Friday, July 29, 2011

Has it really come to an end? Is the dream over? If you are not at El Bulli right now, then you have missed your last chance. This legendary restaurant will be closing its doors forever and be turned into the El Bulli Foundation where they will guide the bright and talented future. I am so fortunate that all Ms. Lin Guide’s effort paid off and we were allowed to experience a meal of a lifetime. What better way to commemorate the mind-blowing success of El Bulli than show casing their grand finale of desserts.
Parting is such sweet sorrows, so we will have to treat our eyes to some mouth-watering desserts!
To clear our palettes they served us the "Pond" that they also refer to as the "Frozen Lake". This ice lake is crafted carefully and delicately atop a chilled glass bowl. In my mind I can picture Charlie Brown skating across the icy surface with a big smile on his face.
First they carefully tap the brown sugar over icy mint surface that is followed by the drops of matcha powder.
Everything came together and was super refreshing. This was a great way to lead into the dessert portion by clearing the mind, body, and soul. Brr. It felt like a reboot of my system, which meant I am ready for another 48 courses after this!
Starting off light and fresh, we were served the "Yoghurt Blini". I loved the delicate swirl of honey atop and romantic spring feel that the tiny flowers emanated.
Tucked in between the airy shells was a dollop of yoghurt. The exterior felt like mini meringue pancakes that slowly disintegrates inside your mouth. I enjoyed the light texture with a hint of tang from the yoghurt. You could easily inhale a bunch of these in a blink of an eye.
Next came a small taste of Catalan with the "Coca de Vidre - Crystal Cake" that many refer to as a glass flatbread. They used anise, pine nuts, and sugar create these crunchy morsels. There's only a small hint of anise and the pine nuts flavor really stands out.
These hollow puffed up shells looked like a crystalline structure that should be handled with caution as they can break apart at any moment. So enjoy the moment and crunch! Where beauty emerges, chaos will follow.
Enter the darkness as we gaze upon the "Mini-Donuts". Encased in these solid mini tires, donuts, was coconut cream. As you can tell from the photos that they used dark chocolate that was as black as night. The simple sweetness of coconut was enhanced by the bittersweet chocolate.
The last dessert before the beautiful red box was the "Strawberries Carpaccio". I really do enjoy the refined service. Everything that's served feels like an incomplete canvas that will be beautifully painted in front of your eyes. A perfect example was the plate they laid before us. It was just a simple plate with fresh cut strawberries strewn out in a circle with a dollop of yogurt and a few shavings of lime peel.
Slowly they come around the table one by one to drizzle the refreshing strawberry purée onto the plate and adding color to the overall canvas. Like a jar of oil, the purée seeped through every pore of the dish and formed a perfect circle around the center piece.
As the pièce de résistance, they come around again to add bits of freeze dried strawberries atop the yogurt. I love the blend of pure white intermixed with drops of red that just popped out at you. Not only was the dish presented artistically, there was a lot of thought put into each dish. There were three preparations of strawberries in this one dish. Not only were they each flavored differently, they also add a new texture and level to the whole dish. It's definitely a very refreshing spring flare to end the dessert courses.
My favorite part of dinner are the mignardises! I was eagerly awaiting the beautiful dark red box! It might sound silly, but I was afraid that we were one of the last tables and they would run out of the treasures hidden in the box. Of course they replenish the boxes after each table, so don't worry. First they plop the huge box that's closed tightly. Then the magic begins as they open the top and start pulling out the side drawers with more hidden goodies! If I wasn't carrying such a tiny LV purse, I would have stuffed it full of the yummy treats!
So what treats were hidden there? I tried to take detailed notes as they quickly explained the treats. There were eucalyptus mint chocolates, liquor tangerine chocolates, hazelnut & dried fruits chocolates, passion fruit with hazelnut chocolates, soy in white chocolates, green tea chocolates, strawberries & yogurt chocolates, pistachio & beans chocolates, passion fruit with yogurt, chocolate covered corns, white chocolate covered strawberries, white chocolate with sesame, chocolate covered dried cherries, chocolate covered coconuts, and chocolate that look like corals. Whew! That was a long list but worth it!
I thought the whole box was designed and showcased wonderfully. It really isn't just great food but an exploration of creativity. The coral chocolates were cleverly crafted. After one bite I thought of umami right away. I thought this was very reminiscent to the flavor of soy sauce and found it very interesting.
Hidden in the box was a little reminder of the sea. They had coral shaped chocolates next to the little group of sponges made out of passion fruit and yogurt. This had a very interesting texture because it was so porous. As soon as it touches your tongue, you feel a slight popping and fizzing in the mouth as it dissipates.
They really loved to use freeze dried fruits in many of the dishes. That would also include the white chocolate covered strawberries. A crisp texture that is different from your normal fresh strawberries covered in chocolate.
Everything in the box focused on the strong elemental flavor paired with the chocolates. Even if you did not remember which chocolate was which, one bite will tell all. After all, a true master does not need many ingredients to impress. They can take a simple ingredient and make it something memorable. Like the white chocolate with sesame just filled your mouth with the wonderful aromatic flavor of sesame and lingered in your mouth.
Even though I love mignardises, it is always send to think that this is the end of the road. Of course it has been a wonderful and exotic journey, but all good things must come to an end. It was way past the stroke of midnight and my fairy godmother's magic had ended. The carriage has reverted back into a pumpkin and it was time to return to reality. Of course they did not let you leave empty handed as each guest receives a signed menu from the Master Chef Ferran Adria that is individually numbered!
Alas I bid thee farewell and I feel honored to have experienced the best of the best.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The trick to traveling and business is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! I planned our hotels near the train station so that it will be easy to get in and out of town. Of course it would be great to stay near all the tourist items but sometimes that will put you very far away from the main transport from city to city. So when you plan, make sure you make a good compromise. Map out where the hotel is and compare prices. Sometimes it is better to pay more so that you will have a more enjoyable stay. The Hotel Mediolanum is a 4 Star hotel. Ms. Lin and I have come to an agreement that the ratings for European hotels are -1 Star when compared to American hotels. So it is really a 2 Star, but still good. Just don't be fooled by their Star rating system.
Being that we were a party of 3, there were a lot of limiting factors. As space in Europe is tight like the places you find in New York. Not many will accommodate a party of 3 and there would be no reason to get a separate room just for one person. If you can, travel in pairs so that 2 of you are in a room and it will definitely be easier to find places to stay. I made sure to double check that they actually offer a triple and not just a tiny room where you will barely have any room to walk after they add another cot.
Most of the time they push another bed into the room but you just have to make sure that they have a spacious room. So research is very vital to scouting out the perfect place to stay. I cross check many sites to verify the information stated and it is best if I can find a nice picture of their rooms. Hence, I have made it my goal to help out fellow travelers by providing real pictures and update them on the hotels before they make a reservation.
After a long debate on where to stay in Milan, Italy I decided to book Hotel Mediolanum. It doesn't help that I have one companion who is super cheap and would be happy with anything that is cheap, regardless of the hotel's condition. Then we have the other companion who thinks she is the Queen of Sheba and refuses to stay anywhere dingy. So what is a girl to do when I get caught between two crazy people? Well, I look hard for a compromise. Detailed research must be conducted to make sure that the price is competitive yet a nice place to stay.
The Hotel Mediolanum looked like a good compromise. They looked clean and had a very kooky modern feel. From the pictures I saw of them, they have a very vibrant and peculiar color decor that will leave an impression. The hotel is pretty close to the Milano train station. It is not close to the main tourist attraction but it is minutes away from Courso Buenos Aires. However there is a supermarket nearby that we found out way later.
When traveling, especially in Europe, it is always good to scout out where the local supermarket is so that you will be able to purchase bottle water for your stay. Unfortunately we didn't start out the plan right and was forced to buy water while by the Duomo. Needless to say, we were gouged for the convenience. Always carry a bottle with you when you leave the hotel room so that you won't be forced to succumb to the high prices all the time. Although the bottle of water I bought by the Duomo was a great container and I continued to use it throughout the rest of the trip.
Now back to information about the hotel. I thought they were friendly and helpful. At times I thought that they had a snooty attitude but nothing that was offensive. They were all dressed up in nice suits and very professional. After I checked in and they copied our passports, we were given a huge key to our room. Most of the European hotels used large keys that were meant to be kept at the front desk. Very few of them had the digital keys that we are used to in the US.

