Tag Archives: wine

Killer Bee pizza from B Side

NYC Pizza Review: B Side

I pass by B Side in Hell’s Kitchen at least once a week on my way to yoga. I knew it was a pizza place but the name didn’t inspire anything in me, so it wasn’t truly on my radar until a friend’s Italian boyfriend said it was one of his favorite pizza places in the neighborhood. Well now…

B Side is owned by a Hell’s Kitchen restaurant group that includes Vynl (the name B Side making more sense, as it is tucked around the corner from Vynl which is on 9th Ave and serves comfort food), El Centro (Mexican), Hell’s Kitchen (modern Mexican) and B Squared (another outpost of B Side farther down 9th Ave).

Mark and I went for dinner one evening and sat at the bar. I love the neighborhood feel of this place. It’s tiny, with mostly high top tables and a wrap around bar that provides a lot of seating. The front garage windows were thrown open this evening, and there is more bar seating along with window ledge. The decor is sleek wood with bright modern light fixtures shaped like star bursts along the wall.

We split the Marge (traditional cheese pizza) and the Killer Bee with sopressata, honey and chili oil.

Killer Bee pizza from B Side
Killer Bee pizza

Both pizzas were great! Chewy bubbly crust and not too soggy in the middle like some Neapolitan pizzas can be (I know, I know, they’re supposed to be like that).

I think my preference was for the Marge, just because the Killer Bee had a lot going on with it, and I didn’t love the sweet honey on this one as much as on other honey pizzas I’ve tried.

Also, the wine list is short and to the point, but includes some solid glasses. I had a light dry rose that was perfect for the early spring evening and the fresh hot pizza.

And they do carry-out. All wins!

Happy New Year! Michigan Sparkling Wine

Welp, it’s 2015.  We had a very successful New Year’s Eve, which consisted of a time-consuming disaster of a first-try making gnocchi that culminated in ordering pizza from Pizza Pino, Mark falling asleep on the couch at 8pm, me reading and listening to whatever musical show was on PBS, Mark waking back up at 11:30, us being really confused but somewhat mesmerized by Pitbull’s Miami New Year’s Eve Special, which was a lot of Pitbull speaking Spanish and gazing up at fireworks, and then going to bed by 12:09.

We did, however, manage to open and partially consume a bottle of sparkling wine from Michigan bubbly producer Mawby.

photo 3

M. Lawrence’s US was definitely drinkable, and the price was right at Kroger (somewhere around $15).  Not the best of the best but smooth tastes of green apple and maybe some juicy pear.  Here’s what their website has to say about it:

Sparkling Wine
‘Pale yellow gold… complex fruit aromas… yeasty accents… fruity… crisp style.’
A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that are hand picked and carefully whole-cluster pressed. The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks, then blended with reserve wines and fermented a second time in a closed tank [the cuve close method]. The wine is then filtered, dosaged, and bottled.
I liked this more than a lot of other local sparklers that I’ve tried.  Not sweet at all.  Almost like a crisp sparkling cider….that did make me a little bit thirsty after a glass and a half.  Well anyway, if you’re looking to try something local that isn’t syrupy sweet and won’t break the bank, this is a safe bet.
photo 1
Cheers and Happy New Year!
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Wine Wednesday and Halloween Crafts

I’m getting ready to embark on some Crest White Strips.  I’m prepping to forgo coffee and red wine for the foreseeable future 😦

So I figured this week I need to drink some red wine and tons of coffee to hold me over. I opened this 2009 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville CA that Mark had received as a present at some point along the way.  I used an aerator since I was only having one glass and didn’t want to pour the whole bottle into the decanter (and have learned my lesson about not doing either).

grothAt first I tasted blackberries, and then it turned to leather and tobacco.  The first glass was delicious.  I decanted the rest of the bottle the next night and had a second glass that didn’t seem as subtly wonderful as the first.  The tannins were kind of overwhelming and it had a super dry finish.  Letting it decant for another night, on the third try I found it a bit more relaxed – definitely more fruity and less leathery.  Too bad; I kinda like that smoked vibe.  It’s somehow thinner, but still dry.  I think it has a pretty hefty 14+% alcohol content.

As you know, I like to check my flavor profiles against what the producer/others have said.  While I didn’t really see any mentions of leather or tobacco, many people did note the dryness and tannins, as well as the blackberry fruit.  Maybe I’m equating the tannins with tobacco and the way a cigarette smells – dry and bitter.  A lot of people noted that this wine could use more aging and I’d agree with that assessment.

Some other fall treats? Pumpkins of course! Trying to be slightly different than my go-to jack-o-lantern carvings, I decided to play around with some old lace off of some of The Brides Project’s “fabric dresses” – dresses that are either outdated or in poor condition that we sell super cheaply to people who just want the fabric, trimmings or perhaps a Halloween costume?!?!

