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Diary of a Travel Guide Junkie: Alan Wong is a Rock Star January 10, 2008

Posted by smooregasbord in Food, Travel.
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Hands down, two of the best meals we ate in Honolulu came from restaurants owned by Alan Wong.

After a visit to Pearl Harbor, we were frantically trying to decide where to have lunch. Frommer’s rated The Pineapple Room very highly, so I called and was able to get a reservation. Ok, so before foody purists slaughter me, I will go ahead and tell you that The Pineapple Room is located inside of Macy’s department store at Ala Moana Center. However, Frommer’s rarely lets me down and with two stars we bravely decided to give it a try. We started with beverages: Plantation Iced Tea, a nice combination of tea and pineapple juice. Delicious. They brought out bread and a roasted red pepper aioli instead of butter…yum. For entrees, I ordered the kalua pig BLT (as recommended by Frommer’s) and Casey had the Pineapple Room Burger. I have never had a more delicious sandwich in my life. Casey’s burger was equally delicious piled high with an onion ring and avocado salsa. Now for dessert. I went with an unexpected option only because the lady next to me ordered it and it looked scrumptious: Haupia Tapioca “Halo Halo”. It was basically tapioca layered with fresh fruit (apple bananas, pineapple, hawaiian sweet corn, azuki beans, strawberries, mangoes) and topped with coconut shaved ice. A very refreshing dessert. Casey on the other hand went with a less healthy option: Peanut Butter Sesame Crunch. It was a fancy hawaiian peanut butter cup and was quite tasty.

With this meal being so awesome, we thought how can we leave Hawaii without trying his signature restaurant, Alan Wong’s Hawaii. We made a reservation for Saturday night. We decided to walk from our hotel which ended up being further than anticipated and also through a neighborhood with very few pedestrians. We turned onto King Street and began looking for the building. We happened upon the address which was a plain building with nothing but a shoebox-sized lobby and an elevator. Casey looks at me and says, “This better be good.” He presses the button for the third floor and the elevator doors opened to an unexpected and pleasant surprise…it was a beautifully laid out restaurant with an amazing view of the kitchen. We cozy-ed up to the bar while we waited for our table. The signature drink is a pineapple martini called the Big Bully Martini. They basically take Skyy Vodka and infuse it with pineapple for a few days. The drink is served straight up with a skewer of pineapples. I’m normally not a fan of martinis, but this was a pineapple party in my mouth! We decided to skip appetizers in order to save room for dessert. We both ordered from their specials menu which changes daily. I opted for the pan roasted moi served with sauteed lobster, potato gnocchi, hamakua mushrooms, and lobster truffle sauce. I have NEVER eaten anything so wonderful in my entire life! Had there been more privacy I would’ve totally licked the plate!! Casey went with the kona coffee crusted striploin served over goat cheese mashed potatoes with a foie gras bubble, mini garlic burger, and vegetable gratin. His steak was cooked to perfection and how can you go wrong with goat cheese and potatoes! We then gazed at the coffee and dessert menu in awe. At most restaurants if you want a cup of coffee, you say “I’d like a cup of coffee.” Not at Alan Wong’s. His menu features all locally grown coffee from the various islands of Hawaii….at least six different varieties. We went with Chef Wong’s current favorite, Rusty’s Hawaiian. It’s a 100% Ka’u coffee grown and roasted by Lorie Obra on the Big Island in Pahala. All of the coffees at Alan Wong’s are brewed and served in a french press. I’ve never smelled, much less tasted, anything so decadent. WOW! We actually purchased a 1 lb bag to bring home with us despite the outrageous price tag! Not much could top the coffee in our minds (and mouths), but we decided to order the chocolate sampler for dessert. It was more than we could eat. It came with chocolate espresso beans, chocolate creme brulee, chocolate mousse, chocolate crunch ice cream, some type of chocolate gel (a specialty from Japan), and a chocolate crunch bar. To end it all, they provide you with a caramel and chocolate covered macadamia nut dusted in powder sugar. It was the macadamia nut that broke the camel’s back!

Stick a fork in me cuz I’m done.

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The Mini Version of Random December 29, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Shopping, Travel.
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Any time that I head out on a trip, I always keep in mind the 3-1-1 rule established by TSA which states that for carry-on baggage you can only carry 3 ounce containers that will fit in a 1 quart clear zip-top bag for every 1 passenger. In searching for travel size items, I came across a website called Minimus. This site has the most unbelievable variety of random, travel size items that I’ve ever seen…some things that I didn’t know existed (bug button) and some things that I wonder why there’s a need for a travel size version (squeezable peanut butter packets).  Needless to say, you can pretty much get a miniature version of anything your heart desires!

