Flashback Friday: Lady Luck Casino

May 30, 2014

Flashback Friday: Westward Ho

May 23, 2014


Margaritaville celebrates National Hamburger Month

May 20, 2014
Margaritaville invited me and a guest to celebrate National Hamburger Month at Landshark Lookout by sampling their new specialty burgers. Landshark Lookout offers patio dining located on the third floor of the restaurant at Flamingo, when dining here, you are perched high above the Las Vegas Strip. It's a wonderful place to catch a sunset, while enjoying a yummy meal.

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We started off with Pomegranate Blueberry Margaritas ($10.75) and Volcano Nachos ($15.99). The margaritas were a more tart than last time, the could have benefited from more sweetness but they were a nice way to keep cool on our first triple digit day. The Volcano Nachos are monsterous and a meal on their own. The chips are piled high and topped with cheese, beans, guacamole, sour cream, jalapenos, tomatoes and scallions.



The new specialty burgers are inspired by the Americas, they aim to please with three options, each having a unique spin: Baja Burger ($14.49), Chimichurri Burger ($13.99) and The Bayou Burger ($14.99). All come with your choice of fries or mixed greens salad. We couldn't resist the Baja and Bayou burgers. The Baja is topped with everything tasty in the region... carne asada, pico de gallo, Oaxaca & Monterey jack cheese, avocado, and for an additional boost of flavor, key lime crema. The Bayou burger captures the flavors of New Orleans with cajun seasoning, carmelized onions, andouille bacon and cajun remoulade sauce.

As always the burgers can be substituted based on dietary needs; turkey and veggie patties are available, as are gluten-free buns.



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I'm incredibly fond of regional dishes, kudos to Bill Rohm, the Margaritaville Director of Culinary, for elevating the traditional burger by incorporating these great flavors in honor of National Hamburger Month. You can sink your teeth into these specialty burgers thru the end of the month at all Margaritaville locations.

RZR Riding: Hualapai Mountain Park

May 19, 2014
We've been dying to get out on the RZR for a while now. We were anxious to get back up to Hualapai Mountain Park before the heat comes. We really enjoy the park, it is close to home just outside of Kingman, AZ. It sits at about 6,100 ft and elevation at the peak is 8,417 ft. The pine forests are home to wildlife such as elk and mountain lions. We've stayed before in the cabins, but it was too warm (and dry) for fires, and dry camped once too. This time it was nice and cool, a little too cool on Sunday and WINDY! It made me question the safety of the campfire a few times, thankfully nothing caught fire. My mom and brother shared a cabin with us and a co-worker and his family also joined us, it was a first visit for all of them. They all seemed to really enjoy it too. It's nice to unwind and unplug for a weekend. The air is fresh and crisp and it is peaceful. It's a great escape even without offroad toys, though, they do make it more fun.

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Rolling Rocks





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Flashback Friday: Wynn

May 16, 2014
I've decided to add a new feature to the blog. It's inspired by Throw Back Thursday, instead of old photos of myself, I will share old photos of Las Vegas. Mainly, focusing on construction. I think it'll be fun to reminiscence and it'll serve as a nice reminder of how much has changed over the years.

Wordless Wednesday: Tasty Bites at Circo

May 14, 2014
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BLT Steak

May 12, 2014
People take pleasure in all sorts of things... for me, there is nothing greater than sharing a meal. It can be prepared at home, or out at a restaurant. Although, I prefer the latter, it's less stress and it allows ample time for conversations and laughs.

We were fortunate to receive an invite to BLT Steak, the newest restaurant at Bally's Las Vegas. Our table for four wasn't quite ready for us, so we grabbed a drink at the bar. Our bartender happily suggested one of their signature cocktails with basil and watermelon. It was mighty refreshing, slightly sweet and herbaceaous. I enjoyed it, but the overall crowd pleaser was their take on the Long Island Iced Tea. It was refreshing, with some bite. Just what I like in a cocktail. In addition to cocktails, they offer top shelf liquors, bottled beers and varied selection of wine. Prices range $8-$15 for most libations.

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Once seated we were given an amuse bouche of pork pate and jelly, with toasts. It was a lovely presentation, but a bit rich. Later came the popovers that just might have made BLT famous. These monsters are light and airy, simply perfect with a pat of butter and pinch of salt. The egginess couldn't help but remind our group of Yorkshire pudding.



Appetizers followed ($10-$17), we sampled the scrumptious crab cake, the smoky double cut grilled bacon, and both, the chopped and caesar salad. The salads were very fresh and well flavored. The caesar had boldness that I loved but I found it a bit overly dressed.





The menu offers seafood and poultry, but you must try the steaks ($20-$60). They are aged (mostly dry), broiled and finished with herb butter. We had the filet and bone in NY strip. Both had beautiful crust and were cooked to a perfect medium rare. More juicy and tender than you might expect. They offer sauces to accompany the steaks for a few bucks, but we agreed we liked the steaks on their own best. Though, the horseradish that came with the three mustards was the favorite. We also had the 2 pound lobster which had a lovely presentation, great flavor, it was delicate and tender; the trouble was there wasn't enough meat to it.

