A Week at Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

To celebrate our 5th anniversary, John and I spent a week at the all-inclusive Excellence Riviera Cancun. We had previously stayed at an Excellence resort for our honeymoon, and their pricing was hard to beat. If we enjoyed the experience first time around, why not do it again?

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

As soon as you arrive, you’re greeted with a cold towel and a glass of champagne before going through these giant doors and into the lobby. Not a bad way to start your vacation, eh?

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

The resort is absolutely gorgeous. Meandering pools and tropical greenery everywhere. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an iguana right away! They’re so still when they’re basking in the sun, but some of them will scurry away quickly if they spot you.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

We stayed in a junior swim up suite. It’s a little more expensive than the standard junior suite, but I think it’s well worth it. Saves you the hassle of riding the elevator while you’re dripping wet, and it’s nice to be able to access the pool from your “backyard”.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

Lazy days by the pool… what a wonderful way to unwind, especially after the harsh winter on the East Coast. Cancun’s weather in March is perfect. It’s warm and sunny, but not too humid. At times, some of the pools were a bit chilly, but at least there was one heated pool.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

The lazy river was one of my favorite features. Grab yourself a drink from the swim up bar, hop onto a floaty (and believe me, there’s no elegant way to do this), and float away…

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

We brought four disposable water cameras with us. Unfortunately, those cameras failed us and only about 15% of our water photos are visible, and even so, they’re incredibly blurry (noooo!). We did get a few cool shots though. Next time, I’m splurging on a good iPhone case!

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

We spent some time on the beach too, but you have to go early to grab a good spot. There’s plenty of space for the Excellence Club members, but the non-members section of the beach was crowded. Many people would save a spot by leaving a book or towel on a chair.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

I have never seen so much seaweed before. It was ridiculous watching the resort staff clear the seaweed off the beach. Seems like an impossible task! The photo below was taken on a rare day where you could enter the ocean without stepping over giant mounds of seaweed.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

When we got tired of playing in the sun, we retreated back to our room for naps. The hammock right outside our room was by far my favorite napping spot.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

There are plenty of activities at the resort. Archery was really fun, and so were arts and crafts. We painted an iguana in honor of our new friends. We even visited the fitness center! I never thought I would want to workout while on vacation, but it was quite invigorating.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

Spa services are one of the few things that are not included, but we treated ourselves to a very relaxing couples massage on our first day. Every spa visit includes the water therapy circuit, which offers hot and cool pools, water jets, showers, and the sauna, before your treatment.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

Every evening, there’s live entertainment and themed events, like Casino Night. The casino uses paper money, and the dealers helps everyone win as much as possible. It’s a fun time and less about gambling. At the end of the night, the paper money can be used in an auction.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

Our trip happened to overlap with St. Patrick’s Day, and I happily traded green beer for tasty margaritas. By the way, I did not expect to see a giant leprechaun serving margaritas!

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Mexico

Gust Organics, West Village

Gust Organics, West Village

While Matt was in town, we visited Gust Organics for a delicious vegan brunch. I had never heard of this place until the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival posted about it on Instagram. It’s right by the 14th Street PATH station… apparently I don’t pay much attention to my surroundings, heh. It was kind of gloomy on the day we visited, and the bright interiors of Gust Organics were very inviting. Large windows and skylights filled the space with natural light.

Gust Organics, West Village

One thing worth pointing out is that Gust Organics just went fully vegan a few weeks ago. That’s right, folks. A restaurant that used to serve meat (which probably made them quite a lot of money) decided to go 100% vegan. They’re also certified organic and offer plenty of gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free options. I’ve lived in NYC for almost 4 years, and the veggie scene has come a long way in that time. It’s pretty exciting, and I look forward to returning for lunch/dinner.

