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March Madness, Part 1: Miami Vice(s)

It was supposed to be five days of rest, relaxation, and respite from that annual 30-day preview of hell, also known as March. We'd hop a quick, 2.5 hour flight to Miami, then spend our days lounging poolside with mojitos and chilled ceviche. Come evening, we'd enjoy a round of cocktails on a swanky rooftop overlooking the city, dine on Floribbean cuisine in trendy South Beach, then retire to our Art Deco-inspired bungalow for a night swim in our private pool. Sip, swim, rinse, repeat.

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It didn't quite turn out that way.

First, our friends Ellen and Brian got wind of our plans, and though we were thrilled and flattered that they were going to fly in from California to join us for a few days, we were not expecting them to do so on such short notice. ("Short notice" to people like me and Angel being anything less than a year.) And so plans were rearranged, reservations were revised, and nightclubs somehow found their way onto the agenda. Plans to sleep in were replaced with plans to sleep when we were dead.

Second, there was the city of Miami itself, which I hadn't properly visited since the turn of the Millennium. True to its nickname as the "Manhattan of the South," the city was a maddening mix of the gorgeous and the gaudy, the sophisticated and the seedy, the effortless and the exhausting. By the end of our trip I couldn't decide whether to put a down payment on a beachfront condo or punch the mayor in the gut.

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And I might have leaned toward the former, but for the third unexpected hitch in our plans: ULTRA.

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Have you heard of this thing? If, like me, you last set foot in a nightclub when Bill Clinton was still in office, you can be forgiven if the answer is no. The Ultra Music Festival, as it's formally known, is a three-day-long EDM bacchanal during which tens of thousands of twenty-somethings converge on the city to hear a bunch of DJs with names like Knife Party, Carnage, Jackal, and Destroid. (Thank god Laidback Luke and Marshmello were there to chill things out.)

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(By the way, did you have to look up what EDM stands for? If you thought it was some type of defibrillator that you might need when all those flashing lights cause you to have a seizure, then we are on the same page.)

Ultra is how I discovered that I am not the type of person who parties at a velvet-rope nightclub until 5am. I am that person's mother. But this is Miami, where the clubs don't get interesting until well past midnight and the pool parties go until 8 the next morning. And so we did our best to adapt to the half-naked hordes and people with tattoos. . . on their faces.

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But before we could immerse ourselves into the throbbing throngs of Ultra-goers, we had to pick up our rental car. Incredulous that we'd shown up even after learning that our visit would coincide with Ultra, the rental agent blurted out, "But this is the worst weekend . . . OF ALL TIME!!!" The "for old people like you" at the end of that sentence was implied, or at least I thought it was . . . until the agent "upgraded" us to that sexy Buick Lacrosse.

Anyway.

We jumped in our hot ride and made a beeline for Sunset Place, an outdoor mall in South Miami. That neighborhood is home to several local universities, and therefore where I knew I'd find the mecca for stoned college students everywhere: the Mellow Mushroom.

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It also happens to be the mecca for people who love pizza as much as I do, which is to say, enough to break down this door if I have to.

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Then again, I think we all know what my first love is. Even Mellow Mushroom knows it.

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Still, coming in second-place on my list of foods that I love more than Angel is not too shabby.

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Like all Mellow Mushroom locations, the one in South Miami is groovy and psychedelic.

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They even had green beer in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Either that, or the mushrooms on Angel's Holy Shiitake pie started to kick in.

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I went with a simple pepperoni pie, since just the thought of pizza makes me crazy enough already.

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After lunch we headed north to Miami Shores, a pretty, tree-lined enclave that we picked for its proximity to Wynwood, Brickell, and other neighborhoods we planned to explore.

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You know you're in a fancy zip code when instead of stray cats, stray peacocks roam the streets.

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Among all this ostentatious opulence, we'd rented a cozy bungalow with a carport and a private pool, both of which were life-savers on a weekend where $50 cash-only valets, $500-a-lounger pool parties, and reservation-only rooftops were the norm.

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That evening we decided to go retro for Happy Hour at the 1950s-era Vagabond Motel in Miami's hip MiMo district, an acronym for Miami Modern -- or, in the case of the Vagabond, Midcentury Modern.

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The bartenders take their mojitos seriously here, and I take my hot bartenders seriously, so it was a win-win.

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Plus there were cushy day beds for post-mojito napping.

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And little red wagons to haul around your beach towels or sunscreen or vodka.

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And thrones! With their own ottoman. Yessss.

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As the sun began to set, we sunk deeper into our daybeds and found ourselves zoning out to the house music provided by the DJ. Yes, actual music, as opposed to the Morse Code we'd been hearing elsewhere.

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Indeed, we were having such a good time at the Vagabond that we repeatedly pushed back our dinner reservations at nearby Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill by 15-minute increments, ultimately arriving about 10 minutes late for our "current" reservation, and over an hour past our original one.

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But we found everyone in Miami to be so friendly and accommodating that, when we finally showed up and had to wait approximately three minutes to be seated, the hostess apologized to us for the wait. (In New York they would just stab you in the neck with a rusty fork before informing you that the next available table is at 4:30pm three Tuesdays from now.)

