Holidays in California

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in California during the holiday time. From visiting the Aquarium, spending time at the beach, going shopping, hanging out downtown and at the Farmer’s Market, enjoying home cooked meals and time with family in my hometown in Monterey; to seeing friends in LA and relaxing at Miracle Springs Resort & Spa at Desert Hot Springs; to spending Christmas with family friends, stopping by the Chumash Casinos and checking out the charming town of Solvang (Danish Capital of America), it was a wonderful mini-vacation.

Christmas in Monterey, CA

I love the glittering, dazzling lights and decorations of the Portola Hotel lobby.

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This colorful and lovely Christmas tree is displayed in the middle of the Del Monte Shopping Center.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA

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Even though I have seen many of the exhibits already, I always feel a sense of wonder and magic while watching the brilliant sea life all around me. Also, I love seeing the new exhibits and activities that make the experience even more enjoyable.

Some of my favorite displays are the playful otters, cute penguins, beautiful jellyfish, brightly colored fish of hot pink/electric blue and yellow etc, mystical kelp forest, school of fish forming shapes together, formidable sharks, majestic sea turtles and the fact that the Aquarium is connected to the natural ocean front and there are outdoor areas throughout where you can witness the amazing views of the Monterey Bay/Pacific Ocean.

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Miracle Springs Resort & Spa in Desert Hot Springs, CA

Truly wonderful place with a beautiful lobby – Plush comfortable seats, nice Christmas tree and lights, huge windows that overlook the amazing landscaping, pools and hot tubs.

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We headed to the pool and jacuzzis, which are all natural hot and cold springs. I started in one of the hot tubs which was quite warm and incredibly relaxing. It felt amazing to just soak in the hot tub and let the water and jets flow over me. After a bit I went to the biggest pool, where the temperature was cooler, but wasn’t cold by any means…It felt more lukewarm and big enough to swim back and forth, which I enjoyed. Later, we spent time in a smaller jacuzzi which was still pretty warm, but not as hot as the first one. Also, the jets were stronger in that one so it was great to feel that on my back, feet and was sort of like a massage. These hot tubs are the perfect place to unwind and take away any stress you might be feeling!

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Christmas Time in Santa Rosa, CA

My mom and I joined a family friends in celebrating Christmas together, where I got to meet my friend’s adorable and sweet one year old son, Sebastian!

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We also had a delicious Christmas feast of two different types of prime rib, ham, stuffing, roasted potatoes, creamy mushroom dish and not pictured: Potato salad, medley of roasted vegetables, apple pie and homemade cookies!

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Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Inez, CA

We spent Christmas evening here since we were a few hours from home. I loved the Christmas tree in the lobby and the rooms were lovely and comfortable.

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Day at Solvang, CA (Danish Capital of America)

We had a nice time exploring and enjoying the cute and charming town of Solvang, in Santa Barbara County, soaking up the festive atmosphere.

solvang

At Solvang Restaurant, we had to order the famous aebleskiver, which is the traditional Danish pancake, in the shape of a ball, sitting in raspberry sauce and topped with powdered sugar. They were fluffy and doughy, though I thought the sauce was a bit too sweet and the aebleskivers themselves didn’t have a ton of flavor. But they were certainly presented beautifully.

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Beaches in Monterey and Marina, CA

I also had the pleasure of spending time on the gorgeous, glorious beaches in Monterey County.

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Afternoon Tea Time Experiences

In the past couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of enjoying afternoon tea service at a couple of different places. These restaurants include Alice’s Tea Cup Chapter II and Measure at Langham Place on Fifth Avenue.

Alice’s  Tea Cup had a really whimsical, fanciful, lovely and cute ambiance.

We decided on the Mad Hatter Tea Service, which is absolutely perfect for two people. It comes with two pots of tea, 3 scones, 3 little sandwiches, a dessert of our choice and cookies. And it’s a steal for around $30 per person, for a substantial amount of food. We ended up having to take quite a bit home for later!

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For the tea, I picked Chocolate Chai and my friend chose Christmas Tea because we wanted to try something festive. Too bad there wasn’t a Fall Blend or Pumpkin-Something option. The Chocolate Chai is black tea spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove, vanilla and sweetened with chocolate. It was lovely and rich, with a subtle flavor of chocolate. The Christmas Tea was a comforting blend of Indian black tea, hibiscus, raisins, rose hips, almonds, cinnamon and clove. I thought it tasted just okay, but I did enjoy it when it was mixed with the Chocolate Chai and milk.

