Monday, December 24, 2012

Puerto Vallarta

Something incredible has happened lately in Puerto Vallarta; NO SMOKE!!  Not the rule of no smoking, but finally, no burning of garbage.  The all too familiar smell of smoke as soon as you enter the jetway from your plane, has disappeared.  The new municipal government has put an end to that and I was informed that the new mayor (or Municipal President) fired many department heads, one being the Sanitation supervisor.  Main streets, especially in business and tourist areas are noticeably cleaner.  I also noticed a great deal of recycling trucks and new garbage trucks.  Much of the "streetscape" construction is completed including The Malecon which is now car free. Things are looking up.  Even bus stop signs with route numbers have been posted, although buses do not have route numbers!  Go figure.

I finally had dinner at Mariscos el Coleguita in the Marina.  They're only open from about 2 in the afternoon until 7 or 8 and always packed!!  For what you get from the 15 or so items on the menu is VALUE PACKED..this was only 10.00us including one bottle of beer.  A bottle of a lesser brand of tequila is on the table with a shot glass, Kahlua and a grilled banana with a sauce is for dessert.  This was an almost 1 pound piece of grilled Dorado!  The service was very good as well as the conversation. 

Mariscos el Cogleguita


Located in downtown Vallarta is  this place.  After seeing the 
Subway translation for "torta", it was my duty as a friendly American
to set the proprietor straight.  Translating through his daughter-in-law, I told him that what he makes and sells is MUCH better than what Subway has and he should really remove "subway" from his sign.  I told him in a way that Subway is 
really nothing more than a lettuce

sandwich with very little meat of                                      
 any kind!  He got it.  The customer pictured here would not enjoy anything but a real TORTA.

A local enjoying a torta

And Desayundo (breakfast)

Breakfast, whether Mexican, American or Canadian, can be found virtually anywhere in Vallarta from the street to mercados, from Walmart to an Oxxo store.  Many are in the Marina.  I found one place near my hotel that came in handy on two occasions.  The awning says "Pizza & Beer" and "Tacos & Beer", Maria the waitress informed me that in fact that was the business name. The traditional Chilaquilles and chicken was amazingly good.  All it is is tortilla chips drenched in a green or red sauce with mexican cheese and creama. It may also contain onions.  My choice today was chicken.  

Chilaquilles with Chicken in an amazing sauce

Wings Restaurant at the Airport offers a large menu with many regional choices. Pictured above is Huevos Nortena, or Egss Northern style.  Scrambled eggs in a spicy red sauce with meat.

And not to be out done by ANYONE is El Mole de Jovita in Zona Romantica, with their very Mexican, very traditional chicken with mole.  El Mole survived the Basilio Badillo streetscape project and one can now dine outside again and enjoy "mom's" mole or any other

meals on the menu.  Any travel guides say El Mole de Jovita is a must.  

This Coca-Cola display is actually part of the bar at Marisco Loco in the Marina. LEDs change color every 15 seconds, pretty wild.




Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shameful Self - promotion - Uncle Jacks NYC

Uncle Jacks at 9th Avenue and 34th Street,  New York City

Although I only "know" Willy Degal from his shameful "Restaurant Stakeout" on the Food Network, I had to visit one of his restaurants in New York.  The success of his business is based on service, service, service.  Although a friend and I were accommodated earlier than our reservation time, this was not an issue, even on a Saturday evening.
We both ordered the 16 ounce NY Strip, medium, plus the not included
creamed spinach, baked potato and salad, pretty much standard for New York restaurants.  The "1/2 lobster tail and full claw" was more likely a Brazilian Rock Lobster as it was VERY small.  So much for truthful menus.  The USDA Prime beef was charred and not at all tender as it should be and was a total disappointment.  The cheesecake for dessert was more like softened Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  Our waiter did offer another choice, but I stuck with it.  Service on the hand was good, but not as spectacular as claimed and was rushed. The whole experience was a major disappointment and I have done better in less expensive restaurants, including Las Vegas and even Mexico!! 
As far as his tv show is concerned, it may be entertaining, but can restaurant owners be that naive and employees that bad?  I was able to check out a couple of local restaurants that needed Willy's help and found out that certain elements of the show is "for the camera", making it a total scam.  In fact, some of the "employees" are actors!

Check the size of the tail and claw!

Charred and not very appealing

A little more than medium and not tender

Not good and about 3 inches across!

There is no shortage of steakhouses in New York City and while the service was OK, the food lacked at all costs.  And speaking of costs, this was too much for too little.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

San Francisco


Greetings from San Francisco and bring a jacket!

