Friday, December 14, 2012

Porto Vista Hotel in San Diego's Little Italy District

On a spontaneous "I-Need-To-Be-Anywhere-But-Here" trip to my brother's place in Irvine, California, I made myself a mini vacation to San Diego to get away from it all. Online, I booked a couple week nights in Porto Vista Hotel. Last time I visited San Diego was during a massive convention with no time to visit elsewhere in the city (unless I wanted to pay a transport/tour fee). Little Italy was one of the places I wanted to see, which is why I decided on this hotel.

Porto Vista Hotel is located one block east of India Street, the main street for the heart of Little Italy. Booking through Orbitz, the hotel has a 3-star reviewer rating and came with a nice price for my Thursday-to-Saturday getaway.

At the moment, I'm writing this blog post the morning after the first night of sleep, and while I can comment on how nice my sleep was, the truth is that I've been sleeping in my brother's tiny one-bedroom apartment on a very old and saggy futon sofa. After 4 nights of kinks in the neck and waking up every 2 hours, any "real" bed looks inviting (no criticism on my brother -- he had no idea I was coming down). The moment I walked into room 503 assigned to me, I plopped myself on the king-size bed and took a nice long nap like I hadn't slept for a week, which is not so far from the truth. It's a very comfortable bed with a soft mattress topper and surrounded by lots of pillows.

I got to observe the room more closely after I finished my catch-up sleep. Every room comes with a wall-sized retro California gal black and white photo mural... a nice artistic touch though a little bizarre when you wake up to a big face on the wall. However it does give me ideas about a having a mural back home at the house as another alternative to buying wall hangings.

The TV is pretty small and has the basic channels. I noticed no bonus movie packages which is fine for me since I barely spend anytime with a TV when I get a hotel room. But it may be a disappointment to other guests. I haven't ventured the fitness gym yet or their restaurant since my first call upon arrival (after the nap) was to have pasta in one of the world-class eateries in San Diego's Little Italy. (And trust me it did not disappoint!)

The bathroom is spacious... so much so that it is almost a waste of room. But when you are using it, it feels great!! I'm not a big fan of the toilet design with the flush button so far back that you either do a chicken fight with it hopping on one leg, or if you are more adventurous, can lean your head over towards the toilet bowl to press it with your fingers (yuck!). The toiletries are clearly meant to deter you from taking any home, though I'm sure many guests will still try. The ambiance is pleasant and has an updated old-world feel to it with the granite walls and flooring. I like it over the cramped porcelain decor you typically find in hotel bathrooms.

The bonuses in the room are wonderful. Free personal wireless internet for each room (they give you your wireless code upon check-in), a fridge, microwave, complimentary tea and coffee with the coffeemaker, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, inroom safe, lots and lots of room for unpacking your clothes and belongings, a work desk, pleasantly large sized mirrors, chair and ottoman, a small walk out balcony, and aesthetically pleasing wood furniture decor (I'm a bit of a sucker for the cherry wood color).

I tried the complimentary hot breakfast this morning, served daily from 6am-9am. That was an "interesting" surprise. All you can eat scrambled eggs, roasted potato bites, bacon, and sausage rounds, and a complimentary coffee, tea or water. Evidently missing is the juice (or fruit of any kind for that matter), breads, or sweets. If you want toast, its $3. They don't offer oatmeal or cereal, but I assume there's other paid options as well. So while it's nice to wake up to some hot food in the morning, and sit by wall-to-wall windows in a pleasantly chic dining room, I'm not sure this food is what will provide me with the nourishment I need to walk around sightseeing for the day. I'm headed to an Italian cafe tomorrow morning for some REAL breakfast!! (I say this while chomping on an apple I bought last night just in case breakfast didn't pan out... wise foresight on my part I would say.)

For the price I'm paying, which is around the same or less than Travelodge or Best Western, this is a far superior choice. But I feel like I'm in a 3-star hotel that attempts to provide some 4-star luxuries to compensate the absence of other standard hotel amenities (clearly for the purpose of saving maintenance costs).

Being surrounded by Little Italy definitely helps to overlook some of the downgrades and makes my stay worth it.

Now it's off to the world famous San Diego Zoo for the day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Genius of Glenn Gould

I can hardly explain the utter facination I have of the artistry of Glenn Gould. Somehow, the interpretation hits me in my soul and changes me somehow when I hear him play Bach's Goldberg Variations. I suppose this is why it takes 32 short films to attempt to capture the many facets of his genius. I am so grateful that I am able to witness such an extraordinary mind. I found the film on YouTube and am so grateful since my old video tape is no longer of use to me.

