Ordered From a Swim Up-Bar (91/366)


“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming … “
~
Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, from “Finding Nemo


Swim up bars are awesome. Seriously, how cool is it that someone came up with this idea? When it’s sweltering outside, and you just want to relax in the pool, but you’d also like to enjoy a frosty beverage, what do you do? You swim up to the swim up bar!

I think I’d seen one in person before, but I can’t remember where – but I had never had the fantastic experience of actually swimming up to, and ordering a drink from one of these wonderful, wonderful inventions. What kind of awesome resort did Maddie find for us – an infinity pool AND a swim up bar?! Maddie, you are my hero. No joke.

Today, Maddie and I visited the swim up bar for happy hour, and got some refreshments for ourselves, Kim, and Joanna. Here’s another shot of the bar, from where Maddie and I hopped into the pool:


Maddie and I waded on over, had a seat, and perused the menu. We chose the “Tropical Diamond” which was a frozen drink with mango puree, and a special drink we created for Maddie – kind of an adapted Mojito with pineapple juice instead of the muddled mint and simple syrup. Thanks, Kim for taking pictures of us sitting at the bar! Isn’t that awesome?! They have bar stools sculpted into the pool floor at the base of the bar so you can hang out, have a seat, and still be in the water! Outstanding! Punny exclamation totally intended!


After Maddie snapped the pic of me looking very accomplished, we waded back over to deliver the drinks to the shore. Yay for happy hour!
=

This swim up bar was so cool. I loved the set up and the look – the other half of the bar was above ground, directly behind this setup. This pool, even with the swim up bar, isn’t as popular as the
infinity pool (they have poolside service there, too), which means it’s nice if you want to escape the crowds, but for us, it did feel a little weird being almost the only ones there. It probably is pretty neat to see when both sides are all filled up (but that’s totally not our scene anyway). Really though, it was a super cool experience just being able to order a drink without even getting out of the water … or rather, getting into the water just to order a drink!

Related Links:
HaciendaDelMar.com

Tried Softshell Crab, and Scallop and Mackerel Sashimi (90/366)


“I learned the first night that IHOP’s not the place to order fish.”
~
Larry David


Okay, for those of you that know better, I apologize. The thought of “Mexican sushi” seemed funny to me. On the 20 minute drive from the airport to our resort, we saw two sushi joints on the side of the road – but they looked like places you wouldn’t want to necessarily eat anything from, let alone raw fish. I mean, come on – we were vacationing in a place where most people tell you not to drink the water. I thought the sushi places we saw were the random crazy “Chinese Food and Donuts” type places, and chuckled. But then Maddie told me about a sushi place called “Nick-San” that was supposed to be really good – and one of the chef owners, Masayuki Niikura, was supposedly the inventor of the “spicy tuna” [roll] that we know today. What?! No way. That was cool. We put it on the list.

As the week progressed, we saw more and more sushi restaurants around, and we realized that hello, Los Cabos has access to some ridiculously fresh fish. THAT’S why there are so many sushi restaurants here! I was still a bit leery of going to the other places we saw, but I was getting more and more excited to try Nick-San.

A place like this was kind of the mid-range of sushi restaurants we saw – I still wouldn’t necessarily want to get sashimi here …


But there were larger, and even fancier establishments at the
Puerto Paraiso Shopping Mall that we visited today. This was starting to look promising …


A lobster house?! Had I known this was here I would have asked the girls if we could make a special trip to eat at this place. You get to choose your lobster out of a BOAT [shaped tank, I know]. How awesome! I’m sure it would have been way over-priced though – this place is a total tourist stop.


And then, the time came to go to Nick-San. When we got there, it was so beautiful! We were so excited!


I think because we were building this experience up during the week, Maddie and I were totally revved and wanted to try everything. Here’s what we ordered:

For appetizers, the four of us shared (four pieces each order):
HOME-MADE GYOZAS
Stuffed with scallop and shrimp, sauteĢed with garlic and finished with a tasty serranito soy sauce.
SANMI AGE
Petit fillet of sea bass stuffed with shrimp and crab, deep fried in tempura served with sesame sauce
These were both yum. Great, bold flavors, not overpowering though, and textures and quality of each was just excellent.


