Crossing the Pacific

The itinerary I had printed a day earlier from UNITED was becoming worn before I even boarded my flight from SFO to Narita, Japan.

Yes. Narita.

I had learned the day before my trip that the flight that was booked for me from San Francisco to Bangkok was not actually a flight from San Francisco to Bangkok. Rather, it was a flight from San Francisco to Narita, Japan. A stop-over. And then another flight to Bangkok. Same flight number. Different plane.

Oh, and hours in the Narita Airport.

The little things United likes to keep from its loyal customers.

I studied the itinerary as I sat on-board the (now) first long-leg of my journey to Thailand, looking at it, hoping that somewhere on that crinkled piece of paper it would tell me just how long my stop-over in Japan was.

Of course, it didn’t.

Resigned to just roll with it, I put the paper back in my messenger bag and waited for the doors to close on the plane so I could get comfortable for this long journey.

I watched as people took their seats in front of me. Across from me. Behind me.

I looked to the two open seats next to me.

No one. Could it be …? Were the Travel Gods actually smiling on this girl today?

I tapped the flight attendant’s arm who was standing next to my row of seats and gestured to the empty ones beside me.

“Is this really happening?” I asked him.

“I think it is,” he said, smiling. “The flight isn’t full.”

Holy crap. 

I hadn’t had a row to myself on a long-haul flight since my first solo backpacking trip in 2002. And now … what was starting to sound like an annoying trip with unexpected stopovers … there was this blissful silver lining of empty seats.

I waited, holding my breath as the final passengers boarded.

FREE. FREE. FREE.

I was given nine hours and 45 minutes of empty seats. During this time I took full advantage, sprawling out nearly immediately, closing the shade (the sun never set on the trip across the Pacific), and relaxing. Ironically, the first film to come on was “Water for Elephants.” The book version is what sparked my initial interest to go visit formerly abused elephants in Thailand.

When we began our descent into Japan, I sat with my face glued to the window, soaking up every detail of the water and whitecaps as it lead to the coastline; the green and red farmland below; the crashing of the waves where they hit the sand.

Well-rested and content, we arrived to Narita, where I learned the stop-over wasn’t really a stop-over, but more of a five hour visit to Japan.

I wandered around my gate aimlessly for a bit, eyeing the sushi restaurant.

I mean … sushi … Japan … I HAD to eat there. Especially since I had no idea if my return ticket included another little stop-over.

I pulled up a seat at the counter and ordered some fresh sushi and cold sake.

I’m in Japan (airport). Eating sushi. Holy crap.

What $52 worth of sushi and sake looks like at the Narita Airport in Japan

I tried to make the lunch last as long as possible. I savored every bite. The fresh, fresh fish. The rice. The cold and delicious sake.

Then, I looked at my bill.

39,000 Yen.

Right.

Since I hadn’t known about my little Japan excursion, I hadn’t looked up the conversion from USD to Yen. I had ordered without thought of the actual cost.

“Excuse me,” I said, turning to the man next to me at the sushi counter. “Do you know what the conversion is for USD?”

Please don’t let it be too bad.

He examined my bill.

“You just paid $52 for sushi and a shot of sake.”

Oh. My. God.

So, one sushi roll, one piece of Yellowtail sashimi and one piece of Ikura later, that was the damage.

I quickly chocked it up to the experience … because … that’s what traveling is all about … and went to the gate, wallet zipped.

A few hours later, I was boarding my next flight to Bangkok. A six-hour trip.

This time, I wasn’t so lucky. I had a seatmate, but he was cool. We talked for a bit about elephants (he mentioned how much he loved his elephant paintings, something I didn’t even know existed), about Bangkok, about travel writing, and then I passed out for almost the entire duration of the flight.

When we arrived to Bangkok, he took me under his wing, walking with me to customs and then showing me where all of the food was located and where I should sleep until my last flight of the day, a one-hour quickie to Chiang Mai, boarded.

After almost 30 hours of traveling, I was in Thailand.

Adventure on!

 

 

 

Asia Thailand

The San Francisco Foodgasm: Off the Grid

Living in Las Vegas means there are tons of amazing food options. You name it, we’ve got it. Five-star restaurants. Michelin rated. Celeb chefs with numerous outlets across town. But, what we don’t have a lot of is food trucks.

Yes, there are some. Las Vegas has, what you could say, a burgeoning street food scene. But, step outside of Las Vegas and into another city, and holy. cow. The street food options are overwhelming.

Abby, Kristin and I had planned on having a low-cost San Francisco/Napa weekend. Before Abby and I even stepped foot on the amazing Virgin flight, we had discussed, at length, our dining options for the weekend.

