U.S. Travel

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

ROAD TRIP COMBINES AMERICA’S FAVORITE PASTIME

AUG 2019 16

Want to know an outstanding way to combine seeing the USA and enjoying America’s favorite pastime?  Get out on the road and visit ballparks! (Click HERE for last year’s trip) It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to plan and navigate and you’ll see and do things you wouldn’t normally do without investing a bit of time.

A three-stadium baseball trip was great fun notwithstanding the typical hot and humid weather.  The trip began in Philadelphia and continued on to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and a visit with a great friend from LA now living in Louisville, KY (post to follow).  One needs to allow two days in each city in case a game is rained out.  This being August in the east/midwest, there’s a high probability of that.  About two hours prior to game time in Cincinnati, we were driving to our hotel in a blinding deluge.  The rain stopped, the skies cleared for the most part and the game started on time.

Son Sam was also in Philly for a wedding

I grew up as a devoted LA sports fan, just not of baseball.  It was the original LA Rams, Lakers and, of course, UCLA basketball where my dad played.  Baseball is probably my favorite now which is why I enjoy visiting so many stadiums.  And it’s a shared family pastime, which is a big bonus.  I hardly have the encyclopedic memory of particular games and plays possessed by both the hubby and son, but I can hold my own.  Below is the list of the stadiums I’ve been to so far.  Some are older and/or have been renamed (i.e., US Cellular is now Guaranteed Rate Field).  Two big ones are missing:  Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park (e.t.a. Summer 2020).  Cleveland was a near miss in 2012 due to a rain-out but at least I got to see the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame instead.

PHILLY:

Citizens Bank Park is located in what’s called the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.  We walked out of our hotel in downtown and took the Broad Street Line to the last stop.  From there it is a haven for sports lovers — Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, 76’ers and even the Lacrosse team — all in view.  Easy access, ride-share vehicles and taxis just waiting to be hailed if the train isn’t for you.  Vendors sell water, pretzels and peanuts on the way to the stadium.  All that is needed is more Phillies fans to fill the seats.  Oh, and the choice of concessions?  Don’t get me started on how our beloved  Dodger Stadium pales in comparison.

Citizens Bank Park

PITTSBURGH:

PNC Park is widely favored by baseball lovers as America’s best stadium.  It is walkable from the downtown area, has spectacular views from most every seat, is right at the junction where three rivers meet and provides an outstanding fan experience.  Can’t beat that.  It would be hard to find anything about which to critique the venue, therefore it deserves two photos!

View from our seats
PNC PARK

CINCINNATI

Great American Ball Park is also located in the heart of the city.  Again, few fans.  We walked up to the box office at game time and had seats behind home plate at a very reasonable price.  The stadium even has underground parking!  We left the game and walked across the street where there were lots of restaurants to choose from.

GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK — the Great American Insurance Co. building is in the background.

The concession stands were a bit lacking — no mustard anywhere.  Fortunately a kind person brought me a side order ..

Other trip highlights will be posted in Snippets from the Road.  Here’s a few fun photos from the road trip including Philly foods.  Can we just talk about how outstanding ice cream is in this part of the country?  Died and gone to Bassetts heaven lower left; pies at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market (genius idea to sell half pies!); a Philly cheese steak of course.

Below:  Philly, standing in the shadow of two giants; with Columbus friends Todd Applebaum and Larry Levine for impromptu lunch at Giuseppe’s as we drove through the area; WE WANT A RING TOO …  but with blue sapphires!  This one belongs to a scout for the Cubs attending a game.

I would be remiss in not thanking son Sam for selecting my new phone (OnePlus), which was used to take all of the photos contained here ..

Things You Should KnowTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

BACKYARD FUN

IMG_20190216_114753

“Backyard” can have lots of different meanings.  Given the relatively “inclement” weather we’re experiencing in So Cal (we’ve already surpassed our average annual rainfall!), in this case “backyard” is a euphemism for Los Angeles in general — i.e., having fun locally by enjoying a couple of new adventures.

The first was attending the Travel & Adventure Show at the LA Convention Center.  This is a two-day affair with seminars and lots of exhibitors, both international and domestic.  I invited a friend to go with me and pre-registered online.  Easy.

Gorgeous clear skies!

