Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hot Spots in Houston

Cyclone Anaya's
Since I have not yet visited the great city of Houston, Texas, my friend Kenny filled me in on all the great places to eat there. This inside information comes from someone who loves exploring cities and finding new, great places to eat and drink. Here are his top picks: In Midtown, try Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen, which has the best fish tacos he has ever had. The average dinner entrĂ©e prices are around $14 each. The Fish Restaurant and Sushi Bar, similar in flavor and style to the Fishbones chain, has a great menu of appetizers such as Lobster Puffs for $4, during Happy Hour on Thursdays.
When you are visiting the city, you also cannot miss these eateries: Ragin Cajun, which has a fun, casual atmosphere and a myriad of specialty po’ boy sandwiches and boiled crawfish; Beck’s Prime, which offers some of the best hamburgers in the U.S. in 11 varieties; Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, which specializes in raw oysters, Louisiana gumbo, etoufee, and other Cajun specialties; and Pappasito's Cantina, which offers Tex Mex-style food at mid-range prices.
Where are your favorite places to eat when visiting Houston, Dallas, and Austin?
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Martinis, Manicures & Healthy Food

What could be better than relaxing with a drink while getting a manicure? The Fairmont Pittsburgh just came out with a new special: a Martinis & Manicures Package. The package includes two nights stay, two manicures at the hotel’s Health Club, and martinis to enjoy during the manicures. The locally-inspired martinis include: the Pop Art Martini, the Kea Lani tea-infused Lillet and lemon twist, and the Cultural-tini. Rates for the package start at USD 279 per night. With Fairmont’s luxurious accommodations, this is a great rate and a neat idea for a girl’s weekend or bachelorette party!   
On a different note, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is helping travelers keep their New Years’ resolutions by launching “Travel Healthy” meals on its in-room dining menu. The light menu – each dish is fewer than 500 calories - includes Garden Omelet, Smokey Turkey Burger Melt, and Whole Wheat Pasta with Seasonal Vegetables & Fresh Herb Goat Cheese. Kudos to Kimpton for offering healthier choices that taste yummy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Top U.S. Cities With Hotel Rate Drops

Key West Sailing Regatta
through Jan. 21
I don’t know about you, but I am itching to go on vacation. At the same time, I am always looking for the best deal. So, I was excited to read Hotwire’s new report showing where hotel rates have declined the most. Drumroll, please….The top five U.S. cities with the biggest hotel rate drops in January are: Flagstaff, Ariz.; Key West, Fla.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Reno, Nev.; and Salt Lake City, Utah. I have always loved the Keys, but all these cities are great to visit. Key West hoteliers dropped their hotel rates after the snow birds have been snowed in up North. And Flagstaff, near Grand Canyon National Park, is typically slow for tourism this time of year, so hotels can offer great rates.
Unfortunately, many hotels raised their prices in 2011. The top five U.S. and Canadian cities with hotel rate increases in January are: Honolulu, Hawaii; Miami, Fla.; Providence, R.I.; Montreal, Quebec; and Toronto, Ontario, says Hotwire.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Orlando's Top Sushi Restaurants

This is a tough one. Everyone has their idea of what good sushi is. However, since coming to Orlando more than 15 years ago, I consistently hear friends recommend certain restaurants over and over. Fuji Sushi in Winter Park, Lake Mary, and Waterford Lakes, provides high-quality sushi and sashimi every time. I especially like their cooked rolls, such as the spicy Volcano Roll that has an overflowing topping of seafood sauce and conch, scallop, whitefish or octopus. Try some of their signature sushi, such as the Orlando Magic Roll, the Black Widow Roll, and the Louisiana Roll with crawfish.  
Fuji Sushi
Meanwhile, Bayridge Sushi in Longwood and Apopka provides sushi that is similar in quality to Fuji’s rolls, but with much lower prices. Try the “all you can eat” sushi special for $19.95. My friends also swear by Tokyo Japanese & Sushi Bar, which is near Orlando International Airport. It is one of those small places that do it right with fresh sushi and good-sized portions. Tokyo Japanese recently expanded to include a hibachi grill. Where are your favorite places to eat sushi in Orlando or other cities?
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sneak Peak at new Disney Event

With the major Orlando theme parks raising prices on park-goers every year, it is great to see Walt Disney World Resort offer a discount for Florida residents. The park’s new “Wild 4 Disney” Pass provides Florida residents with four days’ admission to any of the four Disney parks for $119. The only two catches: make sure you purchase tickets by May 22 for use through May 26, 2011, and you cannot buy tickets for the blackout dates of April 17 through April 24, 2011.
Speaking of Disney, both Disney World and Disneyland in Anaheim are about to launch a new projection show on Cinderella’s Castle. Every night, park-goers will see hundreds of guest images shot in the parks that day projected onto the castle. This goes along with Disney’s “Let the Memories Begin” marketing campaign, which shows parents giving kids the gift of trips to Disney. Are you going to one of the Disney parks this year? Are you concerned about the cost of going?
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Best Restaurants in Orlando

Although some may consider Orlando to be overrun with chain restaurants, there are quite a few independent eateries that offer their own distinct flavors. My boyfriend and I recently discovered the Winter Park Fish Co., a fast casual seafood restaurant with white tablecloth-caliber dishes. The chef is George Vogelbacher, who used to own Le Cordon Bleu in Winter Park. I have never had seafood cooked so perfectly. The prices are very reasonable for fine-dining seafood entrees. Try the Key West Style grouper sandwich for $15 or the Cioppino Seafood Stew for $11. 

Another largely undiscovered eatery is Mi Tomatina Paella Bar, also in Winter Park. The authentic Spanish appetizers include Patatas Bravas - roasted potatoes with truffle oil and Manchengo cheese - for $6 and Honey Lavender Shrimp – large Florida shrimp, seared in a honey lavender glaze – for $12. The main attraction – the paellas – range from one with Black Angus tenderloin, braised oxtail, and snails to the Paella Fabulosa, featuring paella rice with squid, octopus, mussels, clams, shrimp, whole lobster, and chicken.
I will be reviewing more top restaurants in Orlando, New Orleans, New York City, Los Angeles, and other major cities in the coming weeks. Let me know your favorites from around the country.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Restaurants with Vegan, Gluten-Free Menus

It is not easy going out to eat when you have food allergies or health issues, or you want to eat vegan. However, I have been impressed that restaurant chains such as Applebees and T.G.I. Friday’s have added more vegetarian and “lighter” options, which also are often gluten-free and dairy-free. Now I hear that Fairmont Hotels & Resorts – a wonderful hotel chain based in Toronto with properties across the U.S. and several other countries – has added a special menu for people who would like to eat gluten-free, macrobiotic, and vegan diets. The “Lifestyle Cuisine Plus” menu also aims to provide delicious food for people with heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.
Some of the dishes now on the menu at Fairmont hotels include: Free Range Chicken with Quinoa, vegan Chocolate Ganache Flan, Portobello and Cashew Butter Pave, and Baked Tofu with Bean Noodles. Are you able to find vegan, macrobiotic, and allergy-free food at your local restaurants? If so, let me know the restaurants that serve yummy food, while helping you eat healthy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Best Christmas Lights in Florida

Nothing makes me feel more like a kid around this time of year than looking at Christmas and holiday lights. Every year, we visit two amazing neighborhoods in Winter Park, Fla., a suburb of Orlando. The main attraction is a house that has featured nearly 200,000 Christmas lights for 18 years, at 5651 Garden Grove Circle. In addition to lights that encompass the yard and house, there are two lit Christmas trees on the roof! The charming window displays are also fun to view.
In the same neighborhood, two homes feature miniature town that take up the entire garages! The second home, at 7765 Fox Knoll Place, features lights and yard decorations that are timed to Mannheim Steamroller holiday hits. The bonus? Visitors can donate to Vanessa's Big Heart Foundation. You have to see this home in person to understand how cool it is. In fact, once you see these homes, you will likely want to make them a part of your holiday traditions!