La Strada is in a good location on a main street in downtown Palo Alto. After checking the outside menu we decided to give it a try for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. The atmosphere and decor are simple, but pleasing. They offer outdoor and indoor seating. One the first things we noticed was the wood-fired oven and the delicious aroma of fresh baked pizza. We were seated inside and after examining the menu we found several entrees that interested us. Our server was attentive and courteous. He immediately brought bread to our table (and it was warm and tasty). From our table we were able to observe the kitchen staff at work and they appeared to be quite organized and functional. Our food arrived quickly. I ordered one of the lunch specials - Buckwheat Pappardelle with roasted chicken and vegetables, which came with a small salad of mixed greens with a light viniargrette dressing. My husband ordered the Chicken Alla Diavola, a half semi-boneless chicken with roasted vegetables. The portions were decent. The chicken was well-prepared and flavorful. However, the vegetables were undercooked and did not have much taste. A starch like mashed potatoes or rice would have rounded out the meal. Just chicken and vegetables left a lot to be desired. If I had to rate the restaurant I would give it a C, because was just average. Nothing stood out as being particularly good or particularly bad. There are so many other dining choices in downtown Palo Alto that we probably wouldn't go back.
'Dining Out in Paris' - a Book Review
Paris has many nicknames, but its most famous is "La Ville-Lumière" (usually translated as "The City of Lights" or as "The City of Light"), a name it owes both to its fame as a center of education and ideas and its early adoption of street lighting.
Paris is also known for its culinary choices and is a magnet for foodies from all over the globe. With such a plethora of choices, where does a first-time visitor begin? I recently discovered a great little book to help answer that question. It is called "Dining Out in Paris" by Tom Reeves.
If you are a Francophile you've probably compiled a list of your favorite Paris restaurants. But if you are an infrequent visitor - or have never been to Paris - this is an excellent beginner's guide. It tells what you shold know before you go to the City of Light. The book is comprised of easy-to-read descriptions and beautiful color photographs.
I especially enjoyed the author's detailed descriptions of types of dining establishments; restaurants, cafes, bistros, brasseries, salons de the, bars a vin and even neighborhood shops; and what to expect in each one.
The book is very easy to read and small enough to carry in a purse or backpack. It gives very practical tips and vaulable advice such as:
FOREIGN RESTAURANTS: Paris has many foreign (non-French) restaurants, so one can enjoy cuisine from all over the globe.
SERVICE: The concept of service is very different from what Americans have come to expect. The pace is leisurely, not rushed. The server allows the customer to set the pace. The goal is not to have multiple customers per table each night, but perhaps only 1-2 seatings per table.
TIPPING: A service charge of 15% is always included in the bill, so leaving a tip is unnecessary. However, if one wishes to recognize exceptional service, it is customary to leave an additional tip; normally 5%. However this must be in cash because it cannot be added to a credit card charge.
The book also includes detailed reviews of several top restaurants and fine-food stores in or near the Latin Quarter. So it is a wonderful beginner's guide to dining in Paris that covers everything from picknicking to fine dining.
I recommend it highly and I wish that I'd had the opportunity read the book before my first trip to Paris. But I will definitely have it with me the next time I go.
Vegas Your Way
Las Vegas….Sin City….Entertainment Capital of the World…..whenever it’s mentioned it evokes strong emotions. People either really love it or really hate it. I’ve heard people make statements like, “I don’t like Las Vegas because it’s so smoky”, or “I don’t like Las Vegas because I don’t gamble”. Apparently they believe that smoking and gambling are all that Vegas has to offer. They couldn’t be more wrong.
I happen to be one of those who really love that city – especially the Strip. I’ve been going there for the last 26 years and often go several times each year. I’ve watched the Strip reinvent and redefine itself continuously. Believe me, there’s much more to do than smoke and gamble.
There’s a world of activities, attractions and entertainment to enjoy. Here are just a few:
If there ever was a foodie’s paradise, Vegas is it. Gone are the days of the cheap buffets and $2.99 breakfasts. Many of the world’s top celebrity chefs have opened restaurants in the major hotels and they offer world-class dining experiences. That list includes Joel Roubuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Giada De Laurentis, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. Many of them have more than one, and they offer a variety of dining experiences. For an unforgettable French dining experience I recommend Joel Robuchon, a 3 Michelin star restaurant located inside of the MGM Grand hotel/casino. On the other hand, if all you really want is a hamburger, you can’t go wrong with Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace.
Located right on the Strip in front of the City Center, I discovered this gem during a recent stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The burgers were so good that I had to eat there twice. Even the service was exceptional; I’ve never been served so well in a casual dining establishment.
