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Chaak – Old Town Tustin

Chaak – Mayan for very busy, very very noisy! This restaurant has been on my “must try” list for some time. Perhaps my first time should not have been on a weekend. I heard it was upscale (maybe), ambiance (not so much), unique menu (definitely). We had a reservation, but had to wait 15 minutes. A table inside was so noisy that we literally had to yell at each other. Our server took pity on us old folks and moved us to a table outside in a patio that was probably set up during Covid. For those of us that do not want to go deaf any time soon, the patio should remain.

Cocktails were the first order of the evening, and they were quite tasty. It’s small plates here, and there are plenty of choices to share. They all had interesting names which thankfully were translated for us non-Mayans. Sikil P’Ak is pumpkin seed dip with totopos and cucumbers. Ceviche Campeche is Octopus, striped bass, grape tomato pico and leche de tigre.

Next were Empanadas with Oaxaca cheese, and epazote. Tamal Colado was Wild Mushroom Ragu, escabeche and spicy sausage, and Esquites/Grilled Com Bone Marrow, lime, cilantro, and pecorino.

No meal is complete without dessert. We chose Bombas – beignets dusted in cinnamon-sugar, with house dulce de leche and spiced chocolate sauce.

The Other Thing – The food was good but the atmosphere was not conducive to relaxation and quiet conversation. There were other interesting menu choices, but I doubt that I will return. Not sure about my dinner companions. They may be more forgiving. So many places, so little time.

7 Days of Fun, Food & Frivolity

Much needed time outta Dodge with my high school buddy, Jane. Her friends have a beach house in Capitola which is NOT a beach house. It is a very very nice house that happens to 3 short blocks from the beach. Three bedrooms, two full baths and furnished with everything we could possibly need to make our vacation a heaven on earth! The old-fashioned fireplace burned real wood. We wished was cold enough to use.

Shadowbrook Restaurant was one half block away. Three-levels nestled in a wooded area alive with flowers, there was a funicular that ran to all levels if you did not want to walk the steep steps. We ate two lunches and one dinner there. Food and service were excellent.

Second day – Lunch on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach and off in the afternoon to the Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row. It has been decades since I was at this aquarium, so it was like having never been there.

For me, no vacation is complete without a visit to the local sweet shop – Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria in Capitola.. The cakes were so tempting, but let’s be real. There was just the 2 of us – so it was 2 chocolate croissants, 2 butter croissants, and 2 yummy biscuit-like sugar-coated muffin-like concoctions called Downtowners.

My photos from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk speak for themselves. The wooden 1907 boardwalk along the beach is still there, but it is so much more now. My first time here, so I was surprised at the magnitude of it all. The roller coaster huge – the1911 Looff Carousel beautiful!

On our last night, Jane and I walked to Capitola Village, had a margarita at Margaritaville (no connection to Jimmy Buffett). It was a beautiful walk aback to our “beach house”.

The Other Thins – Jane is a great traveling companion, and these 7 days were very relaxing. We had lots of places to go and things to do, but we always had plenty of down time to read and take naps!!

Beale Street

So disappointed in Beale Street. Many years of envisioning how it what it would look like, what the music would sound like – the whole blues vibe. What I saw was a shabby, sad sight. Beale’s glory days are far behind it. Maybe if I had been there in the 1980’s, my experience would have been different. The music coming out of Alfred’s was not like any blues I have ever heard. All the neon was interesting, but walking up and down the street was far from rewarding. The only line was in front of BB Kings Blues Club, and it wound around the corner. Maybe that was the place to be.

We decided to check out Beale Street during the day (This was December 5th), and maybe try BB King’s for lunch, Their music started at 11:30am. The food was good,, and so was the music. Finally, I got to hear traditional blues — and the songs I came to hear. The Blues Trio started off with a bang, singing Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”. They knew all the oldies, and my 5 all-time favorites– “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson, “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King, “Red Rooster” by Howlin’ Wolf, “Boogie Chillen” by John Lee Hooker, and the aforementioned “Hoochie Coochie Man”. Now I was in blues heaven!!

At the end of Beale Street is the home of W. C. Handy, often referred to as the father of the blues. It is a museum now, but was still closed due to Covid.

We were leaving for home on the morning of December 6th, so we wanted to have our final meal be special. Our free meal at Vernon’s Smoke House at Graceland was an OK buffet. We couldn’t understand why Rendezvous Ribs was so highly recommended, even though it was very crowded when we ordered to go.

Itta Bena is a semi-secret restaurant on the 3rd floor of BB King’s Blues Club. There is a canopied entry door on the side of BB King’s. You walk up an old fire escape stairway, and open an old, well-worn door, and VOILA – a lovely dinner house complete with linens and flowers on the tables. The food was very good, beautifully plated, and accompanied by excellent service. After dinner, we went downstairs to hear a little more blues. The last 2 songs before we left were “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Etta James) and “Pride and Joy” (Stevie Ray Vaughn. This was a perfect evening and ending to our little getaway trip.

