Day trip to Rotterdam

After a great three days in Amsterdam, Noah and I wanted to take a day trip to another city in the Netherlands. Rotterdam was an easy day trip and offered some interesting sights related to architecture, so we thought this would be the perfect destination! Trains from Amsterdam to Rotterdam run frequently, so getting there from the Amsterdam Centraal Station wasn’t too much trouble. Unfortunately, the express train we had planned to take was cancelled (surprise surprise!), but the local train only took about 15 minutes longer, so it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.

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Adventurin’…

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Rotterdam is known for its unusual and modern architecture. The city was basically entirely destroyed in World War II, so the entire landscape shows a very ‘new’ look, and it seems that the remodel opportunity was used to have some architectural fun. Architecture is an interest of Noah’s, so he was especially excited to see the city. We used an app (Rotterdam Info) to guide us on an architecture walk through the city.

The first stop…Rotterdam’s Centraal Station – this was easy since our train from Amsterdam arrived there!

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Rotterdam’s main train station, this building was revamped and reopened to the public in March 2014:

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Right near the train station were several other interesting buildings including Groot Handelsgebouw, an enormous business center that covers a building block of 720 x 275 ft. Also, this is the style that once symbolized post-war reconstruction in Rotterdam:

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Delftse Poort are high-rise office buildings just across the street from Centraal Station that immediately give the city a metropolitan feel. These buildings are an imposing 495 ft. tall and have a mirrored facade:

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De Calypso is a colorful building with sloping walls. Inside are apartments, offices, shops, and, naturally, parking:

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And, to make things even more fun, there’s an oddly shaped church attached to the end of De Calypso:

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The Westersingel canal (a primary canal in Rotterdam that runs from Chinatown to the Museum Quarter) has interesting sculptures dotting the pathway along the water. The name for this route is Beeldenroute Westersingel (Westersingel Sculpture Route). There are 17 sculptures featured, created by artists from around the world:

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The end of the sculpture walk brought us to an odd (and apparently somewhat controversial) statue. The statue’s official name is ‘Santa Claus.’ but it is known at the Buttplug Gnome (hence, the controversy as to whether this type of statue should be displayed by the city). It is supposed to be making a comment about pop culture.

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Moving right along…SHOPPING!!!

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Lijnbaan, the busiest shopping street in Rotterdam, was the first pedestrian shopping area in Europe. There was a large mix of stores including popular American brands I recognized as well as smaller boutiques:

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Just off of Lijnbaan is the City Hall building. There’s a street running under the center of the building!

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Interesting window shopping continued at the Beursplein, also sometimes called the ‘shopping trench’ because it is a below street-level pedestrian shopping area:

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Walking through the Beursplein led to a momentous occasion…my first Swatch! Noah is a big Swatch fan, and I finally let my envy of his cool watches get the better of me:

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The Grote of Sint Laurenskerk (often called Laurens Church) was built sometime in the late 15th or early 16th centuries and is the only surviving late-Gothic building in the city. Today, the building is used not only by tourists and churchgoers but also for concerts, lectures, and other large events:

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After all this sightseeing, Noah and I were hungry for lunch and excited to stop for a bite to eat at one of the most interesting buildings we saw…Markthal:

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Markthal (Market Hall) is a recently-opened indoor food market with shops, stands, produce vendors, restaurants and more. Of course, I would love this sort of food market no mater what, but the building itself is part of what makes this place really interesting. The building is built with apartments and offices forming a partial oval around an open-air center area. In this picture, the internal area extending from the large central window is the open-air market while the exterior ring is office buildings and apartments:

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Inside…food, food, food!

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From the inside, the ring of offices/apartments looms high above all the action, and the dividing wall is decorated with flower images:

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Here is a view to the outside from the center of the market:

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So neat!

After lunch, we looked at a couple of the other neat buildings in the immediate vicinity. Directly across the street from Markthal was Bibliotheek Rotterdam, Rotterdam’s public library:

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Also across from the Markthal are the iconic cube houses:

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These houses were designed by an architect named Piet Blom. His vision was to make the houses look like trees and have the complete unit appear like a forest.

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One cube house is a small museum of sorts where visitors can go inside and see what it would be like to live inside one of these houses. From the inside, the design seemed like a pretty inefficient use of space to me, but it was fun to get a view from within! Here’s a peek out of the attic window:

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Our last adventures of the day were to walk along the Nieuwe Maas (the large river running through Rotterdam) and to visit the Het Nieuwe Instituut.

