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Lavendou Bistro

Plano, Texas

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When you write dining and travel blogs, your friends start giving you all kinds of great advice and suggestions on places to try. I am so glad that they do! Two different people had mentioned Lavendou Bistro for me to try. After a little research, I was intrigued with this little French restaurant. It was time for me to check it out on my own. Date night!

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Let me first alert you to Lavendou Bistro’s “unusual” location. It is located in a strip center just a few doors down from a condom shop, a massage parlor and a vape shop (I guess this would make a great date night for some people!). This was not at all what I expected from this highly-rated French restaurant, but I was keeping an open mind. Thankfully, this questionable locale did not deter us and we walked in to a quaint little European-style restaurant with inviting decor and French charm. The interior, with exposed brick walls, was very warm and welcoming. The blue, yellow and white color theme was authentic French country-style. The ambiance, decor and lighting were romantic and unpretentious. 

 

The service we experienced was friendly and attentive. Our French-speaking server was very helpful with both wine and meal choices. She suggested a French red wine for us that turned out to be an excellent choice. A bread basket was quickly brought to our table  – complete with fresh butter and an olive tapenade dipping oil that was most enjoyable.  We both enjoyed our salads. My salad was the Croquant de Chevre Chaud sur son Lit de Jeennes Pousses, otherwise known as mixed greens with goat cheese balls, parma ham and pine nuts. The breaded goat cheese was delicious! My husband had the Crevettes en Feuille de Brique salad which had the mixed greens with shrimp (stuffed with spinach and pine nuts) then wrapped in phyllo pastry. The house-made vinaigrette salad dressings were full-bodied and flavorful. 

So far….so good. Now we were on to the main course!  I ordered the Dover Sole with Lemon Sauce which turned out to be one of the best fish dishes that I have ever been served in a restaurant. The sole was lightly browned on the outside and literally “melted” in my mouth. The lemon, butter & wine sauce elevated it even more. The fish was served with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables and was beautifully plated. My husband ordered the Blackened Grouper (an evening special) and it was cooked to perfection with with just the right amount of seasoning.  The grouper was served with micro greens, poached pears and mixed vegetables. The portions were quite large and I actually had leftovers to take home and enjoy the following day. 

The highlight of our evening was the dessert portion of the meal. I ordered the Chocolate Souffle and my husband ordered the raspberry version. These souffles were perfection! They were light, airy, and perfectly cooked. The accompanying sauces were thick and full of flavor. We both commented that these souffles were some of the best we have ever eaten. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

If you find yourself in the mood for casual, country-style French cuisine, look no further than Lavendou Bistro. There is no trendy “fusion” food here – just excellent wine, gracious service, exquisite food and perfect ambiance. I hope to be returning soon, so maybe I will see you there. There is a chocolate souffle just waiting with my name on it!

 

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Grand Canyon

Arizona – South Rim

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My first view of the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list. It wasn’t until some close friends went a few months ago that the urge hit me again. Their photos were spectacular and I wanted to see it up close and personal for myself.

My husband and I planned a trip to Sedona, Arizona for a few days and decided this would be a great opportunity to drive on up to the Grand Canyon for a day. I had knee replacement surgery a few months ago and realized that days of hiking, riding burros, or camping overnight in the bottom of the canyon would not be for me. A day trip seemed to be the perfect option and it really was the right choice for us.

We had taken a Pink Jeep Tour to some ancient ruins on our first full day in Sedona and we had a wonderful tour guide named Stephen. He often drives tour groups into the Grand Canyon for the day and gave us some great pointers and advice. His suggestion was to drive into the park’s east entrance and return to Sedona through the south entrance, which is extremely busy and crowded. In other words, we would go against the traffic and crowds. It turned out to be great advice. 

The drive north from Sedona was quite scenic and enjoyable. It was a two hour drive with hardly any traffic. We drove through pine forests, curvy mountain roads, sparse desert mesas, and the flat red lands of the Navajo Nation. As we entered the Grand Canyon National Park’s east entrance, there were only two cars ahead of us. What great luck – thank you for the advice, Stephen!

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Our first stop was at the Desert View Visitor Center. This was a great spot with few visitors, ample parking, restrooms, restaurant, and a gift shop. There is a tall stone tower (modeled after ancient Puebloan towers) and an overlook with fantastic views of the Grand Canyon. This is where I walked up and got my first look at the majestic canyon. I will never forget that moment and readily admit that photos do not even come close to doing it justice. We stood for several minutes taking in all the colors, the expanse, the depth, and the silence. This was most certainly a true “pinch me” moment. There were some great views of the Colorado River from this overlook (over one full mile below us!).

