Sunday, October 28, 2007

Portland for Labor Day 2007

Some day, we'll post these blogs in near-real time, or at least shortly after they happen. Some day, we'll also all have flying cars and robot servants, and eat all our meals in pill form. Until then, expect delayed gratification.

Labor Day weekend is our wedding anniversary (4 years now!!) , so we try to make it a point to go somewhere fun, romantic, or both, even if it's just for a day or two. This year we briefly considered Kabul or Detroit, for obvious reasons, but ultimately picked Portland, Oregon, mostly because as Washington residents we can't resist anywhere that gets confused with eponymous East Coast locations.

We left Seattle on Friday afternoon for the drive down. Because of holiday-weekend traffic, we didn't arrive in Portland until fairly late in the evening. We quickly checked into our hotel, the Vintage Plaza (which I highly recommend, in part because of its great location), changed clothes, and headed over to Clyde Common for dinner.

Clyde Common takes the "common" part of its name from the fact that the primary seating is a large, shared table, in a relatively small (but spacious and high-ceilinged) room with an open, prominent kitchen. We had time for a starter cocktail at the standing-room-only bar before getting seated.

Off to one side of us, stretched around the corner of the table, was a small group that seemed to get at least one of every single item
on the menu. Good for us, because we got to scope out how things looked. We talked to them briefly and it turned out that the boyfriend of the woman next to me was the chef, so they were being treated very well! I can't actually recall what we ended up eating, but the meal was quite tasty and very reasonably priced. We stopped at the bar again on the way out, but in all honesty the drinks weren't anything special (in contrast to the food).

Afterwards, we wanted to hit one of the new local cocktail bars
before heading back to the hotel. Fortunately, Teardrop Lounge was only a few blocks away, and in my opinion is not to be missed. Only having been open six weeks at the time, they have a great space and a fantastic bar program, and Daniel (one of the co-owners/managers) chatted us up all night. Everyone that works there is very enthusiastic. They make a lot of their own syrups, bitters ( e.g. cherry-vanilla), etc., including their own tonic water, which is the best I've had, even beating that at Eastern Standard.

One of the patrons at Teardrop that night owned the local pedicab business, which was great for us because Wendy was wearing her brand-new "save the elephant" shoes [long story], and there was just no way she could walk back in those! Before long a friendly cabby stopped by to pedal us back to the hotel, where we collapsed in exhaustion.

After sleeping in for a bit on Saturday morning, it was off to Stumptown for coffee and pastries for breakfast. I would easily rank Stumptown as one of the best gourmet coffees I've had, on par with Seattle's Café Vita, Lighthouse, and Umbria. We also strongly support local businesses anywhere we go (and I'm thrilled to have since seen a Stumptown going in next to Café Presse). But... Maybe it was just a bad morning. Maybe the über-cool science-fiction-like espresso machines they use (custom made for them, according to the small amount of info I could pry out of the barrista) were acting up. Maybe the staff was new. Not sure. In any case, it was perhaps the slowest service we've had in a long time, and it was just a walk-up counter. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but I really hope our next experience there is a little more efficient.

After we were comfortably caffeinated, we walked around to do some shopping. One of our stops was at Portland's Cacao, a
fantastic store with some of the world's best chocolate available. We ended up with a whole range of little treats for ourselves, including...wait for it...a bacon and chocolate bar!!! Yes, you read that right!!

For lunch, we ventured north across the Columbia to go to a fun little place called Pambiche for Cuban food. Pambiche, named after the maybe-inevitable corruption of "Palm Beach" that reflects a certain attitude and style, was both excellent and quirky. Blessed with some great weather, we got to eat out on the sunny sidewalk, which is always a treat. We're going to have to get back when we have room for dessert!

After an afternoon of shopping, we got ready to go to dinner. Loving all things Tiki, I couldn't let us leave Portland without going to Thatch. Tucked into a seemingly-quiet neighborhood, Thatch was a fun way to take ourselves to the tropics for a short time. As with all tiki bars, it's perpetually a tropical night inside; though not quite windowless, it was easy to forget that it was still late afternoon!

