Hunts Mesa, Monument Valley et al

Hunts Mesa. A destination, an experience, a vista that will live with me the rest of my years. I’ve been coming to Arizona for 40 plus years, and spending time in the National Parks and accessible tribal lands located within a days drive from the Phoenix Valley have been on my bucket list all those years. Recently I finally made the four hour road excursion north to take in the sights of Secret Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Monument Valley where Hunts Mesa rules over the valley below, showcasing many more monuments than what you see at ground level.

Page sits just south of the Arizona/Utah border, near the shores of Lake Powell, and was base camp for the next several days. It is a good central location with so much to see and do within a couple of hours drive in just about every direction. This historic little town sits northeast of the Grand Canyon, with easy access to the Colorado River for some river rafting via Lee’s Ferry.

The view from the hotel in Page looking towards Lee’s Ferry and the Colorado River.

Because of the proximity to Page I was able to experience in 24 hours:

Secret Canyon – one of the areas slot canyons. It has an opening on both ends of the canyon, and you can also climb to the top of the canyon to take in a birds-eye view of the wavy slots from above. Weaving in and out of these wavy sandstone walls gives you an appreciation for the power of water as it swirls in these tight areas and has for centuries, leaving perfectly aligned ribbings along each orange-ish/pink-ish sandstone wall. The flood waters still come fast and hard from far upstream and can catch you unaware as you sit in these canyons with clear blue skies above. This slot canyon may be smaller than the famed Antelope Canyon, but it allows you access to ‘people free’ photos with a secluded 2 /12 tour with 15 people or less. Very intimate experience with a tribal guide who shared stories of his youth growing up in these canyons, and great photo tips.

Secret Canyon slot canyon – a maze of tight wavy curved sandstone walls.

Secret Canyon – no this is not a painting or highly photo-shopped. Handy work courtesy of Mother Nature inside Secret Canyon slot canyon.

Lake Powell, and all of it’s watery arm extensions, is an amazing location to catch the setting sun, lighting up a backdrop of multi-colored rock formations and inky blue pools of water with their rugged shorelines. Photographing the sunset is a popular evening activity with parking lots full of tri-pods and eager shutterbugs trying to capture the perfect natural lighting on the perfect natural setting. One of the countries largest man-made reservoirs, one could spend days discovering the many hidden gems of Lake Powell and is a must return for me.

A high vantage view of Lake Powell as the sun was setting over the marina.

Boat launch into Lake Powell at Wahweap Marina near Page.

Horseshoe Bend trailhead is a 5 mile drive from Page. The 3/4 mile easy hike to the edge of yet another amazing feature created by centuries of water powering it’s way through bedrock to create  this horseshoe shaped bend in the Colorado River. The contrast of multiple blue hues of the water weaving through the multiple shades of orange bedrock is breathtaking. So are the vistas all along this canyon, but with multiple deaths a year in the area from people getting too bold to experience the perfect view of looking over the edge of the rim a railing was recently installed above the bend to give security to the nearly 2 million annual visitors.

Horseshoe Bend photographed with a fish-eye lens showcasing all the amazing colors at sunrise.

The next day, after unfortunately coming across a horrific bus/SUV accident on Highway 89, where 3 people were airlifted to area hospitals, we were forced to change our plans of going to Bryce Canyon and ended up at a very unique little spot about 30 miles west of Page:

The Toad Stools sit at the southern edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Park with an easily accessible trailhead right off the highway. These multi-colored formations – from bright white, to a golden cream, to rustic orange – are mind boggling in how large boulders teeter atop a pointy sandstone spire that look ready to crumble. Even though they’ve been this way for centuries how do they not topple over?? I sure don’t want to be under one whenever that does happen! The 1.8 mile hike is easy, and generally not over crowded – plenty of space to spread out and see all the amazing rock formations and wall art created by Mother Nature herself.

Toad Stool – cream colored massive sandstone walls provide a backdrop to orange toad stools.

Finally made it to Bryce Canyon the next day – after a 2 1/2 hour drive northwest of Page along a two-lane windy road:

Bryce Canyon sits at an elevation of almost 9000 feet. I visited on April 5th and arrived to an amazing amount of snow. What a contrast of colors with the intense orange coloration of the rock formations dotted with thick layers of snow. It is meditative to fully absorb the aura of these cathedrals and amphitheaters of orange and cream colored spires and natural arches created by the extreme weather conditions that exist in this location. The canyon was named for a mormon homesteader, Ebenezer Bryce, in 1874. In Bryce Canyon you climb to above views of the spires, whereas in Zion National Park you drive through the low lying bases of similar formations. For this reason, Zion does not get as cold and is about 30 minutes closer to Page, which means larger crowds.

Bryce Canyon – this massive amphitheater of sandstone spires dusted with snow spreads out over miles.

A very cool natural arch, bathed in snow, at the farthest open end of Bryce Canyon.