Gust Organics, West Village

For brunch, Gust Organics offers an a la carte menu with prix fixe options. $20 gets you a starter or soup, entree, and coffee or tea. $10 for unlimited drinks, and there are six brunch cocktails to choose from: mimosa, bellini, cranberry vodka, bloody mary, red sangria, and strawberry bliss. I had to try the strawberry bliss. It’s a mixture of vodka, muddled strawberries, orange, agave, and sparkling wine. Delicious, but deadly. It took a while for the first round to come out, but they kept bringing out more drinks throughout our meal. I believe we had 4 rounds total.

Strawberry Bliss, Gust Organics

Matt decided to go all out with the $20 prix fix and the $10 unlimited cocktails. The soup of the day is one of the starter options. This was a very full bowl of vegetable tortilla soup.

Vegetable Tortilla Soup, Gust Organics

Matt ordered the Veggie Burger ($16) as his entree.  The patty is made of pumpkin and sunflower seeds and topped with carrot mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Comes with greens and potatoes.

Veggie Burger, Gust Organics

I guessed that John would order huevos rancheros, but he surprised me and ordered the Southwestern Scramble ($15) instead. The tofu scramble included some beans and bell peppers. I make scrambled tofu from time to time, but mine is never this colorful!

Southwestern Scramble, Gust Organics

As much as I love poached eggs and hollandaise, I enjoy vegan interpretations of eggs benedict too. At Gust Organics, they call it the Veggs Benedict ($14). The smokey tofu patty had a nice crust and the hollandaise was rich and creamy. Possibly the tastiest vegan interpretation I’ve had so far. Instead of sweet potato fries, it came with home fries. I wish they were more crispy. Half of the English muffin was a bit lonely… perhaps it could have used some avocado or jam?

Veggs Benedict, Gust Organics

Even though we were quite full from our entrees, we decided to order dessert! I blame the delicious cocktails. Matt ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie ($10) with vanilla ice cream. He mentioned that the peanut butter flavor was quite subtle.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie, Gust Organics

John and I could not settle on which dessert to share, so we each ordered our own. John had the Carrot Cake ($10) with vanilla frosting and walnuts.

Carrot Cake, Gust Organics

My Red Velvet Cake ($10) with vanilla cream cheese frosting was quite a treat. Can’t remember the last time I’ve had red velvet cake, let alone a vegan one. This was a pretty hefty slice. Rich and indulgent. I recommend splitting it between two people. I make vegan cakes from time to time, but haven’t tried making a vegan cream cheese frosting. It’s going on my list!

Red Velvet Cake, Gust Organics

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Restaurant Week at Dovetail, Upper West Side

Dovetail, Upper West Side

When Restaurant Week announced its winter restaurants list, I was thrilled to see that Dovetail was participating. Located on the Upper West Side, Dovetail is Chef John Fraser’s one Michelin star restaurant and has been on my to try list for a while. They’re known for their contemporary American cuisine and seasonal, vegetable-focused menus. On a regular day, it’s a bit of a splurge, but an excellent special occasion restaurant for both vegetarians and non-veggie eaters.

It was very empty when I visited for Restaurant Week lunch on a Thursday. This was clearly due to the snow, and I was tempted to cancel my reservation. It really was the worst day to step outside, but it’s not everyday that a Michelin star restaurant offers a 100% vegetarian 3-course lunch for $25. I had to do it! I saw on Yelp that some diners were initially disappointed that the RW menu was vegetarian, but most of them ended up being impressed by the food anyway.

Dovetail, Upper West Side

Upscale and classy with lovely background music. Depending on the clientele, I wouldn’t be surprised if this place feels a bit snobby at times, but was very comfortable while I was there. The service was excellent and friendly. They seemed to be extra attentive, which was likely due to me dining alone. Yep, it’s just me and my sketchbook on a romantic lunch date.

Dovetail, Upper West Side

My meal started with a fantastic piece of corn bread. I normally don’t like corn bread, but this was tasty. A balance of savory and sweet, plus the exterior had the best crunch.

I had a tough time deciding on what to order for my appetizer and entree. Too many vegetarian options that all sounded delicious. I settled on the Grilled King Trumpet Mushrooms with sunchoke, Asian pear, and seaweed vinaigrette. That seaweed vinaigrette had a really interesting flavor. The mushrooms were tasty, but the stems were a bit too tough.

