Sunday, February 22, 2009

Restaurant Week - David Burke's Primehouse

I've been waiting forever. Restaurant Week is finally here! We only booked at two restaurants this week since that's all my wallet or my waistline can handle. But I would love to pick a new restaurant for every night. Dinners are $32/person for 3 courses and lunches are $22/person for 3 courses.

David Burke's is one of our favorite restaurants. Both The Husband and I are huge fans of steak. So when we have a special event we're celebrating and we're shelling out a lot of cash for dinner we frequently choose a steakhouse. We've been to David Burke's before - once to celebrate our birthdays and once for NYE last year.

David Burke's Primehouse is in the James Hotel. I checked hotel rates and they were only $129 for that night. What a deal. They can be up to $400/night during prime time. Thought it would be a nice treat for us but we decided not to book. Really no reason to stay in a hotel that's close enough that we could walk there.

We started with drinks at the bar. I had a bellini ($8) and The Husband had a vodka tonic ($12). A little disappointing. My bellini was just champagne and peach schnapps instead of a peach puree and they didn't have the Effen vodka that The Husband wanted for his V&T. I'd expect a little more at such an upscale bar. Plus The Husband's V&T was way too strong. He said at least he got his money's worth.

We were seated shortly. Since it was Restaurant Week we had a set menu to choose from. The choices were very extensive though unlike some Restaurant Week menus I've seen. Instead of bread they bring out individual gruyere puffs. By now we also ordered a bottle of pinot grigio.

For an appetizer I had a pretzel encrusted crab cake with poppy seed honey and mango mayonnaise. This isn't your traditional crab cake. I love the texture from the pretzels and the flavor of the mango mayonnaise.

The Husband had the lobster bisque which came with a little lobster spring roll. The lobster bisque was excellent, maybe even better than the crab cake, but I found the presentation a bit lacking.

For dinner we both had the 6 ounce filet mignon. I got mine with a blue cheese add-on for $4. The filets were excellent as always. I loved having the smaller portion. I didn't feel like I had to finish the whole thing and stuff myself.

The entrees were accompanied by 4 sides: mushrooms, creamed spinach, asparagus and shallots, and basil whipped potatoes. I tried all of them but I really dislike mushrooms and don't really care for spinach or asparagus. The basil whipped potatoes were good though. Very creamy and had a nice hint of basil.

The Husband also got a side of Cavatelli "mac n' cheese" ($5). He enjoyed it. I thought it was good but nothing special.

The Husband's dessert was called "Slice of Prime" and had layers of rich chocolate mousse, cake, and fudge s'mores ice cream. The dessert was more mousse-y than cake-y and very rich but The Husband really enjoyed it.

I got the apple cheddar pie which had granny smith apples, aged cheddar, and salted caramel ice cream. I know this sounds like a weird combination but it was very good. When the cheddar was covered by all the sweetness and ice cream it didn't taste like typical cheese at all. I don't know that I'd order it again since I'm not a dessert person at all, but it was nice to try.

Service was decent but was very rushed by our waiter. Probably a result of it being restaurant week. I loved the meal because it provided just the right amount of food. If we'd ordered everything a la carte there would have been larger portions of everything and we would have had to be rolled out of the restaurant. It was nice to have a meal out where I cleaned my plate but didn't feel the need to unbutton my pants afterwards. Total cost for the meal, one bottle of wine, 2 drinks, and tip was $170.

gruyere puff

The Husband

pretzel encrusted crab cake that I'd already taken a bite out of before I remembered to take a picture

lobster bisque with lobster spring roll

filet mignon

entree sides - mushrooms, basil whipped potatoes, creamed spinach, and asparagus with shallots

mac n' cheese and my side of blue cheese

apple cheddar pie with my bite out of it

slice of prime chocolate goodness

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thailand and Cambodia on Hold

Just as The Husband and I were about to book our flights to Thailand this weekend I received some bad news at the office yesterday. All salaries have been reduced 10%. So this will reduce the travel budget quite a bit. We're still keeping the prospect open and have thought of ways of reducing the cost of the trip. This includes cutting down on some of the activities and skipping Cambodia. But the other part of me thinks if we're going all the way to Thailand (which is like 19 hours total on a plane), I don't want to skip Angkor Wat. I also don't want to shorten the trip too much to save money because the likelihood of us going back for a very long time is very slim. Too many other places to see. I also hate being on a strict budget for vacations and don't find it very enjoyable.

