SER: Bringing San Sebastián to DC

Do you have friends that throw the best dinner parties? The ones where a casual drop by ends up with bottles of wine on ice and a backyard grill in action. Everyone says, "y'all should open a restaurant."

Well those friends of mine *did* open a restaurant! (If you visit, make sure to ask for Javier or Christiana and tell them I sent you.)

It's called SER, which stands for simple, easy and real - and is located in Arlington, VA. I can't pretend to be objective here, so I'll let the photos do the talking. Here is a sampling from the three times I've been...
The Chef's Bar

I even contributed to the Kickstarter and my photo - and my dog Ike - are on the wall.
Scavenger Hunt: Find Ike and I on the wall at SER

The bar is stocked with a great cocktail list, including this gin based concoction called the Campos Rose:
Campos Rose

I like to start off my meals there with the fresh thin slices of jamon Iberico, gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and the gorgeous salads.
Jamon & Sherry

Gambas al Ajillo

House Salad
If you're feeling adventurous, try the oysters, the goose barnacles (when I was in Spain they were 200 Euro on menus!), the crab salad, the sweetbreads or the steak tartare topped with quail egg.

Seafood Platter
Goose Barnacles - Don't worry, they'll instruct you!
Tomato & Crab Salad topped with shaved watermelon radish
At this point, I'm pretty full already. But save room. For the entrees, seafood is my favorite. The fish of the day, fileted table side (reminded me of Getaria) and the squid in black ink really stand out to me.
Freshly grilled fish
Squid in Black Ink
With dinner (or before), order a bottle of txakoli, a light, fizzy white wine from Northern Spain. It's worth it for the dramatic pour alone! 
Txakoli (pronounced Chock-o-lee)
We aren't done yet. *deep breaths*

Dessert. Churros with chocolate sauce or flan are an easy choice - and fulfilling. But the Goxua (think strawberry shortcake) or the gooey warm chocolate cake with espresso gelato... Oh and the pineapple tart. You are going to need return trips to SER until you've had each. 
Chocolate & Espresso Madness
Still with me? Let's talk Spanish gin n tonics.
Javier Candon's gin n tonics with lavender
See. I told you I couldn't be unbiased.

PS. Brunch
Carved jamon Iberico
Blood Orange & Peach Mimosas
Eggs, Patatas Bravas & Blood Sausage
Jamon, Garlic Potato Chip and Egg Sandwich
PSS. 100 seat patio coming soon. Ike and I will see you there all spring.

SER is located near the Ballston metro stop at 1110 North Glebe Road in Arlington, VA. There is also a $2 parking lot underneath it... and I can verify that it's very easy to snag an Uber home if you imbibe too much at the bar.


Breaux Vineyards: You Had Me at Dog-Friendly Winery

Sunday morning, before I even got out of bed, I was searching for dog-friendly vineyards in Northern Virginia. Because, what better thing could there be to do on the first perfect spring weekend day then pack up your friends and dog, put the top down on the convertible, and head to the country to drink wine all day.
Ike, King of Breaux

The first thing you should know is that the Virginia Wines website makes this super easy. It has a search engine that allows you to view pet-friendly wineries by area of the state or even wine types.

We picked Breaux Vineyards based on our friend Jenna's recommendation and an hour later, were tasting whites, roses and reds. 

I really enjoyed the dry whites - especially the 2013 Viognier - and bought a bottle of the 2013 Marquis de Lafayette (100% Cabernet Franc) to enjoy on the sunny lawn. Next, we bought a baguette, cheese and rose... after all, we were celebrating the Cherry Blossom & Rose Festival. (Though, let's be real, we were in Virginia to escape the blossom tourist barrage.)
2013 Marquis de Lafayette

The facility is pretty large, which was great because it was quite busy. The expansive rolling lawn and vineyards at Breaux are dotted with patio tables. Fun couples, families and groups were all hanging out enjoying the day. And Ike enjoyed visiting them all.

I'm already planning on coming back May 9th for Dog Days. The couple who's Yorkshire Terrier won "smallest dog" last year tells me that Ike's a shoo-in for the honor in 2015.

Breaux Vineyards is located at 36888 Breaux Vineyards, Purcellville, Virginia. It took about 45 minutes to an hour to get there and was a gorgeous drive once you get past the suburban sprawl.


