Browsing: Restaurant Features

Remembrance Day 2019 Road Trip-Chicago

November19

Here I am apologizing again for my tardiness in posting. The good news is that I have been so busy traveling (and working to offset those traveling bills) that I have not found enough hours in the day. But here it is a cozy Monday afternoon, my clients are all taken care of and I feel like writing!

We took our annual November weekend away with Boo and the Frenchman. They were aware of all the plans that D had made but until our anniversary on the September long weekend, I didn’t know a thing. D got it into his head that we should go see the renowned “Hamilton” in Chicago before their run was done. I had thought that we might wait until it was in Toronto but I understand that tickets there are already going very fast. So D made all the plans and I just had to sit back and enjoy.

I got picked up at work on the Thursday evening of our trip. Since we were almost at Bishop Grandin, we were out of the city in no time. We stopped for a quick supper at a new chicken place in Grand Forks and other than that it was full speed ahead.

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D made all the Air BnB arrangements for us and of course we arrived in St. Cloud in the dark. We were surprised as we looked through our kitchen window the next morning to see our neighbours-the cows! The only other real thing of note that was while trying to find a Panera for lunch we discovered Wisconsin Dells! We have heard all about it, but never been. Of course it was completely deserted in November.

As we got closer to Chicago the traffic got worse and worse. We stood completely still on a number of occasions. The good news was that our Chicago Air BnB was just off the freeway. We did have a tricky time finding it as the neighbourhood was a mashup of one ways and it looked like they were replacing sewers in the area. But we did eventually find our co-ordinates, lugged our bags in and then almost immediately headed out to find Chicago deep dish pizza.

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D and I had tasted the sensation at Giordano’s Deep Dish a number of years prior. When we had a stopover in Chicago en route from Paris to Winnipeg, we checked our luggage and hopped into a cab to enjoy the one closest to O’Hare. Our Air BnB host recommended Lou Manalti’s as her top choice so we were happy to compare notes. As I searched on line for their menu, I had a chance to read their colourful history including the fact that a car had crashed into their dining room on their opening night in the 1970’s!

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I liked everything about the family restaurant right from their colourful menus, to their wall of living plants to their family sized cesar salad with a refreshing addition of diced tomatoes and huge shards of Parmesan.

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As our server sliced up the pizza pie, ooey goeey strings of cheese stretched from the pizza to our plates. There are very few varieties of deep dish on their menu and that is because the ingredients must provide natural layers that can be stacked one on top of each other (more like lasagna). Ours was assembled with the bottom layer being pizza crust (you could eliminate this layer if you wished), cheese, an entire disc of sausage meat and then a delectable sauce. I ate one delicious, decadent piece and was done for the evening. We kept the rest in our fridge at the Air BnB and I think the guys enjoyed it on other occasions.

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We took this selfie as we departed and headed out for beer from a local brewery, groceries and wine. All were conveniently located across the street  from each other.

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I took this turquoise woodcut shot at one of our stops. By that time, we were tired out from the early start that morning and ventured home to ensure an early start the next day.

Kath’s quote: “Life is mostly pain and struggle; the rest is love and deep dish pizza”.  Authour unknown

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Love never fails.

 

 

 

 

La Esquina-Isla Mujeres 2019

April15

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With our visit to “the corner” recently, visiting the trinity of owner Daniel’s restaurants was complete: Lola Valentina, Xantolo and La Esquina. There is a consistency in the three- fine ingredients, skilled preparation and authenticity.

The restaurants are all unique in décor and ambience but all are casual enough that you can drop in on your way back from the beach. We returned for a croissant breakfast the day after our dinner visit and I was in my bathing suit.

The evening started with cocktails. Bongo Sex and Tiki Maraca, proving that all three restaurant bartenders know a thing or two about mixology.

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The former was a tall delicious concoction of tequila, mint, cucumber, ginger, lime and agave syrup. The latter: rum, passion fruit, orange, agave and clove.

We met the entire team that were to take care of us-Wilbur the Chef, Jorge the Server and we were introduced to the bartender too (but I forget his name). All three worked together with synchronicity so that we felt very, very well taken care of.

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The first course was a shared bowl of Caribbean clam chowder. It was creamy like a Boston clam chowder but was still served with a wedge of lime that I squeezed into the bowl before tasting. The veggies of potato, carrot, onion and celery were all finely chopped and as a result the soup was lighter and less filling than a typical bowl. We had to pace ourselves because our entrees were on the way out.

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We shared this lovely light salad along with the chowder.

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Whereas most arrachera recipes start with a skirt steak, La Esquina’s commences with a Flank Steak. Typically the marinade includes garlic, olive oil, tequila, lime juice, salt, cumin and black pepper but Chef Wilbert’s secret is marinated the beef twice with chimi churri sauce. I can’t say for sure which method is better, all I know was that was the best flank steak I had eaten in my life!

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The French flavours of the restaurant have unknown roots but I guess if you serve croissants in the morning and French Onion Soup for dinner, you should have at least one French dish in your repertoire. With Chicken Normandy the chef easily displayed his versatility-the chicken was oh so tender and the sauce was divine.

