Thursday, December 29, 2011


Think it's impossible?
Me & my Son managed to stay within this budget just a week ago! and I'll be honest, it's the most fun I've had with him in a long, long time. I guess because we are not so busy going from Theme Park to Theme Park and thus exausted from trying to cram as much as possible in our 2 days.

Arived late on Wednesday do to a tire completly coming appart while driving! Thank God I drive slow...
To make a long story short, we ended up at the gates of Camp Pendelton because there was nothing close to buy a new tire and I was not going to make it with my spare very far... they were kind enough to let us "IN" and had our tire changed at a Firestone Tire inside the base.  My son loved seeing all the Fighter Jets & how the Marines live on base... so he loved it!

Once we finaly arrived at  DOLPHIN MOTELin Point Loma which was an incredible value at $55 per night with free parking & free breakfast and an amazing owner & staff ( I highly highly recomend it) we went to have a quick dinner at COTIJA'S TACOS in Point Loma.
They have the most amazing Carne Asada Fries (HUGE) for about $6, and we also had really good fish tacos with no skimping on the fish!

Instead we took it slow and it was very relaxing and to my surprise, my 11 yr old was not bored... actually, he enjoyed taking turns with our camara to get some cool & weird shots...
We rode in our car to FORT ROSECRANS NATIONAL CEMENTERY which has gorgeous views, beautiful grounds and my son truly felt respect for all those men & women who fought for us, some were so young and i think it was an awakening for him to see the sacrifice these men and women go through to keep our Country Free.
Later went to Mission Beach and parked at the BELMONT AMUSEMENT PARK for free! (got there early) and went to RAYS RENTALS across the way with a coupon from their website and rented a bike for the whole day for $10!
It was old, but it worked... and my Son had his bike that we took, so that saved me even more money.

We rode all the way to Pacific Beach, nice & slow all day taking breaks for pictures, etc.
had a late lunch at BAHIA DON BRAVO IN PACIFIC BEACH which was just O.K. kinda bland the food.
Rode all the back again and had an amazing bonding time with my son. He was really exited and thought I should buy myself a bike...

I do need to mention that I had not gotten on a bike for about 17 years... so the 1st time i got on I was so scared and i had a hard time balancing the bike for a few minutes... but i eventually got the hang of it! My son though it was so funny!

Later went back to the hotel and relaxed a bit before driving for dinner to SUPER COCINA which was SUPER! LOL

Had Real Mexican Food! My son somehow always chooses the best dishes and this was no exeption,
he had Mexican Squash stuffed with cheese, battered and fried with a light tomato sauce on top, and perfectly cooked Carnitas (all searved with rice & beans)

I had a Delicious Pozole soup with cabage on top and lime  and Cochinita Pibil.
It was very good, great service and truly a great deal at $16 for both!
Later went walked about a block to a Mexican bakery and had some sweet breads to go.

Day 2 we were looking for some sort of free walking tour...
and I found I good one!

Went to the HISTORIC PARK IN OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO and they have free tours every day at 11am & 2 pm.
Some of the houses are still originals... and they give you a nice mix of history from those days. Even my 11 yr old son was interested! it took about an hour.
 From there we had lunch at CAFE COYOTE which was average at best and the "home made" tortillas were not cooked all the way and too thick so they were "gummy"
i would not recomend it... but if you are not so into food as I am, the ambiance is nice, especially if you sit outside.
After Lunch, we walked around Old Town to window shop... and One of the stores in the Historic Park is a Candy store!!
Of course we had to try it and spend a good amount of time there.. and they even had lots of samples.
We picked & choose our favorites, I paid & then started heading home.

Had a wonderful time!! here's the rundown of our expenses for 2 people:

Dolphin Motel (super super clean & amazing people) : $120 ( 2 night weekday)
Gas (from L.A. and back) $40 (I know its cheap, but I have a small car)
Rays Bike Rental : $12 ( it was $2 extra for the basket & lock)
Cotija's Tacos: $11
Bahia Don Bravo lunch: $15
Super Cocina: $17
Bakery 1 block from Super Cocina: $4
Cafe Coyote: $22
Candy @ Historic park in old town: $4
Total: $245!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

ANIMAL- Los Angeles

As one of the "IT" restaurants of the moment, ANIMAL has been on my list for a while, and with a group of foodies we made our way Sunday night for a spectacular and long awaited extravaganza!

 This place is all about Animal parts officially known as "Offal".

