Saturday, June 25, 2022

Winter Warmer in San Diego

Trip date: December 2021

My friend Aaron always has a great list of restaurants to check out going for various cities. I mean I do too but I feel his is next level. So when he suggested we do a weekend of eating, drinking, and hiking in San Diego I agreed immediately!

I decided to fly into LA and drive down with Aaron. It was an easy flight on Alaska and as the Covid pandemic was still an unwelcome guest, masks were still required. It was about a 2 hour drive on a lovely sunny Friday afternoon from Orange County airport to San Diego.

Originally Aaron and I had decided to stay in the La Jolla area in an Airbnb based on the location of some of the places we were going to check out. Our plans changed a bit but we kept the Airbnb. This was the first time either of us were staying in a place that would be shared with others. Per the listing we were staying in one wing of a 5400 square foot mansion, the owner in the other wing. Our wing had 3 bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms, and a common kitchen area which we would be sharing with the very nice foreign college students who were living there. A very unique stay! The mansion was huge and had lovely views of the ocean but I'll just describe it as Grey Gardens and leave it at that.

On our first night we took a rideshare into town and started with drinks at J & Tony's Discount Cured Meats & Negroni Warehouse. Truely, that is the name of the place! 

This bar is ridiculously fun! There's a full sized Ronald McDonald statue, and a dinosaur, and a disco ball, and a lot of other quirky stuff. The bartenders are great and the drinks are delicious. As it was the holiday season when we were there we were able to try some special drinks including an Irish Coffee and a shot of nog. I highly recommend this spot!

It was a short walk to Callie, which had just opened earlier in the year. Chef Travis Swikard was previously the Chef for Daniel Boulud's restaurant in NYC so it's also a hot reservation to secure. The menu is Mediterranean inspired and the flavors are absolutely delicious! 

Everything is meant for sharing so that is exactly what we did. We started with the hummus which was so silky! Our beef tartare was served on top of a smear of labneh and came with house-made lavash to scoop it up with. Raw carrots were shaved and tossed with cashew dukkah and our braised mushroom dish had a perfectly poached egg in which to drag the funghi through. But the stand out was the Aleppo Chicken. Spiced, grilled, and served with yogurt, coriander honey, and sumac pickles it was an incredible dish! 

We loved our dinner here and I've already recommended to it many. But it books up way in advance so reserve early!

For our after dinner drinking we had made reservations at the newly opened Young Blood. It's a speakeasy style bar in the same building as Noble Experiment (a favorite of mine) and was opened with the help of NYC's Attaboy creator Sam Ross (another favorite of mine) so chances were high that I was going to have a great time.

The bar is reservation only and there is no menu. You're given a 90 minute table and the staff serves you champagne followed by three "designed for you" cocktails. It's $65 total.

Young Blood is swanky, quirky, delicious, and fun! I can't wait to go back! And if you visit, be sure to check out the very unique patterned carpet!

Day two started with a lovely stroll around Old Town before pulling into a strip mall for lunch at 1 Michelin star Tadokoro Sushi, which the Callie chef had told us about the night before. 
We each had the $31 lunch special which came with 8 pieces of nigiri & ½ roll. We added an order of ankimo and also a gorgeous grilled fish head. This was a very good tip that we had been given! Great spot.

It was about a 20 minute drive to Torrey Pines State Park from Old Town. I'd never been out here before and it was so pretty! We hiked the Broken Hill Trail which is a 3+ mile loop through the eroded cliffs with stunning views of the beach and the ocean.  

The cliffs are so unique! It was really a beautiful hike with a very small elevation gain. The loop took us about 1 ½ hours. We were back at the mansion to enjoy some freezer cocktails in the hot tub and then light Aaron's menorah while we got ready for our big dinner out.

Addison, a 2 star Michelin, is in the Fairmont Del Mar so I had in my head that it would be quite modern and swanky. We arrived early in order to enjoy a pre-dinner martini. The gin selection was very basic which was a disappointment. But we got two seats in front of the lobby fireplace which was great. And they even brought me a stool for my purse which always makes me happy!

