Thursday, March 5, 2015

Road Trip Tips: Planning Your Itinerary

With spring nearly upon us the season for road trips is fast approaching. As an avid road trip planner and fan I have amassed some tips over the past few years, tips that have made my planning process easier each time and have led to some wonderful experiences. Now that I am in the middle of the planning stage of this year’s trips myself I thought I would share some of my favorite tips with you. I’m going to Los Angeles to celebrate my birthday next month so I will use my process of planning that trip as an example.

Tip #1 Before you do anything else, decide on your “must-do’s” for the trip. It could be that you’re planning to attend a specific concert or event. Maybe it’s a shopping day you’re after, or a museum. By planning out a loose list of your reasons for visiting the city you’re travelling to you’re giving yourself a radius to figure out your hotel options and find some unexpected gems along the way.

In my case… The reason I chose LA was specifically to visit Duff’s Cakemix. I am a huge Ace of Cakes fan and when I heard they had opened a new bakery so close I knew I had to go. The Last Bookstore has been on my travel bucket list for years so that also made it onto my “must-do” list.

Tip #2 Unless you are absolutely tied to your hotel, don’t be afraid to shop around a little. Use your radius from your first step and google hotels in the area. Browse options on a travel site (I use and get a feel for what’s available. Choose a few top picks and compare from there. What is closest to your trip activities? What is your budget? Which hotels offer the extras that you’re looking for? Once you’ve decided on a hotel, don’t just book through the first site you found it on! In all of my hotel booking this year travel sites didn’t have the best price. In some cases the hotel’s website was over $30 cheaper per night! Also be sure to check for booking deals on the hotel’s website that offer discounted rates for AAA members or dining credits if you book two or more nights.

In my case… I had no idea where I wanted to stay when I started planning my trip to LA. It’s not a city I’ve spent a lot of time in so I was mostly unfamiliar with the area so I was relying a lot on customer reviews. In the end I went a little outside of my search radius when I saw that the Omni Hotel was a block away from where I was initially searching. I stayed at the Nashville Omni when I was there for a conference last year and I fell in love. Their convenient valet and central location to other nearby attractions made this the right choice for this trip. Rooms were slightly cheaper through the hotel’s website than they were on travel sites, especially with their AAA discount.

Tip #3 Now that you’ve booked your hotel, so a satellite map search of the area and see what little gems you can add to your itinerary. Oftentimes the hotel will have a list on the website of attractions in walking distance and taking a look at the satellite map will show you other options that you may not have considered (or even been aware of). Also check for events that will be at nearby venues for the time you will be in town. You could find something unexpectedly perfect, and will keep you aware of potential traffic snags.

In my case… Searching the area around the Omni I found that both the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Walt Disney Concert Hall are in walking distance. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that the Seoul Philharmonic will be at the Concert Hall the night I am there playing one of my favorite Beethoven pieces. With this, my itinerary was rounded out with plans for an afternoon museum visit, dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant, and tickets to the show. None of that would have fallen into place if I hadn’t done a search of the surrounding area. What was starting out as a fun girl’s shopping day has turned into a dream vacation and I couldn’t be more excited.

Are you planning any road trips this year? What are your “must-do’s” as you prepare to hit the road?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bardot Brasserie

I have been a Michael Mina fan for several years now so when I heard that he had a new restaurant coming to Las Vegas I was all ears. Done in the style of a traditional French brasserie, Bardot Brasserie at the Aria does not disappoint. Walking in you are immediately face to face with the extensive bar. The combination of brass and glass sets the stage for the vibe of the restaurant as a whole. It's like stepping into another era complete with French jazz and uncovered wooden tables. Sitting in one of the booths in the back gives you a front row seat to witness the action in the kitchen, complete with the large wood burning oven.

After making some careful choices, honestly it was difficult to decide with so many delicious options, I somehow ended up with a multi-course feast of red meat. At the recommendation of the waiter I started things off with the steak tartar. While the crisps provided proved difficult to eat, the steak itself was decadently rich and delicious. With a creamy texture provided by the quail's egg yolk the meat was well spiced and an excellent start to the night.

Seeing bone marrow on the menu that was the one pick I had in mind from scoping out the menu online in the days leading up to my reservation. This was easily the standout dish of the night. Hearth cooked to achieve the perfect sear each bone was a balance between crisp and melt-in-your mouth goodness. Paired with bordelaise onions, whose tart sweetness cut through the heavy fat of the marrow, and bread for layering this dish is a must have.

Having had such a wonderful experience with the steak at Michael Mina over Thanksgiving I decided to keep it traditional with the Ribeye Steak Frittes. Especially for the price tag, the steak was generously portioned even though I did find the fois gras butter to be a little too earthy for my taste. The frittes themselves, fried in beef fat, were the surprise of the night. I am rarely wowed by fries, but the flavor from the beef fat paired with the still fluffy potato was a winning combination. I would order this dish again if only to enjoy the fries.

After such a heavy meal I decided to end things on a lighter note with the mille feuille. Boasting a caramelized puff pastry as its selling point I enjoyed the sweet, crisp layers though the caramelization process did leave the layers sticking to my teeth.

Final Verdict: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
With generous portions of solidly prepared, flavorful food with a twist Bardot Brasserie is a must for any fan of French food. Whether you're looking for a romantic date or a fun night out with the girls there is something for you here. Step out of your comfort zone to find the real standout dishes from the bone marrow to the escargot (which were the hit of the night for the tables around me, they are definitely on my list for my next visit).

