Happy Go Shucky — Adventures in Oyster Tasting

I live in a city whose biggest tourist attraction is known for literally throwing fish at you and hoping you catch it. We’re a seafood city. After spending most of my life in landlocked states, I vowed after moving to Seattle that I would take full advantage of coastal living—indulging in pricy seafood dinners, the freshest sushi, shrimp on my pasta and becoming an “oyster person”.

The first time I was introduced to oysters was when I was like 8. I remember seeing an episode of Rugrats where the parents, Stu and Didi, went to a fancy resort and ordered a round of oysters for the table to enjoy by the pool. From that moment on I considered oysters a member of the upper echelon of food alongside French dishes like caviar and escargot. The hors d’oeuvres of the elite.

With summer arriving in the Pacific Northwest the happy hours are abundant and the oyster specials ubiquitous. After three years of acclimating to the west coast, I think I’m finally ready to claim my seat at the shuckers table.

To prepare for my new role I did about an hour’s worth of haphazard googling, enough to make me think I was informed about oyster tasting etiquette, and then hastily made a plan to stop into an oyster bar today after work. Here’s how that went:

First impressions
Walking into an oyster bar is intimidating when you don’t know anything about oysters. I had my pick of tables, but obviously this already self conscious occasion was begging for a seat at a table in the middle of an otherwise empty dining room, in the direct line of site of the entire restaurant staff.  I’ve gotta admit, I was expecting it to smell more like the aquatic section of a PetSmart in there, but it sure didn’t. As I started to get used to my surroundings I noticed that I also happened to have chosen the seat that sat right next to, what seemed like, a living seafood spa in the center of the restaurant. It was piled high with a variety of shellfish, including the oh-so-phallic geoducks (pronounced: gooey•ducks). The crabs were staring at me and I cared too much.

My server placed a menu on the table and I immediately (and abruptly) identified myself as a newbie, blurting out, “I’VE NEVER HAD OYSTERS BEFORE,” like I was telling her I was experiencing a medical emergency.  After getting over the shock of my exclamation she guided me through the menu. Most of the oyster’s names sounded like Fast and the Furious characters to me (Grand Cru, Fanny Bay, etc). We chose three to start with and  a wine that would pair well with my salty snacks.

I surveyed what was left on the table in front of me: two forks. One normal sized and one miniature. I don’t know about you, but even in a normal restaurant setting irregular cutlery is always a catalyst for my anxiety. How would I ever use both forks? I pictured Ariel running the dinglehopper through her hair. Before I had time to act on this impulse, the server set down my glass of Muscadet. I raised the glass, gave it an ultra-confident swirl and took a big sip. It tasted clean and minerally. My confidence began to return and I braced myself for what would come to the table next.

Oyster 1 — Kumamoto

The six oysters were fanned out over crushed ice in front of me. In the middle was a lemon wedge and a ramekin filled with a dressing called champagne mignonette.

“Try the oysters on their own first,” she advised, “and then if you add seasoning be careful not to overwhelm the flavor of the oyster.”

She left me alone with the aliens on my plate. I started to feel a pang of regret for ordering six of them (2 of each), but I’m no quitter (especially when I’m being watched by a kitchen staff).  I picked one up and, without thinking, tried to cooly toss it back like I read about on some blog. The meat in shell the wasn’t loose enough, so I got a mouth full of sea water. After loosening the gooey mass with a spoon I tried again and it slid right into my mouth.

“Holy shit it’s so slippery,” I thought. It tasted like I tripped and fell into the ocean with my mouth open, but it also tasted sweet. I didn’t hate it. The coloring of the shell reminded me of the camouflage clothing people deck themselves out for a night out in Arkansas.

I squeezed a drop of lemon on the second one and I loved it.

Oyster 2 — Kusshi

The Kusshis tasted less sweet and more like I was sipping on an ocean water cocktail. They were astringent and made my tongue feel dry. After three oysters I’d started to gain a little confidence back, but still felt self conscious being isolated in the middle of the room.

