Casa Asturiana offers flamenco and Spanish food in Sydney

Put two of my favorite countries together, Australia and Spain, and you’ve got me hooked. Thanks, Casa Asturiana, in central Sydney, for offering this Spanish gal a vast variety of Spanish tapas and dishes to keep stomachs muy alegre.

Casa Asturiana Sydney menu

The bi-level restaurant is located in a Spanish quarter featuring several other dining establishments with comida de España, near the Town Hall train and down the street from the Metro Theatre. I had some delicious tapas at the fun outdoor Spanish-style street seating there recently, a spot I was delighted to learn features flamenco dancing Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.

I loved seeing the juxtaposition of the Spanish and Australian flags both on the menu and inside — it just made my heart happy.

Casa Asturiana Sydney interior 2

Indoors is classy dining, with Spanish-style decorations and artwork surrounding dining tables and the bar.

Casa Asturiana Sydney interior

Outdoors is much more casual, but I always love taking advantage of gorgeous Sydney summer weather.

Casa Asturiana Sydney Nicki Escudero

The sangria is a must-have. I drank a half-litre (about four 4-ounce glasses) myself, and it was chock full of fresh fruit pieces and had the perfect balance of fruity flavors.

Casa Asturiana Sydney sangria

Casa Asturiana offers full paella and seafood entrees, but I’d go for tapas, perfectly-sized dishes to share for a party of two or more.

Here’s a look at the Pulpo al Ajo Arriero, or braised octopus in olive oil, garlic, paprika and vinegar, which was a hearty portion for two that I heard was delicious and not overly chewy like octopus can be.

Casa Asturiana Sydney octopus

I was hoping for some Spanish manchego cheese, but this eatery with northern Spanish cuisine didn’t have it on the menu. The server accommodatingly brought out a dish full of tasty feta bites,which I really enjoyed.

Casa Asturiana Sydney feta cheese

Definitely get the Champiñones a la Plancha, which are barbecued whole button mushrooms with white wine garlic and parsley. Spanish mushrooms are my favorite mushrooms because they’re juicy and perfect to pop in your mouth.

Casa Asturiana Sydney mushrooms

The Patatas Alioli, lightly fried potatoes covered in a warm garlicky mayonnaise sauce, were also plentiful and delicious. I know it might be a little weird to eat mayo with potatoes, but it’s big in Spain — and here in Sydney, mayo is also popular.

Casa Asturiana Sydney patatas alioli

The order of Spanish bread was a little different than the crusty pan con olive oil I was expecting. It came covered with tomato sauce and herbs, and the two giant pieces were, again, great to share.

Casa Asturiana Sydney Spanish breadFor all this food and sangria, plus a beer, it was only $75 AUD, what I’d consider a great value for such a feast. I loved that my server, who was from Colombia, greeted me in Spanish. It was refreshing to experience such a Spanish-friendly atmosphere in Sydney, where I haven’t seen many Spanish restaurants. I’d love to go back and check out the flamenco, one of the most beautiful dance art forms in the world, plus to get some of their delicious-sounding desserts, including tiramisu and churros.

For more information on Casa Asturiana Spanish restaurant, head here.

Grill’d in Chatswood has healthy burgers in Sydney

Having walked past the tantalizing scents of Grill’d in Chatswood, Sydney, many times, I was excited to finally nosh at the joint touting healthy burgers.

Grill'd Chatswood Sydney interior

Grill’d serves a variety of burgers and sliders, made with chicken, beef, lamb and veggies, as well as offers steak sandwiches and salads. There are three — count ’em, three — vegetarian burger options! I definitely want to go back to try them all, but this time, i opted for the Field of Dreams ($11.50 AUD), a portobello mushroom burger that was one of the lowest-calorie options on the menu at about 470 calories for a huge sandwich. It was incredibly juicy and came with basil pesto, roasted peppers, cheddar cheese, lettuce and herbed mayo — and an Australian flag, for good measure.