We were moved into the dining room and right away the ambiance was not a hit for me. It is very stark, not one single thing on the table or the walls, which felt weird. It felt very old fashioned and everything was varying shades of beige. 

But they rolled the champagne cart over and I immediately forgave them their sense of (lacking) style when I saw they had Krug by the glass as an offering. We started with that and it was lovely. There is only a 9-course tasting menu available which is $298 per person. We were then given the option of three different levels of wine pairings, the most exclusive was a ridiculous price (and we had to ask) so I have blocked it out. We chose the pairing that was the same price as our tasting menu.

Besides the 9-courses we were started with three little bites and a juicy cocktail. Chef William Bradley created a wonderful tasting menu, most of the dishes had an Asian influence which I loved. The dishes were gorgeous to look at, many were playful and made me smile, and the flavors were mostly all fantastic.

I thought most of the wines were good but I thought they should have been a bit better for the price. We were given a glass of Cristal as a bonus "because the bottle is open and we are closed tomorrow night" was the response when I asked why. Whatever, I'll take it!

The dessert course was also not included in the set menu count and was an array of five different bites! I was stuffed and more than a bit tipsy at this point! 

We had a great time but it was a very expensive meal that I personally don't think I would choose to do again. If the room held the same aesthetics as the food then I would have enjoyed it much more. 

Our mansion in La Jolla was very close to Veterans' Memorial Hill on Mt. Soledad, which isn't just a wonderful memorial but it's the only memorial in the US that honors veterans, living or deceased, from the revolutionary war to now, with an image of the veteran. And of course on clear days there are great views of the Pacific Ocean and the coast cities.

We headed back to Old Town for lunch at another spot our Callie chef had told us about- Tuetano Taqueria. Tuetano means bone marrow and that is exactly what you can add to your taco order! It comes on a stick so that you can scrape the marrow out onto your birria taco. It's crazy delicious! We tried the quesadilla, beans, and consume too. All fantastic! This new location has a really nice outside patio to eat on also.

We hiked off our lunch out in Oak Canyon on a 3 ½ mile loop trail that follows a creek bed most of the way through the canyon, complete with said named Live Oak trees. 

That night we met my friend Gail, who happened to be in San Diego visiting her friend Robin, for drinks at Grass Skirt. This is always a fun spot for tropical drinks and on Sunday it was surprisingly busy!

Robin has joined us in Palm Springs a few times so it was great to see her again!

Aaron and I left the girls to their own devices and headed back downtown for a final dinner at Fort Oak. Their concept is simple, most everything is grilled, and the space is super fun as the building was the old Ford dealership in the Mission Hills area. 

Everything was very good but we both also found everything to be really salty! 

We finished with cognac and ice cream :)

Another thing that our mansion was close to was the Salk Institute, designed by Louis Kahn and a great example of brutalist architecture. Technically the Salk was closed to visitors because of Covid, but we did a quick walk around just to take a peek.
And with that, our long weekend was over. Aaron dropped me off at the airport and I had an easy flight home to Seattle. It was a super fun weekend and sooooo nice to get a bit of warm weather, sunshine, and the company of a good friend!

All San Diego photos here

Saturday, June 11, 2022

New Finds in Walla Walla

Trip date: November 2021

Last fall the ladies from the wine group I'm in decided a return to Walla Walla was in order. Covid was still wreaking havoc so it wasn't a normal Walla Walla trip but it was still incredibly fun!

Sarah and I decided to fly over, while Lorraine, Sandra, and Sonja drove. I had actually never flown to Walla Walla before; it's a quick 1 hour flight on a small prop plane, very similar to the flight into Santa Rosa wine country. 

When we landed we found out our friends, who were to be picking us up from the airport, were running a bit late. We tried to find an Uber or Lyft, thinking we would just meet them at our first wine tasting appointment, but Walla Walla still doesn't have car share services. When we found out the only restaurant in the airport didn't serve wine ("we don't want to seem like we are playing favorites" was the reply when I asked why not!) Sarah and I took the advice of the cashier and wheeled our suitcases down the street to Cavu Cellars and had a glass until our friends made it into town. 

