Saturday, April 28, 2007

Asian in Southie

From the outside Pan Asia looks like an upscale Asian restaurant in the middle of South Boston. The decor is very modern and contemporary, giving it an elegant touch for the neighborhood. The bar looks cool and is pretty spacious. There i also a separate dining area. They have Chinese, Japanese and Thai offerings, so when you can't decide exactly what it is you want, it seems like a good place to go.

But it isn't.

Japanese food isn't offered until after 4 pm, so we opted for Chinese appetizers and Thai entrees. The crab rangoon, was all cream cheese very little crab. I love my cream cheese, but really, I want some crab in my appetizer that has crab in the name. The egg rolls were large, not greasy, but also not cut in half. Who doesn't cut egg rolls in half when serving them? Especially when they are the size of a large salt shaker?

The entrees all had spicy indicated on the menu. We asked for the chicken basil to be mild, and the yellow chicken curry to be medium. No spicy hot. At all. To top it off? They weren't warm. Not even lukewarm. Clearly not made today. Or they were made this morning and left sitting at room temp. Possibly microwaved for 30 seconds? How hard is it to at least reheat the food?

The service was nothing exceptional. Took order, brought food, brought check. But this isn't fine dining, so it didn't bother me.

Wouldn't recommend this place. Get on the T or drive over to Chinatown, it's only 5 min away.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Aequis Spa Retreat

There are lots of spas in Portland, and it was tough picking one for a good spa day with a friend, but we finally settled on Aequis.

Love this place! Took a few minutes of wandering around the street to realize it was in the Mark Spencer, but from the minute we walked in we were pleasantly surprised. The waiting/relaxation room is HUGE, and yet feels completely intimate. The decor is very Indian-esque with lots of pillows and deep reds and music.

The foot soak/massage at the start of the journey is amazingly relaxing and fun. I found thier method of picking the scents unique and accurate. I was supposed to have a female massuese, but for whatever reason we both ended up with males. This usually skeeves me out and keeps me from being relaxed. But both our guys were fabulous. (It helped a lot that I thought mine was hot- seriously where else could I get a cute tattooed boy to rub warm stones and oil all over me? Not any spa I've been to yet). The medley massage itself was great, we went to lunch afterwards and I wanted to nap I was so relaxed. Mostly I want to go back for another one today.

We did the couples room, and yet were enjoying our massages so much we didn't talk to each other at all. It started off with a light feather run along our arms and backs, incorporated some hot stones, deep tissue and swedish styles. They do encourage a lymphatic massage, and the form you fill out does ask if you are comfortable with that. It was interesting, slightly uncomfortable for me since I tend to be very ticklish, but as he had noticed that from the foot soak, he was gentle and it felt strangely good. The massage ends with a scalp treatment, where they brush your hair (yes, cute boys brushing your hair, I swear this should be illegal!) and pour a warm oil over your hair. A warm towel is then wrapped around your head and you are left to relax for a few more minutes.

The only strange-ish thing, was that for a space this large, there were no lockers. But you put all your stuff in a garment bag in the changing area and it finds its way back to you in the shower. The showers were enormous and had beautiful tile work. I didn't want to leave.

Ladies, go there and treat yourself to the best spa experience in Portland.

London Noodle House Comes Stateside - Wagamama

Wagamama is HUGE in London. So I've been anticipating the opening of the first U.S. outpost for months. Went in yesterday for lunch (day 2 of it being open). The food was fantastic! I got the chicken katsu curry, which was more an Indian style curry, and the katsu was perfectly breaded and crispily fried. Just they way I like my chicken. We also tried the kare lomen (a shrimp curry ramen soup), it was very curry spicy, and had about 5 shrimp in it, however the portion was huge. Just make sure to not wear white when you order it, as it does splatter and stain. They served it with a ladle (yes, ladle, not spoon) to eat out of. If you are not adept with slippery noodles I suggest asking for a fork, there are lots of noodles in it.

