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There are so many places in this world that I have always said, I don't want to return to anywhere I've been until I've gone everywhere I want to go. But, as with all rules there are exceptions, and my exceptions have always been Rome and Costa Rica. I was 20 the first time I went to Rome; I was visiting my friend who was studying abroad and I had spent the earlier part of the week in Paris. People wax poetic about Paris all the time, but for me it was a cold, gray, and unfriendly place. I traveled to Rome on an overnight train and I awoke early that morning on the train and caught the sun rising over the Italian hills. Rome was radiated warmth, both climate-wise and people-wise (plus the endless gelato I ate, didn't hurt). I really loved the city and I couldn't wait to share it with Steve.

We stayed at the Intercontinental, a beautiful hotel situated at the top of the Spanish Steps. They upgraded us to a room with a balcony, and every night we would walk back and spend some time sitting on the Steps, people watching. The view from the 8th floor terrace restaurant was almost worth the €22.

Armando al Pantheon

Our first meal was at Armando al Pantheon, an amazing little old-school restaurant, 2 blocks away from the pantheon. They are known for many things, including their carbonara, which was worthy of the praise. Creamy, rich and cheesy, it was studded with delicious pieces of guanciale (pork jowl). This was the pasta of my dreams.



We also shared a veal saltimbocca, a side of potatoes, and a side of chicory, a common Roman vegetable that I have heard of but never tried. The chicory was delicious- it is a wild Roman green, a little bitter like broccoli rabe, but more mellow. It was sautéed in olive oil and garlic and was a perfect accompaniment to the rich pasta.







We also had tiramisu that night, but I wasn't that impressed. I actually really love my own tiramisu recipe.



We were seated next to two older women, and we started talking to them, only to discover one was from Natick. They have been coming to Italy for two weeks every year for the last three decades. We talked about different restaurants and what they recommended. I had mentioned that I really wanted to try Jewish style artichokes and they suggest a restaurant to me that I had also read about elsewhere. That is how we decided to go to Sora Margarita the next night.

Sora Margarita

Sora margarita is technically not a restaurant, but a membership club. I think it has something to do with getting around the regulations about the size you need for a certain amount of tables. There is no sign, you just have to know to look for the doorway hidden behind a red braided curtain. It is the best kind of hidden gem/ hole-in-the-wall discovery. We arrived fairly early, and we're seated at a table for four and minutes later another couple was seated next to us.

A small Italian Jewish woman came to our table and started speaking Italian to me. With my broken Italian I understood that she was offering to bring us a sampling of their best known dishes. I told her I definitely wanted the artichoke and the cacio e pepe. She nodded and walked away and the woman who was sitting next to me asked if I had just ordered for them as well. I told her I had no idea what I had done and if I did order for them I was sorry. We laughed and luckily the waitress came back and then spoke to them as well.

The parade of food started with carciofi alla giudia - artichokes in the Jewish style. The artichoke is trimmed and then deep fat-fried so it looks like a sunflower blossom. You pull off the artichoke leaves and eat them whole, like crunchy artichoke potato chips. They were unique and delicious.



We received more artichokes, this time in the Roman style. These are trimmed and then braised in white wine and wild Roman mint. How do I know? Because in my cooking class, earlier that day, I had made the same artichokes. I ate more artichokes that day than I have in the last year put together. They were also delicious, but the fried version was better (isn't it always?).



Next was cacio e pepe, the classic Roman dish of pasta, cheese and pepper. It is deceptively simple, yet the synergy from these three basic ingredients created the best single dish Steve and I had all trip. To start, Sora Margarita uses fresh pasta, and their twist on this classic dish includes a dollop of fresh sheep's milk ricotta on top. The delicious, tender pasta, with the sharp bite of the pecorino cheese, the spice of black pepper and the creaminess of the fresh ricotta all mixed together created a perfect harmonious dish. For the rest of the trip, we would eat something and we declare not as good as the cacio e pepe at Sora Margarita. I am salivating as I type.



A meat ravioli in a meat sauce arrived next and any other day, any other meal, we would have been happy with the ravoli, but after the cacio e pepe, it just failed to impress. Plus, we are also getting pretty full and I was trying to figure out how we could tell the waitress to stop bringing us food. I managed to cobble together enough Italian to tell her that we are full. She asked us if we wanted just one more dish and said it was meat, so I acquiesced to one more course.

We were rewarded with the fluffiest, most tender, veal meatballs I've ever had. My only wish was that they would be served in a tomato sauce instead of olive oil. The acidity would've cut the richness.



Halfway through the meal, I looked across the restaurant and who did I see? Our dining neighbors from the night before. I went over there to say hello and to thank them for bringing us to the home of cacio e pepe.