The Other Thing – A couple of disappointments, lots of fun, some new adventures, and sharing everything with my granddaughter – what’s better than that???!!!

Graceland at Last!

We (my granddaughter and I) picked the right time to visit Memphis. For the first time, Graceland was offering a night time tour of the building and grounds. It cost a small fortune but was well worth it, and I had been wanting to see it for 20 years! I’m a huge Elvis fan. I saw him in concert in 1956 at the Shrine in Los Angeles, and I was hooked. My granddaughter, not so much, but she was a good sport (and actually enjoyed the tour). Here are some highlights of the home tour.

So many pictures to bore you, but here are some of the grounds

On the day he passed, he played racketball and noodled a little on this piano before he went upstairs to his bedroom.

Gotta show the pink Cadillac and that entire wall of gold records. There is a huge building across the street from the house holds tons of memorabilia – all his cars, costumes, photos of his time in the service,

We stayed at The Guest House at Graceland. If you are not an Elvis fan, you shouldn’t stay here. Elvis is everywhere. The screen saver on the TV, walls in his favorite color (purple), his photos on all the walls. It was actually very nice, and the beds very comfy.

A tour of the Lisa Marie. Note gold buckles on the seat belts.

The Other Thing – The whole Graceland experience was worth the trip to Memphis for me — for Kaitlynn, well, she loves her Nana!

Van Gogh Goes Hollywood

For Mothers Day, my daughter gave me tickets to the Immersive Van Gogh, and the day finally arrived. In a building located at Sunset and Ivar, we saw the most amazing art presentation featuring the works of Vincent Van Gogh. We entered the lobby and walked down an aisle of neon lights into the viewing room.

What happened next was really beyond description. As the colors faded in and out and images took shape, Van Gogh’s many works were slowly revealed. I was pleased with how well my photos turned out, but they do not nearly capture the essence of what we experienced.

It ended with “Starry Night” with which most people are familiar.

Catching our breath after viewing this spectacle, we decided it called for cocktails. We headed west on Sunset to Pink Taco.

We enjoyed pink margaritas while listening to some live music on this sunny Saturday afternoon. Food photos don’t really reflect the yumminess of our lunch – being that they were taken under the shade of very PINK umbrellas.

The Other Thing – Thank you Kathleen for this wonderful Mothers Day gift!

2 Days in Laguna Beach

A little advice to anyone who has been planning a getaway for several weeks and has built up an idyllic vision of what it will be like – stop now and don’t overthink this. It will NOT turn out as planned. If it’s too late, just take a deep breath and go with the flow. It will turn out fine.

I, the overthinker, booked what I thought was a beach front, ocean-view room. What I got was a 2nd floor room facing PCH – but to be fair, the balcony did have a view of the ocean (no beach) over the 3 buildings in front.

Check in wasn’t until 4pm but I arrived early and left my car in the hotel lot ($34 a day about which I was not informed). I walked one mile south on PCH to Mozambique for lunch (The guy at the front desk said it was 2 or 3 blocks). I was the first one there so I had a very attentive waiter all to my self.. So for my first meal on my “vacation “, I had a shrimp Caesar Salad and Creme Brulee accompanied by 2 very tasty margaritas.

I checked in at 2pm, immediately changed into bathing suit and headed for the beach. This handy private beach was 3 flights of steep stairs, through the parking garage, down another 3 flights of stairs, then 2 more slippery stairs – voila!! A beach attendant set a lounge chair in whatever spot I desired, put up a large umbrellas and provided me with a beach towel. I spent the next couple of hours listening to the waves, dozing, and watching happy puppies playing in the surf.

I wasn’t expecting the nearby restaurants to be so crowded. I thought I would drop by The Deck for dinner at 6ish and wait a few minutes. The Deck is exactly what the name implies. The bar and dining tables are on a small deck overlooking the ocean. The place was packed with very friendly people.. I hadn’t realized just how small a restaurant this was. The diners at one table asked me to put in my bid for when the sunset was going to occur. He said the winner had to buy drinks for the table, so I said 8:30 which was 2 hours hence. They laughed but asked me to give them a serious guess. How about 8 minutes. They acted surprised, but 8 minutes later the sun had disappeared into the horizon. No one was more surprised than I.

Two hours later they had still not called my name. A waiter suggested that I ordered to go from the bar. I took the Beach Burger back to my room. It was really good and almost worth the long wait. Vermont Cheddar, Applewood Bacon, Arugula, Tomato with Chipotle Aioli on a Brioche Bun. The burger was cooked perfectly.. It wasn’t messy, stayed together, and I didn’t even need a napkin. So hungry – forgot to take a photo.

The next day I walked a block to Orange Inn. I had seen that sign hundreds of time as I drove south through Laguna. It was obviously a local coffee hangout, and I could see why. Everything was so fresh. I ordered a fresh quava juice and a very large croissant.

I actually spoke to a Laguna resident there, and he suggested that I walk along the water up to Main Beach and Forest Avenue shopping. What a great idea, and it was another beautiful sunny day. This was my route.

