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September 25, 2012

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Village Mediterranean Rim – San Clemente, CA USA – ☆☆☆☆☆

August 26, 2012

The Village Mediterranean Rim, in all it’s inconspicuous glory is tightly sandwiched between a hair salon and British novelty store on Avenida Del Mar in historical downtown San Clemente. A tiny porch with two outdoor tables preceeds the elaborately framed menu upon an artist’s easel. As you enter this dimly lit hideaway, the rustic Mediterranean decor favorably inundates your exceedingly famished self.

Almost immediately I am greeted and seated at one of the many wooden tables all of which are tightly placed beside one another for optimum utilization of this compact space. To the rear of the restaurant I see owner/Executive Chef Nour Tillo orchestrating his team in creating an array of signature dishes.

We decide on the Mezza Plate to start with. The hummus, baba ghanoush, and falafel are served with pita triangles, a small portion of spring mix greens and a drizzle of olive oil. It is amazing. Should you forego an appetizer, complimentary freshly baked bread squares are served with garlic and black pepper infused olive oil regardless.

For the main course D and I like the Vegetable Tagine for two. It’s an array of delicately cooked seasonal vegetables along with chopped nuts, dried apricots and a side of couscous. You can’t go wrong here. It is inexplicably delicious and I was initially surprised that a place with an outward appearance of such modesty could deliver a paragon of culinary perfection. Especially since I thought I had experienced delicious tagine in the past, although, I am now rather familiar with what it is supposed to taste like. Probably has something to do with Chef Tillo’s focus on utilizing locally and sustainably grown produce to compile his distinctive list of menu items; dishes derived from flavors you’d experience whilst visiting the Mediterranean region (in case that wasn’t blatantly evident by the restaurant’s name!).

Since my initial visit I’ve returned and tasted an assemblage of menu items. I have yet to try something that is less than superb. Most recently I ordered yet another noteworthy item, the Vegetable Moussaka.

The desserts are downright iniquitous and very much worth the extra thirty minutes of jazzersize I must force myself to endure the following day. No, I’m not entirely sure exactly what ‘jazzersize’ is but that is what D tells people I’m doing when I work out. The Panna Cotta is my personal favorite.

Make a reservation if you plan on dining any later than 6pm (especially Friday through Sunday). Not too long ago they began offering a lunch menu as well. This works nice if you want a quick stuffed pita or salad to-go.

Chef Tillo is a prominent, world class chef with an unequivocal culinary talent. I’m glad to live close enough to frequent his restaurant whenever I grow tired of the repetitious lineup of eateries serving dishes assembled of mass produced, nutrition-deficient ingredients.

Village Mediterranean Rim
123 Avenida Del Mar
San Clemente, CA 92672
(949) 361-8970

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Bucket List Publications’ Travel Photo Contest Winner

August 16, 2012

**UPDATE: Thanks so much for voting my image to #1 in Bucket List Publications travel photo contest! Also, thanks to those of you who liked/shared on Facebook. I’ve been underestimating the power of social media these days… Perhaps I should consider re-opening my FB account.

You all are the best. -H

Great Maple, Libations and Seasonal Plates – Newport Beach, CA USA ☆☆☆☆☆

April 23, 2012

Great Maple is indeed a new favorite of mine amongst all eateries within or immediately surrounding the confines of Fashion Island. Their seasonal plates are created using farm fresh produce which makes for exceptionally delicious cuisine; Emphasis placed on the Healdsburg salad, creamy polenta small plate (minus pancetta for me) and market soup of the day (all of which have been outstanding so far, especially the butternut carrot and spinach soups). Seafood dishes are prepared to perfection and the Spicy Grilled Shrimp Prawn starter is positively piquant in its distinct flavor, somewhat reminiscent of my south of the U.S. border culinary experiences. Complimentary hot bread and sea salted, herb infused butter make for a magnificent addition to the experience. One note: It would be nice if gluten free items were available amongst the array of menu selections.

