Sunday, July 27, 2014

"We Have Butlers."

Tucked away in the stunning mountains of Fayette County, overlooking the scenic Mystic Rock of Nemacolin Woodlands, rests Falling Rock, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired hotel that exemplifies a chic and luxurious take on organic architecture. Its restaurant, Aqueous (1001 Lafayette Drive, 15437), with its sublime service, ambiance and menu is undoubtedly the best I have experienced in years, if ever

(4 stars, 4/4)

Aqueous on Urbanspoon

Now, if you need to read the rest of this review, go ahead.
JEG and myself... cousins, friends, nearly sisters
Service
"Oh, that's okay. We have butlers. They will take care of you." This cheery, and entirely sincere response was what the waitress told me when I indicated that I might be in imminent danger of slipping gently a food coma. Thus, I think that is all I need to say about the memorably impeccable service.  

Ambiance
Another definitive memory that lasts long after one pulls onto Route 40 from the Nemacolin Woodlands property is the resort's exemplary attention to detail. As one can see from the pictures, there are elements of organic architecture blended with luxury and chic (I am not sure if Frank Lloyd Wright would appreciate its bombastic effect, but I certainly did). With a wraparound view of the Mystic Rock golf course, the combination of natural and interior lighting is relaxing and worked well with the earthy, yet geometric design elements. The furniture, in particular the chairs, are reminiscent of Wright's work; the tableware is complementary. 
Menu
And then there is the most definitive and memorable part of the Aqueous experiential trifecta: the meal itself. From its inception to its final moments, this meal surpassed any expectations with such fervor that I found myself pausing every so often to breath. Yes, I understand that this sounds quite exaggerated, but hopefully my commentary regarding each menu item below will convince you of my sincerity. 
Amish Style Milk Bread (apricot jam, goat cheese with chives, house sweet butter with smoked sea salt)
This complimentary loaf tasted like a warm, welcoming challah. The jam, cheese, and butter were superb; the butter was the favorite.
French Onion ($11, brandy, aged comte, fine herbs)
This soup had a truly rich onion flavor that was enhanced with the brandy, much more delicious than the typical salty mainstream versions.
Aqueous Mac and Cheese ($9, five cheeses, applewood smoked bacon)
Speaking of mainstream, just when I thought that I had experienced entirely enough mac and cheese at the many, many American-fare gastropubs and bistros and grilles, Aqueous went and knocked my figurative socks off with their version. The pasta nestled the cheeses and the pork was just enough cured flavor and texture to complete this blissful comfort food. Priced at $9, I would recommend going to the bar at Falling Rock and ordering the Aqueous Mac and Cheese with a nice glass of wine for a true treat (especially if one resides in Fayette County)!
Amuse-bouche (white balsamic, cream cheese, thyme, parsley, oregano, cream, salt, pepper, lemon juice, shallots, butter, garlic)
There is no other way to describe this pastry other than declaring it to be a little puff of heaven.
Soda (ginger lemongrass sorbet)
To cleanse our palates, Aqueous served a lime soda. If only the servers knew just how much JEG and I love lime soda... we could only shake our heads at this serendipitous moment.  
Vegetable Potstickers ($28, fricassee or spring vegetables, asparagus silk, "coleslaw," sweet soy glaze)
This dish had panache with its flavorful, handmade dough encompassing fresh vegetables; the sweet soy glaze ensured that every bite was delicious. I recommend this dish for anyone who wants a lighter entree, particularly in the summer months.
Sea Bass ($36, ramen noodles, honey miso market vegetables, kimchi, gingered pork broth)
This might sound pretentious, but I have tried a significant amount of sea bass in my lifetime (most often at Monterey Bay Fish Grotto); this was the best that I have ever eaten. I was served a generous portion of this white, tender fish wrapped in ramen and accented with vegetables and broth; I too recommend this for a lighter entree option, and I would have a difficult time trying anything else upon returning because I loved it so much. Oh, and had I been in the confines of my own home, I would have poured my remaining gingered pork broth right down my throat.
Kettle Corn "Cigar" ($10, formage blanc cheesecake, caramel, kettle corn sherbet, bourbon cream soda)
JEG's dessert selection was unique and enticing. The cheesecake was served similar to a cannoli, and the "sides" of sherbet, popped corn, and cream soda created the ultimate sweet conclusion to her meal. She paired hers with a coffee ($4).
Warm Chocolate Donuts ($10, peach, peanut butter, marshmallow, chocolate)
My dessert selection was equally unique and enticing. Ten points for a sensory pleasing presentation (see, I told you Nemacolin paid great attention to detail)! The donuts were warm as described, and each sweet dip was a different experience; the marshmallow was the favorite, with the peanut butter as a close second. I paired mine with a hot tea ($4).


