Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of the Best 2015

At the end of 2015, I would like to take the inventory of things I consider to be the best in their class:




Restaurants:
  1. Mama's Fish House, Maui, Hawaii 
  2. Manresa, Los Gatos 
  3. The Plumed Horse, Saratoga 
  4. Solbar, Calistoga 
  5. Weinstube Baldreit, Baden-Baden, Germany 
  6. Plachutta, Vienna, Austria 
  7. Humuhumunukunuku'apua, Maui Hawaii 
  8. La Foret, San Jose 

Dishes:


Spas
  1. Friedrichsbad Therme, Baden-Baden, Germany 
  2. Caracalla Therme, Baden-Baden, Germany 
  3. Solage, Calistoga 


Rock Concerts
  1. Elton John's Made in England Tour, Tacoma Dome, Washington on 9/9/1995 
  2. Leonard Cohen, HP Pavilion, San Jose, 11/7/2012. 
  3. The History of the Eagles, HP Pavilion, San Jose, 1/29/2013 
  4. Postmodern Jukebox, The Warfield, San Francisco, 12/13/2015 
  5. Big Bad Vodoo Daddy, Harrah's Hotel and Casino, 5/30/2015 
  6. The Gipsy Kings, Mountain Winery, 8/27/2014. 

Rock Albums (2015)
  1. Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, "Selfies on Kodachrome
  2. Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, "Top Hat On Fleek
  3. Adele, "25
  4. Sam Smith, "In the Lonely Hour" 
  5. Of Monsters and Men, "Beneath the Skin" 
  6. Don Henley, "Cass County" 
  7. George Strait, "Cold Beer Conversation" 
  8. Joe Bonamassa, "Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks" 
  9. Mumford & Sons, "Wilder Mind" 
  10. Lana Del Rey, "Honeymoon" 
Musicals
  1. Chicago, Albemarle of London, London, UK, 6/1/2000 
  2. Cabaret
  3. Anything Goes
  4. Grease 
  5. Monty Python's Spamalot
  6. Saturday Night Fever 
  7. Showboat, San Francisco, 6/13/2014 
  8. Mathilda, Orpheum, San Francisco, 7/23/2015. 
  9. Phantom of the Opera, Orpheum, San Francisco, 8/21/2015 
  10. The Book of Mormon, San Francisco, 1/7/2014 
Theater
  1. Emma, TheatreWorks, Palo Alto, 12/4/2015. 
  2. Disgraced, Berkeley Rep, 
  3. Cyrano, TheatreWorks, Mountain View 

Dirt Biking Metcalf

After purchasing my 2013 Honda CRF250R off-road motorcycle (and having it repaired), I was finally able to find some time today to ride it at the nearby Metcalf Motorcycle park.


This was my first time at Metcalf and on my new-to-me dirt bike.

All of my past motorcycles were street oriented, so this was a bit different for me. (outside my comfort zone). This Honda has a kick-start - it has no electric start, so it took me a while to get it started. The bike is very tall, so kick starting it is a challenge.

Luckily, I had some friendly bikers to help me get it started. The trick is to sit on the bike (not stand up) and push down the kick starter until it stops. Then let it go back up and kick it hard.

After starting it up, I rode the beginner's oval track followed by Trail 1 - the easiest trail at Metcalf.


The trails were all very muddy (due to rain last week), but they were a lot of fun. I was taking it easy, this being my first day at Metcalf and on my Honda.


It was a lot of fun and I got very dirty. It took me 45 minutes to clean up the bike afterwards.
Here is a GoPro 4 silver I filmed, while riding on Trail 1:



It took me over an hour afterwards to clean the bike. It was so muddy!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

The first Star Wars movie I saw was the "Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back" in early 1980's in Shillington, Pennsylvania. This occurred before VCRs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and Netflix existed. Back then, the only way to see a movie was to see it playing in the movie theater. That is, until I discovered that my local Radio Shack had a laser disk player (these played large, LP-sized disks) and one day I saw parts of Star Wars playing in the store. I was fascinated by the story but never got around to seeing the whole movie completely.