Saturday, April 6th, 2019 – a day that will live in infamy, at least in my little world. A day I wasn’t sure I was going to live to see the end of, but when I did, I was oh so glad. The 2 1/2 hour drive from Page to Monument Valley mid-morning was non-plus. Enjoyed lunch at the The View Hotel while looking out over the world-renown Monument Valley. At 2:30 my travel companion and I met up with our native Indian guide, Toney Begay who works for Monument Valley Safari Tours. A man we would surrender the safety of our well-being to for the next 18 hours. A man who grew up in the area and has been a guide for over 40-years.

Some of the more prominent monuments basking under the crystal blue skies and blanket of white cotton candy clouds above Monument Valley.

For the next four hours we meandered along a 8-mile ‘road’, often going no more than 5-10mph, up the backside of Hunt’s Mesa, in a four-wheel-drive Suburban. I was happy to be enclosed and securely fastened by my seatbelt. The ‘road’ and I use that term loosely, wove through low desert sand dunes; up rock faces where we felt we were going to tip over backwards; along pathways that were no wider than the vehicle where we felt we were going to tip over sideways; and along drop-offs 100’s of feet on both sides of the road in one area. In these tribunal lands there are no guardrails, no barriers of any kind – one slip of the truck on a slick rock or a loose rock gives way – and it would’ve been all over.

Our roadway up the back side of Hunts Mesa to our vista point overlooking Monument Valley.

A higher vantage of the pathway we were about to embark on – with drop-offs of 100’s of feet on either side of the road.

I have always had a fear of heights, especially severe drop-offs. But I knew if I were going to get the best pictures I had to brave the ‘elements’ and sit up front. My travel partner sat in the back, often with her hands covering her eyes. Our highly experienced guide oozed with confidence, and we had no choice but to trust in him and his years of experience. During high season he makes this drive 5-7 times a week and often twice a day. He was so confident of his abilities he acted like we were out for a Sunday drive on the flatlands of Nebraska.

We took many deep breathes, and embraced the adventure that lay before us. When we arrived at our destination, we quickly understood the expression of awe when we told our slot canyon guide a few days earlier we were going to Hunts Mesa. He told us we were in for a treat of a lifetime and he was spot on!  As heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, lump-in-the-throat the trek to the top was – we felt we earned the views that now laid at our feet.

The heart stopping, mind blowing, gut churning, nerve-wracking trek was all worth it!

The whole of Monument Valley spread out before us like divas all battling for center stage to claim the crown for best in show. Each deep red rock monument has been given their own name by tribal ancestors over many centuries. It is hard to fathom this canvas of unique subjects was created by centuries of wind and water, not a pick and chisel at the hands of man. Their lines are majestic, magical, mind-bending – and nearly perfect, in their own right. I took over 600 pictures in the 18 hours we spent in the presence of such greatness.

On our way back down Hunts Mesa we stopped by our evening viewing point to see it had been overtaken by a heard of wild goats.

With no city lights for many, many miles in any direction the thick blanket of stars we experienced were bright enough to bath Monument Valley in a soft glow. Because we booked this tour on such short notice I did not have the proper equipment and knowledge to properly capture the night sky, but we were lucky enough to come across an amazing professional free-lance photographer who did capture some amazing pics that evening from the same look-out we were stationed at. Check out Ranjan Bhattacharya at rbfotoartcreations on Instagram.

On our way back down Hunts Mesa Toney asked if we were in a hurry. Thankfully we said no and were treated to more amazing sights along these sacred tribal pathways: Anasazi ruins built high up in rock faces; rock formations with a wow-factor to rival the world renown monuments we originally signed up to experience; and a hidden gem, Spider Arch, tucked deep along a dry river bed, through porcupine footprints, massive pincushion cacti – to a natural arch to rival any I have seen in person or in pictures.

There was a bit of a slick sandstone rock face we needed to ascend to take full advantage of the visual before us. Our guide Toney showed us how to navigate the rock face by traversing and to keep our bodies low to the rock. We were slip sliding all over and about to give up when I decided to risk doing a face plant and stood up and ran as fast as I could creating enough momentum to carry me up the rest of the face – only to be rewarded with one of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring creations. My travel partner plays the native flute and the site of her playing in this natural amphitheater, with our native American guide lying on his back listening peacefully will be a visual that will stay with me all my days.

A short but challenging rock face we had to climb to fully experience the whole of Spider Arch.

It doesn’t get much better than to be witness to my travel companion playing her native flute for our Native American guide as he relaxes under the Spider Arch.

As we made our way back out on to the main road to head back to our vehicle, all of our anxiety from the drive up Hunts Mesa was erased by the plethora of visuals that now filled our mind, our heart and our soul. Along with a new appreciation for the Native American culture that flourishes in places like Monument Valley. Toney and his tribe are a proud people and I am honored they choose to share these amazing sites – sites I will never take advantage of, and will do all I can do support their culture and their heritage so they will continue to be open to sharing these amazing adventuresome experiences.

Check back soon for more pics in the Global Gallery from Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon and all the other sites we visited.

I’m back!! After a 3 1/2 year journey!

After a very long hiatus to give full attention to the building our family’s forever dream home, I am back to my writing, most importantly the writing of my travel blog.

But what a journey it has been. The home build was a year in the design process and another 2 1/2 years in the construction process. As much as the home build was a labor of love, it became a full time commitment in the final 18 months and I chose to put my writing on a temporary hold to give the build my full undivided attention.