First I tried to tape some of the lace down in a pattern over one pumpkin and use acrylic paint over top so that when I pulled the lace away, there would be a pretty pattern.  Well that didn’t work.  The paint just got all smooshed around under the lace.  So I decided to paint the whole pumpkin white instead.  It’s a ghost pumpkin okay?!?!

ghost pumpkin 2 ghost pumpkin

For the second pumpkin, I stole an idea from a fellow Brides Project volunteer and wrapped the lace round and around the pumpkin for a “mummy” effect. She had creepy googly eyes that she pasted on peeping out from the “bandages” that looked cool. I did not have googly eyes, so I made a cute little bow on top instead.

mummy pumpkin

Finally, I’ve been trying to hold off on fall baking so as not to go cookie crazy before the wedding, but I had some extra bananas laying around, so I made these oatmeal, banana, chocolate chip cookies.

cookiesWell they’re more like dense oatmeal bars.  Literally the only ingredients are equal parts mashed banana and pulverized oatmeal, 1/2 cup of chocolate chip cookies and a dash of vanilla extract (that could definitely be skipped).  Since there’s not really added sugar besides the chocolate, I feel completely comfortable eating these for breakfast with my coffee.  I mean, no more coffee…darn it!!  Maybe I’ll start the White Strips in a few weeks instead….

Wine Tasting Wednesday and Tasty Treats

I’m totally late to the party on this one: Espiral Vinho Verde.  It’s been written about on so many blogs and my friend, The WineGetter, has been talking it up ever since the thermometer got above 60.  So finally, I purchased a bottle to try.  It’s $4.49 at Trader Joe’s. Well that’s why I haven’t ever tried it!  I still have a hard time believing you can buy alcohol at Trader Joe’s and supermarkets and that you don’t have to go to the wine store.  Also, I never go to Trader Joe’s because I feel like I just end up buying sugary snacks masquerading as health food.

So anyway, onto the wine.
vinho verdeIt was delicious!  It’s hard to go wrong with vinho verde I think in general.  It’s so light and refreshing, and sometimes, like this one, has a hint of effervescence such that it’s sort of like a wine spritzer.  At 9% ABV it’s not super strongly alcoholic, and it drinks crisply without an aftertaste.  Vinho verde, from Portugal, literally means green wine, and I think that’s an appropriate name for this bottle since it reminded me of tart green apples.  Vinho verde can be made from a blend of up to six grapes, but I couldn’t find out if Espiral was made from all six or just certain ones.  Does anyone know?

I highly recommend picking up a bottle if the Trader Joe’s near you sells alcohol.

Okay, on to some other treats.  It’s been a while since I’ve done any baking or dessert making, so I decided to do some of each this past week.  I made chicken ‘n’ biscuits and strawberry shortcake ice cream bars a la summertime ice cream truck (Good Humor?)…

The biscuits are super easy; my go-to recipe is here.  It doesn’t specify, so I use salted butter because I think it adds more flavor than unsalted butter which can be a bit bland…and I would end up slathering salted butter on them anyway once they’re ready.
chicken&biscuit2I did Shake ‘n’ Bake chicken breasts (Mark likes the SnB…I think it’s okay…I’d never had it until he persuaded me to buy a box a few months ago).  We did different toppings like ketchup, pickles, hot sauce, pickled jalapenos and banana peppers.  chicken&biscuit3
chicken&biscuit 1(These biscuits are also great for breakfast with butter…and maybe some honey? or maple syrup?)

The strawberry bar recipe was from The Chew on ABC here.  I skipped the corn starch because I didn’t feel like buying corn starch just for the two teaspoons it called for.
In tasting just the crumbly topping mix I wasn’t sure I was sold on the flavor matching that of those ice cream truck bars.  But once layered on the vanilla ice cream and strawberry sorbet, it really came together flavor-wise!

Everything was so delicious  – especially the biscuits right out of the oven.  It’s great what you can do with some flour and butter and not much else.

Next up: I’m going to try to recreate those crunchy chocolate bits in Carvel ice cream cake. If anyone else has other fun foods they want me to try to make, just comment here!

Wine Tasting Wednesday: California Bottles

Mark and I brought home about 12 bottles of wine from our Napa Valley trip in October.  Since we don’t drink wine on a daily basis or a lot at one time, we do a lot of skipping around and trying new things rather than sticking to one excellent grape/vineyard/region (although see my post on pinot noir which also factors in my love of pinot grigio).  So we ended up with a 12 bottle hodge podge of things we tried an liked on the vacation.

