Sep 232014
 

Santa Monica is a land of waves, zero humidity and California culture. With two full days to explore Santa Monica, we did what we do best, eat! Hey, it’s cheaper than shopping, right? In all honesty, I avoided the two story Anthropologie and glittering Tory Burch shop on Rodeo Drive in exchange for fabulous meals. Shoes wear out, but memories from meals last for a lifetime. Here’s a few restaurants and dishes you must try if you’re ever in the area.

  • Coast Beach Cafe & Bar: Might I say there’s nothing better than enjoying a glass of wine overlooking sand and crashing waves? We stumbled upon this hotel restaurant in the midst of our first walk around Santa Monica. The atmosphere was laid back, casual and had a cottage-coastal feel. Almost like you were sitting in an old friend’s beach house catching up on lost time and relishing in the fact that you don’t have to answer emails or clean your house. We enjoyed drinks at the bar, but from what I can tell, the plates from the kitchen looked fantastic!

Capture

  • Misfits: At first glance you can instantly tell the funky, trendy tables are filled with locals and regulars. At 6 p.m. on on Sunday night, the place was bursting with lively diners and full tables. The bar and restaurant reprises a “back to the bar” ideal of comfort food and signature cocktails. We ordered the shredded kale and quinoa salad with sunflower seeds, grapes, preserved lemon, manchego and parmesan. The kale was notable for its flavor as it was soaked overnight in salt water. This process completely removed any bitterness and made for an enjoyable kale salad. Their oven roasted organic chicken was marinated with white wine, garlic, fresno chili and marketgreens. This perfectly-portioned dish was tender, juicy and packed with flavor. Our meal ended with some surprise sea salt chocolate chip cookies from our waiter! We’d recommend Misfits for lunch, dinner, late night and brunch.

1836863_711190192288294_7341361782954577484_o

  • Huckleberry: Everything served at Huckleberry is made on site using high quality ingredients ranging from organic flour to farmers-market produce. I was eating solo this morning, but this place is great for groups, dates or a lingering morning with your kindle and cup of coffee. Go for the Fried Egg Sandwich with sunny side up eggs, Niman Ranch bacon, Gruyère, arugula and aioli on country bread. Oh and my side of fruit was exceptional. You really can taste the difference in farmers-market produce straight from California farms.

sandwich

  • ShopHouse: Created by Chipotle, their newest concept serves up the bold flavors of Southeast Asia in the same format as their sister restaurant. I’ve heard rumblings that these “Asian Chipotle” restaurants exist and we were ecstatic to find one in Santa Monica. Even better, everything is gluten, wheat and dairy free, so there really is something for everyone. Click here for full menu details and start dreaming of your future ShopHouse bowl.

IMG_1456

IMG_1457

  • Le Pain (Beverly Hills): We first found this restaurant in NYC and are delighted to see its expansion. This place puts Panera to shame. Bread is handmade, most ingredients are organic and the interiors are simple, yet stunning. One step inside and you’re transported to the French countryside. My organic frittata with goat’s milk feta cheese, bread and berries was divine! I especially enjoyed the large wood communal table and the attentive (but not overbearing) service.

IMG_1516

  • Sprinkles Cupcakes: I tasted my first Sprinkles cupcake in 2007 in Beverly Hills and I instantly fell in love. I’ve tried my baking hand with the Sprinkles Williams-Sonoma mixes, but there’s always something I’m missing, so I was overjoyed to return to my beloved Sprinkles for a red velvet cupcake. My cupcake was baked to perfection with that perfect “sweet spot” center and topped with the creamiest cream cheese frosting you’ll ever taste. I was blissfully happy after indulging in my all-time favorite cupcake. I only wish they would bring their cupcake ATM to Orlando!

Capture

  • Sugarfina: Finally, a candy store for adults! No more mass candy dispensers crawling with kiddie germs, Sugarfina knows how to do gourmet for grownups. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before they expand nationwide.This team set out to taste thousands of candies in dozens of countries and the result is a perfectly curated collection of the finest high-quality candies from around the world. If you’re into gummies, try the Bitty Berries, perfectly juicy and no funky aftertaste like some gummies. We’d give the packaging, taste and presentation at Sugarfina a 10+ out of 10!

candy2

  • Seasons 52: This location is notable for it’s incredible ocean view and outdoor seating. We hesitated coming here because we have two locations in Orlando, but we couldn’t have been happier with our meal and exceptional oceanside dining. Most exciting was the cool weather and chance to enjoy their butternut squash soup with shiitake mushrooms and chives. The Maple-Glazed All-Natural Roasted Half Chicken with autumn harvest vegetables and a zesty chicken jus was tender and packed with a subtle citrus flavor. Go for the view and stay for the mini indulgences at Season’s Santa Monica location.

