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San Diego

Restaurant Review – Wine Vault & Bistro

With a friend visiting from out of town, I wanted to savor a simple, tasty and enjoyable dinner for the four of us.  We all met in Little Italy at the Princess Pub.  Great place to enjoy an afternoon beer, by the way.  When my friend Shawn told me that our dinner reservation was at 6:30pm, I felt like we were trying to catch the sunset dinner special or some senior discount.  In fact, we had reservations further up the road at The Wine Vault & Bistro.  Here you are served a set menu of five courses, paired with five wines and everyone in the restaurant is enjoying the same meal.  Me likey.  When you are hosting an out-of-town guest, it’s nice just to sit down and have everything decided for you. Perfect for catching up with a friend I haven’t seen in nearly a decade!

The atmosphere of the Wine Vault & Bistro is a homey setting, literally within a house on the hillside of India Street at Washington.  The soft lighting and white interior make for a warm glow, but bright enough you can see what you are eating.  And boy did we eat.  The five course portions are perfectly sized, and yet really fill you up.

A well rounded menu, we were served spring vegetables, a deliciously petite and well seasoned fish ‘n’ chips,  a crispy chicken roulade with a tasty curry cous cous, lamb osso buco and pistachio cake.  The lamb was the least creative and therefor my least favorite dish.  The 3-bites of the fish ‘n’ chips were simply perfection.

Each course was paired with a wine, which you can purchase from the Wine Vault  Bistro.  In order, we were served a 2009 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Cass Viogner, 2005 Garmendia Tempranillo, 2006 Tobin James “Blue Moon” Syrah and finally a 1999 Domaine Fontanel Rivesaltes Ambre.  I’m not a big fan of dessert wines, and so the Domaine Fontanel got only one taste from me.  The Cass Viognier is an absolutely perfect summer wine, very bright fruity tones and nearly sparkling.  I loved this one.  On the reds, I rather enjoyed the bold tones of the Tobin James.  It was a perfect selection for the lamb.

With wine flowing and well-timed dishes landing before me, I could easily relax and enjoy my friends, which is exactly what we wanted for the evening.  Our meal lasted well over four hours and with great satisfaction.  The set menu and wine flight were $50 per person, a very reasonable price for the meal.

While I loved my visit at the Wine Vault & Bistro, it is not the style of restaurant which becomes a weekly habit. It’s great for a date, a gathering of friends or for wine enthusiasts and foodies who want to test the skills of a capable chef and see what creations he’s come up with for the evening. The calendar of events on the website is wonderfully full of winemaker dinners and tasting events. Every Saturday is the Chef’s menu, as we enjoyed. I’ve signed up for the newsletter and to learn about singles events.  I can see a potential business opportunity here as the Wine Vault & Bistro is nowhere to be found on Twitter or Facebook.

On a side note, I’d make sure you have a designated driver.  With a 3oz. pour per tasting, and all that delicious food, best to have someone with a clear head drive you home.

Likes: Great wines paired with a tasty menu with lots of variety. Tasting notes provided for each wine, as well as the set menu. Generous pour.

Dislikes: Location is tough on parking. A visit to their website crashed my computer.


Wine Vault & Bistro is located at:
3731-A India St.
San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: (619) 295-3939



Restaurant Review – Caffe Bella Italia

With a commitment from the gals to get out on the town more (and to help re-introduce me to my hometown after being overseas for 8+ years), we met in Pacific Beach to try Caffe Bella Italia, as well as take advantage of a Groupon offer.

We weren’t the only ones who had waited until the last minute to use the Groupon. We had to take an early reservation and were seated outside due to the high volume of Groupon reservations (this is when the whole coupon thing becomes unappealing to me).  Fortunately it was a pleasant, warm evening and so a patio seat and our bottle of wine set the tone for girl talk.

My friends ordered the lobster ravioli and the lasagna. I opted for the saffron gnocchi.  Once our order arrived, we claimed the dishes to be “tasty” “delicious” or “really good.”  The portions were well-sized, but none of us finished our meal.  To be truthful, there was nothing special about the food, presentation or menu.  It’s hearty Italian food without any fuss or pizazz.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing special to write about. Caffe Bella Italia does advertise Happy Hour, discounted bottles of wine and wine tasting specials, but after a lackluster meal, I’m not sure that we would make a return visit before trying out a plethora of options in PB or elsewhere.  It’s hard for me to dislike Italian food, but this was a miss for me.

Likes: Wine and location (while busy and tight for parking, it’s a hot spot)

Dislikes: Unimaginative menu, no WOW factor. That and – What’s up with that logo?




Caffe Bella Italia is located at:

1525 Garnet Ave.

Pacific Beach

San Diego, CA 92109

858 273.1224




Restaurant Review – Wine Pub

In an effort to get out and about and try new-to-me restaurants and hot spots in San Diego, I rallied my gal pals for an evening on the town last night.  Michelle had a Groupon for the Wine Pub in Point Loma and so that assisted in our decision.

As we arrived, I was a bit hesitant, as the entrance is through a mini mall in a high traffic area on the cusp of Shelter Island and Point Loma. We managed to find parking in the back where we could see that a private party was occupying the lovely outdoor patio.

Carrie was waiting for us inside and we nestled into our table by the window. Once inside, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming with a long bar and both tall and short table dotting the widows.  Unfortunately, no view here.

What the Wine Pub lack in location, it makes up for in friendly staff and wonderful food and wine.  Sean greeted us and helped us to order a few specials on the menu, a pastry-wrapped, baked brie, the hummus plate, shrimp cakes and for me, the Greek Olives. (Ever since my trip to Greece in 2007, I can never eat enough of these beauties!).

Sean also guided us through the wine menu and helped us land in the Cabernet Sauvignon, Vinum Cellars, California (2008). It was the description, “Huckleberry and blueberry, with soft vanilla tannins 6” that lured us in, the huckleberry being the largest draw.  And we were not disappointed.  Full, smooth and a perfect wine to enjoy on a Saturday night out with the girls.

Our bill came to about $88 and while that didn’t qualify for the $100 tab needed to get the 50% off on the Groupon, the owners were kind enough to give us $25 off.  Our wine and appetizers were delicious, the staff super friendly and the experience cozy and content. I would be interested to return for a dinner, or for some more tasty appetizers and a chance to enjoy a summer evening out on that patio.

Check the website or facebook page often, as they host a variety of tastings and events, as well as Woofer Wednesday, where if you bring your pooch in and dine on the patio and they’ll donate 10% of your check to Loving Arms Pet Adoption.

Likes: Staff, food, wine list, community spirit

Dislikes: Location (mini mall), parking




Wine Pub is located at:

2907 Shelter Island Dr. #108
San Diego, 92106




San Diego Treasures

All joking aside, today was a good day! I opened up my business bank account, and while downtown, decided to explore around a bit.

I drove up and down the streets, just let myself wonder from section to section, East Village to Little Italy and on over to the streets neighboring Balboa Park.

I love old houses.  I love houses which have a lot of character.  In San Diego, there are some wonderful Mission style homes and Victorian splendors.  I thought I would share photos of just a couple I found.

One of the fun things about being back in San Diego is that it’s like a new city to me. And as I would in any new place, I like to explore my surroundings.  I look forward to sharing many more discoveries!



Restaurant Review – Hodad’s

It was a classic day in San Diego today.  It started with a breakfast right at the Ocean Beach Pier and a meet-up with an old high school friend. Returning to the US after eight years abroad is a great excuse to renew lots of old friendships.

The itinerary for the day was a hike on the beaches of Sunset Cliffs.  It’s the middle of February and in San Diego, the sky could not have been more blue and the temperatures more suitable. I’m not sure where else you can get an 80℉ day in winter!

The hike, to my surprise, included a wade through very winter-like ocean waters. Well worth it for the views and the secluded beaches. Even the surfers were hard to find.

