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As you can tell from the title, I went to Charleston a few weeks ago for a girl’s weekend getaway.  I had heard much about Charleston’s culinary scene and being that my companions were also fellow foodie lovers, it’s no surprise that our weekend getaway was largely centered on food!  Of course we still managed to squeeze a few activities in between meals and check out what Charleston has to offer.  Here’s our take on a 3 day getaway to the South!

Day 1:

I can’t think of a better way to start our trip than with a decadent Southern brunch!  Poogan’s Porch definitely lived up to it’s reputation as a great brunch spot.  We arrived there slightly before opening time at 11:30am on a Thursday and by the time we got seated, the restaurant already had a wait!

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While we ate at a bunch of great restaurants, this place was hands down everyone’s favorite of the trip.  To start, you get a basket of warm, sweet biscuits that were moist and delicious.  We shared the duck confit grilled cheese (duck confit, crispy bacon, pimento cheese, I mean, how can you go wrong??!!), the buttermilk fried chicken, and the shrimp and grits (one of many that we would be trying throughout the trip!).  All three dishes were great, but the clear winner was the duck!

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Some exploring and walking was in order after all that rich food.  Downtown Charleston is really charming and full of historical buildings.  King Street between John and Broad Street, is really the heart of the downtown Charleston shopping district.  There’s a number of boutiques, eateries, high end stores, and big chain retailers housed in historical structures.  Walk east on Market Street to check out the City Market, an indoor/outdoor market space full of vendors selling local products that make for great souvenirs like sweetgrass baskets and low country culinary mixes (shrimp n’ grits, gumbo, hush puppies, she crab soup, etc.).  You’ll also pass by a number of fudge and praline shops so be sure to stop by for free samples!  We also stumbled upon a few old fashioned stores selling candy that will make you nostalgic over your childhood (Mallo Cups! Bit O Honey! Razzles!).

charleston7So what is there to do after brunch and snacking? Why, dinner of course!  Since we were in the South, we wanted to try fresh seafood. We debated between Pearlz Oyster Bar and Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar, and ended up with Amen since it had a wider selection of dishes.  Both are located on East Bay Street, which boasts tons of restaurants and is a great area to visit if you’re looking for dining options.  As you can see below, we certainly ordered a number of dishes but to be fair, all but one of them are starter dishes so we created our very own seafood tapas meal.  We had the hush puppies served with wildflower honey, fried green tomatoes, hot shrimp & crab sandwich, she crab soup, Amen Street’s famous shrimp corndogs, fried oysters, and a mix of raw oysters (not pictured).  Again, each dish was delicious and you can’t go wrong with any of them.  I particularly enjoyed the hot shrimp & crab sandwich, it was flavorful and the baguette was so soft, I wanted to buy a roll to take home!  The shrimp corndog was also memorable and the fried oysters were cooked just right, crispy batter on the outside while the oyster texture stayed smooth and soft.

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Day 2:

No visit to the South would be complete without visiting a plantation.  Middleton Plantation is one of the more popular plantations known for it’s extensive grounds and beautiful gardens.  It’s located about 20 minutes outside of downtown Charleston and requires a car to get there.  There may be tours that go there but our hotel was not aware of any.  The cost of a rental car for 1 day was about $30 so it’s not a huge cost if you go that route and you do have it for 24 hours.

The grounds were certainly beautiful with magnificent Oak trees and Camellia’s in bloom.  But the real highlight of the visit was seeing all the animals.  There were sheep and their lambs grazing openly in the fields, huge Belgian draft horses, cashmere goats (!), water buffaloes, hogs, and tons of roosters running around.  What’s also great about the plantation is that they have a number of free tours that were interesting and informative.  We spent about a half day there (4 hours), which included 3 tours and some touring of our own.  There’s a really nice restaurant on site that looks over the grounds, but we opted for a quickie lunch since we had other plans for food later on!  If you have an early start there, you may also want to visit Drayton Hall nearby.  It’s another historic plantation that is highly regarded, especially for it’s main building, which survived the Civil War.

charleston9So what was our foodie plans? Why Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits!  I had heard much about this famous fried chicken chain so I was stoked to find one on the way to Middleton Plantation.  I have to say, it did live up to it’s reputation! I like it more than the other chicken chains, like KFC and Popeyes, the sides were delicious (dirty rice! mac ‘n cheese!), and the sweet potato pie was a great ending to the meal!