If you’re still not satisfied, then check out Flight 001. This store has some very chic travel gear that you probably can’t find elsewhere. I mean, who doesn’t want to spritz their face with a little Evian before cuddling up in their cashmere blanket and resting their head on a silk neck pillow. Now that’s high flying!

Holiday Rants and Raves November 26, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Family/Home, Food, General, Running, Shopping, Travel.
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I apologize for the lack of posts, but between traveling and sickness, I’ve been short on time. We’ll start with the rants because it’s always better to get the bad stuff out of the way.

Traveling down South last week wasn’t as bad as previous years and that may be due to the fact that we left at 6:30 in the AM! However, I would like to say that the number of State Patrol on the highways may have caused more harm than good. I’m a fan of the law. I typically follow the law (albeit I have been known to drive as though I-95 were a speedway)! But, NC State Patrol, c’mon. Everyone knows that there are certain times that are off limits for running radar: 1) prior to 1 pm on a Sunday because should you really impend on someone getting to church and 2) Thanksgiving and Christmas. When you have a state patrol car running radar every 5 – 8 miles, empty patrol cars parked on the side of the road, and patrol cars flying up from behind with lights on and no siren, is that really making our roads safer. I can definitely tell you what it causes: BRAKES! The typical reaction at the sight of police: BRAKES! I have never seen so many cars riding, tapping, slamming on brakes. It was ridiculous.

Thursday I enjoyed two very delicious Thanksgiving meals and then contracted a stomach virus and disposed of two very delicious Thanksgiving meals. NUF SAID. By Saturday, I was feeling pretty much back to normal and then that night started coming down with either sinusitis or a cold…more than likely, a cold. So I feel like crap; however, I did make a wonderful discovery. Did you know that Puffs makes tissues with lotion and Vicks built right in? Thank you Puffs for making my nose blowing a more mentholated experience!

I did make a pit stop by my favorite running store, Run In, located in Greenville. The owner, Jeff Milliman, is a RUNNING GENIUS! He just knows how to fit you in a pair of great running shoes…and he stands behind everything. With one look at your feet, he can tell you what size shoe you wear and how to take care of all of those pesky foot issues runners typically deal with. He wants everyone to have an enjoyable running experience. I got a new pair of running shoes and some winter apparel.

Also, I thought I would mention a few good dining spots in Greenville:
You can’t go wrong eating at The Carolina Drive-In on Buncombe Road. Nick, the owner, is a Wofford grad (which makes him awesome right off the bat) and is just a great guy all around! I’ve eaten there since I can remember and they have the best sweet tea in the state of SC! You also can’t beat their chili-cheese burger!

Check out The Bohemian for dinner. My parents eat there all the time and their food is unique and delicious. Their hummus and olives appetizer is wonderful! You should also ask for their macaroni and cheese (since it’s not on the menu)….a twist in that it’s made with blue cheese. If you order the Bohemian Burger, be sure to ask for the green derby cheese!

New for all of us was the Liberty Tap Room which is situated next to the new Greenville Drive stadium in West End. We tried their brunch menu on Sunday and it was pleasing and surprisingly affordable. The Crab Cake Benedict was good, but I wasn’t a huge fan of their hollandaise. My dad loved their Breakfast Wrap, my mom snacked on their enormous Rise and Shine Pizza, and Casey enjoyed their Bananas Foster French Toast.

LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, I have to give a big cheer for those Wofford Terriers who defeated the Montana Grizzlies 23-22 on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs. Wofford will play the Richmond Spiders this Saturday at Gibbs Stadium in Round 2. GO TERRIERS!

Miami Insanity November 15, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Running, Travel.
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So Casey completed the Marine Corps Marathon a few weeks back with very little training. Sickening, I know. In my opinion, a distance like that is meant to be traveled in a car! Now, Casey and his youngest sister, Joy, have registered to run the ING Miami Marathon at the end of January. What?! Are they insane?! Have they lost their mind?! No, but apparently I have.

In a sheer moment of weakness, surrounded by eager and enthusiastic runners and the zeal of cute running apparel at the Marine Corps Expo, I thought wouldn’t it be fun to run the half marathon? Ok, well “fun” might be a little strong. But I somehow convinced my brother-in-law (Brett) to join me. So we have officially registered to run the ING Miami Half Marathon.

