Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tippling in Jolly Old London

In honor of the Summer Olympics, which started last night, I've decided to finally start posting about our time in London. Well, my time visiting Dayne for two weeks while he worked a couple of months there last summer. Even back then, the city was excited about the upcoming games.

Let's start with the most fun stuff, the drinking!

I took the EuroStar from Paris and waited for Dayne, who was arriving on a later train, also from Paris (story for another time), at what is billed as the "Longest Champagne Bar" in Europe. Searcy's is good for a glass of bubbles and a perfect place to meet someone at St. Pancras station, but the bar wraps around in a typical U-shape and doesn't really seem all that long.

The first real cocktail stop we made was at the Nightjar Bar near Shoreditch. This is the most amazing spot, I'm truly in love with what they do. We sat up at the bar, and as it was right when they opened and not too busy yet, we had a great time chatting with the bartenders. Each cocktail is made expertly, but what really sets them apart are the accouterments. My summer punch was topped with a small bushel of summer fruit, all of it cascading down the the side of the glass. Another drink, containing egg white, had the half egg shell attached to the glass by a small clothes pin and in it was a small amount of grenadine so that I could sweeten the cocktail as I saw fit. All this garnishing does take time but we felt it was entirely worth the wait.

We also visited Bam-Bou for a few drinks before having dinner at near-by Pied a Terre one night. The drinks here were good and if you are in the area I'd recommend heading up the crazy, steep staircase to the bar, 5 flights up. Not a destination spot but solid drinks near the British Museum.

Just across St John Square is the Zetter Townhouse, a quirky boutique hotel with a fantastic cocktail lounge. This was another really good cocktail stop with unique drink ingredients like gunpowder tea tincture and port evaporation. It's a lively stop and perfect for a small group, which we were.
(*Update 7/29/12 ZTH was awarded "Best New Cocktail Bar" last night at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. I'm not kidding when I say go there!)


The folks behind ZT first made a name for themselves at their bar, 69 Colebrook Row. It's a rite of passage for cocktail geeks, to sit at Tony Conigliaro's bar, with bartender's resembling scientists, and enjoy these wonderfully simple but excellent libations. The two of us being these kind of geeks were happy, and would happily return.

A cocktail or a glass of champagne at the Connaught Bar, in the hotel of the same name, is really a wonderful afternoon treat. The Mayfair neighborhood is posh, the hotel is lovely and the customer service is top notch. This sweet spot is on my list to always hit in London.
(*Update 7/29/12 The Connaught Bar won "Best Cocktail Bar" at last night's Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. That is in the WORLD. Put it on your list.)

On Old Compton Street is the mainstay of LAB (London Academy of Bartenders) which feels a little like a fun-house of cocktails. Pages and pages of drink options, many a bit on the sweet and/or wacky side, but it's a good stop if you are in the area and the bartenders are very nice and happy to give recommendations.

Just down the street from LAB, on Brewer, is one of the Hix restaurant and bars. This one has Mark's Bar in the lower lever which, besides making delicious cocktails, also has these amazing brandied cherries that you can buy and take home. Which we did. And now we are out of.

Hidden away in Chinatown, behind an unmarked door, is the local outpost of Paris' Experimental Cocktail Club. You can book in advance for ECC London but they keep room for walk-in's should you find yourself in the area. We loved sitting at the bar here, and finding out that our bartender Jeff was from Vancouver and knew a lot of the same folks we did, made for a great conversation. But the drinks are really the star. I've always enjoyed the cocktails in Paris, I enjoyed them here and I'd love to get to the NYC location next!
And finally, in the new hot neighborhood of Shoreditch, is Callooh Calley. If I lived in London I'd be at this bar weekly. With a comic book as it's menu (changes seasonally), highly inventive cocktails and a laid back vibe, it is just a damn fun and comfortable spot for a drink. If you are a member of the JubJub club you also have access to a private hideaway, entered through a wardrobe- natch. And on Sunday's it's game night. But watch out for the Jenga match as it could be hazardous to your drink!
(*edit 7/29/12 Callooh Calley won "World's Best Cocktail Menu" at last night's Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. See? They rock!)


If you have time while in London be sure to hit up The Whiskey Exchange, not just for whiskey lovers, this booze Disneyland is housed in Vinopolis and has amazing collections of wines, liquors and champagnes. They also have interactive displays and tastings that you can sign up for. And you can shop, there are many delicious things to shop for.

