VACA Restaurant ~ Costa Mesa

Vaca Restaurant

Chef Amar Santana has done it again, along with his partner Ahmed Labbate.

Vaca is amazing!!  In December I wrote about our dining experience at his Laguna Beach restaurant, Broadway by Amar Santana which we loved.

We experienced Vaca a week after its soft opening and wow, we were extremely impressed.  I had hoped to get this post out early last week, don’t know where this first week of 2016 went.  All I know is that kicking the New Year off with dinner at Vaca was the best way to start.  I haven’t stopped thinking about our fun, amazing food and drinks all week and am ready to go again.  In fact we will be there in February before a show at Performing Arts, and again in April for girls night out.

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The Island Hotel ~ Newport Beach, Pure Luxury

Island HotelThe Island Hotel located in Newport Beach is 5 star and pure luxury.

It is not very often that I have a chance to stay at a hotel close to home, but the opportunity presented itself and I grabbed it.  I have been to the hotel quite a few times over the past few years for travel consultant events, but never to stay.  While the hotel was very nice, it was a bit dark and needed some updating.  That is exactly what happened a little over a year ago and I was excited to take a look.

They have brought the outside in as far as the color palette.  The lobby is light and bright and decorated in beach tones, beige’s, blues and greens.  It is beautiful and modern.


Hotel Lobby

The Island Hotel has 294 rooms, with 82 suites.  Each guestroom has views of either the coast, the hills or Back Bay.  Each room has a walkout balcony which is so nice, even just to get fresh air in the room.  If you happen to be staying in a suite, you will have a balcony with a couple of chairs and a small table.

Island King Room

Island King Room

Another Island King Room with a different view and color palette.


Living room in a corner suite, sofa is a sofa bed.

Bedroom in a corner suite.














A nice amenity that I recommend you add to your stay is The Island Club.  For $35 a day for 2, you will have access to the private lounge on the 20th floor of the hotel.  They serve a nice continental breakfast in the mornings, wine and snacks in the afternoon and evenings.  There is plenty of space to relax and read the many newspapers offered.  There are flat screen TV’s around the room and if you want to hear the news, they have wireless headsets for your private listening.  There is a small balcony overlooking the mall and the beautiful coastline along with the bay in the background. Get your light breakfast and head to the balcony to watch Newport Beach come to life.  Looking for tea, they have plenty of options.  If coffee is your morning addiction, they have it and have a coffee/capuccino machine the size of a small car, it will meet your needs. The staff is welcoming, helpful and there to assist you.

The Island Club

The Island Club

The Island Club across the room to the snack area and breakfast area.









The pool has been redone as well and is a great spot to forget the day.  There is a large fireplace that is lit each night around 7:00 pm.  Cozy up next to the fire with a drink under the stars, it doesn’t get much better.

Walkway to the pool area. The large fireplace is seen in the background.

Walkway to the pool area. The large fireplace is seen in the background.

The fitness center wasn’t forgotten, it is clean and fresh with large windows in front of the treadmills overlooking the pool with all new equipment.

The hotel has 2 lounges and a restaurant.  The Aqua Lounge is a beautiful bar, bringing in the beach colors.  Thursday through Sunday they bring a DJ to spin your favorite music.  On the weekends this is a hot spot.

Aqua Lounge

Aqua Lounge

The Fireside Cafe is a great outdoor space to enjoy fireplaces, a cocktail and time with friends.  Monday through Wednesday they bring in an acoustic guitarist.

Fireside Cafe

Fireside Cafe

The restaurant, Oak Grill is fantastic.  I’m not going to say much, I have droned on long enough, but join me later in the week for a blog post on just the restaurant.

The hotel is located across the street from Fashion Island Mall, where you will find plenty of shopping, great restaurants and a high end movie theater where you can enjoy snacks, wine or beer with your movie.  The beach is a short 10 minute drive, or rent a Duffy boat to cruise the harbor.  The hotel is the perfect place for a group of girlfriends to getaway for the weekend with all of the shopping right at your fingertips.  A family would have a great time hanging at the pool, shopping or hitting the beach.  If you are looking for a romantic getaway for the weekend, it is perfect.

Erna’s Elderberry House, Unexpected Excellence

Welcome to the Elderberry House

The Elderberry House is one of those restaurants that leaves a footprint on your foodie soul.

While staying at the Chateau du Sureau we took the opportunity to truly dine at the Elderberry House.  The experience was unexpected excellence.  Despite all of the rave reviews, it is located in the small community of Oakhurst California and you just don’t expect this level of dining right outside of Yosemite National Park.

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A Local Foodie Tour

I love finding fun foodie things in my backyard.  Old Towne Orange is a real treasure in Orange County, Ca.  If you have never been, you need to check it out yesterday.  This is a classic American style of an old town.  Built on a circle, the town is full of antique stores where you can find little treasures, mom and pop diners and eateries.  Orange is also home to Chapman University and is also a great college town.

Two sisters founded Old Towne Orange Walking Food Tours and they have done a fabulous job in creating a fun local activity.  The guides are knowledgeable and energetic, telling foodies fun facts about the town along the way.

The family decided to join the fun on a Sunday afternoon and we had such a great time.  Meeting at the Starbuck’s inside the Wells Fargo right on the circle, we met our fun and friendly guide Linda.  Once the group was together we were off. 

Our first stop was Felix’s, a local cafe that serves Cuban food.  Our bite for the day was their special empanada’s filled with a meat filling and then we finished with a sweet bite of fried plantain.  The empanadas were crispy on the outside and full of Cuban flavor on the inside.  We are off to a great start.


Crossing back over we stopped at Paris in a cup.  This is one of my favorite treasures in Orange, I am a tea fiend, not coffee, TEA!  They have a great selection with a shop in the front and a cute cafe in the back to sip tea with friends.  If you find yourself near this little shop, they offer the very best French macaroons or macarons ever.

We have gone from Cuba to Paris, now to Americana with Watson’s, which is the oldest diner just off the circle.  We had a little cup of rice pudding.  It was the perfect bite of cinnamon goodness. 

Francoli’s was also on our walking tour.  This is another local favorite, a little Italian market and eatery that has been a staple in Orange County for many years.  Serving authentic Northern Italian food, yum!  We sampled their Caprese salad and pesto pasta.  What I most loved, is their pesto was near perfect.  Not to much garlic or basil, it was balanced and the pasta was cooked very well.

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We made a stop at Provisions Market, this spot is one that has been on my list to try for awhile.  We had a sample of their salami, cheese and Hangar 24 beer.  All of their items were fabulous.  This market/cafe is a fun stop.  They offer some interesting dishes and sandwiches.  It is also a market with a large selection of meats, cheeses, beers and soda. We will definitely go back.

Now on to The Grinder, where we had soda.  This is the spot for soda.  The owner talked about the soda machine he created to perfectly carbonate the soda’s and I have to say, they were creamy and delicious.  Nibbled on a turkey grinder which as they say at the cafe, it’s all about the bread.


We then crossed the street to Zito’s pizza and by now, I am stuffed and can’t take another bite, barely.  The pizza was very good.

For those with dietary issues, we stopped at The Bite Market, which carries gluten-free and dairy free foods.  The owner is very sweet and so knowledgeable and is doing everything she can to provide great products for those with food issues.  She also is working with local farmers to bring in organic produce..

The Last stop was Cafe Lucca for gelato.  It is very tough to find authentic gelato. Unfortunately, the gelato at Cafe Lucca didn’t do it for me.  The flavor was a bit artificial and left a funny after taste, so wasn’t a fan of this gelato.

Old Towne Orange Walking tours also offers a Vintage Orange Tour, that includes a stop at the local farmer’s market.  If you are a parent taking your son or daughter to Chapman University, they offer a Chapman Parents/Family tour to help you and your student become familiar with the treasures around downtown Orange. 

The tour was really so much fun and how can you go wrong with food, family or friends.  You can check them out at

~Bon Appetit