Summer Road Trip 2019 – West Coast

This last summer my husband and I embarked on a 40-day road trip, packed to the gils in our SUV – angling northeast from Arizona, through Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Sonoma County and on up the west coast. Making stops in Bandon Dunes, Portland and Seattle before heading across the border into Canada. This second leg of our trip included stops in Whistler, British Columbia and then across the water (Strait of Georgia) to Vancouver Island to spend time in Tofino and Qualicum Beach. Our third leg took us back stateside where we made our way back down through Seattle, east to Coeur d’Alene and into Billings, Montana. Then we began our southernly descent towards home going through Jackson Hole, Colorado Springs and Durango.

Golf, although not the main driving force of this trip, played a major role in how we organized this trip and deciding where we were headed. Our intent was to see as much of our amazing country, and new destinations in Canada, up close and personal, taking major highways only when time was of the essence. We had to pre-book certain parts of the trip, so staying somewhat to a schedule was imperative, but overall the total number days on the road was left to play out however it played out.

A single write-up of this trip would be labeled a novel, so as not lose my readers attention, I will break the trip up into the three different legs so I can share more details of each amazing stop on this bucket-list filled journey.

FIRST LEG – West Coast

Choosing which way to make our way up to NorCal was a challenge coming from the Phoenix Valley. Not many routes across the national forests that line the eastern border of California, from almost the northern tip down to Bakersfield, north of LA. We wanted scenic – so we meandered our way taking in the following amazing destinations on the first part of this leg.

Las Vegas:

Day 1 – Southern Highlands Golf Club was the first stop on our trip to play this beautiful private club. One of only four courses co-designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Robert Trent Jones, Jr.  RTJ, Sr. passed away during the construction of this course and there is a plaque on the 12th hole commemorating his passing – the last hole he finished. For the first time in our 33-year marriage my husband, a 14-hdcp, played really well and beat my score (I’m a 5-hdcp) – so this is now his favorite course!

Southern Highlands – a lush green oasis in the Las Vegas desert, with amazing views. Every tree was planted during the build process.

Day 2 – Ever wanted to put the pedal to the metal and go as fast as you can – legally? Drive whatever your dream sports car is at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas. A track with multiple turns to test your maneuverability and one long straight away to ‘let it out’ and see how fast you can go! Exhilarating – or so my husband said after driving his dream car – a Porsche. He was amazed at how physically demanding it was driving these cars – for just 7 laps, can’t imagine the exhaustion after driving 500 laps for the pros.

We finished off the day, our 33rd- wedding anniversary, with a fun whimsical dinner at Lakeside restaurant at The Wynn – singing frogs et al!

Exotics Racing – Las Vegas – Porsche 911 GT3 RS – powerful – fast. Bucket list item – check!

The Lakeside restaurant in the lower level of The Wynn sits on a man-made small lake, where you are serenade by singing frogs, bouncing balls and flittering butterflies.

Yosemite National Park:

Day 3 – We hadn’t been to Yosemite in over 30-years, so we were anxious to return. There is no easy direct route into Yosemite National Park. Due to narrow, windy, single lane roads – the last 80 miles took 4 1/2 hours, the last 20 miles took 2 1/2 hours. But with the beauty surrounding this whole area, one hardly notices or cares that you are forced to drive slow and take in the overwhelming aura of this park. El Capitan stands majestic to your left as you approach The Ahwahnee Lodge, Half Dome looms large in the distance, a multitude of massive trees line the roadway, rushing waterfalls thunder in their descent. A magical mystical place.

El Capitan – makes Alex Honnold’s free solo ascent even more impressive when you see this iconic rock structure in person.

Half Dome in Yosemite draws in your with it’s unique shape and just out of reach location.

Day 4 – Up early to drive to a high point in the park to witness the sun rise along El Capitan, bathing the Half Dome in sunlight. Driving out of the park, we stopped to walk through one of the many Giant Sequoia groves that dot the park. Standing at the base of these looming, behemoth trees is mind-blowing.

A high vantage point in Yosemite presents a sunrise show with the sun rising behind El Capitan bathing Half Dome in the morning sun.

Giant Sequoias – aka Redwoods – stand out with their size and robust red color.

Sonoma County:

Visiting Sonoma wine country was another bucket-list item for us. We have been to the Napa Valley multiple times and wanted to see what it’s quieter, smaller sister had to offer. We stayed at the new boutique hotel, MacArthur Place – 5 blocks off the main square in Sonoma. Spacious, well-appointed rooms, a great bar setting, an amazing eating experience at their top-notch restaurant Layla, and friendly attentive service throughout the whole complex warrants a return visit.

