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Natalie the Nomad: El Sombrero (Dayton Area)

Monthly Feature
You just never know where Natalie will end up each month!

Upon returning home over the Christmas holiday, I told my family that I had to do two things – visit “my” hairdresser, and have dinner at El Sombrero. As a family, we have been going to this restaurant for over 15 years, and have become close friends with the owner, Ruben Peyalo. My parents even volunteer at his Thanksgiving Event, in which he provides a free meal to families around town; Ruben is known for his sponsorship of charities throughout the local area.

At first glance, the décor at El Sombrero might not seem like anything special, until you start looking closely at knick knacks posted on the mural painted walls. A slew of awards, newspaper clippings, religious icons and ‘everything Mexico’ are tastefully put up. The walls themselves are gorgeous, depicting ancient events; hand painted by an artist whose talent you might not fully appreciate if you’re knee deep in queso.

Enchilada Suiza

Honestly, the ONE thing I come here for is the salsa, everything else is an added bonus. El Sombrero takes their quality seriously, so just know that what you order from the menu is handmade and authentic. The salsa itself is a perfect blend of onions, garlic, cilantro swimming in a sea of light tomato sauce and peppers hits your taste buds with such force that you can’t help but down two baskets of chips before you realize it. El Sombrero also sells their salsa by the jar from their restaurant – very dangerous, but smart, in my opinion. When I was living in Ohio, I had a jar of their salsa constantly in my fridge, and found myself replenishing my stock about every two weeks. Out of all the vices out there, salsa is not too bad to get hooked on. Another ‘must have’ here (in the winter) is their hot chocolate. Creamy and the perfect blend of chocolate and milk, this drink will warm you the instant you come in from the cold. As an added bonus, you get homemade whipped cream – which I always manage to scoop up before it melts into the chocolate.

Though I know the majority of the menu by heart, I still had a hard time deciding what to get. When I hit up favorite restaurants, I tend to order the same thing; but for some reason I always switch it up here. Maybe its because I know everything is quality, or maybe its because I eventually want to cover every single thing they have to offer. Mexican classics are all over the menu, but I eventually chose the “Enchilada Suiza” with a side of rice and black beans. Even though the filling was already chock full of green tomatillo sauce and cheese, they somehow managed to stuff spinach and mushrooms in there as well (other options included cheese/onion, chicken, ground beef or picadillo). I was seriously impressed by this dish. Though the ingredients seem simple, El Sombrero always manages to do something extra with their dishes to make them stand out – the problem is that I can’t pinpoint it.

My husband ordered “The Mexican Flag” which did not surprise me in the least. He spent a fair amount of time in South Texas, so him approving of this dish, let alone this restaurant, was something I was curious to see come to fruition. His dish consisted of the typical refried beans and rice, as well as three separate enchiladas: one chicken, one ground beef, and one picadillo. Covered with white, green and red enchilada sauce, this dish looked like it was made for a family of 7. As I suspected, El Sombrero got a big thumbs up from him; and he somehow managed to finish every single thing on his plate.

As a small dessert, we ordered sopapillas, which disappeared from the table before I could manage to even think about snapping a photo. There’s just something about those crisp little tortillas – dripping with honey, drizzled with chocolate, covered with whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon, and sugar – it just leaves your palate with something sweet and savory, without compromising stomach room.

Visiting El Sombrero is a little out of your way if you’re visiting the Dayton area, but I promise you it is worth it. Ruben and his employees will take care of you, the food is beyond delicious, and your visit will not cost you an arm and a leg. Granted, your stomach might be annoyed with you for testing its limits – but those are just minor details.

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Natalie the Nomad: Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza

Monthly Feature
You just never know where Natalie will end up each month!

Coming out of a turkey induced haze is never easy. The days following Thanksgiving can be foggy, and you often struggle to remember what day of the week it is. We finally finished our leftovers, and naturally, I wanted nothing to do with cooking. Easy fix? Pizza. Even easier? Deciding to hit up our favorite wood fire grilled pizza place, Farrelli’s. While they have 5 different locations in the area, this place is hardly a chain. They were founded in 1995, and some of the employees from Day #1 are still at the company today. When first opening, they wanted to focus on quality products and ingredients; a notion that still stands today.

We haven’t been to any other Farrelli’s locations, so this review will focus on the Dupont location. This is a brilliantly placed spot for a happening pizza joint/bar because it’s literally down the road from Fort Lewis, and dead center in an up and coming community. Walking in, you’ll notice that the restaurant is divided into two sections – the bar/pool tables and a regular, sit down area. Farrelli’s is adamant about keeping minors out of the bar area, so if you’re with kiddos they’ll be sitting you in the family friendly section. Trust me, you won’t be condemned by any means. On the ‘other side’ sits a fireplace, cozy booth seating, and plenty of tables. You can also peek into the kitchen, and glance at the chefs throwing crusts into the air.

The service at Farrelli’s is above par what you would expect a pizza joint to have – the waiters will double check on everything for you; from prices to ingredients, and they let you take your time with the menu. Although we’ve been here numerous times, we area constantly changing our minds and definitely need the time. If you have children with you, they’ll give them a ball of dough to play with – and trust me, while it may get messy, this is a perfect distraction and a welcome change of pace than the normal paper-and-crayons-route.