Our first tasting of the weekend was at Grosgrain Cellars. It's in a beautiful location and the wines here are very very good. They even have a gorgeous vacation rental if you want to stay! 

We checked into our own Airbnb afterward; a HUGE 5 bedroom, 4+ bathroom house directly across the street from Pioneer Park. This was a great rental for a group with a super well stocked kitchen, lots of comfy seating, and big tv for movie watching. 

After a quick tasting at El Corazon, we had a stellar dinner at Hattaway's.  It was my first time here and I loved it! The food was great, our table in the wine cellar was perfect, and the wine selection was awesome. Highly recommend!

The next morning we called in salad orders from Graze -as we had a full day of tasting appointments and didn't want to have to worry about finding a lunch spot- and hit the road. Except for El Corazon, all the wineries we had lined up for the weekend were new visits for me and I was super excited! 

First up was Devison where we tasted in their working cellar. The reds here are absolutely delicious! I also recently had a chance to try their rosé which is super solid as well. 

We didn't have far to go for our next appointment at Rasa as they share the same building. They have a small tasting room set up with comfy lounge chairs and poured us through quite a big line up. I think the group had mixed opinions on the wine here but I did buy a couple of their QED which is a nice Rhone blend. 

Our third stop was at Dillon which is near the airport. Dillon specializes in Chardonnay and Syrah and although domestic Chardonnay does not tend to be my favorite varietal I absolutely loved Marc Leahy's! This is one talented winemaker! They were also kind enough to let us eat our salads as we tasted. Another stellar stop!
We were all very excited for our final tasting of the day. Alton Cellars has been getting a lot of press since opening their new tasting room in 2020. The building, by Architect Jon Gentry of GO’C, is simply stunning. Sitting in the middle of rolling hills, the steel/glass/wood structure manages to look both completely out of place and somehow natural in it's setting. 

And that's the end of my positive experience at Alton. As we walked inside and were seated we all commented on the VERY strong scent of what we assumed was someone's cologne. So strong was the smell that I could actually taste it in the back of my throat. This is obviously something that you don't want while wine tasting.

One of my friends finally asked/commented about the smell to the woman pouring for us and she responded excitedly that it was actually a scented candle that they had burning. And in fact they consider it their signature scent.

WTF????? What winemaker has scented candles burning in their tasting room?? Especially one called Cowboy's Camp? Did I also mention that their tasting fee was $30? Utter bullshit. Enough said.

We decided to have dinner at home that night and picked up an order of Greek food from Yamas, which had been recommended to us by one of the (better) winemakers, and to-go cocktails from Passatempo. Both were absolutely delicious! 

The next morning, after some mimosas and pastries, we had our first tasting. The winemaker of Tempus Joe Forest was great and took us through a tasting in the cellar room. The wines here are super approachable, very well priced, and the staff were all great. I think everyone bought a few bottles!

Down the road and very near the airport we stopped at the incubator area. These cute little buildings are part of a program to help growing wineries and winemakers get a foothold in the industry. We had an appointment to taste at itä where winemaker Kelsey Albro Itämeri charmed us while pouring some absolutely delicious rosé, semillon, and pinot noir. 

This was such a great stop! Kelsey is from Seattle and does club pick up parties both in Walla Walla and Seattle making joining her wine club an easy choice for all of us. 

So enamored by the incubators we headed next door to Hoquetus (rhymes with lettuce) and tasted through the three wines that winemaker Robert Gomez was making. You may know Robert as he worked at Montana bar and Dino's Tomato Pie in Seattle before moving to Walla Walla in 2017. His wines are crunchy and lovely.
Before leaving the airport region we stopped at Prospice where they were holding tastings outside under a big tent. Sarah and Sonja went to the nearby taco truck and brought over lunch while we tasted some gorgeous syrahs. Jay Krutulis (former cellarmaster at Tranche) and Matt Reilly (former cellarmaster at Gramercy) aren't new to wine making but this is their first venture together and they just started in 2019.