Pizzarium

On Thursday, we headed out to Vatican City for the museum and pizza. Pizzarium is renowned throughout the world for its pizza al taglio (cut pizza). There were gorgeous trays of pizza, piled high with luscious ingredients are on display. I was tempted by a sardine and bitter greens pizza, but ultimately I decided to go classic with prosciutto, mozzarella, and basil. Steve had the same sans prosciutto. The pizza was delicious - The crust was light and airy with the perfect chew. I really loved it at the time but it ended up not being the best pizzas the trip - more about that later.









Perelli

Our last dinner at Rome was at Perelli, another traditional trattoria, in Testaccio. We started with the carbonara, which was not as good as Armando's, I had a puntarelle salad. Puntarelle is another type of chicory that is served raw. It has a little bit of bitterness and is traditionally served with a very heavy anchovy dressing. I don't know if I loved it, but I'm glad I tried it.







The star of the meal was the roasted pork shoulder; the pork was meltingly tender and flavorful. Steve said, "It was a monster," Our side of chicory was also good but like the carbonara, not as good as Armando's.



Mordi e Vai

I set off early to the Testaccio Market in pursuit of the tripe sandwich at Mordi e Vai. Rome has a tradition of quinto quarto ("fifth quarter") cuisine, food specializing in the cooking of offal. I found Mordi e Vai amidst produce stands and other food stalls. It was nine in the morning and the tripe was not ready, so I wondered around the market. I saw zucchinis the size of my arm with blossoms to match.



I came back 10 minutes later and enjoyed a panino trippa alla Romana. Roman-style tripe is long simmered in a thick tomato sauce and the sandwich involves a generous helping served on a crusty roll. It was an excellent breakfast.





Cooking Classes in Rome

I decided to take a cooking class while I was in Rome. I really wanted a nonna to teach me how to make pasta from scratch, but since I wanted the class during the day, my choices were limited. I took a 5 hour class through "Cooking Classes in Rome" (I know, it is not the most original name for a cooking school) with Chef Andrea Consoli. Chef Andrea was great; he was knowledgeable and funny. Our menu included: artichokes (Roman style), Cavatelli alla Norma, Beef Scallopini with mushrooms and fresh peas, and lemon pudding. The class was conducted in English and had 12 people, an eclectic international crowd including two Russians, two Norwegian women, one woman traveling alone from Denmark, a couple of Americans, and a couple of Americans living abroad. We all took different prep tasks, but everyone learned to trim artichokes and how to make the cavatelli. The cooking took about 4 hours and then we all gathered together to eat the fruits of our labor. I really loved learning how to make fresh pasta. The cavatelli was time-consuming, but worth it. I am not one to buy tchotchkes, in fact, during the whole trip I only purchased two items, but I couldn't resist purchasing a small cavatelli making board (the other was some white truffle oil from Florence). I would definitely recommend taking a class if you're in Rome and have the time.









Forno

We are leaving that afternoon, so I had one more morning to enjoy Rome. I woke up early and walked to Campo di Fiori to go to Forno. They specialize in pizza blanca (cut white pizza without tomato sauce). You order by the weight (100 grams is a good sized snack). I got two slices each of plain, margarita, zucchini, and potato. I started walking back to the hotel to share the pizza with Steve. However, since the pizza was still hot from the oven and I couldn't resist trying some. I started with the potato. I nearly swerved in the middle of the street as I discovered how delicious it was. I was already three blocks away and I was torn – should I turn back to get more or was the one the slice of potato pizza all that I would get? It occurred to me that I had plenty of pizza for Steve and he would never know if I ate his. But I refrained; I guess that's what love is - not eating your husband's pizza. For the record, the zucchini was outstanding as well, but the potato was a whole other level.





Gelato

We stopped at a different place each night. All were good; the first night was at Gelateria San Crispino, which was slightly too sweet.



The second night we hit the historic Giolitti Gelateria which has been scooping since 1890. The gelato itself was okay, but I did enjoy the dollop of unsweetened whipped cream on top of the cone.







The last night we went to Fatamorgana and we declare this to be the best gelato of our whole trip. Steve is still talking about the toasted almond gelato.



Next is Florence - stay tuned!
There was never really a question where we were going to go for honeymoon. Steve proposed in front of the fake Clocktower at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, so we said we would have to visit the real one on our honeymoon, but even if we did not have that excuse Italy would have still been our destination. Someone said to me today, “it was the perfect place for your honeymoon – all the Catholic Churches for Steve and all that food for you!” It's true we went to a lot of churches and we ate an even larger quantity of food. It's overwhelming to even think about writing a blog about 11 days of eating in Italy, so I shall break it down city by city. Forgive me if some of the details are fuzzy.

Milan, Italy

Because of an amazing airfare deal I got, we flew in and out of Milan, which meant we are there the first night and our last night.