Some of these bottles will need some aging, but there were a few that I felt comfortable opening sooner rather than later, knowing I might be foregoing better tastes ahead.  Two of these were Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc (2009) and Sofia Rose by Francis Ford Coppola (2012):  (Side note: I don’t know how to do accents on this Mac, so forgive my spelling of Rose, which is actually pronounced rose-ay.)


sofia 1

sofia 2

1. Chimney Rock – Elevage Blanc, Napa Valley, 2009 (Estate Grown): This white blend is 59% Sauvignon Blanc and 41% Sauvignon Gris and is quite smooth.  My initial smells were of honeysuckle and grapefruit and the taste was of vanilla and pear with a citrusy kick at the end.  Chimney Rock is a Terlato Wine and this is where I first saw Anthony Terlato’s book Taste that I subsequently read on the Kindle (where it was much cheaper).

2. Francis Ford Coppola – Sofia Rose, Monterey County, 2012:  This rose is 55% Syrah, 35% Pinot Noir and 10% Grenache (one of my favorite grapes that goes into Cotes de Provence Rose).  I smelled bright crisp florals that reminded me of Napa mornings’ aroma. I got some tangerine notes that turned to strawberry.  The taste was crisp, not sweet, like juicy green apples with honey, giving a little acidity in the back of the mouth.

I wrote down my impressions upon tasting, and then, per usual, fact checked myself against internet descriptions.  I’m pretty proud of what I tasted and smelled in the Rose as compared to the Winemaker’s Notes on wine.com:  “Our 2012 Sofia Rose bestows a beautiful nose of strawberries, cherries, and orange blossom. Perfectly balanced with a zesty acidity and just the right amount of body, this year’s rose highlights bright, juicy fruit impressions of pomegranate, strawberries, kumquats, tea leaves and spice.” [Check on the strawberries, floral, tangerine/citrus]

As for the Elevage Blanc, I was in the ballpark.  According to community reviews on cellartracker.com:  “Pears on the nose, spicy and acidic on the palate with grapefruit/citrus notes. Long finish.”  And: “white wine for red wine lovers” which is the perfect description because I chose to drink this white in the winter because I thought it could taste a little heavy – a great white wine for cooler temps!  [Check on the pear, grapefruit]

I would definitely drink the Elevage Blanc again because it’s interesting and quite a different type of white wine.  It would go nicely with winter comfort food like light stews or tomato-y pasta dishes (I wouldn’t do it with creamy dishes).

And while I wouldn’t turn down a bottle of the Sofia Rose, it was a standardly delicious rose – nothing earth shattering.  I can’t wait for a little more springtime to spring so we can get into the real heart of rose season – the best time of year!!


When I left you last week, I had so much more to share about the vineyards and wineries we visited on our trip to Napa Valley.  I told you about Opus One, where they only make one wine per year and about all the yummy food we ate.  Now more on on the wines and wineries:

On our first day, before we even got to Chateau de Vie, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Fran.  We left early early Monday morning, and there was so much fog, we couldn’t even see the bridge WHILE we were driving over it.  Oh well.

We veered off to Sausalito which was still quite quiet and stopped for a croissant and a coffee at a local bakery “overlooking” the bridge, which was still shrouded in fog, so no go on that photo op.  However, I actually much prefer this foggy, grey, dramatic sky, which I think is more interesting and evocative than a bright sunny day anyway:


We arrived in Napa way too early for our 11am tour at Domaine Carneros (sparkling wine made in a traditional French fashion: “methode champenoise”), so we went to Oxbow Market in Napa to wander around and find a snack.  It’s like an upscale version of Cross Street Market in Baltimore.  Instead of dirty floor water, there were wine and cheese bars, a spice counter, an oyster bar (okay that might be in Cross Street Market also), and this ginormous pumpkin that must have won some sort of award:

IMG_0472I like the small pumpkin next to it for scale 🙂

Then off we went to Domaine Carneros, where the tour gave a very detailed overview of the champagne-making process.  There was great information for those of us taking notes (okay, that was just me).  After initial fermentation in huge vats/barrels/drums (whatever you want to call them), yeast is added and the sparkling wine is bottled for secondary fermentation (what gives the CO2 bubbles).  In the old days (and at some places, still) they would keep the bottles neck down in a wooden plank (“riddling rack”) and the “riddlers” would have to come by every day to turn each bottle ever so slightly to loosen any yeast that was stuck to the sides of the bottle.  The dead yeast cells would fall into the neck of the bottle and collect there.  At this point in the process, there is a beer-bottle type cap on the bottles, not a cork, because it can best hold in the pressure accumulating from the CO2 produced from the fermentation.

IMG_0484This “riddling” system was invented by Veuve Clicquot (of French Champagne fame), whom I hadn’t realized was an actual person – and a woman at that – woo woo!  At Domaine Carneros, they now have huge machines that do the riddling:

IMG_0486 (At Schramsberg, another sparkling winery we went to, they still have people doing the riddling by hand…our tour guide there, Martha, said a single riddler could turn 50,000 bottles a day!!)

