Friday, June 17, 2016

Girls! Girls! Girls! In St. Helena

Few things can be more relaxing than a girl's weekend. They are high on my list of favorite things to do. In April my girlfriend Rachel invited Gail and me for a quick weekend at her beautiful house in St. Helena. Having been multiple times before, I knew the weekend would be just the kind of relaxing time I needed.

The three of us met at the airport, boarded our Alaska prop plane headed to Santa Rosa airport, and waited for take off. And waited, and waited. Finally the pilot announced that we had a broken plane and we'd have to deplane and wait for a new one. Ugh. Luckily they found us a working model fairly quickly and we were in the air, free wine in our cups, and making the short flight to the Napa area.

We landed to cool gray skies and a bit later than planned. Rachel called an order in at Pizzeria Tra Vigne as we drove, and we picked up some delicious pizzas and salad to take home for dinner. Seems the rest of the town had the same idea as the place was hopping!

We capped off dinner with some wine and hot tubbing and turned in early. Ahhh, off to a good start!

The next morning we awoke to more cool and drizzly weather. After a nice walk down to The Model Bakery for breakfast (house-made English muffins!!!) and coffee,  we took advantage of a break in the rain and went on a scenic walk through the nearby hills, past vineyards, and checked out some incredible new homes being built (and going for a paltry $9Mil).

With no pool time in sight we called a few wineries and made reservations for some afternoon tastings. First up was Duckhorn. The property here is really fantastic and if the weather would have been warmer their huge wrap around porch would have been the perfect place to taste wine. The service here was really nice too, when we explained that one of the ladies can't drink red wine, they generously waived the $35 tasting fee and even poured us all two additional whites not included in that day's line up.

Next we drove to the famed Chateau Montelena. In 1973 this winery scored the top scores at the Judgement of Paris and seemingly helped put Napa on the international wine map. The property has lush gardens and a beautiful pond that would have been perfect for strolling around, except for that rain situation. This time when we explained our friend's red wine situation, they continued to refill her glass with one of the two whites they were pouring each time they served us a new red wine. And on top of that they waived all our $25 tasting fees due to Rachel being a part-time local!

We decided to try the new Archetype restaurant back in town for lunch but when we arrived the manager told us they had just finished lunch service. The chef was checking the reservations for the night and when he heard Rachel explain that we were just hoping for a simple salad he graciously offered to make us something! We grabbed seats at the pass, ordered a carafe of rosé that they have on tap, and watched Chef Reed prepare us delicious chicken paillard salads. Talk about service!!! We were so impressed we had Guy the manager make us reservations for brunch the next day.

We warmed up back at the house sipping champagne in the hot tub (as you do) before getting cleaned up and walking the short distance to Cook restaurant on Main Street for dinner. Cook has a great, lively ambiance and has seriously delicious pasta dishes. They also have a casual spot next door, Cook Tavern.

Back at the house we hit the hot tub again. Skinny dip style this time. I won't even tease you by telling you about the pillow fights after...

In the morning Gail and I strolled down to The Model Bakery for coffee again, past the sweet houses and their yards, all bursting with rose blooms. Then the three of us did a little shopping on Main Street before returning to Archetype for brunch.

The place was packed, Chef Reed was in the kitchen again, and the food was amazing! I was extremely happy with my leg of duck confit, waffle, and duck egg! Almost every table had a plate containing an adorable short stack of pancakes on it and when we found out these were dessert lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry sauce, we followed suit. Fantastic and super fun brunch!

We made the easy 40 minute drive to the airport and caught our flight back to Seattle without incident. It was a super chill weekend with great friends, great wine, lots of laughs, delicious food, and of course hot tubbing. Love you ladies! Xoxo

Photos here.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Weekend in Burgundy, Part 2

Our weekend in Beaune was off to a good start, we awoke the next day to brilliant sunshine and found the Saturday market going on in town. There were lots of delicacies such as sausages, cheeses, honey, and even a stand selling whole truffles!

The market closes at 1pm so don't go too late. We walked around the town for a bit, it is so cute and really lovely, especially when it isn't raining! We decided to have lunch at the restaurant Le Conty at an outside table on their patio, in the shadow of the cathadral. 
A little champagne, steak tartare for me, grilled lobster for Forest, and a shared cheese plate...hello Saturday!

