Category Archives: Tours and Trips

Old Town Pasadena, California

Old Pasadena Walking Food Tour A Melting Pot of Flavors

Story by Linda Kissam

Old Town Pasadena, CaliforniaWhat could be better than to taste your way through historic Old Town Pasadena, California?

Thanks to the popularity and growth of food-obsessed walking tours and local Melting Pot Food Tours (based in Southern California) tourists, visitors, and locals can get to know the unique culinary neighborhood that makes up this special city.

On a beautiful June weekend morning, Melting Pot Tours treated a team of 4 press people to an unforgettable 3-hour, 1.5 mile epicurean excursion to enjoy some of the best off the beaten path artisanal restaurants and unique shops in heart of Old Pasadena.

The tour group met in front of a local wine store and was made up of about 10 people from all kinds of places, ages, and walks of life. The tour started promptly with a quick explanation of the day’s itinerary. The walking pace and amount of information given was perfect. My group especially appreciated that owner/tour guide Lisa kept us on task and on schedule. We never felt rushed, but neither did we feel bored at any time.

Old Town Pasadena, CaliforniaOld Pasadena is well known for its food. Delicacies of every variety can be found throughout the city, from dim sum to truffles. Our tour took us to an eclectic mixture of nine great shops, cafes, and restaurants. Each tour is different so you can go multiple times and experience something different each time. Ours took us to an old-world boutique chocolate shop, an award-winning gelato shop, an authentic Mexican torta café, a Mediterranean café serving crispy falafel balls, an edgy Asian fusion restaurant (the group’s favorite stop of the day), an exquisite olive store, a delightful family-owned and operated Peruvian style restaurant, a gourmet tea and herb shop—complete with a tea bar- and an upscale soap shop. If there’s one thing the owners of Melting Pot Tours know—it’s good food!

Each place was thoughtfully chosen to be unique and probably not something I would have found on your own. In my opinion Melting Pot delivered on its promise, “…to entertain and educate locals and visitors alike.” At just $53 (adults) and $28 (children) this is the bargain of the century. I’ve taken similar food walking tours for double and triple the price.

A walking food tour is appropriate for almost anyone, but is best suited to adults with a curiosity about local food, architecture and history. The dining experience will provide enough food to satisfy any appetite. Water is the only beverage served, but you can purchase other beverages if you like. My advice is to wear sun block, comfortable shoes and a hat if it’s a hot day. No time has been set aside for shopping, so you’ll most likely have to go back on your own time if you see a special treasure you want. The route is flat, but if you have knee or hip issues, the course will be a challenge for you. Each stop is less than 10 minutes from the next one and you will be spending about 20 minutes or so at each stop.

Old Town Pasadena, CaliforniaTours are given year round (except major holidays). Guides are patient, knowledgeable and engaging. Most are day tours, although April – October an evening tour is added on. Feel free to join an already organized group or you can book a private tour with 10 or more people. Advance tickets are required. So come hungry and be excited about the Old Pasadena Walking Tour, as you eat your way through the best restaurants, and shop your way through some of the most unique shops in the diverse, best tasting city in Southern California, Old Pasadena.

Once you finish your foodie tour, think about strolling back over to the Everson Royce (ER) wine shop and tasting bar (named for owner Randy Clement’s two twin boys). The shop is located across from Memorial Park where the food tour started. April Langford and Randy Clement have created a shop that offers small production, high quality, artisanal wines …and a few surprises. For starters, there’s draft wine – from an eight-tap dispenser to be exact. You can find that treat in the tasting section of the wine shop. The taps dispense four California reds (cooled to 60 degrees) and also four California whites (cooled to 43 degrees). Wines change often, but look forward to small lot beauties such as Butternut Chard, Blue Plate Chenin Blanc, Andrew Lane Merlot, and Hobo Zin.

You can find owner Randy Clement there on most days. You can feel his driving energy and passion for exceptional customer service and value. He also seems to have a knack for choosing the right staff. As Randy told me, “It’s all about customer service; we want to kill our customers with kindness.” I can confirm that. My experience is that the staff is attentive, knowledgeable and engaging.