After a period of time when all the lees (dead yeast cells…they die when there isn’t any sugar left in the wine for them to consume) fall into the neck of the bottle, the neck is flash-frozen with glycol and the frozen yeast plug is extracted.  Some sugar is added back into the sparkling wine at that point or else it would taste disgusting (process called “dosage”) and then the real cork is inserted into the bottle.  I understood that a champagne cork doesn’t start off the way it looks when you pull it out of the bottle, but I wasn’t prepared for how fat it was to begin with!!  It makes sense, I just never thought about it before.  Here is a before and after shot of the cork in sparkling wine:


Look at all that wine they’ve opened!

IMG_0489 They taught us the proper technique (and most safe way) to open a sparkling wine bottle: 1. Keep the bottle very cold so that the CO2 pressure is minimized; 2. After you take off the foil (which is now decorative but was originally used to hide inconsistencies in the level of the wine across different bottles) and unwind the cage, keep the cage on!  3. Always have you hand across the cork, don’t just set it down on the table without the cage because it could pop off!  4. Press into the cork as you twist the bottle  5.  Then the cork will come out with a tiny pop of air and won’t hit you in the eye.  P.S. Do not eyeball the top of the cork until it is out of the bottle, lest you lose an eye.  (I recently tried this technique for the first time…it was sort of difficult and I was so scared….I hate opening champagne anyway….small pop but then the champagne started really flowing out of the bottle into the sink….not sure if that was poor technique or just a bad bottle.)

Next, we went to Artesa, which is almost across the street from Domaine Carneros.  These wineries are in the Carneros Region just south of Napa where the temperatures are slightly cooler given the breezes off the San Pablo Bay to the south.  These cooler climates (and really every hillside and valley and shady patch under a tree is its own microclimate…the owner of Storybook Mountain winery told us that within 40 acres of planted grapes – so not a lot by Napa standards – they’ve divided 105 subplots, each with its own weather conditions that may change the kind of grape planted there, how much they water, etc.) are better for growing pinot noir grapes and chardonnay grapes used for sparkling wines.  So for instance, Domaine Carneros also produces a pinot noir in addition to their sparkling wines (some of which are a mix of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes).

Artesa is owned by a Spanish family who also has wineries in Spain and Argentina.  We tasted a sparkling Spanish cava which was delicious!!  Not as tart as the American brut sparkling wines I’m used to, but not totally syrupy sweet either…somewhere in between…that you could actually perhaps drink with food.  From their American winery, we tasted a chardonnay and two different delish pinot noirs (one that we ended up purchasing).  It was an interesting comparison tasting because one was an estate pinot noir (meaning all the grapes going into that came from the surrounding Artesa-owned vineyards) and one was not estate (grapes from vineyards on site have been mixed with grapes from vineyards offsite, either Artesa-owned or not…or all grapes have come from offsite).  The estate wine definitely had a stronger taste and perhaps more tannins (that puckering sensation you get on the side of your tongue from red wine), such that I preferred the mixed pinot better.

At Artesa, our host was Anne, a petit Englishwoman whom I really liked (but maybe that was because she was super friendly, chatty, and seemed to validate my opinions on what we were tasting).

IMG_0510 IMG_0506Our welcome sign above!  So cool!!  (Our host thought we were married so all our reservations were under Mark and Hannah Lowe 🙂 )

We had a private tasting with her and short tour of the winery which was so modern and cool:

IMG_0494 Sculpture leading up to Artesa IMG_0496 Amazing water featureIMG_0501 Entering Dr. Evil’s underground lair it seemedIMG_0502 Viewing windows built like black pyramids out of the side of the winery.

One feature which I thought was super nifty was that each of this family’s wineries has a replica statue of the Virgin Mary.  The very old, original statue was unearthed as they were digging the original vineyard in Spain.  What makes this Mary special is that she is depicted with braids – the harvest Mary – which is very rare, as Mary is usually shown with her hair covered completely as a sign of modesty.  I thought it was pretty fortuitous that a harvest Mary was unearthed while digging a wine farm essentially!  Additionally, at Atesa, she is placed in a pool of water in a courtyard surrounded by thick columns.  Due to the architectural design, a hologram of her is projected into the tasting room, when the light is right.  It’s not a true reflection because there are columns in her way, and no matter where you move within the courtyard, her hologram stays put inside.

IMG_0508 The light isn’t perfect to view her, but you get the point.

Tuesday, we started early with a 9am private tour at Storybook Mountain, known for their Zinfandels.  We wandered through some redwoods with our guide – the son-in-law of the owner – who told us the history of the winery.  IMG_0584 Mark among the redwoods.

It was originally started in the 1880s by Jacob and Adam Grimm of Germany.  They were some of the first winemakers in Napa along with the other Jacobs: Jacob Schramsberg and Jacob Beringer.  When the vineyard was taken over in the 1970s after years of abandonment after a fire in the 1960s, Jerry, the owner (pictured below, whose daughter is the head winemaker….another UC Davis grad, as all winemakers in Napa seem to be) didn’t want to call it the Grimm winery because that just sounds unpleasant.  So they named it Storybook after the Grimm fairy tales.  Jerry’s wife, an artist, carved this huge barrel to commemorate the history.