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Being that we had a heavy, albeit delicious, late lunch, we capped the night off with desserts back in downtown Charleston at Kaminsky’s Most Excellent Cafe.  What can I say, we’re wild girls!  The desserts there were definitely most excellent! We had the tollhouse cookie pie, key lime cheesecake, italian cream cake, and their flavored steamed milks.  They were all really decadent and delicious but the tollhouse cookie pie was the clear winner!  I highly recommend going there for an after dinner night cap since they’re opened pretty late.

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Day 3:

We started our last full day in Charleston with a visit to the famous Hominy Grill for brunch.  We had heard that the wait could be pretty long on the weekends, but we ended up going around 10:30am on a Saturday and had no wait, which was a very pleasant surprise.  Although by the time we left around 11:30am, there was a sizable wait list.  The restaurant itself is very homey and the staff is friendly.  We ordered the home made pop tarts, the big nasty biscuit (fried chicken biscuit sandwich), shrimp ‘n grits, and one of their beef specials (the dish name escapes me).  We finished off with a slice of their buttermilk pie.  I thought the home made pop tart was excellent and while I’m certainly no expert in shrimp ‘n grits, it was definitely the best I ever had.  The other dishes were good as well, although the group consensus was that Poogan’s Porch offered a better brunch.

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After brunch, we headed over to Market Street for our Carriage Tour.  On our way there, we stumbled upon a hip coffee shop, Kudu Coffee House and ordered a couple of iced coffees.  If you love coffee, I highly recommend stopping by here.  It’s just off King Street, has great coffee and a cute outdoor seating area.

Apparently one of the highly rated activities in Charleston is a carriage tour, and it did not disappoint!  We went with Palmetto Carriage Works, but there’s a number of carriage companies there which I imagine to be quite similar.  The tour is 1 hour long and takes you through Charleston’s historic district and by the waterfront.  Our guide was extremely informative and provided lots of historical tidbits.  I highly recommend the tour as a good way to orient yourself to the history of Charleston.  We went back and did our own leisurely self guided tour after the carriage tour and I’d say we definitely viewed the antebellum homes with a lot more appreciation after learning about the architecture and history from our guide.

Cute kids at Palmetto Carriage Works:

charleston13Beautiful mansions:  Fun fact, the mansion below is the Calhoun Mansion, which was in the Notebook.

charleston14Again for dinner we opted for seafood.  When in Rome right?  This time we chose Coast Bar & Grill, which is known for some of the freshest seafood in Charleston.  We had the BBQ local oysters, lobster and crab gratin, plantain encrusted mahi mahi, and the duo seafood platter of oysters and scallops.  Looking back, we certainly ate our fair share of fried food for such a short weekend!  My favorite dish of the evening was the lobster and crab gratin, hands down.  The oysters were very good as well.  I must say, Charleston certainly does oysters very well, whether raw, BBQ’d, or fried, the oysters were consistently good.

charleston15Day 4:

So this is where we say goodbye to Charleston, but not without one last meal!  Even with a morning flight, we made sure to stop by Wildflour Pastry at 8:30am for their cinnamon rolls.  If you read their reviews, most people rave about Sticky Bun Sundays, but the cinnamon buns are the same, only with a hefty serving of frosting on top so feel free to get those if they run out of sticky buns.  We got there at 8:30am and they were already out of sticky buns!  Being that we had a flight to catch, we couldn’t wait for the next batch, so we got the cinnamon buns instead and they were delicious! Happy faces all around!  They have many other pastries that looked yummy as well.  Word of warning though, the buns seriously are the size of your head so plan to share or you’ll end up eating it throughout the day.

