Saturday, May 28, 2011

California Vacation: More San Diego

San Diego Sea WorldWhen in San Diego, a trip to the Zoo is a must. So, there we were in the morning, immediately rewarded by the sight of georgeous peacocks strutting around the entrance area. Peacocks in the wild shy away from humans; however, the ones here obviously enjoy the attention. They preened and strutted around like catwalk models until the sun began to rise and the day got warmer.

San Diego ZooSan Diego Zoo is a great place for children. The zoo is divided into multiple theme-based zones and the animals are housed in well-designed enclosures. There are trails that wind through the habitats - some on two levels so you get a 'tree-top' view in addition to the view from the ground-level making for an excellent viewing experience, especially in the aviaries and the enclosures for monkeys.

San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo
San Diego ZooWe spent a day at Sea World watching Shamu and the other shows. The one I liked the most was the Sea Lions show which combined a smart script and good actors along with the sea-lions.

San Diego Sea WorldThe evenings were spent strolling the waterfront near our hotel and dining at different places nearby under the open skies. We also met up with some old friends after a very long time and the time we spent together was a highlight of this visit to San Diego. Finally, it was time to say goodbye and get on a flight to San Francisco before heading back home.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

California Vacation: San Diego Safari

Personal time with a Cheetah at San Diego Safari ParkWe rode a bus from Anaheim to San Diego. I had booked us at the Manchester Grand Hyatt - an imposing hotel on the waterfront with its twin towers overlooking the aircraft carrier and the Naval Base in the distance. Down below from our room on the 22nd floor, we could see Seaport Village with its collections of quaint little shops, restaurants and boardwalk by the sea. We watched the sun go down over the Bay and headed downstairs to dine at a small seafood restaurant run by a Mexican woman. As the skies darkened, we sat down with freshly fried fish, tacos and wine enjoying the cool breeze that came off the sea.

San Diego Safari ParkWe had booked tickets for San Diego Zoo's Safari Park. It was only when we got onto a taxi that we realized how far this place was. After 30 minutes and a $100 cab fare, we arrived. Having visited the place I can now say it was worth the money and the effort! We loved this place even more than the Zoo. Spread over 1800 acres of wilderness, this park is home to over 3000 wild animals including the big four from Africa.

San Diego Safari Park
San Diego Safari Park
Elephants at San Diego Wild Animal ParkWe took a safari ride on tram across the 'African Plains' watching families of giraffes, elephants and deer among others. Then we headed off on foot covering Condor Ridge, Elephant Valley, Tiger Trail and Gorilla Forest. There weren't too many visitors during the time we were there, and some of the enclosures made me think we were in Jurassic Park - but thankfully, no velocirapter leapt out of the bushes.

San Diego Safari ParkOn the way back, we saw several farms dedicated to oranges and ostriches. So if very large omlettes are your thing, stop on your way back!


Saturday, May 14, 2011

California Vacation: Santa Monica and Anaheim

Santa Monica Monsoon CafeThis was meant to be a San Diego vacation, but by the time we got done planning we ended up adding Anahiem, Santa Monica and San Francisco to our list. I was already in the United States on business, so I flew down to Los Angeles to recieve my wife and daughter on a Sunday evening. The weather was perfect and it was still daylight when we got back to our hotel, so without much ado we decided to stroll right away to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, one of our favorite spots in this lovely city.

Dinner at Monsoon Cafe was fun as usual: lots of sake, sushi and prawn tempura before meeting with some old friends and chatting through the evening strolling among street performers and shoppers as we dug into Pinkberry ice-creams.

Monsoon Cafe Santa MonicaOn the next day, we walked down to Santa Monica pier and spent some time at the amusement park. The pier, the beach and the surrounding area has been immortalized by Raymond Chandler's books, NCIS: Los Angeles on tv and Forest Gump in the movie. The view from the top of the iconic ferris wheel was dramatic on this bright sunny day. We lazed around shopping for souvenirs before stopping at Hot Dog on Stick. Yelpers rave about this small place for good reasons. Nothing beats a sizzling hot dog and freshly made iced lemonade on the beach.

