My Special Date

Who knew a doctor’s appointment would turn into taking myself on one of the best dates ever? You really never know where the day might take you. Let me explain.

Knowing that I’d be near SoHo, I thought I’d walk around a bit and explore what’s going on in the neighborhood before hopping on the train back home to prepare for tonight’s plans; the weather was improving by the minute, getting warmer with every block, sunnier around each corner. I found myself walking to the Lower East Side, one of my favorite parts of the city, a section that harkens back to the NYC I remember [fondly]. No matter what street you choose, there’s something new/different/interesting to see/eat/buy. Knowing better than to shop and add to my overstuffed closet and dresser, I decided to treat myself to a facial and a massage–ones that cost a lot less than they do in my neck of the woods (maybe not as luxurious, but certainly just as effective and lovely). Refreshed, renewed, relaxed, and with baby soft, bright, clean and clear skin, I left almost two hours later a new woman with a bit more pep in her step. I didn’t realize how much I and my body needed that; between work, everyday life and working out, my body and mind have been taking a major pounding. It’s sad to say, but I’m so accustomed to living this way that today’s spontaneous treat gave me a necessary wake-up call to power down, breathe and show myself some love and affection.

All that love made me quite hungry though, which is never an unsolvable problem on the LES! There are so many restaurants, cafes, food stands, etc., and so many cuisines from which to choose. My feet guided me to a giant bowl of pho, Vietnamese soup for the soul, an inner hug if you will. Sitting at a beat-up little wooden table in a corner, I was so happy eating and smelling my steaming bowl that I couldn’t stop smiling. I started looking around at everyone because I heard soft sound coming from nearby, but realized it was me. Humming! Humming while eating! Now you know I’m happy and the food is good if I’m humming to myself. Whoa.

Belly full and pleased that my meal was guilt-free (healthy), and wallet happy because dinner was super affordable, I decided to continue my journey because I had absolutely no desire to go home. Strolling into parts unknown [by me], I walked farther than I’ve ever been into that area of the city, to the point where nothing was familiar, neither the street names nor the landscape. Headphones on, bumping New York hip-hop, I walked the streets, felt and saw history, from the old tenements to buildings taken over by yuppies and hipsters. I walked through areas that went from Chinese to Dominican and black to Jewish, then back to Chinese to Dominican and black and Puerto Rican to hipster to rich hipster-turned-yuppie; from row houses to co-ops to projects to modern architecture, then back to projects upon projects upon projects; turning a corner and I was back to apartment buildings, new mixed with old. It was ugly, beautiful, chaotic and orderly, diverse and separate all at the same time. I loved it and didn’t want to stop this field trip, but knew I had to because the sun was setting and it was time to get back to the land of the familiar. I will be back, mind you. I always go back.

Walking directly to a train station would seem like the practical thing to do, so of course that’s not what happened. I walked from the LES through Alphabet City then into the East Village. Heading west, I came upon one of my favorite ice cream shops and treated myself to dessert. Continuing my walk with extra virgin olive oil ice cream nestled inside the perfect waffle cone, I made my way back to Sixth Avenue to finally take a train home. (I did however, make a quick detour to a health food store first.)
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(<—- A makeup-free, spa-faced me getting ready to gobble up the last bit of my delicious ice cream cone)

Home at last, I kicked off my shoes and acknowledged to myself that I would not be going out, as originally planned. My inner monologue and I are best friends and have exemplary communication. So what did I do instead, you ask? I went to the kitchen and whipped up my first vanilla chia seed pudding.
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(If you would like the recipe and/or would like to know the health benefits of chia seeds and this dessert, please let me know. I’ll be happy to share it all with you!)

And you thought my detour to the health food store was for what, exactly…? HA! No, just kidding. I didn’t plan on making the pudding tonight, it was just on my list of things to do in the near future and I just happened to remember that there was a health food store near my train station. So it was planned, but not planned. And while it sets in the fridge (anywhere from four hours to overnight), I’ll be doing one of the things I do best: watch back-to-back episodes of something on Netflix.

Today was a day I’ll remember for years to come. I felt truly happy and at peace with my life, where it’s taken me, and ultimately with myself. Too many people place their happiness into other people’s hands, not realizing that one’s happiness is one’s own responsibility. Also, people don’t have to be happy only around others, or by being in all sorts of relationships. As RuPaul always says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?!” So, readers, worry about loving yourself and treating yourself well, instead of loving the idea of other people loving you and finding happiness then and only then. Go on a date with yourself and see how it makes you feel. You might even learn a thing or two.

Cycle for Survival 2K15

Greetings, everyone!

It’s that time of year again when my team and I ride in Cycle for Survival to raise money to fund lifesaving rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Together we can ensure tangible progress and give real hope to patients and their loved ones worldwide.

Why do I ride?

BECAUSE I WANT TO HONOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS TOUCHED BY CANCER. My family and loved ones have been hit hard by different forms of cancer, as have I personally. I will be riding for them and for everyone else affected by all forms of cancer. Cycle for Survival is my way of fighting back and making a difference.

BECAUSE RARE CANCERS ARE MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK. When you add all of the rare cancers together, approximately 50% of all cancer patients are fighting a rare cancer. And these are familiar diseases: pediatric cancers, leukemia, lymphoma, and thyroid, ovarian and pancreatic cancers are all classified as rare.

BECAUSE THERE AREN’T ENOUGH TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR PATIENTS. There is a critical funding gap in rare cancer research, but we can change that. In the first eight years of events, Cycle for Survival already had raised more than $51 million, arming doctors and researchers with funding to discover new and better treatment options.

What can you do today? Please donate to my ride to support lifesaving research!
Click here to donate

100% of every dollar you give will go directly to pioneering research within six months of the events.

Cycle for Survival has contributed to more than 100 clinical trials and research studies, and also to major research initiatives that will change the way cancer is diagnosed and treated.

Together, we can truly make an impact.

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Thank you for your consideration and continued support.
–Vicky T.

Another Year, Another Chapter

It’s been one week since my birthday and one year since I started this blog, and every year I reflect on what’s happened since the last one. Have I achieved any of my career goals? Am I any closer to reaching my fitness targets? Is there any marked improvement in my character? Have the heels I’ve been wearing gotten me any closer to God? This past birthday week and the month leading up to my actual day were quite different from previous years, causing me to look within even more than usual. I know this post is a severe departure from my norm, however I was compelled to share some of my thoughts–not all, because then you’d find out my exact level of insanity and that would be unacceptable. Also, these “bare all” kind of diary-like entries give me the creeps when I read them back to myself, so have no fear, this won’t be happening very often and they won’t be Shakespearean monologues either. No, I won’t go to the deep end of the pool; I’ll stay on the shallow end as I’m know to do.

At the end of August I broke my ankle. That might not seem like a big deal to most people, but it struck a nerve with me: I take my strength and my body for granted; I need to slow down and have more patience. I need to appreciate life, my life, and my capabilities more than I realize, especially now that I’m acquiring more tree rings. These were all statements I thought I applied–heaven knows I’ve said them to myself many times. Yet, nothing will slow you down and make you think long and hard about your life like a physical blow, a tangible reminder that you’re not immortal. And even as I write this, I’m shaking my head and “tsk tsk-ing” myself because I’ve been rushing my recovery! The doctor told me me it would take 6-8 weeks until I could walk without crutches–I ditched them in under 3 due to lack of patience. Go figure. He also said I should be able to exercise normally by mid to late October as long as I did some physical therapy on my own. What did I do? I went to the gym with the plan to strengthen my ankle on the recumbent bike for 10-15 minutes and ended up taking a spin class instead! That was almost 4 weeks ago. So in a little over one month, I’m at 85-90% capability, which is mind-blowing to some of my friends and family, who all think I’m crazy of course, and I’m seriously pushing myself to dangerous limits. And I know it sounds like I haven’t learned my lesson. However, I also know that I mentally cringe now whenever I think of stairs, high heels, and possible future injuries; I am more careful and aware with/of my body and better understand its limitation. This injury has forever changed me, trust and know, dear reader. I’ve also come away from this obstacle armed with this little tidbit: It’s one thing to say you’re strong and tough; it’s quite another to know you’re strong and tough, and to prove it to others and to yourself. I did, and I am so fortunate to have gained that knowledge of self.

Another noteworthy event leading up to my personal holiday: a new job! I gave my employers 2-weeks notice of my resignation because I accepted a new position at an amazing global company. I start next week and am really excited about my career again. My new role is a big step in my professional life, one that will propel me toward greater success personally (peace of mind and a positive outlook), professionally (not a dead-end job, but a significant stepping stone on my career path), and financially (no parentheses needed). I’m a little nervous though, hoping that I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I won’t miss my previous job, but I will miss some of the people. Working at that company was exactly what I needed at the right time in my life. I have matured, foraged an unexpected yet remarkable friendship; I have learned a lot about people, human nature, different personalities and how to navigate them. All of my experiences there are what afforded me the ability to maneuver myself into this new role and I will be forever grateful. Knowing that I have the drive to achieve success has helped clear my vision on how I see myself. It’s one thing to say you have inner drive, it’s quite another to get behind the wheel and step on the gas. I might be moving fast, but I’m proud to be driving my own car and upgrading it along the way.

Older, wiser, stronger, tougher. Not bad for a year’s work. Here’s to making the most of this one…carefully, of course… (Here’s my “careful face”, taken on my actual birthday, f.y.i.)

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MM Goes to CO-OP Food & Drink: Can I Be on This Board?

After the major letdown of Hotel Chantelle the previous week, Marissa and I were hoping upon hope that CO-OP Food & Drink (located in the Hotel on Rivington on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) wouldn’t be another Maverick Monday disappointment. The menu, once again, seemed very promising; we’d wanted to go for a very long time because of their unique offerings and restaurant.com provided us with the opportunity. For US$4.00, I bought a gift card worth US$25.00 to put toward our meal—what a steal! Here’s what the website has to say about the dining experience they try to provide:

Located on the ground floor of Hotel on Rivington in NYC’s Lower East Side, CO-OP Food & Drink is based on the co-operative principle of bringing together different services and products under one space for everyone’s benefit. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Victor Startek, they bring… together different ingredients, flavors and cultures that reflect the diversity that is the Lower East Side.

This philosophy allows guests to enjoy a variety of plates such as the Tuna Tuna Yuzu Sushi Roll (w/ spicy tuna, tuna, avocado & yuzu dynamite sauce), Shredded Pork Belly Tacos (w/ Ancho BBQ, Smoked Creama, Beets), Fried Chicken Biscuits (w/ ranch & pickled jalapeno aioli) and Miso Cured Salmon (w/ peanut sauce, watermelon radish & pickled celery root). In the spirit of a co-operative, most of the dishes are designed to be shared family-style through multiple courses.

Even so, we didn’t get our expectations up too high…until we entered the dining room, that is. (The bar is nice too, by the way.)

The artwork! The wooden table running the length of the dining room! The plush black leather booths and black chandeliers! Everything in the room was noteworthy—decadent and rustic at the same time. What a great juxtaposition and balance the designer created with the ambience and décor—Marissa was so impressed that after our meal, she booked the long table for her annual holiday dinner. While simultaneously perusing the faces in the portraits covering the wall and picking the dishes we wanted to try, our excitement quickly grew. Here’s what we ordered from their eclectic menu:

To Share
Co-Op Roll – spicy tuna, rock shrimp tempura, serrano peppers
Taco Flight – spicy shrimp (with bacon and blue cheese cole slaw), market fish tacos (grilled fish with avocado and red cabbage)

Marissa
Fish Curry – tile fish, red curry, brown rice, tofu
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

Me
Miso Cured Salmon – peanuts, celery root, watermelon radish
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

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To start, the drinks (Kiwi Caipirinhas) were lovely—just sweet, tart, and strong enough to whet our palettes for the sushi roll, which was good, but not good enough for me to be effusive. The fish tacos on the other hand, were phenomenal, and I’ve had my fair share of fish tacos. Light and refreshing, they were simply cooked and seasoned; each ingredient stood out yet didn’t compete with their counterparts. We loved these and gobbled them up seemingly without breathing! Too bad the spicy shrimp taco gave us the opposite effect. The blue cheese was so pungent that it overpowered the bacon, which in turn, overpowered the spicy shrimp; there was just too much going on at the same time that it completely missed the mark. We wished we had ordered more fish tacos to erase the memory and taste of this misfortune.

We needn’t have worried though, because our main courses were divine! Marissa’s fish curry was neither too rich in consistency nor was it too heavy in coconut flavor or spiciness. Although served steaming hot, the fish wasn’t overcooked sitting in the curry sauce and the curry itself was silky. My miso-cured salmon—which I was afraid would be too salty—was amazing as well. The salmon skin was wonderfully crispy and not chewy in the slightest. The meat was perfectly marbled and cooked just right; moist, fork tender and flaky, the salmon melted in my mouth like a savory candy. The Mavericks were in fish heaven and the accompaniments were like harp strings playing celestial music. I could wax poetic about my salmon alone, however I think I’d be banned from the blogosphere so I’ll spare you all the adjectives.

The only thing missing to round out our experience and meal at CO-OP was dessert, but alas, the pastry chef had embarked on another career path and was no longer making her unique concoctions that I was so dying to try. That’s ok though; because we were so happy with the meal overall, I believe we will return for more, and by then dessert will be back on the menu.

Cheers, CO-OP! You have restored my faith in trendy food.

MM Goes to Hotel Chantelle: Let Me Tell…

…how awful this experience was for us. Usually on our Monday evenings, the Mavericks like to go for nighttime constitutionals before hopping on their respective trains home. (I’ll switch back to the more unpretentious 1st person now.) Since we’re so often on the Lower East Side, we usually pass one restaurant/bar that we’ve put on our list of places to dine, Hotel Chantelle, because it has what reads like a fantastic menu. We finally got our opportunity to dine on the rooftop one lovely Monday evening when the weather was perfect and we were both tightly wound from personal/career life and needed a break.

Upon entering the establishment, it looked like a dilapidated Parisian hostel. Keep walking and you encounter bamboo against walls painted with UV splatters enhanced by black lights—cliché, but whatever. All of a sudden this dark hallway opens up to a lovely rooftop bar and restaurant with white tiled floors and dark iron and wood accents and décor. This atmosphere seemed more promising and lent a little more hope as we perused the menu. Unfortunately, after having considered our options several times over, we still hadn’t been offered any service. Twenty minutes into waiting and still no one came to check on us! When we finally flagged a waitress down (mind you, we were about to get up and leave until we got her attention), we were greeted with curt responses, major attitude, and no apology. Would the food be worth this treatment? Here’s what we ordered:

To share
Deviled Egg Tasting – lobster & caviar / maple bacon & jalapeno / smoked salmon caper crème fraiche

Me
Kale Caesar Salad with Poached Lobster – crisp kale, shaved parmesan, garlic bread croutons, classic Caesar dressing
White Truffle Pizza – ultra-thin crust pizza, fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, mascarpone & goat cheese,
sautéed mushrooms, arugula, white truffle oil, shaved parmesan

Marissa
Snow Crab Claws – half dozen snow crab claws served warm, drawn butter, mustard aioli
Pan Seared Branzino – pan roasted filet of Mediterranean sea bass, topped with warm sautéed kale, capers, olives, baby tomatoes

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I’m going to keep this review short and sweet because I refuse to waste any more time on this place, so here’s the rundown: The deviled eggs were so mediocre, I would’ve been better off just hard-boiling some eggs on my stovetop and eating them plain, straight out of the shells. Marissa’s crab claws=basic and slightly overcooked. My salad, however, was possibly one of the best kale salads I’ve ever tasted, and my lobster was perfectly poached! This was Hotel Chantelle’s only bright moment, believe you me, because Marissa’s branzino and the accompanying sautéed veggies were so salty she could only eat the baby fillet. I tried a tiny morsel of it and almost spit it right back out onto the plate. The ocean isn’t as salty as that dish. My pizza was a crumbly mess, but tasted alright; definitely not anything to write home about—I’m mad I’m writing about this whole experience on this blog, honestly. OH! And to add insult to injury, our lovely waitress double charged Marissa’s credit card and it took forever and a day to dispute.

This place needs to be condemned, along with the waitstaff.

Maverick Monday Goes to Pão: This Is Not a Love Song…

…however, dear Reader, consider this a love letter of sorts to the owner and chef at Portuguese restaurant Pão, for regaling the Mavericks with the best of our Monday culinary excursions thus far. A bit spoiled by the authentic Portuguese fare I’ve feasted upon during my years in Miami, I did not expect such an all-around fine dining experience from this remote locale near Gotham City’s Holland Tunnel. Yet from the moment I stepped foot into this culinary sanctuary, a feeling that something special lay in wait portentously settled in my soul.

The worn, thickly varnished dark wood décor, stark white walls and tablecloths, and the billowing curtains on the open floor-to-ceiling trellis windows made one feel as if no longer in gritty Manhattan, but rather in old Lisbon itself, at a neighborhood haunt run by your good friend from down the street whose family came part and parcel with the cozy little bar, the little one doing homework, undisturbed by her father’s hearty greetings to newcomers and old alike. Next to the bar is a lifelike portrait of an apron-clad man wielding a knife in one hand and that day’s fresh catch of octopus in the other. This man looked quite familiar however, as if I had just glimpsed his visage mere moments ago; ah, my eyes failed me not! It was the chef in Pão’s very kitchen, painted by one of the wait staff years ago (he’s on the website’s homepage as well). This knowledge further solidified the good energy emanating from the restaurant’s pulse. We could only hope going forward that the cuisine would be just as fortifying for our bellies as the atmosphere had been for our hearts.

Our trusty friend, Groupon, provided us with two three-course meals accompanied by a bottle of wine of our choosing—I selected their green wine option which is specific to Portugal, therefore the obvious choice. Crisp, refreshing, just sweet enough and not too dry, our perfectly chilled bottle of Octavo Vinho Verde was just the thing to whet our appetites. Here is what Marissa and I ordered from our lovely and helpful waitress:

Marissa
Vieiras em Tomatada com Porto – Sea Scallops on Tomato Compote with Port Wine Syrup
Pargo com Espuma Batata – Snapper with Whipped Potatoes in a White Truffle Oil
Arroz Doce – Homemade Rice Pudding

Me
Salada de Polvo – Baked Octopus in Garlic/Parsley Vinaigrette
Bacalhau à Bráz – Sautéed Cod with Egg, Onion & Straw Potatoes
Arroz Doce – Homemade Rice Pudding

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In order to accurately assess our experience, we sampled each other’s dishes and were not disappointed in any way by any course.

The Courting Stage: Since the owner told us his scallops were voted one of the best in city, we simply had to test his word—his testament proved true. Firm, succulent and fresh, they were sublime in texture and taste. The tomato compote was refreshing and light; it paired well with the port wine syrup which tempered any possible tartness, yet wasn’t too sweet in and of itself. The baked octopus (I was compelled to order it after staring at the chef’s portrait on the wall) was equally divine; perfectly grilled and seasoned, it was firm, meaty and emitted just the right amount of oceanic essence. Paired with the lovely green wine, we Mavericks were falling in love with Pão rather quickly, and were ready to fall even deeper with our entrées.

Marriage: Marissa’s snapper was light and flaky, simply grilled atop truffled airily whipped potatoes. The dish was so fine and elegant that it stroked the palette like French silk. Pão was definitely no stranger to the nuances and subtleties that comprise truly fine dining without gilding the lily. I chose the bacalhau because it’s a very traditional dish that an authentic Portuguese establishment should always create perfectly—a litmus test of sorts. The chef did not let me down; it was truly delectable. The dish smooth, mellow and moist, not too salty, and the straw potatoes (think of shoestring fries) provided just enough crunch. Rather than pile all of the potatoes over the top, the chef married them into the dish with the cod, egg, and onion—a marriage made in heaven, believe you me. What God hath joined together, let NO man put asunder!

Ever After: The rustic arroz doce summed up the entire meal in its simple and unadorned beauty. Again, they win with their subtle use of fine ingredients; tiny bits of orange peel mixed into the velvety dessert gave each bite a burst of citrusy flavor that tempered the richness of the pudding itself. The cooking of the rice was timed accurately so it wasn’t spineless, yet not too firm that it hurt to chew. Spiced just right, we couldn’t be happier…until the owner complimented us with two glasses of smooth port wine and even smoother kisses to our cheeks. What a splendid ending to our evening.  Brava, brava!

You have captured our taste buds, our bellies and our hearts, Pão. I think of you fondly and anxiously await our next reservation. Until then I am…

 
Yours truly,
The Vickylicious

Maverick Lundi Va à L’est du Village

Monday had the Mavericks dining at Le Village in the East Village with another amazing Groupon perk. This deal piqued our interest because, although a French restaurant, its menu had mostly vegan and vegetarian items of which Marissa and I were curious to sample. On the website, Chef/Owner Didier P. of La Sirene fame says:

“Hand on the kitchen, I want to do a ‘complement’ of my 1st Bistro with a lot of Vegan/ Vegetarian options. No processed tempei, seitan or even soy!
  However, you can come with your friends regardless if they aren’t Vegetarian, I have few dishes (Appetizers and Entrees) which are with meat.
  That’s the difference with ‘Table Verte’ It will be a bistro ‘meat Friendly.’”

French cuisine is known for its sumptuous dishes that luxuriate the palette with rich and lusty flavors and textures. Would vegan/vegetarian fare massage our taste buds similarly? According to reviews from previous patrons and a 2014 OpenTable.com Diners’ Choice Award, yes. The unapologetically carnivorous being that I am, I had my doubts, but was still excited nonetheless; I had a feeling this meal would be more suited toward my mostly pescatarian comrade. Our Groupon deal included 2 appetizers, 2 entrees and 2 desserts. Marissa bought a bottle of wine from the bar next door (no corkage fee at Le Village, by the way). Here’s what we ordered at this BYOB, mostly meatless bistro:

Me
Pate de Campagne (duck) – served w/ cornichons, Dijon mustard and puff pastry
Choux-Fleur Roti – roast cauliflower head w/ sautéed greens, sweet potatoes, quinoa red bell pepper coulis
Banana Brulé (The Banana pudding, French Style) – French pastry cream, Nila style cookies, caramelized sugar coating

Marissa
Royans Ravioles a la Crème – fresh little French raviolis stuffed with Comte cheese, garlic, parsley, cooked with heavy cream and truffle oil served in a cast iron cocotte… Sensual!
Coq au Vin – red wine, bacon, onion, mushroom bouquet garni. Stewed chicken, classic and rustic!
Minute Baked Vegan Seasonal Tart (apple) – served with coconut sorbet

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The pate was served warm in a ramekin, accompanied by a smooth Dijon mustard, a few cornichons, and 4 light and flaky puff pastry straws. The pate was flavorful and moist, but a little too firm in texture for my liking, possibly due to overcooking (it seemed shrunken in the little ramekin). Marissa’s ravioli were tiny and delicate looking, but were packed with rich flavor yet not too salty. Our appetizers were good, but the real test was the entrée portion of our meal. I like cauliflower, but I’ve never had an entire head of it for my meal; needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive. And when our lovely waitress set it in front of me, I was flabbergasted. It really WAS an entire roasted head of cauliflower! It was so huge that all I could think was, “This better be good because there’s so much of this thing!” Thanks to the veggie gods, it was pretty good; nutty, moist, firm yet not too crunchy that it felt raw, the Choux-fleur Roti was the only cauliflower I’d had at a restaurant that wasn’t soaked in cream, cheese, or butter, and/or wasn’t mashed like potatoes, and I enjoyed it! Marissa’s dinner could have been richer in flavor, but the chicken was smoky tender. Coq au Vin is a sexy dish, and although Le Village’s didn’t quite make the grade, it was a worthy effort. Dessert however, was another story aptly called “Yum, Yum, Yum!” The Banana Brulé was a delectable hybrid of crème brulée and a soul food banana pudding, replete with Nila wafers. Thinking that there was no way an apple tart could outdo that sweet treat, I was totally mistaken. This was no ordinary apple tart, for it was grilled, not baked! The dough was flaky, buttery and crispy, all with a charcoal grill taste—YUM!

Verdict: Le Village won’t convert me to vegetarianism, and I prefer to indulge in my carnivorous ways elsewhere, but the presentation, service and most of all the desserts, were noteworthy.

On to the next food adventure!