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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Restaurants USA

Champange brunch in San Francisco's iconic Cliff House Restaurant

Paula Gaston

For several years now, we have celebrated Valentine’s Day before or after the actual day. We got tired of the sold out and crowded restaurants with over priced menus. This year Valentine’s Day was in the middle of the week and we decided to go out for brunch on the following Sunday. For a few years already, I have wanted to eat at the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco which is famous for its long history in the city. Finally we made it to their Sunday brunch and it was totally worth it!

THE LONG AND COLORFUL HISTORY OF THE CLIFF HOUSE RESTAURANT

Cliff House is located in an amazing spot right by the ocean. It was first opened in 1858, and it has been either rebuilt or renovated for five times. The second Cliff House building was built on the same spot in 1863, and it quickly become a very successful restaurant. The building was later damaged when a schooner ran aground next to it, and the dynamite it was carrying exploded. The building was repaired, but it eventually burned down in a fire on Christmas 1894. The fire also destroyed the restaurants’s records of its famous customers including U.S. presidents and other notables.

Adolph Sutro, who had earlier bought the Cliff House, built the third restaurant after the fire. The new building was a beautiful, Victorian mansion which also got the nickname The Gingerbread Palace. The same year he also started to build the Sutro Baths next to the Cliff House, which would become the biggest inside swimming pool complex in the world at the time. The amazing Cliff House building survived the big San Francisco earthquake in 1906 just to burn down the following year. So started the time of the fourth Cliff House. Also the Sutro Baths were destroyed by a fire later in 1966 but you can still see the ruins of the pools if you visit the area.

After the fire the daughter of Adolph Sutro, Emme Merritt took over, and built a new Cliff House restaurant. After that the building has had several major renovations until it was finally taken over by the National Park System, who updated it with a neoclassical style. Today there is also a souvenir shop in the same building as the restaurant.

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BOTTOMLESS MIMOSAS AND THE DELICIOUS BUFFET TABLE

The Cliff House has two separate restaurants; the Bistro Restaurant and a little bit more formal Sutro’s. Sunday brunch is served in the Terrace Room where they have an awesome view of the ocean. There are three servings and this time we were on the last one, which was at 2 pm. The restaurant seemed very full and I think we might have gotten one of the last tables when we made our reservation.

The brunch comes with the traditional bottomless champagne mimosas, non alcoholic beverages and coffee. And I have to say, our glasses were always full and in many other ways the service was seamless as well. Even our 6 year old was excited, since she got to drink some non alcoholic cider out of a champagne glass, and not from a plastic cup that they usually give for kids in the restaurants here.

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In the buffet they had some traditional breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, Eggs Benedict (my favourite), sausages, bacon and potatoes. They also had plenty of sea food prepared in different ways like fish, shrimp and clams. For us this was a great fit, since we love that kind of thing. One of my favorites at the buffet was the Miso Marinated Salmon Medallions. We also tried some paella, different kinds of cheeses and sandwich meats, and many salads. There were actually so many sorts that I don’t think I even tried all of them. For example, from the giant fruit platter I was only able to try a couple of things, since I was already so full. My ultimate favorite from the desserts was the Butterscotch Eggs made in real egg shells. Nom nom!

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The brunch at the Cliff House costs $65, and the kids were half price. We were happy to see that they didn’t charge anything for our 1 1/2 year old who nibbled some omelette and a tiny piece of salmon. We were not sure if they would charge something for her or not. During the brunch they had some harp music which somehow fit into this space perfectly.

If you have time, you can do a little stroll in Land’s End after the brunch where the Sutro Bath ruins are. In the beginning of the trail at the beach there is a little cave, and if you continue on the trail you will see a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

 

Dining at the Rainforest Cafe, Las Vegas

Paula Gaston

On our last trip to Las Vegas, we had an early dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. This is a restaurant chain where you can hop into the middle of a rainforest. Even though it might seem a little comical with its howling animals, it is a fun place and kids especially love it. Animals at the Rainforest Cafe are not real of course. They are all mechanical and even the plants are plastic. We went to this same restaurant some years ago, and I have also visited the one in San Francisco which was closed in 2017. I am almost positive that I have also been to one in Chicago. We have had good experiences in this restaurant and our daughter had a blast on this visit too.