MacArthur Place in Sonoma is great new boutique resort that has brought service to a whole new level.

The next two days we were treated to full days of wine tasting and seeing the sights of Sonoma, organized by Val & Mike Marino, of California Wine Tours. Top notch service and wine tour experience!

Day 5 – Wine tours at: Hanzell, Deerfield Ranch and Repris. All had very unique wine caves.

Hanzell, Sonoma – going into it’s seventh decade of making wine, specifically Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, uses a holistic ‘farming’ approach in caring for their vineyards by growing veggies and fruit trees along wine rows, allowing farm animals to mow, dig, and fertilize the cropland. By appt. only.

The rustic stone barn tasting room at Hanzell offers panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley.

Deerfield Ranch, Kenwood – Red Blends are their speciality, with a focus on low amounts of sulfate and histamines, creating a smoother tasting wine while using less tannins, but also reducing additives that many people are sensitive to and can hamper their wine tasting enjoyment. Open to the public.

The wine cave at Deerfield Ranch opens up into an inviting, well lit, living room style setting.

Repris, Sonoma – wines 125-years in the making, is a well-hidden gem – not even known to most locals. The climate of this Moon Mountain Vineyard creates some the highest quality grapes in the region. Their 18,000 sf cave reveals the natural stone walls left behind the big dig to create this natural wine cellar. By appt. only.

No matter how bad the fires got, the wine cave at Repris would safe coat a major portion of their wine supply. Great place for fun wine tastings too!

Day 6 – Wine tours at: A. Rafanelli and MacRostie.

A. Rafanelli, Dry Creek – sits on some of the most pristine property in Sonoma County, focusing on Zinfandels, Cabs and Merlots. Shelly Rafanelli, 4th generation, is the winemaker and her sister, Stacy, runs the financial side of the winery – continuing the Rafanelli legacy of great winemaking. By appt. only.

The Rafanelli family has been on this property for four generations and it shows! Absolutely gorgeous setting!

MacRostie, Healdsburg, is in the Russian River Valley, the go to AVA for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The property sits with an expansive vista that allows you an opportunity to contemplate life of maybe one day opening your own vineyard or winery. Open to public, but reservations highly recommended.

MacRostie Winery – a great place to contemplate life and take in the amazing vistas.

Bandon Dunes:

Day 7 – Back on the road to make our way to our first golf bucket-list destination, Bandon Dunes. The American version of Irish golf links. Upon our arrival at our cottage that sits at the edge of a lily pond, frogs were ‘croaking’ out their mating calls and on cue a momma deer and her two fawns appeared at the base of our balcony. A great start!

A momma deer and her two fawns made an appearance at the base of our deck at Bandon Dunes, right on cue to our arrival.

Day 8 – Up and at em’ early for our first round at the original Bandon Dunes golf course. The cool breezes off the Pacific had our attention quickly with no trees to break the blustery winds.  With 7-holes fully are partially along the ocean, our attention was focused on those stinger shots to keep our balls low and in play on this naturally created course winding through dunes and natural vegetation.

Are we in Ireland? It’s hard to tell the difference – Bandon Dunes does a great job of pulling off a true links golf experience.

Day 9 – Pacific Dunes became our favorite course at the resort. It was more captivating with its layout – challenging, but not in a quirky way. A playable distance, but an emphasis on shot making. With 7 holes fully or partially along the ocean, the 3-club wind had our attention today.

Probably the most photographed hole in Bandon Dunes is the 10th hole at Pacific Dunes.

Day 10 – Old MacDonald only has 4 holes that are directly affected by the ocean, but with some of the world’s largest greens and deepest bunkers there is no shortage of challenges. We were taking full body turns on some of our putts and hitting backwards out of several bunkers.

Our caddies walking off the back of one of the monstrous greens at Old McDonald. I needed a wide angle lens to have been able to capture the whole green.

Only way out – is backwards! Brutally tough and deep bunkers at Old McDonald.

Portland:

Day 11 – Our first trip ever to Portland – lush green rolling hills welcome you as you wind along the Willamette River and it’s tributaries, which make it very challenging to get around. There are no direct routes to cut through rivers and hills, but tour circuitous route allowed us to experience the beautiful Oregon countryside. We were treated to play on an old course – circa 1896, Waverley Country Club, along the banks of the river. A tight, heavily treed course with wrist breaking rough.

