Sunday, June 7, 2009

South Lake Tahoe-- A Review

On Thursday evening, hubby and I dropped the kids off at some wonderful friends' and headed to Lake Tahoe for a couple of days. We only get away from our kids once or twice a year, so this was a big deal for us. We have been trying to squeeze in a getaway for months and were determined to escape before number 5 joins our brood in 23 days. This departure was not without its last minute drama and crises, but that is a story for another day. The point is, we did make a departure.

Being cheapskates when it comes to lodging, we had gone all over the internet looking for a great deal. I wanted a nice hotel room because the plan for this trip was to basically veg out and do whatever we felt like; if the plan is to sightsee non-stop, the room doesn't matter much, but if the plan is to sleep in, read, maybe catch a movie in our room, then I care more. Jared finally bid on a 3 1/2 star place on Priceline-- he bid $60 a night and proudly announced a few minutes later that he'd won! The place turned out to be this one, which was a great spot for us. They do nickel and dime you a bit when you get there--parking is $12 a night and internet is $6.95 for 24 hours-- but at least the parking is valet and convenient. The bathroom was large and luxurious and I spread out my toiletries all over the granite countertop with delight. The room also had a small kitchenette with a fridge, microwave, coffeepot with Starbucks coffee (if you're into that--we picked up some hot chocolate at the store), two-burner stove, sink, and cupboards stocked with dishes, silverware, and pans. We were impressed with a large TV with DVD/VCR player and a window that actually opened to let in the fresh (albeit unseasonably cold) lake air.

The said resort is actually a timeshare hotel and we were staying in the studio room. Although there was no obligation, the staff at check-in were very persuasive and my husband agreed that we would listen to their presentation while we were there. I quickly told him we weren't going but I eventually succumbed, lured by the promise of a $75 gift card, a voucher to come back, and the fact that we didn't have many plans anyway. We went on the last day and I'll say this: if I was going to buy a timeshare, I'd really consider theirs. The features and amenities were great, they offered wonderful flexibility, I was happy with where we had stayed, and the price was reasonable. What baffled them was that we were unwilling to pop at any price because we don't put vacations on credit. Yes, we plan vacations with our family and as a couple every year, but how nice that vacation is depends on how much money we have IN HAND and are willing to spend, even if the price is great on something that we can't really afford. I guess we are strange folks, but as we are expecting a fifth child, homeschooling, and eat sugar but not HFCS, you already knew that about us.

If you know me well, you know that any trip, party, or holiday is mostly about the food. Of course this was also about being with Jared, but I can be with him and have great food, so why not? I had done a little research before I went, but apparently not quite enough research, as we discovered when we finally went looking for our brunch restaurant Friday morning about 11:00. The place I had picked out was clear at the northern end of the lake, completely opposite us. Even though we had no plans, things could have gotten ugly between us quickly if we'd gone another hour without any nourishment, so we started looking at local spots. Did I mention that I hate just picking out a place based on what it looks like from the street? It's such a risk.

We ended up at Heidi's, a little chalet-style building about 1/2 a mile from our hotel. The concierge had suggested it and a friend of mine with the same name had mentioned that she'd been there before. She hadn't given a rave review as we'd had a quick conversation about it, but at least it had come up. Here's what Heidi's has going for it: Swiss/German pancake house ambience, generous portions, and a menu that looks very tempting when it's nearly noon and you haven't eaten yet. Here were some of their drawbacks: their booths were so narrow that this pregnant mommy had to ask if they had any tables and chairs (they have one such seating arrangement). I will say that at 8 1/2 months I don't carry very large--I just look 5-6 months pregnant from conception on, and then look 4-5 months pregnant for two years post partum:). For what you get, I felt the prices were a bit high (around $10-$13 per plate), and the food had no flavor. Jared had the Country Breakfast, I had the Strawberry French Toast, and we shared their cottage fries. Perhaps I am spoiled, as my husband can and does make a far superior breakfast for us most weekends. We went away disappointed, poorer by $30, but full. Sadly, we agreed that we would have had better food at the IHOP across the street, which didn't convince us to go there next time. We decided to pick up some breakfast stuff for Saturday at Safeway rather than waste our time and money on mediocrity.