Monday, February 9, 2015

Wild Ophelia Chocolate

I was wandering the aisles of the grocery store the other day and these chocolate bars stopped me dead in my tracks. I am an absolute sucker for interesting chocolate pairings. I picked these three up on the spot! I was even more excited to try these after noticing that Wild Ophelia is related to Vosges, one of my favorite chocolatiers.

Wild Ophelia pairs all natural ingredients from farms and artisans across the USA with chocolate. Each bar features a short bio of the artisan or farmer they partnered with, along with details about what makes their product special. I love that they've woven in that extra layer of connection with their ingredients.

The Peanut Butter & Banana milk chocolate bar features the Williams Banana from Uncle Mikey's Hawaiian Foods.

Flavor Profile: A Sweet, mild flavored banana with a honeyed smell, blended with roasted peanut butter and rich milk chocolate.

Peanut butter and chocolate are the key scents after opening the wrapper. I was (pleasantly) surprised by the lack of large pieces of the dried banana, instead they are a subtle crunch that adds a nice texture to the bar. While the peanut butter was a key scent, there isn't a noticeable peanut flavor to the bar, though the salt adds a nice depth to the chocolate flavor. Overall this is a well balanced chocolate bar that would appeal to just about anyone with a sweet tooth.

The Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chips dark chocolate bar features chips from The Billy Goat Chip Company.

Flavor Profile: A sweet, savory and spicy warm-the-back-of-your-throat chip is entrenched in dark chocolate.

You can smell the spice as soon as you open the wrapper, though thankfully it wasn't as spicy as the scent implied. The flavor on these is... unusual. The bitterness of the dark chocolate does interesting things with the smoky BBQ spice and the crunch of the chips is a little more aggressive than the previous bar. I would like to see a little more salt to balance out the bitterness and the smoke. While this wasn't love at first bite, the bar did grow on me after a little while. Definitely something for the more adventurous chocolate lover.

The Beef Jerky milk chocolate bar features jerky from the state of Idaho.

Flavor Profile: Natural smoked fruit woods and peppered spices perfectly match our smooth milk chocolate.

Of the three, this bar was the one I was the most skeptical to try. The peppery smoke is the first scent note after opening the wrapper, giving the bar an almost savory feel. I was again pleasantly surprised about the lack of large pieces of jerky in the chocolate. The pepper pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the milk chocolate. The use of smoked fruit wood lightens the smoke on the bar, it becomes a pleasant aftertaste rather than an overwhelming note of smoke. The texture of the jerky itself is barely noticeable, making for a smooth bar that's easy to eat. If you're a fan of the bacon and chocolate pairing, try this for a new twist.

Overall, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the two milk chocolate bars. I would pick up the Peanut Butter and Banana as well as the Beef Jerky flavors again. Especially to experiment with baking, I suspect the Peanut Butter and Banana would be excellent in pancakes.

Have you tried any of the Wild Ophelia chocolate bars? What are your favorite flavors to pair with chocolate?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Coconut Chicken Curry

There is a Thai restaurant just around the corner that some of my coworkers introduced me to a few years ago. I fell head over heels for their Massaman curry. Rich and hearty with potatoes and onions paired with the delicate sweetness of coconut milk and spice of curry. It's a dish that I knew I needed in my weeknight repertoire.

This dish is incredibly adaptable to your personal taste. While I prefer to use jasmine rice, use what you have on hand. Customize your spice level by using a curry powder with more heat, or adding some finely diced peppers. Don't want to use chicken? Substitute with your favorite protein! I love this dish with both pork and beef, and it can easily be made vegetarian to suit your needs.

Coconut Chicken Curry
Serves Four

1 1/3 cup uncooked rice, cooked
3 medium white potatoes
1 medium onion
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 13.5 oz. can of coconut milk
1 TBS and 2 tsp yellow curry powder
1 TBS canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) fresh flat leaf parley for garnish.

Set a medium saucepan filled with lightly salted water over medium/high heat. While the water comes to a boil, cube your potatoes, onion, and chicken into even pieces. Put the potato cubes into the now boiling water and cook for 12 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, oil a heavy bottomed saute pan with canola oil and put over medium/high heat. Season the cubed chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Saute the onions just until they start to become translucent and add the chicken, browning on all sides. Add the can of coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add the curry powder and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gently fold in the tender potatoes and test the sauce, adding more salt as necessary.

To plate, spoon the curry over a bed of rice and garnish with fresh parsley.

Do you have a restaurant favorite that you've adapted to cook at home?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wander About Town

Welcome to Wander About Town. If you've stopped by this week, or have seen me on social media, you'll notice some pretty major changes around here. One of my main goals for 2015 was to bring some focus to A Little Fancifully. I wanted to find, and stick to, a blogging schedule. I planned to put more thought into my brand, what was really driving my passion. The problem though, after doing some serious soul searching (and after talking with some trusted friends), A Little Fancifully just wasn't the right fit. As much as I love all things fanciful, that's not my driving passion, and my creativity was suffering.

Epiphany in hand, and hours later, Wander About Town started to take shape. Six months ago I started playing with this as a side project, but the longer I looked at it the more I came to realize that this is where my heart is. Wandering is about letting anything and everything be an inspiration. It's about adventures, both big and small. It's about finding joy where you are right now, and not waiting for the great someday. My passion is food, and Wander About Town is about savoring life one bite at a time.

I have so many exciting plans to share with you. From recipes to restaurant reviews and travel guides.  From the big celebrations of life, to ways to celebrate the bliss of the everyday. I'm excited, and I hope that you'll join me on this journey. Regular programming will begin on Monday with one of my favorite recipes.