Final thought: Upon entering, I felt home; upon leaving, I felt separation anxiety. Is that a first world problem? 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bartending For A Good Cause

Hello everyone! 

I have some exciting news to share with you. Savoy Restaurant & Lounge and Dickerson Creative Communications have graciously asked me to be a celebrity bartender at Cocktails & Celebs: A Celebrity Bartending Event at Savoy Restaurant & Lounge (2623 Penn Avenue, 15222) this Thursday (July 24)! It is a unique summer celebration that was created as a way to give back to several Pittsburgh area charities and bring the community together for a night of libations and stars.

Cocktails & Celebs is from 6:00-9:00 p.m.; I am scheduled to bartend from 7:30-8:00 p.m. on the patio, and from 8:30-9 p.m. indoors. All tips earned will be donated to We're the cHange* on my behalf. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the charity who raises the most funds with their tip jar. 

With that in mind, it would be wonderful if all of you could come and show your support at this event (moral and financial). My bartending skills may be a little rusty, so please order drinks with the ingredients in the name (Jack & Coke, Beer, Wine, Vodka & soda, Hennessy, etc.) and please leave generous tips! You all know how competitive I am, and how much I like to "win!"

Tickets are $20 per person (which includes one complimentary drink) and can be purchased by calling 412-657-3483 or at the door. 

Thank you! XOXO
-HGB

*If you aren't familiar, We're the cHange is a group of teenagers (my students to be specific) from Woodland Hills High School (Pittsburgh, PA) who take a very close look at the theme of integrity all school year in the various American and multicultural works that they read: short stories, poetry, To Kill a MockingbirdJulius CaesarAntigoneTwelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, essays, speeches, several nonfiction pieces about Abraham Lincoln, and literally (pun intended) everything in between. In doing so, believe that a service project is a fitting way to live with integrity. 

These visionary and thoughtful students collect change (and other monetary donations) to create and sustain an emergency relief fund for anyone in the Woodland Hills School District community who needs immediate support in the wake of misfortune (like fires, floods, homelessness, etc.). They are being proactive so that they have the resources to be reactive. In other words, they are being the change they wish to see in the world... won't you join them?

How can you support We're the cHange
·        You can support We're the cHange by bringing plastic coffee containers or jugs to Woodland Hills High School during school hours (2550 Greensburg Pike, 15221). 
·        You can support We're the cHange by giving your spare change during one of our collections or by bringing it to Woodland Hills High School during school hours. 
·        You can make direct donations to We're the cHange on gofundme by clicking here

How can you get updated information about We're the cHange?
·         Follow We're the cHange on twitter: @_the_cHange_  
·         Like We're the cHange on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WerethecHange
·         Email We're the cHangewerethechange10@gmail.com 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The First World Problems of HGB & MAB cont.

Since the last nineteen posts of this nature, I have been accumulating many contributions from family and friends in addition to the ones that MAB and me experience on our own. Like last time, this particular list piled up quite quickly, which begs the question: Is life in the first world getting to be too hard for us?

