Friday, January 16, 2015

Vegas Food Trip


My girlfriend and I decided to go on a quick 2 night trip to Vegas for a quick getaway! Dan graciously offered to watch M while I was gone for the weekend. :)

The main reason for this trip (besides getting away for a little bit) was a food trip! I have long heard about the Oyster Bar's famous Pan Roast and wanted to try this. There's a few other places as well that were on my list so we decided to go for it.

We booked tickets on Southwest, and we stayed at the brand new SLS Las Vegas. They had a pretty good rate since they just opened.

SLS Las Vegas

The SLS is a pretty famous/hip hotel chain in the US. I have never been to the one in LA but heard good things about it.

When researching hotels, I noticed that they were opening up a new SLS in Las Vegas. It turned out they were renovating and rebranding the hotel previously known as the Sahara. Interestingly, the Sahara hotel was the first hotel I stayed in when I first came to Vegas with my mom in 2000!

The hotel offered valet or free parking. We took advantage of both depending on how long the lines were.

Check-in was pretty easy, although the check in lady didn't know much about the hotel when we asked for information about parking or restaurants. She seemed confused and mumbled her answer, which was not good. :)

The lobby area was a bit dark and there's small shops/stores, restaurants, as well as casino.

Stores at SLS Vegas

My first impression was that the hotel has a very quirky design.  For example, above our bed there was a poster of people running a marathon?

As they didn't tear down the building, the rooms were on the smaller side (unlike newer hotels where the rooms are more like suites and can fit 10 people!)

Twin Beds at SLS Las Vegas
Seating area and table

The bathroom had a tiled shower and a single sink. As I mentioned the quirky design, you can see for yourself in the picture below. :)

Can you spot the quirky design?
Beautiful new sink

We actually had fun playing at the casino (my first time!) at the SLS, since their buy-in was cheaper and was convenient as we could just go up to our room afterwards. Both dealers that we had were really, really friendly.

SLS Casino

Where We Ate in Vegas

Vegas is almost like a foodie town. A lot of famous chefs open up a restaurant in Vegas (Joel Robuchon, Thomas Keller, Nobu Matsuhisa, Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentiis -- to name a few). There were too many food choices. We didn't really want to do fine dining during this trip, so here's where we ate.

Bachi Burger

My friend recommended this place as she saw it on Food Network during Guy Fieri's diners, drive inn show.

They are famous for their oxtail fries as well as wonderful selection of burgers.

The oxtail fries were pretty good. The oxtail topping was slightly sweet and very moist. I was a bit disappointed that their fries were just regular fries and nothing unique, but overall this was a good dish.

Oxtail Fries

We shared the Miyagi san's grass fed wagyu burger, which had chili mayo, fried egg, furikake, bacon, and crispy onion rings! Yum!

The patty was very moist and I love all the toppings. It tasted unique and Japanese like (thanks to the furikake)

Miyagi san's Grass fed Wagyu Burger

We both liked this restaurant and glad we tried, although since there's so many food places in Vegas, we probably won't come back here particularly.

Lotus of Siam

When a restaurant has more than 2000+ reviews with 4-5 star ratings in Yelp, you know this is one of a must try restaurant. This restaurant IS very popular and we made reservations beforehand since I know there would be long lines otherwise. The location was a bit weird (shady?) in a strip mall with questionable stores :)

We got early dinner seating (6 PM) and were still full from lunch at Bachi Burger so we only ordered two things.

Looking at their menu, this restaurant was a bit more unique than the typical Thai restaurant. As an example, for Pad See Ew, at most restaurants you can get it with Chicken/Pork/Beef/Tofu. At Lotus of Siam, you can get Pad See Ew with any of the followings: Fried Duck, Fried Seabass, Crispy Prawns, Soft Shell Crab, etc. You get the point. :) Yummy noodle with fried toppings are always better.

The first dish we ordered was their garlic prawns, which was wonderfully crispy and garlicky! :)
I wanted to try the Crispy Duck curry, but my friend was not a fan of curry so we ordered this instead.

Garlic Prawns

The second dish we had was the Crispy Duck Pad See Ew, which was so wonderful with the crispy duck topping!

Crispy Duck Pad See Ew

Food was excellent! [Although I think I can taste the MSG :)]
But I do recommend this place if you want some good Thai food in Vegas.


When I used to travel for work, whenever I went to New York, I would always make a point to visit Serendipity for their famous Frozen Hot Chocolate. It's been a few years since I last had it so I convinced my friend that we had to visit their store in Vegas.

Serendipity Vegas

We made the mistake of parking at the Employee parking lot which made our walk VERY long. Additionally, the restaurant was located at the other end. I think we walked like 2.5 miles or something crazy like that!