Another option we're entertaining is a shorter trip that would still make use of The Husband's time off next Christmas is a trip to Barcelona and the surrounding area for a week. If we don't travel around too much costs should remain pretty low. I'm also open to any other ideas for about 10 days after Christmas.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In Honor of my Blog's Name

When I started my blog I said I'd write about three things: travel, shoes, and eating out. Unfortunately this winter I haven't bought many shoes, at least many cute ones. I also haven't eaten out much. But finally, I bought a new pair of shoes. This was my first experience using Zappos which is great because it has free shipping. I needed a new pair of Anne Klein silver flats to replace my old ones which are beyond scuffed. This new pair actually seems to have a lot better support too. So here are the new shoes.






Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Our anniversary isn't until September but we already got ourselves our gift - a trip to San Francisco! Originally we were going to go our anniversary weekend but we pushed it to two weeks earlier over Labor Day weekend to take advantage of the extra day off work.

I've been wanting to go to San Francisco for years but kept putting it off since there are so many things in California I wanted to do. San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma, and driving down the coast. We'll have to put most of it off and just concentrate on downtown San Francisco for this trip but we're still so excited.

We were inspired to book because we found a great deal at the Parc 55 Hotel located in Union Square. We're paying $105/night for 3 nights and it's a 4 star hotel. A deal that can't be passed up. Combined with using our airline points it should be a cheap trip since we don't need a car rental either. We will be splurging on a big anniversary meal. If you have any recommendations let me know.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Wrench in the Plans

We'd planned to travel to Thailand for next Christmas and I'd timed the dates perfectly to take advantage of all of The Husband's time off for the holidays and shutdown. I had several different options that all involved us being gone 18 days but The Husband would only have to use 7 days of vacation. Well apparently those dates are the most popular time of the year to travel and none of my 5+ scenarios for travel dates will work. And I'm a bit perplexed. Because really who wants to take a really long flight to Tokyo then another long flight to Bangkok that leaves at noon on Christmas Eve and gets into Bangkok at 11:30 pm on Christmas night? Apparently other people besides us. I thought maybe we'd catch Santa while we were in the air.

It also looks like the Holiday Inn isn't offering rewards points nights at the beach resorts we want to visit on Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. Although their website also looks like they have no rooms available at all. So we may be moving up our trip a week or two. We'll still get to take advantage of some of the days off around Christmas but this time we'll be back before the new year. I was looking at spending NYE halfway around the world in a completely different time zone either on the beach or in the crazy city of Bangkok. On the plus side it looks like I'll be rockin' a tan for my NYE party dress even though I'll be in Chicago.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ziplining

I'm attempting my first video on the blog. Our guide made this during our zipline tour.

video

Costa Rica - Manuel Antonio

So first a confession. We never actually made it into Manuel Antonio. Yes we went all the way there and didn't go to the national park. The upside is there is tons of things to do in the area so we did those instead.

The drive from Arenal to Quepos was very long. Like 6.5 hours long on some back curvy roads with lots of speed traps and stuck behind big trucks you can't get around. We stopped in Jaco and ate at Taco Bar which was great. We were staying at the Hotel Parador for 2 nights because we got a great deal through American Express travel on their rooms. We had a "jungle view" room but in reality we faced a tennis court. I didn't know animals played tennis. The pool area however was really nice. There were 2 main pools that were kind of connected to each other along with a swim-up pool bar. Then there was an adults only pool with a waterfall. All the pools looked out over the ocean.

Since we didn't get in until 2:30 pm the first day we spent the afternoon at the pool with some umbrella drinks. For dinner we hired a taxi and headed up the terrible road that our hotel was at the very end of for dinner at Aguas Azule. Excellent food and it overlooks the ocean if you're there during the day time. I had a mango daiquiri which was fabulous. We split some guacamole and salsa for an appetizer. Both were very fresh and the chips were fresh and still warm. For dinner I had a plate of nachos which was delicious. The Husband had something called a Big Ass Burger. Seriously this thing was huge. And gross. Not gross tasting, just gross because it was so big. I told him he couldn't finish or he would have a heart attack. The Husband loved the burger though.

The next day we didn't have an activity until 2:30 pm. We were visiting Damas Estuary for a boat ride and wildlife spotting and our other choice was to go at 6:30 am (aren't we on vacation?) since you have to go when the tide is right. After breakfast we walked down to the beach for me to dip my toes in the Pacific since I'd never been. The beach was nice but nothing special and we both prefer the pool so we made the long and steep trek back up to the hotel. Seriously if I'd done this midday I would have passed out. We spent our morning at the pool getting incredibly sunburnt. We are both pale pale and ghostly and we were only slightly north of the equator. It was inevitable. It was also hotter than hell. So hot that I didn't even have any fun umbrella drinks since it was too hot to drink anything but water. We ate lunch at the hotel restaurant. The Husband had guacamole which is his new obsession after refusing to eat it for years. I had a bowl of gazpacho and a plate of ceviche. Both were perfect for the hot weather although I really only should have picked one of them. The gazpacho had all the ingredients such as tiny chopped up onions and peppers and croutons on the side to add in as much as you wanted. The ceviche was made with mahi mahi which believe it or not I'd never had before.

