Chocolate Heaven

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Chocolate Heaven in Irvine, California

ChocXo Bean to Bar Chocolates is heaven on earth. Who doesn’t love chocolate? Add in a wall with 2 spigots, push the button, and watch beautiful creamy chocolate flow into a little cup for you to sip; now you know you are in heaven.

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I stumbled upon their chocolate a little over a year ago at a gourmet culinary store and loved the quality and richness of their bars.  Soon after my disccovery  I am hear they have a coffee bar open  in Costa Mesa, California. A cup of coffee with chocolate added, yum!  The coffee is fantastic, smooth and flavorful not bitter, add in flavors and chocolate, it just raises the drinks above the bar.  In talking to the staff they advised that the Irvine factory offered tours,  sign me up.

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Stepping into the factory store, it is spotlessly cleaned, warm and inviting and smelling of deep rich chocolate.  The tour walks you through their Bean to Bar process. The staff explains the history of the cacao tree, harvesting the pods by hand and the process of removing the beans, drying, fermenting and taking them all the way to processing.
During the tour, you  have the opportunity to taste the pulp from inside the cacao pod, it is fascinating and has a unique and pleasant flavor, you will be surprised.

ChocXO imports their beans from South American, mainly Ecuador and they are processed in Irvine, CA.

At the end of the tour,  guests have the opportunity to choose from their extensive list of truffles and soft centers and have 3 pieces bagged to take home.  You will find flavors such as Raspberry, Hazelnut, Mojito, Apple Jack, Maple Whiskey, Vanilla Chai and Lemon Meringue just to name a few.

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As you wander the store, you will find large bars and mini bars varying in percentages of cacao, and you can taste the differences along with the cacao nibs.

If by now you haven’t had enough chocolate, pull up a chair at the tasting bar, and order ChocXO’s version of a peanut butter cup.  They serve fresh made peanut butter in a small plastic cup, topped with that creamy, rich chocolate.  Dive in and lick the cup clean, it is amazing!

You must have reservations for the tour and  tickets can be purchased on their website. The cost is $10 per person.  You can also check with Groupon and see if they have any offers as well. Happy touring and tasting.

http://www.chocxo.com/

The chocolate factory is a unique and fun experience in Orange County.  Take the kids and discover some amazing chocolate.

Enjoy,
Terri

 

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Safe Holiday Travels

 

 

 

 

 

Just a short note to say Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays whichever you prefer.  May you have a beautiful holiday season.

If you are traveling, may you have safe travels and enjoy time with friends and family.

I look forward to seeing you back here in 2016 with fun restaurants, unusual activities and the hot destinations for 2016.

Warm wishes,
Terri

 

 

NCL Cruise ~ Dining

NCL Dining aboard the Jewel…

Having shared with you last week a bit about the NCL cruise I recently took, there was just too much to fill you in on, so this week I want to give you an idea of what they offer in the way of dining.  Isn’t one of the reasons we all cruise is for the food?

This post is a bit tough for me to write to you, while they offer a lot of dining options on board, the food was a huge disappointment.  If you are a foodie and are looking for amazing food, interesting food, and service with a smile, based on my experience with NCL, this is not the cruise line for you.  So let’s get started.

The NCL Jewel is one of the older and smaller ships,  there are many more dining options on their newer and larger ships, but for today, I will share with you the experience on the Jewel.

There are 2 main dining rooms that are complimentary, Tsar’s Palace and Azura.  With NCL’s move to Freestyle cruising, there are no set dining times, you go when you want during the times the dining rooms are open.  I found the service to be lacking and the food very disappointing.  The soup at lunch was barely lukewarm and the garnish on the dessert was just sad, and should have never been put on the dish.

Lime Garnish

Lime Garnish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ship has several specialty restaurants which will cost you an additional fee. I had the opportunity to dine at Le Bistro, the french inspired restaurant.  The service was good, food was good, but not exceptional.  I was going to order the Chocolate Fondue for dessert to give their desserts a try, when a woman at the next table leaned over and said, “don’t order it, the chocolate tastes burned.”

La Cucina, the homestyle Italian eatery, also an additional fee, was very disappointing.  Our server was fun, friendly and bubbly, but the food was lacking any seasoning and they overcooked the pasta.

Moderno, is their take on a Brazilian Churascarria, and we didn’t make it for dinner.  There is an additional fee for this restaurant also.

Cagney’s Steakhouse was another that I didn’t have a chance to eat at, but in talking to other’s, it wasn’t fantastic.

