Monday, June 29, 2015

A Newbie's Guide to a Foot Massage!

I went for a Foot Massage with one of my friends.  It is quite a different experience than a massage that you might get at a hotel spa.  I thought I would share my experience with you for those who have never been!  For the first timer, you may be surprised to find out that for the basic foot massage, you are actually placed in a communal room and for this reason you remain fully clothed.  At this particular location, there were four different massage beds in one room.  Everyone starts at different times, and it is very casual, your personal belongings usually sit on the floor or in a basket and your shoes right by your bed. Although it is called a "foot massage", the staff actually works on your entire body.  I have learned to wear clothing that is light and manageable to make the most of your massage. I came in on flip flops wearing a tank top and some yoga pants. There are no forms to fill out before you begin, and language may be a barrier, but just communicate with the masseuse if you have an area that you want massaged or avoided due to injury or whatever the case may be. Hand gestures were used often along with facial cues. They do have soothing music playing, however the walls are thin and you can hear conversation from the people sitting in the waiting room and between the masseuses themselves. Just be forewarned, this isn't your typical library-quiet experience. If you are looking for a more tranquil surrounding then I would suggest you request a private room massage, which of course costs more.

We started on our backs on the beds, with our feet submerged in warm water in a wooden tub.  The therapist then started working on my face/head.  I had my hair in a pony tail but she asked to remove it. If you have long hair, you may want to brush it real quick before you start a massage, otherwise she could get her fingers tangled up. The reason why is because she began to scratch my scalp vigorously, all over! She would even turn my head from side to side to work on my scalp.  She then pressed on my temple, sides of my eyes, sides of my nose, ears,  and earlobes. She had her fingers in my ears just like Q-Tips.  Really interesting to say the least. This part lasted from five to ten minutes. 
She then massaged each arm/hand, twisting and turning my wrists, individually pulling on each finger and rubbing up and down on each arm. This was probably another 10 minutes, nothing that spectaular, kind of like the massages when you get a manicure. Then it was time for the feet. The massage lasts for an hour, but she spent considerable time on my feet. I would say a good 15-20  minutes! This was the best part of the whole experience! Even though our environment wasn't entirely serene, there's something about having your feet rubbed that puts me in a different state of relaxation! I think I even dozed off for a bit! I could feel the pressure points on the ball of my feet throughout my body.  I have sensitive ankles too, so having her work on them felt really good! There's this interesting sign posted outside that explains the different parts of your feet and what areas are affected during the massage.    Another surprise factor in store is that they actually use hot stones the last couple of minutes to work on your legs up till your knees.  I didn't like the feel of them the last time I had that done, it actually was painful for my skin to be touched with the hot stones and so I waved them off as politely as I could when I saw that she brought them out.  She understood and just worked on my feet and legs some more without the stones. Just so you know, the masseuses often cup their hands into fists and pound your skin. It seemed to always "end" the massage on that particular part of your body.  You'll hear different people being tapped on, and if the strength is too much, again just let your masseuse know. She didn't tap on my head or face though! 

Then it was time to turn over. My masseuse put a paper towel down on the face hole to protect you from having direct contact with the table material and she put a towel over my back.  Again, she scrubbed my scalp vigorously with her fingers and then worked on my neck, shoulder, lower back (yes, including the buttocks)  and each arm. She had contact with my skin on my arms, but the shoulder work was done through the towel. With each arm, she bent my elbow and placed my hand behind my back, like being prepared to be handcuffed, and then she used her elbow to smooth out the knots on each shoulder.  It was painful, but good pain if you know what I mean.  However, my wrists can be stiff due to arthritis, so again, I had to somehow communicate to her to be a bit gentle when "arresting" me, LOL.  Not only did she elbow rub me, but ended this body part with a good fist pound.  Tap, tap tap, tap like a drum roll!  By this time, no more risk of falling asleep, I was fully awake!  
Here came the most interesting part.

