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Entries in Travel (43)


New Orleans in my words and pictures

Just like Hong Kong, Lyon, and Paris, I had an inkling that I would fall in love with New Orleans.  And that was before I had even stepped foot in the city!  Sometimes, as they say, you just know...

From the moment I landed at Louis Armstrong, I was captivated by the mid seventy-degree spring weather, the warm local hospitality, and the spattering of palm trees.  After all, it made for quite the welcome change from frigid NYC. 

Because of the St. Patrick’s Day parades that Saturday, I was bummed to have to cancel my 1PM brunch reservation at Commander’s Palace, as the concierge informed me that, due to street car-closings, getting to/from could be quite unpredictable for a new visitor to the city.  This deviation in plans actually led me to Luke, a John Besh restaurant, located much closer to the Hotel Monteleone (my residence for the week).  I mention this particular meal because of the friendly local folks that I met while dining solo at the bar.  From this early first impression, the residents of New Orleans seemed incredibly welcoming and genuinely enthusiastic to have me in their town. 

Luke: A welcome toast to myself, from myselfLuke: My first bowl of gumbo!Luke: "Eggs in a Jar" - jalapeno cheese grits, fried Gulf shrimp, pooached eggsPost-lunch, I must have meandered down every street in the charming French Quarter.  Although I knew about the city’s open-container “leniency,” I still did a double take every time I passed someone sucking down their ‘Bloody in a plastic cup while strolling down Royal Street.  When it was my turn to grab a cocktail, I was tickled to note a stack of plastic “to go” cups located at a table near The Carousel Bar’s exit.  That wouldn’t be the last display I observed during my trip, either...

Being a self-proclaimed Francophile, staying in the French Quarter transported me back to the cobblestone streets of Lyon and Paris.  On a daily – and nightly – basis.  Beyond this famed neighborhood, however, the French influence was also present in the names of streets, parishes, food items, and cocktails.  And, speaking of food, I made the following observations: 

  • It seemed like most seafood dishes were composed of local Gulf treasures, from fish to shellfish.
  • French bread is standard/default at nearly every restaurant's table. 
  • For tourists who wish to immerse themselves in local cuisine, it is not hard to go a full week without eating a raw vegetable or fruit. 
  • Everyone has their own rendition of gumbo. 
  • Turtle soup is a delicacy that can be found on most “high end” restaurant menus.   And, despite the fact that I adore sea turtles, I was informed that the meat used in the famous soup is from that of the "mean, snapping turtle" variety.  "Honey, these are the kinds of turtles that will gladly bite your finger off."  It was this tidbit of information that finally convinced me to order a bowl during my brunch at Restaurant Revolution.

Restaurant Revolution: I ate turtle soup...and loved it! Sorry PETA...There were only a handful of nights when I didn’t go to sleep to some sort of pulsing car bass or the music from a jazz instrument.  New Orleanians will find any excuse to party, even when celebrating the lives of the deceased.  In fact, on our walk to Dooky Chase’s, I was warmly taken aback by the large group of family and friends eating, toasting, dancing, and reminiscing over the life of a fellow father/brother/friend/husband (I know that is was a male because his picture was prominently displayed on a tripod). 

In terms of race and culture, I found New Orleans to be just as segregated as any other city in the US.  From observation, alone, it appeared as though most races/cultures stuck together, both socially and residentially.   However, where poor neighborhoods remained heavily ravaged by infamous natural disasters (with the exception of the houses built by Brad Pitt’s organization in the Lower Ninth Ward), wealthier areas were thriving.  The racial divide and disparity between rich and poor could not have been more blatant and, quite honestly, it made me very uncomfortable.  During any given day, there were moments where I felt like I was in Detroit.  Then, not more than a few miles later, I was transported to ritzy Charleston proper. 

Some interesting factoids I learned during my trip:

  • “Dixie” comes from the French word “dix,” which means “ten.” 
  • The meaning behind each quadrant of a FEMA markingPhoto found on Wikipedia

My favorite experiences during the trip were:

  • Shopping, strolling, people watching, and architecture-awing in the French Quarter
  • Street musicians/talent
  • Driving through vacant, hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods
  • Daily praline sampling
  • Southern Candy Makers  It's true.  They really do have the best pralines in Nawlins.  My favorite being the peanut butter variety.
  • Gazing at the Natchez river boat on the murky Mississippi
  • Southern breakfasts, in general, namely from the daily buffet at Criollo: Sausage gravy-drenched biscuits, grits, bacon, roasted potatoes, and scrambled eggs
  • The best damn airport grub I've EVER eaten - in the form of shrimp 'n grits - courtesy of Ye Olde College Inn

The Big Easy is an incredibly special and complicated place that is chock-full of beauty, tragedy, sweet and sour history, and a “gumbo” of cultures and races.  Having had the privilege of seeing New Orleans through the lense of many resident experts (thanks to my very well-connected Master's program at NYU), I can honestly say that this trip was positively life altering. 

