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Monday, February 25, 2013

Foodie Market Fridays in Sydney

The Rocks “Foodies Market Fridays”
Down a small street in The Rocks area of Sydney was a foodie market we had to check out. We made it there just before it started raining. I was overwhelmed with options. They had everything from cheese to cupcakes to kebabs. First we tried a cupcake, and then I bought handmade chocolates wrapped in funky printed foil. When I passed a cheese vendor I had to sample each one. There was a variety of brie. I asked all kinds of amateur questions like, ‘can you eat the rind?' and wound up leaving with a nice chunk for myself. It wound up stinking in my bag, so my friend and I each secretly thought the other one smelled funny until we got back to the hotel and realized the source of the smell was the brie.
Homemade cupcakes
Handmade chocolates in cute wrapping
The foodie market!
Anyway, we made our way to the end of the market to find a few vendors selling a variety of hot food. We tried a shrimp skewer with pesto and a lamb skewer with yogurt sauce over rice with raisins and almonds. It was an absolute mess to eat standing up with minimal napkins. No sooner I felt oil drip down my hand, the rain began. We were lucky, for now it was only a drizzle.

Next we tried a wrap that looked like it was made with naan bread. It had roasted pumpkin inside with spinach, walnuts, pesto, and feta. We were satisfied with our choices and ducked into a table under an awning at the Lowenbrau German restaurant next door while it rained. We stopped for a beer and watched a street performance by two lovely German men in leiderhosen. From there we knew there was only one thing to do (on a rainy day in Sydney)..... Cocktails!
We wound up at the Park Hyatt (our favorite hotel to pretend we're staying at), and we settled in for some fancy cocktails. By 'cocktails' I mean ONE each. With Park Hyatt prices plus Sydney prices, that's just about how much we could afford. But it did live up to its expectations. I had an espresso martini that was exactly how it should be: NOT milky, with REAL espresso! My friend Heather had a passion fruit cocktail that was tall, colorful, and garnished with a slice of passion fruit. The drinks were so pretty, and it was worth it. We knew it would probably be beer and wine for us the rest of the trip, because we can't seem to find a cocktail under $20 anywhere in Sydney! Call me cheap, but I like my drinks around $5-$10 if I can get it. Thanks to our real concierge (Troy, at The Grace Hotel) we ended our night at a bar that suited our needs. A little place called Red Oak! To be continued.....

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sydney Nightlife: Ivy


330 George Street, Sydney

I felt like we walked into a 1960's LA pool party. It was almost like a movie set. The bartenders at this open air venue wore skimpy outfits and the vibe was trendy, social, and at times, pretentious. Ouch - I didn't mean that! We saw some of the good and bad in the crowd that night. Early on, people flocked to the bars located in each corner of the lounge. Not a soul was found lingering near the pool. We had a few cocktails (served in plastic-looking canary yellow ceramic cups, we wanted to steal a few) and made a lap around the lounge to check it out. 
A DJ was playing while two girls sang their own spins on Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliot. It was very entertaining and they got the crowd excited. Slowly more and more people were dipping their feet in the pool, and by the end of the night girls had their dresses hiked up while they danced thigh-deep in water. The tables and cabanas lining the pool were filled with party-goers and it felt like this was the place to be. 
Let me not forget the bathroom review! The unisex bathroom stalls are labeled with scandalous stick figures that suggest there's more to do than just pee and poo in there. The spacious stalls have tiled walls and a shower head next to the toilet. Interesting.
Unisex bathroom + shower

Sydney: Nick's Seafood

Nick's Seafood Restaurant
The Promenade, Cockle Bay Wharf

It wasn’t our cheapest meal, but Nick’s has got quite a view on Darling Harbour and some seriously good seafood. We had a corner table facing the harbour on that humid night. The next day I woke up with more mosquito bites on my two legs than I can count on my two hands but it was all worth it. I started with a dirty martini, to make me feel fancy. We settled on mussels for an appetizer, and they were the largest I’ve ever laid eyes on! We also tried the barramundi and prawns. I’ve never heard of the barramundi fish before. It’s a local fish that we’ve never tried, and it was grilled to perfection! The Queensland jumbo prawns were like mini lobsters, butterflied with tons of garlic and butter. Unfortunately, there were only 4. I could've ate 40 but this special ran for $43 so I'll accept the portion I got! This kind of night calls for an after party! Stay tuned….
Huge mussels!

