Featured in Downtown the Magazine!

Salt Lake City’s Downtown Alliance publishes a quarterly magazine aptly named Downtown the Magazine, featuring articles about the area for both locals and tourists.  I was asked to write an article compiling four weekend itineraries, recommending everything from restaurants to activities to hotels, all while staying downtown.


My article, “Destination: Downtown,” covers a cultural night on the town complete with cocktails and opera (of course!), a shop-aholics’ excursion with a refueling ramen break, a concert-centric weekend with late night small plates, and a sightseeing agenda with stops at some of the best restaurants and coffees shops in the area.  There is an online version of the magazine here.

I am one of the featured contributors in the magazine too!

I am one of the featured contributors in the magazine too!

The three-page article is my first written publication in a print magazine and I am ecstatic!  Downtown the Magazine is available in coffee shops and local stores downtown.  Go grab a copy!  Thank you to the Downtown Alliance for including me in such a fun and exciting project!

P.S. Did you know that the actual coordinates of “downtown” only cover this small area?

The Gran Teatre del Liceu Opera House in Barcelona

I have a confession.  I’ve been dreaming of going to Spain for years before I finally took a trip there.  But what inspired me to go wasn’t the iconic Sagrada Familia basilica or the famously abstract house at Park Güell.  Instead the image I fell in love with and dreamed about seeing was of towering golden balconies bathed in a soft glow of light dotted with rows of rich red seats.  I wanted to see the Gran Teatre del Liceu Opera House in Barcelona.

Barcelona's opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Barcelona’s opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu is one of the largest opera houses in all of Europe.  Its doors opened in April of 1847 on Barcelona’s La Rambla street, now a popular touristy destination.  The theater has since burned down and been rebuilt twice, most recently in 1994.  It seats 2,292 people throughout six levels in a horseshoe-like shape, a typical Italian-style theater that maximizes acoustics (but minimizes some visibility).

The exterior of the Liceu opera house in Barcelona.

Looks can be deceiving. The exterior of Liceu looks like nothing special.

The modest facade of the building, one of the few remaining features from the original 1847 building, disguises the stunning size and amazing beauty of the theater within it.  But even my first step inside blew me away; the Liceu’s lobby opens with a striking staircase contrasted with a black and white checkered floor and seafoam-colored walls.

The lobby of the Liceu opera house in Barcelona.

The lobby of Liceu is from 1861.

The theater itself is even more amazing.  Intricate gold details cover every surface, juxtaposed with thousands of red seats.

The interior of the Liceu opera house in Barcelona.

The view of the Liceu opera house from the highest tier. (One of my favorite photos of Liceu!)

A panoramic view of the interior of the Liceu opera house in Barcelona.

A panoramic view of the interior of the Liceu opera house.

Surrounding the theater are other rooms, equally as beautiful.  The Hall of Mirrors was my favorite.  On the day I toured Liceu the room was set up for a small piano concert.  On the night of the opera, the room was used as a bar where we drank Cava during intermissions.

The Saló de Miralls or Mirrors Hall in Liceu Opera House in Barcelona.

The Saló de Miralls (or Hall of Mirrors) survives from 1847.

On our last night in Barcelona, I saw my first Russian opera at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  I was surprised how fitting the Russian language is for opera (although I was thankful for the English supertitles on the chair in front of me, like at the Met in New York City).  The production, however, was stale and awkward.

At the opera in Barcelona.

At the opera on our last night in Barcelona.

Even though I dreamed of The Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona for months before I arrived in Spain (I even had my opera tickets before I booked my flight!), there was nothing like actually being inside the opera house.  That view—that moment—is one that I will never forget.

Touring Liceu :: Even if you don’t plan to see an opera, taking a tour of Liceu is worth it. Guided tours are offered Monday-Friday at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. in Catalan, Spanish, French and English for 14€ and last 50 minutes.  Express tours, lasting 20 minutes, are offered Monday-Sunday in Spanish, French and English for 6€. Tickets for both tours are available day-of at the ticket office. Or take a virtual tour online here.

