Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sun-Drenched Sorrento

I'm craving sunshine. It always happens this time of year, when spring hits Seattle with her grey clouds and wet days. A couple of years ago, May of 2011 to be exact, we fled soggy Seattle for sunny Italy. A precursor to a cruise up the Italian coast and into France, we flew into Naples and boarded a bus for an hour long ride along the curvy roads to Sorrento. Immediately we had our first look at Mt. Vesuvius, stunned at how close it was and how many homes we could see hugging its sides. Our first glimpse of Sorrento was much more serene. We could tell we were in for some serious beauty shots.
We stayed at the lovely Hotel Belair which was a short walk from the center of town. As the hotel was on a small hill, looking down onto Sorrento and its bay, we were overwhelmed with stunning views each and every day. The staff was quite nice also, serving us drinks while we waited for our room to be ready and always eager to help with directions, taxis, etc. 
That first day, after a short nap, we walked into town and were immediately struck by the scents of jasmine everywhere. We strolled along the main part of town, found the Bar Fauno and enjoyed great martinis and people watching.

Sorrento was to be our home base for the next 4 days while we explored the Almalfi Coast, Pompeii and Naples. We didn't actually do a lot in the town itself but we found it to be very central for the Circumvesuviana (train around Vesuvius), the buses, and the boats.

We never had a great meal in Sorrento. We had good meals and we had ok meals. The first evening we ate at l'Antica Trattoria which we found very expensive for kindof boring food. We ate at O'Parrucchiano which was inexpensive but still just ok food. Taverna Allegra was a cheesy place drawing lots of tourists but the food was actually good. And dinner at the Parco Ibsen was in a very interesting location, had good prices and good food but still not something I'd say "Wow!" about. 

But I'd stay in Sorrento again, and I'd stay at the Belair again. The pool, the view, the bar, and the breakfasts were all top notch. 

Now don't you feel warmer already? I do!
Sorrento photos

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Weekend Redux

And speaking of wine tasting, we spent a very enjoyable weekend recently in Walla Walla during Cayuse Release. Dayne and I left Friday morning so we could make a few leisurely stops along the way.

Our first stop was in Selah where I had made arrangements to stop and taste the wines at Southard Winery. We made our way up the hills and found the Southard's gorgeous home and small vineyards. Scott Southard is 34, but looks 28, and has just been making wine since 2008. His winery, cave and tasting room are all in a dedicated building constructed next to his parents house.

I'd been reading about his wines, and reviews from some respected wine sellers promoting his talent. The wines are light Rhone styles mainly, all at excellent price points. Without having a formal tasting room, Scott just happily opened what I was interested in, which was very nice of him. If you're passing through the north Yakima area, I highly recommend you call and see if he's available to give you a tasting. In Seattle you'll an find his wines at Picnic, Hot Cakes, Esquin, etc.

Hungry for lunch we took Sonja's recommendation to try the burgers at King's Row Drive In. A tiny, local joint, walls adorned with every school's sports team, and a big menu of drive-in classics. We declared ourselves first-timers at the order window and took their advice- Dayne chose the Garbage Burger. Bad name, great burger. The chocolate shake and onion rings were delish. Not as big, burgers or actual space wise, as Minor Burger, this was a bit more my speed.

Back on the road we stopped just outside of Walla Walla at L'Ecole. We've stopped here every time we've visited the area but always on the way out of town. Mixing it up by making it our first stop, we tasted through their current release scored a few bottles from their library collection on sale.

After checking in at the stylish and budget friendly Holiday Inn Express (my eye teeth for a Kimpton Walla Walla) we headed out for some pre-dinner drinks. We haven't always had the best luck with cocktails in town but I was pleasantly surprised by my Pear Amoré with pear brandy, Benedictine and an absinthe rinse at Public House 124.

A short walk down the street, past the lovely park and boutiques, we arrived at Brasserie Four for another delicious dinner, as we'd eaten there the last time.

Our friends Gary and Elisabeth drove over Friday night and we all met up in the morning, starting our day at Bacon & Eggs. This adorable converted, convenience store serves up breakfast, breakfast cocktails and lunch. Hipster and delish. There's usually a bit of a wait but they'll give you some complimentary scones to tied you over.

We then made our way down to state line to Cayuse's cellar, or The Box as they call it, for our release weekend tasting and wine pick up. After our tasting we headed into Milton Freewater to check out a wonderful chocolate shop, Petits Noirs. Oh this chocolate is good, really good! Worth the short drive for sure!

Back on the wine tasting trail we made stops at Feliciana (great grounds, nice folks, but I wasn't especially keen on their wines) and Sleight of Hand (always in my favorites list, especially happy to grab some of their rose). Another mid day diversion was the Walla Walla antique market where we picked up some gorgeous new cocktail coupes.

We finished off the afternoon by parking in downtown and walking between Rotie, Mark Ryan and K Vitner tasting room. All "do-not-miss" stops in my opinion.

Dinner that night was at the Marc where we had been for drinks in the past, but not for dinner. A friend of ours sent a note to the chef, who she knows, and magically a few lagniappes arrived on the table. It's always fun to get a little extra. The somm was also happy to let me know about his last bottle of an older Pedestal that wasn't on the list anymore.

All our food was good, but the dishes (a foie gras course and a crab salad) that the chef sent out were the best.

The next morning we tried to eat at the new and highly recommended Maple Counter Cafe but the wait was a crazy (1hour 30 mins) so we had some average egg dishes at a downtown diner and then headed out to perennial favorite, Gramercy Cellars.

We bid farewell to Gary and Elisabeth and took a quick detour to check out the new winery, Foundry, just next door. It's a winery and an art gallery with this amazing patio. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven't before.

While driving home we decided to stop in Union Gap to try some tamales from Los Hernandez. For $16 you can get a dozen chicken or pork. We got a mix and strangely both of us liked the chicken better. But these tamales are damn good! We were sad to learn that we were a week early for his seasonal asparagus and cheese, limited edition tamales. Next time I'm bringing a cooler and coming home with some frozen ones for quick and delicious dinners.
Another great weekend in Walla Walla, already looking forward to the next trip!
Not mine...

Walla Walla photos here.
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