We were for sure hitting: Oxbow Market in Napa. And, Off the Grid in San Francisco.

I’ve never really been into the street food scene, mostly because I work in the back of a restaurant and I eat, sleep and breathe restaurant food. But, this … this street food orgy, sounded pretty fantastic.

It started with a conversation between us and the awesome blogger, Spencer Spellman, a recent newbie to San Fran. His goal? To eat his way through the food trucks at Off the Grid.

Naturally, we decided to join him on this adventure.

The day of our flight, also the day of Off the Grid, Abby and I were messaging each other back and forth. Apparently, the weather in San Francisco was not what we were used to in Las Vegas.

Low 60s. Drizzle. Which, in Las Vegas/desert life translates into “holy shit, it’s f#$%ing cold.”

“What do we wear? What does 60 degree weather even feel like?” We asked each other.

“It’s soooo cold.” We lamented.

So, when we finally arrived to town, the clouds were thick and the threat of rain hung in the air.

Abby pulled her winter coat tighter, and  I, clad only in jeans, Chucks and a cardigan, wondered what the hell I was thinking when I packed.

Quick enough, Kristin was at the BART station to pick us up and drive us over to our hotel, the historic and palatial Fairmont Hotel.

We quickly re-grouped. I grabbed a sweater. Then, we headed down to grab a tiki cocktail with some PR ladies from the hotel. And then, it was getting late. And we were hungry.

The three of us headed over to the marina and Fort Mason, where we were greeted with the ultimate street food festival.

Our first stop: The Taco Guys

Yes, we had heard about it. But, what we encountered was immense.

An entire huge parking lot was converted into a food festival. Trucks. Tents. Smells. Plates. In all about 30 trucks were parked there offering just about everything under the sun.

Off the Grid, founded by Matt Cohen, is a rotating street food market. Monday through Saturday, it stops in various locations across the city, with anywhere from a few to a little more than 10 food trucks. But, Friday night is the Grand Daddy of all Off the Grid’s. It’s when people flock to the street food scene. The love the city feels for the event is apparent.

Entry is free, and then it’s a free-for-all. Want tacos? No problem. How about a new drink concoction (I tried hibiscus cinnamon tea)? OK. Gourmet rotisserie? Cajun? Korean? Artisan burgers? Check. Check. Check. Then, there’s the desserts. Creme brulee. Cupcakes. Cakes.

You want it, Off the Grid has it.

Plus, there’s a beer and wine tent and live music.

Our group ended up being six total, and we took turns going to trucks and getting food for everyone to taste.

Somehow, between the mix of plates and wine, I tried duck.

On accident.

I have sworn up and down I would never eat the cute lil’ guys. Every night at work, I see them hanging, featherless, ready for consumption. And, I have just never been able to convince myself to try the game.

We were eating tacos, and they saved one for me. I rolled the meat around in my tongue.

“This … tastes … not like chicken,” I said.

Abby and Spencer looked at what I was holding. The not-chicken-colored-meat glared back at us.

“It’s my duck!” Abby exclaimed.

One of each

I washed it down with some red wine, then we headed over to the infamous creme brulee stand where Nutella strawberry and french vanilla with honey was being offered.

Of course, I had to sample both little bowls of yum.

Sinful.

And, then it was 10 p.m. and the stalls were closing.

We wrapped up our night with some drinks at a local Japanese restaurant, then Abby and I headed back to the Fairmont.

Stomachs full. Ready for our Napa leg of our whirlwind NoCal weekend.

 

 

Americas Blog California Nevada Reviews

The Las Vegas Foodgasm: Wicked Spoon

Katie and I wandered through the  halls of Cosmopolitan’s second floor, en route to Wicked Spoon, passing by tourists posing inside of larger-than-life shoes and walls adorned with art.

We were on a mission: stuff our faces with good eats at the hotel’s much-praised buffet, Wicked Spoon.

I’ve already confessed, I’m no foodie, but  after being seated in the dimly lit room, my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

There, a mere few feet from our little table-for-two was the largest and most spectacular dessert island I had ever seen:

A small sampling of the desserts at Wicked Spoon

Sweet goodness. Mmmmmm.

Yeah, I’m pretty much a sucka for anything sweet (except cheesecake and cream cheese).

“Oh my goodness,” I exclaimed, looking across the table at my friend. “Holy shit. That’s a lot of dessert.”

“I’m not really into dessert,” Katie explained.

Then I don’t have to share.

After our server came (and we committed to unlimited glasses of wine for $7 each), I let Katie do her thing and go explore while I continued to drool over the rows and rows of confectionery delight encased in glass, and the continued display of dessert wrapping around four sides of the dessert area.

