Taking Back My Twenties

Travel

A Rainy Hill Country Weekend

Posted on Apr 7, 2014 | 4 comments

This weekend, Matt and I traveled to Hill Country to use our free stay as part of the Marriott Rewards Ambassador Program (review of the program coming in the next month).

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We fell in love with the quiet Hill Country on our first visit, and decided we wanted to go back! The JW Marriott seemed like a perfect destination for a weekend away.

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We drove down on Friday evening. I sang country songs at the top of my lungs while Matt navigated the winding roads – I really wish I could play the fiddle…or the banjo.

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We arrived at Duchmann Family Winery just in time for a tasting and a picnic before the winery closed. I enjoyed all the wines we tasted, but liked the Vermentino white the best.

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We ordered a glass to split with our picnic. Wrapped in a million sweaters, we enjoyed dinner with strings of white lights and Italian music to set the scene.

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Dinner was a giant Italian sandwich and a snickerdoodle from Etzi’s.

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Etzi’s has the best bone bread and super strong mustard. Loved this!

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We got to the resort pretty late, and went to bed after sitting by the fire pit for a bit. I snapped some pictures of the resort and our room in the morning. It was massive and beautiful!

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We were upgraded to a resort suite – one of the many perks of the Marriott Rewards Program!

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There was a giant balcony with a view, but it was too cold and rainy to use it:( Overall, I’d definitely recommend the resort and the restaurant below (although I’m not sure I’d pay out of pocket to visit). It was also extremely family friendly with lots of activities for kids. There were pools and water slides for warmer temperatures too.

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We had high hopes of taking a hike and checking out the resort’s lazy river on Saturday, but the weather had other plans for us.

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We made the best of it though, and drove to a neighboring town for lunch: a salmon burger with lime aioli and some of the best sweet potato wedges in history.

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And then another winery visit! Dry Comal Creek is small and quirky and produced a lot of sweet wines – they weren’t extraordinary, but we bought a bottle because the service was great and we enjoyed chatting with the staff.

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The main event on a rainy night at a secluded resort is obviously dinner! There are two main restaurants at the JW Marriott, but we went with the more causal Cibolo Moon over the fancy steak house. We had a fantastic server – Jose – and a wonderful experience. Hotel restaurants can be hit or miss – but this one was a clear hit.

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We each had a spicy margarita – mine was made with pineapple infused tequila and Matt’s with raspberry-haberno infused tequila! We also received complimentary biscuits with a delicious strawberry-jalapeno jam.

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Matt and I shared three small plates and one entree and it was wayyy too much food!

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First, we had the fried oysters with tomato jam and bacon vinaigrette. I loved how this dish was prepared and the oysters were huge.

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Second, we had a salad topped with crab, lime chips, and avocado. This dish tasted a little bland, but was refreshing in contrast with the heavier items.

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Third, and the star of the show, was the smoked brisket ‘burnt ends.’ Both Matt and Jose had to talk me into this one because I just didn’t know what to expect. I’m sooo glad we got it. The brisket was sticky-sweet with crispy, charred edges.

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And lastly, the bison meatloaf with tangy bbq sauce and mashed potatoes. When this arrived, I really didn’t know if I could eat any more, but after one bite, I made room:) Needless to say, dinner was excellent, and I was thankful we didn’t have to travel far to get home afterwards.

Sadly, Sunday’s weather was worse than Saturday’s, so we had to cancel plans to check out a famous bbq restaurant on the way home because it had open-air seating. I was kinda glad since I had my fill of meat the night before. Plan B: find healthy, hippy cafe in Austin!

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I didn’t have to search very long on the internet to fine one because Austin is filled with them! We decided on a raw, vegan place called Beets Cafe. Despite planning to eat light, I absolutely couldn’t resist trying a raw cinnamon roll made with brazil nut meal, raisins, apples, and cashew cream sweetened with dates. Wow!!

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I ordered the burger made with carrot, beets, sprouted sunflower seeds, celery, parsley, flax, olive oil, crystal salt, and spices, and Matt had a mock Rueben that was so full of flavor you’d think it was the real thing. Oh, and a vegan doughnut from Red Rabbit Bakery for the drive home.

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I promise we had plans to do more than just eat in Hill Country before the weather turned sour!! It was a wonderful and relaxing weekend nonetheless, and I feel stuffed energized for the week ahead!

Happy Monday friends.

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Vegas

Posted on Mar 17, 2014 | 14 comments

Vegas is intense! I can’t believe how many people were there – I arrived and was like, oh, this is where everybody has been all these years!