Grill'd Chatswood Sydney Mushroom Burger

Be sure to pair your burger with some “chips” (French fries), too — I loved the thick-cut fries here because the seasoning was ample. The regular version ($4.80) is super-huge, and I wasn’t able to finish mine. Next time, I would get the snack version ($3.80).

I ordered the tomato relish thinking it would be ketchup-y (or tomato sauce-y, as Australians would say), but it was a sweet dipping sauce that didn’t satisfy my palate — though, with other ingredients, like on my mushroom burger, it was fine. Instead, I’d recommend the very spicy hot chilli mayo dipping sauce, which had a huge kick and is mighty tasty. Here it is, appropriately labeled “hot,” paired with the Friends of Falafel burger ($11.50):

Grill'd Chatswood Sydney falafel burger new

That’s the burger I might get next time, or the other veggie burger option, the Garden Goodness ($11.50), a veggie patty made with beetroot.

Grill’d is super-casual and popping on weekend nights, with street seating that gives plenty of opportunities for people-watching.

Grill'd Chatswood Sydney patio

The order-at-the-counter spot is stocked with local bottled beers and beers on draft. I loved the fun attitude, from the Australian burger flags, to the sassy copy on the knife holders:

Grill'd Chatswood Sydney knife

Learn more about Grill’d here.

Walk the Moon and The Griswolds rock Sydney Metro Theatre (VIDEO)

I was so excited to see my first concert featuring an American band I love in Sydney last night, when Walk the Moon brought the party to the Metro Theatre, and Sydney-hometown-ers The Griswolds got the crowd excited as the opening act. I have always loved The Griswolds’ song “Beware the Dog,” so I was so stoked to see them live and had a blast dancing to every single song they played, including their popular American single:

I first saw Walk the Moon in 2012 at the much-more intimate Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix, which was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. The only major label album they had out then was their self-titled album, but they had a veteran performance quality to them because the crowd was constantly dancing and singing along loudly to every song. Since releasing their massive hit “Shut Up and Dance,” off 2014 album Talking Is Hard, they’ve achieved global success and packed the 1,100-person-capacity Metro Theatre, opening the show with my favorite song by the band, “Jenny”:

Their last song of the set before the encore was unsurprisingly “Shut Up and Dance,” which they performed after playing about an hour and 15 minutes worth of tracks from both their albums, plus a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”:

I loved how, as always, positive the band was, including a moment when singer Nick Petricca had the audience symbolically ball up all their negative energy and expel it to the sky during the song “I Can Lift a Car.” The audience members appropriately went crazy for both bands, and the good vibes permeating the theater made for a blast of a show.

I enjoyed the Metro for its friendly bar service (they also serve hot meat pies, if you’re hungry) and variety of seating, from the pit below, to seats in the back.

Walk the Moon The Griswolds Metro Theatre in Sydney

Learn more about Walk the Moon here, The Griswolds here and the Metro Theatre here.

Happy Endings Comedy Club in Kings Cross, Sydney, hosts underground shows

I’m so excited to have learned the Sydney comedy scene seems quite strong in Australia, as the past two comedy shows I’ve been to have featured full houses and lots of laughter throughout. This past weekend, I attended my first stand-up show at Happy Endings in Kings Cross, an intimate underground 65-person theater with a stylish lounge up top where attendees can drink and chat before the show starts.

Happy Endings Comedy Sydney Kings CrossI went to a “happy hour” there, an hour-long show that featured three stellar Aussie comics: Sean Woodland, Ray Badran and Chris Radburn. After getting a drink (the bar is cash only) and waiting in the lounge for about 15 minutes after show time, the theater was opened to attendees, who were ushered in party by party and given seats. Everyone had a great view of the stage, and many were near tables, allowing patrons to set their drinks down.

