June 29, 2011

Bellavista Franciocorta Tasting

Have I mentioned that we like wine?  Each month our Wine Spectator magazine shows up and, consequently, I am reminded how little I know about wine!  How do you remedy such inadequacies?  Well, I prefer a "hands on" approach to learning wine.  I'm sure it sounds gushy and self indulgent, but finding good wines takes time, knowledge, and expectations -- along with a mess of other techniques, but like I said before, I'm still learning.

Part of my approach is actually tasting the wines.  That's where Jimmy's Food Store in Dallas comes into play.  The great thing about Jimmy's is that it is a small market where anyone who knows anything about food in Dallas shops.  Jimmy's makes some of the best pastas and meats that are served at the better restaurants around Dallas as well as sells fabulous imported Italian products.  We're huge Jimmy's fans, thus we have been on their email list for quite some time.  Part of the weekly email announcements include opportunities to partake in wine tastings.  The mention of "bubbles" caught my eye, so I signed us up for the Bellavista tasting.

Bellavista makes a sparkling Italian wine call Franciocorta in the Champagne method.  Basically, the wine is fermented, then bottled, and fermented again to create the "bubbles".  Sara Pedrali is the Brand Ambassador who put on the tasting.  Sara is very knowledgeable and passionate about the wine she was sharing with us.  Sara's uncle, Vittorio Moretti started the winery about 30 years ago in the Franciacorta area in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy.  Sara gave us some good reasons why Franciacorta truly rivals the French Champagne region in terms of weather and climate which results in higher quality grapes. (Have I mentioned how much I love Italians?!)  These grapes are harvested by hand, the bottles are rotated by hand in the cellar, and then the bottles are gorged by hand.  A lot of time and technique goes into Bellavista wine making.  The results speak for themselves.

The highlight of the tasting was the opportunity to sample the Vittorio Moretti.  This wine is the stuff of legends.  Bellavista only bottles this wine when the conditions are specifically fit to begin the process of blending this high quality wine, which, in turn, makes it a rarity in production.  The weather, the grapes, the stars and the moon must be perfectly aligned for this effort to begin.  The Vittorio Moretti has only been produced 7 times since Bellavista began producing wine.  Moretti is the pride of the winery so much that even top wine critics do not gain access to the wine.  It was special, special stuff.  The pride Sara exuded when indulging in the wine made it very clear how unique tasting the Vittorio Moretti actually was.  Boy was it devine!
Jimmy's served each person with this delicious spread!

Jimmy's tasting room.  Sara noted that the Franciocorta region looks similar to the mural on the wall.  Looks beautiful!

Daniel Rosenberg from Empson USA Wine Importers kicking off the tasting.

Sample bottle on our table.  We definitely took some bottles home!

Yours truly and Sara Pedrali after the tasting.  She is such a doll!

Check out the Bellavista bottle on the shelf behind Anthony Bourdain!  Just happened upon this last night before cooking dinner.
Via TravelChannel.com
After this tasting, northern Italy is now on our radar.  I'm thinking next Spring trip!  Do you like Italian bubbles?

June 20, 2011

Father's Day Weekend Rundown

We had another fun filled weekend.  Friday night we took the trolly to the Dallas Arts District for a block party.  I'm glad to see that Dallas is really working to attract visitors to the district.  The museums are open until midnight and the event centers are booked with really great shows.  Outdoors, there was a concert stage setup and, our favorite, FOOD TRUCKS!!  We had some really great Korean BBQ from SsahmBBQ truck and split a Banh Mi sandwich from Nammi Truck.  So yum!
SsahmBBQ Truck

Left: Kimchee Fries - Fresh Hand Cut Potatoes, Monterey Jack & Cheddar Cheese,  Cilantro & Onion,  Caramelized Kimchee, and Spicy Mayo
Right: Daeji Tacos - Sesame Soy Vinaigrette Salad, Caramelized Kimchee, Cilantro & Onion, Salsa Rojo/Verde, Two Corn Tortillas

Grilled Pork Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwich) - 12" Baguette served with Garlic Mayonaise, Cucumbers, Pickled Daikons & Carrots, Jalapenos, Cilantro

After we walked around, we headed into the Meyerson Symphony Center.  We were so excited to see Byron Stripling: Tribute to New Orleans Jazz.  We usually make it down to the Big Easy a couple of times a year, so to have a slice of NOLA in our backyard was perfection!  Byron puts on a great show.  He sings, plays trumpet, and leads the band incredibly.  Hey, how can you go wrong with a little Louis Armstrong backed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra??!  I'm so glad we were able to see this show.
Via Yelp.com

Saturday, we saw X-Men: First Class at Highland Park Village Theater.  I couldn't decide if I loved the movie or the theater most!  This movie theater is small, yet luxurious due to its recent renovations.  The theater has a full bar and high end treats like cupcakes and cookies vs. the usual Mike & Ikes you get at other theaters.  I simply loved reclining in the leather seats while sipping on my white wine.  Such a great place to catch a movie!

