Thursday, December 17, 2009

Exploring the 18th

When I was in Paris in September Forest was in the process of moving to a small apartment in the 18th arrondissement, an area I hadn't spent much time in before but was excited to explore. The area is know mainly as Montmartre and is home to the gorgeous Sacre Coeur basilica and it's equally gorgeous views of the city.

Originally this area wasn't a part of Paris proper and it's inhabitants saw themselves living in a distinct and raucous village. It wasn't until 1860 that Montmartre was annexed and even today the area has it's own mayor. It's been home to many famous artists such as Picasso, Dali and Toulouse Lautrec. With artists comes nightlife and who isn't aware of the nightlife that was the Moulin Rouge? This is also the area that the Russians occupied in 1814 during the Peninsular War. Many believe the term bistro came about from the Russian word bystro which means quickly- therefore referring to the restaurants here as places to get a quick bite.



Enough of the history lessons! The 18th today is jammed with tourists at the base of Sacre Coeur where Forest's apartment is. Con men have their tables set up in the street to entice you to try your luck at finding the disc that has the white bottom (like a ball under the shell routine). Souvenir shops line the road from the metro stop to Square Willette park. You step outside Forest's front door and are immediately in the mass of guided tours, people taking pictures, vendors hawking goods- they seem surprised that you just emerged from this little door that no one had noticed until then.




When we went to Le Tres Particulier we climbed the hill on it's west side. As we left we wandered the streets north and east, climbing up to it's tip top and ending up on Rue Norvins. This is a lively area and beautiful at dusk. The very old and famous restaurant (once cabaret) Le Consulat greeted us.


We continued across the top, finally walking behind the basilica and started down the east slope. Our destination was a little cafe with a wonderful outdoor terrace called L'ete en Pente Douce. This little spot is at the top of the stairs on Rue Paul Albert and was recommended to me by my cab driver when I arrived from the airport- she lives in the 18th also. We stopped here with friends after dinner and enjoyed cognacs outside, the night still warm but starting to have the feel of fall chill.


The area is filled with boutiques, wine shops, bistros, bars, fromageries, the well know Marche St Pierre, and even an American style diner. And of course the Moulin Rouge. It is really interesting for exploring and I would recommend anyone who hasn't veered off the beaten path in the 18th to take some time and do so.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mad for Macarons!

Is there any treat that says "Paris" more than the macaron? I'm trying to remember the first time I had one but I'm drawing a blank. Surely I don't want to think of a life without macarons though! You might think that I'm crazy for sweets but those of you who know me know that I choose cheese over dessert any day. So why the infatuation? There is just something about those pretty cookie sandwiches filled with interesting fillings that has my heart.

Forest and I found ourselves conducting an informal macaron tasting starting in the 9th after lunch at Rose Bakery (which was good but a bit over hyped and over priced IMHO). We walked across the street to Arnaud Delmontel, they advertise the fact that they won the best baguette in Paris for 2007 and they have very pretty patisseries in the window to entice you inside.

I'm forgetting which flavors we chose now but we were both very disappointed in all of them. They were over sweet and the fillings were like jam, gummy and unappealing. Fail.

Another day, another macaron (this should be Paris' official slogan!)

Pierre Herme. I'd never been (gasp!) and Forest insisted that it was top on her list so off we went. Insert swoon gestures here. These are amazing! Perfectly light cookies that crackle when you bite into them, really interesting flavors, filling that is light as air, not too sweet. Delicious!! Win! Of course Pierre Herme also does chocolates, Dayne declared them awesome when I brought them home.

At Fauchon we found macarons only at their cafe, not in the main shop. Again we chose a few flavors and again we found disappointment. Sweet, uninspired flavors and gummy filling. Fail.

Finally as I headed towards security at CDG on my way home I spotted a precious little cart- Laduree! I've had them before and have always thought they were the best, but would they hold up against the now favorite Pierre Herme? They had gorgeous little boxes that held 6 snugly so I chose a few flavors I knew Dayne would like and a Pistachio and flavor of the month, Christian Louboutin, for me. I made sure the box wasn't smashed in my carry on and immediately upon arriving home at 10pm we opened it. I assured Dayne we needed to eat them all right away as fresh macarons are the best macarons! Let me tell you that Christian Louboutin flavor, raspberry cookies with chocolate ganache filling, was amazing! And I even kept my pistachio macaron for breakfast the next day and it was still great. Winner!