 But don't let that scare you. Crispy pig ears with lime & fried egg, crispy veal sweetbreads and perfectly seared Foie Gras with a warm soft biscuit, maple syrup & sausage gravy are just a few of the standout dishes you'll find here.
The combinations may seem strange to some, but they are not extremely inventive.  Spain has been consuming pig ears for centuries as well as other countries.  Foie Gras with Maple Syrup is not that out of the ordinary, the paring of Foie with a sweet element is a classic, so lets be honest, they are not re-inventing the wheel here, but the dishes are amazingly tasty, very focused, perfectly seasoned and well thought out. They leave you wanting more... and that's always a good sign. You will not be disappointed by coming here, with that said, one flaw I found, they were not very well coordinated with the kitchen, as least Sunday night when we were there.  Some people had not received any dishes, some just one, while I was finishing my first, with another waiting... and here comes the waitress with my Foie Gras... OH NO!
She kindly took it back as I made her aware of the mishap. Don't let this deter you from trying ANIMAL, the service was still very attentive and the food amazing!

Pig Ear, Chili, Lime, Fried Egg 12
The only other time I tried pig ears was at INK Restaurant in L.A. and loved it, but you never know with a name like "pig ears" what you're in for... This was spectacular... The pig ears were like the upscale version of mediocre bacon... with a nice heat from the chili, a little acidity from the lime to cut through the heaviness of the dish, and the oh-so-good fried egg with a runny yolk... mmmm... it was superb!

hamachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut 15
Next was the Hamachi tostada, which was recommended by a fellow member of our table... and although skeptical, i gave it a shot.  Really, its hard to have a dish come out so light yet satisfying in flavors... but this did just that... I loved the combination of the fish sauce vinaigrette, the crunchy onions and the peanuts along with the freshness from the herbs... the peanuts really did make the dish stand out to the next level for me as it added a nice depth of flavor.
barbecue pork belly sandwiches, slaw 13

A table mate ordered this, and i was so lucky to try them... they don't look like anything special on the menu... how many times have you seem sliders on restaurant menu's... But the bread was very soft and fresh, with lovely buttery notes on top with a perfectly cooked BBQ pork (you know, the one that falls off the bone tender-except no bone here of course) and a very nice fresh (not soggy) slaw.
foie gras, biscuit, maple sausage gravy 24
This was the dish I was waiting for and it was everything I thought it would be and more.  Perfectly cooked Foie with those buttery notes and nice sear on top with a tender fluffy biscuit, savory and flavorful sausage gravy and topped off with enough maple syrup to give the dish another dimension.  Beautiful!
Veal Sweetbreads, Finger Lime Aioli, Cumin, Shallot 14

Sweetbreads is one of my favorite things to eat... and these definitely lived up to my expectations.  Much more mild than your average sweetbreads, the veal variety were soft and silky inside, with a perfect crust outside paired with a nice lemon Aioli, tiny bit of cumin for some smokiness and freshness from the shallots.

sticky toffee pudding, mascarpone, orange 7
Loved the subtle orange tangy-ness along with the rich and dense pudding.  I really could taste the toffee which added a nice caramel-smoky note.

bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p ice cream 7
I didn't think I would taste the bacon, as i've had chocolate+bacon before, and the chocolate really takes over the whole dish.  But they must have used a much savory (saltier) bacon because I did taste it, and it was lovely! The ice cream sounds weird, right? salt & pepper? but it was just a hint of pepper, which really went well.
tres leches, dulce de leche 7
The tres leches cake was simple yet very well done.  I thought it was not too sweet which I appreciated. Very moist,with the frosting adding a touch of creamyness but again, not too sweet.

Over all, I really felt that they truly knew what they were doing.  That they really thought through each dish as they came up with them. I most definitly need to go back, especially before Foie becomes illigal in Caifornia next year!
Animal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CHICAGO RESTAURANTS - Mercat a la Planxa & Beard Papas

Chicago is one of the best cities in the U.S. for us foodies and regardless of your budget, you are bound to find tons of places and you will wish you had booked just "one more night"...
As decisions have to be made, and some places did not make our list for either price or timing reasons... the ones we did go range from really good to superb.


We decided to try this Catalan cuisine for lunch and all in our party went for the $18 lunch deal that included a fountain drink, starter and main course.

One of the appetizers, we most refer to as tortilla de papas in Argentina, and  it was so good that surprisingly my even my mom approved (she still makes the best tortillas!) this one was very well seasoned, nice vegetal notes from the spinach and most importantly not overcooked. There's nothing worse than burned eggs.