The Teppanayaki Room is a small room off to the side near the Asian Fusion restaurant.  The chefs are engaging, the food was basic, nothing special.  Again, you will pay a fee for this restaurant as well.

Sushi and Sake Bar, this eatery sells the Sushi by piece and I felt it to be a bit costly.

NCL also has 2 other restaurants that are complimentary, O’Sheehan’s, the Irish Pub and Chin Chin, an Asian Fusion restaurant.

Dining at O’Sheehan’s, you will find they are open breakfast, lunch and dinner.  There is no charge and the food was okay.  My Reuben sandwich was dry, had pastrami and that was it, no sauerkraut, or coleslaw, which is not a true Reuben.  Breakfast too was a disappointment with over cooked scrambled eggs and under cooked bacon.

The night I dined at Chin Chin was the frosting on the cake, oh that is to come.  This restaurant is also complimentary.  I started with an egg roll appetizer and as soon as the server set the plate down, I knew this wasn’t going to be a great experience.

20151002_172014Three somewhat underdone eggrolls and one completely burned.  Why they put that on the plate, I will never understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The buffet, while laid out well to allow good traffic flow, the food was typical buffet.

Now for the frosting on the cake.  NCL has partnered with Buddy Valastro of the Cake Boss, and most ships now have Carlos’s Bakery on board. I was ready for a sweet afternoon pick me up on the way to a meeting, so stopped to pick up a Chocolate/Peanut Butter cupcake.  I took one bite and honestly the bite didn’t make it to my grumbling stomach.  The cake was dry and the chocolate tasted rancid.  The frosting had a wax like texture and no flavor at all.  I was so disappointed as it went in the trash can.  The bakery items are an additional fee with an 18% gratuity added to them. If you are a Celebrity chef and you lend your name, you better make sure the quality meets your expectations.  In this case, I won’t try his land based bakery after this experience.

Lastly, room service.  Be advised NCL is now charging a $7.95 fee for room service.  The only exception to the rule is if you order continental breakfast with no hot food items, coffee and or tea between the hours of 6:30 am and 10:00 am.  There is not a delivery fee for the continental breakfast between those hours.  Food was forgettable.

I guess you might say it was the diet cruise for me.  While others in the buffet lines were heaping it on and I wonder if they tasted it as it went down.

I understand these are my opinions and based on my tastes and expectations, but I won’t be putting any of my clients on board after my experience, they wouldn’t be happy.

Next week, I will share a few must do’s in Victoria, BC and how to get to town from the port.

Until then,

Travel Safe,
Terri

Bag Storage at the Port in Vancouver, BC

 

 

 

 

 

I love Vancouver, so any time I can spend even a day in the city, I will.  Vancouver is an active cruise port, especially in the summer months when ships are in and out sailing to Alaska.

We recently sailed into Vancouver and I had booked later flights so we could hit the town for a few hours.  In the past we have checked our bags at the port, picked them up later and head off to the airport.  The process is really easy.  This trip was so much easier and I want to share with you.

Continue reading

Culinary Discovery Tours for Foodies

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Oceania Cruises has announced enhancements to their Culinary Discovery Tours for 2016.  They offer a fabulous hands on cooking school at sea on 2 of their ships, Marina and Riviera.  Along with the cooking school, Oceania offers guests Culinary Discovery Tours in port for the die hard foodies.

The expansion on these culinary tours will see new offerings in Barcelona, Marseille, Antibes (France), Catania (Italy) and Iraklion (Heraklion, Greece) on select sailings.

I am a foodie and truly believe you learn about the people and their culture through their food and these tours immerse you into the destination and take you behind the tourist spots.

The tours will start with an orientation about the local cuisine and will end with a cooking class or tasting in the Culinary Center on board.

Barcelona Food Market

Barcelona:
Guests will drive through the city of Barcelona to Las Rambla Blvd. where you will visit Escriba, a pastry shop where the art of chocolate figurines began. Then continue to La Boqueria, a famous market with over 250 vendor stalls, walk to the Gothic Quarter to visit their markets.  Your final stop for lunch will be to savor Spanish Tapas, paired with beautiful Spanish wines.

Market Aix en Provence Vegetables and flowers for sale in Provence

Marseille:
France is foodie heaven.  If you love French food and cooking, this tour will immerse you into the foods of Provence and you will love the experience.  The tour will start with a drive to Aix-en-Provence.  Once in town stroll through the daily market with the ships Culinary Center Chef and a local guide.  The highlight of your day will be a visit to a hotel near the village of Lourmarin, where you will meet a Michelin starred chef and then it is on to her cooking school for a cooking class with local ingredients.

Antibes:
The Chef from the Culinary Center on board will take guests through an open air market where you will shop for fresh local ingedients to be used back on board in a private 90 minute Provencal cooking class.

Cannoli siciliani

Catania:
Where better to learn and experience Sicilian cooking, than Catania?  This new tour is unique and allows guests to visit a family owned Patisserie to experience Cannoli making.  Enjoy a local restaurant for lunch while you sip and savor wines from a local winery.

The boats

Iraklion:
Have you experienced Greece and Cretan foods?  This culinary journey will take guests towards Zaros, a small village in the foothills of Mount Ida.  The Culinary Center Chef and a local guide will teach you about the local and native herbs and Cretan Cuisine. You will also learn of the heritage of the area and how the tiny village has maintained it’s rich history of farming, weaving, wood carving and cooking.  Wander the paths of the village to a local tavern for a hands on cooking class, learn the secrets of the local olive oil and sample local Cretan wines.

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I love that many cruise lines are offering more overnight stays in ports, local culinary immersion tours.  There is no better way to get into the heart of a country and experience their people, foods and wine.

Bon Voyage,
Terri

 

Travel and Adventure Show

Travel Show

I had the opportunity to check out the Travel and Adventure show in Long Beach this past weekend.  Packed with travel vendors and tourism boards, the event was fantastic.

Several stages were set up around the room with speakers giving travel tips, destination information and the tastes of travel.  Rick Steves, Samantha Brown from the Travel Channel and Pauline Frommer from Frommer’s Travel Guides to name a few; they were on stage talking everything travel.

The Taste of Travel stage was pretty popular.  Showcasing Chef’s from around the world and special destinations; Chef’s prepared their signature dishes.

I love everything travel and it is the reason I keep my fingers in the business.  There is nothing better than having a client return from a trip and hearing how much they loved their experience.

Travel experts were also on hand sharing changes in travel and new tips and tricks.  Here are a few that I picked up regarding your air tickets.  We all dread dealing with the airlines and trying to book a ticket can be difficult and very frustrating.  I hope you find these helpful.

Airline Tips:

1.  The best day now to purchase airline tickets is Sunday.  Tuesday’s use to be the best, but that has changed.  Traveler’s can expect somewhere in the ballpark of a 19% savings when buying on a Sunday.

2.  When booking flights for domestic travel, book your air tickets 57 days prior to travel for the lowest fares.

3.  When booking international travel air tickets, 171 days prior to travel should give you the lowest fares.

Most of you will see changes to your frequent flyer accounts.  The best way to earn miles is going to be changing and will be done through credit card purchases.  However, the cards that will offer the best travel points and opportunities for travel are cards Not affiliated with a specific airline.

Every year travel insiders come out with the top destinations for the years travel.  Again, they are all talking about the best destinations for 2015.  Over the next few weeks, I will share a few of these destinations with you.

The Travel and Adventure show still has a couple of dates left and both are on the East Coast.  If you are in these areas, give it a go.  You may be inspired to think outside the box and learn of a new destination for 2015 or your bucket list.

Washington D.C ~ March 7th and 8th
Philadelphia ~ March 21st and 22nd

Happy Travels,

Terri

Gringo Trails Documentary ~ What Kind of Traveler are You?

Gringo Trails DocumentaryI recently had the chance to see Gringo Trails, a feature length documentary directed and produced by Pegi Vail.  The film is so well done and such an eye-opening experience for any traveler.

The documentary starts with the story of Yossi Ghinsberg who backpacked with 4 friends into the Bolivian jungle, when a torrential rain overtakes them, washing them away and separating them.  Yossi is left alone in the jungle to survive. After several months he is rescued.  This is where the story begins. Continue reading

California Wine Regions ~ Central Coast and Paso Robles

iStock_000017008065XSmallWhen you think about California wine regions, do you instantly think about Napa and Sonoma Valleys?  I love that area and enjoy spending time up there anytime I can.  But, the Central Coast of California has some fabulous wineries and is a fun wine area.

The Central Coast and Paso Robles are much closer to get to and you can easily get there for a fun weekend of wine tasting, if you are in the So. California area.

We headed over after a trip to the Yosemite National Park area and spent 2 short days in Paso Robles.  The area is beautiful with lots of country roads and rolling hills with wineries tucked in amongst the trees and dotting the hillsides.

With not a lot of time in the area, we concentrated on wineries that had been recommended to us by a couple of wine sommeliers.  There are so many wineries in the area, so if you are traveling to the area, a suggestion for you is to map out the wineries you absolutely want to see and check to see if reservations are required.  There is no way you can see and visit every winery in just a few days.  Save some for the next trip.

IMG_5557Let me start with where to stay, there are several great bed and breakfasts in the area and other hotels to choose from.  This trip we opted for the gorgeous Hotel Cheval.  The boutique inn is located just off the main square in Paso Robles and makes the perfect location if you want to walk around town and enjoy the many restaurants on the square.

The inn has 16 rooms and all of them face a beautiful courtyard with lots of seating and 2 stone fireplaces.  The library is a cozy spot to stop, relax and read for a bit.

Library

The rooms are quite comfortable and large.  We opted for a deluxe room, which was upstairs overlooking the courtyard with a big corner sectional sofa, king size bed and fireplace.

Fireplace with corner seating.

Sectional seating.

Sleeping area.

For a really fun evening or a cozy spot to enjoy a drink before dinner, head to the Pony Club at the Inn.  There is indoor seating or a nice patio under the trees to enjoy a drink a small bite.  They pour quite a few local wines, giving you a chance to try something from a local winery.  The staff was great and knowledgeable.  We found a wine we fell in love with and our server told us where to find the winery.  Add another one to the list.

The Pony Club

After dinner we headed back to the inn and found that they were getting ready to make S’mores for the guests out by the fireplaces in the courtyard.  It doesn’t get any better. These were not your basic S’mores, we had choices Caramel and Sea Salt with Dark Chocolate, Cinnamon Swirl, Milk Chocolate with Caramel Marshmallows and you can get creative and make any combination you would like.

Gourmet S’mores

Wine Tasting

Several wineries we wanted to visit and taste from were closed, as we were there on a Monday, but it is okay, we found others.

First stop ~ Lone Madrone.  This beautiful little winery sits atop a hill with views that are gorgeous.  The winery was named for the Lone Madrone tree that stood on the property.  Tastings are $10 per person and you are allowed to share if there are 2 of you.  The tasting menu is extensive and we had 12, 1 oz pours, which was very generous.

The Paso wineries are known for their blends and most are quite nice.  Several wines at Lone Madrone are dry farmed, giving the wines an intense sugar content.  Definitely worth a visit.

The next winery stop was Chateau Margene.  They create beautiful Cabs and Bordeaux style wines.  The tasting room in Paso Robles will soon be closing and all tastings will be in Creston at the winery.  Creston is just outside of Paso Robles and definitely worth visiting.  The wines were incredible.  Chateau Margene is also the winery that creates the wine we fell in love with, El Pistolero Pinot Noir.  They are opening a new tasting room in Morro Bay to pour the El Pistolero wines.

Another fun find was Pasolivo Olive Oil Co.  The staff is friendly and so knowledgeable about the olive oils.  The tasting in their large tasting room is a real experience.  They carry a variety of seasoned salts and pair these with the oils, while giving tips on how to create dry rubs for bbq recipes.  With a large picnic area , this is one spot you should try.

There are so many wineries I want to try and check off my list, so we will be going back.  If you have been and have any favorites, please share with all of us.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Juniper and Ivy, San Diego, CA

Juniper and Ivy

Juniper and Ivy in San Diego, Ca is Trendy, Fun and really Fantastic!

When I heard that Chef Richard Blais of Top Chef fame was opening a new hotspot in San Diego, I had to go and moved it to the top of my dining bucket list.

Juniper and Ivy sits on the edge of the Little Italy neighborhood in San Diego.  The restaurant is very cool and has an energetic heartbeat all its own.  The atmosphere is electric and everyone was enjoying themselves and the food.  Some reviews have said the restaurant is noisy, honestly it is, but in a fun way.  I knew going in that it wasn’t a quiet and romantic spot and that isn’t what we went for, we wanted fun and fabulous food.

The menu is eclectic, with very innovative and creative dishes.  We had a hard time deciding what to eat, so the decision was made that we would eat our way around the menu, sharing every dish.  It left us completely stuffed, but yet we wanted more. So join me as we take a trip around a chunk of the menu at Juniper and Ivy. Continue reading

Paris Dining

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Happy Wednesday!  Just read an article that I want to share for those of you lucky traveler’s that will be heading to Paris this summer.

For all of you foodies, below is a link for a fantastic pop up restaurant that celebrates the Orient Express and offers diners a once in a lifetime dining experience.

http://www.usatoday.com/experience/food-and-wine/news-festivals-events/dine-aboard-the-orient-express-in-paris/9372369/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+UsatodayTravel-Destinations+%28USATODAY+-+Destinations+Top+Stories%29

Bon Appetit!