Productions at Liceu :: Operas, ballets and concerts all take place at Liceu. The opera season runs September-July. I had tickets months in advance so I’m not sure what the availability is for last minute tickets. Prices vary per opera and range from 8,50€-220€ but make sure you check the seat’s visibility before purchasing (not all have direct views of the stage).

Related posts :: Four days in Barcelona and the overview of my trip to Spain and France.

Four Days of Culture & Cuisine in Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia is arguably the heart of Barcelona.  Located in the center of the seaside city, the basilica’s towers stretch toward the sun during the day and glow with demanding attention at night.  The structure is a masterpiece of both art and architecture, stunning tourists and locals alike.

The Sagrada Familia glowing at night in Barcelona, Spain.

The Sagrada Familia glowing at night.

Barcelona was the first stop on Heather and my trip to Spain and France.  We spent four days exploring the city’s history, Catalan culture and, of course, delicious cuisine.  While Barcelona is considered Spain to the outside world, within the country the region is known as Catalonia and is heavily influenced by the Catalan history.  I was surprised to learn they even speak Catalan (a dialect of Spanish) and proudly fly the Catalan flag.  I didn’t even see the Spanish flag until we reached Madrid!

Architecture in Barcelona's Quadrat d'or, or Golden Quarter.

Strolling through Barcelona’s Qaudrat d’or, or Golden Quarter, was entertaining thanks to the beautiful architecture.

We stumbled across this beautiful church in search of lunch in the Golden Quarter.

We stumbled across this beautiful church in search of lunch in the Golden Quarter.

We stayed across the street from the iconic Sagrada Familia in one of the not-too-touristy areas between the breathtaking basilica and the quaint neighborhoods that trickle outward from it.  Our hotel, the Ayre Hotel Rosellon, has a rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the building so, naturally, the first thing we did when we arrived in the city was share a bottle of Cava, Spain’s version of Champagne, while taking in the view.

The view of the Sagrada Familia from our hotel with glasses of Cava.

The view from our hotel’s rooftop terrace, complete with Cava.

The basilica is a work-in-progress, with construction cranes protruding from its core and the sounds of jackhammers echoing throughout the area.  The scene is nothing new, nor will it end anytime soon.  The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for 132 years (since 1882) and isn’t expected to be completed until 2026, a century after its famous architect Antoni Gaudi’s death.

The staggering columns and stunning stained glass inside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

The staggering columns and stunning stained glass inside the Sagrada Familia.

The ceiling of the Sagrada Familia.

The ceiling of the Sagrada Familia.

Inside though, the masterpiece appears to be anything but incomplete.  Gaudi was highly influenced by nature, designing his columns, staircases and windows to mimic trees, seashells and patterns familiar to the outdoors.  To the unknowing eye they are simply stunning.  To the knowing gaze, they are also strikingly clever.

Gaudi's Park Güell in Barcelona.

Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona.

The Barcelona Cathedral in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter.

The Barcelona Cathedral was built in the 13th-15th Centuries.

Our days in Barcelona were consumed by sightseeing its famous structures like Park Güell, Casa Batlló and the Barcelona Cathedral, exploring the Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets and consuming tapas.  Most of our meals consisted of the Spanish small plates, especially Jamón ibérico, delicately sliced pieces of cured ham that’s juicy, salty and slightly nutty.  We paired the ham with cheese, tomato bread (a Catalan staple), anchovies and Spanish rosé or Sangria.

Paella at Bosque Palermo in Barcelona, Spain.

Delicious paella at Bosque Palermo in Barcelona.

Mealtimes in Spain are notoriously late.  Lunch takes places around 2 p.m. while dinner is served around 9 p.m.  We adapted to this timeframe quickly and stuck with it the remainder of our trip (which proved unfortunate once we got to Paris!).  My favorite lunch was at Bosque Palermo, where I ate my first taste of paella, a traditional Spanish dish of rice and seafood flavored with garlic and saffron.  Shared between two people, the dish is served in the pan it’s cooked in, with a heaping amount of mussels, shrimp and vegetables.