Odeon Gelateria

We got a gift for our wedding that included a note that said we had to use the money for having gelato everyday in Italy. Odeon was conveniently located across the piazza from the Duomo. (The Duomo is spectacular and not to be missed) After trying almost a dozen places, my gelato palate has become more refined, but that afternoon, eating my first gelato on the first day of my honeymoon, the hazelnut and pistachio gelato tasted like happiness.



El Brellin

Our first dinner was down in the Canal District, a bustling neighborhood filled with lively restaurants and bars. We had a nice table outside and enjoyed some classic Milanese dishes. Our first course was risotto Milanese with saffron and bone marrow sauce. The rice was a perfect al dente, and it was rich and flavorful.



Next was linguine with swordfish, leeks, and zucchini blossoms. Steve enjoyed this more than I did, I got the swordfish was overcooked and unevenly cut. However, I did love the zucchini blossoms.



Lastly, we can't be in Milan and not get veal Milanese. Their version was pounded extremely thin, cooked crispy and (strangely) served with homemade potato chips. I thought that the meat was tender, but needed more flavor.



Trattoria Milanese

We return to Milan on our last night. I did not have a dinner reservation for the night, so we wandered into Trattoria Milanese hopeful for table. The host told us he was completely booked up for the night, but upon looking at our disappointed faces he offered us a table, but with the caveat we would have to be done with dinner by 9:30. It was 7:30 - we smiled and told him that would be no problem. Yes, we basically stuck to our American eating schedule.

We had risotto Milanese again (don't forget, it had been 10 days since the first risotto). Trattoria Milanese's version was delicious, but not as flavorful without the bone marrow sauce. Next, was a simple linguine with porcini mushrooms. Our main course was a veal marsala served with mashed potatoes. The side of asparagus had thick, gorgeous spears, dressed in olive oil and parmesan. All of our classic dishes were simple, but delicious and well-made versions.









Our last gelato of the trip was at Cioccolatitalani. This is an upscale modern cafe serving gelato and coffee. They have three spigots of running chocolate sauce – dark, milk, and white. They would fill your ice cream cone with the chocolate sauce of your choice before scooping the gelato. Brilliant, I thought, why has no one ever done this before?! The chocolate sauce at the top cooled and became a thin layer coating the inside of the cone but when you got to the bottom there was still a pool of warm liquid chocolate. At last, both Steve and I discovered that this was better in theory than in practice. The last bite of the cone was extremely messy and the sauce made the gelato too sweet.





Luini Panzerotti

All my research said to go to Luini, but they closed at 3 PM that first day, so I had to go back on our last day. I am so happy I did. Panzerotti – where have you been all my life? Imagine the delicious love child of fried dough and a calzone. The outside was shatteringly crisp yet, the inside was tender and filled with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and basil. After confirming via Google there is nowhere to get Panzerotti in Boston, I told Steve that I was staying in Italy, learning the secrets of Luini, and then returning home to open up our own little Panzerotti shop. I'm sorry this picture does not do it justice.



Stay tuned - so much more food from Rome, Florence, and Venice to come!

G & Steve's Wedding Day!

"Are you going to Flog your own wedding?"

I was asked this by a number of people, and I replied, "Of course – why wouldn't I?" I've been neglecting the Flog for the last month, but I have a good excuse: Steve and I got married on Saturday, April 25th. It was a spectacular day, filled with family, friends, food and fun. It astonishes me how many different moving parts and components can go in to planning a single day, but every cog in the wedding machine worked and resulted in an amazing day that we will never forget.

The Big Day

The day started early. Wendy (my Maid of Honor and best friend in the whole wide world) and I stayed in a beautiful 1200 sq. ft. suite at the Intercontinental (Thank you for the upgrade, Intercontinental).





I didn't sleep well; I woke up at 3am, 4am, 6am and finally give up at 6:40am. I had an anxiety dream that it was 3 weeks before the wedding and my photographer cancelled on me. I attempted to hire a new photographer (who was Bob Odenkirk from Breaking Bad) but he kept refusing to look to see if he was available. I woke in tears. I learned later that Steve had his own anxiety dreams involving his Holy Cross classmate Fred screaming at him.

The weather was 57 degrees and mostly sunny, a perfect setting for pictures. I had been checking 3 different weather sites (weather channel, accuweather and weather underground) everyday, starting 10 days before the wedding. Needless to say, I was relieved.