The Hawaiian

Our “go-to” appetizer are a house specialty – Farrelli’s Bread Stix. (Fun Fact – if you check in on Facebook, you get these for free!) The Stix are made from pizza dough, covered in cheese, and served with ranch and marinara sauce. This will feed 3 hungry adults and a toddler, and while we could “take it or leave it” we always find ourselves gravitating towards seconds… or maybe thirds… don’t judge us.

Farrelli’s has a pretty diverse menu, but I am a culinary coward and keep ordering pizza. The salads there always sound amazing, but I tend to revert to the adage, “I can make this at home”. They also offer calzones, sandwiches and pasta, and since we live in the health conscious part of the country, there is also a ‘fresh and healthy’ menu. For the record, they also have gluten free crusts (more on this later) and gluten free beer. What I love about this place is that you can customize your pizza – and I’m not just talking about toppings. You start with choosing your crust (classic, honey whole wheat, or gluten free), then your base (they have everything from olive oil to bleu cheese), before moving along to your cheeses (11 varieties), meats (10 kinds) and finally, your ingredients. This is where they always get me. Sure, your typical mushrooms and pepperoncinis are on there; but so are pine nuts, caramelized onions, black beans and whole roasted garlic cloves – to name a few. It’s the little things like this that set Farrelli’s apart.

I will be honest – I typically HATE gluten free pizza crusts. They taste like dried out cardboard, and typically ruin the entire pizza. Farrelli’s has done it right. Granted, they order their crust from Still Riding, but I will gladly accept that (they have only run out on me once) because it fulfills my dinner experience and I know I can count on their focus on quality. After a painstakingly long decision making process, I ordered the Gluten Free crust, alfredo sauce base, mozzarella/provolone cheese blend, no meat (yes I am weird) and mushrooms/spinach as a topper. I took one bite, and knew that I was in pizza heaven. Not only was the crust edible, the pizza was delicious. Every single bite was met with gooey cheese and pockets of alfredo sauce; tucked between spinach leaves and mushrooms. Nothing was overwhelming, and when it came down to the leftovers, I ate them so fast that I was literally mad at myself for not savoring it.

Another pizza that arrived at the table was The Hawaiian. On a regular crust, a myriad of ham and pineapple danced atop melted cheese and classic marinara pizza sauce. While I didn’t try any, I noticed that the pineapple was canned, and obviously wasn’t cooked with the pizza itself. Call me a snob, but I would have LOVED to see natural, organic pineapple in there, infused with the ham and cheese during the baking process. I know, I know – just a personal gripe. It looked and smelled amazing, and for the record, not one slice made it into the to-go box.

Last night, a special visitor in the form of a Deluxe Classic Combo Calzone made its way to the table. At most places, a calzone means you are met with a ballooned piece of dough, boasting over a pound of ingredients. Not at Farrelli’s. Here, portions are spot on, and the calzone disappeared before I was able to take a picture of it. This dish was also served with your choice of a salad or soup, and last night the Tomato Gorgonzola made an appearance for all of about 2 minutes.

What I also love about Farrelli’s is that they know how to take care of their customers, as well as their community. You see their names on charities, they sponsor numerous dinners, and of course, their arms are always wide open to the military men and women. Sitting next to a roaring fire, a drink menu that would make Betty Ford herself squirm, and being surrounded by friends and family, is the perfect way to end the Thanksgiving madness.

Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza
1590 Wilmington Dr.
Dupont, WA 98433
(253) 912-5200

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Natalie the Nomad: Duke’s Chowder House

Monthly Feature
We’re never quite sure where Natalie will end up each month!

I come away from this review with mixed feelings, and I’ll tell you why throughout the post. Knowing that Kevin and his wife would be in town, we wanted to take him some place with pizzazz, and of course, amazing food. Well, my husband’s job required that he stay within a certain radius, and that radius unfortunately did not include Seattle. With that said, there are plenty of amazing restaurants in the area, but of course, lady luck was not on our side and the places we were choosing fell short due to closure times.

When we looked up Duke’s Chowder House, we were pleased to find out that they were award winning AND local, and their website gave a sense of a ‘mom and pop shop’. Upon walking into the Kent Station location, this was not the case. Granted, this was in a nicer, new part of town – so walking into what is represented as a sleepy beach town oyster shack in another location would be a shock to those who came to the Kent Station location first. They stayed true to their roots though, adorning the restaurant with everything “Duke” related – the college sports team and pictures of John Wayne.

The main appetizer was a plate of Local Washington Steamers. They were swimming in a garlic sauce that makes your mouth water just smelling it, and they were steamed in Duke’s favorite beer. There were three different chowders that came to the table; the “Award Winning”, Bourbon and Lobster. I personally did not like mine in the least [Lobster], and latter two out of the three chowders were especially gummy. Upon further investigation, Lobster isn’t even used in the chowder, but instead Langostinos, which are more hermit crab than lobster… We all agreed that the Award Winning chowder was the best of the table, although it tasted rather plain and a little boring.

