Friday, August 28, 2009


We made our final day in Las Vegas a very low key one. Since our flight home was in the later afternoon, we really did not have a whole day to be out an about.

So, instead, we stayed "home," never leaving the Bellagio.

Once again we were back at the pool area. As you can see, as the morning progressed, the pool population increased. It was a luxury to have a complete morning by the pool, with no need to rush off.

We then checked out and went to Café Bellagio for lunch. Interestingly, we have not dined at Café Bellagio since our very first visit to the Bellagio, almost a decade ago. We had lunch here on the day we checked in and simply never bothered to real reason.

But, our friend Palmer has told us that his family, who also stay at the Bellagio, eat here often. They prefer it to the Buffet for their breakfasts.

It was time to visit again.

The dining room is comfortable and calm, with lots of space between tables. It looks out onto the pools on one side and the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens on the other. I believe it is the only restaurant in the hotel that is open 24 hours a day.

Our Cobb Salad and Grilled Vegetable Sandwich were both excellent.

Next time, we will return for sure.

As always, I am already planning my next Las Vegas visit!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Picking up with my tale of our four days in Las Vegas at the end of June, we started our third day with some time at the Bellagio pools.

Since I like to swim laps, I needed to be at the pools at 8 a.m. when they open. This pool is the best pool for lap swimming and early in the morning it is not packed with adults and kids simply hanging out in the middle of the pool. Some afternoons I actually encountered groups gathered around rafts on which perched their cocktails, in the middle of the pool.

Later in the morning, we head off to M & M World, four stories of all things M & M.

On the way, we walked past the City Center project, which is well under way.

We always head for the top floor of M & M World first, and then work our way down. The top floor features the M & M race car and much of the merchandise is racing themed.

There is stuff to buy on every floor and judging from the number of people making large purchases, it seems the word of an economic downturn have not reached Las Vegas.

There is a very nice view of New York New York hotel and its Coney Island roller coaster from the upper floors of M & M World.

On the third floor is a small M & M museum and a theatre that shows an M & M movie in 3-D. The current movie is "I Lost my M in Vegas."

The second floor features dispensers of M & Ms in every imaginable color. You can create your own mixture or purchase mixtures in a variety of bags and decorative containers. Since Fourth of July was coming up, I bought a red, white, and blue mixture to bring as a hostess gift to our friends with whom we were spending the Fourth.

The first floor has more souvenir items...lots of jewelry and keychains...the kinds of things that you can buy quickly to take home as souvenirs.

By the time we left M & M World we were ready for lunch. Wanting to eat lightly, because we had a special afternoon treat planned, we stopped at the Earl of Sandwich in Planet Hollywood.

Earl of Sandwich is a quick food place that is way above the average...large fresh sandwiches, salads, and soup, all at very reasonable prices, It is right inside the entrance to the hotel's Miracle Mile Shops, the south entrance, which is closest to M & M World. We both had tuna salads.

Back at the Bellagio, we checked out Jean Philippe, which sells French pastries, chocolates, crêpes, and light meals.

Knowing that we would be indulging in more food shortly, Jim had to be content to just look at the pastries.

The special treat of our afternoon was Afternoon Tea at Petrossian, also in the Bellagio. Jim has never had a formal afternoon tea but proposed it to celebrate a project I have been working on that relates to tea.

The table was set with fine China and Linen. We were served scones with lemon curd, clotted cream, whipped cream, and jams and jellies. We had several tea sandwiches. And, finished up with a selection of sweets. We each chose a variety of tea, and had our own tea pot of that tea. We relaxed over tea for several hours.

Having enjoyed our tea until about 5 p.m., we did not plan any dinner.

For the evening's entertainment, we partook of some of the free shows that go on outside the hotels.

We walked North on the Strip, enjoying the warm night and views of the hotels along the way.

I am not sure I have ever walked along the sidewalk in front of the Mirage, or not for a long time. I was delighted to discover an enormous sculptural tribute to Sigfried & Roy.

Also, I got to see the Venetian from the other side of the street...usually I am right in front of it.

Our first destination was the Pirate show at Treasure Island.

We then moved next door to the Mirage which has erupting volcanoes...we were on the back side of the volocano, close to the hotel entrance, but still saw a lot of fire and felt a lot of heat.

We took in the night lights and ducked into the Forum at Caesar's to cool off.

