Sunday, September 18, 2011

July 4th 2011 - Atlanta: Turner Field, Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum, and Woodfire Grill

The weekend of July 4th, we hopped in the car and headed toward Atlanta hoping to cross off another ball park, see a dear friend, and check out a Top Chef restaurant. Our first stop en route had to be the World’s Largest Peanut Monument. It was pretty exciting and large.

We decided our first stop in Atlanta would be the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. I had never been to a Presidential Library before so I was pretty excited. I checked Yelp! For a good place for lunch and we ended up at Highland Bakery. Our brunch was fantastic! I had the corn cakes and Glenn had an Egg BLT. Great way to start our day in Atlanta.

We headed over to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. I was really impressed. It was a great recap of Carter’s Presidency. The recreation of the Oval Office was fun.

The Iran hostage crisis was handled even-handedly – the exhibit addressed the controversy that Carter recreated by not taking more aggressive by focusing on Carter’s focus on diplomacy. The exhibit detailing the Israli and Egypt peace talks gave a behind the scenes look at the process and how Carter was able to secure the peace. The most interesting part of Carter’s legacy was his work with the Carter Center securing free and fair elections across the globe. Many years ago , I applied for an internship at the Carter Center because I was so impressed with his work. I didn’t have the international chops to make the cut, but I have been very interested in the work every since.
Next stop was
the Martin Luther King Jr. National Monument. Sitting in the pews of Ebenezer Baptist Church where King gave his famous sermons was very moving. The Historic Center detailing King’s life is a great mix of press coverage, archived speeches and his writings.

After the King Center, we set out in search of a local brewery. We wove our way to Sweetwater Brewing – a difficult place to find – only to be turned away 45 minutes after it opened because the maximum capacity had already been reached. Second choice was Red Brick Brewing– another hidden gem.  Pulling up, it looked like a fun block party. We went in, but were disappointed when almost all the beers were already tapped out. I did have a couple pints of Laughing Skull – a slightly hoppy Brown Ale.

We headed to the hotel and then prepared for dinner at Woodfire Grill – the restaurant of Top Chef contestant Kevin Gillespie. He was having a special BBQ dinner for the Holiday. The highlight of the evening for me was the Farmers’ Daughter Cocktail – a refreshing mix of cucumber, ginger, mint and vodka.  

The meal started with a spring veggie salad,  then a great BBQ plate, and finished with a berry cobbler.

After dinner, we headed over to Top Chef contestant Richard Blais’s Flip Burger for their famous milkshakes. I tried the S’more nutella and Glenn tried the peanut butter Capt’n Crunch.

Both were very good milkshakes – lots of intense flavors. The evening ended as we searched for a local bar with local beers on tap – and failed. We ended up at the chain restaurant across from our hotel.
Day 2 – We set out to see Centennial Park. But it was CLOSED!

We were totally befuddled. I understand they were setting up for an event on the 4th – but to close the whole park on the 3rdjust seemed crazy.  After the trouble finding local beer the day before and this, we were starting to think Atlanta was mad at us. We walked over to the plaza between the Aquarium and Coca-Cola World  to check out the dolphins and the gift shop.

We drove through downtown to get to Turner Field for the Braves game. Turner Field is fantastic. One of our favorite parks so far. We got all-u-can-eat seats – a terrific private section on the club level that only had 20 people the day we went. Great views of the field and great ball park food.

After the game, we headed to a dear friend’s house so I could meet her daughter. Her husband is a chef so we filled up on good eats and then headed back to the hotel.

Monday we headed back toward Tampa. On the way we stopped at Ichetucknee Springs to go tubing. Ichetucknee is a cool water spring that feeds a local river. We rented tubes and took the lazy route down the river. It was a perfect day – hot enough that the cold water felt refreshing.

t was a great stop to break up the drive home. We ended our culinary aventure at the good old Steak-N-Shake.

Overall, we had a great weekend loved Turner Field. However, I don’t think we will be headed back to Atlanta any time soon. The city was hard to navigate and required a level of pre-planning that we usually do not like to do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Chopped Judges Food Tour: June 2011 New York City

To capitalize on a work trip that took me to New York in June,  Glenn arranged to fly up and meet me Friday night. The goal was to eat our way through the Chopped judges’ establishments and check out a Mets game. Since Glenn’s flight wasn’t due to arrive until late, I headed over to TKTS in Times Square after to work in investigate what Broadway shows were on sale. After consulting many pamphlets, I decided on Memphis. It had won numerous Tony awards and centered on the early introduction of Blues in the South. I was sold. After getting the 40% ticket, I headed across the street to the sushi bar at the W hotel. I have been to Times Square a few times and always wanted to stop in for a cocktail so I did.  I grabbed a table at the window and ordered a smokey bourbon cocktail. The people watching was fantastic – the cocktail was not. I decided to wander over to the theater to find a place to eat nearby. I ended up at Sardini’s – an old school pre-theater restaurant with an old school menu. I grabbed my leather booth under the cartoon portrait of celebrities from another day.

