Monday, June 29, 2015

Allstate Wants To Make Sure Teens #GetThereSafe

This is part of a sponsored safety campaign with DiMe Media and Allstate Foundation. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

If you're like me, the single parent of a teen, you know how scary that time is when they say "Mom, I want to drive."  Most of you know me as just The Foodaholic, while others also know the many additional hats I wear; one of which is the full time driver of my seventeen year old performing arts princess.

Looks like I'm going to have a driver now.

A recap of my daily life would leave you speechless. Going out to as many events as I do, working full time, playing the role of both mom and dad, and dealing with the daily responsibilities of life we all know and love, the fear of allowing my daughter to drive is overpowered by the realization that it's time. The question is... have I done everything in my power to ensure she is fully prepared to get behind the wheel and #GetThereSafe?

I started talking to my daughter about the importance of driving safely way before she started studying for her Restricted License (Driver's Permit) test. I began talking to her about it when she was a little girl and didn't want to wear her seatbelt. Or when she wanted to turn up the radio so loud, I couldn't hear anything other than Barney telling me how much he loved me. But one thing is for sure, taking the time to read the information the Allstate Foundation's signature program for teen safe driving is providing for parents, has helped me understand it's not just about telling our teens to be safe, it's about modeling it in our own driving.

The Allstate Foundation is celebrating its 10th anniversary doing research and putting out valuable resources for parents of teens who are driving, in order to help them #GetThereSafe. Over the past decade, the Foundation has reached more than 56 million people with information that has contributed to driving down teen car crash fatalities by nearly 48 percent. Summer is the worst time of the year, as there are more teens on the road driving, and fatalities increase.

After learning of this campaign, and sitting down to visit the website while my daughter prepared to get her Driver's License, I understood that my role in this next chapter of her life didn't just depend on how much I told her. It actually depended more on what she saw me do when she was sitting next to me in the car as we drove to school, or as I took her to auditions and rehearsals, or as she accompanied me to one of my culinary events. It was during those quiet moments when she had her headphones on and I thought she wasn't looking, that she was paying the most attention. Did you know that 91% of teens agree that parents are a key influence on teen driving? What's more impacting is that 61% of teens model their driving behavior after their parents. Uh oh... What was I showing my daughter? Furthermore, 88% of parents use their phone while driving (guilty?) and the scary part is that 87% of teens admit to using it as well. Is that a coincidence? Probably not.

Buckle Up

It is facts like these and memories of my daughter reminding me to put my cell phone down when I get behind the wheel, that prompted me to keep reading the Allstate Foundation Resources and take a more active role in preparing her to drive safely. On this site you will find a Coaching Guide you can download to help you feel more at ease when letting your teen take the wheel for the first time, a Driving Agreement you can have your teen sign before you hand over the keys that will make him/her understand the rules of the road, and a Teen Laws Section that exposes teens, through videos, to the full driving experience. All of these guides and videos are available in both English and Spanish.

Concentrate on the road

I highly recommend you read up. It's a scary time, but it's part of growing up.  If you have a teen that has started to drive or a tween that will be driving soon, there is a wealth of information you will find on the Allstate Foundation website that will make your life easier. Besides the helpful tips, Allstate is also holding a sweepstakes, where they are giving away $1,000 to a winner everyday for 10 days (Contest ends July 3). To enter the contest, just share your safe driving message on Twitter and Instagram, tagging @Allstate and using the hashtag #GetThereSafe. You can also enter on Facebook, by commenting below the posted stat for the day on the Allstate Facebook Page, then tagging @Allstate and also using the hashtag #GetThereSafe. For more information on the sweepstakes, and to view all the statistics you need to know on teen driving safety, visit the Allstate Foundation website and help your teen #GetThereSafe.  In the meantime, get a load of my teen as she safely drives through the streets of Miami.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

1826 Restaurant & Lounge in South Beach

A very good friend of mine suggested I go check out a restaurant in Miami Beach that she had been to recently with her family. It was 1826 Restaurant and Lounge, located at 1826 Collins Avenue. The place is easy to miss as you drive by, not sporting an attention-grabbing sign outside, but inside, it's a different story. Picture a multi-level modern space, that offers both a restaurant and a cocktail lounge, with a pulsating, energetic vibe.

