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The Terrace – Westin Tokyo

September 26, 2016

After flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo, we had 48 hours on the ground in Tokyo.  There was lot we wanted to do, and there are tons of things to do, we had to make the most of our time in this crazy, vibrant, and historic city.  Part of maximizing our time was to start our day with a filling breakfast at our hotel so that we could hit the ground running without having to worry about trying to go out and find food.  After all, breakfast was already included with our hotel stay, so we might as well take advantage of it.  For our short 2 nights in Tokyo, my husband had booked us into the Westin Tokyo, which we just loved for its large rooms, which in Tokyo is huge, and its amazing location in a quieter part of Tokyo, but still only one train stop away from Shibuya and the heart of  Tokyo.

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Breakfast in the mornings was at the Westin Tokyo’s restaurant, The Terrace, located in the lobby level of the hotel.  The breakfast set up was buffet-style with an amazing amount of offerings.  Being that we were in Tokyo, the breakfast buffet consisted of both Eastern and Western food options, which was amazing.  For those of us from the West, it was an opportunity to see and sample Eastern breakfast food options and vice versa.

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One entire section of the buffet set up was just various drink offerings.   At the table, coffee and tea was offered.  And it wasn’t just coffee, we could choose from espressos or lattes or any other fancy coffee drink we wanted.  At the drink bar, there was milk, orange juice, tomato juice, grapefruit juice, mango juice and green juice.

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There was also fresh made smoothies as well with various fresh fruits as well for a healthy alternative.  And there was actually fresh-squeezed orange juice as well, which my husband totally appreciated.  It was nice to see more than just orange juice and coffee being offered.

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When you first approach the buffet, there was an amazing bread and pastry offering.  I’ve never seen a larger array of bread options at any breakfast buffet and I loved it.  There was fresh sliced white bread, wheat bread and cinnamon raisin bread along with a toaster.  There were sesame seed rolls and poppyseed rolls and even soft baked pretzels.  My husband enjoyed the flaky croissants and there was even chocolate croissants.  Pastries and Danishes were also offered, lemon filled, berry filled along with muffins and rolls.  Fresh butter slices, various flavored jams and jellies were also offered to complete the ensemble.

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Smoked salmon, sliced tomatoes, fresh green leaf lettuce, lemon wedges and thin-sliced red onions were also offered for cold options.  Fruit salad, fresh pineapple, and apple slices and prunes as well.  Additionally, there was apples, pears and bananas as more fruit options.

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Additional cold items included various cereals, muesli and yogurt.  Muesli is a very popular European breakfast option and I think oats, muesli, and oatmeal were welcomed options.  Nonfat yogurt, strawberry yogurt, blueberry yogurt and 4 kinds of berry yogurt were offered.  Japanese natto, which is fermented soybean, was quite a popular option for the Japanese guests staying at the hotel.

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One thing I saw at this buffet that I hadn’t seen at other buffets previously was a selection of soups.  There was Japanese mushroom soup, minestrone soup and vegetable tomato soup.  This was also where the egg station was with hard and soft boiled eggs, and then a chef who was making fried eggs as well as made-to-order omelets.

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For those looking for sweeter breakfast options, there was bread pudding and French Toast squares.  To accompany the French Toast squares, there was pineapple sauce, maple syrup, and chocolate syrup.  The French Toast squares were delicious, super crunchy on the outside, and fluffy and delicious on the inside.

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Hot food options included scrambled eggs and sausages.

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Vegetables included sautéed corn and green peas, sautéed tomatoes, zucchini and peppers and steamed broccoli.  Am I the only person excited to see steamed broccoli at breakfast?

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The meat station featured bacon, ham and fresh sliced thick slab pork belly.

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Amazingly, even pasta was offered.  Tomato sauce pasta with capers.  This almost felt more like a lunch buffet rather than a breakfast buffet.

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However, surprisingly, the section of the buffet that my husband and I enjoyed the most was the hot Asian offerings.  On the first day we dined at The Terrace, the Asian offerings included a hot pot tofu and vegetable soup and a white fish teriyaki.  On the second day we dined at The Terrace, the tofu soup was replaced with stir fried noodles.  Miso soup was also offered along with steamed white rice.  My husband and I both loved the white fish teriyaki, and I think we both got a couple of filets of white fish during both breakfast meals we had at the hotel.  We both also enjoyed the stir fried noodles.

Generally, when traveling, breakfast at various hotels often tends to be the same, offering the same kinds of food in the same kind of set up.  And while a morning meal is always appreciated as a good jump start to a day of sightseeing, the breakfast we had at The Terrace at the Westin Tokyo gave us a little extra pep in our step.  My husband and I loved having the hot Asian breakfast options: the white fish teriyaki, the steamed white rice, the miso soup and the stir fried noodles. We would have been happy with just these options, but then there was fresh squeezed orange juice, so many different types of fresh bread and pastries and the usual eggs and bacon and sausage that we walked away from breakfast each morning stuffed to the gills and ready to go out and conquer Tokyo.

Singapore Airlines

September 13, 2016

As I mentioned before, we got access to the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX due to a twist of fate that saw us flying Business Class on Singapore Airlines from Los Angeles Tokyo.  Score!  What better way to fly a long haul international flight than on business class?  Ok, my husband would probably say Suite Class on Singapore Airlines, but that’s just getting greedy.  Anyhow, on Singapore Airlines, when you book Premium Economy class or above, you get access to something called “Book the Cook,” which means that you can choose from a wide selection of chef-prepared meals for your flight prior to boarding the flight.  This way, you’ll always know in advance what to expect when you fly, and you get food that is of your own choosing.  And these chef-prepared meals are impressive first class meals.

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First off, upon boarding the plane and finding our seats, we were offered refreshments.  I chose a glass of orange juice while I browsed through the extensive Business Class menu for our flight.  And this was a menu, or rather a booklet.  Page after page of delicious food offerings described in detail and course by course along with a wide selection of drink options.  And yes, I said course by course.  Each meal we were presented with was a multi-course meal.  Definitely nothing of the variety of economy class where you’re only presented with a tray with multiple little plates on them that constitute your entire meal.

