Monday, October 16, 2017

All Around Riga

Trip date: January 2017

After being in Riga for two full days we decided to take a day trip out to Jurmala. This pretty beach resort is just 30-minutes from the city and during the summer I could imagine it is a haven on the Gulf of Riga which connects to the Baltic Sea. During the winter it is a bit different!

We drove thru the small town and found parking near the beach so we could take a short walk around. It was a bit drizzly as we got out of the car, and it was cold! The old soviet-style buildings and hotels were interesting and we even found the bronze turtle statue that stares out to the gulf. 
From here we made a circle walking through more of the town. Some of the beach houses were very old and in need of repair while others were new and quite modern in their architecture. 

The main street is really cute and filled with shops; there was even a small Christmas Market going on. 

It was getting colder and it was also time for lunch so we drove to another part of the town, past very large mansions, to a fantastic little restaurant that sits right on the beach- 36.Line.

I had traditional veal pelmeni (dumplings) served in mushroom broth and sour cream to start, followed by a ridiculously huge pork shank. Everything was delicious and we had a front row seat to watch the snow as it started falling!

The snow continued to fall as we headed back to town, the city was so pretty! We walked past the Laima Chocolate clock (which was suppose to be some big deal but I wasn't impressed), and over the river past the Freedom Monument. We'd mostly been in the old town and now were in City Center.  We made our way to the Corner Housethe former headquarters of the KGB where you can walk thru an exhibit which explains the power and activity of this secret organization. There are also tours of the cellars, interrogation rooms, etc. which unfortunately were sold out when we arrived. I had gone to a similar museum in Vilnius

The next day we drove out of town again to Birini Palace. It was snowing quite hard when we left town and at one point as I drove through a very thick forested area it was so dark and snowing so hard that I couldn't see a damn thing! Finally it cleared as we neared the palace and we were rewarded with absolutely stunning views of the palace grounds!

The palace, which also is a hotel now, was built in 1860 and has lakes, parks, horses, a restaurant, etc. 

We were shown around a bit by one of the "castle keepers" and then were turned loose to explore on our own. It is very pretty; I wouldn't put it in your "not-to-miss" list but if you are in the area the pink castle is a beautiful site!

We had an average lunch at the on-site restaurant and then got back on the road. Our plan was to hit a few more castles before the end of the day as there were four in the nearby national park. But the snow started falling really hard again and we just didn't want to risk the roads so we headed back home and had a couple of cocktails!

On our last day in Riga we woke up to an actual snow storm! We had booked an Art Nouveau Architectural walking tour and spent 3 hours walking around the city which was freezing but so beautiful!

The buildings in Riga are so interesting, I highly recommend one of these walks which cost us 15 Euro each and included a coffee break (where I chose mulled wine and an apple caramel tart!). 

We all had early flights the next morning and shared a 5:30am taxi to the airport. Ugh. Forest, Thibault and I had an Air Baltic flight to Paris where we said goodbye after traveling around together for 2 weeks. I had a 3 hour layover before my flight to Seattle, so I spent some time duty free shopping before hitting the Delta lounge which is just ok at CdG. Then I had a very nice flight home in 1st class with multi-course meals, wine pairings, and a lay-flat bed. 

Another wonderful New Year's Eve trip was in the books! I was so charmed by Riga and the surrounding countryside. If you get the chance to visit I would absolutely go. And if you happen to be there during the holidays when there is snow and Christmas markets, then all the better!

Latvia photos are here.

You can also find photos of our trip on Instagram using the hashtag #BalticBash2016

Other posts from this trip:
36 Hour Parisian Birthday Party
Christmas in Beaujolais
Baltic Bash Kick Off
Out and About in Lithuania
Baltic Road Trip
A Very Baltic New Year
Latvian Eats & Drinks

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Latvian Eats & Drinks

Trip date: January 2017

We arrived in Riga from Lithuania and spent a very fun New Years Eve celebrating along the banks of the Daugava. We spent a total of six nights in this gorgeous city so we got to do a fair amount of exploring. It's such a beautiful place, I highly recommend the Baltic countries for their scenery, history, and even the food!

