Affordable Luxury: USA & Europe

London Food Series – Part 3: Deliciously Healthy

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La Polenteria in Soho – London, England

In Part 2 of my London Food Series, I told you I was saving the best for last and I’m here now to deliver. Don’t run off scared just because ‘healthy’ is in the title.

You’ll find La Polenteria right in the center of all the action in Soho. This new family-run restaurant is so small and quaint that I almost walked right passed it.

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La Polenteria is located on Old Compton Street in London.

Now I don’t know how many polenta lovers are going to read this but if you’re anything like me, I really had no idea what polenta was so bear with me for a few moments. Our lovely waitress Cristina, who is also one of the owners, explained that polenta is an ancient Roman dish that is essentially cornmeal. Inspired by the versatility and nutritiousness of polenta, she moved from Italy to London where she opened this brilliant restaurant based around one dish. Her passion clearly shown through and made me even more excited to start eating.

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At La Polenteria, I’d recommend starting off with any of their salads with grilled polenta.

We started off with a light and colorful salad filled with pecorino cheese, lava beans, cherry tomatoes, mint, and of course, polenta. While polenta is usually served warm and creamy, this salad was accompanied with pieces of grilled polenta. On its own, the flavor was very muted but when paired with the salad, it really was a perfect combination.

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Three of my favorites dishes from La Polenteria are polenta with mixed mushrooms, goulash, or Tuscanic sausages with borlotti beans.

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Polenta with gorgonzola and nuts will satisfy any cheese lover at La Polenteria.

For our main dish, Cristina quickly recommended that I try the goulash served over warm and creamy polenta. Now if you’ve read my previous food posts, you know I tend to get a bit dramatic when I like a dish. But I really mean it this time when I say this was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The polenta was so creamy and flavorful and the beef was cooked to absolute perfection. Polenta is also gluten free which makes it a great wheat and pasta substitute.

It was hard to share but it would’ve been cruel not to let my friends try a bite of the goulash. My vegetarian friend was very happy with her polenta dish served with mixed mushrooms claiming these were the freshest mushrooms she’s ever had. See? I’m not the only dramatic one. Also, for all you cheese lovers out there, you must try the gorgonzola and nuts with polenta. It was so good that I had to get a closeup shot. While this dish may be a bit overwhelming just on its own, I’d definitely suggest sharing it as a side dish.

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All of the desserts at La Polenteria are vegan and thoroughly delicious.

I’ll be honest with you, at this point I could barely move but I had my eye on a Ferrero Rocher cupcake the moment I stepped into La Polenteria. Yes that’s right, Ferrero Rocher. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I don’t think we can be friends. Google it. If I lived in London, I’d pop into La Polenteria every week just to buy this cupcake. I can also vouch for the other desserts, since you know, we tried them all. They also happen to be vegan free so everyone is happy!

Next up we have the Hummus Bros which is the brain child of two college friends who had a passion for, you guessed it, hummus! Similar to La Polenteria, this restaurant is based around a very versatile dish. So far there are four Hummus Bros locations in London and I hope they continue to expand because it is just that good. I wouldn’t complain at all if they made their way to California as well! Just a suggestion.

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The Hummus Bros offers delicious drinks to satisfy any customer. My favorite was their lemonade with fresh mint and ginger. So refreshing!

We visited their restaurant on Wardour Street and quickly ordered a few of their most popular drinks based on the recommendation from co-owner Christian Mouysset. My friend couldn’t get enough of their aloe vera juice but if you’re a little less adventurous, I’d definitely go with the hot spiced apple juice or mint and ginger lemonade, depending on the weather that day.

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This falafel salad with tzatziki is a healthy and filling side dish at The Hummus Bros.

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At The Hummus Bros, the main dishes come with hummus as a base, paired with falafel and several different toppings to choose from.

We ordered a little bit of everything on their menu which, you’ll be happy to hear, is ridiculously affordable for central London. Their hummus dishes are also great for sharing. Main dishes all come with their homemade hummus as a base and you can choose different toppings to pair it with. I’d also recommend ordering a side of carrot sticks to stop yourself from gorging on their pita bread if you’re trying to be super healthy. Two standout dishes were the smoky barbecued aubergine (eggplant to us Americans!), and chicken with guacamole. I’m from Southern California so I eat guacamole on a weekly basis yet I never thought to pair it with hummus. Life changing.

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The Hummus Bros keeps it simple with three equally tasty desserts to choose from.

I couldn’t leave without trying their desserts (are you sensing a pattern?) which only cost around 2 pounds. Obviously we had to order all of them. Relax though, there are only three to choose from which include a double chocolate brownie (gluten free!), baklava with chopped nuts soaked in honey, and a milk based dessert with date honey called Malabi. Apologies for the slightly blurry picture, my friends were too excited when they arrived that I knew I had to snap one quickly. If I HAD to pick my favorite, I’d go for the baklava.

The Hummus Bros is a casual, slightly hipster, and affordable place to enjoy a healthy meal in London. They have free wifi which is always a plus but more importantly, you can purchase tubs of their hummus to take home with you. I especially liked that they don’t add any additional seasoning to the already perfect and creamy hummus, that way you are free to customize it the way you like with garlic or lemon juice for example.

That’s the end of my London food series! Let me know which restaurant was your favorite, I’d love to know. Later this week I’ll be sharing with you my first trip to beautiful Edinburgh!

Happy travels :)

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London Food Series – Part 2: Asian Fusion

It is no surprise to most people when I say that London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world.  While this is a brilliant fact for several reasons, I particularly love how this effects their food scene.  Last week in Part 1 of this food series, I shared with you some of my favorite, more traditional English restaurants.