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Even though each passenger was offered drinks and refreshments prior to take off, a flight attendant also came around to each person to take a drink order from their wide drink selection that would be served to us just after take off.  Along with the drinks, we were given these little bowls of premium nuts.  The bowl was nice and warm, like the nuts had just been heated/roasted through the oven prior to serving.  If you know me, you know I don’t like nuts at all, but surprisingly, these warm cashews, almonds and who knows what else nuts somehow tasted so much better served nice and toasty warm like this that I found myself picking through the little bowl until I finished off my whole serving of nuts.  Crazy!  My drink selection was their featured drink mix (non-alcoholic) called Sunrise Meadow, which they described as “a refreshing mix of orange and pineapple juices topped with soda water.”  However, this drink list we had to choose from was so extensive it was impressive.  There was a selection of expertly selected champagne, red wine, white wine and ports onboard for our selection.  The fully-loaded bar could also supply us with a number of handcrafted cocktails, including Singapore Sling, Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, Grand Pineapple Daiquiri, Silver Kris Sling (Singapore’s version of A Singapore Sling), and a number of other cocktails.  Included was also a selection of spirits such as Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky, Highland Park Warrior Series Svein, Absolut Vodka, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Imayotsukasa Junmai Sake, Guinness Stout, Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, and Johnnie Walker Black Label Whisky among other choices.  Of course, there was also a wide selection of non-alcoholic juices and sodas as well as a wide variety of illy coffee drinks and a large selection of 1837 TWG Tea.

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After being in the air for about an hour, the air stewards came around to prepare for dinner service.  Amazingly, when you are seated in Business Class, dinner service doesn’t just mean a choice between chicken or beef and an all-in-one tray set before you.  Rather, you get personalized service from the air stewards as they come by each seat and actually set your dinner table for you.  A white linen cloth is laid out before you and your table is set with a salt and pepper shaker, a dish with butter balls, a fine China side plate and beautiful silverware.  It’s classy, and maybe because this was my first experience with this, I was totally surprised.

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Shortly thereafter, we were all served the first course of our meal.  Everyone in Business Class received the same first course start of marinated crayfish with citrus dressing served with asparagus, dill potato, tomato and mesclun leaves.  And boy, oh boy, did this starter look amazing.  I’ve never seen anything like this served on a flight before.  I guess this is the perks of flying something other than economy class.  I’d never had crayfish before, and this was so delicious.  The citrus dressing was perfect for the crayfish and the salad and potatoes and asparagus were so good.  Food on a plane that you can actually eat and enjoy, such a novel concept.

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Next, our entrees were served.  Again, since Singapore Airlines has their “Book the Cook” program, you can go online and choose your meal before you ever board the plane.  Wanting to eat something I could actually enjoy, both my husband and I pre-ordered our meals.  Plated and served on a fine china plate, I ordered the braised beef short ribs with roasted potatoes.  As the menu described, it was braised beef short ribs in a red wine sauce served with fondant fingerling potatoes and buttered seasonal vegetables.  The dish was so delicious and incredibly filling.  The short ribs were tender and fall apart with a fork.  The red wine sauce was fantastic and flavorful and the fingerling potatoes were fluffy and tender.  I’ve told you before, I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl, and this meal really hit the spot for me.  Other entree options for our flight included items such as lamb biryani with atchara (pickles), fried onions and cashews, or a Singaporean favorite of nasi lemak with sambal prawns.  How about mushrooms stuffed chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables?  I loved that they really gave us great options, and the options were wide and varied for every taste as well.

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My husband ordered the dim sum selection for his meal choice.  The dim sum selection came with a steamed pork dumpling, shrimp dumpling and lotus leaf rice served with chili sauce and mustard.  I knew that my husband would enjoy the dumplings, and he did say they were tasty, but his favorite part of the meal was the lotus leaf rice.  He said he was incredibly flavorful and different and very filling.  Another entree option to choose from was chicken and rice made with a poached chicken thigh with chicken rice and Asian greens or cod fish clam chowder with potatoes, wilted baby spinach, and cherry tomatoes.  Chicken, vegetarian, lamb, beef, and seafood were all offered and each dish looked and smelled amazing.

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But it doesn’t stop there, after our entrees were served, a steward came around with a fresh bread basket.  The bread included sliced sourdough, breadsticks, dinner rolls and garlic bread.  They’d already provided us with butter on our place setting, but you could also take bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you preferred that instead.  Wow, I’m so used to just having a dinner roll plopped onto my food tray on the plane that the idea of a fresh bread basket was exciting to me.  And my garlic bread was delicious.

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Once the meal was consumed, the plates were quickly cleared away, leaving a clean place setting in preparation for the next course.  A fresh fruit tray was presented to each person.  The fruit offerings included fresh sliced spears of pineapple wrapped in saran wrap, fresh sliced cantaloupe also wrapped in saran wrap, apples, pears and bananas.  I couldn’t help but choose the fresh cut cantaloupe.  It was so yummy and delicious.

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Along with the fruit offering, a cheese cart was wheeled around as well.  For those who wanted cheese (and it wasn’t like you had to choose between one or the other, you could have cheese and fruit!) a whole plate was prepared with 3 different types of cheese, including a blue cheese, brie and a hard cow’s milk cheddar cheese along with walnuts, dried apricots, fresh grapes and crackers.  It was all so fancy and sophisticated.  My husband, the cheese lover, of course had to get the cheese plate even though he was already full from dinner.

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And finally, it was tine for dessert.  Yes, yet another course to our meal.  Dessert was a yoghurt cranberry cake with creme anglaise and a fresh raspberry.  Being that I am not a yogurt lover, I was going to skip dessert all together, but then I couldn’t bring myself to decline the cake.  So, I tentatively took a bite and was surprised to discover that I really liked this cake.  It was quite light and tasty, not too sweet, and the cranberry added a hint of tart and tang to the cake which was perfect.

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Wait, you thought this was it?  Nope, at the very end of the meal, we were also served petit fours in the form of a mini French macaron and a chocolate praline.  Wow!  What a meal.  Incredibly delicious, very filling, and so many courses, it was hard to keep track of.  I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten more food on any flight ever!

