Cibo e Il Vino, parte due

… continued from parte uno.

IMG_7501

After our first day in wine country, we checked into the Arbor Guest House B&B, located near downtown Napa. We’ve had good luck with B&Bs in the past (Greenlake Guest House in Seattle and James House Santa Barbara) and this time was no different. We stayed in the Bella Vista room, which I believe is the smallest of the rooms available, but it was perfect for us. It was furnished with a comfortable queen sized bed, flat screen TV and a cute claw foot tub in the bathroom. There was a guest refrigerator downstairs in the patio area stocked with water, juice and soda. Hot water was also available in the dining room at night for tea or hot chocolate. Dan and Candy, the innkeepers, were very nice and though we didn’t go downstairs for afternoon wine and hor d’oeuvres (either I was napping before dinner or Henry was watching the Laker game), we heard other guests laughing and talking so I’m sure everyone was enjoying themselves.

IMG_7179 IMG_7181
IMG_7488

Every morning, Dan and Candy provided us with a delicious breakfast to start our day. My favorite was the sticky buns!!

IMG_7224 IMG_7228
frittata stickybun

We spent much of our 2nd day in wine country around the Rutherford area. The first winery we visited was Cakebread, highly recommended by my coworker. Since Henry prefers red wines, he decided to make an appointment for their red wine tasting. After checking in, we were escorted to the small red wine tasting room. One man tended to 3 other couples besides us, so it was another, “this is such and such wine.. enjoy”. Since we were in such close quarters, it was really easy to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. The couple next to us seriously hyped up the wines too much; after each wine they tasted, we heard, “OMG, I love this”. And as if to confirm, the man pouring Henry’s wine also added, “this is such a treat.. you’ll love this”. Yea well, Henry didn’t love the $106 Dancing Bear Cabernet, but he did like the 2006 Merlot enough to buy it.

IMG_7237 IMG_7241

The 2nd winery we went to was probably Henry’s least favorite in terms of wine, but the property was beautiful and the overall experience was very relaxing. Frog’s Leap Winery proudly boasts that they grow all their grapes organically and are committed to the principles of sustainable farming. Tastings are held on the “porch” of the vineyard house. There is a long table that can hold large parties (or several smaller parties) and there are also smaller tables that wrap around the porch.

IMG_7266
IMG_7303

The wine tastings ($15) at Frog’s Leap included a plate of cheese, almonds, bread sticks and cranberries. SCORE!! I pretty much ate all of the cheese because I’m a fat ass.

IMG_7306
IMG_7317

Unimpressed by the wines, Henry and I left empty handed and we headed to lunch at the Rutherford Grill. I decided on this particular restaurant because it was the only one in or around Rutherford that caught my interest and having a 4.5 star rating on Yelp didn’t hurt. When we arrived at 2PM, the hostess told us that the wait would be about 40-50 mins for a party of 2, but the inside and outside bar were first come, first serve. I put my name on the list and quickly began to scope out the bar area. I was prepared to fight for a spot, but good thing it didn’t come to that because 3 groups actually left the bar at the same time!

IMG_7331

We didn’t want to over-stuff ourselves so we shared an appetizer and an entree. This also helped us save a bit of money since even with just 2 items + drink, we paid almost $50! The spinach and artichoke dip was creamy, cheesy goodness. The ribs were fall off the bone tender, but had an overly smoky flavor. Overall, a good meal to hold us off until our much anticipated dinner: Ad Hoc.

IMG_7336 IMG_7350

The last day of vacation is always a sad one. The realization of having to go back to the “real world” left us with an unsettling feeling the whole entire day. We knew we had a long drive ahead of us, but we didn’t want to leave just yet so we made two pit stops: Trefethen and Boon Fly Cafe.

A month ago, my parents, Henry and I went to dinner at Mastro’s Steakhouse. Remembering how he first fell in love with Buehler during a previous trip to Mastro’s, Henry asked our waiter for another wine recommendation. Our waiter suggested Trefethen’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and sure enough, it was another instance of love at first sip. So, of course we had to visit Trefethen while we were in Napa!

IMG_7574 IMG_7568

Trefethen Vineyards, located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa, is HUGE!! A magnificent gate adorns the entrance and a drive down a lovely tree-lined street transports you to a 19th century winery building that houses the tasting room. Henry had a difficult time deciding between the Estate Tasting ($10/choose 4 of 8 wines) and the Reserve Tasting ($25/5 wines), but he ultimately chose the Reserve Tasting because it offered multiple cabs. Considering it was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I was surprised that Trefethen’s tasting room wasn’t crowded. This totally worked out for us because Henry received excellent service unlike the other wineries we visited; he was also given an opportunity to have a vertical tasting of their 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignons (the 2006 was only offered with the Estate Tasting). Henry loved the wines and experience so much, he bought 3 bottles: 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (1.5L), 2007 O-K-D Five, 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I guess, we saved the best for last? Well, Henry still says that he loves Buehler just as much. Whatever 😛

IMG_7514IMG_7549

I had made up my mind the night before to try Zuzu, a tapas restaurant, for lunch, so imagine my disappointment when we got to the restaurant and it was CLOSED! Stupid me, I didn’t pay attention to their hours listed on the website; they open at 4PM on the weekends. I had to think of a plan B quick and the first place that I thought of was Boon Fly Cafe.

