Agave at Excellence Riviera Cancun

Agave Mexican Restaurant, Excellence Riviera Cancun

Our first meal after arriving at Excellence Riviera Cancun was at the Mexican restaurant Agave. The outdoor, candle lit seating makes it very romantic, while the colorful decor makes it fun and lively. There was a tequila cart right at the entrance, and you know me, I had to have a good margarita with dinner. John isn’t into margaritas, but Corona was a nice pairing for our meal.

We started our meal with tortilla chips, salsa, and guacamole, of course. There were a few vegetarian options on the menu, as well as a few other dishes where you could easily omit the meat. All the dishes are reasonably sized, so you can many different things to share. We shared four savory dishes between the two of us.

Agave Mexican Restaurant, Excellence Riviera Cancun

The Aztec soup was really tasty. It’s a traditional tomato based soup with corn tortilla strips and a hint of heat from the chili peppers. I cooled off with a grilled cactus salad afterwards, and the cactus leaves reminded me a little of seaweed although they had a different flavor.

Agave Mexican Restaurant, Excellence Riviera Cancun

At one point, a mariachi band arrived at the restaurant and started going from table to table serenading diners. It was cute, but cheesy. We were worried they would show up at our table while we eating. What do you do then? Stop to watch the band or continue eating? I feel like it would be awkward either way, haha. Thankfully, they never made it to our table.

Agave Mexican Restaurant, Excellence Riviera Cancun

You know I love tacos, so we obviously had to order that while in Mexico. The corn tortillas were loaded with refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and a pickled red onion sauce. We asked them not to include the shredded turkey, but with all the beans, the dish didn’t feel like it was missing anything. The pickled red onion sauce sure was yummy.

Agave Mexican Restaurant, Excellence Riviera Cancun

The crispy deep fried corn flautas filled with potato and cottage cheese were amazing. A really great mixture of textures and flavors. It’s too bad the sauce was way too spicy for me! I drank a lot of water afterwards, and unfortunately, ended up being too full for dessert!

This was easily my favorite meal of our vacation. We’re both huge fans of Mexican food, and the ambiance of the restaurant was wonderful and so romantic. If only I were able to handle the spiciness of the food a little bit better!

Agave Mexican Restaurant, Excellence Riviera Cancun

Creamy Avocado Spaghetti

Creamy Avocado Spaghetti

I love avocados, and I love pasta with creamy sauces. It makes perfect sense to me to serve a bright green, creamy avocado sauce with my favorite thin spaghetti. Lemon juice, scallions, and parsley add some extra flavor to the ripe avocados. This sauce is delicious when lightly warmed. During the summertime, serve it cold for a refreshing, creamy treat.

Unlike traditional cream sauces made of heavy cream and cheese, you won’t have to worry about this sauce separating when you reheat the leftovers. This is a much healthier and lower calorie alternative to alfredo. Plus, it’s a gorgeous shade of green!

Creamy Avocado Spaghetti
Serves 4, Prep: 20 minutes

Ingredients
12 oz thin spaghetti
2 large ripe avocados
1/4 cup olive oil
2 clove garlic
2 stalks scallions – green and white parts
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Directions
Cook thin spaghetti to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water, then set aside.

Blend the avocados, olive oil, garlic, scallions, and lemon juice with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy. A stand blender works too, but an immersion blender does the job and minimizes cleanup.

Stir the chopped parsley into the avocado mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper. To serve this dish warm, transfer the avocado sauce to a small pot and warm it for a few minutes over low heat. A microwave also works well, but be careful not to overheat it.

Toss the spaghetti with the avocado sauce. You want just enough sauce to coat the pasta. Top with black pepper and garnish with parsley. Time to dig in!

Creamy Avocado Spaghetti

Franchia, Murray Hill

Franchia Vegan Cafe, Murray Hill

In between errands on a sunny spring day, I ducked into Franchia for a quick lunch. Blending the traditional and the modern, Franchia’s multi-level space offers a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of Midtown. I arrived right as they opened for lunch at noon, and they filled up quickly within the next half hour. It seems like a good place for a casual business lunch.