We took our time here and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out towards the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the south entrance. We stopped at several of the overlooks and pull-outs that our tour guide had suggested for us. Each stop gave us different views and a different perspective of the canyon. Mather Point, Navajo Point, and Grandview Point were a few of the stand-outs. The scenery was spectacular and there were only a few people at each of these stops. It was a most enjoyable day with almost perfect weather. 

 Later in the day we arrived at the South Rim Visitor Center. It was packed with tourists, tour buses, shuttle buses, and cars. Luckily we found a parking spot relatively close to the center and we found our way to the overlook area. Once again, the views were spectacular but there were so many people that it was difficult at times to get to the railing to take good photos. We then explored the area and it was expansive: restrooms, snack bars, gift shops, movie theater, information & education centers, bike rentals, shuttle stops, etc.  The most exciting thing about this stop was getting to see two elk that had wandered up to drink from the water fountains! 

Everyone has a different agenda when visiting the Grand Canyon and for us – one full day was enough. It was glorious, spectacular, breath-taking and immense.  David and I lucked up and had perfect weather this particular day. We enjoyed every minute of it and the images will be embedded in my mind for years to come. If you have never made this trip, I hope you will make plans. It was well worth the effort.

Check this one off my bucket list. It is done. Now on to my next adventure!! 

 

85°C Bakery Cafe

Richardson, TX

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I am lucky enough to have a very diverse group of  “foodie” friends who love trying new foods and eating at new places. One of my friends recently introduced us to a Taiwanese chain of coffee shops and self-serve bakeries that she was familiar with in California. A new location of 85°C Bakery Cafe just opened three months ago in Richardson and it was our choice for a ladies’ lunch – and what a GREAT choice it was!

This location in Richardson is part of a new strip mall dedicated to Asian stores and eateries. The huge statues of warriors, poets and philosophers that line the entrance are pretty good indicators that you are in the right place! If you can locate parking near the statue of Confucius, you will be close to the bakery. 

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Confucius say…….

As we stepped through the doors of 85°C Bakery Cafe, I noticed this place was approximately twice the size of a Starbucks, but with the same relaxed coffee house vibe. The left side of the bakery was dominated by numerous self-serve cases of baked goods.  The right rear area housed the counters where you order drinks and check-out.  Various sizes of tables and chairs were scattered throughout. The entire place was casual, bright, modern, and extremely clean. The staff was extremely helpful and friendly.

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This location serves tasty breads, cakes, pastries, teas, slushes, smoothies, and coffees. The “bakery & cafe” combination is certainly not a new idea, but at 85°Bakery Cafe, this seems like a very new and fresh concept – and they do it quite well! I really loved the self-serve aspect. (The name is a nod to the ideal temperature of brewed coffee.) 

After I walked through the door, everything was very visual. I grabbed a tray, a sheet of waxed paper and a pair of tongs and let my eyes dictate my choices. Each item was well-marked with signage indicating name, price, and what ingredients were used. Nothing was over $3 (most were $1 to $2 each) and the portions were not small! There were savory breads & rolls and sweet pastries. I actually picked out three savory rolls – a cheese dog, a potato & cheese croissant, and a ham & cheese roll and I could not finish all three. Other savory choices included: Hawaiian chicken rolls, Teriyaki chicken rolls, egg tarts, cheese tarts, salty butter rolls, red bean bread, squid ink rolls, taro rolls, and calamari sticks (for those more adventurous that I am!). Sweet pastries included: cinnamon rolls, fruit turnovers, chocolate croissants, cookies, brioche bread, coconut twists, mango tarts, sweet snow bread, cream puffs, fruit panna cotta, mocha rolls, etc. There were also prepackaged displays of cookies, macaroons, sliced egg bread and moon breads. As we were making our selections and placing them on our trays, staff members were periodically restocking items shouting “Fresh bread! Fresh bread!” as they brought out warm trays or more baked goods. Decisions, decisions……

Located near the checkout counter were refrigerated cases (not self-serve) that contained full-sized cakes, individual custards & tarts, mousse, and all types of single cake slices. I saw a range of flavors including: black forest, cheese cake, red velvet, creme brulee, chocolate, taro, lemon, almond, mango, vanilla, etc. They were all decorated beautifully and were well-packaged for eating in-house or taking out. (check out all the photos for more details)

We made our choices, paid, then sat and ate our savory selections. They were all light, flaky and delicious! We then wrapped up what we couldn’t finish (in clear cellophane bags that are provided) and took the leftovers home. Dessert came next! Once more, we grabbed a clean tray and pair of tongs to choose our “sweet” selections – some to eat while there, others to take home. Needless to say, every sweet pastry was fresh and tasty. This may be a Taiwanese bakery, but you will swear you at eating dessert in a very fancy French patisserie. (Note: the staff does a great job of wrapping bakery items for carry out and placing in small individual boxes, bags, or cardboard boxes.)

