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Sunday, November 29, 2015

World Food Championships: Ease of airline travel, sliders, and timeshare living in Orlando, Florida

When flying cross-country out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), it is best to book the first flight out. Yes, it means waking up pretty much in the middle of the night to get to the airport. But you’ll be happy when you arrive at your destination and it is still light outside. Be sure to check your departure airport’s website for the latest TSA information.

  • Travel tip: Southwest Airlines counters open at 5 AM at LAX. There is no use getting there any earlier than that as you will have to wait in the walkways and there are not many benches or seats to sit on.

In Terminal 1, there are not many choices for breakfast this early in the morning. Starbucks will be your best bet. They have a counter right outside of the security checkpoint. They have a selection of breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal, bakery items, coffees, water, juices, etc. Sausage, Egg, and Cheese sandwich, chocolate croissant, and a bottle of Fuji water were packed and ready for munching on the plane.

As the plane soared above El Segundo, the sun started to peek over the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a beautiful sunrise. Early morning flights also tend to be less crowded. Everyone had their own row of seats to either stretch out for a nap or spread out and work until the next stop in Nashville. First order of business was breakfast. The Sausage, Egg, and Cheese sandwich was still warm and served on an English muffin. It provided the protein-packed savory flavor to contrast the bubbly, sweet Seagram’s Ginger Ale. On the longer flights, Southwest also has a great selection of snacks of Nabisco Ritz Snack Mix, Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookie Crisps, and Ritz Cheese Cracker Sandwiches.

After a quick refueling and loading of passengers on in Nashville, it was a full flight to Orlando. The crew on this Southwest flight were a pleasure and kept the passengers chuckling with their humorous announcements. Orlando International Airport (MCO) is a very easy airport to maneuver through whether it is your destination or if you are connecting to another flight. Easy to read signs and monorail system will get you where you need to go in no time.

  • Travel tip: If you are renting a car, rental car shuttle pick-ups are one-level down from baggage claim.

With just snacks on the plane, you might be a little hungry. Krystal might be what you’re craving. They are a fast food joint serving sliders galore. Bacon Cheese Krystal starts with 100% USDA beef, Smithfield bacon, American cheese, diced onion, mustard, and dill pickle atop their signature square bun. They are slider sized so you can easily order more than one if you are famished. Their French fries are okay. Rating: 4/5

Check-in time! Orlando has many hotels and timeshares to choose from. Parc Soleil by Hilton Grand Vacation Club should be on your list. It is situated away from the theme parks yet is close enough to be only a short drive away in the car. This timeshare is resort-like with main pool complex, children’s playground, on-site restaurant & bar, tennis & basketball courts, walking/jogging path, Parc Lake with fountains, charcoal grills, fitness center, marketplace (to pick up food & other essentials), and activity center. You can also plan on-site recreational activities (some are complimentary and others have a small fee) like arts & crafts, ping pong tournaments, trivia, bingo, ice cream socials, wine tastings, movies under the stars, beer tastings, video games challenges, dance classes, karoke, live music, and more.

As with many timeshares, there are different room sizes to choose from based on how many people are in your group. 1 Bedroom King Suite with Sofa Bed is spacious for a couple and even for a family of four. The kitchen is an open concept with full size refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, oven with range, washer/dryer (in closet) and dining room table. The living room is spacious with ample lighting, chairs, sofa bed, and plasma TV. A long balcony has an entrance from the living room with lounge and table with chairs – great for a sunrise breakfast or a romantic dinner with views of Epcot Center and Magic Kingdom in the distance. Fireworks from both parks are viewable from the balcony. The bedroom is separated by French doors from the living room. It has a comfortable king bed with ceiling fan, lounge chair, and plasma TV. The bathroom is also very spacious with glass enclosed shower, beautiful porcelain tub with a faucet that pours from the ceiling, and vanity for two. The only weird thing about the layout is the toilet. It is situated in its own room between the bathroom and the kitchen.

When staying at a timeshare for more than a couple of days, it is wise to find the nearest grocery store to pick up provisions like beverages, snacks, and food to prepare if staying in during meal times. Publix is a fantastic chain grocery store in Florida and carries everything that you might need to make your stay more comfortable. A competition at the World Food Championships called for a special trip for fresh vegetables, herbs, and ingredients for a filet mignon entrée. Chips, ice cream, and libations also found their way into the cart as well.