Ready for the day, we drove out to Chateau Meursault for a tasting. Poor Forest, I kept making her pull over as the damn scenery was just too beautiful! 

Like the day before at Marché aux Beaune, the chateau also has their tasting set up as a self-guided cellar tour where you end up in a series of small cellar rooms for the tasting. We had 4 whites and 4 reds to taste but unfortunately there was only one woman trying to pour for 3 rooms of people and the entire thing was a complete cluster fuck. The wines however were very nice, especially a 2008 Premier Cru Meursault, and we bought a few to take back to Paris and share with friends. 
From here we drove to Volnay. We kept a look out for open caves since we weren't able to make any appointments due to the harvest going on. We stumbled upon Domaine Albert Boillot where winemaker Raymond Boillot greeted us. This man was absolutely charming, taking us on a little tour of his winery and cellars, tasting us through his nice selection of wines made from the Volnay and Pommard areas, and telling us about his family's history in the wine business; he is the tenth generation of wine makers in the family! Also all of Boillot's wines are between 8 and 22 Euro! Amazing QPR!

After making some purchases we walked around the tiny town a bit and came upon Domaine Françoise Mure et Fils, the winemaker was outside and offered to show us around and taste two of his wines. Unfortunately we didn't like either and when we thanked him and started to leave he was quite rude about the fact that he opened wines for us to taste but we weren't buying. C'est la vie.

From here we drove all of 1.5 miles to Pommard, past the lovely vineyards with their leaves just starting to turn fall colors, and filled with teams of people picking grapes and heading to the crushers.
We saw an 'open' sign at Maison G. Brzezinski and found another super nice winemaker who tasted us through his well priced and delicious Burgundies. All in all a great day and actually quite fun hunting down open places vs running to make appointments.

typical rear view mirror sight along the back roads of Burgundy
Just outside of Beaune we made a quick stop for gas and I had to laugh and take this photo when I went in to pay; you can see that to the right of the cashier desk is a tiny bar in the gas station and it was obviously happy hour for the local men (and one smart woman!).

It was also about time for happy hour for Forest and I, one can only drink wine for so long! Martinis were had at the bar at the very quaint Hotel de la Poste back in Beaune before wandering around town for the evening.
We had some fantastic rillettes and charcuterie at the super fun Bar du Square, the cafe has a large outside patio that was obviously everyone's favorite place to be on a warm fall evening! Amazing lists of wines from the region, by the glass, gives you a chance to try some you may not have gotten into during your stay.

It was finally dark and time for the Beaune Trail of Light. Seven of the city's already beautiful buildings are illuminated in an amazing light show that goes from June until September. I'd say this is a serious do-not-miss. It's free, allows you to stroll around the town at night, (we stopped along the way for wine at the Maison du Colombier, which has a great view of one of the buildings) and is really just incredibly stunning. I'd also suggest clicking through the link above as their photography of the buildings is amazing.

And with that our amazing day in Burgundy, and pretty much exactly what I dreamt of a day in Burgundy should be like, came to an end.

The next morning we checked out of our funny little Airbnb, and headed back in to Beaune one last time (on this trip anyway!) to go to the Sunday brocante. This type of market is a bit different than a marché au puces in that the later is more of a flea market (hence the name) and the former is more real antiques and therefore a bit pricier. I bought two gorgeous silver wine coasters to use at home, these are the best types of souviners for me (besides my crazy, tacky magnet collection).

Back on the road we headed north along the famed Routes de Grand Cru. Although we didn't get to do as many tastings as we had planned for, seeing the harvest happening in the fields and the colors on the leaves, smelling the fresh crush of grapes in the air, it was an absolutely gorgeous time to be in Burgundy. We had a lovely last lunch in Fixin at Au Clos Napoleon, complete with a bottle of 2010 Guy et Yvann Dufouleur Clos du Chapitre Fixin 1st Cru Burgundy, beef with Époisses sauce, scalloped potatoes, and a gorgeous selection of cheese for dessert. A perfect wrap to the trip and we were headed back to Paris!
All pretty Burgundy photos here.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Weekend in Burgundy, Part 1

First off, a weekend is nowhere near enough time to spend in Burgundy. Second, if the thought of driving through picturesque Bourgogne villages, tasting wine in chateaus, and eating delicious meals paired with said wines doesn't sound like your kind of holiday, we probably won't get along.