Saturday night, my dad came to town, so we took him to Urbano Cafe.  Urbano is one of our top 5 restaurants in Dallas.  My dad being from Tulsa, was knocked off his rocker by the incredible food we had.  I'm so glad I was able to show him a little bit about our Dallas.

Sunday, we did a quick Brunch at Monica's Aca y Alla in Deep Ellum.  Monica's is a new find for us and I'm so glad we weren't disappointed.  Their brunch entrees are around $6 and mimosas are $1.  The best part is that the atmosphere is "New Deep Ellum" meaning the entire restaurant is well thought out and accommodating to day time clientele.  Monica's is not just a bar with a kitchen in the back like other Deep Ellum restaurants.  The salsa, queso, and food was fantastic.  Eric and I are definitely going back!
Huevos con Chorizo - Spicy Chorizo Sausage and Scrambled Eggs. Served with Pinto Beans. (I added an order of tortillas, too!)
El Chicano - Biscuits and Gravy with Scrambled Eggs, Chipotle gravy and bacon.

Hope you had a great Father's Day with your dad or kiddos!

June 17, 2011

Norma's Cafe

I have had such a hankering for diner style French Toast for breakfast.  We've tried a few different places around Dallas, but nothing has quite hit the spot.  Then, last Sunday, we happened upon Norma's Cafe.  Norma's is a greasy spoon cafe in Oak Cliff just outside Bishop Arts district.  As soon as we drove up, I had a great feeling about the food to come.  Eric was most excited at the prospect of $3.99 for French Toast.  Ha!  I guess we're a little jaded by the $20 brunches we usually have in Uptown!!

Via Yelp.com

Via Yelp.com

That's crispy bacon piled on top of my French Toast.  So yum!

One egg scrambled with cheese

Biscuits and gravy

Pancakes (they weren't as good as the French Toast!)

Norma's is a little gem of a place that we both enjoyed.  We will definitely be back!  Do you ever opt for a greasy spoon?  Any stories or recommendations you can make??

June 16, 2011

On Board: Matt & Kim

Most people in Dallas are Mavs fans and as a result were making plans to watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals. We, on the other hand, were super jazzed to see one of our favorite bands, Matt & Kim, live at House of Blues Dallas.  Matt runs the keyboard and vocals while Kim disrespects the drums (in a good way!) and does vocals.  Matt & Kim put on a high energy show and, since almost all their songs are Indie Rock hits, there was hardly a chance to sit.

We listened to Matt & Kim during our Tuscan road trip this spring.  All of the lyrics brought back such great memories.  Don't worry, I'll be posting about that trip soon!!  

Matt & Kim are avid users of their Tweet Machine and Facebook fan page.  They make you really feel like they are your pals and allow you to be interested in what they are up to.  It was great seeing them live and realizing that they are just as cool on stage as they are portray themselves in social media.  Here are a few pics!
Kim (L) and Matt (R)

Kim has so much energy and kept jumping on top of the drums and running around the stage.  So fun!!

They passed out balloons and had everyone toss them around.  It was very "Flaming Lips" of them!

Any good bands you've seen lately?  I'm excited for TV on the Radio this September!!

June 13, 2011

Destination: Madrid

We have the cutest little tapas restaurant in our neighborhood, Si Tapas.  They have the best tapas happy hour which boasts $2 tapas plates and half price sangria.  I can't get enough of the Si Tortilla (it's basically a potato and egg omelette) and the Montadito de Casa Lucas (pork tenderloin medallions placed on bread and topped with caramelized onions).  We'll get more into specifics in another post.  All of this to say that while booking another Europe excursion, we thought we would plan a 23 hour lay over in Madrid to take a peek at what the city has to offer.  Boy, we weren't let down!

We checked into the Hilton Madrid Airport hotel and hit the town.  I loved the contemporary style of the hotel.  Our room was roomy and the bathroom was incredible.  So glad we stayed there!  

We had our cabbie drop us off in front of the Plaza Mayor.  The square is full of, well people, shops, and restaurants.  One thing that stood out to me was the number of apartments for rent on the top floors of the  square.  Could you imagine living in one of the most famous historical sites in Spain??  That would be so much fun!!

