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Monday, June 25, 2012


I haven't written about a restaurant in a while, though there have been a few that deserve reviewing.  I'll skip forward to our most recent discovery, Unik, which is intended to be Unico (unique), however a restaurant named Unico already exists in Buenos Aires, thus, the name was shortened. We found a favorable review in the lastest issue of TimeOut, our recent magazine find that has become a bit of a bible for us.  If you live in or are visiting Buenos Aires, buy an issue of Time Out.  It's better than any tour book on the market.

We had a 9:30pm reservation at Unik (Soler 5132: 4772-2230, Palermo Soho) and we arrived just as the restaurant was starting to fill up. This is one of the more interesting looking restaurants I've seen, it is bright without being awkward, the decor mixes modern design and retro seating (all of the chairs are different, ranging from barber's chairs to rolling office chairs) and the kitchen is clean, quiet and completely open to the public's view. One of the most interesting features of the place is that the back wall is all glass with a large green neon sign spelling "BadabOOm". I don't understand it, but I like it all the same.

Our table was visited by a few different waiters, along with one particular man that took our order and provided a bit of detail about the restaurant and recommendations off of the menu.  I'm not convinced that this was our waiter, because he was clearly French and dressed differently than the rest of the staff. He was very knowledgeable about the dishes and gave us quite a few solid recommendations.

Yummy smoked butter
Our meal began with a delicious basket of homemade bread and a smoked butter that I could have licked from the bowl. This same smoked butter showed up in a few other dishes; as a condiment to mashed potatoes or as an additive to the mushroom appetizer, and it was tasty wherever it showed up.

The appetizers were small, though a perfect size for each of us to order our own. I thoroughly enjoyed my mushroom sampler appetizer, though I think the best-appetizer prize goes to Jon, who ordered the slow-cooked egg with crispy potatoes.  I'm not much of an egg person, but the crispy potatoes combined with the slightly cooked pancetta was a combination that I would go back for.  It was outstanding.
Best app of the night - egg + potatoes + pancetta = amazing
One of our friends ordered the shrimp appetizer that was served with king crab (a rarity in this city) and tomato gazpacho.  Our friends were gracious enough to let me photograph all of their food as well.

Our meals were outstanding, and I left the restaurant feeling satisfied but not stuffed - which is unusual with all of the heavy food and large portions usually found in restaurants.

Jon ordered the steak, which was good, though the highlight of his plate for me was the smoked butter in his mashed potatoes. I have to figure out how they made that butter...

The other interesting entree option was the lamb, which slow cooked and tender. Not a commonly served item, and even less commonly served well.

After looking at the dessert menu, we both decided on the flourless  chocolate cake with praline ice cream dessert, which was exactly as it sounds.  The ice cream was accompanied by a lighter chocolate item, they were my favorites. If you are a dark chocolate fan, the two flourless dark chocolate bars would have been the ticket.

According to TimeOut, the restaurant was designed by the "architectural wiz" Marcelo Joulia - and it is a beautiful building.  We will certainly be returning to Unik, the meal was delicious and the ambiance was interesting and, indeed, unique.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Estancia Villa Maria

A beautiful first light of the morning photo by Cedric Miller.  

I don't usually start my blog posts with a photo, but this one was too good to bury in the text. Beautiful shot, I have severe photographer-envy.

This is where we spent Father's Day weekend, a weekend away that we decided to copy from last year's Father's Day trip to La Candelaria, though this time around it was actually on Father's Day weekend. We were also joined this year by the Miller family, a great addition in every sense of the word. Here is a group shot that we took on Saturday - we're only missing one little one (who was asleep) - and Milena is proudly displaying a novel we found in the estancia's library called The Expats, how fitting.

Estancia Villa Maria is approximately 45 minutes outside of Capital, 15 minutes past Ezeiza airport. The website has GPS coordinates to plug into any GPS or Smart phone, which works amazingly well. As you're driving, just when you think you are in the middle of nowhere, you arrive at Estancia Villa Maria - and it's beautiful.

Here is the Miller family with their 2nd son, Trey
As with the other estancias that we've visited, there was plenty to do here. Between the horseback riding, carriage rides, bicycles, and the amazing amount of space available for running around, there was always something going on. Each day the estancia offered a carriage ride at 10am and again at 3pm, we rode both times on Saturday, even though the morning ride was a bit brisk. One of the highlights of our stay was how service-oriented the staff and how flexible they were with the additional needs of our kids. They served meals early for the kids and adjusted to all of our requests.

Gretchen and Daddy on a carriage ride
The rooms were spacious and a few families in our group upgraded to the suites, which were like full fledged apartments.  Our regular sized room was more than adequate for us, though the bed and the shower left a bit to be desired.  Another note, though the estancia staff was more than equipped for children, we needed to supply our own cribs.

The estancia has a nearby golf course (though it was closed for the winter) and offers polo lessons.  They have stables to house up to 80 polo horses, but only had 40 or so when we were there.
They also have a great looking spa list, though we didn't participate during this weekend.

The food was good and the selection was different than we've seen at any other estancia we've been to, though we did have a couple of items that were less than fantastic. We saved a little bit of money by bringing our own wine, though the wine that we drank during dinner was charged a corking fee of AR$30.

Aside from the service, the most appealing feature of Villa Maria was the number of sitting rooms available to the guests.  This was great for our group, that needed a place to congregate after the kids were asleep, but it also allows you to feel separated from the rest of the guests. As a little bonus, on Friday night, there was a brother and sister team that played guitar and sang in the main living room of the estancia, and they were AMAZING. I spent the majority of Friday night singing their praises as best I could in Spanish.

All in all, this was a really great estancia experience, and a place that we would recommend to friends and come back to. Here are some of my personal photos that I particularly enjoy:
Proud Fathers enjoying a sunny Saturday
Since Preston didn't make it into our group shot, here is a sweet pic of him and his lovely mom on Saturday afternoon at lunch:

One of the beautiful barns on the property
The greatest thing to the world of children, a puppy
Villa Maria from the carriage ride

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Home Hotel

For our four year anniversary last week, Jon surprised me with something that we have never done before - left Gretchen with a sitter for the night.  Granted, we have spent the night away from Gretchen before, but she stayed with her grandparents, so this was a new first, albeit a minor one.  We were less than 10 min away, and her sitter was our beloved Candy, who has known Gretchen since before she was born (literally, she started helping us when I was still pregnant).  I worried it was going to be hard to leave but when Candy showed up she brought two of her wonderful children, Gretchen started repeating "bye, bye" to Jon and I while dragging her playmates to her play area to demonstrate her toys.  I'm still not convinced she knew we were gone.

We stayed in room 14, a highly recommendable room
We headed out for the night to a place called Home Hotel (Honduras 5860: 4778-1008, Palermo Viejo), which was recommended to Jon by a friend.  Ironically, it is the same hotel where we stopped for a drink a week before prior to my birthday dinner at Tegui (my choice for celebrating both my 29th and 31st birthdays).

First, the hotel: Home Hotel has an interesting concept, basically, the couple that owns the place were married in Buenos Aires and virtually all of their wedding guests were from out of town.  The guests had trouble finding suitable places to stay, so after the wedding the couple created a hotel "that we and our guests would like to stay at".  Without knowing this backstory, I guessed that the concept was something like "modern amenities meet your childhood home's wallpaper", which somehow works out quite nicely.  Upon checkin, the receptionist gave us, by far the best packet of city information we have received anywhere else.  This packet included a map of Buenos Aires, a more specific map complete with recommendations in Palermo Viejo, a list of spa options and prices, and a 51-page visitor's guide booklet with restaurant, shopping, bar, club, tango, art gallery recommendations and a drawing of a cow with labeled parts so that you can order meat with confidence.  Needless to say, I was really impressed by this packet.

As I mentioned before, the hotel has an interesting 1970s-wallpaper-meets-flatscreen-TV feel to it, but it goes right along with their theme, Home.  It is exactly what you see in people's homes, and there is a quaint and welcoming feel to it.  Don't be deceived by the yarn cross-stitched room numbers, there is a full mini-bar, nice bath products, fuzzy robes, black-out shades, an outdoor balcony and chocolate cookies on your pillow.  My only complaint about the room, and this is certainly not specific to this hotel, is the hairdryer was terrible. Weak. Mounted extremely low on the wall with a super-short-super-coiled cord.  Worst of all, it was one of those that you have to constantly push the button to get it to work - like they're afraid I'm going to turn on the hairdryer and then leave for dinner.  So, next time I bring my own hairdryer and everything is copacetic.

Now for the Spa:  I booked a facial appointment at their spa, and was not disappointed.  The room was clean, quiet, smelled nice and had a comfortable table to lay on.  The products used were nice and left my skin feeling quite nice.  The spa is open to hotel guests and non-guests alike and have a full range of skin care, massage and reflexology options to choose from. My appointment was with Cynthia, she gave a great facial, a mean shoulder and arm massage and spoke impecable English.