The picturesque 16th hole at Waverly Country Club – aptly named the Punch Bowl. Long shots end up in the Willamette River.

Seattle:

Day 12 – Seattle is similar to Portland in having to work your way around waterways and hills. We stayed at The Edgewater where we were upgraded to The Beatles room – where apparently they stayed back in the 1960’s. After walking to get our morning coffee at the original Starbucks, we headed to our second golf bucket-list experience – playing the famed Sahalee Country Club. Even the greatest players have been brought to near tears with fairways tightly lined with thick stoic stands of woods and greens harder to hold than my living room glass coffee table. Some greens were so tough to hold we just picked up our balls and walked to the next tee.

Evening view from our room at The Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, show cases the Seattle highlights with Mount Rainier lurking in the background.

Does anybody have a chainsaw?? As if the greens aren’t hard enough, they have to line the fairways with these monstrous trees, just to test your golf mettle a bit more.

Can you say tight? It’s hard to envision trying to pipe down the tight fairways at Sahalee CC, just outside of Seattle.

Almost a third of the way through our road trip, my husband and I were still talking to each other, we had already experienced enough amazing adventures to fill a life-time, but were energized and excited about the next two legs of our trip to visit new destinations and revisit old favorite destinations.

Check the Global Gallery in the near future to see more pictures from the first leg of our summer 2019 road trip. And stay tuned for ‘leg two’ of Summer Road Trip 2019.

 

Golfing gals hit Napa!

Napa may be a hotspot for couples, but this gang of golfing gals from Arizona needed a getaway while our home golf course was being taken over by the men for their final golf event of the year in mid-April. Our second love is wine – so Napa was a natural fit. Sorry hubbies – you’re a close third!

Golfing gals do Napa!

After a 90 minute flight from Phoenix to San Fran, followed by a 90 minute chauffeured drive we arrived at our accommodations at Silverado Resort on Silverado Trail in the eastern side of the Rutherford township in the middle of the Napa Valley. Since golf is our first love, we played two days of golf sandwiching a day of hitting wineries.

Entrance to Silverado Resort, off of Silverado Trail in Rutherford, Napa Valley.

As we waited for our rooms to be ready we hit the links at the Silverado North Course, host to the PGA Safeway Open (first tournament of the FedEx Cup season). The benign conditions did not offset the challenge of the heavily tree-lined, narrow fairways lined with thick sticky rough, finishing off on crowned greens that ran fast. One of our gals recently moved to Santa Clara, a 2 hour drive south of Napa. She surprised us with a car filled with wine, beer and snacks. You da best crazy girl!! After a very long day of travel and challenging golf, we indulged in all the above, along with some intensely heated matches of bocce ball and corn hole. Then early to bed to ready ourselves for a day of wine tastings.

Can you guess which one likes to push us over the line and which keeps us toeing the line? 🙂

Testing our tossing abilities after a day of wine tasting with the corn hole toss at the Silverado Resort.

Bocce ball courts at Silverado Resort – a great place to wind down after a day or golf or wine tastings.

The rooms are spacious, each with a private outside entrance, and possible wild life sightings – see pic below. With a Starbucks onsite it was nice to get our days started with a much-needed jolt of energy. My roomy and I traded turns for the morning jaunt to Starbucks – but she wins extra points by spoiling me with a turn down service of 4 Advil to ease the pains of a day of golfing and/or drinking.

A couple of deer made their way through the inner courtyard area outside our patio at Silverado Resort.

Our winery tour day began with car service by Damon of Bliss Wine Tours – pick-up at 9:30 am. The studly and sweet Damon took great care of us gals all day long and we would highly recommend his services! He had a cooler full of water to keep us hydrated between wineries (we aren’t ones to waste a single drop at the wine tastings); he was highly knowledgeable about the area and the wineries; he was prepared with a wine opener and tracked down extra cups for us to enjoy a newly purchased bottle of wine to have with deli sandwiches we pre-ordered from the historical Oakville Grocery.

We started our day of winery visits at Robert Mondavi Winery – the first winery I ever visited some 30 years ago when there were only a couple of dozen wineries compared to over 450 wineries today in the Napa Valley. Mondavi has matured into one of the pinnacle wineries of the Napa Valley. The Mission-style winery sits on a 35-acre vineyard and we were treated to a full tour of their beautiful, lush, expansive, extremely clean winery while becoming informed about the wine business as a whole.

Robert Mondavi Winery.

