after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

it actually does sound amazing …

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t says:  This project’s gotten a lot of hype … so I’ve been skeptical, but damn these soups sound good!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

10 July 2014 at 9:02pm

Posted in Happenings

Spain 2014: Geteria and San Sebastian

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t says:  After our final 10am tasting in Rioja (Marques de Teran in Ollauri), we booked it on over to San Sebastian … with another spur-of-the-moment wine tasting along the way in Geteria …

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We visited El Kano winery, which was up up up up up a mountain …

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… and were rewarded with an excellent view of Geteria, below.  El Kano’s txakoli wine was a very minerally, high acid, low CO2, easy-drinking white wine that we bought quite a few bottles of.  The winemaker was a little gruff on the phone, but a joy in person.  Wish we had this kind of $10 wine in the US!

Our lodging in SSB was … let’s say … “interesting”.  Given all the issues with the room we had at Hotel Punta Monpas, I can’t say we’d stay again.  It was “clean enough”, but I dare not say “clean”.  The staff was “nice enough”, but I dare not say “competent”.  Parking was “available”, but I dare not say “convenient”.  But in the end, the price we paid was far less than other places in SSB, the bed was comfy, the AC was superb (it got rather hot while we were there), and you can’t argue with the beachfront location:

Which way to the beach?

Which way to the beach?  Straight ahead, of course!

I’ll leave you to the tripadvisor pages for more pictures of the hotel (and if you look closely enough, I’m sure you’ll find our review when I post it).

More importantly, there was a TON of fabulous food in SSB.  We did not have the bank account to afford Mugaritz, Arzak, etc.  Instead, we had to pick-and-choose wisely.  And pick-and-choose wisely we did!

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Our first dinner was at Rekondo. This place is reknowned for its wine selection, which is a gigantic tome with [supposedly] >100k bottles. The “obvious” selections are absent (e.g. any Rioja from 1982), but if you search hard enough, you can find a steal like this: a 1991 Remelluri Rioja Reserva for 25 Euro!  And, of course, the dude at the table behind us was drinking a several-hundred-Euro bottle of Vega-Sicilia … you know … because they could … (and we were green with envy) …

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… the list is also good for finding other wines that are just really hard to come by in the US, like this surprisingly super-awesome white from Remirez de Ganuza.

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The food at Rekondo was no slouch, either. I told everyone the food was going to be just “solid”, but to be honest, I found the food to be exquisitely well-prepared! Take this roasted vegetable dish with a soft-boiled egg. Simple as hell, but so scrumptious!

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And why not eat an aged Rioja with a steak? It was perfectly grilled – I have absolutely no criticism whatsoever.


But now you may meat the new best molten cake that have ever had the privilege of passing these lips. A title formerly held by Morton’s Godiva cakes, this one was a little more rustic, offering just a little crispier exterior, but the inside was perfectly oozy and balanced so well with raspberry ?gelato? and that hiding strawberry. I could have eaten three more (and then felt really disgustingly full afterwards).


But of course, if you go to SSB, and you’re not going to one of the several-Michelin-starred restaurants, you’re eating pintxos! One of the first place we went was Bar Casa Senra, located just two blocks from Zurriola beach!  The cold ones (above) and hot ones (not shown) were absolutely fabulous.  The perfect finger food to ingest on beach day – nothing too heavy (although there was a mushroom-foie-cream-sauce concoction that was divine), but hefty enough to make you full.


… but then there’s the classic “pintxo crawl” in “Old Town”.  Now, I had read that pintxos were supposed to be a pre-dinner activity, taking place somewhere between 6:30p and 8:30p.  But as it turns out, everyone-and-their-mother is out eating pintxos all night long.  a was so kind as to establish for us an official Pintxo Crawl 2014 map, combining online reviews with opinions extracted from real locals.  I’d say there was approximately 75% agreement between the two.  I should also mention the rules to the crawl: you should not take more than two pintxos per bar, you should eat while standing, and you should drink one drink per spot.  Now, being lightweights, g and I broke that last rule immediately.  And the first two rules lead to some pretty sub-par photos (even for this blog!).  Furthermore, there was so much food that it’d be boring to show you all of it.  So here’s the first highlight, taken from the first pintxo bar we went to that had pretty much the best shrimp ever.  One day, a will remind me what the place was called.

Now, the crawl had a ton of deliciosity (super-awesome pork cheeks, jamon everywhere, foie a-flying), but our favorite pintxo place was Bar Zeruko. It's touristy as hell (Americans everywhere!).

Now, the crawl had a ton of deliciosity (super-awesome pork cheeks, jamon everywhere, foie a-flying), but our favorite pintxo place was Bar Zeruko. It’s touristy as hell (Americans everywhere!), so you might have to throw some elbows to get in.  But then you will be rewarded with a counter filled with the most exotic looking pintxos in town.  In short, tthere were so many delicious-looking things that we had to go back for more … the next day for lunch!


The fun of Bar Zeruko for me is that I had no idea what I was eating!  Between not having everything labeled (very few were labeled … meaning SSB would be a nightmare for anyone with any kind of food restriction), and not speaking Spanish, I was essentially judging books by their covers!  And it. was. awesome.  The above represent about 1/7 of all the dishes we ravaged on that fateful lunch.  I can’t tell you what any of them were beyond what you could identify on your own by looking with your own eyes.  Also what I loved about Bar Zeruko was that after you choose your pintxos, you give the dish to the lady behind the counter, and then she composes them for you, as some need additional sauce, some need heating, and one (“the bonfire”) needs some kind of plating that incorporates a heating/smoking element and plastic tube of herb gelee.  It was kind of like having a choose-your-own tasting menu at a fancy restaurant … except each dish costs ~3 E, and it’s like 17 times more fun than sitting down for 3 hours.


In the end, it was unanimous (between g and me – who cares what anyone else thinks?) that Bar Zeruko’s best bite was this one. Caramelized banana, wrapped in ham, and served with fig and some random sauces. It was insane.  g and I ate four of them.  Yes, we had lots of other dishes that were so so so good, but this one had that “X-factor” – it took some pretty common ingredients and put them together for a result that was at least two orders of magnitude greater than its components.

We celebrated my birthday meal at Ni Neu, which was within walking distance of our hotel.  Costing no more than a restaurant week meal, I had the best lamb of the trip (arranged in this intriguing tower) ...

We celebrated my birthday meal at Ni Neu, which was within walking distance of our hotel. Costing no more than a restaurant week meal, I had the best lamb of the trip (arranged in this intriguing tower) …

... followed by a heavently French Toast dessert that knocked my socks off.

… followed by a heavently French Toast dessert that knocked my socks off.

Sick and tired of looking at food?  I guess we’ll have to go back to wine:

oldest wine shop in SSB!  Vinos Ezeiza

While in SSB, we also visited Vinos Ezeiza, the oldest wine shop in town!  The old guy was so cute, not speaking a word of English.  It’s ok, g’s crafty use of select words (“mas viejo”) helped me secure a few bottles to be transported home.  We’ll see how it works!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 June 2014 at 6:58pm

Spain 2014: Bilbao and Rioja

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t says:

So … now that we’re a few day into our trip, it’s time to summarize some highlights.  We have taken SO many photos on our phones and it’d just be too annoying to load them all here.  Anyone who follows g on Instagram will have access to her thoughtfully curated/composed selection (which differs greatly from my not-as-thoughtful selection here).  Seek them out if you want more!

As mentioned in our last post, our trip started in Bilbao, and stayed at Barcelo Bilbao Nervion.  We don’t have any photos of the place that don’t reveal our true identities, but we were satisfied about it’s cleanliness, which really is our main criteria for an awesome hotel.  It was icing on the cake to have a disco-cow, however:

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When we first arrived to our hotel, a wedding reception was going on (and thus there was no parking – BOO!). Part of the reception was to use this disco-cow as a centerpiece for their cocktail hour. How hilarious is this! It reminded me of the golden calf false-god from the bible … without the smiting …

There were a few cool attractions in Bilbao, including the Zubizuri bridge and the Guggenheim.


the zubizuri bridge

Once again, we have a lot of photos with us in them, so I can only show you these:


spider!  this one’s for you, lc.



The Guggenheim’s offerings were fantastic in that it’s a very small museum, with only a handful “real” exhibitions: one about Yoko Ono, one about Braque (g appreciated it more than me), and a gigantic one called La Materia Del Timepo …

another ripped photo – but try to imagine what it’d be like to walk through these ginormous sheets of rusted metal!

… and another one installation entitled “The Visitors”, which was fantastic!  I would try to describe it, but have been told by g several times that my explanation is misleading and therefore it’s better off that I just not say anything … so I won’t … except that it was probably one of the most enjoyable exhibits I’ve ever had at a museum.

Food was present in various forms in Bilbao.  It’s a shame, however, that we were there on a Sunday, where there were very limited options for lunch/dinner.  For example, for lunch, we found a weird pseudo-Japanese place:

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Udon … around for the past 10 years!

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Is it fusion to have a “maki” made from “noodles” (cut in cross-section)?  I’m not sure.  Look carefully above and you’ll see chicken, lettunce, and a smidge of mayonnaise … essentially tasting like a chicken salad sandwich … with soba noodles …

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and they had ramen! it wasn’t bad! better than any i’ve had in Philly yet … i mean, it still has a ways to go (you don’t go to Spain expecting awesome ramen), but I appreciated their effort (btw, it was totally weird to have an Asian server speaking Spanish).


Dinner was quite an adventure on the second day in Bilbao.  Having met up with our friends, we had set out to go to a restaurant called Aizian … only to find them closed.  It turns out that Sunday in Bilbao is a very tough time to eat out!  Fortunately, we found one restaurant that was open and had satisfying dishes of oxtail (above), pork cheek, and shrimp.  None of us can recall what the restaurant was called.  Oh well!

From Bilbao, we went off to Rioja.  We stayed in the cute little town of Ollauri (oh-jao-ree) at a place called the Black Grape – we found it on AirBNB.  the place was pretty darn awesome – go ahead and find it on the web to find good photos.  For us, this one was the main factor:

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the “mini-bar” … is a vaulted ceiling wine cellar under the property.  The owners stocked it with wine and provide you with a list.  You can consume whatever you’d like and just pay them the appropriate amount at checkout.

There were numerous wineries we visited:


Check out the picturesque vineyards and humble villages.


The first was a tasting at Lopez de Heredia (i.e. Tondonia), to find a pretty extensive tour (the on-site coopering is amazing!), chock full of history and tradition. The wines are mighty good as well, but most can be found in the US (that’s not a “bad” thing, but we were on the prowl for the unattainable). What is clear, however, is that Tondonia is SO old …

roday wine room

… which was a stark contrast versus the ultra-modern Bodegas Roda.  Unlike LdH, this place was clearly built for modern winemaking, with every aspect of vinification carefully controlled.  The wines were nice, but ultimately, not something I’d shell out tons of money for.  It was striking that the most interesting wine was their Ribero Del Duoro – a wine made from grapes not even sourced from Rioja!

Perhaps our best winery was Remelluri.  This place was phenomenal, and we lack the photos to do it justice.  The tour (led by the winemaker’s sister – it’s a family-run operation there!), offered a great history lesson of the property, limited focus on vinification (after all, if you’ve had one winery tour, you’ve had them all), and astounding wines. It also looks like it’d be a fabulous place to have an event (not that I’m sure they’d even that – but if you wanted a fairy-tale rustic vineyard wedding, this place is the place – complete with tiny rustic chapel and sweeping views of vineyards and mountains in the distance!).

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Remelluri’s tasting was also the most complete of the trip, offering a bit of cheese and “the world’s best olives”, as proclaimed by one our European travel mate with ~25 years of olive eating experience under her belt.  The one drawback about the place, however, is that while they do offer an opportunity to taste vintage wines, including wine from the nearly-legendary vintage of 1982, you are NOT allowed to buy them to take home.  I wish I would have known that because I would have definitely purchased a bottle for us to taste right then and there – but instead, I let the tasting go by, and when we moved to check out, I was informed that we couldn’t have it “to go”.  Alas – a missed opportunity for sure!

The food situation in Rioja was a unique one for us.  We did a LOT of home-cooking at The Black Grape, making a few trips to town for a carniseria and other local supermarkets and keeping the overall expense of our trip way-down.  Over three nights, we spend ~250 Euro … for 8 people … including the majority of our wine …

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one such night featured paella …

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Another night was “meat night”, with several t-bones of veal and beef … cut by this chick with a ginormous knife …

One night was our anniversary, so it warranted a “fancy meal”.  We ventured out to Ezcaray to eat at Potal del Echaurren Tradicionale.


Because we are Americans, we had to eat an an insanely early time.  Their first reservation was at 9:15pm.  Of course, we showed up at that time and there was not a single other patron anywhere.  We ended up going for a 7 course tasting menu of very homey-humble dishes, yet expertly executed and pristinely presented, this is your place. The wine list was also exceptionally reasonable!

the restaurant featured no less than 3 fish dishes, of which the above was one.  which fish it was, I have no idea - it was a fish with a multi-syllabic name beginning with the letter "m".  it was delicious - rivaling the best of what we've ever had at Little Fish

the restaurant featured no less than 3 fish dishes, of which the above was one. which fish it was, I have no idea – it was a fish with a multi-syllabic name beginning with the letter “m”. it was delicious – rivaling the best of what we’ve ever had at Little Fish

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what “tradicionale” meal would be complete without albondigas? this was a heavenly smooth meatball over a puree that walked the line between potato and cauliflower.

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dessert was incredible, with some sort of caramel-custardy tart, a few slices of cheese, a bit of honey ice cream, and a slice of dried apple.

We also got info from “the locals” that there was a very traditional lunch-place that did an amazing lamb.  We set out to find it and were rewarded with a fabulously “normal” meal that we would not have been able to do without the help of our lovely Spanish-speaking travelmates.  It was called El Trujal del Abuelo in Cihuri.

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octopus, olive oil, paprika … bam – second best ocotpus i’ve ever had.

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what’s better than artichoke? artichoke with jamon, of course.

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we had to order the aspargus by the stalk, which was a little weird. But let’s say that this asparagus was as tender as scallops and easily spread on bread, yielding a wonderfully garlicky, buttery, asparagusy concoction that made me eat like 15 pieces of bread. so good.

the lamb (or what was left of it as you can see) was also quite good.  perhaps it wasn't as out-of-this-world as we were hoping (this is no super-tender fine-dining lamb, this is grilled home-style gnaw-on-the-bone lamb), but we were satisfied.

the lamb (or what was left of it as you can see) was also quite good. perhaps it wasn’t as out-of-this-world as we were hoping (this is no super-tender fine-dining lamb, this is grilled home-style gnaw-on-the-bone lamb), but we were satisfied.

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pineapple with olive oil and a dot of fig reduction. v killed this dish.


Now I know that we focused a lot on food and wine, but in truth, what else should one do on vacation in Rioja?  Food.  Wine.  Friends.  That’s it!  Ok, well that’s almost it.  We did stop by a wool shop in Ezcaray that manufactures some of the finest wool blankets/scarves/other products in the world, with lots of their products seen in some pretty high-end stores.  Like shopping for wine, we picked them up for a song and look forward to showing them off in the States.  Keep in mind that the shopping experience wasn’t glamorous, though (see above), so if you go, be prepared to hunt and peck.


Written by afterdinnersneeze

25 June 2014 at 7:40pm

Dear Wylie,

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t says: 

Dear Wylie Dufresne,

I read that you will be looking to relocate soon.  Why not shake it up some and come on down to Philly?



Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 June 2014 at 9:02pm

Posted in Happenings

Spain 2014

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t says:  I have been chanting “Spain 2014″ since 2012 (i.e. ever since planning our last France trip).  And … all that hypnotic brain-washing has paid off, as now there will be Spanish vacations of 8 people running in parallel (a, v, drb and his girlfriend, a’s parents, g and me).  Having focused on north-eastern Spain (Bilbao, San Sebastian, Rioja), there will be much food and wine (with minimal dance and chit-chat … just the way I like it … sorry … inside joke).  Of course, there will also be many pictures …. starting NOW:


Our first stop: Bilbao. Why Bilbao? Well – they do have the largest airport closest to our other destinations (Rioja, San Seabastian), and they have the Guggenheim! So why not!


Oh – did I mention Bilbao also has delicious food? Our first night, we ate at Bascook, a restaurant that’s getting some attention for its blend of traditional basque cuisine with some “international flavors” and a smidge of fussy gastronomy. Whatever the concoction, let’s just say that this “tomato soup with pig” amuse bouche was amazing. Tomato, cucumber, and likely some red onion and fried pig … a stunning way to start the meal.


People always say “wine’s so cheap in Europe”. That’s not true – it can be expensive, too! It just so happens that everyone drinks the cheap stuff. For example, take this 13 Euro bottle of Rueda Sauvignon Blanc. Cheap? Yes. Complex? No. Tasty with food – ABSOLUTELY! We’d buy it buy the case, as it’s only 4 Euro a bottle if purchased at a store in Spain (that’s right! restaurants mark up wine in Europe, too!). Oh, and check out that bread – would you believe that it was REALLY spicy? No? Fine – don’t believe me – but when the waiter put it down, he said, in English, “and this bread is spicy – if you don’t like it, that’s ok, we will take it away”. Well, we liked it! We liked it a lot! Each time it was so surprising to bite into bread but then have this insidious onset of mouth heat. Good stuff, indeed!


Bascook had some not-fussy stuff, like grilled razor clams … (that were delicious …)


… and slightly fussy stuff, like this amazing pile of hummus, spinach, and pumpkin seeds …


… and much fussier stuff, like this “pumpkin mix” dish.  But just wait a sec – as fussy as it was, it was.  There were steamed and fried gyoza that really gave you that classic Japanese/Asian gyoza flavor (but were filled with pumpkin!!) as well as a soup and puree that were wonderfully flavorful with just a little bit of spicy kick.


And we finished on what was essentially a classic breakfasty egg-and-potato dish that screamed out “homey Spain cooking”. A nice way to remind us of the normal food out there, waiting for us tomorrow …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 June 2014 at 6:10pm

Posted in in Europe, Restaurant Reviews

Tagged with , ,

hodge podge 2014

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t says:  I was looking through old pictures, and I happened to be reminded of a few new food experiences that I had not yet posted …  get ready for a hodge-podge!


So … let’s say you were sitting on the beach, baking in the sun, getting some rays in your bathing suit.  As you think to yourself, “gee, I’m kind of hungry”, what foods might pop into your mind?  Perhaps some boardwalk pizza, or a sandwich or fruit you may have packed, or maybe the bathing suit has made you self conscious, and all you’ll take in is water …  Well, this is the opposite of all of those options: mac and cheese balls from Steve’s Grilled Cheese in Sea Isle City.  They guys were absolutely crazy.  Never have I seen g lose control over a fried food item.  Sure, they’re sloppy, and sure, consuming any more than 1 will cause an instantaneous heart attack, but there’s nothing like a fried ball of cheese and starch.  And the best part: I believe you can even have these suckers delivered to the beach!  OH – did I mention there’s a cheese dipping sauce, too?


