sprouts and kale salad (See Menu) alongside several typical mexican dishes such as tacos and enchiladas.
The restaurant is located on Poydras street in the CBD. The decor is cool and hip: Giant graffiti art covers one wall and beautiful chandeliers hang from the high ceilings. The bar is the perfect spot for happy hour drinks and tacos.
We went early Saturday evening at around 6.30 p.m. Besides a few other patrons the restaurant was still empty. The menu was one page with a handful of small plates, tacos and large plates. We decided to order several small plates in order to try as many dishes on the menu as possible. First up was the Cobia Tiradito, a ceviche consisting of leche de tigre fish, cucumbers, avocado and other vegetables ($16). The flavors were great but it was drenched in rock salt which took away from the overall flavor.
Next up was the Queso dip ($10) which was good for the first 5 minutes but turned into hard cheese within minutes. As far as queso dips go, this dish was not anything extraordinary. For a healthier dish to counter-balance the quest dip, we ordered the Kale salad ($12). It was the best thing about our meal even though it too was too salty.
The beef flautas ($12) were an epic failure and we left the dish untouched. It was dry, salty and just not what you would expect at a place like Jonny Sanchez.
Overall, we were left unsatisfied and decided to stop ordering before we were disappointed further. The best part of the meal was the plantain chips and salsa dip although after having the top layers of the chips suddenly the chips became stale leading one to assume that they reuse their chips!
There is nothing I hate more than trying a new restaurant and being so utterly disappointed. Needless to say, Johnny Sanchez will not be added to our list of ‘must-dine’ spots in New Orleans. With so many amazing places to eat in New Orleans, the competition is tough and restauranteurs need to be on top of their game. The celebrity name can only take you so far when the food is just not good. I hope that this place improves because it is a beautiful restaurant in a spot that lacks other similar options.
Finding the best dumpling in a big city like New York is not an easy task. So I took to the internet to see which spots made the cut. Not surprisingly, the majority were located in and around Chinatown. Being deprived of all things Asian in the South I was determined to eat as many dumplings and Chinese food as time and appetite would allow for. And so I set out walking from the NoMad Hotel all the way down to Chinatown in order to get my dumpling fix. It was a long walk but the reward was worth it. Tucked all the way in the depths of Chinatown I found Vanessa’s Dumpling House, a non-conspicuous fast-food joint with a house full of fans. I ordered more food on the menu than I could physically consume but with the cheap eats and aromas in the air I could not resist. Within minutes my order was prepared and I was in a state of dumpling ecstasy. One of the best authentic dumplings I have yet to taste. Vanessa’s Dumpling House definitely made it to my NY places to eat go-to list.
Of all the hotels in New York City of which there are many, I have always wanted to stay at the NoMad Hotel- a turn of the century Beaux-Arts building that has been masterfully restored to its original grandeur with interiors by French designer Jacques Garcia. The hotel is located in what I came to discover is the NoMad district (North of Madison Square Park) at 28th and Broadway. Amidst mosques, halal food shops, hair and garment stores lies this jewel of the hotel. Just a few blocks away is Madison Square Park and my favorite foodie destination, Eataly. Another great hotel just one block north of the NoMad is the hipster-cool Ace Hotel which I frequented every morning for coffee from Stuptown Coffee located inside the hotel.
The NoMad’s public spaces including a center atrium, library, cocktail bar and dining room include food & beverage by award-winning chef Daniel Humm and restauranteur Will Guidara of New York’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. Sydell Group own and operate the hotel, and also developed the nearby Ace New York & Palm Springs. Other collaborations include the hotel’s retail space by Paris-based Maison Kitsune (my favorite), which is its first ever dedicated shop in the US. The Library bar exclusive to guests of the hotel is a beautiful bar located in the center of the hotel. Books line the walls and a spiral staircase allows you to access the second floor books. Rumor has it that some of the books contain surprises. If you manage to find one you may keep it!
The entrance is dark and grandiose with bellboys ready to assist. The walls are covered in velvet and dark furniture surround the entrance and front desk. The staff were friendly and accommodating and check-in was a breeze. I was upgraded to a higher floor room featuring a clawfoot tub and views onto the adjacent street (as opposed to the inner atrium). It was surprisingly quiet given the traffic and noise outside. The decor is an ode to old Paris and just lovely. The bed was large and extremely comfortable and lent to a good nights rest. Overall, it was definitely the best hotel I have stayed at during my frequent trips to New York. However, the comfort and charm do not come cheap. At almost $500 per night I certainly would have hoped to have more amenities (including access to the rooftop which is now closed off to guests).
One great feature of the hotel is their free bike service which you can take out for the entire day. Make sure to inquire when you check-in!