The gals experiencing the first wine tasting of the day, 10 am, at Robert Mondavi.

After lunch it was off to a very unique winery – Raymond Vineyards. A beautiful setting with a large garden area replete with a mini-animal farm with goats and chickens. A fairly nondescript entrance is an offset to what lies behind several doors; The Red Room – reminiscent of a speak-easy highlighted in hues of red from the furniture to the lighting; the Crystal Cellar – we playfully dubbed the S&M room with fuchsia lighting flooding the ornate cases of cut crystal ware, animal skin covered wine barrels, and mannequin swinging from a trapeze – oh the parties that must go on in this room; and the more subdued Library – walls lined with rows and rows of bottles instead of books and a library ladder to reach them all. Be sure to check out the Corridor of Senses. Sadly the Raymond wine did not pass our tastebud test, but the winery itself was worth the visit.

Mannequins hanging from a trapeze in the Crystal wine tasting room at Raymond Winery.

The mini-animal farm at Raymond Winery. The whole scene is a real head scratcher, but oh so entertaining.

Our winery tour day was on a warm spring day and after a couple of wineries we were ready to mix it up a bit with a couple of beers. On cue Damon scored a few more brownie points knowing right where to take us for one of the coldest beers we have ever tasted – and that’s saying a lot! We played a few games of pool at this no-name dive bar, enjoying our cold beers, while Damon tracked down another great winery for us to properly fill out our wine tour day.

Truly a ‘no name’ bar for the gals to take a breather from the wine tastings.

A little billiards and ice-cold beer at the no name bar in Rutherford.

Goosecross Cellars was not on our original line-up of wineries, but when we found ourselves with a little extra time before our final wine tour, Damon made a call and got us into this family owned Yountville winery. The recently built ‘hospitality’ structure has a nouveau rustic look and feel with a relaxing back patio overlooking their expansive vineyard. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines – reds were bold, but smooth and the whites were crisp, but refreshing. Not a bad little find. Thank you Damon.

Goosecross Winery.

Our day finished with an opportunity to meet Sue McNerney, owner of Le Chanceux, a boutique winery consisting of a 1 acre plot of cabernet sauvignon grapevines. What she has been able achieve with that micro plot has earned her high accolades in a very short period of time (nee’ 2002). Sue is a genuine soul who ran with a dream and made it a reality. Her cabernet sauvignon, grown from French root-stock, can hold its own against some of the long-standing heavy hitters from the Napa Valley. I have found over the years I often get a headache from lesser quality cabernet sauvignons – but am happy to report no headaches from Sue’s premium variety.

Sue McNerney, proprietor of Le Chanceux winery – ‘One Woman, One Wine’!

Our third day in Napa had us back at the golf course – the South Course at Silverado Resort. After a day of being plied with great wines, we all apparently loosened up and a more enjoyable day of golf than we did on the North Course. The South Course is a more open course and with a more consistent feel hole to hole and green to green with a level of beautify that we all felt eclipsed the North Course.

Approach into the beautiful 13th hole from the center cut of the fairway.

One of our group was not able to join us in Napa in time to take in the winery tours, so on our way back to the San Fran airport for our trip back to AZ we searched out one last winery to share what Napa is all about for this winery virgin. We struck out on our first two attempts at Domaine Carneros – apparently a great place for a champagne tasting, and Del Dotto Vineyards, specifically their Napa Historic Winery and Caves . They were listed as having walk-in tastings available, but by the time we arrived at 10 am on a Saturday morning both vineyards were so full they could not accommodate any more walk-ins. We eventually found a quaint little winery down the road from Domaine Carneros called Madonna Estate. They were able to accommodate us and show this group of golfing gals a good time, finishing our golf/wine outing in true Napa style.

Golf/wine gals wind-up the Napa weekend at Madonna winery. We shall return to expand our search for more Napa wine and golf!

Check out more fun pics from trip ‘Napa Gals Trip‘ in the Global Gallery tab.

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!

 

 

 

Fall is for feasting – Part 1, September: CA, NY & SC

Throughout the last 16 months since I started this blog, I have shared many travel experiences and many of those have been with my daughter. The one constant theme we revisit over and over again, no matter where our actual travels take us, is our love of food. We are self-professed foodies to the point that many of my posts were becoming as much about food as it was about the destination.

I probably have enough memories from our eating experiences to start a whole new blog on food. But for starters, or appetizers as the case may be, I have decided to dedicate one post a month on places we have eaten in the last month. Whether that be on our travels, or just great local fare where we live – NYC, Kansas City and the Phoenix Valley.

