Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of the Best 2013

At the end of 2013, I would like to take the inventory of things I consider to be the best in their class:

  1. Mama's Fish House, Maui, Hawaii
  2. Manresa, Los Gatos
  3. The Plumed Horse, Saratoga


  1. Friedrichsbad Therme, Baden-Baden, Germany
  2. Caracalla Therme, Baden-Baden, Germany

Rock Concert

  1. Elton John's Made in England Tour, Tacoma Dome, Washington on 9/9/1995

  1. Chicago, Albemarle of London, London, UK 6/1/2000
  2. Cabaret
  3. Anything Goes

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pizza and Desserts at Tartine Bakery & Cafe / Pizzeria Delfina

Sunday, December 29, 2013

After exploring the new Exploratorium on Pier 15 in San Francisco, we drove to Tartine Bakery on 600 Guerro Street for a quick lunch. When we finally got there, around 4:30pm, the line to the bakery looked like a scene from old Soviet Russia. We decided that we could not wait this long - no matter how delicious the bread and pastries looked.

We decided to have lunch/dinner nearby at the Pizzeria Delfina. We ordered two pizzas: the Margherita and the Fungi (mushroom).

Both pizzas were delicious and reminded us of the fine pizzas we ate recently at Ferraro's Bar e Ristorante on Maui, Hawaii.

After finishing the pizzas, we saw that the line in Tartine Bakery has shortened considerably, so we decided to wait and see what all the fuss was about. We ordered a Bavarian coconut 6" cake, a chocolate eclair, and a country bread.

Inna ate the eclair and thought it was very good, when compared to the eclairs made by Amour Patisserie in Los Gatos.

The coconut "Bavarian" cake was also very delicious and we had it during our New Year's Day Celebration.

The country bread was outstanding and had to be the best bread I have tasted in the US (with the exception of breads in Bouchon Bistro in Napa and Plumed Horse in Saratoga). I can understand why people wait in line at Tartine Bakery.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wailea, Maui

Maui time!

We took the morning, 8:00am, flight from San Jose (aboard Hawaiian Airlines) HA45 to Kahului, Maui (OGG), arriving in Maui at 11:30am Hawaiian time. The flight lasted four and a half hours and went fairly smoothly. I was surprised that Hawaiian Airlines actually provided lunch on the plane. Most airlines charge for food and only provide peanuts or crackers.

Once we landed and collected our belongings, we went to pick up our Enterprise Rental Car. It turned out that there are two separate Enterprise locations and only one of them is serviced by an Airport shuttle. We booked the off-airport location (40 Hana Highway)  because it was a lot cheaper. We picked up a compact Nissan Versa (which was still very expensive to rent because of the December holiday season).

We had to get a taxi to take us to the Enterprise Car Rental located at 40 Hana Hwy, which was a bit inconvenient (but it's a short two mile ride there).

Since renting boogie boards and beach chairs can be quite expensive at Maui resorts, we stopped by at the local Costco to pick up a boogie board for Alex and beach chairs and umbrella at the next door Kmart.

From here, we drove to the Wailea Marriott Beach Resort and Spa, in Wailea, where we made reservations for 6 nights. For some reason, the Marriott was extremely expensive during Christmas time (December 24 -25), so we decided to stay two more days at the Ritz-Cartlon in Kapalua (which was much cheaper).

We checked in at the hotel. Wailea Marriott was very nicely decorated with all of the Christmas ornaments. We really liked the Hawaiian style of decorating Christmas trees.

As it was time for lunch, we decided to head to Ferraro's Bar e Restaurante at Four Seasons Maui at Wailea. Ferraro's always had quality lunch dishes and is our favorite lunch eatery in Wailea.

We ordered a grilled chicken carbonarra pizza and were not disappointed. This was, without a doubt, one of the best pizzas we have tasted int he U.S. Ferraro's is a fairly pricey restaurant (as are all restaurants at Four Seasons) but it's so much better than Mala in Marriott, that it's hard to eat anywhere else.

After the delicious lunch, we went back to our room and then went to the nearby Ulua Beach State Park for a little bit of sunshine. We were pleasantly surprised with a rainbow.

