Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Cruising the Southern Caribbean - Carnival Valor - Day 2 - St Thomas

Today starts off extremely tired and hungover.  I had about 2 hours sleep and feeling really rough.  So I mosey on down to the dining room for a civilised (and hopefully not to crowded) breakfast.  I'm seated with a table of about 8 people and happily sit quietly.  I needed sustenance and something that will cure a hangover.  This is what I ended up with.

eggs benedict with corned beef hash
I have to say not the best benedict I've ever had.  The hollandaise was thick and gluggy and the eggs were overcooked (aka hard poached eggs).  The corned beef hash is very salty but it did the job (just).  I was ready to get off the ship and go explore!
After a morning of lazing on Magens beach (which just so happens to be in the top 10 beaches in the world) and a spot of duty free shopping (read MAC makeup less than half price than Australia!) I headed back to the ship for some lunch and an afternoon of chilling out. 
on Magens Bay
The buffet was slowing down so I snuck up stairs to the fish and chip shop (not many people have discovered this yet) and helped myself to some ceviche, salad and fried oysters.
Buffet lunch assortment

fried oysters and chips


tuna and watermelon
The oysters and chips are definitely not fresh and not tasty at all in fact so bad after a bite of each I left them - so skipping on I went for the ceviche and the tuna and watermelon.  Tasty, cold and refreshing. 
But not as refreshing as one of these babies.  A Margarita!  Icy cold, tangy and perfect for sitting out in the sun for the afternoon.

Dinner time again and I was seated by my favourite waiter, Gusti. A quick perusal of the menu and decided on these dishes.

smoked duck and caramelised oranges
The duck was perfectly pink with a good (but not to much) laying of rendered fat. Sliced thinly and served with sticky sweet caramelised orange segments and raspberries.  This dish was a hit.
shark and langostine firecracker rolls with salsa verde
The didja menu had the shark and langostine firecracker rolls.  They were crunchy and hot, but the filling was a little to much filler and not enough seafood.  With a hint of chilli they were pretty good.

seafood newburg and saffron pilaf
I was already getting full so I picked at the seafood from my main dish.  I still find it hard to eat seafood with creamy sauces.  Not that I don't like them, it just disagrees with me occasionally.  Rich and creamy it was, and the seafood was cooked just right. I passed on the rice though.

white and dark chocolate bread and butter pudding with creme angalais
Not being a dessert person I was surprised with my choice tonight but I wasn't disappointed.  This was yummy! Hot and chocolatey the bread croutons on top gave the dish some more texture.  It was gooey and spongey under the crunch crouton topping.  Drizzled with that creme angalais and it was a dessert worth having.
oh and look a french martini for afters! One of many with my Minnesota girls (or as they became known the Amee-tini in honour of Amee (obviously)!

french martini

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Cruising the Southern Caribbean - Carnival Valor - Day 1 - Embarking

My recent trip to the USA also included a week cruising around the Southern Caribbean on Carnival Valor. I visited St Thomas, Barbados, St Lucia, St Kitt’s and St Martin (and departed from San Juan). Having never cruised before (well more than a weekend cruise) I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was excited about cruising. It didn’t take long to board and I carried on, so straight to my room to unpack and settle in. As soon as that was out of the way I went exploring and was pleasantly surprised. Lots of bars and nightclubs, open decks, pools, an adult area and a fabulous setup for the buffet area. The cocktail list was calling my name!

Without going into specifics here, apart from the cruise itself was absolutely amazing, I had met two American girls who I have firmly become friends with and hanging out with them for the week definitely made a huge difference to me cruising on my own. If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would have had the same experience or enjoyed it as much. (So girls if you are reading this, thanks for a fantastic week and I miss you – when and where are we going next?!)

A spot of lunch in Rosie’s (which is the buffet dining area on the ship) consisted of a prawn buritto with nachos and a salad. The buritto was a good choose loaded with prawns and spicy salsa. The salad was crunchy, cold and exactly what I needed after a few days of fried foods.