It would be tough for me to pick only one if I had to between Laduree and Pierre Herme. So I won't!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Paris Adventures

Forest and I returned to Paris from Hamburg and immediately headed out to meet her Wednesday Cocktail Adventure group, this time at Panic Room in the 11th. As always I had a great time with Forest and her friends but the Panic Room is not some place I would put on my suggestion list for cocktails. The worst? non. But there are so many other places to go.

After 2 rounds of cheap happy hour libations our group of merry makers headed down the street to another bar called 4 Elements. The bar breaks each room up into a theme. The main bar being Fire; a semi private hang out room being Earth; the bathroom Water and the fumoir (smoking room) Air (LOL!). Again this place is all about the vibe and having a good time with your friends. When I thought out loud of getting a martini Forest's friend Jim suggested it would not be what I had in mind and I should stick to simple "on the rocks" drinks instead. Cubra Libra, done.

But not to worry we also had some very well prepared cocktails, made by bartenders who take their craft seriously and are paving the way in Paris. Pre-dinner drinks at the Experimental Cocktail Club one evening were just as good as I remembered from last year when we visited.

It took two times but we finally had some nice drinks at Le Tres Particulier. Forest has done a good job at explaining the story so if your interested you can read that here . Some cocktails were good, others ok but the setting is really quite pretty and unusual- or particular if you will- and I would go back on a warm summer night so I'm glad we checked it out.

I think my favorite spot that we imbibed in on this trip was Mama Shelter. Located way out in the 20th and tucked inside a boutique hotel of the same name, the space is funky and eclectic. The drink menu is mostly classic cocktails with some originals thrown in. Menus were clipped inside French comic books and both drinks we had were nicely made and tasty. I'd recommend it and I'd go back, it is a bit of a trek but I think it's worth it.

And of course there were cocktails at Chez Forest. Some made with Millers Gin which I brought from the states and others with Fauchon's gin which we stumbled upon while shopping at their gorgeous store in the Madeleine area. Sometimes the best bar is your own (or your friend's!)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In like Le Lion...

Day two in Hamburg we took a great cruise on the upper lake canals. It is very very pretty with it's swans, mansions, waterways, etc. Hamburg boasts a lot of things- one of them being the Venice of Germany.

The US embassy here looks like a mini White House...


After the cruise we grabbed some lunch and did a bit of shopping. That's what girls do on vacation you know? Eat, shop, drink. In that order. So once we had fulfilled said itinerary we got ready for our night out.


A short walk from our hotel and we were at our destination and very excited! We sat up at the bar and within minutes Mario Kappes was chatting to us while Marcel Baumann mixed up some gorgeous cocktails. When Mario learned that we had come to Hamburg specifically to try out Le Lion he introduced us to owner and fabulous host Jorg Meyer.



I was asking them about Le Bon Lion which I had heard about from Mike Meinke, a speakeasy supposedly across the street from Le Lion. Mike had told me to bring a little something with a lion on it as entry. Turns out you don't really need to do that and they only use the speakeasy for private tastings now. Well it just so happened that tonight they were doing a private tasting with the first bottle of Cartavio XO being opened in Germany and they invited us on the fun!

A small group of approximately 10 of us walked across the street to the French bistro there, entered the restaurant and climbed a narrow flight of stairs.



Once inside the tiny room the private tasting of this magnificent rum (and also some very nice Pisco's) took place. Jorg thought it was hysterical that he was getting the bottle and tasting before previously mentioned Mike Meinke and that Mike had sent me there. He recorded a little message to Mike:

We had such a great time with everyone at the tasting, especially Cirsten Kessler, it was so fun meeting everyone!

 


Back across the street for more cocktails until the wee hours of the morning. I gave Mario the lion bottle stopper I brought them and we ceremoniously chose the bottle of Hendricks for it to go on. So if you see a lion bottle stopper on a bottle in Le Lion know that it was a little trinket from Seattle (that we actually bought in South Africa!)

To top off the amazing night Jorg pulled out a bottle of Pol Roger and with the base of a wine glass sabered it open!! More importantly Jorg told me that the next time I come he'll saber a bottle of Pol Roger Winston Churchill! I will be holding you to that kind sir and will see you next September hopefully!