Franchia Vegan Cafe, Murray Hill

Franchia is the sister restaurant of Hangawi, and even though both locations offer a tranquil, zen vibe, Franchia is supposed to be more of a casual cafe for a quick bite. The 100% vegan menu offers a variety of Asian fusion dishes, but it seems like Korean food is the main focus here.

It was one of the first hot days this year (high of 83F!), and I couldn’t wait to cool off with an iced pomegranate tea ($5). The tea was refreshing, but not anything particularly special.

Pomegranate Tea, Franchia

There are $12 lunch specials, but I ended up ordering off the regular menu because I really wanted the Avocado Bibimbap ($13.95). I can’t get enough of avocado lately! For an extra $1, you can upgrade to a hot stone bowl, but I stuck to the regular bowl. My bibimbap had avocado, tofu, carrots, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, and lettuce over brown rice.

Avocado Bibimbap, Franchia

A giant bowl of veggies over rice makes me a really happy girl! I forgot to mention which type of sauce I wanted, but my bibimbap came with a sweet and salty peanut sauce was very tasty with all the veggies and tofu. It also came with a small side of pickled cabbage. A delicious and healthy meal. Places like this make it ridiculously easy to be vegan!

Avocado Bibimbap, Franchia

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Spring Tasting Event at Pergola, Flatiron

Pergola, Flatiron NYC

Back in April, I was invited to sample the new spring menu at Pergola, a flower shop turned Mediterranean restaurant and hookah lounge. The loft space is stunning, blending inside and outside with vines and plants throughout. Pergola also happens to be located in the famed Flower District, which makes it even more fitting for a springtime gathering.

While the spring tasting event was happening upstairs, the main ground floor space was packed. I could barely squeeze through the crowd to get to the restroom in the back. Pergola seems like a cool spot to get together after work, and I imagine it’ll continue to be popular during the summer as it has a great garden lounge, club vibe.

The evening started with four of Pergola’s house cocktails: Bright Lotus, Jalisco Rose, Bangkok Banger, and Santorini. The Bright Lotus was sweet and refreshing. The other cocktails were on the strong side, but the tequila-based Jalisco Rose wasn’t bad.

Pergola, Flatiron

The feta and tomato crostini was a standout appetizer. Pergola knows how to make good feta, and it was creamy perfection on the garlicky crostini. If you visit Pergola, you must get an order of the crostini for your table.

The watermelon feta salad with arugula and balsamic vinaigrette was good too. I enjoyed the combo of refreshing watermelon and creamy feta. Pergola may not be a vegetarian restaurant, but like many Mediterranean spots, the veggie offerings were quite solid.

The other food bloggers and food Instagrammers at my table were Coffee & Champagne, The Dishelin Guide, Edible Moments, and City Foodie. The lighting on the upper level of the restaurant wasn’t the best for photos, so we decided to take the mezze for a walk. The hummus, babaganoush, and kalamata tapenade look a bit like ice cream, huh? Goes perfectly with the spicy fried peta. Another a good dish to order and share with friends.

I normally don’t eat fish and seafood anymore, but I did have a little taste of a couple seafood dishes. We were served two different versions of the crab cakes. I preferred the crab cake balls as they had a creamier texture than the patty-shaped crab cake. I regret tasting the salmon as it was too dry. The root vegetable puree that came with salmon was sweet and tasty though. I did not taste the grilled prawns, but fell in love with the parmesan asparagus risotto! I would say that the veggie dishes and sides were the most impressive of the evening.

When the entrees came out, the servers also brought out hookahs for each table. I decided to pass, but found the idea of hookah and food pairings instead of wine and food pairings slightly amusing. It makes sense though… flavored hookah and Mediterranean cuisine.

And then it was time for dessert… the fruit salad that was decent, but nothing remarkable. The addition of mint was a nice springtime touch. The baklava cheesecake was the most interesting dessert. I enjoyed the flaky baklava pastry, but it seemed overpowered by the rich cheesecake. The chocolate cake was quite nice, but not very distinctive or spring themed.

Chocolate Cake & Baklava Cheesecake, Pergola,

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Vegan Meatballs at IKEA Restaurant

IKEA Vegan Vegetarian Meatballs

We recently visited the IKEA in Elizabeth, NJ to pick up a new desk lamp among other things. I suppose we could have just gone to Target for a new lamp, but we were interested in trying the newest addition to IKEA restaurant menu: the vegan meatballs!