The biggest debate was where should we have lunch? Before or after the show?  Downtown LA (DTLA) has endless options and there were lots of cultural pockets en route from our Beverly Hills meeting place.  We remarkably ruled out Langer’s (DTLA-adjacent with simply THE BEST pastrami sandwich) and kept on with “how about (insert type of food)???”  We also didn’t want to park multiple times. What to do …?

During the drive while my friend Sandra was on a business call, I was observing restaurant signs and got a craving for Korean BBQ.  I pulled over to search Google for nearby places and was elated to discover we were just 3 minutes from Park’s BBQ, arguably the best in all of LA.  I say “arguably” because it’s all in the palate of the beholder.  But this is a place I’ve long wanted to try.

Parks is just north of Olympic Boulevard on S. Vermont in the heart of Koreatown.  The area traffic is always heavy but the restaurant is well marked.  There is a free-of-charge valet (tips welcome) so that made it easy.  It was before noon and the place was already bustling.  And you know what is commonly said about judging an ethic-food place?  Well, let’s just say we were the only non-Asians dining there.

All the sides and condiments first

Ever since the hubby’s and my 2013 trip to Seoul, I have loved Korean culture and food.  The problem is there’s top choices of sushi and Thai food in our ‘hood, but almost no Korean.  My efforts haven’t been exactly stellar to seek out different places.  Regardless, back to the meal at hand …

We ordered two a la carte proteins to be grilled at the table: marinated chicken and paper-thin beef, prepared with onions and seasoning.  They were served with a small bowl of rice and lots of different condiments and small sides.   The hardest part was waiting for the server to give us the go to eat!  Diners are not supposed to do the cooking but rather wait until the meats are done.  We impatiently waited for our server (who supervised the grill) to return.

Hurry up and cook!
Delicious with side of rice.
Best part? Scraping the bits off the grill … ask for a fork!

The verdict?  Delicious.  Not inexpensive.  Good quality.  Lots of flavors to try.  And if you’re into spicy, you’re definitely in the right place.  I now will book a return visit with my Foodies group (executive women gathering to try different restaurants along with socializing) and I’m looking forward to that.

As for the show, if you’ve been to one convention … The best takeaway for me was collecting guides to study for the upcoming trip to SE Asia (Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur).   For the most part,the show’s exhibitors were largely promoting group tour travel and cruises.  For my friend Sandra, it was the exhibit from Billings, MT, with lots of suggestions on doing a road trip encompassing Yellowstone Park.  Particularly good info there.

One of the exhibitors .. who knew?

 

With my adventurous friend, Sandra Heller

This was a fun and somewhat spur-of-the-moment outing in our city — a place so vast that these types of experiences are virtually endless — and right in your own backyard.

Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

ELEVEN MADISON PARK: TRULY A WORLD-CLASS RESTAURANT

EMP6

When one considers dining at a world-class establishment, a number of thoughts come to mind:  1) How much is it?  2) Can I get a booking?  3) What if it’s not worth it?

Reservations open on the first day of the month preceding your desired date. For me, that meant a note to self:  Call EMP on 12.1.18 for a reservation on 1.8.19.  That worked; #2 was done.  As for #1, I’ll just say it’s pricey for sure. Full payment (including gratuity) is required at the time the booking is made.  There’s no additional tipping; more about that later.  So alcohol is what’s due at the end of the meal.  As for #3, “worth” is a subjective term.  Let’s just say any expectation was more than exceeded.  Their three Michelin Stars and top-of-the-list ranking on the World’s Best list are well deserved.

A week prior to our reservation, I received a lengthy email from my “person” who would greet us at the front desk.  She had a number of inquiries — are we celebrating anything; food allergies; anything else they should know.  This advance communication was really impressive.  I wrote a lengthy reply with details about our trip to NY.  I also requested the opportunity to meet the proprietors Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (who worked together at the original EMP and ultimately bought out founder Danny Meyer).  Could we see the kitchen was a big request.  Lastly, I stressed NO CILANTRO!  Laura and I had several exchanges so that when we finally met, a warmth had already been established followed by hugs.