We headed off to dinner, but stopped first at a place called Doug Fir, a converted no-tell motel which I can only describe "hipster retro hunting lodge". Strange place, and the bartenders, besides being impressively tattooed, were also full of attitude [Example- Wendy: "Any drink you'd particularly recommend right now?" Them: "Makers, rocks". Ha ha, never heard that before]. To top it off, the drinks sucked. Don't think we'll ever go back; YMMV. Supposed to be a good music venue though, so who knows?

We walked the couple of blocks to LePigeon for dinner. Wow, that was a fantastic restaurant. Tiny though; we only got reservations because someone canceled. We sat up at the bar; the entire room was maybe 25' x 30', at the most, and the kitchen protruded into the center of the room. Chef Gabriel Rucker (also impressively tattooed) and his sous were front-and-center, running an understated operation, and turning out stellar French-ish cuisine

Hearing that suckling pig brains had been added to the sauce of our suckling pig -- waste nothing!!! -- was strangely not disturbing to me...

Maybe the best thing we had -- certainly the only thing I had to fight Wendy to get a taste of -- was the foie gras ice cream in profiteroles with salted caramel sauce. Yummm.

Being totally full and exhausted by this point, we cabbed "home" to the hotel, with Sunday ahead of us.

We'd decided not to stay for the full long weekend, mostly to avoid the otherwise-inevitable return traffic to Seattle. So Sunday was a half-day, with a lot to pack in. We started with walking down to the Saturday Market (yes, I know it was Sunday...), Portland's weekly arts, crafts, and food fair. Completely lucked out on continued good weather, but didn't really see anything that needed purchase.

I'd previously arranged for a tour of House Spirits. Co-owner Lee Medoff met us at the unpretentious warehouse on Sunday morning to show us around. Wow, that was fun. We tried their gin, vodka, aquavit, early versions of their rum and whiskey, and as a special treat, a one-of f (and good but not entirely successful) experiment in absinthe. Lee was an excellent guide and I look forward to continue being a customer ;)

And then it was a quick lunch at a local BBQ joint, and hitting the road back to Seattle. A great weekend!

The full set of pictures can be found here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Summer Camping!

We love camping! Especially when there are views like this all around. Each summer we try to set aside at least 3 weekends for camping and mark them on the calendar. They get moved around as the wedding, BBQ invitations and notices of visitors arrive. But we are still getting our 3 camping trips in this year!

This is gorgeous Lake Diablo, a result of Diablo Dam which was once the world's tallest dam. It is in the North Cascades and is surrounded by amazing glaciers and forest.

We left on a Friday afternoon and with traffic it took us about 4 hours to get up to our campground. But we found a great spot and set up camp before it got dark. Once that was done it was cocktail time!

The next day we drove around the area to check out Skagit dam, the town of Diablo (which you drive across the dam to get to), and hike around a bit. It is just gorgeous up in this area! As our campground was right on the lake there was the quick dip- but it was VERY quick as the lake is all glacier fed water....brrrrrr! As we left the area on Sunday we made a quick stop into a local winery- it's amazing how no matter where we camp we can always find a winery to taste in on Sunday coming home!

A few weeks ago we met friends from Vancouver Canada up at Mt. Baker and camped in the Silver Fir campground. Great area, right on the river but unfortunately it rained the whole time! Our friends had arrived to the grounds first and had brilliantly got us a site that even though it was pouring rain there was so much tree cover that we could all sit out around the fire. But it was chilly and there would be no hiking. That just gave us all a chance to relax and catch up, chat, have camping cocktails & make nice meals together!

And our final camp trip of the summer was last weekend. We headed out to Lopez Island which is part of the San Juan Islands. Unfortunately the trip started out a bit rocky as on of the ferries that service the islands was down so they had been running a full load behind all day. That meant that even though we were there for the 6:50pm ferry we couldn't get on until the 9pm. Yikes, that is a bit of a wait. Lucky for us we were one of the first to make it to Charlies restaurant and grab a seat in the bar for a few beers and some chowder- others who came in behind us were not so lucky.

