Wednesday, August 31, 2011

(Port Eats: Barcelona, Part 2)

Tapas. Such a beautiful word! Not only is it fun to say, tapas are fun to eat. You can order as many as you want, and you always get a variety of different flavors with each small plate. Both major meals that we had in Barcelona consisted of Tapas. Read on for our experience with these delectable little treats.

The fantastic Tapaç24 in Barcelona

On our first night in Barcelona, we dined at a place called Tapaç24. It was right around the corner from our hotel, and we felt very lucky to happen upon it. There were many people dining at the outside tables on the street, but we instead opted to have our dinner inside. Upon entering the restaurant, you have to take a small amount of stairs to a basement-like atmosphere where there are a number of tables for diners. There is also a row of bar-like seating which looked like a nice place to sit. We sat directly to the right of that bar, a cozy setting up against the wall and directly across from the only window.

Bikini Comerç 24
Our very pleasant waiter came around and took our drink orders. I asked for a red wine, and I'm not exactly sure what he brought me (I think it was a Merlot). Either way, it tasted very good. J had a Coke. We began to peruse the menu, and it definitely took a while to figure out what we wanted. The thing with tapas is that a lot of the options look a bit intimidating. It all seemed like things we would never eat, and we were scared to order anything! Don't be this way - I promise you that no matter how weird something sounds, somehow it just works. We took a chance and ordered 4 very different small plates. Above is the first that was brought to us. The Bikini Comerç 24 consisted of Iberian ham, buffalo mozzarella and black truffles. It was almost like a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but so much better. Especially since it was made with the delicious Iberian ham! Very flavorful, each bite was an absolute treat.

Bombes de la Barceloneta

Our next plate was the Bombes de la Barceloneta. This was J's choice. I'm not exactly sure why or where I heard the phrase potato meatballs, but for some reason it's all that I seem to remember. Anything with the word meatballs just doesn't do it for me, so I was hesitant. Curiously enough, this plate was so much more. Ham croquettes topped with aioli and bravas sauces, it's difficult for me to even describe the explosion of flavor. It was magnificent, probably the best of our four small plates. The sauces added a creaminess to the cris texture of the croquette, and the filling was divine.

Paying homage to good old Mickey D's, Tapaç24's McFoie Burger is like nothing you will ever find at the Golden Arches. Served medium-rare (emphasis on the rare) and encased in a thin, crisp bun, this was another one of those things that looked a bit scary to me. The burger is served with a foie gras mayo, that has a texture almost like a spreadable gravy. Duck liver spread? Ew! Still, J dug right in and convinced me to have a bite. Then I had another, and another.  The foie gras spread melted just a touch when it hit the bun, just like butter would. The flavor was not overpowering, but just enough so as to add something interesting. I think the word that best describes it is savory (insert Cookie-Monster scarf noises here). Any doubts that I had about the food here were quickly abolished with each and every bite. I don't know what else to say except nom nom nom.

Whatever it was, it was good!

Our final plate was a bit on the safe side; a simple tomato spread served with a fresh bread basket. It was obviously quite tasty, because the only photo I got was one of a very empty basket! I remember the tomato being very flavorful, and we both gobbled it right down. I thought I knew what tomatoes tasted like, but man was I wrong. You haven't had it right until you've had it in Barcelona. The city's culinary institutions bring out flavors that I never thought existed. It was amazing to me that something so simple as a common fruit (or vegetable, if you want to have that argument) could have so much flavor. Glub glub!

So would I recommend Tapaç 24? Hell to the yeah! Remember to be adventurous, and you won't be disappointed!

Next stop: Bubo Bar. This was where we had originally wanted to go for our first night in Barcelona, but we were just too tired to try and find it (and we certainly don't regret that choice). We were slated to stop at Palma de Mallorca on our last cruise day, but a transportation strike put us right back in Barcelona. Though any port cancellation is always disappointing, I couldn't have been happier to go back to my new favorite city. The best part is that we were able to go back and find Bubo, and we're so glad we did! 

Bubo Bar's awesome sangria

Right in the shadow of the Santa Maria del Mar, the atmosphere when eating outside of this  
establishment just can't be beat. We started our meal with the Bubo Sangria. While I have no others to compare it to, this must be some of the best sangria in all of Barcelona. We happily slurped it all up!    

