Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day 2010

First and foremost, the countdown to the arrival of Mary & Gary is officially at 23 days. I CAN'T WAIT! We're headed to Kruger, Cape Town, and Swaziland and they are taking a 2nd honeymoon up to Victoria Falls - going by train and staying 3 nights at my favorite place: Sussi & Chuma Lodge. Fun times are headed our way!

Will and I had a fantastic Valentine's Day this year. We had originally talked about going to the beach for the holiday, but my recent travel schedule coupled with the upcoming trips with mom and dad made an additional trip a bit excessive. When it got down to it, I realized what I really wanted was a romantic date with hubby. And that's when it hit me - we should try one of the top 10 restaurants in South Africa that's located right outside Pretoria - a place called The Restaurant Mosaic at the Hotel Orient.

Will and I made reservations for two for dinner in private in their minaret tower. We chose Friday night as Saturday and Sunday were already booked. We drove over at sunset and on the way there, our headlights went out. The only way they would work was if Will would hold the lever forward with his hand - not conducive in a stick shift car. When we walked in, we told them we were having car trouble and they promptly sent their resident mechanic (who works on the Rolls Royces) out to look at our Land Rover.

Meanwhile, let's stop and talk about this place - its located in the Francolin Conservancy west of Pretoria in the mountains. As we pulled into the conservancy, we immediately saw zebra staring at us. Incredible! And then we pull up to the hotel - take a peek at the top of this webpage. Incredible. It was like stepping into another country. We're led through massive Indian doors (the kind you see in Zanzibar) into this incredible entry parlor, complete with indoor pools, winding staircases, and beautiful Persian rugs and other art. We're led upstairs to this beautiful dining room, then outside by an amazing pool filled with flowers and rose petals, and into the cozy minaret tower, which is lit only by candles and filled with all sorts of flowers.

Romantic? You betcha.

We're seated and immediately starts the parade of servers - what do we want to drink, hot towels for our hands and faces, a basket of all sorts of hot bread (SOURDOUGH - oh my goodness!), and an explanation of the menu by the executive chef. Even a cute black persian kitty came in to say hi to us.

Unfortunately, the tower was a bit warm (it had been over 35 degrees celsius and the minaret tower baked in the sun all day) and so we decided to stick it out for the first few courses and then go inside to the A/C and fantastic music (I'm a sucker for Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and french music playlists - think Something's Gotta Give soundtrack).

Will and I had decided on the 6 course menu with wine pairings for our meal. Here are the courses (I took a copy of the menu and in case I lose it, here it is for permanent online safe keeping)(please also forgive the French misspellings - I can't figure out how to do accent marks in blogger):

Amuse Bouche: Chilled Melon Soup with Iberian Ham and Aged Balsamic, paired with Moreson Cuvee Cape NV
Review: Absolutely delicious! The soup was in a shot glass and incredibly flavorful and herby. The iberian ham was served two ways - it was wrapped around the end of a little crusty breadstick and the other was made into a samosa-style little treat. YUM.

First Course: Melange of Tomato, paired with Lamberti Pinot Grigio Santepietre 2008
Review: I love tomatoes. This medley included so many tomatoes, but just a bite of each. It was paired with - get this - a tomato TEA. It was so good - for someone who loves tomato soup, to have tomato tea was heavenly.
And to finally have Pinot Grigio after 1.5 years... yum.

Second Course: Medley of the Sea in Star Anise Scented Lobster Bisque, paired with Cederberg Private Cellar Bukettraube 2008
Review: Perfect. Again, a super small portion, but delicious. I haven't had scallops since I moved to South Africa and it was heavenly to have one massive scallop to enjoy. There was also lobster and homemade noodles in this incredible lobster bisque. Yummity.

Palate Cleanser: Lemon Verbena sorbet
Review: Again, perfect. I love lemon!!!