London photo album here

Monday, July 23, 2012

Keep It Weird Portland

We haven't been to Portland for 2 years (and I never got around to posting about it), a shame really as it's so close and just a short and relaxing train ride away.  Since finding out my brother, his wife and son live there, we'll be visiting more often. Pulling out of the station at 5:30pm on a Friday night, with a picnic of home-assembled ham, gruyere, egg, & pickle baguette sandwiches along with pre-batched martinis makes for a nice trip. And even though my wallet went missing in the 2 hours, somewhere between the grocery store and the train station, it's not Portland's fault so I'm not focused on it. (Update: I found it back at home)

We pass through various cities & towns, places that somehow look better from this side of the train stations. The conductor just informed us that we are pulling into Vancouver. He called it "the 'Couve", keeping it weird and we're not even there yet.

It's just a quick cab from the Portland Amtrak station to the Kimpton Vintage Plaza, where we are taking advantage of a discounted Ride the Rails rate. Once we are checked in we walk over to the Pearl District to check out the newly opened Riffle NW.

We were there to say hi to a friend and to have a few cocktails, but next time we are in town it's on my list for dinner. The menu was loaded with delicious sounding seafood (sea urchin & quail egg shot!) and gussied up staples (manchego & bacon grilled cheese).

Finding the Teardrop Lounge packed we decided on a repeat visit to Clyde Common, which resulted in delicious cocktails (one barrel aged natch), running into a friend from Seattle and meeting a new and very talented Portland bartender. And all with in walking distance of the hotel.

The next morning we met my brother and his wife at Veritable Quandary which we hadn't been to before but they've been serving up brunch, lunch, happy hour and dinner since 1971. It was very good and had a cute deck for outside seating.

My brother lives in the Ladd's Addition neighborhood so we strolled across the Hawthorn Bridge to his hood, enjoying all the gorgeous houses, rose gardens and American Elm trees.

Nearby there is a whole slew of distilleries setting up shop so we decided to check out a few of them. Back in the day, we had visited the well known House Spirits. This time we visited Eastside Distilling, which looks almost like a take-out window and makes a surprisingly good bourbon. For $5 you get tastes of their infused rums, the bourbon and a mini cocktail.
A bit further along we stopped into the almost warehouse-sized New Deal Distillery. They have more vodka products than I like but the Gin #1 was really interesting. Almost a cross between a genever and an old Tom gin. New Deal also allows dogs, so my brother's Whippet didn't have to stay out in the rain.

After all those little sips we needed a snack, Pok Pok to the rescue. We only had a short wait at the Whiskey Soda Lounge, enough time for some fried, crunchy pig ears, and then we were seated and served the famous Pok Pok wings. How many orders of wings do they go through a day? Who doesn't order these wings? When can I have them again? All questions that need to be answered.We also watched them put whole salt crusted fish on the BBQ. Yummmmm.

We had a wonderful family dinner that night at Beast. Our visit there 2 years ago for brunch had been excellent and this was no different. Our six courses included a chilled spinach veloute with smoked Arctic char roe, individual charcuterie plates of items like steak tartare with quail egg toast and foie gras bon bon's, a gorgeous brined piece of pork loin with crispy artichokes, a summer salad with fava beans and fried lemons, cheeses and a cherry trifle for dessert. All beautifully paired with wines. I've been twice now and I'd go again, any time!
Before leaving the next morning, we checked out the fairly new Metrovino for brunch. It was good and had some nice riff's on the norms, including a chicken fried quail and waffles. And as we've done in the past we made a stop at Kenny & Zukes to get a snack for the train...
Our Amtrak home was on the Coast Starlight which makes it's way over 2 days from LA to Seattle. We got very lucky, I hear, as our train not only was on-time but we pulled into Seattle early. We spent most of the time sitting in the observation car listening to two rangers from the Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park give an on-going lecture about everything we were passing. It was such a pretty day, and they were so engaging, it was a really nice trip home.

Portland pictures here

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Location:Amtrak

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Brugge in 15 Beers

The other night we re-watched "In Bruges", which is a seriously funny and twisted movie. We'd seen it before, but since we were in Brugge last September for our wedding anniversary, we thought we'd see how realistic the filming of town is. It is very good, unlike those crazy scenes in "Sleepless in Seattle".

We left St. Pancras Station in London after Dayne got off work on a Friday afternoon. One easy train transfer and 4 1/2 hours later we arrived in the fairytale looking town of Brugge. We had brought along our own happy hour kit, consisting of Neal's Yard cheese, olives, salami, and pre-batched martinis, travel is rough.

