Monthly Archives: September 2009

Chomping Around Town: Joe’s Restaurant (Venice, CA)

**This is part of My Travel Hats’ Restaurant Week series of select restaurants from around the world**
Go West, young man! We switch over to my former home, where I’ve left my heart. No, not San Francisco, but Santa Monica. Here we visit one of Southern California’s most exquisite restaurants, Joe’s Restaurant, where I spent many a dollar and many an evening, including my 30th birthday (photo, left, Joe’s chocolate gateau goodness). I will admit, I am ripping this from a review I wrote for Not For Tourists – Los Angeles, but only because I think I captured it so well there. (It’s not really plagarism if it’s your own, right?)
Chef Joe Miller has taken fusion cooking to a whole new plateau that few others in LA can reach. His Abbott Kinney location in Venice makes this casually hip French-Californian restaurant a hot spot in a nonpretentious manner, as local Venetians prefer. Securing a table is nearly impossible without a reservation, but the long wait for a walk-in can be filled at the glowing blue bar with a drink from his impressive and extensive wine list. Waiters might bring by not just one, but two amuse-bouches, compliments of the kitchen.
Diners can choose from either a prix-fixe tasting menu or a la carte. Joe’s accents on the very French, with truffles in almost anything (even dessert). The foie gras is mouth-melting, and delicate handling of entrees—with potatoes Anna shaped to resemble fish scales on an actual red snapper filet—illustrates the dedication and high level of detail Joe’s staff puts into its dishes. Many a celebrity has dined here, but the staff—from table host to Joe himself—makes the rounds to every table to give each customer the star treatment.
Address: 1023 Abbott Kinney, Venice, Calif. 90219. 310-399-5811
Dress code: Dressy casual
Price: $27-$30 entree (dinner), $12-$16 (lunch)
Directions: Get in your rental car, pop the address into your GPS, and you’re there! Just kidding. Take Main Street south to Abbott Kinney, then left on Abbott Kinney. Joe’s is on your left. Valet, of course, is available.

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Chomping Around Town: East Coast Grill (Boston)

***This week, My Travel Hats is having its own Restaurant Week, in which I’ll feature a not-to-miss, must-dine eatery in select cities.***

Across the Charles River of Boston, there lies a nice little community of Cambridge, where some of the smartest scholars in the country come to teach and do research (Harvard and MIT). How do they feed their brains? I’d like to believe, if they are truly smart, that they go to East Coast Grill.

And if you’re a smart visitor, you’ll skip the touristy gooey clam chowdahs and lobster rolls on stale bread for East Coast Grill’s version of Clam & Corn chowder with sweet potatoes and chiles. (Of course, you can be dumb and eat there too – but if you’ve chosen to go there, clearly you are intelligent.)

This little casual pocket on Cambridge Street in Inman Square  has arguably the best oysters in town, along with a complete raw bar, seafood platters and a grill pit. It’s a chill atmosphere, where the smoky air smells like hickory and beef and Handi-wipes are a necessity. Combining New England seafood with southern grill and meats, this dinner-only and Sunday-brunch joint leaves you heartily filled, content and happy. Try a dozen PEI oysters and a platter of fall-off-the-bone spare ribs, Memphis style. Or perhaps some local Jonah crab claws and a 1/2 chicken, spit-grilled. It’s where comfort food came to grow up. Reservations are accepted on Sundays through Thursdays for parties of five or more, but it’s first-come, first-serve on the weekends. Be prepared to wait, as it’s a popular restaurant, but all that waiting ideally makes you hungry, which is essential. Start with a drink from the bizarre tiki lounge.

Address: 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, Mass. 617-491-6568
Price: Entrees are $15-$27.

Dress code: Jeans-and-Tshirt. Watch for splashes of BBQ sauce.

Directions: Take the Red Line to the Central Square T-Stop. When you come out to the street, head down Prospect St. Follow Prospect St. to the 5th light. Turn left at the 5th light onto Cambridge St.

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In the Suitcase: Reading the State Department warnings

If you’re ever feeling like your life in the United States is fairly dull and uneventful, and you wish yourself a more exotic version somewhere else in the world (and Baltimore isn’t even exciting and dangerous enough), here’s a suggestion.