– Interiors designed by Jacques Garcia – 168 guest rooms and suites – Multiple distinct dining spaces with menus by Chef Daniel Humm – King-sized beds – European-style bathrooms walk-in shower and water closet in most rooms – Many rooms with freestanding clawfoot bathtubs – Exclusive Argan bath amenities by Côté Bastide – Custom linens, bedding and bathrobes by Sferra and Frette – Down comforters and pillows (hypoallergenic upon request) – Custom plush top mattresses and embossed leather headboards – Mahogany writing desks and television stands – Bedside tables and velvet and damask patterned paravents – Reclaimed maple hardwood floors – Handmade vintage Heriz rugs unique to each room – Curated art program including Portraits de Villes photographs – Fully stocked Minibar – Large flat screen LCD HD television with on-demand movies – iHome docking station, charger, radio and alarm clock – Direct dial telephones with speaker and personalized voicemail capability – In room safe, iron/ironing board, hair dryer, luggage rack – Steps from Madison Square Park
SERVICES – 24-Hour Room Service – Complimentary high-speed wireless Internet access throughout the hotel – Nightly turndown service – Daily newspaper delivery – 24-Hour state-of-the-art Fitness Room – Laptops and iPads available upon request – Concierge services provided at the Front Desk – Multi-lingual Staff – Bell staff Services – Valet Parking – Laundry Service – LEED certified/Conservation Program
It is no secret that I love New York hard. Each trip back to the city reinforces the feelings and brings back nostalgia and distant memories of idealistic dreams of moving to the big apple. You see I fell in love with the city when I was a teenager and as every teenager does, I fell in deeply in love. I love everything about the City. The orderly chaos of the crowds, the traffic, and constant noise that beat through it’s veins. Fast forward 18 years and I found myself back in the city for a week of discovering new hotels, good food and old friends. I arrived on a Wednesday in the afternoon and checked into my beautiful hotel, The Nomad Hotel, located in the Flatiron district. Famished as I always tend to be, I made my way down to Eataly– just a few blocks away from the hotel (see my post on the whole Eataly experience). After sitting down to a nice lunch and a glass of rose, I started to wonder the streets looking through rose colored glasses. There is nothing I love more than walking around New York, getting lost in its streets, discovering new treasures. I walked down, all the way down to Wall Street. Later on I found myself having sake and sushi in Tribeca with old friends, treasuring the mid-summer heat and reminiscing about life and adventures in New York.
The next day I decided to do what I have have always wanted to do: walk each and every street of the West Village and memorize the architecture, the restaurants and beauty of the brownstone homes. Sometimes I think if I dream hard enough and wish hard enough that maybe it will come true. Maybe, my family and I will be transplanted from our current home in Louisiana to New York where I would no doubt live happily ever after. In New York I feel at home a feeling I have yet to feel living in the south. Seeing mothers and their children stroll through the streets of West Village and in parks surrounded with other kids, I thought about what a difference it would make to have Baby Nomad grow up in the City where surely he would be exposed to so much more, so many different cultures, languages, faces and experiences. For now, I will continue wishing and hoping and dreaming…
I visited the High Line, a first for me and fell in love with the concept. So much beauty made of what was surely not the prettiest site to look at. Instead, it has been transformed into a peaceful, serene, green paradise above ground. I started from the top at 32nd street and 1st Avenue and made my way down to the finish line at the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District. Next, I visited one of my favorite foodie destinations which seems to get better with time, the Chelsea Market. With so many places to choose from I opted for a classic Lobster Roll at the Seafood Guys.
I walked through every different neighborhood below 14th street and made sure to visually memorize everything that I could. From the West Village to Soho and Nolita I took each and every inch in. In my short few days I managed to pack in a lot of food and many miles on my fitbit. With new restaurant discoveries and old favorites there was definitely no shortage when it came to dining options. In the next few weeks I will share all my discoveries with my readers. I hope you enjoy.
It’s that time of year. Festival season has arrived in Lafayette! While having spent the majority of my time in New Orleans at the Jazz festival in the past few years, this year I am staying put in my new hometown of Lafayette to attend Festivale Internationale de Louisiana. So I am preparing this guide for those out of town visitors and locals alike looking for some local gems to dine at and to experience cajun cooking (and the occasional non-cajun meal). As a caveat, my followers will know that I am not cajun, nor am I even from here but having spent the past two and a half in this town and being an avid foodie, I’ve tasted my way through town and can confidently list my favorite places to dine which is quite personal to my taste. I hope you enjoy my picks.
Dark Roux is Lafayette’s newest farm-to-table restaurant focusing on serving local foods and telling the story of Louisiana foods. The menu features local farmer’s and suppliers such as Gotreaux Family Farms, Mary Mary Markets and Bread & Circus Provisions. Favorites include boudin balls for appetizer and boudin benny for brunch. The restaurant also has a bar and pantry stocked with local products. On weekends a live band plays outside making it the perfect place to brunch or have a romantic dinner with your loved one. (see menu).