I left a piece of my heart in New Orleans.


Laissez les bons temps rouler, y'all!

The Lunch Belle       


If you're going to San Francisco...

In the summer of 1999...

  • I was 18 years old.
  • I had just completed my freshman year of college.
  • I visited San Francisco/Napa for the first time.

That was fourteen years ago.  And, until recently, it had been that long since I last visited the Bay Area.  When my friend, Emily moved to SF (as the locals call it) a little over a year ago, I promised to come visit just as soon as time would allow.  And what better than a long holiday weekend in November?   

Being that all I had, in terms of days to take from work, was Veteran's Day (Monday), I wanted to maximize my time in California.  And, by that, I mean not spending a ridiculous amount of it in the air.  After all, the flight time from coast to coast is roughly 6-hours! 

JetBlue is so 5 years ago, by the way.  Virgin, my friends, is the only way to fly to San Francisco.  From the sexy mood lighting in the cabin - electrical outlets in every seat - and the ability to order food, drink, and retail products from your personal in-flight monitor to the awesome/hysterical pre-flight safety video, Virgin is the shit.  Period. 

After Emily picked me up from the airport, she drove me through a few of her favorite neighborhoods prior to our brunch reservations.  I made sure that we cruised through The Castro, a predominately gay/lesbian neighborhood, with which I became intimately familiar after having read And The Band Played On


For brunch, Emily and I scored two seats at the chef's counter at Nopa, one of SF's most popular restaurants...

Autumn Cocktail: La Guita Manzanilla, pear liqueur, allspice dramCream biscuit with pear butterDate and crescenza cheese sconeKale salad: Asian pear, walnuts, oregano, pecorinoBrisket with roasted root veggies, toasted croutons, and horseradish cremeCustard French toast with caramelized apples and maple butterBefore you start judging, I will have you know that Emily and I *split* all of the above dishes.  And, yes, they were just as fcuking fantastic as they look! 


560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117


After brunch, we drove by a few more sights before returning to Emily's apartment so that I could nap.  For dinner that evening, we enjoyed a pizza and pasta carb-fest at local Italian favorite, Flour + Water.  In fact, I'm *still* dreaming about the white pizza we shared that was topped with hen of the woods mushrooms, nettles, shallots, garlic, and fontina cheese.

Flour + Water

2401 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110


On Sunday, Emily, her friend, Katherine, and I headed to Napa via the Golden Gate Bridge!

Once in "wine country," our first stop was at Oakville Grocery, a fabulous gourmet market/cafe to pick up some snacks - my favorite being Tout Sweet Patisserie's incredibly delicious pates de fruits!


Swanson Vineyards

Does it get any more charming than this?


Cakebread Cellars


Robert Sinskey Vineyards


After a long day of wine tasting (I know, rough life!), we checked in to the Andaz Napa.  What a fabulous hotel!


For dinner, we walked to The Thomas, a restaurant that was opened about a year ago by New York-based AvroKo.

Freshly-baked focaccia and olive oilRoasted beet saladArugula and fried goat cheeseKale and dried apricotsPork ribsBlue cheese-scalloped potatoesI really enjoyed my experience at The Thomas.  From the fantastic venue - first floor is the bar, second floor is the dining room - to the Sunday Supper deal, this place is a local winner!

The Thomas 

815 Main St, Napa, CA 94559


For breakfast, we grabbed a bite at the hotel's restaurant, Andaz Farmers Table.

Freshly-squeezed juice for the takingGoat's milk yogurt with grapes and granola.

After checking out of the hotel, we drove to O'Brien Estate Winery for our first tasting of the day. 


Paradise!Between sips of wine, we nibbled on cheese, nuts, and grapes.


For lunch, we drove to Sonoma and ate al-fresco at The Girl & The Fig.

A trio of cheese and accoutrementsSeared scallopsBrie-cheeseburger and friesCroque monsieurThe Girl & The Fig

110 W. Spain St, Sonoma, CA  


After visiting two more wineries, including Ram's Gate, which was my overall favorite, the three of us drove back to San Francisco.  On our way, I learned that the infamous maximum-security prison, San Quentin, is located in ritzy Marin County!  Random.