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The wind next to the water was incredible. I literally thought I might be blown away, so we didn’t spend too long there before seeking cover on a different walkway. The Het Nieuwe Instituut is a contemporary museum about innovation. Unfortunately, our visit was a bit disappointing because half of the 4 exhibits were closed or not completed. There was a fairly detailed exhibit on 3D printing though….if that’s you’re thing. 🙂

Other posts from the Amsterdam Trip

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk

 

Malcha Mall and lunch at ‘Greg’

Last weekend, Noah and I went to Jerusalem’s largest and busiest mall: Malcha Mall. The mall is located in the Malcha neighborhood, southwest of central Jerusalem. The mall is HUGE with nearly 300 stores and, according to their website, 400,000 square feet of shopping area and another 32,000 square feet of office space.

The interior of the mall looked fairly similar to any typical American mall, and there were tons of familiar American-brand stores (American Eagle, H&M, Gap, etc.).

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There were, however, some telltale signs that we were still in Israel. For example, there were several ‘shuk‘-like stands scattered in between kiosks and many stands selling challah (we went on a Friday before Shabbat):

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There were also some (ultra) religious folks walking around handing out Shabbat candles to the women (to make sure they lit that night!) and asking the men they saw if they had already put on tefillin. If the answer was “no,” there was a handy-dandy table set up with several sets of tefillin for men to put on and say the appropriate blessing. Side note: tefillin are cube shaped boxes worn on the head and left arm that contain the words of the Shma – the central faith statement of Judaism. It is considered a mitzvah for men to put on tefillin each day, typically during the morning prayers.

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candles I was handed while eating lunch – intended to be lit that night to welcome Shabbat (I was already planning on lighting)

 

I was theoretically looking for boots at the mall, but the sheer number of shops and my indecisive attitude preventing that initiative from making much progress, so I ended up mainly just window shopping and oohing and aahing at the size and eccentricities of the mall.

After enough walking around to work up an appetite, we went to a restaurant called Greg for lunch. IMG_5620

One thing that we noted while walking around the mall was that there were a lot more sit-down service restaurants than what you might find at a typical American mall.

At Greg, I ordered an Israeli breakfast (I know, I’m getting predictable). The breakfast, as usual, came with eggs, bread, spreads, salads, and drinks. For my drinks, I ordered a carrot juice and a special coffee drink made with date syrup and soy milk. Noah ordered the shakshuka and a grapefruit juice.

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Yum!

 

Tiyul to the Shuk

For my first month in Israel, I am doing an ulpan. An ulpan is an intensive Hebrew-learning program, designed to help olim (new immigrants to Israel) learn the national language quickly and practically. There are many places to do ulpan in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, and in addition to multi-month classes for new olim, there are week-long and month-long classes that are popular with students and tourists. Traditional ulpan is a huge time commitment, with participants being in class for 4-8 hours each day. I am doing ulpan through Ulpan-Or, and I am in class for 3.5 hours every day (besides Friday and Saturday – the Israeli weekend).

In addition to the daily classes, once a week I go on a tiyul (trip) with the ulpan. The idea of the tiyul is to familiarize ulpan students with an important area of Jerusalem as well as to give them the opportunity to use their Hebrew out on the street. This week, we went on an incredible tiyul to the shukShuk means market in Hebrew, and a visit to the shuk is an absolute must-do for any visitor to Jerusalem. The shuk is heaven on earth for any foodie, cook, bargain shopper, people watcher, or human being with a decent appreciation for fun. Most of the food is sold by weight, and the colors at every fruit and vegetable stand are enough to make you stop and stare:

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Nuts and dried fruit also make a strong appearance:

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As do tea and spices:

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And things that used to be alive:

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The shuk is full of amazing bakeries, featuring bread, pita, bourekas (baked phyllo dough pastries), and many other types of gluten-filled goodness.

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A trip to the shuk also necessitates a visit to Marzipan – Jerusalem’s most loved rugelach shop:

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With all the fabulous ingredients available, it would be easy to overlook the amazing eating to be done in the shuk itself…but this would be a great mistake! Ima is a Jerusalem restaurants with a few locations that specializes in kibbeh soup (seasoned ground meat dumplings served in a rich broth).

