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  • 7/24: Elan's birthday
  • 7/31: "The Generous Pour" at Capital Grille
  • 8/13-8/18: San Diego
  • 8/31-9/2: Nantucket

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Entries in Product reviews (35)


Some favorites of late: August with The Lunch Belle

...because not sharing this list would be selfish.

Dear readers,

TGIF!  With summer coming to an abrupt end, I wanted to share some of my favorite/most memorable meals, treats, and trips that I've experienced within the past month.  Enjoy and have a lovely weekend!  

Read it & eat,

The Lunch Belle


Chip and Cookie

Where's Wally?  In Hawaii! 

Everyone's favorite chocolate-chip cookie pioneer, Wally Amos, is back in the kitchen.  Doing what he does best.  Making cookies!  Only now, his operation is on a much smaller scale, at least in comparison to his Famous-Amos (owned by Kellogg's!) days.  Mr. Amos owns Chip and Cookie, a single-store unit located within Waikiki's posh Royal Hawaiian Center.  In addition to handmade cookies born from Wally's personal recipe, Chip & Cookie also sells t-shirts, books, toys, ball caps, etc.  

I'll be honest with you, I've never been a huge fan of Famous-Amos Cookies.  I found them stale, over-processed, and flavorless.  So you can imagine my hesitation when my mom brought me a bag of chocolate-chip cookies from Wally's store in Hawaii.  *I should mention that, in 2007, I had visited a Chip and Cookie store - now closed - in Kailua, HI.  While the fresh product was undoubtedly delicious, I couldn't help but wonder how the contents of this particular bag - having traveled from Hawaii to San Diego - would fare.

I immediately turned the package around and read the ingredients: pure butter, Watkins Vanilla extract, chocolate chips, to name a few.  There were absolutely no artificial flavors, no preservatives and no trans-fats.  I opened the bag and placed one of the silver-dollar sized chocolate-chip cookies in to my mouth.  "Mom!  These are amazing," I gushed.  "How are they still this fresh - without the help of preservatives - after one-month?"  She just smiled and shrugged.  

I literally had to hide my bag of cookies so that I would not eat every last one during my week in California.  "I'll be damned if I can't bring at least some of these back to New York with me," I thought to myself. 

It's almost been a month since I've returned from San Diego, making the cookies 2-month's old.  Believe it or not, they still taste every bit as fresh and delicious as they did when I took my initial bite in California, on August 15th.  I have to wonder, how can a product - made only with the most natural ingredients - endure such longevity? 

For my dear circle of close friends in NYC - sorry for the spoiler if you're reading this post - I plan to send each one of them a 1-lb. bag (filled with 65-70 small cookies) for the December holidays.  Yes, these cookies are that good.  Plus, their size and price is right.  Mark my word, you will never come across a chocolate-chip cookie, outside of a bakery, that gets it right on every level: 

  • No skimping on chocolate chips
  • Crunchy, with a buttery intensity that flirts with your mouth
  • Perfect amount of salt (yes, I said salt)   
  • None of that mass-distributed/conveyor-belt/aluminum after-taste

Go getcha' some today and thank me later.  Click *here*


Juanita's Taco Shop Encinitas, CA

Juanita's is situated in a shack-like dwelling in the sleepy California beach town of Encinitas, located north of San Diego.  Don't be fooled by its appearance or lack thereof - barred windows and doors, graffiti, unisex bathroom, Styrofoam cups & plastic utensils - because this modest taco-shop turns out some of the best Mexican food this side of Tijuana.

Bienvenidos!Nothing screams "sanitary" better than an industrial-sized trash can holding the dining-room door ajarTablescapeJuanita's Taco Shop: combo plate with 1 beef taco, 1 cheese enchilada, rice & beansLook at the picture above.  Now, if that's not the poster-child for food porn, then I really don't know what is. 

On the plate, from left to right:

  • Cheese enchilada smothered in homemade red chile sauce - topped with lettuce, pico-de-gallo, and shredded cheese
  • Shredded-beef taco house-fried shell stuffed with beef, lettuce, pico-de-gallo, and shredded cheese
  • Rice flavorful Mexican rice with notes of cumin, saffron, tomato & chicken broth
  • Refried pinto beans a rich and creamy elixir that blow black-beans out of the water

To my taco, I add a squirt of both green and red homemade salsas (as seen in the photo above my lunch) before I wash my meal down with a tall glass of ice-cold horchata.

