Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Eating Rambutans in Chinatown, NYC

A little online research yielded the name: Rambutans
During our last trip to New York City we stayed at the brand-spanking new Wyndham Garden Hotel in Chinatown and loved stepping out into all that Chinatown atmosphere every day. Across the street from our hotel was a little fruit stand, and each day as we passed by on our way to and from our various activities, my daughter and I were drawn to this, unusual, colorful little fruit. Red and spiky, it piqued our interest. Would it taste as fascinating as it looked? By the third day we gave in to our curiosity and bought a couple to try. The fruit seller showed us how to open them, and inside we found a white, translucent flesh, smooth and sweet. The insides were much like the quenepas we'd tried in Puerto Rico a few years back, though the outsides looked completely different. The next day we bought some more - we're hooked!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

International Spy Museum, Washington DC

James Bond, Jason Bourne, Mata Hari … all famous names because everybody loves a good spy story. We can't get enough of the intrigue, the lies, the clever ruses and nerves of steel. That's why the moment we learned of it, the kids and I made room in our schedule to visit Washington DC's International Spy Museum for a glimpse into the secret lives of spies.

The museum drew us in right away by giving us a spy identity and cover story to memorize, showing an orientation video, then sending us to “spy school:” a series of games and interactive exhibits about the art of spying.

We moved from the spy school to a series of exhibits that moved through the history of spying. I was fascinated by the spy gadgets exhibit, which included items used throughout the years to uncover and protect secret information, like men's shoes with a concealed compartment in the right heel or a lipstick tube that fires bullets. The kids loved the James Bond exhibit.

We headed down to the first floor of the museum and walked into a replica of Berlin during the bad old days of the cold war, the backdrop for exhibits on the USA vs USSR espionage madness that dominated the latter part of the 20th century. I got a kick out of the video in which the women who worked with notorious CIA mole Aldrich Ames detailed how he treated them like “dumb broads” … until they helped bring him down.

In addition to its exhibits, the museum offers simulated spy experiences for an additional price. The museum created a fictional country, Khandar, in one of its wings and Operation Spy participants head there to meet their contact, receive instructions and embark on their mission, using their wits and talents to decrypt messages, interrogate suspects and escape danger. Sounds fun, right? Adults and kids aged 12 and up can take part in this adventure. Adults and kids aged 10 and up can head out to the streets of Washington DC armed with a GPS to solve a mission as part of the Spy in the City adventure.

The museum is a bit on the pricy side, considering all the free Smithsonians around, and there's a lot of reading required to get the most out of it, so I don't recommend it for kids younger than eight.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington D.C.

Omni Shoreham Lobby - Photo by L. Rivera

We stepped into the cream colored lobby, taking in the pillars supporting vaulted ceilings and chandeliers dripping in crystal throwing soft light down upon the gargantuan floral arrangements resting on gleaming tables.

“Wow,” my son said softly. Yes, the Omni Shoreham Hotel has that “wow” factor.

Opened in the 1930s, the Omni Shoreham has become a fixture on the Washingon D.C. political scene, hosting an inaugural ball for each president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, including one where then-new President Bill Clinton played the saxophone.

The hotel was in a fabulous location near embassy row, near plenty of restaurants, situated about a block away from a subway station and an easy walk to the National Zoo.

Our room was spacious and tastefully decorated in shades of cream, chocolate and green. We enjoyed amenities like in-room tea and coffee and a flat-screen television, and as members of the Select Guest loyalty program, which was free to join, we had free wi-fi in our room – a savings of $9.95 a day.

Hotel amenities included a large outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, a sauna and fitness room. There was a coffee shop serving snacks and goodies and a gift shop. We savored several delicious dinners and buffet breakfasts at the elegant restaurant just off the lobby.

It was the luxurious little details that made the the Omni Shoreham shine: the shirred drapes, the crystal chandeliers. Our first night room service brought complimentary milk and cookies to our room for the kids. In fact, a few weeks ago my husband was lamenting that you don't see shoeshine men anymore and my daughter piped up, “There was one at the Omni Shoreham!”

There was also the panache of wondering who we might be rubbing elbows with as important-looking people trooped towards the conference rooms and dining room. In the parking lot my daughter opened the car door too quickly and tapped the car next to ours – then we noticed the secret service sign on its dashboard. The rest of the day we teased her that an angry looking guy in a dark suit and sunglasses was looking for her.
Omni Shoreham Restaurant - Photo by L. Rivera

Sometimes your hotel is just the place you sleep at night, but for us, the Omni Shoreham was an integral part of our Washington D.C. adventure.

2500 Calvert Street NW (at Connecticut Ave.)
Washington, District of Columbia 20008
Phone: (202) 234-0700

Monday, April 01, 2013

Zingerman's Delicatessen, Ann Arbor, MI

Photo by Frank Roche
My daughter and I took a little day trip to Ann Arbor last week and lunched at Zingerman's, the best sandwich place in the world. Well, I think so, at least.

I love you, Binny's Brooklyn Reuben
Zingerman's menu boasts a long list of cleverly named sandwiches – Abra's Nutty Yard Bird, Lila & Izzie's Skokie Skidoo - but my favorites are the corned beef sandwiches. Zingerman's uses Sy Ginsberg corned beef, out of Detroit, and it is superior. The sandwich that has stolen my heart, though, is the Binny's Brooklyn Reuben. If you love reubens, you must try this one. It's created using Zingerman's phenomenal Russian dressing, sauerkraut and swiss cheese, but instead of corned beef and rye it's made with Sy's pastrami and a tasty, mild pumpernickel bread. These slight changes make a scrumptious difference. Try it. Trust me.

I discovered Zingerman's when I was a student at the University of Michigan. It was pricey, particularly on my student’s budget, but I considered it a well worth the splurge. At that time it wasn't unusual to see the owner sporting an apron and working behind the counter. I bet it's a long time since he's done that. In those days they'd just bought the house next door for extra seating. They simply emptied out the rooms and put dining tables in – it was like eating in a vacant house. Before long they remodeled it to look more restaurant-like, and within the past few years they've bought the house behind the restaurant and expanded into that space as well.

After eating our sandwiches my daughter and I wandered into the deli section of the shop, tasting cheese, marmalade and bread, before selecting a crusty sourdough loaf to bring home to the guys. Mmmmm.

422 Detroit St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Zingerman's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Quartino, Chicago - Restaurant Review

Photo by Thomas Hawk

First it was bacon and sweetness– kind of like when your Sunday morning bacon gets a bit of pancake syrup on it – then the unexpected flavor of blue cheese hit me. Delicious. I'd had bacon-wrapped dates at a different tapas place before and loved them. The Quartino's dates were also stuffed with gorgonzola and drizzled with honey – a succulent union of sweet and savory.

The kids and I were dining at Quartino in Chicago. Quartino's is unique in that it has adopted the small plates – or tapas – concept for Italian food rather than Spanish cuisine. I love being able to experience a variety of scrumptious dishes in a single meal.

Next came the mushroom risotto with all its creamy, mushroomy tastiness. We'd ordered the gnocchi once before and found it a revelation. They've changed the recipe. This gnocchi with green beans and arugula pesto was good, but not great. The piece de resistance was the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of the veal osso bucco. Yum.

Just about everything we had at Quartino was tasty. Except the pizza. I know, how do you mess up pizza? They managed. My son ordered it, and it was tasteless. And it was sausage pizza, too. I don't think I had ever experienced a flavorless sausage before, but I have now. No spice, no flavor, nada. And the sauce too. I have a hard time reconciling the pizza with all the deliciousness we experienced from that kitchen, so maybe it was a bad pizza day at Quartino's.

We finished the meal with coffee and an order of zeppoles, a sort of powdered donut my sister and I hadn't tasted since we moved away from New Jersey years and years ago. We'd enjoyed them straight from a grease-stained paper bag when we were girls strolling along the boardwalk of Point Pleasant Beach, so it was fun to see them dressed up on a platter, accompanied by honey and chocolate dipping sauces. They were even better than we remembered. Mmm, zeppoles.

626 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60654
P. 312 698 5000

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Visiting a Casino in St. Croix, USVI

Beautiful St. Croix offers pristine beaches, interesting historical sites and great shopping. But what about the nightlife? If you like a little gambling now and again, you'll be happy to learn that there is a casino on tiny St. Croix.

I'm talking about the Divi Carina Bay Casino, the only casino in St. Croix. This is not one of your glitzy, humongous Las Vegas style casinos, but a smaller, more comfortable type. The casino offers a variety of gaming options, including poker, blackjack, roulette, craps and slot machines.

In addition to gaming, the casino hosts local bands on weekends, so guests can enjoy drinks, dancing and music in addition to gambling.

The casino is located in the Divi Carina Bay resort, so you might want to stay at the resort or just visit for the casino. The hotel's amenities include a beach, swimming pool and restaurant. Please follow the link before for directions, hours of operation and additional information.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Boston Common

Before heading to Boston with the kids this summer, we reread Johnny Tremain, the classic children's novel about a young silversmith who finds himself entangled in the events of the Revolutionary War. In the novel, Johnny Tremain learns to ride a horse at the Boston Common, described as acres of meadows and pastures for grazing cows. Times have changed. These days the Boston Common is bustling with splashing kids, food trucks, street musicians and hand-holding lovers. We found the Boston Common at the beginning of the Freedom Trail, the 2.5 mile brick path that winds past several of Boston's most important historical sites. We'd set out at the site of the Boston Massacre and worked backwards until we arrived at the pretty expanse of green backed by the golden-domed Massachusetts State House.

At this point the kids had had enough of trekking through churches and graveyards, and were delighted to blow off a little steam at the Tadpole Playground. The playground opened in 2002 and features a play structure with slides, steps, ladders and a bar that my daughter spun round and round on, with a rubberized surface beneath it all to catch the kids if they fell.
A few steps away from the playground was the Boston Common Frog Pond wading pool, flanked by whimsical frog statues. We removed socks and shoes and waded in, splashing about a bit in the August heat while the jingling tunes of the Frog Pond carousel played in the background. In winter, the Frog Pond becomes an ice skating rink. With all that hiking, playing and splashing we'd worked up an appetite, and stopped for lunch at the pond-side Frog Pond Cafe – cheeseburgers for the kids and a turkey wrap for me.
We crossed over to the Public Garden, adjacent to Boston Common,home to the famed Swan Boats, which float upon the lake waters every year from mid-April til late September. The boats were inspired by the opera Lohengrin, in which a knight coasts across a lake on a boat pulled by swans to defend a fair lady. The swan boats feature several rows of benches for riders, and are mounted on pontoons and powered by an operator pedaling from his seat inside a swan. They've been a Boston fixture since 1877, with six boats currently in operation, the oldest dating from 1918. We glided past peaceful weeping willows, watching the antics of the ducks, geese and graceful swans that call the lake home. With fares of $2.75 for adults and $1.50 for kids aged 2 to 15, I thought the Swan Boats were a great bargain.

Dr. Newberry, Holland MI