Now the downside: The service was HORRIBLE. We went in late for lunch and despite there being plenty of seating and 5 employees standing at the front door when we walked in, we waited 10 min for anyone to acknowledge us. Our order was taken promptly by one of the 2 people who appeared to be the British trainers. But not once while eating did anyone come to see if we wanted more to drink, and it took no less than 30 min. to get our check. We caught the eye of several servers in an attempt to get the check, yet none of them seemed to understand this universal sign of "please come over here". Our British server disappeared completely after taking our order and spent the rest of our lunch on the other side of the restaurant clearly training their staff. When we finally had someone approach us with the check (not waiting to see if we wanted anything else or dessert), we informed her we wanted to put in an order of the soup to take with us and would like our leftovers wrapped to go.
"We don't do that".

They certainly have take out in London, and I had seen other people walk out with boxes, so this wasn't a crazy request. Plus, it's not a 3 star Michelin restaurant, and it is in the middle of one of Boston's biggest tourist centers. This was absurd.

She sent someone else over (a manager I suspect as his outfit was not the same as the others), who informed us they were not prepared for take out, but he would wrap our food. The rest of our soup filled half of a soup container. So why could they not put another order of soup in a similar container and let us take it with us? Not sure. This continued to baffle me all afternoon. The rest of my katsu went in a very common to go container.

The atmosphere is communal tables, minimalist style, and an open kitchen. Hopefully they will garner outdoor seating soon.

Overall the food was worth going in for, the prices are reasonable, but they really need to hire experienced servers and teach their current servers some customer service skills. I may be back, but I wasn't overwhelmed by this outpost, and will certainly take my time before going in again.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hotel 71 Chicago

Was looking for something close to Michigan Ave. shopping, and yet convenient to the Loop. Yeah, I know not really too far from each other. Due to some trade show/convention/baseball insanity most places were either full or ridiculously overpriced. I don't mind paying a lot for a room, but I'm not willing to pay triple the regular price. So I found Hotel 71, seemed cute from the website and was in the location I wanted. Booked a non-smoking cityview room.

Flight delays get me in at around 10:30 pm (instead of the 8 pm I was supposed to get in, in order to have dinner at Tru). At check-in I'm told all that is left is a smoking room. I ask if there really isn't a non-smoking room left, she looks realizes I am only in town for a night and says she will upgrade me to a new renovated suite. Apparently, the only other room left. Non-smoking.

I go upstairs and wow. It's huge. I suspect at least 750 sq. ft. With both city and river views. The entry way was all marble floors with the bathroom and bedroom to the right and the living room to the left. Cute light fixtures on the wall along with lots of art.

Bedroom with King Bed, no down comforter, but high threadcount sheets and a 32 inch flat screen tv. Modern furnishings. Overlooking the city. Walk down the marble hallway to the living area.
The living area was enormous, overlooking the river with a queensized pullout sofa, and two chaise lounges, another flat screen tv, a desk area with two comfortable chairs. There was also a kitchenette/bar area tucked off the side with a microwave and a wine fridge.
The bathroom was enormous, with a mosaic tiled shower with a raindrop showerhead (so relaxing) in a separate area from the sink and bathtub that screamed "take a bath in me"! Also, another flat screen tv, in case you need to watch tv while taking a bath (possibly with another person, it was a big deep tub!)

Bathroom amenities were all Bath and Body works, towels were soft, but not overly thick and plus.
The room had free wireless, but I was only able to get a connection in the bedroom, a call down to the front desk got an offer of sending up a technician, but I opted to just go to bed and leave work behind.
There is no restaurant in the hotel currently, it's being renovated, there is room service however. A pot of coffee, glass of cranberry juice, muffin, croissant, toast ran $40. Service was prompt.
I'd rate the hotel a 3 star, mostly for the lack of the restaurant, down comforter, and plush towels. Concierge was nice, but wasn't able to easily recommend a restaurant that was open late. Also despite being on the 14th floor, the garbage truck noises were completely audible in the morning and woke me up.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mendocino Bed and Breakfast

If you've ever tried to find a reasonably priced place to stay in Mendocino or the outlying areas, you know it's damn near impossible. Unless you want to stay in some sketchy motel. It's also super difficult to find a place that has 2 beds in one room. So I was psyched to find the Rendezvous Inn & Restaurant in Fort Bragg. A room with 2 queen beds, and only $89 a night plus tax? Sign us up!