IMG_7596IMG_7594

Boon Fly Cafe is located in the Carneros Inn (so damn pretty, but WAY too expensive for us to stay there). The exterior is absolutely adorable! There are swings outside for people to sit on while waiting for a table and coffee is also available in case anyone needs a pick me up. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait; we were seated right away. Little did Henry know, I already knew what I wanted us to order before we were handed our menus; I studied the menu during the planning phase of our Napa trip. Henry and I generally like the same foods, so with little resistance from Henry, we ordered the “green eggs and ham” and the kobe beef burger.

IMG_7586IMG_7590

“Green eggs and ham” consisted of poached farm fresh eggs wrapped in honey-cured ham on crispy hash browns with lemon leek cream. Oh my gosh, it was so freakin’ good! I love runny eggs so breaking my eggs and having the yolk soak into the hash browns before I took a bite was a real treat. The ham provided the perfect amount of sweetness and the leek cream added a bit of “Napa elegance”. The kobe beef burger with poppy-seed brioche bun was absolutely divine. It was unbelievably juicy and tender, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and was so much more flavorful than a regular burger. And did I mention the brioche bun? I love, love, love brioche; I use it to make my bread puddings. The richness/sweetness of the brioche pairs well with any burger in general, but even more so with a decadent kobe beef patty. Needless to say, we left with happy stomachs.

I can’t wait for my next trip especially since I’ve been averaging 14 hour work days. Le sigh.

——–
Napa Food & Wine (+our verdict):
Bottega Napa Valley, 5/5
Cakebread Cellars, 4/5
Frog’s Leap Winery, 2.5/5
Rutherford Grill, 3.5/5
Honig Winery, 3/5
Ad Hoc, 3.5/5
Trefethen, 4.5/5
Boon Fly Cafe, 4.5/5
——–

Cibo e Il Vino

After much anticipation, Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. There were a few glitches along the way: a shit-load of work I had to finish before I left for SF on Thursday, rain forcing me to cancel my original plans on Thursday and a weird allergic reaction to something during our stay in Napa. However, the delicious food and near perfect weather we had over the weekend more than made up for these slight inconveniences.

Henry and I didn’t leave for SF until about 12:30 or so because I had to take care of something at work. Even though Thursday was supposed to be my day off, it sure didn’t feel like it. I kept having to check my work blackberry during the day. Yes, I have two: work and personal blackberries. It’s sick, I know.

IMG_6922

Rain was in the forecast for Thursday (which made me cancel my original plans to hike the Land’s End trail) and sure enough, dark rain clouds spotted the sky as we approached our destination. I guess we chased away the rain because we didn’t experience a drop of rain during our entire stay.

IMG_6924

We arrived in SF just in time to change and get ready for dinner. We decided to revisit one of our favorite restaurants, Gary Danko. The first time we ate there was during our first trip to San Francisco together back in 2008. We fell hard and fast for Gary Danko and even though two years have gone by, it still remains as one of our most memorable dining experiences.

IMG_7014 IMG_7002
IMG_7006 IMG_7005

The next day, we ate brunch at Honey Honey Cafe and Crepery before heading up to Napa. Honey Honey Cafe is located on the corner of Taylor and Post and if you’re planning to drive here, expect to pay $3.50 AN HOUR for street parking (parking in SF is RIDICULOUS!!!!). The restaurant is pretty big by SF standards and fast-food-esque in the sense that you order and pay for your food at the counter and then pick a table to sit and wait while your food is brought to you. They have an extensive menu including the usual breakfast and lunch items as well as their signature sweet and savory crepes.

If Henry hadn’t knocked some sense into me, I would have ordered the Post Street omelette, which is basically a traditional Denver omelette with a San Francisco derived name. Henry made me realize that since we were at restaurant that specializes in crepes, perhaps I should order one of its namesake. Thus, I ordered the Half Moon Bay crepe (cheddar, tomato, mushroom and crab cake) and Henry ordered the Cancun burger (jack cheese, crispy bacon, tomato, avocado and salsa). Delicious!!

crepeburger

After brunch, we made our way to Buehler Vineyards for our 2PM appointment. Buehler is located in the mountains east of St. Helena, approximately a 6 mile windy drive from highway 29. The overall experience was unlike all the touristy wineries located along the 29 or on the Silverado trail.

IMG_7066

Page Buehler, the son of John Page Buehler, Jr., gave us a tour of the property while explaining their general wine making process. It was just us and Page (and his cute dogs :)) so we felt really special to have all his attention. We made our way back to the office for a tasting and Henry ended up buying two bottles: 2008 Zinfandel, 2008 Reserve Chardonnay. He probably would have bought some of the Cabs, but he already has two bottles at home. Buehler is one of Henry’s favorites.