Barcelona's opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Barcelona’s opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

As soon as we felt settled in Barcelona, it was our last night in town.  But for me, it was what I’d been looking forward to for months :: the Barcelona Opera at the impressive Gran Teatre del Liceu, one of the largest opera houses in Europe.  We saw the Russian opera, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, which fell short of my expectations but being in the theater managed to surpass everything I imaged.

The view of Barcelona from the Sagrada Familia.

The view of Barcelona from the Sagrada Familia.

For me, the highlights of Barcelona were being in the Liceu opera house and the city’s cuisine.  Along with the jamón and paella, I’ll never forget our 17-course meal of Spanish-Asian fusion food, where we ate everything from dim sum dumplings packed with Spanish ham and mackerel sashimi to snails and gooseneck barnacles.  But you’ll just have to wait for all the juicy, tasty details of that dinner because they deserve their own post. :)

Related Post :: The overview of our entire 15-day trip to Spain and France

Del Mar al Lago in Salt Lake City

Friends, I’ve been keeping a secret from you.  I know, I know, sometimes I do this and I’m sorry; it wasn’t on purpose.  But every time I ate at Del Mar al Lago Cebichera Peruana in Salt Lake City, I fell into a trance and forgot to take pictures of my food.  But there will be no more withholding :: here is Del Mar in all its Peruvian food glory.

Choritos Rellenos, seafood mussel shooters, at Del Mar al Lago in Salt Lake City.

Choritos Rellenos, seafood mussel shooters.

For awhile Del Mar al Lago flew relatively under the radar, so to speak, thanks to its awkward strip mall location that’s more than a maze to find.  That is, until recently when rumors began to surface about the delicious ceviche (called “cebeche” at Del Mar), then Chef Frederick Perez was nominated by Food and Wine Magazine for one of the Best Chefs in the Southwest and now it’s a popular spot that’s packed on weekends.

The Fusion ceviche sampler at Del Mar al Lago in Salt Lake City.

The Fusion ceviche sampler showcasing the Ghandi ceviche.

Del Mar made a name for itself with its ceviche, which contains some of the freshest, tastiest fish in the city.  The seafood dish is a mixture of squid, octopus, scallops and other white fish that is uncooked but cured by citrus juice (called Tigers Milk).  There are several different flavors of ceviche at Del Mar, ranging from sweet to spicy ($10-$17).  For the indecisive types, there are two ceviche samplers with three flavors available ($22-23).

The Fusion ceviche sample at Del Mar al Lago in Salt Lake City.

The Fusion ceviche sampler, with the Brasa ceviche in the front.

The Cebiche Fusion ($22) is the spicier of the two samplers, with three signature ceviches (Ghandi, Chifa and Brasa).  The Ghandi is made with curry powder and mango; the Chifa with peanuts, carrots, cucumbers and wonton strips; and Brasa with fried fish and a smoky chipotle sauce.  It arrived at the table flaming—a fun touch because, really, who doesn’t like flaming food?

Seafood lovers will rejoice in these ceviches; the subtle flavors and varying textures of the seafood is still evident through the different sauces, which only enhance how everything tastes together.  The portions of the samplers are huge so order a side of rice or some French fries and split the dish between two people.

Choritos Rellenos Mussel Shooters at Del Mar al Lago in Salt Lake City.

Choritos Rellenos Mussel Shooters.

The appetizers are full of Peruvian dishes that may sound intimidating, like the Anticuchos (skewered beef hearts, $11), but are worth stepping outside your comfort zone for.  There’s also Yucca Frita (fried yucca root, $8), Papa a la Huancaina (steamed potatoes with cheese sauce, $7) and Choritos Rellenos, mixed seafood and mussel shooters ($13 for six).  More of a mixed seafood salad, the “shooters” require a fork (at least for me) but I loved the combination of different textures caused by the corn, onions, tomatoes and seafood.

Seared steak, fries, rice and plantains at Del Mar al Lago in Salt Lake City.

Seared steak, fries, rice and plantains.

If seafood isn’t your thing, Del Mar serves plenty of meat-heavy Peruvian classics like Seared Steak (topped with an egg and served with a heavy dosage of carbs: both French fries and rice) and my personal favorite, Lomo Saltado, a stir fry of marinated beef with onions, tomatoes and chilis, also served with fries and rice.