On our first night in town we needed a restaurant that was open late. We ended up picking Rozengrals which is medieval-style in a building that dates back to 1293! It was very fun for our first night and the food was quite good despite there not being electricity, real silverware, etc. There were dishes like rabbit stew with prunes, duck with cherry sauce, and a big pork shank served on a skewer meant for two!

We were all moving a bit slow on New Years Day so I cooked up a big brunch of potatoes and eggs for everyone, which took entirely too long as the stove had only 2 burners which barely got hot. Luckily we also had mimosas!

Later that evening a friend of Thibault's, who happened to be in town from Paris, came over and we all headed out to Peter's Brewhouse. This brewery serves three beers (light, dark, and red) all made on-site. We had some typical pub grub to go with our beers, including some really good bacon buns!

That night we did as the locals do and went to the buffet at Lido for dinner. Multiple friends with Latvian roots recommended the buffet so we were curious! Sunday night and the place was packed! We squeezed ourselves onto a small table and took turns at the different stations all with traditional Latvian food.

There were so many salads, and kabobs, and roasts, etc. And your meal started at about $10. It was all pretty good too! There are a few of them around the city, check it out!

We just happened upon a random whiskey bar as we left the restaurant so stopped in for a nightcap. Mine was a hot toddy; it's cold in Latvia in January!

One night we met our friend Sarah, who was also visiting, at Mute, an adorable little wine and cocktail bar. Unfortunately the night we came by they didn't have a bartender working (?!?) so only wine was available. I had a lovely glass of rosé champagne served in a gorgeous coup and also these amazing peppery cookies called Piparkukas, similar to gingersnaps.

From here we walked thru the snow to Valmiermuiza, a very cool brewery serving excellent food. We had their charcuterie platter, traditional garlic bread with sour cream sauce, and not so traditional buttermilk fried chicken nuggets. I was coming down with a cold so I tried a couple of their hot mulled beers before ditching my friends and grabbing an uber home to get some rest.

Another very well known and highly recommended tavern that we went to for lunch was Folkklubs. They are known for their traditional live folk music and they have the largest selection of beers in Riga. The subterranean space is really cool, with brick archways and lots of big wooden tables, perfect for having a group of friends trading toasts.

We had a very filling lunch of fried potatoes with a garlicky dipping sauce, a platter of cheeses and toasted bread, and then potato pancakes with bacon and sour cream! Traditional food is definitely a bit heavy!

We also had a chance to check out two restaurants doing modern Lativan cuisine in Riga. The first was Restaurant Forest and it was both beautiful and delicious!

We had a very nice dinner here and really liked how they used traditional ingredients like herring, mushrooms, and game in updated expressions. Dishes were plated artistically and the ingredients were very seasonal.

On our last evening in town Forest, Caitlin, and I went to 3 Pavari Restaurant. The decor is slick and modern and the menu read very well, lots of delicious things like rabbit, foie gras, elk, and lamb. Our cocktails had a lot of ingredients and garnishes in them; they were just ok and unfortunately the meal would echo the cocktails.

Our bread service came á la Jackson Pollock; each of us had a placemat of parchment paper which the server squirted various spreads in an abstract style. It was fun if a bit precious.

The food here was good but it felt like there was more thought put into how many ingredients could be used and how cool the presentation could be vs. the development of flavor. And it was the most expensive of our trip. But it also shows that the chefs in Latvia are exploring new trends and pushing some boundaries which I like.

We had a great time exploring the many food options in Riga!

Latvia photos are here.

You can also find photos of our trip on Instagram using the hashtag #BalticBash2016

Other posts from this trip:
36 Hour Parisian Birthday Party
Christmas in Beaujolais
Baltic Bash Kick Off
Out and About in Lithuania
Baltic Road Trip
A Very Baltic New Year

Saturday, September 23, 2017

All Work & No Play? Not in Napa!

Trip date: May 2016

I'd been working from my virtual office in St. Helena when my friend Lorraine mentioned she was in San Francisco at a conference.  It finished on Friday so I invited her to come for the weekend.