*To view all of my pictures from California, please visit Flickr


The Jersey Shore sans Jersey Shore Long Branch, NJ

Please enjoy some of my favorite photos from a fabulous Labor Day weekend.  Oh, and in case you're wondering, we stationed ourselves at the Ocean Place Hotel.

*To view all of my pictures from this trip, please visit Flickr

View from our hotel roomTikki bar at our hotelBack pubes!!!

A bride takes her pre-wedding photos on the beachStarfish were strewn all over the sand, so I picked a couple of them up and tossed them back in to the water.~

And with that, dear readers, I bid the month of August and Summer 2010 adieu!  Wishing all of you a happy and bountiful fall season.  Until next week...

Your Lunch Belle


A mid-summer night's fling

Since there are so many small treasures that I'm crushing on this summer, I thought that it would be best to consolidate everything in to one list.  From cocktails and bites to hair accessories and beach bags, these are a few of my favorite things:

Headbands, bandannas, and scarves: I love how a simple headband or bandanna - or Pucci scarf - can completely transform an outfit.  A bold pop of color will breathe life in to any all-black business suit.  And in my case, these hair accessories aid in lengthening my rather-large, heart-shaped face.  Wouldn't you agree?

Sour-cherry bellini at ABC Kitchen: I ordered this brunch cocktail while I was waiting for two of my girlfriends to arrive.  Sour-cherry puree, brandy-macerated sour-cherry juice, and champagne was delicately blended together, creating an orgasmic trinity of effervescent flavor. 

Since ABC's market table and ingredients frequently change with the seasons, I would advise going ASAP, as this cocktail masterpiece makes ABC Kitchen destination-worthy.  *As embarrassing as it is to snap photos at restaurants, I'm kicking myself for not capturing this beverage.  Sorry, folks!

Shopstyle.com: what doesn't this website carry?  From Christian Louboutin heels to the swankiest interior decor for your home, you can't help but spend hours skimming through this amazing website.

My Other Bag is Hermes: can't afford a Birkin?  Well, neither can I; so instead of maxing out my AMEX, I chose to save $6,430 by picking up the next-best-thing at Colette.  Hell, for $70, let everyone think that "my other bag really is Hermes!" 

City Limits Magazine: a bi-monthly investigative journalism publication on (New York) city-wide civic issues

Esperanto's spiced oil: served alongside freshly-sliced bread at Esperanto, I fell in love with this bold and fragrant spice-infused oil...so much so, that I purchased a bottle to take home.  I use it so often that once the bottle becomes half-full, I refill it with my own olive oil.  My favorite things to make using Esperanto's oil include: sauteed scallops, fried eggs, Brussels sprouts, and drizzled over sliced avocado.  Click *here* to purchase your own bottle of this liquid gold!   

Sour Patch Kids Fruit Salad: now if there's one candy that I never tire of, it's these sweet n' sour morsels.  The original SPK's are tasty, but trust me when I say that the "Fruit Salad" version reigns supreme.  Unfortunately, if you're located outside of NYC, they're pretty hard to find, at least in my experience.  Luckily, Amazon.com sells 5-lb. bags!  

Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream: if you've been following my website for a while, you may recall how devastated I was when Haagen Dazs decided to discontinue their "Reserve" line of ice creams.  The departure of my beloved "Fleur de Sel Caramel" was a blow on par with breaking up with someone.  I wasn't quite sure if it would ever become replaceable.

While strolling past my grocer's freezer with baited breath, I decided to "man up" and give another ice cream flavor a try.  And there it was, Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream.  I was surprised by my choice because a) I rarely purchase anything from Ben & Jerry's because they use so many preservatives and additives, and b) I typically shy away from fruity ice cream. 

Imagine rich and creamy, strawberry-laden, not-overly-sweet ice cream swirled with salty/sweet ribbons of graham cracker.  Even texturally, this dessert bomb will do numbers on your tastebuds.  And I promise you this: you will finish the pint in one sitting.