We stayed at the Martins Relais Oude Amsterdam Hotel, right on the Spiegelrei canal. It was a very nice hotel with a huge room & bed, especially by European standards. There were big windows looking out onto the canal, a cute little bar off the lobby and a sweet courtyard with table and chairs. I'd absolutely recommend it and would stay here again.

We had dinner at Christoph's the first night, chosen mainly because it was the only one we could find still serving dinner past 10:00pm. The food was good but it was more expensive than it should have been. But we got to have our first Belgium beers here- 1) Duval and 2) Brugse Zot Blond.


Each morning we went to Servaas Van Mullem Patisserie for wonderful coffee and pastries. This was an unexpected and very nice find!
On our stroll around the incredibly picturesque town the first morning, we came upon a large market happening. There was everything from bread, sausages, fish and even socks for sale. I loved the picture on the outside of this unit!
At the Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk we walked around crypts, viewed the art, and even saw one of Michelangelo's Pietas. It's a beautiful church and well worth the entrance fee.

The area known as the Begijnhof reminded me of the Fuggerei we had seen in Germany.  Now the living area of the Benedictine sisters, it was founded in 1245. There is a replica house open to the public as well as the garden and the church. The grounds are beautiful, right next to the canal, with swans wandering around. All very peaceful and pretty.

Since no stop to Belgium would be complete without mussels and frites, we had lunch in Walplein Square in a little outdoor restaurant which was lovely. Along with beers 3) Straffe Hendrik Triple & 4) Straffe Hendrik Quadruple. And there were waffles. 'Cuz it is Belgium!


Across the square is the De Halve Maan Brewery, the last remaining family owned and operating brewery in Brugge, open since 1856. We joined in on the English tour which was very interesting, climbing all up and down ladders, stairs and multiple levels. Of course beers were had, but they were one's we had before so they don't get counted here.

Another really nice way to see Brugge is by canal boat. The lines looked long but moved very quickly and the cruise takes you up and down the canals, under bridges and past gorgeous buildings. We even went right past our hotel.

By this time it had reached beer:30 again and thanks to one of the tourists, we had been chatting with on the brewery tour, we found the tiny De Garre. It's hidden down an ally and dates from the 1700's. It is the only place you can get the 5) De Garr Triple. We also had a 6) Gulden Draak. The beers came with little dishes of cheese and the atmosphere was very "friendly dungeon" like.  A great spot!

Since we were leaving the next afternoon and still had so many beers to try we decided on dinner at Den Dyver. It's well known and has a very good beer pairing menu. The food was good but we both felt it was much more expensive than it should have been. However the beers were delicious! 7) Witkap Pater Stimulo, 8) Tempelier, 9) Chimay, 10) Lupulus, 11) St Bernardus Pater 6, 12) Lambic.

That evening a crazy thunder and lightning storm started just as we were leaving the restaurant. We couldn't go 5 feet without being completely drowned! We finally got a cab and enjoyed a Genever in the bar back at the hotel before calling it a day.

We spend the last morning at the Groeningemuseum which is very interesting. Lots of gruesome religious pieces, all Flemish artists spanning about 6 centuries in the Netherlands. We strolled around town some more after, deciding between shell, boobs, and animal shaped chocolates to bring home for friends.

Having been given great advice from friends who had been before, we had our last meal and beers at Cambrinus. Delicious bouillabaisse was enjoyed with 13) Trappe Quadruple, 14) Westmalle Triple and 15) Cambrinus Blonde.

If only we had more time...

About the spelling of the town; Bruges or Brugge are both right as one is French and one is Flemish and both are spoken. 

Brugge photos here

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Lake Chelan-igans

Last year when we returned from London (yes I will eventually post about that!) we spent a fantastic September weekend at Lake Chelan. Most Washingtonians have been to Chelan but surprisingly no one from our group had and we loved it! We loved it so much that we are hoping to return again soon, which reminded me that I hadn't written a post :)

We rented the lovely Blue Star House which is located in the Wapato Point Resort. It's about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Seattle, over the gorgeous North Cascades. I really can't say enough about the house, it was just perfect for the 6 of us with views of the lake, a hot tub, big kitchen and indoor/outdoor dining. Not to mention a good yard, which was needed as the weekend would be involving some very serious croquet matches.