She arrived with fried chicken, ribs, and sides from Ad Hoc, 'cuz that is what friends do, and we had a wonderful lunch on the patio before taking to the pool with Aperol Spritz's.

That evening we walked to Goose & Gander for cocktails and light snacks before Ubering to our late dinner reservations at Press.

I'd been to Press before and it was just as good this time. They have a very unique wine list, so if you like smaller, more obscure Napa producers, this is the place for you! Also the hangar steak was amazing!

The next morning after we walked to Model Bakery for coffee and breakfast, we decided to walk the long way home to see more of charming St. Helena. Unfortunately the long way to a bit longer than planned and we ended up running quite late for our reservations at Schramsberg. We almost missed our tour and tasting which would have been sad and weird as I missed the only other reservation I had at the same winery, 12 years ago during the homeowner's wedding weekend.

But we made it! And we had a great time on the tour and tasting in the cave.

We made an obligatory stop at the famous Napa sign on our way to lunch at Solbar.

I've also been to Solbar multiple times; the food is always solid and it has a can't-be-beat atmosphere on their terrace. We had a very fun lunch.

That evening we walked from the house to Archetype for dinner, another great repeat spot. Chef Reed was in the kitchen and he and the manager Guy recognized me from my lunch and brunch with the girls just months before. Lorraine and I sat at the pass and had a fantastic meal, getting some special treatment from Chef and his bartender Paul.

At the end of the night they finished us off with mini Ramos gin fizzes and warm cookies on the house. Delicious!

Lorraine and I capped her weekend stay the next day with a decadent brunch at the famous Auberge du Soleil. We were seated at a table on the deck with absolutely gorgeous views of the valley.

We had an excellent 3 course meal for $65 and loved that the iPad wine menu had lots of options for wine pours by the ½ and full glass.

I couldn't pass up the seared foie gras with cherries on chocolate pain perdu. Sometimes having no willpower is a good thing!

My duck confit hash with slow-cooked eggs and red wine sauce was also fantastic. And the lemon tart we shared for dessert was sooooo good!

It was a great end to a lovely virtual work week and a fun girl's weekend.

All Napa photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
Virtual Office-Napa
Vineyard Business

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Vineyard Business

Trip date: May 2016

While using my friend's St. Helena home as a virtual office, I also had a day of onsite meetings with one of my clients who happens to have offices in both Vallejo and Napa. The drive that morning was misty and I passed acres and acres of vineyards before reaching the more industrial town of Vallejo for my first meeting of the day.

My next meeting was in the hills northeast of Napa. I drove on twisty roads, past pretty properties studded with trees and creeks, and of course many many vineyards, before finally arriving at my client's' vineyard offices.

After a tour around the property, we sat and a chef who use to work at The French Laundry made me a wonderful lunch using the HestanCue Smart Cookware System. We had a great meeting and it was super fun not only to see the beautiful location of my tech client but to have a meal made using their product!

I left and drove into Napa proper to check out the Ox Bow Market, a great space with restaurants, specialty food and beverage stalls, and cute kitchen shops. I chose to sit at Hog Island for a lovely late afternoon snack of oysters on the half shell and rosé.

The city of Napa is very historical and the Victorian style houses are so pretty. Some of them are now offices to publications I like!

It was an easy drive back to St. Helena, made even better with a stop in Yountville at Bouchon Bakery. I now had cheeses from Ox Bow for aperos, a delicious sandwich for dinner, and some tasty macarons for breakfast.

Then it was back home to answer emails, swim, hot tub, happy hour, and stream a movie. I love my job. And my generous friends!

All Napa photos here.

Previous: Virtual Office-Napa

Monday, September 18, 2017

Virtual Office- Napa

Trip date: May 2016

One of the perks of working from home is that home can really be anywhere. I've been trying to take advantage of this more over the last couple of years by working from various locations.

Last May friends of mine who own a lovely vacation home in St. Helena, CA offered to let me use it for a week. I've been lucky enough to have been invited to visit them here multiple times and I was very excited to get a chance to be a local for a week on my own in this charming town.

