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.

I drove on to my next meeting 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.

Other posts from this trip:

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).

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

LA Celebrations: Part 1

Trip date: April 2016

Aaron was turning 40 so I booked a flight down to LA to join the party!

Alaska Air was nice enough to upgrade me to 1st class and Aaron and his friend Alana were nice enough to pick me up from the airport. We then headed to Dune in Atwater Village for an absolutely fantastic falafel and hummus plate.

This neighborhood is super cute, lined with small boutiques, cafes, and coffee shops. Alana and I popped into Common and did a little dress shopping before they dropped me off at BarKeeper to meet Wes.

Wes wasn't quite done with work so I did some booze shopping and then grabbed an Uber to his and Chuck's house in Eagle Rock where I was staying.

Later I met up with Chuck, Wes, Aaron, and a handful of others at Republique where we had a pre-birthday dinner. Wow! Such fantastic food, cocktails, wines, and company! I absolutely loved our dinner here, highly recommend!
Although I can't be responsible if your dining companions aren't as enjoyable as mine were! Or don't have such exquisite taste in ordering copeous amounts of food and wine!
After dinner we went to The Walker Inn for nightcaps. My second time here and it still rocks! Absolutely one of my favorite bars in town and really representative of what a World's 50 Best Bar should be about.

Saturday morning Chuck and I had brunch and Mezcal drinks at Petty Cash Taqueria (Wes sadly had to work). We loved our Rainbow Cauliflower Nachos (which the bartender rightly said was a do-not-miss), and the staff was super fun and made delicious cocktails. I really enjoyed this spot, especially for casual brunch/lunch.

It was such a beautiful day that we decided to spend the afternoon at Griffith Observatory. I hadn't been since I was visiting LA from Spokane in the 5th grade!
On the big lawn there was an astronomy club set up with their telescopes, similarly to the one I encountered in New York. But as it was broad daylight the one that we looked through was focused on the sun! I've never seen the sun through a telescope before! The owner explained that we were looking at a solar prominence, It was so awesome!!!
Once inside the Observatory, we wandered around the exhibits, saw the Tesla Coil in action, took in the views, and got to take a peek through the big telescope.
Afterwards, we went the planetarium show. So much cool and interesting stuff, we both had a ball!

Chuck and I walked down the hill and met our Uber at The Greek Theater (where I really want to see a show one day!) Back at home we hung out on their veranda with rosé and waited for Wes to get home.

Then we were off to Aaron's backyard birthday party! Aaron totally outdid himself and treated us all to delicious cocktails made by one of the bartenders at Terrine (now closed sadly) and equally delicious burritos from Burritos La Palma. His backyard was the perfect spot to mingle and celebrate. Oh, and there was a magician!

I was so busy stuffing my face and meeting new people that I didn't take any good photos. I'd say that if I'm too busy to snap shots that is definitely the sign of a good party!
On our way back to Chuck and Wes', the three of us stopped into their neighborhood cocktail bar Sonny's Hideaway. Oh what a fun little spot this is!

We got home and the boys made a couple rounds of nightcaps, as you do!

The next morning the three of us had brunch at Otium, next to The Broad. Everything was very good here and I really liked the playful creativity of the menu; eggs with mole, a super duper avocado toast, pork belly and french toast, crispy potatoes with dipping sauce. And day drinks!

We walked across the street to the MOCA Gallery after brunch and spent some time wandering the exhibits. It's wonderful! Go if you are in the downtown area.

There was just time to grab a quick cocktail at Vespaio, right across the street, before the boys kindly drove me to the airport. Not before being delayed for a movie shoot that was taking place on the street though. Hollywood!

Thanks for a great excuse to play Aaron!
All LA photos here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cayuse Release Weekend in Walla Walla

Trip date: April 2016

April means Cayuse Release Weekend, the annual pilgrimage to collect my only cult wine and taste around the charming town of Walla Walla. This time I was also on a mission to bring home a few cases of rosé for the arrival of summer.

