Wednesday, May 29, 2013

#9 Caribou Cafe

Gift Card Number Nine was used with my friend from work, Kaitlin. I needed to take Kaitlin out for two reasons.
  1.  She is definitely way more of a foodie than I am and probably appreciates my 50 gift cards more than I do. 
  2. When I told her about my winnings a few months ago, she goes "You should write a blog!" And so here I am, blogging away. 

After much deliberation about which gift card to use, we randomly settled on Caribou Cafe. Caribou Cafe is a French bistro located at 11th and Walnut. The chef was on Chopped, so to me that is pretty impressive. Not only did he compete, but he was also the 'Chopped Champion'. Good for you, Chef Oliver.

We parked right across the street in a lot, and after a good two minutes of backing into a spot between an Acura & a BMW, we made our way into the restaurant. We did a slight early bird special and had 6pm reservations. Not that we needed them because the place was empty at that point. A lot of waiters were standing around. Two of them attempted to seat us at two different times. Even when we sat down I felt a bit smothered by the wait staff. Constant walk bys and one waiter standing within a few feet of our table at all times. I understand that it was pretty dead at that point, but come on, let me breathe. This could just be me because I typically prefer to have an inattentive waiter than one that is too intense. I also noticed this because they were really cramping my picture-taking. I like to nonchalantly get some pictures of the place to add to my blog without being noticed but that wasn't happening here. Oh well, I sacrificed looking like a tourist for one night.

Okay enough about the wait staff- the place was beautiful. I wish it was a nice night because there were the cutest French looking tables outside that would have really given off the "Par-ee" feel. The first thing I noticed was the bar, and not just because I like a drink here and there, but because of the design and all of the embellishments. It looks like a bar I would want to sit at and relax and drink an expensive glass of wine.

We both decided to go with the fixed price option for $28. Seemed like the best deal for an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Plus both of the entrees we wanted were included in that option. We both started with the French Onion Soup. I wish I had better language to describe how amazing this was. Tons of cheese- tons, just tons. The cheese alone made the soup amazing, but also the croissant and the onions were perfect too. After we finished the soup we could've stopped there. It was so filling, we were  both stuffed! This soup is a must for anyone who goes here.

Even though we ordered all three of our courses at the same time, we weren't rushed. The food came out at a good pace, which I really appreciated. I  had time to let my food digest before bringing on the next course. For dinner I ordered the Moules Frites. AKA, Steamed mussels in wine with curry and fries. The mussels were pretty light, and were perfect for after that soup! The mussels were laid on top of a wine and curry broth that were delicious together. And obviously the fries were good. I feel a little naive saying this but, I never actually thought that French onion soup and French fries were actually food that would be served in a French restaurant? Seems like a cop out to me but who am I to complain about cheese and fries, really?

Kaitlin ordered the Roasted Chicken with brie sandwich- marinated chicken, spinach and mushroom topped with warm brie cheese on country bread served with fries. Straight from the source, "If you're looking for the French version of a Philly cheesesteak, you can find it at Caribou! While the concept sounded delicious, roasted chicken, sauteed mushrooms and spinach, topped with melted brie, I'm not a big fan of dark meat. The French fries were incredible and the sandwich itself tasted delicious despite my love for the darker meat."

I didn't think I would survive the dessert round. We were so full. But I decided to push through and just eat the Espresso Crème Brulée. And thank God I did. So freaking good! The coffee flavored custard really made the dish.
Thumbs up to Caribou Cafe. I see myself returning to sit at the bar, drink a glass of wine, eat some French Onion Soup, get dessert, and pretend I'm in Paris. Oui Oui!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#8 La Viola Ovest

Tuesday night out on the town! Although my sister and I live together sometimes it seems like barely ever see each other. We were literally planning this date for 3 weeks. Finally I got on her busy schedule and decided to go to La Viola. We haven't been out to Italian in a while, and La Viola is a BYOB. I tasked Regan with getting the wine. She came home with a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, our mother would be so proud.

There are two La Violas, Ovest & Bistro. They are right across the street from each other, 252 S. 16th Street & 253 S. 16th Street. If that isn't confusing, I don't know what is. Luckily there was an employee standing outside of Ovest to direct us in the right direction. I was bit concerned before we got there because I had been to a La Viola before (wasn't sure which one at the time..), so technically this wouldn't be a "first meal" for me. Luckily, we dodged that bullet and ended up at the other La Viola (whew!).

La Viola Ovest was super welcoming when we walked in. There were two rooms, one in the front and one in the back. The hostess immediately asked us if which room we preferred to sit in, and even asked us which table we wanted. I liked getting those choices because there is nothing worse than sitting in a bad seat. Unlike La Viola Bistro, La Viola Ovest had tons of seating and a lot of open space. When I went to La Viola Bistro, we actually shared a table with another couple. I appreciate the small Italian BYOB spots, but come on. I don't know these people, I don't really want to share my bread basket with them. La Viola Ovest had more space but still gave off that quaint Italian restaurant feel. When we walked in we noticed a smell of a fresh home? I know it sounds weird, but we didn't smell Italian food, we smelled someone's freshly cleaned house. Take that for what it's worth, but I liked it!