While looking through photos of my trip, I quickly realized how many Asian restaurants I went to.  If you know me at all, this really isn’t much of a surprise so I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you this week!

The Drunken Monkey:

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The Drunken Monkey is a great place for lunch, happy hour, or a fun dinner out with friends.

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The Chinese-style bar at The Drunken Monkey is the place to be on the weekends in Shoreditch.

The Drunken Monkey is about a stone’s throw away from Shoreditch High Street tube station so you know it’s going to be pretty damn cool. This Chinese-style bar and restaurant really has it all with a giant menu offering delicious and (extremely) well priced dim sum, noodles, rice dishes, and cleverly named cocktails. I shouldn’t have been surprised, any restaurant with the word “drunken” in their name was bound to be awesome.

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Beef ho fun noodles, steamed chicken buns, and vegetable gyoza are just a few of the tasty dishes you can order at The Drunken Monkey.

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The honey smoked crispy chicken is one of the best dishes to order at The Drunken Monkey.

As you can see above, my friend and I ordered the beef ho fun noodles (go for the Singapore noodles if you want something with more spice!), vegetable gyoza, steamed chicken buns, and honey smoked crispy chicken. These four dishes were definitely enough for the two of us and didn’t cost more than 10 pounds each. If I can walk away from any London restaurant without spending more than a tenner, I’m a happy girl. The honey smoked crispy chicken was our absolute favorite dish and my only regret is sharing it.

My favorite part about The Drunken Monkey has got to be their happy hour. I consider myself a happy hour connoisseur in Los Angeles but since Londoners really don’t need an excuse to drink early, you won’t find many happy hour deals in London. The Drunken Monkey surprised me when I saw that they have an ALL DAY Happy Hour on Sunday, Monday – Friday from 5 – 7 PM and Saturday from 12 – 8 PM. You can order 4 beers for 10 pounds or any of their cocktails for 4.50. I was sold.

Pho Cafe:

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Pho Cafe in Soho is a very dimly lit and cozy restaurant.

This cosy little restaurant is located just off of crazy Oxford Street, making it a perfect place to grab some food and rest your feet after shopping which is just what I did! Their Soho location is just one out of 8 locations in London, the newest one opening in Chiswick this month. I had to throw that in because I used to live in Chiswick last year!

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Tender fried baby squid with a salt, pepper, and lime dip and fresh rice paper summer rolls with chicken are great starters at Pho Cafe.

I made sure to try a few of their starters for, you know, research. I found out later that their starters are all under 200 calories so that made me feel much better. I would definitely recommend mud chien (friend baby squid) and goi cuon (rice paper summer rolls with chicken) pictured above but my favorite was the hem hai san (large crispy spring roll with tiger prawn, crab, and pork). Of course I wasn’t able to take a photo of that because I ate it in seconds. Maybe next time…

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Hot and spicy brisket beef pho is served in a giant bowl at Pho Cafe, almost enough to feed an entire family.

You obviously cannot leave without ordering a giant bowl of pho which is a Vietnamese noodle soup. I also heard that the bun bo hue (hot and spicy brisket beef) that I ordered is a great hangover cure. Things can start to get a bit splashy while eating pho so they kindly offer bibs. Yes, bibs! I’m not joking. Another favorite (again, not pictured, gone in 30 seconds) was their fresh apple, mint, and lime juice. I’m a fan of all things apple so these three flavors together were perfection. Also note that every pho dish is under 500 calories. I try not to count calories while I’m at a restaurant (or ever) but I thought this was pretty impressive. There’s also no way you’ll finish a bowl of pho in one go so they’ll kindly offer you a takeaway box which was very much appreciated.

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This green pancake is a favorite dessert at Pho.

If that wasn’t enough already, this beautiful green pancake magically floated over to our table. Banh la dua is a pandan pancake with roasted coconut served with honey and ginger ice cream. Yes. A million times yes.

Recipease:

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Recipease in London offers up beautiful kitchen facilities to customers.

I thought I’d shake things up a bit, step far outside my comfort zone, and take a cooking class! Best decision ever.

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Your cooking instructor at Recipease will set up stations for everyone before the class starts.

Famous British Chef Jamie Oliver opened Recipease in Notting Hill almost two years ago. Here you’ll find a beautiful food and kitchen shop where you can eat (their breakfast in AMAZING), learn to cook, and shop your little heart out. I chose the cooking option and was excited to attend their Thai Dinner Feast cooking lesson. I had taken their Mexican Street Food cooking class before and loved it so I had high expectations this time around. I wasn’t disappointed.

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Our Thai Dinner Feast actually started at 10 AM so we ordered some coffee before the class. One drink is included in the price of your cooking class at Recipease.

Simon, our wonderful cooking instructor, had set up a station for all 10 of us with everything we were going to need for the day. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you’re cooking in this gorgeous open kitchen while customers are eating all around you. I was terrified at first seeing as how I can barely scramble an egg but you do not have to be a skilled cook to take this class. Simon explained to us that Thai food is all about a balance of flavors: sweet, spicy, sour, and salty.

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Our instructor, Simon, showed the class how to make each course at Recipease.

We had an hour and a half and three courses to make. Simon would make one course at a time and show us each step, then send us off to our station to cook our meal. He was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about cooking and would walk around making sure everyone understood what to do. In the end, we had made a delicious Thai feast which consisted of a sweet and sour prawn (shrimp to us Americans!) soup, sticky stir fried beef, a Thai inspired salad with long stem broccoli, pak choi, spring greens and a coconut rice pudding with spicy pineapple on top that Simon had made for us.