We ordered the small frozen hot chocolate. It was good, but not as good as I remembered it, so overall slightly disappointing. Not sure if it was just this location that was not that good, or if maybe I have tasted many better things since my days in New York previously?

Frozen Hot Chocolate

Buffet at Wicked Spoon

You can't go to Vegas and not have buffet. Vegas is famous for its buffets. You can find cheap ones that probably only cost $6.99, to nice ones such as Bacchanal at Caesar's, Bellagion, Wynn's, or Wicked Spoon. I liked the buffet at Bellagio a lot, but wanted to try something new, so it was between Wicked Spoon and Bacchanal, and in the end we went with Wicked Spoon which was located at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

I have never been to the Cosmopolitan hotel, and thought it was nice and modern looking, and I liked that I didn't have to walk through the smoke filled casino to get to the restaurant.

Wicked Spoon Vegas

We went at around 10:30 AM and there was already a long line. I think we waited 20 minutes-ish. They have a separate "priority" line, I think for people who were either staying at the hotel, or people who were "invited" by the hotel.

The buffet was pretty humongous. One of the things I heard about Wicked Spoon buffet was that they have some items in individual portion size, which is good for presentation and is supposed to help with portion control.  They also have more "luxurious" items such as bone marrow -- which is pretty rare for buffets.

On my first plate, I went with carbonara pasta, bacon, takoyaki, fried squid skewer, eggs benedict, pancake, and french toast. Most of the food tasted okay, nothing extra special. I was a bit disappointed with the takoyaki and the fried squid skewer as they were cold.

First Plate

For my second plate, I tried the bone marrow, fried chicken wings, sliced meat, guacamole, and mashed potatoes. Again, everything was just okay.

Second Plate

After my second plate, I moved on to the dessert table buffet. They have a pretty good selection. The chocolate covered strawberries were pretty good, as was the gelato selection. But all the cakes/pastries were all okay and sometimes I feel that the hotel just tried to make different kinds as fillers, but they all look or taste about the same.

Dessert Plate

All in all, I was slightly disappointed with the Wicked Spoon. I much preferred the Bellagio buffet (although it's been quite a few years since I had it).

Tacos El Gordo

Tacos El Gordo is a pretty famous authentic taco place that Dan and I love in Chula Vista (near San Diego/Mexico border). I was happy when I found out that they have branches in Vegas. This restaurant is no-frills, but serve cheap, very authentic Mexican food. I always feel like we are in Mexico when we are inside the restaurant.

They have different lines for the different meats. Unfortunately the lines for the pork was too long (we had to leave soon since we were catching a show), so we just got the beef, which was delicious. Ask for the grilled peppers and onions (it's free, just leave a tip). You can get your own radish on the side.

Oyster Bar

One of the restaurants I REALLY want to try during this trip was the Oyster Bar, famous for their Pan Roast. The restaurant is supposedly open 24/7 and has long lines (1+ hour) at any time of the day (even at 3 AM!).

I made the mistake of putting this off until our last night, thinking it SHOULD be open. When we arrived at the Palace Casino, there was NO line, so I thought, hmmm maybe we just got lucky. As I approached closer, I noticed that the cooks behind the counter were packing their stuff, and then I saw the dreaded, unexpected announcement that the Oyster Bar was closed for Carpet Cleaning until the morning!!!

I was SO disappointed :( since we had to fly out the next morning so wouldn't be able to eat here. There were so many "what ifs" that came through my mind. What if we had come a little earlier? Like for breakfast? What if we came during our first day??

  • My conclusion and lesson learned from all this is to always prioritize your food list. Put the item you want to try the most on your list for day 1, so in case something happens, you can try again the next day. :)
  • One other lesson I learned from this trip is no more 8 AM flight from Vegas! We booked a Monday morning 8 AM flight because the price was really good. Well, it turns out I now understand why the price was so good. :) After staying up late Sunday night, it was really hard to try and wake up early morning. So next time I would probably pay a little more and catch a later flight.
  • Overall it was a good, productive, jam packed food tour for 2 days/2 nights! I definitely have to go back to finally try the Oyster Bar!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Orange County - College Visit Weekend Trip


My sister is currently studying in community college and is researching various universities to transfer. I raised the idea to do a quick weekend trip together to Orange County to visit UC Irvine. My hidden motivation was to eat the yummy food in OC! :)

We quickly booked tickets via Southwest. For hotel, there's a new Courtyard Marriott Irvine Spectrum that was pretty reasonable, so I booked that for us. I also rented a car via Advantage (more on that later). The trip was coming together and I was really looking forward to it.