A diverse range of imaginative cocktails, many of which utilizing organic juices and liquors are available for those of us seeking a refreshing spirit or two. As much as I love organically grown anything, I’m not sure if something as toxic to the human body as liquor will benefit from certified pesticide-free ingredients. Does it reduce hangover intensity? Feel free to knock a few organic tequilas back and inform me as to whether there is a difference.

On top of the delicious food, you’ll typically spend far less time waiting hungrily for your table than a few other favorites such as R&D and True Foods. We’re always warmly greeted by the manager (or owner, will have to find out) at some point during our lunch which adds to the overall charm.

The inevitable cessation of our meal always results in prompt table clearing by friendly bus staff, followed by our bill shortly thereafter. I for one can thoroughly appreciate this. When any restaurant claims to be at all European, I immediately visualize wait staff neglecting me post initial seating process and sedately returning every thirty minutes or so. Did that make any sense? I really am trying to put it lightly that I don’t find slow service admirable. They may serve European dishes, but the service is far superior to much of what you’ll experience in Europe. Do ignore this aspect of my review if you are one who relishes a relaxing, laid back approach from your inattentive waiter; I do know that a lazy afternoon of conversation works for many.

Please eat here. Hope to see you there amongst the merry glut of organic liquor enthusiasts.

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April 13, 2012

What culture shock being home for once, living out of my closet instead of my suitcase is a novel concept indeed. Jetlag-less-ness is both refreshing and unfamiliar. For those who don’t know me, yes, I tend to fabricate the occasional word or two. My precious E and I are both experiencing strange new worlds and I couldn’t be happier. Just visiting Hawaii twice has given me reason to stay away from airports as much as humanly possible. What era are we living in where certain aircrafts have no changing tables? Using the toilet seat as instructed by the flight attendant is far less than satisfactory for a lengthly and hefty 6 month old tipping the scales at 21 lb.’s. Need I mention the blatantly apparent hygiene issue?

The time we spent in Kona was most enchanting though. E had fun with grandpa Jim and tutu Bar Bar whose house was decorated in a plethora of baby necessities courtesy of Baby’s Away Big Island. Thank the Lord I didn’t have to cart my entire nursery and play area with me to the islands. I would have had a far lower level of sanity without their help providing clean and modern baby equipment.

Although for the time being you’ll see less of me and my worldly travel moments, please know that I will do my best to provide as many restaurant, product, and attraction reviews as possible here in my home state of California.

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Four Seasons Resort Hawaii, Lana’i at Manele Bay ☆☆☆☆☆

January 6, 2012

I’m back… Finally recovered enough from my c-section to take a little trip. Welcome Elijah to my chaotic world of travel! (The Birth announcement is really low res., but it says: August 29th 2011, 3:38am, 8 pounds 12 ounces, 20.5 inches long!)

For baby’s first ever trip my husband decided to take us to my second favorite Hawaiian island, Lanai. We had stayed at the Four Seasons Koele twice in the past and now chose to experience the coastal resort, Manele. Upon check-in we were greeted in typical Four Seasons style with kukui nut lei and a cold fruit beverage. Both the upper lobby and lower sitting room/terrace area were beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and festive holiday decor perfect for your Christmas card photo! Soon we were escorted to our room where we found the crib and microwave (for bottle sterilizing) as requested. 
We soon discovered that vacationing with an infant was hardly a vacation at all! We made the most of our time at the resort nonetheless. Buffet breakfast was included in our rate so that is where we headed each early morning when E decided to jolt us from our ever so thoroughly savored slumber. Needless to say I had never fully appreciated my precious delta stage of sleep prior to the birth of my gorgeous little boy.
The resort grounds were just as beautiful as the prior two visits we had made. The pool staff assist in setting up your pool/ocean side chair or cabana and periodically come by throughout the day with fruit infused water, fruit shish kabob, sunglasses cleaning services, Evian mist, cucumbers for your eyes etc. The poolside bar and restaurant offer nice, light lunch options and delicious, exotic cocktail choices to be ordered whilst seated in the outdoor dining area or brought to your makeshift poolside retreat.
The white sand beach just a short walk down the trail is a nice place to introduce baby’s toes to the warm ocean water.
Although I didn’t have time to experience the fitness room, my husband commented on its cleanliness, new equipment and ample size. Buffet breakfast was a beautiful display featuring traditional breakfast items, Mexican cuisine, island cuisine, a few Japanese breakfast staples and an omelet and Belgian waffle bar with chef. The waffles were those doughy, succulent ones the size of your fist… not ideal for my post pregnancy weight loss mind frame. I had 8 pounds to lose but after that I’m sure its back up to 10. I loved how they had almond milk available upon request unlike most places these days.
In room dining was outstanding and both restaurant choices featured absolutely delicious dishes. Fresco, the Italian style restaurant located in the same dining area as the poolside lunch place had small yet fabulously flavorful menu options. The steakhouse Hulopo’e Court located in the breakfast area had nice food as well but I became slightly nauseated when my Kauai Shrimp showed up with eerily lifelike black eyeballs staring at me. If you’re an appreciator of that type of fanciful cuisine I’m sure you’d be more than delighted.
All in all we had a magnificent time at this accommodation considering our circumstances. If you have a little one, do try to bring a nanny or perhaps convince your mother in law to tag along. I still love the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele up on the mountain, but this resort was much more convenient if you plan on basking in the Hawaiian sun for a majority of your stay.