In those 3 1/2 years I’m sure I logged enough road miles to earn AAA elite status – if there is such a thing! We chose to build on top of hill – but to accomplish our desire of building a one level home we had to excavate 25 feet deep from the highest point of the hill to the lowest point of the foundation. But after 6 plus months of digging, and exporting over 1200 truckloads of unusable material (325 of those were boulders alone), we had our flat lot. Now we can stay here until we are old and can race up and down the hallways with our walkers with no worries of stairs!

Luckily I somehow managed to fit in some very special trips during this busy time!

My last post was May of 2015. The following places are where I’ve been since then: Big Sky and Billings, Montana; Sedona (twice), Scottsdale and Wickenburg, Arizona; Napa Valley (twice), California; Vancouver, British Columbia; 4 different trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Palm Springs, California; Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a few other jaunts betwixt and between these amazing trips.

I will also reprise my monthly food blog. My need to fill my foodie desires never wavered during the home build project. Had to keep that strength up!

As much as I love to travel, there is no place like home and nothing like coming home. Especially when home allows me views that equal any I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Rugged red mountain ranges, hawks soaring through the open skies, lush green golf courses and orchards dotting the saguaro laden desert landscape, owls and coyotes making their presence known in the dark of night with their hoots and howls .

But…this is a travel blog, and there are many more amazing destinations on my bucket list to see and experience. So time to get back to my nomadic living and narrate!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 1

Even though I missed submitting a food review in the end of April and now May, I did accomplish one very important task – getting my family and friends trained to not take a bite of food before I take photos of their delectable plated food whenever we head out to taste test a new restaurant. I do get a few curious looks from other patrons or wait-staff wondering why I am taking pics of every course of food – I’ll have to get better about dropping my business card on the table so restaurants can check out my reviews.

Because it’s been such a long time between food review posts and my daughter and I have eaten at several great restaurants in that time period, I am just going to get down to business and get right into the reviews and tantalizing pictures!

First off is my daughter’s review of several of her favorite sandwich haunts in NYC:

Despite the cultural cachet the deli sandwich has in New York, I’ve always had a hard time justifying $10 for two pieces of bread and various toppings when I could buy a whole loaf, a packet of prosciutto, and a block of cheese for not much more and eat for a week at home. Last week, Cheeky Sandwiches (35 Orchard St, between Canal and Hester) forever changed my mind on the matter of the sandwich. First off, their menu items are not $9 to $11–all too pervasively the norm–but $6.50 to $8.50, no tax added. Chicken, beef, pork, grass, veggie, sea (that last one a choice of po boy done with shrimp, oyster, or half and half). That’s all you get, and that’s all you need. I started from the top: an idyllic proportion of fried chicken breast, crunchy coleslaw, and thick gravy on a homemade flaky biscuit. The place has a thrown-together look: a narrow wooden bar painted the kind of white that’s dirty before it dries, one low communal table, and a few bright blue accents. But the service is casual-friendly, and that sandwich so good I dragged my finger across the paper wrapping to capture every last drop of rich-but-not-too-rich gravy. Though Cheeky is out of my way both from work and home, by the end of the summer I imagine I’ll have worked my way pretty far down that menu list.

Mouth-watering, finger licking chicken sandwich from Cheeky Sandwiches.

For all my slavering, Cheeky isn’t the only sandwich shop in New York that’s convinced me to return for round two. My college favorite was a classic, if more upscale, Italian deli in Morningside Heights called Milano Market (2892 Braodway, between 112th and 113th streets), which, horrifyingly, garnered a small amount of internet fame after an employee followed Forest Whitaker around the store [LINK:TK]. The real draw here is the variety of gourmet bread: rosemary and sea salt focaccia, caramelized onion, a crackling ciabatta. In terms of unusual fillings, I steer towards Num Pang’s (various locations, including Chelsea Market and 28 East 12th Street) Cambodian take on the bánh mi. With an orange chalk-drawn rooster for a logo, this lunch spot serves up coconut tiger shrimp, ginger barbecue brisket, or five-spice glazed pork belly with cucumber, pickled carrots, and sheaves of fresh cilantro on a fat baguette. It’s messy desk eating, almost always worth it.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang's in lower Manhattan.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang’s in lower Manhattan.

If you are visiting any of the locations listed in the title, you won’t go wrong checking out any of the following restaurants:

Phoenix:

The Herb Box – simple. fresh. unique. is how they market themselves – and I’d say that is right on. Their lunches are great, but my favorite dishes are served for brunch/breakfast. Sit outside and take in the ambience and people watching at DC Ranch Marketplace. Scottsdale.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box in DC Ranch.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box.

Que Bueno – authentic Mexican food in a casual setting. Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two-fisted margaritas are tasty and their award-winning salsa is bursting with flavor. Fountain Hills.

Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two fisted margaritas are tasty and their award winning salsa is bursting with flavor.

Tilapia tacos in soft shells served with rice and beans.