IMG_7045 IMG_7030IMG_7031IMG_7033 IMG_7037

After Buehler, we went to one of the most touristy wineries EVER: V. Sattui. And well, it’s touristy for good reason: the grounds are beautiful (many weddings are held there), they have a great deli and cheese selection that you can enjoy outside on the picnic tables and oh yea, the wines themselves aren’t too shabby either.

IMG_7069IMG_7120 IMG_7101
IMG_7109 IMG_7113

After Henry had a tasting and purchased a 2008 Zinfandel, we bought a black forest ham panini, some prawns in mustard sauce and a salt cod cake and had a wonderful picnic outside.

——–
SF/Napa Food & Wine (+our verdict):
Gary Danko, 5/5
Honey Honey Cafe & Crepery, 4/5
Buehler Vineyards, 5/5
V. Sattui, 4/5
——–

To be continued…

I’m on a Kayak!

I went down to Long Beach on Sunday expecting some fun in the sun out on the water… except there was no sun, which was totally bizarre since it was blazing hot on Saturday! You’d think that California weather would be more predictable, but lately it hasn’t been. Despite the lack of sun, I still had a blast.

We rented our single kayaks from Kayaks on the Water for $8/hr (pro-rated after the first hour). I’m sure the kayaks usually run out quickly, but since it was overcast that day, there were still some kayaks available for rent when we arrived. After we signed up, we were given some laminated maps and a brief description of the area. Then we were handed our life jackets and we picked out our paddles and kayaks. Simple as that, and we were off.

Of course I came prepared with my swimsuit bottom and boardshorts on, but unfortunately I did forget other necessities: a towel to dry off after a quick rinse and a change of clothes would have made me more comfortable during lunch. Sitting on wet bottoms = no bueno.

After our workout, we stuffed ourselves at Open Sesame, only a 5 minute drive away. Open Sesame is a Mediterranean restaurant that offers classics such as hummus/baba ghannouj, tabouleh, schwarma and kabobs. Seating is limited due to the small size of the restaurant and for those who want to know, there is only one bathroom. We waited about 20 minutes for a table – not bad for a Sunday afternoon. The prices are a bit steep for lunch (our entrees averaged about $15), but you definitely get more than enough food. All of the meats had great flavor and were cooked properly. I especially loved the spicy hummus. Yum!

Totally EPIC

The Epic season pass has just become more.. EPIC???!!!!

The pass, on sale now for $599, offers unlimited/unrestricted access to six mountains: Vail (CO), Breckenridge, (CO), Keystone (CO), Arapahoe Basin (CO), Beaver Creek (CO) and Heavenly (CA/NV). Depending on the weather, Henry and I gleefully break out our gear from the hostage of cob-webs as we attempt to ride fresh tracks in December. Then we die a little bit inside as we are forced to pack up/store our gear in April and anxiously wait all summer/fall for the next season to begin. We aren’t sponsored pro-snowboarders and we’re surely not loaded with cash, so we don’t have the luxury of being able to travel south and essentially board year-round.
Transportation + Lodging + Lift tickets = $$$$.

Well, the Epic pass has now provided us with the “endless” solution: it can be now used at Las Leñas resort in ARGENTINA!

Yes, that’s totally EPIC!

Keystone, CO

Breckenridge, CO

Heavenly, CA

Great Escape

A weekend in Mammoth is never enough. It’s always depressing when we have to pack up and go home. I wish I won the lottery so I could stay up here for the whole winter!

The conditions were spring-like this weekend: hard-packed surfaces in the early mornings that turned into slushiness in the afternoon. This was due to temperatures reaching 40-50 degrees during the day (which is super HOT!) and cooling down to 20s at night for the past week or so. Despite dying from the heat while waiting in the lift lines, I was more than pleased with the beautiful clear blue skies and low winds. You win some, you lose some, right?

IMG_9549
Us at the top with Henry’s friends that we met up

We stayed in the Bradley building of Summit Condominums (#246), which is about a 5 minute walk from Eagle Lodge. We found a pretty good deal and booked our 1 bedroom/1 bath condo through 101 Great Escapes. While this was definitely a better experience than the one I had two weeks ago, there were still a few issues with the condo. Being on the 2nd floor, we had to walk up three flights of stairs from the underground parking garage to get to our condo. When you’re exhausted from a full day of boarding and fueled by only a few hours of sleep (or about half an hour in Henry’s case), the last thing you want to do is climb stairs. It would have been nice if the website stated which floor the condo was located, though I’m not sure how much this would have swayed my decision at time of booking since this was the cheapest and best looking condo we found. Best looking was determined by the pictures provided and as I first walked through the condo, I realized that the pictures on the website made the condo look nicer than it really was. I didn’t mind this too much at first because everything seemed clean, but the kitchen was HORRIBLE! All the dishes/utensils/cookware were dirty, and by dirty I mean I found food particles and grease stains. I didn’t go on vacation to clean someone else’s mess!