For $4.49, you get 10 veggie meatballs with sweet potato sauce and veggies. The balls are made of chickpeas, green peas, carrots, corn, kale, and red bell peppers. In addition to being vegan, they’re gluten-free and soy-free. I’ve never had IKEA’s Swedish meatballs before as I have always avoided beef since I was a kid. I have no idea what the regular meatballs are like, but they seem to be quite popular. IKEA will also start serving chicken meatballs sometime soon.

IKEA Vegan Vegetarian Meatballs

The vegan meatballs were basically garden veggie burger patties shaped like balls. Good texture and veggie flavors. I enjoyed the veggie meatballs quite a bit! I like the idea of the sweet potato sauce, but in reality, it wasn’t all that exciting. I might be able to recreate these veggie meatballs at home, although it might be a little bit of a hassle. It’s worth a try though!

John and I have a really bad habit of getting too much food at IKEA again and again. John always wants to get a side of fries, and he’ll always suggest cake because it goes with coffee. I’m never able to say no to cake, so we always get a slice to share. Then I’ll grab a side salad to try and be healthy, which results in John getting a side salad too… same story every time!

IKEA Restaurant, IKEA Elizabeth NJ

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Sriracha, Sesame & Scallion Deviled Eggs

Newport, Jersey City

To celebrate the arrival of real spring weather, John and I invited some friends over for drinks and snacks on a lazy Saturday afternoon. We spent a while hanging out on the 7th floor terrace of our building, enjoying the Manhattan skyline and fresh air. All the trees in our neighborhood have been flowering, and it’s so fresh and pretty everywhere you look!

Sriracha, Sesame & Scallion Deviled Eggs, Cucumber Sandwiches

I often get a little carried away when planning a menu for a party, but I think I really nailed it this time around. Five simple, but special items: deviled eggs, cucumber cream cheese sandwiches, Mediterranean hummus, cashew olive dip (recipe from my lovely readers!), and vanilla ice cream profiteroles. Cucumber sandwiches may be the quintessential springtime snack, but the sriracha, sesame, and scallion deviled eggs stole the show!

Sriracha, Sesame & Scallion Deviled Eggs

Fact: sriracha sauce makes everything better! In these Asian style deviled eggs, the sriracha adds a little heat, the sesame oil adds richness, and the scallions add a refreshing crunch. You can prepare everything in advance, then assemble the eggs at the very last minute.

Whenever I make deviled eggs, I always use vegan mayonnaise in the yolk mixture. We started only buying vegan mayo a few months ago, and it is lighter calorie than regular mayo, but it’s always kind of odd to be using a vegan condiment in a non-vegan dish.

Sriracha, Sesame & Scallion Deviled Eggs
Makes 24 halves

Ingredients
12 large hard boiled eggs
6 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp sriracha sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp sesame oil
Salt & pepper
Black sesame seeds
Scallion, chopped

Directions
Hard boiled eggs 101: use boiling water, cook for 11 and a half minutes, then shock the eggs in an ice bath. Wait at least 15 minutes before you peel them. You can read more over here.

After peeling the eggs, gently dry them with a paper towel. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise and place the yolks in a medium bowl. Set the egg whites aside on a large plate.

Using a fork, mash the yolks until it becomes crumbly. Add the mayonnaise, sriracha, lemon juice, garlic powder, and sesame oil to the yolks. Mix well until a creamy texture is achieved. Season with salt and pepper. Make sure you do a lot of tasting! Egg yolks can vary in size, and you may need to add extra mayo and sriracha to achieve the desired creaminess and heat level.

Distribute the yolk mixture evenly among the egg whites. Garnish with black sesame seeds, a dollop of sriracha, and chopped scallions. Transfer the eggs to a clean serving dish.

Blossom, Chelsea

Blossom Chelsea, New York City

My high school bestie, Cassie, was recently in town for a couple days. She had a lot going on during this short visit, but we managed to squeeze in a girls dinner at Blossom Chelsea to celebrate her 30th birthday! I gave Cassie a list of restaurants to choose from and she picked Blossom Chelsea. We went to Blossom on Carmine last time she visited, but menu varies slightly at each location. Organic, vegan, and delicious!

