Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mission Beach- The Beach of my Tween-age Fantasies

We had a case of the post Disney trip blues when we woke up on Wednesday. I was curious if this would be the case as we still had three more trip days left. The power of the Disney bubble is strong, and returning to the normal world is hard, even if that normal world still includes several more days of fun.

We discussed what we should do with our day over coffee and our Matterhorn macaroons. The day should be low key and leisurely, we thought, so we set out for Mission Beach.

As a tween, I loved Beverly Hills, 90210 and Saved by the Bell. Both shows painted an enticing portrait of what it would be like to be a teenager living in California. 

The school buildings surrounded by palm trees, volleyball and bonfires on the beach, surfing every weekend, riding in Dillon’s convertible along the cliffs, and oh the adolescent shenanigans. 

The shows made going to high school on the East Coast seem down right depressing.

All of the fantasies of my unrequited high school days spent in California flooded back to me as we walked Mission Beach. It looked just like the beaches in the shows that improperly informed me of what high school would be like (I was sure high school would be just like Saved by the Bell. Boy was I wrong). Mission Beach had the distinct West Coast looking life guard stands,

wet suited surfers catching some waves,


and an all around chill West Coast vibe.

 We stopped for lunch at Arslan's & Vahida's. 

I’m always curious if anyone can surpass our much loved gyros at Bill’s in Atlantic City.  

Though the gyros at Arslan's & Vahida's were not better than Bill’s, they were right on par.  The key to a good gyro, I think anyway, is the tender juiciness of the meat, and the quality of the feta and sauce. The gyros were excellent. If I lived in the area, it would be my go to gyro place. The fries weren't bad, but the individual fry textures ranged from very soggy to super crispy depending on which fry you popped in your mouth.

We were still pretty worn out from our Disneyland escapades, so after lunch, we pulled up a piece of concrete wall, and vegged out while watching people surf/wipe out on the Wave House's man made waves. 

I’m sure on the weekends Mission Beach is jumping, but on a random Wednesday afternoon, the place was fairly sparse. 

There were aspects that reminded me of the boardwalks back home, sans the boards.

There were stores selling beach wares,

and an amusement area.

Mission Beach, where you can ride a kitty

There was lovely scenery up and down the paved walkway.  

I imagine it would be a nice place to take a bike ride.

 Mission Beach was a perfect match for how we were feeling that day, laid back and a little sleepy. I certainly loved seeing the imagines that were seared into my tween brain through the bright screen of my television set. Sadly, Zack and the gang weren't around to invite me to join some sort of hijinx that would inevitably end in a valuable life lesson. 

Additional Note:

My obsession with high school in California really began as a kid with Beverly Hills Teens.  I loved the cartoon so much, several of my Barbies were named after characters in the show.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Disneyland-Dinner at Napa Rose's Chef Counter

At first we were bummed that Disneyland Park closed at 7 pm on the day we were visiting, but we turned those frowns upside-down and decided to take advantage of the earlier closing.  We booked an 8:30 pm dinner reservation at the Chef Counter at Napa Rose.

After changing into our fancy duds, we made our way to the Grand Californian Hotel. 

 We were still a wee bit early, so we decided to hang out by the hotel lobby's fireplace.

The architecture in the hotel is gorgeous, the furniture comfy, and if that didn't make the moment perfect enough, there was a pianist playing lovely piano arrangements of Disney songs.

It was an extra special moment that we didn't plan or expect. I think if I was a local and had a stressful day, I might go hang out in the Grand Californian's lobby for a few hours.

It was important that we arrive on time for our reservation as there are only two sittings at the Chef Counter (5:30 or 8:30) and seating is limited.

After being escorted to our seats, we were introduced to our servers for the evening, Rochelle and Roberto. We told Rochelle that we were interested in doing the chef tasting, and because we were in California, we couldn't pass up adding the wine pairing.

Now we have done chef tastings at other restaurants, but this was the first time that the Chef came over to talk with us first.  He asked if we had any allergies, and then asked if there was anything that we especially disliked (like mushrooms for Shannon). He jotted down notes as we gave our answers.  After that was done, Roberto brought us bread and butter, and Rochelle brought us an amuse bouche.

Amuse Bouche
I love an amuse bouche, mostly because it's fun to say. We were treated to a spring pea parfait, topped with shrimp and creme fraiche.

It was fresh, light, and tasted like spring in a glass.

We both got the same amuse bouche, but it was the last time we would travel the same plated path. This was the first time that instead of sharing dishes at a chef tasting, we each got individualized dishes that the chef thought fitted the receiver the best. Likewise, Rochelle poured a glass of wine, one for each dish, that paired best with our individualized dishes.

The food was a lot to keep up with, on top of the enjoyable diversion of watching the kitchen, and having a nice chat with the couple next to us, so I completely gave up trying to record the wines. I also didn't get every  detail on the dishes.

First Course

Shannon's first course was a lobster tempura and sliced filet mignon beneath an Asian salad.

My course, and I couldn't believe it, was octopus. I mean, how did they know how much I love octopus?

My octopus was topped with a sweet and spicy chili sauce that was the real winner of the dish. I also had an Asian inspired salad.  

I explained to Rochelle my love of octopus dishes and how I couldn't believe that the chef picked it for me.  Rochelle joked that Disney can read your mind.  I know she was joking, but I wouldn't put it past Disney.

Second Course

My dish continued a seafood theme.  I received a scallop over mashed potatoes, in a lobster cream sauce.

Oh my. The sauce was so rich and velvety, and the lobster meat added a nice sweetness. The creamy mashed potatoes did an excellent job soaking up the sauce.  All of the wines we had that evening were great, but this was the only wine I absolutely remember, because it was a chardonnay. Neither of us is a chardonnay drinking. Perhaps we've never had a really good chardonnay. The buttery notes of the chardonnay perfectly matched the buttery flavors in the sauce. It was a match made in heaven. 

Shannon also got a seafood dish, but in halibut form.

  His dish came in a lighter sauce with fresh tomatoes.  It was also very good.

Third Course

Perhaps because Shannon was adamant about no mushrooms, my third course was a hearty serving of mushroom risotto.

I'm a huge fan of risotto, so perhaps there was some mind reading going on. Now don't get me wrong, my risotto was creamy, tangy, and delicious, but Shannon's quail was dazzling.

Aside from the fabulous food, the other great part about dining at Napa Rose's Chef Counter, is watching the chefs up close and in action.  

They never stop moving, and they move quickly. They must be exhausted at the end of every night.

Chef Tae spent a lot of time preparing dishes on the counter space in front of us.  He was extremely friendly and was happy to chat about what he was making and/or what he was doing.  

Chef Tae on the left making sure everyone loves their food

All of the chefs were quite personable (no screaming Gordon Ramseys here) and wanted to make sure that we were enjoying our food. They took a lot of pride in their work. It added that Disney touch where you actually believe that everyone genuinely cares about your happiness.

Unexpectedly fun, was chatting with the couple who shared the counter with us.  Lon and Valerie were from San Francisco. 

Lon and Valerie next to Shannon

They were celebrating Valerie's birthday. We talked about pinball. We conversed about travel, they were gearing up for a trip to Germany. They wanted to know about living in Philadelphia, and we asked questions about living in San Francisco. They were cool and my biggest regret was not connecting with them somehow on social media before parting ways. Lon and Valerie from San Francisco, if you're out there, I really want to know how your Germany trip was. 

Fourth Course

For Shannon, NY strip steak with corn and fava beans.  It was wonderful, but....

Rochelle stated that some couples or groups will pick a winner for each course served.  We both agreed that I ended up with the winner of the entire meal (again everything was amazing so this was no easy decision).

My fourth dish was a filet mignon with portobello mushrooms.

It just absolutely melted in my mouth. Some of the best filet I've ever had. I also did my best to soak up ever last smudge of the delectable sauce. I wish I was eating it again right now.

For dessert, Rochelle gave us a choice. We could select a dessert off of a menu, or we could leave it as a surprise.  We decided to leave it as a surprise.

I'm finding that when I tell restaurants that I have an allergy to hazelnuts, they decide to play it safe and avoid giving me all nuts. This could be why this peanut butter obsessed girl was not the one to get the peanut butter banana dessert.

 Instead, I got a lemon cake with blackberries and donuts. It was good, but I think I was comparing it too much to the previous night's semifreddo. 

I liked Shannon's dessert more, and he liked mine more, but we never did end up switching. We were too busy chatting with Lon and Valerie and the chefs.  We also got a really good cup of coffee. We needed some pep for our ride back to Escondido.  


It was a magical eating experience. The chef tasting courses were outstanding. The experience of sitting and watching the chefs work up close, offered a unique entertainment. Rochelle and Roberto were exceptional, attentive servers.  Rochelle explained every dish and wine in impressive detail. By the end of the night, we agreed that Napa Rose joined the ranks as one of the best meals/eating experience we have had.

The chef tasting meal takes several hours, so don't book it if you have somewhere you have to be. Also if you have somewhere to be, or if you're hesitant to let someone else choose what you are going to eat, you can have a nice dinner from their menu.

One more thing. I must thank my friend Stephanie for gifting me this handy dandy notebook. I at least attempted to keep up with our courses by furiously writing them down.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Tsum Tsum Swarm at World of Disney

Prior to our trip, a friend asked if we could pick up two Duffy Bear (and Shellie May, but they didn’t have them in Disneyland) tsum tsums. 

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, tsum tsums are stuffed animals that look like Disney characters. 

There is an accompanying mobile game that is similar to Candy Crush, and from personal experience, highly addictive. 

The Duffy Bear tsum tsums are only available at the theme parks, and we were more than happy to hunt down some Duffys at Disneyland, so after our day at California Adventure, we headed to the World of Disney store in Downtown Disneyland.

If you have never been to a World of Disney store, know that it is a vast abyss of Disney merchandise.  The store is gigantic and  never ending. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the glassy eyed people wandering about have been there for a year or more and have yet to locate the exit.  If you go with a group, friend, or significant other, do not under any circumstance separate. You may never find one another again.  Having your phone on you is always a good idea, but sometimes even that is difficult, as the call goes something like,

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know, I think in some sort of kitchen section. I see Mickey spatulas. Where are you?”

“Walking through the stuffed animal section. Can you find the stuffed animals?”

“I’m in a section now with Princess dresses. Are the stuffed animals near the Princess dresses?”

“I don’t think so. I think the stuffed animals are in the room next to the sweatshirts or maybe the bath toys, are you anywhere near bath toys?”

You get the picture. I repeat, do not separate.

We scoured Disneyland’s World of Disney store until we found the tsum tsum section, semi-hidden, on a back wall.  We stared. We located a little stuffed animal that was perhaps Duffy Bear, but we weren’t one hundred percent sure.  Tsum tsums do not have labels, name tags, or any other identifiers. Some, like Minnie Mouse, are easily identifiable, while others like Bruno, or say, Duffy Bear are more difficult (at least to us).   

Fortunately our friend is very smart and sent us a picture of the Duffy Bear tsum tsum prior to our trip. 

While I was double checking the picture on my phone, a sudden surge of store customers swarmed the tsum tsum wall.  

Beginning of the tsum tsum swarm
It was like the scene in the Charlie Brown Christmas special when the kids wave their arms over Snoopy’s dog house and all of the decorations suddenly disappear.  Just like that. I looked over to the column that held the Duffy Bears and watched as a woman swept the entire column of adorable bears into her arms.

I yelled, quite loudly I’m afraid,

“WHAT!? NOOOOO!!!!!”

The woman startled, froze, and turned to look at me.  She did not speak English, so I did my best to give her a most pathetic, pleading look, and made gestures that conveyed, for the love of God could you please just let me have two of the Duffy Bears you are currently hoarding?

Keeping a safe distance, very wise of her, she slowly plucked one of the bears from her armful, and handed it over to me.  I did my best to give her my utmost gratitude and then politely communicated that one more Duffy Bear would be ideal.  She handed over another, then went to grab one more. I shook my head letting her know that I only needed the two. I once again conveyed thanks, and then she hurried off to the register before any other desperate Duffy Bear fans could persuade her to hand over her plunder.

At the time it was absolute, frustrating chaos, but now, we consider it one of the funniest, most memorable Disney Park experiences we have had thus far. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Disneyland Park-Attractions also in WDW

After experiencing as many attractions that are not at Walt Disney World as we could, our second goal was to try out the attractions that are the same/similar to those at Disney World.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

We thought that Disneyland's version was way better.  

Not only was it less jerky, but the scenes and theming surpassed World's. I especially liked the explosion tunnel. If we had the time, we would have ridden it again (I can't wait to ride Disneyland Paris' version someday, as it is supposed to be the absolute best version).   

It's a Small World

Sorry, just by reading this, you probably have the song stuck in your head now. 

Another attraction we liked more at Disneyland, mainly because it appeared more well loved and well maintained.  Also the outside facade and loading area are gorgeous, whimsical pieces of art. Disneyland's version truly captures the attractions' global peace spirit. It just seemed to shine.

On our last trip to Disney World, Small World looked pretty shabby.  I will say though that I still like my Disney World hippos more.

Pirates of the Caribbean

I know that most people hail Disneyland's version of Pirates to be superior, but I felt like it was a wash. I certainly appreciated the float past Blue Bayou, and the double drops, but the rest didn't feel any more spectacular than what World's version achieves.

This however could be nostalgia talking. After Peter Pan (which was closed for refurbishment during this trip), Pirates is the attraction that still holds bright in my memory from my very first trip to Disney World.

Disneyland Railroad

Two things make Disneyland's train a standout. One, tiered, sideways facing seats (not every train there has them, so be on the lookout for one that does).

You don't have to stare at the back of someone's heads, and you don't have to lean over your neighbor to get a good view of the scenery. Everything is right in front of your eyes.

Two, the super fun dioramas. If you don't have time to do a full train loop, make sure to hop on at Tomorrowland and ride the train to Main Street. You can feel the breath of Walt as you chug past the Grand Canyon and the dinosaurs that once dazzled folks at The World's Fair.

Space Mountain

I love Space Mountain...can you tell?

We loved it so much, we got off and got a fast pass to ride it again.

I know that almost everyone says that Space Mountain in Disneyland is way better. It's smoother, faster, and you get to ride side by side in a more traditional coaster car.  

For me, it is a tie. I love both versions. The Disneyland version is less jerky and more thrilling, but I love the old school retro feel of Disney World's, and maybe it's just the six year old in me talking, but I like the cars in Disney World better.  They are more like a rocket, making you feel as though you are really rocketing through space. 

Haunted Mansion

In Disney World, we have been spoiled by very short lines, so we were surprised by the long wait in a boring, sweaty queue at Disneyland.  The best part however about waiting in line, was the wonderfully friendly Disneyland goers.

One group was nice enough to trade photo taking with us.

I had a lovely time chatting with a little Snow White in front of us.  

She was a big Studio Ghibli fan, so she loved my t-shirt. We had a nice conversation about our favorite Ghibli characters before entering the mansion.

For this match up, Disney World's Haunted Mansion wins without a doubt (and not just because it's my favorite dark ride).  Disneyland's version felt more like a scaled down version of Disney World's, or, more accurately, Disney World's is a better, expanded version of Disneyland's.  From the queue, to the graveyard scene, everything is just extra special at Disney World's Haunted Mansion.  Of course it's still a fun, amazing attraction no matter the park you ride it in. 

Enchanted Tiki Room

I'm a sucker for catchy tunes, so I love the Enchanted Tiki Room. It was great to be able to experience the original, and the waiting area is a big part of the appeal at Disneyland's version.  

Sadly, we didn't get the almost required Dole Whip or Dole Float. At Disneyland, you pass the Dole stand as you enter the waiting area, and everyone seemed to be enjoying their tropical, frosty treats, but it was the second to last attraction we did before dinner, and we needed all of our stomach space for our feast.  Hopefully the next time we will do it right.

It's hard not to love Disneyland's version more, if just for the fact that it is the original, and something that had Walt's input.  What I liked most about Disneyland's version was the audience.  In Disney World, I feel sometimes that people get in, and then are chomping at the bit for the show to be over so they can zip off to the next thing.  In Disneyland, there was a sort of reverence for Tiki Room, and there was a sing-a-long aspect, which I was all for. Let's all sing like the birdies sing-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet- tweet.....

Disneyland Monorail

I heeded all of the warnings about not riding the monorail from Downtown Disney into the park first thing.  The monorail drops you off in Tomorrowland, so you don't get that walking down Main Street, sucking in a breath at the first sight of the castle experience, that most people like to have, especially on their first visit.  We chose to ride the monorail when leaving the park. 

It was the monorail ride of sadness, given that we didn't want to leave. 

Though you could argue that any ride on a monorail is a fun time, riding the monorail at Disney World is a grander experience.  Everything you pass, fills you with excitement and anticipation.  In Disneyland, you are mostly passing by and looking at the backs of buildings, or parking lots.

Obviously, there are things we did not get to do. Overall however, I think we did a pretty bang up job of squeezing in as much as we could.  We lamented saying goodbye to Disneyland, and did wish that we had planned three or four days, instead of just two, but at least we had the chance to be charmed by, and to fall in love with Disneyland.