We decided on the Damas Estuary tour because we heard monkeys were everywhere. One of the couples we'd met at the Pacuare Lodge said tours in Manuel Antonio you put bananas on your hand and monkeys come up to you and eat it off. This tour doesn't do that because apparently it's bad for the monkeys. Bummer. We learned a lot about the mangroves which was interesting. But most of the animals were difficult to see. The guide would spot something hidden under leaves or high up in the tree then it took 10 minutes for each of us in the boat to finally see it. We saw snakes (ewww), anteaters, and a baby crocodile. The highlight was the monkeys. We finally saw them towards the end of the tour. They were the only animals that were out and really visible swinging around everywhere. And they were adorable getting really close to the boat and even jumping on the roof of the boat. We managed to get a lot of pictures. Had it not been for the monkeys though the tour would have been a bust.

That night we had dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Kapi Kapi. This restaurant was pretty upscale and beautifully decorated. There was mostly fish on the menu although we both had the beef tenderloin over scalloped potatoes. Excellent all around. Hands down the best part of the meal was dessert though. It was a hot chocolate souffle with homemade vanilla bean ice cream on top. This was honestly the best dessert I've ever had in my life. I'm not really a dessert eater but I could have eaten multiple of these they were that good. Absolutely not to be missed if you're in the area.

Our last day we went ATVing. We'd gone before in Mexico but we liked this one better. We saw a lot of the local people swimming along the river that we were ATVing around and through. A big thumbs down to the lady in our group who appeared to be terrified of her ATV. We end up with one of those on nearly every excursion we go on. She was so slow. With all the bouncing up and down I ended up very sore the next day, especially in my back and my hands felt bruised from gripping the handles so hard. We also got a meal after the ATVing which was really good. Typical chicken, rice, and beans.

I grabbed one last daiquiri at the pool bar and swam for a little bit. Then we loaded ourselves into the car for one last trip down the terrible road. We weren't that hungry after our late lunch but didn't want to stop along the way so we grabbed some more food from Aguas Azule. This time we had guacamole, salsa, and bacon and cheese fries. I can't say enough about fresh cut french fries covered in two of my favorite foods - cheese and bacon. We were spending the night at the Holiday Inn next to the airport. The whole next day was long and uneventful with a lot of time spent in airports and adding a lot of layers from our carry-ons to be ready when we got to Chicago. We loved Costa Rica. So relaxing even though we were so active and so many things to do there.

A palm tree plantation on the way into Quepos

Our hotel

Pool area

Sunset

Waterfall in the adults only pool

Main building

At the pool deck

The huge lizard we saw at the hotel twice

One the Damas Estuary tour

Mangroves

Finally the monkeys!

They are adorable

I wanted to take it home with me

Sunset from where the estuary meets the Pacific

ATVing

Don't I look rugged?

Heading through the river. At one point I got stuck and started sinking. Yes I had to be rescued and The Husband was laughing at me.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Costa Rica - Arenal Volcano

We drove up to Arenal Volcano on Tuesday morning. It was about a 3 hour drive. Miraculously I haven't felt car sick with all the winding driving we've been doing in the Costa Rican countryside. We had lunch when we reached the town of La Fortuna then we were off to our hotel. Originally we'd planned on checking in and going for a hike at the La Fortuna waterfall. That went to the wayside when we saw our hotel though.

Arenal Nayara was off the main road and down a dirt road. Upon entering the main lobby we were greeted with a welcome drink and a cool scented towel to cool off with. We were taken by a golf cart on a tour of the grounds, which actually aren't that big since there was only 24 units total. Our room was absolutely gorgeous. A beautiful porch overlooking the volcano. Both an indoor and outdoor shower. And a jacuzzi on the porch. Best of all each unit is secluded.

The pool was likewise gorgeous and this is where we decided to plant ourselves for the rest of the afternoon instead of going on a hike. There were whirlpools within the pool and a swim-up pool bar that I used extensively. I decided to get a massage since I can never resist a spa. Prices were high but they had a 15% off coupon. Since I was in volcano territory I had a volcano mud massage by Lillian which was excellent.

