Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bienvenido a Miami

Thanks to Michael arranging a fabulous getaway last weekend, the view out my window changed from this on Friday morning:

To this on Saturday morning:

Oh what a difference a day makes (and a 2 ½ hour plane ride south)!

With the snow falling steadily Friday morning we were pretty sure we would be delayed and we were really really hoping our flight wouldn’t be cancelled.

With assurances from the American Airlines website that the flight would depart on time I filled out my new Chococat luggage tag

Stocked my in-flight mini bar using these great 2 ounce leak proof containers from the Container Store:

And filled up the Rum Runner flasks for their maiden voyage. (They were great, no leaks, easy to fill, and even easier to empty.)

Michael and I met up at JFK and waited for the bad news. Well while we wanted to be optimistic it was hard to believe our flight wouldn’t be delayed (as the electronic flight information boards indicated). We boarded about 40 minutes late, then had to wait for an over worked ground crew to push us off from the gate, and we had to be de-iced. We landed about 2 hours later than planned – a minor delay, we were pleased!

We stayed at the Trump Sonesta in Sunny Isles Beach, north of Miami Beach (similar in distance as O’side is from downtown San Diego). We had a view of the interior waterways and the ocean.

We decided Miami was Las Vegas meets Hawaii. It was tropical and seedy at the same time. And talk about strip malls – one side of the road was all high rise hotels/condos and the other side was strip malls. Apparently they don’t have many zoning requirements as the strip malls were quite varied in occupancy. Our favorite was the line up of a day spa, a pawn shop, H&R Block, and an adult video store all in a row – a little something for everyone.

The Sonesta is known for fabulous customer service and they did not disappoint. From our cabana boy Fernando, to our pool side servers Nicole and Luis we were spoiled the entire weekend.

The weather was in the 80’s and we spent pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday by the pool or on the beach.

The cabana boys also worked the beach - they set up your chairs, umbrellas and brought you drinks. It was just beyond perfect. The ocean temp was about 74 degrees. Off the coast of Florida, the continental shelf doesn’t drop off the way it does in the Pacific Ocean. You can be 50 feet off of the shore and only waist high in the water.

We did get a little bit of rain Saturday afternoon. We made the most of our time indoors by visiting the hotel spa. We both had massages and spent some time in the steam room. I finished off my visit with an aromatherapy shower. The spa facilities were open to hotel guests so we hit up the spa (no massage, even though we were tempted) again on Sunday.

We also spent a fair amount of time at the pool bar where we met quite possibly the world’s greatest bartender, Geno. He was exactly what you want in a resort bartender, fun, great stories, great energy, and quick with the drinks. I Googled him this week and he has tons of good press including a mention in the NY Times. If you are interested, I’ve included some links below. He obviously loves his job and if nothing else inspired me to learn his signature move before the cruise – be ready fellow travelers!

Sunday night we visited the pool bar after dinner. Even with other guests at the bar Geno changed the TV channel so I could watch the last part of the Oscars. Michael and I had our own Oscar party sitting outside being served drinks by Geno – it didn’t suck. After the show, Michael took some great night photos from our balcony Sunday night.

Well and what would a vacation be without some amazing meals? Friends in NYC suggested we visit a restaurant called Timo. It was located in a modest strip mall within walking distance of our hotel. From the outside it didn’t look like much – but the d├ęcor inside was second only to the food. Inside it had a very NYC vibe, dark with clean lines and filled to capacity. They have a wood fire oven and we were told no matter what to start with a pizza – so we did. It was a delicious thin crust wood fire pizza topped with cheese, tomato, and basil. We polished it off even before we decided on the rest of our dinner. I went with a ‘small plate’ and a side – the crab lasagnette and wild mushroom risotto. The crab lasagnette was a long thin fresh lasagna noodle folded around chunks of fresh crab meat and creamy home made ricotta cheese all covered in lobster bisque. The crab was sweet and delicate and the ricotta cheese was so smooth, it was a perfect mate to the crab. The lobster bisque was tangy, but did not overwhelm the rest of the dish. The risotto was also delicious, but as much as I wanted I couldn’t finish the serving. Michael had the grouper; it was served over a bed of polenta with a red sauce. The fish was perfectly prepared, it was pan seared and had a nice golden brown crust. It was flaky on the inside and the red sauce was amazing. We left dinner fat and happy.