What better way to finish the day then with a San Diego and Ocean Beach tradition – Hodad’s.  The Cheeseburger and Frings (with a beer of course) perfectly hit the spot!  Frings were served in a huge portion which even two sun-drenched, hungry hikers couldn’t finish.

For native San Diegans, Hodad’s is probably a no-brainer. You want a good burger, go to Hodad’s.  But to the tourist, the atmosphere of Hodad’s really captures the SoCal beach spirit with the No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem policy and a decor of surfboard and license plates. Located so close to the OB Pier also helps for those taking in a San Diego beach tour.

One of the things I loved the most about the visit though? Our waiter.  He looked all of 25, but perhaps the San Diego lifestyle had helped prevent any wrinkles – he’s worked at Hodad’s for 11 years.  That almost says more than the delicious burgers.

Likes: beach location and spirit, bodacious burgers

Dislikes: Numerous napkins needed, line outside the door doesn’t make you want to hang out longer than what is deemed cool by the locals.



Hodad’s is located at:

5010 Newport Avenue

San Diego, 92107




p.s. Here’s a photo of me on that hike…shirt drenched from wading in the freezing ocean!


15 boxes

When I was a student as UCSB, I remember very distinctly how my life fit within the trunk and back seat of my Hyundai Excel. Every box and suitcase has its specific place, and I packed the car up the same way at the beginning and end of each school year.

When I moved to Japan, I was only allowed two large suitcases and a carry-on.  At the end of five years, I sent home 10 boxes and took back with me those two large suitcases and a carry-on.

Before I left for Vietnam, I sent 10 boxes ahead and then packed up those ridiculously large suitcases again, for one final trip.  I paid excess baggage fees for having super heavy bags…I don’t know what I was thinking….why did I need all of that stuff with me?  I packed my clothes, but mostly my treasures from Japan.  Little trinkets I had collected over five years and felt an essential part of my daily existence.  Some of those items never even made it to a shelf.

I threw away a ridiculous amount of toiletries.  When I go to Bangkok, I usually go to Boots and stock up on all sorts of lotions and potions, soap and scents, creams and cures.  I’m embarrassed to say how little of those things I actually used!!!

I prepared my items for the movers in just a few days time.  I sorted things out between clothes and materials, artwork, breakables, bedding and then the dishes and kitchen ware.  Five guys packed up my stuff in little over 30 minutes and 15 boxes.  The move will cost me about $2600. (Yeeowza! OUCH!) I’m thankful I have not a stick of furniture!!! I can only imagine the cost then!

One thing has been constant in all my moves overseas…my journals.  These are the books of my life, since the time I was eleven.  These journals are so special to me, they go with me on the plane.  It makes for a heavy carry-on, but I don’t care.  I always feel like I can close my eyes and remember certain snapshots of my past.  But when I spend time at the end of the year to read through a lot of entries, I’m surprised by how little I actually remember. I’m in a constant stage of “Oh yeah! That one!”  So I remember once I’m reading it, but initially I feel like I’m peeking into someone else’s life.

One of my projects when I’m in San Diego (and before I am employed) is to get a scanner and make a digital copy of my books.  That way, the next time I move I can access my writings on my computer and not have to lug a bunch of books about. Although if I do move “for good” the next time, then I may just have to take the colorful stories of my life with me on the plane one last time.

What treasures do you have that you would take on your carry-on if you were moving overseas?

Vacation is officially over – Boo!

Two weeks went by too quickly.  I didn’t do enough. I wish I could have seen more people.  Squeezed in a trip to San Francisco or even Dallas.  That would have been good.  So many things going on in my head and my heart.  I’m not sure I got enough hugs from my niece. Will she remember me when she see’s me on skype through the computer?  One more week would have been good.  I could have checked a few more things off the list.  But then again, these two weeks were not about checking lists.  It was about taking a breath and reflecting and just having a good time.  And that I did.

I return to Hanoi with a renewed spirit, a new outlook and a host of ideas for what’s ahead.  I’m really thankful for having a couple of weeks at home.  It did me a world of good.  Cheers.


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