After a long flight in and grocery shopping, you might want to leave the cooking to someone else. Café Soleil is the on-site restaurant in the main pool complex. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.

  • Savings Tip: Upon check-in, you may receive coupons for complimentary drinks (draft beers, house wine, or non-alcoholic daiquiris or coladas) with entrée purchases. Don’t forget to use them. 

Non-alcoholic Pina Coladas are a refreshing way to start your dinner experience. They are creamy and tropically sweet. A great beginning to your resort stay! Rating: 4.5/5

Tandoori Spiced Chicken served with white rice, curry dusted vegetables, and yogurt dill sauce. The chicken is flavorful and tender. The curry spiced vegetables pairs well with the chicken giving it savory, zingy, and herbaceous flavor. The presentation of the dish could be better, maybe swiping the dill sauce on the plate and placing the chicken on top or serving the dill sauce in a side ramekin for dipping. Saffron basmati rice would have been better than just white rice. Rating: 4/5

NY Strip Estilo Gaucho is served with garlic mashed potatoes and topped with grilled scallions and chimichurri sauce. The steak was grilled to a perfect rare. NY steak tends to be a bit chewier than most cuts of beef. Skirt steak would have been a better cut to use especially to pair with chimichurri sauce. The buttery marbling would balance perfectly with the acidic chimichurri. Instead of scallions, cebollin (Mexican green onions) would have been better with the bigger bulb at the end. The grill would caramelize it for a sweet and zingy flavor. Chimichurri would also be better in a ramekin for presentation and for dipping the bites of steak. The garlic mashed was pretty good, creamy and flavor, but could use just a bit more garlic. Rating: 4/5

Caramel Lava Chocolate Turtle Cake Á La Mode is a warm, rich dark chocolate cake oozing with a decadent caramel center, garnished with pecans, caramel, and topped with vanilla ice cream. Order this if you have a light dinner as it is very heavy but very decadent. The chocolate cake is dense like a rich brownie. The caramel and nuts add luscious and crunchy texture. As the ice cream melts, it turns into a makeshift crème anglais and counteracts the heaviness of the cake. Rating: 4.5/5

With tummies full, a restful night’s sleep ahead. At daybreak, the first day of Food Fight Write will be the start of the World Food Championships in Celebration, FL.

Café Soleil Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Private Party Restaurant brings Beijing-style Hot Pot cuisine to Monterey Park, California

The cooking style called “Hot Pot” has different variations in Asian cultures. Also known as steamboat in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, China, and Brunei. It is soup-like stew in a simmering metal pot at the centerpiece of table. Water, broth, and soup stocks simmer in the metal pot and ingredients are added. By cooking the meats and vegetables, it flavors the soup base as well. The best way to describe hot pot is if you combined shabu shabu and Korean barbeque. Since the broth condenses with flavors from the meats and vegetables, it can also be used as base for noodles like ramen, udon, and various fish cakes.

Private Party Restaurant brings families and friends together with their unique Beijing-style hot pot. The hot pot is divided into two troughs so you can try two different soup bases. The center is open like a volcano which can be used to roast skewers of meat as your meats and vegetables cook below in the soup. Unlike shabu shabu, Private Party Restaurant has a sauce bar where you can create your own dipping sauces for your meats and vegetables. Choices range from shoyu, sesame sauce, sesame oil, chili paste, garlic, green onions, and more.

Here’s are the options you can choose from to create your hot pot experience:

Soup Base:

  • Coconut Chicken
  • House Original
  • House Spicy
  • Lamb Soup – This is more like a stew with lamb pieces inside of the soup. It’s a great starter base as you cook your meats. It adds flavor as well so try it before dunking in your sauce.
  • Mushroom
  • Tomato
  • Water