While Alex played in the ocean, we relaxed on the beach, soaking up the sun and the scenery.

We stayed until sunset, enjoying a beautiful sight.

Alex kept boogie boarding way past sunset, but it was soon time to go back to Marriott's pools, to enjoy the hot tubs.

Alex and Inna both went to hot tubs, while I enjoyed the last rays of sunshine and continued reading the book I started reading in the plane: "One Summer: America 1927" by Bill Bryson.

The hot tubs were nice and not too crowded and both Alex and Inna enjoyed relaxing.

For dinner, we decided to go to Cafe O'Lei in Kihei, as it was one of the more reasonably priced restaurants in the area. In general, the Wailea area of Maui has some very expensive and mostly mediocre restaurants.

We ordered a couple of Sushi rolls (the volcano roll, etc) and we liked the presentation and the quality of the dishes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

We woke up to a beautiful Maui morning. Does it get any better than this?

We really did not want to go to Mala for breakfast  (as the quality of breakfast there is so underwhelming), so we decided to try Duo Restaurant at Four Seasons.

Breakfast buffet at Duo was fantastic, and we enjoyed it immensely. It's very expensive but it's worth it.

I ordered a fruit and yogurt plate and it was fantastic.

After breakfast, we decided to stroll around Four Seasons and then walk over to the nearby Fairmont Kea Lani hotel, where we stayed on our honeymoon in October 2001.

The Fairmont Kea Lani is another beautiful hotel in Wailea and it has been recently remodeled - as it looks significantly different from the time time we stayed there.

There is a beautiful Bamboo Garden right in the hotel.

Inna relaxed in the nearby hammock.

We spend the rest of the day on the nearby Wailea Beach, where Alex boogie boarded.

After the day at the beach, we relaxed at Marriott's many pools, hoping to catch a nice sunset.

The torches were lit, and the whole resort took another flavor.

For dinner, we decided to try Paradise Pita in Kihei, as it received good reviews on Yelp.

The pitas and Paradise Pita were delicious and the price was very reasonable.

We enjoyed our reasonably-priced dinner here and will come back again.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Since I setup an early morning surfing lesson for Alex with the Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy at Lahaina, we had to get up fairly early to get ready. We hoped to get Alex to train with "Tan Dan" but Tan Dan was only available on Tuesday, so we signed up Alex for another instructor, Ikaika Neizman.

We had our mediocre breakfast at Mala in Marriott Wailea and then drove to Lahaina for the surf lessons.

Alex changed into his surfing gear and we walked across the road to the beach at Lahaina.

Alex got to surf for two hours and got lots of long rides.

Here is a short video I made of some of Alex's best surfing runs at Lahaina.

After surfing, we met up with Inna and decided to grab lunch at Honu Seafood & Pizza in Lahaina.

Alex had his pizza, but it was not as good as the one at Ferraro's in Four Seasons.

We ordered a pizza for us as well, and it was good.

After lunch, we headed back to Wailea Marriott and Alex relaxed in our room (as he was tired from two hours of surfing). The waves picked up a lot and were a lot higher than we have seen them before, so we ended up just watching the local surfers try out the big waves.

The sunset was quite lovely as usual.

For dinner, we planned to drive to a local Paradise Pita restaurant. However, I forgot to turn off the lights in my Nissan Versa rental and the car would not start. I had to call AAA to get someone to come over and jump the car. As a result, we missed our dinner reservations at Paradise Pita and ended up eating at the local Mala Wailea restaurant.

The food was ok - standard Marriott quality (overpriced and mediocre). For appetizer, we ordered a half portion of the "Seared Ahi Bruschetta". It was ok, but a bit small.

Inna ordered a Kobe Beef Cheeseburger, which was not bad.

I ordered "My Big Fat Greek Salad", but it was neither big nor fat.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

For breakfast, we decided to splurge and go back to Duo Restaurant at Four Seasons. Alex had his favorite pancakes with chocolate chips.

I had my favorite yogurt with fruits.

Inna ordered her favorite Eggs Benedict.

After breakfast, we went back to Wailea Beach - across from the Grand Wailea hotel. The waves were rather large and many locals were both surfing and boogie boarding.