The building that houses EMP is a registered historical landmark, originally built in 1906 in art deco style.  The restaurant seats about 80 (close to max for a Michelin restaurant) but is cavernous inside due to high ceilings and enormous windows looking out on Madison Park.   Tables are generously proportioned; the hubby and I sat side-by-side on a banquette to watch all the action.   Bar seating is also available with a different menu featuring fewer courses.

The wine list is vast — we learned there are 21,000 bottles on the premises with seven full-time sommeliers.  There is a wine room currently under construction for future dining opportunities.  Our young friend Watson looked barely old enough to be serving alcohol, let alone be an accomplished somm.  A Patrick Corbineau Cab Franc was selected  (we enjoyed a different varietal of his the previous night at Daniel).  Watson employed a spectacular decanting method (at our request) usually reserved for much older bottles and port in particular where there is concern the cork might be bad.  The neck of the bottle is removed, sealed with wax (no jagged edges!) and then given to guests in an acrylic case. Here’s a video of this unique and amazing process:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpOz1PCTpa4

We had a few course choices (fish, meat, primary dessert), but otherwise dishes were presented one after another in remarkable vessels obviously designed just so.  They were rich thus justifiably on the small side which was just fine as the course count was high by the end.  Photos and descriptions (clockwise from upper left) are neither in the order eaten nor complete as one can only cover so much …

Lobster; Fennel Salad; Black Truffle Souffle with Leek and Potato; Scallop
Veal with Bitter Greens and Pear; Striped Bass with Shitake Mushrooms; Roasted Pumpkin; Glazed Duck with Napa Cabbage/Pear

Of the numerous aspects that made this experience stand out, I’ll cite two.  Midway through the dinner, a lovely woman from “Guest Relations” approached our table and asked if we were ready to tour the kitchen.  We were escorted through an entrance leading to a vast space (guessing about 2,000 sf) of gleaming surfaces, smiling staff bustling about as we tried not to interfere.   A fun and brief quiz was given as to the main ingredient of three apple drinks made before us (allspice, coriander and one other).  We then chatted with Chef de Cuisine Brian Lockwood who seemed unphased engaging us while overseeing his massive staff.  After the visit we were escorted out a different door and back to our table.  It was extraordinary.

At the apple tasting station and Chef Lockwood keeping a watch over his shoulder. The pastry station can also be seen.

The second standout was this:  We left after 3.5 hours in order to have a nightcap with a dear friend in town, taking with us some parting gifts but not the menu.  I was contacted by EMP that night to inquire where we were staying (and for how long) so they could messenger the menu to our hotel before we departed.  A package was delivered the next morning and, as if that weren’t enough, along with the menus was the aforementioned small case containing the wine bottle top.  Inside the case, EMP returned the gratuity we left when we paid for our wine.  In other words, when they say your gratuity is included in your prepayment, they mean it.  Nothing additional is accepted.  Holy crap.  I even confirmed this with my buddy Laura to make sure this is standard procedure and not special treatment for us before writing this.

How to summarize?  One doesn’t start out dining like this.  If one is considering this experience, I suggest starting out a bit more modestly in the world of fine dining and working up to it.  It’s not for everyone for sure. For all of you who “eat to live,” this experience would surely be a waste.  But for others who can and want to appreciate the extraordinary detail that goes into an exceptional and memorable restaurant experience, I say go.  It’s that simple.  I will certainly forever remember my 65th birthday dinner.

Pumpkin Cake; Apple Brandy and insane Chocolate Pretzel, Apple Donut (my fave!); Chocolate with Chai and Gingerbread
The menu – custom printed with each course, fanfolded into a small tin – and some take-home granola.
Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

Big Trip/Big Apple/BIG Birthday

birthday 16

I’m guessing that you’ve figured out the what and the where.  As for what constitutes as a BIG birthday, 65 is definitely one.  If you follow this blog, you know we went to Greece (click for previous posts) for the hubby’s recent milestone birthday.  As for mine, the destination was a no-brainer especially since I love cold weather, great restaurants and shopping, with some theater thrown in because it’s part of what one does in NYC.

We flew American to NY and were really impressed with their new 321T plane which is used for transcontinental routes.  Wow — great plane, modern features, tons of leg room in the exit row, outlets and individual screens at each seat.  We got upgraded for our return (15K miles and $70 each); it was fabulous!

Bottom left is exit row en route to NY; other pix are the new business class seats.

