Thursday, January 31, 2019

Chowing Down in San Francisco: Lale and Canela Bistro & Wine Bar

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If you've read my About Me Page, you know that I originally started Chow Down USA as strictly a food blog! Back in my hometown of San Francisco, CDU had its humble beginnings as simply a way for my friends and I to document the restaurants we dined in for ABC Dining. San Francisco is renowned for its great restaurants, so it was fun to try a couple of new ones while I was back in town after the Anaheim Wedding!

Lale 

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Lale is a beautiful restaurant in the Inner Sunset with a bright, open feel. The name means tulip in Persian, hence the fresh flowers gracing each table. I came here with a couple of friends for brunch, and we were really impressed with the beautiful presentation of the dishes, topped only by how delicious they all were!

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We could not stop raving about the starter - this pink beet-yogurt dip with walnuts, garlic, purple flower petals and pita bread to soak it all up. It even matched the freshly pressed strawberry bellinis!  


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The ricotta stuffed french toast is the perfect comfort dish for a foggy SF day.


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I don't think I'm physically capable of saying no to blueberry pancakes.


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Eggs benedict holds a special place in my heart. The poached eggs run perfectly into the cracks of the English muffin, and you get so many flavors and textures in each bite.


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I'm not a big fan of polenta - something about the texture - but my friends loved this one!

It was clear why there a line out the door for brunch at Lale. The ambiance was so relaxing, the manager was super helpful and our server was the sweetest, the presentation of the dishes was artwork, and the meal tasted even better than it looked! 

Canela Bistro & Wine Bar

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I took my dad to Canela Bistro & Wine Bar which specializes in Spanish tapas! I love tapas because you get to try a lot of different dishes instead of being stuck with one big entree the entire meal.


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The interior is so fun here - muted, intricate decorations make for a feast for the eyes in every direction.


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They have a great collection of top wines under $50!


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It's starting to be a tradition that my dad and I order olives as a starter if they're on the menu. They're refreshing, tart, and healthy! How fun is this gold dish they came in? 

Also shown are these little gazpacho soup shots - if you're a fan of feta these are a must try!


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This was one of my favorite parts of the meal because #cheese. With truffle shavings, sourdough bread, honey, and apple slices, this was heaven on a plate! 10/10 would recommend!


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Ah, croquettes. Perhaps my favorite dish of all time - rivaled only by pizza and maybe chocolate if that's considered a dish. Croquettes are basically fried cheesy goodness. For one of my Friendsgivings this year, I made mashed potato croquettes with garlic, green onions, and cheddar. They were a huge hit and I want to make them again soon! If you ever see these on a menu, definitely order them, you won't regret it!


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Fun fact: this restaurant used to be an Italian venue, so when Canela bought it they kept their pizza oven! They now create authentic Spanish flatbreads in the pizza oven and they're delicious.


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I love scallops - these were the biggest ones I've had!


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We were so stuffed by dessert but of course made room to try the ice cream. So glad that we did, because this cinnamon espresso ice cream with caramel and whipped cream was amazing! The cinnamon really made it perfect.

Canela is such a fun spot, located in the heart of the Castro near Brewcade. On Sundays they have their Spanish Paella so be sure to try that if you're in the area! Paul is the general manager who took care of us for dinner, and you can tell he truly cares about the patrons and the dishes in Canela. 

Check out my other foodie posts here!

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hilton Anaheim Hotel Review: Anaheim, California

This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own. 
Thanks for supporting those who support Chow Down USA!

Hilton-Anaheim-Hotel

Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. 
- Disneyland

As many of you know, I recently attended my friend's wedding in Anaheim, California. Anaheim also happens to be the home of Disneyland! My friends and I were lucky enough to stay at the Hilton Anaheim in a Disney room for this trip, which overlooks the park and is perfect for watching the fireworks at night! 



Truly felt so taken care of by the Hilton Anaheim! 
Even got some cute Disney items and treats!



The Hilton Anaheim also happens to have an extraordinary chef in their Mix Lounge & Restaurant and is located directly next to the Anaheim Convention Center, so it's absolutely perfect no matter your reason for visiting!

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As someone who used to go to Disneyland a lot as a child, it was so nostalgic to return and be overlooking the park! They even have a on-site shop which sells Disney merchandise for cheaper than you would find at the park.

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Hilton-Anaheim-Hotel

The Hilton hosted us for an incredible Chef's Kitchen lunch during our stay. I was truly so impressed with the dishes and presentation created by French Chef Castan, Sous Chef Juan Lopez, and Pastry Chef Raymund Esguerra. These mouth-watering dishes are similar to what you will get to chow down on in their Mix Restaurant in the hotel lobby!