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Chef Wilbur’s garnishes were a sign of attention to detail.

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The Chef recounts that guests say that he makes the best cheesecake in the world! We say, cheesecake preference is as vast as the fifteen sandwich varieties on La Esquina’s lunch menu. If you like a baked, light and not too sweet a cheesecake, this one’s for you.

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The next morning Sisters #3’s breakfast plans changed. We had a contingency plan but they were only just getting set up for breakfast and then we remember those beautiful croissants at La Esquina. Sister #3 chose almond and I chocolate. Very, very delicious!

Kath’s quote: “….I can dream away a half-hour on the immortal flavor of those thick cheese cakes we used to have on a Saturday night.”-Mary Antin

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Love never fails.

Zama Beach Club-Isla Mujeres 2019

April6

On our very first visit to Isla Mujeres in 2005 we stayed at Punta Sur and didn’t really know that everything was happening at Playa Norte. One wonderful result was exploring most of the island and I distinctly remember the feeling of being at Zama Beach Club with my two sisters: we felt like movie stars! We sipped our margaritas and napped under their palapas on the sandy shore.

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Who would guess that years later we would be together with another 80 or so guests from all over the world, for Sister #2’s daughter’s wedding!

That special day is one I will remember for the rest of my life. This year as a cab dropped us off at the entrance to Zama, and we walked past the pool and into the restaurant, the sights, sounds and aroma reminded Sister #3 and I of that day.

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There was a wee bit of confusion when we first arrived but once that was straightened away, we were treated like royalty!

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This is me without a care in the world.

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Our waiter Juan Ramos was concerned that we would be thirsty so he had a Gin, Tonic and Grapefruit Juice mixed up for us. He was right, it was wonderfully thirst quenching and I can say that the fine gin melted our cares away.

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What a perfect way to ensure your beer is ice cold.

We also tasted their signature beer-“Tulum” which was light bodied and equally thirst quenching.

Chef Diego R. Lopez came out to meet us, asked about what we liked and didn’t like to eat and then slipped away to prepare samples of their Signature appetizers.

 

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First up were three gourmet tostadas. The perfect light lunch had we stopped there. One was tuna with morita pepper and peanut sauce. Another was a fish ceviche in a spicy charred pepper sauce. And lastly was my favourite of octopus in a chiltomate sauce (roasted tomato, red onion and sour orange). Complex tastes and textures made for an instant hit in our minds.

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In addition, was this gorgeous Carpucci composed of olive oil, chia seeds, cucumber skin, Pargo fish, cilantro, avocado, mayo and mojito sauce over it all. The perfect blend of savoury and crunch!

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We loved the octopus tostada appetizer so much that we also chose their deliciously tender octupus entrée. It had been chargrilled and garnished with jalepeno rounds and cilantro. There were also succulent shrimp hiding in the arroz (rice) crema made even creamier with little dots of with Mexican cheese.

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We also sampled their version of Tik n Chix with plantain rice, black beans, avocado and red onion in addition to a Mayan Xnipek sauce ( a blend of tomato, red onion, sour orange and habanero). The fish was first rubbed with an Isla Mujeres special concoction of annatto seed and sour orange.  The Mayan specialty was decadent and delish.

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A while later, while we were sitting in the shade pretending we were movie stars again,

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we enjoyed a brownie with oreos, strawberries, mint, mini milk chocolate chips and vanilla bean ice cream. We certainly didn’t need it ,but we really enjoyed it.

The ambience, views, food and drinks were all stellar and it is easy to see why Zama has withstood the test of time. Ours was a first class experience.

Kath’s quote: “Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity.”
-Frank Lloyd Wright

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Love never fails.

 

 

 

 

Sesso Loco-Isla Mujeres 2019

April3

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Seso recognized as soon as we walked in. He was happy to see us and greeted us warmly. Here is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, sharing his setbacks and his triumphs like glugs of ketchup from a bottle. He told us of his struggles on Hidalgo and then his determination to kick start everything all over again on Medina in Colonias. By my estimation he has achieved resounding success but there is more. He has done so without a whiff of arrogance or false pride. This guy is the real deal folks.

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I love the décor of Sesso Loco. It is cozy and comfy yet open and breezy. Tables are set with plant slips just like I would be inclined to do at our summer house.

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We started with Mango Margaritas and Pina Coladas. They were frosty, potent and went down very easily. I was nearing the end of my stay so I was going over my checklist with my brother and his wife (who were staying for a 3rd week), of places I still had to visit or where I was determined to revisit in my short time left.

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Brother #3 decided upon the Coconut Shrimp. I had seen many of these served all over the island during this stay and I observed the following: some places give you five shrimp, some the customary half dozen and others that strive to provide extra value give you seven! Such was the case at Sesso Loco. My Bro offered me a taste and it was sweet and meaty and crunchy/tender all at the same time.