I walked up and down Forest, bought a birthday gift for a friend and had a light lunch at the Yard Bar in the Lumber Yard.

Back at the hotel, back in my bathing suite for another afternoon in the sun. Some scenes from my walk back.

About my room and besides the fact that it was not on the beach. The balcony was not very inviting. My plan to have happy hour there every night and listen to the waves was not appealing – no fun looking at a bunch of buildings. I never uncorked my wine.

My dinner at Driftwood Kitchen (The only reservation I could get was 5:15) was pretty amazing, and I think a must add to my favorite meals of all time. I enjoyed a glass of sparkling rose with a selection of 6 east and west coast oysters on the 1/2 shell. Then came a small Caesar Salad with anchovy in a delightful Caesar dressing. The perfect medium rare FlatIron Steak was on a bed of Chimchurri Sauce, Roasted Mushrooms and Crispy Red Onions. It came with Pork Belly which I did not eat. It was unnecessary and beautiful without it. Dessert was Sticky Toffee Cake with Warm Toffee Sauce and Chantilly Cream. A Cup of Decaf Baileys ended my perfect evening. My waiter Juan Carlos Acosta was my waiter extraordinaire. He was right there to attend to my every need.

It was a little overcast that night, so not much of a sunset.

Here is a shot of The Deck from my table at Driftwood Kitchen.

On the last morning I walked to The Pantry at The Old Pottery Place. I had a Breakfast sandwich of a Fried Egg, Home-Made Sausage, Crispy Applewood Bacon, and Sliced Gouda with Cracked Pepper Aioli on a soft Challah Bun.

The last of my view on the way back to the hotel for checkout. Cooler today and a little overcast.

About the hotel – here is where the disappointment lies. I guess it’s probably me. When I pay this much for a room I expect to at least get the normal amenities. Room service menu was on the dresser but there was none available. It is provided by Driftwood Kitchen but they were much too busy. No one ever answered the phone. There were no wash cloths in the very tiny bathroom, and the bath tub was very slippery. The Keurig coffee machine worked fine the first day but did not want to stay on the next day. My room key worked only the the first day and a half. There was no one to help with bags, and the elevator was not handy to where my room was located.. While I was trying to handle everything and not fall down the stairs, the maid took my overnighter and walked it down to the lobby for me.

The bed was comfortable with lots of fluffy pillows but the noise from the entire complex was so loud, I wasn’t sure what was going one. I was hoping to hear the waves at night but that was impossible. Everyone must have had their air conditioning on with their windows open. There was a disclaimed on my reservation that did not guarantee a noise free hotel – but this was ridiculous!

I found it interesting that no one at the hotel checkout asked me if I enjoyed my stay, or if everything was OK. AND apparently to get a ground floor beach-front room with ocean view is more than double what I paid. One final annoyance and totally my own fault…….I ordered a Spiced Pumpkin Chai at The Pantry to enjoy on my drive home. I left it on the window ledge outside my room.

Hotel stay a disappointment but the food, the sweets, the being surrounded by some of nature’s wonders was a pleasure!

The Other Thing – My Fitbit was happy with me. I walked a total of 19,630 steps. That is 9-3/4 miles for me.

Have Blues, Will Travel

This interesting exhibition at The Fullerton Art Museum chronicled how black musicians in the Jim Crow South traveled from town to town to play their music. The Green Book listed the safe places for them to eat and spend the night. A place not in that book presented great danger to life and limb – literally!

Early blues artists had a difficult time getting their songs performed. To this blues fan, I am grateful for their perseverance. Their blues legacy is alive and well.

Some towns were called “Sundowners”. If you weren’t out of that town by sundown, no telling what calamity would befall you if you were black.

The Other Thing – That sad and terrible time in our U.S history is reflected in much of the blues music we still hear today. Have we learned how to better treat our fellow man?

Los Angeles at The Bowers

Beautiful watercolor exhibition from Gayle Garner Roski. They depict her impressions of Los Angeles landmarks. She passed in 2020 but has left us a meaningful legacy. Captions are f rom left to right.

Santa Monica Pier * Pepperdine 911 Memorial * Hollywood Bowl

Bowers Museum * Hollywood & Highland * Disney Concert Hall

Plein Air Art Festival * LA Chinatown * Angels Flight

Universal Studios * Huntington Library & Gardens * Olvera Street

The Other Thing – I left with such a happy upbeat feeling. Her colorful paintings bring such joy.

Windmill Food Hall

At the Palomar Airport Road offramp on the 5 freeway in Carlsbad, there is a large windmill that has been a local landmark since the early 80s. It was originally Pea Soup Anderson’s Southern California location. Then it was TGI Fridays until 2016. It became Windmill Food Hall in the summer of 2018 with a dozen individual restaurant concepts.

My granddaughter opted for Mediterranean.

I chose Italian.

They don’t skimp with the serving sizes here. I would be amazed if you didn’t find something you liked. There seemed to be vegan, gluten free, dairy free (flavor free?) options available.

The Other Thing – So many places to go, so many things to see, so much food I have yet to taste!! But I’m working on it.

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