L'atelier de Joel Robuchon - Las Vegas

Ahhhh. My first post from an iPad. Please ignore the typos. 

So recently I was in Vegas for work and my sweet chef hubby met me there for my birthday. He wanted to take me somewhere special and surprise me with an epic meal. You know I do love epic! His choice was was initially Joel  Rubichon's namesake 3-star at MGM. Later, he changed it to l'atelier because he wanted me to be able to see into the kitchen. He knows I love a good show and being able to see kitchen precision would be a thrill.

L'atelier is stylish, and upon arrival I was glad to have reached chic. We sat at the bar and I was assured that the gluten issue was under control. That was good because there is no gluten-free menu. Monday, our waiter and sommelier, proceeded to bring me gluten-free bread. One bite and I knew it was Against the Grain. Unlike Thomas Keller, apparently l'atelier doesn't offer gf bread. Chef hubby went to Whole Foods and procured a loaf so I wouldn't have to go without. Apparently there was a bit of an issue bringing it in but upon speaking with management, everything was smoothed out and I was thrilled at the hub's thoughtfulness.

So now for a critique on food. I'm going with upper average at best in the swanky gourmet category. Everything was beautiful and plated with precision tweezers (seriously) but with one exception a little lacking in taste. Chef started with foie gras and caviar lentils. The Moroccan spices helped bring up this dish a notch from average to lovely (but not overly remarkable) and I enjoyed soaking my bread in the broth. I had the king crab salad with a Sancerre. The recommended wine was a bit acidic for the vinaigrette, which also overpowered the nuance of the crab. For entrees, chef had ribeye. It was not cooked to the appropriate temperature and almost was sent back. Monday saved it with an appropriate wine choice. Still, at a place like this a meal shouldn't have to be saved. I had sea bass, with which the Sancerre was beautiful. By far the best dish we had and actually the best sea bass I've ever had. The lemon grass was complementary and not over powering. The flavors were superb. The only critique was that the skin wasn't crispy. Since they couldn't dust it with flour or food starch though this was to be expected.

The end result is this - l'atelier isn't very gluten-free friendly. And with an association to a 3-star world class chef, marketed as "chef of the century", it missed the mark in many places. Great for a date, but go for the experience more than the food itself.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon on Urbanspoon

Curate, Asheville, NC

Oh I am a luck woman. And my husband loves me. Which is evident because on my way home from Thanksgiving, he instructed me to stop by Curate in downtown Asheville. Apparently, he read an article in the New York Times saying Chef Katie was going to be the next James Beard SE winner. I wasn't sure if this was enough of a draw to take me off the interstate, but the sun in my eyes while traveling west was. 
Joy of joys. First, gluten-free items are marked on the menu. They have lentil crackers if you want them. Was I sad watching beautiful Spanish tomato bread being served left and right? Yes. Did my plate of piggy goodness - aka Iberico ham - make up for it. Yes.


I also had the most amazing spinach I have ever had (so good I ordered more to go) with granny smith apples and plump raisins, and the sausage with white beans, and... well it goes on. Yes I am gushing. I even gorged myself on this wonderful apricot dessert that didn't make me wish for cake at all - because it had pine nuts and pine oil. How could that be bad. And the chef is just so danged nice too. Really. She smiles and speaks to people from her open kitchen and seems genuinely happy you love her food. Which just makes me want to eat more!

I told hubby that having lived in Spain made me super picky and that it better be either very inventive, or very traditional with the amazing quality of ingredients that Asheville is known for. It is both.
I showed up at 4:30. The place was PACKED. I understand why. Practice patience. Go anyway. 
Thank you. 

Cúrate on Urbanspoon

Paul Gauguin Cruises - French Polynesia

So I am getting ready to go on vacation, and that caused me to pause a minute and think on some of the best vacations I've had, food-wise of course! 

One that completely rocked my world was a 7 day cruise throughout the islands of French Polynesia on the Paul Gaugin. As usual, I was nervous about the quality of food, and if any way gluten-free, especially after Air Tahiti somehow missed loading our meals (the 8 hour flight was LONG sans food). Everything on the site and reviews spoke of how gourmet the ship is, and I didn't want to be left out. 

No need - I mean zero - to worry. 

Our first night, the shrimp toasts were created on gluten-free bread. Every morning.... gluten-free bread. Every dinner, gluten-free bread. Do you see my point???? How on earth is one supposed to wear a bathing suit with all this bread around. And now I know why they have those lovely sarongs in Polynesia! 

Every day at lunch, we received the dinner menu for the dining room. All we had to do was select our dinner early and viola! it was prepared gluten-free. My absolute favorite dish of them all though was the gluten-free sweet potato gnocchi. It was silky, not gritty, and absolutely divine. The chef was even so kind as to give me the recipe. I can now make gnocchi for 85 people! 