7:45am – Rosalba Mortone(http://www.albaroseartistry.com/) and her assistant Ashley arrive for hair and makeup. Those who know me, know that I don't wear makeup on a daily basis and that my hair gets approximately 5 seconds of brushing in the morning, so the concept of professionally done hair and makeup was foreign to me. But, I was told over and over again, it was important for the photos. Bridesmaid Christine and her sister Stefanie were first to arrive, followed by Marijane, Allison and Jes. The Food Network played in the background as we all took turns in the chairs. Time flew by, and we had sandwiches from Panera (thank you Stefanie for picking up lunch!), and peach mango bellinis. Rosalba and Ashley were great; they finished everyone's hair and makeup by 12:30pm, right on schedule. Ashley told me that my skin was "like butter," – which is a strange (after all, isn't butter greasy?), but sweet compliment.



11:00am – The flowers arrive. I ordered my flowers from Whole Foods. I had decided against centerpieces - there would be no room on the table once the food started, so I only had 7 bouquets, 6 boutonnieres and 2 corsages. WF did a wonderful job; the bouquets were beautiful and the order cost a fraction of other quotes I had received. My bouquet was composed of white calla lilies and red tulips; the bridesmaid's were red roses and white tulips.



12:00pm – Lauren, the first photographer arrived right on time. The second would arrive at the church at 3pm. (http://www.laurenpagewadsworthphotography.com/). She took the mandatory shots of us getting ready, and then some fun shots of me and the girls. Getting in to my dress was easy enough, but tying the red sash was a trial. I hope Lauren got pictures of how it took 5 grown, educated women to tie a knot. It was pretty funny. At 1pm, she headed to the men to get shots of them getting ready. I heard later that there was an undershirt issue and Steve sent his best man, Bryan, to Marshalls. Steve told me that at 12:50pm, he was standing alone (everyone was a little late) and shirtless, but ten minutes later, everyone (Chris, Andi, Stracco and Joe) and his undershirt were there, just in time. Christine helped them with the boutonnieres.

1:15pm – First look pictures. I decided I wanted to do our pictures before the ceremony since we would want to spend as much time as possible with our guests. The only problem with this is that you don't get to capture the classic "look on the groom's face as the bride walks down the aisle" picture. So instead, Lauren had Steve wait outside, eyes closed, and I was led to him and we opened our eyes at the same time. It was a lovely moment of joy, mixed with the realization that this was really happening.



1:30pm – Formal pictures. Everyone gathered in the back waterfront area of the Intercontinental. The men looked dapper in their Calvin Klein tuxedos (2 button, notch lapel, apple red vests and bowties) and my troop of ladies looked stunning in their dresses. I had told my bridesmaids that they could pick any dress they liked at David's Bridal, as long as it was in apple red, chiffon and knee length. I wanted them to feel comfortable and beautiful and there was no way that was going to happen if I made them all wear the same dress. I was really pleased at the visual; coincidentally, no one picked the neckline.





My flower girl, Ava (daughter of Steve's groomsmen Joe and Joy (both lifelong friends of Steve's) was absolutely precious. She was in a lovely shantung silk dress with a full tulle skirt and a matching red sash. She was a superstar throughout the whole day - not a single complaint or whine all day long. She listened and followed all the photographer's directions and was a joy to be around.



I had scoped out different areas around the Intercontinental where I wanted shots; over the bridge, down on the dock, in front of the Boston Tea Party ship. Steve’s mother Joyce arrived, wearing a cream silk blouse and a beautiful long fuchsia skirt, custom designed for her by Denise Hajjar. We got lots of pictures and I can't wait to see them.



3:30pm – Heading over to the church. The guys hit the bar and the girls went for caffeine, while Steve and I finished our pictures. We had a couple of different cars at the hotel, so we split up. Steve and Joyce took an Uber car and Ava and I were riding with Christine and her sister. The first hiccup of the day occurred when the valet couldn't find Christine's car. 20 minutes passed and still no car. I thought Christine was going to commit homicide, but I told her that it was okay – they were not going to start without me. Finally, it was located and the short drive landed us in the parking lot at 4:10pm.

On a side note, when Steve and I were considering a Chinatown wedding, the first question was "where is everyone going to park?" I was thrilled to discover we could rent a Tufts parking lot through the church that was conveniently located between the church and restaurant.

4:30pm – Game time. We lined up in the vestibule. Someone commented that weddings never start on time and I replied that if they knew me, they should know that if the invitation said 4:30pm, we were hitting the aisle at 4:30pm.

Joy was a huge help; she organized us and then sent us down the aisle in order. First was Joe, escorting Joyce. All the bridesmaids went in order of height, then Wendy and then Ava. I could hear, on my side of the heavy doors, the change in music and the people rising. Deep breath. Final adjustments on the dress and veil. Back straight, shoulders down. Smile.

I know that we asked the string quartet to play Pachelbel 's Canon in D for my procession, but I was so focused on walking slowly, not tripping, and smiling that I do not remember a single bar of music. I could have walked down the aisle to the polka and would not have known it. The Novo string quartet was tremendous; people told us over and over again about how wonderful the Mass was, especially the music. I wish I had video of the procession, just to confirm it wasn't the polka.