I ate these all over Spain this summer, and it was still not enough... I came back wanting more... and Mercat's version with chorizo and the Romesco sauce did not disappoint... they were crunchy outside, with lovely notes of the jamon & chorizo, and the sauce added a nice finish to these perfect little bits.

For the world I can't remember the type of fish, but I can tell you if was mild in flavor with an incredible nice crunchy skin very nicely assembled with a smooth and creamy potato pure and the herb oil added a nice finish and sublime herbaceous notes.

I don't usually order sandwiches and this was no exception.  The choice was my son's and it was a good one.  This was no ordinary sandwich as the chicken was marinated in lots of herbs and unlike any chicken breasts, this one was juicy and tender as opposed to dry.  Add to this the bacon, the amazing romesco sauce,tomato and parm... I'd say you have a delicious gourmet sandwich.

This hanger Steak was very nicely done, rare in the middle and a nice caramelization and smokiness on the outside.  The short ribs were very and I mean very tender and well seasoned and both meats went really well with the mushrooms en escabeche which added a nice acidity.  The only downfall of this dish is that the croquette got soggy in the middle as the beef was atop.

 Beard Papas is a transplant from Japan that has perfected the way of making these incredible puffs without compromising quality.  They use NO preservatives,  fill them up as you wait and are incredibly light, crispy, flaky, delicious... I could keep going! 

The best part is that they have locations here in Southern California!!






Monday, December 12, 2011


Ok, so I'm probably a bit bias, having  lived here 6 years out of my young life and had an amazing time doing so, in fact, I still visit my childhood friends whenever I get a chance to escape to such a gorgeous place.
However, I have been to Argentina as a  tourist, and visited quite a few other countries... so I believe have some qualifications... right??
Alright Here goes,

  1. Malbec!... Yes, I love it, you'll love it too.  The Mendoza wine country is amazing with the most spectacular scenery.   There's nothing better than sipping some amazing wine (like Achaval Ferrer) and seeing the Andes mountains so close you feel you could touch them and covered in snow.
  2. Beef! baby... I admit I don't normally consume beef as a true Argentine descendant, but its only because I am very picky... but don't worry... Argentina knows BEEF!... make sure to try the Asados!
  3. Long Haul Buses... are out of these world! really!  It's hard to impress a 9 yr old boy with anything, but even my son thought the Suites in the overnight bus with CATA International were "sick" (which I think its the equivalent of "cool") my! I'm getting old!
  4. Pastries... Bizcochos, Facturas mmm! soo good!  In Argentina Pastries are called "Facturas" and Bizcochos are sort of like a denser, buttery-er version of Biscuits (on steroids!) LOL All the pastries are buttery, melt in your mouth little mounds of heaven! :)
  5. Nightlife... You really have to experience... Nothing starts until 1 or 2 am...  and no one goes home until the sun is coming out!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fig Restaurant, Santa Monica - 50% off (amazing deal)

 One of the few restaurants of this caliber to offer such an amazing deal, I had to try it for myself. First of all from 5PM to 6PM everyday, Fig Restaurant (Inside the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica) offers their entire  menu at 50% off including Cocktails and their wine list!! (excludes truffle dishes).  To add to the excitement, park at the valet with confidence, since the restaurant will validate it for you for the first 3 hrs, making this one of the few (and maybe the only) upscale hotel in this area to be able to get valet for free.
For reference the SLS charges $15 regardless if you are dinning at Bazaar.

"Honey under the Kilt" (12 year Scotch, Honey, Tarragon and Lemon)

The cocktail was pretty well balanced (albeit a bit too much Scotch for my taste, but I don't think most would complaint about that) they honey did a nice job at smoothing the punch from the Scotch, along with the lemon to add a touch of freshness and acidity and surprisingly the tarragon added a nice herbaceous finish.
Your own personal mini baguette arrives in this cute little paper bag

Mini Baguette

Fresh baguette was next served along with a nice compound butter.  Very good.
Starter - Foie Gras & Chicken Liver Parfait with Fig Marmalade & toasted Baguette
One of the most famous starters at FIG and with good reason.  It was very good, the combination of Foie Gras with a sweet accompaniment is classic, and this one did not disappoint.  The Fig Marmalade was delicious and I just wished there would have been more of it, as there really was not enough for the 3 pieces of toast. 
Foie Gras & Chicken Liver Parfait
The Parfait comes of course with the fat on top, which you take out and set aside to find the delicious livery goodness.  Be forewarned though that it is a bit heavy on the livery notes.  I wished it would have had more Foie, less Chicken Liver but that's just me.  I was able to taste the Foie Gras notes separately from the Chicken Liver ones. 
Scallops, Cauliflower pure, Pine Nuts, Golden Raisins and Tangerines
Delicious!! Superbly fresh tasting, well cooked and a very nice combination with the creamy cauliflower pure chewy sweet golden raisins and a nice tang and sweetness finish with the tangerines.  The pine nuts added a nice nutty flavor and a bit of crunch. 
Nutella & Chocolate Tart with Candied Hazelnuts and Marshmallow cream