As always, you should know that anything posted on facebook and Twitter is totally fair game. It's just too easy for me to pluck your first world problems from there and drop them here on The Steel Trap. Note: Just because these are written in first person point of view, doesn't mean that they are mine. Or does it? You decide.
  • I used a deluxe cloth-like paper napkin and it got lint all over my black pants. 
  • My shoes broke this morning at work and I had to rush home on my lunch break to change them. Then, my new dress ripped up the back (not because it was too tight, because it got caught on a laptop cord) in the afternoon and I didn't have time to change before my dinner date so I had to wear a sweater artfully draped from my arms to cover it up. 
  • The traffic to get into Pittsburgh on a weekday morning is no less foul at 9:30 a.m. than it is at 6:30 a.m. 
  • I forgot to take my sunglasses off at the beach and now I have weird tan lines on my face.
  • My child sharted in the middle of a four star restaurant.
  • I cannot type today. 
  • Sonic discontinued their Fritos Chili Pie and now all I want is a Fritos Chili Pie.
  • The air conditioning on the airport shuttle was a literal polar vortex and I couldn't take a nap because my shivering kept me awake. 
  • My Chaco's, the shoes that I wear EVERY DAY, just broke. 
  • This morning I had a very real moment with the window AC unit. 
  • My day started with the battery light coming on in my car on the way to work. Then, on the trip to Advance Auto Parts, the car broke down. I had to get a ride to work from a kind civilian who dropped F bombs the entire way. Total expenses: $576. 
  • I made it to Penn Station in time for the 6:56 train. Except that there is no 6:56 train. 
  • McDonald's gave me unsweetened iced tea when I clearly asked for sweet! 
  • My cat sleeps better on top of a cable box than I do on top of my king sized bed. 
  • I had to buy a pair of Chaco's on the fly because we decided to leave the pool and go hiking through the woods to a secluded waterfall and my Havaianas were not going to survive the trek. Total expenses: $80. 
  • The hot water in my apartment shower only works if I run both the bathroom and kitchen sinks simultaneously for the duration of my shower. 
  • The woman next to me at this airport bar right now keeps coughing all over everything and talking to everybody. And I'd prefer to listen to music on my headphones so I don't have to listen to her, but it's a piano bar. 
  • With each passing week, I get more and more depressed about the end of True Blood. 
  • I accidentally ordered a women's belt. I am a man. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

14

I am sitting here in Jittery Joe's on the University of Georgia campus. MAB works for UGA, and today I get to see her in action along with experiencing the campus more closely than my previous visits. Anyway, I have some free time until our next activity so I thought that I would do one of my posts through which I list all of the thoughts and ideas that are on my mind...
  1. I love college. And college bookstores. 
  2. I love Georgia; I am fairly positive that I am going to have some sort of irrational separation anxiety when I get back to Pittsburgh. 
  3. I just bought a vanilla hot tea and it's too hot to drink, which is like the fourth first world problem to happen to me today. 
  4. If you have never played fishbowl (or salad bowl), I highly recommend that you give it a try. I have never had a bad time playing this game, whether I have been with my inner circle or complete strangers. 
  5. Sam Smith is brilliant. And if you haven't listened to the acoustic version of "Latch," you simply must. It's beautiful. It's on repeat. 
  6. Planet Smoothie is my new favorite place. And the Walnut Street location in Shadyside needs to be ready for my imminent visit. It will be big! 
  7. Entourage Clothing & Gifts is a great little shop. I cannot wait to rock the top I bought there yesterday. 
  8. My summer vacation is nearly halfway over; I am okay with that because I have so many ideas for this upcoming school year.  
  9. MAB has made some pretty funny comments this trip, including something along the lines of, "Telling somebody that something is right next to a Chic-fil-a down here is not helpful. Everything is next to a Chic-fil-a."  
  10. I have never stopped wondering if certain people happen to be looking up at the stars and/or the moon at the same time(s) that I am. There's just something so hopeful about that notion, right? Don't we all just want to know and feel that we are connected to people across the miles?  
  11. I have resolved that I will have minimal interactions with adults who do not reciprocate my actions (and sentiments). At this point in my life, I cannot wait for someone to act or feel in the way(s) that I need and want. I cannot take care of any adult (in some way), if that adult isn't taking care of me (in some way). 
  12. It is never acceptable to message a coworker (via text or social media) in the middle of the night to tell them that you are attracted to them. Playfully flirtatious or not, passively aggressive or not, perceptively harmless or not, unwarranted, unsolicited messages such as this are inappropriate and do nothing but cause problems. Anyone who does this to me again will be unfriended in both real and internet life, and I swear to goodness, I will tell your wife/partner.  
  13. Please do not mistake my kindness for weakness.  
  14. Please do not insult my intelligence by pretending to be a supportive friend in order to get information about my personal life. Sorry, but you can't prank a prankster. I've read enough Nancy Drew books to know how to determine who is sleuthing and who is sincere. Bye. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

ATL = All The Love

When I say that I love a specific city, I say it with conviction and sincerity.

I love Atlanta.

No, really. I love it. Not only is it beautiful and bombastic, but it is vibrant and diverse and just so... real. Yes. I got nothing but love for the ATL.

On this particular trip into the city, I had three items on my must-do list: the Atlanta Street Food Festival, the Stray Boots Midlife Roadtrip interactive scavenger hunt/walking tour, and spending time with my sister. Needless to say, both adventures were nothing short of good clean fun; MAB and I drove home happily full and exhausted.