IMG_1538 Although we’re thoroughly missing the zero humidity and endless meals, it’s always nice to return home to The City Beautiful. IMG_1407

Photo Credits: Coast at Shutters, Misfits, Sugarfina, Sprinkles, all other images by Spork.

Sep 192014
 

Gooey, warm cookies straight from the oven and delivered to your doorstep. Can you think of anything better? Our sweet tooth was forever changed when we stumbled upon Gideon’s Bakehouse in July. If you missed our initial post, click here.

After inhaling our first batch, we’ve been anxiously waiting for the next chance to indulge our taste buds with Gideon’s sugary goodness. Early this week we came home to the most delicious delivery including The Chocolate Chip Cookie, Cookies & Cream and new to the menu, the Frankenstein Cookie. These sweet circles of heaven are divine and I’m still convinced there’s no better cookie on this planet.

We were most excited to try the Frankenstein Cookie, it’s perfect for those that can’t decide between Cookies & Cream or Chocolate Chip and it includes some bonus M&M’s. The sugar, buttery, caloric goodness melted in my mouth and was the perfect midnight snack. We almost plowed through our entire half-dozen in less than 24 hours. Oops! Looks like we need to order more.

If you haven’t tasted Gideon’s yet, you’re missing out. It will be hard to enjoy other cookies because nothing will ever compare, but hey at least we warned you. Visit gideonsbakehouse.com for a full menu and ordering details.

DSC_4490a

Photo Credit: Gideon’s Bakehouse

Sep 192014
 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Epcot International Food & Wine Festival now through November 10! Even better, the festival runs 53 days this year, an entire week longer than last year. That’s more than enough time to experience 25 speciality marketplaces, 270 chefs, and over 30 new food items. With all these new additions and celebrity chefs, it’s bound to be Epcot’s best festival yet.

What’s Cookin’:

  • A Patagonia Marketplace will debut with a menu featuring fresh, sustainable roasted Verlasso Salmon, Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri.
  • A Farm Fresh Marketplace will dish up new home-grown offerings including Applewood-smoked Pepper Bacon Hash with Sweet Corn, Potatoes, Hollandaise and pickled Jalapeños.
  • Celebrity chefs – Jamie Deen, “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro and more share their talents during culinary demos.
  • Ever-popular party for the senses, grand tasting events select Saturday evenings showcasing tempting bites, more than 50 wines and beers and live entertainment.

Must Taste Dishes and Drinks {Spork’s Picks and Past Favorites}:

  • Belgium - Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream. I wish this country existed year round in Epcot world! Pair with their Chilled Coffee featuring Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, don’t be fooled by the chocolate and coffee, it’s strong!
  • Canada“Le Cellier” wild mushroom beef filet mignon with truffle butter sauce and gluten free. Definitely worth the wait, the seemingly endless line moves fast.
  • France - Sparkling Pomegranate Kir, sparkling wine and pomegranate liquor, comparable to a fancy French version of a mimosa.

Weekends are usually packed, if you have time during the week you can breeze through the World Showcase with minimal crowds and lines. Either way, make sure you sign up for one of the many specialty events, they are worth the price tag! For more information and complete festival details visit, click here.

0721ZW_0158CR-640x425

Puerto-Rico-conch-salad-0613ZW-640x426

Lettuce-Wraps-0922BZ_0097DZ-640x426

1008ZZ_0464MS-640x426

Photo Credit: Walt Disney World

Sep 172014
 

Florida “fall” is always interesting, most weekends I’m torn between a beach day or staying in town to start a new routine. I love summer for the slow pace, but am always eager to welcome fall with all of its football and special events. Orlando has bevy of culinary events in the coming week, here’s a few of our picks!

