Italian Done Different: North vs. South

So it might have been obvious to you guys a little while ago, but I just realized my writing transition from fashionite to foodie. Maybe not a total transition…probably just combination (gotta look nice to eat nice!)…but all I’ve done is eat. And, occasionally, write about eating. No wonder my clothes have been a little tight this season! It seems like every time I run into friends and family, I’m at a new restaurant or trying a new dish. Most recently, I had the absolute delight of trying two versions of incredible Italian food: La Tavola in Waterbury, Connecticut (website currently being revamped), and Renato’s in West Palm Beach, Florida.

La Tavola was a first for Jake and me, having heard about it for years from various family members, friends, employers, etc. The name was everywhere and its reputation was outstanding. La Tavola is known for its comfortable (yet glamorous) ambiance, extensive wine list, and never less-than-perfect menu. We splurged and made it our only dressed-up date night of the semester…and it was worth every penny.

Under recommendation from Jake’s mother, we started with the carpaccio appetizer – finely sliced, delicately seasoned, and drizzled with dressed greens and oil. We ate it too fast for me to remember to take a photo, obviously. We then split two entrees, both specials: a house-made fusilli pasta with bolognese sauce and ricotta cheese, and lamb with pureed garlic mashed potatoes and green beans. I’m a pasta buff, so I preferred the former dish, but both were truly delicious. The entire meal was paired with Little Black Dress Moscato for me, and Josh Cellars Cabernet for Jake. We finished with two desserts: their famous warm nutella cake and seasonal eggnog cheesecake with rum raisin sauce. I swore I was so full that I’d never eat again. My only and very minor complaint is that we were seated in the middle of the dining room, at a small, two-person table, so that all the other tables were surrounding ours and it felt like everyone was looking at us. Not the case, of course, but still. Would’ve preferred something more secluded for a romantic date.

Amazing handmade pasta

Amazing handmade pasta

Delicious dessert

Delicious dessert

In any case, remember how I said that thing about never eating again? I said it again a week later at Renato’s, after stuffing my face with their house-made linguini with marinated filet mignon tips and grilled vegetables. This meal was a little more rushed since we were trying to make a symphony performance (tough life, right?) but I’ll still happily rave about the 60 minutes I spent there. From the moment we walked in until the moment we left, we were treated like royalty. Fantastic house wine, fresh and warm rolls, candlelight…the works. I should mention that I was there with my mom, so I don’t know what the experience would be like for a bigger party or a date, but we had a great time and will definitely be returning.

IMG_4028

I had my doubts about Floridian Italian food, I’ll admit, but I was happy to find myself completely and totally judging a book by it’s cover (and doing it wrong). Can’t wait to go back to either/both ASAP! What about you guys? Any favorite restaurants in unlikely locations? Sound off in the comments, and stay hungry, my friends.

What Am I Grateful For?

As we celebrate the Holiday season, it’s universally encouraged to take time and appreciate. Appreciate family, friends, good health, personal passions, and fond memories of moments passed. I’ve been blessed with all of the above. But, in accordance with unspoken blogger law, I must post my most loved online. So here’s what I’ve loved most about 2013:

1. My family.

For those of you that know them, you know that they’re a quirky, lovable bunch. My sisters are my soulmates; my father is my hero; my extended family–boyfriend’s family included–is a group with enough compassion, intellect, affection, and support that I wake up grateful for their presence every single day. They’re not afraid to push my buttons (“What could you possibly do with a film and new media degree?“), or to make me push myself (“Finish your programming assignment, and then you can have the rest of the bacon.”) I only wish that excuses to travel cross-country were easier to come by than occasional holidays.

Katie, Emily and me at Dave Matthews 2013

Katie, Emily and me at Dave Matthews 2013

2. Jake.

Alright, fine, it’s nauseating, I know. But having someone in your life for 12 years an annoyance, nine years a friend, and seven years a partner accumulates an awful lot of appreciation. He knows how to sooth my anxious tendencies and tolerate my juvenile sense of humor when I’m overtired. He’ll send surprise flowers when I’m having a rough day, remind me to avoid apples on an empty stomach (even though I love them and citric acid allergies are dumb), and frame my published bylines out of his own pride alone. Truly a keeper, I think.

Jake and me at a wedding this summer!

Jake and me at a wedding this summer!