The website didn't speak much to the rooms, but had lots about the food. As it should. The food was INCREDIBLE! We checked in late, and they kept the restaurant open for us. Given that Kim does all the cooking, and had to get up in the morning to make the breakfast, this really was going out of his way. The restaurant was packed when we checked in, but by the time we put our bags down, had a fit of hysterical laughter, walked around town and came back, it was late and we were sittind down as the last patrons were leaving. The dinner was amazing, as elegant and sophisticated as any of the top restaurants in SF that I've been to. We had a hard time selecting our dishes, and there was a foie amuse bouche that made our mouths very happy, crabcakes that were delicious, a roasted vegetable phyllo dish that was enormous and worth savoring every bite, and another entree that escapes me now, a caramel custard that should really not be missed, and a bread pudding that was very tasty and very pretty.

Kim really is an amazing chef. Breakfast was also top notch. Incredible muffins, and a frittata with sauteed onions, mushrooms, crumbled bacon and Gruyère cheese that I wanted to devour in its entirety, juice, and I think some sort of potato dish. We were beyond full for the long day of driving we had ahead of us.

The rooms were very simple. No fluff, no extras, no tvs and no phones. Just beds, nightstands, and a chair and desk. There are games and books in the hallway, along with teas and coffee to keep you entertained late into the night. Or keep us entertained late into the night, I think we drank tea and played Scrabble until 3 am. Thankfully we were the only guests that night and so our hysterical laughter over no television in the room didn't bother anyone (there is a TV in the sunroom). The room had a good view of the neighborhood, and was spacious.

Overall, I think you would find it hard to find a place in the area that is a better value for your money, or with better quality food (that would be impossible).

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Beachside in the OC - The Hyatt Huntington

The Hyatt Huntington Beach Resort and Spa has to be my favorite of all the California Hyatts. It's across the street from the beach location is ideal for surfers (or those who want to learn), sand castle builders, or those who want to spend the day biking casually along the beach. The hotel has a footbridge that goes directly to the beach so spare you dashing across PCH. It gives you all the southern California activities you were looking for in a soothing unique environment.
They have a large pool area surrounded by palm trees, with music playing underwater, and drinks and food served poolside. There is nothing better for me than laying out, getting a tan, while someone brings me a fruity concoction and something to nibble on. There is also a firepit after the sun goes down, which people seem to be drawn to. Maybe its the campfire feel, maybe it the romantic fire under the stars feel. There are several courtyards around the hotel with various fountains, the main one as you walk through the lobby is gorgeous. A long pool with fish fountains and palm trees remind you that you are now in Orange County and ready to relax.
Rooms are spacious (450+ sq. ft) with a desk area in case you are inclined to work. The beds are the good Hyatt beds, soft and fluffy with the down duvets, pillowtop mattresses, and high thread count sheets. All rooms have robes, CD alarm clocks, high speed internet access, and the very best part - a patio/balcony. There was nothing better than sitting out there sipping coffee watching the sunset over the ocean. Most rooms have an ocean view since the layout of the rooms are around several courtyards. The courtyards all also have hot tubs, so you don't have to walk too far to sink into warm water.
The only downside to the courtyard layout is that your room can be quite a bit of a walk from the lobby depending on what building you are in. But the Spanish style architecture is just gorgeous and when you are surrounded by palm trees and water you really don't notice.
The hotel has a casual and a fine dining restaurant, I've only had Sunday brunch at the Californian, it had a good selection of breakfast and lunch items and the food was very good.
There is also a spa allowing you to indulge in all sorts of treatments (the pricing is a bit on the high side) on your quick getaway, there are also early morning yoga lessons in the landscaped area (complete with koi pond!) in front of the spa. On complimentary aspect of the spa is the sunrise walk which covers around 3 miles. A great way to wake up and smell the fresh ocean air.
Location does require a car to get pretty much anywhere. But this is the OC and that's just how it is there. Down the street there is good seafood at