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Uzi Eli’s juice bar offers a remedy for everything, and if you go in to say ‘hi,’ Uzi is likely to tell you about his family whose Yemenite secrets he inherited as the key to his profession. Oh, and that if you are optimistic between the ages of 9 and 17 you will have a longer life. And that you should laugh for no reason.

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Mousseline is an ice cream shop offering homemade and unusual flavors – and featuring ingredients bought in the shuk! Flavor highlights include Grapefruit with Basil, Masala, Cinnamon, and Tonka (a South American vanilla bean).

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Visiting the shuk got me excited to make a regular routine of finding new and fresh ingredients to use in cooking; I definitely want to make it a habit to buy food there each week.

In closing…

SPOTTED: A GIANT GOURD!

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Three days in Paradise

After the horrible winter and ‘spring‘ in Minnesota, the weather is finally turning and warming up. Nonetheless, it was nice to escape for three days to the sunny paradise of Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, I know LA can get hot as blazes and I don’t think I’d classify it as an Eden during the peak of summer, but for this last few days it has been absolutely perfect weather.

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I was in LA for the completion of the Certificate in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults program I’ve been part of throughout the last year through Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The program is comprised of a cohort of 16, and we come from all over the country (and one from Canada!). We all stayed at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills.

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The hotel was colorful, boutique-y, clean, and comfortable – plus there was a very swanky pool area!

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The room itself was very nice, with an extremely comfortable bed, a mini-fridge, and a shower with AMAZING water pressure:

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When I got to the hotel, I had a few hours until the first session of the program, so I set off to explore the area with another member of my cohort. The hotel is in the heart of the Beverly Hills area, surrounded by shops, restaurants, and plastic surgeons (not kidding).

We meandered from the hotel to Beverly Drive, where we stopped at Urth Caffe – a popular, natural/organic, and local cafe chain (suggested to me by a friend – thanks, Jinai!).

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Urth has an impressive selection of coffees, teas, smoothies, and specialty beverages (including tea espresso drinks!). The dessert display is certainly a sight to behold:

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I ordered a blended green tea smoothie, and my friend got a cappuccino (complete with some amazing foam art!) and a kale salad:

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The salad looked so good, I went back to Urth for dinner the next day to order it myself!

After being rejuvenated by food, we explored the area around Beverly Drive for the rest of the afternoon.

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I saw pretty much every store I’ve ever heard of plus a lot more that I never even knew existed. Mostly we window shopped, but if somewhere looked particularly appealing we would go inside to poke around. Attracted by its massiveness, we went into the mega-sized Anthropologie:

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I know that lots of people love this store, but I’ve never really shopped here. I saw a lot of dresses that I thought were cute:

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But then I looked at the price tag…

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…and now I know why I don’t shop here! I’m perfectly content with my dress from Gap Outlet, thank you very much.

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There is one thing, however, that might be a bargain at Anthropologie.

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Who knew they sold wedding dresses?! Maybe it is only at this or other very large locations, but they had a pretty broad selection:

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After Anthropologie, we wandered for a while and then noticed a place called Go Greek. The shop caught our attention because a sign in the window advertised the fact that they had yogurt flown in fresh daily from Greece. Wha?!?!

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This place was very neat. In addition to the (now) ubiquitous self-serve frozen yogurt bar…

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…You could also get fresh greek yogurt with the toppings of your choice:

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We didn’t order anything since we had just eaten. I was hoping to be able to go back later in the trip but ended up not having the opportunity. Oh well – maybe next time!

The last store that captured our interest was Merimekko. Merimekko is a Finnish design company with brightly colored and bold patterns. They make clothes, home products, and a variety of trinkets. I had heard of Merimekko previously because Noah’s parents have a set of placemats from them, but I was impressed to see the wide variety of products they sell: pillows, dresses, baby clothes…you name it!

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Eventually, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for the start of the program so the day of exploration had to come to an end. This was a great day though of soaking up the sunshine and posing as someone who knows a lot about shopping and fashion. 😉

 

Musings in Calhoun Square

Calhoun Square is located in the bustling Uptown intersection of Hennepin, Lake, and Lagoon. It houses Dogwood Coffee, Kitchen Window, about a dozen other awesome stores/restaurants, and is often hosting some sort of celebration or fair. My gym, LA Fitness, is inside Calhoun Square, and on my way there yesterday morning I really noticed how much the shopping center has grown since I moved here three years ago.

I took an extra moment to notice all the glitz and glamor that has come into Calhoun Square, and this lead to a lot of wonderings.