Between my third and fourth bites I had an enlightening conversation with the server about developing a palette for tasting oysters, so I decided to work harder at identifying flavors outside of ocean and salt. I put the fourth one in my mouth and slowly chewed. Suddenly I tasted…weird, wet mushroom?? Maybe I went a little aggressive on the lemon squeeze. How was I supposed to use the condiments?

I noticed the wine was starting to taste different—more mineral forward. Like a wet sea rock. Maybe I was becoming a barnacle.

Oyster 3 — Fanny Bay

“SHIT these are big,” I thought as I picked up the first Fanny Bay oyster.  Their shells looked the most prehistoric. I decided that the slimy part of the oysters kind of look like rotting human ears to me, which is a bad comparison to make before you eat something. You know the dreadful feeling you get right before you take a big pill? That’s how I felt looking into this oyster.

I tossed it back.

I really chewed on this one. It tasted brighter than the others. I think. While I was trying to pay attention the meroir of the one in my mouth, I knocked my last oyster out of it’s shell, off my plate, and onto my phone’s screen. As I’m sure you have no problem imagining, I panicked and then surreptitiously attempted to slide the wet, slippery blob back into its shell. HORRIFYING. That’s when I noticed there were barnacles still on the shell. She’s fresh!

Rather than using the lemon on my second Fanny Bay, I decided to go with the champagne mignonette instead. Immediately I realized this was a choice I should have made from the beginning.  It was delicious. The acidity of the vinegar really toned down the weird after taste that the oysters left in my mouth. I want to stay that it also amplified the other flavors, but if I’m being honest I was still only tasting salt. By this point I had come to terms with the fact that my oyster-tasting palette would not be developed by the end of my first visit. The wine tasted its best after the second Fanny Bay. They were my favorite.

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This is where I thought the oyster adventure was going to end, but then I ordered two more because I was halfway through my glass of wine and I really wanted to challenge myself. It’d been thirty minutes and my nerves were lower so SURELY I’d be able to taste my final two more comprehensively.

By this point several more tables had been seated around me in the restaurant, and all of the people sitting at them seemed a lot more fancy and bourgeois than me. The seawater that was puddled in front of me on the table was like a small, salty puddle of shame.

Oyster 4 — Pacific (from Fanny Bay)

The last two oysters came and I felt less intimidated than I did earlier. With the flair of an aficionado I raised the shell to my my mouth, preparing to tip the next one in. Back, back, back my head went until the shell was completely vertical and my elbow was pointed towards the ceiling. I’d tried to shoot it the wrong way out of the shell. My eyes were wide and my cheeks were pink with self-inflicted embarrassment. Sea water dribbled down my chin.

As I chewed the gummy Pacific oyster I felt the makings of a (skeptical) Eureka moment, “Did that taste tomato-y, or did I make that up?”

Maybe it was just the viscosity.  The shell was super beautiful. Like a very exaggerated ruffled Lays potato chip.

Oyster 5 — Shigoku

The last oyster was definitely briny, but also tasted kind of like a green bell pepper. Maybe my palette wasn’t a lost cause after all.  After I finished, my lips were burning from all of the salt I’d put past them. I could confidently say the last oysters were my favorites. I knew I’d never never ever doubt the power of champagne mignonette again.

Final impression

While I may never have a reserved seat at the shuckers table, I’ll definitely pay a visit to the oyster bar again. I don’t think they’re my favorite food, but I’m curious to learn more about the nuances of their flavors. People liken the methods of tasting oysters to that of tasting wine, and I can definitely see what they mean. The taste is ever changing and will always surprise you. I look forward to seeing what I taste on my next visit.

And, no, I never used the tiny fork.