Thank you Le Lion staff and customers for a hell of a good time! Photos of all our Hamburg adventures are here.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Hamburg- a fine place for cocktails

After Forest and I rocked Paris to it's core (ok, not really but we gave it a shot!) we got up early (damn you Forest, stop booking flights that require me to get up at 6 am!!), took the train to CDG (much easier than I imagined) and hopped a flight to Hamburg, Germany. Neither of us had been to Hamburg (this was my first time even to Germany!) so you may think the destination of Hamburg is a strange choice- unless you are into cocktails and then you might know that it is home to Le Lion, voted best new cocktail bar in 2008. More about that later...



After checking into our hotel we went out exploring. We walked around the lake, through part of town and made our way to the Deichstrasse in search of lunch: schnitzel & beers to be exact. After lunch we went to the St. Nikolai Memorial, the remains of what was once the world's tallest building (at 482 feet)  had been bombed out during the war. We took the elevator up for great views of the city and also visited the underground photo memorial.



It was really interesting and especially since I haven't been in Germany before it was my first glimpse of a city pretty much leveled during the war.

This photo is of a Holocaust memorial that is sitting on the bricks taken from the near by concentration camp Neuengamme.

We headed back to our hotel, making stops in some grocery stores for aperos , but found it difficult as the stores in our area were Muslim. We soldiered on and found some weird wine and suitable snacks. After a bit of a rest it was off to Christiansen's on the recommedation of Philip Duff. Owner Uwe Christiansen made sure that we were well taken care of, even breaking out the antique barware as we discussed cocktails, Hamburg and Bai Ling. How can you not like a bar that stocks an amazing selection of booze, offers free chair massages on Monday nights and has an owner with an impressive history in the biz (there is a story about his having a hand in the Cosmo being a huge trend, don't hold it against him!)

That is just one of many walls of interesting liquor including the rare and mysterious Lufthansa liquor that Uwe let us taste. Oh and he sent us home with some of his name branded liquors too. A very fun man, a very fun night and some very good drinks. Thank you Uwe!!

Since we were so close to the Reeperbahn we just had to go have a peak. This might be the largest by area, red light district in Europe but it was tame, tacky and a bit ho hum. Do you know that this is where the Beatles originally got their start though? John Lennon is quoted as saying "I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg"


I'll let you ponder this window scene. End of day one!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Summer Sailing in Seattle

We interrupt autumn's gray, rainy days to bring you sunshine!



One day when Dayne and I were driving past the waterfront this summer I saw a sign for Let's Go Sailing and I immediately wanted to go sailing! We looked up their website when we got home and thought the price of $40 for a 2 1/2 hour sunset sail was great, you can bring whatever food and drink you want aboard also.



Della & Greg decided to come with us and we had quite a nice little picnic on the boat while cruising around Puget Sound. Dayne had mixed up margaritas and after cocktails we popped open some wine and had some great snacks. It was a really relaxing way to spend a weekday evening, I want to go again but I think now I'll have to wait until next year.


Doesn't the sun and warm weather seem so far away right now? Bundle up friends.


Sailing photos

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paris, a love story...

Ok, not really but I've been home for 2 weeks and I'm missing it. The sprawling city, evening lights, metro stops, shady con men in the tourist areas, over priced cocktails, 4th floor flats with no lift... I miss my favorite city. I know you all feel terrible for me ;)

I had a wonderful time spending 2 weeks with my friend Forest, it's rare that I'm just in Paris to hang out for such a long time- usually we are stopping in on our way to other adventures. But this trip was just me and Forest doing whatever the hell we wanted, and we did a lot! Forest is in the process of moving into a cute little studio flat at the base of Sacre Couer - if you've ever taken the funicular up to the church you have walked right past her place as it is on the avenue between the Anvers metro stop and the merry go round in the Square Willette.



The first night in town I finally got to attend a Wednesday Cocktail Adventure! Le Magnifique, although a bit spendy, is a beautiful cocktail lounge with an impressive menu of mainly in house created cocktails. I'd go again and would recommend it for those without a budget. And it was a great space to meet some new friends and meet up with others I haven't seen in a long time!
photo courtesy of Forest Collins


For my tourist adventure the next day I headed to the Musee de Moyen Age. I love old ruins and this museum is housed in the remains of a 3rd century Roman bath and a neighboring 15th century mansion. The museum is really interesting and displays the famous Unicorn Tapestries which everyone but me has supposedly heard about.