Since then, I have seen all of the other Star Wars movies, but for some inexplicable reason, the "The Empire Strikes Back" remained my favorite Star Wars movie.

When George Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. With director J.J. Abrams, I was expecting something like his last Star Trek film - Into Darkness. His television series (Alias, Lost) and movies (Into Darkness) tend to focus more on action and less on dialogue.

Now that I watched the Star Wars The Force Awakens, I have some comments about the movie.
The script seemed to me an interesting copy of the original Star Wars. The similarities were so obvious: Luke's original role (as the jedi in training) is played by Rey; Luke who will train Rey (will do the same role as Yoda). Darth Vader is replaced by the sinister Kylo Ren, who just happens to be Han Solo's son. In place of the Deathstar, we now have the Starkiller base. In place of R2D2 and C3PO, the new rolling ball robot BB8 servers a similar purpose.

It is known that Darth Vader wore his black mask because of the injuries sustained from previous combat. However, why does Kylo Ren wear a mask is not known? Is it a show of respect to Darth Vader, who he idolizes?

It looks like Kylo Ren kills his father (Han Solo) in one scene (though perhaps Han Solo survives?)

I am not sure what to make of the character Finn, who seems more of a sidekick.


The movie was certainly entertaining with great special effects. However, I don't think it was as good as the original Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Chubby Noodle in San Francisco

After the Potted Potter show, we decided to get dinner at a nearby restaurant. However, finding parking was a struggle and drove round-and-around. Eventually, we settled on Chubby Noodle  at 2205 Lombard Street - a quirky little place which serves interesting dishes.


We ordered a "Spicy Garlic Fried Chicken" entree, "Korean Pork Tacos", a "Duck Wrap", and a "Green Papaya Salad".


We really liked the "Spicy Garlic Fried Chicken" and Inna liked the Pork Tacos.


We liked Chubby Noodle and hope to eat there once again (when we're in the neighborhood). Food is served family style (for easy sharing). Entree were well prepared and very reasonably priced.


After dinner, we decided to get desert at the Ghirardelli Square. As usual, the lines were very long but we enjoyed our sundaes! Ghirardelli changed their menu so we ordered some new sundaes.


Alex ordered a sundae with brownies, but the brownies were not the most appealing.


After our sugar fix, we headed back home.


Review: Potted Potter

Today, we went to see the performance of Potted Potter at the San Francisco's Fine Art Museum.


Potted Potter is a parody by Daniel Clarkson (Dan) and Jefferson Turner (Jeff) takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing all seven Harry Potter books (and a real life game of Quidditch) into seventy amusing minutes.


Basically, Dan and Jeff try to cover one Harry Potter book in ten minutes. Jeff plays the role of Harry Potter and Dan plays all other roles. It's certainly a bit amusing at times.

I enjoyed the show but I wouldn't call it a must see.

The highlight of the show was asking the audience to play Quidditch with the ball. It was quite amusing.

After the show, we decided to get dinner at a nearby restaurant. However, finding parking was a struggle and drove round-and-around. Eventually, we settled on Chubby Noodle  at 2205 Lombard Street - a quirky little place which serves interesting dishes.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Grand Wailea, Maui

Back to Maui!

Having scheduled a very early 7:20am departure from San Jose (SJC) airport (bound to Kahului, Maui, so we woke up a bit groggy at 4:30 am. We decided to try using Uber to avoid parking at the airport and I had a driver at my house in 10 minutes! We arrived at the terminal by 5:30am and had plenty of time to check in. I liked using Uber - as it avoided the costly airport parking fees.


Our Hawaiian Airlines flight 45 departed right on time at 7:20am and we were excited for our chance to re-visit Maui once again. The flight was uneventful (Hawaiian airlines even served us breakfast for free!) After landing in Kahului, we waited a bit to pick up our bags and headed to Alamo Car Rental. I ended up get a full-size car (just in case I needed additional room for Windsurfing gear). The Alamo rental was really expensive (as it is during holidays). I ended up with a Chrysler 200, though I would have preferred a Toyota or Honda. I am thinking of just using Lyft or Uber on Maui next time (to avoid the additional car rental expense). We rarely uses the car on the island.