Alex was eager to get back in the water.

Inna was a bit reluctant to get in, given the waves could be rather large and could easily knock a person down.

For lunch, we went back to Ferraro's Bar e Ristorante in Four Seasons.

The sandwich was huge and extremely delcious! The freshly baked bread was also a nice treat.

After lunch, we spent some more time on the beach and explored the wonderful Maui fauna.
We saw a large spider crawling on its web.

For dinner, Inna made reservations at Mama's Fish House in Paia, on Maui's North Shore.
Mama's is her favorite restaurant in the world, so we had high expectations going there.

Mama's is located on Maui;s North Shore, near the famous Ho'okipa surfing spot, in the most romantic setting possible. Even before eating anything, the atmosphere is so relaxing and enchantingly peaceful.

The freshly baked bread is always delicious with the butter.

The I'a Maka Moelua appetizer was fantastic! Even Alex, who usually does not like sushi, loved it.

I ordered the "Ahi Sashimi Salad" which was delicious.

Inna ordered the "Mahimahi with Lobster and Crab". It was extremely delicious!

And for a finish, we had the most fantastic dessert - the "Black Pearl".

We had such a fantastic dinner, that we decided to return to Mama's Fish House in two days.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

On Sunday morning, we decided to go whale watching in the morning with Blue Water Rafting (a company we used many years ago).

Blue Rafting uses small, inflatable boats with huge motors to get to whales quickly.

We were off at 8:00am, on a two hour whale watching adventure. The boat accelerated quickly through the surf and the two 225HP Honda engines provided a lot of power.

In about 30-45 minutes, we found our first whale. There were a kit of stand up paddle boarders also chasing the whale.

We saw many kayakers in the water also.

We spotted the best whales near the calm waters off Wailea Marriott hotel (where we were staying).
There was a baby whale and his mom. They were quite large.

The whales got notices by a lot of other boats, and soon we had a small fleet looking for whales.
The tour guides explained that most of the whales swim to the waters off Hawaii to give birth to their calves and to teach them to fish.

After whale watching was over, we drove to the Hyatt Regency Maui hotel on Ka'anapali beach, where we were scheduled to see a 90-minute time-share presentation from the Hyatt Residence Club (to get two free lu'au tickets at the Hyatt). The presentation did not last as long as we expected, since early on, the salesman realized that we were not interested in purchasing a time-share in the Hyatt on Maui.

I wonder who is the potential client is for these time-share offers, as I can't think of why would anyone plunk down a significant amount of money, so as to be forced to spend their time at this, or any other, specific hotel.  The cost per day of the smallest time-share room at the Hyatt Regency Maui was about $250 - which was more expensive than what we were paying at the Wailea Beach Marriott or Ritz-Carlton. Why would anyone pay more money to stay at an inferior hotel? The Ritz-Carlton is significantly superior to the Hyatt in every way (and cheaper to boot).

The Hyatt Regency looks nice and has parrots, penguins, and other animals on the property. There are also nice restaurants. However, the beach at the Hyatt is rocky, and we found service at its restaurants a bit lacking. On Maui, with so many wonderful hotels, including Four Seasons, Fairmont Kea Lani, and Ritz-Carlton, the Hyatt is distinctly second rate.

He is a photo of Niko, the African parrot, who was so charming at the Hyatt Regency.

After touring the Hyatt, we decided to get lunch prior to going swimming at the Ka'anapali beach.

Since we have eaten at the Hula Grill (in Whaler's Village last year), we decided to stop by there again. We decided to eat the the Barefoot Bar inside the Hula Grill, as we like sitting on the sand.

We liked sitting with our feet in the sand, listening to lovely Hawaiian melodies being played by a live guitar player.

The setting at Hula Grill is so nice and relaxing.

The food and service was very good but nothing extra-ordinary.
Inna ordered a "Kapalu Joe with Mac Slaw" and she liked it.

I had the "Island Fish and Chips" and it was well prepared.

Alex had his standard cheese pizza, which was good.

After lunch, we went to the nearby Ka'anapali beach for some beach time fun.