It was a “no holds barred” kind of trip (within reason, of course) because a 65th birthday happens just once.  And when one is fortunate enough to have so much, it’s time to both partake and reflect.  The latter comes in a bit.

Loews Regency Hotel on Park and 61st got the where-to-stay nod after much debate (with myself and the internet).  To me this is a very central location for our plans; we had a terrific previous stay; and, the rate didn’t necessitate a second mortgage.  I chose three shows, all purchased in advance:  The Band’s Visit, My Fair Lady and Network (Bryan Cranston!).  Might I add that none of the NY tickets (all Orchestra seats) cost as much as what we paid for Dear Evan Hansen in Los Angeles.  Go figure that one out.

Hotel greetings; Network curtain call; The Band’s Visit; Still lit up in NYC

There’s a few places and restaurants where I’ve always wanted to go but never have on innumerable trips to NYC.  One is Peter Luger Steakhouse.  So many people have so many opinions about the “best steak” place to go, but one doesn’t stay in business for 130+ years with lousy food.  This was on my to-do list so that we high-tailed it to Brooklyn straight away after a fabulous performance of My Fair Lady.  Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle is worth the price of admission, if only to see him perform “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Steak, fries, lamb chops and a mountain of whipped cream

It’s also no surprise that where to dine for the actual birthday dinner was given a lot of thought.  Several months ago, I put a reminder in my calendar of the date when January reservations open up for Eleven Madison Park — notoriously difficult to book.  Three Michelin stars and consistently on the World’s Best list.  Parenthetically, if you click on that link, #15 is White Rabbit in Moscow.  Yikes.  We did not think it was so wonderful on our visit there in May.  So lists can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.

Nonetheless, EMP had availability for Jan 8 so with the hubby’s blessing, the booking was made (and pre-paid in full).  The experience was so extraordinary that I’m dedicating a separate post to it (to follow).  The night before was a return trip to Daniel — an absolute favorite and site of my perfect 60th.  The restaurant is consistently grand and Daniel Boulud was in the house.

Below is the custom menu delivered at the end of the night.  I’m always grateful for this so I don’t have to either take notes or try to remember what scrumptious dishes were served!  Inside the box is a small pastry to take with, just in case we needed another bite …

In the kitchen with Chef Boulud and with the wine director lower right.
Five years ago on my 60th.

We got to visit with family as well for Sunday brunch at Les Leopard des Artistes, close to Lincoln Center.  And we had a late night drink with a dear Houston friend who happened to be in NY.  Remarkably this is the second birthday in a row we’ve seen him (see post)!

Regular readers might remember Aunt Judy (blue coat) who traveled to India with us. Her husband, son, daughter & son-in-law made up a lovely group!
We met up with Houstonian Fred Zeidman (left) and his NY friend Gary to close the bar in the wee hours.
First visit to Russ & Daughters Cafe, Lower East Side, for transparent salmon, amazing latkes, egg cream, rugulah and clever wallpaper
Bergdorf’s shoe department, where the hubby’s “dogs” are in repose as I scoured the sales racks (sadly, nothing for me)

As for the reflection part,  I am indeed blessed.  A loving and devoted husband, adult children launched and flourishing in their respective careers, a successful business with loyal clients, seeing the world, two close sisters and great friends.  It’s a lot.  I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts to make the choices in life that resulted in all of this.  No doubt, some luck was involved as well.  But I wake up every day happy in wonderful surroundings.  So life at 65 is pretty, pretty good.

 

International TravelThings I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. Travel

OUT WITH THE OLD; IN WITH THE NEW

2019-New-Year-Text

It’s that time to look back at where we’ve been in 2018 and look forward to what’s ahead in 2109.  Click on any of the bold type to view that post!

Where we went:

Texas Hill Country

Eastern Europe (Helsinki/Tallinn/Riga/Vilnius)

Moscow & Paris

Pacific Northwest (Bellingham, Lummi Island, Seattle)

Road Trip:  CA/NV/UT/CO/KS/MO/OK/TX/NM/AZ (in four days)

Greece (Athens/Mykonos/Santorini)

Las Vegas

Where we’re going:

New York City (BIG birthday)

Asia (Taiwan/Vietnam/Cambodia/Kuala Lumpur)

Wedding celebrations in Puerta Vallarta, Philly & Boston 

And I think more to come … 

 

Thank you for reading.  I wish everyone a healthy, happy and prosperous 2019!