If you have a sweet tooth I highly recommend Buddy V’s at the Palazzo and Jean Philippe at Aria.
The Las Vegas buffet scene is still alive and well and I’ve had some unbelievably delicious buffet experiences at Bacchanal (Caesar’s Palace), The Wynn Buffet and The Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan).
Many of the world’s top designers have opened shops in the major resorts and shopping centers like Crystals in the City Center and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and Prada are just a few of the shops that I visit when I need to get some “retail therapy”. The Fashion Show Mall has more than 250 stores and offers a nice shopping experience. For discounts and deals I always visit the Las Vegas Premium Outlets or take a drive out to the Primm Outlets.
At just slightly over 4 miles long, the Strip has more entertainment venues than anywhere else that I can think of. It has always been home to world-famous entertainers, showrooms and lounges. But today’s choices are absolutely mind boggling. In addition to the world-famous headliners, there are several Cirque du Soleil shows, magic shows, comedians, burlesque shows and so much more. During my recent trip I went to see Legends in Concert, one of the longest running hit shows where the super-talented cast members play well-known entertainers like Prince, Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston. It was great! The nightclub scene is phenomenal and some of the resorts even have day clubs. Marquee Day Club at the Cosmopolitan had a very long line….at noon. It spans 22,000 square-feet and boasts two pools, several bars and a gaming area. Programming throughout the season is highlighted by Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub resident DJs encompassing the world’s premier electronic music talent.
You can always find discount (often half price) show tickets at one of the many Tix4Tonight locations.
For those seeking action or adventure, there are lots of choices. Las Vegas Valley has golf courses and packages for every skill level. You can take a flying leap at Vegas Indoor Skydiving. You can satisfy your need for speed by taking a spin around a racetrack in an exotic car like a Ferrari 488 GTTS or a McLaren 570S. You can soar above the Strip in a helicopter, or fly to the Grand Canyon.
Amusement park lovers have a variety of attractions to choose from. The High Roller at the Linq, a 550-foot tall observation wheel (similar to the London Eye) allows riders to enjoy the view of Las Vegas in comfortable glass-enclosed cabins. You can even have open bar.
The Roller Coaster on top of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino features towering drops, multiple loops and stunning views of the Strip. When it was first built I agreed to ride it with my son. From the ground it didn’t look too rough…boy was I wrong. That’s one hair-raising ride!
If you’re really feeling daring, go to the Stratosphere to try the world’s highest thrill rides.All rides are at the top of the Stratosphere Tower, over 900 feet high. The four extreme thrill rides are The Sky Jump, the Big Shot, the X Scream, and Insanity.
Spas in Las Vegas offer a variety of specialty treatments and wellness services that aren't offered in your neighborhood back home. Some of my favorite places to be pampered are Spa Mandalay (Mandalay Bay Hotel), the Mandarin Oriental Spa, and Qua Roman Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace.
FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE
Downtown Las Vegas is home to the Fremont Street experience a pedestrian mall covered by a barrel vault canopy where light and sound shows are presented nightly beginning at dusk on the Viva Vision video screen. For a real rush, try the Slotzilla Zip line experience.
If you happen to blow your budget before you leave, not to worry. There are plenty of free attractions to enjoy. The Bellagio Conservatory is a beautiful place to enjoy elegant arrangements of plants and flowers. Circus, Circus has free shows featuring jugglers, unicyclists, trapeze artists and acrobats perform death-defying stunts and exciting acts every half-hour at the World's Largest Permanent Circus. One of my favorites is the free Fall of Atlantis fountain show that entertains audiences with special effects and animatronic figures who recount the myth of Atlantis. I especially enjoy watching the Fountains at Bellagio, a combination of music, water and light; it is a spectacular audiovisual performance with its majestic fountains.
Hotel/resort choices are many and there are options for every budget. During my 26 year love affair with Las Vegas I have stayed at most of the major resorts on the Strip and each one delivers a unique, experience. I have several preferred properties, and my newest is the Mandarin Oriental. It offers a 5-star luxury experience in a non-smoking, non-gaming environment. It is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the non-stop energy of the Strip.
Whatever your preference, Las Vegas is what you make it – and you can do it your way.
