Category Archives: Travel Adventures

Eating Adventures in Los Angeles, Part I: Taco Maria, Shibumi, and Mian

Mussels, clams, lima beans, cherry tomato and chile -- a third-course on the Taco Maria prix fixe.

Mussels, clams, lima beans, cherry tomato and chile — a third-course on the Taco Maria prix fixe.


I may have been in Los Angeles last month for only four days, but I did some major eating in that short time. Come along for a taste.

Taco Maria

In a building inside SoCo design complex in Costa Mesa is the OC Mix, a mini marketplace of fun trendy shops and small cafes.

It is here you will find Taco Maria. Its artsy locale is fitting because this is high-concept Mexican food by a chef who used to cook at Coi in San Franciso and Commis in Oakland.

Nope, this is not your standard enchilada- or burrito-drowned-in-cheese kind of place. While it serves a la carte lunch, it turns into prix fixe-only at night. And what a fine parade of dishes you’re in for with the $75 four-course meal (wine pairings are $35 extra), which is quite reasonable for what you get.

Sitting at the counter, you are up close and personal with the cooks preparing your food.

Sitting at the counter, you are up close and personal with the cooks preparing your food.

Each course offers a choice of two dishes. So if there are two of you dining, you can order the entire menu and share tastes of everything, which is what my husband and I did. Sit at the counter in front of the small kitchen, and you can watch the cooks in action.

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“Taste of Yosemite” 2017

Pretty in white.

Pretty in white.


YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — After five years of drought, the snow was back and the waterfalls gushing like crazy this winter in this spectacular national park (click on the Instagram video below).

The Ahwahnee may now be known as the Majestic Yosemite (because its former concessionaire Delaware North claims it owns the park’s historic names after trademarking them); and the former “Chefs’ Holidays” event is now referred to as “Taste of Yosemite.” But no matter what you call it, a bevy of stellar chefs were more than happy to be back for this 32nd year, and yours truly was once again the moderator for the two closing sessions of this annual gourmet event.

Every year, I get a chance to meet newcomers who are not only attending their first gala dinner event here, but visiting the park for the very first time, too. That’s coupled with regulars, some of whom have been attending this glorious event for more than seven years.

Rhythm in motion @yosemitenps @yosemite

A video posted by Carolyn Jung (@food_gal_carolyn) on

Each sessions features three chefs or gourmet purveyors who each do a cooking demo. There’s a wine reception where you can mingle with the chefs. And every session ends with a gala five-course dinner prepared by one of the visiting chefs.

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Holidays at The Hotel Healdsburg

Holiday tea is served in style at the Hotel Healdsburg.

Holiday tea is served in style at the Hotel Healdsburg.


Sonoma Wine Country always sparkles, but even more so during the holidays.

With everything ablaze in festive lights, it’s a wonderland without the true toll of winter.

There’s no better place to experience it, too, than at the Hotel Healdsburg, as I found out when I was invited as an overnight guest recently.

The 56-room boutique hotel, right on the square, is co-owned by celeb Chef Charlie Palmer, who lives with his family just four miles away on a 36-acre spread. The hotel was his first venture upon moving to the area in 2001. It sports one of his restaurants, Dry Creek Kitchen, as well as a lifestyle store, Lime Stone, operated by his wife Lisa.

For the holidays, the hotel gets dressed up with strings of lights, and both tabletop and 6-foot-tall decorated trees. The contemporary fireplace in the lobby lounge is always aglow with a warm fire. Nearby is a help-yourself station where you can assemble your own cups of spiced cider or hot cocoa complete with cinnamon sticks or mini marshmallows.

Dry Creek Kitchen -- all done up for the holidays.

Dry Creek Kitchen — all done up for the holidays.

The lounge also has a full bar, with plenty of tables and chairs around the fireplace, to enjoy an afternoon glass of wine or morning breakfast, which is included in the price of the room.

Now through Dec. 23, the lounge also serves a popular Holiday Tea on weekends from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. It’s $34 per person with tea and food; $43 with wine; and $14 for kids under 12 who get a choice of tea, cider or hot chocolate.

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Sacramento’s Grange To Get a Facelift


The top-selling zabuton at Grange.

The top-selling zabuton at Grange.

When Sacramento’s Grange reopens tomorrow, it will have a refreshed look.

I’m curious to see how this farm-to-fork downtown restaurant will re-imagine itself, as I had the chance to check it out a month before the redo, when I was invited in as a guest of Grange and the swank Citizen Hotel.

Downtown Sacramento is undergoing its own renaissance, what with the opening of Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings, just a stroll away.

With Chef Oliver Ridgeway’s farm-to-table sensibilities and an industrial, masculine setting of concrete columns, soaring windows all around, and black steel pendant lights, the restaurant has long been a popular venue. The bar area in particular gets packed early in the evening whenever there is an event going on at the arena.

Grange's former look.

Grange’s former look.

I started with a Blueberry Shrub ($13), a refreshing sip of gin, lemon, thyme, and Luxardo sour cherry syrup, made extra puckery with Buckeye Creek blueberry rice vinegar. It’s a great way — and a pretty one — to rev the palate up.

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Eating on Maui’s Kaanapali Coast

Hula Grill's poke tacos.

Hula Grill’s poke tacos.


MAUI, HAWAII — Imagine three miles of sand and water so entrancing that it was once the retreat for Hawaiian royalty. That’s what Kaanapali beach on Maui’s west side is all about.

I had a chance to check out some of the food in the area when I was a guest on the island last month, courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

There’s almost always a line outside Hula Grill — for good reason. It has a coveted place right on the beach. In fact, the outdoor tables and chairs are planted right in the sand with a stunning view of the ocean.

There’s often live music, too, including the likes of Derick Sebastian, an award-winning ukulele player and singer.

A popular place to dine where you can dig your toes into the sand.

A popular place to dine where you can dig your toes into the sand.

It’s a perfect place for a casual, no-nonsense lunch. The Hula Caesar ($9) features local upcountry romaine, garlic focaccia croutons and shredded parmesan. I added seared ahi for another $10. I missed having anchovies, but I appreciated that the salad was lightly dressed.

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