Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Commander's Palace Loves Gulf Seafood

The chef of arguably the finest restaurant in Louisiana loves Gulf seafood. In fact, he eats a pound of it daily. Tory McPhail, executive chef of the five-star Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, has been one of the staunchest supporters of Gulf seafood since the oil spill. Anyone who has eaten at Commander’s Palace knows the food is impeccable, and they would only serve the best. Throughout the U.S., some restaurants stopped serving Gulf seafood after the oil spill, and many restaurant-goers were hesitant to eat it.
McPhail and Commander’s Palace kept delicious Gulf seafood – which is being tested daily by scientists and the government – on the menu all along. “Every pound of crab meat, speckled trout, redfish, drum, and shrimp we serve – I check it, the sous [chefs] check it, and our two butchers check it. I haven’t had one Gulf seafood delivery post-spill that didn’t make the grade,” McPhail said.

Friday, December 17, 2010

All A-Twitter Over Hotel Deals

If you haven’t signed up for your favorite hotel’s tweets or Facebook posts, you are missing out. Most hotels are using the social networks to tell travelers about specials, musicians performing at their hotels, or even what is for dinner that night. I love it when hotels use social media for fun too: the most interesting campaign I saw this week was from Modern Hotel and Bar in Boise, Idaho. This week, @modernhotel announced on Twitter that it was offering a $40 gift card and a T-shirt to the first two people to make a “Modern snowman” and post a picture on the hotel’s Facebook page.
I also find a lot of good bargains for hotel stays on Twitter – many that are exclusive to the hotels’ followers only. The best “steal” I saw recently was from Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas (@hardrockhotellv), offering a $25 mid-week rate and $65 weekend rate, as a “Twitter Tuesday” special for its followers. What a great opportunity to stay at a beautiful, upscale hotel for next-to-nothing!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ice Skating in Florida

I realize that ice and snow are an oxymoron in Central Florida. But the other night, I was able to experience both, when I went ice skating at the University of Central Florida. UCF’s annual “Light Up UCF”, held from November 12 through January 2, boasts a full-size skating rink, a sledding slope with snow and ice, carolers, a light show, and rides. My friends and I had a blast ice skating, with the DJ playing popular songs and Christmas tunes. Although I had not been skating for years, I was able to pick it up again and feel comfortable on the ice. I even went sledding.
This fun holiday event even sports a Ferris wheel and a carousel for the kids. The cost is reasonable for families too: $12 for ice skiing and rides starting at $4.25.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Top Holiday Cocktails at Hotels

Many hotel bars celebrate the holidays with festive cocktail selections. The Viceroy Santa Monica in Santa Monica, Calif., for instance, is sporting the “Mistletoe” cocktail, which uses fresh herbs from the hotel’s rooftop garden. Troy Pade, director of hotel operations for Viceroy Santa Monica, shared Mistletoe’s recipe exclusively with Flavorful Excursions. Now you can make fancy hotel drinks for your guests!
2 oz. Hendricks
.5 oz. agave nectar
2 oz. soda
2 pinches of sage, mint and thyme
1 lime
Drop herb mixture, lime, and agave into shaker and muddle. Add gin, soda, and shake. Pour in frosty martini glass and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
Another signature cocktail from the Viceroy Santa Monica is:
1 oz. Kahlua
1 oz. Chambord
1.5 oz. Frangelico
1 oz. cream
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake and pour in a rocks glass. For a more wintery look (optional), top with a dollop of frothy crème fraische.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Drink For a Better Environment

I – like a lot of other travelers – am going green. I like to eat organic produce, use natural skin care products, and recycle at my home. I hadn’t really thought about extending green into my cocktail choices, though, until Wyndham Hotels and Resorts came out with an eco-friendly beverage menu. The new menu features organic wines, beers, and cocktails. Each Wyndham lounge also features a “TRU Blue Signature Organic Cocktail”, a martini made with TRU organic vodka, Fruit Lab organic orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice, and naturally blue-tinted simple syrup. It sounds very good.
Greenbar Collective, which makes TRU vodka and Fruit Lab Liqueurs, will plant a tree in Central American rainforests for every TRU Blue cocktail sold. Kudos to these companies for doing good, and helping us drink well!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The World's Most Unique Hotels