Third Course (the main - we had three options to pick from): Will got the Slow Roasted Duck Leg Confit with Sweet Port Wine Reduction with Veenwouden Syrah 2006.
I had the Beef Fillet Medallions with Wild Mushrooms and Thyme Infused Beef Jus served with Stony Brook Ghost Gum Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Review: Incredible! My beef fillets were cooked perfectly, although it was a huge portion. There were so many different types of mushrooms on my plate - it would have only been better had a tasty morel been sitting there. Even the mashed potatoes were perfect!

Will's duck confit was the best I've ever had in my life. It was so tender and flavorful and was even paired with a cute little duck pie.

The third option was Pan Seared Scottish Salmon with Delicate Saffron Foam.

Cheese course: A parade of Cheese with Accompaniments and homemade Pear and Macadamia Nut Bread

Review: 10 cheeses - all incredible. I have MISSED manchego cheese - yum yum yummy. Goat cheese, munster, you name it - it was there and perfect.

Dessert (two options): I had the White Chocolate and Summer Berry Decadence and Will had the Passion Fruit Creme Brulee with delicate Poached Peach Jelly and Passion fruit Sorbet. Both desserts were served with Bottega Moscata Petalo Il Vino dell Amore NV.

First off, this was an impressive dessert. Mine had homemade raspberry sorbet, homemade strawberry ice cream, and a delicious panna cotta with fresh fruits. Will's creme brulle was absolutely delicious and his had homemade vanilla ice cream. YUM. The sparkling dessert wine was perfect - I want to find it here!!!

During the main course, we found out our car couldn't be fixed. A taxi ride home (and back) would cost upwards of R1,000 since we were so far out from Pretoria. Therefore, with the encouragement of a special rate from the hotel, we decided to stay overnight at the Hotel Orient.

This was, by far, the fanciest place I've stayed in South Africa, and definitely one of the nicest places I've ever stayed in my life. We stayed in the Marrakesh Suite, which was a stunner. The bed was incredible, the bathtub was huge, and it even had a recessed stereo and sound system. It even had a private patio where we enjoyed the night breeze and irish coffees. They gave us good toothbrushes and toothpaste and we happily slept over.

In the morning, we were treated to breakfast on the patio next to the pool, which again had course upon course. Homemade granola with fresh fruit and yogurt and homemade vanilla milk, which was fantastic in my tea. Freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolate were to die for. The two breakfast mains were salmon scrambled eggs and eggs benedict. I actually don't like either dish so I tried the salmon eggs. I can see how they were good, but they weren't for me. The same for Will's eggs benedict - good, but just not for me. But caviar was included with my breakfast so I just had that on toast. Yum. Breakfast ended with these jam pastries that were so tasty.

Overall, this was the best date of my life (and the longest too). It was so great to eat amazing food and drink amazing wine, and to also have some of my favorite foods that I haven't been able to have since I moved here. It was also great to try some new wines from South Africa, which we'll go visit the next time we're in the Cape. It was definitely romantic and all the stresses of life simply fell away for the wonderful hours we spent there.

Final verdict: We're going back as soon as possible.

The rest of this long weekend has been leisurely and fantastic. I've tried to take advantage of being in the pool as much as possible. Its been a relatively cool and rainy summer, reducing our opportunities to get in the pool all summer long. This week has been super hot and dry and since being in the pool is one of my favorite things, that's what we've done.

Saturday night we had some friends over for dinner and enjoyed the South African delicacies of bacon wrapped candied cherries and chili cherry cheese sausages. Will's wildebeest burgers were fantastic-o. It was a nice leisurely time and for once, our BBQ didn't get rained out by an evening thunderstorm.

Valentine's Day we woke up super early so Will could go golfing and I could have morning coffee with Heidi and Beth. I got in the pool with my book and played with the dogs in the afternoon. Last night we made homemade cheese ravioli and spaghetti sauce with meatballs. We also started watching the "10 Best Episodes of Lost." Its been a romantic, relaxing weekend - just what we needed.

I am so thankful for Will and so incredibly thankful that we've been so blessed to start our marriage overseas.

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