Cleo is No Doubt a Favorite

September 22, 2016

Las Vegas offers so many dining options the choices can be overwhelming - I figure the best plan is to try them all or at least as many as possible. At least that was how I thought. The past year, instead of trying the latest or greatest, I've been opting for places that are just fantastic. Before Circo closed at Bellagio, it was my favorite restaurant in the city. It's since been replaced by Sage inside Aria. Joe's at Caesars Forum shops is also a winner. And, I can honestly say that Cleo now joins the ranks of my top picks. If we talk off-strip options, the nod definitely goes to Mariscos Playa Escondido in case you were wondering. I'm not too fond of SLS, but Cleo lures me in. Again and again.

Over the summer, Cleo offered a fantastic deal for locals. It was the perfect excuse to dine with friends. Each time was superb. Frank and I have also dined together a few occasions and between all the visits, I think I've found the strongest items on the menu. I crave them nearly on a daily basis. Much of the menu is served tapas style so it's a nice fit no matter the size of my appetite.

Next visit, I'll have snap some photos, but in the meantime do try the hummus ($10), lebeneh ($10), spicy cigars ($10), chopped salad ($12) brussel sprouts ($14), lamb shawarma ($9) or splurge with the garlic shrimp ($18). I could go for any or all these right about now. Yum.

365 Days Later

September 17, 2016
Dear Mom,

It's hard to believe, but it's been a year since you've been gone. Some days definitely sting worse than others, but we've made it - we've stuck together and stood strong. I think you'd be proud. I know I am. You taught us a lot, and I thought I was prepared for you to go, but there is just no way to learn to live without someone. Day by day, we get through the best we can. Boy! I'll tell you, though, it's tough to grieve and piece together someone's life after death. If I only knew, I would've asked more questions, been more patient and took more time to listen to specific details. Like who was your first boyfriend? Was it the first boy you kissed or your first relationship? Terrible security question... or, maybe, it was perfect.

I'm sad that you never got to meet Lex or that you won't see Addy and Nick grow. This past year with them has been so special. I wish Mike and Amy could've gotten as much time with you as I did. I try not to be angry for the years of memories that were robbed from us; instead, I try to be appreciative of those I cherish. I know how fortunate I am that you were part of my wedding. Mike and Amy aren't so lucky. That's a gift they will never know, if they choose to marry. I hate that you won't be part of birthdays, holidays and special occasions.

It may seem weird, but I feel some sense of accomplishment for surviving the last year. Day in and day out we faced the challenges and emotions of losing you. There has been much frustration and many tears. The hardest part is filling that void left in my heart. Fond memories, old stories and photos help ease the emptiness, but I doubt it will ever fade.

I wish we had more time.

I love you,


Shang Artisan Noodle

September 15, 2016

I dig noodles. I pretty much enjoy all shapes and sizes, I suppose you'd say I like oodles of noodles. I'm familiar with Italian and Thai, but Vietnamese and Japanese are pretty great too. One that I'm rather inexperienced with is hand pulled Chinese noodles. That's just what Shang Artisan Noodle specializes in, it's a new eatery at Decatur/Flamingo in the same complex as Capriotti's and Yonaka. The interior design is clean, minimalist and the focus is definitely the counter where the chef skillfully works balls of dough into layers of noodles. Service is attentive and the menu offers a few appetizers and noodles presented a few different ways. You also have your pick had hand pulled or knife cut noodles. I found it a little odd that they do not offer diet soda, but the watermelon infused water is satisfying.

I went with the Pork Rib with Hand-pulled Noodle Soup ($8.95) and my brother opted for the Chicken Chow Mein ($7.99). Both were brought to the table piping hot, his was likely the best Chow Mein I've had, it's not typically a dish I enjoy, but fresh noodles are apparently enough to sway me. Well, that, and the flavors were clean and not too salty. The same went for my soup, the savory pork broth was almost beefy like french onion and quite fragrant from the scallions. The bok choy was perfectly tender, the noodles were al dente and scrumptious. It was a little unfortunate that the pork rib was a bit chewy. Though, still enjoyable. I'm eager to try another dish and I'll definitely check out the knife cut noodles to see how those compare. It's a great find, especially as the weather turns a bit cooler.

Mt Charleston-Kyle Canyon

September 2, 2016
Last weekend, we picked Nick up after a birthday party sleepover at a friend's house. They live in Centennial which is only a couple exits from Mt Charleston, we thought it would be nice to escape the heat for a bit, enjoy nature, crisp air and whatever else unfolded. I think it's been about two years since I've been to Mt Charleston. Our last visit was definitely before the improvements. Pulling over for photo opportunities and walks to lookouts are now easier than ever with wide paved turnouts, designated parking and paved trails.

We took Nick before when he was much younger, but he doesn't recall it. He's at the age, where he has little interest in things not involving video games, you tube, pokemon or music. So, it was refreshing to see him enjoy time outside and he seemed to genuinely have interest in the desert once being covered by ocean, the test site and various mountain ranges. We made our best guesses at how low the temperature would go as we climbed elevation - it was about 30 degrees cooler than Vegas. It was fun to see who ended up closest - Nick, I believe.

Oddly enough, not once the whole summer did I hear that Lee Canyon offers all sorts fun all summer long over the weekends. The chair lifts are open for scenic rides, there is a disc golf course, and Bristle Cone Bar & Grill. You can play corn hole, tether ball, horseshoes, etc. There is also a skate ramp that the kids had a ball running on. The season ends Sept 5. Had we known of it sooner, Frank would definitely like to play a round of disc golf, and I'd like to enjoy some beers on the patio. At least, we were able to take a ride on the chair lift ($12 adults, 12 & under, $6). Every other seat has seat belt, it takes you up to 9,300 ft. You can hop off to soak in the view, hike or walk down, but you can also stay put for a leisurely ride.

We hopped off, it was beautiful from the top, but also very steep if you tried to go higher. Many were successful, but not I, I'm afraid. My ankle isn't quite there. I made it a little ways up to check out the snow machines, which was a feat that would've been impossible a year ago, so I was pleased (and a bit sore the next day). Apparently, girls get wild up on the mountain, the trees were littered with bras and mardi gras beads. Nick was puzzled, and I'm not quite sure how it started, but it didn't keep us from keeping count and trying to spot as many as we could. The ride up, we had no seat belt. It was a bit sketchy, especially when we neared the top and they stopped the lift for those who need more time to exit. I thought it was wonderfully scenic, but my palms were sweaty. I'm never afraid of heights, but when I'm responsible for my sister's kids - Man, I sweat bullets. Nick requested we ride down with a seat belt, I wasn't about to argue. I admit, I was far less nervous on the way down. We needed to get back, and the resort area would be closing soon so we headed for home, but it was a great time. When I woke Sunday morning, I never guessed I'd be at 9,300 ft later that day, but that's just what the day had in store. I love making memories like these.

A Birthday in Fairytale Forest

August 29, 2016
Addison's second birthday has come and gone. We had a fun-tastic party and we had lots of friends over to help celebrate. Our theme was Disney's Goldie & Bear, which is still in its first season so they have not printed decor, clothes or made toys. I couldn't find a single thing - not even in Anaheim. So, pulling the theme together took a little creativity, but Amy and I had fun coming up with ideas.

Addy just loves (Jack) Bear. She asks daily to watch and I know the episodes like the back of my hand. She also likes the three little pigs, big bad and the frog. The "Cow Jump" episode is a favorite. We had pin the tail on the cow that jumps over the moon. I made pigs out of paper laterns. Our snacks all fit the fairytale theme: humpty-dumpty's deviled eggs, three little pigs in a blanket, little red riding hood muffins, Jack's beanstalks, and snack mix with bricks (chocolate chunks), straw (shoestrings) and sticks (pretzels). We also had bottled water in Jack's pail. Addy was more interested in her candy necklace than her birthday cake, but Lexi thoroughly enjoyed the sweet taste of frosting - much to mama bear's dismay, but that's what grandpas are for. The kids swam and chased bubbles. Addy was fortunate to receive many awesome gifts. It was a great day. Let's hope the 2's are anything but terrible. In any case, the next year will certainly be an adventure with this hilarious, too smart for her own good, insanely cute kid.