It all started with a condiment and charcuterie stand at the farmer’s market at the Horse Farm in Lafayette and evolved into a restaurant last year and brought with it a breath of fresh air to the local Lafayette dining scene. This hip restaurant features local favorites with a modern and unique twist. (see menu).
Chef Justin Girouard spins out some delicious local fare with his own personal touch. He makes his own boudin (not blood sausage as in France but Louisiana’s version of boudin: a mix of sausage of pork, rice, and cayenne). A great place for brunch and lunch. Everything on the menu is delicious but an all time favorite is the Cajun Benedict (see my post dedicated to the Benedict…because it is that good)!
Bon Temps Grill is where we take our out-of-town guests for a good local meal. Bon Temp Grill serves “Swamp Edge” cuisine in an urban Cajun atmosphere. The restaurant layout is cool and the food is fantastic. Favorites include the tuna tartar served with a side of potato chips and the buttery bbq shrimp. Don’t leave without tasting the bbq shrimp, it is absolutely to-die-for! And if you are bold enough try some of the frog legs.
While it is hard to find any other types of authentic foods in Lafayette there are a few hits that should not be missed. Pamplona Tapas Bar is our favorite go-to spot for tapas and wine. The restaurant features Spanish cuisine en par to many tapas we’ve tasted in Spain. The cocktails are unique and delicious as are the large variety of spanish wines. So if you are looking for something other than your traditional cajun, hit up Pamplona located in the heart of downtown Lafayette.
One of the few authentic vietnamese restaurants in Lafayette, Saigon serves up some of the best vietnamese dishes in town. Located in a strip mall the place can easily be missed. Favorites include the bbq short rib meal served with rice and salad and the large variety of pho to slurp through. Saigon Noodles recently opened a sister restaurant on Johnson street called Blu Basil Wine & Grill.
The Saint Street Inn was founded by Nathan Stubbs and Mary Tutwiler, two journalists turned chefs determined to keep the cooking local. Seafood from the Gulf, produce from Acadiana’s farms and innovative cooking set the table for an inspired menu. Nestled in the heart of one of Lafayette’s oldest neighborhoods, The Saint Street Inn also plays host to a variety of community events, from benefits and fundraisers to live music events and cookoffs. Both the kitchen and bar stay open late and there’s always a spot on the big front porch to sip a local brew and watch the sun go down.
Johnson’s Boucaniere opened in 1937 in Eunice, La and relocated to Lafayette some years ago. Boucaniere which means ‘smokehouse’ in english is a popular spot for lunch in Lafayette. At JB they smoke all of their speciality meats which include pork sausage, pork and turkey tasso and beef jerky. They also serve plate lunches from their in house made smoked meats which are made fresh weekly. Make sure not to miss this one.
9. Pop’s Poboys | 740 Jefferson Street, Lafayette, LA 70501 | ((337) 534-0621)
I’ve never been a fan of Po-Boys (shocking!) until I tried Pop’s. Pop’s Poboys opened in April 2015 and is located in beautiful downtown Lafayette. Chef Collin Cormier and team bring eclectic flair to Louisiana’s favorite sandwich and beyond. Their twist on the traditional poboys are out of this world delicious. Favorites so far include the Banh Banh shrimp and the Hot Hot for all those fried chicken lovers out there.
For desserts and coffee these three are my go-to in town for quality coffee and sweets:
Reve is a micro-coffee roaster servicing the greater Acadiana area (and beyond) in the retail and wholesale of freshly roasted, specialty grade coffee beans. Be careful as their coffee is addictive!
12. The Lab | 1042 Camellia Blvd. #6, Lafayette, LA | 337.889.5782
The Lab handcrafted coffees creates delicious coffee flavors that are hard to find around here. Not to mention their delicious baked good and house-made gelato. Located in the beautiful River Ranch neighborhood the Lab is definitely a treat.
Have I missed any of your favorites? Please feel free to share as I continue to eat my way through Lafayette!
(Please note some of the photos are taken from the restaurant’s online gallery: French Press, Johnson’s Boucaniere, Saigon Noodles, Jolie’s, Olde Tyme Grocery + Bread and Circus).
Zereshk or barberry is typically used in Persian dishes ranging from Iran to Western Afghanistan. Each bright glowing berry resembles a jewel which is packed with vitamin C. What does it taste like? It is very tart. Your mouth will quench as if you have just had a spoonful of lime juice. It is very powerful. The barberry is usually mixed with a tad bit of sugar to sweet the tart flavor. It is typically served along side saffron chicken and basmati rice. There are many variations to Zereshk polo depending on the region of the country.