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A few hours after our first meal service on this flight, the stewards walking around carrying a basket full of goodies they were offering as snacks before we received our second meal on this flight.  While on past flights, sometimes snacks consisted of a tiny package of pretzels or cookies, or sometimes on long haul flights, I’ve gotten a small single serving size cup of ice cream.  But here,  these snacks were no joke.  I actually was able to grab a full-size Hershey’s chocolate bar and a full size bag of Ruffles.  There were other options as well, but my eyes bugged out at the potato chips and the chocolate bar that I didn’t get a chance to focus on what else was being offered.

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A couple of hours before landing in Tokyo, we were offered a second meal.  Again, our trays were set with a table cloth and fine silverware and salt and pepper shakes and fresh butter.  For this meal, our appetizer was one of prosciutto ham with orzo feta salad, sun dried tomato and roasted artichoke.  Honestly, by the time this meal was served, I still felt quite full from our first meal of the day.  Now when do you go on a flight and say you’re too full to eat a second meal due the previous meal?  Most times, flights leave everyone starving from lack of anything good to eat.  Anyhow, I couldn’t just let this good food go to waste, and besides, the prosciutto was pretty tasty.

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Again, my husband and I chose the “Book the Cook” option for this meal.  My husband took the braised beef short ribs with roasted potatoes this time around.  Slightly different preparation on the short ribs and accompaniments as I had for my meal, but essentially the same meal.  However, like me, my husband was also quite full from his previous meal, and you can see that these meals we’re being presented with aren’t tiny meals.

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For my meal, I chose beef sukiyaki with steamed rice, braised onions, green onions and spinach.  Boy, I may have been full, but this dish was so terrific that I couldn’t pass it up.  The beef sukiyaki was so tender and thin-cut and delicious.  The braised onions were amazingly flavorful and the rice was a perfect accompaniment.  I did my best to eat as much of this meal as I could.  But boy, they sure were providing us with too much good food.

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Dessert for this meal was strawberry panna cotta with strawberry coulis with a fresh strawberry and mint leaf garnish.  The dessert was sweet, but luckily, not too large so it didn’t get cloyingly sweet.  The strawberry wanna cotta itself was tasty and well done.  The strawberry coulis was a bit over-the-top though and that’s where most of the sweetness in the dessert came from.  I could have done without the coulis, but it was a great dessert nonetheless.  And bonus, it was small and light enough that I could actually finish it, even though I was completely stuffed by this point.

Business Class on Singapore Airlines is like no other flying experience I’ve ever had.  Luxury flying at its best.  Book the Cook is an innovative and terrific program that allows each guest to choose their very own meal in advance and I love that the choices are numerous and varied so that everyone can find something they want.  The whole dining experience is of a whole different level where everything is elevated – from table clothes and place settings, to different courses being served to you individually, fresh bread baskets, cheese carts and fresh fruit are just a bonus.  If you ever have a chance to fly Business Class on Singapore Airlines, you should jump on the opportunity because the experience will be unlike any you’ve ever had previously at 40,000 feet in the air.

Star Alliance Lounge – LAX

September 6, 2016

Last year, my husband came up with big plans for our big trip this year.  Like other trips we take, my husband plans the big picture and I fill in all the details.  That means that part of his responsibility is taking care of the air travel and the hotels along the way.  Through a very strange and weird twist of fate, the first part of our trip would see us flying Singapore Airlines Business Class from Los Angeles to Tokyo.  We were excited when we were told that because we had Business Class tickets we now had access to the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX.

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It’s a good thing we arrived at the airport early enough to take advantage of our access to the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX.  According to my husband, you need to have Business Class or above tickets for any Star Alliance member airline or you need to be a Star Alliance gold member.  This isn’t the type of airport lounge that you can buy your way into with some sort of membership.  Entrance to the Star Alliance Lounge is given based on your current, or past purchases, of elite seats on Star Alliance airline flights.  So we were so thrilled we’d be able to experience the lounge.

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The Star Alliance Lounge is located on the top floor of the recently renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  Once you show your boarding pass to gain access to the lounge and you walk through the doors, the space opens up into this enormous, comfortable lounge space that can easily fit hundreds of guests.  The lounge consists of both indoor space, balcony space that is open to the terminal itself and looks out over the shopping arcade of the terminal as well as outdoor space that actually opens up towards Terminal 3 where you can watch planes come and go.  Each unique space – indoors, outdoors, and on the balcony – each has its own fully-stocked bar serving every kind of drink imaginable that you’d want to order.

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Of course, the bars aren’t the only places to get something to drink at the Star Alliance Lounge.  Along one wall of the food buffet area, there’s a glass enclosed wine rack that literally holds hundreds of bottles of wines.  And near the back wall is a refrigerator filled with different types of bottled beer, fruit juices and chilled white and red wines, roses, and champagne.  Bubbly for everyone!  Help yourself.IMG_4123IMG_4134

There’s also a soda fountain machine for those not interested in alcoholic beverages or juices.  And sprinkled in several locations throughout the lounge are gourmet coffee makers for those who need a boost of caffeine before boarding their international flight.

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The food selection at the lounge was plentiful and abundant.  Part of the food options started with on long buffet line.  The first selections included a kalamata olive hummus and a red pepper hummus.  Vegetable crudite was an option for the hummus with cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumbers and bell peppers.  Next came some wraps and sandwiches.  Mango and curry egg salad was an interesting and creative wrap and something different from just a regular egg salad.  The sandwich was a roasted chicken sandwich.

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There were several different salad options to choose from.  A fresh tuna salad with vegetables and a pasta salad with orecchiette and ham and finally a caesar salad with anchovy dressing.

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Next was cheese and crackers.  Cheese options included mild cheddar cheese, Havarti dill cheese and Maytag blue cheese.  Assorted crackers and potato chips along with assorted bread rolls were offered.  Also an assortment of fresh fruit included oranges, apples and bananas.

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Finally, there was the hot food portion of the buffet.  Vegetarian chili was the healthy soup option for the day.  The entree offering was basil pesto salmon, which looked fantastic.  And accompaniments included lemon herb green beans and rice pilaf.

