Thursday, October 30, 2014

Food, Wine and More Continues in Atlantic City

I was in Atlantic City for a little birthday celebration with my close friends Liza and Lynn before the Food and Wine Festival. We had a fun evening and were up early for a beautiful day along the Jersey Shore.

Liza had to head out in the early afternoon, but Lynn and I remained. I used my free time to walk along the boardwalk for about an hour.

I was happy to see that everything had been rebuilt along this part of the Atlantic Ocean since the last time I was here, prior to Hurricane Sandy.

I spent some time at both the beach and pool before Lynn and I headed to the next stop, Caesar’s Resort.

I’m not usually one to go for the buffets in Atlantic City, but we were both hungry and I knew I was going to have a late dinner.  We were not disappointed as the selection at the Palace Court Buffet is huge.

I had a little bit of everything, including General Tsao Chicken, pork dumplings, salad, pasta, brisket, stuffing, and vegetables. They also had ice cream you could serve yourself and I happily topped mine with hot fudge and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Lynn had to leave and my room still wasn’t ready so I went to the Caesar’s Pier Shops, looking around and using a Victoria’s Secret gift certificate I had gotten for my birthday.

I picked up my credentials, tickets for the Atlantic CityFood and Wine Festival events, and goodie bags, which included Guy Fieri’s new sauces.

My daughter, Sam, was meeting me for the rest of the weekend, but she was stuck in traffic so I had plenty of time left to relax and leisurely get ready for dinner.  

When she arrived we took a cab over to Harrah’s for the Media Dinner at Martorano’s Restaurant with the other writers and the staff at DKC Public Relations.

One thing that I’ve been missing since I moved to Champaign is a good Italian restaurant so I was more than ready for a meal that I was told would be as authentic as it gets.

Martorano’s is everything you’d expect from a New Jersey Italian restaurant and more, including the atmosphere, the music, and the mafia movies (the one thing I actually could have done without -- a bit too much blood and foul language for dinner time). The waiter’s even sported shirts that read “Yo, cuz!”

We ordered cocktails to start and I was very happy with my Watermelon Ice Martini. It wasn’t long before the waiters were also pouring Martorano’s own Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia 2012, and bringing out platters of food family style.

The food here was beyond incredible and we all ate until we couldn’t any more of meatballs, fresh ricotta, chicken Marsala, calamari, shrimp scampi, eggplant with fresh mozzarella and tomato, ziti with veal and peppers, and spaghetti with a pork sauce.

As we finished dinner, the atmosphere also changed, with disco music and lights. People got up to dance and even the waiters had a bit more swag in their movement. Everyone was having so much fun as the restaurant turned into a nightclub.

It wasn’t much longer before the dishes filled with desserts came out, including waffle sundaes, chocolate cake, and the best red velvet cake I have ever had. The frosting alone was like eating cheesecake.

I am very picky about my Italian food, especially since I spent years perfecting my cooking to please my Sicilian grandfather, and this meal was one of the best I’ve ever had.

It was after midnight by the time Sam and I got back to the room at Caesar's. It took a bit longer before we could finish digesting all that food and go to sleep. We had a full day ahead of us at the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Restaurants and a bit of Burlesque in Atlantic City

I didn’t expect this story to be written quite the way I’m about to. When I decided to attend the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival, I thought it might be nice to go in a day early and check out a resort I hadn’t been too. That day early happened to be my birthday so a celebration with New York friends seemed to be fitting.

Revel Resort, which I had heard incredible things about, graciously agreed to host me and have me and two close friends, Liza and Lynn, to dinner at Amada, a Jose Garces restaurant. I had been to two of his other properties in Scottsdale and Chicago so I was in for a treat. I had also interviewed the Chef for Cocktails & Joints. 

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to point you to the other Garces restaurants as Revel Resort has closed down in the short time since I was there. I was one of those hoping this beautiful property would be sold before the closing date, but it was not.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have lots to say about food and wine in Atlantic City. Before we get to the festival, I’d like to describe an incredible meal I had at a place that is very much open.

After we checked into the hotel, Liza, Lynn, and I were just planning on meeting Lisa Johnson and Alexis Kull of Lisa Johnson Communications at Atlantic City Bottle Company for drinks before our dinner at Amada. We ended up with a lot more than we planned.

Atlantic City Bottle Company is off the strip and not easy to find, but it’s definitely worth the drive to the stadium (it’s across from there, between McDonald’s and the car wash).

The Iron Room Speakeasy is actually located beyond the AC Bottle Company wine and liquor store. It’s not very big, but definitely makes a statement, with lots of wood, and a spot for live music in the corner.

It was hard to decide whether to go for one of the classic cocktails with a unique twist, or one of the favorite wines from an uncommon vineyard. I went with the Ribbonwood Sauvignon Blanc, a good choice for a New Zealand wine that’s not quite as grassy as some of the others.

My friend Liza did experiment with the Strawberry Pim’s Cup, which she said was very good and mojito-like.

In addition to a great drink list, the food here is amazing. The Udon Mac & Cheese was delicious. It was very cheesy with lots of parmigiana for a bit of a kick. I loved the idea of using long thick noodles in macaroni and cheese.

The Chicken Waffles were excellent. I have had this before and it’s usually a chicken leg, but it’s done instead here with a cutlet. Also, it’s more savory than overly sweet.

The Hanger Steak was tender and tasty, but the Brussel sprouts served with them got our attention fast as the best we’ve ever had.

We also enjoyed the pappardelle, the crab, and the cheese plate, which had a great combination of cheeses and fruits.

After dinner at Amada back at Revel, we went to the Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Night Club. It was my first burlesque experience and Ivan was kind enough to give us access to the VIP section. Although the club was forced to close when Revel did, I hope it has the opportunity to open up somewhere else in Atlantic City.