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As it turns out, though, Sugarcane would have been worth any wait. From the creative cocktails (the Tobacco Rum Old Fashioned with homemade cigar bitters was a standout, as was the Louisiana Purchase, made with Four Roses bourbon, vanilla syrup, Scrappy’s chocolate bitters, and a local brown ale) to the scallop crudo with black truffle, lime, and jalapeno, to the American Wagyu sliders topped with a Japanese-inspired tonkatsu sauce and fried quail eggs, everything we ordered was absolutely fantastic, and served quickly and with a smile, even though the place was packed.

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As a fitting end to our first full day in Miami, we arrived back at the bungalow full of burgers and bourbon and ready for a night swim . . . in our flamingo-pink pool.

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The next day we had lunch reservations at one of the city's Art Deco landmarks, The Raleigh in South Beach.

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No, we didn't bike there, but we should have. It really is the worst weekend of all time when you have to beg some guy in an empty, overgrown lot to let you park your car for 1.5 hours for anything less than a Benjamin.

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We'd planned to spend the day sipping cocktails at the Raleigh's chic pool, but thanks to Ultra, the loungers that usually rent for $25 a day were suddenly $250, and accompanied by an all-day lineup of DJs playing a bunch of songs that sounded like R2D2 when he's trying to tell C3PO something really important.

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Still, the food at the Raleigh, like everywhere else we went in Miami, was excellent, and the gorgeous garden was right up my alley.

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Plus, more thrones. I'm really liking this whole Tropical Westeros thing Miami's got going on.

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Lunch started off with a couple of cocktails: A hashtagged affair called the #belegendary, with Grey Goose Le Melon, St. Germaine, Champagne, and fresh cantaloupe, and the Rosey Ginger, made with vodka, rosemary sugar, ginger beer, fresh grapefruit, and lime.

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We then moved on to the panzanella salad for me, the blackened mahi sandwich with guacamole for Angel, and the absolute best truffle fries I've ever had, which were supposed to be for both of us, but you already know how that story goes.

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After lunch we set off for the Savoy Hotel, which has a lovely beachfront pool, a small bar that serves tasty frozen drinks, and music set at a level for anyone over 40 who doesn't yet need a hearing aid. Best of all, we could park easily nearby without auctioning off one of our kidneys.

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That evening we headed down to Brickell, with plans to have cocktails at the rooftop pool bar at the Viceroy.

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Serving as the financial district of Miami, we felt right at home in Brickell amid the skyscrapers and taxicabs.

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When we pulled up at the Viceroy, however, a valet once again tried to extort $50 from us to park our car for an hour. But this time when we balked, he admitted, "Yeah, I wouldn't do it, either!" and directed us around the corner to the cheap-by-comparison metered parking.

Parking woes aside, the view from the 15th floor pool deck was lovely, and there were lots of comfy seating options around, and even in, the pool.

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We settled on a rail-side table and ordered up a couple of cocktails.

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As day drew to a close, the city lit up, making a good view even better.

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Back inside, we took in the Alice-in-Wonderland décor that the Viceroy hotels are known for.

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After a quick nap on this nice bed/throne (more thrones!), it was on to dinner at the Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne.

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It was a clear, gorgeous night, with a perfect view of the Miami skyline from our waterside table.

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The inside of the restaurant was just as inviting, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an enormous wine "cellar."

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Dinner at the Rusty Pelican starts with a generous loaf of insanely addictive cornbread, served with parmesan-chili butter topped with paprika and onion salt. I admit that sounds a bit weird, but the overall effect is spicy, buttery, cheesy, and sweet, which I think encompasses at least three of the four food groups.

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I started off with the salmon tartare with crispy jicama and an Asian pear and avocado salad in a soy-yuzu dressing, while Angel went with the coconut and shrimp bisque with roasted corn and grilled peppers.

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For mains, I decided on the lobster risotto, which -- lucky me! -- was actually a huge lobster tail with risotto.

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Angel went with the Patagonian toothfish, which is what folks used to call it before marketers decided that "Chilean sea bass" (which isn't even bass, but cod) sounded much more appetizing. The toothfish was served with a smoked sweet plantain mash, grilled Anaheim peppers, and an exotic mango-papaya salsa, and was so delicious that you can call it Blobfish for all I care.

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After dinner, we finished the last of our bottle of Albariño around one of the Pelican's many waterside fire pits.

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On the way out, we were reminded once again that we were in Miami . . . and this time, it wasn't just because they charged us for valet.

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Ellen and Brian arrived the next morning on a redeye from LA, so we'd planned nothing more strenuous than renting a couple of private cabanas at the Palms Hotel in South Beach.

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Equipped with WiFi, DirecTV, an iPod docking station, two loungers inside the cabana (for shade), and two more right outside (for sun), we parked ourselves on the loungers, where Brian promptly fell asleep, Ellen worked on her tan, Angel checked baseball scores on his phone, and I spent the afternoon dipping French fries into Ranch dressing (don't knock it till you've tried it).

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A private "butler" attended each cabana, delivering pink lemonades spiked with citrus-infused vodka, hummus platters, and the aforementioned fries, along with anything else we might want to eat, drink, or lick off of postage stamps (I'm kidding about that last one! Then again, it was Ultra weekend).

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It was a lovely afternoon, made even better by the little gifts Ellen brought me: kitty socks, pineapple socks, and body lotion . . . in an owl jar.