I love unique hotels and Ice Hotel in Sweden is a probably the most different, daring concept I have heard about. At any Ice Hotel, you can choose to stay in an “Ice Room”, where you sleep on blocks of ice, or in a “Snow Room”, in which you sleep on snow but are warmed by sleeping bags and reindeer skins. Ice Hotel is not the only hotel offering something different, though.
The NU Hotel in Brooklyn, N.Y., features chalkboard walls in its guest bathrooms. That way, if you get a fabulous business idea at 2:00 a.m., or simply want to write a note to your spouse, you can do so. At the new Soho Beach House in Miami, Fla., a retro photo booth greets guests who can have their pics taken for free. The hotel then hangs some of the fun photos in its hallway. While some of these unique hotels are pricy, I believe the cost is worth having an experience that you would not have anywhere else.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Restaurant-Goers Looking for Value AND Indulgence

Indulgent Meals
Foodservice consulting firm Technomic’s top 11 restaurant trends for 2011 mimic the ups and downs we have seen in the U.S. economy this year.  Apparently, those of us who like to eat out will be demanding that restaurants offer us the lowest prices they can – and more coupons to boot. At the same time, many are tired of penny-pinching, and will partake in “indulgent” meals from time to time, says Technomic.
Other hot trends named by Technomic include: food trucks – the new venue for foodies, Mad Men-style retro cocktails, more growth in Korean and Asian foods, and more Southern comfort foods such as grits. On the techie front, watch for new restaurant apps, ordering your meal via kiosk, and wine lists on iPads.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Restaurants Offer Seafood & Turkey Deals

McCormick & Schmick's

“What do you think the Pilgrims ate on the Mayflower?”, read an email greeting last week from Legal Sea Foods, based in Boston. I thought this was a clever way for Legal to let diners know that it is okay to eat stuffed lobster and other yummy seafood dishes on Thanksgiving. In addition to Legal’s extensive seafood menu, its locations are serving stuffed turkey and other holiday favorites this Thanksgiving. Another popular seafood restaurant chain, McCormick & Schmick’s, is offering a traditional Thanksgiving meal for $22.95 a person, along with its regular seafood menu.

I love seeing all types of restaurants get into Thanksgiving this year, particularly since it is one of the biggest dining out days of the year.  Another neat offering is from Palio d’Asti in downtown San Francisco. The upscale eatery’s Thanksgiving dinner uses sustainable and organic ingredients and features unique dishes such as Braised Turkey with Bourbon-Gin Gravy and Pumpkin Ravioli with Brussels Sprouts and Piave Cheese. Be on the lookout for the yummy Thanksgiving specials in your city. Where will you be dining this year?

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Most Fun You Will Have at a Trade Show

This week’s IAAPA (the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) Attractions Expo is not your average trade show. In fact, it is the most fun you will ever have at an exhibition. My boyfriend and I walked a zip line bridge, played a pirate shooting game, and rode a carousel. This is a place where exhibitors invite you to play and try their latest wares (including yummy fair food) for amusement parks, fairs, and special events.
This year’s hot trends for amusement parks were: 3D and 4D movies, oversized inflatables with slides, and interactive video games. One of the most unique new products we noticed was a machine that blows bubbles into shapes, such as hearts and stars (from SnowMasters). Another different attraction was an interactive pirate shooting game, complete with a massive ship modeled after “Pirates of the Caribbean”. The pirate ship, bear, and other wood figures were fashioned by the team at Daniels Wood Land, which builds figures for Hollywood movie premieres and other events.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hot Foursquare Deals For Food & Hotels

I have often said that Foursquare is a great social networking app, for those who like to share the places they eat and visit with their friends. However, the drawback has been that many hotels and restaurants on Foursquare have not offered incentives, besides allowing members to become the “mayor of their establishment. That has changed recently, with new Foursquare deals from popular hotels and restaurants. McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants, for example, is offering a free bar food menu item with any beverage purchase, to customers who check in via Foursquare. And, the mayor of each of its restaurants can receive a free dinner!