5:20pm – Our rehearsal had taken an hour and 20 minutes, so the Vegas odds were that it was going to go long, but the ceremony went smoothly, ending 10 minutes early. The readers were great, and the homily was short. People loved that we had 2 priests, including a Chinese one. There was a bit of a communion traffic jam, due to the placement of the quartet. People made their way to Hei La Moon, a short .2 mile walk away. We took some altar pictures with everyone and then Steve, Wendy and I walked with the photographer through Chinatown. There is a picture of me and Wendy, when we were 3 years old, standing in front of China Pearl, holding hands. She actually referenced the picture in her speech. I wanted to re-enact it 35 years later. I'll frame them together, side by side.

5:45pm – Introductions. The bridal party lined up on the stairs. My DJ, Mark Simpson (http://newenglandsdj.com/) asked if he should play something exciting and I joked, "Sure – like Eye of the tiger?" He opted for Thunderstuck by AC/DC, which was pretty hysterical. We went right into our first dance. We had taken 3 private lessons at Ballroom in Boston (http://ballroominboston.com/) for a simple rumba. Finding a song for our first dance was no small feat, as Steve and I have very divergent taste in music. We finally settled on a classic, "As Time Goes By" by Jimmy Durante, the love theme in Casablanca. I'm happy to report that he did not drop me during the dip.

6:00pm – Speeches by Bryan and Wendy - lovely sentiments by our dearest friends. Wendy told me that she was expecting waterworks, and I did well up a little. I don't know why Steve and I didn't stand up to thank everyone for coming at this point. I wish we had.





6:15pm – Food. The appetizer platters hit the tables, a spread of suckling pig, roast duck, slices of beef, chicken, all surrounding a pile of jellyfish. I thought the duck and pork were the best. I was pleased to hear that most people tried the jellyfish. The second course took forever to come out, so Steve and I made our rounds and toasted every table. It was a nice opportunity to ensure we spent time with each and every guest.

So, even though I said I would flog the wedding, it's hard to write about the food, as I barely ate any of it. Deep fried sea scallops were on my menu, and I found out later they were swapped out for honey walnut shrimp. Lots of people told me that was their favorite dish of the night, so I guess it was okay. But the scallops are meant to symbolize wealth, so if Steve and I are ever destitute, I'll know to blame the restaurant.

Here was the menu:

Traditional appetizer platter of suckling pig, jelly fish and assorted roasted meats
Fried sea scallops
Stir – fried seafood in a taro basket
Crab & sweet corn soup
Fried crispy whole chicken
Wok-sautéed lobsters with ginger and scallion
Sirloin steak stir-fried with broccoli
Pan-fried fish
Yang Chau fried rice
Vegetable E-Fu noodles
Chinese Dessert – Red bean soup.











In addition to the appetizer platter, I had the chicken, lobster and fish, which were all good, especially the lobster. I had the soup and I did not like the gelatinous texture of it. I was disappointed to hear only some tables got the red bean soup. I also heard raves about the noodles at the end, but a lot of people were too stuffed to even try them.

8:00pm – Cake cutting. The food was coming out more slowly than I had anticipated. I assumed the dessert would be served at 8pm and I scheduled the cappuccino cart (http://www.espressodave.com/) to start at that time. So, despite the fact that courses 9 & 10 (the fried rice and noodles) were still to come, it was cake cutting time. We went non-traditional and cut the cake to "Short Skirt Long Jacket" by… Cake. I wanted to scoop ice cream to Sarah McLachlan's "Ice Cream," but Steve hates that song.



I had the toughest time estimating the correct quantity of desserts to order. I ended up getting 13 dozen cupcakes, 18 dozen cookies and 7.5 gallons of ice cream.

The cupcakes were from Quebrada Bakery in Arlington (http://quebradabakingco.com/) and I had a mix of chocolate mocha, chocolate coconut, vanilla, and carrot cake. They told me if I could wait till 1pm to pick them up, they would bake them fresh that morning. I was thrilled with the idea of less than 12 hours from oven to mouth. Normal wedding cakes take 2-3 days to bake, cool, frost, assemble and decorate. That is why wedding cake tends to be dry; it's been sitting around for 72 hours. I had 4 dozen cupcakes left over.



The cookies were from Lakota Bakery (http://lakotabakery.com/): Florentines, Lemon filled Macaroons, Rum Balls, Tuxedos, Chocolate Chip, Old School Peanut Butter, Raspberry Linzer, Ginger Molasses, Chocolate Ginger, Hazelnut Shortbread, Snickerdoodle, Oatmeal Raisin, and Coconut Almond Joy. There were cookies left over at the end of the night, but people were taking them home, so it's hard to get a real count. I would say there was 3 dozen leftover. The lemon macaroon is my absolute favorite.



