Where we eat in Vegas- Downtown Edition

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Downtown Las Vegas

Doing a restaurant guide to Vegas feels kind of…useless. There are thousands of restaurants and probably tens of thousands of restaurant reviews out there for this city. So, I am going to treat this like every other post on this blog: I’m doing it for me, with an added bonus if there are one or two other people out there who will find it useful.

TDL and I like to eat at places that care about the quality of their food, that have creative menus, friendly service, and just an overall happy vibe. We have certainly found some of that here in this crazy city we now call home.

I’ll start this with downtown, because that’s where we live.

Mundo– I think visiting Mundo and the World Market Center is must while in Vegas. While in the area, walk past the Dr. Seuss-esque Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the beautiful red sandstone County buildings, and over to the Smith Center and Symphony Park. There is even an outlet mall around the corner if you’re into that kind of thing. Mundo is inside the World Market Center, two huge towers that house all the interior design goodies you could ever imagine. The first two floors are open to the public, and I love wandering around, decorating my fantasy house. Mundo is always busy, so reservations (even for lunch) are a good idea. The food here is creative, delicious Mexican fare and the decor is what you would expect for a restaurant inside a design center. The drinks are fantastic (100% Agave tequila!)- I love their margaritas and TDL gets the paloma. For appetizers, definitely get the Ahi Tuna Tostada. The only downside is it is a little pricey. Overall, Mundo is currently my favorite nice restaurant downtown.

The Smith Center

The Smith Center

Viva Las Arepas– Mmmm, arepas! Arepas are like Venezuelan sandwiches (or the Venezuelan version of a pupusa, if you know what that is), but instead of bread, they use grilled cornmeal patties. The arepas are stuffed with your choice of delicious meat (think shredded beef, smoked chicken, or pork butt). I personally recommend adding avocado. On the side, you can get fried yucca or plantains, which taste great with the three tasty sauces they bring out. To drink, I love the sugarcane juice with lime. Two arepas, a large drink, and a side of yucca costs about $16 and will keep two people full for hours. This place is fantastic.

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¡Viva Las Arepas!

eat.– I love that the ingredients are locally sourced when possible, and you can taste the quality of the food. Service is usually pretty good, but nothing special. I wish the menu were a little more creative, a little less bread-focused, and a tiny bit more affordable. They are strict about breakfast being over at 11 am, so if you are in for lunch, you basically have a couple salads or sandwiches to choose from. Thankfully, both the baby iceberg and the arugula salads are awesome. I am still unable to eat much bread without suffering, so I haven’t tried any of the sandwiches. The specials seem to be hit or miss. Breakfast is pretty darn tasty but, again, not as good/creative/bread-free as I think it could be. Overall, I think eat is a good choice, and it’s the only place I would go downtown for breakfast.                                                 Update 4/24: I remembered to check the prices during a delicious, filling breakfast at eat. The breakfast entree prices were ~$10-12 (I had the truffled egg sandwich without the bread, TDL had the Huevos Motulenos).

Le Thai– Le Thai is a cute little restaurant on Fremont East. The service is good and speedy. The portion size is enormous- plan on leftovers. I wasn’t too impressed with the drinks (they tasted weak and watery or too sweet), so I would recommend hydrating with water while at Le Thai and then heading to Park or one of the other bars for drinks. Thai soup is just wonderful and Le Thai’s is no exception. My overall opinion is Le Thai is good: nothing special but certainly nothing bad. Two entrees, an appetizer, and tip is just under $40.

Bar + Bistro– My feelings about Bar+Bistro require a bit of a story. Here’s why: In February, TDL and I went there for dinner and drinks and really enjoyed it. The drinks were creative and delicious; the food was fun and excellent; the service was perfect. We ordered take-out another time before leaving for Portugal and it was, again, good. This month, when TDL’s parents were visiting, we planned to walk around the Arts District and check out the cool vintage shops right across the street from Bar+Bistro and then eat there for dinner. That afternoon, we received a call telling us our reservations had been canceled. Upon further questioning, they said they had to close that day due to plumbing issues. No big deal. But then we saw this, reporting that Bar+Bistro had actually been shut down by the health inspector for some pretty heinous violations. It has since reopened, but TDL and I don’t plan on going back. Maybe they’ve changed everything, but I don’t want to support an owner who let his restaurant go downhill like that in the first place.