The wines are great, well-priced, and they made it very easy to join their cellar club :) 

We headed back into downtown after this and Sandra, Lorraine, and I did a final tasting at House of Bones which is in the old Rotie space. I was pretty excited about trying the "French-style" chardonnays here but they only served one and the other 3 tastes were Proper Syrahs. All good, but I somehow thought we'd be tasting all Chard.
They did pair the wines with some delicious chocolates though!

We met everyone at Brasserie Four and had a cocktail out on the patio with some oysters & escargot while waiting for our delicious to-go order which we thoroughly enjoyed back at our home.  

The next morning the car-crew headed out fairly early as there were reports of snow in the pass. Sarah and I called every "taxi" driver in town before finally getting hooked up with some random guy and his SUV. 

I headed across the street to Pioneer Park to take a little walk in the sun while Sarah packed up. It's a gorgeous park with huge trees, a pond, and an aviary.

We picked up another order from Graze and headed to the airport. After checking in (1 case of wine free per person flying out of Walla Walla!) we found an area upstairs in the airport where we could have our lunch away from other people. 

It was a great weekend, with some great ladies, and a chance to taste some really lovely wines! 

All Walla Walla photos here

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Covid Escape to Maui

Trip date: October 2021

I took my first long-haul flight since the Covid-19 pandemic in late October to Maui. My friend Gail and I were using another Westin condo deal (my 4th time on one of these!) for the Kaanapali Ocean Villa Resort. This was the 4th rebooking of the trip, once due to work constraints and twice due to Covid. For $948 we would be staying for 5 nights/6 days in a one bedroom/2 queen bed apartment. This included a rental car which we upgraded to a convertible for $318. 

We also used an Alaska Air companion fare and upgraded to Premium seats which gave us free drinks as well as the middle seat free, something Alaska had done during the pandemic for a while. 

There were forms to fill out for entry to Hawaii, including proof of vaccination, and masks were required on the flight. It felt heavy & a little uncomfortable but it also was exciting to finally be going somewhere again!  

Our first stop after leaving the airport (which has a huge new rental car area that you take a trolly to) was Tin Roof to pick up some lunch. The casual eatery, owned by Chef Sheldon Simeon of Top Chef Seattle season, was doing take-out only from its strip mall location. We pulled in, made our order online (dodging the line in the hot sun), and found a random beach along the highway to eat at. My mochiko chicken with garlic noodles were delicious!! And the orders were huge!

Upon checking in to the Westin the front desk agent gave me an option between a few rooms, we ended up with a fantastic location, mid pool with peek-a-boo views of the ocean and a balcony spanning the living room and bedroom. Room #2311 if you are so inclined. Bliss. 

Most of our days started with a walk along the beach path, breakfast at the hotel's restaurant Aunties (one of only two restaurants open due to hiring challenges), then down to the pool (masks were required inside the hotel but not by the pool or on the beach) where we rented a clamshell cabana for $75. We had gone grocery shopping so we could have our own wine or margaritas (our kitchen was fully furnished including a blender) and snacks by the pool. Daily drinks on the beach at sunset became a wonderful study in the changing clouds over Lanai.

One day we booked a snorkel trip with Ultimate Whale Watch out of Lahaina out to Lanai. We were on a Zodiac style boat but it had seats built in. Our captain Chris and his mate Levi were awesome. It wasn't whale season but we did see spinner dolphins which I hadn't seen before! 

We went past Manele Bay, where the Four Seasons is located, and snorkeled just near this rock and coast cliffs. The coral was absolutely gorgeous and there were tons of fish. Gail and I were first in and last out and had a blast! Once back onboard the crew handed out homemade banana bread as a snack. Very sweet. 