While waiting for my flight out of SeaTac I got a pedicure only to realize that my flip flops were in my checked bag. I boarded my flight with the cheapo ones that the salons provide, klassy!

I landed in Santa Rosa, picked up my rental car, and headed to the Bottle Barn to do some beverage shopping. Then I drove to St. Helena and stopped at the Sunshine Market for groceries. Once I got to their house I heated up the hot tub and relaxed!

Each weekday morning started with a walk or run through town, past cute homes, vineyards, and little shops. Most of the time I ended up at The Model Bakery for a pastry or English muffin and coffee, and then returned home to enjoy it while working. Some days I visited Napa Valley Roasting Co just to switch it up.

One night I took myself to the stunning 3 star Michelin, The Restaurant at Meadowood for dinner. I had chosen to do the 3-course menu in The Bar and when I arrived (via Uber) there was a pretty place setting and the bar manager Sam welcomed me by name. Sam and bartender Colby and I got along just fine as we started discussing Japanese Whisky, Brandy, and wine.
The Bar is beautiful with a gorgeous fireplace, 3 intimate tables where you can have snacks and drinks, and the 5 seat bar where 3-courses are served for $90. I started with a cocktail and was sent out an amuse of "chips & dip" which were sourdough chips and a delicious thick cream infused with nasturtium oil.

The Somm came out and spoke with me about what I might want to drink with my dinner,  I just told her that I generally love white Burgundies and red Rhones. When they served me a chilled avocado puree topped with a big spoonful of caviar and poured a premier cru Meursault-Charmes in my glass I was over the top happy!

At this point, one of the servers came out and asked me if I would be ok getting 5 courses instead of 3, on the house. Seems everyone loved that I was so enthusiastic over my meal! Obviously I said yes!

My next dish was an amazing abalone (which I have never had!) with Rancho Gordo bean puree and broth. I think I verbally swooned!

When the somm opened a 375ml bottle of Vieux Telegraphe, my favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, and told me that if I decided after my glass I wanted the rest of the bottle she had a good price for me, I was officially in love with this restaurant and this team.

The wine was paired with a lamb tartare under a coat of lamb's lettuce, making it look like a hedgehog. GUYS! It looked like a hedgehog!

My main of "grilled duck, fudge" was perfectly cooked and also went beautifully with the wine. Next cheese arrived; a huge wedge of Brillat that had been stuffed with slices of black truffle. When the waitress asked me to let her know how much of the wedge I wanted I'm sure she didn't miss the grin on my face.

I was then invited into the kitchen for a tour with the chef du cuisine Katianna Hong, which I thought was really a wonderful gesture. I have asked for kitchen tours in the past but for them to add additional courses to my meal and offer a tour was very generous. And the kitchen table is absolutely a place I would like to enjoy with some like-minded friends!

As I finished my wine the bartender presented me with a mignardise of "black walnuts" encapsulated with house-made nocino. Then there was a decadent chocolate babka served under a glass cloche. Lovely.

My bill was presented in a gorgeous card where Sam had written a very thoughtful personal note to me. The whole experience was OTT and one you shouldn't miss if you have a chance to reserve.

So that was a special night! But mainly I worked out of my friend's beautiful home until late afternoon, then got in a bit of sun and pool time, followed by happy hour in the hot tub, and dinner with a rental movie. Bliss.

When I did finally leave town 7 days later, it wasn't before an obligatory bacon burger and rosé lunch at Gott's (psst, go right before noon or just after 12:30 on a weekday for minimal lines).

Next up: Vineyard Business
All Napa photos here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

LA Celebrations Part 2

Trip date: January 2017

Chuck & Wes were getting married!!! So just 5 days after coming home from Latvia (coming!) I was on a flight to Los Angeles. I grabbed an Uber from LAX and met Aaron, my host for the weekend, at Scopa Italian Roots in Venice.

I had brought a nice bottle of wine from my cellar for Aaron and I to have with dinner, which the waitress did not appreciate. Luckily Aaron's friend and owner Pablo was there and smoothed things over so we could enjoy the Brunello. I loved the American Italian food here but I wouldn't BYOB if I were you. But you should go for dinner when in Venice.