Watch out Miami, the “Outlaws” are on the run!!

When You Take Cash Cab on the Road November 14, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Music, Travel, TV/Movies.
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For those of you who are fans of the show Cash Cab, then you’ll love the fact that they now have podcasts. I subscribed to their podcast and downloaded approximately fourteen episodes. Be forewarned: they are audio only, no video. Bummer, I know. However, they make for great road trip listening. We played through a few of the episodes on our trip to South Carolina last weekend and I think Casey and I would do well in the Cash Cab…now if only I can get Casey to take me back to NYC. Of course, I don’t mind holding out until the stagehands strike is over because my main reason for heading to NYC would be to catch Jersey Boys and shop at Uniqlo!!

For those of you who had been tuning in to the once a week episode of Cash Cab: After Dark, I don’t think it’s on the air anymore. The Discovery Channel no longer has it on their listings. I’m very disappointed because it was a great concept, but I don’t believe it was advertised very well.

Vermont or Bust November 10, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Travel.
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Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week, but I’ve been out of town…partly for work, partly for fun.

Last weekend, we went to South Carolina for Wofford‘s Homecoming. It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity for us to see old friends! However, it was a big bust in the fact that Wofford lost to Georgia Southern (38-35). It was a great game and it felt more like I was watching tennis than football. As soon as we would score, they would score within a couple of minutes. The ball traveled so much you could hardly keep up with it. There were over 1000 yards of offense…I don’t know what that’s all about, but Casey says it’s indicative of a fast moving game. Wofford has been having a great season and I’ve never seen the stadium so full. Even with the loss last weekend, we were still ranked #1 in the Southern Conference. We’re holding out for a win today against UTC to ensure our spot in the playoffs. GO TERRIERS!

What’s with the reference to Vermont, you ask? Well, on the Saturday night of Homecoming weekend, Wofford hosts the annual Terrier Ball. The Terrier Ball is a way to raise money for the Terrier Club which supports our athletes. There’s an open bar, tons of food, music, and a live and silent auction. It’s basically shopping for a cause. We put a bid on several items and won. I got a great black leather tote embroidered with the Wofford “W” and a cute office desk set. The big win for us was a weekend stay at the Inn at Manchester in Manchester, Vermont. Casey and I have never been to Vermont, but have always wanted to go. The Inn is stunning and is owned and operated by Wofford Alum. We have until November 2009 to use the gift certificate, so now it’s just a matter of deciding when we want to go.

Diary of a Travel Guide Junkie: Vol. III October 20, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Food, Travel.
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Before our trip to San Diego becomes a distant memory, I thought I would do one more post regarding food…more specifically, our evening dining choices.

The Coronado Brewing Company is likened to other brewing companies like Gordon Biersch. Their sausage platter paired with a home brew is delicious. I was interested in trying the Islander Pale Ale (IPA) which they were out of during our visit.

Napa Valley Grille is located in Horton Plaza. You’re probably saying, “I can’t believe you ate dinner at a mall and are writing about it.” We tried this restaurant only at the recommendation of my Frommer’s guide which stated, “Proving that a shopping mall doesn’t have to be a wasteland when it comes to dining…” Sounded like a good enough reason to give it a try, and I’m glad we did. We started out with their cheese platter because I can’t pass up on cheese…ever! I wasn’t absolutely starving, so I opted for soup and a salad as my entree. I had their soup of the day which was a corn and crab bisque and followed that with one of their specials, Roast Duck Salad. Duck?! Yes, Duck.

Sidebar: I had never eaten duck until a trip to Jaleo. The waiter recommended a duck tapas dish and there began my new affection for duck. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend giving it a whirl. If it’s prepared correctly, it will literally melt in your mouth.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the salad. It was roast duck over mixed greens with goat cheese, nuts, and dried cherries topped with homemade cherry vinaigrette. WOW!

Located in Coronado, the Rhinoceros Café & Grille has the most delicious Lobster Bisque. I’d recommend strolling down Orange Ave for some shopping and then trying this location for lunch.