This tart is not for the faint at heart.  Consider yourself warned! it was very good, but also extremely rich and dense. The crust is almost non existent and the dish really could have used another texture to cut through the richness of all that chocolate.  It was difficult to taste the nutella, although hints of it are noticed, it was overpowered by the rich, rich chocolate.  Definitely a desert to share. 
FIG Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chicago Review & Pictures

Decided to go with my son and my mom to the windy city over Thanksgiving weekend.  I know this review is a bit late, but as they say better late than never.
Arrived at O'Hare at Noon on Thursday (Thanksgiving day) and the airport was not as busy as I thought it would be. However, it took us nearly 45 minutes to get to the L blue line to go downtown.  The airport is very intimidating!  Loved the bathrooms with the automatic seat covers LOL gotta love that! and the fact that they have TORTAS FRONTERAS BY RICK BAYLESS, well, it makes it one of my favorite airports after Paris (mainly due to the Macaroons from Laduree).
Stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel Magnificent mile, and loved the service (5 stars) and the room was modern, super clean, ample enough (although there have been some complaints on the small size of them) you've never seen a small room until you've been to Europe, those are SMALL! LOL
In the next few days we used taxi's and the amazing public transportation system.  We did a free tour with Chicago Greeters with Leigh, who took us to the Gold Coast (my mom's favorite of the entire trip).  She was extremely knowledgeable, fun and a true enjoyment to have her show us around.
Skated in Millennium Park while realizing we were the only ones literally "ON" the ice... as in falling every 5 seconds! Most everyone else skated very well.  It was fun and free (you only rent the skates) but if you have your own, its entirely free.
Downtown (The Loop) was a true joy to walk around and admire the buildings and architecture.  Just be careful because you're neck will hurt at the end of the day from looking up! LOL
Had amazing Chicago Deep Dish Pizza at Giordano's, Huge tasty pancakes at the Bongo room, super crunchy and creamy cream puffs at Beard Papas (the strawberry was the favorite) and an unforgettable dessert tasting at TRU with the now famous black and while napkins service in the silver tray.
The Field Museum was my son's favorite of the trip, as he got to see "Sue" the largest, most complete T-REX in the world! He also enjoyed the Egyptian Exhibit, and bragging about what he knew.  :)
On our last day we spend the morning at the Art Institute and had an amazing time admiring my favorites:  Picasso and Dali paintings.
One thing I missed:  There is a true shortage of souvenir shops or knickknack shops.  The windy city has this "air" about her I've yet to see in another city.  Very proper, high-scale if you will.  We had a fantastic time!

Enjoy our favorite pictures

Largest Tiffany Dome in the World at the Chicago Cultural Center

Magnificent Mile from our Hotel (Intercontinental Chicago) looking towards downtown

Our Hotel, Intercontinental Chicago - Magnificent Mile

Mom & Matthew at the German Christmaskindl Market in the Loop

A very good beginning in Chicago, German Potato Pancake & amazing Bratwurst sandwich 

Our room at the Intercontinental Chicago with a view towards Magnificent Mile (paid $400 including tax for 3 nights!) great deal.

Our View

Matt & Me (Random picture in Chicago)

Cultural Center - View towards Millennium Park

Millennium Park

Mom & Matt in the Gold Coast (my mom's favorite area) a small box under the freeway costs about $1 Million! LOL

The original Playboy Mansion

Matthew in love with the $1Million cube at the Federal Reserve Bank Museum in Chicago

Hahahaha! My mom had lots of fun at the Federal Reserve Bank!

Matt's Hero! Michael Jordan's (His Steakhouse in Chicago)
Cloud Gate "The Bean" Huge steal sculpture made to reflect the whole city
Millennium Park
Matt & Me ice skating in Millennium Park
Monet at the Art Institute - Love his use of color!
Matt's favorite - Georges Seurat "A Sunday on la Grande Jatte"
Painting by Matta  from Chile "The earth is a man"

View at night from the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears tower) which by the way, they sold the name because they needed $$!