Monday, September 29, 2014

Baby M's First Birthday Party (Doljabi)


Time flies! Before we knew it, it was baby M's first birthday. This past year was definitely tough. Dan and I had no idea how much work it really took to take care of a baby. So I really wanted to celebrate baby M's first birthday--it truly was a celebration. We passed one of the most challenging years, and I heard it gets easier in a way after they are a year old! :) The first birthday is also a very big deal in Korean culture, so we planned a pretty big party for her.

I wanted to have it at a restaurant, so I didn't have to worry about set up and tear down. All I really had to plan was the dessert table, her doljabi ceremony, entertainment, and party favors.

For the dessert table, I ordered a two-tiered cake from a local bakery as the main centerpiece. My mother in law bought Korean rice cakes. The madelines , merengue, and sugar cookies, I got from Whole Foods. I actually did my own flowers from Trader Joe's, and it wasn't too hard!


The color scheme was pink and grey. In addition to the two-tiered cake, I ordered a small smash cake for baby M that turned out great.


I ordered pink and grey straws as well as pink and grey bags for the dessert table.


Food was brunch, buffet style.


One of the traditional elements of a Korean first birthday is the Doljabi. Here's a little bit of background on Doljabi:

What does a Korean Doljabi signify?

The first birthday is a very important milestone to the baby and parents. Historically, the whole village used to celebrate a baby’s first birthday, sharing food and wishing for long life and fortune for the baby.

What is a Doljabi?

The "Doljabi" is an event in which the baby picks from items placed in front of them. The baby's future is predicted according to what she grabs. All of the items have good meanings, so the purpose of this event is to wish for the baby's longevity and good fortune.

To get everyone's full participation, we also had a doljabi raffle. I prepped the following items for her:
Stethoscope - Doctor
Paintbrush - Artist
Microphone - Entertainer
Yarn - Long life
Money - Wealth


For the raffle, everyone made their guess of what baby M would choose. What do you think???

After scanning the options, she first selected the Microphone and then second, Money! So I guess she'll be a rich K-pop star. :)


Overall the party turn out great. It was actually a bit more tiring than I thought. But we were very happy to be able to celebrate this great milestone with family and friends.


Now that she is a year old, hopefully we can travel more. :)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Maui Annversary Trip - With Baby :)

Introduction

Now that baby M is a bit older, we feel like we want to start going on trips again. Maybe not as often or as crazy packed as our pre-baby days, but we do want to go somewhere.

My friend suggested Maui, since Hawaii is such a baby friendly destination. We had been to Maui before, and typically don't like to visit the same place twice, since there's so many other places we want to visit in this world. However, now that we have a baby, we have to also think of a destination that is close enough and baby-friendly, and Maui seemed to fit the bill. I heard about the new Andaz Maui that recently opened, saw blog posts and reviews on Trip Advisor, and thought this would be a good place for our stay. I was able to get a pretty decent rate, and found availability using points for our flights for the dates we wanted (around our wedding anniversary).

Andaz Maui

I didn't really plan much this time since we have been to Maui before and did a lot of the touristy/must-dos, so this time around we just planned to relax around the hotel.

Flight to Maui

We flew on Alaskan Airlines and booked an infant ticket for baby M. The flight to Maui was actually pretty full, I think there were only 2-3 open seats. The lady at the gate was really nice and issued us updated boarding passes which essentially gave baby M her own middle seat, which was huge!

10 minutes into our flight, the captain made an announcement that they hit a couple of birds and had to circle back and land to have the plane checked. It was a bummer and in total our flight was delayed for 2 hours. But they issued lunch vouchers, and it was good to be safe and have the plane checked.


Baby M is around 10 months old, crawling, and very, very active. The flight was a little challenging. A couple things that we did to make the trip go smoother:
  • Prepared PLENTY of snacks. Our baby is such a good eater and is the most calm when eating. We packed plenty of snacks ready to go to keep her in a good mood.
  • I went and bought a few cheap new toys that she has never played with before to keep her entertained when she got a little cranky. This worked for a little bit. :p
  • Once I ran out of ideas, I took out things from our diaper bag (such as plastic ziplocks, different containers, etc.) to keep her busy.
  • We also held her and walked up and down the aisle a few times when she seemed bored and a bit agitated. This mostly worked.