The ice cream was another hiccup. I had ordered three containers of 2.5 gallons of ice cream from Christina's (http://christinasicecream.com/). Two were standard flavors (Coffee and chocolate explosion) but the third was a custom flavor (black cherry vanilla). When Brian went to pick up the ice cream (Thank you, Brian for getting all the desserts!) they did not have my order. He subbed a French Vanilla instead. The bright side is they did not charge me for any of it. There was far too much ice cream, and at the end of the night, the waiters were digging in to it.

Espresso Dave and his cappuccino cart was a last minute addition to the wedding. The restaurant, being Chinese, does not serve coffee and Steve declared that we had to have coffee with dessert. I investigated a bunch of options, including a table of Dunkin' boxes of Joe or renting my own coffee urns, but all plans had flaws (could you imagine a table littered with cardboard boxes of coffee?). I googled coffee catering and found Espresso Dave. I was excited at the prospect of custom hand crafted espresso beverages. I hired him, only to find out that although he offered cappuccino, lattes, mochaccino, chai lattes, all in regular or decaf, hot or iced, flavor shots, and non-dairy options, he did not offer… coffee just plain old Joe. I was worried the older generation would be overwhelmed by the fancy schmancy coffee, but I think it turned out okay. I didn't have any complaints about the lack of normal coffee. Steve thought the cappuccino cart was awesome and enjoyed an iced mochaccino to cool off from the dancing.

The bar was manned by my co-worker Kristin and her sister Nicole. The restaurant allowed us to bring in our own liquor, and we offered Frei Brothers Cabernet and Chardonnay on the tables, and more wine, beer (Bud, Bud light, Lagunitas, Harpoon IPA, Sam Adams, Stella Artois, non-alcoholic beer), hard cider and hard lemonade at the bar. Kristin and Nicole did an amazing job managing the alcohol. I used a drink calculator and estimated 6 drinks per person. At the end, people drank approximately 4.5 drinks on average, so my guests did not drink enough.

8:30pm – Group pictures. I flubbed. I made a list of all the shots I wanted and then failed to email it to the photographer. I was bummed that there were some pictures I wanted but missed (like the hockey team or our trivia crew). We gathered different groups on the dance floor, like the McDevitts and the Francises. Steve got a nice shot of all the Holy Cross Alumni with the school flag. We had a mob of bridge players; I can't wait to send that picture to the Bridge Bulletin.

8:45pm – Mother/Son Dance. Steve and Joyce danced to Sinatra's The Way You Look Tonight. They looked so happy.



8:50pm – Dancing. We had given Mark, the DJ, a list of music to play during the meal and we let him know that 80's was probably the best way to go. He played some questionable songs (Poison? Baby got Back?) but people seemed to love it and got into singing and dancing, so what do I know? People were so enthusiastic crystals got knocked off the chandelier, TWICE.

11:00pm – Last call.

11:15pm – Last dance. We chose Mazzy Star's "Fade into you," which is a lovely, soulful ballad, but is utterly inappropriate for a wedding as it is about falling in love with someone that is damaged and incapable of living up to expectations. That said, we both love the song.

Other notables during the wedding:

Chinese tourists – hysterically enough, people from the rest of the restaurant were fascinated enough to take pictures and videos of the wedding. I'm sure there is a video of Steve and Joyce's dance on the Chinese version of YouTube.

Full service bartenders – apparently Kristin and Nicole gave Steve's cousin a ride back to the Legion in Medford, and then had drinks with him! What other bartenders would serve you and then make sure you got home okay?

Mama & Papa Tsoi – I think they were completely overwhelmed by the festivities, but they took it in stride and warmly greeted everyone who came up to meet them.

Favors – Playing cards with our names and the wedding date on them. We met playing while bridge – what could be more appropriate as a favor?

Matthew D. – Our apologies if he hit on or said or did something inappropriate to you or your spouse, but, it is part of his charm.

Uber – We opted to use Uber instead of a limo service. Our driver from the restaurant back to the Intercontinental was so tickled pink, we took a picture of us in our wedding garb in his backseat.

My dress – I joked that it looked like something out of a CSI episode: I tore the hem during the pictures, the train was filthy from walking around, the bustle was busted from busting-a-move, it was stained with wine (Thank you, Matthew D.) and what I thought was blood, but turned out to be chocolate. I didn't care – after all, I wanted to dance and have fun, not worry about the dress. I'll be donating my dress to Brides for a Cause (http://bridesforacause.com/donate-your-wedding-dress/).

If you are still reading, thank for sticking with me to the end. People always talk about how fast the big day goes and how it was all a blur. For me, it was important to get these words down, so that I could remember every detail that I could before it fades away. Regardless, what I won't forget is general feeling of elation all day and how happy and blessed I felt that all these people came near and far to celebrate with us. It was truly a once in a lifetime day.

