Sunday, December 19, 2010

Firefly on Paradise, Las Vegas

Back to our regularly scheduled bars and restaurants….

There is no shortage of bars or restaurants in Las Vegas, they are everywhere.  There is, however, a dire shortage of convenient, yet out of the way,  hang out, have some snacks or a meal, and maybe have a drink or a few kind of places.  Not too far out of the way, just far enough to avoid.. whoever you are trying to avoid.

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Firefly has three locations, one on Paradise, one downtown, and a new Westside location.  We wandered into the one on Paradise after a trip out to Red Rock Canyon with friends. 

The Paradise location is a few blocks east of the strip, between Sands Ave and E Flamingo (think Caesar’s/Mirage part of the Strip). 

Firefly is known for their tapas, and for pitchers of sangria (red or white) and mojitos.  We arrived during happy hour (M-F 4-6, I believe) and sampled tapas, drank sangria, ate more tapas, etc.

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They have a good selection of tapas, but our undisputed favorite is their stuffed dates.  “Stuffed dates” doesn’t sound that impressive?  How about hot, bacon-wrapped, almond-stuffed dates, drizzled with a red wine reduction and topped with crumbled blue cheese?  Almost worth the trip from the East coast just for those, but there are plenty more tasty items on the menu.  The red sangria is my favorite here, the white was OK, and mojitos were fair (the only  place in LV for mojitos is Casa Fuente in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace).

If you go during happy hour you can get a lot of food and drink without spending a ton of money- but be aware that even though the various tapas aren’t very expensive it is easy to order a lot of them (and put away several pitchers of tasty sangria with friends) and end up spending more than you expected.

It is also worth mentioning that the little plaza on Paradise where Firefly is located is also home to:

A Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

Marrakech Moroccan restaurant

Mushashi Japanese Steakhouse

Yolies Brazilian Steakhouse

Havana cigar shop

and more.

Something there should interest almost anyone.  Enjoy.

 

Jack

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Red Rock Canyon

This one is not a restaurant, bar, or coffee house.  Imagine that. 

Sometimes when your are in Las Vegas, you just need to get out of the madhouse and regain your senses.  It is amazing how close Red Rock Canyon is to the madness of Las Vegas- and it is real.  Go ahead, touch the rocks- they aren’t Styrofoam or concrete, they are made of rock.

My preferred route is to head south on the Strip until I pick up Nevada 160 West, then head off on Nevada 159.  This route is about 30 miles, but I like it better than the direct route.  The drive starts out pretty boring, then gets depressing as you pass abandoned and near-abandoned housing developments- but then you realize you are out of the city, and things get better fast.  Views like this appear:

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Before long you will come to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, it is right off of Nevada 159.   Pay the $7 daily fee, take the scenic drive, maybe even stop and take some photos.  It is stark, and beautiful.

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Some people insist on “exercise” and other healthy things, if you are part of this wacky crowd, rumor has it that the area is great for hiking, biking, and especially rock climbing.  (As for me, I like my rocks visible out the window of air-conditioned cars, or in a glass of bourbon when I get back from the drive).

After visiting the canyons, you can continue on 159 for the shortest route back (about 20 miles), easing your way back into Las Vegasian sprawl.

I have made this adventure solo, and with friends.  I strongly encourage the latter approach: grab a couple of friends, get lost trying to find coffee and other needed road trip supplies, then head out into the desert.  They will thank you for it.

 

Jack

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Moonshine. Almost.

If you think the Washington, DC sprawl has completely taken over Northern Virginia, you need to get a little farther off the beltway and see that is not true, and see some remaining rural Virginia.IMG_0036

Out in Culpeper you will find a different world, and one of my favorite stops is the Belmont Farm Distillery.  This is not not a snooty or pretentious place, it is an old farm still.  Inspected, legal, taxed and regulated- but a farm still nonetheless. 

store3Their signature beverage isn’t pretentious either, the label proudly boasts the aging- less than 30 days.  “Virginia Lightning Whiskey”.  It is a traditional corn whiskey, (moonshine, but it is illegal to call it that) distilled in sanitary and safe equipment (no lead-laden automobile radiators here), and cut to 100 proof (Virginia legal limit) with thoroughly purified water.  The whiskey comes out of the still around 180 proof, so it must have pure water added to reduce the alcohol content to legal levels.  Pure corn whiskey will become cloudy if you add water with any impurities, so Belmont has a very high-tech water filtration plant to provide the needed clean water.  The result is much smoother than “real” moonshine, but it still has a bit of an edge to it.  Maybe more than a bit of an edge.

They also make an aged whiskey, this ages in oak barrels for two years (although they now have some three-year old whiskey).  It won’t be mistaken for a 21-year old bottle of Scotch, but I expect it to mature as they have more in the barrels for a longer period of time.

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On a trip out to Belmont Farm from the DC area you will see the clash of cultures, old Virginia farm communities and the suburban sprawl of “greater” Washington, DC.  It is good to see some of the old ways hanging on, and some even thriving.

You can also buy their products in some liquor stores, but I recommend stopping in for a tour and visit if you are in the area.

 

Jack

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Maison, NYC

UPDATE: Maison is, sadly, permanently closed.

This was a pleasant (and unexpected surprise) Maison, just down Broadway from Times Square (diagonally across the street from the Sheraton Hotel and Towers).
Maison Brasserie
Maison is billed as a French-style Brasserie (which apparently has nothing to do with ladies’ undergarments), and is staffed by friendly and helpful folks. Great food, good prices (especially given the location), open 24 hours, this place single-handedly improved my opinion of both France and Manhattan on my last trip to NYC.
My co-workers claim their hamburgers are some of the best they’ve ever eaten, but I could not bring myself to do burgers in a French place, no matter how casual.  I can vouch for the Croque Monsieur sandwich, and everything looked great.  Breakfast was the real treat for me (I am a big fan of real breakfasts).  Both the French Toast and the smoked ham, gruyere and egg crepe helped me face a couple of days of booth babe duty at a conference, they are highly recommended.
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Bon app├ętit
Jack

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Coffee which does not suck

OK visitors to Cape Cod, there are Dunkin Donuts everywhere, but where do you go for coffee with more flavor than acid?  There are plenty of places, here are a few of my favorites in the mid- and upper Cape.

First, the big chain- Starbucks is in Mashpee, Falmouth, and Bourne.  It is Starbucks, that’s all you need to know.

For real, locally-owned coffee houses, there are a few worth mentioning.  In Falmouth and Woods Hole, it has to be Coffee Obsession.  Coffee O in Falmouth is what you expect a coffee house to be, well worn, friendly, comfortable, and funky.  Coffee O in Woods Hole is great, but it seems unnaturally clean and stylish for Woods Hole.  Don’t let that stop you from going, it is still great.

In Sandwich, I always head to Paul’s Bean and Bagel.  Good coffee (Beanstock Roasters), snacks, sandwiches, even ice cream.  Good stuff, right in the village.  Oh, and the staff is so damn nice you’ll feel like you belong there, even if you are just in town for a weekend.

There is also a Marylou’s in Sandwich, not exactly gourmet coffee, but decent, and a great alternative to DD if Paul’s is closed.

In Barnstable Village, right on Route 6a across from the courthouse is Nirvana Coffee, a fairly new entry with good coffee and snacks, right in the heart of the village.

There are more options on the far end of the Cape, but I haven’t kept up with them in recent years.  I’m sure it is still safe to recommend the Hot Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans, I don’t think they have ever let me down.

Here’s the deal on local tips (from me, or anyone else)- please be a traveler, not a tourist when you visit them.

Jack

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Maya Restaurant, Sonoma, California

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There are a lot of things in Sonoma to like, here's one of my favorites, the Maya restaurant, right on the southeast corner of Sonoma Plaza.  When we dropped in at Maya we caught the end of their Happy Hour, so we grabbed a couple of their "half-priced" margaritas.  We've all had "happy hour drinks", they are usually small and weak- Maya doesn't play that game, you get their normal drinks at low prices.  That was a good start and an omen of things to come.  We ordered another round of drinks before the end of Happy Hour, then ordered our meals- I had fantastic prawn enchiladas, my son was with me that night, he said Maya served him one of the best meals of his life.  Great service, fantastic food, reasonable prices (not cheap, but very reasonable for what you get).

The enjoyment doesn't stop when they clear the plates,  I passed on dessert and tried their tequila hot toddy.  I strongly urge you to be within a short walk of your hotel if you have one of these to end your day- tequila, agave nectar, an orange slice, and just enough hot water to warm it up and blend the tastes and aromas- it is fantastic.  If you are a tequila aficionado and prefer yours unadorned, you will appreciate Maya's extensive tequila menu (PDF).

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A side-note, I commented on Twitter about Sonoma and the meal and received a quick response from @InsideSonoma offering to provide suggestions or advice.  Without going into details, whoever was behind the Inside Sonoma Twitter account that evening was unbelievably helpful and friendly, a perfect study in using Twitter to connect with people.  If you are headed to the area and are on Twitter, make sure you follow them.  You can also visit the Inside Sonoma website for information on events and promotions.

 

Jack

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mean Eyed Cat

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I mentioned this one in a previous post on the Austin Cosmic Cowboy Tour- the Mean Eyed Cat, so it is worth a quick visit.  The Mean Eyed Cat is not likely to be mistaken for a chic and trendy hotspot.  No Appletinis here.  Sadly, not even real martinis, as they only serve beer, wine, and similar drinks.

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There is a little space around the bar for gathering, a bit more around the pool table in the next room, but the big space is semi-outside- under a roof, enclosed with fencing, and housing the rudimentary stage.  The quasi-outdoor area is where you can see the Mean Eyed Cat's savior, a 300 year old tree which prevented the old shop from being leveled to make room for yuppie condos.  Seating is the mostly picnic bench style in this area, and that encourages conversation.

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I like the Mean Eyed Cat, but you have to like it on its terms; for me, its limited menu, funky seating, recycled facility (and appearance) and very rough edges add to its appeal- it will either attract or repel you, but you aren't likely to be ambivalent about it.

 

Jack

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Boardwalk, Sandwich, MA

IMG_0188 File this one under simple pleasures.  Stop by Paul's Bean and Bagel for a cup of coffee or iced tea, and maybe a snack, then head across Main Street on Jarves, take a left on Factory, then a right on Boardwalk, follow that to the little parking area.  Grab your coffee, and take a walk along the boardwalk, crossing Town Creek and the marshes, then keep walking out to the beach.  Take your dog if you have one (just make sure you pick up after it), and relax.  Some days the foghorn IMG_0244 will be sounding at the nearby canal entrance, some days the wind will be howling, some days will be sunny and calm.  Most days there will be plenty of waterfowl- gulls, swans, great blue herons, more- and every day you will be able to see the @#$% eyesore of the electric plant (just pretend it isn't there, sorry, nothing I can do about it).

 

Jack

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Driskill Hotel Bakery Cafe

The Driskill Hotel is an Austin, Texas landmark, built in 1886 as the showplace of cattle baron Jesse Driskill.  While the Driskill has many things to recommend it, the 1886 Cafe and Bakery is a favorite of mine.

What's so great about it?  It is a great bakery cafe, with friendly staff, outdoor seating is available, in a beautiful old hotel full of history, centrally located in a great city.

The menus are varied and include the expected, and a few unexpected items for a "cafe" menu.  I like to hit the cafe for breakfast, and their "Ultimate Skillet Breakfast", is my preferred meal to start the day, but you will have plenty of choices.

It isn't just about a nice place and good food, the Driskill is also a good place for people watching, hang around the Cafe and you will see some interesting folks, and may get to meet one of "the Dons" or other local characters (not "Dons" as in Mafia "Dons", but a couple of colorful Texans named Don who hold court in the Cafe).

Oh, and they have a bar.

 

Jack

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Austin Cosmic Cowboy

Austin Cosmic Cowboy Tour

Austin Cosmic Cowboy- the nighttime Duck tour. Yeah, I know, Duck tours are lame and corny. Not this one. Well, maybe a little bit corny, but in a great way.

Greg Strake and Leeann AthertonInstead of being greeted with a rubber duck or quacker, you'll be greeted with smiles, live music and cold refreshments. Greg and his crew go out of their way to make sure you have a good time, and the package includes locally produced refreshments and a meal, as well as the tour of Austin and obligatory splash in Lake Austin. Although not listed on their website, I have heard rumors that they have an interesting and tasty variety of Locally Distilled Refreshmentsbeverages available, all locally produced. And iced tea, too.

The evening starts with a tour of the downtown area, then a stop to pick up the evening's meal, then continues through the streets of Austin as you drink and dine. There is live music on board every night, Greg has lined up a long list of great performers and they change regularly. The last time I rode was on the now-infamous Hackers on a Duck BSides Austin afterparty and we were entertained Leeann Atherton on that evening. After dining it is time for a little aquatic adventure in the lake, then back on dry land for a stop at a local watering hole Mean Eyed Catbefore ending the evening. We stopped at the Mean Eyed Cat on our outings, a former chainsaw repair shop turned bar. You will not mistake it for the lobby lounge at a Holiday Inn, and that's fine by me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar

IMG_0795 Another San Francisco favorite of mine; a tourist attraction, a relic of another time, a cliche, a place so tacky it crosses back over into having class, and a great place to hang out and watch people.  On bottom floor of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, the Tonga Room started life as the hotel's swimming pool area.  Some time in the mid-40's it was converted into an over-the-top  Tiki IMG_0810Lounge, and the pool remained as a central feature- but instead of swimmers it hosts a pontoon boat which serves as the lounge's bandstand.   IMG_0807

Ship's rigging from the remnants of the S. S Forester adorn the lounge, as do Tiki Huts, a faux long house, outrigger canoes and more.

A bit over a year ago the Tonga Room seemed destined to close, it had fallen out of favor with many, at least partially due to neglect from management- the food was disappointing, the drinks were OK, but expensive, and it needed some scrubbing.  When word of its potential demise got out, the masses rallied, the Tonga Room was packed nightly- the food and drink got better and the room was cleaned up.  It seems to have recovered and sustained enough business that it is apparently no longer in immediate danger of closing.

During the week there is a happy hour, plenty of appetizers are out on buffet tables, enough to make a meal if you are so inclined.  There is a one drink minimum with the happy hour.  There is also a full restaurant menu for traditional dining options.

About those drinks- they are not cheap (specialty drinks generally start at $10) but they are good, and they are STRONG.  Do not be surprised if odd things start happening after spending quality time in the Tonga Room.

 

Jack

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jack's Cannery Bar, San Francisco

My first real post on this new blog, and the venue is a bar I really like. Yep, a bar, in a tourist trap area, Jack's Cannery Bar. But it is pretty cool, and a bit of an oasis from the Fisherman's Wharf tourist mobs.


I really like to "just sit" at Jack's, maybe have a conversation with my traveling companions, maybe just sit. The dark paneled walls, including some centuries-old carved panels, and the high intricate ceiling provide plenty to stare at while pondering the meaning of life, avoiding eye contact with family, or just pounding another beer before rejoining the masses on the street. It has several booths and tables which accommodate up 6-8 people, so it is a good place to land with a crowd, too. There is an outdoor seating area, great for a little fresh air, or for catching the musicians who often play the small open-air stage at the Cannery.

They have a lot of beer- 85 beers, over 60 of them on IMG_0763tap, a good selection and reasonably priced (especially for a tourist area). For the non-beer drinker (or those who want a change of taste) they generally have a couple of ciders and a perry (think "pear cider") on tap.

Food is OK. Just OK, not great. The menu is pretty sparse, especially compared with the myriad of places to dine on and around Fisherman's Wharf. And not cheap, either (not expensive by any means, just no bargains). They do have a $9.99 steak dinner, which is a $9.99 steak dinner. Oh, and they don't take credit cards- cash only, but there is an ATM on site. Unfortunately, the ATM is a free-standing unit, the kind that are way too easy a target for "bad people", so just bring cash.

Jack

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another beginning

I am a bit of a curmudgeon; I am also a cheapskate and a spendthrift, and when the moon and stars are aligned just right, I am all of these at once.  Oh, and I travel occasionally.  This blog is mostly about places and things I encounter while traveling, but will sometimes include things closer to home.  These will mostly be things I enjoy, but I may occasionally out some deserving dump.  That does not mean YOU will like or dislike them, that's the problem with blogs, any idiot can have one (or more).

NOTE: this is not the incoherent ramblings of a bitter old Information Security Curmudgeon, I keep that over on my other bloggy thing.