Triangle Trip

Tag: california

Things to do in Solvang, California

by on Mar.08, 2011, under Vacation

If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area for more than three days, I highly recommend you make a two hour drive north to visit California’s Central Coast for some great food and wine (the alternative is two hours south to see San Diego). Following the footsteps of Miles and Jack (characters from the film Sideways), you should visit Santa Barbara, Solvang and the wineries in Santa Ynez Valley, which are famous for their Pinot Noirs.

To get there, just hop on the US 101 North from downtown LA. You can also take US 1 (Pacific Coast Highway or PCH) if you’re in a mood for a scenic drive – although you can still see a lot of the beautiful Pacific coast line and ocean from the 101. It takes approximately two and a half hours to get to Solvang, taking into account traffic getting out of LA and around Thousand  Oaks and Ventura.

You should stop by Santa Barbara to split up the long journey; it has a large, beautiful downtown area with plenty of restaurants and shops. The beaches at Santa Barbara are also amazing.

Where to stay in Solvang?

Solvang is not a big city at all – it does, however, attract a lot of tourists. Most of the hotels are owned and operated by locals, which means you won’t get hotel points or airline miles. Here are a few I would consider:

For the points focused travelers like Statusmonger and the Coach, there is a very nice Marriott in Buellton which is right off US 101, and a Holiday Inn Express within walking distance of downtown Solvang. I recommend the Marriott; during my stay at the Holiday Inn Express, noise was a small issue because of its location on the main street of downtown Solvang, and the building felt old.

Where to eat in Solvang?

I highly recommend the Hitching Post II, where Maya from Sideways worked. The Hitching Post II was the best meal I had in 2009 (read my Yelp! Review here). They serve great wine, too – definitely try their Highliner Pinot Noir!

Another good place for evening dining is AJ Spurs, a little chain in the Central Valley of California. AJ Spurs serves large portions so order to share unless you haven’t eaten for days. But stay with the meat entrees; the fish dishes aren’t as fresh.

While you’re in Solvang, you must try the Aebleskiver, which is a Danish pancake. There are several bakeries in the downtown area that will make it fresh for you – I think the Solvang Restaurant at 1672 Copenhagen Drive offers the most authentic Aebleskiver.

Where to drink in Solvang and the Santa Ynes Valley?

I suggest visiting these wineries: Dierberg, Rideau, Fiddlehead, Foley and Melville. If you don’t want to drive all the way to Foxen Canyon Road, where most of the wineries are located, you can stay in downtown Solvang, which has tons of tasting rooms that offer wines from many regional wineries.

If you don’t have a designated driver for a wine tour, the local hotels should have bus tours throughout the day.

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Where to eat in Pasadena: 15 Restaurant Reviews

by on Mar.08, 2009, under Business Meals, Vacation

Big A, Captain G, and Statusmonger are frequent travelers to Pasadena, CA. Below are our candid reviews of all the places we have dined in Pasadena for the past three months — from mid-December 2008 to early March 2009. We feel that Pasadena is a bit overrated when it comes to dining and shopping. There are many restaurants in Pasadena, but none has stood out.

Captain G is quite disappointed at the choices, especially with Maison Akira which some people tout it as one of the best in the Greater LA area. Arroyo Chop House is by far our favorite. We celebrated Statusmonger’s birthday there. Big A is a nicer rater, but agrees with the rankings below.  He recommends Arroyo and Mi Piace for newcomers to Pasadena.

Below are our 15 restaurants we have dined at and their rankings (best to worst):

1.  Arroyo Chop House – The only restaurant in California that only serves USDA Prime beef and nothing more. Service was excellent. Great wide selection coupled with a wide variety of side dishes. Lobster mash potatoes side is a must!

2.  Ruth’s Chris – A consistent steakhouse, we have been here multiple times. It was the best dineLA 2009 experience we had in California.

3.  Mi Piace – An Italian restaurant and bakery. It has great seafood pasta and excellent selection of desserts to compliment your dinner. It has outside sitting and offers a wonderful experience of Old Town Pasadena.

4.  MaiKobe – A new restaurant on Fairoaks between Colorado and Green Street. It is so new that it didn’t have a review on Yelp yet. Servings were good portions. Despite having “Kobe” as its restaurant name, its Kobe beef was not good. Perhaps we should not have ordered a Kobe roll as Kobe beef should not have been rolled with rice. Dessert was excellent though. They also serve Hibachi style dinners.

5.  Bar Celona – A Spanish tapas joint on Colorado. The stuffed quail is a must. Paellas and mussels are also good options. The sangria was not too good though. Wine selection was a bit limited. Overall the restaurant had good ambiance. Music also went well with the food.

6.  Houston’s – Consistent American style restaurant with good service and atmosphere. It has the best French Dip sandwich and Ribs platter we have ever had… Houston’s even serves sushi now. Wine and beer selections are great.

7.  Roy’s – It’s a Hawaiian fusion restaurant. We were seated in an extension of the restaurant which resulted in poor service. The room was also cold. Food was so-so. We had better meat and fish at Houston’s.

8.  Louise’s – Italian restaurant right across the street from Mi Piace. Menu is a bit less expensive compared to Mi Piace but the food is not too bad. You get what you pay for. Parking is a bit hard to find though.

9.  Cheesecake Factory – Very typical and just like the other Cheesecake chains. The restaurant met expectations. However, it is always crowded so we don’t think it’s worth the wait.

10.  Sushi of Naples – Surpringly good sushi and udon place. We had fresh fish over Super Bowl weekend at Sushi Naples. It is however located a bit out of the way – away from Old Town.

11.  Saigon Noodles – Despite the fact that it looks ghetto outside but the soup was authentic. Pricing was also right. Portion was decent. Can’t complain when you want some authentic Vietnamese at a decent price.

12.  Green Street Tavern – From the outside, this restaurant looked elegant. Service was so so even though it was not crowded on a Tuesday night. We had wine and the tasting menu (tapas like dishes) that evening to try out all the entrees. The only thing worth trying was the short ribs. Wine menu was not good either.

13.  Gyu-Kaku – A Japanese BBQ joint. Service was slow. Beef and other meat were marinated with too much salt which made us drank more Sake… Sake selection was good. Don’t fall into the all you can eat trap. Overall, the price was too high compared to the quality of food we got that evening.

14.  1810 – An Argentinian restaurant located on Colorado – in the heart of Old Town, Pasadena. We thought it was a real Argentinian restaurant but it was more or less a lounge/bar food type restaurant. Food was horrible. We had chewy steak, bad wine and horrible valet service. The valet attendant wanted us to pre-pay for parking because he was leaving his shift. The only thing that kept this restaurant out of the bottom was how bad Maison Akira was back in January.

15.  Maison Akira – A French/Japanese fusion place which was neither Japanese nor French. We’d a prix fixe menu back in February 2009 and it was the worst meal in a decade for Captain G. You can find out the details on his previous post.

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