Brie & Coconut and Iberian Ham Croquettes

For the tapas, we again ordered four plates. The first two were brought out together, both croquettes; one was a brie croquette covered in coconut, the other filled with Iberian ham. Both were so delicious! Each bite was warm and crispy, and the accompanying dipping sauces were very appropriate. I think that I preferred the ham croquettes, but the brie and coconut was such a fun combination.

Tuna Ravioli
Our next plate was a Tuna Ravioli. When it came out, it certainly was not what I expected. When I hear ravioli, I think pasta (I'm a big fan of tuna casserole). What I got instead was tuna in a fried envelope, more like a won ton of sorts. I was not disappointed, and probably would prefer the option that was handed to me rather than actual pasta. The outer shell was warm and crispy without being greasy, and the accompanying dipping sauces were fantastic! There were two jelly-like spreads - one was sweet while the other had a bit of a spicy kick to it. They were both great, but I preferred the spicy one. The green sauce (pictured) was made with pistachios, and added a very special element to the raviolis. This was my favorite dish of the meal.

Bubo Bar's Micro Pizza

Our final plate was the Micro Pizza. I had no idea what to expect with this one, but J was very excited at the mention of pizza. I can't even tell you how happy I was with what they brought us. This isn't your typical, greasy, bread-filled pizza. This was a very fresh dish; layers of what I think were crunchy phyllo, covered in mozzarella and herb-filled oil, topped off with an insanely flavorful tomato. I don't expect you to think it looks amazing based on the photo alone, but trust me when I say that it's one of the best things that I have ever tasted. 

Not too shabby dining atmosphere! Me: bottom right corner, in red.

Barcelona is truly one of the World's greatest cities. It certainly doesn't hurt that every single morsel of food that we had the privilege of eating there wasn't just fine, not just good, but absolutely incredible.  So, did we have dessert? Of course! But more about that next time....

Happy eating!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

(Disney Royalty Does Vogue)

Check out artist Dante Tyler's gorgeous renditions of our favorite Disney Princesses as Vogue cover models!

Which one is your favorite? It's hard to choose just one! Cinderella looks fierce, and I'm loving my girl Tiana!

Happy Modeling!

Monday, August 29, 2011

(Style Guide: Baby Mine)

photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog
Residents of Disney's Animal Kingdom have reason to celebrate: there's a new baby elephant in the neighborhood! Born on Thursday, August 25, the little one, who has yet to be named, weighed in at a whopping 311 pounds. This is the second calf for 25-year-old mother, Vasha. She gained more than 800 pounds and carried the calf for 22 months! I can't wait to find out the new little guy's name. For now, celebrate his arrival with this appropriately themed shopping guide!

1. Alex Woo Little Luck Elephant Necklace, $148 | 2. Janelle Tee, $125 | 3. Sydney Evan Pave Elephant Multi Stone Wrap, $1,715 | 4. Elephant Charm Necklace, $114.99 | 5. Elephant Mirage Tee, $19.50 | 6. Elephant Pin, $6.99 | 7. River Island Elephant Print Tank, $40.23 | 8. Wildfox Elephant Love Beach Sweatshirt, $108 | 9. Crystal Elephant Drop Earrings, $50 | 10. Thai Elephant Oversized Tee, $39 | 11. Vintage Ethnic Skirt, $98 | 12. BCBGeneration Elephant Print Tank, $88 | 13. Elizabeth  and James Elephant Ring, $325 | 14. Cirque A-Line Dress, $148 | 15. Diamond Accent Elephant Pendant, $219

Happy Shopping!

