Hiking · Restaurants · Travel · Travel with tots · Vacations

Portland Tales: Rose city, Bridgetown, Stumptown and much more!

We’ve been in California for more than a decade now and I don’t know what took us so long to make a trip to Portland. We visited the Rose city this September and throughly enjoyed our stay there. If you missed it, we made a day trip to Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood but spent the rest of our trip in the heart of Portland downtown. Here are 10 highlights from our trip – FROM a first time visitor, FOR a first time visitor!!!

1. Portland Saturday market – This was our first stop, even before we checked in to the hotel. Open on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday in spite of the name), Portland Saturday Market is the place to explore for art and food lovers. Not to mention, the fountains and the bridge over the river make it a kid friendly place. What not to miss: Trying out Elephant Ears 🙂

2. Willamette Jet boat Excursions – We opted for the 2 hour Scenic Tour which covered the history of Portland’s magnificent bridges, up close view of the Willamette Falls and a lot of splashing and jet boat cruising🙂. We were skeptical on how our tot was going to do on the tour – he was excited to sit in the boat, but a little afraid when it went fast, but after the first 2 water swirls, he was screaming “Go faster”. He had a blast and we loved the experience.

3. Powell’s Books – For a family that is fond of reading, this was a gem of a find. Especially on a rainy day or later in the evening post dinner when a lot of other places have closed. The place is open until 11 pm so you can head there after an early dinner. Our munchkin refused to get out of the “libary”. No, not a typo – that’s what he calls them.

4. Coffee, anyone? – For a city that loves its coffee, it wouldn’t be fair to list everything that’s out there, but here are a few prominent stops (Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Heart Coffee Roasters, Barista) that we made to see what puts this town at the top for coffee lovers.

5. Doughnuts to go with that coffee! – We almost decided to skip our much awaited stop at Voodo Doughnuts after evaluating the time we would have to stand in those looooooonnnggg lines. But come Tuesday afternoon – a rainy working weekday we were passing by the shop and decided to stop since it seemed a reasonable 30 minute wait. Although I do wish, we would have made a stop at BlueStar Donuts. I guess, there’s always a next time 🙂

6. A stop at a brewery –  Portland’s breweries are famous for their beers and don’t rule out a stop at a brewery just because you have kids. Portland has a few family friendly breweries. We visited Laurelwood Brewing and M had a good time.

7. Food scene in Portland – While we thoroughly enjoyed most of our meals there, picks for family friendly restaurants in Portland are: Slappy cakes – Make your own pancakes! It cannot get better for a kid who likes his pancakes. Yes, we waited an hour (made a quick stop at a nearby park) for our turn and my munchkin loved it. Yakuza – This was quite a find,  the place had great ambiance and we loved it because we haven’t been to a lot of family friendly Japanese restaurants that cater to kids as well as Yakuza does. Although, I am putting Mothers Bistro on here for readers, it was an ordinary experience for us!

8. International Rose Garden – Portland is home to the oldest continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. While, this might not attract every tourist, it’s a great family friendly stop. My son loved running around and smelling the flowers, not to mention it was a perfect place to play peek-a-boo🙂

9. Pittock Mansion – This was not on our list, but turned out that the Portland’s Children’s Museum is closed on a Tuesday and we decided to add this to our list. The place offers good 360 degree views of Portland for photographers to capture. Being an art lover, I personally enjoyed viewing Rhoda’s artwork that’s displayed at the museum.

10. Pioneer Courthouse Square, shopping and more – We also got a chance to explore Pioneer Place and areas around on our last day in Portland. Coming from California, tax-free shopping is an added benefit while visiting PDX🙂

What we missed on our list – Meal at Screendoor (we waited quite a while after deciding to head out somewhere else), Spella Cafe, Portland Children’s Museum (note to families with kids: it’s closed on a Tuesday – so plan accordingly),  more time at Powell’s and many more coffee and food stops.

