Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: Mini College Reunion at the Westin Galleria Dallas #WGDWestinWeekends

Have you ever wished you could go back and relive a certain time in your life? If I had that chance, I’d choose my college days at University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton – located north of Dallas. It was the late 80’s -- when big hair and blue eye shadow ruled…and nobody had cell phones or PCs yet. During my time at UNT, I was lucky to have a core group of amazing girlfriends who were my suite mates – as well as my Kappa Theta Delta/Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters. I was from the Houston area, Stephanie was from a small town in central Texas, Debbie was from the DFW area, and Liz was from Texas by way of England. The four of ended up on the same hallway in Maple Hall – on the designated Quiet Wing of all places! We quickly became fast friends, sharing a lot of great times: sorority mixers, late-night gab sessions, cramming for exams, etc. This is us hanging out in our dorm then...and us now.
As it often happens, we graduated and moved into our adult lives. We didn’t get to see each other very often. This was before the days of social media, so it was easy to lose touch. Over the years, I managed to stay in touch with – and sometimes see – each of these amazing ladies whenever I could. Luckily, social media has helped us reconnect much easier in recent years – despite the miles between us. Steph and I still live in Texas, Debbie lives in California…and our world citizen Liz? She's halfway around the world in Singapore. We hadn’t all been together as a group since 1992…but that changed this Summer thanks to the Westin Galleria Dallas! They hosted us for a mini reunion weekend that included side-by-side rooms and meals. Once we checked in, the Westin Galleria Dallas made sure that all we had to do was have fun!

Photo courtesy of the Westin Galleria Dallas
The Westin Galleria Dallas was the perfect location for our mini reunion weekend. It’s located adjacent to the Dallas Galleria. The Galleria features shopping, restaurants, and even an ice skating rink! With the holiday shopping season coming up, the Westin Galleria is the perfect location for a girls shopping weekend getaway of your own! Simply drop your car with the valet, and the hotel’s convenient location means you never have to leave to find shopping, delicious food, and entertainment. Michael and I arrived on Friday evening, checked in, and headed to our room. Once we entered the room, we found robes and a bag of welcome goodies laid out on the bed -- along with some Texas-themed chocolates! Our room was spacious and decorated in warm, soothing tones. 
Photo courtesy of the Westin Galleria Dallas
In case you’re wondering, Michael went to UNT with us and is also great friends with these amazing gals! I woke up Saturday morning excited for everyone to arrive. Debbie arrived first, followed by Liz and her son Ollie, then Steph. Even though the entire group hadn’t been in the same room in more than 20 years, we were laughing and hugging in seconds. With friendships like these, miles and time simply don’t matter! We all visited in our room for a bit, catching up on the latest happenings in our lives…then it was time to explore the hotel. Our lunch was provided by Prive, located on the Westin Galleria's second floor. They created delicious grab-and-go gourmet box lunches so we could eat poolside. We had our choice of freshly prepared gourmet sandwiches and accompaniments. They even offered a gluten-free option that contained a fig and quinoa salad, steamed asparagus, and roasted chicken breast. 
We sat under a cabana by the beautiful blue pool reminiscing and laughing for at least an hour…then we headed back to our room to continue the gabfest. Just like our days at Maple Hall and later Clark Hall, we found no shortage of things to talk about. Before we knew it, the afternoon was winding down…and it was time to get ready for dinner. We couldn’t help but laugh that it was just like our dorm days – only this time each room had its own bathroom instead of us having to share! It was very convenient to jump on the elevator and head downstairs to dinner at The Second Floor. We previewed their seasonal menu. We enjoyed cocktails and a fabulous three-course meal. The only thing better than the food was the company! We started out with a trio of colorful and yummy cocktails: House Sangria, Ruby Fizz, and a Cucumber Sip.  
The cocktails were bursting with flavor and weren't overly strong -- they were just right! Our meal was off to a great start. The first dinner course offered a trio of salads. We could select from Summer Panzanella Salad with Compressed Melon and Goat Feta; Classic Caesar; or Scarlet Butter Lettuce with Red Wine Cherries, Almonds, Bleu Cheese, and Herb Vinaigrette (gluten free). We were very impressed with the freshness of the produce, as well as the creative flavor combinations. I especially enjoyed the sweet melon combined with the tangy, creamy feta in my salad.
After salads, we had our choice of three entrees: Scottish Salmon with Fennel Potato Cake and Citrus Vinaigrette; Grilled Ribeye with Pimento Cheese Fritters, Green Beans, and Deep Ellum Double-Brown Stout Reduction; or Vital Farms Chicken Breast with Black-eyed Pea & Sweet Corn Succotash and Herb Remoulade (gluten free). We all enjoyed our entrees. The salmon and chicken were both cooked perfectly juicy, and the crispy pimento cheese fritters served with Michael's steak were comforting and delicious!
Finally, we settled in for dessert. We had our choice of a Tasting of Sorbet (gluten free); Cherry-Peach Upside-Down Cake with Peach Ice Cream and Red Wine Cherry Reduction; or Devil's Food Cake with Caramel Ice Cream. All three desserts were expertly prepared. The sorbet was light and refreshing, the peach cake featured complex flavors from the combination of cherry and peach, and the devil's food cake was perfectly paired with caramel ice cream and a luscious caramel drizzle. It was the perfect ending to a tasty dinner!
After dinner, we went back to our room to change into comfy clothes and grab some champagne and wine that we had left to chill. The pool area was closed by then, but we found a quiet alcove to toast our 28-year friendship and visit some more. We hung out sipping wine and laughing until after midnight. Just like the old days, the time snuck up on us before we even realized. We headed back to our rooms to get some sleep. The next morning, we enjoyed a group Sunday brunch at The Second Floor. We started out with a couple of appetizers: Fried Calamari with Citrus-Agave Glaze and a Seasonal Cheese board. 
The cheese board was served with crunchy baguette and honey for drizzling, and the spicy-sweet calamari was perfectly crunchy and not the least bit greasy. Next came the entrees. We tried the Shrimp and Cheddar Grits with Tellicherry Peppercorn Sauce, Brioche French Toast with Berries and Maple Syrup, and Lump Crab Cakes with Remoulade. All of the dishes were delicious, but our favorite was the perfectly prepared vanilla and citrus-infused French toast. The juicy berries and maple syrup took it over the top!
Just like that, brunch was over and it was time for us to check out and head back to our homes. We dropped our room keys with the friendly Westin Galleria front desk staff and snapped a few pictures of the spacious lobby and the Galleria Dallas' huge ice skating rink. We left with long hugs and promises to stay in touch more often. Life has a way of getting busy, but we’re really trying to keep up with our promises! Michael and I have already had dinner in Austin with Steph since our mini reunion, and we're hoping to see her again this Fall. We had such a great time at our Westin Galleria Dallas weekend getaway that we’re already planning a group getaway to Napa Valley next Summer to celebrate my 50th birthday. I figure that spending time with some of my oldest friends drinking wine in a gorgeous setting might just make turning 50 a bit easier!

Disclosure: The Westin Galleria Dallas provided two complimentary rooms, valet parking, and all meals during our stay to facilitate this article. The opinions expressed are my own, and all photographs are copyrighted by Michael K. Garcia. They may not be copied or otherwise used without prior permission.

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