Archive for the ‘Restaurants and Dining’ Category

Tapas at Bilbao Berria Barcelona – Say That 3X Fast!

Saturday, April 10th, 2010
Tapas at Bilbao Berria in Barcelona, Spain

Tapas at Bilbao Berria in Barcelona, Spain

Different regions of Spain are know for their own special tapa recipes. In the north they are famous for their Pinxos, a stacked-style tapa which is my personal favorite. These stacked tapas can be made from a wide array of delicious ingredients, and range from the simple ham and cheese sort to combinations that are down right gourmet.

For the best pinxos you need to go to the Basque Country and hit up the tapas bars in Bilbao and San Sebastian. However, if you don’t have time to eat your way through the north of Spain (which is a pretty good way to do it!) then pop into Bilbao Berria on the main plaza in front of Barcelona’s Cathedral.

Despite living just down the street from Bilbao Berria for a couple of years, I never went into this stand up pinxos spot because I figured it to be overpriced and touristy because of its location. I did finally go in and have lunch at Bilbao Berria last year, and I was pleasantly surprised. Is it touristy? Yes, a bit, but that is to be expected from a tapas place in the center. It doesn’t matter though because overall the price is fair for what the restaurant offers, which is a huge selection of fabulous tapas.

Here’s the drill. You go in, grab a table (be prepared to stand), and the waiter brings you a plate. Then you go and choose whatever tapas ring your chimes, loading up your plate. Each tapa has a stick which you will need to save in a jar on your table. There are no prices up, but budget between 1 and 3 euros each depending on how fancy your tapa is. And be on the lookout for the dessert tapas, the creamy cheese and berry ones are to-die-for.

More on Bilbao Berria:

Photo Credit: The Spain Scoop

Sammy’s Pizza & Salad Adds to Dinner Competition in Greenwood

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Sammy's Pizza is now open

I fell down on this one, folks. I usually know of every new restaurant opening in Greenwood  — I might not fight the crowds to dine there right away, but I’m aware it’s open and serving meals. Chances are great I know one of the newly hired staff.

So when I walked into Sammy’s Pizza & Salad in the strip mall at County Line and Emerson just before spring break, I assumed I was one of its guinea pig customers.

Um, they’ve been filling pizza orders since October 2009. The notice was in the Daily Journal. did a large write-up. Even the Indianapolis Star beat me to the punch., which is a really low blow to my ego.

But I’ll get over it, because the important thing is that I now know this place exists.

Sammy's Pizza tastes great

I wasn’t in the mood for pizza that night, so I asked for cheese lasagna, but they were out. Forced into a sudden switch, I went with my old spaghetti and meatballs stand-by and  I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps I’m too much of a Fazoli’s girl and pasta anywhere else (except Olive Garden) feels like cheating. My husband, on the other hand, could eat pizza three times a day, so he ordered an 8-inch supreme hand-tossed number that looked delicious and actually cost less than my pasta dish. This meal, it was my fork wandering across the table to steal a bite or two.

But it was the atmosphere that really won me over. TVs, friendly staff, comfortable booth tables … I don’t mean to come off as a snob, but I expect these things. It’s little touches like Sammy’s Hall of Fame that impressed me: a wall of smiling children’s faces who had done something great and earned a free pizza as a result. Southside parents, next time you want to reward your child for getting a A in a difficult class, making the team, not biting their fingernails for a month, take them over to Sammy’s Pizza, tell the gal at the counter about your break through, and she’ll add yort child to the Hall of Fame, as well as bestow a free small pizza on him as a token of their esteem. (Mom and Dad, you can order a beer or glass of wine for your role in the accomplishment.)

After I returned home to my trusty Internet keyboard, I discovered Sammy’s Pizza is owned by Andy Hohlt of Fireside South Restaurant fame. His partner, Sam Trezzo, has put in management appearances at Boston Market, Panera Bread, Paradise Bakery & Cafe and Boomers Pizza — all within a five-mile radius of the new location. (OK, after 6 months, make that newish location.) That will be tough competition for other pizza restaurants springing up in the area to contend with. But I’ll be there when they open their doors.

Sammy’s Pizza & Salad

997 East County Line Road

Greenwood, IN 46143

(317) 886-7861

Photography: Sammy’s Pizza & Salad

Salty’s On Alki – Food With A View

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

There are so many great restaurants in the greater Seattle, Washington area that it’s difficult to pick one to grace with your presence. Each neighborhood has it’s own secret or not so secret treasure.