Such as….

Were these eggs bought specifically for this shoe display?

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Was the full impact of this shirt understood during design?

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Would my life be better if I owned bejeweled capri pants?

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How many people own an angry birds phone case?

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Or proudly wear this Hello Kitty necklace?

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Are there any human beings that look better in this dress than this mannequin? 

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And, finally, would the world be a better place if we were constantly asking one another this question?

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Calhoun Square. Check it out. Learn about yourself.

 

Kitchen Window

Calhoun Square in Uptown is a great shopping plaza that has a variety of restaurants, shops, and services. Some highlights include: Chiang Mai Thai, Jimmy John’s, Dogwood Coffee, H&M, and my gym – LA Fitness. One of Calhoun Square’s greatest attractions is Kitchen Window.

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Inside Kitchen Window is a seemingly never ending expanse of kitchen gadgets, tools, accessories, and knick-knacks. With everything from the practical to the completely unnecessary, this is a great place to look if you want to build up – or jazz up – your kitchen. I’ve only purchased a few things here (price usually leads me to get the budget version of items at Ikea), but if you are a real adult someone with more money to spend on kitchen gear, then I doubt you could find a better stocked store than this.

A peek inside…There are cute aprons, towels, and place mats:

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A wide range of appliances:

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Oils and spices:

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Specialty baking goods:

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The biggest pepper grinder you could ever need:

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And even a small cookbook section:

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Lastly, one of Kitchen Window’s greatest prides….
THE BIG GREEN EGG:

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The Big Green Egg is a special grill that’s supposed to replicate cooking meat in clay ovens and provides the user with “the ultimate cooking experience.” Kitchen Window sells a lot of Big Green Eggs and hosts several demonstrations and workshops of how to maximize their benefits.

This weekend, I was lucky enough to go by the store while they were having a big sale:

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All of the sale items were 50% off or more. I was tempted by many items, but I settled on a small ice cream maker and an egg poacher:

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The ice cream maker was a little bit of an impulse buy, so I’ll just have to commit myself to putting it to good use. 🙂

Shoes Shopping and Mill Valley Kitchen

Shoes are a big problem for me. From running shoes to just regular sneakers, it’s always a struggle for me to find shoes that will 1) fit my orthotics, 2) give me enough support outside of the orthotics, and 3) meet my high standards for comfort. I’ve had several attempted and failed shopping trips to try to find a nicer looking shoe that meets all of my requirements. Currently, whenever I go somewhere that calls for a nicer pair of shoes I either wear my Ugg boots, suffer miserably wearing uncomfortable shoes, or give up altogether and just wear my sneakers. On the recommendation of someone at my office, I decided to check out Schuler Shoes in St. Louis Park.

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I was told that Schuler’s had a wide selection comfort shoes and staff members who would help you find what you were looking for. The selection of shoes available was pretty impressive. They had an impressive selection of pretty much every comfort brand I’ve heard of.

Keen and Choco:
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Dansko:
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Naot (an Israeli brand!):

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I tried on a couple Naots and a pair of Danskos. The Naot shoes were a little too narrow for my orthotics to fit quite right. The Danskos were a little wider and felt pretty comfortable. My heel did seem to come out a little when I walked, but the salesperson told me that is standard with Danskos since they have the hard rocker sole. The Dansko model were called Arden Black Nappa:

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I’m wearing them today, and so far things are going pretty well. I started the day without socks, but that was a little uncomfortable and I felt like they were rubbing. Once I put socks on, I’ve been feeling a lot better. The only issue now is might need some non-white socks.

For lunch yesterday, we went to Mill Valley Kitchen. It’s in St. Louis Park, and they boast healthy and well-proportioned meals. I’ve wanted to try it for a while, and – given that it’s my own personal restaurant week – this was the perfect opportunity.

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The inside was very classy! I was expecting a cafe of sorts, but it was a lot more formal.

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From their bathrooms, I could also tell they are into the environment and all that good stuff. Telltale sign: REAL TOWELS!

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My dad and I both got salads for lunch. I got a butter leaf salad with asparagus, new potatoes, and skirt steak:

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My dad got a house salad with chicken, and we shared some house made pita bread:

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The lunch didn’t quite fill me up (there was very little meat on the salad). If I went back, I would definitely order something else, but I’m not desperate to return soon. I wasn’t too impressed and would go back to a lot of other places before I go back here.