I ordered the pre fixe menu entirely on the recommendation of the waitress. She was tickled that I just ordered everything she said and I had a good meal.  After dinner, I had about an hour and a half to dinner, I didn’t feel like going to another bar so I ended up just hanging out outside the theater monitoring Glenn’s flight situation. Yep, his flight was delayed, delayed and then ultimately cancelled.  A HUGE BUMMER! He booked himself on a flight Saturday morning and headed home.  I headed into Memphis.

Memphis was spectacular! The music and story line were terrific. I really really enjoyed myself. I decided to walk back to our hotel – the Hotel indigo in Chelsea and enjoyed the nice New York night. The hotel was very nice – a great location equidistant between several subway lines. The front desk was very helpful in getting me toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, etc.  since Glenn had all our luggage.
The next morning, I headed out to Prune – Gabrielle Hamilton was recently named the Best Chef inNew York City by the James Beard Foundation  and I wanted to try out her brunch. I left pretty early and walked. I ended up in a street market. I bought a great scone and slice of Irish Soda Bread to keep the food emergency at bay. I hit Prune at the perfect time – early enough to secure a spot when they first opened, but late enough that I wasn’t waiting very long. I sat at the bar and ordered the spicy chick peas and eggs.
 The egg was amazing – it was a perfectly poached egg that had somehow been breaded. The chickpeas were spicy, but the dish could have used a little more crunch – after the crostini was gone, the texture was a little monotonous.
After breakfast, I decided to hop on the subway up to the Met to check out the Alexander McQueen exhibit. I have to admit the only reason I knew about it was because Neil Patrick Harris had tweeted about it the week before.

I am so glad I went. The exhibit was unbelievable. It perfectly captured McQueen as a designer and honored the art in his clothes. I spent another hour wandering the Impressionist artists and wondering about the modern art. Really? An entire canvas in black is art? I was more than a little lost. I decided to grab a snack in the museum’s café.

 A glass of Prosecco and some spring vegetable bruschetta  - both were very good. After the Met, I headed outside to walk up to the Guggenheim. I just had to stop at the ice cream food truck that was squarely in my path.

 I had the best salted caramel shake. The Guggenheim was in the process of opening a new exhibition so most of the galleries were closed. I was overwhelmed in the Dollar room – a giant room wall papered in dollar bills.

After the Guggenheim, I headed back to the hotel to meet Glenn. I decided to take the bus. My first bus ride in New York. It was great. I loved watching all the people as we inched our way down fifth avenue. Glenn finally arrived and we got ready to head out to our 5:30 pm reservation at Butter – Alex Guidecelli’s restaurant.  We were a little early for the reservation so we headed around the corner to a local pub. It has a great beer selection. We had a couple beers and then went to Butter. Because we were sure we were not going to get the tasting menu with wine – we ordered a couple cocktails and perused the menu. The décor at Butter is very cool It simulates a wood cabin with a huge wall of birch trees at one end backlit.

The waiter came and …. We ordered the tasting menu with wine. The next 2 hours was an orgy of food and wine. All of it was very well prepared and tasted very good, but it didn’t knock our socks off. In fact, when I asked Glenn later if he would recommend Butter , he said no even though we both struggled to find a fault in our meal. After Butter, we hit the Subway and headed up to CitiField.

 Nothing like showing up in the 6th inning in the family section after drinking our way through the East Village. I may have sat down, groaned, and immediately put on my sunglasses lamenting that the lights at Citifield were “too bright”. We stumbled back to our hotel and called it a night.
Sunday we headed out to our 1030 reservation at The National – Jeffrey Zakarian joint. I had the dish of the day with the pork belly benedict.

 It was fantastic. One of the best brunch dishes I have ever had. After brunch, we wandered around the street market until we found the perfect onesie for our niece. We headed up to Central Park to enjoy the beautiful weather. We sat on the rocks and then headed to the softball fields. We had a great time watching men who we could only assume had been playing ball together for 40 years talk trash and occasionally hit a softball. Next Stop was Rosie O’Grady’s for some snacks and a couple beers. Then we set out to find Heartland Brewery which earned a prize – the worst beer we have ever tasted. Not a single one was very good.

After Heartland, we walked down to Chelsea - the site of our 530 pm dinner reservation at Scarpetta – a Scott Conant restaurant. We grabbed a table, listened to some folks play the communal piano and monitored the line at the massive Apple store. Then it was time for our reservation. The inside was very nice – the back area was bright and comfortable.

Glenn ordered the spaghetti and the sea bass. I ordered the short ribs and a special carbonara with truffle foam and spring vegetables. I won the ordering contest for sure. Both my dishes were fantastic.

 The pasta was incredible – the mix of flavors was so good. Glenn was underwhelmed by the spaghetti and found the fish to be good, but again missing the wow factor. We paid our check and headed to the airport in time to catch our Jetblue flight home.  Overall a great weekend in New York City – stay posted as we head back later this month to check out Yankee Stadium.