Andaz Maui

After the 7+ hours flight (due to the 2 hour delay), we finally made it to Hawaii. We got our rental car and went straight to Geste Shrimp truck (sorry no pictures, we ate it so fast! :p) and then to Ululani Shave ice. Afterwards we made our way to our hotel.

Andaz Maui Lobby

The Andaz hotel was just amazing. It was located in Wailea (which I consider the nicer part of Maui). They did extensive renovations on what used to be the Renaissance Hotel, and the hotel felt completely brand new. The entrance was totally gorgeous and the view from the lobby was just breathtaking.

We were greeted by our "host", who checked us in with her iPad and offered us cold towels and glasses of water while we looked into the beautiful ocean view. We were also given  a welcome lei & shell necklace, which baby M loved!

"Host" area

We got upgraded to the Andaz Suite due to my Hyatt Diamond trial status, which was totally worth it. The suite was just absolutely gorgeous, modern, and huge. There was a half bath in the first living "room", as well as a desk, dining table, and a seating area + TV.

Half bath

I thought the half bath was just so over the top....it did come in handy though, so I'm not complaining. :p

Dining area
Seating area

The second "room" was the actual bedroom with a small seating area, lanai, and a huge bathroom.



The bathroom was really big, with a shower that could probably fit 10 people, a beautiful bath tub, and double sinks.



Everything still felt brand new and clean, and the style was just really gorgeous. We also got really good views from our room on the 7th floor, which is the top floor.

Having the extra "room" really helped for baby M's naps, so she was not distracted by us. Since she sleeps pretty early, we were able to close off the door to the living room where she slept, and have quiet nights by ourselves, which was nice.

Pool & Hotel Grounds

There were 5 pools at the Andaz-cascading/infinity style pools. The first pool was a bit small and we didn't use it because there were no lounge chairs & shades. We tried the second and the third pools during our stay, and I like the third pool better since it's a bit bigger.

Pool service was pretty good, although I think not as polished as our last stay at the St. Regis in Kauai. It took probably 5-10 minutes before anyone greeted us at the pool and set up the lounge chairs with towels.  Servers came around every so often to take drink/snack orders from the bar, too.

Activities in Maui

This time around we really didn't do much. We usually started our day around 5:30AM when baby M woke up. Then got ready, and took a short stroll on the Wailea path. Afterwards we went straight to Ka'ana kitchen for breakfast. Afterwards, pool time/beach time or other low key activities.

Here are some of the activities we did:
  • Maui Ocean Center: Our friend suggested a visit to the Maui Ocean Center for baby M.  The Maui Ocean Center was located halfway between Wailea and Lahaina. The aquarium was around 70% indoors and 30% outdoors. We took our stroller and walked around the aquarium. Dan also took out baby M a couple times so she could see the fish / wildlife closer to the aquarium glass. She would reach out and coo when she saws the different fish, which was super cute.  The aquarium was a little small but it was good enough.

Baby M and Dan looking at the Aquarium

  • Beach time: There's a small stretch of beach with direct access from the hotel. The hotel provided beach chairs as well as umbrellas. It was a pretty nice setup, although we only took advantage of it once. Dan tried stand-up paddle boarding which we rented from the activities center.

Beach in front of Andaz Maui

  • Pool time: This was where we spent the majority of our time/activities. We brought a floater for baby M which she loved and we loved (since we didn't have to constantly hold her).

View of Four Pools

  • Spa: For Mother's Day, I booked a 60 minute massage at the Awili Spa. I really wanted to try their Omakase treatment where you book two separate treatments and customize your own lotions, etc. But the price was a bit too much, so I decided to just do the 60 minute massage. I loved how everything was so clean and modern. They had the usual spa stuff (sauna, steam room, jacuzzi), shower, vanity area, locker room, and a wonderful waiting area. They served this yummy trail mix at the waiting area which contained cashews and chocolate chips. :)  My masseuse was amazing, and I thought it was well worth it. I enjoyed this spa better than the spa at the Grand Wailea where Dan & I got massages last time.

The treatment room

Food in Maui
  • Geste Shrimp Truck: This is still one of our favorites in Maui. We stopped by on our drive from the airport to the hotel. I wanted to get the combo which consisted of shrimp & sausage. But they ran out of the sausages. Dan got the Hot & Spicy shrimp, and I got the Hawaiian Scampi shrimp (regular garlic flavor). Both were amazing! We ate so fast and forgot to take pictures.