By doing this, it will also allow me to expound more on the travel destination highlights and my personal reviews in experiencing my travels, and leave the food portion of the trip for these monthly posts.

So grab a cold one, throw a sheet of chicken wings in the oven, and while they are crisping up, enjoy a journey through the eyes and stomachs of two food lovers:

NEW YORK CITY:

Nowhere to sit, but plenty to eat by Allison Malecha

Almost anywhere you go in New York, the food will be more than passable. The portion may be smaller than you wanted. The price higher. And sometimes that C Grade on the door might give you pause. But I can’t think of a time that I’ve pushed my plate away in this city out of distaste.

Usually, for me, atmosphere counts for a lot. If I know I’m going to have a pretty good meal, I like to enjoy where I’m eating it. But in the last week, I’ve tried out two places with chow so enticing, and prices so reasonable, that I didn’t bother to care about much else: Silver Rice ($$), in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, and Brooklyn Taco ($$), on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

At Silver Rice, Kombu Kelp and Beet Pate are wrapped up into innovative sushi bites that are scarcely more expensive than a California roll in Manhattan, but the real draw are the eponymously named “Silver Rice Cups.” I had the spicy tuna one–a mouth-watering stack of flaxseed-threaded white rice, diced raw tuna, fresh scallion, and punchy mayo served inside a plain white paper cup for $6.50. Alternate with sips of the $1.95 organic miso soup, and you won’t give a damn that the only place to sit is at a slip of light-wood high-top next to the door.

Silver Rice Cup from Silver Rice Cup in Brooklyn

Founded by a Brooklyn native with South American roots and a Danny Meyer alum, Brooklyn Taco can take a while just to locate within the maze-like Essex Street Market. Last Saturday, I sat perched on another tiny bar stool in full view of a fish stand with a coconut shrimp taco that took two hands to hold and about two seconds to eat. The friend I was with told me her chipotle chicken one was the best tacos she’d ever eaten–she didn’t spare a bite to see if I agreed. And while their regular prices aren’t a total steal, the lunch deal is: $10 for two tacos and an agua fresca to wash them down.

Fish Taco at Brooklyn Taco, Lower Manhattan

More NYC… by Lisa Malecha

One of our favorite mother-daughter outings is to check one of the many boutique NYC neighborhood hot spots, and Jeffrey’s Grocery ($$$) fits the bill. Set in the West Village, the seating might be tight, but their seafood is big on flavor. Like the Blackened Flounder served on a Jalapeño-Cheddar Polenta Cake and smothered in an Andouille Gravy.

Blackened Flounder served up at Jeffrey's Grocery in the West Village of NYC

Blackened Flounder served up at Jeffrey’s Grocery in the West Village of NYC

Jump on the subway and head to 78th St. and Woodside Avenue and head to Ayada Thai ($$) restaurant in Queens for some really tasty food. The ambiance is pretty plain Jane, but the food infuses so many great flavors together it’s hard to stop eating when you know you don’t have any more room for another bite. A great starter is the Papaya Salad served with Salty Crab. Follow that with a Crispy Duck in a Red Curry Coconut Sauce and a wide noodle Pad Thai – all washed down with a Lychee Sangria.

Papaya Salad with crispy Salted Crab – yes you eat the whole crab, shells and all – at Ayada Thai Restaurant, Queens

If you’re in upper Manhattan, in the Upper East Side, taking in all the amazing museums and galleries, stop in at Cafe’ Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie and enjoy some authentic Austrian cuisine like the very flavorful Pikantes Ei mit Gurkerl und Paprika – a/k/a Spicy Eggs with Cornichons and Paprika. After a filling lunch be sure to take in the two levels of German and Austrian exhibits in this architecturally classically ornate museum.

Spicy Eggs on Cornichons with Paprika served at Cafe' Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie in the Upper East Side of NYC

Spicy Eggs on Cornichons with Paprika served at Cafe’ Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie in the Upper East Side of NYC

CHARLESTON:

Early September found my daughter and I sweating our way through Charleston. Thank goodness Charlestonians like to eat and drink as much as we do. We had no problem staying properly nourished to have the energy to walk the historic streets of this beautiful town, meander through their immense plantations and stroll along the water fronts.