  • Beef Ball
  • Beef Brisket
  • Beef Tendon – The beef tendon is cooked to tender perfection. It’s gelatinous and yet slightly chewy texture work well in the soup and also can be dunked into sauce before eating.
  • Beef Tongue
  • Beef Tripe – Tripe always makes soups better with its textural feel, but soft and spongy.
  • Chicken Heart – Asian cultures really know how to clean organ meats. The tinny flavor is not present and almost tastes like beef. It tastes great inside of the soup or skewered and barbequed like izakaya on top.
  • Chicken Thigh
  • Duck Feet (seasonal)
  • Frog – The frog is chopped into chunks so use the spoons to find them in the broth. Don’t cook too long otherwise it will be rubbery.
  • Goose Intestine (seasonal)
  • Meatball
  • Pork Belly – The pork belly is thinly sliced and cooks very quickly in the broth. It also adds another flavor layer to the soup as well.
  • Pork Blood – These cubes of deliciousness just need to be warmed up in the broth. It has a slight irony flavor but has a luscious texture. Don’t forget about them in the soup. They will start to disintegrate if left in too long.
  • Pork Heart
  • Pork Intestine
  • Pork Kidney – Pork kidneys are very clean and actually taste and have the texture of firm mushrooms. They also absorb flavors from the broth.
  • Premium Lamb Leg
  • Quail Eggs
  • Sausage
  • Supreme Beef
  • Supreme Lamb Shoulder – The lamb is very thinly sliced and just a couple of swishes in the broth will cook the meat. The meat is tender and takes in a lot of flavor from the soup, but you can also dip them into your sauces as well.
  • USDA Choice Ribeye – The ribeye is a beautifully marbled piece of beef. A couple of swishes is all that is needed to cook it. The marbling gives the beef a buttery flavor. A dunk in the sauce will add just the right amount of salt.


  • A-Choy (Taiwanese lettuce)
  • Bamboo Shoots
  • Bamboo Tips
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage – A must-have vegetable to order not only for the soup base, but it works well with any meat choice.
  • Chinese Yam
  • Cilantro
  • Daikon
  • Fried Veggie Balls
  • Green Leaf
  • House Special Garlic
  • Lotus Root
  • Okra
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Red Cabbage
  • Round Lettuce
  • Seaweed Knots
  • Spinach
  • Sugar Pea Sprouts (seasonal)
  • Sweet Corn
  • Taro – The taro used is much different than what we have in Hawaii. It is bright white and is reminiscent of a Japanese sweet potato with a crunchy yet slimy texture. It is almost flavorless, but absorbs the flavors that you add to it whether you cook it in the soup or dip into sauce.
  • Tomato
  • Tong Ho (part of the daisy family and has a chrysanthemum flavor)
  • Winter Melon
  • Yuba


  • Calamari
  • Clam
  • Crab
  • Fish Balls
  • Fish Balls with Roe – They look like giant tan colored Hershey’s Kisses, but taste like a fish cake with crunchy, salty fish eggs.
  • Fish Dumpling
  • Fish Fillet
  • Fish Tofu
  • Head-On Shrimp – Nothing is better than head-on shrimp. The head is the best part. As they do in Louisiana “Suck head and pinch tail” works just as well with shrimp.
  • Imitation Crab
  • Mussels
  • Octopus Ball
  • Snail – Snails are another mild flavored meat that absorb flavors from what it is cooked in. The broth will add some flavor but a sauce made with garlic is the perfect choice.
  • Tiger Shrimp – These huge and meaty shrimp cook very fast in the soup. Once they turn pink, pull them out from the soup. When ready the shrimp will be firm with a nice snap to them. If you leave them in too long, they will be rubbery.


  • Bean Curd Sticks
  • Enoki Mushroom
  • Fried Tofu
  • King Oyster Mushroom – Mushrooms are always great in a soup. King Oyster Mushrooms add a meaty texture. Whether you are a vegetarian or a carnivore, they are mighty tasty.  Plus they soak up the broth flavors like sponges.
  • Shiitake Mushroom
  • Soft Tofu
  • Sponge Tofu
  • Wood Ear Mushroom


  • Fried Starch Balls
  • Glass Noodle
  • Instant Noodle
  • Rice
  • Udon
  • Vermicelli Knots
  • Wide Potato Noodle

The next time you feel adventurous and want to have a fun dining experience with friends and family, make a reservation at Private Party Restaurant.

Atmosphere: 4 out of 5 stars
Décor: 4 out of 5 stars
Service: 4 out of 5 stars
Food: 5 out of 5 stars

Savings Tip:
  • 10% off for seniors (age 60+)

For more information:
Private Party Restaurant
111 N Atlantic Blvd Ste 349
Monterey Park, CA 91775

Private Party Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato