Monday, June 29, 2009

The real weekend in Orange County

Visiting my aunt and uncle in Orange County is always fun and this trip was no exception. We started the weekend with a casual dinner & drinks at a near by restaurant in Newport Bay. Live entertainment provided by my family's friend Bobby made for a very fun evening. In Southern California they publish where police are doing road blocks to check for drunk drivers in the local paper so everyone takes detours. This weekend's block was on Dover. After affixing our sticky note to the dash with the reminder "Don't drive on Dover" we were off. Funny at the end of our evening as we were leaving the parking lot the security attendant gave us his advice to "don't drive on Dover" also. This became the mantra of the weekend (you had to be there, it was funny!)

The next morning we were off to Temecula for an afternoon of wine tasting. We started out at Callaway where some of my uncle's friends, Brian and Sue, joined us. We had never been to this wine area before but found that every winery charged $8 and up for tasting, generally gave you 6 tastes and even if you purchased wine there were no refunds on the tasting fee.

We decided to pick up sandwiches from a great little deli and find a picnic spot at one of the wineries to enjoy our lunch. We ended up in a nice grassy spot with a pretty little view at one of the sparkling wine producers, we would realize later that this was the only winery without a dedicated picnic area, oh well!

The rest of the afternoon was spent tasting at Stuart, Falkner and South Coast Winery. All had something nice but I think I can speak for the group that none of them completely blew us away with their wines. My highlight was riding with Sue in her pretty silver Porsche- varoom!

My aunt's sister, who has a house in the area, was out of town and had generously invited us all to stay there so we made our way home and got down to the business of cocktails and hot tubbing.

The house sits out near an airfield and planes were dropping skydivers almost directly overhead. The wind helped them over to their landing spots miles from where we were but for a few minutes you could look up and watch the free fallers pop up as their parachutes opened. Also out here in the "country" were burrowing owls and lots of horses. The wild west!

We had a wonderful dinner of grilled steak and lobsters, steamed artichokes with butter and caprese salad. Dayne made up Sazeracs and of course there was wine from the day's outing.
We headed back to Costa Mesa the next day detouring through Dana Point and Laguna Beach areas. The weather was gorgeous so the beaches and towns were packed leaving us no options to park and wander around. We ended up in a little shopping mall with a Tommy Bahama store. This particular store also had a restaurant/lounge and was serving up happy hour. Really nice drinks and excellent small plate food served with live music at a very good price. And Dayne got to go shopping- so all in all a win!

The evening was spent at my family's house enjoying the hot tub, patio & bbq- ultimate vacation relaxation.

Our weekend wrapped up with a short drive to Huntington Beach for brunch at Duke's. The restaurant has a great loction right on the beach and valet parking is only $3! All the food and mai tai's were tasty, unfortunately a busser dropped a dish of salad dressing on my aunt's lap while clearing our table and the manager really didn't go out of her way to make things better which was disappointing. I think my uncle contacted the manager after the fact and got a better resolution.

Thanks to Uncle John & Aunt Karen for a great weekend! The rest of the pictures are here

Monday, June 8, 2009

Drink, Eat, Baseball

Last month we went to Chicago for the weekend to visit our friend Judy, catch up on the food and cocktail scene and take in a ballgame. We used miles to fly and stayed at the Monaco Hotel thanks to a great $81 per night deal! A quick ride into town on the train, free since our friend Dino had sent us some unused train tickets, and we were ready to hit the town.

We met Judy and her friends Amy & Andreas for dinner at Mado in the Wicker Park/ Bucktown area. Dinner was casual and fun and there were lots of new things for me to try since the kitchen pretty much sent out the entire menu (that is what happens when you go out with Judy, everyone knows her!) Of the things I was brave enough to try: grilled pork heart with radicchio, pecans and saba (excellent!) also blood pudding (ok but not a good texture for me). The food here was all quite good, I thought they needed to cook their beans a bit more in the porchetta dish and the octopus dish but overall a good "farmer" style of meal.

After dinner we walked a few blocks to The Violet Hour. Passing the line at the door (another Judy perk) we were seated in a gorgeous room, at a huge booth. The rooms were much prettier than I expected having only been to Bourbon & Branch and Milk & Honey as far as "speakeasy" style bars go. We each had 3 excellent cocktails in our 2 hours spent there, and a shot of chartreuse on the bartender. But when 2am comes, it doesn't matter who you are- the lights come on and you need to get out! So home we went...

Doesn't this look like a Suntory ad?

We had tickets the next day for the Cubs vs. the Marlins at Wrigley Field, a field we hadn't been to before so I was super excited. More excited when we picked up our tickets and were told they moved us 2 rows and a section closer to home plate. The game was action packed with the Cubs winning 6 to 1 and the weather was perfect. What wasn't exciting was the food, ugh!! You'd think in Chicago you could at least get a proper dog at the game. Blah, we are so spoiled by the food at Safeco Field!

Andreas and Amy had also been at the game so we hooked up with them after and had HUGE German beers at Uberstein in Wrigleyville. I like saying Wrigleyville, it's funny! At Uberstein you and your friends can do a "ski shot". They bring over a snow ski that has 4 shot glasses glued to it and you and your buddies all hold the ski and tip it up and do your shot. If you are the shortest you will get drenched with your shot. Ah youth... :p

Before heading to dinner we met up with Judy at her new penthouse apartment for cocktails. Penthouse + cocktails = awesome! Check out the view

Judy, her friend Scott, Dayne and I were dining at Blackbird that night, I had been wanting to go since it first opened! We were given a very nice table right in the front window and pretty much tasted the entire menu between the four of us ordering and the extras that the kitchen brought out (again...Judy!) The meal (and wine, thanks Scott!) was stellar but I really think they shine the brightest with their appetizers. Now I need to get to sister restaurant Avec!

After dinner we headed to The Drawing Room, I had heard about their tableside cocktail service and sure enough once we ordered we were offered either drinks done fast at the bar and brought over or each made individually in front of us from the cart. This is so much better than tableside Caesar salad! And then out came a platter of wonderful crudo (on the house because of "you know who again!"). I thought the drinks here were really good, the only drawback was that there is a disco in the next room and you could hear the bass going. I'd recommend it though!

Dayne and I finished our quick trip the next morning with brunch at Perennial. Dayne picked the place from some menus I showed him based on the fact that they had breakfast sliders! It was a good brunch- inexpensive, pretty inside, little patio outside, good food. And bonus running into my friend Kyle (Hi Kyle!)

The weather all weekend was just gorgeous! Thanks again to Judy for all her hospitality and wonderful to meet Amy, Andreas & Scott!

Full set of photos here

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