We stayed at the Wentworth Mansion, an old estate home turned hotel, and also home to Circa 1886 restaurant, housed in the old carriage house. Our room included a complimentary breakfast – and “…honey this weren’t no slim pickings,..”-  a plate of fruit and a basket of pastries for starters, and then a menu to compete with any restaurant in the area. I chose a heaping helping of Shrimp n’ Grits so flavorful I could have had that for every meal and been content. My daughter chose Crab Cake Eggs Hollandaise. We also enjoyed a fine dining experience with dishes of Beef Tenderloin with a Chantilly Mustard Demi-Glace or Atlantic Lobster Tail with Vanilla Mascarpone Grits.

Wentworth Mansion in Charleston has a complimentary breakfast serving local favorites such as Shrimp & Grits

Wentworth Mansion in Charleston has a complimentary breakfast serving local favorites such as Shrimp & Grits

For lunch we checked out two local favorites. Charleston native, Stephen Colbert, recommends Hominy Grill. The line was long when we arrived, but an exterior bar window was serving chilled spiked beverages to keep us cool while we waited in the sweltering heat. Inside this old Colonial style home, we were given a starter of boiled peanuts in the shell and then ordered Cornmeal Crusted Flounder served with Mac & Cheese, Collard Greens and Tomato Jam. Husk, another local favorite restaurant, also housed in a renovated old mansion, had a line-up of hungry patrons. The menu here was a little more avant garde’ when it comes to southern cooking. We had starters of Shishito Peppers and Crispy Pigs Ear Lettuce Wraps. For lunch we split a Fried Chicken Po’boy sandwich and washed this all down with a couple of southern sweet teas.

Cornmeal Crusted Flounder served with Mac & Cheese, Collard Greens and Tomato Jam, at Hominy Grits in Charleston

Cornmeal Crusted Flounder served with Mac & Cheese, Collard Greens and Tomato Jam, at Hominy Grits in Charleston

At Husk we enjoyed a Fried Chicken Po'Boy sandwich topped with peanuts, red peppers and slaw.

At Husk we enjoyed a Fried Chicken Po’Boy sandwich topped with peanuts, red peppers and slaw.

Our favorite dining experience in Charleston was a placed called Edmund’s Oast. An upper end Brew Pub, we were seated at a bar that fronted the open kitchen where we watched mouth-watering after mouth-watering dish by us. Good thing we had 49 cold brews to choose from to calm our taste buds. We selected a tender Grilled New York Strip that was teamed with Smoked Potatoes and Okra, with a side of Collard Greens.

Some of the delectable dishes being served up at Edmund's Oast in Charleston

Some of the delectable dishes being served up at Edmund’s Oast in Charleston

Enjoying a fun dining experience at Edmund's Oast - brew pub with a front seat to the kitchen.

Enjoying a fun dining experience at Edmund’s Oast – brew pub with a front seat to the kitchen.

The next weekend found my husband and I spending time on the west coast in both Napa and San Francisco. In Napa, we had some great meals at the Lakehouse Restaurant, at Calistoga Ranch where we were staying. But one night we took a ride down the road to its big sister Auberge resort, Auberge du Soleil which showcases a Michelin Star restaurant, appropriately called, “The Restaurant“. When you eat at a place like this, you should make great effort to try something you wouldn’t find on many other menus – like Squab (a young pigeon) served with Figs, Foie Gras, Caramalized Onions in a Port Wine sauce. For lunch in Napa check out Solbar Restaurant at Solage Resort for a menu full of unique delectable dishes like Sweet Scarlet Peaches with Prosciutto or Lucky Pig Roasted Pork.

Squab served up Michelin style with Figs, Foie Gras, Carmelized Onions and Port.

Squab served up Michelin style with Figs, Foie Gras, Carmelized Onions and Port.

Lucky Pig, roasted pork, served with lettuce or black sesame seed crepes, at Solbar at Solage Resort

Lucky Pig, roasted pork, served with lettuce or black sesame seed crepes, at Solbar at Solage Resort

In San Francisco we took checked out Eno Wine Bar right around the corner from the The Westin St. Francis Union Square where were staying. A flight of wine is their specialty teamed with a plate of cheeses, sausages and chocolates. Need I say more!

Check out the numerous wine flights to pick from and pair with a plate of cheeses, sausages and chocolates at Eno Wine Bar in Union Square, San Francisco

Check out the numerous wine flights to pick from and pair with a plate of cheeses, sausages and chocolates at Eno Wine Bar in Union Square, San Francisco

Check out more food pics in the Food Gallery under the Global Gallery!

Napa redux!