I would highly suggest checking this place out if you are in the mood for something different! We had a great experience and truly enjoyed all the food here – nice quantities, top quality, and good value. What’s not to like?!

Note: This is a chain restaurant and other nearby locations are in Carrollton and Plano.  85°C Bakery Cafe was started in Irvine, California in 2003.

After dining here, be sure to walk a few doors down and check out the Good Fortune Market, a Chinese supermarket. There are produce items, seafood, and boxed goods that are well worth viewing. I saw things that I have never seen before!

 

Yountville

Napa County, California

 

The town of Yountville, California will always hold a special place in this girl’s memory. This little intimate community is home to my very favorite hotel and one of my favorite restaurants.

Yountville is located in the very heart of Napa Valley wine country. This quaint, manicured town was named for early pioneer George Calvery Yount who was responsible for establishing the first vineyard in Napa Valley in 1867. I wonder if he ever knew what he was setting in motion? Great foresight there, George!

 

Today Yountville is known as the “Culinary Capital of Napa Valley.” Bouchon Bistro and The French Laundry are both Michelin-starred restaurants. Redd, Ad Hoc, Lucy and Bouchon Bakery are all first-class eateries with world-renowned chefs. One of my favorite restaurants was Bottega, where my husband and I had a delicious four-course meal and first fell in love with the Napa Valley “buttery” chardonnays. My memory of our dinner here was of impeccable service, elevated Italian cuisine, a stunning wine list, and a delectable parmesan-garlic spread to enjoy on their fresh-baked ciabatta bread. My dining experience at Bottega was a love affair from the first bite! 

 

Not only is Yountville full of world-class restaurants, there are gourmet shops, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, top-notch accommodations, and incredible natural surroundings – all in the immediate area. You can casually stroll down the main drag of oak-lined Washington Street and find almost every kind of shop, restaurant, bakery, and spa within walking distance. Be sure to keep your eye out for the over 40 works of art and outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the beautifully landscaped scenic downtown area. 

 

For some day excursions, how about golf, a wine tour, a hot air balloon ride or a bike tour? David and I took off on our own and toured some of the local wineries. Domaine Chandon (owned by French Champagne Moet and Chandon), Frog’s Leap and Goosecross Cellars are all located in close proximity. It is not a far drive to most of the Napa Valley wineries or vineyards from Yountville. Most Napa wineries close at 5:00 p.m. so enjoy your winery visits, have a nice lunch, and come back to Yountville. You can then park your car and walk to one of the 15 tasting rooms. No need to drive any more – just stroll and sip!  

 

If you are wondering where to stay, there are plenty of up-scale hotels, quaint country inns and a few bed & breakfasts. My favorite hotel “of all time” was the Bardessono, located in the heart of Yountville. This was an excellent hotel for location, service, and amenities. With automatic blinds and toilets, a jacuzzi tub, a steam shower, and an outdoor shower on our private patio – I did not want to leave this hotel! The entire place was very “Zen-like” with beautiful flora, fruit trees, fountains, gardens and art work at every turn. The entire Bardessono property was very peaceful and quiet – with the exception of the lively bar, outdoor fire pits and the Lucy Restaurant in the evenings. We also enjoyed the lovely pool and private cabanas a couple of afternoons after returning from our winery expeditions. There may have even been a nap or two in those relaxing roof-top cabanas – just sayin’.

 

This stay in Yountville was one of those trips that we keep saying we want to repeat – and that doesn’t happen for us too often. We visited in October and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Combine the wine, the weather, the hotel, and the meals we enjoyed – and it makes perfect sense why we want to return.

 

My suggestion – set a date, plan ahead, book a couple of restaurants on Open Table and mosey over to Yountville for a great Napa Valley getaway! We may see you there. Cheers!!

For you foodies, here is the recipe for the Bottega Parmesan Garlic Spread: 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, 1/2 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well chopped and combined. Spread on fresh ciabatta bread and enjoy!

Abacus

Dallas, Texas

I look forward to August every year because that means Dallas Restaurant Week is here! For a certain week(s) during August, many prime Dallas restaurants will offer a price-fix menu and give proceeds to the North Texas Food Bank. It is a great way to try new places and sample their menus (at a considerably lower cost) and it helps benefit a very worthy cause .