There is a little place in West Seattle that has fantastic food and spectacular views that can be enjoyed simultaneously. You may have heard of it, it’s called Salty’s and is located on Alki Beach.
The dinner menu is all about the love of steak and seafood. The menu even goes so far to say that carnivores are welcome. It’s totally my kind of place.

The dinner menu includes items such as:

The Pepper Punch which is a 16-ounce T-Bone crusted with Madagascar peppercorns and topped with Rogue River Bleu Cheese. You can add a half-pound of king crab legs or snow crab legs if you like that kind of thing.

Seafood Fritti Martini which includes fried salmon, halibut, scallops prawns and clam strips. The martini also comes with home made cocktail and tartar sauce. Seriously, my mouth is watering.

There are also crab cakes, manilla clams and local oysters on the half shell available for your pleasure.

Dinner at Salty’s on Alki can seem like it costs a pretty penny if you’re used to the chain-ish types of restaurants, but man is it worth it.

In April the special menu event is lobster and shrimp stuffed almond served with risotto simmered with olive oil, onions, garlic, and dry vermouth. It’s their take on the winter comfort food with a spring twist.

I can’t wait to visit Salty’s again. Maybe I’ll go during Seattle’s restaurant week. 112 restaurants in the Seattle are offering 3 course meals for $25  and Salty’s is one of them. Restaurant week is April 18-29, 2010 and it’s a great opportunity to try out a new place or go back to a favorite haunt.

Salty’s on Alki

Hours for dinner vary, but the last seating at night is between 8:30 and 9:30 – winter and summer respectively.

1936 Harbor Avenue. S.W.
Seattle, WA 98126
Restaurant (206) 937-1600
Catering (206) 937-1085
Fax (206) 937-1430


Mediterranean tapas at Azu Restaurant, Ojai, California

Friday, April 9th, 2010
Azu Mediterranean Restaurant, Ojai, California

Azu Mediterranean Restaurant, Ojai, California

My first visit to Ojai, California and I can see why it is a popular destination for Los Angeles weekend getaways and day trippers. After a Stress Reduction Backpacker massage ($95) from The Day Spa of Ojai, it was on to Casa Barranca Winery Tasting Room  to drink a Chiefs Peak Flight ($15) of certified organic wines. I selected the all red wine flight. My personal favorite was the 2008 Laetitia Vineyard Pinot Noir at $28 per bottle.

The great thing about Ojai, California is that most everything is within walking distance of the Su Nido Inn, my home base for this March 2010 weekend trip.

Dinner that evening was at Azu Restaurant featuring Mediterranean food, tapas and house made gelato. Chef and Owner Laurel Moore originally moved from Los Angeles to Ojai for her then teenage son’s school. Moore has since transformed the Azu space, that once housed Bill Baker’s famous bakery, into a neighborhood favorite. Fortunately for her restaurant guests, Moore loves eating fresh bread, and makes it almost daily at Azu.

Lamb Shank at Azu Mediterranean Restaurant, Ojai, California

Lamb Shank at Azu Mediterranean Restaurant, Ojai, California

Tapas Trip to Spain

Our meal began with Patatas Fritas with Aioli, quartered French fries, ($6.) The Seafood Bilbao ($17) of calamari, sea scallops, shrimp, portabella mushrooms, asparagus and red bell peppers, pan sauteed in olive oil and pesto evoked fond memories of my visit to Bilbao, Spain; only Azu had better tasting seafood. An order of dates, stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon ($9) gave me a new appreciation for this dark reddish brown, wrinkled fruit.

The braised lamb shank, ($23) a special addition to the menu that night, was slow roasted in a tomato caper sauce packed with plenty of flavor. The lamb, fall-off-the-bone tender, accompanied with mashed potatoes reminded me of a home-cooked meal from Grandma’s house.

An Ojai Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir, priced at $65 a bottle, paired well with the hearty lamb shank.

House Made Gelato at Azu Restaurant, Ojai, California

Save Room for the House Made Gelato at Azu Restaurant, Ojai, California

Gelato A Healthy Dessert Alternative

As I reviewed the dessert menu, my mind flashed to the gelato display we had passed on entering Azu restaurant. Visions of walking the Rambla in Barcelona, Spain with gelato in hand made my dessert selection any easy one. The fact that Moore proclaimed gelato a “healthy alternative to ice cream, because it is made without cream,” gave validity to my gelato decision.