The Vu – light of day or dark of night, the Vu Bistro offers one of the valley’s most spectacular views of the Phoenix valley. Sip a glass of wine from their minimal but strong wine list, while nibbling on their loaded cheese plate and watch the sun go down over Eagle Mountain, in this casual setting. Fountain Hills.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Kansas City:

Fritz’s Meat Market – they have ‘smoking’ meat perfected. How often have you bought pork chops that become dry before you get them from the oven or grill to the table? Fritz’s double thick cut smoked pork chop only needs to be warmed through – all that’s left to do is savor the flavor and texture.

Kansas City's oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Strouds’s – the name is synonymous with ‘pan-fried chicken’ – the ultimate flavor in down home comfort food. Come hungry! All portions are large and to be shared. Start with a half order of fried liver and gizzards. Dinners come with a mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a basket of cinnamon rolls.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud's in KC.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud’s in KC.

Gram & Dun – sophisticated. soulful. unique – is how they market themselves. In a prime Plaza location, with a large outdoor patio area, be prepared to sip on fun libation concoctions and dine on flavors ranging from uniquely paired salads to savory southern comfort plates.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Naples:

Edgewater Beach Resort – if staying at one of the few oceanside hotels, you won’t go hungry or thirsty. Fresh seafood is an obvious choice – whether it’s a thick cut of grouper or blackened fish taco’s, be sure to check out their unique beverage menus – refreshing fruity poolside choices or bourbon based bar choices.

It doesn't get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort, Naples, FL

It doesn’t get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort.

Cafe Lurcat – ‘…old world style with a nouveau twist.’ A hip, expansive restaurant with patio seating and more upstairs seating, the focus is on high-end American comfort food. The Fifth Avenue location is a great pairing to enjoy a before or after dinner stroll and take in all the high-end shopping found in Naples.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the 'Voyage' part of the menu.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the ‘Voyage’ part of the menu.

Campiello – this is place to be seen in Naples. The large square bar – half inside/half outside – is always packed, and is flanked on each side by indoor dining and patio dining. Italian fare featuring a traditional Tuscan flavor using dry and fresh pastas paired with great sauces, meats and seafood and specialty items.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Next week I will finish off with food reviews from NYC and Martha’s Vineyards! I know it’s hard to overload on good food, but didn’t want you to overload on good food reviews! I will also create a food review gallery to see more pics of the yummy dishes we’ve been indulging in!

Naples – Florida that is!

Generally speaking if you live in the northern states and west of the Mississippi you head to the southwest for a winter getaway – if you live east of the Mississippi you head to the southeast for a winter getaway. Growing up in Minnesota I was geographically on the fence. Being from a big golfing family, we were drawn to the golf mecca of the Phoenix valley. We were drawn to multiple sunny days and dry warm heat. When I was 13 years old, we began making this trek to the southwest on a fairly regular basis, and continued that trend for the next 30 years until my husband and I bought our first place in Arizona.

Minnesota’s geographic location in comparison to Florida in the southeast and Arizona in the southwest.

Florida had never been a strong pull for my family and I, but it does have Disney World and lots of great beaches and ocean views. Most of my trips to Florida have been either around the Orlando area or along the warm waters of the Gulf side: Long Boat Key, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Tampa, and Naples.

The bridge and groom saying enough of this sunset watching - let's party!

Captiva Island – a beautiful setting for a beautiful couple. Congrats Audra and Shawn on the birth of your new son!

I’ve never felt especially drawn back to really any area of Florida, but from the places I have visited, Naples holds the most appeal. Beautiful white sandy beaches overflowing with seashells; lush well maintained grounds in every direction; a quaint downtown area split into its own version of 5th Avenue with great shops and restaurants and an area about 7 blocks south of there with more great shops and restaurants. Even though there are plenty of places for the ‘beautiful people’ to be seen and want to be seen, there are plenty of places to settle into for a romantic quiet dinner, a stroll along the beaches that are so long there is plenty of room for everyone, or relaxing moonlit walk. (Restaurant reviews coming end of May post.)

Naples is an idyllic picturesque town. Mega mansions line a portion of the beaches, but at the end of each street splitting these ongoing blocks of mansions are public access points to the beaches. So unlike other high-end beach front properties the beaches of Naples are not broken up by private beaches. Live Oak trees create an over hanging canopy so thick on the inland streets they create a natural tunnel. Roads going north and south have gulf views on the west and inland marina on the east. There are very few lodging choices along the beach, instead being lined with high-rise condos which must afford amazing views, or low-rise complexes giving you more direct access to the beach.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

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The heavily treed inland streets of naples create a canopy so thick is produces natures version of a tunnel.

Being a golfer, Florida obviously holds great appeal and interest in the many courses that dot the plush landscape. I have not had an opportunity to play many Florida courses, but from what I have played they certainly stand in stark contrast to the desert courses of Arizona. Thick green juicy rough vs gnarly fluffy rough quickly giving way to desert. Towering palm trees vs towering saguaros. Alligators vs rattlesnakes. The ball doesn’t fly as far in this heavy air and the softer lush fairways, but the heat and humidity keep my body warm and loose so I can grip it and rip it and get us much out of my shots as possible.