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TROPICAL ANIMALS AND NORTHERN LIGHTS

The Rainforest Cafe is a chain which was first started in 1994 at the Mall of America, Minnesota. From there it expanded to ten different states, and even outside the USA. Usually you can recognise the Rainforest Cafe from far away, because there are lots of plants and steam at their front door. Every now and then the animals inside the restaurant will start moving and making noises. The elephants will flap their ears, a monkey hanging in a swing closed his eyes and even the snakes were sticking their tongues out at us. There was also a bizarre thing going on in this rainforest. After the day turned to night, a sky full of stars lit up the ceiling…and with Northern Lights! I bet that the countries that actually have Northern Lights don’t have rainforests also.

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While visiting the Rainforest Cafe one should take a little stroll around it while waiting for the food; just to check out all the animals they have. They usually also have a souvenir shop in the lobby where kids can find all kinds fun things to take home.

WOW, WHAT A DRINK AND SOME DELICIOUS SHRIMP

Since we were in Vegas, I decided to have a drink before dinner. I was looking at the Margaritas and wanted to try something new, so I ordered a CoronaRita. It wasn’t until I saw the drink that I realised what I had ordered. It is two drinks in one; a margarita with a beer bottle. And I don’t even like beer. For some reason my brain didn’t register that I was ordering something with beer. But hey, since we were in Vegas, the rest of the drink was given to us to go.

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CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy! AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy!
AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

The Rainforest Cafe menu is a pretty typical American restaurant menu. There is plenty to choose from and something for everyone. Salads, snacks, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, fish, chicken and meat… and of course, a separate menu for kids. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I chose some coconut shrimp with mashed potatoes. This was easily sharable with our little one too, who still needed pureed type of food.

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If you are traveling with kids or just want to experience something different, the Rainforest Cafe can be fun. The food is good but a little bit pricier than a normal restaurant. We left the place for the streets of Las Vegas with full bellies and with an emptier wallet.

 

Greetings from the Hello Kitty Mini Cafe in San Jose

Paula Gaston

Last weekend my husband got stuck at London Heathrow due to a stormy weather, and he wasn’t able to spend the Saturday with us. So what to do? A phone call to a friend and come up with a plan. Our plan was to drive over to San Jose to check out the new Hello Kitty Cafe which was opened there during the summer. So we went!

 

The first permanent Hello Kitty Cafe in California was opened to Irvine in Southern California in September 2018. But before that the Japanese company Sanrio opened two smaller pop up cafes. The other one is very close to us in San Jose, and the other in Rancho Cucamonga. We usually spend our Christmasses in Rancho Cucamonga by visiting some family, so maybe we will get to visit the Hello Kitty Cafe over there as well. The actual permanent Hello Kitty Grand Cafe offers some Hello Kitty themed cafeteria products but also a 5 o’clock tea in their special Bow Room. In the evenings this room changes into a cocktail bar, and visiting in it requires a reservation.

But the Hello Kitty Mini Cafe we visited was far from “garnd”. We had read that in weekends they have had even over three hour lines to get in! That is pretty crazy! So we decided that in case of a long lines, we would go hang out somewhere else. But once there, there were no lines at all, so we decided to head in to this pink whole in the wall.

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The Hello Kitty Mini Cafe was truly a mini. There were only room for few people to be in at the same time, and there were no seating at all, or tables. We quickly realised that many people came in to just to buy some t-shirts or mugs, and they had just sold out the latest coffee mug. Hello Kitty truly is a popular character I see, much more than I have ever realised.

We order something to eat, and went out to find a table from Santana Row Park. My cafe latte with a Hello Kitty picture and all the baked good were cute, but they tasted very industrial. Our daughter did not finish her strawberry smoothie and that says something about the taste right there. And I have to say, that the prizes in this place are totally something else, and there not very much to choose from. They definitely cash out with the name of Hello Kitty.

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Unfortunately I have to say, that we were a little bit disappointed by the Hello Kitty Mini Cafe. In Japan we visited a Café de Miki with Hello Kitty and it was designed very well. It was so much fun and had lots of products to choose from. You truly felt like you were inside a “Hello Kitty world”. So we might not return to the mini cafe anytime soon. But I’m glad we went there to see what it was like, and our daughter was excited to see all the Hello Kitty products.