  • Winter Park Annual, Wine & Dine- Wednesday, October 15, features over 30 of Orlando’s best restaurants and shops under one roof. The evening will include tastings, hors d’oeuvres, craft beers and wine. Purchase a “Park Ave” VIP ticket for unlimited (yes, neverending) fine wines, champagne and craft beers. Check out this bevy of restaurants in attendance and grab your tickets for the ultimate Winter Park feast! Most tickets for similar events run $100+, so we’d say this is a pretty good deal at $40.00 – $70.00. For full details and tickets click here.
  • Pantry to Plate, Chef’s Challenge- Thursday, September 18, a unique dining event that will test the talents of well-known Central Florida chefs as they prepare a four-course dinner using ingredients found solely in JFS Orlando’s Pearlman Emergency Food Pantry. Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon, Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant and John Rivers of 4 Rivers Smokehouse and The COOP will be judged on taste, presentation, and creativity. Celebrity Chef Cat Cora will emcee the event. All proceeds from Pantry to Plate will go to support JFS Orlando. Tickets are $125 per person or $1,000 for a table of ten. Click here for tickets and event details.
  • Beer Garden (sponsored by The Hammered Lamb) – Enjoy brews and entertainment in the field next to The Venue on the corner of Virginia Drive and New York Avenue.
  • Food Trucks (sponsored by The Food Truck Bazaar)
  • Wine Stroll – Visit merchants along Virginia Drive and sample wines. Merchants include The Barefoot Spa, Project 7 Yoga and more.

Get out of the house this weekend and indulge your taste buds!

CowsNCabsSavetheDate

photo (1)

Sep 172014
 

I-Drive is getting all sorts of upgrades, from Yard House to the Orlando Eye, a once run-down tacky tourist area is taking a remarkable turn. It’s time to add Cooper’s Hawk, a uniquely modern, yet casual, dining experience to the list of I-Drive enhancements. Coupled with an exclusive and active wine club, Cooper’s Hawk was named “Breakout Brand 2013” and “Hot Concept 2010” by Nations Restaurant News, and that’s not a title that comes easily in today’s competitive dining market.

The restaurant also features one of the country’s largest wine clubs, offering subscribers monthly wines, special discounts, invitations to exclusive events, rewards, and annual domestic and international wine trips. The Orlando location boasts an impressive menu in addition to a wine and cheese tasting area inside their wine-themed retail shop.

We visited Cooper’s Hawk before the grand opening and quickly found a few menu favorites. Beyond the menu, the space is expansive, impressive and perfect for a variety of evenings from a family meal to relaxing outside or catching a football game in the bar that’s packed with seating.

Here’s our “must order” picks for your next visit to Cooper’s Hawk:

  • Asian Pork Belly Tostados – I’m pretty picky about pork belly, but this appetizer was flavored to perfection with scallions, sesame seeds, cilantro, radishes and topped with a sweet chili BBQ sauce. I’d happily go back for this appetizer and a glass of champagne!
  • Chef Matt’s Monthly Cheese Tasting – Y’all, this cheese was fantastic! I love the idea of a rotating cheese and wine tasting on the main menu. I’ve sampled a lot of cheese in my time and I’d recommend this dish to start any meal at Cooper’s Hawk.
  • Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Flatbread – Crispy flatbread topped with mozzarella, roasted grape tomatoes, pesto, julienne basil and a balsamic glaze. Cooper’s Hawk knows how to serve a flatbread that’s perfectly crisp and layered with flavor.
  • Chicken Giardiniera – Parmesan breaded chicken with shaved parmesan. Sounds simple enough, but the chicken was tender and coated with the right amount of crispy goodness. Sometimes it’s nice to experience a non-Southern chicken, and this one’s a winner in our book.

Go experience Cooper’s Hawk for yourself, you won’t be disappointed! Cooper’s Hawk newest location is located at 8005 International Drive, Orlando, FL. For locations and menu details visit www.chwinery.com.

10422417_10152575493530180_8356195940125657614_n

1551762_10152561463410180_5814745341253977358_n

10540901_10152707963620180_3799772117649432926_n

10653554_10152688016150180_2531734690227475093_n

Wine Glasses w Logo

 

Photo Credit: Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sep 162014
 

A second Shake Shack will open in Spring 2015! If you missed our original post on the Winter Park location, click here. Orlando’s newest Shake Shack will be located at I-Drive 360, Orlando’s up-and-coming dining, entertainment and shopping destination.

