Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Coffee Underground: Why didn't I know about the bar?

As a self-proclaimed coffee aficionado, I am honestly appalled that I had to live here for nearly two years before ever visiting Coffee Underground. And honestly, I heard mostly good things about this place and had no reason not to go.

My first thought upon entering Coffee Underground was Why did no one tell me about the full bar?! And they have a great mixed drink menu to go with it! I honestly feel cheated by my fellow Greenvillites (Greenvillians?) who didn't share this very important bit of information ;)

Despite being in a basement (one of my pet peeves is the number of downtown Greenville bars located in creepy basements), the location is fairly spacious and the eclectic tables, chairs and couches are a great addition. It makes Coffee Underground feel cozy; homey, even.

I was actually visiting Coffee Underground for a day-long event and therefore was able to start my morning off with some of their house coffee (hot), continue with lunch, and round it all off with an iced cappuccino. Now, there was nothing amazing about the hot coffee, but it wasn't bad either. My veggie focaccia sandwich was delicious, but to be honest it was a bit small for what it cost. Where Coffee Underground really seemed to shine was - not surpisingly - their vast potential for specialized coffee drinks. And even though it was lunchtime, and they were fairly busy, they were willing to work with me to create something that wasn't quite on the menu - an iced cappuccino with just a dash of white chocolate flavoring, because I like a bit of sweet but don't care for syrupy coffee.

I think that if I had been at Coffee Underground by myself or with just a couple people, I would have thoroughly enjoyed my experience. However, I had heard that they aren't all that great with large groups and I believe this is a correct assessment. The photography class I was attending - a group of maybe 25-30 people - placed orders around 11 AM, and at 1 PM the majority of the orders were still not ready. Lunch rush is one thing, but two hours to put together some sandwiches seems a bit unnecessary.

That said, I will be back to Coffee Underground - and soon - if only to hang out and try some of those drinks at the bar I didn't know existed ;)

Coffee Underground on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Whirlwind San Francisco: Day 2, Part 1

Somehow, some way, we dragged ourselves out of bed at about 9 AM on day 2 in San Francisco.

It's not that we didn't want to see as much of the city as possible...we did. We'd just stayed out far too late the night before.

Seriously, I don't think I was in bed until at least 3 AM. Oops.

Luckily, we had a full yet somewhat easy day ahead of us - thanks to my friend Rachel, who has lived in the San Fran area with her husband for a few years now :) We decided to meet them at Fisherman's Wharf, and after a quick stop at a sadly forgettable cafe for breakfast we headed on down through Chinatown!

Chinatown was seriously one of my favorite sights on this trip. I could have spent at least three times the allotted 45 minutes or so that we spent walking through it just wandering, browsing and shopping.

At one point we walked by a girl - seriously, she couldn't have been more than 12 - wearing a panda hat. As soon as I saw it I told Steve, "I need that hat!" Thus the quest began...and though it seemed a bit difficult at first (we saw many similar hats, but not the exact same one), there it was...a lone panda hat placed in the spot of honor at the top of a pile of other hats.

And was mine.

Once we had exited Chinatown, we still had a bit farther to go - but it was through some truly pretty neighborhoods and it was great to see more of the city!

We finally reached Fisherman's Wharf, met up with Rachel and Josh, and checked out Pier 39 and the sea lions and the views of Alcatraz before doing a bit of shopping and grabbing lunch.

The Wharf was of course very touristy, but still a fun little spot with some neat shops. We ate lunch at Scoma's, a seafood restaurant that's at the Wharf but a bit off the beaten path and more of a "local" place (unlike, say, Bubba Gump). The food was delicious and fairly well priced for the quality and location, so if you "have" to eat at the Wharf I definitely suggest checking it out!

Next up? The Golden Gate Bridge, of course! And Rachel and Josh were awesome about driving us across the bridge to one of the better lookouts...and then around the city even more after that!

Driving across the bridge!
Amazing view of the Golden Gate
Rachel and I
Battery Spencer
Checking out the other views
We then took a roundabout way to get to our next stop [a surprise, for you guys!] - by way of Lombard Street, of course!

Unfortunately there was a bit too much traffic for us to stop and/or get out of the car - but we got to drive down it and that was enough for me :)

However, this, my dear friends, was probably the best part of my day.

We went to Alamo Square; those are the Painted Ladies in the background. And if you grew up in the 90s (as I did) this should look very familiar to you. I quote: "Whatever happened to predictability...the milkman, the paperboy, evenin' TV?"

Yeah, we totally looked that song up on YouTube and played it on our iPhones whilst running around this park like eejits. What can I say, I'm a geek and Steve doesn't mind being one with me ;)

Though it was only in the high 60s, I could have laid on the grass in Alamo Square for hours, reminiscing about my childhood, TGIF and Full House. Unfortunately we did not have the luxury of extra time, so it was on to our next stop - Haight Ashbury, of course!

Like Chinatown, I could have spent hours here just shopping - so many great little stores! We dropped into a few of them, including a really cool hat shop called Goorin Brothers, where Steve and I both purchased some awesome hats. And of course I purchased my obligatory shot glass at one of the kitschy souvenir places :)

Unfortunately it was nearing the time when Rachel and Josh had to head home (in hopes of beating traffic) and Steve and I had to meet up with his brother for dinner...but before parting ways, we set out on one last mission - to find the elusive robot with balls, which is located at none other than George Lucas's home in the Pacific Heights neighborhood!

And yes, we found it.

To be honest, I thought about revealing a close-to-exact location of this robot on my blog. Really, I did. And I may change my mind, come back later and add it. But for now...I feel that this is a mission you must undertake on your own. Because we had to. And you have to be a really big fan of somewhat anatomically correct robots - or George Lucas - to look as long as we did. So good luck, folks.

And may the Force be with you.

Yeah, I went there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Visited [European] *Countries* Map :)

It has been a very long month so far. Because I was actually away - for 17 days. And in that time, I visited six countries and eleven (yes, 11!) cities. And now my map of Europe looks like this:

create your personalized map of europe
or check out our Barcelona travel guide

More details to come soon!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Asheville NC, Part 1: The Biltmore

We visited the Biltmore during the month in November, and though it was before Thanksgiving they were already decorated for Christmas! I would say that spring - a.k.a. when the flowers are in bloom - and Christmas season are the best times to visit this amazing place. First things first, we purchased our tickets to the house, including the audio tour, and hit up the Stable Cafe for lunch! This place had a great atmosphere - not surprising as it actually was a stable at one point and you eat lunch in renovated horse stalls!
In our "stall" at the Stable Cafe
Beyond the really neat setting, the food was delicious - fried green tomatoes, Carolina BBQ and chicken salad sandwiches, and a selection of moist, flavorful mini cupcakes for dessert!
Cheesin' it up with my self-dubbed Nannerpuss Cupcake
Finally it was time for our tour! Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures in the house, but I got plenty of the grounds, of course :) I will say one thing - the inside of the "house" is a must-see and if you've never been before, definitely get the audio tour. It was really awesome to see the interior decorated for Christmas - with mostly period decorations!

The greenhouse has flowers all year long :)

We wandered the grounds for quite some time and then stopped back near the house for some shopping. The stores here are just great - a confectionary, a toystore filled with old-fashioned toys and games, a Christmas themed store, a bookstore specializing in works relating to the Vanderbilts and their era, and of course a shop filled with awesome Biltmore souvenirs. I just wish I hadn't been on a limited budget! Well, I've learned my lesson for next time - because yes, there will be a next time :)

As we were leaving they were lighting the Christmas Tree :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ford's Oyster House & Cajun Kitchen: Great food, but where are the Pimm's Cups?

Ford's Oyster House is the lucky restaurant that picked up the empty space where Halfway to Habana used to be. This prime location was just itching for a longer-lasting restaurant and bar, and let's just say that we hope Ford's is it!

We dropped by here for an early lunch one Saturday, though we had already grabbed beers here after a Drive game a few weeks prior. The menu looked too good to pass up, especially as we're big fans of New Orleans-style food.

Up first - the New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp! We had this dish in NOLA last year and loved it - my only issue is that Ford's uses the tiny shrimp and the classical style of this dish uses large shrimp with at least the tails still attached. Regardless, it was a yummy appetizer and I definitely suggest giving it a try.

In case you can't tell, I dug in before taking a picture. What can I say, it smelled good!
Unfortunately, Steve wasn't very hungry and my sister who was also with us isn't adventurous. She had the cheeseburger Po'Boy and he, a side of red beans and rice. I on the other hand had been dying to try one of their Hot Muffaletas!

Though my sandwich was neither cold nor hot (despite the name), it was delicious and reminded me very much of the one I had at Napoleon House in the French Quarter last year. If you're a sandwich person it's a must-try :)

Despite the fact that I was full and couldn't even finish my yummy sandwich and delicious french fries (seriously, I'm not a big french fry person and these were good), I had to order dessert. Because I'd been eying the Ford's menu and along with the muffaleta the Double Chocolate Bread Pudding was calling my name. I shared it with my sister and we both loved it!
Eat this. Seriously.
Needless to say, I'd already heard good things about Ford's and I was not disappointed. The only thing I really wish they would do? Embrace their New Orleans theme just a little more. I know, I know, what in the world am I talking about? One look at their menu and you see they have etoufe, gumbo, crawfish, oysters and po'boys along with the BBQ shrimp, red beans and rice and muffaletas.

But despite hearing live music here on our first stop, I haven't seen them feature a jazz or brass band yet. This is a niche that Greenville is sorely lacking in, as only the pricey Brown Street Club downtown features jazz music regularly. On top of that...the bartenders at Ford's either don't have the ingredients or the knowledge to make a Pimm's Cup or a Gin Fizz (though to be fair I didn't ask for a Hand Grenade or a Hurricane and they may make those). My motto for restaurant "theming" is Go Big or Go Home so what are you waiting for, Ford's? ;)

Fords Oyster House And Cajun Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Hotel Review: Comfort Inn East Windsor, CT

This Comfort Inn has a great location. Right off the highway, walking distance to a few decent restaurants, close to the airport without having to hear the air traffic. The rooms have nice, understated decor and while the beds aren't quite as soft as I prefer they provide plenty of really nice pillows, which helps.

The staff was very friendly and helpful, and I know that the few problems I had were not their fault. Mainly, I booked a non-smoking room, only to arrive and find that they had me in the system for a smoking room. The gentleman at the front desk was eventually able to put me in a non-smoking room, but it took about 30 minutes to check me in (way too long) and I worried all week that I would come back to my room to find that they had let someone else in there by mistake, as he told me that "technically" they didn't have a non-smoking room available for all seven nights I was there. Thankfully, this didn't happen, but having it in the back of my mind wasn't fun.

This hotel offers a free continental breakfast from 6 to 10 AM (as well as cookies at the front desk all day long). The breakfast includes a small selection of cold cereals, hardboiled eggs, bagels, bread, danish and mini muffins, some fruit, and a make-your-own waffle station. The first morning I was there everything was fresh and plentiful, but as the week wore on there was less and less choice and the muffins, danish, and breads grew more and more stale. By the time the last couple of days rolled around I didn't even bother going to the breakfast. Needless to say, I was disappointed that the quality of food that was available at the beginning of my trip didn't last throughout the entire week.

Two other things--for such a small hotel, they had a decent exercise room--two treadmills, two stationary bikes and a flat screen TV. Towels and a watercooler were provided as well. However, I was disappointed to find that of the two bikes the one that was newer and more comfortable was not working. And as for the pool? It's not a pool at all, more like an oversized hot tub with the temperature of a pool. I feel like they just need to make the decision to make it a hot tub.

Overall, if you're looking for a clean, comfortable hotel with helpful staff, a good location, and no frills for a decent price, the Comfort Inn East Windsor is a great choice. But if you expect down comforters, a quality breakfast, and efficient may want to look elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vegas Playlist, version 2.0!

This morning I was listening to my iPod on the way to work and realized that the Vegas playlist I posted last November could use some updating before my trip out there in September. If you click on the link or have read the entry, you'll notice that this list still includes most of the original songs...and the ones I've replaced are below!
  1. Viva Las Vegas - Elvis (Self-explanatory!)
  2. Waking Up In Vegas - Katy Perry (Self-explanatory as well)
  3. Time of My Life - Toploader (I included this for personal reasons, but it is a great song about partying)
  4. Make it Rain - Fat Joe feat. Lil Wayne (they're singing about throwing bills at strippers, what's more Vegas than that?)
  5. Luck be a Lady Tonight - Frank Sinatra (Again, self-explanatory)
  6. Poker Face - Lady GaGa (ditto)
  7. What do you Say? - Mickey Avalon, Dirty Nasty, Andre Legacy & Lil' Jon (poolside song from The Hangover)
  8. Live your Life - T.I. feat. Rihanna (great hip hop song for partying, but also in the movie The Hangover)
  9. Ante Up - M.O.P. (what do you do in poker? you ante up, of course! haha)
  10. Shots - LMFAO (really, if you don't think you'll do shots in Vegas, something may be wrong with you)
  11. Time to Pretend - MGMT (a song about parachuting heroine, being famous, etc. and also in the movie 21)
  12. That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings (somehow I always end up hearing this in Vegas, so it's on the list)
  13. 'Till the World Ends - Britney Spears (she's singing about dancing 'till the world ends! perfect! plus I heard this for the first time in Vegas)
  14. Tik Tok - Ke$ha (a song about brushing your teeth with Jack Daniels and staying up all night? perfect Vegas material)
  15. Can't Tell me Nothing - Kanye West (arriving in Vegas song from The Hangover)
  16. Like a G6 - Far East Movement feat. Pitbull (poppin' bottles? gettin' slizzard? something about a blizzard? duh)
  17. A Little Less Conversation - Elvis (theme song from the TV show Las Vegas)
  18. Iko Iko - The Belle Stars (from the blackjack scene in The Hangover)
  19. Joker and the Thief - Wolfmother (playing blackjack in The Hangover)
  20. Dynamite - Taio Cruz (I came to dance dance dance dance...and Vegas is perfect for letting go!)
  21. I'm in Las Vegas B*tch - DJ Chuckie + LMFAO (lets not lie, the song sucks, but it's perfect for this list)
Runners Up/Trade Outs (if you really really really hate one of the songs above):
  • Clair de Lune - Debussy (from the end of the movie Ocean's 11)
  • Three Best Friends - Zack Galifianakis (personally I'm including this because there are four of us rooming together on our upcoming trip, but also, it's from The Hangover, so yeah)
  • Devil's Dance Floor - Flogging Molly (the song title says it all)
  • In the Air Tonight - Phil Collins (it was in the movie The Hangover...that's quite enough reason to be on this list IMO)
  •  Last Name - Carrie Underwood (upbeat country song about a girl who goes to Vegas on a one-night stand and doesn't know if her last name has changed? yes please!)
  • Thirteen - Danzig (opening credits song from The Hangover)
  • DJ Got us Fallin' in Love - Usher (Prevalent on my June 2010 Vegas trip, this is a great club song but had to be thrown off for more Hangover music, what can I say!)
  • Party Rock Anthem - LMFAO (another great party song, but there was already too much LMFAO on the list)
And yes, I know I'm weird about he whole 21 songs thing but what can I say? It's the perfect number for a Vegas mix ;)