We left Plaza Mayor in search of the infamous Museo del Jamon, Museum of Ham.  These locations are numbered and dotted around the city.  Each location is set up like a combination deli/meat market and cafe.  You can order ham by the KG or turn around and stand at the counter and enjoy a sandwich and beer.  Fabulous!

Our favorite place in the city was Mercado de San Miguel.  The market is packed with plenty of wine, sweets, and, yes, JAMON!  We ordered some Iberico ham sliced right off the leg and walked to a square to enjoy it.  Magical!!

After the mercado, we headed over the Palacio Real de Madrid.  This was my first royal palace and I was certainly not disappointed!  The grounds were so spacious and grand.  I particularly like the black and gold accents placed throughout the exterior.  Of course, we couldn't snap pics of the interior, but just picture marble, tapestries, rugs, and grand furniture.

The next stop was the Plaza del Sol.  This outdoor shopping area is extremely lively and crowded.  The area is filled with high-end as well as bargain shops, street performers and people looking to spend their Saturday outside.  I thought the area was really fun.

Lastly, no trip to Madrid is complete without a tapas crawl!!  We hit a few places and had some tasty tapas.

Tapas style burger & fries -- notice the fry on the stick!!

After we were full of tapas and wine, we had churros & chocolate at San Gines.  The cafe is tucked into a seemingly back alleyway behind a retail shopping area.  Once you've followed the windy walkway, you are transported to one of those cafe experiences that only a place like San Gines or Cafe Du Monde can offer you.  This was certainly the highlight of our One Night in Madrid!!
Dunking these churros in the chocolate is FANTASTIC! The chocolate is so thick that you have to use a spoon to eat it!!

Do you have any suggestions on a "lay over" city we can tack onto our next Euro trip in September?  Any other Spain recommendations??

June 10, 2011

Oh Happy Day goes to Paris!!

Follow the link below to join this super fun opportunity to visit one of the best cities in the world!!  I know I'm signed up for a chance!


June 9, 2011

Our Euro Trip Planning Resources

When we travel, we expect to see as much as possible while getting as little sleep as possible.  Perhaps, when we're older, we'll feel the need to vacation to relax.  Hey, we didn't sit on a plane for 10+ hours just to sleep all day, we can sleep when we're dead!!

So, how do we decide what we're going to do, see, eat??  Well, we rely on a few sources when we travel in Europe.  First, and foremost, we have Rick Steves.  We love his books, blogs, videos, podcasts, and TV shows!  It took me a few tries to appreciate the formatting of his books, but once I got it down, the Rick Steves guides have became invaluable.  Rick Steves focuses on getting the most bang for your buck.  He has wonderful recommendations on day passes, transportation tips, and audio tours.  While in Rome, we did a few audio tours including the Colosseum audio tour.  The audio tour in combination with the Roma pass we purchased (based upon his recommendation), saved us major Euros on just one site!!  We also took Rick Steves' recommendation of making a reservation at the Vatican museum.  We walked past the hoards of tourists and walked right in the front door.  The security guys didn't even hassle us that we were over two hours early.  This simple tip saved us hours and hours of standing in a line that literally spanned blocks!  We share this tip with anyone headed to Rome!!

When looking for food, we almost exclusively use TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations.  I leaving my own reviews on the site, too.  Stateside, Yelp is a good resource, but in Europe, TripAdvisor is much more consistent.  Rome is not known for having good food, but we managed to eat some of the most amazing meals in the city based on TripAdvisor reviews.  When in Madrid, we found the best Tapas bars and even the best churros and chocolate using TripAdvisor.  We've also used TripAdvisor for hotel and recreation recommendations on other trips as well.

How do we keep track of it all?  Well, we like using TripIt to organize reservations and monitor flight delays.  Eric travels for work, so I like having the TripIt app on my phone so I know when he's coming and going. :)  You can also send a link to your "trip" to a friend (or mom!) so that you know at least one person at home knows where you are in the world!!

What are travel tips?  I would love to add your recommendations to our arsenal!!

June 7, 2011

Destination: Rome, Italy - Part 3

There are so many sites in in Rome to see.  How do you even know where to start?  We use a few travel resources when planning our trips.  We are diligent in ensuring we see as much as we are physically able while getting as little sleep as possible -- we can sleep when we're dead.  Our Roman excursion was not exception to our methodology.  Enjoy a sampling of the fruits of our trourista labors!

How do you plan your trips abroad?  Do you make your own plans or use a travel agent?