Besides delicious food, Scopa has a super fun speakeasy around the back. Old Lightning has no sign, limited seats, and they take your mobile phone as you enter. THEY TAKE YOUR PHONE!!! It's absolutely beautiful, the service is top notch, and the cocktails are really really good. And you'll just have to take my word for it since I couldn't take any photos. Or better yet make a reservation and get there!

Aaron and I had lunch the next day at Raku. I had been to the one in Las Vegas and had excellent food but rotten service. This time we sat at the sushi bar with Chef Matt taking very good care of us. Really amazing sashimi platter, along with other deliciousness, it renewed my faith in Raku. Get there!

Later that afternoon we picked up fellow Seattle visitor Lauren as well as bitters big shot Louis Anderman and drove to Pasadena for Chuck & Wes' wedding! It was such a wonderful ceremony! I've never seen the couple happier and was so incredibly happy for them!

We had some time before the reception so Lauren, Aaron and I went downtown to check out the newly opened Baldoria. The space was uncomfortable and made more so by a sports game being projected onto a wall. The food was nothing more than average bar food trying to pass as creative Italian.

There were cute bottled cocktails, and a very nice bartender, and a semi- impressive selection of Amari. But with so many stellar spots in LA, I wouldn't put this one on the list.

Since we still had a bit of time we stopped into Westbound in the DTLA area. Now this is what I love in a bar! Gorgeous and luxe atmosphere coupled with a fantastic cocktail menu and perfect execution. This is where you want to drink!
The boys had their reception at Everson Royce in a big tent set up out back. It was a hell of a good time with everyone celebrating, drinking delicious drinks, singing, and story telling. If there is one thing that will always go on with Chuck and Wes, it is some amazing story telling!
I still haven't had a chance to sit inside at ERB and enjoy cocktails, so that's still on the list!

The next morning Aaron and I met Lauren at Bar Ama to nurse our hangovers with tequila and Mexican food. As is the American way!

The food was really good, the service was very slow. I liked it but I prefer Petty Cash for this style of casual eats. Bar Ama is located right downtown though so it was an easy walk for me to get to The Broad from here where I had a timed ticket reservation for their permanent exhibit.

The collection here is fantastic! They've got all the big contemporary names (Koons, Haring, Lichtenstein, etc.) as well as a bunch of pieces from artists that I don't think I'd been introduced before. The Takashi Murakami's were especially interesting to me.

From The Broad I walked to Seven Grand for Happy Hour. A $5 Manhattan sounded perfect but unfortunately the bar was packed with slightly douchy customers and my bartender was not good at his job.

It's a great space and the cocktail menu looked really good but I think going at a not-so-busy time is more my thing. I'd also like to check out the whiskey library, Bar Jackalope.

It was time to meet Aaron for our last night on the town, so I grabbed an Uber and headed to The Normandie Club. I've enjoyed their speakeasy The Walker Inn multiple times but had yet to sit at their main bar. And let me say it is wonderful!
After a few rounds, Aaron and I were off to Gwen for dinner. Wow, this restaurant/butcher shop is absolutely stunning! Owned by Curtis and Luke Stone, the restaurant specializes in steak, offering 3, 5, and 10 course menus. Aaron and I were sitting at the bar so that we could do more of an a la carte menu.
This bone-in ribeye was one of the best steaks I have ever had! I would love to go back and do a small tasting menu here. Delicious and beautiful!!!

On the way to Chuck & Wes' wedding the day before we had passed by the newly opened Edmon Bar in Koreatown so we decided to check it out for a nightcap. It is lovely!
My short trip was over the next day. Aaron took me to his family's favorite spot for American-Mexican food, Gilbert's El Indio, in Santa Monica. This is a super funny place with customer's photos on the walls, cheesy enchiladas, and lots of kitsch! 
We met Lauren and her brother at the Marriott near LAX in order to watch the Seahawks game before flying home.

Alaska Air was nice enough to upgrade me to First Class which was just the cherry on top of a great trip to LA, celebrating with wonderful friends, and eating and drinking along the way!

All LA photos here.

LA Celebrations Part 1