1826 Restaurant & Lounge

Luke Bergman, 1826's Executive Chef, is very passionate about his craft. He has a vision of the kind of journey he wants the restaurant's guests to experience, and his dishes speak it loud and clear. With a multitude of awards under his belt, and a flair for French cuisine, Bergman gives American dishes a European spin. He prepared a multi-course chef's tasting menu for us that evening, that blew us away from beginning to end. 

With Chef Luke Bergman

Our first course was a colorful sampler of three of their appetizers: the Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho, Wagyu Beef and Zucchini Blossom. The chilled Andalusian soup had bits of delicious King Crab inside and almond and mint snow. It awakened our taste buds in anticipation of the next bite. The Wagyu strip was a burst of carnivore flavor, tender and juicy, served skewered with a shishito pepper. Last on the plate, but certainly not least, the Zucchini Blossom was stuffed with whipped ricotta, tomato and basil, and literally melted in our mouths.

Appetizer Sampler

Our cocktails were just as intense as our first course. We knew it was going to be a long, decadent South Beach kind of night, so we indulged in sampling several. My favorite was their signature hand-crafted drink, the Strawberry Incense, a sweet kiss made with Absolut Elys, strawberry puree, lemon, and black pepper simple syrup. But I also enjoyed the Miami Peach, Royal Mojito and In The Woods.

As we sipped away, our server brought out a teasing bite of their fresh Dayboat Yellowfin Tuna Crudo, served topped with cucumber, avocado and hazelnut, then drizzled with lemon vinaigrette. It made my lips pucker in total pleasure. My friend thought I was hitting on a guy across the bar but it was all about me and the tuna.

Dayboat Yellowfin Tuna
Still reveling in all the tastes we were experiencing, the chef brought out his Foie Gras, crowned with gold foil and served with house-made brioche and rhubarb compote. I just love this delicacy, and this one was creamy and on point. The sweetness of the compote combined with the rich, buttery taste of the foie gras was addicting and I couldn't put it down.

Foie Gras

You would think it couldn't get any better, but it did. Our next course was the Yukon Gold Potato Cloud, which consisted of a Vodka cream and egg jam topped with Baerli Black Sturgeon Caviar. Waving hello from inside the jar was a crispy plantain chip, the perfect scoop for the amazing dish. While everything so far was impressive, this flavor profile truly made my night even more memorable.

Yukon Gold Potato Cloud

The entrees followed, and we started with a Mediterranean Sea Bass, that was served with vegetables and had a velvety, delicate taste. It was paired with a side of  creamy Lobster Risotto, topped with a dollop of burrata cheese. It was definitely a marriage that worked. The Roasted Duck came next, ready to be enjoyed, and our palate was more than eager to comply. Cooked to perfection, the dish was completed with confit, radishes and a kale chip.

Mediterranean Sea Bass

Lobster Risotto

Roasted Duck

With the savory portion of the tasting reaching its culminating point, the sweet and friendly pastry chef came out to bring us her masterpieces. They included a flaky Mille Feuille , Key Lime Mousse, Coffee Bread Pudding, and a warm Chocolate Fondant. The desserts were served with fruity sorbets and bourbon ice-cream. It was a heavenly parade of sweet delights that finished off an enticing meal.

Mille Feuille Creme Puff

Key Lime Mousse

Chocolate Fondant

By the end of the evening we couldn't stop talking about how impressed we were with Chef Bergman's tasting menu at 1826 Restaurant & Lounge. One word of advice though. After about 9pm on certain nights of the week, the ambiance shifts from a romantic dinner setting to a loud, crowded one, so if you're looking to enjoy some fast paced music after your meal, then you'll be fine. However, if you're planning to have a relaxed time with long conversation, you may want to consider coming in earlier or you will have to read each other's lips (which depending on who you're with, may not necessarily be a bad thing). For more information or to make reservations visit their website or call them at 305-763-8860.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Coral Gables Restaurant Week

It's here again! Downtown Coral Gables is celebrating their 8th Annual Coral Gables Restaurant Week, presented by Bacardi USA. It's a great time to see for yourself how much foodier this part of town has become in recent years, and how many great dining options are now available. Going on since June 8th until June 28th, 2015, they have added a number of new delectable restaurants to the roster, and some unique, exciting events. This year, they have expanded to give foodies three whole weeks to taste their way through Coral Gables, making it easier to savor as many new eateries as possible, while going back to visit old favorites again and again. The best part, is that all of this happens for an amazing prix-fixe menu at a discounted price.

