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Thursday, March 5, 2009

San Diego, CA: the Sweepstakes Queen strikes again!

I should probably title this blog post "sex, sun, Segways, & sushi"! Thanx to Game Stop & finding wonderful Inn Sitters, Dan & I were able to have a 5-day (& sorely needed) "mini-honeymoon" in San Diego... Much as we love all 4 seasons in the mountains of southern WV, after enduring months of cold winter weather including some -7 degree days, 5 glorious 'free' days in sunny, 80-degree San Diego was truly FIIIIIIIINE!
Although I've been joking about it for several years, the Sweepstakes Queen of Landgraff, WV finally Did hit 'critical mass' in the sweepstakes dept.: right after I won the totally fabulous Mary Norton Swarovski crystal-adorned fur shoes from that I blogged about previously, I won the Grand Prize in GameStop's "Call of Duty: World At War" sweeps, with a trip to San Diego for 2 to attend their finals tournament on board the USS Midway- a place to wear the shoes!!! The depressing part was that I really thought we'd be unable to go, as we had no Inn-&-Puppy Sitter, but by a True last-minute miracle we found a wonderful couple- Carnation Inn Sitters - who loved on our puppies & looked after our home as if it was their own, & so were actually able to go! I'd never been to San Diego, & while Dan had (some 40 years ago), he'd never been on board the USS Midway; I'd entered the sweeps- which only had the one grand prize which I obviously didn't think I'd win- because Dan is U.S. Army Retired & an avid "gamer", esp. of military strategy games, & it seemed like an incredibly cool trip for us to try to win- & it was! Thank you GameStop! The grand prize included round trip plane tickets for 2 people, a bit of cash, the finals party on the Midway, & a hotel suite for 2 nights; I added 2 more nights so we could make it a "real" holiday!
We arrived in San Diego @lunch time- truly perfect timing as I was able to get my first SD "sushi fix" @Sushi Ito, right across from our hotel!

Game Stop put the 30 tournament finalists & VIPs (like us!) @the Sommerset Suites in the Hillcrest neighborhood, which, as neighborhoods go, is Truly restaurant nirvana!!! 8 sushi bars on one block?! I almost passed out from the sheer joy of simply knowing they were all there!! We only got to try a few of the hundreds of restaurants & wine bars in SD that all looked So good... & I hope we someday get to go back to SD to do a Real foodie tour!!!
Upon our arrival at the hotel, Game Stop gifted us w/a goodie bag of "Call of Duty" VIP tees, 1 gig thumb drives fashioned to look like dog tags :-), "energy drinks", snacks, & an "Army" water canteen; it was fun to feel like a bit of a VIP!
@3p.m. (it was 5 o'clock somewhere :-) we found a Great little neighborhood wine bar: Cafe Bleu, which, like many of SD's great dining spots, has an excellent (4 hour) happy hour!
That first evening we had a wonderful dinner @Blue Point Coastal Cuisine in SD's Gaslamp Quarter, where Dan had a great lobster pot pie app, & I had a truly scrumptious sushi-esque ahi tuna "duo":
pan seared yellowfin stuffed with local asparagus, ginger port butter sauce paired with a basil and nori wrapped yellowfin spring roll... They made me a divine Ginger Jack martini w/house-made ginger syrup, too :-)
After dinner we did a Gaslamp Quarter Pub Crawl, stopping @The Whisky Girl, Henry's Pub, & a few others before calling it a night- it was SO much fun to be out & about in a great, lively city downtown- the weather was Great, & everywhere we went in San Diego felt wonderfully safe, too...
Friday we lazily hung about the hotel hot tub, & got Dan his hamburger fix at the Corvette Diner, a clever '50s theme diner in Hillcrest (where the waiter showered our table with handfuls of Bazooka chewing gum in lieu of desert!), before getting all decked out (Dan wearing his official Call of Duty VIP tee, & me my gawjus Mary Norton shoes!) & going to the Game Stop "Call of Duty: World At War" tournament finals on board the USS Midway.