Santa Monica pierWe had a quick lunch at Wahoo's Fish Taco before taking the Disneyland bus to Anaheim. The Sheraton Anaheim hotel exceeded our expectations: the warmth of their lobby area with its intimate spaces, the wide corridors and the large and comfortable rooms.

We headed out to Downtown Disney - a much smaller place than the one at Orlando. It was my birthday today, so the daughter insisted on ordering a Volcano dessert for me. The dessert was a huge combination of strawberry and vanilla ice cream with chocolate brownie, banana, whipped cream, marshmallow, cherry, caramel and hot fudge, with a sparkler on top! Each time a Volcano dessert emerges from the kitchen, the server repeatedly yells “VOLCANO!” as he brings the dish to it’s rightful owner!

Mad Hatter's Tea Party at Disneyland
Pixie Hollow at DisneylandThe next day was entirely spent in Disneyland - the orginal park Walt Disney created, but much smaller than DisneyWold in Orlando. The distances between attractions and rides were smaller, but the lines were long - especially at the more contemporary ones such as Tangled and Pixie Hollow. The Indiana Jones ride was fun as was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (this one was even better than the one in Orlando). Unfortunately, Star Wars was closed and is expected to re-open this summer in a more contemporary form.


Saturday, May 07, 2011

Cosily French at Le Papillon

Hokkaido scallops at Le PapillonLocated at a busy crossing of San Jose, Le Papillon was quite a revelation for me. Old-fashioned with low ceilings and windows with shutters, the restaurant is immediately warm and cozy. While French classics would be quite at home in such a setting, the menu is very contemporary French with Asian influences. Unlike most popular chefs who change jobs every few years, Executive Chef Scott Cooper has been cooking here forever.

They seated me at the bar as they got my table ready. I decided try the Chef's tasting menu to get a flavor of this interesting place. The waitress brought an amuse of lamb and a glass of champagne to get started. They followed with another amuse of mulligatawny soup with a dash of cilantro, and then brought a third amuse of miso marinated hamachi. Three amuse bouches in a row!

Lamb amuse at Le Papillon
Mulligutawny amuse at Le Papillon
Amuse at Le PapillonThe first course was Hokkaido Scallops. Prepared with seaweed puree, puffed rice and pickled miyoga - a unique plant with edible flower buds and shoots - this dish was quite interesting on the palate. The chilled sake went perfectly with this Japan inspired dish.

Le Papillon San JoseNext was the Heart of Palm risotto with lobster and pomelo confit. This dish was quite fantastic - the taste of tender heart of palm, the fresh lobster meat and the citrus goodness of pomelo - a fruit found in parts of Southeast Asia. The wine, a Chardonney.

Heart of Palm risotto at Le PapillonThe Heirloom Radishes came next. Served with tangerine, guanciale and rye. Again a winner with the Belgian beer.

Heirloom Radish at Le PapillonAnother amuse with the chef's compliments: this time a cheese based mousse with white truffle. Excellent with the Pinot. This restaurant certainly served me more amuses than any other!

The next course was the Breast of Squab with cauliflower hummus and liver pate tortellini. The squab was very flavorful and contrasted nicely with the accompaniments. I sipped on a deep red Cabernet as I relished the expertly cooked bird.

Squab at Le PapillonThe Wagyu beef topped with truffle-potato 'gremolata' and vincotto jus was another good one! The unique spin on tater tots worked perfectly with the tender meat. Another Cabernet accompanied this dish.

Wagyu beef at Le PapillonThe cheese plate consisted of a cow milk cheese with candied walnuts. The dessert - a palette of Chocolate - was unique and very satisfying. Hazelnut, coffee and caramel chocolates contrasted with each other in taste and texture making for a fitting ending to a perfect meal.

Cheese plate at Le Papillon
Chocolate Dessert at Le PapillonI sat for some more time sipping on hot Darjeeling after which they gave me some passion fruit caramel sweets as I waited for my cheque.

Le Papillon San Jose
All in all, a wonderful find. The ambiance, the food and the service at this restaurant comes together for a perfect dinner experience in the heart of Silicon Valley.