Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I'm allergic to shellfish??!!?

I had the loveliest oysters last week from Shuck Oyster Bar, a fairly new restaurant at the OC Mix last week. They were probably the freshest cleanest tasting oysters I've had in a long while, from a small unassuming little shop.  I'm still dreaming of these beauties and counting the days until I can talk someone into buying me a dozen of these gems, along with a cold glass of crisp white wine.  Yes, you can buy my friendship with twelve little oysters...  I'm easy like that.


Kusshi, Hurricanes, and Rappahannock

Duo of sauces plus horseradish
 The vinaigrette was fantastic!  A great marriage of red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, cucumber, onion, sugar, all marinated together for a week to make the loveliest accompaniment to these delightfully fresh oysters shucked right in front of me at the counter.

Oh yeah, I'm allergic to shellfish.  These were that good.
Shuck Oyster Bar

3313 Hyland Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

(949) 420-0478

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Slow down, relax, and have a cocktail

Hello world!  I had taken a wee bit of break from blogging in case anyone had noticed.  Life's been mad, whirling from one event to another, filled with obligations and appointments, whether social or of a "OMG I have to do this NOW right NOW!!!" variety. 

With all that's been going on the last several months, my two speeds have been "run run run" (in a highly panicked preteen boy shriek of terror) or "lie comatose with a martini in my hand" slowly contemplating whether or not I really need to get up to get my hair done (hey, after so long, my hair color is becoming naturally ombre). 

Finally took an afternoon yesterday (after farming the kidlet out on a day-long playdate) to try one of the restaurants at SOCO (South Coast Collection), and more specifically the OC Mart Mix, recently renamed the OC Mix (potato po-tah-to).

Walked into Arc, a restaurant that features cooking done only with a wood burning oven.  The firewood lends a nice mellow rustic smell to the restaurant, described as "New American" by a server.  I see bits of a New Orleans flair, with its black ceilings and old fashioned light fixtures.  The long counter gives a great view of the wood fire pit, and the nifty cocktail station.




Both the drink menu and dining menu are surprisingly limited. Portions are on the smaller side, leading me to think several items should be ordered to share "Family Style". Dishes are brought from kitchen to table, meaning they're brought over hot in the containers they were cooked in.  Loved that!

Flavors were simple yet surprisingly tasty.  One of my favorites was the calamari cooked in a mini cast iron skillet with lemon, onion, roasted potatoes and peppers.  The meatballs were soft, moist, and flavorful (75% ground beef 25% pork = 100% yum!), with a lovely tomato ragout and grilled bread from OC Baking Company.  The Casserole was rich and delicious, an old recipe from the chef's mother.  Chunks of chicken, broccoli, bechamel, and cheddar cheese was baked with a golden crust, and the only thing that could've made it better would've been some bread to scoop it up!

The one minor disappointment was the steak sandwich.  They can make the meatballs, steak, or pork into a sandwich for you during lunch.  The steak was tasty with a nice texture, but it was too distracting with the pickled vegetables and cheese/sauce/whatever added on.  Keep it simple!  I'd definitely just order it as an entree in the future.



Steak sandwich.
All ingredients great separately but together just meh...

One of the yummiest things I ordered was my cocktail, Entry #1, made of Cuban rum, herbsaint, pineapple and lime.  You can't really see it in the picture but it had the niftiest silver spoon/straw with it that made eating /drinking the cocktail messy but fun.  Reminded me of an ombre colored adult slushie!  Stylish and delish!

Entry #1
What a great inspiration for taking some time off to slow down, relax, and grab a cocktail!  Here's to more of these afternoons in the future!

Arc Restaurant
OC Mix
3313 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, California 92626
(949) 375-0749

Monday, August 27, 2012

C Wonder at Fashion Island

I had to giggle at all the accessories at the newly opened C Wonder boutique at Fashion Island sporting the C initial.  I was telling my friend that it was named after me (for Clark).  Hey, after a margarita (or two) at lunch, that was pretty funny shiz. 