Where you should go during Dine Around Seattle [Fall 2016]

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If you’re anything like me, then you’re doing a real bang-up job of counterbalancing your election stress with delicious meals, snacks, and cocktails. And what better way enable yourself do that than by visiting and supporting local restaurants.
Enter: Dine Around Seattle. The bi-annual celebration of local food, chefs, and seasonal dishes from around The Emerald City. I’ve taken some time to break down the list and have determined what my top picks are and what I’d order if I had the opportunity to visit them all. Check it out below!
Key: (L) – Lunch, (D) – Dinner

BALLARD
  • Pork Chop and Co (L) (D) –  3 for $33, 1st course is a beverage, I’d order the: mole braised beef cheeks
  • [TOP PICK] Skillet (L) (D) – $3 for $33, Most excited about the: Like, literally everything sounds really flavorful and awesome
  • Bramling Cross (D) – 3 courses $33, Most excited about the: For The Table course
BELLTOWN
  • Local 360 (D) – 3 for $33 – Most excited about the: porchetta and the dessert selection
CAPITOL HILL
  • Anchovies & Olives (D) – 3 for $33 – Most excited about the: For The Table Course (honestly everything sounds great)
  • [TOP PICK] Poppy (D) – 3 for $44 – I’d order the: Herbed Rabbit Sausage with Glazed Shallots and Tart Cherries and the Braised Pork Shoulder with Vanilla and Pear (…and also everything else wow)
  • [TOP PICK] Rione XIII (D) – 3 for $33 – Most excited about the: for the table course and the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe
  • [GOOD DEAL ALERT] The Saint (D) – 3 for $22 – I’d order the: sopa de tortilla and the yuca frita
  • Terra Plata (D) – 3 for $33 – I’d order the: rabbit terrine and the butternut squash cake
  • Skillet (L) (D) – $3 for $33, Most excited about the: [same as Ballard location]
DOWNTOWN
  • Cha:n (D) – 3 for $33 – Most excited about the: 5.3 bulgogi and ALL of the desserts
FREMONT
  • Chiso (D) – 3 for $33 – I’d order the: dungeness crab sunomono and the local fish omakase sushi
  • Pomerol (D) – 3 for $33 – I’d order the: pork shoulder steak
KIRKLAND
  • Trellis (L) (D) – 3 for $33 – Most excited about the: great choices all around (really doesn’t look like you can go wrong)
PIONEER SQUARE
  • [TOP PICK] Girin (L) (D) – 3 for $44 – I’d order the: grilled babyback ribs and choice of ssam (second course…any of them)
QUEEN ANNE
  • LloydMartin (D) – 3 for $44 – I’d order the: Hamachi crudo, vanilla salt, lemon oil, foie gras and the black truffle risotto, parmesan, truffle (menu changes daily)
  • Toulouse Petit (L) (D) – 3 for $33 – I’d order the: french onion soup and the wild shrimp and housemade andouile
WOODINVILLE
  • Barking Frog (L)(D) – 3 for $44 – Most excited about: the Woodinville wine and the second courses
If you want to learn more about Dine Around Seattle or view the entire list of participating restaurants, click here : http://dinearoundseattle.org/restaurants/
Need to make reservations? Try Open Table http://www.opentable.com/seattle-restaurants or Resy https://resy.com/ (where available)
Get out and get eatin’! If there’s one cause I can get behind, it’s supporting local restaurants.
Cheers!

X Marks the Spot | Trove, Seattle

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Trove | Seattle

The first time I saw the big, red X was on the day that my office moved from Fremont to Capitol Hill. It hung proudly on a Pike Street facing wall next to several giant, almost floor-to-ceiling windows. The sun poured inside and I could see a sleek, white counter facing an open kitchen, something that looked like an ice cream truck in the corner and a menu boasting various dishes whose ingredients triggered my curiosity. “Trove?”I read out loud from the sign. What was this place?

After a few weeks of being in our new digs, rumblings about the restaurant could be heard in my office. “There’s Korean BBQ in the back,” someone said excitedly. “AND they sell parfaits!” I didn’t know what Korean BBQ was yet, but I did know that I had to go.


What you need to know
Trove is broken down into three* main parts:

  1. The Counter
    Asian-fusion will never have tasted so good as when you watch it being cooked over a giant flame. The air is thick with aromas that hold promises of imminent umami-bombs, and the menu items change regularly. Believe me when I say that you’re going to want to try the sauces that you’re offered by the chef.

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    Trove | Noodle Bar


  2. The BBQ
    While this isn’t your hole-in-the-wall Korean BBQ joint, it sure does make a strong case for itself. The quality of the meats at Trove is evident from the get-go, and the chefs are happy to cook them for you if you’re feeling a little timid about your tong technique. I’d recommend trying a variety of things from different areas of the menu. Our server (who was fantastic, BTW) was happy to help us in our selection of items, and gave us an honest opinion about how much food would be the right amount of food. He was dead on.