IMG_0595Jerry tasting wine at 9am – “never too early to taste some wine!”

IMG_0599Barrel depicting story of the vineyard

IMG_0593Storybook is in the Northern-most part of Napa with a lovely view of Mt. St. Helena, the largest peak in Mayacamas Mountains.

Later on Tuesday, we headed to Schramsberg, which also makes sparkling wines.  Schramsberg wine became famous when it was served at the “Toast to Peace” State dinner in China between President Nixon and the Chinese president.  Barbara Walters picked a bottle from the table and used it in her news piece, which then launched the wine’s popularity.  It has been used in many State and White House dinners since.

IMG_0600Even Charles and Di drank Schramsberg.

IMG_0606Here’s what they do if a bottle explodes under CO2 pressure while being stored….they just replace it with a piece of PVC tube to hold the structure in place.

IMG_0607Wall of bottles being stored.  Schramsberg has 34,000 square feet of underground caves in which to store their wine.  Both their caves and those at Storybook were partially dug by Chinese railroad workers who were looking for work after the transcontinental railroad was completed in the late 1800s.  (Notice the mold growing on the ceilings…apparently that’s good.)

IMG_0605How they label and track the stored bottles.  In this batch, which was put away in 2008, there are over 24,000 bottles!

IMG_0612Tasting nook at Schramsberg.

Tuesday afternoon, we headed to Castello de Amorosa.  We didn’t have a tasting our tour scheduled, but we wandered around the outside of this castle that was built after traditional Italian castles, but in the 1990s, just to produce and store wine!  After reading this “About” blurb on their webpage, it might be worth the $20 entrance fee next time around to see the dungeons and hidden passageways.  There’s also a moat!!

IMG_0622 IMG_0623 IMG_0625 IMG_0626 IMG_0629 IMG_0639 IMG_0649Gargoyles!

Wednesday we headed over to Sonoma – about a 45 minutes ride from our B&B (actually more since we passed it and got completely lost for a while) to tour Jordan winery, where we had a very friendly guide, Jason, who showed us grapes being brought in from harvest.  Jordan also has a fully functioning farm, and their full-time chef, Todd Knoll, came from the Ritz in San Fran.  We not only had a cheese-wine pairing here, but we also had smoked salmon crostini with the chardonnay. IMG_0701 Jason pouring our morning Chardonnay.IMG_0703 Salmon breakfastIMG_0706Overlooking the farm IMG_0712 Grapes coming in from harvestIMG_0714 They are letting these barrels air out after being cleaned.  I stuck my head in the hole and then a worker yelled at me because apparently there were incredible amounts of sulfur fumes coming out of there and he said I would die.  My bad!IMG_0722 This was some pretty tasty wine we had at Jordan.IMG_0724Secret passageways!! Love. IMG_0725 Cheese plate, Jordan olive oil (very peppery) and pickled fig chutney off in the corner there.IMG_0727Some really really large bottles of wine.

We had lunch at Coppola winery in Sonoma, which is like an amusement park/tourist trap, so we had very low expectations.  In fact, we really enjoyed the wine we tasted there (and they were super cheap comparatively), and we also had a delicious lunch on their terrace at Rustic, the restaurant onsite.  I had a fresh arugula pizza and chocolate pot de creme that was too rich to even eat half of, served in a tiny tea cup.  There is a pool at which you can rent a day cabana, and lots of Coppola’s movie memorabilia.


IMG_0731 Throwback-style cabanasIMG_0735A whole rainbow of wine.  This was our taste pourer – I don’t remember her name, but she is from Boston and recently moved to CA to be closer to her grown children.

IMG_0736View from the patio at Rustic

Thursday we had two morning tastings back in Napa: at Conn Creek and Chimney Rock, followed by a tour and tasting at Cade, which was on Food&Wine’s list of must-visit Napa wineries.  Conn Creek had one really tasty wine, called Anthology, which we hear can be aged for a quite a number of years before it really hits its prime….note to self: put a sticky note on that one making sure not to drink it for a while.  The unique thing about Conn Creek, which I definitely want to do next time we are in Napa, is they take 10 people a day, and for $95 each, you can sample pure grape varietals and then blend your own wine to suit your fancy!  So cool!  I asked if anyone had ever produced anything in this class that the winery then went on to mix, bottle and sell.  Apparently not.  Oh well.IMG_0783

I loved Chimney Rock – I thought their wines were some of the best we had.  This is a Terlato vineyard, of which there are a few, and Terlato also imports and distributes lots of other wines.  For instance, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio that I love is imported by Terlato.  You may have also heard of Terlato from Top Chef – I think they are always hyping that brand.  I bought Anthony Terlato’s book “Taste” for $3.50 on my Kindle and can’t wait to read it – part autobiography, part business book is the sense I get.IMG_0785 IMG_0786 IMG_0787

I also loved the local art they had on the walls at Chimney Rock.  Our host said that it changes from time to time and this was a new show, so he didn’t know anything about the artist.  Too bad they weren’t cheaper or else I would have purchased one!!