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My finished meal at Recipease was a beautiful and delicious Thai feast.

We dug right in and ate with the class which was a wonderful experience. I especially recommend these classes to any solo traveler as a way to meet some great people. Everyone agreed that the sticky stir fried beef was the winner; the beef was so tender with a perfect balance of flavors that we learned about. Luckily, Recipease will email you the recipes so you can re-create these dishes at home for your family and friends. I cannot recommend these classes enough. They start around 45 pounds and have deals somtimes where you can save money if you bring a friend. I learned a lot, I ate a lot, and even walked away with a couple of new friends!

I’ll be back soon with Part 3 which will be my last post in my London food series. Trust me, I saved the best for last! What are your favorite restaurants in London? I’d love to know!

Happy travels!

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*Note: I did receive a complimentary ticket for my Recipease Thai Feast Cooking Class. Opinions are entirely my own. I would only ever recommend something that I actually enjoyed and support!

London Food Series – Part 1: Traditional Eats

I think it’s safe to say that I thoroughly ate my way through London last month.  I was planning on writing a roundup post about my favorite new restaurants but I quickly realized I had visited too many to include in just one post, unless you want to read a short novel.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been noticing a rising trend in London’s food scene: Mexican food and American diners.  While this may be exciting for most Londoners and European tourists, I didn’t travel all the way from my homestate of California to eat more tacos, burgers, or milkshakes.  I do realize that there’s also a lot more to British cuisine than bangers and mash, sausage rolls, and Sunday roasts, but I’ll save that for another post!

We’ve all heard the rumors that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I think England takes this very seriously.  Example?  A full English breakfast.  This traditional meal is usually served with bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomato, black pudding (for those brave souls), and toast.  One of my new favorite restaurants for breakfast in London is The Great British, a charming little restaurant off of Oxford Street in Mayfair.

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The Great British Restaurant is located on a quiet street in Mayfair.

A good full English breakfast is hearty, fried, greasy, and a little bit messy.  The Great British ticked all of those boxes except for the messy bit.  Instead, they cleverly (and adorably) put the beans in a little glass jar which I obviously had to put on Instagram immediately.  It’s the little things that count.

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I highly recommend ordering orange juice at The Great British. So fresh and delicious!

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Full English breakfast at The Great British is presented beautifully.

Overall, the food and service were wonderful and I’m very interested to go back for lunch or dinner.  Judging by their name, I’m sure you’ve guessed that they serve traditional English dishes and I’m really craving a Shepherds Pie at the moment.  There’s one more thing I must comment on, which might be a little strange, but their bathroom was ridiculously cool.  The toilet was wooden with a little old fashioned handle to flush and the walls were covered with pages from Shakespeare’s plays.  It doesn’t get more British than that.

Another great alternative for breakfast is Beaufort House Chelsea, located on the oh-so-fashionable Kings Road.

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Beaufort House Chelsea on Kings Road is a very stylish restaurant but still affordable.

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No meal is complete in England without tea.

They serve a delicious full English breakfast as well but I’d also recommend going for their weekend brunch.   The highlights were definitely their quinoa salad with butternut squash and avocado as well as their gnocchi with asparagus.

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Our three brunch options at Beaufort House were delicious. This photo makes me very hungry.

Their decor is always changing but while we were there in late February, the restaurant was decorated as a ski lodge.  It was very cozy with blankets offered at each table.  I think it had something to do with the Winter Olympics?  Just a guess.

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I loved the ski resort themed decor at Beaufort House Chelsea.

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Beaufort House Ski Season was the theme in February. I wonder what it looks like in spring?

I couldn’t write a post about traditional eats in London without mentioning afternoon tea!  Just about every hotel in London offers one which makes it very hard to choose.  The Orangery, which is actually not a hotel, but a lovely restaurant right next to Kensington Palace in Hyde Park has always been a favorite of mine.  The atmosphere is lovely and the price was always right, however, ever since the Olympics rolled in they’ve raised their prices and changed their food.  It’s a bit too touristy and overpriced now which I’m hesitant to even say because I love being touristy in London.  Luckily, I found a new favorite!

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The Drawing Rooms in the Ampersand Hotel offer a lovely Afternoon Tea service to hotels guests and visitors.

The Drawing Rooms at the Ampersand Hotel offers a lovely afternoon tea experience and is a wonderful example of affordable luxury.  There are several well known places in London where you’ll find yourself paying up to 50 pounds or more for what is essentially just scones, finger sandwiches, and pastries.  While you won’t find crystal chandeliers and waiters in tuxedos at The Drawing Rooms, you’ll discover a quaint, relaxing, and inviting atmosphere while sampling the most inventive and beautiful pastries.  After all, let’s be honest, Afternoon tea is all about the desserts.

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The Drawing Rooms is cozy yet tastefully decorated. It felt like we were in someone’s living room.

We settled into our cozy chairs by the window and quickly decided to order the Classic Afternoon Tea and the Science Afternoon Tea.  Both options come with your own pot of tea, four tea sandwiches, homemade scones with clotted cream, and an assortment of pastries.  The Drawing Rooms are located just around the corner from South Kensington tube station but more importantly, only a five minutes walk from The Science Museum.  Their brilliant Head Pastry Chef, Ji Sun Shin, created a wonderful array of desserts for the Science Afternoon Tea.  The presentation was incredible and my absolute favorite part had to be when the waiter poured water over the volcano pastry and white smoke started to appear.

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Dry ice under the volcano cake created this awesome effect during our Afternoon Tea at the Ampersand Hotel.

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The science themed desserts at The Drawing Rooms were both creative and delicious.