King Trumpet Mushroom, Dovetail

For my entree, I ordered the Butternut Squash Manicotti with maitake mushrooms (more mushrooms for the mushroom monster!), walnut pesto, and preserved lemon. Absolutely delicious, sinful even. This was very rich and full flavored, especially that pesto, but when the richness seemed like too much, the tartness of the lemon shines through. They could probably cut back on salt without sacrificing the flavor, but this was really tasty.

Butternut Squash Manicotti, Dovetail

For dessert, I considered getting the Devil’s Food Cake, but decided that the Coffee Semifreddo with dulce de leche, kumquats, and almonds would be a more unique dish.

Coffee Semifreddo, Dovetail

First of all, what a beauty! Such beautiful presentation and combination of flavors. The coffee and dulce de leche were light, yet addictive. One thing I absolutely loved was how the flowers at the table matched my dessert, but that’s my designer heart geeking out over pretty colors.

Coffee Semifreddo, Dovetail

I ordered the Wild Chrysanthemum tea to go with dessert. This was okay. The chrysanthemum flavor was light, but then again, I’m a tea addict and accustomed to strong teas.

Coffee Semifreddo, Dovetail

There are a lot of Yelp reviewers that complained about still feeling hungry after 3-courses at Dovetail. Those stories usually end with them going to Shake Shack next door. I thought the RW menu, which tends to have smaller portions, was extremely filling. The food is rich and full flavored… I don’t think I could handle more than those 3 dishes. I really hope to come back here soon. Maybe for their Monday vegetable focused dinner menu.

Oh, and there was one review on Yelp that really amused me. One guy was still hungry after the RW lunch, so he ordered another round of the 3-course lunch. Hah, that’s the way to do it!

Dovetail, Upper West Side

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Beyond Meat Chicken Salad with Tahini Dressing

Beyond Meat Grilled Chicken

I recently picked up a couple packages of Beyond Meat vegan “chicken” strips at Whole Foods. Even though I’ve been vegetarian for years, I’ve never tried Beyond Meat, but have heard great things. Since this is my vegan month, I thought it would be the time to give it a try!

At Whole Foods, a 12-oz package of Beyond Chicken was $3.99. Six strips are approximately 120 calories. They’re 100% non-GMO soy and pea-protein, vegan, gluten-free, and antibiotic-free.  Fun fact: Beyond Meat is backed by Bill Gates. Another fun fact: Food Network‘s Alton Brown wrote “it’s more like meat than anything I’ve ever seen that wasn’t meat.”

A salad seemed like the best way to taste Beyond Meat for the first time. Leafy greens, broccoli, “chicken” strips, and a homemade lemon tahini dressing. The dressing had a light creaminess to it and complemented the “chicken” very well. As much as I love tofu, tempeh, and beans, it was a nice change to top my salad with something different.

Beyond Meat Chicken Salad with Tahini Dressing

Beyond Meat’s “chicken” strips are similar in appearance, texture, and taste to Trader Joe’s chickenless strips. Beyond Meat seemed more stringy though. I’ll have to pick up the chickenless strips sometime to do a side by side comparison. I’m not sure if Beyond Meat will fool every meat eater, but as a vegetarian, I thoroughly enjoyed it! They were chewy, but tender. The stringy texture is like chicken breast. Be careful not to overcook it or it’ll get too tough.

There are three types of “chicken” strips available: southwestern style, grilled, and lightly seasoned. So far, I’ve only tasted the grilled strips. The flavor was subtle, but tasty with a kick of black pepper. I have a feeling the lightly seasoned strips might be too bland for my taste, so I will be sticking to the other two flavors. Beyond Chicken would be amazing in a vegan fettuccine alfredo. Or you can tear it up and serve it in tacos. Mmm, yummy!

The verdict? I will definitely be buying Beyond Meat again. Many meat alternatives can be mushy or rubbery, but this was not like that at all. I’m also looking forward to trying the Beyond Beef products and the Beast Burgers too!

Tuome, East Village

Beets & Fire in the Sky, Tuome

After seeing my photos from the Tabelog event, Emily got really excited about the deviled eggs at Tuome. We quickly made plans for dinner, and between drinks at Eastwood and Pouring Ribbons, John and I stopped Tuome for an early dinner with friends. We weren’t able to get a reservation, but showed up right when they opened at 6pm to see if we could get one of the walk in tables. Tuome is pretty small, and I feel like we were pushing our luck with a table of five.

Tuome, East Village

They seated us at a table that was booked for a 7:30pm reservation. Woohoo! We figured it should no problem for us to leave before that reservation since we were just planning on having small bites, not a big meal. We each ordered a couple small plates or sides. The rice dumplings and mac and cheese looked like they would be quite filling. I got the Fire in the Sky cocktail ($12), which I loved on my last visit. I was thrilled to enjoy the Beets ($12) all by myself.

Beets, Tuome

I was torn between the Deviled Egg ($8) and the Mushroom ($14) for my second dish, but I ultimately stuck to the fabulous fried panko deviled eggs. Seriously, how can you turn that down?! I’m coming back to try that mushroom dish, but that comes with a sixty minute egg. If I were to order both dishes next time, that’ll be a lot of egg in one meal. Intense.

Fried Deviled Eggs, Tuome

To be honest, our waitress seemed slightly annoyed the entire time. Maybe she was having a bad day, or maybe she didn’t like that we only ordered small plates, or maybe she was worried that we wouldn’t leave on time… whatever it was, at least it didn’t affect our meal too much.

The food was great, and the ambiance at Tuome is wonderful! Very inviting and cozy, perfect for date night or an intimate gathering with friends. There aren’t many things on the menu for vegetarians, but hey, I’m happy to keep coming back for Tuome’s delectable small plates.

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Restaurant Week at All’onda, Greenwich Village

All'onda, Union Square

Back in February, I had lunch with Sachiko and Yuichi from Tabelog, as well as Nomad Manhattan, whom I had recently met. Sachiko made a reservation at All’onda, a modern restaurant near Union Square that serves Italian cuisine with a Japanese twist. I like the idea of Italian-Japanese fusion, and as an added bonus, All’onda was participating in Restaurant Week.

The restaurant was completely empty when we arrived at noon, but was completely packed by 1:30pm. We were seated on the second floor at a table by the window. Such a beautiful space with high ceilings. The soft natural light was ideal for taking food photos even on my iPhone. We chatted about Tabelog’s newest feature, the Bucket Dish, which is a list of must try dishes in NYC. Check it out sometime!

All'onda, Union Square

I’ve heard great things about All’onda, but have never visited before. To be honest, I got the impression they may have skimped a little because it’s Restaurant Week. That said, it was lovely company and a good meal. Many thanks to Tabelog for having me again!

The Restaurant Week lunch menu had quite a few appetizer and entree choices. Many places only offer three options for each course. I hate to order dishes and ask them to omit the meat/seafood, so it worked out well that there were vegetarian options for me.

All'onda, Union Square

The Kale Salad with tofu caesar dressing, walnuts, and mint was perfect as I was craving a salad that day. Light and pretty. I always enjoy some good greens.

Kale Salad, All'onda, Union Square

The Roasted Carrots looked fantastic too. They’re dressed with ricotta, ginger vinaigrette, and cumin. I kinda wish I had ordered this instead as the vibrant colors are stunning.

Roasted Carrots, All'onda, Union Square

When you dine with other foodies and food bloggers, you know there’s gonna be a lot of photos! The other appetizers at our table were the Tuna Tartare and Clams Casino.

All'onda, Union Square

For my entree, I ordered the Cavatelli with ricotta, spicy tomato sauce, and basil. The spiciness was very subtle. It tasted quite good, but I wish there was a bit more wow factor packed into this dish as it was the only veggie entree on their menu.

Cavatelli, All'onda, Union Square

Nomad Manhattan ordered the Bucatini with smoked uni and spicy bread crumbs. I believe it’s cooked in a parmesan dashi broth and has aioli at the very bottom. Looks pretty, and I’m sure this is popular among uni lovers.

Bucatini, All'onda, Union Square

Sachiko ordered the Ramen with a parmesan dashi broth, porchetta, brussels sprouts, parsley, and an egg. I was very curious about this dish as I had never come across Italian-Japanese fusion ramen before. Seemed like it could use more toppings, and I was a bit surprised that they didn’t use ramen noodles for this dish.

Ramen, All'onda, Union Square

Sachiko aka the one and only Cutie Patroller was so busy snapping a photo of Yuichi’s All’onda Burger that she had no idea I got this photo. A true foodie hard at work!

All'onda Burger, All'onda, Union Square

The Olive Oil Cake was supposed to come with ricotta gelato, so I’m not sure why Yuichi’s dessert didn’t have the gelato. Maybe they were out, but I would think that they would offer another flavor of gelato instead.

Olive Oil Cake, All'onda, Union Square

I ordered the Hazelnut Mousse, which turned out to be a very good decision! Creamy mousse with chocolate crumble and candied orange. The sweetness of the mousse was perfect, not too overpowering. I think I’m turning into a dessert person!

P.S. I entered my Instagram shots in the NYC Restaurant Week photo contest, and this one was a winner! A big thank you to Restaurant Week for over $400 in gift cards. :)

Hazelnut Mousse, All'onda, Union Square

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Marinated Tofu & Cucumber Salad with Sesame Miso Dressing

Marinated Tofu & Cucumber Salad with Sesame Miso Dressing

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a homemade meal, hasn’t it? To kick off my vegan April, I treated myself to a tasty salad topped with tofu, cucumber, and a refreshing sesame miso dressing. The soy sauce marinated tofu chunks were leftovers from a dinner and were the perfect protein addition. I wish this fabulous sesame miso dressing were my own creation, but no, I got the recipe from here. I didn’t have fresh ginger, so I skipped that and it was still tasty.

Earlier this year, I stopped buying salad dressing at the grocery store and vowed to make my own dressing from now on. It’s convenient to have bottled dressing around, but when you examine the ingredients more closely, you’ll often find many undesirable ingredients in there. It only takes a few extra minutes to make your own dressing using a few basic ingredients. A hand whisk works for mixing the dressing, but I prefer the immersion blender.

I’ll be sharing more vegan meals soon, but follow me on Instagram to see it all as it happens!

Stella 34 Trattoria, Midtown West

Stella 34 Trattoria, Midtown West

One very important lesson we learned from our recent reunion is that you should not wait until the last minute to make a reservation for table of twelve. It’s always tricky making decisions as a group, but I’m glad I went ahead and booked something… anything to make sure we wouldn’t be stuck in the cold and hangry.

I went through nine (yes, nine!) restaurants on our list before scoring a reservation for twelve at Stella 34 Trattoria. With Restaurant Week in full swing, the odds were not in our favor. To be honest, I was pretty skeptical of this place since it’s inside Macy’s. When I first glanced at the menu, it seemed a bit overpriced. However, the quality of the food was good. We also got the best table in the house!

Normally, I would tear up my bread to dip in in olive oil, but the cute cans of olive oil convinced me to drizzle directly on my bread. The sesame bread was good.

Stella 34 Trattoria, Midtown West

Unfortunately, there were no vegetarian entrees on the Restaurant Week menu, so I just ordered a la carte. John and I shared the Padron Peppers ($7) to start. Tasty peppers, but it was too heavy on the citrus salt. I’m a fan of the napkins, by the way.

Stella 34 Trattoria, Midtown West

John ordered the Margherita Pizza ($16). The classic combination of tomato, mozzarella, basil, and pecorino romano. Looked pretty good, but I didn’t try it.

Margherita Pizza, Stella 34 Trattoria

I ordered the Linguine ai Funghi ($21), which had mushroom brodetto, wild mushrooms, rainbow swiss chard, and stracciatella. The pasta was a bit firm for my taste, but the large juicy mushrooms were tasty. I almost mistook the stracciatella for a weirdly shaped poached egg at first. It added a nice richness to the dish.

Linguine ai Funghi, Stella 34 Trattoria

I’ve been on a dessert kick lately and couldn’t pass on something sweet even though I was pretty full from my entree. The Tartufo was tempting, but I ended up getting the chocolate mousse with blood orange gelato ($9) instead. Note: that is not a tomato, but a thin slice of blood orange! The tartness and acidity of the blood orange balanced the richness of the chocolate very well. Plenty of dessert for two people.

Chocolate Mousse, Stella 34 Trattoria

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Architecture Walking Tour of NYC

After brunch, we stopped by ABC Home to ooh and ahh over designer furniture before embarking on a walking tour. When architects and ex-architects get together, you know we’re gonna end up looking at buildings. Ken lead the tour, but didn’t tell us where we were going!

1/ Our first stop was Fulton Center. I don’t think I’ve ever entered this station from street level. Even though it smelled like pee in that station (yuck) and this photo opp is incredibly cliche, you gotta admit that this shot looking up is pretty cool.

2/ Up next were the 911 memorial fountains. Only one of the fountains were on that day, but they were both very powerful. The way the sunlight glistens as it touches the water is quite spectacular. The another fountain, the one that was off, was incredibly eerie.

3/ We also stopped by the West Concourse of the WTC transportation hub. I’m not too crazy about the exterior, but the interior is pure Calatrava magic. I take the PATH to WTC all the time, and it’ll be great once those interiors are fully completed.

4/ And of course, we had to stop by One World Trade Center aka the rat poop building. Most people are familiar with this building from a distance. This was my first time seeing it up close, and it made for a stunning #nofilter moment. The podium was much more interesting than I expected, and it would be cool if the panels moved throughout the day.

Almond, Flatiron

Almond, Flatiron

Well, this is kind of crazy… it has been almost seven years (!!!) since I graduated from architecture school at CMU! That was five expensive years slaving away in studio, downing caffeine, and pulling all-nighter after all-nighter… I’m so glad to be way past that.

The last weekend of February was one of the best. Some of my favorite people from architecture school got together for a reunion. In our group, we had NYC, Boston, Philly, Pittsburgh, and Chicago covered. It’s rough to be out and about exploring in the wintertime, but at least the snow didn’t start until the next day. How do you kick off an archie reunion in style? With brunch, of course!

Almond, Flatiron

We visited Almond in Flatiron for a tasty brunch. Our group was a bit rowdy, people showed up late, and I’m sure a table of twelve is not easy to work with, but our waitress was a rockstar. Our water glasses and coffee mugs were refilled promptly, and the food was served hot. They have the cutest mini biscuits here. I, unfortunately, didn’t get a photo of the biscuits before they were gobbled up.

When I asked about the tamales, our waitress mentioned that someone’s grandmother makes them each morning. Unfortunately, the tamales are filled with chicken, so they’re not for me. I got the eggs florentine ($15) and a rosemary pear mimosa ($12) before realizing that I was the only one with a cocktail!

Eggs Florentine, Almond

Those English muffins were really buttery and delicious. The sauteed greens were good, eggs were nicely poached, and the hollandaise was tangy and smooth. A legit eggs florentine! I’m so glad I didn’t order a side of home fries since my entree already had some.

One of the funniest moments was when Zach mistakenly took several other entrees from the server before remembering that he had actually ordered the chicken confit salad. The server was a good sport and chuckled along with us.

Almond, Flatiron

Will I go back to Almond? Probably. The food was good and the service was excellent. Great atmosphere too. There’s a vintage bistro vibe that’s comfortable, but slightly upscale. I’m sure outdoor seating is really popular during the nicer months.

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