For my last handful of hours in San Fran, Emily and I decided to do what we do best...eat!  We were able to score a two-top at local favorite, Burma Superstar.  

Le menuRainbow saladTea leaf saladCoconut riceSpicy garlic shrimpBurma Superstar

309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118


I really enjoyed my visit to San Francisco and Napa.  As a total NYC food snob, I was very pleasantly surprised by the abundance of outstanding local producers, gourmet shops, restaurants, and cocktail venues.  I think I've met my West Coast match.


Until we eat again, 

The Lunch Belle


My favorite spots & experiences on the island of Oahu

As many of you know, I recently returned (OK, it's actually been a month-ish now, but who's counting?) from a week-long holiday in paradise.  Otherwise known as the Hawaiian island of Oahu... 

Since one of our family members owns a beach-front home in the town of Kailua (located on the windward side of Oahu), as a youngster, I was fortunate enough to get to vacation there every other Christmas break.  And, while I appreciated it then, it really wasn't until this most recent visit that I fell even deeper in love with this remote isle of paradise.   

So, if you find yourself planning a visit to the island of Oahu, have a look at some of my personal recommendations and experiences, below.  Mahalo!


Planes, trains, and automobiles

Obviously, you can't drive to the islands of Hawaii.  Or take a train.  Boat?  Maybe.  Personally, I'd rather get there as soon as humanly possible, so I fly.

Unlike family members, you have the good fortune of being able to choose which air carrier will have the privilege of flying you to paradise.  Might I recommend Hawaiian Airlines?  If you think that all most of the domestic carriers suck as much as I do, then I'm willing to be that you'd be quite pleasantly surprised by Hawaiian.  From the soothing ukulele music playing overhead - the less expensive seat/class upgrades than "the other guys" - the quality selection of Hawaiian food/snacks and beverages - to the indescribable feeling of truly "leaving it all behind" from the moment you board, there really isn't a faster way to physically - or mentally - get to Hawaii.

Doesn't the "hula girl" on the tail make you smile?To rent a car or to not rent a car?  That is the question.  And here's the answer:  RENT A CAR!  There are just way too many amazing adventures to be had outside of Honolulu/Waikiki Beach. 



The Hilton Hawaiian Village is the first - and the only - place I've ever stayed on Waikiki Beach.  While there are tons of fabulous hotels to choose from, I don't think I could bare to try something else.  It would be like cheating on a significant other.  Or something.  I don't know - I just can't explain it.  Sure, the rooms aren't anything extraordinary - aside from the fact that most have balconies - but the grounds are quite spectacular.  And, if you're in town on a Friday, make sure to catch the weekly fireworks show that begins around 6:45pm!  It's quite an event. 

Pulling up to the open-air lobby of the Hilton Hawaiian VillageThe Rainbow Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian VillageHilton Hawaiian Village: A plethora of shops awaitHilton Hawaiian Village: Hang out with tropical penguins!Hilton Hawaiian Village: Make sure to snag an ocean-front room with killer views of Waikiki BeachHilton Hawaiian Village: Grab a Hawaiian breakfast on the beach at Tropics Bar & GrilleHilton Hawaiian Village: Sunbathe and play on Waikiki Beach ...


From Pearl Harbor to Hanauma Bay, I've done nearly every adventurous/historical activity on the island of Oahu.  And, while all of them are very much worth checking out, one of the most epic was our recent visit to the infamous North Shore.  Unlike in the winter time, during the summer months, the legendary waters that produce 30-foot waves are transformed in to a glassy and serene swimming pool, of sorts.  

Head to Waimea Bay Beach Park for an adrenaline-packed day of...wait for it...cliff diving!  If that sounds too adventurous for you, bring some snorkel gear, a camera, some sunscreen and enjoy a relaxing day on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  As for me?  I'll wave to you from the cliff.  Pre-jump.

Waimea Bay Beach Park: Cliff diving in paradiseWaimea Bay Beach Park: Excited to climb up the cliff for jump #2...

My favorite spots to dine & nibble on the island of Oahu

Island Snow

Shave ice!Matsumoto Shave Ice

Green tea shave ice with sweet red beans and vanilla ice creamBuzz's Steakhouse

Kalapawai Market - Cafe

Agnes' Portuguese Bakeshop

MalasadasManny's Bakeshop & Restaurant

Mini onion and red bean hopiaTanaka of Tokyo


Foods/drinks you *must* try while in Hawaii

Ahi poke

Shave ice

Macadamia nuts


POG juice

Purple sweet potatoes

Haupia pie/cake


Azuki beans

Mai Tai

Mai Tai

For another great resource for all-things-Oahu, check out Live Your Aloha dot com's "Ultimate Guide to Visiting Oahu."  