And lastly, the Bar: We stopped at the bar for a drink before heading out to dinner at Las Pizarras Bistro.  We chose the bar the weekend before because it was close to Tegui and it was recommended by TimeOut Magazine as a place with great drinks. The drink list is short but interesting with drink ingredients like capers, cucumber, jalapeƱo, mint, basil, honey, grated ginger and egg white - though not all in the same drink.  I had their Green Martini which includes cucumber vodka, fresh basil and capers which Jon stuck to his favorite, the Mojito, which had at least a full cup of mint leaves in the glass.  These drinks were interesting and fun, though the bar lacks a bit of the mainstream options that people tend to look for on a drink list.  When we met at the same bar with a group, a friend ordered a strawberry daiquiri, and they didn't have that or anything even remotely close to it to offer as a second choice.  The other part of the bar that seemed out of place is the furniture.  The first thing that comes to mind for me with this style of furniture is an office building break room, or a hospital waiting area.  For the amount of class that the rest of the hotel gives off - this furniture has got to go.  There is a beautiful outdoor garden and pool area that, unfortunately, didn't have any heaters, so it went unused during our visit.

A great stay at a great hotel - and the perfect night out for our anniversary.  Home Hotel is a comfortable place to stay in a great part of the city - and the amount of information they give you when checking in is worth it's weight in gold.  Bravo to Four Years of Marriage!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Four Years Later

I would like to take this opportunity to say Happy 4th Anniversary to my wonderful husband.  Our wedding day has taken 2nd place only to the day Gretchen was born as the happiest day of my life.  Here are some memories to remind us how far we've come in 4 short years.

And to all of our friends and family that were kind enough to join us in our wedding celebration, this indeed is a special day for you too!  Happy 4th Anniversary of the Hottest Day of Your Lives.  Nothing says "we love you" like a bunch of Wisconsins and Canadians that sit through an outdoor ceremony in 100+ degree heat.  It makes me smile considering that we have our heat on and I'm wearing a sweater AND a sweatshirt to celebrate this anniversary - you just never know what changes will come your way.

This post will be mostly a shameless posting of some of my favorite wedding photos, but I urge you to read on, they are really great photos.  Thank you again Chris Baltazar: http://baltazarfotos.com/, you amazing stealth of a photographer, you.

Right around this time, 4 years ago, I was still wearing my "Soon to be Mrs. Gill" shirt...

Which is what I wore all day while getting ready, UNTIL it was time for The Dress:

 The beadwork, the buttons, oh, how I love that dress.  Look at how happy I am in that dress:

This is one of my favorite pictures of my Dad.  You know he was happy with a smile like that, wearing a tux, in 106 degree temperatures.  That's 41C for all of you metric folks out there.  And of course, my mom, looking lovely in green.  I never noticed how similar our hair was that day until now - we are like mirror images...

Here is the man of the day, my groom.  Looking dapper with his parents - I wonder where Gretchen gets her beautiful blue eyes:

Our brothers all endured the heat in rented tuxes without complaint.  What a great looking bunch of fellas!  

(Yes, Chip, you are in the brother category)
Julie, Kristen and Sarah, my lovely bridesmaids.  How we miss you all so much...

Just moments before my last name changed (though with our move to Buenos Aires it has temporarily changed back)

And now for the photos of 2 ecstatic newlyweds.  I'll bet Jon thought this was a lot of photos...if he only knew how many I would take of Gretchen...

We tried - we just can't do serious faced photos.  Here is one that made us laugh - we look so angry!   

All smiles is so much better for us:

 It was proud smiles all around for our parents that day:

And check out this chica! She's our sister now!  Happy anniversary to the other Gills of our generation! 

 It was, by far, more than I ever could have imagined out of a wedding.  Thank you to everyone that helped us start our life together.
"Take my hand, we'll make it I swear..." - Bon Jovi knows what he's talking about.
And what a life it has been so far.  We have moved to another country, learned a new language, had a beautiful baby girl and traveled to places we didn't know existed back when these pictures were taken.  Here's to a lifetime of happiness and adventure, for whatever surprises the rest of our marriage brings us.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

El Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales

That's right.  It's prohibited NOT to touch.  Clever indeed.
I was reading my new favorite Time Out magazine and noticed that there is a hands-on science museum right behind the Recoleta cemetery that I have never seen or heard of before. This reminds me that this city has so much more to offer than meets the eye - this fantastic museum is less that 3 blocks from me and I never knew it was there.  El Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (4807-3260, located behind the Recoleta Cultural Center, Junin 1930 y Quintana) is an interactive science museum ideal for children 4 years old and up.  Their motto "Prohibido no tocar" (it's forbidden not to touch) makes this museum great for any toddling little ones, though under the age of 4 they are probably not understanding a whole lot of the science part.  As of today, the entrance fee is AR$25 for anyone over the age of 4.