Because we were lazy and the massage was later in the day, we decided just to eat dinner at the hotel. I had the onion soup which was good and the paella which was okay. The Husband had the tortilla soup which was okay and tropical chicken breast with mango sauce which was good. Prices for dinner weren't too bad considering it's a hotel.

The next day we tried canyoning. Now this was intense. Canyoning included rappelling down small waterfalls while using the rocks and sides of the waterfall as footholds or basically dropping yourself down large waterfalls and kind of free-falling. We also did some intense hiking through the jungle along and in the river. I say intense since we were hiking in the small river along slippery rocks. You had to watch every foot placement so you didn't slip and land on the rocks. There were many rock formations you had to climb down including one that had no footholds so you had to jump into a pool of water located right between two steep rock faces. I am shocked I didn't fall or scrape against the rocks and become a bloody mess although I did get fairly beat up during this whole excursion. Very cool but be prepared that it is exhausted. I thought we were just going to drop down the waterfalls, nothing was mentioned about this long hike. Also, this will be harder for shorter people since it's harder for your legs to stretch to find the footholds. I had a much more difficult time with this than The Husband since I'm about 5 inches shorter than he is.

That night we headed for the hot springs that Arenal is famous for. There's a couple different ones you can choose from. Baldi Hot Springs is like going to Daytona Beach. Completely cheesy, young and cheap crowd, lots of drinking. It is the cheapest option. I don't know much about Ecotermales but it's a smaller hot springs and often reservations are needed. Tabacon until recently was known for being the fancy hot springs. It's also pretty expensive. We decided to try the newest hot springs at the hotel called The Springs. This place just opened 6 months ago and were offering a great deal. 2 full days of hot spring usage for $40/person.

I had really been looking forward to the hot springs but I was quite disappointed. At first we were very impressed by The Springs but then it kind of wore off on us. It was quite Disneyesque. Everything was manufactured. They even had some fake tree stumps. They have 18 total pools. Several are cold, several are medium, and several are hot. There are 11 of these total right outside the back of the hotel. There are also 7 in the forest a couple hundred meters down a path. These are all hot There they had built a slide right into the hot springs that we really enjoyed. They were not hot enough for us though. It was like lukewarm bath water. We tried the hot ones near the main building and they were hotter. We had planned on eating dinner here but the prices were pretty exhorbitant compared to our own hotel so we decided to just head back. Likewise spa prices were ridiculous. The weirdest thing was the whole place was empty. Eventually they're going to have a large amount of rooms but right now only a fraction of the rooms are open. (Note: the rooms are high priced as well.) But apparently hardly anyone had heard of this place yet and there was no one. It was kind of eerie. So back to our own hotel for dinner.

The next day was our last day in Arenal. We were scheduled to go ziplining through Sky Tram/Sky Trek. We drove there ourselves since getting picked up was an additional cost and we already had a car. Leave yourself plenty of time to drive there. The road is terrible and unpaved. The ziplining was great though. You take a tram up to the top. Also in the trams are people who are only taking the tram and not ziplining with you so if some in your party want to take the weenie option this is it. The ziplines were the highest and farthest I'd ever seen. One is half a mile in length and you can barely see over to the other side. It made the ziplines we did in Belize look like a kiddie playground. Absolutely wear old clothes though. Our clothes and faces were covered with oil from the wires and needless to say the clothes are ruined.

After another afternoon lounging by the pool we headed into town for dinner. We chose a steakhouse Don Rufino's. We shared an appetizer of cheeses and Italian meats which was fantastic. Then we shared a bacon-wrapped filet which was decent but of course didn't match up to the filets we've had at the top steakhouses in Chicago. But I would recommend Don Rufino's anyway. The next day we would be off to Quepos so to bed early again. I've never gotten so much sleep in my life yet been so tired from all the activity as this trip.


View of the cloud forest while driving up to Arenal

Our bungalow

More of our room

View from our patio to the volcano

The jacuzzi tub

Bathroom and closet area

Outdoor shower

View from our hotel

The hotel. The landscaping was so lush and green.

Pool and swim-up pool bar where I had many umbrella drinks

The Husband rappelling down the waterfall

There's me

Sitting amidst the rocks while our guides dammed up the water

And when the guides released the dam

The Husband rappelling

I'm going straight through a waterfall here

The Husband at dinner

The Springs lodge

Hot springs in the forest

Getting ready to zipline. I spent so much time this trip wearing those ugly and nasty helmets for all our excursions.

View from one of the zipline platforms

More views

View of Lake Arenal from the zipline

We saw a whole bunch of cotamundis on the way back from the ziplines

The cheesy display our maid left us. The elephants were cute though.

View of the pool at night

My artistic flower picture

One of the many rabbits that wander around our hotel grounds