A Day in the City by the Bay
Travel has always been my passion. So I live in a constant state of packing and unpacking, relishing my last trip while planning the next trip. When I mention that I have been to more than 22 countries and many of the world’s most-visited cities, people always ask what my favorite city is. I have never been able to answer that question, because there is so much to love in each city that I’ve visited. Munching warm croissants in Paris, people watching in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, watching the sun melt into the caldera in Santorini, watching the Changing of the Guard in London, sailing into Oslo at sunrise….the list is endless. However, one city that is always on my short list of favorites is San Francisco. Since I grew up in the Bay Area and have lived here most of my life, I have the opportunity to visit the City by the Bay very often. Although I’ve been there hundreds of times, I am still discovering new experiences and hidden jewels. At only 46.9 square miles, it is not one of the world’s largest cities. But it is certainly one of the most exciting and diverse. There is always something new and exciting to see and do. 8 hours isn’t nearly enough time to experience this vibrant city, but here are a few of the activities it has to offer:
Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most iconic structures. Well-known by its orange color and majestic structure, it spans the strait of the Golden Gate from San Francisco to the Marin Headlands. It is beautiful to drive across and is accessible to pedestrians and bicycles during daylight hours. There are viewing areas on both sides of the bridge that serve as great places to take photos or just enjoy that gorgeous bay.
Fisherman’s Wharf is always a fun place to spend an afternoon. It lines the bay and offers world-class hotels, restaurants and family-friendly attractions. It is best known for its seafood. The air is permeated with the aroma of just-caught crab boiling in the pots along the sidewalk. Whether you enjoy fine dining or just a snack from a sidewalk stand, it is the place to enjoy some of the best seafood in the world. The fish & chips is the best I’ve ever tasted. There are always lots of street performers who provide great free entertainment.
Union Square is a good place to begin a day in the City. Since it is centrally located, it provides easy access to public transportation by bus; streetcar and no visit would be complete without hopping onto a Cable Car. Union Square is a plaza where it’s easy to sit and do some people watching. Since tourists visit the city from all over the world, I’ve often heard 5 or 6 different languages in just a few minutes. It is also the city’s top spot for shopping since the square is surrounded by large department stores like Barneys New York, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. There is also an extensive selection of top designer shops like Tiffany & Co, Carolina Herrera, Chanel and Christian Louboutin.
Hangin’ in the Haight is always a good way to spend a few hours. Known for it’s history as the home of the 60s hippie movement, it is still one of the coolest areas of the city. I love wandering in and out of the trendy boutiques and vintage clothing stores. It also has some really great restaurants like Indian Oven and Memphis Minnie’s. I always make a stop at Three Twins shop for some of their delicious organic ice cream.
Dining is one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco. With its hundreds of restaurants and every cuisine imaginable, it is truly a foodie’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for a celebrity-chef owned restaurant or just a food truck, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Here are a few of my favorites. I recommend Alioto’s for exceptional seafood and a fine dining experience. I like chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar when I’m in the mood for a good burger and great beer. For some down-home cooking I like Brenda’s French Soul Food. Her crispy fried chicken and fluffy biscuits are simply the best. My husband and I discovered Café Mason by chance and were very pleased with its homey atmosphere, large portions and delicious food – especially the chicken picatta. When we’re in the mood for Italian food we head to North Beach, where there are dozens of choices. We’ve tried several and have never been disappointed. The area is a little “touristy”, so when we want something a little quieter we head to the Nob Hill Café for its intimate atmosphere and delicious Italian food.
Golden Gate Park is a large urban park that offers beautiful green space and a variety of activities. It is often the site of music concerts during the spring and summer months. It is also home to the De Young Museum that features American Art, Modern Art, and special alternating exhibitions. Beauty abounds in the park and you can visit the Japanese Tea Garden, The Conservatory of Flowers, and a botanical garden. There are also several beautiful lakes throughout the park. It is like getting out of the city without actually leaving the city limits.
San Francisco is a surprisingly “walkable” city. Since it is so compact it is easy to stroll from one area to another. But remember, it’s also a very hilly city, so sometimes a stroll can turn into a steep climb. But it is a great city to explore on foot. One evening my husband and I decided to stroll to a new restaurant in the North Beach area. We started at the top of Nob Hill with its luxury and opulence went through the vibrant Union Square, then through the Chinatown Gate where we were met with the kaleidoscope of activity and exotic atmosphere of Chinatown. From there it wasn’t long before we were in North Beach strolling down Columbus Avenue past all of those wonderful Italian restaurants. It felt as if we’d been on a short international trip.
San Francisco is an international city with a patchwork of cultures and a vibrant energy all its own.
Our first trip of 2016 was a getaway to one of the most exciting cities in the world, Las Vegas. It is one of our favorite cities and we manage to go there several times every year. It is constantly evolving, so no matter how often we go, there is always something new to see. It has been referred to (and rightfully so) as an adult’s Disneyland.