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    Trove | Korean BBQ

  1. The Parfaits I have had the parfaits at Trove more than I have had anything else. I will say this: if you don’t have a sweet tooth, these might not be for you. If this is the case please go inside and get yourself a sake. However if you fall into the Sweet Tooth category I’d recommend following your heart and trying as many as you can while the flavors last. They change them every season and I’ve hardly ever been unimpressed. Bonus: If you bring back the branded glass jar that they serve your parfait in you can get a dollar off your next one! (As if I needed more motivation to go back…)

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    Trove | Parfait


Still need convincing?

Here’s 10 Reasons You Should Go to Trove This Summer

1. Who doesn’t like to grill on the dinner table? It’s like the adult-friendly version of playing with your food

2. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S WAGYU TRI-TIPS. Honestly, they marbeled to perfection

3. The parfaits alone give you at least ~6 reasons to stop by. I tried the cookies and cream with homemade Oreo last weekend, and I had a taste of the Tea Lime Pie (with Matcha custard). Both were divine and I NEED to go back from the peanut butter cup…and the other Matcha one.

4. NOOOODLES. While the noodle bar’s menu changes pretty frequently, I’ve always enjoyed a savory, flavorful, and satisfying meal there.

5. AGAIN WITH THE PEA VINES. They had smoked cashews on them and a hint of a vinegar taste. A perfect side dish to our meat selection (My other favorites so far this season were at Ma’Ono)

6. THERE IS A  ALSO BAR. There’s an  international beer list, a great sake/shochu selection, unique cocktails (of which I want to try MANY), and six beer taps pouring cold, local beer. Happy hour from 4-6!

7. Because there’s not only meat to love, but also veggies dishes. The asparagus and mushroom entree was SO flavorful. Please eat as much of the sauce as possible.

8. Impress your date (or your crew) with a beautiful Asian fusion restaurant on capitol hill

9. Because a Netflix binge of 90’s movies is 300 times better with to-go noodles from their counter (pro tip: favorites right now are the rice cake/curry/kale, the Pad thai/ chipotle/pork belly/yu choy/chili peanuts, and the kimchi pork dumplings)

10. Because, truly, you’ve got to see what all the fuss is about:

Other restaurants in the Trove family include Revel and Joule. I could go on and on about both of them, but I’ll save that for another day.


Please feel free to send any hot tips my way, whether it be a hole-in-the-wall or a trendy place that lives up to the hype (in Seattle, OR ANYWHERE ELSE). Key items I look for on menus often include: Shrimp and Grits, Manhattans, Burgers with Creative Toppings, and Complimentary Baskets of Warm, Salted Tortilla Chips.

Follow me on instagram or snapchat to keep up with my never ending snack journey in real time!

instagram: @lacunningham  —  snapchat: lacunningha

Seattle Eats | Spring 2016

I’ve heard a million times that you should “put your money where your mouth is.” So, I do. I eat.

I spend a lot of my free time keeping up to date on Seattle’s restaurant openings and closings, which chef is doing what, what new food trend is on the horizon (still not sure WHAT in the hell Poke’ is, but I’ll be finding out soon). I have an ever-growing list of restaurants that I religiously meal-plan my weekends (and happy hours) around. If you’re curious, there are currently around 200 items on it.

“But, what can I do with all of this knowledge,” I said to myself in the shower three months ago. And then it hit me.

BAM. Bingo. Make like a 20-something in 2016 and blog about it. So without further adieu, let’s get this party started.

5 cool places I’ve been this spring

1. Stateside – Brunch
I’ve enjoyed an abundance of cocktails served in coconuts at Stateside, but until last weekend I had never had their brunch. Turns out, Stateside’s brunch selections are some of the most interesting, exciting, and delicious that I’ve tried in Seattle.