Gold Envelope Clutch. C for Clark!  ;)

The look and feel of the store reminds me of a cross between Trina Turk, J Crew, and Tory Burch.  It's no wonder that it has a similar feel to the Tory Burch brand, as Chris Burch is the ex-husband and co-founder of the line.  You can see its similarity in the bright colors and the preppy style, although it reminds me a bit more of a mod-60's Palm Springs socialite.  The pricing is quite affordable as well, with a majority of the pieces ranging from $25 - $200.

I immediately gravitated towards their jewelery section first.  Warm weather pieces came to mind, as large fun earrings, necklaces, and bracelets were displayed, showing bright colors and a lot of gold tones.  One of the more interesting pieces was the bracelet that bears a striking similarity to the Hermes Collier de Chien.  The Saffiano Studded Leather Bracelet is quite an affordable alternative at only $78.

Saffiano Studded Leather Bracelet
*photo via C Wonder website

The China and home goods were one of the most interesting features of the shop.  Whimsical plates with pictures of dog or zebras would make charming hostess gifts, as would the assortment of monogrammed cheeseboards and wine bottle toppers.  Monogrammed dishes would make perfect little candy dishes or a holder for loose knickknacks.

Love the C (Clark) monogram on everything! hehe. Must replicate for my home kitchen...

Another interesting idea for a gift or for yourself would be the complimentary monogram on various clothing or tote bags.  How adorable would a monogrammed blanket with a matching travel tote be as a birthday present for your jetsetter friend?  I was half tempted to monogram my initials on the booty pocket of my pants ala store mannequin.  Talk about "Baby got back!"  ;) 

Pets aren't excluded in this C lifestyle

One of the cool things I thought would be fun was the interchangeable belt buckles with the reversible leather belts.  At the fairly low price of $28 for the gold tone initial buckle and $38 for the tortoise tone, they'd be an easy collectible item for the various colored belts from $48 -$58 each.  I'm tempted to buy a K to wear for my kidlet, although many might wonder if it stands for "Kooky".  :)

It was a surprisingly fun store, and though most of the clothing might be a tad bright for me, the accessories and tableware are charming, fun, and Hampton's chic.  Definitely will be on my list for fab go-to Hostess gifts!

C Wonder
347 Newport Center Dr., Space #347
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas

From my last blog post, twitter, or instagram, you've probably noticed that I went to Las Vegas last week for a summer trip per son's request.  He had a few things on his Must-Do List, which included the Lazy River and Wave Pool at Mandalay Bay Hotel.  I've stayed at both Mandalay Bay, and the connecting theHotel, but have never had a chance to stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas before.  My hotel of choice has normally been Encore or Bellagio, with my last couple of stays being at the new City Center, which include both Aria and Cosmopolitan Hotel.  Even though I knew this was a kid-centric trip, there were just some things that I did not want to compromise on, namely the quality of my suite or the service from the hotel.  Mandalay Bay was NOT going to cut it for me if I had to run around like a crazy person making Las Vegas a "fun, kid appropriate" trip for my son.  I'd need good old fashioned pampering as soon as I returned from whatever (exhausting) adventure I went on that day.

Driveway of the Four Seasons Hotel
*photo via hotel website

 The Four Seasons Hotel had a great online special, offering $100 in hotel credit if you book more than two nights.  I always checked online for specials, then call the hotel reservation line directly to book, just in case there are mutually exclusive specials available on one but not the other.  (Surprisingly, many hotels don't charge the same online pricing as quoted by phone, although most will honor the lower price available on the web.  Always ask; you'll be surprised with how often they'll try and accommodate you.)
We had planned on arriving a certain day, but decided last minute to go a day early, making it an adventurous car trip.  The boys had hoped to stay at a smaller hotel by the California/Nevada border.  We stopped at the Gold Strike Hotel late at night, and walked in with our overnight bag.  Unfortunately, the cigarette smell made the hubby just about faint as we were walking through the lobby/casino, so we immediately turned around and got back into our car. 

