Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas shopping in NYC

Image courtesy of USA Today

USA Today wrote a story about holiday shopping in the Big Apple that includes two of my favorite holiday shopping spots from past visits: The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park and the MOMA Design Store. This is the first year in a couple years that I haven't been able to visit NYC between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I'm bummed. But, Cleveland has had some amazing holiday markets including, Made in the 216 Holiday Shoppe (now open until 12.24), Bizarre Bazaar (already over) and the Last Minute Market and Open Studio. Check them out!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bet my breakfast was better than yours...

Mmm...bacon waffle.

Phil and I trekked off the strip to Hash House a Go Go, a restaurant we saw featured by Adam Richman on Man v Food earlier this season. (Adam, pleeeease come to Cleveland for The Melt Grilled & Bar Challenge...12 grilled cheeses that are more than four pounds!)

Phil and I are huge fans of the show, and since we watched the Vegas episode, I could not get the ginormous bacon waffles off my mind! Thank goodness we went today instead of yesterday because the place was still packed at 11 a.m.

Sunday happiness trifecta

Delightful food + shopping + winning money=happy Christina

Today was fun! Phil finally dragged himself away from the tables around 3:30 a.m. this morning (which meant he was up 24 hours straight), but we were back down in the casino before 10 a.m. We were addicted to the Wheel of Fortune type slot machines (ala Bill Simmons) where you get a chance to do a spin, and we played until my belly started grumbling around noon.

We had originally planned to venture off the strip this morning to grab brunch, but the marathon down the strip derailed our plans since roads were closed until 11 a.m. (P.S. I ran the half-marathon here in 2003 and the course never came close to the strip…wtf?! All I got was a sandstorm in the desert, which made the race a bitch.)

I had heard good things about Noodles in Bellagio (lots of Asian noodle options for a reasonable price), so we walked over. They have dim sum (11 a.m. - 3 p.m.), so Phil tried his first pork buns. Yum! We really enjoyed it and will definitely go back.

After lunch, we parted ways so Phil could head to the sports book and I could get my shopping on. There are so many options here! My best find was the Vosges boutique in the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s Palace. Vosges makes the delightful bacon chocolate bar I crave that I discovered in San Diego a year ago (they sell them at our Whole Foods, too). The boutique had an awesome chocolate bar, and I tried the Aztec couture cocoa, a thick, dreamy drink with chipotle chillies, cinnamon and Mexican vanilla bean. Heaven! I also sampled some bacon caramel toffee and bought some for home (just try to pry it from my fingers). If anyone would like to get me the Chocolates of the Month Club for Christmas, I will love you forever.

I found Phil back at the tables at our hotel/casino around 4 p.m. and doubled my money at Pai Gow Poker by 8 p.m. Whoopee!

Tomorrow, I’m meeting up with a couple friends from high school…totally random and fun!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Breaking in City Center

We booked this trip a few months ago via Southwest vacations (it was a steal!), and so far, everything’s been going well. I was excited to learn that City Center was scheduled to open during our trip, so we headed over to explore as soon as we checked into our hotel.

City Center is located in between Bellagio and Monte Carlo and there’s a tram that takes you through the 67-acre complex. I thought it stopped at each site, but it’s pretty much a straight line between Bellagio and Monte Carlo with a stop at Crystals, one of the six new buildings.

I wanted to see Aria, but it wasn’t open yet. It’s the only hotel in the complex with a casino, and I wanted to break it in. It’s gold LEED certified and looked beautiful inside. And, apparently, there are no floors 40-49 because the hotel doesn’t want to spook potential Chinese gamblers (the number four in Chinese sounds like the word for death).

Crystals is filled with lux boutiques, including the nation’s largest Louis Vuitton and Prada stores. It’s funky, contemporary shape reminds me of Case’s Peter B. Lewis building.

The buildings were beautiful, but I guess I was expecting more after all of the hype. Maybe once everything’s fully open it will wow, but we were a little underwhelmed.

Back at the tables

Ah, Vegas! It’s not much warmer here in Cleveland, but we’re not complaining. We’re enjoying staying in the center of the strip as opposed to the Wynn or The Venetian – where we usually stay – since everything feels so much closer.