Both tea sets were lovely with warm scones, filling sandwiches, and pastries that were just too pretty to eat but we got over that quickly.  For me, Afternoon tea is more about the experience than the actual food itself but I was definitely blown away by the quality of the food, particulary the pastries.  The presentation of the food and the atmosphere of the whole room was elegant without being too stuffy.

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The Afternoon Tea at The Drawing Rooms is beautifully presented.

It was a pleasure to meet the creative team responsible for our lovely tea experience at the Drawing Rooms, Head Pastry Chef Ji Sun Shin and Head Chef at the Ampersand Hotel and Apero Restaurant, Chris Golding.  Both their talent and passion for what they do is very inspiring and I was very excited when they invited me to take a little tour through the kitchens.  Ji Sun Shin makes everything by hand and was working on this beautiful creation during my visit:

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This beautifully decorated Victorian sponge cake was created by Head Pastry Chef Ji Sun Shin at The Ampersand Hotel.

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Head Pastry Chef and Head Chef at the Ampersand Hotel, Ji Sun Shin and Chris Golding

The Classic Afternoon Tea starts at 27.50 and the Science for 32.50 which, in my opinion, is an incredible value.  I’ve been to a few afternoon tea services where it’s obvious that the pastries and scones have been sitting out for a couple of days.  The time and effort that Ji Sun and Chris put into their food goes above and beyond.  I could have easily spent all afternoon there.

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Inside the Drawing Rooms, you’ll find a very relaxed yet elegant atmosphere.

I’ll be returning in a few days with another post from my London food series so you’ve been warned for next time… don’t read on an empty stomach!

Happy travels!

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Photo Essay: Exploring Los Angeles with a Tourist

My good friend from Germany visited me last November.  It was her first time in Los Angeles, and the United States, so the pressure was on to share with her the best that Southern California has to offer.  She wanted to hit up the obvious places like Hollywood Boulevard to see the “stars” and Disneyland, the happiest and most expensive place on earth.  Two weeks flew by and almost a thousand photos later (literally), I’m here to share a few of my favorites today.

Manhattan Beach:

If you’re visiting Los Angeles for the first time, going to the beach is a must.  Santa Monica and Venice Beach are very popular with tourists but I’d suggest visiting Manhattan Beach!  It’s less crowded, extremely walkable, and more picturesque in my opinion.

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This lovely beach town is right next door to where I live, only about 10 minutes from LAX! This pier has been featured in plenty of films and TV shows so you might recognize it.

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Manhattan Beach is a perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon, even in November!

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Just a typical beach home you’ll find while exploring the streets in Manhattan Beach. Not too shabby.

Hike to the Hollywood Sign:

Or if you’re pressed for time because you need to race to see the sunset at the Griffith Observatory (or if you’re lazy), drive to the Hollywood Sign! Type in 3000 Canyon Lake Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068 into your GPS, drive up a few winding roads, and treat yourself to the closest view you can get of this famous landmark without getting arrested. You can get even closer if you hike behind it but who wants a picture from the back of the Hollywood Sign?

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I’ve lived in Los Angeles my entire life and this was the closest I had ever been to the Hollywood Sign. It was such a beautiful and clear day. Also, I just love that lonely little cloud in the corner.

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This was our view in the opposite direction, overlooking the Hollywood Reservoir.

Griffith Observatory:

This is the place to be in Los Angeles at sunset. I’ll let my pictures do the talking.

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We were lucky to grab a parking spot in the Griffith Observatory lot just before sunset. I’d suggest arriving a couple hours earlier, explore the Observatory, have a picnic, and wait for the sun to go down. There’s also street parking available if you don’t mind hiking up the hill.

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My friend Nicole trying to get the perfect shot for Instagram. ;)

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Visitors watching the beautiful sunset at The Griffith Observatory.

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We don’t really experience seasons in Los Angeles but I loved seeing some fall colors in November! Or that could just be the sun shining on the leaves…

Mission San Juan Capistrano:

Or just get out of Los Angeles (I know it’s hard, traffic-wise) and visit other parts of Southern California. While San Juan Capistrano isn’t the first place I’d recommend to tourists, I felt like I had to show my friend some sort of historic building that wasn’t just built in the 1900′s. Apart from visiting in the 3rd grade, this was my second time to Mission San Juan Capistrano and it was a beautiful place to explore and learn about the history of the missions. In grade school, I never really understood the sad history behind the missions and all the forced labor required from the Native Americans to build these beautiful settlements. There are 21 missions along the coast of California and I’d definitely recommend visiting at least one.

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This is the first photo I took upon entering Mission San Juan Capistrano. The mission is very well preserved and a tranquil place to explore.

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Mission San Juan Capistrano is built almost entirely of adobe brick.

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Tickets for Mission San Juan Capistrano start at $9 for adults. Always look out for deals on websites such as Groupon, Living Social, and Amazon Local. We were able to find a 2 for 1 deal on Groupon.

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This was my favorite little courtyard in Mission San Juan Capistrano. So peaceful.

Have you visited Los Angeles before?  What is your favorite place to explore in the City of Angels?  Let me know in the comments!  I’ll be visiting London and Edinburgh over the next two weeks so look out for a guest post while I’m away.  I’ll be back on March 7th with a new post for my #Take12Trips challenge!

Happy Travels!

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Finding Danish Comfort & Style at The Hamlet Inn

If you missed my post last week, I recently traveled to the quirky Danish town of Solvang located about two hours north of Los Angeles.  Solvang is barely two and half square miles, however, you will still be able to choose from about a dozen small hotels and inns to stay at.  When I research hotels, there are always a few things I’m looking for: an affordable price, great location, charm, and most importantly, free wifi!  The Hamlet Inn certainly ticked all of those boxes.