Established in 2004 in New York City’s Madison Square Park, Shake Shack is a critically acclaimed, modern day “roadside” burger stand known for its 100% all-natural Angus beef burgers, griddled-crisp flat-top dogs, crinkle cut fries, fresh-made frozen custard, craft beer and wine.

The I-Drive Shack’s menu will feature all the Shake Shack classics plus a selection of location-specific frozen custard concretes. As is the case with all Shacks, the I-Drive location will be constructed with recycled and sustainable materials, and feature energy-efficient kitchen equipment and lighting.

I-Drive just received yet another upgrade! We’re loving all the expansion in a once run-down super touristy area of Orlando. What other attractions and restaurants do you want to see on I-Drive?

unnamed

Sep 132014
 

Ritz Carlton, the ultimate luxury hotel, king of relaxation and exceptional service. With the opening of Highball & Harvest, it’s time to add “culinary superiority” to their list of accolades. This casual “come as you are” restaurant features interactive dining, handcrafted cocktails, beautiful interiors and an exceptionally creative menu. If you missed our original post on H&H, click here.

Spork got a peek inside the menu last week during an exceptional lunch. We were incredibly impressed by Highball and Harvest’s modern approach to Southern cuisine. They’ve taken the Southern dining trend to another league. I was a little intimidated to write this post because I wasn’t quite sure how to do the flavors and plates justice with words and pictures. Nevertheless, I’d give H&H a 10+ out of 10 and we’re thrilled to share some highlights from our recent meal.

  • Parker House Rolls, made from Khorasan wheat (Egyptian old-world grains) and served warm with less gluten than typical bread, a complimentary bread presentation made from scratch by the resort’s 30-person pastry team. Served with house-made herb butter and apple butter, you’ll want to ditch any low carb diet you’re on for these rolls.

photo 4

  • Interactive cocktail table with handcrafted, herb-infused cocktails. All cocktails are served on the rocks with hand-carved ice, sculpted bar side with a high-end Japanese ice saw and infused with Whisper Creek Farm herbs and fruits. If I didn’t see it myself, I wouldn’t believe they hand-cut ice, but hey this is The Ritz-Carlton, so they would go the extra mile for cocktail ice. We tasted the Orange Ave Officers Club with Death’s Door Gin, Pimm’s #1, Passionfruit and Ginger, garnished with an orange slice and served in a beautiful glass. I’m not usually a gin drinker, but this drink was enough to change my mind!

photo 5

  • The Southern Spread, a lavish spread of house-made pimento cheese, smoked fish dip, perfectly pickled vegetables and served with Benne-Seed Lavash and sourdough bread pieces. The presentation was outstanding and I’m convinced there’s no better way to eat pimento cheese and vegetables!

photo 2-1

  • Crab Cakes and Fried Green Tomatoes, perfectly battered crab cakes wedged between fried green tomatoes, topped with a Cajun Remoulade and Corn Chow-Chow, this starter was a tasty take on two Southern classics.

photo 1-1

  • Blackened Grouper, served over Hominy Ragout, Andouille and Pickled Okra. Fresh from the coast, this grouper was a perfectly composed seaside dish. The Andouille and Pickled Okra complimented the grouper, if I wasn’t trying to save room for dessert, I would have inhaled my entire plate.

photo 3-1

  • Sweet Treats, OH MY GOODNESS, we experienced a true sugar paradise to end our meal. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but you can’t miss the H&H Key Lime Tart cut into shareable slices, served with a Margarita sorbet. The Baby Donuts were perhaps the most fun to eat, with creamy Cappuccino Ice Cream and your own tube of Nutella! These sugar crusted donuts melted in my mouth. Make sure you save room for these culinary masterpieces.

photo 2-2

photo 5-1

We’re dying to go back to H&H for more Southern goodness. Make a reservation today to experience Orlando’s newest culinary gem. Highball & Harvest is located at 4012 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando, FL 32837 inside The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes.

photo 1

Lobby Bookshelves

photo 4-1

Shrimp and Grits with shaved fennel and goat cheese

photo 2

Garnier-Thiebaut napkins {our favorite}

photo 3

Interiors

photo 4-2

Strawberry Shortcake