A Different View of Houston

Random pictures from this past Memorial Day showcasing some of Houston's random, sometimes odd and sometimes beautiful fabric.


From A to Zihuatanejo

I recently posted a little entry on the resurgence of Acapulco. While only a few hours away and at the other end of the alphabet, Zihuatanejo is about as far as you can get from glitz and glamor. While not the sleepy fishing town some claim it to be - over 80,000 live in the area - Ixtapa's neighbor is a casual and low-key alternative for those wanting to relax and escape massive resorts and all-inclusives.

We had been looking at both Acapulco and Zihuatanejo and will head to Zihua sometime this year. Of course, Zihuatanejo has been in the news lately as several recent and very rare shark attacks have placed the Mexican resort area on the map. I'm not worried... either I'll surf in the bay if there is a big swell, possibly swing by Escolleras or just enjoy my time on the beach. Troncones won't be on the itinerary.

If you're looking for a place to stay in Zihua, a few places consistently come up as top-notch hotels. Unlike nearby Ixtapa, there are only about 400 hotel rooms in Zihuatanejo - probably as many as you might find at the Las Brisas or the Barcelo'. You won't find mega-resorts. You will find small, personalized, family-run hotels. La Casa Que Canta, while absurdly expensive in a town like Zihuatanejo, is consistently named one of the best hotels in Mexico. Some options to consider...

La Casa Que Canta - One of the highest-rated hotels in Mexico
Hotel Las Brisas Del Mar - Our choice
Villa Carolina Hotel
The Tides - Formerly Villa Del Sol


A Few New Tastes in Houston

Tried out a couple new restaurants over the past week or so...

Aga's - An Indian/Pakistani restaurant at 11842 Wilcrest. So, my colleague told me about a great Persian place near the office and I said, great, I love Persian. Persian turned out to be Pakistani and, you know what, I still liked it. The place itself is cavernous so they must host a lot of banquets. I was a bit blind going in but the owner steered me to some good choices. I had the Aga's Masala Chicken (tasty and the right amount of spice but very bony) and a great Dal Fry. It was actually too much. The Nan was giant but delicious.

Andrea's - 12513 Westheimer - I had heard a lot about this place from my parents and found that it was OK. It sounds like they're still dealing with some service issues but it wasn't bad although there were some hiccups. The food was good, not great - not what I had anticipated, particularly since the two owners are Italian. Next time, I would try some pasta (my wife's pesto dish was excellent).

Cru' - 9595 Six Pines Drive in The Woodlands - We were in The Woodlands for a variety of reasons and went to Market Street to do some shopping, etc. We stopped in Cru' for lunch - while more of a wine bar, the place has a good-sized menu for lunch and dinner. Prices were a bit high for both wine and food, particularly for what you get. My seared ahi tuna salad had the smallest portion of tuna I've ever seen. Service was average and it seemed like the restaurant (a chain) spent more on the atmosphere than anything else. Recommended? I don't know... probably not. I can think of much better wine bars/restaurants in Houston.

Fasting = Less Jet Lag?

At least that's Harvard's claim for mice who are heavy travelers...

Traveling to exotic places is great--except when you first get there and collapse from exhaustion and jet lag. But you may be able to beat jet lag; you just have to skip eating before you leave home.

A new Harvard University study suggests that fasting may fight drowsiness.


A Bright Future for Acapulco

Acapulco... once the hub of the international jetset eventually lost its luster and the magic that attracted visitors from all over the world. The past few years, though, have smiled kindly upon ACA. The city is bouncing back as classic hotels like Las Brisas are renovated, new, hip boutique hotels are built and spectacular restaurants teem with patrons. The prospects for Acapulco look much brighter as this March article from the New York Times attests.


The "Beauty" of The Wedge

There's an outside chance we may hit southern California this summer. As a bodyboarder (and I'm sure I'll bring my boards), I have this minor itch to go check out the Wedge. Part of me things I ought to at least catch a wave or two while there - the other part of me thinks I'll crap my pants if I see it on a heavy day.

If we do go, I may not hit the wedge but I definitely want to check out Del Mar or some other good spots. The only places I've hit in SoCal are Del Mar, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.

Here is some footage of the Wedge eating a few people and then spitting them out...


Three Houston Treats

This past weekend, we had a chance to eat at three restaurants we had never tried before - edit that, two for my wife as she had been to Andre'. Regardless, two of the three were restaurants we had been wanting to try for a long time - So Vino and 17*. Both were excellent.

Andre' - What I really like about this place is the outdoor patio at Uptown Park. Great location! Both of us had salads which were quite tasty and the desserts are delicious. A great place for a light lunch or early dinner. A second location is open at 2515 River Oaks Blvd.

So Vino - We've gotten to know the chef at So Vino and had talked to him many times about the restaurant. Well, we finally made it there for dinner on "date night". We started with a plate of mixed cheeses - the highlight was a truffle cheese, sottocenere al tartufo, that took me back to Italy. A delicious crab cake then paved the way duck for me and shrimp angel hair pasta for my wife. The star of the show was a sinfully delicious cranberry bread pudding. It's a must! The restaurant's main focus is wines from the southern hemisphere but all major producing countries are represented. Bottle prices were quite reasonable.

