Monday, February 20, 2017

#ThankYouMiamiGoesToSeattle - Weekend in Seattle Travel Diary

This weekend I traveled nearly 4,000 miles from Miami to Seattle (read, from one polar opposite corner of the country to another). The reason for my trip was an annual professional organization gathering that last year gave me the opportunity to get to know L.A. for a weekend and that this year gave me the opportunity to visit Seattle for the first time. Although this annual gathering is always held at an airport hotel in the middle of nowhere, I always make it my mission to explore the host city, no matter my time and transportation constraints. My mission was particularly important this weekend given the long flight time and all of the excitement with which my Seattle friends talk about their city.

Friday, February 17, 2017

#ThankYouMiami for Brunch - Beach Bar at Newport Pier

For a city surrounded by water, Miami is really lacking in waterfront eateries. There is a fair selection, ranging from casual (i.e., Monty's, Garcia's, Shuckers, Lido Bayside Grill) to more upscale options (i.e., Zuma, Verde, Rusty Pelican). However, there is a huge disparity between available miles of coastline to restaurants by the water. To be clear, we're not advocating for converting our coastlines into a waterfront food court—after all, they provide critical ecological and real estate value. What we are advocating for is more opportunities to enjoy a meal overlooking the water.

In the last two years, we visited coastal cities in North Carolina, New York, and California. One of the concepts that we really enjoyed and of which we took full advantage during our travels to these locations were pier restaurants. We have piers in Miami-Dade County but, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, they are limited to fishing and passive recreation, not eating or entertainment. Our only exception is the Newport Pier in Sunny Isles Beach, which is home to casual surf n' turf eatery Beach Bar at the Newport Pier. Starved for a good on-water meal, we decided to stop by last Sunday for their newly launched brunch.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

#ThankYouMiami Amps About @SOBEWFF

T-minus 10 days until the international food community descends upon the sands of South Beach for SOBEWFF. This year, unlike every year since its 2002 inauguration, we will be joining the crowds for a week's worth of culinary events, wine tastings, parties, intimate dinners, and demonstrations. We've always been curious about what goes on inside the festival's white oceanside tents. After all, thousands of people pour in year after year. But for one reason or another, we've never made it inside.

Instead of feasting on one-of-a-kind dinners hosted by celebrity chefs, we've feasted on stories of other's SOBEWFF shenanigans. There's the one story of a friend who, after a few too many glasses of wine, became the proud owner of a $1200 specialty knife set thanks to a particularly engaging knife demonstration. There's also the story of the friend who was trying to impress a date by taking her to the Tribute Dinner and scored major points when she was whisked away backstage to meet Bobby Flay. Lastly, there is tale after tale of forays at the Grand Tasting Village where our friends ate until they nearly exploded and drank (lots and lots of) wine.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

#ThankYouMiami Talks Valentine's Day & Treating Yourself

I am not a fan of Valentine's Day. I see it as 24 hours of gauging how much another person loves you based on how much effort they put into impressing you with over-the-top gestures and expensive things. Maybe I am old fashioned when it comes to love, but I prefer to see it manifested in small, daily gestures (i.e., opening the car door) throughout the year. Similarly, I believe in treating myself regularly to show my mind, body and spirit appreciation for their hard work.

This year I have been kicking my own butt with ambitious career goals, a no-nonsense race training plan, and a hectic schedule. Besides running a bajillion miles a week, my periodic "me time" is what keeps me sane. On a macro scale I'm talking quarterly trips to the spa for massages and meditation, as well as seasonal vacations. But, again, it is the micro scale rituals that really matter in the long run. It's the joy I get from sipping my first cup of coffee of the day while reading the news. It's coming home and changing into comfy sweats. It's unwinding after a long day at the office with a glass of Cab and a bowl of popcorn (as inspired by my spirit animal, Olivia Pope, and as revolutionized by the incredible graphic from SkinnyPop below).

As Miami-ans, we thrive in the fast lane. And, while it's okay that we live there, we need to take short breaks every once in a while for a little TLC. Whether you relate to the happiness we get from our morning coffee or our after-work snack, these seemingly inconsequential rituals are the only way to make our "can't stop, won't stop" lifestyle sustainable—just like we need to keep the love alive with constant gestures year-round. Do you agree?

P.S. I never thought to pair Malbec with dark chocolate popcorn pero I'm really digging the idea. Which of the pairings below would you try?