Cade was the last winery we visited on Thursday, and while the physical location was stunning, I was less impressed with the wines, although that may have been tainted by our super pretentious guide.  He had such a “whatever” attitude (although he may have been a bit toasted, as it was 4pm and he no doubt had many other tours before ours), spoke really fast and didn’t explain anything.  He didn’t inspire us to start conversation among the group (something that naturally happened most everywhere else by the end of the tour) and he poo-pooed some of the local restaurants we had been to already and enjoyed (“good isn’t good enough for Napa”).  I’m glad we went if only for the beautiful scenery and weather, but needless to say we didn’t buy anything and left with a sour taste from all the eye-rolling.

IMG_0792 IMG_0798 Nice outdoor lounge areaIMG_0794 IMG_0808This is the tree on which Cade based their logo’s symbol IMG_0795 IMG_0796 IMG_0797Cade had an industrial but rustic feel, with huge concrete walls juxtaposed against rattan lanterns, a waterfall and the beauty of the valley below.

IMG_0811 Barrels to start the fermentation process IMG_0813Going underground into the modern caves IMG_0816Whereas all the other caves we saw were very old and natural, with mold (good mold that produces oxygen we’re told) growing on the walls and ceilings, Cade had a more sterile feel to the tunnels where the barrels are housed to age.  They also used this big cement egg as one (of many) fermentation process.  Again, the guide went a little too fast for me to get a handle on how this works or why you would use it as opposed to other methods.

By our fifth day of wine tastings, we were exhausted and could barely stand the smell of wine in the morning (because it really does pervade the air there).  Mark had a sore throat from the dry air and the hotel AC and we debated whether to skip out on the last two tours.  I’m so glad we chose to go.  As I discussed in the last post, we went to Opus One in the afternoon, with our wonderful guide, Hank, from whom I learned so much.  In the morning, we went to the Hess Collection.  The owner, Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess, owns vineyards throughout the world, and perhaps more importantly, has a massive modern art collection that anyone can view for free (in Napa at least).  His collection is split up across his vineyards and his home, and the pieces that were on display in Napa were pretty cool.  He had some pieces by Francis Bacon (disturbed Irish artist), and apparently a Picasso (but that is at his home in Switzerland).

Some of the more interesting works were: a typewriter on fire (gas fueled), a lacy-looking curtain installation created completely of twigs (no glue or ropes holding the sticks together), and a massive slab of what looked to be dried mud, complete with tire tracks and bits of pebbles and mica and other natural bits that would be found in dried dirt.  In fact that was made completely out of fiberglass.  Even millimeters away from it, I couldn’t tell that it wasn’t dirt.  Crazy!  I also really loved an installation of melted rocks in various states of smoosh.  Basically the artist put rocks in a kiln until they started cracking and melting.  Some looked like huge dinosaur poop and some looked the way cookies look in the oven as the raw balls of dough start to dry, crack and then puddle into chewy cookies!  I really wanted to touch one to see what it felt like.  I was told I could not, but the guide assured me it just felt like a rock – I guess that’s not a shock.  It was definitely worth getting up and moving at the end of the week.

The trip overall was fantastic, an although I was definitely “wined out” (if that’s even possible), I can’t wait to go back!  I would do fewer tastings each day, but I would definitely recommend Chateau de Vie bed and breakfast for the warm hospitality, homemade breakfasts and poolside lounge chairs.  I would go back to Conn Creek to do the  make-your-own-wine class, and I would hit up one or two of the larger wineries, just for comparison.  Perhaps Mondavi.  There is also a wine train, which seems touristy, but let’s be honest, the whole town is touristy, so may as well enjoy!  We were tempted to go to the hot springs, petrified forest or Old Faithful geyser, but many of the online reviews poo-pooed these things for being too expensive (i.e. $10 entrance fee) and not worth it.  Maybe next time.  We would definitely do some hiking, and we would try to eat at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) which apparently has fabulous food in their student-run restaurant.

Back to reality now in Ann Arbor, where it is cold, grey and rainy today.  I’m keeping warm making pumpkin bread and roasted pumpkin seeds 🙂

photo-26 Have a good weekend! 🙂

If You’re Going to San Francisco Be Sure to Wear Some…Sunscreen

Even though it wasn’t hot (70s with zero humidity) and the breezes felt cool, that sun was STRONG!  Mark and I just got home from an amazing wine-tasting vacation to San Francisco and Napa Valley (with some Sonoma thrown in).  We ate waaaay too much gourmet food, tasted tons of wines, and took many, many pictures (well that was mostly just me).