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So that concludes our short weekend getaway to Charleston!  I’ll leave you guys with some general information and tips:

  • Stay in the heart of downtown Charleston.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn which was not only convenient but also nice and included a satisfying breakfast.
  • Rent a car.  While downtown Charleston was charming, I felt it didn’t warrant more than a full day of exploring.  Rent a car and go visit a plantation.  If we had another day there, I probably would’ve tried to visit Savannah, GA while we were down there since it’s only a 2 hour drive from Charleston.  If you’re there in the summer, the beach would probably be a good option too.
  • Make sure you make room for all the food!  Charleston certainly lives up to its reputation as a great culinary city.  And a pleasant surprise was that no matter how popular the restaurant, we never had to wait more than 20 minutes, which is so different from NYC and SF!
  • If you’re planning on visiting Charleston, look up their calendar of events before you book anything.  We missed the Food & Wine festival there by about 2 weeks and the Festival of Houses and Gardens by 1 week.  Both seemed like they would’ve been really fun and interesting and had we known those festivals were happening, we might’ve booked our trip to coincide with one of those events.
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Guess where I was last weekend?

It involved southern comfort food…

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beautiful antebellum mansions…

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lush plantations…

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and awesome friends!

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I’ll be back with a full recap of my fun girl’s weekend!

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Hello looover…. oh, excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.  So, did I get your attention? That my friend is my favorite new discovery in Paris…the Paris-Brest.  Created to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bike race (the circular shape is representative of a wheel), the Paris-Brest is made of choux pastry, filled with praline cream, and topped with toasted hazelnuts.  This popular dessert is found in many patisseries all over Paris but the best one I’ve had is by Jacques Genin.  I have never been to his patisserie, located in the Maris district, but I have had the pleasure of trying his creations at La Cuisine de Bar.

So this post may very well be my favorite to write and which I hold near and dear to my heart.  Needless to say, the hubs and I love food.  Knowing that we were visiting one of the best food cities in the world, I wanted to make sure we took advantage of our time there and tried as much delicious food as possible.  I have done a lot of research on the restaurants in this post and we loved every single place.  The following are notes of all the restaurants we visited, a list of our favorites, and a list of places we wanted to try but did not have enough time/room in our stomach.  I’ll begin with the restaurants and then go into snacks.  I hope this helps anyone out there trying to plan their Parisian trip and also inspire others to take a food journey to Paris.

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A la Biche du Bois – 45 Ledru-Rollin 12th arr., close to the Opera Bastille and not far from Le Marais district, closed Saturdays and Sundays but open until 11pm Monday through Friday.  A traditional Paris bistro, it serves many Parisian classics in a lively atmosphere.  They are known for their game meats (duck, deer, etc.), but are especially known for their Coq au Vin (some say the best in Paris) and Foie Gras with Fleur de Sel.  We had both famed dishes, as well as a simple steak for the hubs and felt the food was delicious, hearty (good portions) and a great value.

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Le Comptoir du Relais – 9 Carrefour de l’Odeon 6th arr., open daily from noon.  This famous bistro is difficult to score a dinner reservation unless you stay in the hotel it’s located, Hotel le Relais St. Germain, or book way in advance.  My suggestion is to go for lunch, arriving 15-20 minutes before noon and you will likely score a table in the first seating, or else be prepared to wait.  I had been looking forward to this restaurant for a long time and it did not disappoint.  The menu is extensive and in French so come prepared with a translation guide and the food is reasonably price for being prepared by such a renowned chef (Yves Camdeborde).  We had the escargots, tripe (hubs’ is a fan of offal), seafood croquettes, some other dishes that I don’t quite remember but all were delicious.  We probably would’ve gone back for a 2nd visit if we had more time.