Travel Portland’s website has a plethora of information for a visitors and we were able to cover a lot of things in little time because of some great suggestions from a colleague who’s a Portland local. Overall, it was a wonderful trip and we had a blast. I hope we go back again soon🙂

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Restaurants

Bumble: THE PERFECT place for a weekend brunch with kids

Ever found yourself googl-ing “kid friendly restaurants around XYZ area”? I find myself doing that quite often. Too often actually!!! Most of the times, we just end up going to regular restaurants that really aren’t catered to babies or toddlers, but at least it keeps the foodies in us alive. When N turned about a year old, we started a family brunch/lunch outing almost every weekend. I can tell he really enjoys it and we try not to miss it. So one fine day while I was going crazy filtering the baby friendly restaurant search list to find a place for our weekend brunches, I stumbled upon a restaurant called “Bumble” in Los Altos. And what a find it was 🙂

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Bumble is a kid-friendly farm-to-table restaurant in beautiful Los Altos downtown that features a playroom which the parents can use to check their kids in while they have a meal. Parents can have food for kids delivered inside the playroom and the staff helps them wash their hands and cut up food. Really the first of a kind restaurant that I have come across in the bay area.
I made reservations for our usual weekend brunch for a Saturday for the 3 of us. We also planned on checking him into the playroom for sometime so we could sit and enjoy our cups of coffee. When we entered there was a huge sand play area where plenty of kids were playing. Once inside, we asked if we could check out the play area. We took N inside and he had just woken up from his nap and refused to leave us and go to the play area. We thought we’ll have food and then check him in so we went back to our table and decided to order.
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Outside sand play area at Bumble
I did feel that the choice on the menu is limited, but with all the other perks that this place has to offer, it really doesn’t matter. We ordered a bowl of banana and honey nut steel cut oats, Huevos rancheros and the vanilla bean crepes for us and a grilled cheese sandwich for N. Food was good, very fresh. A special mention for their vanilla bean crepes with blueberry compote and mascarpone cream. M & N relished the very last bite of it 🙂
After a fabulous brunch, we took N back to the playroom and checked him in. He ran to hug the huge teddy bear that was lying on the floor. We were skeptical if he would stay there for even 10 minutes, but he soon started moving around. The staff was sweet enough to carry him around and give him a few toys to play with. We were watching him from outside while we sat and chat. We only used the playroom for half an hour, but I guess it was a good start. The next time we go back, we’ll try for a longer duration. Upon checkout I requested the staff if I could take a few pictures of the playroom and they were kind enough to let me do so. On our way out, N played for a few minutes in the sand box and then we headed home.

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 The team at Bumble have really thought out and made the place conducive to parents as well as non-parents. There is a separate adult-only patio where kids are not allowed for folks who wish for that and enjoy Bumble’s fabulous food. The restrooms have a supply of diapers and there are stepping stools for the little ones near the basin.
We’ll definitely be returning to Bumble soon – with a bunch of our friends and their lovely kids.
Michelin Star · Restaurants · Travel · Vacations

A lunch date at Campton Place in San Francisco

I have run out of excuses for having long gaps between blogs, but let me try this! I received a lot of criticism after my last food blog. M said that I did not do justice to the experience we had at The Restaurant at Meadowood. So on our next fine dining date, I was busy cranking up notes so that I could do justice when I write about that dining experience. Did it spoil my actual dining experience? Read on to find out…

I love trying different foods, but I am very Indian at heart so ever since I read about Campton Place and Chef Srijith Gopinathan’s Cal-Indian creations, I wanted to go dine there. So, we decided to do a lunch date for my birthday at the Restaurant at Campton Place. The restaurant is located in the Taj Campton Place Hotel in Union Square, San Francisco. Decor at Campton Place is decent and the ambiance is quite classy. The tables all had a lovely center piece of a flower that reminded me of “lotus” – so the decor definitely had an Indian touch. Since we went there on a weekday, it was not crowded at all. Our server was quite friendly and courteous. We had already decided to go for the tasting menu since I had read about Chef Shrijith’s delicious idli dish. I did ask the server if they were going to serve us that in the tasting menu and he nodded a big “yes”. With that nod, I started looking forward to our culinary odyssey 🙂

Spring "Idli" sauteed with Sugar Snap Peas, Raisins and Black Mustard
Spring “Idli” sauteed with Sugar Snap Peas, Raisins and Black Mustard

