Last week I blogged about my week of celebrations, combining Valentine’s Day with my big thirty-fifth birthday. This week in February is always my favorite time of year, go figure. For me personally, I believe there is no better way to celebrate a special occasion than to incorporate as much good food as possible into the diet. By good I mean tasty, not necessarily healthy.
I love food. Instead of choosing a fancy Dallas restaurant where we could spend hundreds of dollars, I opted for three smaller meals at a few of my favorite locations. Two of these eateries are national chains, while one is a Texas specialty. No, not BBQ – Mexican food! I highly recommend these restaurants and dishes for everyone to try at least once when they have the chance!
It’s time to celebrate!
Stop Number One: Chinese cuisine at PF Chang’s China Bistro
My love affair started with PF Chang’s a few years ago on a trip to Dallas, before I lived here. To start, I ordered the chain’s signature Lettuce Wraps and later sampled from multiple main dishes on the menu. Since the meals are served family style, I was able to taste two or three different delicacies and honestly didn’t find a single plate that I didn’t like.
When we arrived for my birthday dinner, we sat at the bar to wait for our table. My Honey ordered a Maker’s and Coke while I sipped on a Kir Royale (Champaign and Cream de Cassis). Some like to make a Kir Royale with Chambord instead, but the simple and less expensive Cream de Cassis works just as fine and tastes just as yummy. Trust me.
Once seated at our romantic, over-sized booth, I didn’t even need the dinner menu. After numerous trips whenever I could, I found perhaps the most sinful appetizer and main dish that I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting at PF Chang’s, and I knew exactly what I wanted…
Okay, I know what everyone is thinking – we can get fried calamari at almost any restaurant location around the globe. That’s true; but what we can’t get is the perfect combination of dry sea salt and pepper rub that accompanies the PF Chang’s appetizer. Dip a piece of the lightly breaded fried seafood into the rub, then into the Chinese mystery sauce (I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of ginger, pepper, and sweet and sour sauce combined, but I’m not one hundred percent on the contents), and experience a taste bud explosion!
Next is the entire reason I wanted to eat at PF Chang’s in the first place – the Lemon Scallops. Sadly it’s not on the national menu any longer, but the Dallas PF Chang’s chefs still whip up a batch of their lemon sauce for those patrons that would like to place an order (they do lemon chicken too). For anyone that likes a citrus base accompanied by a lightly pan-fried shellfish, this plate hits the mark.
Stop Number Two: A Mardi Gras celebration at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
A few years ago, we celebrated my birthday in the fabOoolous city of New Orleans. We missed Mardi Gras by a week, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The city is always hopping with tourists, so we still experienced New Orleans at its finest, but we were also able to enjoy the local restaurants without the long lines and crazy, celebratory people everywhere.
When one can’t make it to The Big Easy for a night of Cajun cuisine, Pappadeaux is the next best thing. I honestly wasn’t thinking about Mardi Gras, but the hostesses handing out beads to everyone as they walked through the doors reminded me that Fat Tuesday was just around the corner (and has since passed). I immediately realized that I needed the signature drink of New Orleans to start off the night – a Hurricane.
My cocktail didn’t disappoint, a hurricane glass filled with light and dark rum, orange and passion fruit juice, and a slice of lime. The drink was made popular in the 1940’s at Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter, a must-stop location when in New Orleans.
And what trip to the Bayou is complete without fresh oysters on the half shell? My guy wasn’t thrilled that I ordered these slimy little creatures, but once I mixed up my cocktail sauce with the right amount of horseradish sauce, he let one slide…down his throat.
The dinner salad at Pappadeaux, with their signature Creole dressing, is the entire reason why I wanted to go to this location as a part of my birthday celebration. I have no idea what is in the dressing or how to describe it, other than it is fabOoolous and it opens up the sinuses. I was so excited when my bowl of greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, and croutons was placed in front of me that I forgot to take a picture. Sorry!
By the time our dinner arrived, I was already too full to eat. I ordered a combination plate of Blackened Catfish served atop a bed of dirty rice and Shrimp Creole. I managed to somewhat enjoy the shrimp and okra in the tomato stew base of the Shrimp Creole, but couldn’t muster up enough energy to take even one bite of my catfish. And don’t be mistaken; I only “somewhat enjoyed” the Cajun dish because I was absolutely miserable and felt like I was going to explode from our earlier appetizers and salads, not because it wasn’t delish.
In case anyone is wondering whether or not the catfish reheats well, it does. I slid it into the oven and squeezed fresh lemon over the top, enjoying a perfect Ash Wednesday meal this week.
Stop Number Three: The perfect hangover food at Chuy’s
Still recovering from our fabOoolous Big Easy date the night before, my guy and I scrambled into Chuy’s for the perfect day-after food – Mexican. I’ve had Mexican food from all over, including Mexico and New Mexico, but nothing tastes quite the same as our state’s combination of Texan and Mexican dishes, more commonly known as Tex-Mex. All restaurants claim their Mexican food is authentic, and maybe it is, I really don’t care. All I know is that Chuy’s always hits the spot.
Of course we started with a drink, and one of my favorite Mexican liquids is a glass of Sangria. I know, everyone thought I was going to say margarita, but tequila and I don’t get along. I have had a margarita at Chuy’s and it is tasty, but I’ll go for my glass of wine adorned with fruit any day when given the choice. Oh, and my Honey had one of our favorite Mexican beers – Pacifico.
In Texas, all Mexican restaurants bring complimentary chips and salsa to the table with a glass of water. Chuy’s, however, raises the bar. Not only do diners get a fabOoolous chopped tomato, cilantro, onion, and jalapeño hot sauce, but can also receive a dish of their creamy jalapeño sauce on request. Think ranch and jalapeño here. And yes, it’s free too. Always request this salsa when eating at Chuy’s!
I could have gone one of two ways when ordering my main dish – did I want a Big As Your Face burrito smothered in tomatillo sauce (yes, it is literally as big as your face and guarantees left-overs for most women when ordered) or the Chica-Chica Boom-Boom enchiladas?
It was time for Chica-Chica Boom-Boom, shredded chicken enchiladas covered in a spicy queso sauce served with green chili rice and charro beans (pinto simmered with tomato and peppers). Chuy’s loves to use fresh Hatch green chilies in almost everything, and sometimes the dinners are really spicy! Nose-run spicy.
At this point, after three consecutive days of dining out with my Honey, I was ready to fall out of my chair and curl up into a ball on the sofa with the remote control. Instead, I ordered one last delicacy – Chuy’s Tres Leches Cake. I was so excited once our waiter placed the bowl of moist cake covered in fresh strawberries, Mexican vanilla cream, and caramel at the center of the table that I forgot to take a picture. I still took one, just after I had attacked it like a starving lion.
Where do you like to go out to eat to celebrate those special days? Have any favorite dishes that the rest of us must try? I’d love to hear from you!