Can't believe hubby wanted to leave because of the smell!
And everyone says *I'm* the "Princess"! lol

I called the Four Season Hotel and explained our situation (at close to midnight by then).  Although they were fairly booked, they managed to find us a room to check into that night.  Yay!  I was starting to get nervous about sleeping in the car or something by then...

We checked in to a lovely serene lobby, that was a world away from the typical noisy smokey Las Vegas casino entrance.  Soft music, fresh flowers, and plush couches awaited us at arrival.  We easily checked into our room, and headed straight to the pool the next morning.  While navigating the crowded waters of the Wave Pool and Lazy River at the connecting Mandalay Bay Pools, the hotel moved our belongings over to the suite we had originally booked.  It was spacious and the view was grand.  The decor is the typical Four Season style of classic Mediterranean, although I've heard that they are at present remodeling their rooms to an Art Deco chic, to be fully completed mid-December.   I can't wait to see these remodeled rooms in person, as these photos look amazing! 

*photo via hotel website

Utterly in love with the couch and desk chairs! Sooo fab 
*photo via hotel website

One of the things I really appreciated about the Four Seasons Hotel was the access to the Mandalay Bay Pools.  I had initially thought I'd get a cabana and stay near the Wave Pool, but the prices were beyond ridiculous for what they were (a couple of chairs with what looked like a pop up tent. Uhhh no thank you.  I especially did not appreciate the fluctuating prices of the cabanas and lounge chairs; I'm still amazed that they have the audacity to charge $50 per pool umbrella!)  

Leaving the hubby on kid watch, I ran back to the safe haven of the Four Seasons pool, where chaise loungers, cabanas, towels, sunscreen, etc were all free.  There was a quiet oasis from the screaming and jostling of the other pools.  The only sound I heard was the pool attendant asking me how my mimosa was.  Perfection.

View of the Mandalay Bay/Four Seasons tower from the pool

Comfy beds strategically placed around the pool for naps

Boys headed to Mandalay Bay, Me headed to heaven aka Four Seasons pool

The only thing I had to do that day was to enjoy my delicious Shrimp Tacos at the Verandah Restaurant, located adjacent to the pool.  The shrimp was fresh and flavorful, and the portions were quite large. The Verandah Restaurant was actually one of the areas of the hotel that I was most impressed by.  The decor was minimal, contemporary, and stylish, but the best thing about it was the service.  They were prompt, knowledgeable, and were one of the few staff members that remembered me and my signature drink.  It's always a pleasure when they start shaking your Hendricks martini as soon as you walk in. 

From the bar area of the Verandah restaurant

Yummy Shrimp Tacos with a side of coleslaw
Pasta in a Jar
One of the yummier (and unique) dishes I had for dinner at the Verandah was the Pasta in a Jar.  It was homemade pasta a bit larger than an orchiette, called La Pasta Cotta Nel Vaso – Artichoke Pasta Cooked in a Jar, with Scallops, Calamari, Langoustine, Shrimp, Tomato and Basil.  It was surprisingly fun and tasty, and I thought it would be a neat dish to try and recreate for an informal dinner party at home. 
We had a couple more casual dinners at Mandalay Bay.  They had a little strip of restaurants and shops, which included Lush, Urban Outfitters, Ron John Surf Shop, Starbucks, Hussong's Cantina, Slice of Vegas Pizza, and the Burger Bar by Hubert Keller.
The kids begged to go to the pizza shop, so that was quite a big difference from the caliber of Verandah from the night before.  The service was good, the pizzas were large, and there were a variety of choices.  Would I go back??  No.  It wasn't good enough to warrant a second trip.  If I want pizza in the future, I'd probably just go to the hidden pizza place at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where food would be better and the prices more reasonable.

Is this pizza big enough for ya???  ;)

The Burger Bar was one of the places that I DID want to eat.  I've been a fan of Hubert Keller from ages ago at Fleur dy Lys in San Francisco, where Hubert would wander out after an evening of cooking and lounge at the bar chatting with us.  They would create such delicious personalized dinners for my hubby and I, that it was at least year before I realized that they even HAD menus.  I tried the Burger Bar when they first opened, but it felt like they had the typical "new restaurant stumbles", and I had not returned until this trip.