A view from the top, courtesy of Lillet

In honor of their recently-debuted summer label, Lillet, France's most recognized aperitif wine, hosted a launch party atop "Above Allen's" fabulous 7th floor terrace.  Aside from the generous hors d'oeuvre and libations, and a breathtaking view of Manhattan, the evening was consummated with familiar French tunes sung by trio, "Les Chaud Lapins," of Brooklyn. 

Please enjoy my collage of snapshots which capture one of my most memorable evenings yet. 

Lillet's new summer label launch party: I adore the new summer label. The lovely lady adorning the bottle resembles a blonde Coco Chanel, no? Tres belle!Lillet's new summer label launch party: while so many of the cocktails sounded delightful, I simply could not pull myself away from the "Lillet Sangria." Must. Get. That. Recipe.

Lillet's new summer label launch party : why, thank you! I will serve myself unlimited amounts of sangria. Lillet's new summer label launch party : Lillet's crack-ified sangria, chock-full of alcohol-soaked fruits (blueberries, nectarines, melon balls, apples, lemon slices, etc.)

Lillet's new summer label launch party : "Above Allen's" truffled-grilled-cheese-bites

Lillet's new summer label launch party : charming musical trio singing familiar French tunes

Lillet's new summer label launch party : "Above Allen's" gorgeous outdoor spaceLillet's new summer label launch party : oh, what a night! A fellow guest revels in this picture-perfect eve.


Agwa de Bolivia: para tu salud!


As some of you know, I spent two weeks in South America (Peru & Ecuador) in December 2009.  I fell in love with this region's rich culture, gorgeous varying terrains, tropical climate, friendly people, and delicious cuisine (among so many other things). 

With all of the talk these days about living a more "natural life" (for example, trading in one Splenda packet for three teaspoons of real sugar despite the extra calories; choosing grass-fed beef over corn-fed; free-roaming chicken over caged; eating organic produce, etc.), I embraced many of South America's unique practices and remedies.  One, in particular, was used to lessen the effects of altitude sickness, which I suffered from in Cusco: sipping coca tea, available nearly everywhere in both Peru and Ecuador. 

What is coca tea, you ask?  By "coca," do you mean, gasp, cocaine?  Here's how our friends at Wikipedia define and describe "coca tea":

  • Coca tea, also called mate de coca, is a tisane (herbal tea) made using the leaves of the coca plant. It is made either by submerging the coca leaf or dipping a tea bag in hot water. The tea originates from the Andes mountain range, particularly Peru.
  • The leaves of the coca plant contain several alkaloids including cocaine;[1] in fact, they comprise the sources for cocaine's chemical production, though the amount of cocaine in the leaves is so small, around 0.4%,[1][2] that in order to make a gram of cocaine, 250 grams of coca leaves would be needed.[3][4] A cup of coca tea prepared from one gram of coca leaves contains approximately 4.21 mg of cocaine.[5]
  • Owing to the presence of the stimulant alkaloids, the coca tea provides a stimulant similar to coffee. The tea is often sold commercially in filtering bags, each of which usually contains approximately one gram of the leaf. As coffee can be decaffeinated, the coca tea can also be decocainized. Just like "decaf" coffee does retain a minute quantity of caffeine, "de-cocainated" coca tea will still contain a minute quantity of the drug. When the cocaine is removed, the amount of cocaine is small enough for the product to legally sell in the USA according to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. In the 1980s the tea was used to wean cocaine addicts off of the drug.

Recently, I heard about a brand new liquor called Agwa de Bolivia, which is made with the coca leaf.  Don't get the wrong idea, folks: the coca leaves used to make the product are "decocainised Bolivian Coca. The finest hand picked wild Bolivian Coca leaves are shipped to Amsterdam under armed guard where they are first decocainised before being infused with alcohol and 36 other natural herbs and botanicals to enable the maximum effect."  Apparently, if the liquor is mixed/paired with lime, it activates the alkaloids in the Agwa and gives you an "oxygen buzz," similar to the effects felt when drinking coca tea in the Andes.  Oh, and FYI, it's 30% alcohol (60 proof). 

After perusing the Agwa website, I came across some yummy-sounding recipes and am considering buying a bottle.  Have any of you tried this liquor yet?  If so, what are your thoughts?

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