While in Naples, my husband and I played a private course called Calusa Pines. They play golf there the way golf should be played, with caddies. The luxury of having your clubs carried frees you up to enjoy the leisurely walk of the beauty every golf course holds vs zipping through each hole in a cart. It helps me to stay focused on my game by keeping the round flowing at a steady pace and giving me time to assess my next shot as I walk up to my ball. With a cart I race to the ball, hit and race to the next shot. Plus it’s a nice benefit to have someone along who knows the greens and aiming points off the tee.

Calusa Pines Golf Club - showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

Calusa Pines Golf Club – showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

The few days we spent in Naples were extremely windy, but that didn’t stop us from getting set-up ocean side on double wide lounger outside out hotel, the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Umbrellas were anchored deeply in the sand by big muscled beach attendants to keep the beating sun off us. The wind made for big curling crashing waves and helped to keep us cool in the high humidity and temps in the mid-80’s in mid-April. We could walk 75 feet out into the salty warm waters of the Gulf before the water began to go up over our chest. One day we saw a couple of porpoises swim by about 50 feet offshore, just cruising and playing along that line all the way down the shoreline.

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

Even though we experience some amazing sunsets in Arizona, I have to give a nod to the amazing sunsets in Naples. We had a top floor room that allowed us a vantage point to see up and over the buildings. There is nothing more picturesque and photographed more often than the sun setting over the ocean, or in this case the Gulf. The colors are vibrant, and the reflection glistening on the waters is hard to replicate in any other setting.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

Naples residents are proud of their area and it shows. A lot of Florida looks old, run down, tired. Naples looks fresh, cared-for, vibrant and has earned the tag line ‘destination spot.’

For more pictures of Naples, check out the Global Gallery.

Winter comfort foods transition to Springtime spreads – NY, AZ

It may still feel and look like winter in a lot of locations across the US and Canada, but the calendar says spring has officially sprung and it is time to look forward to the fresh ingredients that early spring gardens will supply all of our favorite eateries as soon as the gardeners can get in the ground and plant their favorite herbs and fruits and veggies.

While waiting for these farm to table fresh ingredients to begin arriving, I will finish enjoying the comfort foods of winter that are beginning the cross-over into spring flavors. March into April is like a hybrid season for foodies – mix and match the hearty pastas, the substantial squash, the full-bodied red blend wines with a lightly blanched Kale salad, savory seasoned baked lake trout, and a crisp fruity sauvignon blanc.

To start off this months food review – is a comfort food review from my daughter and guest blogger, Allison:

New York

For awhile, it has been trendy in the city (NYC) to add bacon to anything: cookies http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists/nycs-4-best-bacon-desserts-2/, martinis http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists/nycs-4-best-bacon-cocktails/, even a jar of artisanal salt http://www.baconery.com. But it was in New Jersey, and with a more traditional breakfast dish, that I became a bacon convert.

Anderson’s 1949 is a recent addition to Montclair’s robust food scene, an oddly playpen-shaped restaurant with oversized tables that are shared European-style by multiple parties. My formerly kosher friend ordered us two dishes to share: the cornbread-clad Chorizo Scramble ($10) http://www.andersons1949brooklyn.com/?page_id=217 and the Elvis Waffle ($10), a sturdy griddle-cake smothered with butter syrup and whipped peanut butter, piled high with bacon flakes, and—to stave off an Elvis heart attack—topped with thick slices of banana. The dish is an impeccable study in contrasts: salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy. We didn’t even bother trying to speak between peanut butter-gummy bites.

The Elvis Waffle at Anderson's 1949 eatery in Brooklyn

The Elvis Waffle at Anderson’s 1949 eatery in Montclair, New Jersey

My extra-crispy-bacon-loving mother had always wondered if there was perhaps some glitch in the genetic transfer, a mutation that predisposed me to sausage instead of fried pork fat. Now I can know that I just hadn’t yet met the right slab of bacon.

To continue on this comfort food eating experience, I return to last weeks blog on Glenmere Mansion, in Chester, NY where I indulged in some pretty hearty dishes. As my daughter made note of, I am a bit of a bacon-a-holic. If bacon is on the menu, it will find its way to my plate. “Bacon and eggs” may be the more recognized breakfast combo, but for me it was always pancakes and bacon. And one of my favorite cold weather flavors is pumpkin. So when perusing The Supper Club complimentary breakfast menu at the Glenmere Mansion my eyes immediately settled on “pumpkin pancakes smothered in an apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of bacon” – it was a slam dunk decision.

Thick fluffy pumpkin pancakes smothered with spiced apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of extra crispy bacon.

Thick fluffy pumpkin pancakes smothered with spiced apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of extra crispy bacon.

The relaxed atmosphere at the Frog’s End Tavern at Glenmere Mansion with its cozy, limited seating, fireplace setting is a perfect complement to the many comfort dishes on the menu. One of my favorite comfort foods is gnocchi – and their homemade gnocchi with shrimp and a light creamy dill sauce hit the spot, on a cool evening with fresh snow covering the property. The next day for lunch, my daughter and I shared a warm pastrami sandwich with a side of home cut fries, and an order of deviled eggs topped with crispy pancetta.