IMG_9552

Despite the dirty kitchen, we still cooked our meals as usual. I used two recipes from the Cooking Light magazine that I recently bought. Both recipes happened to have bacon; bacon makes everything better, doesn’t it? I did change the recipes slightly, such as using 2% milk instead of non fat and adding more cheese, so I guess I wasn’t really “cooking light”. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with extra cheese. 🙂

IMG_6567
Spicy shrimp and grits

baconchkmac
Bacon, ranch and chicken mac and cheese

I eat: Bouchon

When one of the girls suggested dinner at Bouchon, I immediately jumped on board. I became an avid Thomas Keller fan after my trip to The French Laundry last October, despite the astronomical price tag. Thus, I was eager to try Keller’s more affordable restaurant, Bouchon.

bouchon2bouchon8

Bouchon, Las Vegas, is located on the 10th floor of the Venetian. Luckily, we were staying on the 12th floor so walking to the restaurant only took a few minutes. So location itself? FIVE STARS! 🙂

bouchon1

We were seated promptly for our 6:15PM reservation. Being so early, the restaurant was practically empty. The menu was printed on a parchment-like paper and wrapped around the dinner napkin. Cute points! I had a hard time deciding what to order. It seemed like the menu listed everything I love: lamb, duck, salmon, mussels, gnocchi. I was only able to cut my list down to lamb or duck so I pressed the waiter for his thoughts. He told me he preferred the duck since he loves him some good seared duck breast. Well sir, it just so happens that I too, am a sucker for a good seared duck breast so duck I shall have! Three of us actually ordered the duck, two ordered the moules frites (mussels and fries) and one ordered the salmon. We also shared the french onion soup, potato puree and macaroni gratin.

bouchon10bouchon9

We started our meal with the usual bread service and I absolutely loved the butter (as I also did at The French Laundry). The french onion soup, though comforting since it was cold and windy that day, was nothing special; it tasted like any other french onion soup.

bouchon3

The mussels were very plump and juicy. On the menu, the description read: Maine bouchot mussels steamed with white wine, mustard & saffron. Though I’ve never had this combination before, the sauce didn’t taste like what I had imagined after reading the menu. It actually reminded me of the chicken marsala I just made. The frites were a bit… disappointing. You may be right about most things, Anthony Bourdain, but Bouchon’s fries are not the best things I ever ate. Don’t worry though, I’ll still keep you in high regard.

bouchon4bouchon5

The macaroni gratin fell flat as well. Yes, it was cheesy enough, but the flavors just weren’t there. I don’t know, perhaps use a more sharper cheese? The potato puree (no picture available) on the other hand, was straight up smooth buttery goodness! I would be more than happy to consume 3000 calories worth of that in one sitting.

bouchon7

The waiter was right about the duck being seared beautifully. But that was the only thing good about this dish. The flavors didn’t mesh well, mainly caused by the tart-sweetness of the rhubarb. With all of the other components being mild and savory, I didn’t expect that punch. The sauce eventually grew on me by the end of the meal, but not to the point where I could say that I loved it. Nice try, Chef de Cuisine, Bryan Podgorski. I realize that rhubarb is now in season and I get what you were trying to do, but ultimately the flavor combination was a fail. However, I will commend you for such a perfectly seared duck breast!

We ended the meal by sharing a creme brulee. I’m glad it was delicious, or else I would have had to hurt somebody.

Verdict: 3/5
Bouchon
The Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

I eat: Bosa 1

While in Vegas, our attempt to eat brunch at Hash House failed, and Bosa 1 was the next best thing. Bosa 1, a Vietnamese restaurant located about a 10 minute drive from the strip, was recommended by one of the girls. Apparently, she knew the owner’s sister and we actually got a little discount! 🙂

bosa1bosa5

I love Vietnamese food, especially pho. I basically have it about once a week at my favorite local Vietnamese restaurant. The waiters know my order without me having to say anything; they just ask me, “same?”, and I nod. On rare occasions I like to change it up and spice up my life a little bit, so I order a rice place or another noodle dish.

The restaurant was pretty small, probably seating about 20-30 people. The menu seemed limited compared to other Vietnamese restaurants that I’ve been to. Bosa 1 is known for 2 noodle soups: Bun Bo Hue and Bun Rieu. I’ve had Bun Bo Hue before, and although I love the noodles and spicy soup, I won’t eat the pig leg/feet/knuckles. Thus, I decided to order the Bun Rieu.

bosa3

The most important thing of any noodle soup dish is the soup itself. The tomato-based broth of the Bun Rieu had great flavor; I also enjoyed the fried tofu and crumbled shrimp paste. I liked this dish so much that I started ordering it at my local restaurant!

bosa2

I’ve never had these kind of spring rolls before. Inside each was a piece of grilled pork, lettuce/greens and fried pieces of eggroll skin (for crunch). Interesting.

bosa4

The eggrolls were kind of small, but I guess that was for the best since we were all stuffed from eating everything else! They tasted like I expected them to – I liked the outer crunch.