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The sandwiches we selected were curried chicken salad and ham with gruyere. The curried chicken salad had red onion, celery, granny smith apple and tomato slices on golden raisin semolina. This was really nice with a huge amount of seasoning. But I really enjoyed the black forest ham and gruyere, which came with whole grain mustard and mayonnaise on golden raisin semolina bread. I think I tasted more mayonnaise than mustard, which was  a win for me. Though simpler, it had purer flavors and unexpectedly, I think I may have liked it a bit more than the curried chicken salad sandwich.

alices_sandwiches

For the scones, we of course had to try the pumpkin spice (‘Tis the season!), chocolate caramel and ginger molasses (50 cents more for that one). We tried the pumpkin one, which had a robust pumpkin flavor, on the spot and it was wonderful, especially with the homemade clotted cream and raspberry jam. We also tried it with some whipped cream we had and that was deliciously indulgent. Later, I had the rest of the scones and I enjoyed the chocolate chips in the chocolate caramel one, but the glaze of caramel taste was not that strong. The ginger molasses was heavy on both ginger and sweet molasses flavor and quite good.

alices_scones

As for the dessert, we decided to order the chocolate mousse pudding, though I will have to come back for to try the mocha cake because I saw another table have it and it looked amazing! The chocolate mousse was certainly exquisite and delectable, with incredibly rich sweet milk chocolate and whipped cream. It was irresistibly creamy and smooth as silk.

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The service was great as well and I will definitely return, especially for that mocha cake and the s’mores dessert that I saw on the menu!

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For my second afternoon tea, I chose Measure, which is located within the first floor of Langham Place, a super swanky and gorgeous hotel on Fifth Avenue. The interior of Measure is elegance and sophistication personified with high ceilings, dark brown cushiony seats, lovely glass tables, pretty white accents.

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A friend and I came here for Modern Afternoon Tea (weekends between 2-5pm) and it was fairly empty, so we were able to sit wherever we liked. We chose to sit by the window, looking out at the hustle and bustle of New York City’s 5th Avenue street.

There were 3 loose leaf teas to select from: Earl Grey, Genmaicha and Mint. Just a note: If you don’t like the sound of any of those, they have 14 other types of tea (in tea bag form). I went for the classic, Earl Grey which was delightful with milk and the little cubes of brown sugar. My friend selected the Genmaicha, which is basically green tea with toasted rice. It had an sort of soothing, mild and earthy taste to it.

measure_table

Our food came out in a sort of bento box format and the presentation was absolutely exquisite. The 3 savory appetizers were on top and the 3 sweet treats were underneath. The hummus grougere came with vegetable pronvecale topping of colorful bell peppers. The hummus was good, with a creamy consistency and nice fresh taste. The king crab roll was adorable, with thousand island dressing and micro herbs on top, which looked a bit like caviar. I didn’t like micro herbs, but the rest of the roll was wonderful and I really enjoyed the ample amount of crab meat on it. My favorite of the savory delights was definitely the warm scotch egg, which had chopped pork and chorizo in the breading, as well as curry mayonnaise and lettuce on top. The breading was crispy, full of flavor and truly satisfying, especially accompanied by the well seasoned half cooked egg.

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Then there were the desserts. There was a chocolate and passion fruit French macaron that was quite large (on the menu it’s labeled incorrectly as a “Macaroon,” which is the coconut pastry, not the French cookie). The outer shell was bright pink, one of my favorite colors, with a dusting of pink & purple and a drizzle of white sugar glaze. The center was filled with rich chocolate mousse, raspberries and some passion fruit cream. The chocolate and raspberries overpowered the flavor of the passion fruit, but it was delicious nonetheless. Then there was a cookies and cream profiterole, with a fancy chocolate piece on top, along with broken up bits of oreo cookie. The profiterole was wonderfully sweet and lusciously creamy. Last, was the cheese cake filled chocolate covered strawberry. I’m a sucker for chocolate covered strawberries, so this was a big hit for me and the cheese cake filling, mingled with the chocolate was perfectly delectable.

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After all that, there was still more to be had… Nutmeg and cinnamon scones, with homemade jam and clotted cream. The scones were piping warm and had a strong flavor of cinnamon and the clotted cream was an amazing addition to the already yummy, melt in your mouth crumbly scones.

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This is a great place to come to enjoy a fancy afternoon tea, and at $35 per person, the pricing is not bad either!