Gnocchi and shrimp dish served at the Frogs End Tavern at the Glenmere Mansion

Gnocchi and shrimp dish served at the Frogs End Tavern at the Glenmere Mansion

A flavorful pastrami sandwich enjoyed at the Frog's End Tavern, Glenmere Mansion

A flavorful pastrami sandwich enjoyed at the Frog’s End Tavern, Glenmere Mansion

Back in NYC, we took in the quaint surroundings of Brooklyn’s Delaware and Hudson‘s prix fixe menu. The menu changes weekly, so it won’t help to share the specifics of what we ate, but come hungry. The sizes of the six appetizers and two first courses leaves you busy trying to figure out how to make room in your tummy for a choice of a main course and desserts – yes that would be plural.

Wild striped bass served on a bed of artichokes, roasted potatoes and onions.

Wild striped bass served on a bed of artichokes, roasted potatoes and onions.

Pork shank, so tender it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth.

Pork shank, so tender it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth.

Arizona

Back in Arizona, where we were pushing temps into the mid-80’s the day spring arrived, I put the comfort foods of winter to rest for another year and focused on a slightly lighter fare. Last month I wrote about my son and his girlfriends visit to Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn in Phoenix. This month found my husband and I making a long overdue visit to this magical oasis in the desert.

The experience starts with complimentary valet parking. Next we were shown to an outdoor fireside table. Even though the temp gauge on the car showed 84 when we arrived, the arid Arizona air makes it feel much colder. The attitude of the entire staff, from hostess to servers, is knowledgeable and professional but relaxed. It is hard to decide which is the bigger pull – the ambience of the outdoor setting or the quality and flavors of the diverse unique menu.

I started with a Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna, served on a 400 degree heated block of Himalayan salt. The dish was served with the tuna raw and I was instructed to move the tuna on the salt block to arrive at my desired level of doneness. My husband started with a Foie Gras Tamale – a liver pate’ served with a chocolate cherry tamale, fla-vor-ful. For an entree I went with the Colorado Lamb Rack with four substantial chops done to a perfect medium rare. My husband had the seared Duck Breast served with roasted veggies, duck confit and mesquite gnocchi.

Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna at Lon's

Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna at Lon’s

Foie Gras Tamale at Lon's

Foie Gras Tamale at Lon’s

Colorado Lamb Rack at Lon's

Colorado Lamb Rack at Lon’s

Duck breast with veggies, duck confit and gnocchi

Duck breast with veggies, duck confit and gnocchi

And if that wasn’t enough, we, okay I, decided after a bit of arm twisting by our server to try their signature dessert, “Lon’s Cowboy Candy Bar” – served with a complimentary Port. My husband passed on the dessert staying true to his New Year’s resolution of no treats, but had no problem indulging in the Port.

Lon's signature dish, Lon's Cowboy Candy bar - a milk chocolate and salted caramel ganache bar served with milk chocolate carmelito gelato

Lon’s signature dish, Lon’s Cowboy Candy bar – a milk chocolate and salted caramel ganache bar served with milk chocolate carmelito gelato

Complimentary shot of Port

Complimentary shot of Port

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to taking in a National Geographic photo documentary at the Mesa Arts Center, my friend who invited me to the event first took me to a great Indian restaurant in Tempe – The Dhaba, serving authentic Punjabi food. The one thing I love about Indian food is it is served family style which allows you to enjoy so many dishes in one sitting. It’s also helpful to eat with someone who likes the same dishes you do. We ordered, Butter Chicken, with saffron rice, so we could dip our onion kulcha (a type of naan bread) into its flavorful sauce. We paired that with a spicy jumbo shrimp and washed it all down with a thick creamy mango lassi.

Other AZ eateries to check out:

DJ’s Bagel Cafe: a great place to grab a filling bagel sandwich for breakfast or lunch. They sure don’t skimp on their fillings and the bagels are made fresh on site. Fountain Hills.

Postino Wine Cafe: four locations in the valley serving a great selection of wine and filling tapas.

Euro Pizza Cafe: an extensive menu. Great value. Front row seat to the famous Fountain Hills fountain.

Winter – a bountiful banquet of food and beverages – part 2: Phoenix Valley and NYC

Living in a popular destination spot like Phoenix, I receive a lot of requests from out-of-town guests as to where to eat when they come to the valley. My family and I have vacationed or lived in the valley for many years and during that time we have compiled a list of several restaurants that have filtered out to be some of our favorites.

Although ambience is a nice asset to any dining experience, it is generally the food that brings us back again and again. Our restaurant list varies from the family owned Los Dos Molinos – a trio of authentic Mexican restaurants known for spicy food and Kick-Ass margaritas; to the fine dining experiences at any one of the Mastro’s Steakhouses in the valley – both of which I have blogged about in the past.

If you’re looking for a romantic evening out, it does not get much better than Lon’s, at the Hermosa Inn, tucked back into a residential area in Paradise Valley, just east of the Biltmore area. A soft glow eminates from lights hung from the low overhanging branches of the many trees that pepper the front outside eating area. Or you can dine closer to the bee hive fireplace on cooler evenings.

Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn for a romantic dinner. (copyright Jill Richards)

The food is garden-to-table fine dining American cuisine – the garden being a one acre plot right outside the kitchen, inclusive of fruit trees to kick up both food and cocktails. With to share dishes such as ‘Truffle Mac’ or ‘Blistered Peppers;’ or main dishes such as ‘Dry-Aged Strip with Chimchurri sauce’ or the ‘Pork Chop served with polenta and poached baby apples’ – the whole dining experience is one not to be missed.

If Italian is what you’re craving, I’d recommend checking out Casa Mia. An understated, but newly renovated, small restaurant run by an Italian family, tucked in a mostly empty line of retail spaces just off of Shea on 136th Street. The fact this place is hard to get into without a little forethought, goes to its reputation as being a destination eatery that has earned it’s business through word of mouth. And those are happy mouths sated  by homemade pastas like the melt in your mouth pillows of gnocchi with basil and fresh tomato sauce, or any of their veal or fish dishes. And mama’s homemade bread to sop of all the delectable sauces.

A new Scottsdale favorite to check out is Soi 4 Bangkok eatery. An authentic Thai restaurant with fresh and flavorful dishes like the ‘Neur pad tua’ – stir-fried Angus steak cubes with snap peas and onion rings in mild roasted chili jam, washed down with unique cocktails like cilantro infused vodka with lime juice served in a salty spiced rimmed martini glass. Very friendly service in a sleek contemporary setting.

One of the delectable small plates at Soi 4 Thai restaurant in Scottsdale.

If you head into Fountain Hills, you can again hit the gammet of dining experiences. From your basic Mexican food at Que Bueno: I recommend their patron silver margarita on the rocks with salt that comes in a large thick glass that requires two hands to drink from served with their award-winning salsa and warm chips; to the newly opened Italian restaurant Arrivederci (there are more in the valley) that has a great view of the world-famous fountain; to one of our favorite restaurants in the valley, Alchemy at Copperwynd, offering up one of the finest views in all of Fountain Hills and the valley.

Alchemy restaurant at Copperwynd in Fountain Hills. One of the best views in the valley.

Alchemy has been through several changes over the years, but these days you are assured of a tantalizing menu, fresh and flavorful dishes served by professional waitstaff. For the ‘Crispy Brussel Sprouts’ the chef peels the leaves off of each sprout and lightly crisps them with flavors of Worcestershire gastrique, truffle oil and cojita. Absolutely to die for! The ‘Burrata Panzella’ salad with pumpernickel croutons, figs, butternut squash and roasted tomato vinaigrette bursts with flavor. The ‘Sea Scallops’ – served with a grilled mushroom puree, snap peas, brown butter breadcrumbs and hibiscus syrup are so flavorful they have a hard time keeping up to the evenings demand for them.

If you need a quick pick me up or a late night snack, Senor Taco is our family go to fast food joint. An expansive menu with some creative Mexican dishes to rival a much higher end restaurant. Known for their shrimp burritos, they also go bold with such feasts as the California burrito – filled with carne asada or pollo asado, french fries, sour cream, salsa fresca & cheese.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

My daughter, Allison, hit a few new hot spots in NYC:

Knowing the chef helps

Though I love consuming their artistry in every shape, size, and color, I’ve never managed to befriend any chefs. Luckily, I have two friends with sous-chefs for brothers. In the first two months of 2015, I ate for the first time at both of their restaurants: Txikito, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, and Charlie Bird, in the western reaches of SoHo, also called the South Village.

Knowing the (sous) chef doesn’t mean you get a meal for free, but it does mean that every plate you order comes hand-in-hand with an even better one you didn’t; that everyone treats you with an extra dose of kindness; and that you’ll still pay less than the listed price.

Txikito is an upscale Basque tapas restaurant, and the friend whose brother works there is Chilean. Translation: small plates, major flair. It’s been a month, and I can still easily conjure up the languid texture of the “txipiron encebollado” ($16)–a lavish pile of squid ribbons tossed with sweet onions and pine nuts. Plated in the shape of a flattened rose, the octopus carpaccio ($15) was at once rich and delicate, oil-soaked and airy. The kroketas of the day, filled with cheese and salty cod, tasted like warmth itself. But the crowned prince of the night was the Spanish version of French toast, stolen off the brunch menu of Txikito’s sister restaurant La Vara and served up as dessert. Pillowed dough, caramelized syrup, and a whiff of citrus. The evening was blustery, a Monday, but the restaurant was still filled with a happy murmur. Just slow enough though for our chef to bring out one of his dishes himself and pull out the empty chair at our table for a humble hello.