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Hilton-Anaheim-Hotel

Chef Castan is the best! He asked what my favorite place in France was (from my prior trip a couple of years ago), and when I answered Avignon, he said that's where he was from! Of all the little towns in France, what a coincidence! He's won a ton of awards, and with good reason. Each dish was a work of art and tasted even better than it looked (if you can believe that)! He even gets some of his herbs from an herb garden on the fifth floor of the hotel.

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Hiramassa Tataki with avocado and yuzu vinaigrette.

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Organic Baby Beets with local farm goat cheese, hydroponic greens, and winter truffle vinaigrette.

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How gorgeous is this plating! Pan-seared Mexican Bass, with naked sea scallops, blood orange emulsion, rapini spread and carrot ginger puree. We all were smitten by the scallops and ginger puree!


This Lemon Pound Cake was unreal. It came with black sesame seeds, olive oil, and mixed berries, not to mention crushed lavender!

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For the Hilton's 100th anniversary this year, Hilton will host their 19th annual Ducks in Tux fundraising gala. The Anaheim Ducks will all dress up in their tuxes to raise money for the community, and Chef Castan will work his magic to cook for the event! I love a company that gives back!

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The super swanky Mix Lounge is the first thing you see walking into the high-ceiling lobby. This was packed around happy hour with folks from the conventions!

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As a game lover, I was happy with the giant chess and connect four area by the pool!

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You can never have too many palm trees. The California vibe is real here, in the best possible way!

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From their stunning palm-tree lined property, to their close proximity to Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center, to their mouth-watering and beautiful dishes, I absolutely recommend staying at the Hilton Anaheim! 

Be sure to check out my other travel guides here!




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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tulum, Mexico Travel Guide 2019: Azulik Treehouse Resort

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Not many know this (unless you've read my post about it on Instagram), but growing up I used to spend summers in Tulum, Mexico with my mom and dad. We would stay in little huts along the beach, collect seashells and watch the stars at night. These summers are my happy place.

I didn’t realize how much this shaped & meant to me until I returned recently. Tulum is filled with resorts & tourists now, but the sun, beach, and stars are just where we left them. Going back for the first time in probably 15 years, I wasn't sure what to expect, but as I stepped out of the Cancun airport, I immediately felt like home. 

For the first two nights of our stay, we called the dreamy Azulik Treehouse Resort home and allowed our circadian rhythms to be reset with candlelight and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. Read on for a photo tour and to learn more about what makes this resort so unique and special.

Tulum, Mexico Travel Guide: Azulik Treehouse Resort


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Azulik is the most unique and incredible resort I've stayed at to date. With its open feel and focus on getting back to nature, Azulik is the perfect getaway to relax, reset, and check in with yourself. I mean, just look at the stunning beach view from our private balcony in the Aztec Villa. This resort pulls from the 4 elements - water, fire, earth, and air. Surrounded by the Carribean Sea, water is the biggest emphasis here and can be found in each experience at the resort, including water paths that wander from the lobby to the spa deck. 

Kin Toh Restaurant


First of all, the word treehouse does not do Azulik justice. It's more like a work of art in the Mayan jungle, with many stories of wooden pathways and rooms snaking through seemingly endless green palm trees and copal incense - a local treat which has the dual function of keeping the mosquitoes at bay and aiding in relaxation. 

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Even non-guests can visit the famed Kin Toh restaurant - renowned for its lounge-worthy netting which overlooks tropical treetops a story or two above the ground. I don't consider myself afraid of heights, but even I didn't want to look down for too long on here! 

It's a fine dining restaurant (18+, no swimsuits allowed), with a fun bar, neon hookahs and even a small lounge / dance floor with DJ. Kin Toh opens at 5:30 PM, and I would make a reservation and get there a little early if you want to get shots on these nets (there will already be a small gathering of people just before 5:30). 

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

It's free to enter as long as you order something, and they also offer a champagne sunset which gets you access to their "nests" (see below). I dished on my Insta that this treetop view totally reminded me of Jurassic Park. I was surprised by how many people agreed, glad I'm not the only one!

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Kin Toh offers Mayan-Mexican fusion cuisine using local, seasonal ingredients so it's as fresh as it gets. The presentation of everything here is incredible. 

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Guests have access to the roped off treehouse area where the rooms are located. I couldn't get enough of wandering along the treehouse pathways and steps. They were all lined with those spheres on the ground, which lit up at night since there is hardly any electricity in Azulik.

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To my delight, swings are ubiquitous in Tulum. It's hard to worry about anything when you're on a swing! 

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The entire resort is expertly engineered to meld nature and art. It's a high-end resort, so everything is intricately designed and somehow luxe while keeping you rooted in nature. 

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If this isn't relaxing enough, they have an on-site spa which includes massages and a complimentary "cleansing," which uses incense and shell sounds. If you're pressed for time I would say you can skip the cleansing, it's only about a minute and I think it's better spent in a villa or on the beach.