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

#ThankYouMiami for New Food Finds - Shiraz Bistro & Market

Our new food finds series has focused—as Miami, for better or for worse, usually does—on new restaurant openings and new culinary concepts. Save for the time that we rediscovered a North Miami seafood staple and celebrated the new and improved look of a long-time favorite South Beach steakhouse, we've talked only about new restaurant openings. But "new food finds" don't always have to be recently launched locations. They can also consist of spots that have been around for a while but, for whatever reason, have never made it on our radar or a different kind of cuisine than what we're used to eating. Last Saturday we hit the jackpot on both when we joined the Miami Bloggers Media for a late lunch at Shiraz Bistro & Market in Kendall.

We have driven on US1, past SW 98th Street many times in our Miami career. Somehow we never felt there was anything worth stopping for between Dadeland Mall and the Target that sits just south of the Palmetto. In fact, we were taken aback to discover there are entire strip malls worth of hidden gems behind the buildings along US1, including the Persian and Middle Eastern restaurant and market to which we were invited. It's just that, unless we're summoned to the area or we're faced with an errand, Kendall isn't front of mind as a Miami destination. After last Saturday, we're resolved that needs to change.

As you get further and further away from Downtown Miami, you get closer and closer to a sense of community, of realness, of home. Don't get us wrong—you can find that anywhere in Miami, it's just that the feeling is stronger, more pronounced everywhere else. We were reminded of that the minute we walked into Shiraz, the welcoming smell of spices and home-cooked food warming our senses. As the staff showered us with hot tea, followed by plates of hummus, stuffed grape leaves and falafel, we were reminded of the family gatherings we were privy to growing up thanks to our Persian middle school friends.

The mouthwatering smell from earlier? Those were our entrées—plates of slow-cooked lamb shank and assorted kebabs over beds of rice and veggies. Our adana kebab, which consists of minced lamb seasoned with traditional spices and grilled on skewers, was very spicy (which we liked) and surprisingly not gamey (which we also liked). We've tried lamb dishes a handful of times and have never particularly enjoyed it until we devoured this one. (It's probably why they have such rave reviews on Yelp and elsewhere on the internets.) We topped of our meal with our new blogger friends over Turkish coffee and kunefe, a dessert that our "So Miami" table unanimously agreed is like an arepa but with a higher cheese to dough ratio.

Overall, the experience was incredible: food, company, ambiance, the whole package. If you're ever craving Middle Eastern (i.e., Turkish, Persian) food or products, Shiraz Bistro & Market is a worthwhile reason to venture to Kendall. We honestly cannot believe we'd never heard of it before our visit. And now, for your regular dose of food porn...


Monday, February 6, 2017

#ThankYouMiami How-To: Watching Sporting Events Like A South Beach Local

I would much rather play sports than watch them. That said, I enjoy a good excuse to eat, drink and be merry—all of which sporting events offer in droves—and, for that reason alone, I enjoy watching sporting events. As the motherload of American sporting events, the SuperBowl already takes the phrase "eat, drink, and be merry" to the next level. (I mean, when else is it acceptable to take 15 beers, 20 pigs in a blanket, a family size bag of potato chips and a bucket full of chicken wings to the face?) But leave it to South Beach locals to break all kinds of sporting event glass ceilings with our bougie and completely over-the-top SuperBowl fêtes.

I'm talking from experience. I spent Sunday evening with friends in a beautiful apartment that overlooks Biscayne Bay, yelling at a TV that is so hi-def we could see every bead of sweat on that guy in the nosebleeds. Instead of nachos, our appetizers consisted of a slate of goat, manchego and farm-fresh yogurt cheeses. Instead of the blue cooler full of beer, I was greeted by an elegant display of limited production Cabernet Sauvignon and chilled Pinot Grigio. And, because a South Beach girl is not one to be outshone, I showed up perfectly overdressed in the Jolene dress from Tularosa's new collection, a gorgeous floor length gown that serendipitously caught my eye at Frankie earlier that morning.

In a super Duck Dynasty turn of events, the dinner at our fancy shmancy party was comprised of homemade southern cooking. (It wouldn't be a Miami party without a seemingly incongruent mishmash of traditions.) I made this raw kale salad recipe, without cranberries and with sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts, that was pretty bomb. My friend Roy slaved in the kitchen for hours, offering us baked beans, mashed potatoes, and the best ribs I have ever had. I seriously can't compute how his ribs came out so perfect considering he baked, not grilled them and am working my magic to weed out his secret. (When I get my hands on that recipe, I'll be sending it exclusively for my newsletter subscribers. Subscribe here so you don't miss out!)