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Huiterie Regis – 3 rue Monfaucon 6th arr., open Tuesday through Sunday from noon-3pm and 6:30-11pm.  This small eatery serves a simple menu of raw oysters, shrimp, and sausage, with a side of bread.  Known as one of the best places in Paris for fresh oysters, this place did not disappoint.  Living in San Francisco, we’ve had our share of great oysters, and this place was on par with the quality found in SF.  Some may argue that SF oysters are even better but the lively atmosphere, coupled with great wine, makes this place a must try for any oyster enthusiast.  They don’t take reservations and the restaurant is small (~20 seats) so again, go early.  We went towards the end of their lunch time, right before 3pm and got seated right away.

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Chez l’Ami Jean – 27 rue Malar 7th arr. close to the Eiffel Tower, open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.  Serving modern bistro food, this celebrated restaurant offers 3 menu options as well as a la carte, 42 Euro for 3 courses (your selection), 55 Euro for 5 courses (chef selection), and 80 Euro for 8 courses (chef selection).  We went with the 55 Euro menu, le petit voyageur, and were completely stuffed, I’d highly recommend the set menus since it was good value for the money.  We had fish soup, turbot, lamb, and 2 desserts, one of which was their famous rice pudding (above picture).  The turbot was one of the best fishes I’ve ever had, so delicate and flavorful.  The rice pudding reputation was justifiable, it was delicious and not too sweet.  The rice pudding came in a large bowl for sharing (easily could’ve fed 4 people) and even though we were stuffed, both hubs and I could not resist licking every last morsel of it.

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L’Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon – 5 rue de Montalembert 7th arr., located in the heart of St. Germain des Pres and open daily.  Hailed as one of the world’s top 50 restaurants and boasting 2 michelin stars, hubs and I decided to make this our one special dinner in Paris.  The restaurant only accepts reservations for the first seatings, noon or 6:30pm, the rest is first come first serve.  We had the prix fix menu, 199 euro for ~10 courses.  The food was as expected, delicious and inventive.  The service was prompt and friendly enough.  While we did enjoy the food, we weren’t blown away by it, which is what we were expecting considering the high cost.  Both hubs and I felt that it was a good once in a lifetime experience, but compared to all the other amazing food we had at reasonable prices, L’Atelier just did not live up to expectation.  That said, we would definitely go back to the restaurant for their a la carte menu.

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Les Cocottes de Christian Constant – 135 rue Saint-Dominique 7th arr., close to Eiffel Tower, open daily for lunch and dinner.  Cocotte is the cookware in which many of the main dishes are cooked in, in this case staub cookware.  This restaurant doesn’t take reservations but it’s counter-seating and I’ve read that the wait is quick.  Hubs and I went for lunch on a weekday and there was no wait at all.  The menu is made up of a bunch of smaller plates, tapas style, and larger mains that are casserole style.  It’s heartier fare and decent prices.  Unfortunately we were still full from our meal the night before and didn’t try too many dishes, but what we had was good.  The restaurant is decorated tastefully and has a homey feeling.  I would equate it to comfort food and I would not hesitate to visit this restaurant again, although with an empty stomach so I can try more of the menu.

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Chez Dumonet-Josephine – 117 rue du Cherche-Midi 6th arr., closed Saturday and Sunday.  Another quintessential traditional French bistro, Chez Dumonet is known for really old school French food.  I was looking for a place that serves really good boeuf bourguignon for the hubs and this restaurant came up repeatedly.  They are also known for the duck confit, seared foie gras, and grand marnier souffle, all of which we ordered and thoroughly enjoyed.  Also good is their monkfish and mille feuille.

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La Cuisine de Bar – 8 rue Debelleyme 3rd arr. in Le Marais neighborhood, open Tuesday through Saturday.  This little gem of a place is a great lunch spot.  They serve open-faced sandwiches on bread from next door Poilane Bakery, which many consider to make the best bread in the world.  They serve a prix fix lunch for 14.50 Euro which includes a starter (really fresh and tasty carrot soup when we went), a tartine, and a drink or coffee.  The other draw to this place? They also offer an array of pastries by Jacques Genin (see above Paris-Brest picture)!