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

WINTER BASEBALL MEETINGS … IN LAS VEGAS(!)

IMG_20181210_190036
Kevin Millar and Chris Rose live

Las Vegas is the destination for this fun annual event was a quick getaway for me (with the Hubby and son Sam) — little more than 48 hours there.  For lots of folks (myself included), that is the right amount of time in this crazy town. Cool temps were definitely a plus as the last time I was there, it was at least 110 degrees .. but, you know, “dry heat.”  Ugh.

This is an opportunity to mix it up with fellow baseball lovers, folks who work in the industry and likely some players.  We didn’t go into this “cold,” but rather at the urging of friends who are regular attendees and would help us navigate the landscape.  The home base is Mandalay Bay, but I opted for accommodations at the nearby Aria Resort.  I must say, the rooms are very  reasonable — Deluxe King for $160/night including taxes.  Yes, there’s probably better deals, but I was happy with the rate and the hotel is close to where we needed to be.

My kind of slot machine
View from the room

I even signed up for “MLife” which is the loyalty program/booking site for anything related to MGM Grand properties. There are 14 alone in Vegas (not to mention elsewhere in the US and Internationally).  Will I ever use it again?  Who knows.  But it certainly made it easier to have a site where I could look at all the restaurants and activities.  Of the former (places to eat), one could go brain dead making that decision.  Good lord, the choices are overwhelming.  Not wanting to spend a ton (saving that for next month’s big trip to the Big Apple for the BIG BIRTHDAY), I opted for Rivea at the nearby Delano.  “After Saint-Tropez and London, Rivea finally comes to the Las Vegas restaurant market, offering a renewed take on a French and Italian influenced cuisine from internationally celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse.” 

Paccheri pasta with short rib ragu (amazing)
Loin of Venison

The restaurant is on the top floor of the hotel with gorgeous views of the city.  The menu is a bit small, but the food is delicious and the wine list is excellent.  We were quite happy with the meal, after which we headed to see the action at Mandalay Bay.  The good news with consuming lots of food in Vegas is getting anywhere requires a tremendous amount of walking, so there’s little guilt involved.  Just walking the ground floor of most properties is a trek, not to mention getting to the parking garage for a cab or ride share vehicle.   There wasn’t too much happening but Sam did see Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez and Dodger president Stan Kasten was dining nearby.  Hmmm, what trades were being discussed?  The rumor mill was on full throttle.

Swarovski Christmas tree on display at the Crystal Shoppes — 55 feet tall

We strolled the event during the day but couldn’t talk our way into the massive exhibition hall.  After learning the only other way was shelling out $150 per person to get credentials, we passed.  Without a doubt, the high point of the trip was a wonderful dinner at Carbone, chosen by Sam.  This classic Italian eatery out of Greenwich Village still does a table-side Caesar salad, which few places bother to do. 

Just stop right there ..
Veal parm divided four ways
Carpaccio with mushrooms and capers
Spicy rigatoni a la vodka and gemelli with spicy sausauge
Fork poised over the Nutella tiramisu

Our friend found out a large group would be taking one of the private rooms, and we happened to be seated right in their path.  Wearing one of my Dodger t-shirts under a blazer turned out to be a good idea as my bona fides were established when I stopped first Joe Torre followed by Orel Hershiser for brief chats and photo ops.  In fact, Orel commented: “I can’t believe this woman just flashed me!” He was talking about the t-shirt, of course.  Getting his attention by calling him Bulldog — his well-known nickname — certainly helped.  Both gentleman were very accommodating before moving on.  

With MLB exec and former Dodger manager Joe Torre
With Hall of Famer (now announcer) Orel Hershiser – aka “Bulldog”

Alas, Vegas is just not for me.  Too big, too flashy, too everything … and certainly the last location in the U.S. that allows smoking indoors!  I do see the attraction for many travelers who seek more of everything, especially a good bang for their buck — not unlike going on a cruise ship with 3000+ people.  To each his own, but I’ll stick with a bit of “less is more.” 

 

The colors of Italy — and really delicious cake