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My oh so stylish yet comfortable bedroom at the Hamlet Inn. I just love those hanging lightbulbs!

Located on Mission Drive, in the center of everything, you’ll find that The Hamlet Inn has a bit of a retro motel look going on from the exterior.  Free parking is provided right outside each room which is always a plus.  Also, I don’t know what it is about me and gazebos but I was way too excited to discover their fairy light decorated gazebo with fire engine red, art deco lawn chairs.  Perhaps I watched too many episodes of Gilmore Girls growing up.  +10 points to anyone who understands what I’m talking about!

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The Hamlet Inn’s retro motel exterior.

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The gazebo at The Hamlet Inn is a picturesque spot for guests to lounge outside.

Inside our room, I was pleasantly surprised to find how much the decor reminded me of the houses I stayed at in Denmark a few summers back. This is Solvang after all, “Disneyland Denmark”, but The Hamlet Inn’s rooms remained tasteful and true to Danish style.  Everything from the modern wood furnishings to the minimalist bathroom design and charming Danish flag throw blanket made me feel very far away from home… in the best way possible!

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Our double queen room at the Hamlet Inn had this adorable little seating area in the middle of the room.

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Hotel bathroom pictures are never exciting but the Hamlet Inn’s was clean and spacious so I thought I’d share!

Hands down, my favorite part of our room was the adorable reading nook in the corner.  Of course I assume it’s for reading and not just staring out the window after eating and drinking your way through Solvang.  That could work too!  This was such a lovely and unexpected part of our room that I’ve never seen before in a hotel.

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I could easily waste an afternoon with my kindle in this charming reading nook at The Hamlet Inn.

As if I haven’t gushed enough, The Hamlet Inn has a few more exciting amenities.  They offer their guests complimentary bikes to use around town which is the perfect way to see everything within these charming two and a half square miles.  Just remember, don’t drink and bike!  But seriously, there are quite a number of wine tasting rooms in Solvang so you’ve been warned!

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How cute are these bikes at The Hamlet Inn?!

Upon check- in, you’ll receive a very handy card with a list of Solvang’s wine tasting rooms.  Hang on to this card because it will get you 2 for 1 tastings and even a free tasting at Presidio Winery further down the street.  Yes, you read that correctly, free wine.  Need I say more?  I also found The Hamlet Inn’s location ideal since it is directly across from Olsen’s Bakery and Paula’s Pancake House which I raved about here.  Just promise me you won’t sit and eat danishes all day long in that lovely reading nook, as tempting as it sounds.

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Our view of Olsen’s Bakery and Paula’s Pancake House from the Hamlet Inn.

The Hamlet Inn is affordable luxury at its best with prices starting at $79 during the winter and spring, Solvang’s slower seasons.  Let’s be real though, southern California is forever stuck in summer so there’s really no bad time to visit.

Let me know if any of you have ever been to Solvang!  I always love to hear from you.

Happy travels!

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*Note: I did receive a complimentary night stay at The Hamlet Inn. As always, opinions are entirely my own. I would only ever recommend something that I actually enjoyed and support!

My Top Places to Eat and Drink in Solvang! #Take12trips

WARNING: This post is all about food.  I apologize ahead of time if you’re left drooling and hungry after reading.  Quick, grab a snack and buckle in.  You’ve been warned.

Drive about two and a half hours north outside of Los Angeles along the coast and you’ll stumble upon the strangely charming Danish-style village of Solvang.  A few locals I met described it as a “Disney Denmark” and I can definitely see what they meant.

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Having been to Denmark a couple of times, I can proudly say that it did remind me of a few small and colorful towns outside of Copenhagen.  Danes are very friendly and that definitely wasn’t lost in Solvang.  The only real thing missing were cobblestones but I can look past that and so can my feet.  Surprisingly, there was one aspect I enjoyed more in Solvang than in Denmark… and that was the food.  While there are some touristy restaurants in Solvang where you can sample traditional Danish cuisine, I have a few other delicious recommendations if you get tired of open faced sandwiches and red cabbage!

Breakfast: Paula’s Pancake House

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Being in Solvang, we really couldn’t leave without trying a Danish Pancake which is basically dessert for breakfast.  Sign me up!  Paula’s was packed by the time we arrived at 9:00 AM on a Saturday but we were quickly seated since we didn’t mind sitting at the counter.  This place is old fashioned in the best way with wonderful service, huge portions (seriously, share a dish), endless coffee refills, and probably the best damn freshly squeezed orange juice I’ve tasted.  The pancake was delicious and that bacon strip was about as long as my arm.  +10 points

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Lunch: The Succulent Cafe

The Succulent Cafe is actually just down the street from Paula’s.  I knew I’d love it as soon as I noticed they had an adorable thatched roof.  You order at the counter, take your number, and they bring your food to you.  They have a lovely outdoor seating section where we enjoyed our lunch.  Stefanie, assistant to the GM, kindly suggested I try Dave’s BBQ meatloaf sandwich and ohhhhhh man, so glad I listened.  Picture this: meatloaf, sourdough bread, cheese, bacon, and caramelized onions.  I won’t torture you any longer, here’s a photo…

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Wine Tasting: Dascomb Cellars

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Again, loving these thatched roofs!  If you walk around Solvang for about five minutes, you’ll quickly notice that there are about a million wine tasting rooms.  The hardest part about this situation is choosing the right one. Almost all are pet and child friendly which is great for families visiting.  Also, several hotels in Solvang provide visitors with 2 for 1 wine tasting vouchers at many different locations.  After visiting a few (life is so hard), Dascomb Cellars was a clear winner for me.  Located in the center of town on the corner of 1st and Copenhagen, Dascomb Cellars is a charming, family-run winery.