Insider Tip

One scoop of smores gelato ($3), add on a second scoop, this one rum and molasses, and the price rises slightly to $5. Make it a triple threat , with the third scoop, a double chocolate chip flavor, and the end result is a gelato to share with your dining companions for a reasonable $7. Gelato is a healthy alternative, indeed.


Azu Restaurant (805) 640-7987

457 East Ojai Avenue, Ojai, CA 93023

Photos provided by and  article written by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip I was a guest of Azu for this dinner.

Related Posts:

Su Nido Inn

Best Things to See and Do in Ojai, California

Restaurante El Juglar Mado, Cartagena, Spain

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Delicious Tapas @ El Juglar Mudo

Do you eat dinner later than 9:00 pm at night? Me neither. Maybe a snack but not a full service dinner. We went to Spain and it took us at least the first three or more days, to re-calibrate our meal times. We kept arriving at restaurants starving for dinner, but they would almost always still be closed.

Early into our Spain vacation, we spent an afternoon in the beautiful coastal town of Cartagena. The city has a huge historically significant naval base and arsenal. Throughout the streets and around the plazas you see statues and structures detailing the naval connection.

By the end of the day, with the sun setting over the harbor, we decided to stick around and find a place for dinner.  Our car was parked by the naval arsenal so we knew we couldn’t get lost finding it later in the dark.  For a change, finding a restaurant earlier than the normal dinner hour worked in our favor.  We had a fabulous three-hour dinner in our very own private room at Restaurante El Juglar Mudo.

Arriving early for dinner, the nice staff politely told us that the kitchen wasn’t ready but they could serve us snacks outside while we waited. And after a short time, the restaurant manager Toti came out and escorted us to our own private dining room!  He stopped by during our long meal trying to make sure we had a wonderful experience.

We shared an amazing selection of tapas, including our daily serving of octopus (pulpos).  If you plan to eat here, you can order suckling pig for 6-people if you call 24 hours in advance.  It is 120 Euro but sounded like a wonderful treat.

Best Rice Pudding for Dessert

We had servings of Campanilla de chato, a grilled boneless local pork, foie gras and shrimp. We also had Iberian pork shoulder steak. Most of these dishes were about 10-14 Euro each.  El Juglar Mado is such a great find, very family oriented, easy location and a restaurant experience that really made our trip.

El Juglar Mudo Restaurant, Cartagena Spain

Plaza del Rey 3
30201 Cartagena SPAIN
Tel: 968-52-90-16

Photos by Sharon Castellanos

Related Posts: Hotel La Manga Club Principe Felipe

P.F. Chang’s Offers Gluten Free Menu

Thursday, April 8th, 2010
pf changs ginger chicken mongolian beef

Delicious and gluten free chicken and beef dishes!

From California to Massachusetts, and in many states in between, hungry mall goers can enjoy fresh, fast and tasty Chinese food at P. F. Chang’s.

Besides loving any version of spicy chicken and broccoli, I’ve always appreciated P.F. Chang’s diet friendliness. Sure, the portions are huge, but they’re great about providing to go boxes, you can order brown rice, and all of their nutritional information is posted online.

Now they’ve added another ingredient-friendly element to their offering: a gluten free menu!

Although I’m only an occasional gluten-free eater, I’m always on the lookout for menus that accommodate food allergies or restrictions. When P.F. Chang’s offered me a gift card to try a few items on the new menu, I was delighted to accept.

Okay, it was partly because I really like the lettuce cups. But also because I’m a picky eater!

On Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took a drive out to the ‘burbs, going north to the P.F. Chang’s in Corte Madera, CA.

There was a decent sized crowd in the restaurant, considering it was between lunch and dinner rush. There was a good mix of patrons — families, three lady friends celebrating a birthday, and several couples like us, grabbing a late weekend lunch.

As we walked up to the door, my husband whispered, “Prepare to get overwhelming service!” He was right, and it was sort of a joy. Coming from the City, where service can often be disdainful, it was a breath of fresh air to have waters on the table without us asking, and ice tea refills before I got to the slurping stage.

We were seated immediately with menus, and started looking for the gluten-free items, to no avail.

pf changs lettuce cups

The signature PF Chang's Lettuce Cups app is on their GF menu!

“Excuse me, I thought you had a gluten free menu?” I asked the appropriately attentive waiter (who had no idea I was reviewing the place, I didn’t call ahead or anything) who hurried over when he saw me turn the menu over three times hunting for something that said “gluten free”.