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Who could forget dessert?  There was fresh fruit salad and slices of refreshing watermelon.  Additionally, there were two different kinds of smoothies to choose from – mango peach smoothie and strawberry banana smoothie.  Believe me, my husband and I both had to try the smoothies and we loved them.  They were so tasty.  Also little chocolate s’mores shooters were a terrific sweet ending to a filling meal.  A healthier option for dessert was low fat yogurt with angel food cake.

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I mentioned earlier that this long buffet line was just one food option inside the lounge.  Around the corner from this buffet area, was an entirely separate food area of the lounge that included an Asian noodle bar.  This was my favorite section of the lounge.  Grab a bowl and make your own bowl of noodles the way you want.  First you start by choosing between two different types of noodles: mung bean noodles and wheat noodles.

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Then there are the toppings for the noodles.  For protein, you can choose chicken or crab meat.  Vegetable toppings included green onions, cilantro, rainbow chard, picked daikon and carrots, lemon wedges and chili flakes for a little spice.

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Finally, your noodles need some broth.  Next to the topping station was Vietnamese beef broth for the noodles.  Add as much, or as little broth, as you wanted.  Vegetarian broth was also available upon request.

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The last station was for spices and condiments to add to the noodles for extra flavoring.  There was soy sauce, sriracha sauce, salt, pepper and other condiments.  Add them liberally to your noodles as you choose in order to flavor the noodles exactly the way you want.  As I said, this was my favorite part of the lounge.  Mung bean noodles, a little bit of chicken, cilantro, green onions, pickled daikon and carrot, Vietnamese beef broth and a little bit of soy sauce made for one delicious and filling bowl of noodles that filled me up for lunch before our flight.

You never know what you’re going to get when you board a twelve-hour long haul flight to the other side of the world.  But, when you get the opportunity to rest, relax and have a good meal at an airport lounge before boarding a long international flight, you should definitely take advantage of that opportunity, especially if that lounge is the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX.  There’s a reason this is one of the most coveted lounges at LAX, its spacious, comfortable, relaxing, and offers a wide variety of food and drink to meet the needs of travelers who are about to board an international flight.  It’s not just an abundant of food, it’s the fact that the food offering is delicious, varied and filling.  Therefore, you don’t have to worry about what food you might be served on the plane, rather, you can just enjoy the food at the lounge and be relaxed for your flight.  If I’m ever lucky enough to enjoy access to the Star Alliance Lounge again in the future, I would never hesitate to stop in before my flight.  This is definitely one of the best airport lounges I’ve ever been in.

Mendocino Farms

September 1, 2016

Many years ago, when I used to work in Downtown Los Angeles, a new sandwich shop was opening in the neighborhood and everyone was so excited.  I remember that for the first few weeks after the sandwich shop opened, the lines during lunch hour from all the workers in the high-rise buildings nearby was impossibly long.  It’s just a sandwich shop after all, can it be that good? After the hype died down, I remember trying it for the first time and thinking, yeah, it is that good.  Fast forward many years, and the fact that I’m no longer working in Downtown Los Angeles.  However, this same sandwich shop now has a location in Santa Monica, and for work purposes, we’ve actually ordered from this Santa Monica shop a bunch of times and it’s always been a huge success.  So, when I realized a brand new location was opening in Brea to coincide with the opening of a new shopping center, I told my husband that I wanted to take him there so that he could give it a try because I thought that a fancy sandwich shop might be his thing.

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Mendocino Farms is a gourmet sandwich and salad shop that was created with the purposes of bringing together people within a neighborhood to a local joint to share good food and good times.  Mendocino Farms is known for their creative and innovative culinary creations, all of which are made-to-order right in front of your eyes using only the best organic, vegan and vegetarian ingredients that are sourced from local partner farms.  Started by a husband and wife duo as a concept 2003, Mendocino Farms is still a family-run operation today, and part of their goal is to treat everyone who walks through their doors as part of the family.  They opened their doors in 2005 on Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles ( the location I visited 11 years ago) and have grown since then to 10 locations in Los Angeles, 3 in Orange County with one more coming soon, and one location to open soon in San Diego County.  As they say, Mendocino Farms is “more than just a sandwich.”

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Part of Mendocino Farm’s core values are:  Passion, People and Purpose.  These values are reflected in their stores and in everything they do.  Passion is “proactively thinking of new ways to better serve the interest…” of everyone involved from guests, to employees, to farming partners by performing “…even ordinary tasks at an extraordinary level…” because Mendocino Farms’ founders believe that they “…don’t just sell sandwiches, We Sell Happy!”  Mendocino Farms believes in enriching the lives of everyone in touches from team members to farm partners to food artisans to the guests that walk in the door and always giving back to the people that make the restaurant successful.  And finally, the purpose is to “…constantly stay on the culinary vanguard and push the limits…” of everything that they do in order to help create this idea of a community that comes into the restaurant to gather and fill their bellies as well as their souls.

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My husband and I each got lemonade to drink.  This homemade lemonade was cool and refreshing.  At Mendocino, they don’t offer traditional soda drinks such as Coca Cola or Pepsi, but rather smaller batch pure cane sugar colas and sodas as well as iced teas and lemonade.  The lemonade had a nice tangy flavor to it which was refreshing because they didn’t load their mix up with an overwhelming amount of sugar, but rather kept this to a more pure lemonade.