I also happened across this cool little PB&J themed food truck on Market street in University City.  It had a pretty interesting looking menu, with lots of attractive options (lookin’ at you, ‘The Elvis” and “The Stoner”) …


… be that as it may, I went for a PB&J&Cheese&Apple.  Not a bad combo – definitely worth checking out if you see the truck hangin there.



a and I also hit up Cozara, the new place in Uni City done by Zama. We were quite impressed. There was top-notch gyoza involved …


… as well as a very eggy katsu-don (Fuji Mountain does it a little bit better) …


… and a ramen that tasted like actual ramen!  yay!  All too often, the ramen at places lacks the alkalinity that ramen is supposed to have (like, the noodles will taste like a plain ‘ol flour-egg-water Italian pasta, and lack that ramen’y kick).  I feel like there could have been some other additions to the broth to give it a bit more flavor, but it wasn’t bad, overall!  I do have to say, however, that the gyoza was probably the best dish we had.

Ok … so now that I’m caught up to date … prepare for the barrage of posts from our vacation …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 June 2014 at 5:39pm

a fitting last meal

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t says:  Last meal?  Really?  Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but let’s just say that I was really impressed with the meal that Talula’s Garden served up for my 32nd Birthday celebration!  Maybe it’s a “fitting last meal before we go on vacation …”

June 2014, Wednesday Dinner, Party of 4.   There were several more dishes than these … but here are the highlights … with one exception – we had these boquerones over herb-infused tomatoes that were absolutely amazing!  We ate them so fast, I forgot to take a picture!


Talula’s Garden now has a “pasta” section on the menu.  It’s pretty awesome, because now I can find the gnocchi dish even faster! (I used to have to search the mains and appetizers for it).  While the crab-and-spaghetti wasn’t quite as good as pop-pop’s, the above gnocchi over peas and a pea puree were delectable pillows of heaven.  So good.


g and my mom went for the tuna crudo (g? tuna crudo? surprised, right?)  It hit all the right signature Talula’s crudo notes: herbs, veggies, bright accents, scrumptious fish.  No wonder g falls into the crudo trap every time she goes.


yes, there’s still a scallop dish …  yes, it’s still amazing … and no, there wasn’t any left.


but now … it is my honor to introduce the new pork belly champion of adsz.  A title previously held by greats like Fond (I look forward to it on every Fall/Winter menu) and Bibou (it was one of those ephemeral Pierre Calmels specials that came and went in a blink of an eye), Talula’s healthily-unhealthy-sized portion has that oh-so-addictive crunch and sweet-sweet-pig-fat flavor that make this pork belly the poster boy of hedonistic meat (I know, I know … people like foie and caviar and wagyu … but come on – how you gonna dis’ pork belly like that?  why you gotta be such a gold-digger with your deep, benjamin-lined pockets?  think you’re too good for pork belly?  that’s ok – more for me.)  I’m sure there will come a day when I will not be able to consume such rich dishes like this … and that day will be sad indeed … but for now, I will count pork bellies on my way to sleep, ready to dream of the next opportunity to go back.  Oh, did I mention that there were some superbly prepared greens and beans underneath?  I ate all of those, too.  So it’s healthy, right?


every time there’s a s’more-themed dessert, talula’s kills it.  this one was called “s’mores cake”, and it was excellent.  The moist, chocolate-laden cake melted in my mouth, giving way to the scorched marshmallow and smoke-infused ice cream.  Desserts like this make me regret having eaten so well during apps and main courses (well … except for the pork belly above).


But this little bugger was the big surprise.  Don’t be fooled by this slab of white sitting atop a pile of crumbs; this marscapone cheesecake was un-real.  I would have expected Talula’s to try and make their cheesecake all light-and-fluffy with cutesy fruit accompaniments.  But no.  Forget that.  They went for rich-and-delicious.  ha declared it her new favorite cheesecake – and that’s with 28 years of cheesecake-tasting experience (inside joke).

You know, it’s meals like these that make me wonder why no one’s writing about Talula’s anymore.  Hell – it makes me wonder why it’s been so long since the last time I’ve gone!  But of course, we always come crawling back to beg for forgiveness for our absence … and Talula takes us in with open arms, feeds us delicious food, and sends us on our way with full bellies and obliterated expectations.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

20 June 2014 at 12:37am


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