Until we hula again,

The Lunch Belle


South Beach Wine & Food Fest, 2013

For those of you who have been around for a while, you know that every February, my friend, Emily, and I shed our winter-weather gear and head to Miami for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.  It's a weekend that I look forward to all year long.  Why?  Because, aside from the obvious (my passion for food and wine), there's just something about Miami Beach that works for me.  Clicks.  Does it.  I often say that it is the "perfect beach city," as the sea water is warm and the prettiest hue of turquoise blue - there's a strong Latin culture and flair - an abundance of fabulous shopping - world-class night life and dining - and some of the best looking people on the planet.  Oh, and temperatures in February range anywhere from 75 to 85 degrees (Fahrenheit). 

Where does the time go?  Seriously, I'm having some issues coming to grips with the fact that my 3-day food and sun-soaked weekend has passed.  However, I'm already looking in to hotel reservations for 2014!  The dates for next year's Festival, by the way, are 2/20-2/23.  So, in the meantime, please enjoy my recap from yet another fabulous visit to Miami.


Thursday, 2/21

Just call me your personal "travel martyr."  Why?  Because I thought that I was saving a bundle by flying in to Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami.  And, technically, I was.  Until I saw my bill for the 45-minute cab ride to the hotel.  $80, folks!  Pre-tip.

This year, Emily and I decided to stay at the Fountainebleau, which is located next door to Eden Roc, where we stayed last year.  We wanted to try something different and, after having checked out Fountainebleau's hot pool scene last year, decided that we'd be better positioned to meet men.  And famous chefs. 

After checking in, the first thing Emily and I did was head down to the pools/beach.  We did not want to miss a minute of sunshine!

Fountainebleau lobbyFountainebleau's many poolsCheers! Nothing like a poolside frozen margarita to officially kick off a holiday weekend!...and fresh fruit-infused ice water when you need a break from that frozen cocktail.Prior to our 8pm dinner reservation, Emily, Josh, and I headed to the W hotel's outdoor lounge, Grove, to meet my friend, Tammi, for a cocktail.  Oh, how I wish we could have stayed there all night!  Legit, Grove was one of the coolest outdoor cocktail venues I've ever been to.  In the world.  This, fellow travelers, is a Miami *must.*

For dinner, we met up with Yasmin and Mike at Quinn's.  The five of us were seated at a prime outdoor table overlooking famous Ocean Drive

Per our adorable Cuban waiter's advice, I whetted my palate with a muddled-watermelon mojito. It was outstanding!The bread basket was absolutely fabulous, namely because of the freshly-baked popover, which was paired with strawberry butter. (I ate three of them over the course of the eve.)I live for stone crab claws, and this piece was the single best claw that I've had, to date!This Caribbean-inspired red snapper entree was listed on Quinn's menu as being one of their house specialties. Josh and I decided to split the dish and, while we agreed that the fish was fresh and well-seasoned, its accompaniments - grilled plantains, squash, black beans - reminded us of "conference food." Lukewarm, gummy, flavorless, and incredibly "1990s."This was the best key lime pie that, I believe, I've ever had. The tart curd/filling was not frozen - the graham-cracker crust was still a bit crunchy - and I loved the raspberry drizzle.After dinner, Emily headed to one of the Festival events, while I retired to our hotel room.


Friday, 2/22

Because chaise lounges are such a hot commodity, I ran down to the pool before 9am (!!!) to snag two for Emily and me.  The effort!  Then, I grabbed my goggles and went for a dip in the beautiful ocean...

When I got out, I almost stepped on this...

Portuguese "man o' war"Upon my return to the pool area, I noticed a film crew and learned that Telemundo was shooting a chef's demonstration with Richard Sandoval

Richard Sandoval for TelemundoAs if a famous chef and a near-jelly fish-bite weren't exciting enough, the lunch I ordered, poolside, was *actually* really delicious.  Who'd have thought?  Grilled mahi-mahi fish tacos came drizzled with cilantro crema and were accompanied by cole slaw and a fantastic salsa.  Bam!

Poolside at the Fountainebleau: Grilled fish tacos, cole slaw, salsa After putting a serious dent in my new beach read, Why Men Love Bitches, I delved in to a little retail therapy and scored a gorgeous pair of Valentino riding boots for 50% off! 

What's a vacation w/o a sassy beach read?"You had me at 50% off." My new Valentino riding boots...Post-shopping, I met Alex and Chef Cesare Casella for a cocktail in the lobby of the hotel.