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That evening, Angel and I decided to check out the new 1Hotel, which was the Gansevoort before a $500 million renovation to "green" the place up. Those efforts include lobby ceilings made of wood reclaimed from water towers in Alaska, furniture crafted from fallen trees from South American rainforests, and hallways accented with wood from trees felled by mountain pine beetles. The overall effect is, well, woodsy.

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The use of natural materials continued upstairs on the main pool deck, with the addition of bamboo, muslin, and lots of sand.

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We ordered up a couple of drinks and some tostones at the Sand Box while waiting for Ellen and Brian to arrive.

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Ellen and Brian soon joined us, and we decided to head up to the roof deck, which boasts the largest oceanfront rooftop pool in Miami. Assured when we'd called earlier that the rooftop would not be hosting any private Ultra events that evening, we headed to the elevator that would take us to the rooftop, and that's where things got tricky.

Apparently the elevator attendant had been instructed to manage the rooftop crowd, but had not been instructed as to how to do that. And so our attempts to access the rooftop elevator (in varying combinations of the four of us) were met with increasingly fantastical reasons as to why we couldn't do so, including (Attempt 1) "There are too many people up there and it's a fire emergency," (Attempt 2) "The cover charge is $250 per person," (Attempt 3) "It's a special event; drinks are $250 each," and (Attempt 4) "You can't go up there because there are wild elephants." Fine, I made that last one up, but I am sure that was coming next if we hadn't finally executed the Jedi Mind Trick and said, "Yes, a $250 cocktail sounds perfect," at which point the poor guy just gave up and let us on the elevator.

The irony? The rooftop was dead. And they were serving only one drink at the bar -- yes, one -- which was reasonable enough at $15, though not for what amounted to a gussied-up pina colada.

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Still, the views were incredible, the gussied-up coladas weren't half bad, and I didn't hear anyone mutter, "Who let Grandma in here, and why isn't she at home watching 'Matlock'?" so we stayed for a bit before heading off to dinner at Dolce.

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Dolce, which won Bravo TV's "Best New Restaurant" competition last year, is a popular spot at the Gale Hotel on bustling on Collins Avenue in South Beach.

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There, we feasted on meatballs over polenta, spaghetti alla chitarra, straccetti alla Bolognese, and lobster mezzelune.

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It had been a long day, and by the time we finished eating ourselves into a carb coma, Ellen and Brian were understandably exhausted. And so they headed back to their hotel, while Angel and I made our way back to the 1Hotel, where we'd left the car for the evening.

While Angel waited for the valet, I popped into the lobby to take some photos, and unexpectedly encountered what has to be the chillest scene in Miami: A duo (with bongos!) was playing Latin-inspired covers of laid-back pop songs, while well-dressed couples lounged on the sprawling lobby's various beds and couches, barefoot, sipping Champagne.

I'd finally found my people.

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I spun on my high heel and dashed through the lobby, hoping to catch Angel before the valet brought the car around. (As I sprinted, a man called out, "Miss, be careful! You almost stepped on a frog!" Which either means that the 1Hotel is so green that there are actual frogs here, or that was the worst pick-up line ever. Either way, only in Miami.)

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We ordered up a couple of cocktails, kicked off our shoes, and enjoyed the band until their last set.

It had been a long night, and we still had fritas to gobble, free Champagne to guzzle, art to ogle, and a party to crash. Click here for Part 2!
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Posted by TraceyG 04:58 Archived in USA Tagged miami raleigh vagabond dolce south_beach sugarcane mellow_mushroom brickell morenos_cuba Comments (0)

A Girls Weekend In The City of Magnificent Intentions

My younger sister Trina is a 4-foot, 11-inch wedge of spite with spiky platinum hair, a killer wardrobe, and a tiny body sporting numerous tattoos depicting everything from a pin-up girl wielding a hair dryer to a slyly grinning cat sporting a ladylike set of pearls. The owner of a retro-style salon in Pittsburgh called Pompadour (hence the hair dryer), she is short-tempered, quick-witted, foul-mouthed . . . and hands-down the funniest person I've ever met.

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And for that reason alone, there's no one I'd rather spend a Girls Weekend with.

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We decided to meet up in Washington, D.C., partly because it's roughly equidistant to both our homes, and partly because when I discovered that there's a Mellow Mushroom there, I would brook no argument (a risky move, given that ticking Trina off is akin to repeatedly poking a hornet's nest with your face). Having made this same trip a few years back, this time around we decided to try a variety of new spots . . . which turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to do.

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You see, thanks to the disconnect between the city's grand aspirations and its swampy reality, Washington, D.C. is sometimes referred to as the City of Magnificent Intentions, which also happens to accurately describe a weekend in which all of my carefully laid plans went to hell before my very eyes. Notwithstanding my magnificent intentions, we still had a great time, even though traffic, the weather, and my own stupidity all attempted to conspire against us.

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I decided to take the train to D.C. since the times were more convenient than flying, and in doing so I was reminded of the first time my mother ever came to NYC to visit me. An infrequent traveller, she'd insisted on taking Amtrak, even though it entailed a grueling 10-hour train ride as opposed to a short 50-minute flight. I therefore expected her to arrive exhausted, irritable, and ready to die of boredom, but she'd actually had a great time: She became friendly with some of the other passengers on the train, and they'd passed the time playing cards. Eventually, however, as passengers disembarked, she found herself playing one-on-one with a young man in his late 20s. "Hey Mel," he'd whispered conspiratorially, "Now that it's just you and me, you wanna play for clothes?" Confused, my mother looked him up and down and finally responded, "But I don't even like your clothes!"

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After I successfully wrangled enough luggage for a 3-month stay off the train, Trina picked me up at Union Station and we made a quick stop at the hotel to drop off said luggage before the weight of it caused her car to suffer a flat tire. Our next stop was at La Tasca, a sprawling Spanish spot in D.C.'s Chinatown neighborhood that we like because they offer 10 different sangrias plus a virgin one ("What the hell?" Trina asked, offended at the very thought), as well as an enormous selection of cured meats and cheeses, paellas, and meat, seafood, and vegetarian tapas.

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La Tasca was also offering a $20 all-you-can-eat tapas menu when we arrived, which was right around the time that they began to lose money on this deal.

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The word tapa means "lid" in Spanish, and it's believed that centuries ago laborers and farmers would visit their local tasca, or pub, for a well-earned glass of sherry, on top of which they'd place a slice of bread to protect it from pesky fruit flies. Over time the barkeeps gradually began placing small snacks, such as cured meat or sausage, on top of the bread, and these edible lids evolved into the tapas of today.

This sangria was well-earned, too, but if you think I'm putting some snacks on top of my glass instead of in my mouth, you're loco.

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After much haggling and a little hair-pulling, Trina and I started off with two red and green tomato salads with honey-herb dressing and goat cheese (in order to keep the peace, goat cheese cannot be shared), bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese, patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), wild mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic, and a mini seafood paella.

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Next up, grilled steak in a sherry-mushroom sauce with roasted potatoes, and two orders of chicken and beef empanadas.

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Still stubbornly sober, we also decided to order more sangria. This time we went straight for the "Cadillac" version, which is La Tasca's traditional sangria with the addition of a bottle or two of brandy. That'll do it.

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The day was warm and sunny, so after lunch we decided to take a walk, heading for the general direction of the Tidal Basin but having no real route or destination in mind, which worked out nicely since neither of us was capable of reading a map after that sangria . . . or at any time, really.

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Another day in D.C., another politician with a big head.

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We found ourselves first at the neck-craning Washington Monument, then later at the tear-jerking World War II memorial.

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After a few hours our ballet-flat-clad feet began to ache, a signal that the sangria had worn off and it was time to head back to the hotel.

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That evening we had reservations at Barcode, a nightspot that's about as hip as it gets in a political town where old white men outnumber people with sense by about 20 to 1. We were completely exhausted from a long day of traveling, walking, and stuffing ourselves silly, so we called to see if we could push our reservation back by an hour or so to allow time for a nap, but were told that they were fully booked and could not accommodate any time changes. So we got ready in record time and cabbed it over, only to see this.

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That's right: All of their patrons were invisible.

Partly irritated that we'd raced around and gotten all dressed up for nothing, and partly relieved that we were now free to eat as much as we wanted without the disapproving stares of skinny strangers (or anyone else, for that matter), we started off with a couple of cocktails . . . and some gazpacho . . . and the tuna ceviche . . . and a trio of meatball sliders.

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And a side of fries with "assorted dipping sauces." When I saw that on the menu, naturally my imagination went wild. What kind of dipping sauces could oh-so-trendy Barcode possibly come up with? Creamy Parmesan and truffle? Garlic and rosemary aioli? The hipster irony of a vat of melted Velveeta?

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Nope. The "assorted dipping sauces" turned out to be . . . ketchup and mayo. Which might explain why this place was empty on a Saturday night.

On Sunday we realized that, despite our walk around the Washington Monument and the World War II memorial, we hadn't really scratched the surface of Washington, D.C.'s incomparable cultural and historical offerings, and not to do so would be almost un-American. And so we made the short drive over to Alexandria, VA, in search of a dessert called "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because." Because, really, what could be more American than devouring an entire birthday cake when it's not even your birthday?

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We'd decided to eat a light lunch so that we'd be good and hungry for the Birthday Cakes, plural, and Columbia Firehouse's menu of soups, salads, and other light brunch fare was just the ticket.

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As were the classic Cuban daiquiris (circa 1898) with crushed ice.

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The wait for brunch in the soaring atrium was about an hour, so we happily snagged two seats at the old-fashioned bar instead.

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We both decided on the butter lettuce wedge salad with dried cranberries, toasted almonds, and buttermilk goat cheese dressing, an ingenious concoction that looked like sour cream and tasted like heaven.

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The day was cool and overcast but the rain held off, so after lunch we decided to do a little exploring, completely taken with the colonial charm of Alexandria's main drag, King Street.

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This is the Alexandria Cupcake shop. Although I love cupcakes, no way was I going to eat one when I was just minutes from devouring an entire birthday cake by myself. That would be gluttonous.

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Plus, a vegan cupcake made without eggs, butter, and milk would be like making a cheeseburger without the cheese . . . and the burger.

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Up and down King Street we walked, browsing in the stores, stopping to take photos, and biding our time until Birthday Cake bliss.

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It's not every day that you see a dog that's as big as your sister. Well, unless your sister is Trina.

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Later on our stroll we came across a another dog, Bella, a pit bull whose sweet demeanor and wagging tail were clearly intended to distract from her real agenda of ripping us apart with her killer jaws.