Let the crawling begin...

A group of media folk were invited to participate in a Blogger Crawl to get a taste of what the lunch and dinner menus looked liked in several of the restaurants. I was one of the lucky ones who had to wear stretchy pants and low heels to the event, in order to balance my growing self. By the end of the evening, we had tried several appetizers, a slew of entrees and a good helping of desserts, giving us a pretty good idea of how awesome Coral Gables Restaurant Week was going to be. 

Dinner and a serenade? Ay ay ay...I'm off to
Spain with these cuties called Tuna en Miami

This year, guests can enjoy a classic BACARDI and Coke, the official cocktail of Coral Gables Restaurant Week and/or a MARTINI Prosecco, their featured wine along with their menu options. Because we were all 21 years of age or older, (me just barely), we got to pair our meals with some refreshing alcoholic libations. That just added to the fun. So grab a mumu, head to the Gables, and pig out. If you want to map out your debauchery first, visit their website to find out what restaurants are participating and check out their menus. In the meantime, drool a little over everything I ate.....

Salpicon de Mariscos
Huevos Bulla
At BULLA Gastrobar, the menu includes their award-winning Salpicon de Mariscos (won Best Taste at Taste of the Gables) consisting of tender grilled octopus, tasty jumbo lump crab meat, shrimp, bell peppers, fresh lemon, oregano and olive oil.. They also bring their popular Huevos Bulla to the show, joining together in true Spanish style a poached egg, some homemade potato chips and serrano ham, all drizzled in truffle oil and topped with potato foam. Last but certainly not least, you'll be able to bite into their Bulla Sliders, prepared with beef, pork veal and mushroom patties, piquillo peppers, caramalized onions, crimini port reduction, and tetilla cheese in between homemade garlic herb bread. They are served with Portobello fries.

Bulla Slider

Blue Cheese Wedge
Field Greens
At Bricktop's, we sampled all the items from the three courses of their dinner menu. To start, they offer one of three salads: Hearts of Romaine Caesar, Field Greens or a delicious Blue Cheese Wedge. As an entree, you can choose either Prime Meat Loaf "BT Specialty", juicy fall off the bone Baby Back Ribs, Parmesan Crusted Chicken or fresh Scottish Salmon. The entrees come with a side of Mashed Potatoes or Cole Slaw. To end the meal, you can choose a scoop of the ice-cream from "The Ice Cream Club" (flavors change daily). Not bad for $45. (Add $9 if you want to pair it with Bacardi and Coke.

Hearts of Romaine  Caesar
Prime Meat Loaf "BT Specialty"

Baby Back Ribs

Scottish Salmon

Parmesan Crusted Chicken

At the Cafe at Books & Books, we sampled their Shrimp & Avocado Tartine. It was one tasty bite, made with fresh shrimp, avocado, tomato, a basil pesto that rocked, and garlic aioli on a grilled ciabatta. My favorite part was the pesto, and I now have a pending breakfast with the owner where we will have it with toast and a capuccino. I'm not letting you forget... The bite was paired with a cold Ulinta Baba Black Lager.

Our next crawl stop was OBBA Sushi & More, the newest addition to the Gables area. First and foremost I have to say the place is beautiful. They really took great care in designing the spot and giving it a look that stands out. We were all very impressed when we walked in.

We were greeted with a creamy lemon cocktail that had us puckering our lips in pleasure and then got down to business to sample some of the items they are offering for Coral Gables Restaurant Week. We tried the Crispy Canape, a bite filled with textural euphoria made with crispy rice and steamed shrimp, cilantro, scallions, sundried tomatoes,

spicy mayo, and a Yuzu oil dressing. We also tried the Yellowtail Guacamole Tartar, prepared with yellowtail, masago, avocado, shizo, sesame, sriracha, microgreens, cucumber and ginger yuzu. It had an awakening kick to it. Next on the spoons was their OBBA Sandwich (this one blew my mind). I loved the taste of the shrimp tempura, spicy krab salad, and avocado and chives with a spicy katzu mayo. The last spoon on the plate was the sweet finale; a Banana Tempura made with their special batter fried banana. Can't wait to return to this place soon for the full experience.

