Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lost at Sea......Landed in Vegas

After being lost at sea for the last seven months, Modern Day Columbus has landed in Las Vegas.  It took a couple of days to get my land legs back, but now that I am up and running it is time for some reviews.  I decided to stay at the Mirage (which I will be reviewing later this week).  For tonight's review I will focus on my experience at Japonais in the Mirage.  Japonais is a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar.  After being on the seas for seven months I grew accustom to eating raw fish and so to slowly ease myself back into the experience of being on land I decided I would eat a lite dinner of Hamachi Sashimi and Salmon Rolls.  The fish was fresh and tasty, but extremely overpriced when considering value. The Habachi Sashimi was $10 and the Salmon roll was $10.  The Hamachi was two pieces of Japanese Yellowtail fish.  That being said, the worst part of my experience at Japonais was the service.  The waitress continued to ask if I wanted to order more food even when I told her no.  She must have asked at least three different times.  Also, when one of the pieces of Yellowtail fell on the floor rather than offer to replace it, she simply said "Ah too bad." 

Finally, after finishing up with my dinner and asking for the check it must have taken 10 minutes before I was able to leave the restaurant.  All in all this is one of the worst experiences with service that I have had in a Sushi restaurant and as a result cannot recommend the restaurant. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina Lodging: Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club

I recently had the privilege of staying at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club in Durham, North Carolina on the steps of Duke University's campus.  I booked this stay through and was able to get a room for under $125/night (tax included).  As many of you may know offers a unique rewards program where if you book 10 nights through the site you receive a free night stay.

The hotel itself is stunning and in a fantastic location for business meetings inside the Triangle and about 20 minutes away from the airport.  In addition to the four star amenities the property is situated on a golf course (as the name would dictate).  The rooms are very spacious and have been updated within the last four years or so.  The hotel features two different restaurants, a nice size gym, indoor pool, and reasonably priced green fees on the award winning golf course.
Back of Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club
View Directly Behind Hotel
Golf Course View Room
Partial View from Golf Course Side Room

Cameron Indoor Stadium at Night

Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club  5* out of 7*
Staff: 5* our of 7* (Mostly well educated UNC grads.  Sorry Tarheel fans, but I am not making that up)
Cleanliness: Above Average
Fitness Center: Above Average. Four Treadmills, free weights, and a couple machines, but very clean.
Additional Comment: The hotel rooms themselves are spacious.  I highly recommend requesting a view overlooking the beautiful golf course. I think they are about the quality you would expect at a 3.75 star Hotel on a traditional scale.  The best part of the hotel by far was the proximity to Duke's Campus and the golf course. For basketball fans you are within walking distance of Cameron Indoor Stadium where the beloved or hated Blue Devils play.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Charleston, South Carolina Dining: Hyman's Seafood

Since I was only in the downtown Charleston area for one evening I decided to walk around the city and see if there was a place that looked good to eat.  As I walked through the semi-cobblestoned streets I was amazed that almost every store was closed on a weekday at around 7:00pm.
Cobblestone of King Street

There were a few restaurants available on King Street of Charleston, but nothing that struck my eye.  I eventually found myself on Meeting Street and saw an establishment with a large group of people standing outside waiting to be served (usually a good sign of a Columbus worthy eating venue). 

Hyman's Seafood Charleston, S.C.
Apparently, this venue, called Hyman's Seafood, is one of the most famous places to eat in Charleston.  As I looked at the Hyman's Seafood Menu one thing in particular literally jumped off of the page to me, the Shrimp and Grits.  Apparently, this is a fairly common dish in the deep south, but for this West Coast traveler it was a delicacy that had to be tried.
Shrimp & Grits with Collared Greens and Hush Puppies

Once I ordered my entree I was served the standard complementary appetizer at Hyman's, that of boiled peanuts--definitely another uniquely southern flavor.
Hyman's Seafood Boiled Peanuts

In addition to the uniquely southern flare infused comida, Hyman's seemed to have a tradition of the owner going around and thanking the diner's for eating at the restaurant.  That being said, it seemed like much more of a marketing ploy than a genuine greeting.  I say this because as an undercover food critic who was dining by themselves Mr. Hyman did not even think of coming by my table to greet me.

Another unique addition to Hyman's is that the tables have little plaques at the place-settings giving reference to the most famous clientele who have eaten at each particular table.  My table was previously frequented by Patti Labelle and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Restaurant Review 
Overall, I give Hyman's Seafood an under-performing 3* out of 5 *
-Price: $$
-Atmosohere: Casual
-Vibe: Southern Hospitality
-Location: Downtown Charleston
-Employees: Laid Back High School and College Students
-Inquiring Minds Want to Know:  In case you are wondering the Shrimp & Grits were ridiculously filling, but not really that great.  You would expect fresher tasting seafood being that close to the ocean.  If you go to Charleston it is worth visiting Hyman's, but it is most definitely not a whole in the wall.  Rather Hyman's Seafood is one of those restaurants that gained a reputation for being good in the past, but simply fails to live up to it's reputation now.  The uniqueness of the cuisine is why I would recommend this restaurant, but go somewhere else if you want quality and great tasting food, as here you will find pretty good food that is a bit overpriced with a long wait to be seated.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Charleston, South Carolina Lodging: The Francis Marion Hotel

A couple of weeks ago I was in Charleston, South Carolina for business.  While I was in Charleston I stayed at The Francis Marion Hotel.  I booked this particular hotel through and wound up paying roughly $150 for a one night stay.   The Francis Marion Hotel has a Colonial South feeling to it, much like the rest of Charleston and is ideally located right on King Street.  Within walking distance of the hotel are over 50 stores, some boutique style and other more trendy ones such as Louis Vuitton  (that's right a Louis Vuitton store in South Carolina!) in case you get the urge to purchase an $1800 handbag

Front of Francis Marion Hotel
Front of Hotel

The hotel itself felt a bit overpriced based on what you get, but in reality you are probably paying more for the historicity and location rather than the amenities.

The fitness center at The Francis Marion Hotel is adequate for a one night stay, but not for much longer than that, as there is really not very much equipment at all.

The staff  is just okay and not super accommodating. Upon checking in the front desk clerk seemed very disinterested in making sure that I felt welcome, but was very focused on simply checking off the task of distributing the room keys.
The rooms are tastefully decorated with a very southern flavor from the 1940's, but feel a bit in need of updating (see pictures below):

Welcoming & Comfortable Bed
The Francis Marion Shower

The most impressive aspect of the facility from an aesthetic standpoint is the lobby which is decorated with multiple chandeliers and has a nice mezzanine, which gives it a "Gone with the Wind" feel.
Picture from the Mezzanine above the Lobby

The Francis Marion Hotel 3.5* out of 7
Staff: 2.5* our of 7 (Not welcoming & not rude, but definitely not what comes to mind when you think of Southern Hospitality)
Cleanliness: Average
Fitness Center: Well Below Average. Very small. Only adequate for one night stays. 
Additional Comment: The hotel rooms themselves are dated. I think they are about the quality you would expect at a 2.75 star Hotel on a traditional scale.  The best part of the hotel by far was the feeling that you had gone back in time and the location to "downtown" Charleston. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lafayette Park Hotel (Walnut Creek/Lafayette Park California)

My means of booking my hotel for this particular trip was  I bid on a 4* hotel for the Walnut Creek area and after a little finagling I won a hotel room for $117/night (before taxes + fees).  The hotel that Priceline negotiated a deal with was the Lafayette Park Resort Hotel.  This is a really nice hotel in a great location in Lafayette.It has a little bit of a European flair to the architecture and provided me a nice get away for the evening.  My favorite part of the hotel was the pool area.  It is in a beautiful setting surrounded by a fireplace, rose bushes, and mature trees.  The pool itself is heated and is very well kept.  There is also a nice hot tub and dry sauna located within steps of the pool and adjacent spa.