We should have just gone back to Timo Sunday night, but decided to try an Italian restaurant across from our hotel. It was fine, but definitely did not stand up to our meal Saturday night.

Monday we toured South Beach. We started with a lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab take-out counter. Joe’s is well known for serving the best stone crabs in Miami. Our lunch did not disappoint. We shared a lobster roll, ½ pound of peel and eat shrimp, and 8 stone crab claws. The crab claws were the highlight of the meal, as I’m sure any one who has been there will tell you – if you go to Miami eat at Joe’s Stone Crab. South Beach was interesting, I wasn’t sure what to expect so it was a bit overwhelming to take it all in. The main drag, Ocean Dr., has the ocean on one side and the art deco hotels and restaurants on the other side. The hotels are very cool to look at, but I prefer to stay at a larger hotel with modern amenities. The restaurants all had music and sidewalk seating – it was definitely lively! A little further up Ocean Dr. you the find newer high rise hotels and lots of stores. While the hotels in South Beach would be fun, it would be hard for me not to go back to the Sonesta. The hotel was beautiful and the staff made everything perfect.

We had to leave Monday night, and neither of us were too happy about going back to life not sitting by a pool being served drinks. Tuesday morning both Michael and I were searching for travel deals to go back. Miami was muy bueno!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Zippity Zoppity

Show me the Zip Car!

Michael found another way for us to get around the city - a car sharing program called 'Zip Car'. While I really have no desire to drive in NYC, the idea of having a car available intrigued Michael. Basically Zip Car has cars in garages around the city that are available for a short term rental period. After paying an application fee and an annual fee the driver is able to rent a car in hour increments. The rate includes gas, insurance, and the garage parking fees.

We played So Cal living on Monday and rented the car for a Costco run. We were able to load up on cleaning supplies and items for the medicine cabinet. Not too much food - we just can't finish those super sized packages before they go bar or we get bored of whatever is inside.

Michael did a great job navigating the streets and bridges and it was a successful trial run of the Zip Car.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Inspiration Point

Sunday we spent a few hours at the Met. I went directly to the relatively new Greco-Roman wing. While there I decided to go on the P Run Inspiration Scavenger Hunt! I wanted to find all of the pieces the designers used as inspiration for the last challenge and then find what inpired me.

It took me a little bit of searching through the statues, but I found Romi's Aphrodite first.

I was then off to the European Art section of the museum.

I found Christian's piece right away, with the painting Chris used just around the corner.

It took a ton of searching, but I finally found the Jason and the Argonauts piece that inspired Jillien.

I never did find the Peacock that inspired Sweet P. I thought it would be the easiest to find because most of the paintings featured people - a painting with just an animal should have been easy to pick out in the galleries. I'll have to look during my next visit.

It was a fun way to view the paintings because I was looking at them in a different way - not just what I thought about them, but more how they made me feel or how I reacted to the colors or presentation.

There were some pieces I really liked, but I don't know how I would translate them to a piece for the runway.

I loved the colors of this scene and the sense of tranquility - but how does that become a piece of clothing?

And this box was beautiful with such an elaborate design, but how to take the design elements and translate them to clothing?

In this painting I loved the bright red color and the sash and collar and of course the cats! The bird in the front is holding a calling card, this is where the artist signed the piece - so clever.

It's hard to see in this photo, but the subject in the painting had a great combination of a striped jacket and herringbone pantaloons. This might be too literal, but the fabric combination would be so cool for a fall line of clothing.

In this painting, I like the red, but the addition of the weapon and fur give it a touch of power the painting of the child is missing. A little bit of fierceness that would impress on the runway.

Since I'm not a desinger I'm not going to make my pick - but I'll be sure to keep these pieces in mind when I work on my first collection! (hah!)
The Met was horribly crowded - I was bumped and and banged by kids, tourtists, and strollers. It would have been nice to be there with no one else, those lucky P Run contestants!

Valentine's Day Craft Project

This Valentine's Day the kitties received some home made catnip toys.
Of course the Big City kitties were involved in the creative process from the initial design to extensive testing. Based on the test results I knew it would be dew claws up for the O'side Tabby Trio.