Croquetas Cabrales

Pork Tenderloin
Eggplant Chips
Last on the crawl was La Taberna Giralda. It was a fabulous place to end our adventure because it was filled with wine, more great food, and fun entertainment. The cute singers from Spain, Tuna en Miami, sang some popular favorites and made us laugh with their charming personalities. It turns out this restaurant hosts flamenco dancing a couple of times a week, so it's a great spot to chill and enjoy some authentic Spanish cuisine. We tried three dishes from their special menu: the Croquetas Cabrales, crispy on the outside and filled with the Spanish version of blue cheese, sitting on a drizzle of pear jam; their famous Eggplant Chips with honey (perfect for watching movies on the couch); and the Pork Tenderloin topped with manchego cheese and chips, on a bed of caramelized onions.

Well there you have it. A close look at what you can expect to find in Coral Gables for the next couple of weeks. Don't miss out on Coral Gables Restaurant Week. For more information visit their website.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Vintro Hotel & Kitchen - Fresh Flavors With a Lot of Charm

A couple of months ago, we were invited to a special party at the newest boutique hotel in South Beach, Vintro Hotel & Kitchen, to celebrate their being ranked one of the top 25 hotels in the U.S. by Trip Advisor's 2015 Traveler's Choice Awards. This prestigious award speaks volumes of the quality and service found at those spots that were recognized, because it is based on reviews and opinions from millions of travelers. So I put on my party dress and headed to South Beach for the occasion.

The hotel is quaint yet very Art Deco in style. It is located on 2216 Park Avenue, and while it is not directly adjacent to the water, it has shuttle service that will take you back and forth. Although the hotel kept a historical look about it, the rooms are fun and playful. I especially love the voyeuristic showers with invigorating showerheads in the suites facing straight into the bedroom. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? And the elevator is decorated in a real simple, yet cool fashion. The interior is wallpapered to look like a library so you don't know whether to step out, or start reading. 

I was so impressed with the overall trendy look of the place, I decided to come back a few weeks later to check out their restaurant. It is right off of the lobby, and also sports a very unique look, with a rustic charm that includes both vintage and retro accessories. The restaurant is managed by 2014 James Beard Award finalist Giorgio Bakastias (who also happens to be the Executive Chef). We sat down in a quiet spot and enjoyed the ambiance while we looked at the menu. I noticed immediately that most of the dishes have influences from the Mediterranean, with an inspiration of Latin flavors. The ingredients are locally sourced, and they follow a slow food movement in the preparation of their food.

Luis Antezana, the restaurant's Chef de Cuisine, was the chef onsite the evening of my visit. After a few bites of his creations, I immediately knew Antezana was very talented. The combination of flavors in each dish worked well, and the presentation was artistic.

We started the evening with Vintro Kitchen's Artisanal Bread and House Marinated Olives, along with a glass of champagne. It was an excellent way to begin the Mediterranean adventure. While looking at the menu, the first thing that jumped out at me were the Croquettes. The popular appetizer consisted of Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Vegetable Croquettes. Now you know these little circular flavor bursts are my friends, so we ordered them to see Vintro's take on these delicacies.

Artisanal Breads and Hand Marinated Olives

Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Vegetable Croquettes

From there on, we sampled a selection of appetizers that was to die for. From their tender Octopus to their fresh and tasty Tuna, we were in Mediterranean bliss.

The entree was no less impressive. We selected the Whole Fish of the Day, which happened to be Branzino, and that was a sight for sore eyes. Our wonderful waiter took out the bones for us tableside and we both loved the mild, flaky flavor of the fish.

For side dishes, we tried the Potato Wedges and the Fire Roasted Brussel Sprouts. I have to tell you the brussel sprouts were insanely good. Chef Antezana prepares them with honey and pistachios, which provides the palate with a pleasantly sweet and crunchy surprise. I could've taken a bag home to eat while I watch Netflix on the couch.

Dessert was sweet and light, consisting of a fruity Panna Cotta that left a smile on our face. It was smooth and refreshing, adding the perfect ending touch to the meal

The staff at Vintro Kitchen is unbelievable, and made us feel right at home from beginning to end. If you haven't paid this charming, friendly spot a visit, I recommend you do.

For more information, visit their website or for reservations, call 305-674-9200.

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