Butterflied prawns

Sydney: Lunch at Manly Beach

Manly Grill
Shop 1 30-31 South Steyne, Manly

We finally caught a day of sun. Our first beach day was upon us, so we hauled it to Manly Beach. A 20-minute express ferry ride away was this popular beach town. The streets were filled with surf shops, cafes, and bars. Surfers and sunbathers brought this town to life and it inspired us to sit on the patio of the Manly Grill for some lunch, cocktails, and people-watching.

We copied the table next to us and started with a bucket of prawns. Being at the beach means day drinking to me (what, not to you?), so we had to get a round of passion fruit caprioskas. When the prawns arrived, we realized they are indeed fully intact, and we would need to cut the head and tail off ourselves. I can’t believe I’ve never done that before! I picked off each shell using my thumbnail like a complete amateur. But eventually I got the hang of it like a pro. I even ripped the poop vein out in one shot (too much?).

For our main course, we tried the crab cakes and the soft shell crab. This was the best soft shell crab I’ve ever had in my life! It wasn’t too greasy, and it was brushed with spices. The meat inside was super moist and there was a crisp cold noodle salad underneath. The crab cakes – also phenomenal!

This was my favorite meal in Sydney. There’s nothing like sitting outside at a beachfront patio eating exceptional seafood! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trying Vegemite

Why can't Australia have a cool spread like Italy? Nutella > Vegemite.

I had to try it. “Concentrated yeast extract,” as the container is labeled, tastes exactly just like that. I ordered the salty brown paste on toast one morning just to try the spread I’ve heard so much about. I made the face that a baby makes when you put a lemon in their mouth.  Never again. The end.

I can't believe it's sold to kids like this! That should be cheese or peanut butter! Not vegemite.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Outside Sydney: Hunter Valley Wine Tour

 Hunter Valley Wine Tour
 It wasn’t exactly the young-and-boozy crowd we had hoped for but we got a bunch of women from Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. Some of them were on holiday, and some were celebrating a 50th birthday. Oh, plus an awkward, snobby, self-proclaimed wine connoisseur couple from Atlanta. For $150 each, we got to venture outside Sydney and explore the wine country! When our ride pulled up to our hotel around 8AM, we quickly realized it was a full house. I sat shotgun with our friendly driver Marc discussing everything from our travels, whether or not Aussies eat kangaroo, and if Outback Steakhouse really is Australian. It was a 3 hour drive, and topics ran dry. I did, however, discover that kangaroo meat is gamey yet delicious and Outback Steakhouse surely doesn’t exist in Australia. 
Iron Gate Estate
Our first stop is the Iron Gate Estate winery. We had the owner come out at speak to our group as we sampled a variety of 8 or 9 wines made on premise. Interestingly enough, they do not sell their wine anywhere but at that very location. Being that I’m poor, I bought one bottle of the 2004 Semillon that I loved. I would’ve loved a case but with the cost of shipping it back to New York, $500 just wasn’t going to happen for me. I never heard of the Semillon grape before, and usually I go for red wine, so this was a special purchase that I already drank at home within my first few days returning home. 
A heavy pour awaits us

Our second stop was the Capercaillie Estate. The woman in charge of our tasting announced she normally doesn’t work the tastings, so she had a heavy pour and not a lot to talk about. Samples were pouring faster than I could drink them, and I definitely worked up a heavy buzz by the time we were back on the bus.

Lunch approaches and since we selected the “gourmet lunch” option for the tour, we were dropped off at “The Cellar” restaurant. It was empty inside, but we were greeted with wine and ready for a hot meal. We welcomed the red snapper and cheese plate with open arms into our bellies, and we ate it fast. We had plenty of time for some tipsy shopping at the gift shops near the restaurant but it was mostly crap. Back to the bus!
The last stop before heading back to Sydney was Ernest Hill. Now, I never use the spit bucket/decanter/vase/garbage while tasting. It’s wasteful! However, on this particular day I had more than my fair share of samples, so I had to pass on a few of the dessert wines to avoid heaving. I wound up leaving with a bottle of Merlot from Ernest Hill that I look forward to opening soon. We got back on the bus and let our buzz fade into the sunset.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cafe Sydney