Belated Birthday

Finally a blog update! It took a week to recover from the birthday celebrating (well not really, but that sounds good, no?)

My birthday last week was filled with fabulous presents and a great birthday dinner.

Michael secured dinner reservations at the ever popular Gotham Bar and Grill.

The meal was truly outstanding, definitely one of the best I have eaten. It was nice to see the restaurant live up to its reputation.

The decor reminded me of a supper club; it was elegant but not stuffy. The service was pleasantly attentive, but not pushy. We had a nice corner table for two with a good view of the other diners (no one I recognized).

We started with an oyster selection. 3 West Coast and 3 East Coast. The oysters were fresh and delicious.

For starters Michael had the grilled octopus. It was a cold salad with grilled octopus, roasted cherry tomatoes, chick peas, and grilled red onion served with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing. The octopus was so tender - usually octopus is chewier seafood, but this was cooked to perfection and the dressing enhanced the smoky flavor from the grill. I wasn't expecting the salad to be served cold, but it was a really nice combination of flavors that worked together chilled. I started with the Alaskan king crab risotto. It was full of big chunks of fresh crab meat, butternut squash, prosciutto di Parma, wilted greens and a splash of Meyer lemon. The risotto was smooth and creamy - my mouth was happy with every bite.

For dinner Michael enjoyed the grilled New York steak served with mustard custard, Vidalia onion rings, and a rich Bordelaise sauce. The mustard custard was semi-soft, creamy, and mustard flavored. Michael used it as a dipping sauce for the steak. Not sure if this is how you were supposed to enjoy the mustard custard but it is fun to say and was a tasty with the steak. Of course I had an onion ring (or two) they were big slices of beer battered onions fried to a crispy golden brown. I splurged and feasted on the roasted Maine lobster. The lobster was a generous tail portion that was covered in butter foam (yes I had a dish with foam, my first!). The butter foam gave the hint of butter flavor to the lobster without covering up the tasty of the sweet lobster meat. The sides were small but well sized portions. The tail was sitting on top of sides of spaghetti squash, Brussels sprouts, and potato puree, and a red wine lobster reduction. The sauce was heavy and rich, I didn't dip my lobster in the sauce but it was perfect with the potato puree (perfectly mashed potatoes that were very smooth).

For dessert we shared (OK I ate 99% of it) the S'more. It was really their interpretation of a s'more - a warm chocolate tart with a graham cracker crust and topped with a homemade toasted marshmallow. On the side was a scoop of chicory ice cream topped with white chocolate swirls. Their coffee was so good I had two cups.

Writing this makes me want to go back, it was an outstanding meal and an excellent birthday splurge.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Reporting from the Tents

For your reading pleasure, a brief report from my very brief visit to the tents at Bryant Park.

9am was the scheduled time for the Project Runway fashion show finale. I really wanted to find out if 5 contestants were showing collections (of course I was really hoping there would be an extra ticket or a need for seat fillers and I would actually make it inside to see the show).

Well I didn't get to the tent entrance until about 8:55. I saw a few contestants from previous seasons of Project Runway enter the tent: Malan Breton and Diana Eng. Malan came in from the side and kind of waved when he entered the tent and I believe he was wearing a fur coat. Diana came up from the street and posed for a picture for a reporter (professional photographer) before entering the tent. Unfortunately for Diana, Tyson Beckford came in about the same time and he was getting all of the fan photos. He looked very tall and handsome in a dark suit with a red tie.

The crowd outside was not as big as I expected - but the fans that were there were very excited about who they had seen and who they would see when the show was over.

Lots of well heeled women entered the tents - including one who made sure to take off her dark winter coat to reveal a beautiful bright pink tank dress. She made her entrance before the tent entrance.

You could see there was a big back up inside the tent doors. It must be a zoo, getting people in the right seats and seated close to on-time.

About 9:15 I left for work, but on my way to the train station I saw Allison Kelly walking over to Bryant Park. She looked very cute in a light tan/beige winter cape. I immediately wanted to own a coat like that, but I don't think I'm as glamorous (or tall) as Allison so it would probably look like a tee pee on me. She was pretty late but didn't look flustered.