Entrance to the Pool from Hotel
Front of Lafayette Park Hotel

Pool in the Evening

Lafayette Park Resort & Hotel 4.5* out of 7
Staff: 4.5* our of 7 (Good, but nothing out of the ordinary)
Cleanliness: Good
Fitness Center: Below Average.  Very small only a few cardio machines, a few dumbbells, and one pull-up/dip machine (See Pictures Below).
Additional Comment: The hotel rooms themselves are a bit dated yet spacious. I think they are about the quality you would expect at a 3.5 star Hotel on a traditional scale, yet the space may push them up a bit to a 3.75. One nice factor of the particular room I stayed in was that the windows opened directly to the pool area, and yet the room felt secluded due to the mature trees.
Weight Room at Lafayette Park Hotel & Resort
Cardio Equipment

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Retro Journey: Nassau, Bahamas July 2010

Last summer I had the privilege of finishing up a project for work that allowed me to be out of the office for a week or so.  I was able to use flight miles to fly to Fort Lauderdale and from there caught a flight for $50 on Bahamas Air to Nassau, where I would spend the week working (seriously). (I used Jet Blue for my return flight to Orlando for around $59).

By leveraging technology I was able to login remotely to my office server.  This allowed me to stay connected with my colleagues while be on a remote paradisaical island

While in Nassau I stayed at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort.  The room was very nice with a beach & ocean view on an upper level floor.  I paid around $100/night by bidding through and while it was not Atlantis, it was a fantastic deal for a nice property located directly on the beach. 

The fitness center is a nice size gym and the pool area (see above) is what you would expect from an upscale Caribbean Resort.  

In the mornings, I would work for a few hours then go swim for an hour or so before returning to the room to work for several more hours.  If you are able to work on a project remotely from your office for work, I highly recommend the Sheraton Nassau Resort.  It allotted me all the amenities I needed for work (i.e. printers, Internet, fax machines, copiers, etc...) and had enough restaurants along the beach to make finding meals fairly easy.

Sheraton Nassau Resort  5* out of 7
Staff:  5* our of 7
Cleanliness:  Excellent
Additional Comment:  Due to the relative affordable price of this facility there were several college age/party minded kids there which made the stay slightly less enjoyable.  However, the hoola-hoop contest was quite humorous, especially when the middle aged men tried to show off their athletic prowess.

Bonus Travel Experience:
On my flight back from Nassau to Orlando I had a great conversation with the gentleman in the seat next to me. We began our conversation with the normal greetings such as what's your name, where are you going, etc... The interesting part of the conversation began when I said, so what do you do for work. Any guesses? Well, he said he was a brain surgeon. At first I thought he was joking but as we continued to the conversation I realized he was serious. In fact, he is actually the inventor of the Z-Plate (a medical device that allows for direct access in dealing with spinal fractures) and was flying to the States to lecture at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Palo Alto Lodging

My hotel of choice for the evening is the Sheraton located at 625 El Camino Road. The hotel is basically on Stanford's campus and ideally located next to about 50 restaurants on University Avenue.

Upon checking into the hotel I was given an upgrade to a second story room with a partial pool view. The room itself is clean and simple. I typically prefer to stay in a more clearly defined 4* domicile, but what the Sheraton lacked in amenities, it made up for in price. I booked through, so I did not receive any Starwood Points for that, however, I will get points for the $10 parking expense.

All in all this hotel is great if you have a meeting with one of the technology companies in the area (i.e. HP, Facebook, etc.) or if you need to be near the campus.

Overall rating: 4* out of 7 possible.
Staff: Courteous, but not hospitable
Cleanliness: Well Kept
Amenities: Not quite up to par with a typical (4 out of 5*) facility. Using the standard scale this hotel should be rated more of a 3.5 star