Visit the U.S. State Department Consular Information Program page, which is filled with interesting summaries and tidbits about different countries around the world. Every so often, you’ll run into a TRAVEL ALERT about some recent occurrence for travelers to be aware – ranging from protests and clashes with police to warfare or Swine Flu outbreaks.

Now, I probably should not post this because my mother-in-law, an avid fan and reader of My Travel Hats, was already worried that we were affected by the nightclub fire in Bangkok last New Year’s even though we were 500+ miles north in Chang Mai. But a scan of several southern African country warnings brings the following:

  • Al Qaeda attacks in Kenya
  • Election violence and protests north of Zanzibar
  • Election protests and violence in parts of Mozambique
  • ATMs rigged with explosives in South Africa.
The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail

Boy, that sure pales in comparison with our daily life and even our supposedly exciting election of our first black president. All we got are “Tea Riots” which are hardly riotous at all. As for the ATMs, perhaps that is a good solution to fixing our economy – getting overspenders to keep their money in the bank.

That aside: don’t worry, we’ll be safe and smart in all our travels. Naturally, if there’s some political uprising, kind of like right before our Thailand honeymoon, we won’t be walking straight into it. On that note, mostly for my mother-in-law, I leave you with some peaceful pictures of our foreign world (Tanzania, specifically, since that’s my newest obsession).

 left: courtesy of USAID. Who doesn’t love cute smiling toothy kids? I’m sure we’ll meet and play with lots of them.


 courtesy of CNN. Look, they weren’t rioting over our elections. They’re Democrats!  

 courtesy of International Safaris Corp. See, even the lions are tame and respectful of outsiders. They probably see so many tourists that they come running up to them looking for food, like the squirrels of Central Park.

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On My Itinerary (hopefully): Tanzania!

I am absolutely dying to visit Africa for a long time, ever since my dad first brought up the idea of moving our family to Nairobi with the United Nations while I was in junior high (Parents decided it would be too much uprooting for us, though it would have been so cool). Now, I realize Africa is one giant continent and requires swallowing a lot of hallucingenic anti-malarial pills. Each time I have traveled somewhere requiring malarial pills, I have stopped taking them. Bad, bad traveler. Mostly because the pills made me lose my appetite, and what’s traveling without being able to taste the local cuisine? Also because I was traveling to areas that weren’t super high-risk malaria, and I often picked the insurance-covered Doxycyclene which required me to take them for another month after returning, which I thought was an awfully heavy dose of medication.

From tangent to Tanzania. After much mulling over African destinations that were safe, cultural, exciting and not overly touristy, without spreading ourselves too thin and too expensively over several countries in two weeks, I have set my eyes on Tanzania. Names I have heard only in passing before are now real places: Kilimanjaro! Zanzibar! Serengeti! I want to blend some beautiful scenery, active activities (a little canoeing, hiking, biking, the works), wild animal peeping, cultural encounters, and fewer tourists. Our timing is mid-July, after all the soccer fans have departed from South Africa, and before the August rush of tourists into the fancy camps with electrified tents and down pillows. Did I mention we’re on a budget, too? (As always)

Planning an African trip is tricky: there’s always some war going on, whether political, religious or disease, and I’ve been warned that white tourists are somewhat targeted and somehow I’ve been roped into being “white” even though I’ve overly curious just how the Africans regard Asians. But since I’ll be traveling with Jon, I will get categorized and treated as a White Person. We’ll also tend toward the slightly more beaten path, after I read some reviews criticizing Lonely Planet for taking tourists into areas that black African locals said were “too dangerous” for white travelers.  It’s also hard not to avoid surrounding yourself with tourists, since it appears that it’s sometimes the safest place to be. We also have to carefully check which areas have not recently kidnapped tourists or have violent protests exploding. Other than that, I can barely contain my excitement about this prospect. I’m now off to purchase my first of several guidebooks to Tanzania! Stay tuned for updates!

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Getting Lost In: your suburbs

We headed back to Chicago to visit Jon’s family for the Jewish holidays. Jon’s family lives in the great suburbs as featured in John Hughes’ movies, and sure, the suburbs of America are not necessarily as exciting as the cities, but, as I will be reporting, it doesn’t matter.