So far, we’re doing pretty good via Pai Gow Poker and this fun spin-the-wheel slots game, but I made a bonehead error before dinner. We always play the bonus on Pai Gow hands because you have the opportunity to win a lot if you get good hands even if you don’t bet a lot. I got distracted and forgot to play the bonus for a hand, and wouldn’t you know it, but I got four Jacks and lost out on an extra $40. I’m still smacking myself.

We had an amazing dinner at craftsteak in the MGM Grand, a steakhouse Phil heard about a few months ago and made a reservation (this is a first!). I had yummy shortribs and Phil had the surf ‘n turf: filet mignon with scallops. Mmm!

I’ve ridden the Monorail only once before, but it came in handy tonight since we stayed at the tables too long and had to rush to dinner from our hotel. The sidewalks and streets were packed, but we zipped over in about 10 minutes and made our reservation on the dot.

I’m ready to turn in, but Phil is still out and about at the tables…Wild Man!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Waking up in Vegas

By week's end, I'll be waking up in Vegas and soaking up the strip. We'll get to preview the new City Center during its opening week (not sure that we'll get to all 67 acres though), make a splash at the Pai Gow Poker tables and gorge on eats we found out about from Man v. Food.

Counting down the days!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A morning at MOMA and The Met

My meeting this morning was canceled, so I headed to The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art for quick visits before my flight.

MOMA had a tiny Monet water lilies exhibit, which features only its own collection...all were from Monet's latest years. I guess once you've been to Musee d'Orangerie in Paris, it's hard to be impressed. :) Of course, I loved seeing work from Frida, Van Gogh, Klimt, Chagall, Picasso and Dali. The Scream is never on view when I'm in town, but I did see another Munch painting.

The American Wing Courtyard in the Met is one of my absolute favorite galleries. There are a bunch of Tiffany pieces, including both mosaics and stained glass. I could sit in there for hours. The Met also has a gallery with tons of sculpture...mostly dancers...from Degas, which is really cool.

Both visits were really abbreviated since I was so short on time, but at least I got to go! Back at the airport and getting ready to come home.

Friday, October 2, 2009

See you at Times Square, 9 a.m. sharp

This was the view outside my first meeting yesterday at 4 Times Square. Can't beat that view in a big city. (BTW, getting past security at the Conde Nast building is like trying to get in Fort Knox. I always end up calling the reporter I'm supposed to be meeting with to ask them to come get me since they take forever to let me up.)

The editor I met with and I discussed what chefs in Cleveland are reinventing examples of our city's "working man" dishes, which was a fun conversation. I think Michael Symon and Matt Fish (Melt) are doing it well with Lola's beef cheek pierogi and Melt's Parmageddon grilled cheese. Anyone else have other examples?

The pork buns at Momofuku Ssam Bar during lunch were to die for. I went with the prix fixe option, which is reasonable, offers choices and is oh-so-delicious. My dining mate ordered the opposite selections of what I ordered, so I was able to try a lot of different dishes. We also ordered paper-thin slices of Broadbent's country ham, which was amazing. And, I tried unfiltered (cloudy) sake for the first time.

The rest of my meetings went well. I met up with a friend/former client for dinner in the East Village, where she lives. We ate sushi at a dive in Little Japan and tried sake sangria, which was surprisingly good. Then she took me to McSorely's, NYC's oldest saloon for mini pints. It was jam-packed, so we didn't last long. We made our way to the swanky bar at Cooper Square Hotel (the Ginger Diablo was yummy) and then called it a night.

Tomorrow, I have a meeting over coffee in the morning and then I head back home.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Big bite of the Big Apple

I've had quite the NYC dry spell...even the bellman at my usual hotel asked me where I've been. Damn economy!

I'm lucky because most of this work trip revolves around food...either meetings during meals or meetings about Cleveland meals. Half of my meetings tomorrow are with foodie reporters.

