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May can’t come soon enough.  Hubs and I just booked our flight to France and I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it! (Saved by the Bell anyone???)  Although we’ve been to Paris before, it was only for a long weekend and we were new college grads with little funds so this time we are doing it right!  There’s going to be shopping, lots of walking and exploring off the beaten path neighborhoods, and of course TONS of eating.  From wine and cheese picnics in the park to Michelin starred restaurants, from fresh out of the oven croissants to ham sandwiches, from macarons to rotisserie chicken, we want to try it all!  We’ll have 10 days there but we want to explore other parts of France too so here’s where the real work begins.  The more I research, the more places I want to see, but we only have about 5 days to explore since we want to spend about 4-5 days enjoying Paris.  I’m totally going to sound like an ignorant American but boy did I not realize how many unique cities there are in France.  Here are a few places I’m considering.

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I’ve seen numerous photos of Mont Saint Michel and would love to actually see this beautiful island in person.  It’s a well preserved medieval town and I can imagine wandering the winding alleyways.  It’s about a 4.5 hour drive from Paris though, and although beautiful, I don’t think we would spend more than a day there.  An alternative would be to spend a night or two in Rennes, Brittany and try their famous crepes, seafood, and galettes, and then head to Mont Saint Michel for a day trip.

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Loire Valley is on my bucket list of places to visit in the near future, full of enchanting chateaus and gardens.  I’d love to bike through the region, taking in the beautiful vistas.  We’d tour numerous chateaus, go wine-tasting, and try the delicious cuisine.  It’s only about an hour away from Paris by train so it’s easy to get to and we would ideally stay for 2 nights so we don’t rush our time there.

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Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy, need I say more?  This city is one of the key wine centers in France and as such has multiple caves offering FREE wine tastings!  It’s also known as a gastronome’s paradise and has a major food market on Saturdays.  The city is  approximately 2.5 hours southeast of Paris so it’s not too far out for a 2 day trip.

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Um, how cute is the architecture??  Colmar is located in Alsace, France and is right on the border of Germany and Switzerland and as such is influenced by those countries.  It’s a beautifully well-preserved city and has unique food that sounds more German than French, like bretzels with melted cheese, sauerkraut with fish, and quiches!

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Reims is the main city of the Champagne region!  It’s only 45 minutes from Paris by train so this would make a great day trip.  While there we would visit the impressive Cathedral where almost all the French kings have been crowned for 1,000 years.  And of course we can’t leave without touring the most famous champagne producers like Veuve Cliquot and Taittinger.

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Giverny, the home of Monet’s garden’s where he was inspired to paint his series of waterlilies and other dreamy landscapes.  Although there’s not much there other than Monet’s home and gardens, it’s only 45 minutes from Paris, totally worth it to see his paintings come to life.

Have you been to any of these places?  Are any of these must see’s?

On a beautiful day like today, one of the top San Franciscan things to do is pack a picnic and head over to Dolores Park to soak in some rays and enjoy great people watching.  Located between the Mission District and the Castro, there’s no shortage of good eats.  Some of my favorite places to pick up food are below:

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Ike’s Place is known for some pretty epic sandwiches.  They a huge selection of sandwiches with a variety of options for meats, bread, and toppings, but all of them are served with Ike’s dirty sauce, which is what makes the sandwiches so delicious.  The place is well known and is always packed though so be prepared for a wait.

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Bi-Rite Market is a local gourmet market that is a must for any serious foodie.  There’s a deli counter where you can order sandwiches which change seasonally.  The market is small but carries a well curated selection of artisanal products and is full of local Northern California treats like Acme bread and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses.  There’s a great selection of cured meats, fresh baked breads, cheeses, and many other ready-to-eat products, and of course wine, making for a great spot to pack a picnic basket!

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And let’s not forget Bi-Rite Creamery, the sister store to the market serving ice-cream and baked goods.  No matter the time of day or the weather, there’s always a line for the delicious ice-cream.  But with flavors like the famous salted caramel, honey lavender, and earl grey, who can resist? And it doesn’t help that they are constantly coming up with new flavors so you have to keep coming back!