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Visiting Top Gun Movie Sites in San Diego

Paula Gaston

I'm sure everyone remembers the movie Top Gun which is still one of the great classic American movies. Our road trip in Southern California continued from Disneyland and Temecula to San Diego, where we visited a couple of the Top Gun filming locations. 

VIPERS HOUSE
 

On our first morning in San Diego we drove up to the Cabrillo National Monument. The views there were amazing! One can see the city of San Diego, the navy base, the ocean and even all the way down to Mexico if the weather is clear. There are two lighthouses by the monument. The older one you can go in for a visit but the other one is a little harder to find. The New Point Loma Lighthouse is down by the tide pools and it replaced the old light station in 1891 which was having trouble operating in heavy fog. Right next to the New Point Loma Lighthouse there are some houses which are now used by the coast guard. One of them was featured as Viper's house (Tom Skerritt) in Top Gun. In the movie there is a scene where Maverick (Tom Cruise) visits Viper at his house. 

Unfortunately one can not visit the New Point Loma Lighthouse or the houses, but you can see them from the monument. 

They can be found at: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106.

House in the movie (YouTube)

KANSAS CITY BARBEQUE
 

Another place that we visited was the Kansas City Barbeque in downtown San Diego. We wanted to do a little walk downtown, but since we were already getting hungry, we stopped for some food here first. When filming Top Gun a director from Paramount Studios stopped here for a beer and later brought in the director Tony Scott. They both liked the place and so it is seen in two different spots in the movie. Maverick and Goose (Anthony Edwards) meet in the bar with Charlie (Kelly McGillis) and Goose's wife Carole (Meg Ryan), and sing "Great Balls of Fire". Also one of the closing scenes was filmed here.

The owners of the restaurant kept some mementos and started collecting other Top Gun related things. In 2008 a fire destroyed the building but they were able to save most of the mementos. Kansas City Barbeque was re-built to look the same as it was when they filmed the movie. There is at least the old piano and a jukebox which can be seen in Top Gun. The walls are covered with autographed photographs and other Top Gun gear. Even though the visit to this place was not in our original plan, it was well worth it and we got our tummies full. 

Maverick in the bar and the bar today on the right.

Maverick in the bar and the bar today on the right.

The famous piano.

The famous piano.

And this is what it looked like in the movie:

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Kansas City Barbeque can be found at: 600 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101.

We missed one known filming location: Charlie's house. The house has been empty for a long time but, it is protected since it is an old Victorian house. In recent years they have painted the house. I read from somewhere that they are building a luxury hotel next to the house, and thinking of converting it into a souvenir shop. We would have loved to stop by, but it was not really on our route, and we didn't have so much time to drive around. Oh well, next time!

The address of the Charlien House is: 102 Pacific Street, Oceancide, San Diego, CA, 92054.

 

Mother's Day Under a Bridge - with San Francisco Belle to Golden Gate

Paula Gaston

What kind of Mother's Day traditions does your family have? Do you go out for brunch or do some activities together? When I was a kid, we mostly stayed home and spent time with the family. In the morning we woke mom by singing and taking breakfast to in bed for her. We also always had a mother's day cake and a gift. Later when my brother and I got older, we started taking our mom out for brunch.

This year I am going to spend my fourth mother's day as mom myself. I am not sure what is going to happen this mother's day but I would like to honour all the moms by telling about my mother's day last year. I was lucky to get a gift that I wont forget easily, it was a cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco Bay. Even though it was windy and chilly outside, it was a wonderful day.

Our cruise ship San Francisco Belle was an old fashioned river boat built in Louisiana in 1994. It looks beautiful and is the biggest dining yacht on the West Coast. As we were enjoying the brunch we also saw the city of San Francisco from the water which I had never seen before. San Francisco Belle offered traditional breakfast foods with bottomless mimosas and delicious desserts. Especially I remember the banana-bread pudding, yummy! Food was ok, nothing fancy, but we enjoyed the atmosphere and didn't go home hungry.

The highlight of the cruise was when we reached the Golden Gate Bridge. The ship turned around under the bridge and we got to see how different things looks like from the Bay. We also saw Alcatraz Island close by.

The rest of the cruise went fast since we had a DJ in the house and people were dancing and having some a good time. A lovely day in San Francisco!

Happy Mother's Day to all Moms and to my own mom in Finland!