The service was a little lackluster since the servers did not come by that often and we sometimes had to wait a bit to get their attention. However, when they did come around, they were attentive and polite.

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While Alice’s Tea Cup Chapter II had more substantial servings and was lower in price, Measure was more fancy with a more exquisite presentation and taste. However, I truly enjoyed both places for lovely tea afternoon experiences and would highly recommend both restaurants.

 

Alice’s Tea Cup Chapter II
156 E 64 St
New York, NY

Measure
400 5th Ave
New York, NY

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Yelp Elite Events: Tufino Pizzeria & Spa Castle

Last week, I attended two Yelp Queens Elite events. The first one was at Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana, where I thought we would only be served pizza and that I would get bored with the food. Oh, how wrong I was! The other event was at Spa Castle and it was already full with a few hundred person waiting list so I had pretty much resigned myself from ever getting to go. Luckily, Jando (the Yelp Queens Community Manager – get to know him, he’s awesome!) let me in and I had such an amazing, relaxing evening and you can read all about it below!

Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana is a small, but cute and cozy spot with great atmosphere in the heart of Astoria. I loved the huge windows that lead to the street. It gave the place nice lighting and feel.

tufino_meThe restaurant started us off with several amazing appetizers. First there were mini meatball sliders (one of my favorites) with grated parmesan cheese and basil on a brioche bun. The meat was warm, flavorful, juicy and the basil added to the already delicious sliders.

tufino_sliderThen there were mini capellini cakes with vodka sauce that was fried to perfection and extremely crispy. They tasted a little bit like potato. We also had fresh mozzarella, tomato and bread crumb on skewers, which were light and refreshing. Next came the warm farro (a type of grain) salad with wonderfully tasting pesto sauce. After that was another favorite of mine: Zucchini fries. They were hot and fresh out of the oven, with well seasoned breading and a light dusting of parmesan sauce.

tufino_zucchiniSoon after all those appetizers, the thin crust pizza started coming out. I tried most of the different types of pizza, starting with the Margherita, which was made out of organic tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan and basil. This was quite good but I preferred the other types of pizza that had toppings on them.

tufino_margheritaProsciutto e Arugula came with mozzarella, prosciutto, lemon juice and truffle oil with baby arugula and parmesan shavings on top. This was wonderful, with delightful tasting meat and all the other flavors came together nicely.

tufino_argula pizzaI also had the San Gennaro, which consists of mozzarella, Italian sausage, peppers, onions and parmesan. The sausage was savory and zesty.

tufino_sausage pizzaMy favorite pizza of the night, however, was Grape Expectations, which had red grapes, gorgonzola, Italian pork (which tasted like bacon) and house made honey. The grapes on the pizza was unique and unexpected, but worked really well and combined flawlessly with the gorgonzola, meat and honey. It was a mix of sweet and slightly savory, and completely mouthwateringly delicious!

tufino_grape pizzaThe service was great, though I would have liked some options for non alcoholic drinks, besides water. But the servers were really patient, friendly and allowed time for some of the Yelpers to take photos of the food, then making sure we all got what we wanted.

Then there was Spa Castle Night, which totally came at the perfect time because I needed to get my mind off of things and just totally chill & relax: CHILLAX!

It was my first time at Spa Castle and what a wonderful elite experience I had! We were given watch keys which were ingenious… They connected to our very own locker and were also scanned when we bought anything- We were allowed 2 free drinks. They also gave us uniforms to wear around the spa and a small towel. I would have liked a bigger towel, because I was in and out of the pools throughout the night.

First, I met some really awesome folks and we checked out the outdoor pools, which had a spraying area and also different massage water jets etc. There was also a nice bubbling jacuzzi. Then we checked out one of the pools inside which was right by the bar and had stools set up along side it. I don’t drink so I asked if the free drinks included any non alcoholic drinks. At first they said no, but then allowed me to order soda so that was really nice.

spacastle_meShortly after that, we headed to the upper floor to get some food. There was a lot of fried food which was tasty: Mozzarella sticks, chicken strips, french fries, fried chicken, shrimp tempura. The shrimp tempura and fried chicken were my favorites. Also salad and delicious fruits: Mango – extremely fresh and sweet; pineapple – sweet and juicy; grapes – wonderful and sweet. It was nice to have that since the fried food was so heavy.

spacastle_foodAfter that we headed back to the outdoor pool area and tried out one of the body massage areas which was AMAZING! It was great to feel the water jets on my back, legs etc. We also enjoyed the foot massage pool and our 2nd drink.

spacastle_poolThen I headed to Sauna Valley and I really liked the whole set up of it. There was a bridge, water flowing, and different colored lights flashing peacefully.

spacastle_saunasI got some friends to join me in trying out all the saunas. We started with the hottest ones first and my favorite was the Gold Sauna. It was a nice temperature, not too scorching and there was a bench to sit on. The most aesthetically pleasing was Jade Sauna which was a dome with gorgeous colors and stones, but at 180 degrees it was a little too warm for me.