Me, Cesare Casella, and AlexMy first event of the weekend was the Amstel Light Burger Bash, which kicked off at 7:30pm on the beach at the Ritz-Carlton.    

My official media pass!Me and EmilyEntry to the 'BashFolks waiting on line for burgersChef Laurent Tourondel (right)!Look who else came out! GUY FIERI!Burgers.  Burgers.  And more BURGERS!  I was in hog heaven (or, should I say "beef heaven")...

This was, by far, one of the most delicious nights I've had in recent memory.  My favorite burger of the thirty-four was from Miami's own Burger & Beer Joint.  The "Susie Q" was composed of:  Aged sharp cheddar, smoked applewood bacon, tomato jam and spicy mayo on a brioche bun.  Crispy dill pickles and buttermilk ranch (dressing) accompanied.

My favorite burger: Burger & Beer Joint's "Susie Q"...

Saturday, 2/23

As per usual, I was up early and headed down to the pool to grab chaise lounges.  This morning, however, I had to snag 8 chairs instead of just 2.  Since Emily had befriended 4 new people and invited Yasmin and Mike to join us, I literally had to place a piece of random collateral - sunscreen bottles, water bottle, magazines - on an entire row of chairs.  Once everyone slowly started to arrive, I decided that it was time to crack open the 40oz. can of malt liquor that Emily's friend brought for me in a paper bag.  Remember, dear readers:  I put the "ass" in "class."

Damn right. This is some good stuff, believe it or not!At around 1pm, I headed back to our room to change out of my swimsuit and wander over to my next Festival event:  Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village.  Held beach-side on the sand was a literal "tent village," consisting of cooking demos, book signings, and a massive grand tasting.  While the sights were lovely and impressive, and the talent lineup was fantastic, I found the event, itself, uncomfortably crowded and hot.  I only lasted about 20-minutes, from entry to exit.  :( 

Entry to the Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village

Cooking demoChef Aaron Sanchez's cooking demoInside the preassure cooker/grand tentA bunch of tastings that, sadly, I did not sample because I was so uncomfortable...Something I did get to try, however, was a Mama's Guava Bar.  Guava, if you did not know, if my favorite fruit, and I adored these chewy bars laced with the stuff.  I don't know who "Mama" is, but I totally wanted to hug her.   

Mama's Guava BarsLike I said further above, I got the hell out of that grand tent as soon as I possibly could.  Famished, since I had not sampled much of the food, I went back to my hotel and noshed on a spicy tuna roll.

Blade at the Fountainebleau: Spicy tuna rollAfter a fabulous afternoon nap in my comfy hotel bed (I know, life is really hard), Em and I got ready and joined two of our new friends (who we met at the pool) for dinner at local favorite, Pubbelly.  Although the restaurant does not take reservations, we scored an awesome outdoor table without having to wait more than a minute!  Unfortunately, I did not have my fancy camera on me that night, so that explains the lack of photos.  Plus, I'm too embarrassed to share the shiteous shots that I actually snapped of the meal with my iPhone.  So, instead, I will just give a brief, jealousy-inducing synopsis of what we enjoyed:

  • Sour Patch Kid (cocktail):  Sake, pickled pineapple, chili flakes
  • Stone Crab claws
  • Croquetas:  Chorizo, roasted apple aioli
  • BBQ Pork Wings:  Smoked teriyaki, picked grapes slaw, bacon
  • Eggplant Fries:  Housemade ketchup
  • Shortrib & Corn dumplings:  Black truffle, corn soy, shiso, parmigiano
  • Kimchee Fried Rice:  Porkbelly & pineapple

I would wholeheartedly recommend Pubbelly to anyone looking to try multiple, eclectic plates that are packed full of flavor and creativity.  We absolutely loved our experience!

For a night cap, the four of us headed to the uber chic and trendy SLS Hotel, where I realized that, never in my entire life, had I been surrounded by more sexy, breathtakingly gorgeous human beings.  Seriously.  Ladies:  If you want your man to *not* pay you any attention and check out other girls all night, take him here!!  On that note, the public facilities at this hotel, bars and restaurants, are no place to step foot within if you're having a "fat day" or a "bad hair day."  Trust me, you will only feel much worse!


On Sunday morning, I caught another flight out of Fort Lauderdale and headed home.  Although I was sad to leave another outstanding weekend in Miami, I was looking forward to seeing my pup, Lucy, who turned 1 the day prior.  A belated-birthday celebration was in order!

Thanks for this, D Pet Hotels!~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle