Monday, April 30, 2012

SP Survives a Boat & Gets His Mexican Food

Friday morning my parents headed back to Las Vegas. My plan was to take a 2 hour harbor cruise. SP was not thrilled - he does not like being on the water and has informed me that we will never take a cruise for a vacation. Since he loves me and likes to make me happy, he agreed to the harbor cruise.
Tip: talk to your hotel concierge! We received a discount voucher for the zoo and we received a discount voucher for the cruise, saving $4 a ticket on the cruise ($23 instead of $27). There are two harbor cruise companies right next to each other, Flagship and Hornblower. My parents have taken the Hornblower cruise and said it was really good. Simply because of the discounted tickets, we chose Flagship. Also, for the price, you may as well choose the 2 hour cruise instead of 1 hour. It's only $5 more. But if you really only want to do the one hour, choose the north harbor cruise. Along with my parents, we liked the north harbor cruise better.
The tours are narrated, so you learn a lot. Our cruise did the north harbor portion first. It was neat to see the planes coming into the airport fly right over the boats.
The restaurant at which we dined for our anniversary, Island Prime, seen from our harbor cruise.

Sea lions!

Military ships
The north cruise includes the North Island Naval Air Station, Harbor and Shelter Islands, the Naval Sub Base, and the Cabrillo National Monument. The south cruise includes the Star of India, the U.S. Navy surface fleet, Coronado Bay Bridge, and busy shipyards.
Going under Coronado Bridge
The north part was sunny and beautiful. By the time we were into the second hour and the south harbor, the fog/mist was rolling in, it was breezy, chilly, and not quite as lovely! Coronado Bridge is on the south cruise.

One note: after the first hour, the boat will return to the dock to let off one hour cruise people and load more people, then it sets off again. So our harbor excursion lasted from 12:30 pm until 2:45 pm. That's a helpful tip for parking, since there's metered parking and a parking lot for the area, but the lot that we used for the USS Midway and for the harbor cruise asks you to pay based on time you'll be parking when you enter, not when you depart. We went with 4 hour parking.

I really enjoyed our harbor excursion, and so did SP. Since you stay in the bay and do not venture out to the ocean, there's not a lot of motion. I didn't feel queasy at all, and in the past on some cruises, I've turned green!

After a brief return to the hotel, we drove across the Coronado Bridge to Coronado. Coronado is an affluent resort city. I think the main attraction, aside form the beaches, is the Hotel del Coronado, a resort built in 1888 and considered one of the world's top resorts.

We drove around for a while. Part of the island is home to the navy, so that area if off limits. We finally parked (parking is tough on Coronado!) and walked to the Hotel del Coronado. We walked along the path between the resort and beach. Sadly, it was very breezy and chilly, and the sun was long gone and the fog/mist had rolled in even though it was only around 5-6 pm.
Barely visible ship 

There are some benches long the path, so we sat and gazed at the beach and ocean for a while. I wondered just how crazy the people in the water were - I was freezing and there were people in swimsuits in the water!!!
Before we walked around Hotel del Coronado and along the beach, we went to eat since we hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. I already had a place picked out. I knew we'd be on Coronado at dinner time, so I used my Yelp app to search restaurants on Coronado. One of the 4 star ones to pop up early in the list was a Mexican place, and SP had not yet gotten his Mexican food fix on vacation. So we went there.
Miguel's Cocina. I didn't research this place at all other than seeing it had 4 of 5 stars on Yelp.It turns out it is a chain in the San Diego area. We were seated right away. Our server brought some chips and a salsa and cheese sauce.
The chips were tasty. Better than what we get around here at restaurants, if you even receive chips for free anymore. There was a mild, not at all spicy, but cilantro flavored salsa and a white cheese-jalapeno dip that was not very hot/jalapeno-y.
A Happy Hour peach and a HH mango margarita. The margaritas on the menu looked pretty darn pricey, $10-$12 for most and one that cost nearly $17. Fortunately we were there during HH so ours were only around $5. Tasty, but not very tequila filled.
SP ordered Ceviche: shrimp, scallops, and white fish cured in citrus juices with diced tomato, onion and cilantro, served with crispy tortilla chips. He didn't eat the chips, just the seafood, and he really liked it.
We also ordered a HH appetizer, Chicken Taquitos. These were OK. I didn't eat my taquito smothered with the onions, cilantro, or guacamole, just a bit of sour cream. They would probably be tastier with everything piled on, but since I dislike raw onions, cilantro, and guacamole, I ate mine plain.
For his entree, SP chose Calamari Relleno: tender calamari steak-wrapped chile relleno, fried and topped with jalapeƱo white sauce. It was enormous. He couldn't finish the calamari steak and barely touched the rice and beans! He really, really liked it, though.
I chose Quesadilla Suprema - a large flour tortilla filled with cheese and carne asada, pollo asado or carnitas; served with guacamole, sour cream and salsa fresca. I chose the carnitas.
The carnitas was so moist and tender. However, much to my surprise, it didn't have much flavor. I didn't taste any spice or heat or anything, just tasty, moist meat. On the one hand, for me, given my food preferences, this was good, and I ate all the meat and most of the huge tortilla. On the other hand, most people would probably be disappointed with the mild meat. But I really liked it!
I couldn't pass up Crispy Cinnamon Churros for dessert. Fried Mexican pastries rolled in cinnamon and sugar. I did pass on the option to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. To my surprise, I thought these were just OK. We each ate only one and took the others back to the hotel, but we never got around to eating them and they eventually were tossed.

