Kickin’ Up Route 66

After Vegas, we headed down to the Grand Canyon. Um, wow.

GCGrand Canyon

Yep, we went there. We stuck around til the sun went down, and saw one of the most beautiful night skies on the planet. Sadly, I’m not skilled enough in photography to have captured it, but this is the idea:

stars

We didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife on this trip, but one thing we did see was…. Elk. One one of the heavily populated walkways at the Grand Canyon, a big ol’ Elk was just hanging out, people-watching. At night as we drove through the Coconino National Forest en route to Flagstaff, we had to slow down twice for Elk crossing the road.

Flagstaff was FREEZING. Seriously, between the cold and the reindeer I could have sworn we were at the North Pole.

For breakfast, we decided to warm up at Brandy’s, a wonderful local restaurant and bakery that was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. What a place! Just a small hole in the wall place with great people and absolutely delicious food. The best pancake of my life. And the best pumpkin spice latte I’ve ever had. I ordered a chipotle scrambler (eggs, chipotle, cheddar, and a tortilla). James had eggs and a pancake. Oh. my. gosh. I would almost move to Flagstaff just to be close to this place.


Brandy's
Brandy's insidePumpkin Spice LatteChorizo Scrambler
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

And with our stomachs full, we hopped in our car and headed for the Pacific!

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What Happens in Vegas…

On this first installment of TCL Goes West, we’re heading to the wild, wild west- Las Vegas.

Day 1

First things first, check out the view from our room:

34th Floor of the Marriott Grand Chateau

34th Floor of the Marriott Grand Chateau

Pretty sweet.

The first night, we went to a rehearsal dinner at the Italian American Club. Turns out the bride’s father, a transplant from NY, is the president.

That night, we had the best Italian Food I’ve ever had outside of the Northeast. In true Italian fashion, first came the antipasto.

Plate of Christmas

Plate of Christmas

This is what we at The Cheese Log like to call Christmas on a Plate. Salami, Capicola, Sopressata, Mortadella along with Provolone, Mozzarella, Fontina and olives. I can hear the Hallelujia Chorus. Hark those herald angels. Amen.

 

I had a bunch of fun explaining the names to my new Uncle John. He’s always a good sport about everything, and tried his best to pronounce them all. And, of course, after 6 Christmases on my side, James knew what to do.

Italian American Billboard Hits

Italian American Billboard Hits

This was the main course. Buffet. Holy goodness.

 

Day 2

The next day, we had several hours to kill before the wedding, so we took off to Red Rock Canyon for some desert hiking. It was gorgeous! And sandy, and hot, and… dry. Very dry.

Red Rock Canyon

 

After all that hiking (which, really, was mostly done from our car. Not sure what that’s called. Let’s call it hiking.) it was time for lunch. Finally, I got to experience the Holy Grail of the American West. The true relic Indiana Jones was searching for in the desert.

The In-N-Out Cheeseburger, Animal Style.

Animal Style

May I just say, WOW? I mean, like Five Guys out here, except better, toasted bun, crispy lettuce, special sauce, and…. WAY cheaper. 2 burgers, fries and a shake and it’s under $10. WHAT?! So, so sad that they are probably never coming to the East Coast.

In-N-Out Menu

In-N-Out Menu

Seriously, did we go back in time? Where did those prices come from? And those hats…

The wedding that night was fun, and the food was good, but not as good as the rehearsal. So, skipping ahead to our last day in Vegas.

 

Day 3

After Mass on Sunday, we went to brunch at the bride’s parents’ house, then headed to the Hoover Dam. Which was like, Damn.

Dam. Just, Dam.

Dam. Just, Dam.

We were really hungry that night, so we went right next door to the buffet at the Planet Hollywood Casino: Spice Market.

This was the entrance to the escalator leading down to the buffet.

This was the entrance to the escalator leading down to the buffet.

They had everything. And to be honest, the food was just kind of OK. It reminded me of… dare I say… college. (Oh no she di-int!)

If I’m ever back in Vegas, we would probably go somewhere else. But the dessert selection, now THAT was pretty impressive.

DESSERT

And that’s only about 1/4 of it. It was way bigger. Plus the soft serve ice cream. And there were some pretty creative items.