Seriously, Harney Sushi may top my list for best sushi restaurant EVAH! I was perusing a dining guide that was in our hotel room and saw a review on Harney’s. It sounded great, so we checked out their website and menu and were totally sold on the fact that we needed to give it a try. (Note: Their location is relatively small, so I suggest making a reservation.) Their restaurant is a hidden gem located in Old Town with a very charming patio and a wonderful (and knowledgeable) wait staff. If you’re eating sushi, how can you pass up on edamame as an appetizer?! The menu is HUGE. So many things looked good; it was extremely hard not to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. We probably tried six different rolls and were NOT disappointed. My absolute favorite was the Andy II roll…a spicy tuna roll topped with fresh salmon and lemon. The small wedges of lemon gently placed atop each piece were heaven in my mouth. I’ve never had such wonderful sushi!

Located above a liquor store in Old Town, El Agave Tequilaria has over 850 different tequilas available. We stuck with their house margarita which was very authentic and not too frou-frou. They are very well known for their moles. We tried the Mole Poblano Don Julio (w/ chicken) and the Mole Verde (w/ pork). HoLy SmOkEs! They definitely earned their reputation fair and square. Both moles were unbelievably delicious!

In case it has not been mentioned before, The Fish Market in San Diego is my all time, cream of the crop, favorite restaurant on the planet. I love seafood and they have great seafood…very simply prepared and fresh! They are located right on the water, so not only do they have great food, the views are also hard to beat. When we are in San Diego, we usually eat dinner at The Fish Market twice…at the beginning of the trip and as a “last meal”. They smoke their own fish, so we never pass up on the smoked fish sampler as an appetizer. On the first trip, I usually order one of their fresh fish of the day grilled with my choice of sauce. On the last trip, I ALWAYS order the Duckett’s Buckett with pasta. It’s an assortment of shellfish steamed in the most delicious buttery garlic broth….to die for….and served to you in the steam pot.

Now with two locations in the San Diego area, Extraordinary Desserts is romance personified. The physical place is absolutely beautiful reminiscent of an enchanted garden…and, trust me, their desserts are equally wonderful. One look at their menu and you’ll understand why this place is so unique and why it’s hard to just pick one item. On this most recent visit, I tried the Roasted Coconut Cream Torte…YOW-ZAA!

Diary Of A Travel Guide Junkie: Vol. II September 8, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Food, Travel, TV/Movies.
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So back to the vacation details.
Wednesday we traveled to Temecula. I didn’t realize that there was a wine region in southern California until I saw it on an episode of Tori and Dean: Inn Love (yet another trashy reality show that I can’t get enough of). I dig on some Tori Spelling. I’m thinking that she and I could totally be BFF…our blond brains think on the same level at times! Oh, and some day, when I eventually have a wee one, I’m totally going to steal her nanny, Patsy. That woman ROCKS!

Oh yeah, wineries. So we made the trek to Temecula which is about 60 miles north of San Diego. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’ve been to Napa several times and love it. I didn’t think anything could compare…I was wrong. Temecula was AWESOME. Obviously, we went during the middle of the week, so there were no crowds. You walked in to the tasting room and right up to the bar where you pretty much had the undivided attention of the “pouring person”. We visited about five wineries.

Callaway Winery was first on the list. That’s right, the company that is known for golf also makes some great wine. The Nebbiolo Bello and Zinfandel were my two favorites. Second, we visited Thornton Winery which is best known for their champagne. I’m not really a champagne person, and neither Casey nor I were really over-impressed with the wine that we tried. They do have beautiful grounds and a spectacular herb garden. Third on the list was Baily Vineyard & Winery. I’m a serious fan of Riesling and Muscat and just recently got more into red varietals. However, their whites didn’t really appeal to my palate. They did have some very tasty reds with the Meritage at the top of my list. Baily’s “pouring person” recommended a great lunch spot for us up at Falkner Winery called The Pinnacle. First off, the view was unbelievable, but the best part was the Lobster Mac & Cheese. OMG. Seriously, it doesn’t get any better than this dish. Noodles, cheese, lobster, prosciutto…I’m pretty sure they serve this dish in food heaven! I didn’t partake of any of the wines at Falkner’s tasting room, but I’m pretty sure that this guy works there. Next on our list was South Coast Winery Resort & Spa. This place is unbelievable. It’s a hotel, spa, restaurant, and winery that is impeccably landscaped. It’s the sort of place that makes you wish you could do your wedding all over again, invite only 30-40 people, and have it in Temecula. They must have had at least 30 different wines on their tasting list and most that we tried were very delicious. Our favorite was the Merlot Rose. Last on our list was Mount Palomar Winery. The description in our visitor’s guide made it sound so wonderful, but once we got there I wasn’t so sure that we made a good pick for our last winery. We tried a few different wines, but my taste buds weren’t exactly thrilled. Then I saw that they had a Muscat called Muscato Di Amore which wasn’t on their tasting list…bummer. We asked about it and the lady said that she would ask if she could open a bottle so that we could try it. The manager obliged us. I’ve mentioned that I really like a good Muscat. However, I’ve never had one that could beat Mondavi’s until this day. Beat is a strong word, but it definitely tied for first. We bought two bottles.