Amuse bouche was a wild arugula, avocado and green apple foam. It was more of a palate cleanser. I am not big on foams, but I could taste all the different flavors. Then we were served a cold heirloom tomato and strawberry gazpacho. Frankly speaking, I missed the Indian touch in this dish. It was good, but I couldn’t distinguish any Indian flavors in the dish. I would expect that any highly rated Michelin star restaurant. It has the Californian flair, but where was the Indian flair? I was slight disappointed when my next dish was a soup too. The second course was corn and mushroom soup made with buttermilk. I have to admit that the buttermilk added a nice touch to the dish but I was still missing the Indian spices. M was served butter poached lobster with coconut curry as his second course and me mentioned that the dish had a lot of South Indian flavors to it, so I was hoping my next dishes would satisfy my craving for that Indian touch. After all, this was the primary reason why we had picked the place.

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Post appetizers/soups, we were served our first main course and the much awaited “Spring Idli” dish. After I had the first bite of this dish, I finally started getting the Indian touch. The sugar snap peas and raisins gave it the sweetness, and the sambhar curry the spice. The dish matched up all the expectations I had created in my mind for it after reading rave reviews about it. My next course was “String Hoppers” with korma sauce and seasonal vegetables. It was served with a side of papadum which is basically a deep fried crispy wafer. It went really well with the noodles and the spicy cashew korma curry. It was so mouth-watering that after having the korma sauce, I forgot about the first course of strawberry gazpacho not having any Indian flavors. M’s final main course was a duck samosa and it was by far his favorite dish. He said he could eat 4 more of these and we were already at our fourth course, so I can only imagine how good it much have been.

Last but not the least, my favorite course was the Basmati rice dessert served with mango tart and candied rice. I eat Basmati rice on a day-to-day basis as a staple, so to create a dessert out of it was definitely very creative of the Chef. The mango tart was delishhh and it went really well with the tamarind paste served along with it. Couldn’t have asked for more! Ofcourse, we finished with a classic chocolate cake to celebrate my birthday. I left the place extremely happy. The place surely has a Cal-Indian flair. I would love to go back some day 🙂

Michelin Star · Restaurants · Travel · Vacations

A meal to remember: The Restaurant at Meadowood, Napa Valley

I am literally drooling as I write this post. Yes, a food post after a long time. This post has been long over due, but since I had not finished blogging about my Top 50 Travel Memories, I couldn’t blog about this place earlier. On our last weekend getaway to Napa Valley, we dined at The Restaurant at Meadowood to celebrate a special day. And what a meal it was – A meal to remember 🙂 🙂 🙂 . We’ve dined at a couple of good places after but we always end up comparing them to the creativity at The Restaurant.

Chef Christopher Kostow’s modern take on Californian cuisine makes use of local ingredients from the hotel’s garden and greenhouse. Menus are seasonal. The location of the restaurant is beautiful with views of Napa’s natural surroundings. The service is impeccable and world class. Presentation of the food is quite creative and so are the ingredients used in cooking. The dinnerware is mostly pottery and ceramic and is made by local artists specializing in ceramic art. There is definitely a charm in serving food on the unfinished looking plates. All in all, I found everything very innovative. And getting a reservation at The Restaurant, Meadowood is much much easier compared to other at-par restaurants!

Amuse bouche: Pillow served on a Pillow pastry filled with formage blanc
Amuse bouche: Pillow served on a Pillow
pastry filled with formage blanc

It’s been over a year since our fabulous dinner at The Restaurant and I don’t remember the specifics of each and every dish so I’ll just leave you with pictures to drool over 🙂 But I’ll definitely let you know things that made a long lasting impact on me. Amuse Bouche #1 was served on a silk pillow (The dish is called Pillow on a pillow), Amuse Bouche #3 was served on a book (Some carrot cake that was!). I have not seen such creative presentation elsewhere. My favorite courses were green tomato & lovage, potatoes cooked in beeswax and sunflower seed risotto. M likes finding out about edible stuff in the wild and I think he enjoyed the discussion with our server when he cut up coastal grasses at our table to be eaten with the roasted cucumber course. Though I don’t think we’d be able to distinguish what’s edible and what’s not if it weren’t handed over to us in a plate.