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My husband decided to order the New School Grilled Ham & Cheese sandwich along with a side of potato salad.  What I was surprised about was that my husband wasn’t all too thrilled about the large variety of sandwich options at Mendocino Farms.  Apparently, he doesn’t want fancy ingredients and creative combinations, he just wants old-school simple, but delicious sandwiches and subs.  So, for him, the most basic, simple sandwich he could find on the menu was the new school grilled ham & cheese, which actually wasn’t that simple at all, and definitely not old school.  The New School Grilled Ham & Cheese was made with honey seared ham and Mountain Gruyere cheese along with Scarborough Farm’s baby spinach and Mendo’s secret mustard on a toasted pretzel roll.  One bite into the first half of his sandwich, and my husband wasn’t so pleased.  He said that the first bite was almost overwhelmingly mustard and the mustard was spicy, with a bite almost like horseradish.  For him, this spicy mustard would have been great with beef, but not necessarily with ham.  However, as he continued eating the sandwich, he said that the mustard evened out and was more evenly spread over the pretzel roll so it started to taste better.  However, the combination of the cheese and the ham and the spinach and the mustard made for a moist and somewhat messy sandwich, with parts of the sandwich falling out the back end every time he took a bite.  So that was a bit annoying for my husband as well.  While he could have done without the spinach in the sandwich, it wasn’t terrible.  Ultimately, the sandwich was just ok.  Nothing unique or special about it for him, and he would have rather had a straight up ham and cheese sandwich rather than one with all these fancy ingredients he didn’t really want.  The potato salad as a side was good and he enjoyed the flavor of it, but even a small salad was larger than he anticipated it to be and he had a hard time finishing the potato salad and the sandwich.

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I decided to order the Steak BLT on a pretzel bun.  This was an easy choice for me.  Carved, balsamic-glazed steak with prime applewood bacon, romaine lettuce, roasted tomatoes with herb aioli and red win onions all on a toasted pretzel roll sounded amazing to me. For me, this sandwich was fantastic.  First, I loved the pretzel roll.  The thickness and density of the pretzel roll allowed the sandwich to stay together and not fall apart or get soggy from the herb aioli or the juices from the roasted tomatoes.  The roasted tomatoes added a nice acidic tanginess to the sandwich, and the red wine onions also added much flavor to the sandwich and a slight sweetness.  The prime applewood bacon added a hint of saltiness to the sandwich as well as a lot of body as this was thick cut bacon.  But the star of the sandwich was definitely the balsamic-glazed steak.  The steak was tender and delicious, and the sweetness of the balsamic glaze really put the steak over-the-top.  This was a fantastic, and filling steak sandwich and it came exactly as advertised and much more delicious than expected.

While our lunch at Mendocino Farms was filling, I certainly enjoyed my lunch much more than my husband would.  Then again, since I’ve had sandwiches and salads from Mendocino Farms previously, I knew I would enjoy my food.  I was hoping that by taking my husband to dine at Mendocino Farms for the first time that he would enjoy it too.  It’s not necessarily that he didn’t like his food, but it was more that he felt that this was just too “fancy” for him and he just wanted a simple sandwich.  So, while he didn’t dislike Mendocino Farms, this was more than he expected and just not what he would prefer.  I’d be surprised at this point if I’m able to convince him to dine at Mendocino Farms again.  However, we still order lunch from Mendocino Farms at work quite often and I quite enjoy the various sandwiches and salads that I order, so at least I can still enjoy Mendocino Farms on my own without having to drag my husband along.

Bru’s Wiffle – A Waffle Joint

August 29, 2016

Once a week, at work, we order food and have it brought in for office meetings.  To try to break the monotony, we always try to switch it up and try new restaurants in the area.  It’s both fun, and stressful, trying to choose different restaurants and making sure there was something on the menu that everyone in the office would enjoy.  One day, when we were brainstorming ideas for new restaurants, someone in the office came up with the suggestion for a restaurant that wasn’t too far away from our office.  Unfortunately, timing didn’t work out for us to order food from this restaurant for our next office meeting, which was a bummer because the menu seemed quite intriguing.  But after talking it over, we all decided that since we couldn’t bring food from the restaurant to us, we’d go out one day and have lunch at the restaurant instead as a group.

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Bru’s Wiffle – A Waffle Joint, as the name may indicate, specializes in the art f the waffle, not just for breakfast, but as a savory item for lunch and dinner and as a sweet item for dessert.  With two West LA locations in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, Bru’s Wiffle takes the Belgian waffle and elevates it with unique and interesting flavor combinations.  But Bru’s Wiffle isn’t just about waffles, they also serve up a tasty selection of salads, burgers and more.  At the Santa Monica location, which features both indoor and outdoor dining, breakfast and brunch are quite popular and you can always see people filling the outdoor dining tables to get their hands on the amazing, made-from-scratch food served at Bru’s Wiffle.

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I started by ordering a glass of the fresh squeezed strawberry lemonade.  We were dining there on a Friday for lunch, and while we weren’t sitting outside, it was still quite warm and a glass of strawberry lemonade just sounded refreshing.  And it seems that you can’t go wrong with homemade lemonade, add a little bit of strawberry puree, and you’ve got a cool, slightly tangy, slightly sweet and very refreshing drink.

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As a group, we decided to order a couple of different appetizers to split.  First off was avocado fries.  This was just so different and unusual, we wanted to see what it was all about.  Served with options of an aioli or ranch dipping sauce, avocado fries are exactly what they sound like.  Wedges of ripe avocado are battered and then deep-fried into a crispy, golden brown avocado fry.  It sounds odd, and looks a little weird, but one bite into the a fry and its tasted amazing.  The avocado fry was super crispy and crunchy on the outside, and cool and creamy on the inside.  The combination of the crunchy and the creaminess was different and unique and little bit addicting.  This is a combination I’ve never seen before, nor would I ever have thought would work, and yet somehow, it works perfectly.

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We also got an order of cheesy bacon fries to share as well.  French fries topped with melted cheddar cheese and bacon bits and served with a side of ranch dressing and ketchup.  This is one appetizer that you can’t go wrong sharing with a group of people.  After all, who doesn’t like fries with melted cheese and bacon?  Bacon makes everything better.   The cheddar cheese was mild in flavor which allows the fries themselves to shine through and not be overwhelmed by the cheese.  The fries were nice and crunchy and still tender on the inside and there was actually a good number of bacon bits so that you weren’t searching for the bacon.