Oh, there was one other place that we visited in Temecula….the Temecula Olive Oil Company. Their store is located in Old Town Temecula which is very charming. They have a neat store front where they bake fresh bread daily and an olive oil tasting room in back. We settled on the Just Dip It which is a blended olive oil dip and the Vanilla & Fig Balsamic Vinegar.

We headed back to San Diego after a day of fun in the Temecula Valley. If you’re ever in San Diego, I highly recommend taking a day to visit this amazing region. Cheers!

Diary of a Travel Guide Junkie: Vol. I September 4, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in Food, Travel.
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I love travel guides. When we go on trips, I’m always the designated tour guide. As such, I rely on a multitude of travel guides with Frommer’s being my fave! I always try to read up on all the good restaurants and sites to visit. I also try to chat with the locals to find out about those places that are off the beaten path. I found out about the USS Midway and the Scripps Birch Aquarium through my San Diego Top Ten guide.

USS Midway
Above: View of the Coronado Bridge from the USS Midway

Shark
Above: Swallowed by a shark at the Scripps Birch Aquarium

Both were very fun visits and well worth the time!

Everyone says that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I would say that San Diegans rank it pretty high too. Never have I eaten at so many awesome b’fast joints! We hit up a couple of places in La Jolla: The Cottage and Brockton Villa. The Cottage has the most incredible granola ever and it’s made fresh on site! You can order it from their website if you can stomach the $13 price tag plus s+h. Over at Brockton Villa, I enjoyed the Tower of Bagel which is a toasted sesame bagel stacked high with cream cheese, fresh lox, capers, tomato slices, and red onion. It was delicious, but a definite breath-buster!! We hit up The Mission in Pacific Beach. I enjoyed blackberry banana pancakes while Casey chomped down on their blueberry cornmeal cakes. We also visited Cafe 222 in downtown San Diego. They are known for their pumpkin waffle which was featured in Gourmet magazine and I can attest to its yumminess. In addition, the chef there did a special on Food Network with Bobby Flay featuring their peanut butter and banana stuffed french toast. Casey is a french toast junkie and he said that it was pretty darn tasty. Also, how can you go wrong with a place that serves Spam!!

When You Need a Vacation from Vacation September 4, 2007

Posted by smooregasbord in General, Travel.
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Well, vacation was wonderful! I was so looking forward to temperatures in the low 70’s after the icky weather that we’ve been experiencing in DC. The Weather Channel had something else in mind…a “heat wave” in San Diego. Of course, a heat wave by San Diego standards isn’t quite the same to what I’m used to, but it’s still hot. Temperatures were in the low 80’s; fortunately, there was a nice breeze….thank you, Pacific Ocean!

Now it’s back to work, YUCK. It’s so hard getting back into the swing of things after being gone. I am very thankful, however, to have a short week due to the Labor Day holiday. Do you ever get the feeling that you need a vacation from your vacation? Vacation for us is never about relaxing. It’s about go, go, go. We love to take in all the sites that our vacation spot has to offer.

Our San Diego vacation looked a little like this:
Saturday – arrive, pick up rental car (line is a mile long, is Dollar the only car rental company in California), must eat fresh seafood immediately, check into hotel
Sunday – USS Midway
Monday – Scripps Birch Aquarium
Tuesday – Coronado
Wednesday – Temecula Wine Country
Thursday – Outlet Shopping (you know I couldn’t resist)
Friday – San Diego Zoo
Saturday – Pool (one day of relaxation minus the slight sunburn)
Sunday – Travel on a Jet Plane

Then, it was back to reality:
Monday (Labor Day) – unpack, do laundry, pick a few weeds in our newly landscaped backyard, CLEAN HOUSE, wash Dixie, go grocery shopping, make fresh raspberry scones, catch up on my tv watching (especially my trashy reality shows)…the list never ends.