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Waikoloa Beach Marriott – Hawaii ☆☆☆☆

June 17, 2011

Thats right. Two months later and we’re back to Kona for another leisurely visit. This time we decided to see how the Waikoloa Beach Marriott has held up over the years. I was 14 last time I stepped foot on this property (when my agent had booked me for my first ever fashion show). Oh how I wish that I could find the ridiculous photos of me working the catwalk sporting the latest in Speedo swimwear and adolescent casual island wear for merchants such as Ross and Macy’s. Don’t you miss 1990’s fashion… maybe I’ll find some comedic images later and post them for added viewer amusement. The resort looked fine to me back then, but the convention/conference area was the extent of my Marriott experience, so I was curious to see the new and improved grounds.

We were pleased to be upgraded to a pool view room with a lovely, just through the trees panorama of A-Bay. The room and hotel grounds had obviously been recently renovated as everything has been noticeably refreshed. The only thing that needed upgrading in my opinion was the TV. A flat screen would have been nice. The room was a little on the small side and became hard to navigate when my husband utilized the desk area to do emails. Other than that, we were delightfully surprised by how nice of an accommodation it really was. Our room (2294) was right next to the fire escape which gave us easy and convenient pool access. The infinity pool was quite aesthetically pleasing but the water was freezing. The rest of the property grounds are absolutely beautiful. Inevitably, this part of the island is very windy, so that does get a little irksome at times. Pool staff are rather strange when it comes to the process of picking up and dropping off towels. All other hotel staff were magnificent though.

We did make use of the gym facility during our visit. The fitness equipment is amply stocked and everything has obviously been kept current and is rather clean.

The King’s Shops are right across the street (and Queen’s shops just a little further up the road), so you couldn’t ask for a better location with regard to shopping and dining selection. The Marriott offers the choice of an a la carte menu or buffet breakfast. Both were good but the buffet wasn’t worth the $29 in my opinion.

Overall we couldn’t believe how great this accommodation was for the price paid (approximately 40% cheaper than other 4 star resorts in the area). We almost gave the Waikoloa Beach Marriott a miss after reading a multitude of negative reviews. We’re glad to have given it a chance… it was surprisingly exceptional in almost every aspect and we’ll most likely return to this financially feasible hotel in the future!

In addition, we set off on an around the island drive to perhaps evoke a multitude of childhood memories. My husband’s patience was effectively tested as he endured the approximate 5 hour drive with me conducting an almost constant narrative pointing out every place I’d ever lived or spent any significant amount of time. (e.g. Annoyingly I can indeed point out every health food store from start to finish.) We had lunch at Cafe Pesto in Hilo and then stopped in at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park for a quick hike through a glorious lava tube. If anyone has experienced the Volcano Mist Cottage please let me know how it is. I hope to book in with them next time we’re in the area.

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