I enjoyed their lobby and the crisp modern decor. Even the hallways were painted brightly. The rooms are a little bit different. It isn't as loud as the hallway, but still had a nice modern feel. Our walls were a bright white and the bed was colorful.
Keep in mind that their elevator is a little tight and fickle. With luggage, it is hard to fit the 3 of us inside and at time we would have to split up. Even though they clearly label the weight limit and occupancy, there were times when it would randomly not move. So at those times just have one person step out and try again until it works.
The first thing I noticed were the candies on our pillows. That was a nice simple touch to the room. They were also great to keep in the pocket for emergencies later.
One thing that they really enjoyed was the complimentary tea and coffee provided. After a long day they can come back and enjoy a variety of drinks. They began to miss this extra feature that the Hotel Mediolanum provided.
This hotel does not provide free internet. It can be purchased at the front desk but I thought that the prices were a bit high so I decided to live freely and forgo the internet.

The beds are on wheels so be careful as to not slide around or fall off the bed. Sometimes when I jump on, all 3 beds tend to move in one direction. If you are not laying down correctly then you might move the two beds apart and fall through the crack so be sure to be careful. I didn't quite like their cover. The beds were fine and did the job. They weren't soft and I wouldn't say they were a nice firmness, but I did not wake up feeling soar from a bad mattress so it was fine.
If you take a look at the bathroom you will notice that it is quite narrow. I did like that it was very clean. As usual, in Europe you will always find a bidet. If you take a close look at the showers you will also notice that rope. We were all curious about the significance of that rope. Luckily my companions didn't pull it! They use it more for an alarm to call the hotels attention if something happened to you while you shower.