It had been 27 years since my husband and I had visited the Napa Valley when we took a trip there last fall. I assumed that it would be several more years before we made a return trip. But that Napa wine experience got under our skin, and when my husband learned he had a conference to attend in San Francisco that pull for a return trip to Napa was too strong to resist. It certainly isn’t that we have become learned wine connoisseurs. But we have become fans of the area, especially the upper Napa Valley – from the southern town of Yountville to Calistoga in the north and all points in between.

The Napa Valley

We could travel to Napa another twenty times and not even come close to seeing all there is to see. Along with developing a mature wine tasting palette, we are learning how to get the most out of spending a couple of days in this amazing region. Amazing because of the moderate temperatures, pretty much year round. Amazing because of the beautiful wineries that dot both sides of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. Amazing because of the quaint small towns that emerge out of the acres upon acres of vines that line both roadways. Amazing because of the interesting, entertaining and informational wine tours.

It is hard to control the desire to hire a driver and see as many wineries in a day as opening hours allow. But we have quickly learned that patience truly is a virtue when experiencing the finished product of the efforts of vintners who have devoted years if not decades to the amazing craft of wine-making.

A beautiful view of the valley below the castle and it's own vineyards flowing out in every direction

A beautiful view of the valley of vineyards below the Castello di Amorosa and its own vineyards flowing out in every direction

There are many ways to visit wineries, and each winery has their own style they prefer to use to share their end products with the public. One thing we find amazing in Napa is how many wineries do not sell to retail outlets. A good many we visit sell only to their members or to favorite restaurants of their choosing. They prefer not to have their wines’ value diminished by selling mass quantities. So they sell less for more. Is their wine any better than those sold in mass quantities? What and who get to distinguish that comparison? We have certainly tried our share of wines over the last 30 years, but what we have found out is our taste buds are integral to us and what tastes good us. And even at that, my husband and I do not share the same tastes. We can sit with 5 glasses of wine in front of us and not agree on any one of them.

For us, we have discovered the niche of finding wineries that offer up a personal one-on-one experience vs group tastings. We learn more about the specific winery, the wines they make and the story behind the wine and wine makers. And for us this has value, as well as it is neat to showcase wines in our wine cellar that you can’t just run down to the local liquor store and pick up.

Private tasting room at Fantesca Winery - where we were treated to a one-on-one presentation of Fantesca wines

Private tasting room at Fantesca Winery – where we were treated to a one-on-one presentation of Fantesca wines

Instead of Napa becoming a once in a while post, it looks as though my husband and I are going to make a great effort to get to Napa at least once a year, so this will be an ongoing post, where I will review the wineries we drink at, the restaurants we eat at, the little towns we walk around and any other activities each new trip to Napa affords us.

We are learning that it is not only okay, but important to not give into the urge to drink every last drop poured for you at the wine tastings. There is a clay pot there for a reason – taste what you need to get a flavor of the wine and then toss out the rest. It is a sad waste of a lot of great wine, but your head will thank you in the morning. It also helps to have a fairly clean palette so that when we get to the final winery of the day my tongue is not numb and my head not swirling.

Whether you do or don’t watch your intake of wine, I still highly recommend hiring a car service. Not only is it nice to be dropped off and picked up at the front entrance of each winery, but many of these drivers have lived in the area for years, moved here because of a love of the region and wine-making or something to do with wine, and often have some great local stories or stats that you probably won’t get at the wineries, restaurants or lodging.

This time we stayed at the Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort property. Most of the wineries we wanted to visit were in Calistoga. It is a resort built along a roadway that creeps up into the hillsides of this part of the valley. Each unit is like a glorified treehouse, that are tucked into a heavily wooded area. The units are quiet, and much to my husband’s pleasure have an outdoor shower! Apparently even in invigorating 55 degree temps the shower was a refreshing change of pace. This wimp stuck to the warm cozy indoor shower.

Unit #141 - the highest most unit in the development. Very quiet and serene.

Unit #141 – the highest unit at the Calistoga Ranch. Very quiet and serene.

Chateau Montelena. On our last visit to Napa, every winery we stopped at asked if we had watched a movie entitled, “Bottleshock.” Based strongly on the story of how the Napa Valley outpaced the dyed in the wool French wine market in the 1976 wine tasting competition. In a blind test of chardonnay’s the Chateau Montelana was picked unanimously by a mainly French wine judging panel over a strong line-up of French chardonnays. When the results were read the outrage was so palpable that some of the judges tried to rescind their vote once they learned what they had done because they could not conceive that an American/Californian wine had beat out their beloved French wines.