To watch Glenn Gould in color perform Bach's Goldberg variations (and some short documentary prior), take a look at this:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Joyce Yang

Okay, I admit, I'm a little biased. She's my neice, and her mother, my cousin, is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. It explains why Joyce Yang exudes self-confidence and personability whenever you spend time with her. She is wonderfully down to earth.

I remember only passing memories of her when she was younger. She was only 10 years old when I remember her plunking out at breathless speed Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca" from one of her Suzuki books at one of my cousin's home. No one thought anything of it, but if you paid attention, you could tell that even in the absence of musical maturity, her technique was clean, even and balanced. There aren't many 10 year olds that I know who have that kind of precision and delicacy in their playing. I proceeded to play the same piece right after, and though my cousin pointed out that mine definitely had more musicality than her, I was 20 years older with a music degree in hand. She would be lapping my talent in a mere 6 years.

Stardom really took off when she competed in the twelfth Van Cliburn International Competition in 2005 -- arguably the biggest music competition in the world. When it was all over, she was the youngest contestant to compete and win the Silver Medal. During the competition, she even said "I think I can beat most of them, but not the Russian." She was right. But that doesnt diminish the fact that she was clearly first place in audience preference. Since then, it seems like she is never in one place for very long. Her tour schedule is year round and makes it very difficult to nail down any personal time for herself.

I remember the first time I went to see her play in November 2006. It would be her New York debut with the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece of choice would be Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme by Puccini" and what a way to introduce herself to the city that she makes her home. The moment the piece started, the first thought I had was, "Wow, this is going to be played fast!" After the performance, chatting with Joyce, apparently the same thought went through her head as well. But Joyce rose to the occasion, and played crisp and exciting, just as the piece should be played.

Watching Joyce on stage, I realized why audiences love to see her play. There is something about the way she reaches into the music and lives in each musical moment. You can see it in her face, her gestures, her body language. You live every moment with her. And always sporting some of the most beautiful dresses, you can't take your eyes off her for even a moment. When you watch Joyce play Rachmaninoff, you live with Rachmaninoff for that time.

When I heard she had learned my favorite concerto of all time, Rachmaninoff's 3rd in D Minor, I was jumping for joy. But I don't think I'll get to hear her play it live anytime soon, so the YouTube clips from the Sydney Opera House a year ago will have to do for me.

I remember staying at her Manhatten apartment with a friend during a trip to New York. I almost didn't dare touch that beautiful Steinway piano filling half of her living room (almost!). She did take a moment to grace us with an excerpt of a Schumann piece she was learning. I asked her once, "Can your neighbors hear you? Do they ever say anything about the noise when you practice?" She said, "They've never complained to me." I suppose not. Having a world-famous pianist practice in your apartment complex, you might as well save yourself money on iTunes. You're getting the best right through your walls!

Click here for reviews on Joyce Yang.

Click here for a sampling of her available music on iTunes. Don't miss her interpretation of Liebermann's "Gargoyles" on her debut album Collage. Or if that is too modern for you, check out the riviting Sonata in D Minor, K 141 by Scarlatti and any of her Cliburn performances.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jimmy's Place!

Tucked away in the corner of the shopping plaza on North Road and just south of Austin Street in Burquitlam, a little diner jewel called Jimmy's Place serves up fresh meals with a price that will make you want to dis the McDonald's situated just a block away.

When you enter, you are immediately greeted at the door with a Korean smile. Yes, Korean-owned! As a Korean, I had to immediately bow in politeness. It's just reflex!

Jimmy's Special Burger

I assembled the burger together and took my first bite. The balance of all the flavors was perfect. But what was most evident was how juicy and flavorful the meat was. It was as if they took a wad of fresh ground beef, patted it flat on the spot and slapped it straight on the grill. It tasted as if it were as fresh as could get -- and it was absolutely delicious!

I took a bite of one of their fries and thought I had gone to french fry heaven. Light and crispy on the outside and the potato on the inside feels like it's melting in your mouth. It was the freshest and most delightful fry I had ever sunk my teeth into. No salt, so you can add as much as you please. For me, I always prefer none, so I was dancing for joy inside.

I knew I had to come back to try their famous breakfasts. As I left out the door with a friendly farewell from the staff, I noticed on the sandwich board outside that breakfast is served all day. Woohoo! My favorite meal for lunch.

Everything Omelet

A few days later, it was time to try the everything omelet. The large plate that they use came virtually covered with food. I could barely wait to dig in. I threw on some pepper, and then realized I had forgotten to snap the photograph!