Anywho.... my mom and I just loved this trip, highly recommend the line, and suggest packing a sarong because you will not be going hungry. 

Bistro St. Tropez - Philadelphia, PA

I get to travel so much for work that sometimes all the nice meals make me jaded. Lucky for me, my first foray back on the road after a while lead me to Bistro St. Tropez. (cautionary note... this was a work lunch so there aren't as many photos but I snuck in one!)

This jewel of a cafe on an upper floor in Philly's design center is a "place to be" at lunch. It was packed so call ahead! The decor is light and airy and the menu offers a great variety of French Mediterranean inspired dishes. There are omelets, salads, and entrees to tempt you. The waitress was informed I am gluten-intollerant, and checked with the kitchen on every dish to make sure I was safe. I didn't win with everything, but I was not disappointed. 

The dishes I tried were stuffed squid and the Belle Mer salad. For the squid, they were filled with sausage and topped with roasted peppers. Usually I can't have anything stuffed, so this was a wonderfully spicy treat. 

The Belle Mer salad was loaded with seafood and the tarragon vinaigrette offered zing without being over bearing. When I asked for steamed milk as dessert - I love steamed milk by the way - our waitress didn't blink an eye. Out it came all frothy and foamy and wonderful. 

I can't wait to go back for an omelet next time!

Urban Stack - Chattanooga, TN

Ok. Now that they hype has calmed down, let me just say, I still love Urban Stack. I know this sounds odd coming from a woman that does not eat cow. Don't let that limit you. This place has turkey burgers and chicken to add to it's CAB and Kobe burgers (If the cow was raised in the US of Japanese decent, does that make it Kobe-American? I want to be politically correct to the cow). And for those of you that are gluten-intolerant, they offer the lettuce wrap. Let me warn you though, they use bibb lettuce, which is small and gets messy when trying to eat with your hands. I suggest cutting the burger into pieces and making lettuce wraps slider-style.

Actually, if you aren't into sloppy burgers, get your sauces on the side. The kitchen runs heavy handed in this department. See the above turkey burger. Here's a naked Italian to show you the difference. 

Anyway.... I digress. More things to love are Urban Stack's pickles. Yes, they are better than my mom's and that's saying a lot!!! Their potato skins rock. They saved me in between tornadoes when Urban Stack still had power. And my bestie is in love with their hot pimento cheese and homemade potato chips. Yumola!  

On the adult beverage side, even though it isn't gluten free, please bring on the bourbon! Manly? Yes they do have jumbo cubes to keep your shots from getting watered down so I guess that feels a bit manly. Since I'm a girl, I particularly love the Orange Crush with St. Germain and the High Tea. On Tuesdays, a carafe of High Tea is a deal at $7.50. Drinks and burgers add up at this place, so you have to look for the deals. 

And that brings me to my one and only negative, well this and that the fries are a little droopy. For a burger and beer, Urban Stack can be a little expensive. The fact that it is so danged good and inventive makes up for it. Honestly, I could stay home and make a burger this good. But why?  I love the food and the vibe. My neighbors love it too. When I bring people from out of town, they love it. So go love it already, ok?

Urban Stack on Urbanspoon

R & J Toffees, Northern California

Good morning from day 2 of the Sunset Celebration Weekend in Menlo  Park, CA. I want to give major props to one of the artisan food makers at the event - R & J Toffees.  This almond toffee ROCKS. I am particularly thrilled with the dark chocolate almond toffee. It's nutty, buttery, and a tiny touch bitter all at once. A little grenache and this wonderful treat pair beautifully for a late afternoon stress reliever!

I checked R & J's website and they will be at Costco events in the area soon. If you have time, go check them out, purchase at a several CA Whole Foods, or order online through their website here. This yummy treat is so good, it's worth the calories! I even bought the big bag to take to staff meeting. Do I dare share? Of course. I'm nice like that. But I would rather keep it all to myself. 

Leoci's Trattoria - Savannah, GA

Outside dining... I love, love, love it. So recently in Savannah, despite the heat and mosquitos, I wanted al fresco dining. Enter Leoci's Trattoria on Abercorn. 

When I was in school in Savannah a - "ahem" - long, long time ago, the neighborhood Leoci's is in was bad. Way bad. So I was super duper excited to see this charming trattoria with an amazing deck and bocci courts welcoming me to enjoy my evening. 

Leoci's hit several high notes with me, and a few not so high. One of the biggest positives though is that even though Leoci's is an Italian restaurant, there are lots of gluten-free options. A bone-in pork chop was a special and there are several seafood dishes. The kitchen had no problems substituting shrimp for the hangar steak that usually accompanies the wild mushroom risotto. The menu lists two portion sizes. I would suggest the small... it was substantial! 