September of 2014, Forest and I left Lyon and made the easy drive towards Beaune, which would be our home-base while in the wine country. We stopped in the town of Puligny-Montrachet and had a decadent lunch at Le Montrachet, seated outside on their elegant terrace. Few things make me happier than enjoying the sun with a glass of Cremant, a tasting menu, a bottle of 2010 Bzikot Puligny- Montrachet, and a luscious cheese trolly!

We had a bit of time before we needed to check into our Airbnb in Beaune so we walked across the street for our first wine tasting at the Caveau de Puligny-Montrachet. This is a wine shop that also does tastes; once we got a chance to sit up at the counter and get some information from owner Julien Wallerand it was a very nice experience.

We made our way to Beaune, driving past the tiny villages of Meursault and Volnay. I was blown away glimpsing these famous appellations that mark the bottles of some of the best wines in the world. To see how truly small they are is head shaking! We found our Airbnb, which was a little house just outside Beaune, made a quick run to the grocery store for provisions, and had aperos in the back yard that seemed to be expecting a much bigger party.
That night we had dinner at the charming Ma Cuisine. The restaurant is housed in a little wine cave and is quite well known in town. The owners were very helpful as we tried working through the 800+ bottle wine list. Some delicious charcuterie, garlicky Burgundy snails, a lovely 2010 Gran Cru Corton, and a nightcap of rare Spanish Chartreuse made for a fabulous first dinner!
Friday morning we decided to drive the short way into town as it was gray and drizzly. We started with a 3-fixe lunch at the Caves Madeleine and a 2011 Butterfield Monthélie Blanc, an appellation I'd never had before. This little restaurant had really great food, wine, and service!
We dashed through town in the rain to make our first tasting appointment at the grand daddy, Domaine Drouhin. Our vacation had coincided with the season's harvest, which we found out when we started calling and emailing for tasting appointments and were told by the smaller houses that they would all be in the vineyards!

At Drouhin we had a nice tour and tasting of six wines in the cellar. All the wines were great but the highlight for me was getting to taste the 2008 Meursault-Genevrieres Premier Cru Hospices de Beaune.
When we were done it was still raining so instead of heading out to the surrounding villages we stopped in at the Marché aux Beaune right in town and signed up for a tasting. This was a self-guided tour of the cellars, with self-pouring tasting stops along the way. We had one white and one rosé, which were ok, and then a 2008 Chateau Marsannay Marsannay which was good, and a 2006 Comte de Moucheron Premier Cru Beaune which was quite nice. We finished in a space that use to be a church where they had a dispensing machine of Grand Crus which we got to choose two from. It was pretty funny that the entire tour and tasting was self done. I'd say this is a fun thing to do if you're palate is a bit busted from other tastings or you are with people who are not geeking out on the individual wine makers and houses as much as you are!

We headed home to chill out, have an apero, get cleaned up, and then out to dinner at 21 Boulevard. Our meal here was excellent! The restaurant is in an old farmhouse and we were seated in the cave area, low lit with curved ceilings. They offered a delicious 3-course menu; the highlight for me were ravioli with escargot and sweetbreads in a garlic cream broth. Swoon! We chose a nice Cote de Nuits Village from their massive list, followed by a nightcap of Marc de Bourgogne. 

So far Burgundy was working out quite well for me!

Part 2 here. Photos here.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sights on Mexico City Sites

When I was in Mexico City last year I got to see some really incredible sites. I barely scratched the surface of incredible sites however, I'll just have to fill in the blanks when I go back. And I will go back.

Besides the awesome walking Market Tour (which I highly recommend), experiencing a lot of delicious food and drink, and getting a chance to visit the Bacardi rum distillery and other very cool events with Tales on Tour, my brother and I set out to see some of the incredible art and history that this city (and country) is known for.