Friday, August 26, 2011

(Just Me & My Hammock)

What's this? Have I sailed away to a tropical island, perhaps in the Caribbean? No, but close! I'm acting a beach bum in a hammock on one of Caribbean Beach Resort's many sandy beaches. Don't forget to take advantage of these little beauties when you stay at the resort, Jamaican-themed headband not included!

sass & bide please don't go romper | Free People lace trim bandeau | Gorjana alphabet charm necklace | Marc script sunglasses | Jennifer Ouellette stripe turban headband

Happy Swinging!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

(Port Eats: Barcelona, Part 1)

Pizza in a Cone (which we did not eat).
I have a million and one great things to say regarding Barcelona, but not surprisingly, I'm going to start with a favorite topic of mine: food. There's no need for me to be mysterious about this one; Barcelona has some of the best food I have ever tasted. I'm dividing this one into two parts, since I could probably go on about the city's culinary treats forever. Read on about our lunch and breakfast experiences in Barcelona.

Jamón ibérico Flauta

Lunch is typically the largest meal of the day in Barcelona, as well as other European cities. It was our first day in the city and we were a bit jet-lagged, so we opted for something light. Jamón ibérico is all the rage in Spain, and we couldn't wait to get our hands on some. A type of cured ham made up of at least 75% Black Iberian Pig, Iberean ham is truly a treat. The pigs are fattened on barley and maze for several weeks, and then are allowed to eat naturally when they're in the pasture. The highest quality ham comes from pigs who dine only on acorns during their time in the pasture. The curing process for the delicious meat takes at least a year, while some producers allow their process to go on for 48 months.This stuff is expensive, and not widely available; a pound of Jamón ibérico will run you more than $75 a pound if purchased in a quality restaurant. 

J chows down on the good stuff.

So how was it? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. We got our flautas from a restaurant called Cafe Viena, a seriously charming little establishment where Spanish is definitely required (if they spoke English, they certainly didn't let us in on it). Ordering is simple, however, and we got our two yummy sandwiches as well as some french fries and a Fanta each. Not to get too off topic, but Fanta in Spain is awesome. I'm a huge orange soda fan, and their version does not disappoint. It's much less syrupy than the American version, tasting more like a juice with carbonation (something akin to Orangina without the pulp). Anyway, back to the meat. Flauta means flute, and it refers to the small baguette that the ham is served on. It's served perfectly, with a crispy outside and a soft, chewy inside. A small amount of tomato spread is layered on just to make it moist, and a somewhat small but sufficient amount of Iberian Ham is then added. The ham is somewhat like prosciutto, but I assure you, it's even better. You just have to taste it!

Spain's delicious version of Fanta.

I'll skip over our dinner and go straight to breakfast (no worries, I'm prepared to tell you all about Barcelona's tapas in Part 2!) 

We had breakfast at a place called El Racó de la Moreneta, which was across the street from our hotel. Also a charming little place, we were pleased to see another group of tourists (who were discussing their upcoming cruise, the same as ours) dining there as well. Again using only Spanish (sometimes I was afraid to speak English, more often than not speaking Spanish made me terribly nervous), we ordered two pastries and dos cafe con leches. Really, we just pointed at the pastries that we wanted, and said, "dos." 

cafe con leche

The pastries were quite tasty; flaky and a bit messy, with a delicious chocolate filling in the center. Of course, seeing the chocolate sprinkles on the outside I automatically had to have that one. I don't think that either one of us finished our pastries; we probably should have gotten two different kinds for a variety. Oh well, there will be a next time! Now to the cafe con leche, or cappucino. Barcelona's coffee is strong. If you're not a big fan of coffee, I certainly couldn't recommend it. I, however, thought that it was delicious, refreshing, and gave me the boost of energy I so desperately needed that day (and to think, this was just the beginning!)
One other thing to note about dining in Barcelona. We as Americans are typically used to eating fairly quickly, paying our check, and going about our way. In Spain (and throughout Europe as we learned throughout the trip), you really have to ask for your check, they don't just bring it to you. Even then, it takes a while. Be respectful, this is how they do things. Most diners will spend a fair amount of time just enjoying their surroundings and the company of those dining with them. Since we were tourists, there was still a lot to see that day before we boarded the cruise ship. I finally summoned up the courage to use some of my Spanish, but it took a while. Our server brought us our check, and directed us to pay at the cash register up front. It was an easy process, but it probably took 20 minutes to get her attention to bring the check. Just something to take note of when you're dining; if you're in a hurry, get your breakfast to go (or for take away, as they call it). 

Stay tuned for more on tapas in Barcelona, coming soon! 

Happy eating!

Monday, August 22, 2011

(Shopping Spree: Apricot Lane)

Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

There's a new store calling Downtown Disney home. Opened on August 12, Apricot Lane is a fashion-forward boutique featuring "celebrity-inspired branded apparel, affordable fashion jewelry, handbags and accessories." Featuring some of my personal favorites like 7 For All Mankind, Joe's Jeans and Free People, this store is sure to please any Disney fashonista.
According to the company's website, Apricot Lane is currently the only franchised women's fashion and gift boutique. The first franchise was opened in 2007 in California, and there are currently around 90 Apricot Lanes in 28 States throughout the U.S.
Apricot Lane is located in the former Pleasure Island section of Downtown Disney. Vice President of Downtown Disney Keith Bradford said, "We're pleased to add Apricot Lane to our assortment of unique offerings at Downtown Disney. This boutique is another example of our commitment to bring new and compelling experiences to life at Downtown Disney and I'm confident that it will soon become a guest favorite." Could there be a designer-Disney collaboration some time in the future? I hope so!

Have you paid a visit to Apricot Lane? Let me know what you think!

Happy Shopping,

Thursday, August 18, 2011

(Bon Appetit: Bistro de Paris)

Last May, my family helped to celebrate my birthday at a restaurant I had long been wanting to try; Bistro de Paris. Located in France of Epcot's World Showcase, this dining spot prides itself on its extensive wine list and innovative french cuisine. The brainchild of a trio of chefs, Bistro de Paris is located on the second floor in the French pavilion, directly above Chefs de France. The three chefs; Roger Verge, Paul Bocuse, and the late Gaston Lenotre are responsible for both restaurants, as well as the well-loved Boulangerie Patisserie.

The somewhat-hidden entrance to Bistro de Paris

the spiral staircase leads to the upstairs dining room.

Finding the entrance to the Bistro can be somewhat of a challenge. Located on the opposite side of the building, be sure to look for the sign to the entrance. Upon entering, I imagine this is what an elegant home in Paris looks like. A hostess will take your name, and when your table is ready, will lead you up a gorgeous spiral staircase. If you look to your left, you can see guests enjoying their meals at Les Chefs de France. Please note that there is also an elevator for guests who would rather not use the stairs.

Surprise hors d'oeuvre! 

The experience with our waiter was very pleasant. Upon being seated, we were offered ice water, and perused the restaurant's extensive wine list. We were also presented with a complimentary hors d'oeuvre, which as I understand changes regularly. Ours consisted of a cheesy french onion soup of sorts. It was yummy, and a nice surprise to start our meal. We were also offered bread, and I love the way that they presented it. Rather than placing a basket of bread on your table, a waiter comes around and asks if you would like a piece, and serves it to you from a wicker basket. This is a terrific idea, since you won't be filling yourself up on too much bread - I promise you won't leave hungry!

Escargot Cassolette & Jumbo Sauteed Shrimp

There are two possible ways to order your meal here; you can do a three-course menu, or order a la carte. Everyone at my table opted for the 3-course menu except for me. Currently, this option runs $54 per person, or $89 per person with wine pairings. J choose the Escargot Cassolette for his first course, while I opted to skip the appetizer. MOM choose the Jumbo Sauteed Shrimp, which was served with crab & sesame seed croquettes. Both were out-of-this-world delicious. Don't be afraid to try escargot - it's cooked in a delicious, creamy garlic sauce that tastes so good you just might forget that you're eating snails!

Grilled Beef Tenderloin, $39

Now for the main course. Mom & P ordered the Pork Tenderloin. I did not get the chance to try it, but I trust their opinion when they said it was very good. J ordered the Grilled Beef Tenderloin from his 3-course menu options, while I ordered the same from the regular menu. When our meals came, I noticed that my serving was definitely larger than his, and was better-presented as well! His tenderloin came on a standard white plate, while mine was served on a gorgeous dish (see above!) I am quite sure that each dish tasted the same, however. The tenderloin was generously served with a delicious peppercorn sauce, along with perfectly cooked asparagus and a beef parmentier. I order the tenderloin medium and it was cooked perfectly. I am sorry to say though, that you can get a much better serving of beef over in the Canada pavilion at Le Cellier. And what on Earth is a beef parmentier, do you ask? I'm so glad you did. It's the thing that made me give up meat (well, sort of). Thinking it was a delicious looking pineapple of some sort (why a pineapple in a French restaurant? Momentary lapse of judgement), I dug right in. Imagine my surprise when I bit into a potato, filled with...more meat. My ignorance going into it may be to blame, but I did not like this dish. The meat had a strange, well...meaty flavor. But not in a good way. I had sort of lost my appetite, not to mention the fact that I was getting obscenely full. For all you meat lovers out there, no worries. J devoured his meal, weird potato meat side dish and all.