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L’As du Fallafel – 34 rue des Rossiers 4th arr., open Sunday through Thursday until midnight and Friday until 5pm.  The name says it all, this hole in the wall joint is known for it’s falafel, served with hummus and roasted eggplant.  It is by far one of the best falafel’s I’ve ever had.  It’s cheap and tasty, what more can you ask for! Rue des Rossiers is an alleyway in the Jewish quarter of Le Marais.  There’s multiple falafel joints there but this one is the most famous.  It’s so good, we went twice in one day!  Another famous joint on the same street is Chez Hanna at 54 rue des Rossiers.  It’s open Tuesday through Sunday and is also a local favorite, rivaling L’As du Fallafel.

Paris robert

 Robert et Louise – 64 rue Vieille du Temple 3rd arr., open daily Tuesday through Sunday.  This locals restaurant serves quality meat and offal in a no frills environment.  I knew hubs would be keen to try this place as soon as I mentioned that they served black blood sausage and tripe sausage.  We ordered foie gras, blood sausage, steak and pork ribs.  All the food was prepared simply, letting the taste and texture of the meat shine through and it was very reasonably priced.  If you are a fan of no frills meat, as my Argentinian husband is, then you would love this place.

Onto the snacks!

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Le Berthillon – 31 rue Saint-Louise en Ille, open Wednesday through Sunday.  This is the most famous ice cream in Paris so be prepared to wait.  The ice cream flavors range from creamy classics to seasonal fruit flavors.  The texture is more reminiscent of gelato and the flavors are really quite intense.  There are many ice cream shops in the area that supply Berthillon ice cream so if you don’t feel like waiting or are not in the neighborhood, just pop into a local shop that advertises Berthillon.  You may not get the wide variety of flavors but it’ll still be yummy!

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Macarons –  Ahhh macarons, so delicate, so flavorful, and so hard to get just right.  Below are the most famous places for macarons:

Laduree – multiple locations.  This world famous brand really has gotten it just right, from the packaging to the beautiful store displays.  Laduree is a must visit for any macaron lover.  They have a wide variety of flavors and really, who doesn’t love the luxurious, pretty packaging??!

Pierre Herme – multiple locations.  I hadn’t heard of Pierre Herme until I researched “best macarons in Paris” and this came up repeatedly.  The storefront and packaging is the opposite of Laduree, sleek and minimalist.  They have less flavors to choose from, but their macarons, in my opinion, really are the best.  They are perfectly light and fluffy, slightly chewy, and pack intense flavor.

Lenotre and Gerard Mulot – multiple locations.  Both of these names came up when I was researching macarons.  While certainly good and still better than most macarons you can find in the States, I would not go out of my way to visit these two after having visited the holy grail of macarons (above 2).  That said, if you find yourself passing by, it’s worth a visit since their pastries are wonderful.

Patisserie Aoki Sadaharu – multiple locations.  Although not widely known, this patisserie makes macarons in asian inspired flavors like black sesame, wasabi, and matcha green tea.  The quality is quite good and this patisserie is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to try something different.

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Patisserie Stohrer – 51 rue Montorgueil 2nd arr., open daily.  Paris’ oldest pastry shop, Stohrer serves a wide variety of mouth watering desserts.  Definitely worth a visit, but be warned, you won’t be able to leave the shop without purchasing at least 5 items! Also, rue Montorgueil is a great street to walk down if you’re looking for something to eat.  It’s filled with many decent locals type restaurants.

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Eric Kayser/Maison Kayser – multiple locations.  Known for the best breads and great pastries, this place is great for picking up provisions for a picnic.

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Le Grande Epicerie Paris – Located in Le Bon March, this is a gourmet grocery store with everything you can imagine.  There’s fresh baked breads, beautiful pastries, ready-made food, and fresh produce.  It’s really a great place to pick up snacks for a picnic.