Alaskan Rockfish

There were four main entrees, one of which was the Blackened Alaskan Rockfish, served with asparagus and Hempler Hash. The hash was a delicious mix of potato, bacon, onion and fit perfectly alongside the blackened, yet tender fish. Atop the fish there was a heaping, albeit delicious pile of Duke’s very own, homemade tartar sauce.

I had the Pacific Ocean Mahi Mahi Tacos. These were awesome. I’ll admit that the heat got to me a little after a while, but a combination of mango chutney and tequila lime aïoli, cucumber pico de gallo is bound to be spicy. The fish was cooked perfectly, and while it may sound as though the surrounding would be overwhelming, I would not have changed a thing. The dish came with salsa and chips, which were both unexciting and dull – but the fish tacos more than made up for it.

While my husband and I ordered the Chocolate Volcano Cake, Kevin and his wife ordered the Homemade Marionberry Pie. Though I was too busy diving headfirst into massive amounts of chocolate, I did overhear that their pie was a bit on the chilly side. While they were more than eager to eat the berry filling, the pie crust was left as a shell, mainly uneaten.

Chocolate Lover’s Volcano Cake, served with a scoop of ice cream. This was the perfect way to end the night; smooth chocolate washing away the spice of my dish, quickly followed by the coolness of the vanilla ice cream. With that said, I have a minor gripe with this dish. It’s clearly refrigerated/frozen prior to being served, and the heat didn’t make it all the way through. The center of it was still cold, and the ‘lava’ didn’t flow as freely as one particular chocolate fiend would have liked.

All is forgiven, so long as they don’t sit us by the Duke Basketball flag again.

Duke’s Chowder House – Kent Station Location
240 W. Kent Station St.
Kent, WA 98032

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Natalie the Nomad: Lido’s “The Euro Spot” (Fayetteville, NC)

Monthly Feature
We’re never quite sure where Natalie will end up each month!

There isn’t much to do in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Thousands of soldiers and their families come through here every year from training, and just as many civilians filter in and out for whatever it is civilians do… Downtown is historic, quaint, and exactly what you would picture a sleepy Southern small town to have; red brick buildings, mild traffic and shops lining the street. Lido’s caught my eye immediately – set right by the traffic circle, they offered outdoor seating, and when I noticed the “Russian and European Food” sign, I bee lined my way in.

The setting was a typical, small restaurant setting. Tables, a bar, and pictures of Europe that looked like they could have been lining a travel agents’ office. I wasn’t bothered by this at all, especially after reading the reviews. Apparently Lido’s has highly touted happy hours, $1 nights, karaoke nights, and a slew of reggae and hip hop nights; which would explain the minimalist décor. It didn’t look like a dump, but it also wasn’t the Ritz.

I came in well after the lunch rush was over, and I felt like a bit of a straggler. Service wasn’t bad – the waitress was super friendly, and was happy to recommended certain dishes. A variety of Russian food stared me in the face, and it dawned on me that I’ve never had Russian cuisine. I was stuck between the goulash (beef tips in goulash sauce over your choice of noodles, rice or mashed potato) or golubsti (ground beef/pork in a cabbage leaf in a veggie stew served with mashed potato and sour cream) and eventually went with the goulash with mashed potato.

When the meal finally came, it was almost like sensory overload, in the best way possible. The dish looked and smelled absolutely delicious; the sauce covering every inch of mashed potato with the beef tips sticking out like little morsel mountain peaks. My heart sank a bit when I saw my plate accompanied with two giant bread rolls – being gluten intolerant, I shouldn’t really eat this stuff, but in the back of my mind I knew I had to at least try a little bit of it. The goulash was downright amazing. You can tell everything was made from scratch; the potatoes steaming, the beef tender, and the sauce hot and the perfect amount of spicy. I finished the meal, but absolutely had to try the bread dipped in leftover goulash sauce. At that point, my taste buds died and went to heaven. I haven’t had regular bread in months, and it seemed to have melted in my mouth. I’m pretty sure the bread is a type of cinnamon bread, but not overwhelming. Different, but I would not have had it any other way; the sweet of the bread mirrored the spicy goulash sauce almost elegantly. When is plate licking going to be become socially acceptable, I mean REALLY!?

Options for dessert included German chocolate cake, “All Over” chocolate cake (I’m assuming this is a death-by-chocolate kind of thing), and raspberry or regular cheesecake. I ordered the cheesecake, and again, Lido’s did not let me down. While this wasn’t a huge “let me Facebook/Tweet about this immediately” event, it was pretty darn good. For all I know, it came out of a Sara Lee box in their fridge, but cheesecake is cheesecake – and pretty hard to mess up. Either way, I left there with a full belly and an urge to nap.

The main dish was about $11, and a kid’s dish was just $5. I don’t know how much the cheesecake cost; but the bill was not outrageous by any means. My visit at Lido’s was pretty spot on, and before I leave I would like to go back.

Lido’s “The Euro Spot”
102 Person Street
Fayetteville, NC

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