  • Ululani Shave Ice: We LOVE Ululani shave ice and think that they are the best! They expanded and had 6 locations on the island, which was great because it's more convenient to go to whichever location was closest to where we were. :) We stopped by twice at the one in Kihei and once in Lahaina. Quality was pretty consistent all around. The amazing thing about Ululani is their super soft ice. At other shave ice places, the ice isn't as fine/soft. All their syrups are also home made. We always get macadamia nut ice cream in the bottom, and the mochi topping as additions.


  • Eskimo Candy Shop: The name of this store is really funny, but they serve a mean poke bowl! I'm not even a big tuna fan but I love their tuna poke! Definitely recommend it--it consisted of 3 different kind of pokes, seaweed salad, wasabi cream aioli, all on a bed of warm white rice. Yum! We ate here twice, and this is definitely on our list next time we come back to Maui.

Poke rice bowl from Eskimo

  • Breakfast at Ka'ana Kitchen: Having breakfast at the hotel was really nice since we didn't have to drive elsewhere. The food quality was really good and selection was huge. They always had 2 signature juices, and different sections for hot food, an omelet station, cold cuts, breads, and fruits. Overall quality was great, and we really enjoyed it. The price was expensive, especially for the buffet, but thankfully it was included as part of my Hyatt diamond status (they even covered the tip from our bill which was nice and unexpected).  Some of my favorite items were the corn fritters, fluffy pancakes, fried rice with bacon, and their egg & pork bao. I didn't know this but apparently you could also order anything off the a la carte menu (included in the price of the buffet). 

Yummy breakfast!

  • Star Noodle: During our visit to Lahaina we stopped by Star Noodle which seemed to be a very popular restaurant. We came for an early lunch so didn't have to wait long. Apparently the Top Chef star used to work here before he opened his new restaurant at the Marriott, called Migrant. We thought the food was pretty good and reasonably priced. Dan almost laughed because the total cost for our meal was the same as one person's breakfast cost at Ka'ana kitchen if we had to pay out of pocket. We got the Lahaina fried soup (which was more like a dried noodle soup, quite tasty), Ahi poke (not quite as good as Eskimo's), the Vietnamese crepe (pretty good), and their famous Malasadas (though not a huge fan - the shell was a bit too hard). Overall I would recommend this place.

Lahaina Fried Soup

  • Morimoto: We went to the Morimoto restaurant which was actually located at the Andaz. It was located by the bottom pool, closest to the beach. I got the moricristo sandwich and Dan got the chicken banh mi sandwich. I thought my sandwich was overly salty (especially the part that was soaked in the sauce). Dan's sandwich was pretty good. But overall we didn't think it was worth the price.

Mori Cristo Sandwich
Chicken Sandwich

Conclusion:

We really enjoyed our trip to Maui. The Andaz was everything I could have imagined and maybe a bit more. I love how everything was so modern and new, and just love the overall concept of Andaz hotels. I have to say that Andaz is probably our newest favorite chain. We are looking forward to trying out other Andaz hotels. Well done Hyatt!

It was VERY different though traveling with a baby vs. traveling with just your spouse. We had to be very flexible, not plan for too much, and take into account the baby's schedule. This trip gave me hope that we can still travel with a baby, albeit a very different kind of traveling. :) But I can see that it is doable and that hopefully, we can have many trips in the future with baby M!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Birthday Dinner at Benu, San Francisco

For my birthday dinner , I wanted to try Benu. I heard great things from friends, plus it is a 2-star Michelin rated restaurant. I was going back and forth whether or not we should go, because it is pricey. Our priorities have changed a bit since we've had baby M. However, Dan said that the price will just keep going up so if I want to try, we should probably try now. Dan's parents agreed to watch baby M, so we could go celebrate my birthday. Reservations weren't actually that hard to get; we booked via OpenTable.

We arrived on time and decided to valet the car. The restaurant looked very modern, and the design was actually very simple. It looked very sparsely spaced and the lighting was quite bright -- a little bit too bright actually for a fine dining establishment. Maybe I'm used to dimly lit restaurants?

When we got to our table, Dan surprised me with a rose vase arrangement that he prearranged beforehand. Isn't he sweet? :)

Rose waiting at our table

There's a preset menu which was $195 pp++, as well as several upgrades. We went with the regular menu and didn't do any upgrades, and we didn't do the wine pairing either.


We actually came really hungry, and I was a bit worried at first since all the dishes were very small (bite size), but our servers mentioned that we would be very full at the end of the meal.