My first four nights were at the very central Hilton Reforma, where Tales on Tour was being held. Deciding to stay central I chose the uber cool Downtown Mexico Hotel for the last part of my stay. As I entered the historic building through massive wood and metal doors, I found myself in a beautiful and serene courtyard which contained various boutiques, bars, and the restaurant Azul. After I found my way to the very dim check in counter I was shown upstairs to my room. We took the antique lift to the second floor of what I learned was once the Palace of the Countess of Miravalle. This tiny boutique hotel has just 17 rooms, and all of them are very industrial-chic. Mine had incredibly high ceilings, a big open bathroom/shower, and a huge king size bed. The rooms are dim but they feel intimate instead of oppressive.
I dropped my bags and headed up to the rooftop pool for some sun and a beer. This will surprise no one who knows me.

The next day my brother and I started out by walking over to the massive Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitución), which is one of the world's largest squares, and into the cathedral which sits on the north side of the square. The cathedral is quite grand with two huge gold alters; The Alter of Forgiveness and The Alter of the Kings. There are also 16 chapels and a crypt. The church was built on the site of an Aztec temple and has been sinking since the day it was built, as all of CDMX was built on a lake bed.

From here we walked across the Zocala to the south side and through the covered passages of the Federal District Buildings. There were police lined up all over, dressed in riot gear but nothing seemingly going on. I asked if it was ok to take a photo and these guys gladly posed!

We continued over to the National Palace. You must have your ID/Passport to enter but there is no fee. Inside a central patio are Diego Rivera's History of Mexico murals. They are amazing! We spent a good amount of time admiring them and thought it was so interesting to see images of huitlacoche (a 'gourmet' corn fungus), agave, pulque, tortillas, etc. Of course there are also images of power struggles, slavery, war, politicians, etc. I loved getting to see these, and we were pretty much the only people there!

The Palacio de Bellas Artes is another place to see some amazing murals by Spanish artists. The building itself is stunning with its glass and iron dome.

The works of Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and others are beautiful and larger than life. The art deco design of the building seem perfect for the mood. It's a good size collection with two floors housing the murals. When we were there one of the pieces was being cleaned and restored which was interesting to watch too.

Another day we took the subway out to the Anthropology Museum. I've been to a lot of museums but I have never been anywhere with such an amazing collection as this; highly recommend! The U-shape set of buildings are comprised of 11 salons, each focusing on a certain period of time in Mexico, starting with the Introduction to Anthropology from BC-50,000 to 6 million BC. So there's that!

I loved these replicas of temples with surrounding jungle!
We spent some time walking through the park that surrounds the museum as well, it is gorgeous and the perfect place to grab a torta and eat it on a park bench.

On our last night my brother and I caught the sunset at the Top of the Latin Americano Building. The most touristy of things you could do, but the views are amazing. The cocktails not so much, so we stuck with aged rum on the rocks and took in the 360-degree views of this incredibly huge city with an amazing past.
I can't wait to go back!

All Mexico City photos here.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mexico City; From Street Food to Fine Dining

I was in CDMX for a full week in April 2015 and I never had a bad meal (or drink), the place is seriously delicious! And I found the prices to be very inexpensive, whether eating finger-licking street food or dining at award-winning meccas. If you love food (and drink) get yourself down there.

The first night, after almost 15 hours of travel, it was all I could do to walk next door to our hotel for my first al pastor of the week at Taqueria El Caifan. This is street food in a casual eatery and it was good!

The next morning Forest and I had some fantastic food during our incredible walking tour of the markets which I wrote about here. That night we were doing our first of a few bar crawls and needed some food after our second round of cocktails at Felina Bar. We walked (it was safe, bar manager Jane even confirmed!) to El Califa for tacos. And chicharron de queso, a specialty of the house and damn excellent! Basically, it is a huge sheet of baked and melted cheese, rolled up into a cylinder which you break off and eat. Sounds simple, tastes amazing! I also revisited this place a few days later with my brother for more of the same!

Another highly touted taco place is El Faraon. We went there after a full day of Tales on Tour parties. Forest said I liked it, but all the rum, tequila, and mezcal had caught up with me and I really couldn't tell you. I'd take her word on it though.