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I got to our hotel just as the sun was setting on Friday night! I was the last to arrive and it was glorious to walk into a hotel room of friends! My friend Emily was our host for the weekend and she did an amazing job planning everything and getting us on lists so we could skip the lines and the cover charges! She also works for the Las Vegas Sands, so we got a ridiculously low rate at the Palazzo.

We listened to an epic playlist while getting ready and then headed to the lobby for dinner at SushiSamba. I’m not a sushi person, so I never would have picked this on my own, but it was amazing!

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We had wonderful service, excellent cocktails, and delicious food!

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Highlights included the fried plantains and the sea bass skewers!

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And a complimentary cocktail tower!

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After dinner, we headed across the street to the XS club at the Wynn.

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The club was giant and had an awesome outdoor area.

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I had no idea it was going to happen, but David Guetta appeared as the DJ at 2am!!

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He was awesome, and we made our way to the pit to get a better look!

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Most of us east and central time zone people couldn’t sleep in so we grabbed green juice, hit the gym, and got some lunch at the pool. It was a little too chilly for bathing suits, but I enjoyed a nap under a towel in the wonderful sunshine.

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Saturday evening we got all dolled up for our second night on the town (I definitely could not have handled a third night!).

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Our destination was the Cosmopolitan hotel, where we had drinks in the Chandelier bar. Bourbon for me!

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We had dinner at a fantastic restaurant called Rose.Rabbit.Lie at the Cosmopolitan. The menu was all small plates, so we shared a bunch of dishes, and every single thing I tried was phenomenal. The above brussels sprouts with crispy chicken skin were maybe the best I’ve ever had. The coolest part about dinner though, was that our table was backstage and we dined while a show was happening on the other side of the wall. All the performers would come through the dining room, warm-up with a small act/performance, and then enter the stage door.

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We saw so many interesting things, like this upsidedown man!

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Our main event for the night was the Marquee nightclub. One of Emily’s [INCREDIBLY generous] friends got a table for us! It was wonderful to be able to have drinks (and water!!) right there and be able to sit and relax if we wanted too.

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We spent a large portion of the night debating if the man in the black suit in the left-ish part of the picture was Paul Rudd. If it wasn’t, he was an exact look alike!

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We had [too much] champagne and I loved the girls with sparkers who would bring out the bottles. They even changed outfits each time!

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Needless to say, it was a magical night!

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We ended the trip with brunch at Bouchon Bistro.

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I enjoyed a spiced doughnut and a glorious corned beef hash in honor of St. Patrick’s day. I was super impressed with the food in Las Vegas, and I told matt we are going back just to eat.

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A gigantic thank you to my friend Emily for totally spoiling us and bringing us all together!!!

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Key West Reunion

Posted on Feb 17, 2014 | 34 comments

What a whirlwind week! I went down to Florida for some family time! My sister‘s mother-in-law rented a house in Key West and was kind enough to invite me to come stay with them for a couple of days. My parents came too, so it was a rare chance for everyone to hang out (we missed Matt though!!). The weather was wonderful and we had a blast exploring Duval St., snorkeling, eating seafood, and splashing around in the hot tub. Some snaps:

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An awesome tree:

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The original four:

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Conch fritters and fresh mango!

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The crazy cat man and his trained cats:

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Appetizer hoping for Valentines day

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Wine that I loved from our honeymoon:

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I came home on Saturday evening just in time to catch two of my college friends visiting Dallas! We had an epic girls night complete with cocktails, dinner at Mesero Miguel, dancing at The Dram, and a loong Sunday brunch.

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The past week has been ridiculously fun, and I’m so thankful I was able to spend time with both family and friends. I’m pretty excited for a quiet week with lots of sleep and salad.

Talk soon.

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Snapshots from Puerto Vallarta

Posted on Jan 21, 2014 | 25 comments

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I absolutely fell in love with Puerto Vallarta! I can’t believe this paradise is just two hours from Dallas. The food, the people, and the scenery were wonderful. Matt spoke Spanish as much as possible, and we chatted with so many interesting people and got to know the staff at the resort. We ate amazingly fresh seafood, consumed as much guacamole as humanly possible, and sipped margaritas and cervezas a little too often. One of the highlights was a mountain bike trip we took into the countryside. We rode through little villages, saw beautiful birds, and were surrounded by lush forests. If you’re ever in Puerto Vallarta, I highly recommend La Leche and Cafe des Artistes for dinner, and EcoRide bike tours for a challenging excursion!

Thanks for all your kind words and strong opinions on my previous post. I guess you can see why I haven’t shared much during this job search period:) I really appreciate the supportive comments – thank you for understanding that this is a frustrating time!