I probably could have just dined on the dessert. But, noooooo.

Then, Katie returned, snapping out of my dessert trance.

“It’s amazing,” she informed me. “I just went to one station, but did a walk around to see what’s out there. Oh my goodness.”

And I was up.

Of course, I started with the desserts. Not eating, but just eyeing.

Then, I saw the buffet.

A huge sprawling display of station after station … a sea of savory, spice, succulent, sensational food.

I didn’t even know where to start. I mean, how does one properly conquer a buffet?

I knew one thing: I was going to enjoy this. And, in an effort to not waste (“there are starving children in Africa” was running through my head) I wasn’t going to pile copious amounts of food on my plate.

So, I took my time. I took multiple trips. Each time, just putting a little bit on my plate.

I started with the Asian selection, grabbing a few pieces of sushi and some red curry tofu to take back.

Endless sushi = heaven

A few minutes later, I was up again, eyes wide at the next station. And the next.

The thing about Wicked Spoon that struck me was the difference between it and the other buffets. Sure, I haven’t been to a lot of them, but just in researching my article, I knew what they served. And, what they didn’t. And, the buffets in Las Vegas didn’t have what this one did.

Bone Marrow. Mac and Cheese station. Asiago-Stuffed Gnocci with Lamb Ragu. Peach and Jalapeno Stuffed Pork Race. Watermelon Salad with Cucumber Slaw. Chocolate-dipped marshmallows on a stick (c’mon, I had to throw in a dessert reference).

[Note: there are so many more, but I had to stop listing them because I’m hungry as I write this.]

Finally, when it came time for dessert, I didn’t know where to start. Tiny little cakes, mousses, pies … pink marshmallow logs sprinkled with pink sugar (which I so loving dubbed “marshmallow log-y things) … cookies … gelato … chocolate dipped strawberries …  fudge …strudels … heaven.

I piled my plate with all of the sweet morsels and headed back to Katie (for good measure, and to add some healthy to the plate, I added some melon with basil).

“I just … I mean … it just all looks so good …” I breathed, words failing to do justice. Katie looked at my plate and then to me, eyebrows raised.  “I’m not going to eat it all … don’t worry. I just want to try it.”

So, I did.

I would take a bit, close my eyes to savor the amazingness and then pass it over to Katie to try.

An hour or so after we began the culinary affair, we looked at each other over our second glass of wine.

“Stuffed?” I asked.

“Definitely.”

For a few minutes, we recapped our Wicked Spoon experience.

Was it all amazing?

No. There were some dishes that left us unimpressed. The Leek Bread Pudding was bland. The Char Su Pork was met with a scrunched nose and quick chasing of red wine. The Fried Brussel Sprouts with Walnuts and Capers sounded good, but turned out to be a flavor combination which couldn’t survive  the first two bites (hey, I had to give it at least a chance).

And there were other items that were little tastes of fantastic. Katie and I both dug the  Wild Mushroom Polenta. It even earned the honor of being one of the best things Katie had ever eaten in her life. She was also a fan of the Prime Rib (“heavenly … so tender it falls apart in my mouth”) and the Korean Short Ribs.

In all, I filled my plate four times … not eating everything, but trying everything on the plate. My favorite was the Cavatelli with Short Ribs. Oh my goodness. I could have eaten the entire little bowl it was in, but pacing at a buffet is key. So, instead I just kept telling Katie how damn delicious it was and how it tasted like Christmas. Don’t ask. It just did.

She and I walked out of the hotel, way too full, nearly in food comas. Fortunately, we were able to muster our strength and head downtown for some patio drinks with one of my best friends for a few, before it was time to let our bodies digest … and get ready for Round Two less than 48 hours later at The Buffet at ARIA.

For you foodies, here’s pics to make you hungrier:

Editor’s note: The Cosmopolitan provided the dining experience at Wicked Spoon but all opinions are my own. 


Americas Blog Nevada Reviews

The Las Vegas Foodgasm: An Introduction

I have a confession: I am not a foodie.

Foie gras does not make me weak in the knees.

It is only recently that I have developed a taste for cheese (and it’s got to be really bougie cheese at that) and steak (same deal … has to be super good). Hell, to be quite honest, other than on pizza, I can really do without dairy in my life. Oh. And ice cream.

Fortunately, just because I’m not a Foodie does not mean that I can’t appreciate good food. And, just because I won’t eat certain delicacies, doesn’t mean I can’t read the momentary bliss someone else experiences when rolling something delicious on their tongue. After all, I live in Las Vegas, where the number of celebrity chef restaurants and five-star dining trumps the cheap food on The Strip.

And, while I’m confessing, here’s another one: I don’t do buffets. Well, I do, but not often. I have never really grasped the concept of a buffet. To me, it’s Spend Money to Stuff Your Face Until You Nearly (or do) Vomit. These button-undoing feasts simply leave me overwhelmed and stressed at the mere thought of consuming, what I would consider, my money’s worth of food.

So, when I pitched writing a story on the Buffets in Las Vegas to HostelWorld, I knew I had my work cut out for me. It had been years since I had been to a Las Vegas buffet, so the task at hand was pretty huge.

And seriously tasty.

Thankfully, Las Vegas is packed with some seriously good (and some affordable) buffets.

When I had the opportunity to visit Wicked Spoon at my favorite property in Las Vegas, The Cosmopolitan, I knew I had to prepare myself for what awaited.

But, in reality, I had no idea what I was walking in to.

My good friend, Katie (we met in Bosnia, traveled Croatia together and have stayed in close touch), was bopping in to Las Vegas for a few days before heading to become and ex-Pat in China. The timing couldn’t have been better. A story due on buffets, and dining experiences being scheduled at Wicked Spoon and The Buffet at ARIA. Suddenly, Katie was going to be treated to some seriously fine buffet eats, a perfect send-off to China, foodgasm style.

What went down? Well, that’s another story.

 

Americas Blog Nevada Reviews Travel

The best food. Ever.

I have never been a foodie. I am too picky of an eater to really go all out and sample delicacies the world over. If you asked me a year ago where the best restaurant I have ever eaten was, I would tell you simply — in Las Vegas. Because, well, let’s be real, Las Vegas has some of the best food around. Even for picky eaters like myself.

But, after a whirlwind five days on BlogtripF1, I am now convinced the absolute best food is in Spain. Paella. Fresh grilled fish. Iberian Ham. I even wrote about it for Madator Network.

Stef (@adventuregirl) and I had extended our time in the Land of Valencia. She had a change of plans, and I had no plans, so we decided to hang out in the region for a few extra days after the F1 Race. For two more days, we sampled deliciousness, shopped and sunned ourselves on the blue Mediterranean. We went from Valencia back down to Alicante to experience more of the best of Spain.

On our last night, the night Spain played Portugal in the World Cup match, we had been told dinner was arranged at our hotel, the uber-gorgeous and swank five-star Hospes Amerigo’s restaurant, Monastrell.

We dressed for dinner and met in the lobby, where we were greeted by a petite and friendly brunette. We had no idea who she was. She quickly talked about going to watch the game and then joining us for dinner.

It wasn’t until a few minutes into our conversation when we were led inside the restaurant did we put two and two together.

Lining one of the walls were photos, and there, standing in front of a kitchen, was the woman we had been chatting with.

Chef Maria Jose San Ramon. THE Chef Maria Jose San Ramon. Known as the “Saffron Queen,” she had recently returned from a gig at the White House where she had taught the chef how to prepare the ultimate paellea.

And, now there we were, standing with her in her restaurant, engaged in friendly banter and making plans to dine with her following the game (GO SPAIN!).

Stef and I headed to one of the chef’s other establishments for some tapas and tinto de verano, La Taberna Del Gourmet, a gorgeous restaurant a quick walk from Monastrell.

After watching the game, we met Chef Maria Jose back at Monastrell where we cheers-ed Espana and then settled in to our meal.

And what a meal it was.

Oysters. Pulpo. Lobster paella. Sweet, decadent desserts. Wine. Every single moment was stacked with the most amazing flavors, the most interesting taste combinations.

Pure foodie heaven.

Each time a dish was served, our eyes would grow big, light up.

I tried to savor every single bite, but when food is that good, it is hard to prolong such amazingness. Within a few hours, our meal was over. Bellies blissfully full.

My backpacker diet was absolutely ruined, trashed, spoiled rotten. It hurt me the following day to return to bread and cheap street vendors.

It also hurt to say goodbye to Stef. Like saying goodbye to the rest of the BlogTripF1 group, it was hard to utter the “see you soon” I dreaded. Her and I had spent so much time together, talking, laughing, drinking, EATING. We were friends before the trip, but being together for nearly the week we spent was so fulfilling.

But, she had a plane to catch back to America, and I had a train to catch to Barcelona. Yup. Another reunion. This time with Tina from my Monfrague week in April.

Disclosure: Land of Valencia covered all lodging, meals and activities as a part of the #blogtripf1 program.

Blog Reviews Spain Travel