June 30, 2009

Thinking About Our Next Adventure – New York City and Boston

It has been about seven months since we returned from our trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines. For me, that trip was an amazing adventure – a cultural immersion, a chance to see destinations far from where I was born, and the opportunity to visit the childhood home of my husband. Since returning from Asia, we have made a few weekend jaunts – to visit Lake Tahoe, Seattle, Vancouver, and Las Vegas – but have not ventured very far from home.

Now, we are starting to plan our next travel adventure! This time we are going to explore two destinations closer to home – Boston and New York City! Both cities are favorite of mine! I lived in Boston for several years and have explored New York numerous times, but have not had the opportunity to visit either recently.

While I am looking forward the trip; I am also enjoying the planning part. I love all aspects of travel – reading about places, the adventure of exploring a new place, and the time of reflection after returning home.

Some of my favorite resources have always been travel books. I love them! When I lived in Boston I used to shop at the Globe Corner Bookstore; now that I have moved to San Francisco I go to Get Lost Books for travel guides.

Then I enjoy reading blogs, checking on Twitter (or Twitter search Twazzup), and searching the web for interesting travel related tidbits. A site I started exploring recently is openplaces.org [link to: ]. Please share any other favorite sites or resources!

June 25, 2009

Dining off the Las Vegas Strip


Most people go to Las Vegas and never venture off the three mile strip of neon lights. The bright lights, noise, action, and entertainment keep most tourists distracted from noticing the rest of Las Vegas and the surrounding subburbs. Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. In addition to the obvious rise of mega hotels and casinos along the strip, the rest of the city is growing too.

The other side of Vegas is filled with crowded and expanding suburbs, strip malls, and pawn shops. Police patrols and broken dreams are the norm. This is the side of Sin City the tourist agency does not want you to see – but it's also the side of the city where many of the estimated 1.8 million residents live their lives.

But, it's not all dark, there are many local spots – for cafes to restaurants to parks and churches where the local Las Vegas community thrives and shines.

About two miles from the neon drenched strip on Maryland Parkway is Paymon's Mediterranean Cafe and Lounge. It is located in an unassuming strip mall, this restaurant is easily missed!



At the end of May my husband and I were in Las Vegas visiting family and need a quick and good place to have dinner and relax. After a short search using my iPhone Yelp application we were at a table by the window at Paymon's. And dinner was great! The food was fresh, very good and plentiful. The wine was also good. And the atmosphere was relaxing – a perfect alternative to the hectic pace of the strip!

June 20, 2009

Revisiting a Favorite

Wine and tapas bars have become very popular in San Francisco in recent years. If Seattle is said to have a Starbucks on almost every corner, San Francisco will eventually have a wine bar on every corner. This seems fitting with the California bay area wine region and culture. I have come to enjoy these restaurants because they normally have excellent and simple food intended for sharing and a relaxed atmosphere.

One of the first wine bars I visited when I moved to San Francisco three years ago was Nectar Wine Lounge on Steiner Street in the Marina District. Walking into the restaurant on a sunny afternoon or evening is a cool reprieve from the bright west-facing sidewalk outside. On the fl. The d├ęcor is simple – white walls, rotating art by local artists, dark wood floor and accents, and dark cushioned seats. The wine list is fun and varied, as is the menu. Both change over time and with the seasons, but they always have excellent nibbles! Two of these snacks I became obsessed with and began making my own variations at home – warm honey spiced almonds and black truffle popcorn. In addition, they serve a good selection of cheeses and salumi (for the carnivores out there) and crispy flatbreads.

Nectar
is a great place to go and for a glass of wine and some snacks or a relaxing dinner. It is one of local spots we enjoy going visiting and revisiting!

For more of my favorite places in San Francisco read these blog posts:

June 14, 2009

Flour + Water

Pizza is possibly the most perfect food on the planet. Pizza is also plentiful in most parts of the world; however, excellent pizza can be hard to find. I have now found a tie for the best pie in San Francisco.

Since it opened about a month ago I have had the opportunity to dine at Flour + Water two times. The first time with a friend just after they opened and this week with my husband Jonathan.

On my first visit my friend and I shared wine, fennel and beet salad, and a biancoverde pizza. The salad was fresh and crispy with a citrus dressing. The tangy flavor of the citrus created a perfect balance to the earthy beet flavor and made the salad dressing much lighter than a traditional balasmic-based vinigarette. Our pizza was white with ricotta cheese, peas, and asparagus – a perfect pie for springtime!

When I returned with my husband I decided to try the margherita pizza. But, before getting to that, I ordered a glass of Italian wine and shared a summer squash salad with Jonathan. Again the salad was excellent, crisp, and fresh with citrus dressing. It is normally served with duck proscuitto which we got on the side for Jonathan to eat and enjoy. Next came the pizza! It had perfect thin crust, simple crushed tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil – a quintessential pie. Most definitely one of the best pizza's in San Francisco. I absolutely loved it!

For dessert we got a chocolate budino with carmel espresso cream and sea salt. The intensely flavored and smooth chocolate was perfectly balanced by the sweet cream and grains of sea salt. A wonderful end to a perfect meal!

So, in my opinion, Flour + Water definitely ties with Pizzeria Delfina as the best pizza in the city of San Francisco!

June 13, 2009

June 9, 2009

June 7, 2009

Ice Cream in the Fog

Recently two new ice cream shops have opened in San Francisco's Mission District that make creamy frozen treats with unique and creative flavors.

On 18th Street between Guerrero and Dolores Streets is Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop. Opening about two years ago, Bi-Rite draws long lines on even cold days. They serve flavors like salted caramel, balsamic strawberry, honey lavender, and more. Made with organic dairy from Straus Family Farms and other locally sourced ingredients, Bi-Rite ice cream is rich, smooth, and delicious!
About five and a half blocks south and six blocks east at Harrison and 24th Streets is Humphry Slocombe. This new addition to the San Francisco dessert scene also has some fantastic flavors, including balsamic caramel. Their signature flavor is Secret Breakfast – which contains bourbon and cornflakes and had tasted nothing like I expected but was very good! You can follow @HumphrySlocombe on Twitter to hear about newest flavors they are mixing up!


Both shops have received praises in the press and blogosphere; including a spot on Top 10 Ice Cream Shops in Bon Appetit Magazine for Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop and Best New Ice Cream Shop in SF Weekly for Humphry Slocombe.

Both fabulous ice cream destinations are perfect spots to visit in the summer months ahead!

Apples of My Eye

Granville Island Public Market, Vancouver British Columbia Canada

June 6, 2009

Virgin America – A New Experience in the Skies

So, I took my first Virgin flight today – Virgin America, that is. Being a former commercial airline pilot, I find it necessary to comment on the experience. And, for airline experiences, I have to admit it was pretty good.
When I arrived at the airport I was met by a typical check-in procedure with automated kiosks and typical gate agents. Then of course I next went through a standard TSA screening process. But, then when I got to the gate things started looking up. The cheery agents were cheery and helpful. Boarding began a few minutes and the agents ushered us down the jetbridge in a very organized manner.

Then I walked onto the airplane. Wow, it is different. The purple tinted ceiling lighting, transparent purple cabin dividers, leather seats (white in first class and black in the main cabin) and chill music give the vibe of a swank lounge. But, this is just an Airbus 319 going to Las Vegas, right? Yes it is! Like the gate agents, the flight attendants were friendly and helpful. Also, the gate agents and the entire flight crew – both flight attendants and pilots – wear all black uniforms with silver accessories. (Much more stylish than my old polyester navy first officer's uniform!)

My flight supposedly had WiFi, but I had difficult connecting to the internet. This is a new feature of their service, so perhaps it is still a work in progress. Maybe it will work on my return trip. Having a power outlet at my seat was very nice. And the rest of the entertainment system was pretty cool. Personal movie and television screens in the seatbacks are becoming more standard on many airlines – but this went beyond that. There is a food on demand menu incorporated in the entertainment so you can order snacks, beverages, and (of course) cocktails right from the touchscreen in the seatback in front of you. Then flight attendants bring your order to right to you – simple and when you want it. I also liked the Google Maps option where I could watch our flight's progress as we flew from SFO to LAS.

As a marketing professional, I found the whole brand and customer experience fascinating – as well as the co-branding incorporated into some of the inflight amenities. (From Google Maps to Le Tourment Vert Absinthe to Illy Issimo coffee beverages – all hip branding.) The Virgin America look and feel is almost artfully woven into the atmosphere and experience.

From the gate agents to the flight attendants to the entertainment – Virgin America is working very hard to make my flight not just transportation, but an enjoyable experience as well.

June 5, 2009

Flower Stall

Granville Island Public Market, Vancouver British Columbia Canada

A Trip Across the Border – A Short Visit in Vancouver

During our recent trip to Washington state we made a short side trip across the northern border of the United States into Canada. Driving north from Bellingham Washington we crossed at Peace Arch Park in Blaine Washington. From there we drove through Surrey, Delta, and Richmond British Columbia and into the city of Vancouver!

When we arrived we went straight Granville Island Public Market. The market had been recommended to us by several people – and we were not disappointed to make it our first stop. After finding parking we made walked between the various buildings to the Public Market building for a snack. The vast array of edible options was amazing – baked goods, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, chocolates, meats, pastas, and much, much more! A fantastic place to eat any – or every – meal! We ate some delicious savory puff pastry rolls and enjoyed walking around and checking out all the different foods for sale.

Granville Island itself is very charming. It would be a great place to spend a day browsing all the small shops and stalls throughout the various different market buildings. Unfortunately, we only had an hour or two to explore, but I look forward to going back sometime!

After the market some friends brought us to Stanley Park. I enjoyed the beautiful green landscape and amazing city and mountain views – great oasis in the middle of a picturesque city!

We ended our short trip with dinner at Takis Taverna in Vancouver's West End. It was great – fresh and yummy Greek food in plentiful quantities! We all shared hummus and artichoke dip and then I enjoyed spinach pie, while the others ate the lamb shank. All the food was very good!

A great afternoon north of the border!

June 3, 2009