We got to play the game- which has truly gorgeous graphics- on an XBox 360 (me for the first time)- which is a Lot diff from the PC Dan usually plays it on- & watch the final 30 finalists (winnowed from 45,000 contestants!) battle it out for the $2500 grand prize- won by a rather amazing 17 year old!
For me, the best part of the evening was seeing, up close, on the deck of the Midway, the Hewey helo that Dan flew door-gunner on in Vietnam back in the 1960s- so tiny, esp. when compared with the "double-headed dump truck" Chinook!
When we got back to the hotel we discovered yet another great Hillcrest neighborhood bar: Number 1 Fifth Avenue, w/a fun, heated outdoor patio where you can smoke! YAY! This place was literally jumping until closing- & we noted over the course of 5 days that the ONLY places in SD that were jumping were places where you could smoke! Most of the non-smoking restaurants, cafes, & wine bars, however pretty or "Zagat rated" were empty... Is anyone listening, or is everyone still playing "holier than thou" & pretending it isn't true??????? Given the economic disaster the country is currently experiencing & the nationwide catastrophic drop in tourism, it is criminally negligent- and a ticket to bankruptcy, closed restaurants & bars and entertainment districts full of empty storefronts- to ignore, insult, & disrespect the few people still willing and able to dine & drink!
The first thing I did when I realized we could actually go on the trip was start hunting fine restaurants in San Diego on the 'net, & came up, of course, with hundreds; with a million restaurants in the naked city, how does one even Begin to choose? I wanted us- & especially Chef Dan- to have at least a few truly great meals in SD to give him inspiration & new ideas for the Elkhorn Inn. I finally called the PR firm that did SD's recent Restaurant Week, & they were nice enough to help me hone my short list of "foodie meccas"; I made reservations at the one I was told was an Absolute Must: Laurel- & we had a Truly splendid dinner there- as you can probably tell from my happy face! Dan had a delicious lamb dish, served over red cabbage & w/polenta & perfectly tart little goji berries, and got to schmooze their young & accomplished chef; I had cod with a trout brandade, & I'm still dreaming about my appetizer: scallops stuffed with lamb, on a bed of creamy barley-type grains... OMG was it good!!!! We shared a delicious butterscotch pot du creme, too... Interestingly, Laurel is extremely reasonable for such a fine restaurant- the entrees were in the $20-30 range, which is far, far less than I expected. It's also elegant and beautiful, & the staff both professional and charming; our dinner there was a Totally glorious experience & I only wish I'd had the time to work thru the rest of their wonderful menu!

This really was a "perfect day in San Diego", as we started it by going down to the seafront, walking thru the Greatest Generation sculpture garden & the National Salute to Bob Hope & The Military, past the USS Midway & Star of India, and then taking the ferry to Coronado & finding Segway of Coronado.
The group we met there was So enthusiastic that we decided to learn to ride Segways & spent the afternoon touring Cornado on them- great fun, & the perfect way to see a lot of the little island in the sunshine!
Had a glass of wine @Candela's happy hour (someday I hope to return & @least sample their appetizers which looked Divine....) before catching the sunset ferry back to SD for dinner.
After Laurel, we took our cab driver's advice(!) & went to Croce's in the Gaslamp Quarter for some great Latin Jazz by Agua Dulce- a perfect ending to a Totally GREAT day!
Our last day in San Diego we took the trolley to San Ysidro & went to Tijuana, Mexico- basically so I could say I did! We wandered about downtown T, past the cathedral (& down 'hooker row'...), had lunch (& some Truly great, fresh salsa) on the cute upstairs balcony of Placita on T's main drag, Av. Revolucion...

stopped for a cool drink to listen to strolling Mariachi musicians & a music festa @Plaza Santa Cecilia, bought some fine sippin' tequilas (Anejo & Reposado), a bottle of Mexico's famous 'aphrodisiac' vanilla, & a few pretty embroidered linens @Hand Art, had our requisite margaritas back @Placita, & then walked back across the bridge (over the "parking lot" of cars @the border...) home to the USA! (What I would Really love to do in Mexico is have a week or so to experience the Wine & Gastronomy Route that starts at Ensenada, which is about 1 1/2 hours from Tijuana... anyone know of a sweeps to win THAT holiday?! :-)

Truly tired from doing a stupefying amount of walking in the 80-degree heat, we had a delish (&, again. Very reasonable) Vietnamese dinner @ the elegant Saigon on Fifth back in our Hillcrest neighborhood, & slept like logs! Having to be at the airport @noon for our flight home, Dan humored me by dashing back into Sushi Ito w/me when they opened their doors @11:30am so I could indulge in one last, grand, San Diego sushi-saki feast, jumping into our taxi w/a takeout box of yummyness!
(& we were Both glad for the mellowing saki after enduring an idiotically harrowing experience w/United Air Lines' "curb-side check in" & desk-clerk incompetents. After having us remove 10 lbs of clothing from our one suitcase & jam it into my handbag to make the suitcase weigh less than 50 lbs (a Really bright concept, right?!), Mr. Curb-Side then charged us for 2 suitcases- but couldn't refund our $15 without 4 people getting involved & another half hour wasted! To make the experience completely delightful, United's charming check-in clerk made fun of me to another passenger, I assume to try to humiliate me into silence- a baaaaaaad idea (it's funny until it happens to YOU...), after which- when he noticed me squinting to read his name badge- he told me that I didn't need to write down his name, since the curb-side check-in nincompoops work for the airport, not United! The flights were fine, & yes, I know that that's the most important thing, & that one shouldn't "sweat the small stuff", but it's the stupid, petty, totally needless small stuff- like demanding you "redistribute" clothing or pay a $150 extortion fee!- so obviously deliberately done by people who have just enough power to make your life miserable & are determined to do so, NO customer service skills, & NO desire to even Try to help the people they are supposedly serving, that makes one want to "go postal"!)

But here's the real & happy funny: we arrived home @4a.m., safe & sound, thank G-d, to our puppies & wonderful Inn Sitters, & found 3 more prize wins: a great set of Hamilton Beach pots for Dan's winning Thanksgiving Side Dish recipe in Quick & Simple Magazine, a signed copy of The Pritikin Edge from SpaFinder, & a $100 Marshall's gift certificate for my winning "shoe story" on Brickfish! So yes, real people do win stuff! :-)
And now back- refreshed- to our regularly scheduled programming: Inn Keeping at the Elkhorn Inn! :-)

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