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Onward we walked, our cakey cravings growing stronger with each passing step.

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Finally we reached the gorgeous Restaurant Eve, home of the hallowed "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because."

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After a quick glance at the menu posted outside, we passed under the brick archway and found the door.

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Trina pushed, and . . . nothing. Then she pulled it. Still nothing. Growing panicky, I shouted, "For god's sake, man, turn the #$%@ knob!" She turned it, and still . . . nothing.

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THEY WERE CLOSED.

The home of the "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because" was closed . . . just because. Because it was Sunday? Because the tapas place had called ahead and warned them about us? We may never know.

Dejected, we headed off into the gloom in search of someplace to drown our sorrows. On the way we passed Captain's Row, a cobblestone street closed to through traffic and lined with the kind of houses that make you wish it could be October all year round . . . and that you could be a gazillionaire.

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Our salvation turned out to be the Union Street Public House, which, true to its name, takes all comers, including those yearning to be free from the tyranny of Birthday Cake(s) Bait-and-Switch.

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By then it had started to drizzle, and the Union Street Public House, with its flickering gas lamps, well-worn booths, and menu of comfort food classics, enveloped us like a warm blanket.

And the lobster-and-crab bisque, creamy grits, macaroni and cheese, and individual buckets of tater tots served with two, er, dipping sauces --ketchup and Ranch dressing -- lulled us into a sweet stupor.

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Or maybe that was the wine.

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By the time we returned to the hotel, it had begun to rain in earnest, and neither of us was feeling particularly energetic. We also couldn't bear to eat another bite of anything covered in cheese, and so we decided to get into our jammies and then order some fruit from room service.

With whipped cream.

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Oh, and two bottles of the Rodney Dangerfield of booze, Smirnoff Ice. Because they were out of Zima, obviously.

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We immediately noticed that the blackberries in our fruit bowls were roughly the size of golf balls, which made us wonder what kind of hormones they're putting in our food . . . and why they couldn't have done that back in the 70s to save Trina from a lifetime of shopping in the kids' department.

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Later that evening I took shameless advantage of the fact that Trina is a hair stylist and asked her to help me add some loose curls to my straightened hair. We set the hot curling iron on the nightstand and Trina went to work. Afterwards, she reminded me to move the curling iron away from the assorted odds and ends on the nightstand to prevent the hot iron from damaging them. As I approached the curling iron, I had a temporary brain freeze and, for some inexplicable reason, could not determine which end was the handle and which was the hot barrel -- they looked so very much alike. So I reached for the handle, hesitated, reached for the barrel, hesitated again, and then repeated the same sequence in a bizarre, split-second dance of indecision: Heat-handle; handle-heat. Finally, I made my decision . . . and idiotically grabbed the hot end of the curling iron.

Yelping in pain, I dropped the hot iron and bolted for the bathroom to run my burned hand under some cool water, leaving Trina utterly speechless for the first time in her entire life. When I emerged from the bathroom, her face was a mix of curiosity, concern, and that tight-lipped face she makes when she's trying desperately not to laugh.

"Um . . . so . . . what the hell just happened?" she asked, lips pressed together to force down a giggle.
"I don't know," I responded sheepishly. "I got confused."
"But I saw you deciding which end to grab," she answered. "How on earth could you have picked the wrong end?"
"Like I said, I was confused."

"Oh, confused. Of course." Unable to contain herself any longer, Trina finally doubled over laughing. "Confused!" she hooted. Tears of laughter streamed down her face. "Well, I sure hope nobody ever drops a flaming torch in front of you!"

Ha, ha. Didn't mom ever teach you not to make fun of the mentally challenged?

Monday dawned chilly but sunny, and our options were almost limitless: Should we visit the National Gallery of Art? Spend the day at the National Archives? Tour one of D.C.'s more than 30 museums? Nah. We headed over to Georgetown to drool over the houses and drink some mimosas.

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But first, some lunch was in order, which meant a trip to the aforementioned Mellow Mushroom in Adams Morgan, an eclectic neighborhood of funky boutiques and restaurants.

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The building that houses the Mellow Mushroom appears to have once been part of a theater, as the entrance is outfitted with a now-defunct ticket booth. As a result, instead of usual hippie-dippy 1960s decor that prevails at most Mellow Mushrooms, this 'Shroom is decked out like a circus. And, like most circuses, the sheer creepiness of the thing is outweighed only by the presence of your favorite fattening foods.

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The silent film star Lon Chaney once said, "There is nothing laughable about a clown in the moonlight," and I am here to tell you that there's nothing all that funny about one in the daylight, either.

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Hell, even I wouldn't be able to eat with that thing staring down at me.

Trina couldn't decide on a single pie, so she ordered half of a Thai Dye (curry chicken with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, basil, and sweet Thai chili sauce) and half of a Redskin Potato pie (potatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, sour cream, and spicy Ranch), while I went with my usual, a classic pepperoni with extra sauce.

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Oh, and two glasses of sangria. Tapeworms, they must be genetic.

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When our waiter came to clear the table, he let out a low whistle. "You chicks really cleaned up!" he exclaimed. Then, nodding knowingly, he leaned in and asked sympathetically, "So, are you really tired now?"

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Indeed we were, but Georgetown awaited, and soon we were strolling the tree-lined streets and ogling the picture-perfect row houses with their picture-perfect pumpkins.