One of my restaurant choices this year was Abacus. I have heard about this high-end restaurant for years but never had the opportunity to dine there. Luckily I got reservations on a weekend evening and anxiously looked forward to our visit.

From the moment we stepped into the foyer, I was impressed. Two friendly hostesses greeted us and we were seated at a romantic table for two with a white tablecloth and napkin, candle, fresh flowers and a beautiful place setting. The noise level was energetic, but not too loud, as most of the sounds were coming from the open kitchen and bar area. Our waiter was very professional, friendly, and provided just the right amount of attention. I was very impressed with his knowledge of the menu and the wine list.

The restaurant’s ambiance is sophisticated and romantic. The upscale decor, music, lighting, and art all spell out “fine dining.”  There were many couples dining out this particular evening as well as large groups and a few families. It was perfect for a date night but not too stuffy for a business dinner or a nice dinner with friends or family. 

We began with a couple of the Abacus signature cocktails. The Lucy in the Sky was a fruity, champagne drink and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Gin Basil Gimlet was very tasty and refreshingly good. We were brought a nice bread basket with 3 choices of freshly baked breads and seasoned butter. All were delicious, especially the raisin & nut bread!

Our menu for Dallas Restaurant Week offered a choice of a small plate or appetizer, an entree and then a shared dessert. We opted for the Crispy Coconut Rock Shrimp and Texas Melon plate for our starters and both were great choices. The rock shrimp had a crispy tempura batter and was served with sliced jalapenos, toasted cashews and a mango and red curry sauce. The Texas Melon appetizer was a tasty as it was colorful. Chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon were arranged in a circle around shaved hearts of palm. It was topped with queso fresco, red onions and a cilantro and lime vinaigrette dressing. This was my favorite dish and the combination of colors, textures and tastes was sheer perfection. Delicious!

Next, our server brought over a complimentary Watermelon Mojito Mint Shooter to clean our palates between courses. It was served in a shot glass and tasted like watermelon juice with minty tapioca balls. Loved it!

We both ordered the Blackened Sockeye Salmon for our entree and it was cooked to perfection. The portion was quite large (2 fillets per plate) and the salmon was well-seasoned, but not overly seasoned, as I prefer for blackened dishes. Each entree was beautifully plated with the fish being served over blue corn grits and a red pepper butter sauce. Once again, the dish was visually appealing as well as being satisfying to our taste buds. Our server had suggested a perfect Merlot wine-pairing for this dish and it was spot-on. 

Dessert consisted of a shared plate with small servings of a chocolate and caramel torte, a scoop of chocolate chip mint ice cream and a fruit tartlett. Each one was enjoyable and ended up being a perfect end to a perfect meal.

We had a most pleasant dining experience this particular evening. I am always impressed when you get high quality food, top shelf spirits, innovative dishes, unique flair, and stellar customer service all at one time and in one place. Dining here is certainly not cheap but when all expectations are met, the cost seems justified. 

If you are interested in dining at Abacus, check out their diverse menu on-line. They have a wide variety of menu choices including fresh sushi, lobster shooters, buffalo tenderloin, and black truffle risotto. Monday through Thursday evenings they offer a 5 or 8 course Chef’s Tasting Menu with or without wine pairings. I hope you get to check it out!

Abacus is located in the Knox-Henderson area on McKinney Avenue. Complimentary valet parking is conveniently located out in front of the the restaurant.

Mount Roberts

Juneau, Alaska

 

 

I was so glad that I finally got to check Alaska off my bucket list. We went on an Un-Cruise adventure a few summers ago and it was one of my most favorite travel experiences…ever. We arrived in Juneau a couple of days prior to our cruise and had lots of fun touring the downtown area, riding up Mount Roberts and exploring the Mendenhall Glacier (see earlier blog posts).

 

 

The Mount Roberts Tram near downtown Juneau was built in 1996 and travels 1,800 feet up through the tall trees of the mountainous rain forest. The ride is very smooth and only lasts a few minutes. Each car carries up to 60 passengers but we were the only passengers onboard the afternoon that we booked our trip. The expansive views as you ascend up the mountainside are spectacular!  The main streets of Juneau, the cruise ship docks, Gastineau Channel, the thick evergreens, and eagles sitting in the treetops are just a few of the sights we saw on this clear summer day.

 

 

The tram car docks at the Mountain House and Nature Center, about halfway up the mountain. You quickly disembark and have the opportunity to visit a gift shop, grab a snack, shop in the art gallery, or use the restrooms. We stopped by the Nature Center and saw a couple of live eagles – one named Lady Baltimore (pictured above) is in permanent rehab here due to an almost fatal gun shot wound. There is plenty of educational info detailing the geography, history, wildlife, plants, and the Native Americans of this area. We also found information about the hiking trails and located maps that helped us decide which route would be best for our ability and time allotment.