Ingredients (Serving 4)
4 cups long-grain basmati rice
4 chicken breasts
2 peeled onions, 1 whole and 1 thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water
2 cups dried barberries (zereshk), cleaned, washed, and drained
Saute onions in 2 tablespoons of butter until translucent, add garlic until golden then add the pieces of chicken and cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Once chicken changes color from pink to white on the outside, add 1 tablespoon of turmeric and 2 cups of water. Cook on medium-high heat with lid covered for 1 hour (or more depending on the size of your chicken).
Once ready, add 1 tablespoon of saffron and put aside.
Clean the barberries by removing their stems and placing the berries in a colander. Place colander in a large container full of cold water and allow barberries to soak for 20 minutes. The sand will settle to the bottom. Take the colander out of the container and run cold water over the barberries; drain and set aside.
Sauté 1 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons butter, add barberries and cumin, and sauté for just 1 minute over low heat because barberries burn very easily. Add 4 tablespoons sugar, mix well, and set aside
Note: If you prefer a tangy flavor reduce the amount of sugar. If you prefer a sweeter dish, add more sugar. Adjust to taste.
Saffron Flavored Steamed Rice
Bring 8 cups of water with 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large non-stick pot. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice with a wooden spoon to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains. If the rice feels soft, it is ready. Drain rice in a large, fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 or 3 cups of cold water.
In a bowl, mix 3 spatulas of rice, 2 tablespoons yogurt, 3/4 cup butter or oil, 1/2 cup water, a few drops of dissolved saffron water, and the cumin seeds.
In the pot, spread the yogurt-rice mixture over the bottom of the pot and pack down. This will help to create a tender golden crust (tah dig) when rice is cooked.
Take one spatula full of drained rice at a time and gently place it on top of the yogurt and rice mixture, gradually shaping the rice into a pyramid. This shape leaves room for the rice to expand and enlarge. Poke one or two holes in the rice pyramid with the handle of a wooden spatula.
Cover and cook rice for 10 to 15 minutes over medium-high heat in order to form a golden crust.
Dissolve the remaining butter in 1 cup hot water and pour over the rice pyramid. Place a clean dish towel or 2 layers of paper towels over the pot and cover firmly with the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 50 minutes longer over medium-low heat.
Remove the pot from heat. Allow to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering it. This helps to free the crust from the bottom of the pot. There are two ways to serve the rice. The first is to hold the serving platter tightly over the uncovered pot and invert the two together unmolding the entire mount onto the platter. The rice will emerge as a golden crusted cake. Serve in wedges. The second way is to put 2 tablespoons of rice in a dish, mix with remaining saffron water, and set aside for garnish.
Then, gently taking 1 spatula full of rice at a time, place rice on a serving platter in alternating layers with the barberry mixture. Mound the rice in the shape of a cone. Arrange the chicken around the platter. Finally, decorate the top of the mound with the saffron-flavored rice, some of the barberry mixture, and almonds and pistachios. Places pieces of chicken around your serving dish making the rice the center of the display.
Detach the layer of crust from the bottom using a wooden spatula. Place into a small platter and serve on the side or arrange it around the rice. Enjoy!
Many lives ago, in my twenties, I spent many summer days and nights on the beautiful white washed Greek isles of the mediterranean (see posts). It is here that I fell in love with the simple yet extremely satisfying greek salad. It’s light, fresh and extremely healthy. The salad is best made during the summer months when tomatoes are ripe and aromatic and cucumbers crunchy and fresh. In America any salad that contains feta cheese or olives is often referred to as a Greek Salad. However, the true greek salad recipe is far from that. The authentic Horiatiki Greek Salad is a very specific salad, with specific ingredients. The feta cheese is never crumbled but delicately laid over top the salad allowing you to crumble into smaller pieces at first bite. You must choose real feta, meaning feta made from sheep or sheep and goat milk. “Feta” made with cow’s milk is not real feta. And to have the true Horiatiki experience you need to taste real feta. Since this is a very simple salad, the quality of the ingredients has a huge impact in the flavor of the final result. If using high quality olive oil, you will not need to add any other sauce to make it flavorful.
– 3 medium-sized tomatoes (not cherry tomatoes but whole tomatoes, cut in wedges)
– 1 English or 4 Persian Cucumbers (peeled and sliced)
– 1 small Red Onions (thinly sliced)
– 6-8 Kalamata olives (whole, not pitted)
– Traditional Greek Feta (in a big slice or chunk, never crumbled)
– Extra virgin olive oil (for dressing)
– 1/2 tablespoon of dry oregano
– 1 slice of feta
– 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
– Caper seeds- Optional (added mostly in Horiatiki salads served in the Greek islands)
– Red wine vinegar- Optional (some people also like to add an extra acidity in their salad)
1- Mix all the vegetables in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, lay feta cheese on top and sprinkle with oregano. Serve with fresh baked bread and enjoy!