We explored the area for a while, especially checking out the vacation home that we've rented for a family reunion in September. It looks like it's going to be perfect for our large family group, and its location on the Tahoe Keys means that we'll be close to a private beach, tennis courts, parks, a swimming pool, and the marina. As the weather was cold and drizzly, we didn't walk on any of the lake paths, but did enjoy the beautiful Tahoe scenery for a while before returning to our room to watch a movie and take a nap. Ah, the sheer laziness of it was blissful.

We had asked the concierge to make reservations for us at Riva Grill for dinner. The website looked promising and a friend had recommended them. But while I tried to nap off a headache Jared read about 53 reviews on the place that mostly complained about how mediocre the food was for the price or raved about their cocktails. He was skeptical, which made me grumpy at first, as I really wanted some good food that night and irrationally blamed him for ruining my chances of Riva being any good! I browsed around on the internet and found nothing but amazing reviews for this place: Evan's American Gourmet Cafe. We decided to call and see if we could get a reservation, since we wanted to eat on the early side anyway, and they got us a table. Everything was absolutely perfect. The restaurant is in a little home nestled in pine trees. There are perhaps 15 tables in the place. Every dish was divine, full of flavor, a gastronomical treat. Although we spent more than our hotel room had cost (remember, we did get a great deal) on dinner, we agreed that it was worth every penny.

We ordered the Hoisin and Orange Glazed Prawns as an appetizer, shared a Butter Lettuce with fruits, nuts, and cheese salad, and munched on their warm, fresh sourdough. Jared actually ordered the Alaskan Halibut entree (a shocker if you know him well) with a lobster potato cake and grapefruit wedges, once the waiter assured him that the halibut had been flown in fresh that morning. I had the Panko-encrusted Chicken with Marscapone Risotto, buttery green beans done to perfection, and an edamame panzanella salad. Every bite was heavenly.

We were full at this point, (I in fact, had half of my dinner left), but we had looked at the dessert menu online and I was determined that we would try some of them. I told Jared it was worth the pain later. The only problem was deciding. For such a small restaurant, their selection was outstanding and at least half of the items on the dessert menu were beyond tempting. We finally settled on a blackberry creme brulee tart and their candy bar torte, which consisted of dark chocolate, cashews, caramel, and coconut baked in a tart shell and served with vanilla ice cream. We moaned through the entire course (probably the entire meal) and agreed that we would happily make the 2 hour drive back just for dinner anytime.

We went and saw Star Trek that night, as Jared really wanted to see it and we weren't paying a sitter, which is always a bonus. As someone who's not a fan of the franchise, I can still say that it was an enjoyable movie, although somewhat violent (not for young kids). Plus, the theater was mostly empty, which meant no teenagers eating and texting loudly behind us. Nice.

The next morning we slept in again and enjoyed croissants with Nutella, fresh strawberries, and Brown Cow yogurt in our room, which was perfect. We went to the said timeshare presentation, which took an hour longer than they had promised (no surprise). We drove around a bit more, looking for a good spot for a family reuion photo and wishing that it wasn't raining. We drove over to Emerald Bay and checked out a bit of the forest over there, passing the Rennaissance Faire which appeared to be going strong inspite of the weather. (I'm all about the Rennaissance but I will admit that I don't understand grown-ups putting on costumes and walking around a fair like that.)

On the way out of town we had lunch at the Sno-Flake drive in, which claims that they've been voted best shakes for 4 years in a row. The burgers were okay, the curly fries good, the sweet potato fries needed more seasoning. The shakes? Jared had the Butterfinger, which I thought was quite good. My Boysenberry had very little flavor and I doubt there were any actual berries involved. Would I go back? Probably for a shake and fries if I was getting a chocolatey flavor. I definitely wouldn't order the Boysenberry and I'd skip the burger. The shakes were nearly $5 a peice, which is fine for vacation without the kids, but could get pricey if you were feeding the whole crew.

All in all, it was a good trip, with the highlights being alone time together and a great dinner at Evan's. Now that we've been up there, we are looking forward even more to our family reunion there later this year, although it won't involve much sleeping in or gourmet restaurant dining. We look forward to having better weather so that we can enjoy kayaking, boating, hiking and biking on our next visit--but for someone only weeks away from delivering a baby, this trip was just my speed.

1 comment:

Jen H. said...

I'm so glad you got to get away!

We don't have any fave restaurants in South Lake Tahoe, but when we go to North Lake Tahoe for romantic getaways we always go to Spindleshanks. The homemade butternut squash ravioli is to die for.

I can't believe you stayed somewhere for $60/night. That is a steal.