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M likes to use the term ‘food coma’ when he’s enjoyed his food so much that breathing becomes difficult. Let me say that we were both in a food coma post dinner at The Restaurant 🙂 . If food creativity is your thing, I highly recommend this place. The prime reasons this place stood out from the rest is because of its creative food presentations, delicious tasting food and the warmth we got from the service.

Michelin Star · Restaurants · Travel · Vacations

Manresa: A celebratory farm-to-table dinner feast

Manresa in Los Gatos is by far the most amazing farm-to-table restaurants I have been to. We had Manresa on our list of restaurants to go to for quite some time. A few months back we managed to get a reservation to celebrate our wedding anniversary by trying out Chef David Kinch’s tasting menu. Manresa and Chef Kinch are famous for using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients and converting them to dishes that explode with flavor and leave you asking for more. Manresa gets its produce from Love Apple Farms near Santa Cruz.

Expectations were sky-high ever since I found out that Manresa had made it to the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2012. We were seated promptly upon arrival. The ambiance makes you feel warm, cozy and welcoming. We were served warm freshly baked bread soon after we were seated. As usual, I opted for the vegetarian tasting menu, but when our server found out that my hubster (M) does not eat red meat, but is fine with other forms of meat, they offered to create a pescatarian menu for him. We’ve been to quite a few fancy places, but no restaurant had offered such an option to us earlier. It was a first and M was delighted to get a chance to try out his first pescatarian tasting menu. I have to state that the staff at Manresa make it a point to make your experience personable and pleasant.

Amuse Bouche was black olive madeleine and roasted bell pepper jello cube. I liked how it was served on a slab of stone. Following the amuse bouche we were served garden beignets with crispy kale. The garden beignets were made with goat cheese and the kale leaves went well with that. Next on the table was chilled lavender lemonade with mint – super refreshing. I slowly sipped on it feeling like a child trying to save her favorite part of the meal so that it wouldn’t get over fast. But I knew there were plenty more of such plates coming up 😀

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M was served smoked salmon with wasabi and green apple while I was served braised chestnut with avocado paste. The chestnut dish was my favorite of the entire meal. Next on the list were nantucket Bay Scallops in brown butter with chestnuts and a dish made out of green tomatoes. They used a specific name for it, but I forgot since I was busy relishing the chestnuts from my earlier course :). All I remember is that it was tangy and had crispy bites to cut off the tangy-ness. Next pescatarian item on the list were clams with sesame seeds and shiitake mushrooms while the vegetarian item on the list was sunchoke soup with yolk. The soup was my second favorite item on the menu. The flavors blended extremely well with each other.

Our next course was the super famous “Into the garden salad”. I felt like there were 20+ ingredients all from Manresa’s kitchen garden in this dish. I was overwhelmed by the amazing concept of the dish. After the salad, M was served North American fluke sashimi with chamomile while I was served a pumpkin dish with porcini mushroom and garlic emulsion. Next entree was a dish with smoked persimmon, cilantro and yogurt. I love persimmons but this was my least favorite dish of the meal. For our final savory entree, we had a plate of scallop and cod with potatoes for the hubby and a plate of cripy potatoes, foamy emulsions and nasturtium leaves. I did not know we nasturtium leaves are to be eaten. I have them in my patio garden and was surprised to see them on a plate and to find out that they are edible!

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Our first dessert course was fromage blanc with strawberry sorbet and toasted pumpkin seeds. Rich, creamy and delicious. For our second dessert course, we had a parfait with almonds, pear sorbet and poached pear pieces. Our final dessert course was a chocolate madeleine with a cube of strawberry jelly served on a stone slab. I loved the fact that the first course (amuse bouche) and last course (final dessert course) of the menu were identical in looks but very different in taste – Creative and classy!