Probably my favorite taco place was El Tizoncita where the specialty is al pastor. Al pastor looks like shwarma or gyros only the meat is pork and usually at the very top where the meat is skewered into the grill there is a large piece of pineapple and an onion. As the waiters sliced the meat from the large rotating cones, they swiped up with their knives freeing a slice of pineapple; meat and pineapple landing in the small delicate tortillas and then topped with diced onion, cilantro, fresh salsa, and lime juice. Sooooo good. And cheap! My brother and I sat at an outside table with my friend Tracy and ordered plate after plate, all washed down with a chelada; beer, lime juice, and salt.

El Cardenal has a few locations around town and is a locals favorite. We had one of them inside the Hilton so Forest, my brother, and I met for breakfast one morning. Fresh baked Mexican breads, amazing hot chocolate, huge plates of grilled steaks, scrambled eggs with housemade chili sauces... there's a reason why everyone loves this place!

Right off the massive Zocalo, my brother and I found the terraced restaurant Balcon del Zocalo one day for lunch. The tableside guacamole service could have been kitschy but with add-in choices like chapulines or chicharrones  (which we got both) it was just delicious. And the gorgeous views of the Zocalo, the cathedral, and the palace made it a perfect afternoon stop on more than one occasion.

Mexico City is more than just tacos, much much more. The city is full of award-winning chefs using traditional flavors and modern techniques to create amazing fine dining experiences.

Azul Restaurants have four locations around the city and one just happened to be in the same building as my hotel, Downtown Mexico. The open air courtyard of this former palace was a magical place to dine. And our dinner, modern takes on cochinita pibil and mole negro, was fantastic.

I also had an amazing meal at one of the most talked about restaurants in this huge city, Pujol. Pujol is currently #16 on the World's 50 Best restaurant list and offers some of the most unique food in town. Chef Enrique Olvera has a mole that when I was there was 637 days old. It's like nothing I have ever had, nor will I again as now it is over 800 days old. They serve it simply with tortillas and alongside a fresh mole. You can hear him talk about the ongoing mole dish in a recent interview he did on Splendid Table.

The service at Pujol was impeccable from start to finish. We were assisted in choosing wines from Mexico, including a rosé to start our meal with. Each dish was stunning, both visually and flavor-wise. And I got to try unusual (for me) ingredients like tongue, ants, and ant eggs (another thing they are very well known for).

So no matter if you are a linen napkin type of diner, or a torta in the park washed down with a Jamaica aqua fresca, Mexico City has it. And you'll still have change for a taco.

All photos here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

CDMX Markets Tour

Can we just talk about travel for a minute? Not the romantic views (pushed upon us by people who clearly never travel) of perfect timing, pleasant customer service, everything going according to plan. Let's talk about the reality of cramped flights, surly airline people, and all day travel which feels like work instead of vacation. Travel is work folks, it is hard, it is frustrating, but it is rewarding more than any paycheck out there. I've had my share of ups and downs on the road, and I know there will be more, but let me just tell you this one little story.

I woke up at 5am for my American Airlines flight to Mexico City via Dallas/Fort Worth from Seattle. I am not a morning person, let's leave it at that. My phone showed an alert via TripIt that my flight was delayed from 8am until 11am. I called AA and an agent told me they had me rebooked on the 11am, I would make a connection in DFW but maybe not the one I had planned, which sucked as I was meeting my friend Forest there. But at least I had a flight and I was happy as I went back to sleep for another hour.

Upon re-waking at 8am I received a text that the flight would board at 8:30am. WTF??? Let me just say that there was major stress as I quickly called a cab, then tried to get someone on the line from American, while rushing to the airport for a delayed flight that I was now sure to miss. At the airport there were other passengers trying madly to check in under the same circumstances and desk agents refusing to check them in or tell us the status of the flight. FinallyI was able to get an agent to check me in, I ran to the gate, only to find that the crew hadn't shown up for the new time yet so we finally left at 10:30am. I was pissed. To top it off the flight only had vodka on board- no wine, beer, gin, etc.- just vodka. The definition of 1st world problems.