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New Orleans: The Sights

Posted on Jan 5, 2014 | 7 comments

Matt and I had both been to New Orleans before, but it was a long time ago for me and only a 48 hour trip for Matt. So, we wanted to see the sights. We had planned to do a ton of walking and a few morning runs, a historic bike tour of the city, and a walking tour of the French Quarter. Sadly, we had rain and unusually cold temperatures, so we weren’t up for as much outdoor activity as we had hoped.

The only nice weather we had was when we arrived on Sunday night. We headed straight for Bourbon St. and searched for a balcony to have a drink, since we knew it would be getting colder.

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The bars sure were hopin’ on a Sunday night!

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We found a great spot on the corner of a balcony – Matt tried one of the famous grenades and I had an Abita Purple Haze, an old favorite from my college years.

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On Monday, we headed out for a long walk through the Garden District.

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I love looking at houses, so we weaved through some of the back streets and checked out some of the mansions.

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I’m obsessed with the old architecture and all the little details on the houses. They just don’t have places like this in Dallas.

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I also enjoyed the live music, which was everywhere. It’s too bad it wasn’t warmer because I think we would have spent more time just listening to music in the streets.

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Jackson Square was one of my favorite areas – it reminds me so much of Savannah (another favorite city of mine) and I love the combination of palm trees and old architecture.

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We opted to skip the walking tour of the French Quarter and did a carriage tour instead – they provided big blankets, so it was a lot more enjoyable than walking. I would definitely recommend this! My hair pretty much looked this terrible the whole trip because of the drizzle…

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Gosh I love the French Quarter!

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On our last day, we walked along the water to the IMAX, where we saw a documentary on hurricane Katrina. It was SO interesting (and scary) and a great way to warm up.

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One of the highlights for me was seeing Imagine Dragons perform! They put on a free show for the Sugar Bowl and they were awesome.

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We met up with Andrew again and he had snagged a great spot. Demons is one of my favorite songs ever, so I was pumped!

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I’m sad the trip is over, but I was so happy to get home right before I came down with a classic cold. There’s nothing like being in your own bed when you’re sick. I’ve done a whole lotta nothing this weekend, and feel relaxed and excited for a fresh, new year!

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New Orleans: The Food

Posted on Jan 3, 2014 | 10 comments

I’m home from New Orleans, and already missing the incredible food. Exploring new places through restaurants is a huge part of travel for me, and New Orleans is one of the most unique food cities in the US! I was in heaven the whole time! I ate some traditional dishes as well as modern interpretations of classics too.

Our first stop was an adorable little bar/music venue on Frenchmen St. called The Three Muses. It’s no secret that Matt and I love small plates, so when I read about this spot, I knew we had to try it. Little did I know that everyone else knew about it as well and there was a 2 hour wait on a Sunday night! We decided to stick it out and I definitely think it was worth it in the end.

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We shared the yucca fries with Cuban mojo dipping sauce (fries were kinda cold, but the sauce was amazing),

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the Angry Orchard cider braised pork belly with apple chutney and potato pancakes,

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the fried oysters with grits, wilted spinach, and a bloody mary sauce,

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and the seared scallops topped with grapefruit and a vanilla citrus reduction served over swiss chard, butternut squash, and mussel risotto. All three dishes were absolutely divine (this may have been my favorite food of the trip!) and most items were between $9-$12. For a city that has surprisingly expensive restaurants, The Three Muses is a gem!

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Of course we had to try the famous Commander’s Palace!! We decided to go for lunch to save money and because there were so many other places we wanted to try in the French Quarter. I think this was a great call because the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed (but sill quite fancy!) and the food was as delicious as I imagine it is at dinner time.

We started with the shrimp & tasso henican: wild Louisiana shrimp, tasso ham, pickled okra, sweet onions (they forgot to remove these!), pepper jelly, and Crystal hot sauce. The flavor combination of the hot sauce and the sweetness of the pepper jelly was so incredible!

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Both of our entrees came with soup, so I tried the gumbo and Matt got the turtle soup. The gumbo was pretty typical, but Matt’s soup was something special. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of eating turtle, but I got over it and was happy I tried it.

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I ordered the seafood cakes as my entree – they were made with crab, shrimp, and fish and were a tad spicy. I loved them, although I didn’t get the full entree experience because they were served with something cheesy and I got vegetables instead. I was so full though, that I didn’t really mind.

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Matt’s pork, sausage, and white bean cassoulet was really tasty too.

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I’m glad we fit in Commander’s Palace because I’d say it lived up to its reputation and it was a great place to get a taste of classic Louisiana food.

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Despite our fullness, Matt and I had a long walk home from lunch and couldn’t resist when we saw a donut shop.

