Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Review: Buon Gusto Ristorante, South San Francisco, CA

Tonight I had the opportunity to make my second visit to South San Francisco's Buon Gusto Ristorante (located at 224 Grand Avenue). My first visit was probably two years ago, and while I couldn't remember what I'd ordered that night, I did remember two things: I had thoroughly enjoyed the visit, and the complementary Marsala was wonderful. So, finding myself in the area on business with no better plans for the evening, I decided to see if a second visit could live up to the expectations of those memories.

Short answer: you betcha. I'm, like, a sub-amateur reviewer, so don't look for grandiose words here (other than, maybe, "grandiose" — but that's it, no more!). I just know what I like. And tonight, I liked everything.

I was greeted by the owner, who seems like just a classically pleasant man. And the various other staff with whom I interacted shared that quality, too. After being presented with the night's specials, I ordered a glass of the house Chianti, and one of those specials: a sautéed swordfish with a tomato-based and caper-ful sauce, with some spaghetti and vegetables on the side. I opted for salad instead of soup as the appetizer. The salad and wine were each served promptly, and while there was nothing particularly interesting about the salad, it was good. I actually had low expectations for a house wine, but was pleasantly surprised. The entrée arrived soon after I finished the salad, and was also really good.

When I'd wrapped up the main course, I was of course presented with dessert and coffee options. Now, I'm not a tiramisu guy. Actually — and my wife will testify to this — I abhor tiramisu. The idea of eating what typically amounts to cold, soggy, sponges of cookie-cakey-whateverness has repeatedly proven to be a bad one in my experience. But for whatever reason, tonight I clicked that mental "I'm Feeling Lucky" button and ordered the tiramisu (and a capaccino). You'll have to draw your own conclusions, though, because it was incredibly good (and I mean that quite literally). I don't know if it was good because it is what all other tiramisus aspire to be but aren't, or because perhaps it isn't really tiramisu at all and they pulled one over on me — the reasons matter so little to me after enjoying that delightful treat. And, luck of lucks, it came paired with another shot of complementary Marsala. Mmm...

So, plenty of really good food served by nice people in a pleasant atmosphere for $46.50 plus tip compelled me to post this review. As with all reviews, YMMV, but in this reviewer's opinion, it's gas money well spent.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Review: Avista Resort, North Myrtle Beach, SC

I don't typically do reviews. They're so often tied to the reviewer's particular mood and expectations at the time of his or her singular experience with the establishment that, frankly, you need more than just a grain of salt when digesting them. But I'm going to step out of my comfort zone for a bit just to tell the Internet what I think about the Avista Resort in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

My family's first stay at the Avista Resort was, for all intents and purposes, the result of random selection. An Internet search for properties in the Myrtle Beach area returns, what, a thousand options? And you just know as you look at those professional photos of perfectly tanned beautiful people enjoying the facilities of Hotel Whatever that those photos were taken twelve years ago when that facility was actually in good shape. So, it was with some trepidation that we secured our first reservation at the Avista in March of 2007.

My family has now thrice visited the Avista Resort, most recently with a brief trip taken by just Amy and myself to celebrate ten wonderful years of marriage. The reality, in this instance, is that the Avista still is everything its website claims it is. This relatively new establishment still feels like a relatively new establishment. The rooms are clean, the lobbies and halls are clean — stuff is just in good shape. The staff seems to work hard at keeping it this way, too. On our last trip, there was some repainting in the hallways. This time, the parking garage was getting touch-ups. Always busy, always maintaining. And apparently the hotel guests aren't bearing too much of the cost burden of this maintenance — we've found the Avista rates to be very affordable.

We love the area in which the Avista is located too. Maybe it's just luck, but all three visits have been free of the sort of … unruliness of other areas of the Grand Strand. This despite our trips aligning with such festivities as "Biker Week" and "Society of Stranders Spring Week". You can walk to beach shops, restaurants, and nightlife spots. Or you can stay in and visit the hotel restaurant, Just Off Main, which offers a great breakfast buffet (none of this "continental breakfast" nonsense) and excellent lunch and dinner selections.

And the pools? My kids love the pools. Indoor and outdoor lazy rivers. Indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Indoor and outdoor hottubs. Weather is no obstacle here — you can't lose!

My only, only concern with the Avista has been the comfort of the beds. But as the email I received from the property manager today indicates, the resort is "currently updating the mattresses to pillow tops, so hopefully this will make [my] next stay more enjoyable."

When asked by TripAdvisor if I would recommend this resort to my best friend, I first ignored the fact that I married my best friend, then ignored the fact that I don't spend time categorizing the rest of my friends, but then finally answered the question with, "Absolutely yes".