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Neptune Oyster

Small and unassuming from the outside, off the crowded tourist laden path of the North End on Salem Street. Neptune Oyster is a gem! A good selection of east and west coast oysters, reasonably priced. The entrees are a bit on the pricey side, but don't skimp on portion size. The lobster spaghettini special is a big bowl of pasta and a generous serving of lobster (and at $38 it better be).

This is a photo of the half I brought home!

The scallops are to die for here. The menu changes seasonally, but the ones I had came with a port sauce and a fontina gratin ($26). So very very delicious.
There isn't much seating (18 seats at the bar and 26 at tables) so come early to avoid the wait, but even if there is a wait, it's worth it for a change of pace from the regular Italian and Seafood of the neighborhood.
The service is top-notch, and the decor is cute and a throwback to the old days of the neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Masa's in SF

One of my top 3 restaurants and meals ever. Masa's is an institution. Everything about it is top notch, the atmosphere (classy, yet not stuffy), the service (perfect in every way), and of course the food. Oh my, the food. Our dinner took about 3 hours and because we I can't resist a 9 course option we both had to roll out of there and climb straight into bed.
When doing the 9 course tasting menu, they don't give both diners the same dishes. This worked out well, as we shared (well, most of the time). We had champagne to start, a sweet really good wine with foie, and a pinot noir with the poultry. I wish I had remembered the wines.

Amuse bouches:
Lobster broth (a la French Laundry - where Gregory Short was a Sous Chef and worked under Thomas Keller for 7 years) - EXCELLENT
Ahi tempura - I thought good, P (my companion) thought greasy. had a yummy sauce.

Caviar course:
Souffled oyster with caviar - P LOVED!
Potato blinis (also from French Laundry) with creme fraiche, salmon gravlax, and caviar and a lemon oil - YUM!

Raw fish course:
Tuna tartare with mango, avocado and a mango sauce and brioches - P only let me have a tiny bite it was delish. Might beat out Aqua's tartare as my favorite.
Yellowfin tuna and hamachi sashimi with wasabi oil, daikon, and something else - I did not love. But I don't like hamachi and the wasabi was overpowering for me since i hate it, gave it to P. He loved it.

Shellfish course:
Diver scallop, with black truffles, and some yummy sauce. - P thought best scallop he's ever had. I agreed that it was delish, but liked my crab salad more. Mostly because there was more of it.
Maine crab salad with english peas, and a pea sauce, red radishes, mint oil and pea shoots - SOOOOO YUM.

Warm fish course:
Red sturgeon with fava beans - light and yummy
Halibut with italian butter beans and applewood bacon - yum yum. I liked his fish better, but these beans were better.

Foie course:
Cold canadian foie sprinkled with some tasty salt with brioche and muscat gelee - P thought too rich so I got half of that without having to share mine. Soooo good! Like butter it melted in my mouth. Of course he ate all the brioche so I just had mouthfuls of foie. Never a bad thing.
Seared foie on a brioche with orange marmalade, a Madeira sauce, and tangerines - fuckin amazing. P commented that I never look as happy as I do when I am eating foie.

Poultry course:
Duck breast with duck jus, potato gnocchi, and a little duck leg - Excellent gnocchi, very good breast.
Squab with squab sauce, a tiny squab leg, wilted spinach and the best potato gratin I have ever had. - I liked the leg more than the other parts of the squab, it was a bit too salty. P liked my squab more, I liked his duck more.

Beef course:
Saddle of lamb with brussel sprouts, with lamb belly served with bacon -P didn't like the belly, I thought the rest of the lamb was good.
Prime rib eye, forest mushrooms, and white asparagus - delish! We both agreed my course was better. Gave P most the shrooms (I have a huge aversion to them), but in the end I tasted some and they were good.