The Ka'anapai beach is one of the best beaches on Maui (and maybe the world). The sand was so clean and nice and the water was so warm. The beach was not as crowded as we expected.

We set up our chairs and umbrella and Alex went to try his hand in boogie boarding.

We had a lot of fun on the beach, and the waves could be quite big at times.

We had a lot of fun playing in the waves.

In the distance is the Black Rock where a lot of fearless jumpers jump off (and some people snorkle).
We went for a nice swim along Ka'anapali beach to the black rock, where we observed all of the braves jumpers.

Afterwards, we swam back and observed Alex boogie boarding.

At around 4:30pm, it was time to get back to change, as we had tickets to the Hyatt Regency Drums of the Pacific Lu'au and had to hurry to get good seats. Alex hurt himself on one of the boogie board runs, but it turned out not to be too serious.

We went to the "Drums of the Pacific Lu'au" at the Hyatt Regency Maui. I have previously been to the Old Lahaina Lu'au, but we could not get tickets this time (as it was all booked during Christmas).

We got a few "Mai Tai" drinks. They were not very strong and we were mighty thirsty. There was not much drink selection - Mai Tai's or Blue Hawaiians. The Blue Hawaiians were terrible, so we stuck to drinking Mai Tai's.

We sat at a table perpendicular to the show, which was a bit awkward. After some time, we went to the buffett and got our food. It was not bad, but nothing to rave about.

Alex was fairly bored at the beginning of the show.

Before the show started, the performers asked for audience participation, and we got Alex to go learn to do some Hawaiian dancing.

The show started with lots of native Hawaiian and other Polynesian dancers.

The Maori warriors from New Zealand had an especially funny dance where they stuck their tongues out.

Afterwards, the fire show began with some nice fire breathing.
I shot a short video of the fire dance below:

It was a fun show and we especially enjoyed it. However, for the money, I would have preferred the Old Lahaina Lu'au, as it had better seating and better food.

Monday, December 23, 2013

In the morning, we decided to try the breakfast buffet at Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel. The Fairmont was beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays.

The breakfast buffet at the Fairmont was significantly superior to the one in Mala in Marriott and comparable to the Duo Restaurant at Four Seasons.

The Fairmont has many beautiful ponds with water lilies at other flowers.

After breakfast, we went back to Wailea Beach, where Alex boogie boarded some more. The waves were a little bit smaller than the previous day.

One of the tourists built a wonderful sand sculpture of an Octopus.

For lunch, we tried Marriott's Kumu Bar & Grill by Marriott's pools. The food was fine (much better than Mala).

After lunch, we relaxed by the pool and enjoyed the wonderful scenery all around.

We waited for another spectacular Maui sunset and were not disappointed.

For dinner, we decided to go back to Mama's Fish House - the restaurant we love so much.

I like the snowman made out of sand. It's a nice touch to the Holiday season at Mama's.

We sat next to an open window (there are no glass windows at Mama's).

Being our 3rd time to Mama's Fish House, we decided to try something new. In general, we tend to be conservative and only order dishes which we have previously enjoyed (for fear of being disappointed). This time, we made an effort to do the exact opposite - only order dishes we have never tried before.

For appetizer, we ordered "Papa's 3 Fish Sashimi". It was beautifully presented and was delicious!

For an entree, I ordered "New Zealand Salmon". The dish was expertly prepared and tasted great (though I still prefer Alaskan King Salmon above all).

For her entree, Inna ordered the "Opakapaka". This was a freshly caught fish and it tasted great.

For dessert, we ordered the "Creme Brulee" and it was exquisite.

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Since this would be our last day at Wailea Marriott, we decided to save time by eating breakfast at the Mala restaurant. We originally planned to stay in the Marriott until December 26th, but for some reason, the hotel rates at Marriott tripled for the December 24 and December 25.

Inna found a much better deal (much lower in price) at the nearby Ritz-Cartlon Hotel in Kapalua, and we would drive there later in the day.

After breakfast, we went to the Ulua State Beach Park, to enjoy our last beach day in Wailea. Alex and I threw a football around for a while.