Since it was early afternoon, we headed to our nearby Costco, to pick up some snacks, a case of bottled water), and a boogie board for our stay at Grand Wailea. Usually, the boogie board rental is $20/day and Costco sells them for $26 (so it's cheaper just to buy it). Also, most resorts charge a lot for bottled water (and we go through it quite fast).

After visiting Costco, we were ready for lunch, so we decided to head to nearby Paia Fish Market restaurant, which was well recommended on Yelp.

I ordered a "Fish and Chips", which were fresh and delicious (some of the best I've ever had).


Inna ordered the "Sauteed Ono Lunch plate", which was also delicious and fresh!


The Paia Fish Market is quite small inside and we had to struggle a bit to find a space to sit down. It offers very high quality food and at a very reasonable price, so it's quite popular with the locals.

Alex ordered a cheeseburger and liked it a lot!


After lunch, we headed to nearby Ho'okipa, to watch surfers and windsurfers. The surf coming in was about 4-7 feet and we saw many surfers riding waves.


The wind was not as favorable to windsurfers, who struggled a bit in the light winds. I was told by the local shop that most windsurfers at Ho'okipa prefer a minimum sized sail - large enough to get on a wave and no larger. I usually prefer to be fully powered, especially when heading through the surf break.


I really enjoyed watching the windsurfers surf the waves and wished that I was out there! It didn't look too hard to me (though a bit light, as most windsurfers were barely powered up).


After a while, we headed back to our Grand Wailea resort, in Wailea. We have never stayed there before - we usually stayed in Wailea Beach Marriott, which is next door. Thankfully, we did not stay in the Marriott this time, as it was undergoing a lot of construction and most of the pools were disabled.

Grand Wailea is a very large, beautiful resort. Once we arrived there, we were amazed by the sheer size and grandeur of the place.



Alex was eager to try out the famous water slides and we quickly changed and ran to the nearby pools. Alex shot a video with my GoPro 4 Silver of his ride down the slide:


He really enjoyed the slides and proceeded to try them all.  He also really liked the Tarzan Swing:



After the slides closed at 5:00pm, we took a dip in the ocean at Wailea Beach. The water as warm and we were surprised to learn that all beach chair and umbrellas are free to Grand Wailea guests! No more fiddling with our own umbrella.



Grand Wailea was beautifully decorated for Christmas and New Year.



We enjoyed exploring Wailea Beach until sunset. Sunsets are so extraordinary beautiful in Hawaii. Each one is unforgettable!


For dinner, we decided to try the nearby Pita Paradise restaurant. Trying to stay healthy, I ordered the "Lamb Salad", while Inna ordered the "Greek God's Platter".


Alex developed a bit of a stomach ache and did not eat much. We enjoyed our time at Pita Paradise and hoped that Alex would recover quickly.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

After getting up early in the morning, Inna and I decided to go for a long morning walk to our favorite Fairmont Kea Lani resort (where we had our honeymoon). The stroll my the ocean is quite refreshing and a lot of people were out jogging already.


After breakfast at Cafe Kula (in Grand Wailea), which I did not really enjoy (as it is way overpriced), we decided to had to the beach.


We spent most of our day on the beach, enjoying the warm Hawaiian waters. For lunch, we decided to go to Ferraro's Bar e Ristorante in nearby Four Seasons. We have always come to lunch here, as the food quality was usually superior to all other nearby resorts (at least for lunch). However, this time, I was not as thrilled.

I usually order the fresh squeezed lemonade, but this time my cranberry lemonade was way too sweet. Alex's raspberry lemonade was a bit better, but still too sweet.


Alex ordered his usual pizza, which he gobbled quickly (being hungry from all the of the swimming and boogie boarding).



I had a delicious "Da Burger" with mushrooms and fruit salad.


It was quite delicious but no better than the local Mo's burger I had in Campbell, California.


For dessert, we decided to try the blondie.


It was quite delicious! All three of us competed to for every morsel of the desert.

After lunch, we explored the Four Seasons and the Grand Wailea hotels. We played some table tennis with Alex and Inna and then returned to the pools and slides.