Atlanta Street Food Festival
So. Picture blue skies over Atlanta's lush Piedmont Park Conservatory with its swimming pool, running/walking trails, dog park, playgrounds, fields and lake. Then imagine it filled with Atlanta's finest food trucks with a Parliament Funkadelic-esque band playing your favorite tunes. A little piece of heaven? Um, absolutely!
#dogsofATL
Our plan of attack was to try as much as we could within a reasonable "when in Rome" budget and time frame of five hours (oh, and without feeling too guilty about the amount of calories); we also wanted to make sure that we tried a balance of savory and sweet items that were interestingly unique. Tickets to enter the festival were $10 each, and when all was said and done eaten, we spent $46 between the two of us on food and $14 on drinks to stay hydrated in the Hotlanta heat.

First we had the Blue Cheese Fries ($11, Belgian fries with Gorgonzola crumbles, blue cheese mayo, Sriracha, and scallions) at The Fry Guy.
Even though I am terrified of mayo, I have to admit that this dish was a flavor explosion
Then we quenched our thirst with a Peach Boba ($4) at The Bubble Tea Truck.
Not pictured: MAB's huge smile
We followed that with the Sausage and Peppers Meatball with Mushroom Gravy ($8; pork, cherry peppers, and fennel meatball; crimini, porcini, white truffle oil gravy) and the Zeppole Joey's "Bag O Donuts" & Nutella ($3) at Bar Meatball.
Spicy and tender... pretty darn perfect
Warm Nutella for dipping? Um, are you kidding us right now?
Of course we were thirsty again, so we tried the delicious Handmade Lemon Basil Italian Soda at Firewall Wood Fired Oven, and then we took a long exploratory walk around the park only to find some of MAB's friends and [OMG] complimentary iced Keurig drinks on a Keurig truck, which is an ingenious way to introduce people to Keurig and hook current fans on their many iced options! Yes, I just said Keurig three times in one sentence!


After a while we were hungry again, so we got Lola's Coconut Fried Chicken ($10, farm-to-table coconut fried chicken, jicama with a mango chili glaze, green onion tossed in basil vinaigrette, and sweet coco rice), Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes ($5, stuffed with goat cheese and topped with spiked chipotle aioli) and a Cucumber Infused Water ($3) at ibiza Bites.
Excellent. The Cucumber Infused Water complimented the meal well. 
To end our Atlanta Street Food Festival experience, we got two waters and two Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches ($4.50 each; Frosted Sugar Cookie with Cotton Candy; White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie with Vanilla Bean) at Yum Yum Dessert Co.
Soft homemade cookies with slowly melting ice cream... Yup, we ate every single crumb. 
Overall, it was a wonderful outing and we plan to return next summer if we can make it work with our schedules. Maybe we will be able to fit in one of the tempting barbecue trucks. We recommend going earlier (noon) than later as parking got more tricky and lines dramatically increased with time (2 p.m.). Also, many people took picnic blankets and chairs, which isn't a bad idea, especially if you plan to sit and listen to the music in between eating! We would also consider bringing a cooler with our own water and ice.

Stray Boots Midlife Roadtrip
Stray Boots contacted me earlier this week about doing their Pittsburgh tour, and I mentioned to them that I was headed to Atlanta. They pointed me in the direction of their Midlife Roadtrip tour, and since MAB has yet to do some of the more touristy activities during her time here in Georgia, we thought that it was the perfect opportunity to learn some local history and see some sights. All we had to do was open the Stray Boots app on my phone, pay the $9.99 fee (with iTunes credit or a credit card), and find the starting point. It turned out to be perfect because the tour took us to such great spots like the top of the Sun Dial Restaurant for a rotating 73rd floor view of the entire Atlanta area, the SkyView Ferris Wheel, Centennial Olympic Park, and the World of Coca-Cola.
Along the way, Stray Boots challenged us to find historical markers, unique facts, and take pictures of ourselves. For instance...
Just me and the Coca-Cola dude, Dr. John Pemberton
I don't know about you, but a walking tour that provides laughter, fun, and museum gift shops along the way is right up The Steel Trap's alley.


Like I said above, I love Atlanta and I love being there with people that I love (like MAB). Therefore, ATL clearly stands for "All The Love." All of it!