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It soothes my OCD soul when things match so nicely. Ahhh.

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One of the things I love about Georgetown are the unique doors, everything from gleaming old carriage-house "garage" doors to those with transoms sporting their original moldings and stained glass.

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Further north, the houses grow larger; the ivy, more insistent.

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I'd spied tiny Cafe Bonaparte online before our visit and decided that an elegant French bistro would be the ideal spot for a final cocktail before our departure.

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We arrived, however, to discover that the location was on a less-than-charming block, and the restaurant itself was cramped and crowded.

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Luckily they had an assortment of Champagne cocktails, including a Pom-Grand with pomegranate juice for Trina, and a Penchant de Mango with mango, lime, and a sugared rim pour moi.

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The drinks were just okay and our seats at the bar were treated to occasional blasts of cold air from the front door, and as we sipped I lamented that once again on this trip, my magnificent intentions had not turned out as planned.

No matter. It was wonderful to spend time with my sister, and the weekend certainly could have been worse.

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I mean, somebody could have dropped a flaming torch in my vicinity.

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UPDATE: Two weeks later, Angel surprised me by baking a replica of the "Birthday Cake . . . Just Because" for my actual birthday. Sure, he used a plastic CD holder to cut the sheet cake into rounds, and he discovered that sprinkles actually bounce back when you try to fling them at the sides of a cake, but all in all, I think he nailed it. We both wished Trina could have been there to have some, too, but let's be honest: This cake ain't big enough for the both of us.

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Posted by TraceyG 16:45 Archived in USA Tagged washington_dc la_tasca columbia_firehouse barcode union_street_public_house mellow_mushroom Comments (5)

Charleston Part 3: Fit to be Fried

Monday morning started off cloudy with threatening skies, so it wasn't the best day for the lunch we had planned, which was to enjoy the view of the water from Fleet Landing. However, Monday also happens to be Fried Pork Chop Day at Fleet Landing, which means we were going there regardless of whether we received 3 inches of rain or 3 feet.

Housed in a 1940s structure built by the U.S. Navy as a debarkation point for sailors, Fleet Landing's interior design is what the restaurant refers to as "maritime chic," and what others might call, "Where the hell are all the cute Navy officers I was expecting to see?"

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Angel said he'd just have a few bites of whatever appetizer I chose, so I seized the opportunity to order one of the world's great artery-cloggers: spinach and artichoke dip. The northern version of this dip is made with, in order of appearance, spinach, artichokes, and a bit of cheese to bind it all together. In Charleston, however, this dip consists of an entire bowl of cheese and cream bound together with a single spinach leaf and a pea-sized piece of artichoke. In other words, it was divine.

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But the real star of this lunch was the fried pork chops. I mean, knock me down and steal my teeth! Butter my butt and call me a biscuit! Lordy be, but these were some dang good pork chops!

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Oh, and Angel had some food, too.

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These interesting light fixtures are made from blocks of syrofoam. Our waiter said they were to help with the acoustics of the large space, but I think it's to muffle the sound of people yelling "HOLY #$%^!" when they finally get a taste of those pork chops.

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After lunch the rain really picked up, so we instituted our rainy-day contingency plan, which was to walk up to the South Carolina Aquarium. But we'd only gone about two blocks before my shoes started squishing like a soaked sponge, so we called a cab and headed on up.

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This is an albino alligator. I can't remember his name, but judging from his skin, I'm guessing it's not Marshmallow.

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Call me paranoid, but the large seam running down the middle of this aquarium is less than reassuring.

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By the time we were ready to leave the aquarium, it was a full-blown monsoon outside, complete with pouring rain and whipping wind.

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Indeed, the weather was so horrible that by the time we got back to the hotel, I did what any reasonable person who'd been caught in a semi-tropical storm would do: I peeled off all my wet clothes, then took to my bed with a martini.

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For dinner on our last night, we decided to save the best for last. Cypress, you ask, or S.N.O.B.? McCrady's, perhaps? Well . . . not exactly.

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That's right: Where there's a 'Shroom, there's a Tracey.

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In the grand tradition of wanting whatever I can't have, Mellow Mushroom ranks near the top of my list, given that the closest one to my house is in Washington, D.C. As soon as I discovered that there was a Shroom right in downtown Charleston, visions of pepperonis began dancing in my head.

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Having decided that free-flowing arteries are completely overrated, Angel ordered the aptly-named Holy Shiitake pizza, which consists of grilled shiitake, button, and Portobello mushrooms and caramelized onions on an olive oil- and garlic-slathered crust. This fungilicious delight is then topped with mozzarella and Montamore cheese (a sort of parmesan-cheddar hybrid, the inventor of which should win the Nobel Peace Prize), drizzled with garlic aioli, and spritzed (yes, spritzed) with black truffle oil, then garnished with shaved parmesan. One slice is estimated to be 17,000 calories, or 2 additional belt notches.

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Mellow Mushroom's pizza has a unique taste, probably because the crust is made using spring water instead of tap water, and the crust does not contain any refined white sugar. That sounds suspiciously like some sort of health food, which is why I wasn't foolish enough to actually finish mine. Well, at least not all of it.