I hadn’t been to San Fran since I was a baby, so I had no clue what to do once we got there.  We spent two nights in San Fran and thanks to the input of a few friends (credits to Dylan and Tania), we walked everywhere: to the Saturday farmers’ market (made me wish we had a kitchen in the hotel in which to cook some fresh veggies), to Pier 39 to see the sea lions, to Ghirardelli Square where we ate ice cream, to Coit Tower for an incredible 360 degree view of the city, through Chinatown (where I bought some $5 leggings woo woo!) IMG_0460 (These aren’t the $5 leggings, fyi.)IMG_0459 IMG_0458(Above is the main entryway to Chinatown and an incredibly intricately carved sculpture in a shop window there) and through North Beach, where we sat at a sidewalk cafe and watched the passers-by. Views from the Embarcadero along the water:



Our trip to Napa was planned for us by a friend (thank you to Steve) who owns a liquor store in Baltimore.  Having someone else plan your vacation for you is the only way to travel I’ve decided!  We didn’t have to pre-plan our hotels or wine tastings, however we did arrange most of our meals, but you literally cannot go wrong choosing a restaurant there – each one is fantastic.

In San Francisco, we had a light-feeling but completely filling lunch at Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Ferry Building.  We made a lunch reservation at 11:30 because there weren’t any dinner reservations available, and then we saw why: when we showed up at 11am, there was already a long line of people (all with reservations it seemed) waiting for the restaurant to open!  Clearly this place is super popular.  The previous night, while waiting for our dinner table at the Italian restaurant Perbacco, we struck up a conversation at the bar with a local guy who said he used to eat at Slanted Door at least once a week.  He recommended a bunch of different dishes to try, as well as an iced Vietnamese coffee, which is essentially very strong coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk, as far as I could tell, which was SO strong and sweet and I drank it in about 5 minutes it was that good.  Maybe I need to start mixing all of my coffee with sweetened condensed milk…and gain 50 pounds immediately.  I’m still dreaming about the shaking beef (chunks of filet with red onion and perfectly sour lime sauce), spicy shrimp with hot and sweet mixed peppers and cellophane noodles with dungeness crab that had a very delicate flavor (we should have had it as an appetizer so as not to overwhelm it with the strong flavors of the other dishes – note to self).  I fully intend to order the restaurant’s cookbook and start practicing my Vietnamese cooking at home!

In Napa, we ate at a few well-heeled restaurants: Bouchon, a brasserie-style restaurant from Thomas Keller, the owner/chef of French Laundry (suuuper fancy above my pay grade), Redd Wood, a pizzeria from chef/owner, Richard Reddington, of Redd (another restaurant whose preparations are a bit over my head/palette) and Solbar, a Michelin-starred restaurant, whose chef trained at French Laundry and was the sous-chef at Gary Danko in San Francisco (fyi, we heard this was la creme de la creme of SF but didn’t dare venture there ourselves).

At Bouchon, I had my two faves: soupe a l’oignon and escargots.  Both delicious, but both so super rich that I could barely fit another bite into my stomach halfway through the meal.  Keep in mind these are both appetizers – I didn’t even order a main.  The onion soup was rich and cheesy with  very beef-flavored broth.  It almost tasted like the au jus that comes with a French Dip sandwich.  By the time the garlic butter snails arrived, each with their own tiny, buttery puff pastry atop, I was already stuffed!  Yummy!

IMG_0827 Outside of Bouchon


IMG_0829Escargots with puff pastry and black walnut Manhattan.

At Redd Wood, I had a wonderful pizza margherita done in the wood-fired oven.  The fresh mozzarella wasn’t too chewy and the tomato sauce sort of reminded me of the sauce that comes in a can of SpaghettiOs (but not in a bad way).  Even though this was delicious pizza, it made me realize that what I’m searching for here in Ann Arbor is brick-oven pizza, not wood-oven pizza…okay the search continues.

Has anyone else noticed that 2013 has been the year of burrata?  It is virtually on every menu in some form or another…with tomatoes, on salad, on pizza.  It is essentially a softer version of mozzarella that is made with cream and/or ricotta.  I’ve had it so many times this summer (my fave still being with macerated sour cherries and fennel at Mani in Ann Arbor) that by the end of trip I REALLY wanted it with fig jam and crostini at Redd Wood, but I was just too burnt out on the cheese that I couldn’t bring myself to order it.  We did have an amazing burrata, mozzarella, fresh basil and roasted grape tomato pizza at the Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery for lunch one day:IMG_0668

And I also had a caprese salad with juicy ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and sweet burrata at Market in St. Helena our first night for dinner in Napa Valley.  I forgot to take a picture beforehand, but this is how much I loved it (and how much Mark loved his ribs):

IMG_0563 IMG_0562 I liked the shifty eyes on this “Prohibition” beer bottle.  The beer itself was too sour for me.