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And finally my absolute favorite weekend treat are the pastries at Tartine Bakery.  I’ve tried nearly all the pastries and brunch items here and they are all delicious.  My favorites are definitely the morning bun (pic above), which is similar to a cinnamon roll but with an orange zest to it, the frangipane croissant, essentially an almond croissant, and the croque monsieur.  But they also have butter, chocolate, and ham & cheese croissants, quiches, scones, and bread pudding, all yummy.  A word of warning though, there’s always a line, even at 9am on a Sunday (who wakes up that early on a Sunday???), and if you get there past 10:30am, there’s a good chance they’ll be out of the popular items, namely the morning bun and many of the croissants.  But they also have mouthwatering desserts, sandwiches, and fresh baked bread, so you can still get something delicious if you happen to be there later in the day.

And here’s a picture of Dolores Park from today.  See the throngs of people down there?  So yeah, just know that when it’s an absolute gorgeous and warm day like today, the park will be crowded and there will be very interesting people watching going on but that’s all part of the local San Francisco experience 😀

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Last weekend was the hub’s birthday and it’s been a ritual now for the past few years to celebrate at a steakhouse.  Being new to the area, we selected Harris’ Steakhouse based on yelp reviews and it lived up to expectations.  I’m not a red meat-eater so most of the review will be based on the hubs’ opinion.

First off, as you can see above, the decor of the restaurant was reminiscent of a 1960s steakhouse for businessmen.  It was still in good condition but definitely gave off a stuffy formal vibe.  I made reservations and due to the weather, we were 10 minutes late, but despite that, the host was really nice and we were seated promptly, which is a huge improvement from House of Prime Rib, where we waited nearly 45 minutes before being seated, despite having reservations and being early.  The service at Harris’ really was quite good and our waiter did a good job of making sure we had everything we needed.

On to the food.  We started off with the Veal Sweetbreads and Crab Cakes with Beurre Blanc.  The hubs loves sweetbreads and was eager to try Harris’ version.  While he liked the dish and thought it was tasty, he preferred sweetbreads just simply grilled to really taste the flavor over Harris’ saucier version.  I thought the crab cakes were done really well.  It was very flavorful, although maybe a tad on the salty side.  For entrees, hubs got the Bone-in Ribeye Steak and I had the Salmon served with scalloped potatoes instead of the rice.  The salmon was good, but the champagne sauce was a little rich so it wiped out the healthiness aspect of the dish.  The scalloped potatoes however were absolutely delicious.  The hubs thought the rib-eye was done well, he likes it medium rare, and definitely could tell that it was quality meat.  We also ordered a side of the Deep Fried Onion Rings which was good, it was fried just the right amount and it was a very generous portion.

Overall we both felt that the food was good, but not spectacular.  The formal feel of the restaurant and the good service makes this restaurant a safe bet for a special occasion, especially for steak lovers.  But if you’re looking for a good piece of meat for a reasonable price, then House of Prime Rib definitely is the better option, even with the annoying wait.  One other thing, the restaurant calls for business casual attire, but there were definitely customers dressed casually and they still got seated and served.  We also saw customers that were dressed for a night on the town too so really you can just wear whatever you feel comfortable with.

Harris’ Restaurant

2100 Van Ness Ave, at the corner of Pacific Ave.

4 years ago, roughly around this time, the hubs and I took a week long trip to Montreal, Mont Tremblant, and Quebec City to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.  At the time, everyone, including the hubs, thought I was crazy for suggesting Canada in January, but it turned out to be such a fantastic vacation.  There was so much to do in the region and with all the snow and festive holiday decorations, it was uber romantic.  There’s also lots of active family friendly activities, so I would highly recommend this trip to anyone looking for a fun family trip.

We started our trip in Montreal, about a 5 hour drive from the NYC metro area.  Unfortunately we didn’t see as much as we would’ve liked in Montreal since it had snowed pretty badly and we only had one full day before we were off to our next stop.   We spent most of the day walking around Old Montreal, taking in all the historical, quaint buildings on Rue St. Paul and also doing some light shopping on Rue St. Catherine.  Old Montreal is touristy, but it is a very pretty area.  There’s lots of little shops, restaurants, galleries, and of course famous sights like the Notre-Dame Basilica.  We also spent a day in Montreal at the end of our trip, windowing shopping in the Plateau neighborhood, a hip residential area, and visiting the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which was interesting and something different from the usual art museums.

What we ate:  Modavie – good french bistro located in the heart of Old Montreal with a reasonable prix fix menu and nice ambience.  Fairmount Bagel – delicious Montreal bagels, freshly baked on site and open 24 hours a day!  Poutine – can’t remember which one we went to but it was a fast food chain and it was greasy and fattening and good.  L’Express – french brasserie with great comfort food, croque monsieurs, steak frites, etc.