What started out as an ordinary trip to Newark Airport, got progressively worse as the day went on.  My 9.20 am departure on American Airlines to Dallas, continuing to San Francisco, finally got in the air 1 hour and 55 minutes late because there was no plane!!!  American decided to fly one over from JFK.  No wonder they're bankrupt, this cost them a fortune!
Since the departure was so late, the connection at Dallas was lost and I had to wait an extra 2 hours for the connection to San Francisco.  I was able to get a $12.00 food voucher out of them, but not every restaurant at
DFW would accept it since American can't pay their bills.
I wound up at Urban Tacos, a Mexico City inspired fast/casual outlet.  If you like tacos al pastor, seek them out the next time you're in Dallas.

Finally arrived in San Francisco almost 4 hours late, which caused me to lose an entire day of vacation, including the San Francisco Streetfood Truck Festival (in the Mission) and the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building.  By the time I got to my hotel, both events were over.

Hog Island Oyster Co. at the Ferry Building is a very busy restaurant serving local oysters as well as others from the Pacific Northwest.  Being from New Jersey and used to decent size Blue Points from Long Island (not really fond of these) I was surprised to find the West coast oysters are very small; about the size of a quarter!  Of course, you don't get filled up on even twenty of them so you have to have a local beer and the San Francisco version of New England clam chowder.  The San Francisco version contains a hand full of small clams which have to taken apart by the person eating them.  It's like eating lobster.  By the time you do all of the work, you're too tired to eat!  The East Coast version requires less work and more time to enjoy!
Hog Island Oyster Co. faces the bay with with views of the Bay Bridge.
Ferry Building;  Hog Island Oyster Co. is on the far right.  This view was taken from the Golden Gate Ferry.

Breakfast:  Two places for breakfast, "as seen on tv" (Diners, Drive Ins and Dives) were Sweet Maple for eggs and millionaire bacon.  the bacon is thick cut with brown sugar and maple syrup, then oven baked.  Nice restaurant in a nice neighborhood.  The
not-so-home fries, I thought were exceptional as they were prepared with rosemary, giving them a unique taste.

Another breakfast stop was at HRD Coffee Shop on 3rd Street.  If you want a truly Korean/Japanese/Chinese breakfast experience you should visit this place.

If you're seeking a traditional American breakfast of eggs on a platter, you will not find it here.  Most of the items are burritos or sandwiches.  Order at the counter from the large menu board and your food will be brought to your table by a non-english speaking Chinese girl.
Never having kimchi before, I went full throttle and placed my order for HRD's signature spicy pork and kimchi burrito.  Kimchi is described as Korean sauerkraut.  It also contains crunchy cucumbers.  It was suprisingly good, after realizing there was a thin sheet of paper between the foil and the burrito.  As a beginner, this was just a silly mistake.  My friend, very disappointed by the non-traditional offerings, ordered a breakfast burrito containing eggs, ham and potatoes.  Both were quite large and filling.

Busy HRD kitchen

Breakfast Burrito with ham, eggs, potatoes.

Spicy Pork and Kimchi Burrito

 A 35 minute ferry trip across the Bay to beautiful Larkspur took me to the Marin Brewing Company.  A highly anticipated lunch trip to try their spectacular brews fell short by poor service.
The beers and food were all good, but for an after lunch seating at 1.30 pm, the time spent waiting for the beer and food to be delivered was lengthy to say the least.  The waitress explained that there is a high turnover of employees for some reason and the customers suffer.  I will go back.
As the high speed ferry arrives into Larkspur, with San Francisco in the background...
the imposing San Quentin Prison stands as a portal to welcome "visitors" and commuters!

Standing as a landmark on California Street for more than 160 years, is the Tadich Grill. Before I could finish asking a waitress at another restaurant the best place to go for Chipino, she finished the question by practically screaming out; "Tadich!"  I also heard good things about other well known seafood institutions, but she insisted on the Tadich Grill.
I have read reviews of their surly waiters, which I found not to be true.
Greeted at the door immediately by the cashier/maitre d/host guy, I was told there would be a 15 minute wait in the packed house...and it was only 4.30, but it was also happy hour.  I didn't mind the wait as I took in all of this "old school" San Francisco restaurant institution, drinking a local craft beer with the locals and not so locals at the beautiful bar, wooden booths and pressed steel ceiling.
The specialty of the house is chipino; a tomato based seafood stew with mussels, clams, shrimp and pieces of fish, served with garlic sourdough bread.  There is no need for an appetizer as this is a HUGE portion.