We started with the Chef’s Sampler for Two ($23). There are six different appetizers: seaweed caviar canapės, seitan empandas, vegetable filled phyllo purses, buffalo risotto croquettes, fried pickles, and the raw zucchini rolatini. I’ve had the croquettes and fried pickles before. They were pretty tasty, but were probably the least unique and interesting to me. The brut cava we ordered was perfect with the sampler, especially the heavier, fried items.

Chef's Sampler for Two, Blossom Chelsea

I’ve also had the canapės before and really enjoyed them once again. They’re topped with seaweed caviar, cashew and pine nut cheese, sliced cucumber, sliced golden beet, and dill. The raw zucchini rolatini was very refreshing and oh so creamy. The rolatini is filled with basil cashew cheese, chive oil, sesame sunflower sprouts, and avocado.

We also shared the Beet Carpaccio ($12), which had thinly sliced red and golden beets, fennel, pecans, nut cheese, and greens. For our entree, we shared the Rigatoni in Porcini Cream ($20), which turned out to be A LOT of food. The pasta was, unfortunately, a bit overcooked, but the sauce was amazing. Porcini mushrooms, shallots, leeks, broccoli rabe, pistachio gremolata and truffle oil. Creamy and indulgent… it’s easy to forget that it’s vegan. Bonus: it’s soy free!

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Water Activities at Excellence Riviera Cancun

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

One of the biggest highlights of our Cancun vacation were all the water activities. The all-inclusive package includes a few non-motorized water activities. When we were in Cancun in 2010, we managed to capsize a hobie cat, but this time around, we were careful not to go out when it’s too windy. Here is Captain John commandeering our hobit cat!

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

On our 2010 trip to Cancun, we did a day trip to Chitchen Itza and Cenote Il Kil, which was just breathtaking. This time around, we wanted a different type of excursion. The sales people at the resort are pretty aggressive when it comes to selling tour packages. I don’t know why they highlight the buffets on the longer tours, especially when we were already have all you can eat at the resort. By the way, here are we clowning around in the pool, pretending to crocodiles…

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

We ultimately decided on the jungle tour, which was a reasonable half day trip. Instead of speed boats, we picked the wave runner style boats! It’s like a water motorcycle for two. You drive your own boat and follow the tour guide through the mangrove channels of Nichupté Lagoon. The ride was quite thrilling, and I managed to grab a quick photo as we were zooming along…

Jungle Tour, Cancun, Mexico

It took about 45 minutes to reach our destination, Punta Nizuc, a beautiful coral reef. After tying up all our boats, we pulled out our snorkeling gear from the storage compartment under our seats. This was our first time snorkeling, but John had no trouble with it as he has always been a swimmer. It took me a while to get the hang of it after a quick lesson from the tour guide,  but I was quickly swimming among all the colorful fishies!

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

The water was actually crystal clear (unlike our photos), and we could see every detail of the fishes and corals. Schools of fish were swimming around us, but they didn’t seem bothered by us at all. You’re required by Mexican law to wear a life vest at all times, but if you’re a good enough swimmer, it’s not too difficult to dive into the water with your vest on.

Jungle Tour, Cancun, Mexico

Since John drove the boat to the snorkeling site, it was my turn to drive on our way back. This is hilarious… I don’t know how to drive a car or ride a bike, but here I am driving what is essentially a water motorcycle! The backseat driving was kept to a minimum (hah), but I did have a hard time parking the boat at the dock. I crashed into another boat, but everyone was okay. Phew!

P.S. We even managed to get a quick, blurry selfie on our way to the snorkeling site when the tour guide stopped the group to go check on one boat that was falling behind.

Jungle Tour, Cancun, Mexico

MokBar, Chelsea

MokBar, Chelsea Market

As some of you know, I decided to do a vegan April. In reality, it was more of a mostly vegan April, but hey, it was a valiant effort! MokBar is one of the few ramen spots in NYC that offers a vegan ramen. I fell in love with their vegan ramen last year and was looking for an excuse to go back. Out of all the ramen restaurants in NYC, I believe MokBar offers the most vegan options, which includes appetizers. Yeah, no ramen lovers left behind!