Courtyard Marriott Irvine Spectrum

When I was researching hotels, there were actually plenty of available chain hotels like the Fairmont, Hyatt, Marriott, etc. -- with pretty reasonable weekend rates.

The main reason I booked this hotel was because it was close by the university and was brand new. Even though it's not a luxury hotel, Courtyards are usually pretty decent and the fact that it's brand new was nice. The hotel was located across the street from the Irvine Spectrum outdoor mall. Parking was free of charge and pretty easy to find.

Lobby area

First impression was the newness, and the decor seems to be a bit more sophisticated than the usual Courtyard. There's a large lobby/seating area, and there's a nice outdoor seating area with fire pit.

Nice outdoor area

The room was neutral in color and quite spacious. I liked the color choices in the room which felt more neutral/zen-ish than the typical red/green at the Courtyard.

Courtyard Marriott Irvine Spectrum
Nice seating area

The bathroom included a single sink and shower.


For our quick weekend trip, this was a great choice due to the location, great price, and the hotel being brand new.

Where We Ate in Orange County

Again, one of the main reason we did this trip was to eat :) As usual, there's too many places to eat than what we have slots for, so I have to prioritize!

Ritter's Steam Kettle

Our first stop was Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking. I heard so much about the Oyster Bar in Vegas, and because of my bad planning when I went to Vegas (putting it off until our last day, and the restaurant happened to be closed! -- even though it's supposed to be open 24/7), I really wanted to try this restaurant by the same owner. We met up with my friend and her adorable daughter.

My friend ordered the baked oyster to share, which was pretty good. Very cheesy + bacon :) Can't go wrong with that.

Baked Oyster

We ordered the famous Combo Pan Roast. The Pan Roast was a creamy, tomato based soup-- reminded me a bit of a gumbo. It was pretty good, but not out of this world. I heard the Oyster Bar's version IS out of this world and is better than Ritter's. So I still have it on my list to try Oyster Bar next time in Vegas.

Combo Pan Roast

My friend got the shrimp po boys and we both thought it was just ok.

Shrimp Poboys

Overall we both liked the Combo Pan Roast. But I still feel like the Combo Pan Roast could be better and I now really have to try it at the original Oyster Bar in Vegas.

Ohshima Japanese Cuisine

A friend suggested Ohshima for good, authentic Japanese food. This restaurant is pretty popular and I had to call a week in advance (they don't take reservations any sooner than that) between 5-5:30 PM to make reservation. 

They told us that they would only hold the reservation for 15 minutes. There was heavy traffic on our way to this place, and we made it just in time. There was already a line when we arrived.

The restaurant was small and did feel pretty authentic (even though the majority of the patrons are Westerners).

We started off with the seared cherry sashimi. I love that this place offers an option to sear your sashimi lightly, which I feel brings out a wonderful flavor.

Seared Cherry Salmon Sashimi

We also ordered their Seared Black Cod which is one of their most famous items as well. Again, it was so yummy! One thing to mention is that they also smear some "special" sauce on top so you don't need to use any soy sauce to dip.

Seared Black Cod

We ordered the 8 piece Omakase to share and everything tasted great and fresh!

8 Piece Omakase

They are also famous for their Uni Spaghetti. I'm a sucker for Japanese pasta so this was definitely something I knew I had to order. It was very creamy (as I like it), and the pasta was cooked al dente. I am actually not a huge fan of Uni (as they have a strong smell), but the Uni on this pasta was probably fresh and didn't have much of a smell so I thought it was delicious!

Uni pasta

Sprinkles Ice Cream

Sprinkles is actually one of my favorite cupcake shops. I especially love their red velvet cupcake. So when looking for dessert places in OC, I was happy to find that they opened an ice cream store! We went to the one in Newport Beach after our massage.

They actually had a huge selection, ranging from ice cream sandwiches with cupcake or cookie!

I ordered the red velvet ice cream with chocolate cupcake sandwich. The red velvet ice cream was actually a little disappointing (considering how good their cupcakes are).

My sister got the cereal ice cream with red velvet cupcake. We both liked hers better :)

Overall it was good to try, but was pretty pricey ~$7-ish per cup.


We definitely fit a lot to eat in 1.5 days. :) The actual UC Irvine campus tour went fine, and I kind of hope she gets in, so I can visit her and try more yummy restaurants!

One thing that was a hiccup was our reservation at Advantage Rental Car. I thought that all rental cars were the same. After our experience this weekend, I will ONLY rent cars from Hertz or Avis. I had such a bad experience (long waiting lines, car not ready and had to wait 45 minutes -- almost missed our campus tour!), and confusion over which car we were getting, and their process was very, very manual. So bye bye random rental car places.

Outside of that one negative, the overall trip was a success.