Happy Endings Comedy Sydney Kings Cross

I wouldn’t say there are many significant distinguishing characteristics between the stand-up comedy styles of Aussies versus Americans, though I have discovered, I tend to “Wooo!” a lot more than Australian audience members. This difference was blatantly pointed out in the warm-ups for a live talk show I attended in Australia, when the audience was told to “cheer and clap like Americans” in order to convey excitement during the show. While I’m used to participating and cheering if a comedian asks a question I can relate to, in Australia, I haven’t witnessed that as much.

Despite the more subdued audiences in terms of cheering (there is still lots of laughing), the stand-up comedy was relatable in Australia, as Woodland told a killer party story involving Sinéad O’Connor, Badran had engaging weight loss anecdotes, and Radburn hysterically talked about fatherhood. What I did think was interesting was that every single comic mentioned America in their set. After hearing a joke from the door lady about “stupid Americans” directed towards my party before entering, I found the remarks about my home country interesting, as always, here in Australia.

From the chill lounge experience up top, to the excitement of the underground show, to the cozy feel of the comedy club combined with the personal ushering to your seat, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and high-quality talent at Happy Endings. My only suggestion for improvement would be to swap the curtain dividing the club from the lounge to a door. As soon as ticket holders for the following show started congregating in the lounge, their laughter and talking could be heard downstairs, which was a bit distracting from the show. Otherwise, I can’t wait to head back and see more entertaining Aussie comedy.

For more information on Happy Endings, head here.

Lid and Jar in Chatswood, Sydney, Australia a relaxing and delicious brunch and lunch spot

I absolutely love sitting outdoors while dining, and often the summer weather in Sydney is too beautiful not to. One of the best patios I’ve found in Chatswood is at Lid & Jar, a coffeehouse and restaurant serving delicious offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Lid and Jar Chatswood patio Lid and Jar Chatswood upstairs coffee bar

The first time I went, breakfast serving was barely over — it ends at noon. If you love breakfast, though, you’re in luck, since several breakfast items also appear on the lunch menu, including the wonderful Crispy French Toast ($18 AUD), with natural Greek yoghurt, fresh strawberries and dried fruit compote sprinkled with candied nuts.

Lid and Jar Chatswood French toast

The abundance of berries makes for an amazing flavor combination, while the toasted oats on top give some crunchy textural variety. The cream that accompanies the bread is a perfect complement, and while I didn’t order this, I happily stole multiple bites.

I opted for the Fresh Corn Fritters (also $18), something unlike anything I’d ever had before.

Lid and Jar Chatswood corn fritters

I adored the plentiful arugula, avocado and tomato topping that was like a mini-salad, and the fritters were fried to perfection and packed full of corn. I left off the bacon, and it was an ideal lunch portion, leaving me full and happy.

I had to head back for brunch. The patio is so peaceful because it overlooks a grassy area near The Concourse theater.

Lid and Jar Chatswood view

It’s also dog-friendly, and seeing cute pooches makes any meal better.

I had a fresh cold-pressed green detox juice ($9.30), made with apple, pear, spinach and coconut water. I instantly felt the healthy nutrients perking me up, and it had the perfect amount of sweetness. The fresh cold-pressed orange juice ($9.30) was also spectacular, and both were great choices if you love fresh juice.

Lid and Jar Chatswood green juice Lid and Jar Chatswood pure orange juice

I wanted a veggie benedict with no meat or eggs. My server suggested avocado toast with sides of roasted tomatoes and hollandaise sauce, which was a fantastic suggestion and shaved a few bucks off the regular benedict price of $17-$18. The hollandaise sauce was thick and creamy, just like I like it, and the tomatoes were juicy and perfectly cooked.

Lid and Jar Chatswood avocado toast

Here’s the Smoked Salmon Benedict ($18):

Lid and Jar Chatswood salmon benedictIt doesn’t come with any sides but is an ample meal, for sure.

Lid & Jar features two levels, including indoor restaurant seating up top:
Lid and Jar Chatswood upstairs inside restaurant

and a second lower-level coffeehouse on the bottom, where you can order and take away from the sidewalk.