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I was looking forward to having a second feed of beef on the island. When we first started visiting Isla in 2005, we wouldn’t have considered ordering beef. But these days with better refrigeration and speedier delivery, beef is popping up on many menus. I am a beef lover from a way back. Not only did my Dad once run a packing plant but D and I met while both working at a steakhouse in our home town. So I know of what I speak…

A rib-eye is not for the faint of heart. It is the most flavourful steak I know of because it is served with the bone. But it is the liberal marbling of the steak that adds the greatest punch of flavour. That is if you don’t mind cutting around the fat, and I don’t mind at all. My favourite foods are worth the extra effort: artichokes, wild blueberries and truffles!

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My SIL ordered chicken skewers but was mistakenly served fish ones.

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This was not a big deal as the meal was replaced in minutes and she enjoyed every single bite of the grilled vegetables and tender chicken. Sesso though was beside himself, apologizing over and over again. And this is how I know that he is the real deal. A chef can display his passion for food when the dish looks like a work of art but that same passion showed in Sesso when he thought he had disappointed us. He would have stood on his head and spit nickels in order to correct his mistake!

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We had enjoyed a perfect evening in spite of  a single glitch. The food was great, visiting with my dear family was wonderful and knowing that we would see Sesso on the island in another year, the icing on the cake.

Kath’s quote: “Food, to me, is always about cooking and eating with those you love and care for”. -David Chang

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Love never fails.

 

Xantolo Alma-Isla Mujeres 2019

March29

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There have been a couple of new restaurants spring up in Centro since our last visit. I mistakenly judged a book by its cover as I walked by Xantolo a number of times . It occupies a corner that has previously been called “sketchy”. Boy was I wrong! The interior was beautifully appointed and the staff that enthusiastically greeted us were eager and knowledgeable. We had an opportunity to meet Daniel the owner and we knew that we would be in good hands. His English was impeccable and his business savvy vast.

We shouldn’t have been surprised as a sister restaurant to Xantolo was Lola Valentina that we have been fond of for a number of years and after a stellar visit again this year. They have a third restaurant in their family and that is La Esquina where we intended to visit as well. And when I say “family” I mean it in the truest sense of the word. The staff obviously love what they do and you get a real inclination that their enthusiasm knits them together. Our server Francesco with his mop of curls recommend his personal favourites for us to try.

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But first we decided that we were interested in sampling their two for one Margaritas. I am sometimes skeptical about these offers having consumed my fair share of watered-down cocktails. These were not only the best twofers we had every sampled, they might have been the best margaritas we had ever tried, anywhere! (I say “might” because I am committed to doing more research in this area-lol). The Pina Maracuya that I am referring to was composed of mescal, triple sec, pineapple and passion fruit. I typically opt for a straw when the margarita is rimmed with salt but this one was the perfect combination of hibiscus, chilie and salt which enhanced the complexity of the drink itself. The skilled Mixologist at Xantolo was a woman from Minnesota (just to the south of our home).

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We were also treated to an Isla Tiki and a Xantolo Sour. I had to look up the ingredients the next morning because they were both so tantalizing that I didn’t take notes, I simply sipped and sipped and sipped.

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I have now determined that the Tiki was a combination of cinnamon, banana infused Captain Morgan and hibiscus flower.

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The Sour displayed mixologist skill when Bombay gin, basil, cardamom, pineapple, egg white and Angostura bitters were blended together.

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But, to the food! Francesco recommend the Cheese Sticks and even though we wrongly considered them pretty pedestrian, when the owner recommended them as well, we thought we might be on to something. Sure enough…we were blown away! Take the typical recipe from home that we were used to and enhance it with the inclusion of chorizo sausage.  When mixed with Oaxaca cheese and then rolled in panko flakes, they were delectable. But when consumed inside the recommended tortilla and dipped into the green tomatillo salsa-they were sensational! Sister #3 and I shared one of the two sticks which would be better described as Douglas Fir Tree logs as opposed to sticks. We asked Francesco if he would like our 2nd one and he enthusiastically accepted.

xtonolo2Accompanying the cheese was a white truffle soup that was also breathtaking. Me being a truffle lover, I appreciated the subtle tastes. The soup was crowned with pork crackling and Sister #3 was in heaven.

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We had to ask our server at this point to inquire if the Chef could hold off for a bit before starting to prepare our entrees. Once we had a chance to digest while sitting back and enjoying the pedestrian traffic on Hidalgo, we were ready to explore again. Carefully considering the specialty recommendations, Sister # 3 chose the Yukatan Pork Ribs which were marinated in achiote sour orange and served with cabbage, salad and rice. When she raised her fork to tuck in, the tender meat simply melted away from the bones, it was that tender. The taste was pungent from the sour orange but made subtle with the other accompaniments.

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I was over the moon with my Poblano stuffed with beef, pork, chicken, raisins and apple and hugged with a goat cheese and nutmeg sauce.

I loved the anisette garnish making it as pretty to see as it was to eat. Even as I type this, my mouth is watering knowing that leftovers await me for lunch. I once hauled an electric frying pan to Isla with me. The good folks at Luna d’ Miel keep it for D and I and many of us are putting it to good use at Xbulu Ha.

The food, drinks and service truly made this a mountain top evening.

Kath’s quote: “You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food“. –  Kurt Vonnegut

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Love never fails.

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