 In fact, as a traveler, I suddenly developed a new appreciation for the suburbs. Here in Highland Park, Ill., the most recent buzz about town is that the house in the popular 80’s John Hughes movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off , in

which Ferris’ friend Cameron lives, is up for sale (for a mere $2.3 mil) and may be torn down if nobody is buying. I said you could only buy it if you had the right cars to put in that famous garage; after all, nobody wants to see my Honda Civic, dents and all (none of which are my fault except for the fact that I park my car on the streets of DC), parked in that garage.

John Hughes managed to capture the American suburban complex so excellently in his movies. Nowhere else in the world do we have such an existence: spacious houses and lawns, driveways, kids riding bikes on the streets, even houses for our cars (aka garages)! We’re not in the countryside, but we’re not in the city. It’s really quite a beautiful collective to see, if city people ever made their way up there to check it out. People like to hate the suburbs, and I, too, will gag at the brand-new shopping complexes filled with massed-produced chains and the matching cars and the need to fancy the Joneses.  I admit, I had a regurgitative reaction to the suburbs while shopping at Trader Joe’s in Westchester County. I saw several young couples like me, once upon a time were regular Manhattan socialites, now wearing stained tank tops and putting on some weight and gray hairs and shopping at the strip mall and just thought – oh god, the suburbs is where married couples come to get old and wrinkled. (Which is usually the case, but it doesn’t have to be that bad).

But you don’t have to live there. However, you can enjoy a wonderful weekend there. And take your camera to capture what’s really going on, even if it’s just your in-laws’ house and their dogs. Which I did, without feeling the need to rush into “the city” to feel like I saw something this weekend in the greater Chicago area. Here I was, jogging along Highland Park, on the bike trail following the Metra train tracks and then into the Chicago Botanic Garden  where a path loops around lakes and streams and trees and greenery and flowers. It reminded me of the rustic wooded path in Westchester, along the Bronx River, where I used to take my bike and where two high school friends got arrested for canoeing down (it’s really more like a stream than a river). It also reminded me of the Capital Crescent trail in Washington, D.C. which spans into Maryland. In a city, it’s a luxury to have space for your bike without having it stolen, and to be able to take that bike out on the paths into the suburbs.

And I really do enjoy all the foliage, the cherry blossoms and magnolias in springtime, and looking at people’s cute gardens out front on their lawns. At Christmas, it’s really fun to see all the houses lit up and decorated with random snowmen sitting out front. This is American life, our suburbs. You don’t have to travel far (unless you’re British and reading my blog) to have a vacation like this in “this economy.”

So I encourage all of you: dust off your bikes or put on your sneakers (tennis shoes, gym shoes, kicks, or whatever it is you call the in your part of the country) grab a camera and take an active weekend vacation to check our your nearby suburbs.  Take a leafy drive and gaze at the big houses, or bike up a bike path (found on google), or hop on the commuter train to your destination. In the end, you can still sleep in your own bed. Happy travels!

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Wanderings: My Travel Hats trains for a half-marathon in Outer Banks

668327045108_0_ALBI decided it was time to start posting some more random thoughts about travel in general, since that’s what most blogs are anyway – uninvited streams of consciousness by the writer for all those who care. Now since I love autumn, I have multiple plans in my head to enjoy it, but I’m fast running out of weekends. Already our autumn is filling up with trips to Chicago (this weekend), Los Angeles (October), and Outer Banks of North Carolina (November), in which I have agreed to run a half marathon. That’s 13 miles! I have never run more than a 10K (6.2 miles) in one sitting – or, rather, instance. Once upon a time I played with the idea of a marathon (26 miles) for whatever ridiculous reason and have now decided I really don’t need to prove anything to myself. Plus I don’t even like to drive 26 miles anywhere, let alone run it. (this photo, by the way, is of my back after my first 10K in Venice, Calif. I’m in the navy blue shirt and pink shorts. I always do this sprinting-to-the-finish business which annoys my friend Karen – in the royal blue shirt and braids, who is usually 5 steps ahead of me in every race but then gets placed behind me because I go flying by in the last 10 seconds.)