Lid and Jar Chatswood downstairs coffee bar

Lid and Jar Chatswood downstairs exterior

Lid and Jar Chatswood downstairs interior

Like many Sydney restaurants I’ve encountered, here a server takes your order, but you’ll pay at the counter. Everyone at Lid & Jar was extremely friendly, and the restaurant makes you feel instantly welcome. While I am striving to try new restaurants as often as possible, Lid & Jar is a place I can’t wait to return to for some dinner eats. Learn more about the Chatswood restaurant and coffeehouse here.

Chelsea Hotel in Chatswood, Sydney, Australia, a happening place for hipsters

I found my new favorite place in Chatswood, Sydney, Australia, recently: a pub/restaurant called Chelsea Hotel that made me happy for its abundance of light, its beautiful patio in the heart of the city and its myriad hanging plants that brought nature indoors.

The Chelsea Hotel Chatswood Sydney Australia

The place was packed around 6 p.m. on a Friday night, mostly with young hipsters listening to disco tunes and a lot of David Bowie from the live DJ.

The Chelsea Hotel Chatswood Sydney Australia

Food was mostly American fare, with some Aussie twists. The fried blue corn chips bar snack was perfect to share between two people ($4 AUD). The chips were freshly made and had the ideal amount of salt, and came with sour cream to dip them in. I admit, I’m a pretty picky vegetarian eater, but I’m trying to expand my palate more in Australia, including noshing on this sour cream side. I actually liked it a lot because it cooled off the warm chips and had a nice flavor to it.

The Chelsea Hotel Chatswood Sydney Australia

All “between bread” options come with thick-cut fries, which are my favorite type. I’m not a shoestring gal and never could find enough thick-cut fries in the States, but in Australia, everywhere I’ve had fries, they’ve been nice and thick. Score! Check out the chicken burger ($19), which came with habanero mayo (mayo is also big in Australia, and you’ll start to enjoy it on restaurant sandwiches if you don’t already), jalapeño, tomato and pineapple:

The Chelsea Hotel Chatswood Sydney Australia

I nommed on the spiced vege burger ($16), which came with yoghurt, tahini, tomato and lettuce. I swear I eat more than veggie burgers, but I was craving one this night, and I loved the spiced patty made with black beans and served with those delicious fries. Note: Aussies call ketchup “tomato sauce,” and be sure to ask for it if you like it, because it doesn’t always automatically come with fries.

The Chelsea Hotel Chatswood Sydney Australia

The bar was fully stocked with beer, wine and fruity cocktails, and Chelsea Hotel also offers several “cocktails to share,” which serve four people and are $25. There was lots of tumbler shaking at the bar, so try one of their signature drinks if you’re craving a cocktail.

The Chelsea Hotel Chatswood Sydney Australia The Chelsea Hotel Chatswood Sydney Australia

There are plenty of televisions playing Australian sport (that’s singular — even if you’re talking about multiple types of athletics, it’s still “sport” here), and the vibe is friendly, relaxed and chatty. Beautiful weather beckons people to the spacious patio, and I’d say it’s hard not to instantly fall in love with this spot’s tasty eats and comfortable atmosphere.

Learn more about Chelsea Hotel here.

‘The Darren Sanders Show’ spotlights notable Australians

A who’s who list of Australian movers and shakers was on display when I attended the taping of The Darren Sanders Show at the Giant Dwarf Theatre in Redfern, Sydney, Australia, this past weekend. This season of the talk show set to be broadcast on FOXTEL Aurora starting Sunday, January 31, features 12 episodes with guests ranging from authors and actors, to athletes and musicians.