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I also laid down in the infrared zone for a little bit. It was okay. I didn’t feel much of a difference after. I just laid out on the long chairs after and then headed back to the locker room. There was a nice area with a massage chair and comfy blue couches just for the girls there.

The one complaint I had about Spa Castle is that it was confusing to navigate and I didn’t even see/know about some of the amenities, such as the Ice Land, which would have probably been my favorite room of all since I LOVE ice! Thankfully, we received a free certificate for another visit, so I will definitely check it out when I come back.

Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana
36-08 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria, NY

Spa Castle
131-10 11th Ave
College Point, NY

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Dining at Alta

altaAlta is a lovely, charming restaurant with an elegant, yet homey feel, in a converted townhouse in the West Village area. The place is easy to miss because there is no sign out front, so you have to be looking for it.

My friends and I were seated downstairs near the fireplace and we ordered 5 dishes to share.

First came the bacon wrapped dates and olives (I requested only dates since I don’t like olives) which were stuffed with almonds. This was amazing! The bacon was perfectly crispy, full of flavor and the dates were sweet, chewy, wonderful. The roasted almond added a bit of crunch and wonderful taste.

alta_baconThen, the brussel sprouts, mixed with granny smith apple, creme fraiche and pistachio. The brussel sprouts tasted so good and were juicy, with great seasoning. I would have liked more apple in the dish though.

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The lamb meatballs had a charred red pepper sauce and some sort of white cheese. They were pretty good, but not particularly memorable for me.

alta_meatballsRoasted salmon came on top a summer vegetable salad of squash, corn, tomatoes and string beans. I enjoyed this dish a lot. The salmon was charred just a bit with the skin still on it and was slightly flaky, not fishy at all and was just delicious. And the salad was nice and fresh.

alta_salmonWe also ordered the roasted trumpet mushrooms, consisting of porcini caramel and breadcrumbs. This was quite good with a very savory, appetizing sauce with the best tasting breadcrumbs I have ever had!

As for dessert, we tried two different ones: First one was the Chocolate Peanut butter Napoleon, which consisted of chocolate cream, peanut butter ganache and malted milk chocolate ice cream. This was delectable with perfectly flaky cake with layers of yummy chocolate and peanut butter. And the ice cream was creamy and sweet.

alta_napoleonThe other dessert we had was the Georgia Julep Parfait, which came with roasted peaches, bourbon ice cream, mint granita and pecan praline. I really enjoyed this. The bourbon ice cream was superb, with amazing rich bourbon flavor and paired perfectly with the refreshing peaches and roasted/sugary pecans.

alta_peachesThe service was top notch and since one of my friends knew the host, our drinks and desserts were free! We weren’t expecting that special treatment, so were pleasantly surprised. And I would absolutely come back to try other dishes and that’s saying a lot, because I normally don’t like dine in the same restaurant twice.

Alta
64 W 10 St
New York, NY

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Bronycon 2015

A few weekends ago (August 7-9, 2015) I traveled to Baltimore, MD meeting up with friends to go to BronyCon, which is the largest convention for fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. For Bronycon, I dressed in purple and glitter (wearing a beautiful pale purple tulle skirt that my friend made for me), in the style of Twilight Sparkle. Here, I am pictured with the friendly Applejack!

bronycon_applejackThere were over hundred panels and activities at Bronycon this year. Some of panels were dedicated to the convention’s guests of honor, as well as panels from members of the fanbase on art, music, writing, video productions, and other community aspects. The convention also provided several activity rooms, such as for arts and crafts, video games, cosplay and card game tournaments.

The following were some of my favorite events:

Bronypalooza: A musical concert over two nights, featuring fan musicians, such as Jeff Burgess & the Bad Mares, SaxBrony, ElieMonty, Seventh Element, ArtAttack, Rhyme Flow, Eurobeat Brony and many more!

bronypaloozaCosplay/Costumes: I loved seeing all the gorgeous, flowing, handmade costumes throughout the conference. Below, I am pictured with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.