“It’s a separate menu, let me get that for you,” he replied.

He brought back two, just in case my husband needed one, too. And then, unprompted, he brought me some special gluten free soy sauce, and mixed up a special gluten free bowl of their signature spicy dipping sauce.

God, I love their good service!

On to the food. There were a ton of items on the menu from which to choose. We ordered:

  • Lettuce cups
  • Spare ribs (which totally weren’t on the GF menu, but my husband pointed out that many GF households have members who are gluten tolerant and go to restaurants specifically so they can have things like spare ribs, and that it was important to try them, too.)
  • Ginger broccoli chicken
  • Mongolian beef


  • Perfectly steamed broccoli — too often its microwave rubbery, or falling apart from a steam tray. This was bright green, firm and so healthy!
  • Moist and tender chicken — all white, breast meat, which is particularly great if you’re on a diet and watching calories
  • that magic sauce on the Mongolian Beef — I’m sure I could look it up, but that would ruin the surprise. Kinda crunchy, salty sweet, probably in the hoisin sauce family
pf chang's ribs

Ribs, with wet wipe included. Not GF, but still delish!

Verdict: Delicious! Everything was made to order, so it arrived fresh and piping hot.

We wouldn’t have even noticed that the items were from a special menu if we hadn’t specifically ordered them. Even the GF dipping sauce tasted as good as the “regular” one, which I tried in the interest of scientific/restaurant review inquiry, and then made my husband try, for a truly exacting opinion. He agreed.

We had so many left overs that we skipped the GF flourless chocolate dome dessert. Since I hate to shirk, I’ll be going back to try it at a later date so I can tell everyone how delicious it is. What can I say, it’s my job to do these nice things for other people, and I owe you that dessert-trying!

Lutter and Wegner – Berlin, Germany

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

According to legend, famed 19th century German actor, Ludwig Devrient walked into Lutter and Wegner in Berlin, Germany and demanded, “Give me a cup of sekt (sack), rogue!”  And with that caddish statement, new slang was born.  The sparkling white wine (or German champagne) previously known as Schaumwein would henceforth be called Sekt.  It still is today.

I didn’t know this when I walked along the Charlottenstrasse one evening.  I was trying to find a hot, new Asian restaurant nearby.  I had a serious craving for a bowl of noodles until I passed by a cozy, wood-paneled restaurant on the corner.  The small, wood plaque identified it as Lutter and Wegner.  But that one peek inside the window stopped me in my tracks.  Curious George had beckoned from the bar (or, at least, a statue of him).  How could I resist and just walk on by?

As it turns out, Curious George lured me into a fairly famous spot.  Lutter and Wegner has been making wine for over 100 years.  And serving traditional German fare at this Charlottenstrasse location for nearly as long.  (There is also an adjacent Weinstube, or wine bar).  But again, I didn’t know this until I opened the menu.  And once I read that, I was fairly skeptical.  After all, how many restaurants claim fame on the first pages of the menu?

The food convinced me.  Sophisticated, complex dishes like my creamed veal goulash served with spaetzle and cheese curd souffle in sour cherry punch had me in thrall.  The souffle was likely one of the best I’ve ever had.  And the lovely Lutter & Wegner brand white wine recommended by the staff was just as good.  Dry and subtle, with little hints of yellow flower fields, honey and sunshine, every sip satisfied.

Once I returned my hotel later that evening, I googled Lutter and Wegner and learned a lot more about them.  Mostly, that it’s considered one of the best places to get a schnitzel in Berlin.  Oops – I guess I missed the boat on that one.  So how could I not return the next night with my husband and son to give it a try?  It seemed to be a family favorite with Berlin locals, too.

But I ordered the award-winning Sauerbraten instead (which, incidentally, deserves every ribbon it gets).  I suppose a return trip is in order.


Lutter and Wegner
Charlottenstrasse 56
Mitte, Berlin
Tel:  +49 030 2029 5417


Photo courtesy of Kayt Sukel

Seattle’s Restaurant Week – An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

If you are going to be in the Seattle area or just live around the city you should take advantage of Seattle’s Restaurant week.

What is it and when?

Seattle Restaurant Week is April 18-29 and it’s a great way to try out your favorite restaurants for a fraction of the cost.

There are 107 restaurants participating in the 3 courses for $25 meal deal. Restaurants like Maximilien, Spur, TASTE, Seastar and Cafe Campagne.

I have been fortunate enough to eat at a few of the choice restaurants and if you haven’t you definitely need to check out this list.


Outdoor Dining at El Jardi Restaurant

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

El Jardi Restaurant in El Raval

As the spring warms up the city, the place to eat lunch, dinner and have drinks is at one of Barcelona’s many outdoor terraces. There are many a terrace that is open all year long, but the majority of the city’s outdoor eating spots are dusting off the tables and sun umbrellas about now.

El Jardi may have one of the finest terraces in the city, and is certainly one of the best in the Gothic Quarter. Hidden just off the bustle and pollution of L’Hospital Street, El Jardi is an oasis in a very busy and crowded part of the city. Located in the walled courtyard of what used to be Hospital Santa Creu, diners sample tapas and sip glasses of white wine under leafy trees in a well-manicured garden terrace.

The music at El Jardi is good, and some evenings when I have been there late there has even been a DJ. My recommendation is try El Jardi for lunch on a sunny day (go early if you don’t want to wait, like 1pm) or around 7pm or so for tapas and wine on a warm spring evening. After tapas head for dinner or out on the town in El Raval, the neighborhood just behind El Jardi, heading further down L’Hospital Street.

El Jardi is inexpensive – mid-range and offers market-fresh meals and Mediterranean tapas.

More on El Jardi: Carrer de L’Hospital 56, Barcelona, Spain –

Photo Credit: The Spain Scoop

Ft. Lauderdale’s Bimini Boatyard Serves Surprises with Fish

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

It’s becoming difficult to find a new restaurant to write about in the Hollywood, Florida, area. That’s not to say the town isn’t hopping with lots of new eateries, especially along Hollywood Boulevard and on the Broadwalk. And I’m hearing great things about many of them.

Seafood at Bimini Boatyard

But when you’re there for only 5 nights over spring break, and you want to return to the good ones you found last time, too … well, I’d  need to devote my vacation to restaurant hopping and bring more money. And I’m sorry, but when I’m in South Florida, it’s all about the ocean and sitting on the beach for me. Dinner is defined by how close the restaurant is to the beach — and 5 miles is pushing my limits.

My friend is less dogmatic about her surroundings. So when a fellow vacationer at the Manta Ray Inn said they enjoyed the seafood at Bimini Boatyard in Ft. Lauderdale, she was on that like white on rice. Meanwhile, I needed a blog post for Uptake, so I dug into my suitcase to find the most upscale piece of clothing I brought (we were told this place offered valet parking, code for “you might not get by with sweat pants and a t-shirt with flip-flops) and go along for the ride.

Turns out, Bimini Boatyard is only about 15 minutes from our hotel, even if it did violate the 5-mile radius thing. And our temporary neighbors from Syracuse, New York, weren’t joking: they have excellent seafood.

Or at least my friends liked their black tilapia. I fell for the salmon entree as usual, and found that it was crunchier than I prefer — if I have to chew that much, I’d just as soon fry it up in a patty and serve it with cheese grits. But the middle was delicious, and I’d eaten enough bread that I wasn’t exactly starving when they sat the plate in front of me in the first place.

Which was a godsend, considering what else accompanied the salmon.

I could choose two sides, and a baked potato was a given because I have no imagination. But none of the other selections appealed to me … and my friend couldn’t narrow it down to just a pair. So I offered to order one for her: asparagus. But they were feeling generous in the kitchen because in addition, the chef placed two long, tubular things — one orange and the other a bruised shade of purple — on my plate. The first was clearly a carrot. The second was … a weird turnip? an Easter egg dye experiment? a hybrid eggplant? I called the waitress over for the sole purpose of asking what the hell that was staring at me.

One of these things doesn't belong

“An exotic carrot,” she said. “It tastes just like an ordinary one, only the color is different.”

So, that was the end of the road for me because a cooked carrot of any color is not something I’d put on my fork, let alone move it toward my mouth. But my friend was willing to give it a shot (after all, she’s brave enough to eat asparagus, so I figured she was a great candidate for this thing, too). After she unpursed her lips, she assured us the waitress was a liar. It  had a lot less in common with carrots than just the color.

But at the end of the meal, we voted that was the only downside to this restaurant, and it wasn’t nearly strong enough to outweigh the views, the service and the main dishes. I’ve added Bimini Boatyard to my list of area restaurants to frequent during my Hollywood visits — and best of all, I can still wear flip-flops and a t-shirt.

Bimini Boatyard

1555 SE 17th St

Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316

(954) 525-7400

Photography: Julie Sturgeon