A full week in San Francisco and the East Bay was enjoyable as usual if you can stand going through a complete year of seasons in 1 week.  I watched as commuters from the east and south carry two jackets to work with them as the temperature and conditions from there home to work can vary as much as 30 degrees (at least in mid August).

Made it back to Newark on American without any issues, just couldn't get a AA emblazoned highball glass from anyone on board!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Heat Seekers and the Food Network

Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking do this show on the Food Network entitled "Heat Seekers" in which they travel around the United States going to any and all places that serve up SPICY foods.  With that in mind, no trip of mine would not be complete unless I visited the same places, two of which were in HOT Las Vegas!

Gorditos de Camaron

My first stop was Lindo Michoacan on Desert Inn, to order "Cry Today, Cry Tomorrow Chicken".  I couldn't remember the name but was anxious to try it as I was starving.  I started a conversation with the manager, telling I saw this place on TV and blah, blah.  He offered a a sample before I ordered telling me that it is very spicy and I might not want to order it.  I said to myself, "yeah right" as I was in the middle of consuming some very good smoky mezcal, chips and excellent bean dip and salsa.  He brought me a teaspoon size sample of a deep brown and dark reddish color concoction.  I took a little of the edge of a fork and the smell of it hit my senses as soon as I put it in my mouth, not even touching my tongue, I got a burn. Another tiny hit of this and I was on fire that was coming from the seven chiles, habenero being the least powerful!!  I tried to extinguish the flame with tortilla chips.  That didn't work.  Bean dip?  Nope.  I was dying at my table and my waiter disappeared!  I walked to the door of the kitchen and had to ask for milk as my nose was running and my hair must have been standing on end. THIS IS INSANE!!!  I had already ordered an appetizer of Gorditos de Camaron; a huge, tortilla stuffed with shrimp, tomatoes and onions, flash fried and covered in cheese.  It was massive for an appetizer.  With the fire dimming down in my stomach, I had lost my appetite.  I did manage to finish the appetizer but had to cancel an entree of what would have been delicious pork.
I'll have to go back again, but next time I'll have the Clark County Fire Department standing by.

My next stop was at Rice & Co. at the Luxor Hotel for their
Fire Breathing Dragon Roll.....

Eight piece Fire Breathing Dragon roll

 Now, Arron and Roger had trouble with this.  Was it for the camera or did they really have a problem with this?  I didn't. The Sushi Master prepared an outstanding roll consisting of
sliced habanero, spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, habanero powder, a drizzle of ghost pepper sauce and topped with micro cilantro.  The Master told me that crushed Pop Rocks (remember those?) were added for a sizzle effect, but I didn't notice since they must have already exploded before serving.  This was really good!  I made it through four of the eight pieces before requesting a small cup of milk.  The waitress brought half and half which was even better.  Do not be afraid to ask for milk.  The combination may sound disgusting, but it will kill a burn faster than beer.

So I casually made it through eight pieces of this gift of the sea
and had to laugh at Aaron and Roger..C'mon!!  In fact, as I was leaving, the manager told me to hang out a minute.  He returned with a gift for me:  a boxed gift of 2 sets of Rice & Co.
chopsticks.  I thanked him, but was surprised.  Was this a challenge, no.  A competition?  No, I was there alone.  I was informed that a guy about the same size and age of me quit after one bite and another guy, the same thing!!!  Dare I call them pussies?!?!  Nah, just amateur's like me!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

LA$ Vega$

Finally returned to Las Vegas!  I can no longer be loyal to United Airlines (Continental) since the fares remain high and the airline doesn't seem to have as much fluctuation as before the merger.  With that, I am Southwest's newest customer.
My second Southwest trip brought me to Las Vegas, via Phoenix....what a boring airport!  I no longer mind changing planes
as it gives me a chance to stretch my legs; I'm getting old!
Arrived in Las Vegas, picked up my car and off to the hotel.  Wow, it's already 101 degrees...but "it's a dry heat".  I wasn't really hungry yet as I ate at a faux-Mexican restaurant in Phoenix. 

