Friday, December 29, 2006

California - The Rest

I am back from a holiday break and am back in work hell now as I am sure the rest of you are as well. One more California post and then moving on to new topics.

After we left Mendocino, we headed down the coast and then inland to Napa. We decided to take the scenic route which took us down route 1 and past some of the most amazing coastline I have ever seen. We stopped in a small town called Point Arena. This is one of those towns that takes down any directional signs to keep people from discovering and ultimately spoiling it.

And this is what I love about California, the town was really small, in the middle of nowhere, and yet we were able to stop in a deli (The Record) on the almost non-existent main street in town and have a ridicuously good lunch. I had a reuban with neiman-ranch pastrami and soft and spicy dark rye bread. I chased this down with a home made gingerale.

We then headed inland on what looked like a road on the map we had. It would hardly call it a road - it was like hiking with a car, and a minivan at that. The road curved and rose up the hills of Sonoma and it was scary and exhilerating and stunning and surprising. For 1 1/2 hours we passed two other cars and saw what I think was the most beautiful part of the country I have witnessed to date. I didn't take pictures because even though I wasn't driving, I thought somehow me not concentrating on the road would make us fall off the huge cliff on either side of the car.

When we finally came down on the other side of the mountain and peeled our fingers out of the seat cushions, as if an oasis, Ferrari-Carrano wineries appeared ahead of us - and we had five minutes before closing. We literally ran through the gate and up the long drive to arrive breathless as the staff was cleaning up. They graciously let us taste their wines not knowing how much it helped to calm our nerves. I don't really remember the wines, just how good it felt to be drinking wine, and not driving.

We checked into the Best Western Elm House Inn just of Route 29 in Napa which was one of the more affordable and surprisingly nicest hotels I have stayed at. I would highly recommend it. On to dinner at the Bounty Hunter which is named for the owner who finds and distributes rare and unique wines. As to be expected the wine list was long and interesting. Not as expected, but definitely welcomed was a high quality of the food. We shared beer can roasted chicken, a pulled pork sandwich, artichoke dip, and ribs. All was delicious.

The next morning we ate complimentary Belgian waffles at the hotel and then headed to Miner Vineyards on the Silverado Trail for a private tour. The was the highlight of the whole trip. Not only did we taste 11 plus wines (I lost track after a while) the quality of each varietal was pretty amazing - usually you go to a winery and one or two wines that they are known for stand out and the rest are just ok. We even got to try pinot noir right out of the barrel. The riedel stemware that was used for tasting certainly added to the experience. We left 3 hours later, a little drunk and a bottle of chardonnay richer (we drank it at Christmas and it was as good as remembered.)

On to a picnic lunch at V. Sattui, a regular stop for us where you can get cheese, salads, cured meats and a cheap bottle of wine and sit outside at one of their many picnic benches. Also, their tasting is free which is a plus.

With not much soberness left in us, we decided to hit two more vineyards. First was Plumpjack which is known for their screwtop wines. They were fine, but at this point the taste buds were a little dull. We skipped out on the $5 tasting fee because the woman behind the counter didn't get off the phone the whole time we were there and we went to Silverado Vineyards as much for the view as for anything else. Again, the wines were good - but hard for us to taste.

Some pictures from the trip...

Back to San Francisco that night. An evening of bar hopping in North Beach with stops at Specs and Vesuvio's - both high on the character charts.

The next morning it was off to New York with a quick stop for shrimp tempura udon at Ebisu in the International Terminal of SFO before boarding (again, only in California - even the food at the airport is great.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

California Part 2

After the weekend in LA, we hopped in the car and drove up route 5 to San Francisco. Route 5 could be the worst highway in the US but the company was good and we had one of those ipod hookups so we were all set.

The husband and I lived in San Francisco for 6 years so it was a little embarrassing when we nearly drove right by SF. We turned around and arrived in the Richmond District around 8:30pm to visit with good friends. After some delicious cheese and beer we headed out to dinner at King of Thai Noodle house on Clement between 4th and 5th (they have other locations as well).