We went to the museum on a Saturday, which I will list as a judgement error on my part, and it was packed with people.  My stroller was the bain of everyone's existence as I tried in vain to follow Gretchen around the museum.  Next time, I will go on a weekday, and leave the stroller at the door.

The museum is divided into rooms with clever names like "no me mates matemetica" (don't kill me math) and "la mesa esta servido" (the table is set) which correspond with the theme of the room, like math or food science.  Each room is filled with interactive experiments along with a little blurb about why or how the experiment works, and what to observe.  Needless to say, all of this was a little lost on Gretchen, and honestly, me as well - my Spanish is not up to Science Museum par quite yet, but she had a blast playing with the things nonetheless.  Her favorite room was the Tech room, much to her father's pride and joy, where she was able to play with countless joysticks and push all the remote control buttons her heart desired.

Considering that this museum is within walking distance, and a fraction of the cost of some of the organized classes in town, I will for sure return with Gretchen during the winter months while searching for indoor activities for the kiddos.  Also, it offers the RARE perk of being open during morning hours. It is a really great museum for older kids, and as an adult, I was tempted to play with the exhibits too - win/win!

El Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales
Location: Junin 1930 y Quintana, behind the Recoleta Cultural Center
Phone: 4807-3260
Hours: 10am - 5pm, Tues -Fri; 3:30pm - 7:30pm, Sat & Sun, closed Mondays
Admission: Adults and children over 4 - AR$25. Children under 4 are free.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Brother, College Graduate

Considering that today is my brother Rob's 23rd birthday (other known aliases: Ryan, Robbie), I thought it would be appropriate to write about the experience of attending his college graduation during our 3 week trip back to the US.

It is pretty surreal to watch someone that you remember being born graduate from college.  There are 8 years between me and my youngest brother, and though I don't have a whole lot of memories of our family before he was brought into this world, I do have a few.  To think that I've been alive long enough to have these memories AND watch him graduate from college is simultaneously incredible and humbling, but enough about me...

Robbie has always been an independent, headstrong guy, and has been a source of entertainment, friendship and, at times, incredible frustration.  I like to think that this is because we are extremely like-minded, but it is probably more accurately because he loves to prove me wrong, push my buttons and being that he knows how I think, he is quite gifted in both of these areas.  He took Virginia Tech by storm by completing one of the most difficult course curriculums out there (chemical engineering) and enjoying a strong social life with plenty of personally enriching activities on the side.  We had the good fortune of spending time with him at the German Club Reunion we attended in late April, and Gretchen and I joined the rest of our family while we returned to Virginia Tech for graduation weekend.

The weekend festivities began on Friday, where commencement was hosted at Lane Stadium.  This place was as full of life and heart during this ceremony as it was for a football game - and though we were not thrilled about the First Lady's decision to speak at commencement, it was a beautiful day and a powerful ceremony.
Over 5,000 new graduates on the field
After commencement, my family endured my photo-taking requirements. I got some great outdoor shots of a proud bunch outside of the German Club Manor.

Gretchen was especially proud of her Uncle Robbie
Uncle Chris made a great babysitter
This one was too precious to omit 
 The following day, the actual graduation ceremony was split into colleges, with the engineering college having over a fifth of the total number of graduates.  We played Find-Your-Graduate for the first few minutes of finding our seats.  Can you find Robbie?

How about now??

And here is one of the prouder moments I can think of.  My youngest brother, walking across the stage with a smile on his face.  Way to go baby bro!

To add a cherry to the weekend, I reconnected with a long lost childhood friend (literally, we haven't seen each other in nearly 20 years), who is the General Manager of an outstanding restaurant in Pearisburg, VA.  This is a super-small town, approx 30 minutes northwest from Virginia Tech, but the food and atmosphere are worth every minute of the drive.  It was fantastic to see Rachel again, just as friendly and pleasant as I remember, and the restaurant was a wonderful change from our regular stops in Blacksburg.  If you are anywhere in the area, I highly recommend The Bank Food and Drink in Pearisburg.  Get the beet salad - trust me.  

It was a great weekend, and a mile-marker for my family that, I think, we were all secretly dreading for all these years.  Our youngest member is now an official adult - and we couldn't be more proud.  Congratulations Rob, Happy Birthday Robbie, and may the world of adulthood offer you everything you desire.
Your Favorite Sister