Thursday, March 5, 2015

Road Trip Tips: Planning Your Itinerary

With spring nearly upon us the season for road trips is fast approaching. As an avid road trip planner and fan I have amassed some tips over the past few years, tips that have made my planning process easier each time and have led to some wonderful experiences. Now that I am in the middle of the planning stage of this year’s trips myself I thought I would share some of my favorite tips with you. I’m going to Los Angeles to celebrate my birthday next month so I will use my process of planning that trip as an example.

Tip #1 Before you do anything else, decide on your “must-do’s” for the trip. It could be that you’re planning to attend a specific concert or event. Maybe it’s a shopping day you’re after, or a museum. By planning out a loose list of your reasons for visiting the city you’re travelling to you’re giving yourself a radius to figure out your hotel options and find some unexpected gems along the way.

In my case… The reason I chose LA was specifically to visit Duff’s Cakemix. I am a huge Ace of Cakes fan and when I heard they had opened a new bakery so close I knew I had to go. The Last Bookstore has been on my travel bucket list for years so that also made it onto my “must-do” list.

Tip #2 Unless you are absolutely tied to your hotel, don’t be afraid to shop around a little. Use your radius from your first step and google hotels in the area. Browse options on a travel site (I use and get a feel for what’s available. Choose a few top picks and compare from there. What is closest to your trip activities? What is your budget? Which hotels offer the extras that you’re looking for? Once you’ve decided on a hotel, don’t just book through the first site you found it on! In all of my hotel booking this year travel sites didn’t have the best price. In some cases the hotel’s website was over $30 cheaper per night! Also be sure to check for booking deals on the hotel’s website that offer discounted rates for AAA members or dining credits if you book two or more nights.

In my case… I had no idea where I wanted to stay when I started planning my trip to LA. It’s not a city I’ve spent a lot of time in so I was mostly unfamiliar with the area so I was relying a lot on customer reviews. In the end I went a little outside of my search radius when I saw that the Omni Hotel was a block away from where I was initially searching. I stayed at the Nashville Omni when I was there for a conference last year and I fell in love. Their convenient valet and central location to other nearby attractions made this the right choice for this trip. Rooms were slightly cheaper through the hotel’s website than they were on travel sites, especially with their AAA discount.

Tip #3 Now that you’ve booked your hotel, so a satellite map search of the area and see what little gems you can add to your itinerary. Oftentimes the hotel will have a list on the website of attractions in walking distance and taking a look at the satellite map will show you other options that you may not have considered (or even been aware of). Also check for events that will be at nearby venues for the time you will be in town. You could find something unexpectedly perfect, and will keep you aware of potential traffic snags.

In my case… Searching the area around the Omni I found that both the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Walt Disney Concert Hall are in walking distance. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that the Seoul Philharmonic will be at the Concert Hall the night I am there playing one of my favorite Beethoven pieces. With this, my itinerary was rounded out with plans for an afternoon museum visit, dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant, and tickets to the show. None of that would have fallen into place if I hadn’t done a search of the surrounding area. What was starting out as a fun girl’s shopping day has turned into a dream vacation and I couldn’t be more excited.

Are you planning any road trips this year? What are your “must-do’s” as you prepare to hit the road?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bardot Brasserie

I have been a Michael Mina fan for several years now so when I heard that he had a new restaurant coming to Las Vegas I was all ears. Done in the style of a traditional French brasserie, Bardot Brasserie at the Aria does not disappoint. Walking in you are immediately face to face with the extensive bar. The combination of brass and glass sets the stage for the vibe of the restaurant as a whole. It's like stepping into another era complete with French jazz and uncovered wooden tables. Sitting in one of the booths in the back gives you a front row seat to witness the action in the kitchen, complete with the large wood burning oven.

After making some careful choices, honestly it was difficult to decide with so many delicious options, I somehow ended up with a multi-course feast of red meat. At the recommendation of the waiter I started things off with the steak tartar. While the crisps provided proved difficult to eat, the steak itself was decadently rich and delicious. With a creamy texture provided by the quail's egg yolk the meat was well spiced and an excellent start to the night.

Seeing bone marrow on the menu that was the one pick I had in mind from scoping out the menu online in the days leading up to my reservation. This was easily the standout dish of the night. Hearth cooked to achieve the perfect sear each bone was a balance between crisp and melt-in-your mouth goodness. Paired with bordelaise onions, whose tart sweetness cut through the heavy fat of the marrow, and bread for layering this dish is a must have.

Having had such a wonderful experience with the steak at Michael Mina over Thanksgiving I decided to keep it traditional with the Ribeye Steak Frittes. Especially for the price tag, the steak was generously portioned even though I did find the fois gras butter to be a little too earthy for my taste. The frittes themselves, fried in beef fat, were the surprise of the night. I am rarely wowed by fries, but the flavor from the beef fat paired with the still fluffy potato was a winning combination. I would order this dish again if only to enjoy the fries.

After such a heavy meal I decided to end things on a lighter note with the mille feuille. Boasting a caramelized puff pastry as its selling point I enjoyed the sweet, crisp layers though the caramelization process did leave the layers sticking to my teeth.

Final Verdict: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
With generous portions of solidly prepared, flavorful food with a twist Bardot Brasserie is a must for any fan of French food. Whether you're looking for a romantic date or a fun night out with the girls there is something for you here. Step out of your comfort zone to find the real standout dishes from the bone marrow to the escargot (which were the hit of the night for the tables around me, they are definitely on my list for my next visit).