As we were landing in DFW I realized that my plane was pulling up to the same gate as the connection to Mexico City was set to leave from. Fantastic I thought, I have made my original connection and Forest was there to meet me. I checked in with the gate agent and she informed me that since I had already been rebooked my luggage had to take the later flight, it could not stay on the plane that I just got off and continue to Mexico City with me. If I chose to fly with Forest my luggage would not, and they wouldn't deliver it the hotel I'd have to wait for it there. WTF again???

I chose to fly with my friend, we made martinis on the plane, my bag wasn't there when we landed but the nice guys working in baggage had it delivered to the hotel during the night. Jesus, how hard is good customer service. I know that is a long story, it was even longer to live it! Enough, let's talk about Mexico City!

I'm obsessed with huge cities and Mexico City had been on my list for years. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Mexico City went by DF (Federal District) for years but recently that has changed and now it is CDMX. The first part of my stay was for Tales on Tour and we stayed at the Hilton Downtown Reforma. Although a business hotel, the Hilton had great spaces, and our room had great views. Most importantly it was a great location for sightseeing.

Forest and I booked a Market Tour with Urban Adventures on our first full day in town. We met our local guide Cesar at 8:45am near the Zocala (a massive main square) and were thrilled that we had him all to ourselves. The city of almost 9 million people (21 million in the greater area!) was surprisingly quiet at this time of day.

The first stop we made was to the Abelardo Rodriguez market. This neighborhood market has some incredible murals, if you know where to look, done by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and students studying under them. They have pretty much been forgotten and even a lot of the locals don't realize they are there! We stopped for a mamey fruit shake and then queued up for tamales at an unmarked stand. Delicious and not some place we would have spotted have without Cesar.

From here we walked to the Sonora market which is also known as the witchcraft market. Although chilangos (the term residents of CDMX go by) are primarily Catholic, witchcraft is an old and still normal practice by the majority. The market had everything from various candles and soap, all with a specific wish-granting purposes, to dried herbs, plants, and even animals for creating potions. The market also had a lot of non-witchcraft stuff like shoes, toys, and even pets!

We got on our broomsticks, I mean we grabbed the subway and then hopped on a locals' bus, and continued on to the Jamaica market. This is more of a traditional food-centric market. We sat down at the very busy Carnitas Paty counter and ordered some delicious tacos. I chose to have the mixte version, where one of the guys chops up an unique assortment of pig parts; think head-to-tail literally.

We made friends with a local woman who was having lunch with her dad when he noticed me adding the super hot sauce to my taco. He told Cesar to warn me, which he did, and although the sauce was spicy it wasn't uncomfortable to me. Dad shook his head and told Cesar I must have chilango blood in me, a great compliment I thought! We also tried the most delicious drink called tepache, which is fermented pineapple juice with tamarind in it. Seriously amazing, if anyone in Seattle is making this, I need to know about it.

After a stroll thru the market, checking out the huge wheels of queso, pig heads, yellow chicken, hominy, etc. we headed to the flower market. Huge warehouses full of the most gorgeous floral displays, as well as stalls selling all varieties of flowers in bulk; super pretty to see and amazing to smell.

The floral market also has some fruit and vegetable stalls, we stopped at one to taste raw jicama sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice. Delicious.

Just outside of the flower market we sat down at a small open-air restaurant called Huaraches Ramoncita, located in a cute courtyard to taste their specialty, huaraches. The fried masa dough is oval in shape, resembling the huaraches sandals, with an indention on the top, ours was filled with refried beans, nopales (sautéd cactus), avocado, and fresh salsa. I'm sure I don't have to tell you have scrumptious this was!

We had told Cesar that we were both pretty curious and fearless eaters and really were also interested in trying the pre-Colombian fermented alcohol called pulque. Since we had proved ourselves on the tour, and had offered to buy him a few rounds, he took us to the very popular local haunt Pulqueria Duelistas. The drink is very tasty, but the texture is a tad strange. We had a great time and loved this bonus experience.
I wrote more about drinking around CDMX, including Pulqueria Duelistas, here.

By the time our tour ended after 1pm we had covered a lot of ground, seen some really interesting markets, had insight we wouldn't have had on our own, and tasted some amazing food, mysterious fruits, and historic booze! And my travel luck had reset itself thanks to Cesar.

Also, as we made our way back to the hotel we noticed that now all 9 million people seemed to be out and about!

All CDMX photos here.