Old Town Pasadena, CaliforniaOnce you’ve finished your tasting, there’s a large selection – about 500 bottles – to choose from, from just about everywhere. Prices run from $7 – $2,000 a bottle. Special orders are welcome. Think eastern European wines, Italian, French, Spanish and lots of California wines showcasing whatever you can think of from varietals to blends. Be sure to ask for your 10% off discount off as a participant in the Melting Pot Tour experience.

Until you’re able to take the tour, here’s a quick and refreshing recipe from our first stop Tortas Mexico to tide you over. It was a group favorite.

Watermelon Agua Fresca
Compliments ofTortas Mexico Pasadena
www.TortasPasadena.com

Tortas Mexico Pasadena offers an authentic casual dining experience with recipes from the owner’s homeland of San Juan Yucuita in the Nochixtlan District of Oaxaca. They use only the freshest ingredients and each food item is made to order.

Serves 6

This light, refreshing drink popularized in Mexico is a terrific thirst quencher on a hot summer day. The trick with making agua fresca (Spanish for “fresh water”) is to infuse the water with fruit essence without turning it into a smoothie or slushy drink. Feel free to experiment with other flavors such as strawberry, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew.

Ingredients

6 to 8 pounds seedless watermelon, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups cold water, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon honey (more or less to taste)
Ice cubes

Method

Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender, process half the watermelon pieces with 1 cup of water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon and water. You should end up with about 8 cups of juice. Stir in the lime juice and honey. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint.

160 calories per serving

fish market in Izmir

A Street Food Tasting Tour of Izmir, Turkey

Izmir is one of my favorite cities to wander around and nibble. Not only is Izmir clean, modern, and interesting. It is also exotic, historic, seafront, and fantastic.  Oh, and one more thing – this tasting tour of Izmir – it’s dirt cheap and delicious.

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey I’ve written a few articles about various neighborhoods and things to do in Izmir which you’ll find in this link to my guide to Western Turkey , but let’s get to the tasting…

Izmir neighborhoodsStart in Alsancak which is where most of the tourist hotels are. I recommend that this is where you start and finish since the small streets around Alsancak are filled with great little bars and you will find plenty of evening meals. Step outside, walk towards the waterfront and before long you will see one of about a million old Turkish guys selling smeet, these are sesame covered Turkish bagels and they usually come with some salty cheese, a hot green pepper, some tomato slices and a smile. Perfect breakfast. Cost – about 1 Turkish Lira.

Once you get to the waterfront, jump on the ferry at Alsancak. It doesn’t matter where it is going since there are only three destinations and ultimately, you want to come back to your starting point anyway. I like to catch the one going to Karsiyaka.

Hopefully you haven’t started eating your smeet yet – get a large cup of fresh squeezed orange or pomegranite juice on the ferry for another 1.5 Turkish lira. The ferry will cost you 2 lira if the prices haven’t gone up since I was there last.

Izmir ferryFind a seat on the upper deck. I recommend you sit outside unless it’s winter. Relax and enjoy your breakfast. You’ll be on the ferry about 45 minutes to an hour. After you eat, buy a cup of Turkish tea from the attendant. This will cost you about 75 kirch, but he may charge you a full lira because you are a tourist. Don’t get apple tea – that’s a marketing scam. Turks drink black tea, not apple tea – apple tea is a powdered kids drink like Tang that is served hot to tourists to get them to buy carpets in Istanbul.

Get off the ferry where you got on. Now wander back up towards Alsancak and find a bakery. You want to order kumru . This is a specialty of Izmir. Generally it will cost you 1.25 TL and is made with cheese, sesame bread, Turkish sausage, and some green pepper. Grab one and eat it while you walk towards the Hilton Hotel which should be visible inland in the skyline.

fish market in IzmirYou are heading this direction so that you can enter the Kameralti – this is the big bazaar in Izmir and in it, you can find everything.  Everyone knows where it is, so just ask. Turks are friendly and love helping. So much so, that if they don’t know where it is, they might help you find someone who will lead you there – but in Izmir, everyone knows where the Kameralti is. Did you find it?