I know everyone says they have good Thai near them, but something about the places in SF are just so much better. I will say that Sripraphai in Queens was pretty freakin good, but that's about all I have found.

On the order for 6 people was chicken satay; fish cakes; tofu in green curry; noodles with egg, soy, and broccoli; chicken with chili; chicken with eggplant; 8 beers and I know I am missing a dish or two. You want to know what the bill was?

A whopping 65 dollars - for 6 people - after tax and tip.

It kills me when people talk about cheap eats in New York. It just isn't the same.

The next morning we headed up to Mendocino, a favorite weekend getaway of ours - and about every other couple in SF. Winter is a great time to go because it is really quiet up there. The ride up is windy but stunning and a sense of calm hits me every time the ocean reveals itself in all its angriness as you pull out of the redwoods and hit the coast. The town is about 3 hours north of SF.

This is one of about two dozen pictures I took while there. I'll post more tomorrow.

On the way, we always stop at Navarro Vineyards, the best producer of Gewurztraminer in CA, at least in my opinion. Their tasting is free and they offer all their wines for tasting. We bought a bottle of Gewurtz and a bottle of Pinot Noir for our night in Mendo.

After checking in to the Mendocino Hotel we went for a long walk on the cliffs. Walking is big is Mendocino. This was followed with some cheese and the bottle of Guwertz on the porch of the hotel which overlooks the cliffs and ocean.

Then on to dinner at Cafe Beaujolais. This is a must stop. And when you go, someone must order the Sturgeon, it is sort of famous - at least in my head.

We all started with Aperitifs, for me the Lillet Rouge which reminded me of a not too sweet sangria. For appetizers we split pumpkin soup which was so fresh that there were chunks of pumpkin; crab cakes that were all crab no breadcrumbs; and Nimon Ranch ham with a chile cream sauce and poached egg, obviously this had no chance of being bad. A great start to dinner.

Of course two people got the sturgeon which is pan roasted with truffle emulsion sauce, served with house made tagliatelle, wild mushrooms, beets and snap peas. This is one of the more perfectly balanced dishes I have ever tasted.

I had the lamb shank. Of course I loved it as I do anything that is braised.

The fourth person in our group had the duck which came with a pepper risotto. The risotto was almost too peppery on its own, it really tasted as if you were chewing on a peppercorn. However, with the sweet wine reduction sauce that was on the duck it worked like magic. I love when that happens.

For dessert, an apple crumble and a chocolate gooey thing that I can't remember. The wine was starting to kick in...

After walking back to our hotel (no need for a car in this town) we grabbed the bottle of pinot we bought earlier and played hearts in front of the fire in the lobby. I know this is so cheesy you want to puke but somehow when you are there it makes sense. I dare you not to do the same when you are there.

The next morning - more walks and a stop at the local bakery for blackberry danish and coffee to be eaten on the cliffs and then off to Napa. If only every morning started this way.

One other mention, there is a tea from the Mendocino Tea Company that rivals my favorite Mariage Freres tea. Here is a link to a picture of their booth at the local farmer's market. Very grass roots. They claim to have a website but it doesn't work. The tea you want (if you go to Mendocino it can be found in the grocery store in town) is the purple label, I think called Mendocino Sunsets.

Tomorrow, California Part 3 Napa and the Airport

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

California Part 1

Two weeks ago the husband and I were in LA for a wedding (which was lovely by the way). Here are some notes from that portion of the trip. After the weekend, we drove with the brother and S-I-L to San Francisco, Mendocino, and Napa. I'll get to the 2nd and 3rd leg of the trip later in the week.