We ordered:

  • Vietnamese Iced Coffee and Crispy Sticky Rice Finger Sandwiches to start (the filling in the sandwiches is a FLAVORFUL chili/cumin pork that will change your life. There is also a tofu option.)
  • Hong Kong Style Charcoal Waffle (You CAN choose not to top it with coconut ice cream. This is the wrong choice.)
  • Open Faced Golden Brown Omelette (I chose the shrimp/chili/lemongrass/crab paste omelette per the server’s recommendation and I’m SO happy I did.)

2. Meet the Moon – Lunch/Dinner
Meet the Moon has really everything I require for optimal Spring/Summer dining: nearby waterfront views, sunshine and fresh air steaming in through the open garage doors, a well written and diverse cocktail list that makes me feel immediately more thirsty after glancing at it, and finally TASTY. BURGERS. Meet the Moon is a fairly new addition to Seattle and is located in Leschi (my new favorite Seattle neighborhood). I’ll definitely be going back.

Check out if you’re a fan of:

3. Dino’s Tomato Pie – Pizza
If you know me at all, then you know I am always on the hunt for Seattle’s best slices. While there are a lot of contenders for my Top 3, Dino’s slid right to the top with little-to-no convincing at all. From the first time I walked past it’s new, aromatic, perfectly decorated space on Capitol Hill I knew I was in love. They’ve got brick oven pizzas (pro tip: the square and circle pies are vastly different, so try both), Negronis on tap and they JUST started offering delivery. GET. THERE.

If what I’ve said about Dino’s doesn’t sell you immediately, then the website sure will

4. Ma’ono – Asian Fusion
Do’s and Don’ts of going to Ma’Ono

  • DO: Go on a week night. A reservation can’t hurt, but isn’t required. (But then again there is weekend brunch…)
  • DON’T: Skip the fried chicken (unless you dont eat meat, but there are plenty of A+ veggie options, such as the PEA VINES)
  • DO: Skip the Mac’N’Kimcheese. It’s flavor didn’t live up to my expectations, and there are many other side dishes/apps that hold more promise.
  • DON’T: Ignore the Whiskey List. It’s extensive and impressive. (Or the dessert list, for that matter)
  • DO: Make the drive to West Seattle. It’s MORE than worth it.

5. Marjorie – Dinner / Date
I can say, with conviction, that Marjorie was one of the best Seattle Restaurant experiences I’ve had since moving there. The space is charming, the food is delicious and the ambiance is warm, friendly and inviting. I went with my boyfriend and we tried something from every course listed in the menu. Based on the nature of this review, it should come as no surprise that it was all delicious. I’m not even going to tell you what we got, because I think it’s all worth trying. (We’ll BOTH be upset if you don’t start with the Plantain Chips, though)

5 cool places map-01


Please feel free to send any hot tips my way, whether it be a hole-in-the-wall or a trendy place that lives up to the hype (in Seattle, OR ANYWHERE ELSE). Key items I look for on menus often include: cheddar biscuits, buttermilk biscuits, southern biscuits, and bourbon. (Just kidding).

Follow me on instagram or snapchat to keep up with my never ending snack journey in real time!

instagram: @lacunningham  —  snapchat: lacunningha

 

Block Party playlist | Music Monday

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As I’m sure we’re all well aware, judging by the exponentially high rate of flower crowns on our Instagram feeds or what have you: festival season is very much upon us. In the past I’ve been to Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza; in the future I have Coachella dreams; but this summer I’m THRILLED to be experiencing my very first Capitol Hill Block Party (CHBP)  in Seattle (and Squamish Valley festival in Canada…but that’s a story for another day).

CHBP is a festival that takes over part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood in late July for a weekend of music, street food and general debauchery. More acts were released for the lineup this week, and I couldn’t help myself but to make a playlist to get amped.

In combination with the unnecessary amount of “justified festival purchases” i’ve been making at the thrift store I think I’m on the way to being ready for a summer full of music.

What festivals are you going to this summer?
 

CHBO

 

To learn more about Capitol Hill Block Party, click here

 

Cinco de Mayo-rgaritas | Seattle Map

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It’s been awhile since I’ve made a map for you guys, and I figured Cinco de Mayo was as good an excuse as any! There are some great margaritas around Seattle, and these are some of my favorite right now.