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Our last day began with Angel and I dragging ourselves to the gym in a futile attempt to undo the damage inflicted by a thousand mushrooms the night before. As Angel leisurely pedaled away on his exercise bike, I decided to spring on him the surprise I'd been harboring for weeks: I was taking him to Chick-fil-A for lunch. So I leaned over and, as casually as possible, said, "You know, you're gonna have to pedal alot faster than that if you want to go to Chick-fil-A for lunch today!" At which point, after the shock wore off, Angel pedaled so fast that the fake wheels fell off his exercise bike and the electronic speedometer went up in smoke.

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Now, if you've never been to a Chick-fil-A before, you're probably wondering why all the fuss over a simple fast-food chicken sandwich. All I can tell you is that Chick-fil-A serves the most tender, juicy, almost sweet piece of all-white-meat fried chicken ever to be placed on a soft, pillowy, perfectly buttered bun. Each sandwich is served completely plain so as to not distract from its fowly fabulousness, save for 2 or 3 small bread-and-butter pickles tucked underneath the filet. Although I don't actually eat those, the remaining pickle juice adds just the right je ne sais quoi to the sandwich, resulting in pure poultry perfection.

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Sadly, we were forced to enjoy our meal in full view of a bunch of students from the College of Charleston, all of whom can down twice the amount of Chick-fil-A that we can, because they have twice the metabolic speed. As if that weren't reason enough to hate them, they also get to spend their days wandering around what has to be one of the world's most gorgeous college campuses, burning off all that Chick-fil-A and Mellow Mushroom.

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After lunch we took another walk down King Street to do a little shopping.

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The patrons and owners of this adorable Italian place off King Street have taken a blood oath of secrecy, which is the only possible explanation for me not finding out about it and then proceeding to eat them out of house and home.

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The pull of the mother ship. Strong, it is.

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This adorable little store is the Savannah Bee Company.

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All of the honeys sold here are produced for a different purpose, such as sweetening your tea, drizzling over cheese, or adding to a marinade for grilling, and are available to try at their tasting bar.

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Although I didn't taste any discernible difference among them, I am a sucker for both cute stores and cool packaging and therefore purchased one of each.

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We were strolling along when we noticed this interesting gate:

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We followed the shady path to the cemetery at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, which is hauntingly beautiful during the day with its weathered headstones and overgrown foliage, but would surely scare the bejeezus out of you after dusk.

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This has to be the saddest little headstone I've ever seen. You spend, 50, 70, maybe even 90 years on this planet, and all you end up with is a headstone the size of a potholder? What a ripoff.

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As is liable to happen in the Holy City, we came across more churches than you could shake a stick at during our walk. To avoid mixing up their names and exposing myself for the heathen that I am, let's just call them all St. Elmo's in honor of the best movie of 1985.

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Inside one of the churches, Angel knelt in one of the pews and said a short prayer of thanks for our lovely trip to Charleston, while I took some pictures and concentrated on not bursting into flames.

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Soon it was time to return to the hotel and prepare for departure, so we decided to take the scenic route back. Not that there's any other kind of route in Charleston.

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Along the way we spotted these two adorable wine bars, which immediately made me curse the fact that I'd wasted time walking around and taking pictures when I could have been doing something worthwhile, like drinking.

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Although we didn't have any more wine, we did stop by the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse so Angel could sample their beer, which is brewed on the premises.

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Unfortunately none of them could live up to the Palmetto Espresso Porter he'd had at Hominy Grill earlier in our trip. The way Angel was stalking that beer all over town, you'd think it was a hard-to-find chicken sandwich or something.

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Do you know what lots of beer plus Charleston sidewalks equals?

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Top billing in the next Jackass movie, that's what. They can just pay me in pork chops.

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Next up, we're headed back to Anguilla, where the beaches will be beautiful, the rum punches will be potent, and the cheeseburgers will be plentiful . . . and then to Key West, where the beaches will be rocky, the drinks will be free-flowing, and the amount of weird will be off the charts. Hit the "Subscribe" button located in the box on the right-hand side of the page and you'll receive an e-mail alert when a new report is posted!

Posted by TraceyG 17:28 Archived in USA Tagged south_carolina charleston mellow_mushroom low_country fleet_landing Comments (5)

Delray Beach: Mushrooms, Monkeys, and Chickens, Oh My!

32 °F

Delray Beach, which bills itself as the "Village by the Sea," is a small town on the southeastern coast of Florida. Though not as well-known as its fancy neighbors -- Palm Beach to the north and Boca Raton to the south -- Delray boasts pristine beaches, a funky shopping and arts district, and a vibrant restaurant scene, which is what first drew us there. Because there is nowhere to eat in New York.

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Delray is also on the cutting edge of modern table design, as you can see.

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Most importantly, Delray has a Mellow Mushroom -- and I'm pretty sure you won't find one of those in Palm Beach.

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We like to stay at the Marriott at the beach for three reasons: Adults. Only. Pool.

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Our first stop was dinner at 32 East, whose menu changes daily. Best described as New American, it's my favorite kind of food: interesting ingredients pulled from a variety of other cuisines, then put together in ways I wouldn't have thought of. I started with the pan-seared risotto cakes with artichoke-parmesan puree, pickled treviso and fava beans, and mushroom vinaigrette. It was crispy, creamy, tangy . . . and way too small! See?