Unfortunately on our way back across the channel our boat had some engine problems, but instead of stressing about it, our crew pointed out flying fish and told us things about the islands and their diving. And when we did finally get back over to Maui they took us to Turtle Town. This area, where an old cement wharf had come down in a hurricane, is a favorite hang out for honus. As soon as we jumped in there were 3 huge turtles swimming towards us! I had to try to back up to give them way! We ended up swimming around with 8 turtles and spied a small shark under one of the sunken cement blocks. We celebrated the great snorkeling back on board with mimosas we had brought with us!

Another day we drove up the to the very northwest tip of the island for a hike to the Nakalele Blowhole. The drive is very windy but beautiful. We parked at the 2nd trailhead which is just past MP 38. There isn't really one set trail, it's a very dusty and rocky hill that you kind of have to scamper down. 
It's only about a mile down to the blowhole and the last part of the scramble is mainly old lava flow. The rock formations are super interesting and there are lovely views of the ocean of course. But the main attraction is the blowhole and it certainly did not disappoint! We hung out for a bit taking in the cooling spray!

The climb back up wasn't exactly hard, but it was difficult to pick out the best way up through the rocks and lava. Two guys who were just a head of us were super sweet, pointing out the best routes and even lending a hand up the steeper parts. It was a great adventure!

We drove back down towards Kapalua, stopping to take in a great view of Honolua bay and a pod of dolphins swimming around. 

Originally our plan was to snorkel at D.T. Fleming beach but the red flags were out and the surf was big so we continued driving thru Kapalua to check out the other beaches. We passed a sign for the Sea House restaurant, which offered parking and ocean views, and decided to have lunch there. Turns out they are right on Napili Beach! We had a great lunch on their deck and then grabbed out gear (we had rented from Bob's) out of the trunk and went for a snorkel. Immediately upon entering the water there were 2 large honus!! This will be a reoccurring stop for me on future trips!

Another day we drove up to the old town of Paia. I had never been and with Covid the tiny town was even quieter than normal it seemed. We had a good time shopping at some of the cute boutiques before heading to Mama's Fish House for our lunch reservation. 
While wandering their grounds before lunch we spotted another huge turtle sleeping in the shade on the beach! 

Mama's is beautiful and delicious and very expensive. I've been just once before for dinner and I have to say that lunch is the better bet because you get the gorgeous views!

During our trip we also ate in Lahaina a few times. It was easy to take the Westin shuttle and then Uber back as we were generally returning after the shuttle ended for the night. 

Kimo's is one of my regular stops; I go simple with their fresh catch and brown butter. If you have a sweet tooth their Hula Pie is ridiculous and not to be missed. 

We had a surprisingly great lunch at Lahaina Fish Co one afternoon. My poke salad was HUGE, the Mai Tai was solid, and the view was gorgeous! I'll return here.

We also tried the Mala Tavern, not at sunset as most people do since sunset was at ~5:30 and we just don't eat that early! It's a very cute spot with nice cocktails and great food. 

And the Mexican food we had at Frida's on our last night was sooooo good! My black beans with grilled fresh prawns in garlic butter were thoroughly enjoyed sitting outside with this view of sailboats moored in the bay.
It was great to have some new places to check out in Lahaina and none of them disappointed. Closer to our hotel we walked over to Dukes on two separate occasions for dinner. It was close and waiting for a table in the sand with one of their big Mai Tai's is not a hardship for me!

Of course I had to sit through a 90-minute timeshare presentation at the Westin which is now owned by Marriott Bonvoy. In years past I had scheduled the presentation for my last day and then canceled, saying I had to leave to catch my flight. But the fine print now states that if you don't attend you will be charged at full rack rate upon checking out.

I booked it on the first morning we were there as I knew jet lag would have me up early anyway. It was painless as I just kept saying that I wasn't interested. Upon leaving they offered me another vacation package! Since I still had 4 more days I could think over that offer while enjoying a Mai Tai or two! I did end up purchasing another package so I'll be visiting this resort again in the next 2 years :)

Total turtle count: 11! Sun, sand, was a fantastic girls' trip and a bargain on top! 

All Maui photos here

Winter Warmer in San Diego

Trip date: December 2021 My friend Aaron always has a great list of restaurants to check out going for various cities. I mean I do too but I...

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