I got to see four 30-minute episodes taped in one night, and segments included an interview and musical performance by actor and band frontman Mark Lee, performances by stand-up comedians Christina Van Look and Jacques Barrett, and interviews with writers Dan Ilic and Jo Abi, wake board world record holder Amber Wing, comedian and musician Dave Eastgate and actress and producer Matilda Brown. With hype man Al Del Bene bantering with the crowd in between segments, there was never a dull moment.

The Darren Sanders Show_2

I loved the diversity of the roster on the stage, including the comedic chops of host and comedian Darren Sanders. He, along with his guests, never stopped with the witticisms, and the stories told on stage — from a smoking incident involving Metallica and an apple, by Eastgate, to the reenactment of wake boarding tricks using a doll by Wing — were highly entertaining. The show could compete with my American fave The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, despite the small budget. I could see the program getting picked up by a larger network and was impressed by the professionalism of the talent.

For more information on The Darren Sanders Show, head here.

The Hayberry in Crows Nest, Sydney, great for American food lovers

The first time I’ve ever tried a veggie burger that reminded me of a fish taco happened while I dined at The Hayberry in Crows Nest, Sydney, and boy, was I thrilled. The Vego ($15AUD) patty is made with mixed bean, corn and coriander, and topped with citrus rocket, tomato and jalapeño mayo, and this monster of a sandwich had me reminiscing being on the Rocky Point beach.

The Hayberry_Crows Nest_ Sydney_Vego Burger

The burger wasn’t the only stellar reason why this bar and restaurant made me happy. Head through the dimly lit pub area to the back of the restaurant to discover a fresh air patio filled with lots of natural light and quirky decorations. It’s relaxed and will make you feel right at home.

The Hayberry_Crows Nest_ Sydney_2 The Hayberry_Crows Nest_ Sydney

The Hayberry_Crows Nest_ Sydney_3

Back to the food. I was so excited to try the waffle fries that usually come with the burgers and sandwiches, but unfortunately, the fryer was down — or “f*cked,” as a humorous sign pointed out. The restaurant compensated for the lack of fried potatoes by giving us complimentary chips and guacamole, normally $10. The portion was plentiful and would be a great appetizer option, and the guac was creamy and sprinkled with some heat.

The Hayberry_Crows Nest_ Sydney_Guacamole with Corn Chips

For those in Australia hankering for Mexican or American food, The Hayberry is a great choice because of its wide selection of tacos, fajitas, buffalo wings and burgers. Service was super-friendly, and the casual atmosphere makes it a top-notch place to stop for after-work drinks and bites, as I did, or to meet big groups, since there are lots of spacious tables to spread out on.

The cocktail menu is also fun, as it offers margaritas and fruity drinks with fresh juice. It quickly became one of my favorite places I’ve checked out since I’ve been in Sydney, and you can learn more about it here.

Gourmet Pizza Kitchen in Chatswood, Sydney, satiates pizza cravings

When you’re jonesing for some quality pizza in Sydney, Gourmet Pizza Kitchen in Chatswood is a solid choice. The family-friendly restaurant, accommodating for big groups with a lively atmosphere, features wood-fired pies, stellar salads, salivating desserts and more.

Gourmet Pizza Kitchen in Chatswood, Sydney, Australia Gourmet Pizza Kitchen in Chatswood, Sydney, AustraliaI had a filling dinner there recently (I arrived as soon as the restaurant opened), the restaurant’s three-course meal for two ($29.50 AUD each), which was really four courses since the “twist” portion isn’t counted but is very filling. Each meal comes with drinks (you can get beer or wine, too) and choice of twists, a salad, a pizza and a dessert. It was a huge meal, and an affinity for pizza dough is a plus, since many of the offerings feature it.

For starters, there was the Sweet Chilli Twists (normally $7.90), dough brushed with a sweet chili glaze and served with sour cream. I loved the sweet and spicy combo, with cooling cream that made every bite delectable.

Gourmet Pizza Kitchen Sweet Chilli TwistsThe next course was a Rocket and Parmesan Salad (normally $12.90), with a heaping pile of parmesan, sun dried tomatoes, roasted pine nuts and balsamic dressing. The portion was plentiful, and I loved the restaurant didn’t skimp on all the goodies covering the greens.

Gourmet Pizza Kitchen Rocket and Parmesan SaladThe Martinique Pizza (normally $21.50, 26 centimeters, about 10 inches) was a fantastic vegetarian choice. It came with sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, olives, basil pesto, arugula and roasted pine nuts. I loved the consistency of the dough — it was soft and chewy and not at all burnt. The toppings and cheese were again very generous, and with eight pieces for two to share, there will be plenty to take home if you order the same multi-course meal.

Gourmet Pizza Kitchen MARTINIQUE pizzaLast was one of my favorite parts, the dessert. If you aren’t sick of carbs by now, the Apple and Cinnamon Sticks (normally $12.90) are really tasty. Like a rolled-up apple pie, the dough was filled with apple and cream and topped with cinnamon and sugar, accompanied by melt-in-your-mouth vanilla ice cream and fresh whipped cream. I loved every bite and would come back to Gourmet Pizza Kitchen for this dessert alone.

Gourmet Pizza Kitchen Apple and Cinnamon SticksFor the abundance of food you get, the deal is a steal for only a little over $20 USD per person — and that includes alcohol! I’d recommend Gourmet Pizza Kitchen whenever you want a filling meal with fresh ingredients and flavors that will leave your taste buds happy.

To learn more about Gourmet Pizza Kitchen, head here.


National Basketball League in Australia cultivates basketball fandom

I’ve been a basketball fan all my life but really got hardcore into the NBA in the U.S. around four years ago. I started religiously attending Phoenix Suns games and have been a season ticket holder for the past three seasons. Moving to Sydney, Australia, this year, one of the things I knew I’d miss the most is Suns games, but thankfully, the National Basketball League (NBL) ignites energy in basketball fans around the country.

Sydney Kings Thanks to Derek Rucker — former player for Davidson College in the U.S., a pro baller in Australia for 15 seasons, and current analyst for FOX Sports Australia — and Tim Hudson, head of basketball operations for the Sydney Kings, I attended my first NBL game in Australia when I saw the Kings play their rivals, the Ilawarra Hawks, this past weekend. The game was the second-to-last home game for the Kings, who play at the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre. With a capacity of around 4,000, the venue was packed with fervent fans cheering on their team.

Sydney KingsThere are some subtle differences between the NBA and NBL. Quarters in the NBL are 10 minutes each, and time-outs are taken far less frequently. Halftime and breaks between quarters are also much shorter than the NBA, cutting game time by about 30 minutes. The shorter quarters ensure game play is engaging and fast-paced.

I was so excited to see the Sydney Kings, since they have Josh Childress, who used to play for my beloved Suns.

Josh Childress Nicki EscuderoChildress is one of the biggest stars of the team — and the league, from what I’ve garnered from watching other NBL teams, as well — and it was neat to see him play in the NBL style Rucker calls “somewhat NBA, a little Euro and slightly NCAA.” One of my favorite aspects I’ve noticed with the NBL is the camaraderie among players, who often huddle on court mid-game — there aren’t many times I’ve seen that in the NBA.

I also love the positive spirit permeating the league. The team members high-five their opponents at the end of the game and meet in the middle for one last cheer at the end. Though the game action was highly competitive — I loved the passion of Kings head coach Joe Connelly, whose brother Pat Connelly is the Suns assistant general manager — the overall atmosphere on the court emitted vibes of hard work and support.

I was really delighted by the crowd’s energy during the game. The entire venue stood up until the Kings scored their first basket, and during every cheer and in-game promotion, fans really got into the action. While things are definitely on a smaller scale here, I loved the intimacy and togetherness you experience while at an NBL game.

NBL teams play through February — the schedule started in October, and includes playoffs and a finals competition. For more information on this league I’m so excited to embrace in my new Sydney home, head here.