We got to the camp site well past dark but had a reservation so no worries. And it was so quiet when we came in that we drove right past a doe grazing on some bushes and she just looked at us and didn't move.

The next day we drove around the island, stopping at Agate Beach but not finding any agates, then on to Shark Reef Park. We did a very short hike up to the bluff and had a picnic lunch overlooking the channel where the Victoria Clipper comes through and a large rock of seal lions were hanging out! One even was swimming around in the water below and it was clear enough to see him twisting and gliding.

We also stopped in the only real town on the island for much needed camping provisions- Us Magazine, a lemon and a bundle of firewood :)

Last stop of the day was at the cute little Lopez Winery for some tasting and a walk through the gardens and vineyards.
All day long we could see 2 large eagles flying around- quite gorgeous. And at night with no city lights anywhere around the stars were amazing. We even both saw the same shooting star!
The next day after we thought we were so early getting to the ferry dock (an hour early!) we found out that we might not make the 12:30pm and could have to wait until 3:30pm. Luckily we were in the last 6 cars they let on board- phew! now that would have been a LONG wait.
Pictures from Lake Diablo are here and pictures from Lopez Island are here

The Tale end...............

It's 10am, do you know which Absinthe you are drinking? Oh this was a scary morning for me- our last day of Tales of the Cocktail. There had been 4 straight days of imbibing and now the real test! Ted Breaux gave a fantastic class on the liquor Absinthe, it's history, it's misconceptions and of course it's taste! The seminar went long as we all had so many questions and Ted had so much information so as soon as it ended we high tailed it down to Harrah's for the closing awards ceremony. Ted Allen was hosting and our fellow Seattlites from Vessel and ZigZag were up for awards.

After watching ZigZag win awards the conference was officially over. A quick lunch of a just ok muffulatta and then back to the hotel for the roof top pool and some sun!

That evening we were very excited to have a wonderful dinner at Restaurant August which I had been looking forward to for some time. The space is gorgeous! And the menu looked great. Unfortunately our service was pretty bad. Slow, slow, slow. Our first courses arrived even before we ordered wine! The entire progression of the meal put us off quite a bit. The food itself was lovely but that is not what we remember now.

Before heading home the next day we arranged a cemetery tour with the Save Our Cemeteries organization. For $6 we had a private tour and all the money goes back to keep the cemetery and it's "residents" kept up.

The tour was good, our guide was a native and even had family in No. 1. He warned us quite a bit about being alone in these cemeteries, not because of ghouls but because of muggings unfortunately. After we walked a bit in the Garden District which is gorgeous and then headed to The Napoleon House for the best muffuletta of our trip and a very refreshing Pimms Cup (or 2) to beat the heat.

a walk down on the riverfront, a quick trolley ride and a cab to the airport was all that was left of our very fun trip. I'm sure we'll be back!

The full set of pictures from NOLA can be seen here!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

More Tales........

After all our seminars that first day at Tales of the Cocktail there was a cocktail party. I thought this would be a simple affair with some meeting & greeting and one or two cocktails before our Spirited Dinner. No. There were possibly 25+ authors and mixologists serving samples of their signature cocktails created for the event. I think Dayne tried all of them! And each cocktail had a recipe card you could take with you, not to mention getting your books signed. Very fun!

We then were off to the Spirited Dinner where cocktails, not wine, were paired with dinner. We chose Commanders Palace and were happy to find out that Wes and Chuck did too so we all had a very fun meal! As Dayne has pointed out, Chuck wrote a wonderful post on the dinner which you can read.

The next day we attended South American cocktails seminar together and learned all about Pisco and Cachaca (and of course tasted them both in drinks and alone.) A very interesting class that gave history and culture of these alcohols.

I also went to a "Secrets of Galatoire's" panel which ended up being 3 incredibly old men who had been having lunch and dinner at Galatoires for probably 200 years all added up and ended up just telling stories about the waiters and their guests. Funny for about 15 mins. Oh well.........