Back at the Bellagio, we made one final Café Gelato for a nightcap of Gelato.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dinner and more in the Temescal

The Temescal is an Oakland neighborhood that in recent years has risen from being just another neighborhood to being a culinary destination.

In one short block there is Bakesale Betty, Pizzaiola, and Doña Tomas, all special food places. Across the street is Genova Delicatessen's original location, albeit now expanded and renovated...Genova has two delis in Walnut Creek but got its start in this spot.

I had a gift card to Doña Tomas, a Mexican restaurant that has been on my to-dine list for many years. Tonight was our night to try it. Before heading to dinner, I read some online reviews of Doña Tomas and several complained about noise, small portions,, bad service, and high prices.

Our experience was none of the above. In fact, our dinner was one of the best meals I've had in any Bay Area restaurant and definately the most creative and interesting Mexican meal I have ever had. Doña Tomas makes just about everything it serves fresh at the restaurant. Ingredients are seasonal and mostly from local providers.

We had a choice of being seated on the outdoor back patio or indoors and opted for indoors. We were in a small back dining room that overlooks the patio.

Our room was not at all noisy but, on our way out, we noted that both front indoor dining rooms were very noisy.

After ordering a couple of beers (Pacifico is my current Mexican favorite) and munching on chips sprinkled with cheese and dipped in a dark rich salsa,

we started with a shared order of Sopes de Camarones. The order consisted of three masa cakes topped with fresh shrimp cooked in an achiote marinade, black beans, avocado slices and cilantro. This dish was as beautiful as it was delicious...and very filling too.

Jim's main course was the Tostada con Colache, a crispy tortilla topped with puréed black beans, potatoes, summer squash, corn, tomato and onions. It was garnished with avocado, crema, queso fresco and epazote. It was accompanied by red rice and an arugula and radish salad.

My choice was the Atún con Salsa de Naranja y Chiles, sautéed albacore tuna steak topped with a salsa made with gypsy peppers, red onions, habanero chiles, and orange and lime juices. Also on the place was chunks of watermelon in some kind of sauce and a most amazing Corn & Zucchini Pudding which was more like a corn soufflé. I asked our waiter about the Corn pudding and he said it is only made in summer during the corn season and is very popular. I could go back many times while corn is in season to have more of the pudding, for sure!

Believe me, we were not hungry for dessert but were intrigued by the Pay de Chocolate, Mexican Chocolate Cream Pie in a graham cracker crust. But, we were also intrigued by the Nieve de Yerba Buena con Pastilla de Chocolate, a mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae with Mexican Chocolate sauce. Our waiter told us that he likes them both and often adds the ice cream to his serving of the Pie...and that's what we did. It was worth the indulgence.

About the only thing that Doña Tomas does not make in house is its ice creams and sorbets; they come from Ici in Berkeley, a one location ice cream shop in the Elmwood district where all the ice cream is made daily on site.

Before dinner, we made a quick stop at Bakesale Betty, just as they were closing. We got to know Betty, who is still wearing her blue wig, from our Sunday Farmer's Market where she would don her apron and blue wig and set up her ironing boards to display her baked goods. A few years ago, Betty stopped coming to Farmer's Market because she and her husband opened their shop in the Temescal. Now the ironing boards serve as tables for those who want to enjoy one of Betty's baked items or her famous Fried Chicken Sandwich.

Notice the attentive dog, hopping for a taste of the yummy chicken?

We bought some cookies and banana bread for treats for the coming week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Now, if the title of this post is confusing, I am not surprised.

Today's lunch with some of my Masters Swim Team buddies was arranged by Carol, who works with a lady who is from Afghanistan and who introduced Carol to Chopan Kabob.

Carol was so enthused about her dining experiences here, she suggested that the group of us, who lunch together from time to time, give it a try.

Believe me, I never would have discovered Chopan Kabob on my own, but, then, many of my best discoveries are, in fact, from hearing about them from friends and associates. Just about all the other businesses in this strip mall in Concord are Latin businesses.

Chopan Kabob is open daily for lunch and dinner.

We relied on Carol for our menu choices, which we shared. Five of us ate abundantly (we work out and have good appetites, you know) and we still had food to take home. The entire meal, with tax and tip cost us $10 per person.

We started with a full order of Bolani. There are two Bolani on the warm thin flatbread stuffed with mashed potato, green onions and herbs (Bolani Kachaloo) and another stuffed with leeks and herbs (Bolani Gandana). We asked if we could have all the fillings combined into one order of Bolani and the kitchen prepared it for us.