I ordered the basic Build-Your-Own-Burger, starting with a Black Angus patty on a potato bun, adding coleslaw, pepperjack cheese, chipotle aioli, and jalapenos, with a side of zucchini fries.  I also had the Irish Coffee milkshake, made with coffee ice cream, coffee liquor, Irish whiskey, caramel syrup, and whipped cream.  It was so yummy I drank it down before I remembered to take a picture.  It was a good meal, and I loved all the options available, from foie gras toppings, kobe patties, different bacons, veggies, and an assortment of condiments.  Prices aren't cheap, but it's what I think of as "Las Vegas Chef pricing".  I'd rather spend my money at restaurants tables than at the gambling tables, so it's money well spent for me!

As great as the Burger Bar milkshake was the night before, I wanted to have a nice quiet dinner the following night, so we ate at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse in the Four Seasons Hotel.  They had Nolet gin, which I adore with a lemon zest!  Service was great, as I highly appreciate when restaurants are accommodating and gracious to children.  I've often said that the way to most customer's hearts are through their children, and I am no exception.

Food was great, as you'd expect to find at any of the Charlie Palmer group of restaurants.  My favorite dishes were the Lobster Spaghettini I had for my appetizer, and one of the sides that was gobbled up by the whole group, the Lobster Fried Rice. 

Lobster Spaghettini

Deconstructed Caesar Salad

Lobster Fried Rice

Kid's Breakfast Room Service

One of the things I've continually admired about the Four Seasons Hotels are their Kid's Menus.  Any parent can tell you how much we despise restaurants or hotels that offer limited and unhealthy choices for Children's menus, as if what we feed our precious children is unimportant and mainly just an afterthought.  The Four Seasons Group consistently offers healthy menu items at very reasonable prices.  My son loved his room service breakfast every morning, and I loved having the peace of mind that he wasn't off eating a stale donut from some hotel coffee shop.  They also had great poolside menus for kids, and I thought it was so charming to see the boys having their meals on their pool loungers with linen service.  Kudos to FS for making healthy children's menus available.  
*In the spirit of complete disclosure, I do have to admit that service wasn't quite on par to the other Four Seasons Hotels I've stayed in.  One of the things that the Four Seasons staff normally does well is their customer service.  They're always quick to say hello or offer a smile, most times remembering your name.  This was one of the very few stays I've had, if not the only one, where the Four Seasons staff I've run across in the hallways, walkways, or pools, would more often than not, look away from me and not offer a greeting.  It threw me off, as one of the things that typically sets the Four Seasons Hotels apart from others is their gracious hospitality, which I found surprisingly lacking on this trip.  Perhaps it's the constant influx of tourists or that they're going through some sort of a turnover during their remodel???  I'm hoping the management will sort this out before my next trip in a couple months. 

All in all, the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas was a welcome change from the hustle of the typical Strip Hotel.  The serenity of the quiet lobby and pool, in addition to a stellar twitter ( @FSLasVegas )and facebook presence made the trip a pleasure.  It's not every day you're welcome to a hotel with such fun treats! 

I'm going to Las Vegas again in a couple of weeks for a Bachelorette Weekend, and I'm sure I'll be sorely missing the relaxation and calm of the Four Seasons Las Vegas.  That definitely won't be a kid-filled weekend!  But I'll be returning in November to stay here, and I'll be looking forward to some Four Seasons pampering again.  Until then...


Four Seasons Las Vegas Hotel

3960 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89119

5 Best Things to do with Kids in Las Vegas

I LOVE Las Vegas.  I've loved Las Vegas since I was nine and my parents took my sister and I to a road trip visiting the Grand Canyon and Arizona deserts, stopping briefly over to the Circus Circus Hotel for a couple of games before we returned home.  Watching the sparkly acrobats and playing and winning my first Las Vegas game (bean bag tic tac toe) was a heady experience of glamour and good fortune for an impressionable FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) kid.

Cut to college, when I was actually able to legally (wink wink) be in Las Vegas, and I loved Las Vegas as much then as I did when I first saw the neon lights of the Strip as a child.  Of course, it didn't hurt that I won a car playing the quarter slots at the Monte Carlo...  For realz.  Unfortunately, I had just bought a car a month before, and as pretty as the red BMW Z3 was, I didn't have the need to keep and pay for the insurance/maintenance of two new cars soooo... I walked out of the hotel with the money in CASH!  Baller!!!  Uhhh...I really love you, Vegas.  ;)

Cut to the present, and I love Las Vegas just as much, if not more, than I did in the past.  I don't gamble much anymore (I get peeing-in-my-pants-nervous), but there are plenty of other things to do.  The introduction of world class chefs and dining establishments, designer stores and boutiques, and high end clubs and lounges make it an adult paradise and destination.  I adore dressing up, and unlike conservative Orange County, I'll never be the one overdressed like a showgirl when I'm in Las Vegas.  I can wear whatever I want, and it's never too much!!!  ;D   

It's also a pleasant surprise how it's become so family-friendly, while it also has great characteristics of the original Sin City.  I appreciate that I have the option to stay at the Four Seasons or the Mandarin Oriental for a non-smoking hotel option for my son.   Most casino hotels, like the Wynn, Bellagio, or Aria, have great ventilation systems, but nothing beats not having to worry about steering him away from someone puffing on a cigarette while praying for a face card at a blackjack table.  And there are so many options for kids to do while on the Strip, although there are a ton of things available off the Strip as well, in nearby communities like Summerlin or Green Valley.  But a Las Vegas vacation for me is the Strip, from Mandalay at one end, to the Stratosphere at the other.

My 11 year old son was given a choice of vacation options, and he decided on Las Vegas as his last trip of the summer.  We took his best friend with us, and went on a Sin(less) City adventure for a few days last week, and enjoyed some tween activities.  Here are the top five things we did, that I thought were the most fun and appropriate for his age range.

1. Mandalay Bay Pools

Catching a wave!

Soooo many people floating in there... Was like aquatic bumper cars

The Mandalay Bay Hotel has a great pool setup for kids.  They have a sand area, Wave Pool, Lazy River, and various other options for pools.  This was the most important thing for my son, and he HAD to buy a giant inflatable ring for the Lazy River for $25.  He loved it! 

Unfortunately, there are always a ton of people there, and very few shaded areas.  The cabanas change in pricing for how hot the day is and how busy they are.  The first day, cabanas started at $550 and went up to over a thousand for the cheesiest looking cabanas I've probably ever seen in my life, although the pool attendant assured me that the pricing would lower by a couple hundred dollars the next day.  The same goes for their loungers and umbrellas.  That same day, I was quoted $75 per padded lounge and $50 per umbrella. off, anyone??? 

I ran back to the Four Seasons pool of frozen peach daiquiris, chilled towels, and plush FREE shaded lounge chairs as soon as I put my hubby on kid pool watch duty.

2. Bodies the Exhibition & Titanic Exhibit at the Luxor

Bodies was such amazing exhibit!  The boys had learned about the human anatomy in 5th grade, and it was a very educational exhibit.  Everything was well-displayed, informative, and tasteful.  Unfortunately for me, the boys were still a bit in "Goofball-mode", and couldn't help giggling about "droopy balls" upon seeing the male anatomy.  Oy!  lol.  The fetus exhibit was something that definitely should not be missed.  Even the boys had respect for how a baby develops, and the developmentally chronological exhibit was one of my favorites. 

The Titanic - the Artifact Exhibition, was full of personal effects from passengers and the boat itself.  Reading about the different ship levels and passenger classes on the ship (First, Second, and Third), seeing the replicas of staterooms and dining halls, and learning the personal histories of the people on board, was informative and a bit heartbreaking.  The only thing that can be touched is a giant piece of ice in the shape of an iceberg.  You can see how cold it would have been on deck, and see the largest piece of hull recovered from the Titanic.  The last area is filled with the personal items retrieved in suitcases, which is moving and haunting, with a wall listing the lucky survivors and the deceased. 