This month's issue of Gourmet features hometown restaurant faves by well-known critics, so I tried one of the NYC listings for lunch today, Lupa. The restaurant is comfy and charming, and I really enjoyed my meal. I started with beets and pistachios and then the recommended spaghetti alla carbonara. The dishes were great, and my waiter was sweet as pie. Plus, lots of cute shops along the way on Thompson, including Clio, which I had on my always-growing must-see-NYC list.

Since my last meeting today was downtown, I headed back to SoHo for shop anc check more destinations off my list. I finally got to Madewell, Eryn Brinie (a Korean chain) and TopShop (a British chain). I loved Eryn Brinie and found a cute dress at Madewell, but TopShop was horrifying (picture jumpsuits, adult onesies and sequins on steroids). I was going to try on a dress from the Kate Moss collection, but then I saw sequin parachute pants displayed on the wall and had to leave the store immediately.

I'm excited to try Momofuko Ssam Bar tomorrow. I love eating my way through a city!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Instant Southern party: just add water

A little rain never hurt anyone. Good thing since Phil and I came a long way to Charlotte for a quick weekend to celebrate Jen's and Matt's 30th birthdays at an outdoor party.

In all the years I have visited Jen in Charlotte (seven?), it has never, ever rained. Actually, it's always been perfect weather. Yesterday was an exception, but a hardy tent in Jen's parents' backyard kept us, her other party guests and the band nice and dry.

Jen's parents live a street away from the picturesque Lake Norman, which has an impressive 520 miles of shoreline (Phil and I learned this factoid last night from a buzzed Jen's dad...).

The party was fantastic! The wine tasting was fun, and the two-man band, Below the Belt, catered to bossy Jen's every musical one point giving her the mike for a "Don't Stop Believin" duet. And, let's face Charlotte night out is complete without Jen stealing a tambourine and tearing up the dance grass.

We capped off the night with a late-night visit to Waffle House (my first!). I devoured a chocolate-chip waffle, hashbrowns (smothered, covered, diced and peppered) and bottomless sweet tea.

I'm ready for breakfast #2 today. Oh, it's gonna be a loooooong drive home.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Hangover + Katy Perry = Philstina in Vegas

TV rots your brain (and apparently your wallet). Who didn't want to go to Vegas after watching previews of The Hangover and Katy Perry's Waking Up in Vegas music video?

A too-good-to-pass-up Friends Fly and Stay Free promo from Southwest sealed the deal for Phil and me. We're booked for December!

I like booking quirky classes during Vegas trips like Trapeze lessons and pole dance aerobics (ouch). I'm thinking of trying indoor sky diving since my friend Allison mentioned it before her Vegas trip a couple weeks ago. And, we've never seen a show in Vegas, so we might add that to the list.

I've been preparing Phil that I want to mimic our Picasso dining experience...any suggestions for an amazing restaurant?

At the very least, I hope we don't get stranded like last year. Wish us luck at Pai Gow!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Surfing in Sheboygan?

Phil's friends from Ohio State, Brian and Trish, live in Howards Grove, Wisconsin, a small town that rivals the village I grew up in near Youngstown, New Middletown, Ohio. Howards Grove is about double the size of my hometown, but we at least have a stoplight. Ha ha. I've lived in Cleveland now for about 10 years, and it feels like so long ago that I lived in a small town.

We spent this afternoon in Sheboygan, a larger city near Brian and Trish, exploring the riverfront near Lake Michigan. I was surprised to see a number of surfers catching certainly don't think of Wisconsin when you think of surfing. It was nice and cool near the lake despite today's warm temps.

The riverfront is nicely developed with casual (but not touristy) little shops and restaurants that line the marina. I couldn't help but think what state the Flats might be in now had it been less concentrated with bars with more variety suitable for families and daytime use. There's still hope.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery tour rocks!

When researching brewery tours to take while in Milwaukee, Lakefront Brewery got the best reviews, hands down. In addition, I wanted to check out Lakefront since it is the country’s oldest certified organic brewery (the ESB organic beer was tasty).

Phil and I had a great time on the tour! For $6, we were incredibly entertained by the comedic Curtsy (anytime someone snapped a photo, he shouted to tag him on Facebook) and sampled four tasty brews (two at the beginning, one in the middle and one in the end). My favorite was the Wheat Monkey. I think it’s my new favorite beer.

At the end of the tour, Curtsy convinced some volunteers to reenact the famous Laverne and Shirley sitcom opening. Check out the hilarious video below to see how much fun we were having.

Our time in Milwaukee is done, and now we’re heading to Howards Grove, a suburb of Sheboygan, to visit Phil’s grad school buddies.

Charles Allia Art Museum Mansion

Milwaukee seems to have a good mix of public and private art galleries. We got a glimpse of the Milwaukee Art Museum earlier today and then headed to Charles Allis Art Museum, which is the former Tudor mansion of a Milwaukee mover and shaker couple from the turn of the century. The Allis family amassed a large collection of art from around the world with the intent to bequest their home and collection to Milwaukee County so it can be appreciated for centuries to come.

For me, there’s something special about walking through a museum that used to be a private residence. Paintings seem more spectacular when hung above a fireplace where their former owners admired them as opposed to in a formal gallery. (In college, I wrote a paper on the differences in viewing experiences for public and private museums and used the National Gallery and Phillips Collection in D.C. as examples.)

The Allis collection includes a lot of Asian art (check out the 18th Century folding screen photo) and American paintings. The home’s d├ęcor is beautiful, and I was tickled to walk through the butler pantry and see the old intercom system with the rooms still labeled.

I wish we were able to spend more time in the Riverwest neighborhood, which has a lot of independent galleries and shops, but we just drove through quickly on the way to our brewery tour.

Wiener schnitzel wonders -- and more pancakes!

I heart Wisconsin pancakes! In Hayward with Sarah a couple weeks ago, I sampled sausage-filled lumberjack hot cakes. Today, I tried German apple pancakes with Hungarian sausage, and they were a cross between a funnel cake, stuffed French toast and pancakes. AMAZING!

During lunch, Phil and I engaged in an enthralling conversation about famous Germans at the historic, kitschy Karl Ratzsch (opened in 1904) in downtown Milwaukee. Our brief list was quite pathetic – Hitler, Heimlich and Hansel and Gretel --- until our Twitter peeps helped us out with a more extensive list (sorry, Bach).

Kicking off a downtown tour w the Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum opens at 10 a.m., so that was the first place we headed from the airport. Downtown is about a 15-minute drive, and as we got closer, we were greeted with a very industrial panorama of the city. Phil and I think Cleveland’s entry points are thankfully a bit more urban.

Since Phil isn’t exactly a man of the arts, I knew I’d have to make my Milwaukee art itinerary on the light side or risk his wrath. So, we agreed to check out the lakefront outside the Milwaukee Art Museum as opposed to spending a couple hours inside viewing the collection, particularly since a lot of folks mentioned the exterior is more impressive than the collection. (This is my third Great Lake in two weeks.)

The Cleveland Art Museum has me completely spoiled. A) it’s free B) we have a comprehensive collection (no Asian art at MAM) c) our building’s exterior is growing more impressive with the expansion efforts.

But, Milwaukee’s art museum was something to see. Overlooking Lake Michigan, it looks like an elegant ship and has a “plank” that connects to a parking garage, which provides nice views of the city.

The lobby was really cool. Plenty of architectural eye candy and one Chihuly installation. If I had more time (and an art enthusiast at my side), I would have spent more time there.

P.S. If you find street parking, be aware that the city is cheap: a nickel gets you two minutes. Seriously?

CLE whole body scanners embarrassing and SLOW

As of Sunday, only two airports in the country, CLE and Houston, have installed whole body a.k.a. "naked" imaging scanners in passenger security lines. At CLE, there appears to be one full-body scanner in each security checkpoint...all other scanners are the normal ones.

This morning, I was directly behind Phil in one of the security lines, and he had to go through the full-body imaging scanner (ha!) while I walked through a normal one. Despite a short line overall in security, he took five minutes longer than me to walk through because of the extended time the new scanners take.

I'm not sure if more of these scanners will be added in the future, but if not, I'll do my best to avoid them so I can get through security quicker (and not think about someone checking out my lady parts).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

$32k to fly with Zippy? I think not

I love my pooch a lot...enough to send my retired racing greyhound to doggie daycare once a week. But, I don't think she's worthy of flying business class with me to Milwaukee tomorrow (hell, I only fly biz class when upgraded for free).

Check out this story in USA Today about a lady who booked out the entire biz class section on an international flight. I wonder if her dog stole her airline pretzels like my carb queen would (see empty bread loaf wrapper in photo)...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No love for the lumberjacks

Check out the story in today's New York Times about how the 50th anniversary of the Lumberjack World Championships didn't get much love this year from national media, unlike years past.

The low prize money explains why Sarah and I spotted competitor with tattoos of their sponsors, like Stihl. That better come with a lifelong paycheck!

Guess I'll stick to my day job and not pursue a life as a lumberjill.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Today, I got my first taste of IKEA (literally...Swedish meatballs...mmmm) before Sarah dropped me off at the airport. I'm impressed! Thankfully, I was able to shove a few things I bought into my duffel.

Earlier today, we browsed the boutiques in Hudson's downtown, which is right on the bank of the St. Croix River - really cute clothing, interior design and art shops.

I'm at the airport now waiting for my flight. Once I land late tonight, I need to haul it on the turnpike to Michigan for a client meeting in the no Phil for one more night.

This trip with Sarah was great - it was my fourth trip to visit her in Minnesota/Wisconsin. It's always nice to get some time in person to reconnect since we're not so great about staying in touch via phone, e-mail (a little better on Facebook). Our visits are always active...from running the 5k Gopher to Badger race (bridge that connects the two states) to canoeing to kayaking, etc. We both decided that memories from yesterday's kayaking adventure probably takes the cake (at least for laughs). The next time I see Sarah, she'll have another daughter (due on my birthday!).

Phil and I head back to Wisconsin in a couple weeks for a trip to the Milwaukee area to visit some of his grad school friends. Hooray cheese!

More Lumberjack World Champs Pics, Videos

Check out those quads!


Women's boom run (run across logs in the water)

Hello, baby!!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Letter to my future self

Dear 65-year-old Christina,

In honor of my 100th blog post and the reflection that accompanies every good vacation, here are some thoughts to consider about how to spend your retirement.

FYI, you're too old to be a geisha and you don't like camping enough to be a legit lumberjill, but I think you have a real chance to become a stained glass artisan (consider mosaics, too). Maybe focus on amazing stained glass valances, like the one above you saw during the drive back from Hayward, and specialize in themes inspired by your Japan travels, i.e. cherry blossoms and the like.

Also, please fill in the gaps for any states or continents not visited (feel free to skip Antarctica). And, master something more sophisticated than When the Saints Go Marching In on the piano. I'd love, love, love it if you took on violin too.

Your 30-year-old self

Kayak Klutz U.S.A.

Well, in short, the fishermen of the Kinni River in River Falls, Wis., will not forget me anytime soon. The pic above of me kayaking perpendicular to the river pretty much sums it up: I am a sucky, sucky kayaker. (I will say that I did navigate through the tricky gap in the branch on my first try.)

Here is a summary of our 2-hour kayaking experience:

1. Numerous beachings on the river rock (the water often was as shallow as six inches)

2. One loss of paddle (subsequently recovered by doggy paddling in my kayak)

3. Numerous run-ins with branches on the river bank (scratches on my arms and foliage ALL OVER my kayak to prove it)

4. Semi-capsizing after attempting to navigate first eddy while kayaking backward (not by choice) as kayak filled completely with water (no flip flops or sunglasses were lost, just pride)

5. Help from fisherman who is laughing uncontrollably as he dumps out my kayak. While thanking him and blushing profusely, tangle oar in his fishing line

I did get much better kayaking the second half (I swear), and I still had fun. Thank God! we didn't end up kayaking the sea caves on rough Lake Superior. Disaster!

UPDATE: It could have been worse! Sarah just sent me this
article about two guys who needed rescued on the river we kayaked on.

You don't see these in Cleveland...

Lots and lots of woods and log cabins...

It seems like so many people in Wisconsin are endurance athletes (not that snowmobiling is an endurance sport) that thrive in rural isolation.

Just in Hayward, I noticed two combo bar/wildlife museums. WEIRD.

This muskie, more than four stories tall, is home to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. You know you want to read about it...

Rural dining

My two new favorite meals: fried cheese curds (duh) and lumberjack cakes (sausage-stuffed pancakes).

Based on recommendations, Sarah and I scored great meals at Mooselips Cafe in Seeley near her family's cabins (and our only source of Internet) and Good Thyme, a gourmet restaurant in a Victorian house in the middle of nowhere (see pic of our fried cheese curds and sweet potato fries appetizer). Yum!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Raspberry Island Lighthouse on Lake Superior

Today, we drove an hour to Bayfield for a boat ride on Lake Superior to Raspberry Island where we toured the 1864 lighthouse. I was surprised we were able to climb all the way to the top since the stairs/ladder were a little treacherous. The view from the top was great! The light is now automated and powered by solar.

Sarah, Ella and I hiked the length of the island (about a mile) on the official "road" from way back when, which equated to a narrow trail, sometimes outfitted with a boardwalk. We wanted to get to the beach at the end and dip our toes in the cold water. We had just enough time to make it there and back at a bustling pace. Resilient, seven-months-pregnant Sarah hiked back with two-year-old Ella on her shoulders.

I guess it rained in Hayward all day, but we had a beautiful day in Bayfield. We went to the art festival right by the water (yay). And, the one time it poured, we were inside a deli grabbing our lunch, so we were lucky to get good weather karma.

Tonight, we're staying at Sarah's cousin's cabin, which is right down the street from the one we stayed in last night.

Tomorrow, we head back to Hudson to Sarah's for some fun on the river.

Learning to share

Would you like to hold my toad?

"Roughing" it

On our trips, Sarah and I usually cover quite a bit of ground. This weekend we’re turbo dieseling it in her retro, supercool Mercedes wagon. As soon as I saw it in the airport parking lot, I knew it was Sarah’s because it suits her perfectly.

We’re “roughing” it in her aunt and uncle’s isolated cabin…no street lights, no Internet, no cell service, no curtains, but lots of bears and these weird fisher creatures Sarah’s been creeping me out about. The cabin is new and beautiful, and it’s located at the mid-point of the Birkie, one of the best cross-country skiing race (lots of Sarah’s family participates each year). It’s so nice we can stay here, particularly since it’s a short drive to the Lumberjack Champs.

Today we’re hauling Turbo Diesel to Bayfield where we’re going to take a boat on Lake Superior and explore lighthouses. Then back to Hayward tonight to meet up with some of Sarah’s cousins and explore some of the combo bar/wildlife museums (I can’t even begin to explain this Wisconsin phenomenon.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

When I grow up, I wanna be a lumberjill

So, I know that before I left for Japan, I wrote that I really want to train as an apprentice/old lady geisha. I still do. However, I’ve also decided that I would like to be a logrolling Lumberjill.

Sarah and I went to the 50th anniversary of the Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, Wis., and it was incredible. Tix were $10 for an up-close-and-personal view of lumberjacks and lumberjills from all over the world who competed in a number of events. My favs are logrolling (duh) and the 90-foot climb. I have a video of the latter below, but I can’t figure out how to load it vertically, so turn your head sideways when you watch. (Do not count on me adding videography to my list of aspirational careers.) My camera battery died within the first 15 minutes (#$%*), so I have other videos and pics to load of events from Sarah’s camera once we head back home and snag her cord.

There are 114 professional competitors, and 20 of them are locals from Hayward. There’s even a logrolling school here (!). I started drooling when Sarah told me that her Y offers classes (sadly, just for kids). I even met one of the former champion logrollers who's a friend of Sarah’s family.

At the competition, there was a logrolling tank near the stands, and I gasped when I saw it. However, it was barely in the 70s, so I was not diving in with jeans (and a gaggle of kids who could probably cream me). Maybe someday…