Santouka Ramen, Cambridge

Santouka is a Japanese based ramen chain that has outposts all over the world; Harvard Square is the first New England location. I went to Charles and Sumita on a Monday night. Unlike my other ramen experiences, we were able to walk in and get a table without waiting. The space is industry and sleek; a stark contrast to the homey feel of Yumewokatare.

They claim to still be in the soft opening phase, so there is only a limited menu available. I had the Shio ($11.25) which is their signature ramen. It is a mild and creamy soup seasoned with salt. I opted for the 5 addition pieces of pork belly ($4). You can upgrade for a dollar more, or down size for a dollar less.



I liked my noodles; they were yellow and springy. The pork was also tender and unctuous. My only complaint was that it was a tad salty. Shio means salt in Japanese so maybe that was to be expected. The menu prices seems high, but Harvard Square real estate is costly. Overall, I prefer Yumewokatare, but it's hard to justify waiting in line for 45 minutes when there are alternatives.

http://www.santouka.co.jp/en/

Georgetown Cupcake, Boston

The DC based cupcake chain opened it's only Boston location on Newbury Street, 3 years ago. I never made an effort to get there before, but my friend Amy was picking out new glasses at Warby Parker, which happens to be in the same building.





The displays are beautiful and the cupcakes were attractively presented in a takeout box. We tried 3 cupcakes: Cherry Blossom, salted caramel and chocolate coconut. The cupcakes were moist enough, but the flavors were weak; the salted caramel was not salted enough and the coconut was too sweet. The cherry was the best of the bunch, but none were worth the $3 price tag.



https://www.georgetowncupcake.com/

Sono Sushi, Arlington MA

After an afternoon of furniture shopping, my friend Leslie and I were ready for a very early dinner. We were in Burlington, so I suggested going to Sono Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in Arlington that is on my 2015 to go list. Happily, Leslie is usually game for any dining experience.

It was only 4 o'clock, so it was no surprise that the restaurant was completely empty, but our hostess jumped up from her napkin folding and cheerfully greeted and seated us.



We started with the hamachi kama ($11), which I had read about rave postings about on chow.com. This is the collar of the hamachi, glazed and then grilled. The appetizer portion was big enough for two, and it was tender and delicious.



The cold rainy weather steered us toward a large bowl of udon noodle soup. We opted for the Nabe Yaki udon ($14) which came with tempura shrimp, fish cake, chicken, egg, vegetable and noodles. The udon noodles were deliciously toothsome and the broth was like drinking a warm hug.





Lastly, you can't go to a place called Sono sushi and not get a few rolls. We opted for a very perfunctory eel and avocado roll ($6.25) and then the more exotic Cherry Blossom roll ($13). The cherry blossom had salmon, avocado and tempura crumbs wrapped in a Maki roll , and then it was topped with tuna and served with a nice seaweed salad. I did not like the tempura crumbs; They were a little too dry and crunchy. However all the fish was fresh and sliced well.

The portions are large, and we certainly could've done without the eel and avocado roll. Our waitress was friendly and diligent about water refills. Prices are slightly high, but sushi is not a place where you want to go cheap. I enjoyed our meal, however Toraya in Arlington is still my favorite sushi restaurant, but it’s worth stopping at Sono for the hamachi kama.

http://sonoarlington.com/

JNJ Turo Turo, Quincy

There is a dearth of Filipino food in the Boston; JNJ Turo Turo is the only Filipino restaurant in the area, and it is only open Friday – Sun, from 11-8pm. "Turo-Turo" literally means "point-point" in Tagalog and you can do just that – there is a steam table with the day’s selections available to you. The website is misleading; only a handful of dishes are made a day. There is also a small list of made to order foods, which I opted for instead of the pre-made. Steve and I got the Lechong Kawali (deep fried pork belly, $6.5), whole fried fish ($12.5) and Pancit Bihon (Thin rice noodles with vegetables, large $6.49)







I was disappointed with the meal – both the Lechong Kawali and the whole fish were over fried and dry. They desperately needed a sauce. The pancit was okay, but had an overly fishy taste – maybe they used too much fish sauce.

I may need to go to New York to have better Filipino.

http://www.jnjturoturo.com/

Blackbird Donuts, South End

In case you haven't gotten the memo, cupcakes are out and gourmet donuts are in. Blackbird donuts, from the team behind Gallows restaurant, is Boston's newest entry into the trend.

My friend Leslie lives near the shop so she bought me some to taste. She selected salted toffee, lemon coconut, and pepperoni pizza .



I'll start with the pepperoni pizza donut – this was basically a pizza bagel, except on a softer and mushier base. The donut added nothing to the experience; it felt more trendy than delicious.