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Alright, I know we were here for lunch and that Bru’s served salads, and savory lunch waffles and what not, but I couldn’t help myself and I actually ordered a dessert waffle for my lunch meal.  That’s allowed, right?  I ordered the banana split waffle.  The banana split waffle is a Belgian waffle topped with ice cream, whipped cream, sliced bananas, strawberry quarters and then topped with chocolate sauce and dusted with powered sugar and served with a side of warm maple syrup.  It’s decadent and heavenly all rolled into one large Belgian waffle.  I just couldn’t resist the appeal of banana and strawberries and chocolate sauce.  Add in the ice cream and the whipped cream and that’s like icing on a cake.  Also take into account that I’m a sucker for Belgian waffles in general, and this was always going to be my choice, no matter what time of day.  I have no shame.  Admittedly, when the waffle arrived at the table, it appeared huge.  This would be an appropriate waffle to share with someone else for dessert.  But since this was my lunch, I was going to do my best to finish it, and it was so good that ultimately, I had no problems finishing the entire waffle.  The addition of the warm maple syrup was amazing, the combination of the cold, creamy ice cream in combination with the warm Belgian waffle and the warm maple syrup was scrumptious. We haven’t even talked about the sweetness of the bananas and the strawberries, and believe me the waffle was loaded with fruit, which was fantastic.  The chocolate sauce was also sweet and the creaminess of the whipped cream and the whole dish just came together.  It was so sinfully delicious and I savored every single bite of this banana split waffle.

I think our office outing for lunch at Bru’s Wiffle – A Waffle Joint was the first office outing out of the office we’ve done in quite a while.  The atmosphere at Bru’s Wiffle was perfect for us to just hang out and enjoy each other’s company while enjoying some good food too.  Everyone was able to find something on the menu to satisfy their hunger from gourmet salads, to burgers, to savory and sweet waffles.  I was pleased with the creativity and variety of the menu.  Avocado fries were different and unique and we all enjoyed them.  And my banana split waffle for lunch blew me away with how delicious it was.  I’ll have to convince my husband to take me back there for a brunch or lunch again in the future.

Oceans & Earth

August 23, 2016

During a recent get together with my high school friends, we decided to try a fairly new restaurant in our hometown.  We had tried coming to this restaurant once before for a lunch gathering only to discover that they stopped serving Saturday lunch and only opened for dinner, so we had to come back during a later get together so we could give this restaurant a try.  We were very curious as to how the restaurant would be as this is a location that has seen a number of restaurants come and go over the past number of years and none has ever really been able to stick around.  In more recent history, this particular restaurant has actually stayed much longer than its previous predecessors.

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Oceans & Earth is the story of the a hometown chef and farmer who is living his dream by opening up a restaurant which features healthy, sustainable farm-to-table ingredients which celebrate the oceans and the earth in a slow food movement.  Local chef Adam Navidi changes his menu seasonally to feature the best of what local farmers and fishermen are growing and catching, including items harvested daily at a local  organic aquaponic farm and future foods farm, in a menu where every ingredient is made from scratch and made to order fresh.  The restaurant’s moot is “Sustaining the Planet One Plate at a Time!” with their mission being to “create unique dishes that you can’t find anywhere else.”

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I started my meal by ordering a Keep it Simple but Amazingly Fresh Salad.  According to the menu, all of the salads are described as follows:  “Why do our greens taste so much better?  “Field to fork” time makes the difference.”  Oceans & Earth grows their “Living Salad” only a few miles from the restaurant and the ingredients are harvested every morning.  Each of the ingredients are only harvested as much as is needed for each day and the greens and vegetables are brought into the kitchen with their root system still intact which results in “higher nutrient values and superior taste and flavor.”  The Keep it Simple but Amazingly Fresh Salad is made with chopped Future Foods farm greens, greenhouse tomatoes, cucumber, shaved onion, feta cheese, mixed micro greens served with farm herb vinaigrette.  And like everything else in the restaurant, all of the salad dressings are homemade and organic.  The salad was fresh and the flavors were vibrant.  The salad was also incredible lite too, but packed a punch in the flavor department.  The farm herb vinaigrette was terrific, a little tangy and herbaceous, it was the right combination of ingredients to added to the earthiness of the salad ingredients.  The crumbled feta added just the right touch of saltiness to balance out the bite of some of the greens.  The crunch of the thin sliced cucumbers and radish added the texture to the salad as well.  This was a great start to the meal.

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For my entree, I ordered Ron Burgundy’s meat & potatoes.  Made with burgundy marinated prime skirt steak, it is served with watercress, twice baked potatoes and a burgundy pepper sauce along with an avocado chimichurri.  Overall, my entree was just ok.  There was nothing on the plate that absolutely wowed me and for how beautiful the salad course was, I felt that the plating of the food on my dish was pretty mediocre.  It almost felt like my skirt steak and twice baked potatoes were intended to be separate courses based on how they were plated on the dish.  There felt like there was no cohesion between the different ingredients, and the avocado chimuchurri almost felt like it was thrown on there at the last second without any idea of how it fit as an ingredient with any of the other items on the dish.  The twice baked potatoes were pretty good, very creamy and smooth and a good amount of melted cheese and bacon crumbles sprinkled on top.  Unfortunately, I think that much of the creaminess of the potatoes came from sour cream that was mixed into the potatoes, so that was a bit of a turn off for me and I wish I would have known that the potatoes had sour cream on them.  The skirt steak itself was a little tough, tougher than I had expected it to be.  The burgundy sauce and marinade on the steak was delicious and the steak itself had a nice grill/char flavor.  But overall, the dish was just lacking a little bit and I was slightly disappointed.

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Finally, I went back and forth as to whether or not to order dessert, but ultimately, I just couldn’t say no to the bananas, so I ordered the chocolate, chocolate chip banana seashells.  This dessert was huge, much more than one person could finish.  Luckily, I had some friends with me that were more than happy to help me finish off my dessert.  Made with chocolate, chocolate chip banana seashells, bananas foster, and house churned vanilla bean ice cream, the dessert wasn’t nearly as decadent as it sounded, which was a good thing.  When it came out and I saw these 3 chocolate cakes, I thought it would be over-the-top sweet, and it wasn’t.  The cakes were really more like light, airy madeleines, which where perfect.  The cakes were semi-sweet and topped with bananas foster which added a nice warm, cinnamon and nutmeg flavor.  The combination of the chocolate cake with the sweet bananas and the cool and creamy homemade vanilla ice cream was a terrific pairing.  The vanilla ice cream did taste homemade as it was creamy and rich and had the right balance of vanilla to balance out the chocolate and the banana.  This delicious dessert was definitely more than enough to make me forget about my mediocre entree dish.