Tostones at Bar+Bistro

Tostones at Bar+Bistro

So that concludes my downtown Las Vegas restaurants…so far. There are new restaurants opening, and I will add more/modify current reviews as we eat our way around Vegas.

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Trying to drink port in Gaia

For our last day in Porto, Catarina at 4Rooms booked us a tasting/tour at a port cave in Gaia. We had also promised our new friends at Saboriccia that we would stop by for a wine tasting, so after a late breakfast we headed over to our favorite shop. There, we met some of the fascinating residents of Foz do Douro and had a blast drinking wine with them and hearing their stories. They gave us some amazing recommendations (a fish restaurant, a wine shop, a downtown restaurant, and where to go to the bars), but it was our last day in Porto, and we already had dinner reservations, so we didn’t get to check out any of the suggestions. I am sharing this little notepaper of recommendations, written by a Porto local, in the hopes that someone out in the interwebs may be able to take advantage of it on their travels to Porto.

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We reluctantly left Saboriccia to try to make it on time to our port tasting. The cute little trolley that runs from Foz do Douro to downtown had other plans, and we didn’t get very far before the trolley was stopped by a car parked on its tracks. The trolley operator didn’t have any luck finding the car’s driver, so we walked the rest of the way downtown and then crossed the river to Vila Nova de Gaia.

IMG_0800By this time, we were too late to make the tasting that had been scheduled for us, so we dodged the tourists and guys selling riverboat tours to grab some pictures before heading uphill.

Oporto-Gaia - 6 Oporto-Gaia - 3As a local told us, Gaia exists for its view of Porto. The best views, many of the port tasting rooms, and the popular hotel, The Yeatman, are essentially on the top of a hill straight up from the river. Storm clouds were quickly rolling in, so, motivated by the chance to taste some tawny port, we speed-walked up a narrow street, hoping to find a tasting room along the way.

IMG_0807We got a little lost, but at the top of the hill was an incredible view of Gaia and Porto.

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We actually had to walk downhill to get to the Taylor tasting room. At Saboriccia, we had been talking to the Taylor marketing director, and we knew Taylor made a good port (it’s called Taylor-Fladgate in the states), so we decided it would be our first tasting in Gaia.

We arrived just before 17:00, so our first tasting in Gaia was also our last (don’t feel bad for us, we drank plenty of port on our trip). I decided to go big, ordering a 30 year tawny; TDL went for the 20 year. Hell yes, they were delicious. Happy times ensued.

IMG_0822 DSC_0410It was a good day. After fueling up on port, we wandered around the city a bit longer before celebrating our last night in Porto with dinner at ODE Porto Wine House.

Oporto, by the river - 2

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ODE Porto Wine House and Cafeína

The food in Portugal is undeniably good, but in big cities like Porto (and especially in Lisboa), it seemed a little more difficult to find the good restaurants amongst the tourist destinations. In Porto, we found two that are worth mentioning: Cafeína and ODE Porto Wine House.

We went to Cafeína after our wonderful day exploring the Foz do Douro. Cafeína is in a residential area walking distance from 4Rooms. The dining area has a cool, dark interior. We felt like locals, cozy at our table, listening to Portuguese all around us. I ordered the filet mignon de porco preto (filet of black pork) and TDL chose the tranche de robalo (sea bass). YUM. The food was fantastic and the service was even better. When our server saw me enjoying the bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fritters) that came with TDL’s dish, she brought us a couple more, no charge. After we finished our glasses of wine, she kept topping us off. My only complaint was the smoking, but when we mentioned it to the server, she sent the owner over to apologize and he promptly turned on the air filter. It was a great meal and we enjoyed our walk home through the dark, narrow cobblestone streets.