In any case, I’ve decided to train properly for this half-marathon, which means I’m following Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training Program for novices (12 week program). I already missed the first two weeks so I had to plow right into week 3. I use soccer as my “cross-training” and finally got Jon to replace his stolen bike so I could have mine back. I’m aching and starving all the time. I also just invested in a Runner ID to wrap around my wrist with emergency contacts, blood type and fact that I’m allergic to penicillin. (Also good for bike travel). Also getting very bored of my playlists on the Ipod.

We are also staying at my friend’s family’s beautiful house on the Outer Banks. It’s available for rent by the week during the high season, and it has ocean views, a pool, hot tub, several bedrooms and one of the best living rooms in the country. It will be November when I’m there, so not much beach activity to be had. But it will also be our one-year wedding anniversary, so nothing like running 13 miles and then having your husband massage out all the leg pain. Yay!

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In the Suitcase: Dealing with TSA

While scanning the Internet I came across TSA’s tips to “SimpliFLY” your travel. Because, apparently, what used to be just a routine procedure involving sending your carry-on luggage (more than two!) and walking through the X-ray has become so complicated that TSA has to actually create an entire site with a clever headline to explain how to do what used to be so easy. You wonder who is really harassing the passengers now – terrorists or TSA.

TSA makes it SO complicated that its site actually says to avoid wearing the following:

“Clothing with metal buttons, snaps or studs.

“Metal hair barrettes.

“Belt buckles.

“Underwire bras.”

It does, however, allow GEL-FILLED bras to go through.

Combined with the liquids rule and the shoe rule and the charges on checked luggage requires the traveler to wise up and get clever. Now it’s not that I’m trying to advocate breaking rules or encouraging ways for terrorists to bypass security, although I’m sure if they observed the cluelessness that is TSA, they would have already picked up on the same lessons I’ve learned. So, if you’re not any good at consolidating your packing, there are a few more tricks to ease your life through the security line.

1. The “two carry-on rule” lasts through security, and then after that, nobody, and I mean nobody, notices if you have more than two. That’s because you can purchase a lunch, or shop at the gift shop or duty free, and now you have three bags. If you can make it through security with what appears to be two bags, you’ll be good to go. Here’s how: you are allowed one piece of carry-on (check the dimensions) and one “personal item”. You can’t help if you have a purse or briefcase the size of another carry-on suitcase. Worst case scenario, they make you check it at the gate, but then you won’t have to pay or risk having it put on the wrong plane.

2. Can’t get through with just two pieces? Wear your biggest shoes, tie a sweater around your waist, and wear your jacket. Perhaps carry another item in your arms. I also find carrying a book or two in your hands works too. Remember, the key is not to put anything in a bag or they’ll tell you, “you can’t have three carry-ons.” (Sometimes it helps to have a plastic or cotton tote bag stuffed in your luggage to whip out afterwards)

3. Too many liquids? First, shove them into that little Ziploc bag. And guess what: “medicines” are allowed to exceed 3 ounces – like saline solution. But here’s a tip: YOU don’t get x-rayed. Small items without metal like eyedrops, chapstick, or lip gloss can be stuffed into your pants pocket, and they won’t get detected or taken away.

4. Don’t argue. If you’re wearing any top with a zipper or button, they will ask you to remove it (if you have something underneath). If it’s a bulky sweatshirt with no zipper, they won’t bother you. Yes, even a slim-fitting cardigan in a sweater set must be removed. And since you’ll be wearing your biggest shoes (sneakers, hiking shoes), unlace them while you’re waiting on line.

5. Make TSA guards feel like Superman. Nod and smile, agree, and maybe thank them on your way out. Yes, they are annoying, but they are also doing their job. Some of them are on power trips, but others are probably just as frazzled to have to yell at people all day to take off their shoes, coats, and remove their laptops and liquids. Don’t make it any more difficult for either you or them and you’ll just get through without much drama.

6. Check for everything. After you go through the whole fiasco, make sure you leave with all your items. It would be a shame to leave your cell phone or watch behind.

7. It’s different overseas. The other countries haven’t quite figured out TSA’s rules, so they’ll require the plastic bag for liquids but allow you to have as many plastic bags as you want, or leave the laptop in the bag, and the shoes on. They’ll also take lighters and matches, possibly, so it all depends.


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