We checked out of the Wailea Marriott and drove to the Four Seasons for lunch. Four Seasons has free valet parking and we liked it!

Four Seasons is a perfectly sized hotel and we couldn't wait to eat there again at Ferraro's Bar e Ristorante.

There was a beautifully made Gingerbread house that we really wanted to sample but it was not meant for eating - too bad!

We enjoyed our view of Four Seasons and Wailea Beach and went to Ferraro's.

I had a mango lemonade.

Alex ordered a strawberry lemonade and pizza to start.

Inna ordered a lemonade as well.

The pizzas were as usual - extremely delicious!

After lunch, we went back to the Four Seasons Game room, where we played some ping-pong and Alex played some Playstation 3 video games. The Four Seasons Game Room is great - it has a billiards table, a ping pong table, multiple video games (including Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii) and big screen TVs for watching football games. It's a great place to have fun.

We finally said goodbye to Four Seasons at Maui and drove to Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua.
The drive to Kapalua took about an hour, as it's at the very north end of the island of Maui.

We arrived before sunset and checked in at the hotel. Ritz-Carlton was much closer to the Four Seasons in quality (than to Marriott).

Santa was in the lobby talking to kids and we waited patiently for Alex to talk to Santa.

After talking to Santa, Alex grabbed a few cookies and we went to our room. From there, we walked to the beach. At Ritz, the beach is a bit of a walk (it's not as close to the beach as Wailea Marriott).

It was a windy day and the ocean was a bit rough.

Inna had a little bit of time to relax in a hammock, after which, we got ready to go to dinner.

Inna made dinner reservations at the nearby, highly rated Pineapple Grill. She said that there were many excellent Yelp reviews and we were eager to try out this highly rated restaurant.

Pineapple Grill reminded us a little bit of Mama's Fish House, but the ceilings were quite different.

We ordered some appetizer.

After dinner, we went back to our room in Ritz-Carlton to relax a little. The rooms in Ritz-Carlton are far superior to the Marriott. The beds at the Ritz are much better. The ones in Marriott were causing me a backache (being too soft).

After some time, we went back to explore the Ritz-Carlton at night. The entire resort was beautifully and tastefully decorated.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

In the morning, we ate breakfast at the Terrace Restaurant in Ritz-Carlton. The buffet there was delicious and of high quality. It was significantly better than Wailea Marriott and comparable to Fairmont Kea Lani.

After breakfast, we decided to head to the beach, to enjoy our last full beach day on Maui.

The nearby DT Fleming Beach Park was beautiful and the surf was not too rough.

Alex was excited to get in the water and do a bit of boogie boarding.

The waves were not big enough for Alex and he did a bit of body boarding instead.

For lunch, we ate at the neaby Beach House restaurant (right on the beach).

I ordered a yummy salad and was not disappointed.

Before sunset, we wanted to explore some other nearby beaches, so we took the Ritz-Carlton's shuttle to Kapalua Bay. Kapalua Bay beach was much more calmer than DT Fleming beach and Inna went for a short swim there.

After her swim, we walked around the beach and tried to find the best spot to watch the upcoming sunset.

We finally found a place on the grass where we could watch the sunset.

After sun had set, we waited for our shuttle and went back to Ritz-Carlton. We had dinner reservations at Kai Sushi Restaurant inside Ritz-Carlton.

Alex is not a big fan of sushi, so he ordered a slider with french fries. We ordered a few sushi rolls.

For dessert, Alex got his favorite ice cream.

The Christmas mood at the Ritz-Carlton was festive and there was a band playing holiday music and some hula dancers dancing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our last day on Maui. We are sad to leave the beautiful island of Maui, but hope to be back soon.
After breakfast, we rushed to the Ritz-Carlton's game room, to play ping-pong and other games.

Inna beat everyone (including me) in ping-pong but Alex beat her in foosball!

Alex was very excited to beat mom (after his poor performance in ping-pong).

After a few games, we enjoyed an hour at the pool and the beach.

We were sad to leave Maui, but we hope to be back. We had a great time on our vacation!

We drove back to Kahului, returned our car at Enterprise and took a taxi to the airport. The flight back to San Jose was uneventful.