Final thoughts: I liked the patio/courtyard with lots of plants atmosphere. Our server was friendly but at times she seemed impossible to find. Everything was good, but not great. My thoughts could be influenced by the fact that we live in Pittsburgh and, with the exception of my recent tacos at Smoke experience, I've never had any especially tasty Mexican food here. I thought this was miles better than any Mexican I've had here. SP liked his food a lot. But my food did lack a lot of what I think of as Mexican heat and flavor.

Sadly, we didn't get to Super Cocina, which supposedly is an amazing Mexican food restaurant, nor did we make it to any of the taco trucks (Mariscos German Taco Truck in particular) or shops (El Indio, Lucha Libre). If we make it back to San Diego, now that we've crammed in most of the touristy activities, we would have more time to seek out these places and get a better idea of tasty Mexican food. But we both are happy with our trip to Miguel's.

We stopped at Chocolat Cremerie for evening tea and cookies before heading back to the hotel to wait for fireworks after the Padres baseball game. Sadly, we ended up not being able to see the fireworks from our room, and also sadly, right before the fireworks started, I had a sneezing fit and suddenly, I was sick with whatever disease had been mildly plaguing SP all week. Only I got it worse. Much worse.

Miguel's Cocina on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunburn & More Ocean

Thursday of vacation, after breakfast at Broken Yolk Cafe, we decided to go to Balboa Park. My parents had been there before, but hadn't seen all of it. I think I read somewhere it's a 1,200 acre park! The zoo is at the northern part of the park. Parking is free, and there is a free tram you can ride to get around the park. There's a lot to see, and the first part we stopped at was Spreckels Organ Pavillion.
The organ, hidden behind the 'curtain'
Sadly, the organ was behind a closed 'curtain.' Also sadly, it wasn't Sunday, which is when there are free concerts at 2 pm.

Bonsai tree
We all wanted to see the Japanese Garden, which is $4, and had a lovely time strolling through. There's a display of bonsai trees and a koi pond.
After walking through the Japanese Garden, we stopped at the Tea Pavillion, which is a snack bar counter with outdoor, umbrella shaded table seating. I got a hot tea. SP bought a bottled cold tea, a miso soup, and shrimp flavored chips for a snack.
At that point, my parents headed off to the Natural History Museum to see the Titanic Exhibit (which we had seen when it was in Pittsburgh) while SP & I went to see the lily pond, Timken Art Museum, Fig Tree, other gardens and fountains, the miniature railroad and the carousel, the Spanish Village Art Center, Old Globe Theater and whatever else we wandered past!
Huge fig tree

Lots of artists selling their work: pottery, paintings, drawings, jewelry, glass, etc.
More sadness - the miniature railroad and carousel only operate on weekends and holidays this time of year, so we didn't get to see them. The Old Globe Theater is open only for performances, so we didn't get to see inside, just outside.
Old Globe Theater
It's a beautiful park, and it was a gorgeous sunny day, so it was really nice to walk around and enjoy.

I should mention that by this point in vacation, I was sunburned. It didn't feel that hot because of the constant chilly coastal breeze, but by Tuesday my scalp / hair part had burned and it was painful to wash and style my hair, my nose was red and I looked drunk, and my hands were burned. Wednesday I used SP's sunscreen, but I was still turning red. Not long after we went off on our own at Balboa Park, SP expressed concern about my head, so we stopped in the Visitor's Center and bought a Balboa Park baseball hat to shield my head and nose from sun. I felt a little stupid, I'm not really a hat person, but the straw hats were too big or looked even stupider on me, so... baseball hat it was! Impromptu souvenir.