We fell in love with Las Vegas was in the late 1980’s when Caesar’s Palace was the biggest resort/casino on the Strip. We went to see Sugar Ray Leonard fight Thomas Hearns for the welterweight title and the fight was billed as “The War”. At that time, Caesar’s had the main arena for world class boxing events. That was our introduction to a star-studded event with world famous entertainers and athletes in attendance. Since then we have attended other major boxing matches including Holyfield/Tyson, George Foreman/Michael Moore, James Toney/Roy Jones Jr and Holyfield/Bowe, Oscar de la Hoya/Chavez, Mayweather/Guerrero and many more.
Through the years we’ve seen the Strip completely change with the addition of resorts like New York/New York, MGM, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, The Cromwell, Wynn/Encore and our personal favorite the Venetian/Palazzo. But even with the new additions, some of the older resorts like Circus Circus and the Riviera are still going strong.
Although Las Vegas has been known primarily for gambling, it has so much more to offer. In recent years it has developed into a foodie’s paradise. There is a long list of celebrity chefs who have restaurants on the Strip; Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Hubert Keller and Giada de Larentiis, just to name a few. Of course there are numerous buffets and fast foods to choose from. So whether you decide to enjoy Joel Robuchon’s 16-course degustation menu, or a White Castle burger, you can find what you want on the Strip.
Our first meal was at Yardbird Southern Table and Bar where the fried chicken and biscuits were off the hook! They also offered flights of really good craft beers.
Las Vegas offers such a variety of entertainment choices, it is difficult to decide what to do, but this trip was all about sports. The primary reason for this trip was the NCAA Championship football game between Alabama and Clemson. We decided to watch the game at Lagasse’s Stadium in the Palazzo. Not only is the atmosphere wonderful for watching a sporting event, the service is excellent and the food is delicious. And it gets better…there is even a sports book inside. So Robert and Marcus were able to place their bets and collect their winnings while we were there.
On day 2 we ventured downtown to Fremont Street to get a taste of old Vegas. It had been a few years since we’d been there and we found that it has changed also with the addition of a zip line and several new street vendors. There were also some interesting street characters roaming about…like the man who strutted around wearing only a cowboy hat and a G-string…or the man singing old Motown hits with his karaoke machine and one background dancer; kind of like watching Gladys Knight and “a Pip”. Binion’s Horseshoe is still a great place for beginning gamblers who want to get away from the high-pressure stakes that can be found at casinos on the Strip.
On day 3 we hung out at the LINQ, one of the newest hotels on the Strip, next to the Flamingo Hotel. Next to the hotel there is a promenade that has lots of great eateries and shops. The promenade is anchored by the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel – even taller than the London Eye.
After that it was time for lunch so we headed over to Caesar’s Palace to the Bacchanal Buffet. We’ve sampled several other buffets in town, but this is by far the best. There were so many delicious choices that it took me 10 minutes to see all that was being served – then another 10 minutes to plan my eating strategy. I managed to eat everything that I wanted and still had room for crème brulee AND a Nutella crepe…. The 3 of us made quite a dent in the food and still managed to walk out without waddling…too much.
Las Vegas is always a fun getaway and every time we go we discover something new.
Sliderbar - A Restaurant Review
Downtown Palo Alto has so many wonderful restaurants to dine at that sometimes it’s difficult to choose. Although we’ve passed by many times, we’d never eaten at the Sliderbar. So today we decided to give it a try. Every table was full and the line was out the door – usually a good sign. We put our names onto the list and strolled down University Avenue and after ~15 minutes I received a call on my cell phone letting me know that our table was ready. The friendly hostess seated us and our waiter came right over. Since it was our first time at the restaurant we had some questions about the menu that boasted of mighty sliders and crafty beers. After we described our beer preference he brought over some samples for us to try. Once we decided he gave us a little more time to study the menu – which included several types of sliders including beef, pork and chicken. We chose the Hot Chick fresh all-natural ground chicken with Serrano chili, garlic, lime & green tomatillo patty, Serrano chili mayo, gem lettuce, tortilla chips, cilantro & tomato on a multigrain bun. The food and the beers arrived in short order, along with hot, crispy fries. They offer several dipping sauces for the fries and we choose honey mustard and chipotle ketchup – yum! We were impressed with the freshness of the food. The chicken was freshly ground and the fries were freshly cut. Everything was hot and tasty. We were also tempted by other orders that passed by our table like the Parmesan truffle fries and sticky wings.
The atmosphere was casual and laid back, with several big-screen televisions so we could watch several sporting events at the same time.
Their motto boasts of "FOOD that is GOOD for the stomach,
GOOD for the soul and GOOD for the mind". We will definitely go back in the very near future.
Lunch at La Strada
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