Bronycon_fluttershyGrand Galloping Gala: Lovely and lively dance party, from classical music to more energetic tunes.

Hooves Line is it Anyway?: A fun-filled hilarious ponified-version of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” by talented actors.

Marketplace: Over 200 vendors selling handmade art, along with selected retail vendors with licensed My Little Pony merchandise, such as the ever popular plushies and games.

bronycon_purple dressbronycon_kidsHere is some of the merchandise that I purchased: Luna bag, glittery soap and a gorgeous drawing of Princess Celestia.

bronycon_merchOpen Mic: An eclectic mix of My Little Pony related poetry, singing, skits.

Also, while walking around the Baltimore Convention Center, we came across some great photo ops with Furries!

bronycon_furriesbronycon_furryI also enjoyed the conference’s close proximity to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which my friends and I explored during the late afternoons and evenings, enjoying several delicious meals in the area.

bronycon_inner harborOverall, I had an amazingly fun adventure-filled weekend at Bronycon, and I am so happy I got to share this experience with awesome friends.

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RW Lunch: i Trulli

i Trulli is a lovely and charming Italian restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor garden in the back, where a friend and I enjoyed our Restaurant Week lunch meal.

i trulli_meFirst we were given water and our glass was always full. Then the waiter brought out a small basket of bread: There were 2 different types. One was foccaccia like with sun-dried tomato, fennel, rosemary and other seasoning. The other was rustic brown bread. It came with nice fluffy and creamy butter.

i trulli_breadI had the baby calzones for my appetizer. One had cheese and tomato filling, while the other was sausage and broccoli rabe. I think I liked the cheesy one better. There wasn’t enough of the filling in the other calzone.

i trulli_appsFor my main course, I chose the “straw and hay” pasta dish, Paglia e Fieno, which came with peas, pancetta (lots of it, to my delight) and cream sauce. It was truly delicious! The pasta itself were long strips of golden yellow and green colors and cooked to perfection. The peas were fresh and wonderful, the pancetta was incredibly flavorful with just the right amount of salt, slightly crispy with tons of great seasoning. It tasted amazing. The dish also came with lots of Parmesan cheese. It was very rich and filling.

i trulli_pastaMy friend had the Pork Scaloppini which was pork medallions with bread salad of tomatoes, onion and cucumber. The presentation was really nice and I loved that it was so colorful, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the pork. It didn’t taste all that flavorful to me and was a bit too chewy. The salad was pretty tasty though.

i trulli_porkchopDessert was Torta di Cioccolato, chocolate cake with a scoop of coconut sorbetti. When we were first served dessert, my friend and I felt that the portion size was quite small, but it still satisfied us. The cake, however, was more like a mini brownie with chocolate drizzled on top. The ice cream was in a perfect small ball and there was toffee peanut brittle underneath it. I enjoyed the cake which was chocolate-y, moist and slightly sweet, while the coconut sorbetti was refreshing and light.

i trulli_dessertI really enjoyed the meal, atmosphere and attentive service at i Trulli.

i trulli

i Trulli
124 E 27 St
New York, NY

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Popbar: Gelato on a Stick

I love Popbar in the West Village. It’s the perfect dessert spot for summer and any other season. It’s gelato on a stick… Made with fresh, natural ingredients and dipped in different types of chocolate with the option to add toppings. Such a simple, yet delicious concept.

popbar_me1I’ve been to Popbar numerous times and twice this weekend! Some flavors I’ve tried (all dipped in milk chocolate): Dulce de Leche (probably my favorite flavor- extremely sweet, rich, wonderful); peanut butter (just delicious); pumpkin (seasonal treat- nice and yummy).

popbarRecently I had the coffee with milk chocolate and that was delectable. Loved the smooth coffee-chocolate taste. Today I had the strawberry yogurt with a new dipping sauce: Caramel dark chocolate. I loved the strawberry taste- Very creamy, sweet (but not overly so), refreshing! And I enjoyed the dark chocolate, but I felt like the caramel flavor was not that strong.

popbar_popsicleI really want to try the blood orange, green tea, hazelnut, pistachio & mixed berry flavors next. Looks like I’ll have to come back quite often… Which is perfectly fine by me. This is one of the few establishments I would travel out of my way to go to!

Tip: The Popsicles melt quickly, so it’s better to stay in the store/sit right outside to enjoy/eat it versus walking out with it.

popbar_me

Popbar
5 Carmine St
New York, NY

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