My advice: in San Diego, if the sun is shining but it feels cool and you need a jacket, wear lots of sunscreen anyway and maybe even a hat.

We met up with my parents around 4 pm and headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. We had reservations at George's Ocean Terrace in La Jolla. George's at the Cove is actually three places at this location in La Jolla: George's California Modern restaurant (which Rodzilla recommended), George's Bar, and the Ocean Terrace restaurant. The Ocean Terrace is on the rooftop with a beautiful view of the cove.
We weren't right next to the side, we were in the middle of the terrace, but still had a lovely view. We ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc and enjoyed the space heaters & view. Here's what we ate:
Appetizer: Crispy Calamari with fennel & Meyer lemon aioli

Soup for SP: George's Famous Soup, smoked chicken, broccoli, and black beans

Penne with Lamb Sugo for me and mom, served with roasted tomatoes, kalamatas, artichokes, mint ricotta

SP's entree: Garlic Roasted Shrimp with chorizo and piquillo pepper risotto, roasted fennel, lemon, and almonds.

Dad's entree: Mahi Mahi with potato gnocchi, pancetta, artichoke, shiitake mushrooms, red wine-grape vinaigrette.

Mom and dad shared this dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake, mascarpone whipped cream, roasted kumquats, toffee sauce, salted almonds

SP & I shared Vanilla Creme Brulee with blackberry jam and blondie bar

SP & I also ordered our usual post dinner hot tea 

The sun sets
My thoughts: Service was excellent, from the manager who came out to the street to help us find and use the elevator to the rooftop to our server who was patient with us enjoying a leisurely dinner and being a little indecisive at times. He also offered his suggestions (he recommended the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake). View was fantastic. No loud music. Nicely spaced heaters to ward off the chill.

The calamari was very good. SP liked his soup a lot but wished the serving size had been a bit larger (he said it was a shallow bowl). He loved his Garlic Shrimp - when I asked him just now to tell me what he thought of it, he said,'Ohhhh that was sooooo good!' Dad said his mahi mahi was the best piece of fish he has had in a long time. He even ate his gnocchi, but he gave his artichoke to mom (dad doesn't like artichokes, mom loves them)! Mom and I both loved our lamb dish. The mint ricotta was such a nice flavor and texture contrast with the rich lamb meat and the pasta. The ricotta was really smooth - it looked at first like a dollop of sour cream. We had no problems finishing our entrees! Mom and dad rally liked their dessert. SP & I thought the creme brulee was very good, the blackberry jam delicious, and the blondie was wonderfully moist and flavorful. Yum!

If in San Diego, I would definitely suggest making the drive to La Jolla for a meal at George's, whether you dine at California Modern or Ocean Terrace. Amazing view and amazing food.

One note: Make a reservation, well in advance!!!! Originally we tried a week in advance to get a reservation for 2 for any evening we were in San Diego, but there was nothing except late afternoon (3 pm-4 pm) and even later evening (after 8:30 pm). When I tried for 4 people, we were able to secure a reservation at 6:15 pm. This place is very popular!

George's At The Cove on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Whales & A Gorgeous Sunset

To start Wednesday's vacation adventures, we met my parents and went to breakfast at Broken Yolk Cafe. BYC was featured on an episode of Man Vs. Food. There is a Broken Yolk Iron Man / Iron Woman Special challenge. It's a dozen egg omelet filled with mushrooms, onions, and American cheese, smothered with chili and more cheese, served on a 15 inch pizza pan with a generous pile of home fries and two biscuits. It's for one person and that person has an hour to finish all the food. I can't remember if Adam won the challenge or not, but I am sure we'll never try to eat something that huge!

There are several BYC locations. The one in the Gaslamp is right around the corner from the Marriott, so it was a quick walk. SP ordered a cup of hot green tea and I had to laugh a bit when a huge honey bear showed up with his tea!
BYC lets you split an omelet with someone for no extra charge, and since SP and I weren't that hungry, we decided to share a No Name Omelet - bacon, avocado, tomato, and mushroom with a dollop of sour cream. Omelets come with two sides. We chose the fruit and the blueberry muffin.

Inside the omelet
 My mom got scrambled eggs, home fries, bacon, and a blueberry muffin, which she gave to me.
My dad had an omelet with mushrooms and cheese. When we went back the next morning, he ordered a waffle with strawberries:
Thursday morning SP & I shared the SBA Omelet - spinach, bacon, asparagus, and cheddar cheese.
We all enjoyed our breakfasts at BYC. It certainly beats the hotel breakfast options! Breakfast for the four of us was about $40, including tax & tip. We all enjoyed our food. My dad said it was the best omelet he has had out in quite some time. The blueberry muffin was huge and tasty. We ended up taking it with us and snacking on it during the day.