What's your salsa choice?
bowl of salad
prawn burrito
The Taste Bar is a new addition to the ship, where they showcase Carnival restaurants food in bite size form to sample. The first nights offerings is from the Blue Iguana (found on Carnival Dream).
There is chicken, avocado & lime tortilla soup and roast pork green chilli salsa, aged cotija cheese and tortilla. The soup is a rich tomato hit with good acidity from the lime. I like this soup. The tortilla is pretty tasty to. Pretty good for a pre-dinner hor d'oeuvres.

Taste Bar - Blue Iguana bites
I had opted for Any Time dining, which means I can be seated for dinner at anytime in a certain dining room. This is very flexible and worked well and I much preferred this to the traditional set dining times, where you would be seated with the same people everynight and you are trapped on time. I got to meet many other people dining around me who were also on Anytime Dining. This frees you up to ensure you can make shows and entertainment on any given night.

I ended up in the same area (on request) with the fabulous Gusti, the head waiter. He went out of his way to make my dining experience excellent. He even made sure that I had taken photos of the menus and dishes as they were served to capture everything….such a sweetheart. 
The carnival menu knows consists of a Didja suggestion (meaning didja ever try……) it has a different dish on it every night of a rare ingredient or rarely eaten food. I aimed to have it every night! 
I started off with Cured Salmon and candied tomatoes with dill cream, stewed apples and grapes in lemon dressing. Yum.  So refreshing (and I'm not a big fan of smoked salmon) and the candied tomatoes were not sweet and sticky like I expected.  The sweet apple was the sweet element to the dish.
1st course
The second course I opted for the pan seared fillet of tilapia, green pea puree sauce and braised carrots.  The fish was slightly overcooked for my liking - but they are feeding 1000+ people a night.  The vegies are perfectly steamed.

2nd course

An assortment of sorbets are on offer and as I can't resist ice-cream or gelato I chose to have a scoop of each - orange, pine apple and lime sorbet

various sorbets on offer
I can never pass up a cheese platter (before and/or afters) - here the selection is Port salut, brie, gouda, imported swiss and Danish blue cheese plate
cheese plate

.....and who can forget the cocktails on the cruise - starting off the weeks drinking marathon is a Mai Tai.
Something sweet to dream about - choccies on your turned down bed every night.  Sweet Dreams for sure!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Flavours of San Juan - Food Tour

My first day in Old San Juan and what am I doing - searching out food (naturally)! One of the best ways to taste your way through a city (if you are short on time) is to do a  food tour of the city you are visiting and there just so happens to be a fabulous one here in OSJ.  I managed to book myself on the Flavours of San Juan evening tour and met our small group at Carli's.   I'm in luck too as a new local foodblogger Myriam has joined the tour.  The great thing about this food blog (one of many great things) is that it is blogged in English.  Go check her blog out (PReats) - it's full of fantastic reviews, tips and local eats!

So, we start at Carli’s Fine Bistro & Piano (Carli was a muso with the Beach Boys for many years) and sampled three morsels - salted cod fish fritter with a spicy mayo , tostone with ceviche (scallops and prawns) and pumpkin fritters with squash. These were delicious and had our taste buds wanting more. 

salted cod fritter, tostone with ceviche and pumpkin fritter

Our group is small and our guide, Victor is an awesome guide and is very passionate about the architecture, the history and culture of the town (he is currently studying to be an architect). Seeing the differences between the Spanish and French buildings was good (I would never have really noticed the difference).

Next stop was Cuatro Sombras and I have to say some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. Single origin, handpicked and dried in the sun, it is roasted and ground on site.  It was a medium bodied coffee and had an amazingly smooth, soft caramel undernote -oh don't I sound like a connoisseur? Not really, but it was a fantastic shot of java - and a tip from the locals have it with brown sugar!

Cuatro Sombras coffee
Wandering the streets on our way to the next venue, we walked past the narrowest house in the world, San Cristobel Church (which isn’t open very often) and down through the shopping streets. 

narrowest house in the world

We arrived at a mask shop which is also Café el Punto for alcapurrias. These are 'similar' to an empanada and are probably one of the most eaten snacks in San Juan. The pocket is made from shredded green plantain and a type of taro made into a dough with seasoned meat inside, then deep fried (like everything in Puerto Rico). They were tasty and piping hot but a little oily for my tastes.

alcapurrias - most eaten street snack in San Juan
Now onto the home of the Pina Colada. We arrived at Barrachina’s where it is reputed to have originated from – however some believe it was discovered at the Hilton. This is a very debatable topic and not one I am going to get into here.  I don’t know which place invented the drink and I don’t really care – it was a good pina colada and this place can sell 1,000 glasses a day! My only gripe is that it's premixed in the churners to freeze, however seeing that they sell that many a day I can forgive them!