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“The Chicken Lady” – Located at the Bastille Sunday Open Market, this specific “chicken lady” stall is famous for juicy rotisserie chicken.  The directions I got were to take the Metro line 5 to Breguet-Sebin, take the Saint Sebin exit to be at the north end of the market.  Take a right down the first row of food stalls and the “chicken lady” is the 3rd stall on the left past Vollailles du Gotinais and La Boule d’Anges des Marches bread stand.  You must get there before 1pm or else she sells out.  Hubs and I never found her, but the Bastille market is large and full of food stands so we were able to get rotisserie chicken from another stand.  It was juicy and good, although maybe not as wow as the chicken lady’s chicken might be.  We walked to nearby Place des Vosges and ate the chicken there, and then went to nearby Gerard Mulot for some pastries (Paris-Brest of course!) for dessert.

Okay, so I think I covered all the food we tried (not including a few crepe street stalls we stopped at), which we managed to pack in 5.5 days!  Now on to our absolute favorites:

My favorites: Chez l’Ami Jean, Le Comptoir du Relais, and La Cuisine de Bar.

Hubs’ favorites: All of mine, plus Chez Dumonet for the boeuf bourguignon, and Robert et Louise.

Other restaurants that looked especially good but we didn’t have a chance to try:

Le Gaigne – 12 rue Pecquay 4th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Small bistro known for inventive cuisine that does not disappoint.

Breizh Cafe – 109 rue Vieille du Temple 3rd arr., open Wednesday through Sunday.  Known for Bretagne style crepes and buckwheat galettes.

Le Cinq Mars – 51 rue de Verneuil 7th arr., open Monday through Sunday.  Cozy, affordable locals restaurant that serves ratatouille, mussels and seabass.

Bistrot Paul Bert – 18 rue Paul Bert, 11th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Offers a reasonable prix fixe (34 Euro) and is a quintessential bistro serving good steak frites.

Le Baratin – 3 rue Jouye-Rouve 4th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Opened by Argentinians (who knows meat better than them?) and Pierre Herme dines here, need I say more?

Les Papilles – 30 rue Gay Lussac 5th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Great value prix fixe menu restaurant.

Tips:

If the restaurant allows it, MAKE RESERVATIONS!  Most of these restaurants are small and the French tend to make reservations so if you don’t, there may not even be seating for walk-ins.  Unlike the States, even at popular restaurants, you won’t have to call more than a week or two in advance so it’s not too much trouble.  It’s as simple as calling them, asking in french first if they spoke english (Bonjour, parlez-vous francais?), most of them do, and telling them what day you’d like to come.

Make note of restaurant opening hours.  Many restaurants are closed Sundays and some are closed certain days during lunch so make sure you plan accordingly to avoid disappointment.  I first made a list of all my must-eats and then I looked up each of their opening hours to make sure I juggled my schedule right.

When in Rome… if you can, eat at a later hour.  Dinner hours are typically from 7pm through 11pm with the earlier time slots taken by tourists and the later taken by locals.  You’ll have a more enjoyable experience if you eat when the locals do, but take into consideration that if you’re eating at 9pm, you typically won’t be done until midnight (the French really take their time) and oftentimes the meal is heavy so you may have trouble sleeping right afterwards, which can delay your schedule for the next day.  But you’re on vacation so just take it easy!

Go with the flow.  The French really do take their time and enjoy their meal, as such the waiters typically will take longer to come around.  Don’t get impatient.  Take into account that meals can last 3 hours and plan your itinerary accordingly.

Pick restaurants close to the sites you will be visiting.  I included the arrondissements the restaurants are located in to help with planning.  If you plan on seeing the Eiffel Tower, plan lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in the 7th arr.  This will make your trip go more smoothly if you’re not constantly criss crossing town to go to restaurants.

Whew, so this was a long post but I hope helpful!  If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll try my best to help you out!

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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?

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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.

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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!

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