My companion had the lasagna, which may have been as big as my head. He said it was very, very good. It looked like it had lots of cheese which is a requirement for me!  Another highlight was the quality of arugula in my salad. Sometimes, this green gets limp and has no spice. Not the case at Leoci's. The buffalo mozzarella was not the most flavorful I've ever had, but it was nice and better than many restaurants I've been to. So these are all the things I loved. 

What I didn't love was a wine list that could be updated with a few higher end vintages and more unique offerings. I didn't understand the abundance of Argentinean and California wines in the mix and like to see things not available at the grocery (Cavit???). To be positive, we did find a great prosecco though so try the Bisol Jeio. It's great and only $30. I was told the bread was dry, and the dipping oil was not very high in quality. The dessert we had, similar to a créme brulée, had a strange, lumpy texture. The server said that ricotta had been added. I liked the rustic quality, but if you are expecting silky smooth custard, steer clear. The true travesty though was the grilled pineapple that accompanied this dessert. It was from a can for sure, but worse, it was grilled where a steak had formerly been. No one likes steak flavored pineapple except maybe on a shish kabob. This was such a shameful way to end what had been a lovely meal thus far!

Still, I loved my festive bubbly, the risotto was great, the service and staff, super helpful, and the whole experience very affordable! I'm sure I will head back again for proscuitto and mozzarella. Or maybe it will be the antipasti platter. Or perhaps the beet salad. And then,  there's always that pork chop with my name on it too.

Leoci's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Cafe 37 - Savannah, GA

I've always wondered if I were on that Food Network show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate", what would I say? After dining at Cafe 37, I now know. At Cafe 37, neither the staff nor the chef made me feel like I had to apologize for special requests, allergies, or just my own little peculiarities. I think the French-trained chef took them as a personal challenge.  And the results of his creations... spectacular. 

First, for those who are gluten intolerant, let me inform you that instead of just the usual bread and butter, the servers will thrill you with these amazing amazing smoked olives too. You don't need to sit in hunger as the rest of your friends ooh and aah about the freshly baked bread. How rare!!! Let me also say you won't find the requisite low country shrimp and grits on the menu. For me, dinner consisted of specialties like mussels with foie gras, two items I didn't think would go well together but were amazing, tuna tartar, and duck confit over whipped cauliflower. 

All was paired with wonderful wine selections. The list has many bottles from France, which I am not well nuanced in, but the staff knows the offerings and makes great suggestions. 

Cafe 37 is an intimate cafe - and by intimate I mean small and cozy - and so it's great for a romantic evening, fun with another couple, or for a lunch with friends. The brunch is amazing! Let them know in advance that you are gluten-free and you might even be able to get something special. For those seeking a truly gourmet meal away from Savannah's touristy locations (I love Paula Deen for her spunk more than her food), the cab drive from the river is quick and worth it. If you have a car, they even have parking (a novelty in this town!). So make a reservation and plan for a wonderful experience. 

And the best thing I ever ate is...
Rice flour tempura fried soft shell crabs over bok choy and basil, finished with a light coconut curry sauce and fresh papaya. What a much better way to use the local catch than shrimp and grits!

Cafe 37 on Urbanspoon

Saveur Summer BBQ

As the year ends I have been reflecting on some of the cool things I got to do. One mixed my love of food and my job together. At the Saveur Summer BBQ, I was able to eat food from some of the greatest chefs in America, while demonstrating that SmartStrand Carpet from Mohawk can resist even the signature stains of these great chefs. 

Take a look!

Alterra Coffee - Milwaukee, WI

I travel to Milwaukee every month and love this city. Honestly. If you haven't ever been there, go and visit. Every time I go, I have a morning ritual. I get up, take a walk along the river, and head to the Alterra 5th Ward Foundry over by the Third Ward. 

I adore the baked oatmeal. I used to think it was gluten-free, but lately, I believe there to be some cross contamination. It's so good though, it's worth the price of pain... almost. Still, I've got another reason to go, even without the baked oatmeal. 

Meeting preparation. 

You see, their green tea is named "Iron Goddess of Mercy". What business woman wouldn't want that strong-but-fair wake me up call. I get such a kick out of it that I sometimes demand to be addressed not by my name but as "iron Goddess". Really. Maybe the cold gets to my brain....

Still, supporting local businesses like Alterra is what I'm about. So go grab a cup of Joe, or be your own "Iron Goddess" by having more than just beer in this great city!

Alterra Coffee Roasters (Third Ward) on Urbanspoon

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