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We had the pleasure of meeting Andy Scarffe who was beyond knowledgable when it came to introducing the wines to us.  This was only my second wine tasting (ever) so I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Andy describe each wine, his passion clearly shining through.  I won’t even try to go into detail about every wine because I simply wouldn’t do them justice.  After sampling a few reds and whites, I discovered that I’m a big fan of white wine, the sweeter the better!  However, concluding with their port and delicious raspberry chocolates was a highlight.  Another thing that stood out at Dascomb Cellars were their cheese samples which, surprisingly, several other tasting rooms in Solvang didn’t offer.  I would recommend Dascomb Cellars to anyone visiting Solvang and don’t forget to ask for Andy!

Dinner: Fitzpatrick’s Tavern

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I promise I didn’t just pick where to eat based on how beautiful the buildings are.  It doesn’t hurt though!  After talking to a few locals, we heard that Fitzpatrick’s Tavern opened just a few months ago and is becoming extremely popular.  This place is small and cozy which meant it was almost full by the time we arrived at 6:00 PM on a Friday!  I was expecting standard pub food since it’s a tavern after all and the prices were very reasonable at about $12 for an entree.  Fitzpatrick’s definitely exceeded my expectations.  We went for their Shepherd’s Pie, Chicken Club, and Mac n Cheese with white truffle oil.  The Shepherd’s Pie and pasta would’ve been more than enough for two people.  The flavor and quality of the food went way beyond your usual pub grub.  It was comfort food at its best.  I’m a bit heartbroken I forgot to take a picture of the Mac n Cheese though.

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Bakery: Olsen’s Bakery

Don’t worry!  I didn’t forget dessert!  Solvang is a Danish town after all so there’s a bakery on almost every corner.  We heard great things about Olsen’s before we went and our hotel just happened to be across the street.  Fate.  I can’t vouch for their danishes because I didn’t even manage to try one!  So embarrassing.  I can, however, vouch for their butter cookies, Russian tea cakes, and apple pie squares.  Whatever you do, please don’t leave Solvang without trying their apple pie squares.  Also, they’re famous for their butter cookies and you can buy a giant tub to take home for $15.  This thing will last you through the winter.

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Solvang is the perfect escape outside of Los Angeles. Whether you go just for the day or stay the night, you’ll find plenty to do and more importantly, eat.  We stayed at the lovely Hamlet Inn so look out for my review next week.  Since I went to Solvang on the last day of January, it totally counts as my first trip for #take12trips!  Find out more from Need Another Holiday!

I’ll be attending the Travel and Adventure Show in Long Beach on Saturday.  Let me know if any of you will be there!

Happy travels.

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Photo of the Week: Colorful Santa Monica, CA

Today’s Friday photo was taken just after a beautiful sunset last November in Santa Monica.  I live really close to Santa Monica and come here far too often to shop on 3rd Street Promenade.  Although I’m no stranger to this beautiful beachside city, this was definitely the first time I stopped to really take in its beauty.  Cheesy, I know, but sometimes you really take your home for granted.  On this day I had one of my best friends visiting from Germany and it was her first time seeing the Pacific Ocean!  I loved experiencing these familiar places through her eyes and realizing how lucky I am to live where I do.

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Awhile back I said I would participate in Need Another Holiday’s #Take12Trips in January!  Well there’s still one day left and I’m off to Solvang for the weekend.  This quirky Danish-like town is just a two and a half hour drive from Los Angeles.  It’s my first time visiting and I’m excited for this little coastal road trip… but even more excited to stuff my face with Danish pastries all weekend.

Happy Travels!

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January in Los Angeles: Free Museum Day + Restaurant Week!

“…In all the world, there neither was nor would there ever be another place like this City of Angels.” -Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land, 1946

Incase you haven’t heard, Los Angeles is pretty great in January.  Restaurant Week, Free Museum Day, and the near-perfect weather (sorry east coast) are just a few reasons why I’d recommend visiting the City of Angels.  There might be only 8 days left in the month but that’s plenty of time for you locals out there so no excuses!  For those of you a bit farther away, you’ve been warned for next year.  Now start planning!

Free Museum Day will take place this Saturday, January 25th, in exactly 20 museums across the city.  I don’t know about you, but trying to visit 20 museums in one day might be a bit overwhelming.  Hopefully I can help narrow that list down for you with a few of my recommendations below.

#1: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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If you absolutely only have time for one museum on Saturday, this should be the one.  LACMA is the largest art museum in the western U.S. with a variety of works including everything from ancient artifacts to modern art and several ongoing exhibitions.  There really is something for everyone here.

Metroplos II: An amazing kinetic sculpture created by Chris Burden

Metroplos II: An amazing kinetic sculpture created by Chris Burden

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#2: The California Science Center

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This beautiful modern building is conveniently located in Exposition Park in Downtown Los Angeles.  The California Science Center is especially fun for kids.  As you can see below, there are literally planes hanging from the ceiling to capture their attention as well as several hands-on exhibits that any child (or adult!) will have fun interacting with.

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However, my favorite reason for visiting is to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour.  Timed reservations are required for weekends and they’ll charge a service fee of just $2, even this Saturday, but it’s well worth it.  See for yourself…

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Okay so this museum isn’t even participating in Free Museum Day this Saturday but I still had to include it because it’s one of my favorites.  Also, their free day is coming up on Tuesday, February 4th so it can still be on my list, alright?!