Good. Find a little place and go ahead and order that Turkish coffee you’ve been craving. Sit, drink your coffee, watch the traffic in the Kamaralti and don’t worry that the tiny little coffee just cost you 3 TL. Turks generally drink tea – it only costs 1 TL but you’re on a tasting tour. Enjoy.

baked potato girl in IzmirIn the Kamaralti, you probably want to wander around, shop, check out the old churches and architecture and generally let your food digest. You can find everything from laptops to ancient coins, but the locals know that this is the place to come for discount clothing. Once you’ve got your shopping out of the way and your appetite back – find one of those little hole in the wall kebab places you passed with a big potato picture on the front. Go in, stand at the counter and ask for a kumpir.

Kumpir are baked potatoes or jacket potatoes with cheese and butter whipped inside and then a plethora of wonderful toppings thrown on top.  You may have to pay up to 7 TL for a kumpir but generally you can find one for 5 TL or less  in the Kamaralti. It’s best if you can find someone to share it with since they are big and filling.  Mmmm. I love kumpir!

nut man in Konak SquareOkay – now, you’re feeling a bit stuffed. I know, I’ve been there. Next stop is to head towards the Konak Square. Go there, walk around the very ornate clock tower, marvel at the thousands of pigeons, sit, digest, watch the people, watch the pigeons. In fact, buy some seed and feed the pigeons. It will cost you 50 kirsh to 1 TL for the seed. It’s worth it. Relax for a bit.

Now you are ready for the Kordon. Cross the small bridge and begin your stroll along the  waterfront back towards Alsancak. Definitely stop and sample the Midye Dolmasi. These might be the most delicious thing on your tasting tour so far. Fresh mussels stuffed with rice, currants, cinnamon and herbs.  Some of them have pine nuts or raisins in them. All of them are delicious.  They are priced according to size. I like the big ones which are usually 3 for 1TL.  Three is enough for me, but my wife likes to eat a minimum of ten.

Grab a bottle of water and some nuts from one of the old women with carts or the old men who ride back and forth on their mopeds. Probably right around 3 TL will get you some sunflower seeds, a bottle of water, and some other assorted nuts.

Now, stroll along the waterfront checking out the automatic picture takers, street merchants, hookah cafes, and more. You might even want to sit in one of those cafes and order a tea and a water pipe. Expect to spend about 10 TL for that.

Izmir waterfrontMoving onwards, it’s getting to be later in the day. Grab a piece of fresh corn on the cob for 1TL and snack on those nuts you bought earlier. Enjoy the people, the weather, the waterfront. Be careful of the old gypsy ladies who will see you strolling with your lover and make a beeline for you in order to read your fortune or sell you a rose. 1-50 TL depending on how good they are at convincing you.

Finally, head back towards Alsancak and find a waterfront fish and mezes place where you can sit, order some black sea bass and drink a few Efes and some raki. Sit back, relax and enjoy. You can spend anywhere from 10 -100 TL on this final stop, but since you are probably still full, just drink some Efes lager and enjoy all the new friends you are about to make.

This is just one reason why I love Izmir. There are many others.

Lake of the Ozarks Wine

Unique Getaways: Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Story and photos by Linda Kissam
Lake of the Ozarks WineI love exploring destinations that don’t always get the media attention they deserve. Places that include all the amenities and adventure a traveler could want, but done in a style that is all their own. Sometimes finding these places is as easy as a recommendation or invitation from a friend, a chance article on the Internet, or a blind stab at a map. Mine was an invitation.