August 24, 2016

For a while, pizza and burgers were the latest trend. Now poke bowls and sushi burritos seem to be all the rage. New restaurants are sprouting up all over the valley offering these delights. I recently tried the newly opened Pokeman. Located just minutes from the strip in Chinatown, Pokeman shares the same owner as the neighboring late night tapas favorite, Izakaya Go. Only a couple months old it's already established itself as a lunch hot spot. Parking is limited and the lines can be long so keep that in mind if you're short on time. Pokeman offers a menu of several sushi burritos, and custom poke bowls in three sizes: single, double or triple scoops of protein.

I'm familiar with sushi burritos so I decided to opt for the bowl to try something new. I admit I was a little nervous about choosing a bad combination, but I went with what sounded good at the time... I was pretty hungry so I chose the medium bowl ($10.95) with yellowtail and spicy tuna. You also have your choice of white, brown or sushi rice. I had the latter, then selected lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, salsa, cilantro, and scallions. Plus, the bowls include surimi crab and seaweed salad. I also had the spicy mayo drizzled over the tuna and the yuzu aoli on the yellowtail. When I dug in, I was pleasantly surprised how well the bowl melded together. It had bold flavors, different textures and it was extremely fresh. I get into lunch ruts regularly so I'm thrilled to have a new option nearby. And with endless combinations, it will take forever to "catch 'em all."

Pokeman Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Better Than Chicken Soup for the Soul

August 17, 2016
Frank and I snuck off for a quick trip to So Cal. Stopping in LA for pastrami at Langers, taking in a ballgame in Anaheim - Go White Sox!, brewery hopping with an old friend from jr/high school, and running off to San Diego for tasty eats at Con Pane Bakery and El Indio, and ocean breezes in La Jolla. It's stuff that's just good for the soul.

In Anaheim, we visited The Bruery, Bruery Terreux and Noble Ale Works. All great finds, but my favorite was Noble Ale Works. Not only is it walking distance from Angel Stadium, but it also has amazing beers! Nosecandy had all the flavor of a full bodied IPA, but lacked the punch. The ABV of only 4.4% made for some easy drinking. Man's Milk was an outstanding milk stout - creamy, roasted coffee and rich dark chocolate flavor with only a scant of sweetness. The perfect dessert (at least in my book) might just be the Naughty Sauce. Also a milk stout, though, more golden in color, rich roast flavor, but with vanilla, reminds me of chocolate chip cookies. This will be a must stop whenever we catch a game!!

We sampled quite a bit from the Bruery. My favorite was a sour exclusive to Society members, Sour in the Rye 2016 - we were fortunate to get a sample. It was fantastic. I only wish we could've brought a growler home. They recently opened a second tasting room called Terreux. It has a great patio and a nice selection of sours. However, none were as good as that members only selection over at the Bruery.

Angel games are always fun, but we had an added bonus of friends from Vegas join us - both couples are originally from Chicago too. Plus, this night had fireworks after the game. It was a nice display and it softened the blow of our loss.

We had a nice stay at the Holiday Inn Anaheim. Better than expected considering its aimed at families visiting Disneyland. We met our friends for breakfast at Anepalcos. It comes highly recommended and they're known for chilaquiles, so I was mighty excited. They looked beautiful, but the sauce was more acidic than anything and as a whole the experience was rather disappointing. Bummer.

Rather than stay in Anaheim, we made a last minute decision to head to San Diego for the night. I was able to secure a surprisingly good last-minute deal on Hotwire at the Hotel Indigo which is right in the heart of the Gaslamp, only a stone's throw from Petco Park. The hotel was great, only complaint was that parking was pretty pricey, but that's typical downtown. The rooms were without carpet and I was in love.

There was a rooftop lounge with a nice view of the ballpark. We hung out there for the final innings of the game.

In addition to eating at our favorite places, we also returned to the Cuban Cigar Factory which has undergone a renovation since our last visit. It's a bit more comfortable now, it's a great place to enjoy a stick and try a variety of local beers.

No trip to San Diego is complete without a stop in La Jolla. There are few places better than being perched on the cliffs above the Pacific. It is definitely our happy place.

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