There are quite a few wineries in the area but we decided to just do a tasting and a leisurely lunch on the patio at Vin du Lac. I'm not going to post their web link because it blares music, but I will say this is a good spot to enjoy the sun and lake views while having some pretty good food.
On the way back to the house we spotted a nursery selling some newly popular giant metal chickens and of course we had to stop for photo ops.
Back at the resort we rented a couple of wave runners and took turns zipping around the lake. Except for Dayne and me, this was everyone's first time on them and they were a big hit. With hardly any lake traffic it was super fun speeding, spinning and jumping each others wake. I love wave runners! If it's a busier weekend you will probably want to reserve in advance.

And then it was time. Happy/croquet hour. Time to relive our favorite 'Heather' moments. Time to break out the scrunchy. We reviewed the official croquet rules, made up our own and took to the lawn. We played until it got dark and then, the next morning we played again. And thanks to someone who couldn't resist buying a metal chicken (Jen!) we had a "marco pollo" wicket to work through.
Good friends, wine, cocktails, food, hot tubbing under the stars, croquet, 'Heathers' and 'Princess Bride' on dvd. Not much more to ask for! A gorgeous weekend!

Lake Chelan photos here


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seattle Sunset Sailing

Shortly after your work day is done you can be on a 70' sailboat, pulling out of Pier 54 from  Seattle's waterfront.
Reservations are advised (especially for weekends) but mid-week there is usually plenty of room even if you decide to go at the last minute .
Take a blanket, some chilled rosé (they have an ice chest on board to keep it cold), some tasty snacks and a few friends and you have a seriously relaxing and gorgeous evening.
 The weather right now is perfect for it! Check out Let's Go Sailing! for more info.
Bon voyage!
Sailing...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sandwich & Rolls

Before leaving for Andover, we drove up to the town of Sandwich, the oldest town on the Cape, settled in 1637. We found our way to the tiny marina and the restaurant Aqua Grille for some lunch. Being our last day we decided to share the New England clam chowder (quite good) and each get a lobster roll (very good). The rolls were served with bags of Cape Cod chips which are similar in style to the NW's Tim's. A delicious last lunch.

We left the restaurant and drove to the Sandwich Boardwalk. It's a very pretty walk through Mill Creek wetlands out to Town Neck Beach. People can help fund the boardwalk by purchasing a board which is engraved to their specifications.
The beach itself is beautiful and since it was such a nice day we could see all the way to the northern tip of the Cape, out to Provincetown. The wetlands have bird houses and nesting platforms scattered throughout for the many birds that are becoming endangered. And a few lucky home-owners are right on the edge of the marsh, with unobstructed views to the dunes.

As we left the Cape we couldn't help but notice how much nicer this drive over the bridge was compared to the one we had 5 days earlier.

Cape Cod photos here

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Nantucket...a Town, a County, an Island

We made the decision to spend a day on Nantucket vs Martha's Vineyard for a few reasons. Martha's Vineyard is quite large and many people mentioned that you need a car and a few days to explore. Nantucket has some very nice beaches which I was hoping to get to. And also the quick ferry was having a $50 round trip special fare promotion.

Steamship Authority had inside and outside seating, free wi-fi, cushy seats, and in about an hour we arrived at the island, the clouds were lifting to reveal a gorgeous day! We walked around for a bit, deciding where to eat lunch, and finally settled on The Tavern which had outdoor seating. The food was meh but it felt lovely to sit out in the sun.

After lunch we did a bit more exploring, there are lots of cute boutiques as well as some crazy expensive antique shops! The town is only a few blocks square and it's easy to cover it all in an afternoon. I loved the old buildings, reminders from the shipping and whaling industry, and there is even a combination soda shop/drug store.

Nantucket is known for these expensive handwoven baskets, the antique one's have prices up in the thousands of dollars!
With the day warming up we decided to head out to the closest of the beaches, Jetty's beach, a five minute ride from town. We grabbed a few cold beers from the liquor store and soon we were soaking up some vitamin D on the island's pretty shore. A few other people had the same idea. Finally! Some beach time!
Some guys threw a Frisbee, a pregnant woman went swimming and a local gentleman cast his line in the hopes of a bite. We even saw a few endangered plovers hanging around us. Everyone was happy for the sun!

With the afternoon wasting away, we walked back to town, admiring the gorgeous houses, in time for a glass of wine before our ferry arrived to take us back to the mainland. With most of the day trippers leaving, the town was much quieter than it had been in the afternoon.
I think we made the right decision by going to Nantucket, it's a charming island with beautiful beaches and very relaxing to do in a day. And we were back in Hyannis Port in time for dinner.
Nantucket photos here!