That night I had a wonderful dinner at La Gazzetta with Forest, Nicole, Luke, and their friends Braden & Laura who recently lived and worked in Seattle. It is a set menu only and although we all agreed there were a few "misses" most of the dishes were wonderful. Our group had started with pre dinner drinks at the nearby Bottle Shop and Forest, Nic and I headed back there for some after dinner drinks as well.  And then we went to Nic's when the Bottle Shop closed. And then it was 6:30am. We rock.


The weekend arrived and with it came our friends from Switzerland! We had a little wine reception at the studio apartment while Jeremy, Philippe, Larnie, her mother and the baby Louise trickled in, taking various trains from Zurich and Geneva. Once everyone had arrived we went out and did it up. Cocktails until the bars close? check. Street crepes? check. Dancing to 80's music in a late night bar frequented by gigolos?  check. Breakfast at 5am with strangers? check. Breakfast martini's at 7am? check.


Holy hell! That was a FUN night/morning!
 

 

The next day (that day) I met up with the Swissies and we took Louise on her first Seine boat ride and showed her the Trocadero area. She loved it :)




We met Forest in the Marais for a really good dinner at Les Fous d'en Face and then the 2 of us had a quick nightcap at Why Bar near Les Halles. The next day we all met up near the big market Couvert Beauvau to spend the afternoon drinking wine at Le Baron Rouge. What a fun way to spend the afternoon with friends, trying different wines, all the bottles well priced between 7 Euro and 15 Euro. Snacking on charcuterie plates. Catching up while jostling glasses and bottles on the street and then inside on the coveted wine barrel table.


 The Swissies soon had to catch their trains home and Matt & Violaine were nice enough to invite us stragglers over to their near by apartment. Armed with a few more bottles from Le Baron Rouge we spent what was left of a lazy Sunday afternoon on their deck overlooking the streets of the market being cleaned up, peering at the neighboring decks and chimneys and even spying the Eiffel Tower  in the distance. Oh and taking funny pictures of each other in hats! (I'm not even going to try to go into details about their bathroom which is decorated like "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"!)




You can see more pictures of the debauchery here

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sonoma Wine Weekend

We celebrated our wedding anniversary last weekend in Sonoma County, our first visit to this wine region but hopefully not the last!

Vineyards were originally planted here in the early 1800's making it the birthplace of the California wine industry. Napa didn't start planting until the 1860's by comparison. Additionally there are 12 appellations each one known for a particular style of wine.

Many of the 250 wineries in the region are small mom and pop setups, exactly what I like, so deciding which one's to visit was really hard. Luckily we have friend's who have similar tastes in wine as we do  and were nice enough to share some ideas (thanks Dino & Paul!). I was looking for wines that are hard to come by outside of the area and that is exactly what we found!

There is no way we were going to be able to explore each of the distinctly unique areas so we focused on just part of Russian River and the Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg and the Sonoma Valley.

Stationing ourselves in Santa Rosa, about halfway between our 2 chosen areas, we set out on our first day to Arista Winery. Driving around the area outside of Healdsburg was awesome. It is hilly and green, the landscape spotted with huge oak trees, horse farms and vineyards. Beautiful, really really beautiful. I love being in wine countries and this is now one of my favorites for sure.

Many of you know that I have a bit of a passion for North Willamette Pinot Noir so I wasn't really expecting to be blown away by any Sonoma Pinot's. WRONG. Arista makes really gorgeous wines and their gardens are amazing! The buying started early...

Rochioli was next and just down the street. This winery only produces 3 wines- Chardonnay, Sauvingnon Blanc and Pinot Noir. They were pouring the Sauv Blanc and Pinot when we were there, both were delicious.

Right in Healdsburg is Seghesio, beautifully made Zinfandel at really good prices. We were so impressed with all the tastes we had that we joined their wine club. JOINERS!

As we left Seghesio to find some lunch we realized that the temperature had continued to climb and was now around 102F. Our car had stayed cool but it wouldn't be able to for much longer so we stopped in a drugstore and picked up a few coolers and ice so the wine would be safe and sound. I didn't want to come home with bottles of wine reduction!