We were back in our room after my birthday had ended, but I still had a lot more celebrating to do over the weekend as Lynn and I were staying for the next day, and my daughter was than joining me at Caesar’s for the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sun and Fun at Breathless Punta Cana

After the excitement of my daughter Sam’s engagement on the beach to her boyfriend (now fiancĂ©) Matt the night before, we were all ready for a relaxing last day in paradise, and Breathless Resort definitely provided it.

I went to Spoon Restaurant for breakfast, enjoying a cheese and mushroom omelet, a waffle with Nutella, and a plate full of tropical fruit.

Matt and Sam joined me and then we all spent the morning alternating between the pool and the beach.

We split up for lunch, for which I went back to Spoon for delicious pasta and more of that luscious fruit. I then headed to the big event – the Sunday Pool Party.

The party is a tradition at Breathless Punta Cana, but this one was extra special because it was the last with DJ Rhiannon. I had seen her before at a club in Atlantic City and I knew she could get the crowd going.

It seemed like most of the resort was at the pool. It was packed and a bit wild. Bubbles were in the pool and sangria was being poured (the swim-up bar was also open).

For those who weren’t in the pool, there was a rolling cart handing out Mama Juana (a Dominican liqueur) shots during the party.

I stayed there for a bit and then met Matt and Sam back at the pool near our rooms. I joined them for cocktails and the swim up bar and we hung out with some people we had met previously who had come down for a wedding on the beach.

Early in the evening, I headed back to the room for a short nap and then dressed for dinner. Sam knocked on the door and invited me to share the bottle of Moet Champagne we had brought from Zoetry (knowing they were going to get engaged, I had her bring the bottle along).

We toasted again to their engagement and the last night of our trip.

We were then off to dinner at Sofrito, the Latin Restaurant. It was full and we waited a bit to be served, but the sparkling wine was flowing and the food was excellent.

I started with a Caribbean Salad of pineapple, coconut, and cabbage. It was delicious, as was the meat and plantain in a banana leaf, and the beef stew with rice and peas.

Sam went with the seafood, first a Conch Salad and then a Grouper in Coconut Sauce. For Matt, it was a meat patty and then his first Goat Stew. They both loved their meals.

I was really happy that, despite some bad dining experiences the first two nights, all of our meals at the end were great.

The maitre d insisted on bringing some after dinner drinks for us and we were happy to oblige. We walked around for a bit, but I think we were all worn out from the day of fun in the sun.

For my last morning in Punta Cana, I ordered the Breathless Breakfast from room service and had it served on my patio. I wasn’t going to miss one more chance to enjoy a meal and the blue water at the same time.

It was even better than last time, with fruit, watermelon juice, scrambled eggs, potatoes, corn pancakes, bacon, sausage, Danishes, croissants, and coffee.

I ate what I could and sat and enjoyed the view of the beach with my coffee before packing. I then hung out at the XHale Club’s private pool on a float and swam a few laps. It was nice to have the chance to just relax before I headed back home.

It wasn’t long before the car came to take us to the airport. Sam, Matt, and I said goodbye to Punta Cana and each other, as we headed home are separate ways after a most memorable trip.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Breathless Day is One of Most Memorable Ever

It was the third day at Breathless Resort in Punta Cana for me, my daughter, Sam, and her boyfriend, Matt. It would turn out to be a day none of us would ever forget.

I checked out the Bloody Mary bar in the Xhale Lounge, the section of the resort we were staying in that offers extra amenities.

I decided instead to just opt for a latte and a croissant. I enjoyed it from a lounge in front of Xhale’s private sun drenched pool.

Sam and I took a ride over to Dreams The Palm to tour the resort and learn about weddings there for an upcoming destination wedding series I am working on. It happened they were setting up for a few upcoming weddings, by the pool, on the beach, and in the gazebo. All the set-ups looked amazing.

I really liked the Dreams resort. It had a Preferred Club, which was similar to the Xhale Club at Breathless. These guests have Bali Beds on their private beach at no extra charge. They also have great room amenities.

Although Dreams does allow kids, it is set up for families, couples, and singles, with numerous adults-only areas.

The Dreams Spa, which had its own Bridal Suite, was especially impressive.

We headed back to Breathless. Sam went to meet Matt and I chose a light lunch from room service of a Waldorf salad and a small piece of a raspberry covered ricotta cheesecake. I ate in from my patio while I looked out at the clear blue ocean.

I met them a bit later and the three of us hung out at the swim-up bar and made some new friends over Mango Margaritas and Mudslides.

We had very different plans for dinner this night. I was having dinner with Macarena, the manager of the Xhale Club, at Kibbeh. I had been disappointed in some of the dinners the past few days, but I can’t say enough about this place.

We ordered a little of everything and it was all wonderful, as was the service.  

After dinner, Macarena and I went to the Main Stage to see the Belly Dancer Show. It was quite fun. It wasn’t as exciting as another evening was going, though.

Sam and Matt had a most special dinner. It took a wonderful group of Breathless Punta Cana employees to set up an unbelievably romantic dinner on the beach for the two of them in their own private rose-filled hut, with their own wait staff. (This is something that any guest at Breathless can set up, though there is a small extra charge.)

 They sipped champagne, ate surf and turf, delighted in a delectable chocolate dessert, and…

GOT ENGAGED! Yes, Breathless Resorts will always hold a special place in our hearts as it is the place my daughter and her boyfriend (now fiancé) became engaged. The staff even set up a rose petal filled Jacuzzi for them.

We drank some champagne together before I called it a night. It was certainly hard to top the excitement of this day, but I was ready for another Breathless day to come.