Because the wedding was in downtown LA, we decided to stay at the Standard Hotel which is a ridiculously trendy hotel (although, it is very 5 minutes ago from what I read in my People magazine.) I loved the Foosball table in the lobby even though I was only able to wrangle one game out of my co-travelers. I loved the bathroom that was bigger then my living room at home, I loved that the bed was too far from the TV to make the remote control work. I didn't love all the drunk people in the hallways (until I was one of them) or the bass coming from the rooftop bar until 2 am. But I did love the roof top bar during the day when no one was there. And I loved the silly water bed pods on the roof. The breakfast in the diner was great and I had some of the fluffiest pancakes I've had. I'm no pancake connoisseur but these were really good.

On Saturday we ventured to Malibu and decided to try Moonshadows Restaurant which I had heard about in additional People magazine reading. The weather was a perfect LA 74 degrees. We had a beautiful booth outside overlooking the ocean which sadly will soon be in the ocean because of all the SUV's and Hummer's that we sat in traffic with on the way there. But come on, they are really a necessity in the snow drenched, unpaved, streets of LA. Of course, I was able to forget about worldly concerns as I sipped on the best Bloody Mary I've had in recent memory and enjoyed the breeze coming off the water.

On Sunday we met a friend for lunch at Phillip's for the french dip, a classic LA foodie stop. It was a very cheap lunch which I appreciated. (Coffee is 10 cents). I thought my beef was a little fatty, which I usually secretly enjoy, but this was a little too much for me. I think I would get the pork or turkey next time. We ordered the cherry pie because it was one of those gooey fake cherry fillings that, like canned cranberry sauce, is better then the real stuff if only for the kitch value. It worked for me.

That night we went to a great hole in the wall sushi place in Little Tokyo that was recommended to us. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the place (bad blogger). I'm admittedly a bit of a sushi idiot. The husband has historically not liked sushi so we never go and so I've never really understood all the etiquette. We sat at the bar and the chef and waitress gave us a little sushi lesson - presumably because our idiotness was so obvious. I'm sure they laughed at us after we left, but they seemed really nice while we were there and they gave us a sushi calendar to take home. I learned that you always order tuna or salmon first and if you like the quality then you can trust the chef, if not, play it safe.

Tomorrow - California Part Two (San Francisco and Mendocino).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A New Look

Do we like the new look of the blog? They made me change the template and I'm not sure how I feel about this one. Let me know what you think, I might try some new ones on this week. I'm also trying to figure out the new system which has been a pain in the a@#. So bear with me.

Ok, so I know it is a little late but here are my Thanksgiving pictures with some I the only one who thinks this fall came and went too soon. I refuse to give in to the natural progression of "time." I'm going to pretend like Thanksgiving was yesterday. Play along with me.

The day started (and always starts) with my Mom's famous crumb cake which is pretty much all crumbs.

Drinking began at 12:30 with Champagne Cocktails. Easy drink with a lot of complexity. Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne glass. Add 2 or 3 dashes of Angostoura bitters. Top with champagne. The drink gets better with every sip.

Then on to appetizers from Arthur Avenue. Some prosciutto bread and green olives.

A well made antipasta is a true art form.

There is nothing better then the smell of turkey cooking.

Except a well carved turkey.

Ok, who can honestly admit that they like real cranberry sauce better then the canned kind? The canned stuff is one of the true great wonders of this world in my opinion. Sorry for the sideways picture, I can't really figure out the new blogging instructions.

Here is the table, beautifully set.

And here is my plate. How good does all of this look?

Finally, to cap off the weekend in my family's fantastic tradition of eating way too much cured meats, turkey sandwhiches on Friday with thick cut bacon.

Thanks to the brother and sister-in-law who put on a great T-day.

Tomorrow I post about California.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I'm Back

Ok, so I thought I was a bad blogger before. Now I have hit a new low. But here are my excuses:

1. Work has been really busy.
2. Was inCalifornia for a week and California doesn't have computers.
3. The cat ate computer.
4. Got a new computer but it is a mac and just figured out how to turn it on.

Here is the good news

1. I now have a computer that works.
2. I went to California and there is good food in California.

Stay tuned.