All in all the hotel was not bad and a good place to stay while in the city. Coming up on another post is about the complimentary breakfast provided. At the time, I didn't know that this would probably be the best complimentary breakfast provided by the European hotels. So be sure to stay tuned for the review and pictures.

Hotel Mediolanum
Via Mauro Macchi, 1 (Central station - Piazza Repubblica Area)
20124 MILANO
Telephone: +39 02 6705312 - Fax: +39 02 66981921

Friday, July 22, 2011

Date :July 12 through September 4 at Dinner time

Location :
The Capital Grille
South Coast Plaza
3333 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Website :

Ticket Price :

Description :
What defines the most extraordinary wine event of the summer? Ample servings of nine rare and limited vintage varietals, hand-selected by a Master Sommelier and highly rated by renowned wine critic Robert Parker and Wine Spectator magazine – all for just $25 per person at dinner from July 12 through September 4.
The Generous Pour Wine Event is a tasting experience offered by The Capital Grille to rival all others. The event offers guests an unparalleled opportunity to enjoy generous tastings of nine spectacular, highly allocated wines – all served in the comfort of the restaurant’s relaxed, elegant atmosphere, accompanied by signature appetizers, dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood and house-made desserts.

The Capital Grille is also known for expert, personalized service and The Generous Pour event is an excellent example of that. Guests may sample all nine wines or they may choose to have multiple tastings of one or more of their favorites from The Generous Pour – their server will guide them through the experience, suggesting pairings for each course ordered and providing each person with a summary of tasting notes. The restaurant will also prepare custom wine flights upon request, for those guests interested in comparing and contrasting The Generous Pour selections.

Each featured wine was specially chosen from unique vineyards around the world by The Capital Grille’s Master Sommelier, George Miliotes, one of only 173 Master Sommeliers in the world. “I believe that wine education must be experienced first-hand,” Miliotes said. “That’s why I’m thrilled to be able to provide a fun, wide-ranging wine exploration at The Capital Grille. We are especially pleased to bring our guests some of the world’s most exclusive wines this summer, for a delightful, educational taste journey.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

After a long flight from California to New York to Milan, Italy we took a shuttle into the city. While waiting for our luggage, I hit up the ATM machines so that I'd have some cash to pay for any transportation needs. Keep an eye out for all the shuttles available or public transportation that the city has to offer. As fate was on our side, the Lithuansa shuttle had a buy 2 get the 3rd ticket for free deal. Perfect for our party of 3.
The traffic from the airport into the city is actually pretty bad. It took a good hour or two before we finally reached the Milano train station. We trekked the local streets to find our hotel. After a few seconds of rest, we started to make our way into the city. I chose to strut down the busy and popular street of Courso Buenos Aires. At that time I didn't know that I made the wrong choice to walk all the way to the Duomo.
All the buildings had this nostalgic European vibe with their colorful shade. On Courso Buenos Aires you feel like you are walking down any normal busy shopping street. They had many American brand name stores mixed in with local European brands. It wasn't too hot that day, but I would always recommend starting your walk on the side of the street that is shaded and walk back on the other side when it gets darker and cools down.
There is a public park on the way to the Duomo. I decided to cut through and come out of the park on the other side. It was a bright sunny day and many people were enjoying the fresh air in the park.
The paths are full of sand and there were benches to be found every little while. There were small ponds surrounded by calming and serene patches of greenery. Everything was picturesque. By this time we were a bit starving as the flight doesn't really feed you.
At the center of the park is a rest stand that serves food. It's more like a small market that serves the essential. Tons of people were taking a break there with the family. We decided to continue our walk towards our destination.
The bonus we get from walking is we get to see every part of the city. There was one pizza restaurant that I wanted to try near the park, but of course they were not open the day I arrived. Little did we know it would be hard to find a good place to eat along the way.
Having companions that don't have an adventurous palette can be difficult so be sure to choose your companions wisely. There were not that many restaurants to choose from on the main streets. You would have to walk to the side streets to find the sit down restaurants. Most places found on the main street were either quick bites or didn't look very appealing.
We probably should have chosen a place to dine while on Courso Buenos Aires and not after we left the park. Eventually the long walk had gotten to them, so what do you do in this kind of situation? Try to give the "children" some candy. Caffé dell' Opera hand some tantalizing gelato displayed and it was beckoning us on a hot day.
On the side of the street, you can walk up to the counter and order some for on the go. To be on the safe side, I always get Mango gelato and decided to try their Strawberry gelato as well. Some places charge more if you want it in a cone and some don't. I personally would want it on a cone either way.
Since we chose the fruitier flavors, they definitely aren't as smooth and creamy as the other gelatos. The flavor was not bad but I think the strawberry had a better flavor than the mango, which is rare. That could also be that they didn't do a great job on making the mango flavor. Caffé dell' Opera was really just a convenient place on the road and definitely nothing special that I'd recommend. It really just does the trick on a street that is filled with stores rather than food. The prices for their gelato and food seemed reasonable for being on the way to the Duomo in Milan.
Caffé dell' Opera
Via Manzoni 12, Milan, Italy

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