The concept of Oceans & Earth is a terrific one – local, sustainable, homemade, created-from-scratch food.  The fact that this restaurant exists in my hometown was one that had my friends and I excited.  At times, the execution of the food was spot on, and the tastes of the fresh ingredients was incredible, and at other times, execution fell a little flat.  While I understand that all the food is made fresh and as ordered, that also meant that even though we were one of the first guests to arrive at the restaurant, it took an inordinate amount of time for our entrees to be prepared.  It made us wonder how all the tables that arrived after us would be served it if it took close to an hour just to prepare our meals.  So, in that respect, my friends and I were a little disappointed.  All in all, I think we all walked out of the restaurant with mixed emotions.  Our meals all started strong and finished strong, but some of the menu items as well as our entrees all left a little to be desired.  Before we left for dinner that night, one of my friend’s mom’s had remarked that she had eaten at Oceans & Earth and she found it a little bit odd and different, and now having dined there myself, I can see where she was coming from.  Oceans & Earth is different than any other restaurant that can be found in the area, but the concept and execution of their mission can use a little bit of work.  I won’t rule out dining there again, but probably not any time in the near future.

Founding Farmers

August 19, 2016

Last Thanksgiving, my husband and I took a quick trip to Washington, D.C.  I had plans one morning to have breakfast at a certain restaurant that I had heard a lot about and had seen several times on The Food Network.  However, our plans were foiled when we arrived at the restaurant and learned that since it was the day after Thanksgiving they weren’t opening at their normal schedule and instead wouldn’t open for another hour or so.  Since we had a day packed with plans, we couldn’t wait around for them to open and we had to go eat elsewhere.  That was unfortunate.  So when my husband and I made plans for a quick, one night, weekend trip to Washington, D.C., this year, I told my husband I we had to try and find a way to get back to that restaurant we missed out on last Thanksgiving, just so that we could say we dined there.

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Founding Farmers was an idea borne in 2005 on the ideals of showcasing food and product of the farms of the American heartland and the values of being an American Farmer.  Owned by a co-op of more than 40,000 farmers as part of the North Dakota Farmers Union, they wanted a way to showcase the rich history of American farmers and their concern with land and community that makes up America’s rich farm history by showcasing the fruits and vegetables and unique dishes that could be created with products harvested directly from the farmer.  In their minds, what better place to showcase the ideas and values of the American farmer than in the nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C.  Today, the restaurant thrives on the products supplied mainly by a system of hundreds of American farmers who try and bring the freshest homegrown products from farm-to-table as possible.  The name Founding Farmers is a tribute to the Founding Fathers of our nation and the restaurant strives to epitomize the ideals of their farmers, “one that strengthens their livelihood, gives back to the community, and makes quality food accessible to all.”

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The interior of the restaurant was buzzing.  It was a Saturday night and it was busy.  The restaurant is actually quite large inside and features a fully-stocked open bar that sits right in the middle of the space.  The dining room is spread out over two levels.  There are big farm tables that can be used in a communal style, or there are smaller more intimate tables for private dining.  Regardless, each and every table inside the restaurant was filled.

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After a long night on a red eye flight, and a long day of sightseeing around Washington, D.C. during a rainy and wet day, we decided to treat ourselves to some drinks to start our meal.  My husband ordered the Farmer’s Smash made with Founding Farmers rye, bitters, citrus and ginger syrup.  My husband’s first impression was that the drink had way too much citrus in it.  Citrus was the first thing we could smell when the drinks as brought to the table, and it was the most predominant flavor in the drink itself.  And while my husband likes citrus, he thought it was way too much.  However, after letting the drink sit and enjoying it with some of the food that started arriving at our table, he liked the drink better.  Apparently, this Farmers Smash pairs better with food rather than just having the drink.  My husband said that the biggest problem with this drink was that there just wasn’t any sort of a balance between the citrus flavors and the alcohol in the drink, so he was slightly disappointed.

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I decided to order the Manhattan soda, described as a mix of coffee, espresso, agave, jerk soda and all topped with whipped cream.  Essentially, it was a strong coffee soda.  The drink tasted of an iced coffee, but stronger and more powerful with the espresso.  The sweetness from the agave was really nice, but the touch of jerk soda that added some carbonation to the coffee, while different, was really nice.  I described the drink as being different but good.  A drink that really invigorated, but also quenched my thirst.  Definitely a drink I’d order again, if that’s any indication as to how good it was.

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As we had flown all night and really didn’t eat anything all day, I think we decided to go a little overboard with our meal and maybe our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.  We saw something on the menu called Farm Breads.  There were 5 different selection of Farm Breads, each made with different ingredients.  Even after having asked the waiter what the Farm Breads were, we mistakenly assumed it was a small serving size, or at least a smaller portion than what it actually was.  Since there were so many different types of Farm Breads to choose from, my husband and I each decided to pick one to order.  When these massive breads were brought to our table, we realized we could have just done with one serving for the two of us, rather than 2 servings.  Oh well, we were starving and they were good.

Each Farm Bread is served on a wooden palette.  On the serving board is three large pieces of fresh baked farm bread sliced and laid out to be topped by whatever ingredients we ordered.  Mind you, each of the three pieces of bread was then chopped into 3 smaller, easier-to-eat pieces of bread.  So, essentially, you got 9 bigger than bite-sized pieces of bread with each order.  Yeah, one order definitely would have been enough for the two of us.

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The first Farm Bread we received was the prosciutto with fig, mascarpone cheese and balsamic drizzle.  This was my selection out of the 5 offerings.  The pairing prosciutto and balsamic is just not one you can go wrong with, add a little hint of sweetness and creaminess with the mascarpone cheese, which was a great change of pace, plus the sweetness of dried figs, and this Farm Bread was a real winner.  Both my husband and I thought that the mascarpone cheese was the true star of the dish.  It tasted more like a light, airy whipped butter rather than mascarpone.  The bread was perfectly crusty on the outside and tender on the inside and really delicious.  And of course, the saltiness of the prosciutto and the tang of the balsamic was balanced by the sweet of the fig, which also added texture, and the sweetness of the mascarpone.  I easily could have taken this Farm Bread as my entree and been perfectly happy.