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Just look at all those flavors and they change every day! We went with the butterscotch pecan and it was perfection.

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While we were working out in the hotel gym on the last day, Matt started having visions and cravings for more donuts on the treadmill, so we gave in and stopped by on our way home:) This time we tried the salted caramel and Japanese yuzu fruit. These really helped to sweeten the almost 8 hour drive home!

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The NOLA food tour continued at Jaques-Imos on our second night! My brother-in-law’s little brother, Andrew, is my age and lives in New Orleans. He took us out in his neighborhood and we had a blast.

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The restaurants were crazy because of the tourists in town for the Sugar Bowl, so we faced a two hour wait at this famous nook. We passed the time drinking local beers at the dive bar next door! Then we moved over to the restaurant and I got a watermelon mojito. So summery!

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Jacques-Imos is super casual and serves all the classics in giant portions. We all wolfed down the cornbread and fried green tomatoes the minute we sat down:

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Matt and I shared the duck and andouille sausage gumbo, the pan fried drum with pecan sauce, and red beans and rice and mashed sweet potatoes on the side. The gumbo was standard and pretty similar to the one I had at lunch (can’t remember why I ordered this again), but the fish was wonderful and the sides were fantastic too.

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And that brings me to New Year’s Eve! We wanted to do something low-key and didn’t feel like making a reservation for a big dinner, so we bar hopped and tried some of the city’s famous cocktails.

Our first stop was at the Bourbon O bar on Bourbon St. I had a twist on the Sazerac (rye whisky, peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, absinthe rinsed glass, lemon), which included benedictine and vermouth in addition to the classic combination. It was hands down one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had – best sweet-to-alcohol ratio ever!

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Our second stop was the French 75 bar at the famous Arnaud’s restaurant. I ordered a rum drink with Mount Gay and a few different bitters and juices and it was pretty similar to a dark n stormy. I loved the old timey vibe of this bar, but it was smoky:(

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Our third stop was at a restaurant that had a good-lookin’ menu, so we snagged seats at the bar and had dinner at SoBou.

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My cocktail here was ridiculous, but I can’t remember what was in it because it was a special drink. It was a twist on King’s Cake though, so imagine liquid cake batter with bourbon!!!

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We started with the shrimp and tasso pinchos served with grilled pineapple and pickled ghost pepper jelly – I really loved how this was presented and I’m a huge pineapple fan.

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Next, were the sweet potato beignets with chicory coffee ganache – loved these fried balls, but they weren’t as savory as were described, so we saved them for dessert:)

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We also had the rich girl po-boy, which was a savory Maine lobster lady finger layered with champagne lobster mousse, bowfin, paddle-fish and ghost pepper catfish caviars served with a shooter of drunken lobster bisque. This was so cool, but just a little too out-there for me. Caviar is just kinda scary.

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The best thing we ordered at SoBou was the simplest – just pan-fried fish with apple cider and braised greens with creole beer nuts. A couple of different bartenders recommended this dish – it was perfectly seasoned and cooked.

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It was raining when we left the restaurant, so we quickly found a spot to ring in 2014. We landed at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone!!

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The bar stools rotate around the bar – so cool! We ordered two Kir Royale’s while we made one rotation and then headed to the dance floor about 10 minutes before midnight.

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There was a great live band, but we were too tired to stick around for more than a few songs and called it a night.

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On New Year’s Day, we had a really hard time finding any place serving brunch, but managed to find some pancakes for a sweet start to the year – these had a bananas foster syrup on top!

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Our final dinner was at a new restaurant called Kingfish. I was happy that it was on the casual side – at this point I was tired and ready to be in bed after another day of cold, rainy weather and miles of walking. There was a festive wrap-around bar in the front of the restaurant and a cozy back dining room.

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We shared another favorite small plate of the trip – a sweet potato waffle pirogue filled with New Orleans style bbq shrimp,

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and then shared two entrees: boneless duck tossed in ramen noodles, roasted peppers, mushrooms and preserved lemon sauce (above) and the shredded slow roasted pork pot pie with crab boil potatoes, english peas, and carrots (below). The duck ramen was a clear favorite, although both were great and different from anything else we’d already had in New Orleans. The portions were huge and reasonably priced and we ended up brining both home.

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The not-so-grand but incredibly tasty finale was a muffuletta from Central Grocery. I had mine on the car ride home and was in heaven. Since the honeymoon, I’ve come to love olives and enjoyed the sandwich much more than I was expecting. I wish I had ordered the giant size!

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There ya have it, my tastes of New Orleans! I promise we did more than just eat while we were there, but I’ll have to share the rest in another post. See ya.

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