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.