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My husband chose the Farm Bread topped with brie, onion jam and crisp apple.  Brie and apple have always been a great combination together as warm brie is slightly melty and stringy and has a flavor that pairs well with a tart crunchy apple.  The onion jam was actually quite sweet and this Farm Bread almost tasted more like a dessert bread rather than a savory bread.  For me, the crunch of the crisp apple was the star of the dish.  The onion jam was a surprise as it was more like a morning jam or jelly you’d put on toast without any of the kick of the onion.  Again, the bread itself was perfectly crusty and delicious and really easy to devour.  I think my husband and I were both satisfied with our choices for Farm Bread.

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For dinner, my husband chose the sausage and mushroom gnocci.  Served in an amazing broth and a side of toasted, homemade bread, this handmade gnocci was such a winner for my husband.  The broth was incredibly rich, and incredibly flavorful, but it was also the best part of the dish. The handmade gnocchi was perfectly cooked and incredibly filling.  The flavors of the sausage and the mushroom blended together seamlessly and the slice of toasted crusty bread was a perfect accompaniment to the dish to help sop up all of the delicious brother.  My husband loved the earthy rich flavor of the mushrooms combined with the herbs used to make the broth.  My husband couldn’t believe how incredibly filling this dish and this was exactly the kind of comforting dish he needed after the kind of day we had.  The flavors of a nice home cooked meal to fill the belly.

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I chose to order the arctic char meuniere style with butter, shallots, and garlic lemon.  The dish came with two sides, for which I chose red potatoes double-whipped and potato salad with pickled veggies.  This is such a small thing, but I loved the grilled lemon that came as a side to the dish.  The flavors that the grilling of the lemon brought out of the lemon when squeezed over the grilled fish was amazing.  The grilled arctic char was perfectly cooked, with the fish being incredibly flavorful and flaky, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  The meuniere sauce with the butter, shallots and garlic lemon that was poured over the arctic char filets was fantastic and flavorful as well.  The sweetness and richness of the sauce brought out the wonderful flavor of the char.  The mashed red potatoes were nice and creamy and delicious and filling.  By this point, I was full, so I only had a couple of bites of the potato salad, but loved the picked flavor of the veggies, which was a nice change of flavor and texture from the double whipped potatoes and a good contrast to the fish itself.

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Ok, granted, we hadn’t eaten all day up until this point and we were starving, the food we had was so filling and we were so full, we figured we wouldn’t be able to handle dessert.  Of course, we couldn’t say no to looking at the dessert menu, and somehow even though we were both stuffed, we each chose to order our own dessert?  Yeah, not the world’s smartest decision, but we couldn’t seem to resist.  No one ever called us geniuses.  First off, we ordered Uncle Buck’s beignets served with three dipping sauces of raspberry coulis, caramel sauce and semi-sweet chocolate sauce to share.  The fried beignets were dusted in powdered sugar and then served out of a brown paper bag, which was a nice touch.  The beignets themselves were huge in size, but surprisingly light and airy inside, obviously the dough was perfectly made and fried to just the right touch.  Of the three sauces, my husband and I really liked the raspberry coulis as it had just that touch of acidity that balanced out the sweetness of the beignets.  In fact, surprisingly the semi-sweet chocolate sauce was my least favorite dipping sauce as it was just too sweet considering all of the powdered sugar on the beignets.  But truth be told, the beignets were so delicious on their own that they really didn’t need any dipping sauces.  We just gobbled up the beignets and savored their amazing flavor all on their own.

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We were really stuffed by now, and I mean really stuffed and our second dessert order didn’t seem to be arriving.  At this point, we figured it was fine, no need to mention it to the waiter because we were so full anyway, how would we ever finish another dessert, so no harm, no foul if we didn’t get it.  Just as we were about to ask the waiter for the check, he showed up with our second dessert, and I think at that point, both my husband and I looked at each other trying to figure out how we’d ever finish this dessert.  But, we ordered it and it was here and we had to take one for the team and try to find room to stuff it all away.  My dessert selection was the bananas foster milkshake.  We only ordered this milkshake because I’d never seen a bananas foster milkshake before, and I am the ultimate lover of anything banana-flavored.  This milkshake was made for me and I just couldn’t pass it up.  Even though I was so stuffed at this point, I have to say, one sip of this milkshake and I was absolutely in love.  When this is described as bananas foster, that’s exactly what this is.  I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a speciality milkshake as good as this one.  It tasted exactly like what it should taste like.  Bananas foster is not an easy flavor to pull off, and this was made with actual bananas as there were bits of caramelized bananas at the bottom of the milkshake cup.  You could taste the subtle hints of nutmeg and cinnamon and it was absolutely amazing.  Not too sweet, which was actually quite nice, and the drink was actually made beautifully with the perfect thickness to it.  This was one sensational milkshake, and I dare say it may be the best milkshake I’ve ever had in my life.

To say that my husband and I were incredibly stuffed by the time we walked out of Founding Farmers was an understatement.  Sure, you could say we were starving after having not much of anything to eat all day after having traveled the previous evening.  And sure, maybe that factored into some of it, but it was really the food at Founding Farmers that stuffed us to the gills.  After having missed out on dining here during our previous trip, we were so happy to have had the opportunity to enjoy a nice evening meal at Founding Farmers during this trip to Washington, D.C.  And Founding Farmers did not disappoint in the least.  I don’t remember the last time I left a restaurant so full and so satisfied with my meal.  Everything we ordered was amazing and delicious, and considering how busy the restaurant was, came out lightning quick.  Founding Farmers is a lively space to go to and  unwind on a Saturday night in an upbeat, fun atmosphere.  The food is the star of the restaurant and the diversity and eclectic dishes on the menu highlight just how fresh the ingredients are and how delicious farm food can really be.