That night Dayne and I went to a fantastic newish restaurant called Cochon. It came highly recommended and I'll continue that....We started with fried boudin with pickled peppers as well as a smoked catfish. For the main I had rabbit & dumplings, YUM! I'm sure we had cocktails after this meal but darn if I can remember!

What I was looking forward to most in NOLA were beignets at Cafe du Monde, and they didn't disappoint! Strong coffees, beignets and a months worth of powdered sugar! LOL! The best part about this breakfast was that it was only a snack, Dayne had a morning seminar after and then we were headed to Brennan's for their famous breakfast! and eye openers, cocktails created to drink with breakfast, damn I love New Orleans! Mine was the brandy milk punch and Dayne's is a sazarac.

There was turtle soup, gumbo, eggs benedict Brennans style, and fire! I mean Bananas Foster! ha!

Then it was back to "school" where Beach Bum Berry was teaching a class on Tiki Drinks!

Dinner that night was at GWFinns which was just ok for us, it felt a bit like a McCormick & Schmitts (sp) and their bar was very disappointing. We had started at Arnauds French 75 bar where I had a nice namesake. And of course there were cocktails later at our new favorite The Swizzle Stick Bar @ Cafe Adelaide.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Orleans (finally!)

What can be said about New Orleans and Tales of the Cocktail that so many people haven't already said? (Other than "Write something already!!! It's been over a month!!") I'm not sure, which is why this has been so long in coming. Better to get something written now, though, before the details get lost.

I've started and stopped this post several times, and have never been fully satisfied with what I was writing. So I'm going to abandon the timeline approach entirely and instead just focus on a couple of elements that I found most important.

First, given the focus of our trip, the conference bears some mention. Oh, sure, there were lots of cocktails and liquor was one of the all-around most fun things we've done, and not perhaps for the reasons that people might first suppose. Oh sure, there were plenty of excellent cocktails and liquors and liqueurs and whatnot, but those were just the framing elements for the week. The attendees, presenters, organizers and all those we met who were otherwise associated with Tales or the many bars we visited were, to a person, fascinating, friendly, just a bit kooky in their own way (I include ourselves in this statement...), and well worth knowing in any context. We got to hang out with tiki kings, talented bartenders, bloggers and rare-ingredient masters, talented and vivacious women (I was wondering how I was going to work that picture into the post), and best of all we got to see our home-town friends win a couple of well-deserved awards at the closing ceremonies. (Go ZigZag!!)

I can't stress enough how great everyone was; I hope to maybe see them again next year.

The sheer enthusiasm that everyone showed for their craft, hobby, or avocation was mind-boggling.

Right behind the drinks and companionship, though, was the food. Historian and professor Morton J. Horwitz has said that "In New Orleans, gluttony is a way of life." I have no idea of the context of his remarks, but I can attest to the fact that eating seemed to be a non-stop, done-with-gusto event. We ate low-brow, we ate high brow, we ate traditional, and we ate modern. Some of the personal highlights for me were: hot dogs on Bourbon Street (yes, yes, I know, but I have to have a hot dog in just about every city to which I travel -- I made an exception for Italy, but that's about it...); muffalettas (have to try to make those at home, but I just don't see how we can duplicate them, especially the bread); a fantastic cocktail-paired dinner at Commander's Palace which has been written about elsewhere much more thoroughly and with better style than I can manage; and a somewhat decadent brunch at Brennan's. That last was definitely guilding the lily. I'd just completed a morning AppleJack seminar where we were served four (4!!) full-size cocktails; I then met up with Wendy to walk down the block to Brennan's, where I proceeded to order a Sazerac and she got a Brandy Milk Punch. Those were both necessary to cut the richness of the Hollandaise sauce on our meals, but it was only 11:00 in the morning!! Is this Horowitz's "gluttony" in evidence? Perhaps, but at the same time I never once felt that we were doing anything other than simply enjoying life to the fullest, which after all is what living is all about. Trite, maybe, but still true.

As a side note, those eggs were really, really, really good. I think I gained 5 pounds that day.

I don't feel even remotely qualified to comment on New Orleans as a city, but I will write a few things about the French Quarter. Yes, we were tourists, and even short-timers, so we didn't get outside of the Quarter more than a couple of times, but I think that's understandable given all that's there and the fact that I'd never seen it before. (Wendy had made a brief trip to the city long ago.)

Anyway, back to the Quarter. It's got that shabby-chic thing going on, similar to what I imagine parts of Havana are like (in essence if not in actual architecture). Katrina may have done some of the wear-and-tear we saw, though it's my understanding that the French Quarter was relatively-lightly touched. No, I felt as if New Orleans has always been that way. It's been a working port city longer than most other American cities have even existed; it's a bit roughed-up around the edges, but has a charm that is both hard to define and almost impossible to ignore. I'll say right now that I don't think the quarter is as beautiful as some cities I've visited, but I don't think it's supposed to be. This isn't a Disneyfied 'New Orleans Land', it's a real city where things get worn down, patched up, and get worn down again. Closest I've come to finding something similar might be in Venice, which is equally overrun with tourists and equally unique in atmosphere and history.

Lastly, but most importantly, I want to comment on the people of New Orleans. Without a single exception, we were greeted warmly and treated exceptionally. Many people thanked us for visiting. We could not have felt more at home.

A small addendum: I urge everyone to read Chuck Taggert's excellent summary of where New Orleans is today, and what Katrina has meant for the city.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Dayne & I were in fabulous New Orleans last month for about 6 days attending Tales of the Cocktail a very fun festival revolving around the history of cocktails, food and wine! It's been 2 years since Hurricane Katrina when our planned vacation with our friends Della and Greg had to be canceled and it was Dayne's birthday so I figured it was as good as time as any!

The festival allows you to attend seminars led by wonderful knowledgeable experts, go to cocktail parties, cocktail paired multi course dinners and meet really great people from all over! Dayne and I picked our own seminars, some were the same and some not so here is a little overview of the one's I did.

My first seminar was at 10am Thurs. after all day flights Wed. followed by various cocktails around the French Quarter that evening. It was called "Spirited Women" and was a great discussion of the history of women and cocktails and drinking. And of course there were 2 cocktails served with the discussion as well as my introduction to the glorious amount of swag we would be getting all week!

Between courses everyone meets up at the famous Carousel Bar- and yes it really rotates! ugh, that made me quite dizzy until I got use to it. In NOLA they take their cocktails quite seriously and even have designated morning drinks called Eye Openers. I found Dayne at the Carousel Bar with Mike behind it and a Ramos Gin Fizz Eye Opener in front of him!

After our next seminar on "Food and Cocktails of New Orleans" we had lunch at Johnny's Po-Boys with our new friends Chuck and Wes. This is one of the only good po-boys in the French Quarter Chuck told us, he's a NOLA native so we trusted him and boy was it good! Dayne and I shared a hot sausage po-boy.

A quick walk back to the Hotel Monteleone in time to catch the "Lost Ingredients" seminar in which Chuck was one of the speakers.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

San Francisco June 2007

Dayne and I decided to take advantage of a client event I had going on in San Fran last month to enjoy a quick weekend. We hadn't been since our 1 year wedding anniversary 3 years ago! Traveling with Dayne is always enjoyable but this time it was made more so by an unexpected 2 hour delay getting out of SeaTac airport and Dayne carrying a small cleaned out Tabasco bottle of bitters in his pocket. Viola! Actual good martini's at an airport bar!!
Actually before we found out about the delay we had visited a new wine tasting bar in the airport which served up very good flights with very good food! So next time your in the central concourse I recommend you take a seat at the Vino Volo bar!

We stayed at the Kimpton Palomar in Union Square which was fantastic! Great price, wonderful location and they have a very clubby 5th floor bar. We decided to do a bit of shopping in Union Square the first morning and promptly found not only the Apple store (releasing the iPhone) but sales at all the great shops we love- huge sales!! It's now on the calendar that the weekend before 4th of July is a great time to head to the city by the bay.

After lunch we headed to MOMA for a wonderful exhibit by Matisse and then wondered the Yerba Buena gardens which neither of us had been before.