Are there South Beach locals that have a more casual, down-to-earth approach to SuperBowling? Of course—just as some of my neighbors probably watched the game from their yachts as their butler Duckworth showered them with caviar. The point is South Beach loves to inject everything with glitz and glamour and sporting events are no exception. If the SuperBowl isn't safe, imagine what we can do to spruce up spectating your kid's next soccer game...


Sunday, February 5, 2017

#ThankYouMiami for Brunch - Terrazza at Shore Club

Sundays in Miami are for brunching—bacon, omelettes, mimosas, the whole nine yards. In 2016 we enjoyed 52 weeks worth of stellar brunches from Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach. Last week we kicked off another year of brunches at Terrazza at Shore Club. Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. the "Ladies Who Brunch" celebration means a full brunch for only $44 with unlimited mimosas, bellinis, sangria and bloody marys for the girls and $64 for the guys. It's like ladies night, but boozier and better (because, well, there's food involved).

Buffets are always a major struggle for us. Every morsel of deliciousness vying to make it on our plate, often ending up in bizarre combinations of sweet and savory that we wouldn't eat on the same day, let alone the same meal. Despite Terrazza's delicious spread of small plates, charcuterie, cheeses, wood oven pizzas, and omelette and dessert stations, we somehow managed to put together a series of coherent courses that we washed down with mimosas.

We started with a small plate piled sky high with arugula topped with burrata and cured meats, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Our next round was comprised of breakfast-only items, specifically a veggie omelette engulfed by half a plate of crispy bacon. For the final two rounds we made a triumphant return into lunchlandia with incredibly delicious sliders, rounding out the evening's feast with miniature desserts and fresh fruit.

Besides the fun female-centric premise, Terrazza's Sunday brunch is worthwhile for its unlimitedness. We're also partial to its proximity to the Shore Club's legendary weekend pool parties, the sub-tropical vibes and melodic DJ sounds of which permeate the restaurant's chic outdoor lounge even on rainy days like the one we caught during our visit. If you're looking to experience a "So South Beach" brunch, this is it—don't take our word for it, check out our photos below.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

#ThankYouMiamiGoesToKeyWest - Key West Half Marathon Trip 2017

Last month my sister Carla and I ran the Key West Half Marathon together, a decision we made haphazardly while waiting to see Suicide Squad at the Regal South Beach. We're both runners—Carla ran the Boston Marathon in 2015 and I have run 4 other half marathons—so registering to run the race wasn't a shocking move. But our family hasn't had the chance to travel together in years and the Key West Half Marathon is a destination marathon (#3 in Runner's World list of top 10 destination half marathons) so we basically planned a rare family vacation in the spur of the a movie theater lobby.

For a casually planned trip, our three-day stay in Key West was super memorable. We owe most of it to mamá who, with faja and Carla's boyfriend Colby, joined us for the weekend. (If you want an event to be well-organized, call a mom.) Thanks to her, our vacation HQ was a waterfront room at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel with stunning sunset views. She also subsidized a post-race sunset sail aboard Fury Key West's Commotion on the Ocean where Carla and I celebrated a half-marathon personal record with a glass of champagne and tunes by The Cory Heydon Band. I danced like a lunatic. Carla stared in envy from her seat, collateral damage to the soreness in her legs.

The focus of the trip was the race—preparing for it, carb-loading for it, resting for it, recovering from it—so our time to explore Key West was limited. That said, we managed to get a lot in. Our lessons learned? La Trattoria Oceanside is a clutch dinner choice, pre-race or not. (A huge thanks to my friend Roy for the recommendation!) Their Italian fare, particularly the olive oil/balsamic/parmesan bread dip, the bruschetta, and the fish entrées, were winners in all of our books.

For lunch on the boat, we recommend eating at or getting take out from Fisherman's Cafe. It's right at the marina and it has a stellar Yelp reputation. Conversely, unless you're absolutely desperate, skip the pedicabs. They're ridiculously expensive and I would've rather walked across the island, no matter how tired my legs were. Other tourist traps: anything on Duval and the Southernmost Point—although everyone should go to both at least once.

If you're a runner, I highly recommend running the Key West Half Marathon. The course was beautiful, the race was well organized, and the ambiance was so welcoming. (The runners in the race felt like family, so much so one runner saved another's life after she finished the race.) You can bet you'll see us at the starting line next year for the race's 20th anniversary, if not to run then to get our annual fill of Key West's good vibes.

What are your favorite Key West spots? What are your favorite travel destinations?

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