Post our remarkable celebratory meal, we were a given a pumpkin brioche for next day’s breakfast. I was expecting a goodie for breakfast next day since this is a tradition at most Michelin-star restaurants. When we were leaving through the door, they offered us fleur de sel caramels. I just took one but they saw me hesitating and told me that they were going to be closed for the next couple of days for Thanksgiving so we should take as many as we wanted. When I tasted the caramel candy the next day, I felt I should have taken many more of those :P. The meal at Manresa has been one of the best meals I have had this year and I guess the Chef deserves a big big thank you for making our day even more special and memorable. I would surely like to go back for another meal at Manresa 🙂

Michelin Star · Restaurants · Travel

Plumed Horse – A dining experience at San Jose’s finest

Have you ever been asked the question of whether you eat to live or live to eat? I seldom think about this and I can’t decide for sure. The brain wants to choose eating to live while the taste buds definitely want me to opt for living to eat. But let’s keep the brain aside for now and talk about food. This post is for all those who live to eat! I’d like to share reviews of my dining experience at the Plumed Horse, one of Saratoga’s finest restaurants.

Recently for my birthday, the hubster took to me to the Plumed Horse in Saratoga. Thanks to M for the sweet surprise, and for topping it off with good food and even more wonderful memories :). The ambiance of the restaurant is very elegant and sophisticated. When you step in and walk towards the dining room, you know that you are in for a great fine dining experience. Decor is sleek and upscale. The restaurant is huge compared to few of the other fine dining spots I have been to around the bay area. Plumed Horse serves modern Californian cuisine and chef Peter Armellino manages to bring innovation to the dishes served.

We decided to opt for the tasting menu since none of us is a heavy eater and we love to be surprised by the chef’s creativity. Our server also suggested that would be the best bet for vegetarians. Before food was served, we were offered gourmet bread. I always look forward to the amuse bouche. Amuse Bouche at Plumed Horse was Australian truffles with oil cheese over a cracker. Feed me a good truffle dish and I am sold 🙂

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After relishing the amuse bouche, we were served basil bread and roasted garlic bread. For some reason, the impression that I have from a lot of “good” places is that you have to chew so hard on the bread that you feel like you are eating rocks. The side of bread at Plumed Horse was so soft that it almost melted in the mouth. Our first course was Portobello mushroom with truffle oil and cheese. I have to admit that this was my least favorite dish. Since the first course was just ordinary, I was skeptical about the entire meal, but what a ride it was for the taste buds after that first course. The salad course was a grilled local peach with smoked almond, goat milk yogurt, fricassee salad. I was hoping to not eat a beet salad and the chef surprised us with the peach salad. Our third course was corn bisque with corn flan. Now for those of you who don’t know me that well, I cherish almost anything and everything that is made out of corn. For me there has never been a bad tasting corn dish EVER! After some delishhhh salad and soup, our next course was mushroom risotto with truffles. This was the tastiest savory dish of the entire meal. Our final dish was lentil cakes with zucchini roles and mini peppers. This was the chef’s most innovative dish because the heat of the peppers blended really well with the lentil cakes. And the peppers were extremely tasty.

After finishing the savory round of dishes, our server asked whether we wanted to opt for a cheese tasting before moving on to the desserts. Both M and I are light eaters, so we decided to skip the cheese tasting because we wanted to save some room for dessert.

Course 2: Local Peach Salad with goat milk yogurt and fricasse salad

We knew it was going to be desserts galore as soon as our server placed 3 spoons on the table. The first dessert course was raspberry sorbet with tapioca. It was very refreshing. The next dish to be served was toasted coconut semifreddo vanilla salt with strawberry soup and micro basil. This was the yummiest dessert I have eaten in a long long time. It had a lot of flavor to it. After that was a familiar peanut butter jello combo with white chocolate mousse and marshmallow fluff crispy. I could eat those crispies all day long :D. We have tried enough of chef’s tasting menus to know that it never ends at the final course. Next to celebrate, there was a toast, and then some chocolate macaroons and then a strawberry ice cream popsicle dipped in dark chocolate and coated with nuts. Wowwww!!! This is one of the finest Michelin stars we have been to so far. I highly recommend it for a special someone!

Who doesn’t love being pampered! A day when I was supporting the motto of “Live to eat”. Indulgence at one more bay area’s finest restaurants and I am all smiles 🙂 🙂 🙂 This place is definitely worthy to make a special occasion memorable.

Michelin Star · Restaurants

Aziza: Moroccan food with a zing!