The Pisco Sour is a classic Peruvian cocktail.

The Pisco Sour is a classic Peruvian cocktail.

The physical atmosphere of Del Mar is what you’d expect from a shopping mall restaurant, but the energy from the vibrant staff and the excitement from the diners create a fun atmosphere that only increases once the food arrives.  Oh, and don’t forget to try their cocktails, especially the Piso Sour ($9) and classic Mojito ($10).

Go to Del Mar for :: a creative lunch or dinner full of fresh seafood and creative ceviches.  Notes :: The casual restaurant is a bit tricky to find (on 310 Bugatti Drive across the street from RC Willey).  Open Monday-Thursday 11 am-4 pm and 6 pm-9 pm; Friday-Sunday, 11 am-10 pm.  Reservations are accepted; call (801) 467-2890. Follow Del Mar on twitter or friend them on facebook.
Del Mar al Lago on Urbanspoon

Reflecting on Spain & France

I leaned over the edge of the railing, down the six stories that separated me from the street below.  I was just high enough that the noise from the crowds of people hustling along the street wafted into a soft buzz by the time it reached me, creating a peaceful ambient sound.

I gazed at the old world architecture, the buildings in their varying colors of pastel yellows and rusted reds with contrasting white trims, wondering about the centuries of stories they could tell, while a string quartet struck up a song somewhere on the street.  As an instrumental version of “Imagine” sang softly across the Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s oldest squares, it hit me that I was truly in the heart of Spain.

Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid.

Puerta del Sol Square is one of the busiest places in Madrid.

It took five days before the surreal realization that I was in Spain resonated enough to stop me speechless.  But as the afternoon sun began its slow descent and I listened to the string quartet while taking in what was left of the day’s warmth, I couldn’t help but be amazed that I had finally made it to Europe, to Spain, and I prayed the moment would last forever.

Gaudi's Park Güell in Barcelona.

Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona.

The previous four days had been occupied by Barcelona, exploring the seaside city’s Catalan culture through tapas and Cava.  My friend and I saw the typical Gaudi architecture required by all tourists, I tried—and loved—my first dish of paella, and we discovered that local wine was surprisingly inexpensive.  Barcelona’s finale was the opera in the impressive Grand Teatro Liceu, a building that surpassed every dream I had of it.

The Plaza Mayor and Royal Palace of Madrid.

Madrid’s Plaza Mayor (left) dates back to 1617, while the Royal Palace of Madrid (right) was built in 1738.

We moved onto Madrid, where we slowed down the pace and focused on taking in the intricacies of Spanish culture and the intimate beauty of the city.  I fell in love with her architecture, the narrow winding streets covered in cobblestone, and captivating history.  I was constantly mesmerized by the fact that the city—like most of Europe—told time in the form of centuries, not decades, with stories spanning lengths of time I couldn’t even fathom.

Toledo, outside of Madrid, Spain.

The city of Toledo is surrounded by a wall, parts of which date to the 10th Century.

After we toured Madrid’s cathedrals, palaces and opera house, we took a day trip to Toledo to experience a Medieval city firsthand.  Like a time capsule into Spain’s history, somehow the streets were more narrow, more winding than Madrid’s; the churches even older, the culture more ancient.  And all the more breathtaking.

An arch in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter.

An arch in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.

While I could have remained in Spain for weeks, maybe even years, eventually we moved onto Paris.  The city’s quaint cafés, iconic buildings and famous structures have been photographed a thousand times but seeing them with my own eyes was different.  Paris elicits a beauty that is truly enchanting.  Every street stopped me in my tracks as being picture-perfect.  It turns out that all the hype, the obsession, is justified.

Paris street and cappucino.

One of the many picture-perfect streets in Paris and a light breakfast.

And not just its physically beauty.  Every pastry, every sip of wine, every bite of every dish was memorable.  So many moments in Paris stunned me to a stop, requiring me to pinch myself.  Yes, this was Paris, and yes, I was really here.

So much of Paris was overcrowded by tourists.  Like the graffiti that taints the city, it’s easy to get distracted by the grime.  But I reminded myself to look beyond those things and see the city for what it is: a fairytale that I have dreamed of experiencing for years.

