Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Council Oak to host Wine Pairing Dinnger with PlumpJack, CADE, Odette Estate Wines

Calling fellow wine loving foodies! Seminole Hard Rock Tampa's Council Oak lounge will be hosting a wine pairing dinner featuring PlumpJack, CADE and Odette Estate wines on Thursday June 9th.
The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and is $282 a person (including tax and gratuity). Each guest who attends will receive a commemorative bottle of CADE Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

The evening will kick off with a cocktail reception at 6:30 followed by an innovative four-course meal at 7 p.m.

There will also be a special performance by Tampa artist Corrine Oliviia.
Tickets are available for sale by calling (813-627-6630). Space is limited.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Visiting Nashville - Jack Daniels Distillery

When my husband Gabe and I decided to visit Nashville for the first time, one thing was on our "must do" list - visiting Jack Daniel's Distillery.
Jack is my hubby's drink of choice. It was my first legal drink purchase on my 21st birthday and  the only thing I drank in my early 20's. I will always have memories of my Grandma ordering Jack and Coke at the Bar - imagine with a VERY southern accent "Give me a Jack and Coke, Coke on the side and don't you dare put ice in it". It's something that will always make me smile.
We made the easy hour drive to Lynchburg Tennessee, a small town in Tennessee which is a dry county and happens to be home of the highest selling American whiskey in the world. I found that pretty ironic!
We opted for the tasting tour, which took an hour and a half. We spent the first hour and ten minutes touring the distillery and seeing first hand the steps it takes to make Jack Daniel's. It was a very interesting and educational experience. I strongly suggest anyone visiting Nashville to take the trip over to Lynchburg!
While waiting for our tour to start, we checked out history of Jack Daniels Whiskey.
Our tour began by the group boarding a bus to take a short ride up to the property. We began in the Rickyard, where they burn stacks of sugar maple until it's charcoal.


We headed to the Cave Spring next. This continuous flow of 56 degree water year round is one of the most important parts on the property.
We even stopped to take a selfie with Gentleman Jack. Side note - We are NOT this pale in real life!
We stopped through Jack Daniel's office, where we saw his desk and other personal items. Also in this office was the safe that eventually killed him. 

The story goes - Jack couldn't open his safe, so he kicked it out of frustration. He injured his left tow and ended up getting his leg amputated which is eventually what killed him. Our tour guide joked that he could have saved his life, if he dipped his toe in a cup of Jack Daniel's Whiskey. Makes you wonder!
We passed the Grain Mill and headed to the still house, where photos taken from the inside were prohibited. We can't be giving away the trade secrets!
Next stop was the still house, where they distill the product down to 140 proof. No photos were allowed at this location but we did go to the fermentation area and witnessed various levels of fermentation taking place. It was wicked hot in there but so cool! 
We made it to the bottling area, which was closed for the day (we went at one of the later tours on a Friday). 
We also saw some of the original tools used to make Jack Daniel's!
It was eventually time to make our walk back down to the tasting room. How awesome are these street signs?
Then it was time for the tasting! It was an interesting feeling knowing you were drinking Jack Daniel's in the location Jack was made, in a town located in a dry county.  
We tasted Gentleman Jack, Old No. 7, Single Barrel, Tennessee Honey, Tennessee Fire. Oddly enough, my favorite straight up was the original Old No. 7, the first drink I had when I was 21. Well that say something! All and all, this was a true highlight of our trip to Nashville. The drive out was peaceful and well worth it!

Some info you may need:
Jack Daneils Distillery
Tours Daily: 9:00am - 4:30pm (CST)
182 Lynchburg Highway  
Lynchburg, Tennessee 37352

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Council Oak Cinco de Mayo Dinner featuring Roca Patron

I'll never forget the first time I had upscale Mexican food. I was in my mid-twenties visiting Las Vegas. Back then, my idea of a nice meal out was at a chain restaurant. During that trip to Vegas, we only dined at celebrity chef (or other notable) restaurants on the chain. Those 5 days changed me and it was from that point that I started to obsess over restaurants. You can say I owe my obsession with food to that trip.
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
So when Seminole Hard Rock Tampa invited my husband Gabe and I out to their Cinco de Mayo dinner at Council Oak, I instantly blocked my calendar and prayed I wouldn't have a last minute work event that would interfere (I still haven't gotten over missing the Cakebread dinner a few months ago).

Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
I have been very fortunate to attend a few specialty dinners at Council Oak and I can say without hesitation, this was my favorite pairing meal to date. We also learned that Chef Mike Balles worked many years with Bobby Flay and was on Foodnetworks Iron Chef. Needless to say, when Chef started talking about various Chili Peppers, we knew that we were in for a treat.
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
We started off the evening with three Hors d’oeurves and a fresh Roca Patrón Silver watermelon margarita. The Acapulco Seafood Shooter was insane and I seriously want Chef Mike to put this on the menu at Council Oaks lounge. Those baby corn were not from the can either. So good.
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
Acapulco Seafood Shooter - Shrimp, Scallops, Mexican Cocktail Sauce
Smoked Chicken Tostada, Roasted Tomatillo Sauce, Queso Blanco
Grilled Baby Corn, Lime-Cilantro Butter, Queso Fresco, Chili Powder

1st Course
Sopa Azteca
Pasilla Glazed Duck Confit, Avocado, Hominy,White Corn Tortilla Crisp, Crème Fraîche
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
The first course was tortilla soup on steroids. Instead of chicken, we had duck confit. I usually have self control at these events since there is so much food but I couldn't put my spoon down. The Roca Patrón Reposado cocktail was just as good and was my favorite cocktail of the night.
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
2nd Course
Grilled Mexican Grouper
Chorizo-Saffron Broth, Clams, Mussels, Charred Corn, Grilled Ciabatta
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
When we got the menu for this event, dish 2 was waving at me. Grouuper, Chorizo and Saffron broth, hi friend! Our grouper was perfectly prepared and flaky. The Chorizo added a smokey spice and everything paired very well together. In fact, Gabe ate his entire dish, even knowing what was up next. The grouper paired perfectly with the Roca Patrón Silver cocktail.
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
3rd Course
28 Day Dry-Aged New York Strip
Mole Rub, Ancho Chili Sauce, Roasted Poblano Salsa, Sweet & White Potato Puree
Oh course 3, I don't think we will ever forget you. So truth be told, I am not a NY Strip kinda girl. People are always bashing on the filet mignon, saying it has no flavor due to the low fat content...but I am all for the buttery texture. Well, when you sous vide a dry aged NY strip, you get the flavors of the strip and the texture of a filet. Give it a mole rub, an ancho chili sauce and roasted poblano salsa and you find yourself amongst perfection. Pair that with a Roca Patrón Añejo cocktail and you are in Mexican food heaven.
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
4th Course
Banana Mousse
Mexican Chocolate Chili Crumble, Roasted Cinnamon Gelato, Warm Cajeta Sauce
Photo rights: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
We were so full by the time course 4 came along. Although I paced myself, I couldn't think of eating anything else. Then the dessert came out and my mind got blown. Banana mousse over a chocolate chili crumble. Then top that with roasted cinnamon gelato and cajeta sauce....seriously guys. If that weren't enough, out comes the cocktail - a coffee infused Patrón Silver with a bacon rim. Yes, I said a bacon rim. The cocktail was like an espresso martini but better.
After rolling out of Council Oak, we were both handed a commemorative bottle of Roca Patrón Silver. Chef Mike slayed this dinner and I don't know how he is going to top it. Then again, I didn't think he would be able to top the butter poached lobster at the Gasparilla dinner. An early congrats to Mike and his lovely fiance who are expecting their first baby boy in June.

Be sure to follow Seminole Hard Rock Tampa for their next pairing dinner, which will take place in June. Blog | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Monday, May 16, 2016

Visiting Nashville - Loews Vanderbilt #TravelForReal

Two weekends ago, my husband and I visited Nashville to run the St Jude Rock n Roll Half Marathon. Music City lived up to all the promises of great music, delicious food and a lot of hills. We stayed at Loews Vanderbilt which is located in Midtown, a mile from famous music row. It was the perfect location, close enough to the scene but just far enough to escape from the hustle and bustle.
This modern hotel has 340 rooms (9 of which are suites) and we found it to be the ideal location to experience one of the country’s most popular destinations - Nashville.
Loews Vanderbilt has received $20 million in renovations since 2013 and I was blown away by all the details. I kept calling the decor Country Couture. Everywhere you turned, decor small or large was honoring music city.
To the right of the check in was a nice sitting area featuring a giant wall mosaic of Hank Williams.  Across from Hank's mosaic was another sitting area with a fireplace.
We stayed in a double room which was very spacious. I loved that the rooms honored Music City. The night stands resembled music tables. Concert paraphernalia adorned the walls. We've been lucky to stay at a few Loews resorts around the US and one thing I can say, they have the most comfortable beds.
Mason's is the hotels onsite restaurant. The bar has this awesome mason jar light which surrounds the entire bar space.
Inside the jars are lights which resemble firefly's. I probably took 100 pictures of this light.
We dined at Mason's twice and had cocktails at Mason Bar. The Bar featured a ton of craft cocktail, local beers and a great wine list. We had breakfast upon arrival and dinner the night before the half marathon. Knowing how talented Loews chefs are, we had high expectations and we left very satisfied.
Mason’s offers Southern-inspired fare with Appalachian and European influences. I was happy to find fusions such as shrimp and grits with kimchi collard greens and Ancho spiced pork chops with mango jicama slaw.
We started off our meal with the Mason Jars appetizer. Tomato jam, pimento cheese, deviled ham and lavash crackers. We couldn't decide which of the three were our favorite and I strongly suggest anyone dining at Mason's to start with this appetizer. It's great for sharing.
Since we were running a half marathon the next morning, I didn't order the shrimp and grits (it was a bit spicy prior to 13.1 miles). I went with the Springer Mountain Farms Chicken with chick peas, bockchoy, soy and shitake mushrooms. The chicken was cooked sous vide style leaving it juicy and full of flavor.
Gabe ordered the Grilled Ribeye which featured oyster creek mushrooms and fingerling potatoes. The Ribeye had a nice crust on it and sadly my camera decided at this point it wanted to die. So I am borrowing a photo from Mason's, dry aged steak with radishes.  We also had delicious Brussels Sprouts with fresno chilies, peanuts and bacon. Honestly, you couldn't go wrong with anything on this menu. Ton's of options for all palates.
Something that sets Loews Vanderbilt apart from other hotels is it's partnership with celebrity fitness trainer Erin Oprea. Hotel guests can train like Carrie Underwood by taking part in Balance with Erin Oprea program featuring a complete and private workout in the comfort of their own room. A quick call to housekeeping will result in equipment hand-picked by Oprea, including a yoga mat, stability ball, resistance bands and a resistance band anchor. This is awesome and I wish every hotel in the US offered this. I travel for work now and finding a balance to make time to work out while on the road can be difficult.
Along with the workout options, Erin Oprea partnered up with Executive Chef Brandon Frohne and created nutritional dishes including low sugar, low sodium, high protein and healthy fats. The Persian Breakfast Fritatta below is a crowd favorite. They even offer a healthy cocktail :)
Overall, we were very impressed with Loews Vanderbilt. We loved how close we were to everything (walking distance to Hattie B's) and the staff was extremely polite. Gabe and I would stay here again in a heart beat.

Until next time Music City!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Rock n Roll Nashville Half Marathon Recap

WHAT A WEEK! We started off May by traveling up to Nashville. I had to be there for work and it happened to be the same time as St Jude Rock n Roll Nashville Half and Full Marathon. Nashville's always been a place my husband Gabe and I have wanted to visit so we took this as an opportunity to visit someplace new and cross another Rock n Roll Half Marathon off our list. This marked Half Marathon #17 for me (which is my lucky number and was on my bib).
We flew in early on Friday morning and had a delicious breakfast at Mason's inside of Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. Off to the expo we went. This expo was a little emotional for me and I found myself crying a few times. St Jude is the sponsor of Nashville's Rock n Roll. There were St Jude Heroes everywhere and I kept thinking back to September when we lost my 2 year old cousin Lana to Pediatric Cancer. One day, when I can say the words pediatric cancer out loud without crying, I will run as a St. Jude Hero. It's such an amazing organization and I look forward to the day I can support them. I'm just not ready yet.
My outfit:
Asics Slub Tank (currently on sale $14)
Whiskey Made Me Do It by Distance Designs by PamelaASICS Gel Nimbus 18 ($150)
Skirt Sports Womens Jette Skirt ($39)
We were under a 100% chance of rain at the start with lightning. I'm going to be honest here - a large part of me wouldn't have minded if the race didn't happen. I woke up not feeling it and I never got into the grove. Gabe and I purchased VIP for this race and thank goodness for that as we were able to escape the rain at Honkey Tonk Central. The nice bartender even gave us industrial size/strength trash bags. Rockin it! I met up with Katie there, fellow Rock n Blogger and ASICS ambassador. This blog has brought me wonderful experiences and opportunities but the friendships I've made through the years are priceless.
There's nothing like chilling at a bar, waiting for the rain to stop at 6:45am! The race was delayed and patrons started ordering drinks at 7:00am. I so wanted to switch places with them...you have no idea. When the lightning finally stopped, the race began. We did get a front row photo of the starters, which was super cool.
Katie, Gabe and I were in coral 16 (there were over 40 corals!). She belonged there, we did not. We parted right around mile one and I told Gabe there was a chance I wouldn't finish. Friends, that was after the first spell of hills. I had no idea what we were in store for.
Very funny Rock n Roll....very funny.

This entire race was nothing but hills. Most those hills went up. We live in FL and our version of a hill is a bridge (or an overpass at Disney). Sure, we were expecting a few hills here and there - but nothing like we experienced. If you are ever planning on running this race, be prepared - especially if you are from a flat state.
This was probably the last time I smiled all race unless I saw a photographer. I offered the gentleman $1,000 to switch places with me. His wife offered me a strawberry. I found out later that this couple comes out every year to cheer on the races. One day, when I am no longer trying to run, I will be like them. 
Aside from the hills,we had decent weather after the lightning went away. High humidity but nothing like we deal w/ in FL. Thank goodness for the cloud coverage! 
These nice people were handing out doughnuts. I asked my doughnut obsessed husband if he wanted to go back and get one and he said "no, I don't want to go back up this hill". 
This was not the only Trump running sign we saw this day. 
Aren't these Nashville Barbies the cutest ever!!!!!!!!
Yay, go Meg!

So, about mile 7 or 8 we started walking. Not a run walk ratio. Walking. Both of Gabe's knees were bothering him and it sounded like an IT band(s) issue. I was feeling ok at this point. Arout mile 10, both of my feet went numb. My legs were on fire and it hurt to walk, run or stand still. I didn't know how were were going to make it 3 more miles. Gabe looked at me and said, "my feet are numb" and I had to laugh - we both had feet we couldn't feel. At mile 11 I started getting delirious and after we hit mile 12, I nearly DNF with less than a mile to go. I'm not proud of this.
I wish lady.....honestly this sign made me push through. Every time I wanted to quit, I thought of a nice glass of wine after we finished. I knew from the night before that Mason's Bar had Landmark Overlook Vineyards by the glass and that got me to the finish line. 

I've sadly ran halfs and full's not 100% trained. However, I've always finished with a smile on my face and only once before had I seriously thought about quitting. With that said, I've never experienced anything like Nashville. Lack of training, yes. (expletive) Hills, absolutely. I had just ran a back to back in FL two weeks prior and was ok (slower than normal but not ready to quit). This. Was. BRUTAL.
We finished - Not a proud moment - But finished. My lucky number 17 surely didn't bring me any luck.

On a side note, Nashville was one of the prettiest courses we have ran. If someone were able to take the roads out and flatten it, we would be back year after year. However folks, this is our last Nashville race. I don't even think you could talk me into a 5K in this beautiful city.