The next part of our trip was in Mont Tremblant, a ski-resort 2 hours from Montreal.  We stayed at Le Westin Resort and Spa, which is right in the heart of the pedestrian village and has ski-on access to the mountain.  Below is the view from our room.  All the rooms are suites with a living, bedroom, and kitchenette, so extremely spacious and so convenient.

We spent one whole day snowboarding and another day dog-sledding! I also had reservations for a  horse drawn sleigh ride through the forest, but unfortunately it was cancelled last minute.  Other activities there include ice-skating, snow-mobiling, tubing, zip-lining, and just strolling through the village.  See, TONS of activities!

What we ate:  La Savoie – restaurant that specializes in fondues and raclettes (melted cheese that is scraped off and eaten with potatos, bread and cured meats), which is so delicious and can only be found in Switzerland or certain parts of France.  Creperie Catherine – sweet and savory crepes, tasty and satisfying since the crepes are about the size of my head.  BeaverTails – a super delicious pastry that’s the best snack in between skiing/snowboarding.

The final stop on our Quebec trip is Quebec City, about 3 hours north of Montreal.  It was so absolutely charming there, I definitely recommend for a winter trip.  We spent our time there exploring the Upper and Lower Town of Old Quebec (first picture).  There was fresh snow almost daily and all the shops and restaurants were decked out in holiday decor.  We walked uphill to the Chateau Frontenac (above picture) which had beautiful views of the partially frozen St. Lawrence River and the Lower Town.  Right outside the Frontenac was a toboggan slide and some taffy, which I imagine would be pretty popular with the kids.

We also went ice-skating in the evening, visited the Ice Hotel, one of two in the world, and went snowboarding again in nearby Mont St. Anne, smaller but less crowded than Mont Tremblant.  We stayed at the boutique Hotel le Germain Dominion, which is centrally located in Old Quebec, and was really charming.

What we ate:  Le Lapin Saute – a cozy restaurant specializing in rabbit and duck, it was delicious.  L’Echaude – an upscale French restaurant with great ambience.

I absolutely loved visiting all 3 places and would definitely love to visit Montreal in the summer when I can do more outdoor activities.  The only thing I would’ve done differently is to make sure we put anti-freeze in the car, it really does get below freezing in Canada! And have dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, we meant to go on our last day for lunch but realized that it’s only open for dinner and unfortunately we had to be on the road by then.

Just remember to dress warmly and you’ll have the time of your life!

No trip to New York City would be complete without a visit to Times Square.  While I don’t normally recommend it to people, unless you like being pushed and jostled, it’s the place to be if you love theater or want to experience it NY style.  If you’re looking for a big Broadway production, then you have to go watch Phantom of the Opera, a classic, or Wicked, which is just a really great show.  I’ve also really enjoyed Chicago, Mamma Mia and Lion King.  And if you’re looking for the newest buzzed about show, then you’ve got to watch The Book of Mormon.  There’s basically 3 ways to get tickets:  1) Buy them online, highly recommended if there’s a particular show that you’re dying to see, 2) buy them the day of at a TKTS booth, recommended if you’re flexible on what show you want to watch and if you want to get tickets at a discount (wait in line 1 hour before opening to guarantee shows won’t sell out before you reach the front) , and 3) buy rush or standing only tickets, recommended if you’re on a tight budget and have tons of free time and you just want to try your luck.  Most of the shows sell a limited number of tickets a few hours before showtime through a lottery system.  If you’re lucky enough, you can end up with front row seats to a sold out show for a mere $30!

Grabbing dinner nearby before your show starts can be a bit of a challenge since Times Square is full of chain restaurants and expensive mediocre food.  If you’re in a big group, hit up Carmine’s or Tony’s DiNapoli for family style Italian food or John’s Pizzeria for New York style brick oven pizza in a cool space.  If you’re on a budget or looking for something quick, head to the famous Shake Shack for burgers and fries or Go Go Curry for Japanese curry.  And don’t forget post theater desserts at Junior’s Cheesecake.

While you’re in the area, walk over to Bryant Park where you can ice-skate in the winter or tan and people watch in the summer.   You can admire the beautiful Chrysler building in the distance, or walk over to 42nd St. and Lexington Ave to check out the beautiful art deco lobby.  Make sure to also visit the beautiful NY Public Library and finally finish up with Grand Central Terminal.