The Lake of the Ozarks (Lake) is a lake resort destination in Missouri. Ahhh, I see I have your attention. It offers world-class boating, golfing, shopping and fishing, and a wide variety of lodging, culinary innovation, state parks, and other recreational activities to suit any budget and taste. Make no mistake however; this Lake defines itself for couples looking for some significant quality time together through the mammoth body of water, upscale waterfront accommodations, funky to pricey restaurants, and thoughtful entertainment venues.

Day 1: We arrive early afternoon at our first night’s lodging, Regatta Bay. A three- bedroom condominium on Horseshoe Bend is our home for the night featuring 2 Master Suites, a screened deck overlooking the water, covered boat slip, and a complex with two pools and tennis courts. Plenty to do here and rates are comparable to a high-end lodging alternative. A quick look at the bay, a couple of whacks at some testy tennis ball, and a few porch-side cocktails and we were ready for dinner.

Lake of the OzarksWe head out for The Duck Restaurant. About 10 minutes from Regatta Bay, it’s easy to find and parking is plentiful. A long staircase winds down to the beautiful lakeside restaurant. The view is magnificent, the food is magnificent, the owners are magnificent, chef is magnificent, the wine list is magnificent…need I say more? Try the SMOKED TROUT ($12), the TEMPURA VEGETABLE PLATTER ($11), and the ROSEMARY RACK OF LAMB ($43).

Lake of the OzarksDay2: We’re told “the” place to breakfast is Stewart’s on Bagnell Dam Strip. It’s just a few minutes from our condo, and right on the way to our next stops. Home of the biggest buns ($5.99) (cinnamon) at the Lake, this is comfort food at a great price. We were lucky to find a place to sit, the restaurant was packed…and for good reason. Big portions, attentive service and a “Diet Plate” (8.99) that consists of a split biscuit, topped with two eggs, two sausages, gravy, cheddar cheese, two slices of bacon and fried potatoes…means no one goes home hungry. Be sure and try the BREADED PROK TENDERLOIN ($8.99).

Lake of the OzarksAfter breakfast we took a stroll down the “strip” visiting various stores. Lots of souvenir and clothing shops to choose from. We liked Dogpatch Gift Shop for its fun atmosphere, checkers table outside, friendly service and variety. The Amish Country Corner Lake of the Ozarks was also a favorite for its plethora of hand-made goods that include gorgeous furniture, jam, Jellies, hand-made rugs, candles, and artwork.

 

Lake of the Ozarks GolfGolf was our next on our agenda at the beautiful Tan-Tar-A Resort in nearby Osage Beach.  It was great to get my golf shoes back on again.  Think beautifully maintained greens, affordable fees, and a cute cocktail lounge – be sure to order an Arnold Palmer.

 

 

 

Lake of the OzarksSeven Springs Winery seemed right for lunch as it sits atop 160 beautiful acres of rolling green Missouri foothills. Located between Camdenton and Osage Beach, the winery is less than a 10 minute drive from either location. Owner Mike Bleile met us at the door leading us to the covered porch and patio area to enjoy a private wine tasting, a lovely deli lunch, some great music by Sax on The Beach, and sweeping views. Keep your eye on the chef and the owner. These two are “in it to win it. “

Full of great food & wine, we decided to finally see what the buzz was all about and the destination we came to see – Lake of the Ozarks. We boarded the Tropic Island Cruise, a new 75′, 150 passenger motor yacht, for a 90-minute narrated cruise by Captain Omer Clark. This was luxe bliss. A time to relax, a time to sip on a cocktail and a time to get familiar with this magnificent man-made lake. At Lake of the Ozarksthe time of construction it was one of the largest man-made lakes in the world and the largest in the United States. Though built to provide hydroelectric power, the lake quickly became a lively tourist destination for the Midwest. There are over 70,000 homes existing along the lake, many of which are vacation homes. Spectacular scenery characteristic of the Ozarks has also helped to transform the lake into a major resort area. More than 3 million people visit the lake annually. I was glad to be one of them.