We noticed a kind of assembly line with the staff. One person sat us, one person open our wine, one person poured our waters, one person told us the specials, and one person took our orders. I'm exhausted just typing this. So,we didn't really get a personal touch with one waiter, but it worked for us.

On to the fun part, the food! Since La Viola is a BYOB, we were worried that we might not spend the $50. So more of an excuse to both get appetizers and dessert. To start, Regan got a Cesar salad. I told her that I would not make fun of her for getting that, again...........

I went with a salad special. For me, it is always a risk going with a special at an authentic Italian restaurant because I am never fully sure of what the waiter is actually saying when he tells us the specials. But I thought I would be adventurous! The salad was a spring mix topped with prosciutto, goat cheese, and avocado with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. If you know me you know that anything with avocado is a go for me. And this salad was actually perfect. Even Regan, one of the least food adventurous people I know,  tried it and agreed, so that says a lot. The prosciutto melted in my mouth and the avocado was fresh and ripe to perfection. The dressing was infused in the whole salad so I could taste it in every bite. Great choice, if I do say so myself. 


For dinner, Regan got the Lobster Raviolis, or Ravioli Alla Viola. Homemade ravs stuffed with lobster in a pink vodka sauce. Delish. I have been using my blog as an excuse to try everyone's meal and it is really working out to my advantage. The raviolis were stuffed to the brim with lobster.  I enjoyed, and clearly, she enjoyed.


I went with the salmon. My friend told that I've been "getting a lot of red meat lately" in my blogs, so I went with seafood. Since this friend is the same friend who gave me the idea to blog about my outings, I will take the hint. The Salmon Di Capperi was oven roasted salmon with pearl onions and capers, with a light marinara sauce. Well, I decided that I love pearl onions. That's the most I can say about the salmon. Wasn't really impressed. Regan thinks I am officially a food snob, but I honestly have had better salmon! It was a huge dish so I was able to take leftovers. Let's just say, I am not looking forward to lunch as much as I probably could be. 
In our attempt to go over $50, we just had to split dessert. Regan and I both love cannolis and take advantage of them more times than not when we are at an Italian restaurant. However, La Viola only had cannoli cake, not plain cannolis. But if you know us, you know that we aren't picky when it comes to dessert, so we went with it. Again, not an authentic cannoli,  but still amazing. Pretty presentation as well. 

Overall we had a great sisters night out. A lot of childhood reminiscing, like the time that I broke my wrist from tripping after locking Regan in the attic (karma is real). 

We would have been okay without the dessert, the total came to $62. Two apps, two dinners, 1 dessert, NO alcohol (hey BYOs!). La Viola Ovest is a place I would love to try again. A lot of seating, so there is a possibility if I decide to go back on whim on a Friday night we would get in easily. 

8 down 44 to go!

Monday, May 6, 2013

#7 Devil's Alley

Devil's Alley was probably the best place from my list to go to after the Broad Street Run. Running 10 miles and then stuffing your face with comfort food is the way to go.

Once we finally got ourselves together post run, we went into Center City and celebrated our success as well as Cinco de Mayo. Great combo- or maybe bad combo? After drinking for the better part of the afternoon, we ended up at Devil's Alley. Why you ask?
1. Because I brought the gift card out with me
2. It was on the way home
3. I wanted a burger, bad.

Devil's Alley was SO. COOL. It literally had a tree in the middle of the first floor of the restaurant that stretched to the second floor. They also tried to incorporate their "devil" theme into the decorations. The bathroom was in a basement that looked like a basement I used to party at in college, dark, smelly, black & concrete walls...scary.

Food wise, Devil's Alley is all comfort food. They had some variations of healthy meals on their menu, but mostly just good old fashioned burgers & fries. Running Broad Street plus the pitcher of margaritas pre-meal, gave me the push to get whatever the hell I wanted regardless of calories. So, clearly, we started with nachos. Amazing. I love when guacamole is included on the nachos and not an extra charge. It's the little things.

 I went with the Bacon, Guacamole, & Cheddar burger. I thooouuughhht about the veggie burger, or the grilled shrimp salad, but nope went with my gut (which is sticking out a few extra inches today, by the way). The burger two words..worth it. Juicy, cooked to a perfect medium rare. The burger came with hand cut fries that make me salivate on the spot. They slightly reminded me of Ocean City boardwalk fries- but better. Well in the moment they were better.

Brendan got the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, which luckily he let me try. Fried chicken with blue cheese, bacon, cheddar, & buffalo sauce. We were not messing around. The buffalo chicken sandwich was pretty perfect, not just a slab of chicken with buffalo sauce thrown on top, but everything was evenly mixed in.

Welp, if I didn't drink back my calories earlier that day, Devil's Alley took care of it. I really want to go back here because as I am writing this blog and looking back on the menu, I noticed the Walnut Breaded Chicken Tenders. Why did I not get them? They sound delicious and may be my sole reason for returning. That and the fact that 2 beers, 2 sandwiches, 1 app was $47. So reasonably priced, no excuse not to return! Just need to give my body a few months to get back to normal.

45 still to go - is that a joke?!