Aziza had been on my list of “to try out” restaurants for quite sometime now for 2 reasons.
Reason 1: Long time ago, I was yelping for good Moroccan restaurants in San Francisco and had read delightful reviews about 2 of them – El Mansour and Aziza.
Reason 2: It’s a Michelin one-star restaurant and once in a while we love to try out tasting menus at such places!

We went to El Mansour last year and absolutely loved it, but Aziza had not made the cut then. However a few months back, I was surprised to get a gift card to Aziza from my beloved sister 🙂 We had not found a good time to put that to use until recently. Last minute reservations are always tough, but we managed to get a Sunday night spot at Aziza last weekend. Located in the Richmond district of San Francisco, this restaurant features Moroccan and Mediterranean food. Upon our arrival at the restaurant, we were cordially greeted and seated. The decor of the restaurant is ordinary but the ambiance is quite nice. I would have liked to have a little more light on the table though.

After looking at the menu, we asked if they were offering the vegetarian tasting menu. Unfortunately, they were in the process of updating their regular tasting menu, but they said they could do a 5 course tasting with a few items from the À la carte menu. I liked it because that way we got to taste a few of the chefs signature creations along with a couple of his on-the-fly creations. To our surprise, we got to taste 10 different dishes since both me and M (my husband) had separate menu items. I have never experienced this at another restaurant (at least for a vegetarian menu) so that was definitely a thumbs up 🙂

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I am going to do the post slightly differently since reviewing 10 dishes and stating that each of them were extremely tasty would be quite monotonous. Instead I’ll just mention the absolute highlights of the dish and a rating on a scale of 5.

Tasting Menu 1
Soup: Onion soup with mini mushrooms, watercress and pickled radish (3/5). The dish was quite tasty, but I don’t think it was Moroccan.
Salad: Beet salad with cucumbers, spiced peanuts and crème fraiche (3/5). I have had better beet salad’s elsewhere and again I could not find the Moroccan element. May be the spiced peanuts?
Appetizer: Goat cheese, sweet tomato jam, ciabatta toast (4/5). Sweet tomato jammmmm. The taste still lingers in my mouth.
Entree: Green farro with himalayan truffle, carrot, tempura mushrooms (5/5). This was the highlight of my meal. Making like mushrooms and leave me wanting for more is quite difficult and that’s exactly what happened. The farro was nothing like I’ve had before. Very unique.
Dessert: Sponge cake with lemon ice cream, mint cream, caramel, blood orange (5/5). Totally sold on the mint cream. Mint tea is considered to be a Moroccan specialty, but to make a mint cream for dessert! Kudos to the chef since the flavors on the whole plate were amazingly good.

Tasting Menu 2
Soup: Lentil soup with medjool dates, celery, parsley: (5/5) Very Moroccan! Although this was M’s menu, I obviously managed a few spoonfuls :). Loved the sourness of the dates.
Salad: Fennel salad with pomelo, sumac (3.5/5). I think it had boiled shallots too. For some reason, I think this was a dish you would not remember at the end of the meal. But it was decent!
Appetizer: Plate full of spreads: chickpea, yogurt-dill, piquillo-almond with pita flatbread (4/5)
Entree: Brassicas with couscous, almonds and baby cauliflowers topped with foam (3.5/5). I tasted this dish after the farro and so I think it was hard to beat it. The farro was my favorite plate out of the 10 dishes, so I did not bother tasting the couscous too much.
Dessert: A delicious ice-cream with mousse and some crispy treats (4.5/5). (M forgot the name! too bad). For that matter, he had so much to eat, he did not even remember the rest of the dessert plate so we had no notes to jot down!!

Green farro with carrots and tempura mushrooms: My favorite dish of the meal 🙂

I always look forward to the complimentary dishes that come after the meal is done. It is like you are so stuffed with food, that you can’t even have an extra spoonful, but you are still looking forward to taste all the different minis on that last plate after dessert. So, to finish off your delicious meal, compliments from the chef included a plate of dark chocolate truffles, lemon meringue and a sweet chilli jelly (I forget the name). And to top that, granola packets for breakfast next day 🙂 What more can you ask for. Some of the dishes on the menu are quite original and I recommend Aziza for that uniqueness! If you don’t want to spend on the entire tasting menu, the restaurant is a good place to visit for their regular menu too. Finally, a big thank you to my sister for a great gift.