MokBar, Chelsea Market

Angela and I tried the anju Korean small plates this time around. There are three anju options that can be made vegan: tempura, dumplings, and banchan small plates. We ordered two dishes, which ended up being very filling! Both paired well with the soju ($6) with cucumber and orange peel. The only downside was how long it took for the anju to be ready.

Mushroom Tempura, MokBar

The vegan Mushroom Tempura ($6) is made of pickled shiitake mushrooms. The batter is fairly light, letting the yummy pickled mushroom flavor shine. It’s topped with lots of scallions and chives. It comes with soy sauce for dipping, but I found it unnecessary as the tempura was already very flavorful on its own. It’s a pretty hefty dish for just $6.

Japchae & Halmoni Dumplings, MokBar

MokBar has pork and vegan dumplings, and when we asked about the vegan option, our waiter told us that we could do half and half ($7). Angela’s Halmoni Dumplings were filled with ground pork, zucchini, cabbage, and kimchi.

My vegan Japchae Dumlings are the round ones you see next to the soy sauce. They’re filled with more of that tasty pickled shiitake, glass noodles, tofu, garlic, and chives. With the tofu and mushrooms, it had an almost meaty texture, and they were not too greasy. I could easily eat an entire plate of six all by myself.

Black Bean Ramen, MokBar

Angela was originally planning on ordering the Spicy Tofu Ramen, but after the waiter mentioned that it was about a 9 on the spiciness scale, she switched to the Black Bean Ramen ($13). She ordered tofu as an extra topping ($2). That black bean sauce looks pretty spectacular, and I imagine it’s really good with the cucumber and daikon. I haven’t had pork belly in years, but it looks like it’ll get a lot of pork lovers excited.

Vegan Miso Ramen, MokBar

I ordered the Vegan Miso Ramen ($13) again. A delightful kombu shiitake doenjang broth with tofu, crispy potato, and various veggies. That broth is far more refined and complex than most miso broths I’ve had, and the noodles are nice and bouncy. I plan to come back during the summer to try the cold ramen because there are two vegan cold ramen options!

Vegan Miso Ramen, MokBar

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Almond, Flatiron

Almond, Flatiron

Tracy, one of my friends from high school, was in town recently for work. After working crazy nighttime hours that involved driving all over, she desperately needed to have a nice sit down meal with real silverware! I was looking forward to catching up as the last time I saw her was in Vegas in 2013 for our high school reunion.

Almond, Flatiron

Whenever I’m put on the spot to suggest a restaurant, I have such a hard time thinking of good options. Almond was the first place I thought of that was near-ish Penn Station and served brunch cocktails. It seems a little lame to be coming back so soon after my last visit, but the food was great and their outdoor seating is now open. We, unfortunately, got there too late to grab an outdoor table, but the interior space was nice and comfortable too.

Biscuits, Almond, Flatiron

Brunch started with the adorable mini biscuits. Tasty and flaky. There’s butter and an apple cinnamon spread for them. John had the Huevos Rancheros ($16), and Tracy had the House Made Chicken Sausage and Eggs ($16). I felt like I was being a bit boring for getting the Eggs Florentine ($15) again, but it was really good first time around, so I had to do it.

Brunch, Almond, Flatiron

Last time I got the Eggs Florentine, it was a lot of food for me. The home fries really were not necessary, so this time around, I asked to substitute the home fries for a side salad. We were not charged extra for this substitution. I also ordered the Acai and Passion Mimosa ($12), which was bright and bubbly, but very light in flavor.

Eggs Florentine, Almond, Flatiron

It has been a while since I’ve had poached eggs, and we all know how much I love them, right? Nicely poached, tangy hollandaise, buttery English muffin. Also, I love how much green there is on my plate! The salad was light and refreshing, while the darker greens were rich in flavor. Gotta show up right at 10:30am when they open to grab one of the highly coveted outdoor spots next time. Maybe next time I’ll be more adventurous and order something else?

Eggs Florentine, Almond, Flatiron

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