3. The Girls in my life.

Girls is capitalized for a reason. They indulge in my high-maintenance wardrobe orchestration, never judge my affection for Qdoba or Five Guys, happily watch as I swoon over the latest nice thing that Jake did, and they listen to me talk about the same dumb stuff all the time. All the time! I don’t know how I got so lucky, but through thick and thin, no matter how many times I listen to the same 10 songs on repeat, they’re in the car singing along.

Christina, me, Jenn, and Savannah this Halloween.

Christina, me, Jenn, and Savannah this Halloween.

4. My education.

Everyone has ups and downs with their undergraduate experience, but I’ll be graduating in May with an indescribable appreciation. Wheaton has afforded me incredible instruction in a liberal arts curriculum, particularly in my major and minor departments (Film & New Media Studies, Journalism Studies, and Hispanic Studies). My advisors–Professor Josh Stenger and Professor Talitha Espiritu–are fantastic professional mentors, my courses are challenging and exciting, and my extracurricular experiences with the preceptor program, wind symphony, and school newspaper have been life-changing…not to mention the internship experience I’ve gained with Passport Magazine, The Celebrity Cafe, Teen Vogue, Dering Hall, Oribe Hair Care, and JAYE Magazine. Couldn’t have done it without you, Wheaton.

Wheaton College Preceptors & Deans Interns 2013-2014

Wheaton College Preceptors & Deans Interns 2013-2014

For now,  I’m closing my laptop for nap and family time. We’ll be doing our annual cousins movie date soon (though without a new Twilight movie, I’m not sure what we’ll be watching). What are you all most thankful for today?

Stay gracious, dear readers.

Red Stripe: A Classy, Casual Favorite

Guys, I finally did it.

I went to a favorite restaurant and ordered something new. Not even something on the official menu. Something I trusted the chef to produce well, and something that’s normally out of my seafood comfort zone.

And the reason I was able to do it was because I know the quality of food, service, and experience is A-grade.

I give you…(drum roll please)…Red Stripe of Providence, RI.

Image

courtesy of redstriperestaurants.com

Jake and I discovered Red Stripe during our freshman year of college. He was visiting me for a long weekend, and we asked my foodie aunt for nearby restaurant recommendations: “somewhere cozy, yummy, but not pretentious and outrageously priced.” This was in the top three on her list, and I don’t even remember the others because this place is still our go-to for date nights, four years later.

Usually, we split some dishes. The paella is a personal favorite, accompanied by some pasta dish or appetizer (or meat, when it’s Jake’s turn to choose), and occasionally a dessert. This tends to be our pattern because I can never finish a meal by myself and he pushes me to try new things. Though I instinctively leaned towards the paella this past weekend, something told me to hear the specials. And thank G-d, because it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had. Sea scallops with butternut squash risotto, grilled asparagus, and lindonberry chutney.

Saturday Night Dinner!

Saturday Night Dinner!

Anyone who has ever had a meal with me would be floored by this selection. Sea scallops? Lindonberry? (“Julie, do you even know what a lindonberry is?”) (The answer is no) Chutney? I love my taste bud comfort zone, and I love looking forward to those same favorite restaurants and meals, but this was truly fantastic and i was grateful for my trust in their cooking. I paired it with the red wine special of the evening based on our waiter’s recommendation (Meiomi Pinot Noir), and spent the next 45 minutes in a glorious dinner experience.

Though I can’t completely recall  Jake’s particular thoughts – blame it on the wine; some words along the lines of “tender” and “delicious” – he definitely enjoyed his beer-braised short ribs and the local beer on tap. And yes, you guessed it, he’s a beer guy. Who knew we had it in us to be such cuisine connoisseurs?

** I should note here that the manager paid for Jake’s beer after some minor spillage. Great guy with a passion for perfect service! **

Anyway, every few months we come back for the smart-casual attire (read: excuse for me to wear heels without being judged), soft lights, and a comfortable volume of conversation so that we’re never whispering or yelling across the table. And the fact that it makes me want to eat something  I associate with this moment in cinema history…well…all the better, I think.

Do you have any favorite restaurants that earn your loyalties year after year? For date night? Or girls night? Or guys night, for that matter? Leave your comments and suggestions for a potential post in your honor.

Stay beautiful (and hungry).