The masseuse actually got up on top of me on her hands and feet.  She placed her hands on my shoulders and her knees were pretty much on my lower back.  I had to suppress the giggles because I began to have images of the two of us being in some kind of Cirque de Soleil show!  She used her hands and knees to "stretch" out my back in various ways. I imagined she looked like Suzanne Somers on her ab roll exerciser.  Some of you may not even know who Suzanne Somers is!  They she moved her knees from a closed to open position starting from the center of my back out to my sides, gliding upwards with every next move from my lower back to my upper back. It was that "good" pain again, but I found myself clenching my core every time her knees worked their thigh master move. The whole while I was thinking, "Man, this lady is getting a workout! This has to be pilates extreme for her!" Last but not least, she pressed my calves with her toes and held a plank position on top of me to stretch out my entire body, including my legs this time.  All in all, this was probably 20 minutes worth of time laying face forward. Then with a good Tap Tap Tap up and down the whole body, we were done! They give you a small cup of water and let you relax for a bit before exiting!  I felt invigorated and refreshed!  I hope I've given you an idea of what a "foot massage" entails!  Go try one soon!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nine Steakhouse ranks a TEN at The Palms

My hubby likes steak. I prefer seafood, but since Father's Day just passed, I acquiesced for my husband's request to dine at Nine Steakhouse in the Palms Casino.  Fortunately it happened to be Las Vegas Restaurant Week and we certainly took advantage of the specially priced menu! We were asked if we wanted a booth or table.  I like the feel and intimacy of a booth, so that's what I responded with, but I don't like scooching in to get to the center of the seating area.Our waitress Raquel took care of that though. She pulled the whole table out into the walkway so we could easily sit down in the middle! She did it with the quickness too, like in .5 seconds, and nothing on the table toppled over! My jaw dropped, I had never seen that before! I considered that my free Las Vegas magic show, lol!

I started off with a s'more cocktail.  Do you see the roasted marshmallow and graham cracker crust around the rim? I didn't even detect any alcohol because it tasted like a yoohoo! Yahoo! But I felt the effects about 15 minutes later!

The amuse-bouche consisted of shrimp cocktail bites. Then, the bread came out! I didn't capture the bread basket, but it was a selection of bite-sized rolls, focaccia, and pretzel bread served with butter of course, and mustard for the pretzel! A pleasant surprise of a bread basket!
Next, our soups and salads arrived. Yes, Soup AND Salad! Usually, restaurants have you pick one or the other! The concept reminded me of Panera Bread's You Pick Two, hahaha.  Eric had the French Onion Soup and the Garbage Salad. It had hearts of palm, olives, salami, a little bit of everything.

I had the Lobster Bisque and the Bacon Caesar Salad. Everything was delish, the soups more than the salads!

Then the entrees came, Eric's Ribeye Steak and my Oven Roasted Fire Chicken.  After eating a piece of the steak, I immediately regretted not ordering the same! We intentionally ordered different items in order to sample but, I wanted to slap my forehead, I mean I was in a STEAKHOUSE after all, order a steak woman!  I am not making that same mistake twice. The chicken was huge, like a half of a whole chicken, but the taste was just ok. There were jalapeno slices on the chicken, but it wasn't fiery.  The steak came with three different sauces: horseradish, house peppercorn, and a bearnaise sauce. I usually eat horseradish, but I really enjoyed the peppercorn sauce, I even dipped my chicken in it!

We ended up eating most of the steak and the chicken wing and some of the breast.  It was really too much, even for hearty eaters like us! I overheard our neighbors in the next booth when they ordered. They were going to split a salad and a steak.  I don't know if they would do that for this set menu, but it is worth asking. We could have easily shared the food and be totally satisfied.  
To top off our dining experience, we were EACH served a dessert!  Again, most restaurants for restaurant week offer a dessert to share. I was really impressed with their generous servings. Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with blood orange sauce served with orange creamsicle ice cream and a whipped cream canelle.  The cake was more like a mousse with a creamy ganache on top, but it had this crunchy, hazelnut torte crust on the bottom that sent me over the moon! I'm all about the textures! That steak and this dessert are in my Nine Steakhouse brain file for next time!

For a price of $50 pp, this was a reasonable steakhouse dinner! The good news is they have this prix fixe menu as a standard option and for $9 more, you even get wine pairings with the courses-what a value! Forget calling it NINE steakhouse. In fact,  I'm going to start calling it TEN steakhouse! 

(Aside, I want to forewarn the ladies and save you from an unnecessary heart attack. There is an attendant in the bathroom! She spooked me! The bathroom has only two or three stalls and so it is not huge.  I entered through the door and turned the corner and there she was! I almost bumped into her! It was kinda strange to have someone waiting for you after you've done your business. I mean, geez, she could hear everything going on, a bit uncomfortable to say the least. I don't even know if she really worked there, hahaha. And on the counter, there were products for all your grooming needs: combs, brushes, hair spray, styling gels, perfumes, lotions, even a jar of candy.  I didn't bring any cash otherwise I would have given her a dollar for the mint I took and for offering me a paper towel. She stationed herself in front of the towel dispenser and trash can, so we did a little dance when I tried to dispose of my towel. Strangely enough, I felt like I made a new acquaintance considering we shared an intimate bathroom moment without exchanging any words! ANYWAY, it was an unusual/quirky experience. I would imagine there is a male attendant in the respective bathroom too! Note to self, use the restroom out in the casino next time!)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ocean Pacific Grille Brings Elevated Filipino Cuisine to the Mainstream

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with my fellow San Diego Filipino Blogger Network friends to experience my first upscale Filipino-inspired menu brought to you by Brian Norris and Chef Charles Andres at Ocean Pacific Grille in the Gaslamp District in Downtown San Diego.
My husband and I are avid watchers of "Bizarre Foods" with Andrew Zimmern and I distinctly remember him mentioning that Filipino food was going to be the next big thing years ago.  I think that time has come.

When you first walk in, you see this beautiful expansive bar featuring glossy polished wood.
There nestled into the bar's background was this first nod to the Filipino culture, a giant wooden spoon and fork set that is common decor found in typical Filipino household kitchens. I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw it!
We walked past the wine room into a separate dining area.  This room was also beautifully paneled with elaborate floor work, interesting lights and a open chef's counter seating area that allows diners to directly view live kitchen artistry.
I knew this place was elevated when warm towels were delivered to the table. It was a feeling of "you better get ready, because this is going to be something different!"

We started off with cocktails and the OPGtini was definitely my favorite. Not too sweet, and mildly fruity, it was very good!
Then the food started to arrive!  We tried Chef Charles' own lumpia! Masarap!
Then, the Filipino Tocino Toast.  Tocino, cured sweet ham, is a favorite breakfast food typically eaten with garlic fried rice and an over easy egg. The tocino was layered atop burrata cheese which was spread on thick toast with a cranberry balsamic reduction, slow roasted tomatoes and green herbs sprinkled on top. Just tasting this had me thinking, I need to take the hubby here to try this!  Chef Charles let us know that he cures his own tocino and says that since they print their own menus in house he can pretty much create a new dish on the fly based on what looks fresh in the markets each morning. I let him know that this is one dish he cannot take off the rotation for awhile, its probably going to become a signature staple on the menu! Warning, you better order two of these because one is just not enough!
We also tried the Crispy Skin Sea Bass served in a tamarind tomato broth, a flavor profile akin to sinigang!  Chef Charles mentioned that he wanted to infuse familiar flavors of the food he grew up with but with modern innovation.
I had to pace myself because OPG was very generous with their tasting portions, I can't even imagine what the real serving size would be like. And though I was near capacity, this next dish had me scraping the bottom of the bowl.  My favorite entree was the Crispy Pork Belly served with Ginger Coconut Risotto, a tribute to "lechon" and "arrozcaldo." Again, OPG left me with another OMG moment. So sarap!
For dessert we tasted the Yema Cake and the Chocolate Passion Fruit Dome.  I am usually a cake fan, but the chocolate won me over that night. That Passion Fruit sauce was to die for.

The restaurant is beautiful. Brian and Charles put some of their own elbow grease and "blood, sweat and tears" into this place to get it ready and it truly is a showpiece.  The service and hospitality were on point, but as it should be, the food was the star! This is a perfect place to celebrate those special occasions! I've made a note to try the oven-roasted bone marrow, the pork belly bao buns and the whole steamed branzino for my next visit with the family! For those who are not familiar with Filipino cuisine, this is a great place to try it out! And for those of you who are, come and taste what OPG has to offer! Ocean Pacific Grille is located at 531 F Street in downtown San Diego.

Thanks to Ocean Pacific Grille for hosting the San Diego Filipino Blogger Network!   I wish you much success in bringing Filipino cuisine to the mainstream and will definitely be back! 

Disclosure: I was treated to a sample tasting menu in exchange for this post. All opinions are my own.

How we had a great Anaheim weekend WITHOUT GOING TO THE PARKS!

Whenever we have something to celebrate, I immediately think of how I can incorporate Disney! My daughter just graduated from UC Irvine last weekend. (Mechanical Engineering, woot woot!) A quote from Walt Disney decorated her cap. She wants to work as an Imagineer,creating attractions and rides.  She's pretty much at Disneyland every week and if I was closer, I think I'd be too! My poster for her graduation featured her favorite Disney Princess. Needless to say, we are a Disney family!
I always want to expand our love for Disney to our extended family members, so of course I had to book a weekend stay at the Grand Californian. However, with everyone being on a budget, a trip to the parks for the fourteen of us was not in the plans. Here's what we did that still had us enjoy a Disney experience: First, after the morning graduation ceremony, we ate! We went to Sake To Me, an AYCE Sushi Place in nearby Tustin. There are so many great places to eat in the OC, but I'll save that for another post. Tip, order nigiri vs. sushi rolls, as rice can fill you up! Get the most bang for your buck!

 As a Disney Vacation Club member, we get to enjoy the Villas at the Grand Californian Hotel. After lunch,  we checked in and got celebration buttons at the front desk!!!

 I reserved the two story one a year ago just for this weekend. Here's a link to a video tour of the Grand Villa so you can see it,  Of course once they saw the pool table, the kids immediately wanted to play!

In the afternoon, we beat the heat by taking a dip in the pool!

After working up an appetite, we wandered over to Tangaroa Terrace. This is a small, kind of hidden, fast casual joint near the Disneyland Hotel. Trader Sam's bar was bustling next door but it was a bit noisy and not really for the kids. So Tangaroa it was! The great part here was that there was no line!  We ate a shrimp salad, kalua pork flatbread, and fish tacos! Yum!

We skipped off back to the hotel, because at 9:00 pm, from the comfort of our balconies, we witnessed the magic of World of Color! We set the TV to a certain channel to hear the show music.  
Speaking of magic, have you seen this before!? A TV in the mirror in the bathroom! Say what?! You can watch it while sitting in the jacuzzi tub or as shown here, while you brush your teeth!

Day 2 started off with this summer blockbuster at the AMC in Downtown Disney! I thought I'd get scared with the dinosaurs up close and personal, but it was really a great movie! A must see for sure this summer!

After our fill of popcorn, soda and a movie, we explored Downtown Disney! There's always some kind of entertainment happening at all times of the day. This was a military band singing some 80s pop.

The movie "Inside Out" was being promoted and this cool Art Board was there to take pictures with! Can't wait to see the movie opening weekend!

Then at the Wonderground Gallery, we met Disney Artist Jerrod Maruyama, who also did some artwork for Inside Out merchandise. He gave us more buttons with his designs, and we had him sign his Star Wars artwork for us and of course take a picture! We're ready to see this epic movie in December! 

 Then off to this place for lunch, the Anaheim Packing House!
And boy was it packed! This is a two story eclectic collection of food from around the world! I describe it as a re-purposed food court with a hipster vibe.  They had entertainment going on too!
We tasted all sorts of amazing food! Pork buns, Chicken tikka with lentils and naan bread, ramen, southern comfort food and treats from Popbar.

Then back to the hotel for more swim time to work off the scrumptious lunch!
We were pooped from our activities and enjoyed a home-cooked meal in the full kitchen and dining room at the Villa. We watched a movie as a family on the big screen TV as WOC played again outside. The waterworks provided a dramatic background through the floor to ceiling window. (Sorry no pictures to show of this, as I need to protect the bare-faced in pajamas clan, including myself! Hehehe!)
After checking out the next day, we ended our Anaheim weekend at this place five minutes from Disneyland for brunch! Who doesn't love fried chicken and waffles?!

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend to celebrate my daughter's college graduation!  And we were able to enjoy the DLR (Disneyland Resort) and the city of Anaheim without visiting the Mouse! What does your family like to do in Anaheim? Please leave a comment below!
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