As you can see, this order could have served 10 of us for an appetizer. I suggest ordering the Personal Bolani, a smaller order, if you are dining with just one other person or alone.

The Bolani was served with a Yogurt sauce.

We then enjoyed three different Kabobs: Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Seekh (ground lamb), and Beef Teka (marinated beef). The three kabobs were served in a hot skillet.

To go with it, was a fresh tomato and onion salad, rice, and flat bread. The Lamb Seekh Kabob was the table's favorite, but we enjoyed everything.

Thanks, Carol, for arranging this special lunch.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I am not exactly commuting the 50-60 miles to Davis, but recently it has started to feel like it.

Louie is back being a patient at the UC Davis Veterinary Hospital, this time for pain in walking up and down stairs and when he is curled up in his crate at night. While our local doctors have tried to treat it, as soon as he is off meds, his symptoms reappear. Based on our success a few years ago at UCD with his mysterious skin problems, we decided to return in hopes of finding a "cure" rather than a fix.

As of today, we have a diagnosis of Immune Mediated Polyarthritis. He is being check every two weeks for progress and it now seems that either he could go into a remission or he will remain on a maintenance dose of some medication for life...time will tell.

Since I like Davis so much, I am not minding being there often. My special friend, Mort, lives there and even without Mort, I simply love its college town atmosphere.

These are just a few of the places I've been in the past month or so.

This is the Veterinary Hospital.

Louie's first visit was at midday and we were not sure if we would get away to go downtown for lunch. We started our day with freshly-baked pastries from the Village Bakery which has lots of outdoor seating. The Bakery is known for its breads, pastries, and pizzas. A very good meal deal at the Bakery is a slice of pizza with salad for about $5!!! Mort tells me that on the days he "works" at the train station, Village Bakery gives him anything he wants to eat or drink...very nice community gesture, I say.

Back to chattering about lunch that day, I made sandwiches and brought them with me. When we finished with Louie's appointment, we found a shaded terrace with tables and chairs right across from the hospital building. Louie had his water and snacks and we had our sandwiches and fruit.

Then, not related to Louie and his medical condition, Babette was in town visiting her children who live in Sacramento, a few days after out first trip to the Veterinary Hospital. Over the years, Babette and I have decided that Davis is a good place for us to meet, even if Davis is closer to Sacramento than to where I am. This time, we had lunch at the Mustard Seed, on their lovely outdoor back patio.

Babette had a Roast Turkey (really turkey, freshly carved), Bacon, and Avocado Sandwich.

I had the Almond Curry Tuna Salad which was accompanied by slices of Almond Orange Bread.

We then walked around town, stopping at any and all stores that caught our attention, including The Artery and The Naturalist.

Today, I met Mort for lunch at Tucos.

I really think Mort should be the mayor of Davis, or at least its special ambassador. He seems to know all the businesses in town and all the "gossip" and inside information about them. And, when he is not dining or just being the man around town, he volunteers as a host at the Davis railroad station, making sure that any new arrivees are pointed in the right direction.

Tucos is around the corner from the Village Bakery on G street in a spot that I probably never would have found, were it not for Mort. I was later told by Louie's doctor that Tucos has wonderful wines, but this being lunch and me looking at a drive of at least an hour, there was no wine consumed.

Mort's choices were the Vuelve la Vida Venezuelan seafood cocktail- wild shrimp, clams, calamari , followed by Roasted Monterey Sardines with Piri Piri Sauce and greens.

I chose a Latin Combination Plate, with Arepas de Carne Mechada, shredded pasture-raised beef, sweet onion, crème Fraiche, as my main dish. It was garnished with greens, rice, and black beans and served with a glass of iced Mate tea.

It was not hard for Mort to convince me to share two desserts: Panna Cotta and Affogato.

I have since read up on Tucos and see that it has received national press attention. When food writer and healthful eating advocate Michael Pollan came to Davis to speak, it was Tucos where he chose to dine.

A note about the name Tucos; it comes from the owner's daughter, who mispronounced the Portuguese word for juice, "suco," as "tucos" when she was young.

During my recent visits, I've also had meals at Café Bernardo and at Pasta?. And, I found the perfect top to go with a new skirt at The Wardrobe.

Stay tuned, as I eat and shop my way through Davis for the rest of the summer into fall.