The Palace of Versailles from the garden fountain.

The Palace of Versailles, originally built in 1664, is one of the largest palaces in the world.

In four days we marked off an impressive list of sightseeing requirements throughout Paris: the Eiffel Tower, of course, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame.  We visited the Catacombes and the Palace of Versailles.  Then we saw the opera followed by a ballet/opera in the most stunning building I have ever been able to step foot in.  It was surreal in the most extreme definition.

Caves of Champagne at Moët & Chandon winery.

Caves of Champagne at Moët & Chandon winery in Epernay, France.

On our final day in France we took a day trip to the Champagne region, visiting the vineyards of Epernay and Reims that made sparkling wine famous throughout the world: Moët & Chandon and Vueve Clicquot.  The side trip had several hiccups but by the end of the day when it was all behind us and our only memories were of sipping first class Champagne, all was well with the world.

Rue des Petits-Champs, Paris, in the sunshine and rain.

Walking down Rue des Petits-Champs, Paris, on the final night of our trip.

In a final display of beauty, as we returned to our apartment on the last night of our trip, a rainstorm appeared suddenly to blanket the Parisian streets in a dazzling display of sparkle.  I’ve heard that Paris is stunning in the rain and she showed me that indeed she shines, even during a storm.

And then, just like that, our adventures were heartbreakingly over.  The trip was finished and all we had to take with us were memories of amazing moments, amazing places and amazing food.

Over the next few weeks I’d like to share details of my travels through Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Paris and Champagne with you.  I’ll tell about what we saw and what we ate, including a 17-course tasting menu in Barcelona, eating a dish I always said I’d never touch in Madrid, finding ramen in Paris and one of the most memorable meals of my life.  I hope you won’t mind letting me relive my trip and stepping back into the dream that it was, even if for just a moment.

Animal Inside Out at The Leonardo

The Leonardo’s newest exhibit showcases animals in a way you’ve never seen before :: by revealing what’s under their skin—literally.  The Animal Inside Out exhibit is the latest creation from the Body Worlds team, only this time they’ve used their Plastination effects on animals ranging from sea creatures to giraffes to show the intricate systems of muscles and veins.

A Plasticized bull at the Animal Inside Out exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City.

A Plasticized bull at the Animal Inside Out exhibit at The Leonardo.

Animals Inside Out displays more than 100 creatures, spanning from tiny amphibians to massive mammals, all up close and personal.  The exhibit is incredibly informative; it explains how the different systems in the body work while also comparing the similarities and differences between the systems in animals and humans.  It also explains the process of Plastination, invented by the founder of Body Worlds, Dr. Gunther von Hagens.

The Plasticized heart of a giraffe on display at the Anaimal Inside Out exhibit at The Leonardo.

The Plasticized heart of a giraffe on display.

Body Worlds, the similar exhibit using humans, was The Leonardo’s first exhibit five years ago, so Animals Inside Out is a heartfelt project for The Leonardo team that marks the significant progress the museum has made in the few years its been open in downtown Salt Lake City.  Since then The Leonardo has been able to bring amazing exhibits to our city, including the recent rare showing of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A three-way cross section of a Plasticized horse head at the Animal Inside Out exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City.

A three-way cross section of a Plasticized horse head.

Animal Inside Out is truly a fascinating experience.  I was surprised by the sheer size of some of the animals, like the bull (above) and the giraffe, especially since I was able to get so close to it (which is obviously not possible in a zoo).  A note of advice when you go :: take your time through the exhibit.  While there are 100 specimens, the exhibit itself is somewhat small and its easy to excitedly rush through it.  So take your time with each creature as you go!

Notes :: Animal Inside Out at The Leonardo opened to the public on May 10, 2014, and does not yet have a published closing date.  Tickets are $19 for adults, $15 for children, $16.50 for youth/seniors/students/military and can be purchased online here.  The Leonardo is open Sunday-Wednesday 10 am-5 pm and Thursday-Saturday 10 am-10 pm.

Disclaimer :: I was graciously invited to the sneak peek of Animal Inside Out by The Leonardo.  All opinions are my own. 

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