*17 - Much has been written up about *17 since it opened in the Alden Hotel - reviews have gushed about *17. We had tried on two other occasions to eat there but had to cancel our reservations. Not this time. We chose *17 as a nice place for a Mother's Day brunch. Mimosas were overpriced but not why we visited. We split a delicious flatbread as an appetizer and both ordered their frittata - a great brunch option. Service was crisp and attentive and the atmosphere is refined and elegant. They did a great job of accommodating our baby, as well. It would be a nice place to visit in the evening, sans baby.

Scenic Vieux Montreal

To visit Montreal without visiting Vieux Montreal would be a crime. Here is a shot of a 18th century restaurant, one of the oldest in Montreal, located near the waterfront. We took this shot after a long day spent wandering this wonderful city.


This makes no sense to me...?

The Chronicle has a lengthy Q&A article related to passports, new passport cards, entry rules, etc. on their web page. What I can't understand is why anyone who wants to do any type of international travel, even on a quick cruise from Galveston to Mexico, wouldn't get a passport? To me, it's a no-brainer. You have it when you need it and it's valid for a decade. Why not get one? Yes, it costs more but average that out to $9-10 a year and it's a pittance, really.

On an unrelated note, fares keep going up. I've been poking around summer fares to various places... I was surprised to see fares spike to over $700 for places like Seattle and Portland, despite Saturday night stays. Even typically inexpensive LAX is $300+ before taxes. Granted, I'm loyal to one airline so I can hoard miles but I know fares have been on the rise with other carriers.


What We Learned in Italy

Each country you visit with a baby teaches you a little bit more about traveling with children. Having traveled to Huatulco with our baby, we had notched Mexico on our belt. Italy was our second international trip and we learned a few things along the way.

Restaurant Conveniences - High chairs are not as rare as one might think... at least not in Rome. We found that probably 80% of restaurants had a high chair. Note: that's high chair, not chairs. The varied in size from normal to rather large and without a safety bar. Still... chances are you might find one. You'll also find local waiters extremely accommodating. Foreign-born waiters did not seem to be as nice or willing to help but we only encountered this at one place, a rather run-of-the-mill tourist stop that I wouldn't recommend. As for changing tables? Not going to happen. We had to change the baby on miniscule bathroom counters, on chairs in the back of a restaurant (thank you to the owners of La Matriciana) and in other random locations (see the picture of my hard at work). Either prepare to let your baby sit in a soiled diaper or be open to creativity.

The Flight - A few simple revelations here. First and foremost, buy your child a seat for the flight. Yes, yes, I know... "but it's expensive!?" AND it's safer - much safer for your baby. Besides, your child will have an easier time sleeping in their seat and you can occasionally have two free hands. If you're worried about lugging a car seat, get yourself one of the items I mentioned in one of my previous entries. We used a Pac Back. Second, if you can, book a bulkhead seat. You'll end up with more legroom, no reclining seats in front of you and, if you're on a big plane, tons of space to play, as you can see...

Packing - Pack more than you need when it comes to basic supplies for the actual journey - diapers, formula, baby food, etc. and have a good stash in your carry-on bag. Better to have too much stuff in transit for your baby than not enough. Let's put it this way - you can't buy diapers or formula in Newark Airport while waiting for your connecting flight. Once you get to your destination, you can go to a local market and stock up. Our baby learned to love Plasmon baby food. Second, bring a couple of new toys for the baby. They'll keep them fascinated. You don't have to spend a mint... just find a couple of $5.00 toys and they'll be happy.

Making the Process Easier - Work as a team. I don't really know how else to put this but have each person focus on certain tasks, split the duties and keep your cool.


Basking in Luxury in Rome

...and we're back from Rome. It was a great trip and just the right length - 9 days. By that point, we were pretty much ready to head home and our baby boy had enough of the travel stroller and wanted to get back to his plush UPPAbaby. Granted, the McLaren Volo is a great travel stroller... light, folds easily and sturdy. It took a beating on the cobblestones of Rome and came out unscathed but I'm sure it gets old after a while.

So, I'll start with a quick hotel recommendation. One caveat, though... we were blessed to get an incredible rate via a family connection so don't think we could normally afford this place (I wish); however, if you have more money than you know what to do with and want to spend plenty of it for a luxurious stay, we would highly recommend the St. Regis Grand Hotel near Piazza Repubblica. It is worth every Euro.

Everything and I mean everything was outstanding. We had a spacious Imperial Room which had plenty of room for all of our stuff as well as a crib for the baby. The bed was a dream - soft and very comortable and the bathroom was cavernous, particularly by European standards. Service was impeccable and the staff at the Grand Bar, the doormen, the concierges and the maids all went way out of their way to make our stay enjoyable. Honestly, it was ideal. The hotel is well-deserving of it's inclusion on the 2007 Conde' Nast Gold List and its *****L rating.