That evening we headed out to check out Bourbon & Branch a speakeasy style cocktail bar that Dayne had been wanting to try. It's smack in the middle of the Tenderloin District which is sketchy at best but once you arrive it is a fantastic place to have a drink or two! Not really a secret place but there is no address or sign posted and you do need a password to enter.

Dinner that evening was at Gary Danko where we hadn't been before. We couldn't get reservations so we waited for seats at the bar where we were served their full menu. I really liked that you could create your own 3, 4 or 5 course menu or go with their tasting menu!

They started us off with an amuse of asparagus soup with escargot that was absolutely stunning! I then had seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Red Onions and Cherries (of course!) while Dayne had Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Zucchini, English Peas and Meyer Lemon. Next up was Pancetta Wrapped Frog Legs with Sunchoke Garlic Puree, Potato and Lentils for me.

Seared Sea Scallops with Sweet Pea Puree, Shimeji Mushrooms, Chorizo and Fava Beans for Dayne. Mains were lamb and duck in our true usual form but at this point there had been many glasses of wine (they paired for us) and the previous cocktails so I can't tell you the preparations!

and you will notice the photos in the set are getting blurrier and blurrier! oh well- that is what vacations are for! No dessert but cheese and mignardes rounded out a very enjoyable evening. I would absolutely dine here again and can see why it's remained such a popular restaurant as the food and service were top notch.

I can't explain why we felt the need to stop in at Cantina, a relatively new bar, but we did...lasted 1/2 a drink and finally called it a night!

After doing a bit of work the next morning we headed to the Ferry Plaza Market for our favorite lunch of oysters on the halfshell and a Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese sandwich at Hog Island Oyster Co.. this time we also tried their oysters casino which rocked!

After lunch a bit of shopping for olive oil, ACME bread and chocolates rounded out our day (and carry on's for the flight home!)

More photos from our weekend in San Francisco here!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Newport, Rhode Island June 2007

The drive from Andover to Newport isn't all that pretty but once we got to Newport we were rewarded with a gorgeous sea side town spotted with mansions everywhere! Our hotel, CastleHill Inn was one of these old mansions turned into a B&B with additional separate lodgings both at their beach and also on their yard. We had reserved a Harbor House which was gorgeously decorated and had a semi private balcony off the back with our own Adirondack chairs and views of Narragansett Bay.

We spent the first afternoon just walking around the old part of town. It's exactly how I pictured a New England seaside town! We loved driving the famous Ocean Drive back to the inn, passing amazing privately owned mansions that seemed quite out of place! Once back at the Inn we joined both hotel guests and people from town on the huge sprawling lawn for cocktails. It was sooooo relaxing to just sit and take in the amazing views of sailboats and watch the sunset. The hotel even has an outdoor fire pit which they keep going in case you want s'mores!

We had a very nice if a bit overpriced dinner at the hotel that night as they are known for their 3 and 5 course menus.

The next day was our perfect Newport day! First we went and toured the famous Breakers Mansion build for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1893. This was their summer cottage- all 70 rooms of it with not one guest room!! Breakers has all it's original furnishings still inside also which is quite interesting.

After our tour and a quick lunch back in town we boarded the Adirondack II sailboat for a couple hour sail in the bay. It was fantastic!!! The wind was perfect and we got to see more mansions from the water including the one that Jackie Onasis grew up in. There were only about 12 people onboard the 80 foot schooner! And did I mention the wine or beer for $1 each?

The rest of the day was spent walking around town more and checking out the White Horse Tavern- the oldest bar in America. That night we had a perfect dinner at Scales & Shells- steamed lobsters and a bottle of champagne!

Our last day in Newport we toured another mansion- Marble House another of the Vanderbilt cottages- this one designed by Richard Morris Hunt, inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles. There are so many mansions to tour! But even more impressive are there are many others that are private on Bellevue Ave. We also took a brief walk on part of the Cliff Walk which allows you to walk between the ocean and the "cottages" for a backyard view!

Lunch on the way out of town was at Flo's Clam Shack for a variety of deep fried goodies!

See all the photos of New England here!

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