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The sides ($10-$13) were heavy on taters, you could have them six different ways. We opted to try a variety, we shared onion rings, potato skins, hen of the woods mushroom, and caramelized brussels sprouts. We found the sides, with the exception of the brussels sprouts - now, those were delicious - to be the weakest link of the meal. We thought they were too basic, we expected a twist that would elevate your traditional onion ring or potato skin, but nope they fell flat.



Dessert ($10) was really decadent! Portions are large and good for sharing. We had the crepe souffle, warm chocolate tart, peanut butter chocolate mousse and mini doughnuts. The passion fruit sauce on the crepe would've been better served as a drizzle. It was cloying and overpowering. The tart was more of a lava cake, but the pistachio ice cream was wonderful. The PB and chocolate mousse was rich and heavenly, though, I didn't care for the banana ice cream pairing. The doughnuts were light and similar to churros and I really enjoyed the coffee ice cream.



Overall, it was a great meal. The staff, while warm and welcoming, still have kinks to work out, but in time they should be operating a well run ship. Rumor has it, the Sterling Brunch will return.

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Ecuador's Coast

May 9, 2014
I was sad to leave the mountains behind, but I was excited to relax on the beach. It was a five hour drive to the coast from Quito. We stayed one night in Bahía de Caráquez. It's a small eco-city, home to an organic shrimp farm and not much else, since the high rises are vacation homes and are only occupied during peak season. From there, we traveled the coast with a two night stop in Puerto Lopez, a small fishing village. It's know for whale watching and tours to Isla de la Plata aka poor man's Galapagos. We had intentions of visiting, but once we settled into our hammocks, we vowed not to leave. We drove back to Guayaquil via Ruta del Sol. Overcast skies kept it from being too scenic. This is the last entry. Ecuador is a special place and I bet tourism will boom in the coming years.

Leaving the Andes for the coast

Goodbye, waterfalls.

Good bye waterfalls Good bye waterfalls

Driving becomes far easier upon exiting this tunnel. Driving the coast is a breeze compared to the white knuckled rides through the Andes.

Driving becomes far easier upon exiting this tunnel. Driving the coast is a breeze compared to the white knuckled rides through the Andes.

Enroute to the coast

Enroute to the coast

This is the Los Caras bridge, longest bridge in Ecuador it is 3.5 years old and 1.24 miles. It used to take three hours to get between the two towns, it now takes 15 minutes.

Bahía de Caráquez is an eco-city; and home to an organic shrimp farm. This is the longest bridge in Ecuador it is 3.5 years old and 1.24 miles. It used to take three hours to get between the two towns, it now takes 15 minutes.

Finding our hotel in Bahía de Caráquez was a chore. There are three places to stay with Hotel Bahia in the name, ours was not the first two we located. It is Hotel Bahia B&B near the police station, a fair distance from the beach. When booking, I had the understanding that it had ocean views. It does not. Depending which room you have you might see the Rio Chone estuary. The owners, David and Sofia, provided us a warm welcome, it was nice to chat in English off the bat, we arrived earlier than they expected. David explained the shower had a leak, but he would fix it while we were out. However, it was not repaired.



Excuse the messy bed, I had forgotten to snap a photo before we slept.

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View from our room

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The accomodations are clean and cozy, and the A/C kept us cool - thank goodness, it was hot and muggy, a big change from the Andes. We had difficulty flushing the toilet, and the problem worsened with each use. The owners left shortly after we checked in so we were not able to have lunch (or dinner) at the restaurant as we had initially planned. We went into town, which is an extremely sleepy village. We were able to find one open restaurant, Puerto Amistad, it sits on Rio Chone overlooking the Los Caras bridge.

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The restaurant looked promising, but service was slow. The glasses they provided for the Pilsener had spider webs. None of the food was very good, Frank went with a quesadilla which was the best bet. My shrimp in garlic sauce was too rich and the shrimp were pretty tough. The ceviche wasn't much better. I think we left more behind than we actually consumed.

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Bahía de Caráquez

We drove around the peninsula, eventually, ending up on the beach. I'm such a cold water wuss, I've never put my feet into the Pacific despite all my visits up and down the US coast. The water was warm. The beach was clean, but I was freaked out by jelly fish. I got in about calf deep and that was enough for me.

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We hung out there until Frank got a hankering for ice cream. We found a little spot serving frozen yogurt, we had a delicious brownie sundae. We returned when night fell for empanadas. We had a couple orders for dinner (our cheapest meal of the trip). The chicken were the best! The cheese were ok and we found it odd that they were served with sugar, but I guess this is the norm.

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We went down to the end of the beach, we had a couple beers at the snack shack across the way. We waited for the sun to set.

Bahía de Caráquez; Pacific Ocean.

Bahía de Caráquez; Pacific Ocean.