Have good time, but don’t drink so much that you want tequila self.

…..

It’s late.

Speak to you soon!

x

Glasshouse | Seattle

GlasshouseIMG_7091IMG_7130IMG_7036IMG_7069IMG_7084IMG_7140flowercollageIMG_7092 Volunteer Park Conservatory | Seattle WA


Volunteer park conservatory is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. It was built in 1912, is modeled after London’s Crystal Palace and is home to a wide variety of plants from around the world (including a room full of palms–so trendy right now).

For me, visiting conservatories is always a reminder that taking a break from the screen (phone, emails, Netflix binges)  to focus on the green (nature, of course) is a welcome and necessary break from the static of being constantly on-the-grid.I spend so many hours pounding out emails and double tapping photos of sunsets that sometimes I’m guilty of losing focus on experiencing the majesty of the beautiful place I live. It’s earth day weekend. What are you doing to celebrate?

Seattle Catchup | Sunday Favorites

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One week ago today I was on the last leg of my cross country plane trip to Seattle–my new home. Countless ideas and questions were swirling around my brain like chocolate-vanilla soft serve ice cream about what work would hold within it’s first week and how different city life would be. Would I be able to keep up?

After a week of getting into the swing of my routine, learning the bus route, meeting my co-workers and falling in love with Seattle side-street by side-street that initial nervousness seems silly. There hasn’t been a hiccup to speak of and I’ve been meeting new people and seeing new places every day. A few of my favorites so far:

1. Cafe MOX– Yesterday we adventured into the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle to check out a cafe called MOX. Within moments of walking through the doors you get the gist: an excited buzz of conversation, wall-to-wall tables whose chairs are all filled, a coffee and beer list on the wall and sprawled across the table tops? Games. Board Games, Card Games, Strategy Games, RPG Games…ALL KINDS. Cafe MOX is a gaming parlour that definitely makes for an entertaining Saturday night. I ordered a chicken + white bean hummus naan sandwich and my friends and I decided on playing Pandemic. The service is great, the patio is wonderful and attached to the restaurant is a store called Card Kingdom where you can purchase any of the games that are available to play (or take part in a tournament if you should so desire). Check it out!

2. Smith- Brunch is one of my favorite things, so I was excited to try out Smith in Capitol Hill for my first official one in Seattle. Once we sat down and scanned the menu I knew we had chosen the right place: zucchini scramble with basil, homemade waffle with washington cherries and whipped cream, chicken and waffles, pomegranate mimosas…perfect. I went with the zucchini and basil scramble that was on special and a hot mug of Stumptown coffee. Across the table was an order of a spectacular eggs benedict for Finis and the Chicken and waffles for Travis; nothing came close to disappointing us. The decor in Smith is a conversation starter, as well. One one wall you’ll find a variety of old, painted portraits, from Kennedy to poised women with ambiguous identities, and on the other? Taxidermy trophies (deer and pheasants to name a couple). Definitely worth the walk.

3. Fremont Coffee – Known for their unique latte art, sometimes featuring either Darth Vader or a skull, Fremont coffee has become a staple in my work week. Whether it be for a quick Americano on the patio with a few spare morning moments or a meeting with my co-workers I’ve always felt welcome there. The prices are good and the coffee punch card gives you further incentive to quickly go from first-timer to regular. Great vibes, great baristas, great coffee.

4. Coconut La Croix – The weather on this coast is inching pretty closely to fall, so for me the final drops of summer are going to come straight from this can. La Croix is flavored, sparkling water that doesn’t have a lot of sugar but does have a satisfying amount of flavor. They’re inexpensive, but so far not the easiest to find. I take one whenever I can get my hands on it.

5. REI – I think a lot of you probably know how great REI is, but I just jumped on the bandwagon this week. Aisles upon aisles of anything you could need for outdoor activities await you. The Seattle location is the flagship store, so to see what makes it special you’ll just have to visit for yourself.

Looking forward to sharing more of Seattle with you all! I leave for Europe a week from today and would love to hear any suggestions about things to do in Vienna, Milan, Cannes and Paris.

 

Speak to you soon!

 

x