If you visit the California Science Center earlier in the day, you simply need to walk through the gorgeous Exposition Rose Garden and you’ll find the Natural History Museum waiting for you on the other side!  I think you’ll quickly find that it’s not a bad garden to walk through, or perhaps, stop for a nice picnic lunch.

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Now I’ve visited the Natural History Museums in London and New York and this one is definitely on the same level.  Their new Dinosaur Hall will completely blow you away with over 300 real fossils and 20 complete dinosaurs!  Yes… 20!

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They also have a new permanent exhibit called Becoming Los Angeles which is perfect for any tourist to learn more about the city.  Even being a local, I really enjoyed it and learned quite a bit more about my home which is always nice.  Every first Friday of the month the Natural History Museum will stay open until 10 PM and provide special tours, discussions, and entertainment.

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#4: The Getty Museums

The Getty Villa and Getty Center are always free (minus the $15 parking!) but I would still definitely check them out this Saturday.  I wrote about The Getty Villa last year so I’ll just let you go back and read that if you’re interested!

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Don’t think I’ve forgotten about Restaurant Week!

This 12-day dining event only started 3 days ago and lasts until January 31st so you have plenty of time to sort through menus and book your tables.  Several restaurants throughout Los Angeles release specially priced prix-fix menus for lunch and dinner.  There are some great offers out there at pricey restaurants you wouldn’t normally choose to dine at.  Rock Sugar in Century City is an example of one I’m excited to try over the weekend.  They’re offering a three course lunch menu for only $15.  They’re not paying me to say this, I promise.  I’m just an overly enthusiastic foodie.

Let me know if you’ve ever participated in Restaurant Week before.  Any recommendations?  Also, which museum would you choose?  Here’s the full list.

Happy Travels!

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The Savannah Taste Experience – Eating my way through the Hostess City!

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After eating and drinking my way through Charleston earlier in the week, Savannah really had a lot to live up to.  And what better way to experience the local cuisine than with a food tour?!  Note: If you ever visit the South and don’t leave 5 pounds heavier, you’re doing it all wrong.

Unless you count London pub crawls (I don’t), I had never really been on a food tour before.  We only had 48 hours to spend in Savannah so doing a food tour was a great way to try out several local eateries as well as walking around and getting to know the city.

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The Savannah Taste Experience is a wonderful new company started by brothers Stu and Donald Card.  Their passion for the great Hostess City really shines through their tours where they’ve handpicked some of the best locally owned restaurants and shops.  No restaurant chains allowed!

I decided to go on the First Squares Food Tour which took me along the riverfront and through the historic downtown.  This three hour taste tour allowed me to learn quite a bit about Savannah’s history while strolling through gardens and past famous landmarks.  Our  guide Katie was so energetic, enthusiastic, and very easy to listen to.  Okay enough gushing, let’s get on with the food!

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Stop #1: Rocks on the River in the Bohemian Hotel

This first restaurant was right on the riverfront with some lovely views.  Of course I was too busy digging into my she-crab soup to take any pictures so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  She-crab soup is a popular dish in the South and is more of a creamy soup (similar to a bisque if you want to get all fancy) with yes, you guessed it, crab.  It was very light and flavorful.  Not too fishy which is a good thing for me.  Whew, thank god I’m not a food critic.  We’re off to a great start here.  Stick around.

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Stop #2: Tondee’s Tavern

Tondee’s Tavern holds a special place in my heart.  It is here that I had my first drink of many on this day.  Keep in mind, it was barely noon.  When in Rome, right?

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It really wouldn’t be a proper Southern food tour without some shrimp and grits.  But more importantly, turn your attention to that red drink in the background.  You can’t leave Savannah without trying some good old Chatham Artillery Punch.  Not for the faint hearted.  You’ve been warned.

Stop #3: Molly MacPherson’s Pub

This was my first time stepping into a pub since leaving London last May so I was already sold.  The Scottish owner was incredibly friendly and I enjoyed getting to know him and the rest of our group while tasting a hearty meat pie with gravy.  After sampling two seafood dishes before this (and all throughout Charleston), I appreciated some variety.

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 Stop #4: B&D Burgers

At this point it would have been a bit too ambitious to actually eat a burger so we went for the classic fried green tomatoes.  I am not the correct person to review this dish because I’ve hated tomatoes my entire life.  However, everyone kept telling me how different this would be from those evil red ones so I dug in.  I didn’t hate it which meant that it was either the best fried green tomato ever made or that I’ll just eat anything fried.  I washed it down with Tybee Tea which is named after Tybee Island in Georgia.  It consists of lemonade, unsweetened tea, and vodka… and yes it was still only the afternoon.  It was such a big drink that I had to carry it with me to the next stop.  Classy.  Also, big thanks to the Savannah Historic District for allowing me to consume alcohol on the street.

Stop #5: Mabel’s Cupcake Emporium

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Possibly everyone’s favorite stop because who doesn’t love cupcakes?  Don’t even answer that question because I don’t want to know.  We can’t be friends.  Our guide Katie happily served us our cake batter with buttercream frosting cupcakes which everyone inhaled in about 30 seconds.  I’m not exaggerating and I promise it wasn’t just the alcohol, but that cupcake was probably the best one I’ve ever tasted.  And I live in Los Angeles where I’m surrounded by Sprinkles.  If you know what I’m referring to then that’s really saying something.

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Stop #6: The Salt Table

My first thought was “Really?  We’re going to taste salt?”  In the end I was thankful.  Not only did they know at this point we’d be very full but this was also a very unique shop to browse.  My favorite salts were the Ghost Pepper Sea Salt (very HOT) and the Smoked Bacon Sea Salt.  There was also plenty of different iced teas (alcohol free, thank god) to try and even some popcorn.