MOM & her Creme Brulee

Now for the best part of any meal...dessert! MOM ordered the Vanilla Creme Brulee, J the Warm Chocolate & Almond Cake (these are two selections available in the prix fixe menu). Off of the regular menu, I ordered Warm & Grand Marnier Souffle, assuming you just can't get more French than that! Having experienced some amazing souffles on the Disney Cruise Line, I figured it was a no-brainer. The waiter warned me that it may take about 15 minutes for my dessert to arrive, and I agreed that it would be alright. (Speaking of the Disney Cruise Line, Palo asks if you'd like their famous souffle during your main course so that it's ready for you come dessert time. This is a much better idea).

Warm Chocolate & Almond Cake

While everyone else ate their desserts, I waited. And waited. ...And waited. MOM's Creme Brulee was absolutely fantastic, J's chocolate cake, a dream. Looking back, I should have ordered what he did - it's easily the best thing on the menu. Served with white chocolate mousse and praline sauce, it's dessert heaven. The creme brulee is worth giving a shot as well, made with carmelized rice pudding and upside down caramel cream, served with ice cream.

The Warm & Grand Marnier Souffles, $11 + at least 20 extra minutes.

Once everyone had basically finished their desserts, mine finally arrived. I'm sorry to say, not worth the wait. Not only did I have to wait almost 30 minutes for the souffle, but it was poorly undercooked. The insides were somewhat akin to scrambled eggs...not an appetizing dessert. My sub-par meal ended with an even more sub-par dessert, it was no bueno. However, they did make me a lovely Happy Birthday plate, complete with some delicious fresh fruit, and a candle with which to make a wish!

How nice!

One last thing I almost forgot about! We did have a special moment during our time at the Bistro; we saw Illuminations from the window of the restaurant! It was quite an experience to witness the spectacular show from the comfort of your own dining table.

So, would I recommend the Bistro de Paris? Ehhh...probably not. I'm sorry to all of those out there who adore this place. It just didn't work for me. The service was friendly and prompt. The wine and appetizers were great. My meal and dessert were a complete and utter disappointment. Perhaps if I had ordered differently my opinion wouldn't be so harsh. My fellow diners' desserts were fantastic, and they certainly didn't have many complaints (except for how full they still felt the next morning). Please also take this with a grain of salt, as I am not a meat lover. At the time I thought I was, but since that particular meal, I have sort of avoided it. It was an expensive meal (I believe the bill was upwards of $400 for 4 of us), and I just didn't come away raving about anything.

J makes leftovers look cool.

Outfitted in formal decor, this is certainly not the place to wear your typical theme park clothes. There is a dress code for this restaurant - no swimwear, t-shirts or cutoffs allowed. Observe, a handsome young man above, models the appropriate dining attire, and also the best way to carry leftovers :) Please note that there is no children's menu at this restaurant. While children are welcome here, the atmosphere is much more suited for romance (ie, leave the kids with the babysitter).

By all means, please give this place a try and prove me wrong! I would love to hear your opinions on the dining experience here. If you're making a reservation, try for around 830pm or so - it's worth waiting to see Illuminations from the restaurant.

Happy Dining!

Monday, August 15, 2011

(We're Back!)

We've landed back in the States but can't seem to get off of Barcelona time! I have so many amazing things to tell you - stay tuned for reviews of cruise ports, shows & dining on the Disney Magic, style guides, and how-to's for your cruise. In the meantime, while I continue to attempt to collect myself, enjoy the view...

Barcelona from the sky

I've missed you!