My Top 5 Favorite Bars in Vancouver (So Far)

While I'm usually fairly food focused here, I wanted to share a round up of great spots to grab a drink that we discovered. 

1. If you're craving an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, visit Irish Heather in Gastown where they make simple, craft cocktails without a lot of frou-frou ingredients or garnish.
Bourbon Drinks at Irish Heather
2. After a long morning walk through Stanley Park, we emerged in the West End and decided to pop into Three Brits Public House to watch a soccer match. I ordered up this gin n' tonic, which had grapefruit bitters and rosemary. (I've now added both to my home bar.) In addition to great drinks and plenty of TVs to watch sports, on a gorgeous day, the windows open up to a wonderful waterfront view and breeze.

Gin & Tonic at Three Brits
3. After a dinner at Pidgin, we asked our server where to go to get away from the tourism and he steered us to Diamond. It's a great spot for post-dinner cocktails by candlelight, nestled in a second floor perch overlooking Gastown's late night antics.

4. We also made repeat visits to Bambudda in Gastown where the street-side barstools and amusing bartenders guaranteed a great start to an evening of exploring restaurants.

5. Ok, and rounding out the list would be one that I already wrote about, but Rodney's has the most dangerous bartenders in town. Check out that pour.
Sauvigon Blanc at Rodney's


Spicy Summer Salad with Peaches and Blueberries

If you're looking for a way to spice up your salads, I've got two new products (that I love!!!) that took this salad to the next level: Mike's Hot Honey and Mrs. Belem's 5 Pepper
Spicy Summer Salad with Peaches & Berries
Start by laying down a bed of greens. Tonight I used sugar snap peas and pea shoots, but kale, spinach or arugula would also work. You want some greens with some bite or bitterness to them to counter topping them with whatever fruit is in season. For the Mid-Atlantic this week, that was peaches and blueberries.

Next, I squeezed the juice of a quarter of a lime on top, followed by a drizzle of Mike's Hot Honey, a sprinkle of Mrs. Belem's 5 Pepper spice mix and a drizzle of olive oil.

The combination of sweet and spice balances perfectly - and is super healthy and using all whole ingredients.

All vegetables and fruits were purchased at Washington, DC's Dupont Circle Farmers Market, which is year round on Sunday mornings.

NOTE: Mrs. Belem's is owned by a friend of mine and the first bottle was gratis. That said, after this one's over, I'm opening up my wallet.

Where to Eat in Vancouver: Rodney's Oyster House in Yaletown

Look, there are a lot of reasons we went to Rodney's Oyster House multiple times on our Vancouver weekend. Some of them were the great selection of local oysters (Kusshis, Kumamotos), the made-in-front-of-you-by-order chowders, the eye candy bartenders, and well, the heavy pour (see below) of wine.
Sauvignon Blanc & steamers at Rodney's
Either way, put sitting at their bar (especially on a rainy day) on your must-do list for Vancouver. You won't regret it.

Rodney's Oyster House is located in Yaletown at 1228 Hamilton Street. There's another one in nearby Gastown, which is located at 52 Powell Street. I can, however, only verify the eye candy and heavy pours at the Yaletown location.

MORE on where to eat in Vancouver: Go Fish & Granville Market


World Cup: #IBelieveThatWeWillWin

Are you having as much fun with this year's World Cup as I am? I've blocked my calendar from 4pm to cheer on Team USA. I love that there are so many fun spots to watch the game, from Freedom Plaza to the Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery atrium to every bar and restaurant in town. We're even hosting a viewing party at work.

Watch this video and get excited... it's game day, America.

Where to Eat in Vancouver: Go Fish & Granville Market

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I took a recent social media sabbatical in Vancouver. While it was great to get offline, these gorgeous food photos have been burning a hole in my laptop and I wanted to share. 

On this particular day, we woke up to a misty-rainy kind of day. And like any kind of cram-every-experience-in-type, we decided it was the perfect day to do the Grouse Grind. The concierge at the Westin looked at us like we were nuts, but we rented a car and were on our way. I'm not sure I would have agreed to this plan if I'd realized how intense it would be. The climb up Grouse Mountain is 2,800 feet, which means I climbed 2,830 stairs to get to the top. 

But I did it. And, celebrated with this gorgeous view afterwards by having lunch at Go Fish. The skyline view and creek-side patio is worth finding this little fish shack nook, but the real rewards were the fish & chips and fish tacos.
Fish & Chips at Go Fish
It's right by the dock where fisherman were selling spot prawns right off of their boats. (Spot prawns would prove to be a tough find this trip since a lot of restaurants eschewed their absurdly high price this year. Of course, we paid the absurdly high price when we found them at Le Crocodile. Incidentally, that's the one meal I don't have photos of... it felt too nice to whip out my phone and start snapping shots.)
Fish Tacos at Go Fish
With full bellies, we crossed the bridge to explore Granville Market. It's an adorable, walkable island full of food vendors, restaurants and shops. A must-do on any trip to Vancouver.
Pastries in Granville Market
There's more to come... a lot more... but that's a solid day right there. Hike, eat, enjoy.

Go Fish is located at 1505 West First Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia. As you head down to the docks, there are a few parking spots to the right for Go Fish. You can also take a water taxi, boat, bike or public transportation to Go Fish & Granville Market.

And, while we rented a car for Grouse (and I'm glad, because it was exhausting), there are also buses that go straight there from downtown.

MORE on where to eat in Vancouver: Rodney's in Yaletown


First Impressions: Bread Furst Bakery in Van Ness

I just popped into Bread Furst while out running errands and it's so cute! But more importantly, check out these sandwiches and baked goods:
Multi-Grain Bread


Ham & Cheese Sandwich

Housemade Fig Newtons

It's not quite as close to home as Palena Coffee Shop (RIP) was, but I can't wait to go back to Bread Furst, sit at one of the outdoor cafe tables and enjoy a pastry and coffee or sandwich and soda.

PS. When the staff caught me snapping photos, I loved that their response was, "We're on Instagram! Tag us!" Oh, you bet I did. Tagged. Followed. Blogged.

Bread Furst is located at 4434 Connecticut Avenue NW in Washington, DC, near the Van Ness Metro stop.

Where to Eat in NYC: Ivan Ramen's Slurp Shop at Gotham West Market

I've been following Ivan Orkin ever since I read about him in the first issue of Lucky Peach. So, when I heard he was opening Ivan Ramen's Slurp Shop in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, I knew I had to go. (I mean, odds are I'm not making it to his flagship in Japan anytime soon.)

What I didn't realize was that it was nestled into Gotham West Market - an adorable incubator of food concepts on 11th Avenue between 44th and 45th. Upon entering, I went all wide-eyed and wanted to try everything. After all, there are eight different artisanal food purveyors and it's really hard to decide where to focus. 

But, I was on a mission, so I sidled up to Ivan Ramen's and ordered the Spicy Red Chile Ramen... mostly because it sounded like a dare. It was hearty, spicy, delicious... and certainly cleared the sinuses. It came with minced pork and smashed egg, so I thought adding pork belly and egg might be too much. Next time, I'd go big and layer those on too. The richness would balance out the heat. 

Spicy Red Ramen at Ivan Ramen's Slurp Shop
After that, I wandered around plotting my course for the next visit to Gotham West Market. I think Cannibal or Genuine Roadside will be the next target. (I'd add Blue Bottle Coffee, which is fantastic, but I've already been there on the West Coast.) I did get sucked into the Brooklyn Kitchen food market and shop where I took home a bottle of Mike's Hot Honey and this amazing macaron chocolate hazelnut ice cream sandwich by Jeni's.
Jeni's Ice Cream Sandwich from Brooklyn Kitchen
Thank God I'm not local. I'd be scouting condos to live above this gluttonous paradise.


Where to Eat in Santa Monica: Huckleberry Cafe

I flew into Los Angeles earlier this week for work, and before I slogged down to Anaheim, I met a friend for lunch at Huckleberry Cafe in Santa Monica.

I'd always heard it was great and it exceeded my expectations. The menu for lunch is simple sandwiches and salads that are almost fully locally sourced. I was trying to be healthy, so I pounced on the Kale Caesar Salad. It was. Great mix of greens and Parmesan - and I loved that the dressing came on the side. (I hate a too-wet-salad!)
Strawberry Tart at Huckleberry Cafe
Even though lunch was satisfying, we couldn't resist a return trip for dessert. I mean look at this summer strawberry tart! I was also drooling over the merengue lemon blueberry parfait, the strawberry donut and the ricotta peach salad.

I'll be back for that brunch too.

Huckleberry Cafe is located at 1014 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica, CA. Follow them on Twitter at @HuckCafe and try their other restaurants.