I did hear one of the fans outside the tent ask about the possibility of seat fillers. She was told no way for this show, but sometimes they do pull people in for the shows in the afternoon (read less popular shows). I think that would be fun, especially for those of us not in the industry but would like to be a part of the buzz. Today is the last day of Spring Fashion Week - guess I'll have to wait for Fall Fashion Week to see if I can make it in to the tent!

Oh and of course I had no clue what to wear, but I needed to make a quick decision to get out the door and down to Bryant Park. It was cold but no wind or rain. I ended up in a dark denim pencil skirt, white oxford, black lightweight wool sweater, black tights, and black wedge heeled boots. I kept my jewelry simple, just my Swiss Army QCOM watch, small silver and black earrings, and a blown Venetian glass red heart necklace for a pop of color and nod to Valentine's Day. Outerwear included my dark gray winter wool coat, burnt sienna scarf, and black gloves - no hat and my hair was pulled in to a bun. I wanted to be warm and comfortable, but still look good if I was able to get in to see the show!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Do the other cats call him 'Stripey'?

Beckham curls himself up when he sleeps. We call it the 'Beckham jack knife' because he looks like he's folded in half.

The other day I was wondering if the other cats (they are all solid black) call him 'Stripey'?

The Rest of Restaurant Week

With a busy work week my blog updates suffered - here is a recap of the rest of the restaurants we visited during Restaurant Week.

I'll quickly cover the places we visited that we didn't love.

Tuesday Jan 29th AJ Maxwell's

It is a nice steakhouse in Rockefeller Center with prices that are aimed at the business community paying on expense account. The service was distracted (our plates were mixed up every course) and the Restaurant Week menu choices were not from the regular menu. We both started with a salad that was pretty tasty. For dinner Michael had a steak and I had the shrimp and asparagus risotto. The risotto was either cooked incorrectly or had a spice that was new to my taste buds - it didn't taste exactly right. It wasn't bad, but just wasn't like any other risotto I've had before. Michael had cheesecake for dessert and I had the bread pudding. Both were fine, but nothing to make us go back.

I guess that was our only 'clunker' meal - and we definitely had worse the first time we did Restaurant Week.

Now for the good stuff.

Friday Jan. 25th Thalassa

Thalassa is a Greek seafood restaurant that is straight from a Greek Isle. The service is fabulous, very professional and attentive. The ambiance is very cool, tons of candles and fabric that makes you think there are tons of windows when it's really just brick wall. The food is well prepared and the Restaurant Week selections were offered on the main menu. They start you off with a slice of bread and four small bowls of dippers to go with your bread: olive oil, hummus, fava bean spread, and Greek olives. The olive oil had an amazing flavor, smooth and no tang that you can get in less expensive oil. We both started with the lobster bisque, it was different than other lobster bisques I've had before, but it was very rich and delicious. We added an appetizer (yes, suckered in to the up sell) and shared some grilled calamari slices that were wrapped around a soft cheese and pine nuts. Absolutely delicious - and low carb! We both had fish that was simply prepared for dinner. Probably the healthiest meal we had during Restaurant Week. And we both ended with a traditional Greek walnut cake soaked in honey. It was gooey and sweet. Thalassa was the first restaurant we ever visited during Restaurant Week. At the time we weren't that impressed - we didn't know how good we had it until we went to some places that just don't put out the effort to bring you back as a regular customer. (And for those of you who watch 'What Not to Wear' their studio is near the restaurant, because when they go back to the studio all put together you can see the sign for Thalassa.)

Monday Jan 28th - Beacon

Another steakhouse of sorts, but they boast a wood fired oven and offer several wood fired specialties. Their regular menu prices were really expensive! It was good food, but definitely not worth the regular menu prices, but we got a great deal during Restaurant Week. Again we both started with salads, they were fine. For dinner I had a really well cooked and juicy chicken in a brown sauce with mushrooms. Michael had a wood fired salmon filet. I had sorbet for dessert (mango, blood orange, and a divine coconut). I'm not sure what Michael had, but I do remember he ate it really fast - so it must have been tasty. The decor was Craftsman inspired, reminding me of the Napa Rose in Disney California Adventure. Unfortunately the service was terribly slow. The people at the table next to us waited 20 minutes for their check, we learned and made sure to request the check when they cleared our dessert dishes and we had payment ready as soon as the check hit the table. I was eating my salad and the fork felt very familiar, I looked at the pattern and the name on the back and it was a match to our flatware at home. I'm missing 3 dinner forks, I was a little tempted but rest assured I did not leave with any extras in my purse.