All in all , a great meal at a reasonable price! The total came out to about $15 each (6 girls).

Verdict: 3.5/5
Bosa 1
3400 S. Jones Blvd #2A
Las Vegas NV 89146

…Won’t You Pack Your Bags, We’ll Leave Tonight!

(…continued from my last post)

I first read about Treehouse Point in Budget Travel’s article: A Treehouse Adventure. It was absolutely perfect timing since I was in the midst of planning our Pacific Northwest adventure. I was so intrigued about living in an actual treehouse, I knew it had to be part of my itinerary. So, Treehouse Point was our next stop after Mt. Rainier.

thp1IMG_1375

Treehouse Point is located in Issaquah, Washington, about 30 minutes east of Seattle. When I stayed at Treehouse Point, there were 2 treehouses (Temple of the Blue Moon and Trillium), the main house, and a tent. Everything was constructed by Pete Nelson aka “the treehouse guy”; he also wrote the book, “New Treehouses of the World”. We stayed in the Temple of the Blue Moon, the most popular choice by couples I would assume. To get to the treehouse, you have to cross this swaying bridge, which was kind of scary no matter what time of day it was. Inside the treehouse, there was a big comfortable bed, a small sitting area and an armoire that supplied music (from ipod) and clean linens. There was also a side door that led out to a porch area. For the most part, I had a good time living in the treehouse, but there were a couple of “issues”. One issue was that the windows did not have any screens to keep bugs out. I mean, I get it… treehouse = living with nature, but it just doesn’t make sense to me to build such a nice “luxury” treehouse, but not pay attention to such details as insect proofing. If I wanted to live freely with bugs, I would just go camping. Also, there was a small (shared) bathroom located outside of the treehouse, which ultimately wasn’t that big of a deal since it does make most sense for the bathrooms to be outside; I just didn’t realize beforehand how inconvenient this would be. Continental breakfast was included with our stay, but the selection was very minimal. However, the pastries that Pete’s wife made were very delicious!

IMG_1409IMG_1447

Since we were in the area, of course we had to check out another waterfall! Snoqualmie Falls was beautiful from the observation deck, but we decided to also hike down to the river to get a different view. I love waterfalls 🙂

IMG_1775

Growing up, I was fascinated with planes … So, of course I made a trip to the Museum of Flight during our time in Washington.

IMG_1748IMG_1627IMG_1665IMG_1760

Great exhibits, lots of material to cover, fun simulators – I loved the Museum of Flight! We drove into Seattle afterward and explored the Pioneer Square and International District area. While walking to Green Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant for dinner, I swear I witnessed a drug deal going down. Um, sketchy area.

The next day we explored downtown Seattle before taking a stroll around Green Lake Park. I was surprised by the amount of people outside during the day – I would love to be able to exercise around Green Lake Park everyday since the scenery is so soothing and calming and it is the perfect distance, about 3 miles around. There are so many activities you can do: running/walking, biking, skating, swimming and boating (you can rent pedal boats and canoes).

IMG_1845

IMG_1988

Being so entranced by Green Lake Park, I was ecstatic that I was going to be living across the street! We stayed in the Greenlake Room of the Greenlake Guesthouse. This was definitely one of the best B&B’s I’ve ever stayed at. Everything you needed was either in your room or just a few steps outside your room. The bed was so comfortable, it was hard to get out of bed in the morning and we definitely used the jacuzzi tub in our bathroom every night. The large bookcase in the hallway held a wide array of DVDs and there was a mini fridge on the other side stocked with water and drinks (genius!). Breakfast was light, yet filling and pastries and fruit were available all day in case you needed a snack.

Seattle is breathtakingly beautiful and it was such a pleasure to walk around its most popular areas. Yes, Pike Place Market is very crowded and touristy, but there are so many great food shops. I bought some cheesecakes from Confectional and a few bottles of flavored olive oil from Sotto Voce. I had clam chowder with a crab roll at Pike Place Chowder and for dessert, I had gelato at Bottega Italiano. I also got a front row view of the fish tossing, which to me is synonymous with Pike Place Market. Too bad I couldn’t get a clear picture of the fish in the air!

IMG_2486IMG_2331IMG_2374

I also visited the Seattle Public Library because I heard so much about its architecture and interior decor. I walked to the library from Pike Place Market because on the map, it didn’t look too far away, but the map wasn’t detailed enough to tell me that I would be walking UPHILL for about 5 blocks! I guess the sweat was worth it because the library was amazing! Bonus: padded seats near bookshelves. I wish the libraries I went to when I was younger had these.

LIB

I had two last minute changes to our intinerary: dinner at Art of the Table and a sunset kayak tour with Alki Kayak Tours. Being that these were last minute additions, it’s funny how these two events became the highlights of our trip! Definitely meant to be, right?