Azulik Tulum Aztec Villa


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Are you ready to see our room?


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The Aztec Villa is all about comfort, and is focused around the fire element. Glass-covered candles line the sink, walls, and table. Azulik lists fire as an active and rejuvenating element, and teaches the importance of relaxation in getting back to nature. 

As a child in Tulum summers, I remember there being a ton of mosquitoes at night (especially along the beach). This time around, we went in late November and I hardly saw any mosquitoes at all. It's also a great time of year to visit since the crowds are down and it's not too hot. To be fair, I actually did get quite a few bites, but those were from the days I forgot to put Deet on (and at least I didn't have to hear or see them). That said, Azulik is prepared with mosquito netting and a fan over the (extra king-sized) bed in case you need it. 

As you can see, in keeping with the treehouse and nature theme, we didn't have solid walls surrounding the room. Instead, we have floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors with wooden blinds providing a bit of privacy. Many of these can be fully opened for even more connection to your surroundings.

To aid in getting back to nature, there is very minimal electricity in Azulik. Our room had 2 outlets to charge our phones and that's it - which was actually incredible. No wifi, no electric lights, just many candles which are lit for you when you get to your room at night. I'm a total night owl and have trouble getting to sleep on time, but by circadian rhythm reset so fast here. I fell asleep easily after the sun set to the waves crashing on the shore, and woke up with the sun rise, excited to take on the day. It was actually so telling of how modern technology affects our bodies, and even writing this right now reminds me to put away technology late at night to try to reset my inner clock.

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Ah, the intricate, mosaic tiling & mirror work. This is something that really brings me back and is found a lot in Tulum. It's little touches like this that bring joy to your day. 

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Show me a cuter bath, I dare you! Obsessed is an understatement when you consider the handmade mosaic tile work, wooden faucet, tri-mirrors and hanging towel rack and soap shelf (no detail left untouched here). Water is supplied from the on-site cenote - aka underground water source.

I know travelling can look super luxurious and dreamy, but we spent so much time exploring Tulum, Azulik and the beach (and getting shots for the blog and brand collaborations), that I didn't have enough time to ACTUALLY take a bath here! One of my goals this year is to work on balancing work for the blog with being in the moment and truly experiencing where I am - especially on epic trips like this. Does anyone else struggle with this?

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

How cute is this rustic closet!


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My favorite part of Azulik right here. Our private balcony, complete with a ginormous hot tub (there are hot and cold dials on the faucet so it can be made into a regular bath), swinging daybed, and view of Tulum beach.

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

Oh, did I mention the room service? It comes from in-house restaurant Cenote (more on this later), and is incredibly delicious, including English breakfasts, smoothie bowls, and fresh juices (with paper straws of course).

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

But how do you order room service without a phone, you ask? Well, you write your request on a piece of paper, roll it up, put it in a wooden ball with your suite number painted on, and drop it down a shoot! You really have to let go because there is no confirmation that they even receive it. It's just a different way of life here - much more laid back. The first time they brought it back because the paper fell out, but the second time it worked.

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

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We loved our moments of relaxation on the daybed, watching the waves during the day and the stars at night (SO many stars)!

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

Fully obsessed with the wooden faucets here.

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

Forever reaching for those goals!

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

Something about this spot and view made me stop and stare every time. 

Cenote Jungle Restaurant


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Cenote is a picturesque farm-to-table jungle restaurant on the first floor of Azulik. 

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

Azulik: Tulum Beach


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Azulik's section of Tulum Beach is beautiful. From views of their rustic seaside suites, to circular lounge beds and more raised netting to perch on, you can really lay out here all day. It is clothing optional though so don't be alarmed if you see that! Again, different place, different way of life.

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

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Tulum-Mexico-Travel-Guide-2019-Azulik-Treehouse-Resort

Tseen Ja Restaurant


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Cross that bridge when you come to it. We stumbled upon Tseen Ja restaurant on accident by taking this long bridge from Kin Toh. 

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Have you seen a prettier restaurant table?

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We continued our exploration and found our way above the trees again. You can tell by the clouds it was stormy. Shortly after these shots, the sky broke into warm Mayan rain. 

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Remember those spheres I showed you earlier? This is what they look like at night to light the path to your room.

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I was excited at the prospect of staying at Azulik, but I didn't realize just how special and unique it would be. It's the perfect combination of getting back to nature and intricate design & comfort, which really allows you to relax and reset yourself. From our villa, to the room service, to the views and incredible gastronomy, I can't recommend Azulik Tulum enough for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

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Would you stay here? 
What's the coolest hotel you've stayed at?

Be sure to check out my other travel guides below!

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