Cafe Sydney

That's right, if you're walking on plexiglass over mini Sydney, you're in the right building.
5th Floor, Customs House, Alfred St.
+61 2 9251 8683

Not to keep flattering the Park Hyatt concierge, Christian, but he gave us a great dinner recommendation. He not only recommended it but he got us a reservation at the best table in the house. So I get that Café Sydney is like going to hmm... I don’t know, The View rooftop rotating restaurant atop the Marriott Times Square?? Yes, that would be the comparison since the view from our table is the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. With a view like that, one would think ‘touristy,’ ‘overpriced,’ ‘pretentious,’ ‘overrated,’ etc. 
Dewer's Scotch + side of rocks (oh yes, they measure the 1 ounce every time), and a passion fruit cocktail to start.
We weren’t sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. Upon arrival we were directed to the lounge while we wait for our table. Clever move, we never pass up a cocktail. We sink awkwardly into low grounded chairs, cross our legs, and hope that our skirts are in place while we order our first round. When our table is ready we are seated at at open-air deck. Our waiter informs us that being guests of ‘the hotel’  (Park Hyatt?) we have a complimentary appetizer of salmon roe, salmon tartar, salsa, and guacamole on a crisp. We order a variety of naan that’s more than any breadbasket could ever be, and we dog it quickly. 
The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from our table
All kinds of naan for the table
Our salmon + salsa + guacamole appetizer bite
We tried the grilled Queensland prawns with spanner crab ravioli, zucchini, and crustacean broth.  We also tried the swordfish with mussels and diamond clam. Both were beautiful and tasty! Our waiter, although slow at times (a trend I found in Australian dining), was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Overall, the bill was around $100. For a dinner with that table, that view, that ambiance, it was worth it. And we left there with full bellies. 
Swordfish + mussels + diamond clam
Queensland prawns + spanner crab ravioli

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sydney: Drinks at Opera Bar

Opera Bar
Sydney Opera House
Lower Concourse Level

This recommendation comes from the concierge, Christian, at the Park Hyatt. Although we did not stay at the Park Hyatt, we were drawn to it for drinks with a view and sometimes just to use to bathroom. Don’t judge me, it was the nicest bathroom nearby where we were taking tourist pictures of the Opera House. Anyway, Christian suggested drinks for happy hour at Opera Bar. It’s located right under the Opera House and comes with excellent views of the harbor and the Opera House itself. It was perfect timing. As the sun began to shine, we walked over, sat on the open air deck, and ordered from the bar. First, a round of white wine. Then, fish tacos and parmesan truffle fries. The perfect afternoon snack with a view. Christian really got it right. We left the bar with a buzz and a sun burn, the best way to leave a bar!

View of the bridge and people walking across the top of it!
View from Opera Bar

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sydney: Dinner at Sake

Sake Restaurant & Bar

12 Argyle St.
The Rocks Sydney
+61 (2) 9259 5656

After a rainy day of pub hopping, we go for our first dinner in Sydney. We chose this Japanese restaurant in the area of Sydney known as "The Rocks". From what I hear, this is the oldest area of Sydney, with cobblestone streets full of tiny boutique shops and trendy restaurants and bars. We sit ourselves down in Sake at the sushi bar for a few rolls. I ordered us each a glass of wine, though at this point I think we could've been better off with ice water. Like two starved prisoners finally released into the wild, we ate two bowls of edamame obsessively in silence. The life comes back into our eyes again, and just like that we are civilized. I guess we didn't know how hungry we were after a long jet lagged day of boozing. We settled on two rolls: The Prawn Tempura Roll with spicy mayo, spicy tobiko, and cucumber. And the Dynamite Roll with spicy tuna, shredded onion, cucumber, and spicy tobiko. It was the perfect serving size to fill us up and satisfy our sushi cravings. The decor was well thought out, we loved to watch the sushi chef make the rolls, and the location was ideal. The only complaint for me was the pricing. But this is something I would soon learn about Australia. While essentially a Spicy Tuna Roll and Shrimp Tempura Roll would cost anywhere from $5-10 at home, it cost $18 here. This is only Day 1 of 7 in Australia and I'm figuring out that I will eat and drink myself into credit card debt. And I'll do it all with a smile on my face! {INSERT "YOLO" HERE}