My friend Chris and I headed east, his first time, and we decided to drive across the Columbia Gorge as it was a brilliant spring day. It was interesting to see that the makeshift campground where I spent much of my late 20's partying at is now all paved with proper fire pits, picnic tables, and tent pads.

We arrived in town and immediately stopped at Gramercy who always has a member's party that same weekend. I've been a fan of Gramercy wine for years now, the quality is amazing. If you haven't been I really recommend a visit (ask if they have any Picpoul!)

However lovely Walla Walla is, it is not without a few flaws; one of them being the lack of good, affordable hotels close to downtown. In years past I have always stayed at the Holiday Inn Express- not posh but well priced. This time we chose to stay at the newly opened Courtyard Marriott. For the same price as the HI we were within walking distance to the wineries, bars, and restaurants downtown. Very nice!

We checked out the bar and although the service was great, the drinks were made with overly sweet mixers. Stick to whiskey neat or on the rocks here I'd say.

We walked to Brasserie Four, one of my favorite restaurants, and had an excellent meal complete with escargot. I really love their escargot!
The next morning we drove over the state line into northern Oregon and onto the Cayuse property. This is the only time Cayuse does any type of tasting, and it's only for members. My friends know that I don't roll out with handcarts of Cayuse, just a few bottles to keep things interesting, such as my 2014 Cailloux Vineyards Syrah which The Wine Advocate just gave 100 points!

The folks here put on a great party and now that the new cellar is open there are beautiful views of the vineyards and much more space for everyone. They had an awesome spread of both passed small bites and stations of hand carved Iberico ham and cheeses. And of course, there was a lot of wine to taste!

Taking advantage of the warm and sunny day we headed to Sleight of Hand, got a few glasses and sat outside while listening to winemaker Trey's rock music play on vinyl from inside.

We dropped the car back off at the hotel and set out to go tasting at some new (to me) wineries.

First up, Trust. I really liked the wines here, very solid Syrahs with excellent QPR! Recommend giving them a taste!
Seven Hills, which is a classic in Walla Walla, but I had never been to a tasting there. We loved everything and ended up buying a lot! And good thing as the winery was sold in 2016 so upcoming vintages will be different. Their rosé was especially lovely.

DaMa. Nope. Overpriced, underdone. And the tasting came with some serious high-pressure sales pitch. YMMV.

Final stop at Otis Kenyon left us on a high note. Lovely wines, some which came home with me, and a fun staff and tasting room. Another one I'd recommend!
It was time for dinner and we had reservations at Whitehouse Crawford. I absolutely love the space here and my meals are always good, not fantastic but good. Walla Walla also needs more restaurants.
The next morning I had a nice visit with my friend Abra who moved to Walla Walla from Seattle to study wine making. We were able to sit outside in her garden with our tea in the sunshine and catch up. The weather can be so great over there in the spring!

Before leaving town Chris and I had a fantastic breakfast at Bacon & Eggs which is now on Main Street in downtown! So handy!

We had one more tasting, at Kerloo as I had been told they were doing a good rosé and indeed they were. Rosé goals were achieved and the trunk was just about full.
We got on the road heading west, this time going through Tri Cities and Yakima, but made a little stop at Owen Roe's new tasting rooms high on a hill in Union Gap.

This is another winery I've been a fan of since first tasting them in Willamette Valley, Oregon. The new Washington space is awesome and I had a chance to taste some wines I am familiar with as well as some new ones. Absolutely make a stop here if you are passing by!
I missed this year's Release Weekend as I was in Palm Springs soaking up some vitamin D with friends. I will most likely miss next year's as well because of the same. First world problems and all that. Here's looking to 2019!

Pssst... If you're in Seattle you can taste Walla Walla greats such as Sleight of Hand, Kerloo, Rotie, Waters, and more at SoDo Urban Works!

All wine weekend photos here!