It was time for our dinner stop (as if we haven’t had enough to eat) and Rosa de Tiana which is housed in a room at the beginning of the old tunnel system that can be found under the city is the spot to dine. It’s a small, dimly lit restaurant with arched roofing and tiled floors.

Inside and the courtyard at Rosa de Tiana

We are here to taste the famous Mofongo, which is fried mashed green plantain with any number of meats and stews. Here we get our own pilon (mortar and pestle) to mash our own plantains, which is heavily laced with roasted garlic and lashings of butter – the aroma has me drooling as I mash away. It is served with a chicken stew. It’s absolutely divine. Comfort food in a wooden bowl! We devour it!

before, during the mashing and the end result

After a walk through the old gates and along the waterfront and old fort, we wander along Paseo de La Princesa promenade where there are some small stalls selling local products.  We stop at the 'sweet' stall just have to have a look (really) - filled with coconut sweets and snacks - I decide to come back here later. 

sweets galore

To the finish off our tour we arrive at Café de Princessa, an outdoor café along the promenade, lit with fairylights.  It's a romantic spot for a coffee or a bite of dessert. Of course we finish off with flan made with coconut and a side of guava sauce.  The sauce is sticky and sweet and the flan is smooth and custardy.

coconut flan

If you enjoy the local food scene I can highly recommend this food tour. It offers a taste of many local dishes and with the history, architecture and culture aspect it was very educational too. (* but I just came for the food.....really).

Friday, 13 December 2013

Oxford Tavern opening party @ Petersham

Last night was the opening party for the 'new' Oxford Tavern.  No long the infamous topless waitress' bar, sleazy and dingy, that pub is a thing of the past.  New  owners the Drink n' Dine Group have stripped it (no pun intended) and outfitted a fantastic retro space offering a cool courtyard out back too...... basically what they are renowned for.  It's opened from today folks! 

Arriving early, my friend and I we were the very first 'guests' to sit outside in the courtyard.  A sunny, airy, light and very funky furnished courtyard.  I love the feel of this area.  Tyres hanging from chains full of plants, hodgepodge seating and benches to park your but on.  Awesome space. The boys over at Drink and Dine have done an amazing job and I know that they have been working long, tough hours to get this place ready for tonight.  I feel this place is going to be very successful and being in Petersham, there is going to be a big following. 

On offer were the BBQ Margarita and the Sundowner cocktails.  So we sampled one of each (okay maybe there were a few more during the night).

The BBQ Margarita is rimmed with smoked salt and definitely giving you that southern BBQ taste.  They go down easily.
great courtyard space

It wasn't long before trays of the new menu were being passed around. 

Ceviche with marinated fish, habanero, lime and cassava crackers were definitely a winner.  So were the corn encrusted in popcorn and doritos!  More of those please.  Also on offer were arancini balls and hotdawgs.



I didn't get the chance to sample much else, although everything looked tantalising.  The trays were always empty by the time they got near us, people were just diving on them.  This is not a negative or reflection on service, far from it, the kitchen and staff were pumping the food out to feed the masses, I just wasn't going to be pouncing on them like everyone else. I'll definitely be going back to sample more of the menu....SOON!
Thanks to the Drink n' Dine Group for putting on such a fantastic opening of your new venture.  I wish you all the best and know that it's going to be a success....like always.
The Oxford Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, 6 December 2013

Travel Photo of the Month - December

I'm back! Yes it's been a few weeks since I have blogged and I have good reason.  I was travelling and eating my way through the Caribbean and the US of A and let me tell you there will be lots of blog posts coming up!  The food adventures were absolutely delish!!!

Here is a sneak peak as to once place that I visited and fell in love with. Avery Island - home of the McIlhenny family and their famous hot sauce!

Tabasco Love