Enjoying lake of the ozarksAfter the cruise we checked in at our lodging for the next two nights – Camden on the Lake Resort. Luxury has arrived! OMG aptly describes this property. It’s the newest and most luxurious full-service Resort to open at the Lake of the Ozarks in nearly a decade. The Resort is located at the seven-mile marker of Lake of the Ozarks and covers over a quarter of a mile of shoreline. Our suite featured a fireplace, high-end cabinetry and moldings, built-in flat screen televisions, stereo tuner and surround sound, DVD and CD player, Hi-speed wireless Internet access, kitchenette, king size bed with high thread count linens, lavish comforters, plus pillows, leather sofas with pull out sleeper beds, and more. Definitely an ah-inspiring moment as we stashed our luggage and lounged on the balcony.

Our two days were filled plenty of choices to relax, renew and revisit our relationship: a 48 seat movie theatre, retail shops, a full service salon and spa, a fitness center, an open aired swimming pool with a swim-up bar, outdoor Jacuzzis, a sand volley ball court, and next door, the Toad Cove Entertainment Complex, featuring gourmet dining and the very best in Lake of the Ozarks Entertainment.

Lake of the OzarksDay 3: We tore ourselves away from the Camden for a few hours to tour the Inn at Harbour Ridge – a nearby B & B. Owner Sue Westenhaver had invited us to breakfast and a tour to see another option for lodging when visiting the Lake. Located in near-by Osage Beach, it was a lovely example of why people love B & B’s. The breakfast was delicious, the rooms were well appointed, varied and not too frilly, and the grounds were spectacular. I can highly recommend this place.

Lunch was at Michael’s Steak Chalet. Located in a Swiss-themed village, we had a great view of the Lake. Award winning cuisine, a notable wine list, and some exquisite steak and seafood dishes await you. Chef Blackburn is no stranger to gourmet style dishes. Try the Escargot with Scallops (10.95) and the English Cut Prime Rib ($29.95).

Romantic Caves of America Lake of the OzarksWe headed out for nearby Bridal Cave. Rated as one of the most scenic caves in America
Guided tours leave every few minutes and last approximately one hour. Tours are conducted over concrete pathways through the Cave’s refreshing 60 degree environment. Park interpreters lead us through room after room of incredible mineral deposits. Giant columns, delicate soda straws and massive draperies are everywhere in the cave. It’s a breathtaking experience must do. Warning! You should be fairly fit, flexible, and firm footed to enjoy the tour. It’s not that it’s so steep, but lots of stairs, some moisture, and bending can make this a challenge for some.

Four Seasons Resort, Lake of the OzarksBack to the hotel for more Lake front fun, a nap, some wine and relaxation before we headed out to our final activity – dinner at the venerable Lodge of the Four Seasons. We were lucky enough to have dinner with owners Pete and Susan Koplar Brown. What a beautiful property. What amazing hosts. We were able to tour the spa, the night club, and the Japanese Gardens before we set down for dinner at the property’s classy HK’s Steakhouse. The romantic décor is like a step back in time when restaurants really cared about the diner’s experience, not the amount of the check at the end of the evening. You can expect an inspired menu from new Executive Chef Joseph Elliott. Offering one of the area’s most diverse menus, be prepared to dine on lobster skewers, crab cakes, buffalo & prawns, a selection of KC and Missouri finest quality steaks and other great Midwest dishes unique to THE LODGE alone. The wine list was to die for. I don’t have one recommendation for you – try it all. Really. Mrs. Brown walked us to our car when we departed, handing us a book about the lodge and her father, Harold Koplar. The book, Meet me in The Lobby tells the story of the world-famous Chase Park Hotel in St. Louis and three generations of the Koplar Family. It’s a fascinating read. If you like the “rat pack era,” you’ll love this insider’s peek into a time not so far away.

On the way back to the Camden, we reflected on our three days here. Final decision? This is a perfect place for families, couples or a girlfriends’ getaway. Head on pillow now, we keep our eyes open just long enough to watch a movie and fall asleep dreaming of the perfect vacation on the perfect Lake. Thanks Missouri.