They also do take out, so for the remainder of vacation, SP went over every morning and brought back fruit, muffin, biscuit, and bacon for us to have in the hotel room while we got ready in the mornings.

After breakfast, we headed north to Carlsbad, to The Flower Fields.
Since around 1933, Frank Frazee and then his son Edward have grown ranunculus flowers and are credited with developing more vibrant colors and a distinct 'double infusion' of petals. The flower fields are only in bloom from mid-March until mid-May and since we were going to be in the area during that time frame, we decided to go. We went on the wagon ride around the fields.
Lots of beautiful colors. There also is a rose garden, poinsettia garden, an orchid greenhouse, a flower American flag, sweet pea maze - lots to see and do.
As beautiful as some of the ranunculus colors are, I loved the rose garden. So many different colors and varieties.
 Our next stop was Mission San Luis Rey.
We've never been to a mission before. We toured the museum, saw the gardens, walked through the cemetery, went into the church. It was very interesting and I'm really glad my mom saw this in one of her guide books.
After the mission, we drove down the coast a bit, stopped in Oceanside, tasted some truly awful wine at a wine tasting room, drove a bit more down the coast, and stopped at a scenic overlook where we sat and gazed at the ocean and surfers for a while.
Then it was on to dinner. My mom wanted to try Chart House. It's in Cardiff. We were early for our reservation, so we sat in the lounge and ordered cocktails:
Beer for dad and SP, cosmopolitan for mom, mango mojito for me
We shared a Happy Hour appetizer of calamari. There also was battered and fried peppers and some sweet potato chips with two dipping sauces, citrus chili and marinara. Tasty!
 Eventually we moved to our table, a wonderful, right next to the window table. Here's our view:
It's like we were right on the beach! There was a sidewalk outside the window, then the rocks, then beach, then ocean. Even better - we saw a whale! Maybe even more than one, but for the first half of our meal we were treated to a whale breaching way out in the ocean. It was great! This was easily the best view we had all vacation.

Along with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, here's what we enjoyed:
Bread basket

Appetizer: Crab, Avocado, & Mango Stack

Best of Soup: Clam Chowder, Lobster Bisque, Gazpacho

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms in a white wine sauce

Caesar Salad

Pan Seared Scallops ginger soy sauce & wasabi cream, wasabi mashed potatoes, green beans. We never noticed that orzo salad was substituted for the mashed potatoes until a manager stopped by to check on us and noted the error. Dad didn't mind, he liked the orzo, but the manager wasn't happy with the error!

For SP & mom: Seared Mahi topped with lobster & crab, served with a tomato-artichoke orzo

For me, Baked Stuffed Shrimp stuffed with crab, served with asparagus and tomato-artichoke orzo

View part way through dinner, as the sun starts to set

Dessert. Shared by everyone, the dessert special, a trio of berry cobblers. Peach, strawberry, and blueberry. 

The sun sets even more
My thoughts: Chart House is a good, not great, meal with a fantastic view. My mango mojito was fantastic. I really liked the calamari appetizer. The crab-avocado-mango appetizer was huge and delicious. The stuffed mushrooms were good, too, and the sauce delicious. I used bread to mop up the sauce. I only tried the lobster bisque, which SP said was the weakest of the soups. I thought the bisque was tasty. He liked the gazpacho best. Dad enjoyed his Caesar salad. My meal was OK. The orzo smelled kind of garlicky, so I didn't eat any, but I was so stuffed from the appetizers that I didn't care it was garlicky/I couldn't eat it because I was struggling to eat the stuffed shrimp. The crab mixture was really good, the shrimp a bit tough and overcooked. Dad thought his scallops were just OK. Mom and SP could barely finish their mahi and said it was good. The cobblers were good, my favorite was strawberry, SP liked blueberry best, and dad liked peach best. SP & I ordered hot tea, there was a nice selection of teas, and the tea was tasty.

Service was excellent. The view was amazing. Mom and dad treated us to dinner for our anniversary and also for a belated birthday meal for SP. That was very nice & generous of them, especially since this was a pretty pricey meal. Given how much I enjoyed the cocktails and appetizers and how awesome the view was, I would go back. I might make a meal of appetizers next time. But the view... it doesn't get any better.
The day ends

Broken Yolk on Urbanspoon Chart House - Cardiff By the Sea on Urbanspoon