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 Last stop: Savannah Bee Company

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This place was just so damn charming.  I probably would’ve walked in on my own even without taking this tour.  Other than knowing where it comes from, I’m really no honey expert so this was very entertaining for me.  We sampled Tupelo, Sourwood, Acacia, Orange Blossom, and Wildflower honey if that means anything to you honey enthusiasts out there.  There was also a lovely board passed around with apple slices, honey, and cheese for everyone.  It was a great way to end the tour.

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However, it didn’t end there for me because I was meeting up with tour owners Stu and Donald here.  What I didn’t know was that they would graciously treat me to a mead tasting.  That’s right, more alcohol.

For those of you not familiar with mead (I certainly wasn’t), it’s basically fermented honey with water.  People often call it “honey-wine” and rightfully so.  I’m not sophisticated enough to be that into wine yet but this was surprisingly very tasty.  We sampled five different kinds with all unique flavors infused with fruits and spices, some dry and some sweet.  I definitely preferred the sweeter ones.

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As you can hopefully tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my food tour with the Savannah Taste Experience.  I had a feeling I’d enjoy sampling different foods but did not expect to have that much fun with a group of strangers.  One of my favorite parts about travel is interacting with people from all around the world who are just as passionate about traveling or… food!  If any of you visit Savannah, I wholeheartedly recommend this tour.  I’d especially recommend taking it at the beginning of your trip as the perfect way to start off your adventures.

Have any of you been on a food tour before?  What are your thoughts?  Side note:  I’ll be attending the Los Angeles Times Travel Show this Friday & Sunday.  Let me know below if any of you will be there!

Happy Travels!

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*Note: I did receive a complimentary ticket for my Savannah Taste Experience Food Tour.  Opinions are entirely my own. I would only ever recommend something that I actually enjoyed and support!

Guest Post on Skiing in Bulgaria: “The one time I could do what I wanted”

Apologies for my absence this past week.  One of my best friends is visiting from London and I’ve been busy showing her around Los Angeles.  I’ll be posting my first post on Savannah soon which I’m excited to share.  I really fell in love with that city and the South in general and am hoping to return next year!  If you haven’t already, feel free to read my 24 hour guide to Charleston which is another great city in the South.

Until then, enjoy a guest post written by Martin Nolan from The Travel Ramble.  Martin is a full blown travel enthusiast.  Whether that’s spending his winter indulging in fresh powder up a mountain or trying to make sense of a worn guide book in the summer.  You can read his musings on Twitter @martinnolan7 or check out his Google+ Community.

It might surprise a few people who have never been – but ski resorts are as unique as the snowflakes that rest on their slopes. Every mountain, and its accompanying resort, has its own vibe. Each mountain has its own curves that are unique to it. They all develop their own reputation. Some as a party town. Others as a powder hounds dream and some as adrenaline filled white knuckle rides. Skiing in Bulgaria has developed its own reputation. It is known as being “cheap and cheerful”. That dreaded back handed compliment that’s thrown around the skiing world. But anyone who has been there knows different. I know different. I know that skiing in Bulgaria was the one time that I could do what I wanted. The one time I could burn the candle at both ends without a worry. Skiing in Bulgaria allowed me to live like a king.

Borovets slopes

Earlier this year I decided to take a chance on skiing in Bulgaria. It was the first time I had ventured into the former Eastern Bloc to go skiing. The value on offer swayed me as much as the desire to experience a different culture did. It was half the price of the Alps and due to the great exchange rate on the Lev; I would be able to live like a king. Or, at least Lev like a king. That was reason enough to get me to book with Crystal Ski. Outside of the value and the fact it was a former soviet country I knew little about my destination of choice –Borovets.

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It might have been my naivety but I was expecting a grey village to greet me. Every programme I’ve seen about former Soviet Union nations seemed to be littered with grey little buildings. But Borovets’ streets were lined with sleek and modern accommodation. New builds were engulfing the bottom of the alpine covered mountains. Affordable new builds at that. Borovets, the former country retreat for kings and Princes was becoming a modern ski resort. I wasn’t in the Eastern bloc anymore – just like Bulgaria – I was now in a European Union country. My expectation of having a culturally different experience was long gone. In my mild disappointment, I decided to take solace in the powder filled alpine runs. My sorrows would be comforted by morning’s indulging in fresh powder, afternoons in spas and evenings sipping wine in bars.

Soon I started to get over the fact that skiing in Bulgaria wasn’t the Soviet esque experience that I thought it would be. Instead, I started to realise the true value of skiing in Bulgaria. The fact that it is value! I could afford everything that I wanted to do. Suddenly my days were filled with activities. I was spending afternoon’s dog sledding, snow shoeing and taking mountain walks. Every day was full of experiences and because of this I saw more of the landscape than I usually would. Usually I would be consigned to my hotel room but here I was out and about. I was doing whatever I wanted.

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Skiing in Bulgaria has its flaws. It’s not a snow sure as the Alps and some of the new building work can be a bit of an eyesore. But for all of its flaws, my time there was the first time I was free of the dreaded b word looming over. The first time I didn’t have a budget and one of the few times I was truly relaxed. It gave me a freedom to explore the slopes in more ways than I usually would. One of the criticisms people label at Bulgaria is “you get exactly what you pay for” and they’re right. You do. But the only thing is that I paid a lot, lot less for it. So much so that I ended up doing more than I usually would.

Where are your favorite places to ski?  I’d love to know!  Leave me a comment below :)

Happy Travels!

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Or subcribe through email!

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