After a delicious lunch at Dry Creek Kitchen, which was a recommendation from a few locals, we went to our only appointment of the day at A. Rafanelli Winery.


A. Rafanelli produces big, hearty Zin, Cab & Merlot and you can only buy their wines in local restaurants or at the winery. It's by appointment only and really a family affair. One of the daughters, who was a practicing attorney until last year when she came to work in the family business, poured for us and filled us in on the wines available. Once she realized that we were primarily looking for hard to find wines she called George at Unti Winery and got us a tasting at his small production winery also.

George Unti is from Italy and makes very European style wines- Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre, etc. He is passionate about his vineyards and the wines they produce and we had a really good time talking to him about the difference in wine regions terroir around the world.



Day 2 we headed south past the town of Sonoma and out to Gloria Ferrer. The scenery out here is a bit different as the rolling hills are browner than the lush area up north. This particular winery doesn't do traditionally tasting, instead they just sell glasses of their sparkling. Since they so some vintage sparkling it was nice to have a glass and relax out on their patio enjoying the views.

In the same area is Gundlach Bundschu Winery (or GunBun as their website is named!) They are also one of the oldest in the area and offer some really fantastic wines. We chose to try just the reds and split the tastings so we were able to try all of them. The woman who poured for us gave us a few extra tastes of some of their reserve wines and also recommended another old winery up the road. She even wrote us a free pass to taste there since she knew the staff.

So after lunch in the gorgeous square in Sonoma at Maya, a few tastes of really good tequila, a bit of antique browsing and shopping for Rancho Gordo beans at Bram we were off to our last taste of the day at Bartholomew Park. Small, old winery staffed with wonderful people who celebrate all the winemakers of the area with an amazing photo wall. Oh and they make some amazing Merlot!

We used Wine Country Shipping to send all our bottles home, they repacked all the wine in secure shipping cases and had it in Seattle 2 days later. I'm looking forward to enjoying these!

Wine soaked photos here!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Summer Camp

We don't camp like most other people, I know that. I come up with menus, Dayne makes cocktails and we go on easy hikes and nice drives. This year we added the comfort of a queen size Aero mattress. Damn I could live in the "wild" for a few weeks with our plush bed now!

A couple of weeks ago we headed out towards the Sunrise side of Mt. Rainier. It was an easy drive, through the cute town of Enumclaw and out towards Crystal Mountain Resort. We found a great spot at Silver Springs Campground, right on the mostly dry riverbed and not too close to other campers. Since it only took us about 1.5 hours from the time we left the house to get to the campground we had an entire day to explore so we headed out to Sunrise Visitor's Center with a picnic lunch.

The drive up to the center is breathtaking! Neither of us had been on this side of the mountain so it was all new to us. Amazing views of the glacier and the summit as well as surrounding peaks & valleys.


After checking out the very nice visitor's center we sat down and had lunch facing Mt. Rainier in the warm sunshine. We've been around the world and seen amazing sites but the site of that mountain up close and personal is always stunning!

After lunch we went on a easy hike on the Silver Forest Trail so we could see the wildflowers. I've never seen all the meadows full of wildflowers before and Dayne's aunt and uncle talk about how pretty it is so we were really happy to have such a gorgeous day to see them!

 
Purple, red and funny "Dr Suess" flowers studded the hills around the trails. And we only saw 2 other couples on the trail!

Our second day our weather wasn't as good so we decided to drive across the Chinook Pass towards Naches. Again the scenery up to the pass was amazing, until we entered into a cloud and Dayne had to drive 20 MPH! It was the thickest thing I'd ever seen and it got thicker and thicker as we went! When we got up to the pass the cloud was moving in and out. It was beautiful!

 
We stopped at a funny motel/restaurant called Whistlin Jack's Lodge for lunch and then headed back across Chinook Pass and then south across Cayuse Pass and up Rainier to the Paradise Visitor's Center- which is brand new and really cool. Unfortunately the clouds were so low on the mountain that even standing right at the lodge you wouldn't have known there was a mountain there at all!
On our way home the last day, we stopped at the Dalles Campground to look at the giant Douglas Fir that is over 700 years old and almost 300 feet tall. It's big, it's really big. And things like that amaze me because I always wonder how it didn't get logged, burned down or died of a disease. Think of the things that tree has seen over 700 years!

More photos from our camping trip are here!