Whist at Viceroy

Meanwhile, the Wingate by Wyndham hotel chain is offering Wyndham loyalty rewards points for guests who join Topquest and check in at any of its hotels. And, the Viceroy Santa Monica hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., is giving guests who check in via Foursquare at its Whist restaurant, 15 percent off their dinner.  As a traveler and lover of eating out, I will be taking advantage of these new rewards, and I hope you will be too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Be a Kid Again: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Ah, I had such a great time Friday night. It was chilly and snowing in Florida, and I sipped hot chocolate and snacked on sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles. One of the annual national events that gets me into the holiday spirit every year is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, held at Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., on select dates from November 8 through December 19.  
Walking down Main Street U.S.A, the first thing I spotted was Cinderella’s castle, which looks different than usual. It is adorned with tiny, sparkling lights, which makes it seem even more enchanting.  “Snow” falls gently from the top of Main Street shops, and Christmas decorations adorn the street lamps and buildings. The Christmas Parade really makes me feel like a kid again. Toy soldiers and reindeer march and interact with the crowd, and Santa - atop his sleigh - waves to all the kids. Although you pay an extra fee for this event, it is worth it: the park is open until midnight and the crowds are sparse, so you get on your favorite rides right away.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Americans Want to Get Away Next Year

Apparently more of us want to go on vacations next year. A recent survey of 3,000 U.S. travelers by TripAdvisor says that 36% of people plan to spend more money on leisure travel next year than in 2010, and 42% will spend the same amount. Travelers say the multitude of online travel deals have spiked their interest in taking trips. So, I am wondering: is this really true? Do you plan to travel more next year? If so, where do you want to go?
A whopping 69 percent of those surveyed said they are going overseas, primarily to Europe. In the U.S., most people said they want to visit Las Vegas, New York, and San Francisco. Vegas does seem like the new “it” city, doesn’t it? I wonder if movies like “The Hangover” have boosted the allure of going to “Sin City”. Still, I am surprised, since Orlando and Florida have always been at the top of travelers’ wish lists of places to visit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Free Hotel Rooms and Food for Vets

Happy Veterans Day to all those who have served our country! Hotels and restaurants across the U.S. are honoring your service with free hotel rooms and free food. Rosen Hotels & Resorts in Orlando, Fla., is offering veterans a free guest room tonight at any of its four leisure properties. Plus, veterans receive free dinner and a buffet breakfast. What a neat way to respect and recognize our military! Restaurant chains are also doing their part to give back. Applebee’s is providing a free meal to active and retired military personnel today, while Outback Steakhouse is giving active personnel and vets a Bloomin’ Onion appetizer and a beverage. Through this weekend, TGI Friday’s is offering a two-for-one special to current and former military people. Many of the other major chains are getting involved, so check out their specials tonight and this weekend.
 I would also like to commend the vacation ownership industry for their “Vacations for Vets” program. Since 2005, timeshare companies have provided 1,000 vacations for wounded warriors and U.S. veterans. To take part in one of these vacations, visit

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Grab Black Friday Deals....From Hotels!

I know that you avid shoppers anticipate the annual tradition of getting up at the crack of dawn the morning after Thanksgiving, and being the first in line to grab steep deals on presents. This year, I am happy to see that hotels around the world are getting into the Black Friday phenomenon. They are already offering Black Friday deals, so you can book your winter or spring trip for a steal. InterContinental Hotels Group – which owns Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and other hotel brands – is offering a unique Black Friday deal. From now through November 29, travelers can get $50 off any flight for travel through April 30, 2011, when they book at least one weekend night at any IHG hotel in the U.S. To be eligible for this deal, travelers must first follow @IHG_Deals on Twitter. Travelocity will also offer hotel deals for one day only on Black Friday.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Insider Tips From Epcot's Food & Wine Festival

The delicious aromas wafting from several of the pavilions at the Epcot Food & Festival the other night made me so happy! The chefs really focus on upscale culinary offerings and presentations. My favorite dish this year was the Lobster and Scallops Fishermen’s Pie at the Ireland kiosk. This dish, Epcot’s executive chef Jens Dahlmann tells me, is made with a full-flavored lobster bisque, lobster meat, and scallops, then topped with mashed potatoes and aged Irish cheddar. It was the number three seller at the Food & Wine Festival last year and is sure to be on the top of the list again this year. One of my other favorites was the Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree in Argentina. That chimichurri sauce is one of the best! The Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec wine in Argentina is also not to be missed.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The first installment of Flavorful Excursions is fittingly about gardens at restaurants. As a lover of local, healthy foods, I commend the many restaurants that are growing their own veggies, fruits and herbs. A third of chefs recently interviewed by the National Restaurant Association said that gardens are the hottest restaurant trend this year. However, it is not only gardens that are feeding us tasty, healthy foods when we go out to eat. A number of the nation’s restaurants and hotels are using hydroponic tower gardens to supply their delicious tasty herbs and produce. The J.W. Marriott in Orlando, Fla., and the new Bell, Book & Candle restaurant (pictured above) in Greenwich Village, N.Y., are two notable restaurants using this eco-friendly growing method.