The winery is beautiful with an old world charm of a French Chateau facade replete with ivy starting to turn vibrant fall colors. Below sits a naturalized area with a pathway winding around lush greens spaces and a pond with beautiful local fauna and flora. And a red bridge tying the whole scene together. Inside the winery there are three beautifully hand carved wood bars for patrons to step up to and be served a flight of several wines of their choosing. No appointment necessary here, so pick off-peak times to visit as it is a highly sought after winery to visit. We went at opening on a Saturday morning at 9:30 am and had the place to ourselves and the attention of everyone working.

Our first winery - Chateau Montelena. Looks like it has been there for four centuries not four decades.

Our first winery – Chateau Montelena. Looks like it has been there for four centuries not four decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another angle of the grounds at Chateau Montelena - need to leave more time on our next visit so we can fully walk the grounds.

Another angle of the grounds at Chateau Montelena – need to leave more time on our next visit so we can fully walk the grounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fantesca Estate and WineryNext we were off to a special treat when it comes to how to really enjoy a wine tasting tour – in our humble opinion. We arrived at Fantesca Winery at about 10:30 and for the next 90 minutes we were spoiled with the knowledge and charm of a young wine expert. She was new at Fantesca, but had been in the wine business for nearly a decade. We started with a viewing of the Fantesca vineyard that flows down from the base of the winery into the rolling hills below. After a quick peak into the caves dug out of the hillside to store the newly barreled wine, we headed up into a beautifully appointed wine tasting room.

The etched argyle pattern on the Fantesca bottles comes from the owners idea to use a carnival theme based on the cirque du soleil theme

The etched argyle pattern on the Fantesca bottles comes from the owners idea to use a carnival theme based on an old Italian comedy troupe that inspired cirque du soleil and the outfits they wore

Fantesca Winery hired the apparent Queen of wine makers, Heidi Peterson Barrett, to create their wines. Heidi is said to have a palette for wine that maybe one in a billion people are born with. She is the most highly sought after vintner and is the only vintner, male or female, to score four perfect 100-point ratings  on wines she has created. And has her name attached to the most expensive bottle of wine sold in this region – a 6-litre bottle of Screaming Eagle – that had scored one of those 100 point ratings. This certainly was a tipping point for us when deciding whether to purchase Fantesca wines.

And once we tasted, even their young wines, we could truly tell the difference between wine being made by somebody with Heidi Barrett’s talents vs an average run of the mill vintner, whose only talent is a love for the craft of making wine. The smoothness and robust flavor of even Fantesca’s young wines outpaced any other wine we have tried – even those that have had ample aging time.

Castello di AmorosaOur third and final winery of the day was a place the locals call, “the castle.” And as the following pictures show, it is just that – a castle. A replica of an Italian 13th century castle that was built stone by stone in the same style that was used all those centuries ago. It is certainly a site to behold, but it has also become a huge tourist trap and wine tours can consist of a couple of dozen people per tour, with several tours going on at the same time. The wine is good, but the tour is equally about the castle and how it was built and all of its special attractions including a torture chamber in the dungeon. The vistas from the turrets offer views of amazing scenery and several of the large, more well-known wineries in the area.

Hard to believe this castle isn't somewhere in Italy and isn't several centuries old!

Hard to believe this castle isn’t somewhere in Italy and isn’t several centuries old!

Several reasons pull you to a winery, and those same reasons may entice you to choose to buy their wines – everything from the creativity of the wine labels or the bottles themselves, to the wine tour experience, to the actual taste of the wines. We have bought wines based on all of those reasons and more, and the desire to continue the journey only becomes more tantalizing with each visit. Just as I will never be completely sated by a single glass of wine, I will never be sated with a single visit to the Napa Valley.

We flew into the quieter Sacramento Airport, rented a car and drove the two lane state Highway 128 which winds tightly through the countryside, along creeks, past lakes, through a heavily treed and then a heavily burned out area, eventually morphing into Silverado Trail in the upper Napa Valley about two hours later.

After our visit in Napa, we made our way into San Francisco. My husband had meetings while I took in the sites and sounds of a bustling San Fran. Experienced a glass blowing demonstration by world-renowned Randy Strong, lunch at the historic Claremont Hotel Club and Spa sitting up high in the hills of Berkeley, and some wonderful dinners of local fresh seafood.

Check out more pictures under Napa Redux in the Global Gallery!

 

I will highlight the where we ate in the new “end of the month – where to eat” posts I’m starting this month.