With both the exhibits, there is no photography allowed, cell phones must be turned off completely, and no bathrooms inside.  They have the option of an audio guide for an additional $6, but it's basically the same information that's written on the walls.

3. Mandalay Bay Shark Reef

This is the one sea life exhibit that we visit every single time we're in Las Vegas.  The displays are clean and the sea creatures are plentiful.  I love the white alligator displayed, although the naughty part of me thinks I'd love it more as a handbag.  (Sorry PETA!)  The piranhas are pretty cool, though I have yet to see them during feeding.  My son adores the touch pool, where you can feel the swimming manta rays and shoe crabs.

Of course, as this attraction is in a hotel, it's fairly small and not the size of Seaworld or the Monteray Aquarium.  You should be able to view the entire attraction in 45 minutes, or if you've seen it almost 30 times like we have, you'll be in and out in twenty.

4. New York New York Arcade & Roller Coaster

Better picture of all the loops!

I asked my son what his absolute favorite thing about Las Vegas was, and he replied "the rollercoaster".  The ride at New York New York Hotel is visible from the Strip, and you can almost imagine the screams as it loops and turns in and out the New York landmarks.  Each ride is $14, but an All Day Pass is only $25, which allows you a shortcut back on the ride (Much cheaper than a reride pass for an additional $7 if you ride at least three times). 

They also have a great arcade, with a nice selection of videogames.  It's the same theory as Dave & Busters (or an older version of Chuck E. Cheese) where they play games for tickets and then redeem them for prizes.  It kills me to pay a ton for games and have him win a $2 inflatable beach ball or something... (eyeroll).  But he loves it there, and it's great for at least a couple hours of excitement and thrills!

5. Stratosphere Hotel Rides


Yup, even I did the rides

My son has had these crazy Stratosphere rides on his mind ever since he saw a show on the Travel Channel.  Of course, he also wants to visit the Mall of America so we can ride the indoor roller coaster and indoor waterpark, but I don't envision that happening anytime soon. 

He really wanted to do the Skyjump, a "controlled" bungee cord jump, but was disappointed to learn that the age requirement was minimum 14 years with Parent approval.  It looked fairly safe, as they wear a special helmet and suit with several harnesses attached to it and to a couple main ropes that are connected to the landing spot.  They then drop feet first into a waiting inflatable.  It's not my first choice of activities I'd like my son to do, but it looked pretty safe for when he comes of age.

Instead, we bought the All Day Unlimited Rides ticket (not including the Skyjump, which is $109.99) for $34 each.  The rides included are the Big Shot (the ride catapults you 160 feet in the air at 45 miles per hour), X-Scream (similar to a teeter totter, that slides you over the edge 866 feet above the ground), and Insanity (a circular arm spinning you over the edge of the hotel while you are face down).   I was lucky not to have already eaten lunch before the last dizzy ride!

Just as a break in between rides, we ate at Top of the World, their fine dining restaurant located a floor underneath the roof and the rides.  The restaurant slowly does a full 360 turn in a hour and a half, allowing you a view of the town miles around the hotel.  The food is not spectacular (more like good but not great, but it was during an off-peak time that we ate), but it's worth a visit for the view alone.

Amazing view!

The three ropes outside the window are for the Skyjump

*Honorable Mention:
M & M's World

It's four floors of M & M!  The have a full wall of every type of color and flavor imaginable, a M & M movie, race car, and every single M & M gift item that you've ever seen and some that you haven't.  I think I left the store five pounds heavier...

World of Coca Cola

It's a world of coke and Coca Cola products.  Fun things are the reproduction vintage items, the photo you can take on the green screen with the polar bear, and the coke cafe is a must!  The 3 float sampler sounded interesting, but we went with the $7 tasting of 16 different flavor sodas from around the world.  Such fun taste testing!

Almost in shock with all the soda choices!

Happy travels!