Thousand year old quail egg, potage, ginger

First dish was the thousand year quail egg with potato soup. Growing up, I did eat a lot of thousand year eggs, but never quail egg, so it was an interesting take. It's a lot milder than the typical thousand year egg. I mainly tasted the potato soup.

oyster, pork belly, kimchi

The wrapping on this next dish was very interesting, crispy but dissolved so easily. I actually enjoyed this dish and the combination of the oyster with pork belly and the kimchi flavored wrapping.

eel feuille de brick, creme fraiche, lime

I quite liked this next dish. I mean, how can you go wrong with deep fried? The eel was very mild, wrapped inside this very thin fried dough. Yum.

anchovy, celery, peanut

This next dish was sweetened fried anchovies with peanut butter and celery. Not my favorite. :p

homemade tofu, charred scallion, burdock

I'm always a sucker for homemade tofu. This one was good, soft and creamy. The toppings & sauce were very typical Chinese, so this dish reminded me of a Chinese tofu dish.

xo sausage with basil curd

This dish was probably one of the few dishes that didn't scream "Chinese" to me. It tasted more like a Spanish dish. The setting reminded me of Alinea, where there's no utensils, and you just grab and eat from the thong. The basil curd almost tasted like a salty cheese, which is always a good combo with dry cut meat.

beggar's purse of treasures from the oak

I couldn't really tell what "treasures from the oak" meant, but whatever it is it was delicious. This was probably one of my favorites of the night. I tasted a hint of mushroom.

salt and pepper squid

This was definitely not your typical salt & pepper dish. The squid was actually cut very small, and I'm not quite sure what the black cracker was. It tasted like a combination of shrimp cracker and nori.



The bread was served with butter & honey -- bread was really good and served warm. At this point I was really hungry and since all the dishes were really tiny, I helped myself to a couple servings of the bread. :)

wild bamboo fungi, chicken, cabbage

This chicken dish was probably one of the most disappointing of the night. It really tasted like a regular chicken stir fry dish at any Chinese restaurant.

pig's head with lentil hozon and bonji

I didn't dare to try the pig's head...Dan did and he said it was fine! hehe

lobster coral xiao long bao

This lobster xiao long bao was highly anticipated. One of the keys to a good xiao long bao is that the skin has to be thin enough, and this one fits the bill. It was quite delicious, too bad it was too small, even with 2 pieces!

5 prong forks

Dan was quite intrigued by the 5 prong forks. We noticed that for all the dishes, each serving plate and cutlery seemed to be custom made for the dish. This was a very interesting take, and I do commend the chef for putting so much thought into each dish and making it a cohesive experience.

sablefish, mountain yam blanquette, aged tangerine peel

This fish dish was very mild, cooked nicely and very soft. It paired well with the yam and the tangerine peel - I couldn't actually tell which was which since the textures were very similar.

duck, crosnes, persimmon, mustard

This duck was done very well - cooked on the rare side but texture was amazing. Typically I'm not a fan of duck dishes since they usually have a certain "smell", but this one had no smell at all - which tells me the duck was fresh and very well prepared.

beef braised in cognac, onion, black truffle

By the time this dish was served, I was finally feeling a bit full. This beef dish was executed nicely. I could barely taste the truffle though.

shark fin's soup: crab, egg white, jinhua ham

Hmm, this dish looked fancy, but tasted like a regular shark fin's soup.

lemon sorbet, cranberry, white chocolate

By this point, I was ready for the dessert courses. The lemon sorbet was a good palate cleanser. But I was really looking forward for the next dessert dish...

sesame white cake with salted plum

When I first saw another table getting this dish, I thought it was someone's birthday. Turns out it's part of the meal. I actually really enjoyed this cake. I could taste the mild sesame flavor, and the cream frosting was not too heavy at all.


Since it was my birthday, they brought out truffles for me, set in very interesting box!

Thoughts:

To be completely honest, both Dan & I were underwhelmed with our experience. Maybe it was the high expectations that we had (highly recommended and 2 Michelin stars). Or maybe they had an off night? Or maybe, we just don't do high end Chinese food.

I did see that a lot of thought process was put into every dish. I bet it took a while to plate each dish. I also mentioned their custom-made utensils & cutlery that go with each dish, which was great, but the food delivery just didn't impress us. If I have to pinpoint why, I would probably say that I just can't justify paying almost $500 for a really good Chinese meal!

View of the busy kitchen as we were waiting for our car