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That was followed by house-made ricotta ravioli in a sauce of short ribs, red wine, English peas, and oak-roasted tomatoes, which was like eating a fabulous boeuf bourgignon that just happened to have some big pillowy ravioli in it. Somebody's been reading my mind.

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Angel had some fish dish, but really, who can remember the details when there is a giant bowl of boeuf-bourgignon-ricotta-ravioli to be had?

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Dessert was simple: Four warm, housemade chocolate-chip cookies the size of frisbees. I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but let's just say that if Angel hadn't agreed to share these, he was headed for a beat-down.

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The next day we made a beeline for the Mellow Mushroom. This pizzeria chain, based mostly in the south, was started by three college students in Georgia back in the early 70s, which means that it is both inexpensive and totally psychedelic, man.

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The Shroom's pizza dough is made with spring water, which makes it a bit chewy, but also thin and floppy, which is how I like it. (Then again, I also like crispy pizza, coal-oven pizza, hand-tossed pizza, pan pizza, Sicilian pizza, grandma pizza, frozen pizza, English-muffin pizza, Chef Boyardee pizza, Domino's pizza, Pizza Hut pizza, Papa John's pizza . . . I am the Bubba Blue of pizza.)

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The best part, though, is that Mellow Mushroom offers 50 different beers, most of which are microbrews, and all of which are half-off on Monday nights. Two Sam Adams' Oktoberfest pints ($1.50 each) + one Funky Q pizza ($8.50) = Can I get some of that beer to go??

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Given that I am something of a human trash compactor when it comes to food, it will come as no surprise that the entire pizza I had for lunch was followed by dinner that night at Cut 432 . . . for a steak. We were undecided among three wines, so the bartender kindly brought us a small pour of each for a blind taste test to determine which was our favorite (winner: the 2006 Duckhorn cab). He also recommended the New York strip, which we both ordered (with house-made steak sauce for Angel and toasted peppercorn for me).

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I will totally cut you.

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After dinner we walked a few blocks down to Johnnie Brown's, a bar and restaurant named for famed Florida architect Addison Mizner's pet spider monkey, who once ran for mayor of Palm Beach (the monkey, not the architect). Mizner reportedly had two other monkeys, Ethel and Deuteronomy, but neither of them ever had a restaurant named for it OR ever ran for public office. Slackers.

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As we skirted the outside for a table on the sidewalk, we ran into this lady.

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This is Robin Fox, who had a trance hit a few years back called "I See Stars," which made it to #13 on the Billboard dance music charts. However, it is hard for me to care about that when you are doing something so fabulous as walking a chicken! On a leash!

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Robin apparently had some socializing to do, so I ended up minding the chicken, Jeb-Jeb, for a while. Go out for a nice steak dinner . . . end up babysitting a pet chicken named Jeb-Jeb. Is Delray a great town or what?!

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A band called Johnny B and the Road Dogs was playing classic rock covers, so the bikers had come out in force that night. While I made friends with this guy by buying him a beer, sharing my pack of candy cigarettes, and belting out the lyrics to some Skynyrd songs with him, Angel took a few photos of the band.

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Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man . . . you're being stalked by a zombie! RUN!!!!

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This move looked suspiciously like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance, which I then proceeded to do, to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama," after half a bottle of wine and two bottles of beer. Which was right about the time Angel decided to go hide in the bathroom.

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Oddly enough, though, I just couldn't persuade anyone else to join in. This guy, he probably prefers the Macarena.

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Also, among others, Johnnie Brown's flies the ANGUILLIAN flag! We took it as a sign . . . that we are spending way too much money on vacations lately.

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The next day we decided on brunch at the Old Calypso before taking a boat cruise down to Boca Raton along the Intracoastal on the Lady Atlantic.

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Had my stomach not still been punishing me for the New York strip, au gratin potatoes, creamed corn, 1/2 bottle of wine, 3 Corona lights, and 1/2 pack of candy cigarettes I'd sent down the night before, I definitely would have ordered Angel's dish, the blackened mahi topped with crawfish etouffe.

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Instead, I went a little lighter.

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The boat cruise we took was custom-made for me, since the captain spends the entire ride down to Boca telling you about all the fancy houses we pass along the way. See that infinity pool? It cost $450,000! This house? It has 5 stoves! That house? The bathroom is bigger than your entire NYC apartment! It's like an expensive, floating version of House Hunters.

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I hate these people.

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Dinner that night was at Vic & Angelo's, which is proudly committed to ensuring that you leave their restaurant unable to button your pants. This place is boisterous and buzzing, decorated in fire-engine red. Light fixtures consist of clusters of glass bottles filled with what appears to be cherry-red Campari, and the bartenders wear red bustiers with black bras peeking out the top. Bordello-chic, you might say.

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And they run old episodes of Miami Vice on a continuous loop! Just look at that lovely feathered mane.

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But the best part about Vic & Angelo's is that not only is the food fantastic, but there's plenty of it. This is their veal parmigiana, which they call "Veal Telephono." I suspect this is because you will need to telephono your cardiologist shortly after finishing this thing.

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Even the garlic is super-sized.

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And this?

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THIS is what happens at Vic & Angelo's if you ask for some ice for your water.

Yeah, I love this place.

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Posted by TraceyG 19:45 Archived in USA Tagged florida mellow_mushroom 32_east cut_432 delray_beach johnnie_brown's vic_&_angelo's Comments (1)

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