Art of the Table, home of the “weekend supper club”, is located in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. The supper club is an intimate dining experience, with seating for about only 18 people. There were several tables for 2, a couple for 4 and one large table that seated 6. The kitchen was open for anyone to walk through to the backyard garden or to take pictures of Chef Dustin Ronspies working his magic (like I did). Before dinner, Chef Ronspies provided us with a brief introduction about himself, his background and his passion for using fresh and local ingredients. Most of his supper clubs are themed and when I dined, it was all about the Mediterrenean. As we began each course, he shared the inspiration behind the dish. It was fascinating to hear his stories of traveling the world, especially since they revolved around food. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, from beginning to end. Everything was so fresh and delicious, but the one thing that stood out the most was the saffron ice cream. WOW! Talk about save the best for last.

AOTT

I usually don’t like booking “tours”, which was why I didn’t initially sign up for the sunset kayak tour with Alki Kayak Tours. I’ve always thought of tours as being too expensive for something you could do yourself for free, with a little bit of research. But I couldn’t get the image of the Seattle skyline during sunset out of my head so I bit my lip and reserved our spots only 2 days in advance. I’m sure glad I did because how can you say no to this?

IMG_9057IMG_2534

Doesn’t Seattle look so beautiful at night?

IMG_2046IMG_2570

I love how the lights reflect against the water 🙂

——–
Seattle Eats & Drinks (+my verdict):
Mr. Gyros, 4/5
Canlis, 3/5
Bottega Italiano, 3/5
Paseo, 5/5
Art of the Table, 5/5
The Confectional, 5/5
Pike Place Chowder, 3/5
Cafe Presse, 4/5
——–

This was such a wonderful trip. I can’t wait to go back.

I’ve Got Two Tickets To Paradise…

It was our 40 month anniversary yesterday. I know, it’s silly to keep track like this, but it’s nice to know that we are still madly in love with each other! Looking back on our relationship, my fondest memories revolve around all of our trips together. We’ve taken one big trip every year and each year has certainly topped the last. I’m in the planning stages for this year’s trip!

Last year, we had quite an adventure in the Pacific Northwest. Absolutely beautiful. We started off in Portland and made our way to Seattle, stopping at Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier along the way.

IMG_0504

We arrived in Portland at about 10PM at night and we took a taxi to our “hotel”. The Kennedy School is an old elementary school that McMenamins renovated into a hotel. Most of the original classrooms were split into two guestrooms with a bathroom added in each room. Besides this, the look and feel of the school were pretty much kept intact. Chalkboards, perhaps original, wrapped around the guestrooms and there were white water fountains in the hallways. Memorabilia of the school and of those times decorated the walls. Other classrooms were turned into bars/lounges with incredibly cute names: The Honors Bar, The Detention Bar, etc. It was truly a unique experience to stay at The Kennedy School!

IMG_0241

We decided not to rent a car at the airport since it was ridiculously expensive! We saved a lot of money by renting from a non-airport location instead and since it was located within 5 miles of our place, we were able to get free pick up service. Most of our first full day was designated to sightseeing and eating. As you can see, it was a really warm day.

IMG_0322IMG_0333

The main reason we stayed in Portland was because we wanted to go white water rafting. There are many rafting outfitters around Washington and Oregon and we decided on Wet Planet, which is located near Hood River, Oregon, approximately an hour and 15 min drive from Portland (scenic drive). It was our first time river rafting and our guide, Sara, did a great job of making sure we were all having fun while keeping us safe. The trip was about 8 miles total, with rapids classified as class III-IV (solid class IV fall known as “Husum Falls” – 10′ vertical drop). I was a little nervous for Henry because I know he’s not the best swimmer (he almost drowned in Hawaii – that’s another story for another time), but good thing we all survived; no one in our 6 person raft fell overboard into the water, not even when we went down Husum Falls!

IMG_1213IMG_1271

On our way back from rafting, we stopped at Multnomah Falls. This would be our first waterfall of the trip 🙂 If we had more time, I would have liked to hike the trails around the falls.

IMG_8677

——–
Portland Eats & Drinks (+my verdict):
Mother’s Bistro & Bar, 4/5
Coffeehouse Northwest, 4/5
Toro Bravo, 4/5
The Screen Door, 4/5
Voodoo Donut, 3/5
Pambiche, 4/5
——–

The next part of our trip was definitely my favorite! We drove up to Mt. St. Helens and hiked through the lava cave and then we drove to Mt. Rainier and stayed there a few days.

The lava cave (Ape Cave) was really fun and really scary at the same time. It was mostly an easy-moderate hike, with the difficulty being the huge rocks that you have to climb over as well as the 9 foot wall you have to climb up. If you are claustrophobic or scared of the dark, Ape Cave is totally not for you. As we were hiking through the upper passage of Ape Cave, I actually had thoughts of being trapped underground or being attacked by.. ghosts (yes, ghosts), but I quickly calmed myself down and thought of something else. I found comfort in hearing the voices of other groups – perhaps its the “at least I’m not going to die alone down here” rationalization. The upper passage of Ape Cave is 1 1/4 miles and took about 2 and a half hours to explore. We spent about another hour to hike the mile long trail above ground that took us back to the entrance of the cave.