In Las Vegas, everything is first-class, whether it's Mcdonalds or
some pizza place.  My first dinner stop on Saturday evening was
a family owned Italian restaurant; Sicilian Cafe, way out on East Tropicana.  I was really in the mood for spaghetti and meatballs for some reason and found this place by hearing an ad on KJUL.  I heard this place has real, homemade style and taste so why not try it.  I was greeted at the door my Mimma, and after my eyes adjusted from bright sunlight to indoor lighting, I was greeted by scenes and smells of Sicily.  In keeping with the homemade theme, I consumed my spaghetti and homemade meatballs and homemade bread, but preceeded by a delicious bowl of pasta e fagiloi.  I left full. I was a little disappointed with the sauce as I think mine is better.  Should sauce be on the dry side?  I needed more for the spaghetti.
Fresh Homemade Bread

While my dinner kept me full until morning, I had to check out
another Diners, Drive-ins and Dive place for breakfast.
I drove out about 23 miles to Boulder City, NV. This time, for a change, I was definitely
surprised and happy that The Coffee Cup Cafe was excellent!
Chile Verde omelet
 I had to wait about 10 minutes for a seat at the counter as the place was very crowded at 10.30 in the morning.  The hostess suggested I order one of their excellent Bloody Mary's with BACON!!  I ordered one; a 16 ounce "hand crafted" Bloody Mary with bacon that is specially, again, "crafted" for the restaurant by a local purveyor. 
                                                   A 16 ounce drink, combined with an outdoor temperature of 104 degrees, again, "a dry with an outdoor temperature of 104 degrees, again, "a dry heat" is not a great combination, but then again, I'm inside!  When seated, I ordered their famous Chile Verde omelet with hash browns and sourdough toast.  

The bar is in the adjacent dining area.
This was loaded with chunks and shredded pork with a nice kick of spices.  It's not to be missed!  Finally, Guy Fieri picked a winner!
Boulder City was originally built by the US Government to house construction workers during the construction of Hoover Dam.  It's also a stopping off point for Lake Meade visitors.

Busy dining room and counter.

Tuesday afternoon, I had a reservation at the new Museum of Organized Crime and law Enforcement, commonly referred to as "The MOB Museum" which was the brainchild of  former 3 term Mayor and mob guy defense attorney, Oscar Goodman.  There is no MOB!  It's simply a group of business men...yeah, business
men, that's it...but they ran nice hotels and casinos.
So now "I know a guy...."  Oscar Goodman and myself

Old prisoner transport bus
The Museum, not to be confused with The Mob Attraction at the Tropicana, shows the beginnings of Las Vegas crime history from the "wild west days" to modern Las Vegas and mob infiltration, mob hotels and the notable figures that built the City in the middle to late 20th century.  It is a multi-media and educational journey to learn about all things mob and maybe some things you don't want to know.  Most importantly, the museum is located in the old US Post Office and Federal Courthouse in downtown to give an authentic judicial feel. There is a huge history to this building.  Leave the kids home, please.
MOB Museum

Steak Steak Steak

Loosely translated, Las Vegas means indulgence and lots of it
whether it's buffets, alcohol or magnificent hotels.  Personally. I don't care for buffets, I'll do alcohol of course and ultra expensive hotels, I can do without.
After leaving the MOB Museum, I walked over to Main Street Station Hotel and Casino for dinner. The Triple 7 Micro-brewery located in the Hotel, brews excellent beer and has a very good, very reasonably priced menu.  This evening I had, what else, Steak!

Triple 7 1 lb. T-bone
As I left, I put two dollars in the slot machine and I hit for thirty six bucks.  That paid for dinner, plus a couple of more beers!

By far, the best steakhouse for the money, in my opinion is "THE Steakhouse" at Circus Circus.  Yes, Circus Circus is the budget property for MGM group of hotels, but that doesn't stop me or anyone else for going to this old school Vegas temple of meat!!  It is a special treat when I go here.  I have my own waiter, Felix, who has been here almost 20 years.  There is nothing better than a professional career waiter (or waitress).

A not very large menu is easy to negotiate. A cozy, quiet bar,  dark wood and red leather booths make this a very Vegas steakhouse just steps off the glitzy Strip outside.
THE Steakhouse

21 Day Aged  24 oz. Porterhouse , magnificent!

After an entertaining afternoon at the MOB Attraction located at the renovated and beautiful Tropicana Hotel, I was able to try a 21 day, dry aged, bone in, rib eye.  While not a fan of rib eye, I'm partial to porterhouse, as noted above, it was very good none-the-less.  In the new, bright and modern restaurant, Biscayne Steak Sea and Wine, overlooking the fake beach just below, this was another relaxing dinner in casual bliss.  That means shorts and sandals...but NO t-shirts. 

Crab meat, sliced cucumber. cantaloupe with garlic pretzel bread

Speaks for itself!

Mashed potatoes with LOBSTER and spinach

                                 Thank You, Chef!

           And thank you Las Vegas, see you again soon!!