Palate Cleanser:
Apple Arugula Sorbet with pear soup - would never think to try arugula as a dessert, soooooo amazing! Very clean and fresh.
Hibiscus Sorbet with rose water gelee - I love hibiscus and rose water so I loved it. Paul loved the gelee.

Flourless chocolate cake with a chocolate chicory latte (very interesting, it was foamy on top, but then the two other layers were cold and not liquidy) - he loved the latte. I thought the cake was just eh.
Basmati rice clouds, three of them one with creme anglaise (fuck i love that), one with rum raisin ice cream, and one with tangerines. - I just want to know how one makes rice feel like meringue.

But wait, there's more! The waiter brought out the dessert amuse bouche cart. I can't even describe it. There were a zillion things on it. Including: fruit jellies, pineapple coconut cake, something I got and don't remember what it was, Turkish delights, candied orange peel, caramels, nougats (softest he'd ever had said P), lollipops, an amazing selection of chocolates including Meyer lemon milk chocolate, chocolate mole (had chili and other spices, P said it was amazing), mocha chocolate and I can't even remember what else. We were told to pick as many as we wanted. But I think we both felt funny asking for one of each thing and limited ourselves. In retrospect, that was silly.
So yeah, amazing doesn't even describe the meal. If you want a mouthwatering dinner in SF, money is not an object, and don't want to wait 2 months for a reservation, go here!

Spas on the Waterfront - Boston Harbor Hotel and Intercontinental

The Waterfront area of Boston is rapidly being taken over by luxury hotels and with that comes new spas!
The Spa at the Boston Harbor Hotel has been there the longest and set the bar for the others. As such, it is hard to get weekend appointments with on short notice. The decor is geared more towards comfy and more traditional.
I've had waxing services there by Lisa and was very pleased. The wax they use is very gentle and she has a light touch so that it didn't hurt. Quick and painless, that's how I like my waxing. I've also been in for a facial which while very relaxing, could have been better in the cleansing. I came home, looked in the mirror and still saw clogged pores. I have yet to get a scrub here, but they do have a room with a vichy shower which if you have never tried is a treat! They have a good solid list of treatments, everything you could pretty much want.
The best thing about this spa is the free use of the gym (not a bad size at all for a hotel) and pool and locker room (with steam room). The locker room has everything you need, towels, shorts and t-shirts to work out in, razors, hairdryers, etc. It's roomy and has lots of lockers, and a few showers.

The new spa on the block is the Spa InterContinental at the Intercontinetal (also the new swanky hotel on the block). Appearance wise, the two spas couldn't be more opposite. Meet sleek, new, modern. Meet infiniti pool. A fitness center that overlooks the Greenway that will eventually be completed. Right now it overlooks construction and dirt.
A massage here was good, the room was fairly spacious and they have a couples room with a shower in it for a more intimate feel. Thier spa menu is limited to face, body and waxing, no manicures and pedicures.
Locker room here is small, which was awkward with more than 2 people in there at a time. There is a "relaxation den" where they have teas and fruit while you wait for your therapist.
The downside? You have to pay an extra "spa access fee" (currently $10) for gym and pool use here if you are not a hotel guest. Not so cool. Thier waxing prices are higher, but thier massage and facial prices are comparable.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