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The next night was our last night in Porto, and our big night out. ODE Porto Wine House is a cute little restaurant along the Douro River in the Ribeira district. We were escaping a lovely winebar across the street (“escaping” because there we were being unwillingly befriended by a group of falling-off-their-chairs-drunk Austrians), so we arrived a couple minutes early for our reservation. We were greeted by the owner, Cristóvão, who kind of looked at us funny and inquired how we had found his restaurant. I think he was just being humble in the typical Portuguese manner. Like, “how did you possibly come across my tiny, no-name restaurant?” even though said restaurant is very highly rated and usually fully booked. He explained his concept of slow food: nearly everything is local and from his farm or farmers he knows himself, it is not a restaurant, it is a home, everything is fresh and prepared there, and if you are in a hurry, this is not the place for you.

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We assured him we were on-board and excited for the experience. It begins downstairs, at a communal table next to the open kitchen. At the table with us were a couple from France and a couple from Coimbra, the home of the oldest university in Portugal. We immediately began chatting with our tablemates. The communal table was a highlight for us- especially hearing four languages being spoken between six people (the French couple spoke a little Spanish, which helped with our lack of French vocabulary). We really hit it off with the Portuguese couple. She was a nurse, just like TDL, and they told amazing stories of the traditions at Coimbra University, where they had met.

In the midst of all our chatting, we did manage to eat and drink a bit. TDL and I were excited to look at the wine list and discover a Portuguese Pinot Noir! We lived in Oregon for a couple years and the Pinot grape is one of our favorites. It was fantastic- probably our favorite wine of the trip.

The dining experience begins with the couvert. This is not your typical couvert. Well, it kind of is, but WAY better. When Cristóvão brought the couvert out, he also brought out a map of Portugal and proceeded to tell us where everything we were eating came from. I nearly died from joy. Some highlights of the couvert were the creamy shaved butter (drooling a little right now) and the Boroa de Avintes: a tradition Portuguese slow food rye/corn bread that was so. damn. good.

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Next, we had alheira, a homemade sausage that, in this case, was wrapped in fresh mango. *swoon*

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After the appetizers, Cristóvão brought us upstairs to our private tables for the meal. TDL ordered the grass-fed steak, which was fantastic. My entree, the pork, was less memorable. It wasn’t bad, it was just simple and traditional. I can’t remember what we had for dessert, but the port was really nice…

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After dessert and more chatting with Cristóvão, we had been in the restaurant for four hours. Truly slow food, but it didn’t feel drawn out or boring. The time flew by with the great company and fantastic food and drinks.

(In case you are wondering, our “big night out” in Portugal at ODE was 99€. I miss Portugal.)

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Just a pretty picture

DSC_0037Spring in the desert can be a subtle, quick affair, but if you look hard, it surprises you with its beauty. Photo taken by TDL in Red Rocks last week.

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Anniversary

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(photo by EPlove)

The last week of March marked our 3rd wedding anniversary. Our actual wedding was at the courthouse in Indio, CA, but we spent the week of our wedding in Joshua Tree with our families and a couple friends. It was perfect and low-key. If you have any interest, more photos can be found here at the blog of our phenomenal photographers, EP Love. (And if you are in need of photographing, I cannot recommend them enough.) While I am on the subject, I can’t talk about our wedding without talking about the stunning Sacred Sands guest retreat, where we stayed during our wedding week. I really cannot say enough about the service, attention to detail, and luxurious accommodations at Sacred Sands. The owners, Scott and Steve, could not be more kind and generous. For example, when they found out we didn’t have a wedding cake, they had their chef bake us the most delicious cake, and served it to us and our family with champagne.

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(Photo by EPlove)

Fast forward three years: we had no specific anniversary plans, so when TDL got back from Kingman on Tuesday, we decided we needed to do something spontaneous, even though he had to be back at work early Friday morning. We loaded up the car Tuesday night, and left early Wednesday morning, with plans to climb Wednesday, camp in Joshua Tree, and climb Thursday before heading home. Spring break thwarted our plans in a big way, and after driving almost 4 hours, we discovered there wasn’t a single camping spot available. Hotels were all booked or required a two-night minimum. There was a lot of driving, grumbling, and a bit of stress before we decided to just enjoy our day in the park and return home that night. It wasn’t the relaxing return to Joshua Tree we had hoped for, but nothing about our relationship and our life together goes according to plan, so we’re quite accustomed to embracing the adventure.