And then Maddie and I went crazy with four more dishes between the two of us. We decided to let the sushi chefs decide what kind of fish to give us in the two dishes that didn’t specify, even though our server said we could ask for specific fish if we wanted – something I’d normally do since I know there are certain kinds of fish I either haven’t tried, or don’t care for that much. But Maddie and I decided we wanted the full experience. Yay!

Here they are in the order they were served – first was the:
SASHIMI SERRANITO
Slices of today’s fresh catch with serrano chile pepper sauce, decorated with thin slices of serrano chile.

The sashimi chosen for this dish were a local yellowtail and scallops – and it was fantastic. The sauce, the extra chile on each slice – just fantastic. Maddie doesn’t even like spicy food and she put up with the heat on this because it tasted so good. This was my first time having scallop sashimi, and I loved it. I like scallops, and I’ve had them “rare”, but I was hesitant to try scallop sashimi before. I think I was afraid I wouldn’t like the texture – that it might be too soft – maybe mushy, or gelatinous. But this was meaty and substantial, yet tender. Both the yellowtail and the scallops were perfect choices for this presentation. Maddie and I only wish we had brought our DSLRs on the trip even if JUST for this dinner – the lighting was low so we had to use the flash for detail, but of course it ended up making everything look so harsh.


Next came the:
TUNA BLACK & WHITE SASHIMI
Tuna filet seared with olive oil, black & white sesame seeds, chopped red onion, chives and ponzu sauce.

Beautiful, isn’t it? And delicious, of course. We were expecting that.


Kim and Joanna had also ordered a Spider Roll to share, and when Kim tasted it, she said it was “the softest, soft-shell crab” she had ever eaten, and that it was delicious. She asked me if I wanted to try it, and I told the girls I had also never had soft-shell crab before. They freaked out and told me I HAD to try it here then. I had never had soft-shell crab before because I assumed it was similar to eating a shrimp with the shell on. Not a crunchy that I like … but I had been meaning to try it, and so far this was some of the best sushi I had ever eaten – so I decided this was the best place to try soft-shell crab, too. But we had to make sure we got some nice, crabby shots of it beforehand:


It was good! But ha ha kind of how I thought it would be. It was a very tasty roll, just that it did kind of have that “shell” texture I thought it would have. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – at the very least, I know I had a good first soft-shell crab experience. I’d try it again …

Next came the:
SAKE LEMON ROLL
There was no menu description of this, but it was a shrimp tempura roll with a leaf of cilantro inside, topped with salmon sashimi and thinly sliced lemon.

I’ve had this before (sans the cilantro – that’s a Nick-San addition), but I mostly don’t care for salmon sashimi – it’s a bit too “salmony” for me I think. I told everyone this was it, I wasn’t going to like this roll that much and therefore I was safe from falling in love with Nick-San and having to pay hundreds of dollars to come back to Los Cabos just to eat here.

I was wrong. This dish was fantastic as well. Everything was fresh, light, succulent … just absolutely lovely. I’ve had basically this exact same roll at other sushi houses (and don’t get me wrong, San Francisco has wonderful sushi), and the combination always sounded like it should be great, but I’ve just never liked the raw salmon before. And yet this, I loved. I was so happily surprised. I pretty much started making a spectacle of myself. I just could not believe how delicious everything was. We had been to Edith’s the night before, and had one of the best meals I’ve ever had there as well … and to follow that up with tonight’s experience? I was just beside myself. This was EPIC.

But here, HERE was going to be Nick-San’s undoing. Our final dish was the:
SASHIMI CILANTRO
Choice slices of fresh fish – seared with olive oil and green tea salt, served on our unique cilantro sauce with a ribbon of spicy chile oil and sliced avocado.

Cilantro is not my favorite, but I’ve had cilantro cream sauce that wasn’t bad, so I was okay with ordering this dish. But when it arrived, the fatal flaw was that the chef had chosen mackerel for the sashimi. I had never had mackerel before, but Maddie said she liked it, so that was good. She said they always leave the skin on this one and that it was a bit fishier, and had a cooked, sometimes almost mealy texture to it. WHAT?! And she still liked it? Aack! That sounded totally, totally gross to me. Those are probably the absolute worst things for me to hear when talking about … well, anything, but I certainly don’t want my sashimi to be FISHY or MEALY. Gross. Okay. Here it was. No problem. I’d try it, but I was NOT going to like it. It was pretty though …



In the words of
Ed Norton, in Nick’s favorite movie “Fight Club“:
“We have just lost cabin pressure.”

It was phenomenal. I couldn’t believe it. The floodgates had opened, and Maddie and I were freaking out. I was admittedly more ridiculous, but this really was the best sushi experience I’ve ever had in my life. I had tried three different new things (two that I was sure I wasn’t going to like), and I could not believe how wonderful everything was. We ate and talked and cried over how life-changing this sushi was (okay, a LITTLE exaggeration there … but not much). When it came time to finish the last two pieces, Maddie even wanted to take a picture of them:


Aren’t they glorious? That prompted Kim to take a picture of me and Maddie, lamenting over our grand sushi adventure’s ending. Don’t let the smiles in the second picture fool you – we dragged out the finishing of those two pieces for about another 20 minutes. We were heartbroken; we just put on brave faces. And if you look back at the picture at the top, that’s not me apprehensively thinking about trying the mackerel, it’s actually me mourning over my last piece!


This was an absolutely spectacular night. I am so happy to be here with my girlfriends, and to be able to experience all these new things with them. We will DEFINITELY be back. With a name like “Nick-San”, how could you go wrong, after all?


Related Links:
NickSan.com

Ridden a WaveRunner (89/366)


“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”
~
Christopher Reeve


A Waverunner is a Personal Water Craft that you control like a motorcycle – there are handlebars to steer, and the gas control to power the craft is in the handlebars. They’re supposedly capable of around 70mph, there’s no license requirement of any sort to drive them, and yet in Cabo they feel it’s a good idea to rent them to any more-than-likely drunk person walking around with $50 USD on them. Ha ha ha! I kid. Well, not really …

One of the things Maddie had been interested in for our Cabo trip was to rent Waverunners, and to ride out to El Arco, the famous rock formation at the southernmost point of Cabo San Lucas, and of Baja California. This sounded both exciting and scary – when I’m in the ocean, if I’m in a “personal water craft” I prefer it to be man-powered – I just don’t trust myself or others that much with high-powered personal motor vehicles! Anyway, I also know I don’t want to let my irrational fears get in the way of me experiencing cool stuff in life. And in the grand scheme of things, I knew that “wave running” wasn’t going to be too risky. After all, they provide us with lifejackets, and we could always steer away from any questionably-riding speed demons out on the water. Yikes! We signed up.

When we got to the beach, it was just starting to get crowded. We parked at the Mango Deck Restaurant/Bar and stopped for a bite to eat and something to drink. It was here that we realized that it really is kind of crazy on this beach with all the drinking and the potential for bad decisions! EVERYBODY was drinking … a lot! There were even restaurant-sponsored drinking games being played on the beach! Geez! And it wasn’t even really Spring Break yet – we all wondered how crazy it must be when it IS that time down here.


After our snack, and after waiting for the sun to pass the broiling point, we ventured out onto the beach. The view was just gorgeous. This spot is known as “Land’s End” – El Arco is all the way at the left, the second to last bump in the formation.


Our safety briefing before heading out on our Waverunners:
“If you fall off, get back on from the back. If you try to get on from the side, it will flip over. If it flips over, you have 40 seconds to right the machine. If not, water will get into the body, and it will sink. Don’t ride too close together. If you crashy-crashy, it’s money money. Don’t go past the big brown building. Stay 350 yards away from the cruise ship, stay 250 yards away from the shore.”

I don’t know what I was worried about! That made me feel totally safer. Yes. Maddie and I would share one Waverider and Kim and Joanna would share the other. We’d try riding around for a while, and if we didn’t die, we’d come back into shore to switch so the other person could have a go. Well, we bravely hopped on and posed for a picture (thank you Joanna for being the AWESOME camerawoman!):


And we were off!


Wouldn’t you like to take a lovely Disney Cruise to Cabo San Lucas (and ride Waveriders, too)?!


We rode around for a while, and reached El Arco – it was really cool seeing it close up:


After a while, Kim and Joanna wanted to hang out on the beach, so we all went in and Maddie got to have some time on their wave runner by herself. Joanna suggested I take the camera, but I thought we probably had all the shot’s we’d need. Big mistake! When Maddie got on her Waverunner, she took OFF! She was a total daredevil speed demon and it was awesome! When I was driving her around I think my top speed might have been 20mph. All I could think about was tipping the darn thing over and having to pay thousands of dollars in damages. Maddie was flying through the water and leaving waves and whitewater behind. It was super cool. I just wish I had gotten video of it. Watching her speed around having fun helped me to relax and mess around on my Waverider a bit more, too. That was cool. After being out for about half an hour more, we headed back in to shore. What a fun time. I was especially glad we didn’t die, or have to pay anyone for a lost or damaged Waverunner. Ha! I think after you get to be on one for a while and get the feel for it, it’s actually much more comfortable. I’d probably go out on one again. Thanks for getting us all out there to do it, Maddie! It was great!

Related Links:
YamahaWaverunners.com

Swum in an Infinity Pool (88/366)


“To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour …”
~
William Blake


An infinity pool is a pool with an outer edge where the water is allowed to run off the side, without a lip containing it, creating a beautiful visual effect that the water extends out to the horizon. When my mom and I were in Hawaii recently, we realized that our hotel had an infinity pool … but when we went down for a swim found that it was out of order. Technicians were working on the system, and while people were still allowed in most areas of it, the “infinity edge” section wasn’t filled all the way, and the illusion was not apparent at all. Boo!

I’ve always thought the idea of an infinity pool was really neat – and especially since the one in Hawaii was broken, I was super excited to find out that the resort we’re staying in has one! Here’s one view of the pool – you can see the illusion created – the people are sitting on an interior ledge at the end of the pool. Neat, huh?


This is the view from inside the pool. Here’s the infinity edge, the beach and ocean beyond it … and a fearless seagull taking a drink …


Here we all are, lounging on the edge of infinity! The picture’s pretty washed out, but you can see what a gorgeous view it is from this pool! It’s fantastic.


And check out how our view WAS from the pool! They’re hard to see, but look for the white water in the distance … those splashes are whales. So awesome.

Here are a few more views of the infinity edge illusion from later on in the day – it really creates a lovely, serene feeling – especially when the sun is setting (and there are less people at the pool!):


This pool is really nice, and I can’t believe the views we’ve had so far. I’m totally psyched that it’s just steps away from our home-away-from-home this week! We will definitely be back here for a swim soon.

Related Links:
HaciendaDelMar.com

Been to Mexico (87/366)


“The moment you land at the Los Cabos airport, the adventure begins.”
~
VisitMexico.com


Girls trip! My childhood friends Joanna, Kim, and Maddie were planning to go to Los Cabos, and I’d never been (it would be the first time for all of us)! Nick’s been to several different places in Mexico and is busy at work right now, so all the girls going together is perfect! Also, though we all grew up together, I’ve never gotten to go on vacation with these girls before either. So exciting!

The trip idea started when Maddie got a deal online for some Virgin America flights. I love flying Virgin. Off to a great start already. Here we are in the SFO terminal, waiting to board!


The flight to Baja California is only about three hours, so I didn’t feel that far away from Nick (whenever I’ve gone somewhere without him it’s usually to Hawaii – still in the U.S. so I can use my phone, but the flight is five hours!) – shortly before we landed, I peeked out the window to see the landscape. Baja California is somewhat like Wailea on Maui – there’s a lot of desert (it’s a “tropical arid” climate), which is why tourists like it here – it’s almost always sunny.


Things were a little different at the airport in Los Cabos – the planes are still boarded out on the tarmac and at least for our flight’s luggage, there was a cute and cuddly drug-sniffing dog hanging out on the luggage conveyor:


It was pretty cool to see this “Mini Super San Francisco” corner store on the way to our resort. The views of the water along the way were just beautiful.


And of course, no vacation is complete without a trip to the local Costco, to get some staples: super-gigantic marshmallows and a pillow-sized bag of chicharones!



We have some really fun stuff planned for this week, and I’m looking forward to just spending time hanging out with my girlfriends, too. I can’t believe I had never been to Mexico before and am glad we all finally got to take a trip here, together!

Related Links:
VisitLosCabos.com

Eaten "Baked Salmon with Cheese Sauce" (86/366)


“What’s the two things they tell you are healthiest to eat? Chicken and fish. You know what you should do? Combine them, eat a penguin.”
~
Dave Attell


I love fish. I love cheese. But together? That sounds about as crazy to me as eating a penguin (don’t worry Mom, I would never do that). So when we went to lunch today and I saw this on the menu, I thought I really needed to try it. Not only was it a strange combination to me, but it was made even weirder that it was at a Chinese restaurant. Granted, we were at Cafe Bakery, which specializes in Hong Kong style cuisine (different from traditional Chinese food), but in general cheese just does not make it on to Chinese food menus in the first place.

But it’s a daily special! That either means people like it … or they need to use up the cheese on Mondays because no one ever orders it. I have to admit, chicken with black pepper sauce sounded much more appetizing, but I really was intrigued. What sane Chinese person would come here and order FISH and CHEESE? There had to be a reason it was on the menu.

When ordering at Cafe Bakery, you get a choice of rice or noodles. I haven’t had noodles in forever, so I thought I’d see how that would go. That sounded even weirder. Salmon and Cheese on Spaghetti? Eh. We’d see. When it came, here’s what it looked like:


Whew! It was a white cheese. That didn’t seem too bad. Still, it was totally covered! But this was looking pretty interesting. Fish and cream sauce doesn’t seem too weird – it was just the “cheese” part that worried me.


I tried it. YUM! The “cheese sauce” was really more of a cream sauce, and it wasn’t too heavy in texture or flavor. I’m not even really sure what kind of cheese they used because it was so mild. Not that the dish was bland, but the sauce complimented instead of overpowered the fish. The star of the dish was really the salmon. They did a spectacular job with it. Not overcooked at all (which is so common with fish in restaurants). It was great!


I was so pleasantly surprised by this dish, I needed to take another picture, to try to do it justice! Fish, cheese, noodles … goooood. Even their standard mixed frozen vegetables mixed in seemed to be just right in this dish. It’s not fancy, it’s a little different, it’s more like comfort food, and it’s delicious.


I’m so glad I tried this! Normally I would have never ordered fish and cheese together, and certainly not at a Hong Kong style restaurant. LIke I said, I was so pleasantly surprised. And now I know they cook fish well at Cafe Bakery! I’ll be ordering fish more often when I find myself here now. The next time you see something strange on a menu, consider trying it! You might not be crazy about it (like when I
tried Pei Dan for the first time), but who knows? You might find a new favorite. And you never know until you try.

Related Links
Cafe Bakery (on Yelp)

Visited The The St. George Spirits/Hangar One Distillery (85/366)


“Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.”
~
Ogden Nash


Today Nick’s parents are in town and they decided it would be fun to head over to Alameda for a tasting at the St. George Spirits distillery, where they make (among other wonderful things) Hangar 1 vodka. I’m always game for a tasting, so I was super excited to go!

When you arrive at the distillery, your ID is checked, and you get a cool souvenir dog tag that lets the staff know you’re of drinking age, and it’s just a neat little touch. The tasting room area is under construction, but they’ve still kept it fun and cute. It’s decorated with cool old-time military touches, the check-in station is hilariously labeled, “Emotional Support Begins Here,” and seriously, who can beat that view of the San Francisco skyline:



You can see where the magic happens through large windows in the tasting room. Tastings are currently $15, and you get to taste about 10 different spirits. St. George stuff is high quality and not cheap, so the cost for the tasting really isn’t bad at all.

First, we tried their pear brandy, which was lovely. It had a very nice, true pear flavor, and it wasn’t as sweet as we thought it would be.

Next, we had their traditional “Botanivore” gin which was great, and then a special “Terroir” gin that had ingredients like Douglas Fir and California Bay Laurel and Coastal Sage, literally harvested from nearby Mt. Tamalpais; this was supposed to taste “like a hike” … and whew, it did. It was very green, which I picked up a bit more soapy flavor from than I’d have liked to – almost like an industrial cleaner – I think if it were in a mixed drink (our bartender said it’s great in a dirty martini) the flavors would be complimented better though. Then we had their “Dry Rye” gin, which we thought was great. It had notes of caraway and pepper which gave it a nice warmth and fantastic character.

After the gins, we moved on to their Hangar 1 “Straight” and it’s pretty freaking magical. Our bartender explained that they blend a Viognier eau de vie with spirit made from midwestern wheat, and that marriage produces their balanced, fruity, buttery, “straight” vodka. In a word, it was glorious. I love that stuff. I didn’t even realize vodka (or any spirit for that matter) could be so unbelievably smooth. Just magical. I love it so much I DIDN’T even buy it. Because I don’t want it to have to share the liquor shelf with the other crap vodkas I have on it. I’m waiting until those are used up so that I can buy a beautiful bottle of Hangar 1 Straight and I will proudly display that bad boy on my bar. And no one can drink it but me. Ha ha ha! Kidding … kinda …


Then we had their “Spiced Pear” vodka, which was delicious as well. Hangar 1 does a lot of seasonal vodkas – Nick’s parents said their raspberry one is great – it wasn’t a part of the tasting (I think they save it for the summer), but it is available in stores. They’ve done an excellent job of keeping that true pear flavor in their offerings, and this was another nice example. We were actually pretty lucky to be able to taste this because they actually only make it once a year and in small batches.


Next, we shifted gears a bit and tried their “Breaking & Entering” Bourbon Whiskey. It’s named that because they didn’t actually distill the spirit in-house (or else it wouldn’t be bourbon anyway), but used a hundred or so “lifted” barrels of bourbon from a collaborating distillery in Kentucky, then made their own special “California” blend with them. I like bourbon, and this one was good. I appreciated how they were coordinating the tasting to showcase the different bodies and styles of spirits we were moving from and to. We went from that nice, fresh, green pear flavor, to the herbal gins, then had the wonderfully smooth, “Straight” palate-cleanser, and then into some warmer tones like this bourbon.


Next, we tried their “Firelit”coffee liqueur, made with brandy and the Bay Area’s own
Blue Bottle coffee. It was fantastic. It had a nice kind of burnt character in it that enhanced the notes of the coffee. It wasn’t syrupy thick and sweet like most coffee liqueurs, and it had a really nice coffee flavor. This was another one I’d like to have on my shelf.


After the coffee liqueur, we had some sweeter stuff – their “Qi”, an interesting white tea and citrus liqueur, which had a nice floral note to it from the tea, and a delicate, fresh orange essence. Then we had their Pear Liqueur – looks just like the brandy we started with, doesn’t it? But it’s not – it’s a liqueur! This was a bit darker and had a more concentrated flavor and sweetness than the brandy. I should have asked to taste them both side by side just to get the more subtle differences – that pear brandy seemed so long ago!


The last thing we tasted was their absinthe, which was also very nice. As they say on their
website, “STEP AWAY FROM THE MATCHES AND PUT DOWN THAT SUGAR CUBE.” Absinthe used to be prepared by pouring water into the absinthe over a sugar cube on a slotted spoon, because original absinthes were remarkably bitter. Apparently in some bars and movies, pouring the absinthe over the sugar cube and then lighting the sugar cube on fire (absinthe has an over 50% alcohol content) for a show is sometimes done. They do neither of these things here – just an ice cube is added, and as the ice melts, the “louche” forms – this happens when the essential oils in the absinthe separate and emulsify as water dilutes the spirit. A beautiful milky quality emerges, and that’s when you know the absinthe is ready to drink. After we had a few sips, the bartender added some organic root beer to our glasses so that we could enjoy the melding and mixture of the herbal qualities in the absinthe and the root beer together.


This was a fantastic tasting, through and through. I only wish we had planned better and could have gotten here in time for the tour which, on Sundays, is only offered at 1pm. The tour is free, and they make sure to have space in the tasting room if you want to taste afterwards, so that’s really cool. I’ll definitely be back for a tour soon to be able to see more of the distillery, and I’ll be looking forward to the other treats they’ll be showcasing in the tasting room!

Related Links:
StGeorgeSpirits.com
HangarOne.com
FirelitSpirits.com