I went here a bit apprehensive as to the quality of the food. Sonsie was a very happening spot with the Euro crowd in the early 90's and while it's lasted as long as it has, it was always the type of place you went to be seen and to look at the beautiful people. This aspect doesn't seem to have changed, helped by the attractive servers and front of the house staff.
On a Friday night it was packed for dinner, we waited at the bar which was also quite packed. I felt like I was in a nightclub trying to get a drink. When we were seated, there was delicious foccacia bread and hummus on the table, a nice change from bread and butter. The menu is varied, so we ordered oysters, a salad with fried goat cheese - I didn't try it, between the other 3 people at the table it wasn't finished off, but there were also no complaints about it. The lettuce wrapped Asian spring rolls were well fried and had a nice dipping sauce, one of my companions commented that it was spicy. I thought it was perfect. The fried calamari had some hot peppers with it and a yellow tomato sauce. The sauce was a bit weak in flavor, but the calamari well fried and not soggy. We also had a pizza, half pesto cheese and half with soppresetta. Plenty of toppings, and a good size to share. I ordered a dish that was new on their menu. Beef sukiyaki. I have to say completely not impressed. The broth tasted like bouillon cubes, entirely too salty and not very flavorful. I did comment on this to our waitress, who then sent the manager over and he handled it very graciously. I like a place that can take constructive criticism. The thai noodles were recommended if I return, and given the size of the bowl on the table behind me, I'll go and take a couple friends!
The service is top notch here, and given it's prime Newbury Street location and outdoor seating in the summer, I can see how it's managed to stay around this long.
Updated 10/27/07: I can't believe I've forgotten to update this as I've been back to Sonsie bunches of times since the initial review. I did finally get the thai noodles (mee krob) and they are stellar. Huge portion, can be very very spicy, and completely delicious. The service has never failed, it is a restaurant I will return to time and again.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Soi 4 Thai

My favorite Thai in the East Bay, Soi Four has great drinks and an interesting menu. They used to have a fantastic chocolate martini that was made with hot cocoa from Bittersweet next door, sadly they no longer make it. But you don't come here for the martinis, you come for the food. And good food it is! My favorite appetizers include the turnip cakes (you'd never know you were eating turnips!) and the Indian bread with eggplant, curry sauce, bell pepper and basil (its like a curry pizza). Fantastic entrees include the beef short ribs (spicy, and make sure you eat them all for they aren't great reheated) and the tamarind shrimp (sweet and spicy all at the same time). The standard dishes of pad thai and yellow chicken curry (lots of chicken, not all potatoes like most places) are also good, but you can get those anywhere, so why not try something new?
The interior is spacious and airy, with large windows and skylights, there's seating upstairs in the loft area, which can get a bit crowded, but still doesn't feel claustrophobic.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Plough and Stars

Sunday brunch at the Plough and Stars has a gospel brunch. We were entertained by a country gospel band called the Sacred Shakers. The pub is small and the food excellent, but the service is a bit lacking. Most notably there is no real rhyme or reason to the seating of guests. Brunch is from noon until 3, we arrived at noon and the bar and all the tables were packed. That is a good sign. But despite arriving at noon we weren't seated until 12:45. Plenty of other parties that arrived after us and had the same number of patrons were seated before us, it was all very random and had we known of other brunch spots in the area we would have left.
The food came out relatively quickly, we had the fried chicken with cheddar cheese grits. The chicken was the requisite greasy and tasty, four pieces - a drumstick, a breast, a wing and a thigh. The grits were also excellent and recieved good ratings from the Southerner in the group. Others had the other white meat omlette and the basic breakfast, they all seemed pleased and the plates were taken away completely empty. A side of bacon had 4 thick slices and was only $2.50.
We had multiple servers, and that led to waiting and having to flag them down for refills. I'd give the service 1 star and the food 3 stars.
Would I return? Maybe, either before noon or after 1:30 when it seemed to slow down a bit.

Geronimo's New York

I went here a week or so after opening, so I'm sure they have kinks to work out. We stopped in on Sunday for brunch. Lured in by not only the typical mimosas and champagne being included, but also bloody marys and MARGARITAS!!! The brunch menu was limited but basic, eggs benedict, cinnamon raisin french toast - which was delish, and had carmelized sugar on it, chicken wrap with chipotle mayo - gotta keep that Mexican influence in there. All items on the brunch menu included the booze and were $9.95. Not bad. Before the food arrived we were given a basket of warm tortilla chips with 2 kinds of salsa. Not bad, not bad.The only downside was the service, our waitress was a bit loopy and we pondered if she had been hitting the margs herself before work. But as the restaurant and staff get more comfortable in the neighborhood I can see it getting better.

Location: 1600 3rd Ave at 90thNew York, NY 10128