Luckily, the sweet donuts were far better. The salted toffee had enough salt, which is something a lot of salted caramel things lack. The lemon coconut also had a punch of tart lemon and a generous amount of coconut. My only issue with the donuts is that the flavorings were only on the exterior. Some kind of filling would've been great.

The donuts themselves are raised donuts, different from the cake donuts that are more common. They will cost you three dollars a pop, which seems to be the going rate for a specialty donut. I would say that Blackbird is on par with Union Square donuts, but demerits for the silly pizza donut.


http://www.blackbirddoughnuts.com/
It was our last morning in Charleston and we knew we had to have biscuits one more time. The short walk to Callie's Hot Little Biscuits awarded us Virginia ham biscuits with mustard and cheddar.

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It was easily the best biscuit of the whole trip. We are also very close to glazed gourmet doughnuts, a shop specializing in, you guessed it – glazed gourmet doughnuts. We had a tiramisu doughnut, a black-and-white filled with chocolate doughnut and a bacon apple fritter. The doughnuts were pretty good, tender and lightly fried. My only complaint was that the bacon apple fritter did not have enough bacon in it.

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http://glazedgourmet.com/

Our flight was at two, so we had enough time for a quick lunch. We went to Martha Lou’s, a pink shack near the overpass of the highway. I learned about it when Shawn Brock's raved about it on Mind of a Chef, stating it is one of his favorite places in Charleston. Martha Lou has been cooking soul food for 30+ years, and has brought her daughter as well as her granddaughter into the family business. For $10 I got a quarter of a fried chicken (your choice of white or dark) and three sides. I opted for red rice, collard greens, and mac & cheese. I was sad they had no biscuits. All of the chicken is cooked to order, so we had to wait longer than I had anticipated for our food. Sadly, that meant we had to rush through our lunch. It's too bad because the chicken was perfectly fried, crispy and delicious. I would have enjoyed it more if I had not burned my tongue on the first bite.

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Our flight was, of course, delayed so we could've taken the time to savor the chicken properly.

http://marthalouskitchen.com/

I had an amazing weekend with my friends – Charleston is a super fun and delicious food-filled city. I would highly recommend it as a gateway spot for your next vacation.
Hominy Grill

How can I possibly not go somewhere where they serve something called the Charleston nasty biscuit? It is a piece of fried chicken and cheddar cheese sandwiched between a big fluffy biscuit drenched in sausage gravy.

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Hominy Grill has been featured on plenty of food TV shows – people rave about the shrimp and grits and, of course, the famous biscuit. To be honest, after two days of vacation eating, I was getting kind of full, so I was happy I was able to convince Wendy to share the biscuit ($9.5) with me – that and a side of grits ($3) completed our breakfast. The grits were good - creamy and cheesy, but nowhere comparable to Husk’s grits from the previous night.

Everyone enjoyed their breakfast. The prices were affordable and the service was friendly. Definitely make Hominy Grill a stop if you are in town.

http://hominygrill.com/

Crab Shack, Folly Island

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Monday's weather was sunny and 70 degrees – a nice charge from the cold rain. So we decided to take a drive to Folly Island, one of Charlston's outer beach islands. We had lunch al fresco at the Crab Shack and Wendy and I shared a Charleston steamer basket ($30). It had snow crab, oysters, shrimp, potatoes and corn, simply steamed and seasoned. I've never shucked oysters before, so this was an adventure in eating. I'm pleased to report I managed not to stab myself with the knife, but it took a long time to find the sweet spot on each of the oysters. I think from now on I'll let someone else do the shucking for me. The seafood was tender and flavorful; there’s nothing I like more than eating seafood in the sunshine.

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http://crabshacks.com/

Rooftop at the Vendue

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Most of the girls left on Monday, so by the evening there was only Allison and I left. We decide to go to the Vendue, one of the city’s famous rooftop bars. The view was lovely - you could see the sun setting over the buildings in the horizon.

Southend Brewery

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It started getting chilly so then we move to the brewery across the street.
Drinking on an empty stomach is never good plan for me so I had an order of onion hush puppies ($3.5). They were crispy and a perfect bar snack.

http://southendbrewery.com/

Jim ‘n Nick’s BBQ

I sincerely thought we were done eating (and drinking), but by 9pm, we couldn’t resist the siren song of BBQ just around the corner.

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We shared a combo plate of pulled pork, Buffalo wings and beef brisket. It came 2 sides – we opted for mac & cheese and fried green tomatoes, as well as 2 cheese biscuits.

The brisket was the best, tender and a decent amount of fat. The pulled pork should have been smokier and the wings were perfunctory. I enjoyed the mac & cheese more than the tomatoes, which needed salt. I was offended by the “biscuits” which were more mini-muffins than biscuits.

http://www.jimnnicks.com

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