Txikito restaurant in NYC. (picture by gourmet.com)

In contrast, I saw Charlie Bird at prime time. Late on a Thursday night. The restaurant bills itself as a little bit hip hop, influenced by downtown culture and the history of street art and jazz (the name is a fusion of Charlie Parker and his nickname “Bird”). So I was surprised to find the space awash in light, subdued colors: cream tables, bourbon-hued bucket chairs, walls the color of book pages. To our left, lined up above a bank of mustard-colored booth seating, was the bit of pizzazz I’d been expecting: a framed series of hyper-realistic boombox photographs. The only fault critics seem to have found with Charlie Bird’s food is its saltiness. If it’s too salty for them, they can leave the eating to me. Burrata toast ($12), farro salad ($16), gnocchi rosa ($18), crispy smoked eggplant ($10), pappardelle with rabbit ($20), and the rice krispie-laced chocolate budino ($12)–we ate it all and somehow heaved ourselves out of our chairs after. I’ve also read they have an excellent barolo on the menu, but even with the chef hook-up, that was a little too fancy for our wallets.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

 

Winter – a bountiful banquet of beverages and eats: KS, AZ, Las Vegas

The first month of winter began with a holiday season full of frivolity, festivity and feasting. A lot of that great feasting took place at home. Surf and turf Christmas Eve. Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes on Christmas Day. A buffet full of appies to ring in the New Year. And an alka-seltzer punch on January 1st to help bring the first day of 2015 into focus.

Filling up on the basics - beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes - at home on Christmas Eve.

Filling up on the basics – beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes – at home on Christmas Eve.

We are a family of foodies who enjoy venturing out to test the abilities of chefs everywhere to see what they can do with many of the same every day ingredients found in our own kitchens and found in the same restaurants over and over. Today, chefs are artists. Incorporating color and texture in plating their dishes has become as important as infusing tantalizing flavors to these same dishes.

Kansas:

Chaz on the Plaza, in The Raphael, a boutique hotel in Kansas City, Kansas, provides one of the finest dining experiences in the Kansas City metro area. The setting – intimate, warm and inviting seating areas orchestrated around the bar. Food and drinks – served by a professional wait staff. This restaurant in the heartland of America integrates a little southern flare to its fare.

Savannah Style Crab Cake - smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza, KC.

Savannah Style Crab Cake – smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish - to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish – to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.

Arizona:

Sumo Maya, one of my new favorite restaurants in Scottsdale, serves up Asian-Mexican fusion cuisine. While you chew on that combo, let me tempt you with some visuals we experienced in this energized, hip, and modern themed eatery:

Miso Chilean Sea Bass - Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Miso Chilean Sea Bass – Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Vietnamese Style "Shaking Beef" - filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Vietnamese Style “Shaking Beef” – filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Another local Scottsdale favorite is AZ88, which is located in Old Scottsdale. Know for their martini’s and unique Christmas trees, the sterile feeling of this modern design restaurant is offset by their hearty-sized ‘must share’ appetizers:

St. Petersburg Potatoes - housemade potato chips topped with sour cream, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Petersburg Potatoes – housemade potato chips topped with sour cream/cream cheese, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

Another must visit is in south Phoenix, at Quiessence at South Mountain, a farm to table fine-dining experience that is all about the food. Set in the middle of working farm, the menu is minimal, the ambience basic, but the flavors are big and the waiters are knowledgeable and friendly:

Potato Gnocchi - Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

Potato Gnocchi – Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

If you want a lot of bang for your food buck – check out the authentic Mexican food restaurant: Los Dos Molinos – with several locations in the valley. Known for their spicy dishes and the pork they slow-cook all day long so it literally melts in your mouth – all washed down with their Kick Ass margaritas. Make sure you have a driver after having one of these two fisters!

OR

Head to Red Rock Buffet at Fort McDowell Casino for all you can eat crab legs. The wait in the long line is well worth the $15.95 on Wednesday and Thursday from 3-9 pm; or Snow Crab Legs for $14.50 on Friday and Saturday from 3-10 pm. Accompanied by a full buffet of other food choices.

Las Vegas:

While winding your way from the Venetian to the Palazzo, you pass by several tempting restaurants. Being a whiskey/bourbon drinker – the bourbon bar at the Yardbird restaurant caught my eye. The bourbon menu isn’t expansive, but it is unique. Try a ‘Yardbird Old Fashioned’ – bacon infused Buffalo Trace Bourbon served over a 2″ spherical cube. And the appetizers have a true southern flare: try the ‘Fried Green Tomato BLT’ – pork belly, tomato jam and house-made pimento cheese.

Fried Green Tomato BLT at Yardbird in Las Vegas. (Picture by ShermansFoodAdventures.com)

For an authentic Italian fine dining experience, check out Zefferino’s. The food prices may seem high, but the dishes are plentiful, the service prompt, and the choices abundant. I had the Caprese salad and the Linguini Gamberi e Capesante and could only eat about half of each.

Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse offers up one of the better steak dinners I have experienced anywhere, and they boast an expansive wine selection to rival any top-notch restaurant.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

For a good pizza and casual atmosphere, check out Otto’s Pizzeria in St. Mark’s Square between the Venetian and the Palazzo. You feel like you are sitting outside on the banks of the canals thanks to the sky blue painted ceiling (well kind of.)

Although we spent most of our time in the Venetian, it is well worth the effort to head over to Caesar’s Palace and walk through the Forum Shops. Just like the Venetian and pretty much the rest of Las Vegas it is all over the top – but yet a must see. Sit and have a drink at the bar at the Trevi Italian Restaurant while looking out on Vegas’ version of the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar's Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar’s Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

Overall I find the restaurants in Las Vegas like the whole of Las Vegas, overpriced, over the top, but all so entertaining!