Chocolate and Marshmallow

Chocolate and Marshmallow

Cannoli Cupcake

Cannoli Cupcake

Creme Brulee- best thing here

Creme Brulee- best thing here

 

 

 

James was happy.

Pizza, Pasta and Ice Cream, Oh My!

 

After dinner, we saw this:

Bellagio Fountains

 

 

And so concludes the Vegas edition of TCL. Stay tuned for our trip to Flagstaff, Arizona where we almost got killed by an elk. And almost froze to death. And, well, ate stuff. Good stuff. Trust me, you’ll love it.

 

Zen, yo.

The other night, James and I decided to try the new(ish) Zen Asian Grill and Sushi in Burtonsville. James had been resisting for a while because they market themselves as a sushi joint. He doesn’t do raw.

I looked online, and it turns out they do some standard Chinese American dishes as well. Once future hubby knew he would be able to eat, he agreed to come.

The first thing you see when you walk in the door is a glittering waterfall. Love it. All at once I was whisked away to a mountain pagoda in some nondescript Asian locale.

We were greeted by a host of smiling faces, and quickly seated. The decor was absolutely amazing. Zen all the way. Open, yet warm and cozy. Whoever designed it was a genius. It didn’t feel like Burtonsville. It felt like Georgetown, or Dupont Circle, or Bethesda. It was like going downtown without the traffic.

The menu was fairly large, considering the size of the establishment, but everything looked as though it belonged. I was very hungry when I arrived, so I quickly picked two items off the very long sushi list. Baltimore roll and California roll. Ok, stop laughing at me. They had a lot of lovely looking, more “authentic” choices, but I wasn’t feeling very adventurous, and I was going to have to eat everything myself since James isn’t a sushi sharer. By the way, he ordered sweet and sour chicken along with chicken fried rice.

Dinner was almost over when I remembered to take a picture. I was lost in the moment. :)

Dinner was almost over when I remembered to take a picture. I was lost in the moment. 🙂

Extremely yummy. I mean it was delicious. I’ll have to go sample more of the menu to give you a more comprehensive review, but everything I tasted was delicious. The feel of this place is the real reason to go, however. It’s a great date location, if you’re interested.

The Cheese Log Ratings:
Food: 4.5 cheeses
Atmosphere: 5 cheeses
Service: 5 cheeses
Date-worthyness: 4.5 cheeses
Would I return: DEFINITELY! Can’t wait!!
Aside

“Put Some Windex On It”

I hate going to the doctor. I always have.

Recently, I had the dreadful situation of having an afternoon appointment with a doctor in downtown Chevy Chase, not far from the DC line. Dreadful because an afternoon appointment gives me more time to revel in my nervous shakes.

On this day, I left work early enough to find lunch on my way down Rockville Pike. I stopped at Mykonos Grill, which looked so inviting with its sidewalk tables surrounded by a white picket fence and twirling vines. I had never eaten alone at a restaurant, but now was the time to try something new. Feeling like myself, I entered the building.

“One, please.”

“To go?”

“No, I’d like to write.”

“Oh! Right away, of course. Where would you like to sit?”

The wonderfully friendly hostess let me choose any of the pretty tables I wanted. This is the view that I chose:

Instantly, I was lifted out of my misery. After ordering, I pulled out my favorite notebook and pen. I felt like a real writer. No, I didn’t break any serious literary ground, but I enjoyed acting the part.

It was an inspiring meal. Being alone and loving variety, I only ordered appetizers: tzatziki and pita, spanakopita, and spinach stuffed mushrooms. All at once I was whisked away from the stifling tense mess of Rockville pike. I was sitting on an island in Greece, soaking in the warm Mediterranean sun. All my worries were gone, and I was myself, writing, dreaming, and thrilled.

The food was delicious, but the real reason to come to Mykonos Grill is the inviting atmosphere and the wonderful people. This wannabe writer will be returning for the instant teleportation to a sweeter, warmer place.

Olney’s Mexican Escape

Last night, my mom and I went to Sol Azteca in Olney, MD. While the restaurant is not new, the shopping center was newly renovated and we had never noticed the place before.

We were greeted with white table cloths and dim lighting, something that added a little feeling of formality that is not commonly found in Mexican restaurants. People don’t usually picture white table cloths when they’re in the mood for tacos, enchiladas, carne asada and guacamole. Still, it was nice.

The chips and salsa were perfect.  The salsa was fresh and simple, the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I could have eated ten more servings of it.

The menu was impressive. Not only did they have a wide selection of Mexican favorites (priced generally between $11-14), but also a list of “House Specialties” that were primarily Peruvian and Seafood selections ($15-20). There were so many options, I’ll have to go back to get a better idea of what to recommend to people.

We ordered chicken enchiladas, vegetable fajitas, and a cheese chile relleno. All were delicious. The chicken enchiladas were made with corn tortillas, which though not my favorite, are more authentic than the flour variety for enchiladas. My mom really enjoyed her vegetable fajitas, though she did say that the vegetables could have been cut a tad smaller to make it easier to eat. The cheese chile relleno was fabulous. In case you’ve never had one, “chile relleno” means “stuffed chile”. It’s a big green poblano pepper that has been stuffed (usually with cheese and meat), fried in a batter, and smothered in more cheese. Of course, any vehicle for cheese and ranchero sauce is welcome to me.

For dessert, we had the flan: perfectly smooth, creamy texture coupled with a sweet cinnamon flavor. It came to us decorated on a plate decorated with raspberry sauce squiggles, which added the perfect fruity tang to the mix. A+

For 2 entrées, an extra side (that was the size of a meal in itself), and dessert, we got out of there for $35. Pretty sweet in this part of Maryland. The portions were so huge we both had lunch for the next day as well.

Sol Azteca was a great Mexican escape after a long day at work, with an awesome selection of entrees with generous portions. While not the best Mexican I’ve ever had (El Azteca in Clarksville is my favorite), it was very enjoyable, and I’ll certainly be going back. A-

Sol Azteca on Urbanspoon

Cute Italian Restaurant in Maryland

Friday night I had dinner with my mom at Pepino’s in Burtonsville, MD. It’s a cute little family owned Italian restaurant tucked away in the corner of a sleepy shopping center. We’ve been going here ever since we moved into the area in 2002, as it’s not too far from the high school my sister and I went to. I think it finally deserves a blog post.

The most impressive thing about Pepino’s is the atmosphere. They really treat you like family. While waiting for a table, we had a lovely conversation with the owner, a very nice lady named Margaret. Another couple of people were also waiting and had no place to sit, so right away she said “Here, sit here and talk to my dad,” and sat them right down with her father. It was so sweet!

The food at Pepino’s is Delicious. While you’re waiting, they’ll bring you warm Italian bread. Olive oil and cheese is already on the table: no stinginess there! Pastas are priced around $9-12, with most of the entrée’s at $11-16: pretty comfortable, especially considering the generous portions. My mom had the eggplant parmigiana, which she was raving about. I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, so I went and got the veal parmigiana. Delicious. Cooked perfectly. Smothered in the most delectable homemade sauce you’ll ever get at a restaurant. Slightly on the tangy side. Perfect with the cheese on the table.

We were too stuffed to order dessert. I actually had enough left over for lunch the next day, but sadly I forgot to grab my doggie bag. I almost cried when I realized I forgot it.

Like I said, I’ve been there a million times before, and I’ll go a million times again. Great food, great atmosphere. Actually, not a bad Valentine’s day idea…

Pepinos Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Buca di Beppo!… and wedding updates :)

Saturday night James and I went to a birthday party for my cousin at Buca di Beppo. If you’ve never been, it’s a family style Italian American restaurant known for its retro, gaudy, Italian grandma’s house decor. The yellow walls are loaded down with wild pictures of nuns roller skating, babies flipping people off, and young ladies eating spaghetti in bikinis.

We ate in the pope room, a round semi-private eating area with a huge round table with a bust of Benny XVI in the center. It was frickin’ awesome.

What’s really awesome, though, is the food. We ordered chicken that was stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella laying in a bed of pesto cream sauce. It was AMAZING! I’m ready to go recreate this at home.

Wedding Registry-thoughts?

Among other food news, I’m trying to decide what to put in my wedding registry. You know, other than the usual china and stuff. I’m thinking utensils for crabs (since we’re in Maryland), a wok, a pizza stone, holiday themed dining ware, and other non-standard registry items. Any ideas of what I should include, considering I’m someone who loves to cook?