Of course, we had to watch the spectacular sunset on the Wailea beach.


The colors of the sunset are just so unreal. It's hard to believe that any sunset looks like this.


For dinner, we decided to eat the local Monkeypod restaurant. This is probably our favorite reasonably-priced restaurant in Wailea. All of the other nearby restaurants are either much more expensive or have much lower food quality.

Inna ordered the "Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi" and it was exquisitely prepared and well garnished.


I had the standard "Fish and Chips" and they were very well prepared. I can always tell when the fish is fresh!


For dessert, we shared the "Strawberry Cream Pie" and it was to die for (made with local Hawaiian grown strawberries!)


When we returned to Grand Wailea, we took some photos of the beautiful Christmas ornaments around the hotel.




Sunday, December 20, 2015

In the morning, we decided to get up early at 7:00am, in order to attend the free Meditation/Yoga session. The meditation class went well but it was indoor and Inna really wanted to be outside, in the lovely Maui sunshine.


After our meditation class, we decided to have breakfast in the Grand Dining room of Grand Wailea. I usually don't like buffets, but I wanted to try the breakfast fare that Grand Wailea offered.


We tried a number of dishes at the breakfast buffet. Inna and Alex really liked it but I was a bit unimpressed. The service was a bit slow; I wanted to order off the a la carte menu, but the waitress never came over. I decided to get the buffet (to save some time).


Alex found his magical Nutella and was eagerly smothering it over any piece of bread he could find.


Inna enjoyed her breakfast, especially the omelet. She said that the cook making the omelet was very impressive - as he could do 4-6 omelets at the same time.


After breakfast, it was time to head back to the beach for some relaxation, reading, and boogie boarding.


Since the weather was looking windy, I decided to head to North shore Maui to try my luck at windsurfing. My all time favorite memory is of windsufring off Spreckelsville, on Maui's North Shore. The weather forecast looked favorable, so I drove to the windsurfing rental shop on Hana Highway. When I arrived there, a heavy rain squall passed overhead.

Before renting gear, I decided to see the wind conditions for myself, by heading to the nearby Kanaha State Beach park. When I arrived there, I saw a few kitesurfers but very few windsurfers. Talking to one of them, I was told that the wind was offshore and very gusty.



I decided that the wind conditions were not really ideal for windsurfing today and headed back to Grand Wailea. Inna, during this time, scheduled a massage at the newly re-opened Grand Wailea spa. She really enjoyed the massage and the spa and had a more favorable day than me.

I was hoping that wind would be more favorable on another day, but it never happened.


Monday, December 21, 2015

In the morning, we decided to try breakfast at Fairmont Kea Lani ( our honeymoon hotel).


I ordered the delicious pancakes from the a la carte menu. They were fantastic.




After breakfast, we explored the Fairmont Kea Lani. We found many beautiful Christmas decorations.


Returning from breakfast to our room, we saw a Hawaiian outrigger heading out.


After another delicious, breakfast, we headed for the Grand Wailea pool and then Wailea Beach.


We decided to spend the morning at the beach and the afternoon at the pools (doing slides).


The adult pool was very nice, but Alex didn't like the fact that he could not use it (18+ only).


Grand Wailea's grounds are truly breathtaking.


We headed to the beach, and Inna had a message in the sand:


We stayed on the beach until sunset, which is always so memorable on Maui. The colors are so unique and unforgettable.




After the sunset, we went back to enjoy Grand Wailea's pools.


When it got dark, it was time to go back to our room and prepare for dinner.


We decided to eat at Cafe O'Lei - an inexpensive restaurant in Kihei.


Inna enjoyed her Mai Tai (drinks are very reasonably priced at Cafe O'Lei) and I enjoyed the meal (it's not a bad deal for the price), but Monkeypod is much better.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In the morning, we decided to try Grand Wailea's Kayaking & Snorkeling tour. We proceeded to kayak to the rocky beach opposite of Wailea Beach Marriott and snorkel off-shore.


I filmed a short video of our kayaking expedition:


We saw a couple of green Hawaiian turtles and a few schools of fish. When we returned back to Grand Wailea, we decided to get another breakfast at Fairmont Kea Lani.



As usual, we spent the rest of the day on the beach. we came back for lunch at Grand Wailea's Bistro Molokini. It was convenient to have it by the beach, so we saved a lot of time.


I ordered the standard "Hana Bay Fish and Chips". They were well prepared (but not as delicious as the ones from Monkeypod).


Inna ordered some "Fresh Island Tacos".


For dessert, we ordered a "Maui-Style Banana Split Boat":


After our delicious lunch, we went to Grand Wailea's game room and played a few games on table tennis.


Here is a video of Alex and Inna playing table tennis. Inna beat Alex and me!



After playing a few games of table tennis, we went back to the beach, to enjoy another stunning sunset.




The sunset is something to be seen.


For dinner, we made special reservations at Mama's Fish House - our all time favorite restaurant on Maui (and probably the world!).

We love the fresh Polynesian-inspired entrees and the overall atmosphere there. Whenever possible, we always try to find a way to eat dinner here.


For appetizer, we shared "Ceviche" or raw Ahi in a fresh coconut.



I ordered the delicious "Opah" caught about the "Pacific Start" north of the Hawaiian Islands, with caramelized Maui onion, Hawaiian chili, and avocado.



Inna ordered "Mama's Stuffed Mahi Mahi". It's a Mahi-Mahi stuffed with lobster and crab, and baked in a Macadamia nut crust.



Since Mama's was all out of the "Black Pearl", we settled on "Creme Brulee" for our dessert.


We really enjoyed our dinner at Mama's Fish House and hope to be back soon.


We really enjoyed our dinner at Mama's (as we always do!)


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Inna rented some snorkeling gear and went snorkleing by the Marriot Beach Hotel, where Hawaiian green turtles are known to hide. She saw a few turtles and returned very excited. I decided to follow up and took my GoPro 4 Silver.


I saw 5 different turtles and took a few underwater photos.





Here is a video of snorkeling with Hawaiian Green turtles (aka "Honu"):


After snokeling, we toured the Grand Wailea grounds, which turned out more extensive than we expected.



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Today, we decided to try out stand up paddle boarding. We had a bit of practice on land, followed by our amusing antics in the water.



Here is a video of Alex, Inna, and I learning to paddle a stand-up paddle board "SUP":


For dinner, we decided to go back to Mama's Fish House. We tried to make reservations in other restaurants, but availability was scarce. Inna made reservations to Mama's a month ago, so we were guaranteed space there.


We started with an Opakapaka Ceviche.


Inna ordered the delicious Opah entree, that I had two days ago.


I decided to try the Ahi entree. It was very well prepared, but the Opah was better.


For dessert, we ordered the incomparable "Black Pearl". It was so delicious!



Friday, December 25, 2015

It's Christmas time and Hawaiians brought out a special canoe (fit for a king) to celebrate "Mele Kalikimaka" (Christmas in Hawaiian).




Here is a video of Alex and Inna boogie boarding on Wailea Beach:


For dinner, we decided to try our local Grand Wailea's restaurant - Humuhumunukunuku'apua.


Alex was really looking forward to eating here - as he declined to come with us to Mama's Fish House in Paia. We really liked the entrees and the atmosphere here in Humuhumunukunuku'apua. The food was fresh and delicious and was almost up to par with Mama's Fish House.


I ordered the delicious "Ribs" entree and it was fantastic.







The desert was quite delicious and shared by all.



We had a wonderful time at Humuhumunukunuku'apua and would happily dine here again!



Saturday, December 26, 2015

Being our last day on Maui, we got up really early and decided to get a quick breakfast, followed by a swim in the warm Maui ocean, followed by a dip in the adult pool.


After dropping off our car at Alamo, we proceeded to the Kahului airport and boarded our plane, bound for San Jose. Our Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 flight 46 departed right on time at 12:45pm. We landed four hour later in cold San Jose, at around 7:30pm PST.

Since I had some free rides on Lyft (Uber does not pick up at San Jose airport), I ordered a car and one was there in about 10 minutes to pick us up. We had a short drive home.

We really enjoyed our vacation on Maui and hope to be back again!