IMG_8732IMG_8809

I originally planned to drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory for a great view of Mt. St. Helens, but we just didn’t have enough time since we still had to make a 3 hour drive to Mt. Rainier. We picked up some groceries before we headed to Almost Paradise Lodging, our home for the next few days. This place is absolutely fantastic! Everything was clean and I felt right at home. Our fridge was stocked everyday with a complementary continental breakfast basket during our stay. The jacuzzi right outside definitely helped us relax after a long day of hiking. At night, all we could see were the faint lines of the trees that blended in with the black sky and the bright stars sprinkled throughout. Amazing…

IMG_0724IMG_1140

We technically only had one full day to explore Mt. Rainier, which was really sad since it is such a beautiful place. For our full day, we did a 4 mile hike on the Paradise River/Narada Falls trail. We started at Cougar Rock and ended at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor’s Center in Paradise, for a total elevation gain of 2,000ft (good hiking condition is required). It was a little difficult to find the trailhead, but luckily we were able to follow people that were headed the same way.

IMG_0861

IMG_0913

We took a lunch break to eat our cole slaw turkey sandwiches at Carter Falls. As we continued along, we passed by Madcap Falls and about 2 miles later, we reached the famous Narada Falls. You can technically take the Paradise shuttle and get dropped off here, but come on, we are no weaklings! It wasn’t enough to just view the falls from the top, we decided to climb down towards the flowing river to get a different view of the falls. BEAUTIFUL. After Narada Falls, Paradise was only a mile away. Even though it was late July, snow still scattered the ground (especially as we neared Paradise). I had some difficulty getting up a hill because it was blanketed with snow and my hiking shoes didn’t provide enough grip/traction. We didn’t have that much time to explore the Paradise area since the shuttle arrived about 15 minutes after we arrived.

IMG_0971IMG_1015IMG_1044

The next day, we were able to hike a half day before heading up to the Seattle area.

IMG_1242

More waterfalls!!

IMG_1294

(to be continued…)

You Get What You Pay For

Besides the apartment drama in NYC last December, I’ve had good vacation rental experiences. Maybe it’s because I thoroughly research my options or maybe I’ve just been lucky. Maybe it’s because I rely heavily on the pictures that the owners post up of their unit because if I don’t like how the place looks in pictures, I mostly likely won’t like it in person. I was hoping to continue my streak, but I can think of anything that can salvage the horrible experience we just had in our Mammoth condo this past weekend.

We stayed in a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom condo (Mammoth Point #106) located a little above the Canyon Lodge base area. A friend of mine secured this rental through Mammoth Reservations Bureau (MRB) for 2 nights. Total cost: $460 + $100 security deposit which works out to about $94 for 6 people – what a steal! I remember not being too impressed with the pictures of the condo, but I was hoping that the great price would equate to great deal. When we arrived, my first impression was that the condo was very dated, but I wasn’t going to dock points off just for that. I don’t need granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and 600 thread-count sheets to be comfortable; all I ask for are clean conditions, a working heating/cooling system (depending on location, ex. Hawaii vs Mammoth), comfortable bed and a useable kitchen. Sadly, Mammoth Point #106 failed on all four of these requirements:

– There were lots of brown spots on the carpet and I know it’s a 70’s thing, but I will never understand why anyone would install carpet in the bathroom.

IMG_9533

– My mattress sunk in towards the middle, making it very uncomfortable for two people to sleep on. Also, I’m not sure if it was goose down, but feathers kept poking out of the sheets.

– The heater in my room did not work, causing the room the stay at a constant chilly 50 degrees.

– The comforter that I was supposed to use was stuffed into the top of the closet, which made me question whether the comforter was even washed or not.

IMG_9530

– Some pans were bent so cooking meats evenly was a challenge. The coating on the non-stick pans was clearly deteriorating.

– The oven had a mind of its own; I’ve been able to adjust to different brands and at different altitudes, but this time, the oven just would not cooperate!

The worst part of this whole experience was that part of our electricity went out WHILE I WAS IN THE SHOWER! Apparently, we overloaded the circuit, causing the circuit breaker to trip. Even though they supposedly “manage” this specific unit, the MBR provided no assistance in resolving this issue. I understand it was late at night, but you would think that they would do more than just tell us to look for the circuit breaker box and fix it ourselves. When we called back in the morning, all they did was send a maintenance guy over to get the Mammoth Point office manager, whose building is right across from us. Really, MRB? We could have done that ourselves. Thanks for nothing.

Now I know why this condo was so cheap!

March Madness

March is definitely going to be a crazy month! This is what I have going on: Mammoth, Vegas, Mammoth .. in that order. Usually, I really look forward to sleeping in on the weekends, but I realized this morning that I won’t be able to sleep in on the weekends for the next three weeks. And by sleeping in, I do not mean getting into bed at 6am and sleeping until 12pm (likely the scenario in Vegas).

I haven’t been to Mammoth yet this season, so I can’t wait! It’s even more enticing since Mammoth has been getting dumped on these past few weeks (or this entire season practically). The weather has been quite cooperative; with all the snowfall we’ve been getting in So Cal, you can even go as far as to consider the conditions at the local mountains (Big Bear and Mt High) as being “great”. The weather man predicts that a snowstorm will hit while we’re in Mammoth this weekend. The last time I was there during a snowstorm, I was able to board all the way down to the gondola from my condo! AWESOME!!

IMG_7931

Now, I just hope that the Vons in Mammoth has King’s Hawaiian Bread in stock because I’m dying to make my delicious hawaiian bread pudding.

9,600 ft.

Even though Mammoth is always awesome, I’ve always wanted to go snowboarding outside of California (Nevada side of Tahoe doesn’t really count). So, when Southwest Airlines launched their $30, $60, $90 promotion last year, Henry and I jumped at the opportunity and booked a trip to Colorado instantly. Round trip ticket for $120? SCORE! After much deliberation, we decided to forgo the big pricey resorts like Aspen/Snowmass and Vail for Breckenridge. This decision was based partially on the outrageous cost of an SUV rental: $600. To save about $300, we used the Colorado Mountain Express (CME) shuttle service to get to and from Denver International Airport (DIA). This meant that we relied solely on public transportation while in Breckenridge, which was fine since Breck’s “Free Shuttle” system was easy enough to navigate and very efficient. However, when you have 10 bags of groceries and a 24 pack of water to carry, not having your car can be quite a hindrance. We made our grocery trip work by taking a rolling luggage with us!

We stayed at Pine Ridge Condominiums (#6B), located right on the Four O’Clock run. The condo itself was better than I expected – we had stainless steel cookware and a great knife. It really is the little things in life that matter! 😛 We had two options, book through Expedia or book directly through the condo website. The condo website provided a rating system from silver to platinum to help guests gauge the general condition of the condo. Compared to Expedia, the equivalent condo in price booked through the condo website would have been a “silver” – no renovations within the last 5 years. We weren’t thrilled with the few options that we had on the condo website so we decided to take our chances and book through Expedia, especially since it was actually slightly cheaper to do so. By booking through Expedia, the worse case scenario would have been getting the exact condo we expected, but at a cheaper price. Taking our chances paid off because we ended up in a condo that was considered “gold”, which would cost $300 more if we booked through the website!

Poor lighting, I know.

The town of Breckenridge sits at 9,600 ft. above sea level. At high altitudes, reduced air pressure and lower oxygen concentration decreases the amount of oxygen that enters your bloodstream which, for some people, causes the onset of altitude sickness. The day we arrived in Breckenridge, Henry was already experiencing a few telltale symptoms. I didn’t have any symptoms so I thought I was in the clear for the whole trip. Boy, was I wrong. I totally forgot that all the literature I read up about altitude sickness stated that symptoms were usually worse the 2nd day at higher altitude. And like clockwork, we woke up the next morning with pounding headaches and shortness of breath. Henry also had some nausea and light-headedness. We had planned to start our day early and head up to the mountain at 9:30am, but we didn’t get out of bed until 10am because we felt like shit. To save that day from being a complete waste, we decided to go to Keystone for their “twilight” boarding (2pm-close/8pm). Keystone/Arapahoe Basin is about a 20 min bus ride (take the Swan Mountain Flyer/black line) from Breckenridge. Even though only the front side of the mountain stays open for night boarding (starting from 4pm), the runs were great.. and long! I didn’t get bored from the green and blue runs as I had expected. It was actually perfect since I was able to challenge myself to go faster.

I love feeling like I’m the only one on the mountain!

A huge part of our trip, as with all snowboarding trips, was cooking our meals, which explains why we had 10 bags of groceries. We do this because: 1) we love to cook, 2) it saves money, 3) it’s much healthier than eating hamburgers/hotdogs on the mountain. Our favorite meals were the cheesesteaks that we made for lunch, parmesan crusted pork chops (Giada’s recipe) for dinner and the spaghetti bolognese (with arriabata sauce) that ended up being lunch AND dinner.. for me at least.

IMG_6213

Aside from the pounding headaches, our trip to Breck was fantastic. It snowed the whole time we were there, which some would consider a bad thing since that usually means low visibility. But to me, any snow is great.. I ain’t complaining! And its true, the snow in Colorado is different. The snow is really light and dry unlike the wetter snow in Southern California (due to the humidity). My only gripe about Breck is that there are 4 Peaks: Peak 7, 8, 9 and 10 and manuevering from peak to peak can be difficult at times. We tried to avoid that as much as possible by spending one day on Peaks 7 & 8 and another day on Peaks 9 & 10.  

I can’t wait to go back to Colorado and check out the other resorts, but I’m shooting for Utah next.