The next morning, we woke bright and early to set off for Puerto Lopez. It rained off and on while we drove down the coast, but by the time we arrived the clouds had parted and the sun was out. It was an easy drive, but locating the hotel was a difficult task. Google Maps does not have Hosteria Mandala in the proper location, GPS was unable to locate it, Tripadvisor maps was not helpful. We cruised up and down the beach. Frank was terribly irritated, he was convinced that I was scammed, and the hotel didn't exist. I assured him, it did. We had been everywhere but north, so we set off in that direction and low and behold tucked away from the rest of the fishing village, Hosteria Mandala has its own oasis.

Check in was a little tricky, but I got it sorted out. We were in the room called Galapagos. The grounds are lush and it's a bit of a maze to the various rooms. We got ourselves turned around on the first couple trips. The room was large and nicely appointed. There was no A/C, even with the fans it warm to sleep. Also, the mosquito nets above the beds are not for show. You need them! The owners have dogs that have adjusted well to the beach life. Overall, we were relieved to have found the perfect setting to begin the relaxing part of our trip.

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Our balcony at Hosteria Mandala, Puerto López. Hosteria Mandala, Puerto López. Mosquito nets were necessary. Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

We had a late breakfast in the restaurant before hitting the beach. The food was pretty good, but service suffered. For a while, we weren't certain if we'd be served, just when we had nearly given up the waiter appeared. Breakfast is not included with your stay. Meals and drinks are ran on a tab for the duration of your stay.

Hosteria Mandala, Puerto López. This is a small fishing village that offers tours to Isla de la Plata aka the Poorman's Galapagos. During whale season (June-Oct), sightings are common. We had intentions of going despite it not being whale season, but once we got settled in our hammocks we vowed not to leave.

The hotel has private cabanas for guests, and hammocks are available. We picked up two and strung them up and barely moved the rest of the day. Heaven.

Hosteria Mandala, Puerto López.

Puerto López, Pacific Ocean.

Puerto López, Pacific Ocean.

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That evening we had dinner at Paella Mar. The sangria was fantastic, but we barely touched our food. We had a spanish omelet and paella, both were so salty, it was practically inedible.

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Our second dinner was at Casa Vecchia Ristorante Pizzeria. We had caprese to start and we shared a pizza with mushrooms. The crust was cracker thin and pretty tasty.



On our way back to the hotel, we noticed that our tire was a bit low. We made note to check on it in the morning. Sure enough, we had a flat. We asked if the hotel had an air compressor by chance, they didn't, but they did have a bicycle tire pump. It was a slow leak so Frank was able to fill the tire enough to drive it into town to get it repaired.

Thankfully, Vulcanizadoras or tire repair shops are plentiful all over Ecuador. Not quite the same as Discount Tire, and the like, back home; those guys have it easy. Yet, these guys are quick and bust their ass. They had us on our way in no time.

Puerto López; flat tire

Puerto López; Vulcanizadora or tire repair shop. They're common as gas stations all over Ecuador... For good reason.

Our work for the day was done. We lazed in hammocks all day, only breaking for lunch, beer runs and potty breaks. The hotel has beer koozy's made in prisons in Brazil that guests can use on property. They don't like them on the beach because they turn up missing. However, Frank convinced them to allow us to use one. We guarded it with our life. It kept our beer cold for hours. It was a miracle!

Hosteria Mandala, Puerto López. The greatest beer koozy ever, Supposedly made by prisoners in Brazil. I need to find a set. It worked wonders!!

The beach was very much alive, you could practically feel it move beneath your feet.

Puerto López; the beach was very much alive

Puerto López; holding a live sand dollar was wild.

Puerto Lopez's main mode of transportation; rather than busses or taxi's you get around on these.

Puerto López's main mode of transportation

One final sunset...

Puerto López; Pacific Ocean.

Puerto López, Pacific Ocean.

Then, we were off to dinner. We decided to eat at the hotel, since breakfast had been pretty tasty. We ordered ceviche, chicken in tomato sauce and cheese, and steamed fish. Followed by homemade ice cream, which was really delicious.

Hosteria Mandala, Puerto López. Ceviche on the coast is typically served with popcorn and plantains. The best we had was in Guayaquil.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Hosteria Mandala, Puerto López. Housemade Ice Cream. To say ice cream is is hugely popular all over the country is an understatement. I've never seen anything like it. It made gelaterias in Italy seem sparse.

Up until today, we kept protected from the sun, but those equatorial rays prevailed. We were both sun burnt. I was lobster red, Jill, the night manager (originally, from Chicago) took pity on me and plucked some aloe from the garden. My legs hardly ever burn because they're rarely exposed so they stung quite a bit, it was nice to have the cool aloe soothe the sting.

Hosteria Mandala; Puerto López. Aloe from the garden soothed our sunkissed skin.

We drove back to Guayaquil via the Ruta del Sol. It was an enjoyable ride along the Pacific through various coastal towns. By the looks of it, Puerto Lopez was the perfect choice. It was just our speed.

Ruta del Sol, enroute to Guayaquil

Hasta luego, Ecuador. Gracias por la aventura.

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