 

 

Most of the hiking trails were very well-marked and considered a “moderate” level due to slight inclines in certain areas.  The trail we explored took us by wild-life viewing platforms, colorful wildflowers, gorgeous views, and native tree carvings. We walked through mountain meadows, hiked up dirt paths into the forest, and walked single file along trails that hugged the side of the snow-topped mountains. One of our destinations was Father Brown’s Cross, a very scenic stop with amazing views of Juneau below. This cross is a replacement for one placed here in the early 1900’s by a Roman Catholic priest who made Juneau his home.

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Photo op at Father Brown’s Cross overlooking the Gastineau Channel and Juneau docks

Mount Roberts Tram is the most popular tourist attraction in southeast Alaska with over 200,000 visitors each summer. It runs May through September and tickets are $33 per person. In my opinion, it was worth every penny! Don’t miss these spectacular views and gorgeous hiking trails if you have the opportunity to visit Juneau.

 

 

 

Crumbzz

Forney, Texas

This little European-style bistro is located in the heart of historic downtown Forney.  Open since 2011, my girlfriends and I have made several visits to Crumbzz for breakfast and lunch. I recently took my husband David there for brunch and decided it was time to let other foodies know about this little hidden gem.

The interior resembles a little chic, uptown Dallas cafe. There is seating along the Italian marble bar where you may sit and watch the live action in the open kitchen. The front area has several cozy round-topped aluminum tables and comfy leather chairs. The decorative ceiling, slate floors, succulents on the tables, and stage lighting add to the ambiance. The walls are usually lined with nature photographs or colorful paintings by local artists. 

I highly suggest that you not be in a “fast food” frame of mind when you dine at Crumbzz. All of the food is made to order and takes a little time. Order a cup of their delicious custom blend coffee or iced green tea and sit back, relax, and chill for a few minutes. Chef J Stephen Sadler will proudly tell you that every item is fresh, prepared on site and made from the finest natural ingredients. Most of his butter, eggs, dairy products and produce comes from local producers. Many of his spices and flavorings are imported from all over the world.

When David and I dined here for brunch a couple of weeks ago, we started our meal with a delicious, very smooth, vanilla latte (notice the cool asymmetrical coffee cups). Our first order was the Taylor Ham & Egg Sandwich which was delicious. Taylor Ham comes from New Jersey and is similar to the country ham I grew up eating in Mississippi, just not as salty.  The eggs were cooked to perfection and the fresh ciabatta roll and melted Gruyère cheese made this breakfast sandwich a hit.

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Gaufre Liege Waffle with Cinnamon Streusel Butter

Next up was one of my favorites – the Gaufre Liege Waffle. This is not your normal waffle-maker waffle! This is a dense and rich waffle that is made from caramelized brioche-based dough. It is chewy, tasty, and no topping is necessary – but  fortunately, it is served with a cinnamon streusel butter that melts as your spread it on the waffles and elevates this dish even more. Yum!

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Gruyere Egg Souffle

The entree that keeps me and my gal pals coming back to Crumbzz is the Gruyère Egg Soufflé. It takes a little longer to cook, so order this first thing. This soufflé is a light and airy, golden-colored delight. The Gruyère cheese gives it a rich saltiness and parmigiano-reggiano enhances the flavor. The fluffy, cheesy bites literally melt in your mouth. 

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Tomato Basil  Soup & Sandwich

If you are not in the mood for breakfast foods, try one of Crumbzz’s house made soups. The Tomato Basil and the French Onion are standouts. I have also enjoyed their Tuna Salad and Fribourg Grilled Cheese. There are several lunch specials that include soup, half of a sandwich or salad. The menu seems to have something for everyone.

Chef J Stephen, owner and executive chef,  frequently comes out of the kitchen and visits with patrons. He seems to enjoy his customers and is a joy to talk to.  He has made a name for himself and gained notoriety for his crumb cakes. These tasty cakes are made to order and ship nationally and internationally. This crumb cake recipe is a 400-year-old Sadler family recipe! When dining at Crumbzz, there are usually five flavors available each day: cinnamon, raspberry, apricot, chocolate, and a “flavor-of-the-month.” The fresh crumb cakes come in several sizes, so save room for one of the small individual sizes for dessert before you leave. Or better yet, take home one of each flavor to sample!

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Ladies enjoying lunch with Chef J Stephen Sadler