DSC_0004 DSC_0010 DSC_0012DSC_0017 DSC_0021 Mohave Desert - 12In my humble opinion, what makes TDL and I work so well is our commitment to always bettering our relationship and not stagnating. As part of this commitment, after we got married, we decided we will only be married for one year at a time. It may sound strange, but our anniversary marks a date where we formally assess how things are going and decide if this is something we want to do for another year (obviously this is a continuous process, but the year mark is when we lay it all out on the table and make sure we are still committed and excited and ready for one more year). Our long drive(s) gave us plenty of opportunity for discussion. We are both excited for one more year of marriage; next year we plan on celebrating with by returning to our favorite hotel on the planet-  Sacred Sands.

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Falling in love with Foz do Douro

The day looked to be only partly cloudy, so we ate some breakfast at our hotel and hopped on the bus to downtown.  DSC_0339 IMG_0771 Downtown Oporto - 08

We felt pretty confident about the nice weather, and had left our big winter jackets at the hotel. After taking some pictures, we realized how silly we had been; the hovering grey clouds forced us to get back on the bus to retrieve our umbrella, jackets, scarves, and other off-season travel essentials from the hotel. However, we didn’t make it back to Oporto that day, because the sun was shining in Foz do Douro.

Foz do Douro means “mouth of the Douro,” so, as you would expect, the town sits where the Douro River meets the ocean. It is a beautiful part of Porto, and even if your hotel is downtown (although, in my opinion, you’d be foolish not to stay at 4Rooms), it is worth getting on the tram and spending a day wandering around the Foz.

The first place we happened upon was Forto de S Joao Baptista da Foz, built in 1570.

DSC_0350IMG_0795DSC_0371From there, we went wandering down the cobblestone streets that make up Foz do Douro’s downtown. Restaurants, shopping, and Saboriccia. Oh, Saboriccia. Basically, it’s my dream shop, full of wine, award-winning sheep’s milk cheese, olive oil, cured meats, fruit, veggies, almonds, and other produtos regionais. Many of the items in the store, like the produce and the cheese, are from the family farm. Everything is from Portugal. We walked in, and I was so happy I nearly started crying. It only got better when we met Ramiro, one of the brothers who owns the shop. Ramiro is a kind, gregarious, enthusiastic farmer; he works on the farm most of the time, but we were lucky enough to be in the shop when he was down for a visit. He showed us around the shop, letting us taste the incredible cheese, telling us all about the products, and insisting we come back the following day when they were having a wine tasting. He helped us choose some wine: an incredible Vinho Verde and a delicious Douro red. We couldn’t resist getting some fruit from the farm- who knew you could grow kiwis in Portugal?!

IMG_0173 IMG_0785 Wine from Saboriccia - 3 IMG_0789Saboriccia and Ramiro’s kindness made our day. We grabbed a late, light lunch in one of the many restaurants in the Foz (ask at Saboriccia, they’ll give you a good recommendation), and headed back to the hotel to enjoy our wine and fruit.

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Porto in the Rain

It was a cold, rainy day in Porto, and we were still feeling a little fragile from our food poisoning, but we tried not to let it stop us from exploring. We walked from Foz do Douro to the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, which has a beautiful garden, perfect for explorations. When the rain and cold got to be a little too much, we had some wonderful tea at the Casa de Chá.

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Jardim de Serralves, Oporto - 05

DSC_0331After the gardens, we kept walking toward the downtown area, stopping for lunch along the way.

I just realized I haven’t yet shared one of the most helpful tips for getting around in Portugal when you don’t speak Portuguese: speak Spanish. Before our trip, I thought this may be rude, but Margarita at Vilacampina and many other Portuguese people assured us it was not. There are enough similarities between Portuguese and Spanish that most, but not all, Portuguese people can understand some Spanish (if they don’t speak it, which is quite common). We usually ended up speaking what I called “Portu-span-glish,” a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and English, and 99% of the time, it worked. It helps that many people in Portugal are polyglots!

After lunch, we walked around the gallery district and tried to visit the Casa da Música, but things pretty much ended up looking like this:

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So we decided to take the bus back to our cozy apartment and do this instead:

IMG_0170While we were there, this seemed like one of those days that we didn’t quite get right. But, we had beautiful spring flowers, port, Portuguese wine, and an amazing place to stay, so, looking back, I guess we didn’t do so bad after all.

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