Napa Valley is made up of a series of small towns from Napa proper (south end), all the way up to Calistoga (north end), with Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and some others in between.  (Yountville seems to have the highest concentration of celeb chefs in the valley, as this is where Bouchon, French Laundry, Redd, Bottega and Redd Wood are, among others.)

We spent the first three nights of our Napa ‘venture at Chateau de Vie, an AMAZINGly cute B&B in Calistoga.  The proprietors, Philip and Peter, were so hospitable, providing CdV take-home, reusable water bottles, hearty breakfasts including homemade lemon raisin or multi-berry scones and muffins, and an open wine cabinet from which a glass could be enjoyed on the patio or out by the pool.  They also make their own cabernet sauvignon, which we didn’t have the opportunity to try while there, so we purchased a bottle to take with us to remind us of our time there when we’re back at home.

IMG_0675Grapes at Chateau de VieIMG_0672IMG_0671Lounging by the pool after a long morning of wine tasting 🙂IMG_0678 IMG_0679 IMG_0680 Patio at Chateau de Vie where you could eat breakfast or enjoy the afternoon sun.

Calistoga was founded as a spa town around the time of the Gold Rush given the natural hot springs, and the town’s main street looked like what you would expect from a Wild West town, complete with old men in cowboy hats sitting on benches.

IMG_0658 This is the front of the bank, obviously. IMG_0661Spa on an old train!IMG_0665 Old men on a bench with cowboy hats…sorry this is so dark, I was trying to stealthily snap their photo.

The second night in Napa Valley, we at at Michelin-starred Solbar at the recommendation of our host.  It’s in the Solage resort in Calistoga.  We sat outside on the patio which was festively decorated with pumpkins for the fall and a fire pit within the fountain – cool!  My scallops with sesame-sake sauce were perfectly cooked and super light.  It was a gorgeously clear night and beautiful surroundings.

IMG_0693 Walking up to Solbar IMG_0690  Sunset in Napa on the way to SolbarIMG_0692 Early star

IMG_0698  IMG_0700 Fire pit in the middle of a pool of water

In addition to all the great meals we had, we tasted many, many, many wines along the way.  We were scheduled at two to three wineries each day, and even though by the end of the week we almost had to drag ourselves to the last two appointments,  each place was unique and interesting and I’m so glad we went to every one.

At each winery/vineyard, we either took a tour or just had a tasting, depending on how it was set up.  The tastings were usually four different wines (different vintages of the same thing, different grapes or different styles) however the last winery we visited was Opus One, where they only make one wine per year (actually they make a secondary, “lesser” wine that is apparently only available at the winery for $80).  The current vintage (2010, as it takes 3 years to make and release each October 1) is $235, so needless to say we did not purchase a bottle, but we fully enjoyed sitting in their courtyard surrounded by olive trees, drinking our complimentary glass.  Even though this was our last tour, it was one of the best, with an extremely knowledgeable tour guide, Hank, who has been with Opus One for 16 years.  We got to see the machines and people at work sorting grapes (they have a fairly person-heavy process comparatively with actual people pulling out leaves and debris), removing stems and moving through the optical eye machine that shoots perfectly-placed jets of air to get rid of any imperfect grapes, as determined by the preset criteria fed to the machine.  The winery was founded as a partnership between Baron Philippe de Rothschild, a preeminent French winemaker, and Robert Mondavi, then a virtually unknown California winemaker, in 1979.  The winery was built to marry new and old world architectural features and was designed to resemble a temple (while walking up I said it looked like a tomb…so not far off!).

IMG_0836The winery is built into a hill so that the caves are underground and they’ve replanted grass all over the top of the winery, so it almost looks like a hidden bunker when you drive by.

IMG_0837 See…tomb-like

I knew I was going to like this place when I saw the huge French flag out front! IMG_0838

IMG_0840Conveyor belt transporting grapes to be sorted.

IMG_0842 This was the first time in the whole week that I really understood the idea of grafting French vines on American roots as the American roots are more resistant to disease/parasites but the French vines produce much better wine grapes.IMG_0843 Relaxing under the portico looking at olive trees.  A lot of the wineries also produce olive oil, but many are quite peppery and burn the tongue (I tried a raw olive off the tree and could only stand to bite my front teeth into it before it was too bitter and I spit it out).  We did purchase some smooth and only slightly peppery oil from the Rutherford Grill where we ate lunch.  It will be perfect for garnishing antipasto, salads and dipping bread – they had some awesomely salty/rosemary focaccia there at the Grill.  Double yum!

IMG_0791Olive oil posing with the small, cute lamp on the bar at Rutherford Grill 🙂

This seems like a really long post already and I could keep going on and on about all the other cool things we saw and did…so, to be continued!