Wed Jan 30th Smith and Wollensky

Every Restaurant Week we enjoy lunch at Smith and Wollensky. It is conveniently located across from Michael's office and they offer a great value. Their dinner and lunch menu have the same offerings, and lunch is less expensive so we take advantage of the lower price. We were pleasantly surprised with the menu this time. The appetizer choices now include a crab cake and the main course still had our favorite - the filet mignon. We both started with the crab cake, it was a mostly crab with some filler. It was a very large portion and sat on top of a white (maybe remoulade) sauce. It wasn't the best crab cake either of us has had, but it certainly wasn't the worst and it was much better than the salad or soup of the day. Our filets were cooked to perfection and absolutely delicious. We added a side of creamed spinach - it's a bowl of green creamy goodness. By the time dessert rolled around we were stuffed, so we took our desserts to go and ate them after dinner. I had the pecan pie and Michael the cheesecake. One of the people eating next to us ordered off of the Restaurant Week menu, but he chose the salad and the burger. For the same price we had a crab cake and filet mignon - just something to think about.

Thurs Jan 31st Lure Fishbar

Lure is one of our favorites. We found it during our very first Restaurant Week and have been going back for the last year. They offer fresh seafood in a very cool setting. The inside of the restaurant looks like the inside of a large private yacht (from what I've seen on TV anyway - not like I'm cruising around in large private yachts everyday). They offer items from their regular menu and the normal prices are on the higher side so it's a great deal during Restaurant Week. I started with the shrimp tempura. It was served with the shrimp cut in to large pieces in a light tempura batter, topped with a spicy dipping sauce and black sesame seeds. I love how much flavor the tiny sesame seed adds to a dish. The shrimp were sweet and delicious and all of the elements of the dish worked together really well. Michael had his favorite, the salmon tar tare. He was pleased. For dinner he had fish and I had the sushi combo - 8 pieces of sushi and your choice of rolls (from a pre-determined list). My roll was salmon and avocado. My sushi was delicious; I really enjoyed everything on the plate. Michael's fish wasn't amazing, but he was happy and I shared some sushi (well just 2 pieces). For dessert I had a nice lemon tart and Michael had a warm apple cobbler. We left dinner full and happy. We had a great table kind of in the back of the restaurant and it was relatively quiet. Towards the end of our meal a group of 8 women were seated next to us, they were celebrating a birthday. Needless to say the noise level increased dramatically and we were glad it was time for the check.

And last but not least...

Friday Feb 1st T-Bar Steak and Lounge

T-Bar is a new restaurant in our neighborhood. Again the Restaurant Week menu selections were from the main menu and they were definitely a great value. I started with the Caesar salad and Michael had steak tar tare. My salad was great, I would have loved a tableside presentation and maybe a dressing that was a little less creamy, but the flavor was very good. Michael really enjoyed the steak tar tare - he even dared to put it on the same level as craftsteak! For dinner we both ordered the filet with a side of mashed potatoes. The filet was a perfect 6oz portion and cooked exactly as ordered. The outside was charred from the grill and the inside was tender and juicy. The staff was friendly and the decor was very hip. The dessert options weren't great; we both chose the cookies and out came two plates with chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, and biscotti. We took most of them home and I just finished off the last of them today. The front desk keeps an eye on the table and our coats were waiting for us when we walked up to the door. It is those small touches that really make a difference. I'm sure we'll be going back soon!

So now that the jeans are tight again we are headed back to the gym and looking forward to some salads for dinner.

My Bologna Has A First Name

Guess what was parked across the street from our apartment last night:

The Weinermobile!

Not sure why it was there and it didn't stay very long, but it was definitely a sight. I did a little bit of research and it has a hot dog shaped dash board with relish colored seats and a 'bun roof'. The drivers are called 'Hotdoggers', they go through a training course and then drive the mobile for one year.