At initial glace, the huge side of hash browns, covering half the plate and at least a full inch thick, drew my first bite. Just like the french fries I had before, this was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Oh my word! Jimmy's Place has figured out how to fast fry the perfect potato sides! Again no salt or spices. Just pure potato goodness. Yes, I'm in love.

I then helped myself to a bite of the omelet and found that the texture wasn't fluffy or rich like an omelet should be. Not your standard omelet that is flipped in half like a pocket and given a chance to rise to get that fluffy goodness.

In terms of the combination of ingredients they added to the eggs, it made me decide that having everything on your omelet is not necessarily the best. It's like my distaste for food buffets where you eat japanese, mexican and italian all in one meal. By themselves they may be great, but put together, it's a distasteful mess. Jimmy's everything omelet is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. But I wasn't as impressed as other reviewers. For me, the hash browns saved the dish.

I look forward to going back many, many times and getting to know the staff and owner there. It is a friendly little place to have that cheap date, read a nice book or get your blogging done.
For the full review, visit

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yuk Gae Jung

I think Yuk-Gae-Jung is easily my favorite Korean soup of all time. Comforting when your cold, sick, hungry, depressed... it solves it all for me!

It does take a lot of time for the flavors to simmer and meld together. The first time I tried, it felt very labor intensive. But now after making it several times, it feels easy, like second nature -- just like any favorite recipe you have. The nice thing is that you can make lots and save yourself cooking for the next couple of days. So it all works out. :)

It tends to be a little bit of an oily soup, especially on the top, but you can cut down the oil if you wish. Just make sure you roast the pepper flakes really well if you use less oil.

I first learned to make it from Maangchi a few years ago, but since then, I've really modified it quite a bit to fit my preferences -- and I think I finally have my own personal family recipe! I'm happy to share it with you.


1 1/2 lbs beef flank or beef brisket
10-12 cups of water
1+1 tbsp of salt
6+6 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp beef stock or dashida (korean style)
1/2 cup +2 tbsp of hot pepper flakes (kochu garu)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp sesame oil
one good handful of fresh bean sprouts (kong)
1 cup of soft/boiled fern sprouts (kosari)
8-10 bunches of green onion (full bunches, not single stalks -- yes, that much!)
2 eggs
japchae noodle (optional)


1. Into a large stock pot, put in water, beef, 1 tbsp salt, and 6 crushed (not minced) garlic cloves. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour.

2. You can buy already boiled kosari at the korean market. If you have dried ones, boil it in water at the same time as your beef stock so it is ready when the stock is done.

3. After one hour, remove the beef onto a plate and throw away any large garlic cloves left in the stock. Add 6 minced garlic cloves and bring to a gentle boil (medium-low heat). Add another tbsp salt and the beef stock. (I add beef stock because there is no bone in the meat to give the stock extra flavor).

4. Once the beef has cooled down. Slice the beef into 1/4 inch thick strips across the grain. If the beef is too wide, just divide it into 2 or 3 pieces before you start slicing. Add the beef to the pot.

5. In a fry pan, heat the olive oil and sesame oil on medium heat (dont use high heat or you risk burning your pepper flakes). Add 1/2 cup red pepper flakes and stir about 1 minute. The red color should get just a little darker and richer. Add the red pepper flake mixture to the pot. (Try not to breath in too much when you do this... the heat may hit the nerves in your nose and knock you back a bit! haha). Add 2 tbsp red pepper flakes directly into the pot to restore some of the spiciness. If you like really spicy yuk-gae-jung you can add even more. (Roasting removes the spicy heat and brings out flavor. If you add more flakes directly to the pot, you can add back the spiciness that you lost in the roasting process.)

6. Chop the kosari and all of the green onion into 2 inch pieces and add to the pot with the bean sprouts.

7. Scramble the eggs in a bowl. When the soup has a very gentle boil, pour the eggs into the soup. DO NOT stir the eggs into the soup or your soup will start to look cloudy. Just let the eggs fall into the soup and let it cook on its own.

8. If you like some noodle in your soup, you can add it at this time. An alternative is to boil them separately in another pot, rinse them thoroughly and add it to the individual bowls when you serve (so you don't add any extra starch to the soup).

9. Simmer the soup for about 30 minutes. Serve with rice and a smile. :)

Approx 8-10 servings.

Let me know how yours turns out, or what kind of modifications you made to fit your personal preferences. Ma-shi-gae-deu-say-yo!!! :)